My Aching Veins
The lights were dancing. They swiveled and shook, illuminating the darkened cell with soft, vapour like halos, floating up and down, back and forth, from side to side, trying to catch her gaze. One smiled longingly at her, grinning its wide spread smile and inviting her to touch, which she promptly refused to do. Her hands remain stationary at her sides, limp, tired. They were the hands that had yet to carry the calluses of years of work. Although it was years she had been in her job, her hands refused to show. They were still smooth and in neck to neck competition with silk.
The lights continued hovering, fading in and out of focus as her own chocolate coloured orbs moved around the room. It was soon she realized that the lights weren’t physical beings hanging from the ceiling, but small illusions her mind had made for her.
No, not her mind. The drugs.
The pills they had her swallowing these days. Those were what decided what she saw, when she saw it, and how she would react. Dosage was too high and she knew it. She wasn’t crazy. Maybe, maybe she had been. Maybe at one time in Sunnydale. But she wasn’t crazy now. No, not at all.
Although it had been lights out hours ago, two lone fluorescent bulbs glared in through steel bars from the hallway across the bars, creating tiny, churning shadows, playing in patterns and once more confusing the Slayer’s mind. She liked it.
Stretched out among the cold, plastic mattress, groaning beneath her weight with every slight shift of weight, thin blanket kicked to her knees, Faith smiled a silent, sleepless smile. The night time was where she had always belonged. In prison or not, this was her time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to be done about her restlessness, for guards surely didn’t understand the itching beneath a Slayer’s skin. And so she lay, staring at the base of the bunk above her, littered with obscure drawings, poems, and even remnants of ripped away pictures.
These nights were usually consistent among the same pattern, lights out, hallway lights confusing her, finding new treasures on the walls and ceiling above her, and finally, if possible, the restless sleep that came with too many nights of unrest. That only happened once a week or so, the sleep, that is. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights though, unfortunately. Faith stay tossing and turning throughout the night and until the blaring horn of what could have been a steamboat blew through each cell. She was used to it by now, though the occasional cringe would appear at each horn.
The routine of the day went on as usual. First, cell check in which it was made positive that each prisoner was still in tact, still incarcerated, still sane. 5:30-6:00. Next was meal time. A large auditorium like room crammed everyone into synthetic plastic seats with too small amounts of sludge along unwashed trays. 6:00-7:00. And then yard time for last names A through L where the occasional violent game of basketball was played, on looked by smokers, nonchalant bystanders, and fresh meat. 7:00-9:00. Once more, another cell check. 9:00-9:30. And then the routine repeated itself, exchanging those with yard time with those who had morning labour. Three times the pattern repeated itself in one day.
One day’s pattern continued seven days a week. The occasional occupation change and occasional fight resulting in possible solitary confinement. That was rare, even for Faith.
Today though, she was stumbling, fingertips shaking as they grabbed hold of the plastic fork. It was difficult to hold. It was difficult getting any portion of food into her mouth. It was difficult to swallow. She finally pushed the tray away and let it be attacked by still hungry mates. She hated that food anyway.
The day continued into its rhythmical pattern though with a slight tingling in her gut over unknown matters. It felt like something, somebody was following her, but with Slayer senses nothing was there, but with the medication there was a whole world behind her. She refused to see it.
Her feet carried her heavily back to her cell, legs moaning with each step. Exhausted, without appetite, and in the same haze she had remained in for the past days, Faith collapsed atop her bed and found herself falling into one of her re-charging days, which sufficiently could last for days. Her eyes remained heavy, drooping lazily until they were too tired to open again.
Her cell mate had unusually been absent the past few nights. Solitary confinement, she decided. Which was too bad, but there was a possibility she deserved it. She was a rough member of the prison society, always getting into fights, denying every right she was accounted for and sitting in the shadows during her own yard time. Faith had finally given up on shaping her to the correct form a prison inmate should have, rebellious or not.
When Faith’s eyes opened again from sleep, not too many hours later, she discovered she had been deliberately awakened by the tiny body making its way up onto her own and cascading her neck with soft flicks of her tongue.
“What?” The Rogue growled obviously not in the mood. She turned.
“M’home.” The mass of body responded, still struggling to not be pushed to the floor by Faith.
“You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. This ain’t home. It’s punishment, and you still got a lot to learn, B.”
Cut back to two years before. Two years before the drugs, the sleepless nights, and the desire for death because it was merely something new I hadn’t yet experienced. The human body, the mind, was strange that way. After you had tried every substance, hurt every bone, felt every emotion, life was gone. Done. Boring. You could be seventeen when this happened, or eighty-nine. Either way, either person, you were done.
The night before she arrived I discovered everything there is to know about the world. I was alone in the Stockton Women’s Correctional Facility’s gym, destructing every piece of equipment like it had been placed there for me. At least I think it had. I was kicking, punching, elbowing, killing this punching bag and there was nobody there to stop me. I was free, dissolved from the daytime world I lived in which was steel bars and bitches and sludge for breakfast. I was free.
I was punching, feeling my arms lengthen and meld as each raw nerve was ruptured, like the malleable play-doh substance I had turned into. My mouth was hot and dry, sticking together with the thick tongue that took up too much space behind my lips. I would punch and punch forever and no one would feel the blows. I was forever defenceless when training in this way.
My lungs were bulging beneath my chest. I imagine them looking like a balloon looks right before they pop.
It was becoming clear to me now, as I threw myself at the hanging bag of sand, not strong enough for me to fully take it on. Not that I would. But anyway, it was becoming clear, every ridiculous thing in the world. Smokeless tobacco, doesn’t matter, you’ll still get mouth cancer anyway, alcoholic beer, it will always contain .5 and someone will find a way to get wasted off of less than 5, the fact that becoming a saint only comes from the amount of press you receive. I wasn’t getting any smarter with each hit, but the false perception was appearing remarkably and I couldn’t place why.
All things supernatural, all things Sunnydale ended here.
One hour, seven minutes in, hadn’t stopped, and by then my heart was threatening to break into my wind pipe. My breath was escaping like hot puffs of steam from boiling water. Wouldn’t stop.
I was adapting here. And that’s what this was all about. I felt I was burning away every wrong thought that didn’t belong in this whining body I carried around. I was cleansing myself through the curls of sweat dangling on the tip of my nose and the all of my back.
I was being forced to change myself in every way possible and live among the other changed. I was being pushed to adapt to my new accommodations of a plastic mattress and a three-way light bulb. I was encouraged to nurture and care for the body that would help the mind would help the soul would help Me.
I was doing it, and learning all these new things, all at the same time.
Until the punching bag exploded off its hinge and landed on the floor with a thump. I gave up then. It was lucky I had. My legs, barely machines in which I travelled on, rugged and rough terrain stuffed and suffocating in too small tennis shoes, took me back to my cell. She was there when I arrived, waiting? Or did she know who her new roommate would be? No, she couldn’t have known. It was pure coincidence that brought us together, no matter how much that hurts. If it weren't coincidence, fate would have happened by now and what needs to happen would be happening and Buffy would return back home. No coincidence.
She was sitting on my bed, looking at me even before I had arrived. I looked her in the eye for a couple of seconds, then looked away. I didn't need to see her to know she was there. I should have known days ago. Should have smelled it, sensed it, something. Why didn't I? Fate?
Her hair was oily, like I’m sure I was.
She smelled of cheap knock off perfume and dust.
I smelled of sweat and sand.
Her eyes couldn’t decide whether to stick open or to close.
I was always awake those days.
She wore no makeup and her face was a sad looking paste, dripping onto the floor. I had never seen this expression on her before. An emotionless smile, brows lowered to the tips of her sleep deprived eyes, and a soft sigh on every corner of her lips.
I had storm infected eyes, bee stung lips, and the permanent "Eat Shit" grin.
“Hi.” She whispered.
Get out get out get out get out get out get out, I’m here to change, not you. I need it, not you. I’m changing you’re not get out get out, “Hey.”
Her state administered uniform confirmed that she wasn’t here for a short visit.
“I killed someone.” At least she was admitting it. Unlike me. Too unlike me. She will NEVER be like me and I will make sure of it.
“No, you didn’t.” I argued.
“If I didn’t, I’ve still got reasons to be here.” What's that supposed to mean?
“That’s my bed.” I pointed to where she sat, ready to attack, still in pouncing position.
“Names not on it.”
Doesn't need to be. This is my life, my quarintine, get out. I'm fixing myself for you and I'm not ready to be seen yet. An unfinished prototype. Get out. You don't belong here.
“Didn’t have a marker.”
You belong in Sunnydale, California with your sister, your friends, your mom, and your boyfriends, whomever it may be today. You belong safe in your bed worrying about apocalypses, not murder. You didn't do this. You couldn't have.
She got off and climbed to the top bunk, resuming a supine position, facing the ceiling. Maybe we would talk in the morning. Maybe not.
For now, I put my huffing body in bed, enjoying the scent, albeit cheap, yet hers, she left. I fell asleep easily that night, as I usually did. But I could hear her sobbing wet cries of anguish into her poly-cotton blend pillow even in my dreams. She wasn’t crying for herself, she wasn’t crying for her friends and family who would miss her. She was crying for the mistakes she had made, the recklessness she had performed, and the salvation she would be forced to receive to redeem it.
I know, because I did the same thing. I listened to other people do the same thing well into the night. It only hurt now because I didn’t know how to stop it.
The faux wisdom was returning as I lay stationary in bed, glaring at the ceiling.
Palindromes, eternal metaphors, infinity and every event, every moment that could be chaos defying you. There was no such thing as chaos, just patterns. Just unique patterns that led us through time and every event that would never be unique, always repeating itself because infinity goes both ways.Frontwards, and backwards.
It was disgusting.
We’re both going through adaptation. We’re both floating through time, flailing wildly, trying to find something to grasp and hold onto. Luckily, we found each other.
I showed her around yesterday. If around were truly more than a crowded blacktop of women, a sweaty smelling cafeteria, and a library with mouldy books, glued together by the resin among their pages, I’d show it to her. We clambered through hallways, ran amongst others, and ended up outside, sitting on top of our own bench and staying completely aware of our surroundings.
She, more than I, had fallen beneath the ‘new place, new smell, must explore’ part of the Slayer within. We took, like animals, to examining each motion, movement, and scent of everything we could get our paws on. There was nothing dangerous, only curious.
I think she had been wishing for the stereotypical version of my home, black and white stripes, ball and chain, hammers to rocks. I could only hope.
We ended the day, a prisoner’s day, outside still, sitting quietly amongst each other and exploring how many times we could look at each other and look away without speaking.
“I killed someone.” This is the most productive she’s been today, and possibly the most words she strung together since the previous night. I nod.
“Yeah?” She should talk about it, I guess. And who better to understand than I? Plus, I’m way into knowing. She shouldn’t be here in the first place and whatever fucked up reason she has come up with I bet I can talk her out of.
“Yeah….” I kept my eyes on a swift lockdown, never releasing them from their gauge on Buffy, fading my vision in and out, in and out. “Accident?”
“No.” Of course it wasn’t. There isn’t one reason in the world that Buffy Anne Summers should have to hurt another human being with purpose. I know her better than she knows herself and it was an accident.
She found something else of interest on the ground, ignoring me. And that was where our conversation would end. Someday, later I knew, it would continue right where we left off, and the secret insides of Buffy Summer’s mind would be revealed. Someday.
I was sick tonight.
There was bile and the night’s dinner rising up in my throat between gasps. I couldn’t breathe. I was suffocating, and I couldn’t stop vomiting. I don’t know what was wrong with me, but I had woken up in the night and it felt like hands were gripping my neck. I was trapped in a corner of a room and my body was rejecting it. This feeling was new and I didn’t know what exactly it was or why it was happening to me. Buffy had an idea.
She awoke after my third retching and came to sit beside me near the volatile toilet. Her hands rubbed finger sized circles across my back and she stood over me like she cared. My heart exploded towards my throat again. She smiled and the world came into focus again. When I was finished, I looked to her and she guided me back to my bed. She sacrificed her warmth for me, tossing her own thin blanket to me before sliding into my bed beside me. She was skinny, we were lucky.
“What was that about?” She spoke of it like an awkward neighbour, an unexpected mood swing, instead of the expelling of my internal organs.
“Dunno’.” I rasped, facing the wall, away from her eyes, away from her conversation. Why was she doing this? She doesn’t care about me, I know. She cares about leaving, getting back home to her nice, warm bed and waking up to homemade smells.
“Are you sick or something?”
“No.” I just finished barfing up my lungs. I want to sleep. No talking, just quiet. Please, Buffy, please.
“Okay.” Her body tensed against mine and I felt heat radiating close to my neck as her hands moved to sleeping position. What was this? I closed me eyes. And hopefully she did too.
If she was awake the rest of the night, as I was, I didn’t know. We didn’t speak after that. Both of our conversations on hold for now, there wasn’t much for us to talk about. She was entering a new world unguarded, I was pivoting myself, body included, against changing every part of me that existed before a year ago. We were together in growing past what the world didn’t like of us, and it was easier with a warm body beside me. Much easier.
The next morning follows routine too delicately. I had memorized the schedule, but Buffy was still hesitant in her doings. We were separated for the morning, seeing each other during yard time and thereafter. We’re seated outside, in our now “usual” spot, albeit a little closer to each other than before. The setting is the same with deflated basketball games, cautiously used training equipment, and gangs.
There’s a group that runs itself here, headed by the stereotypical “man of a woman” with a seven haired moustache and a heavy mixture between fat and muscle. The rest are in the “lackeys”, giving messages, threatening for money, and recruiting those who aren’t revolted by the smell. They’re called the “Unmentionables” and they’re the widest known I can think of here in Stockton.
I’ve never chosen to mess with them. I’ve been without reason, and without longing for Solitary Confinement. I’ve kept my head low in this place, knowing if I didn’t start a fight my name wouldn’t be Faith LeHane. It’s a nasty habit that I’m proud of, though one I won’t show except on too special of cases.
Right now, the Unmentionables are roaming. The closest one to us is a short, stocky looking woman. Debbie, I think her name is. She’s real made out for this kind of stuff. Her face is squished together to show only two small slits in her face for eyes. I don’t know what happened to her cheek bones, but I hear they’re their somewhere. Buffy questions her. “Who’s that?”
“Debbie. Personal assistant to the macho, some people you don’t wanna’ mess with, unless you’re like us.” Buffy bounced a strange, questionable look towards me. “Look, B, we may be Slayers and a little higher on the food chain than everyone else, but stay away from them. There’s punishment for even bein’ involved with those sort of fights. Jus’ stay out of it.” She smiled and nodded, in what I hopefully thought was royal agreement.
Both sets of our eyes followed Debbie as she rocked back and forth on her heels, waiting patiently for someone, something. Her stringy blonde hair that fell at each side of her face shined brightly with grease and other substances. I could almost feel Buffy shuddering beside me. Personal and hygiene were her favourite two words put together. Debbie’s business soon arrived in the form of another lanky member of Unmentionables. They stood too close to each other, whispering and discussing things with cautious glances every few directions.
Debbie’s eyes crossed briefly towards us I noticed, and lingered for the longest moment time could muster then. I stared back with resonating pressure for her to glance back again. Unfortunately to my ego and Slayer side, she looked once more during the conversation and pointed the slightest of fingers towards us. I grabbed Buffy’s hand and moved us to another position. Luckily, she followed without question.
The next time we came face to face, if you could call our last encounter a face to face, it was in the most public place of Stockton and transformed into the biggest mistake of my career here.
We seated ourselves in the dining hall in a far back corner where the whole congregation could be viewed by us. Buffy sat exploring the contents of tonight’s lump of nutrition and swore it growled at her. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if it did. Unmentionables were scattered here and there, stealing food because their bodies were more important than ours, threatening, and making deals. It was inevitable that we would be visited, after the staring game that had happened earlier.
When Debbie and yet another lackey, one I hadn’t ever seen before, made their presences to us, I shushed Buffy with a quiet glance and slowly stood.
“Slayer,” Debbie snarled, grinning and showing two rows of yellow, crooked teeth. Buffy shot me a look with incredibly wide eyes and slightly parted lips. I smiled in return. Slayer had ironically grown as a name for myself when a few unwelcome “visitors” with pointy teeth made their appearances in Stockton.
“Got nothin’ for you here, Deb.”
“Who’s that?” She nodded towards Buffy, like a piece of meat, rather than a walking, talking machine.
“No one you know.” My fits were clenching, turning white, burning against my palms. Nobody was screwing with B, here. Debbie’s eyes averted from me to Buffy as she spoke, the lopsided grin never disappearing. Buffy cringed in displeasure and made a move to stand beside me. I stopped her.
“Not going to introduce me to your new friend, Slayer?”
“Wasn’t plannin’ on it.” I felt my muscles tightening up, throwing each other at my insides, begging for release. If I let go, if I lost my control, there would be no stopping me. I wouldn’t relax until faces melted beneath my fingers and heads went rolling. I was a machine when threatened.
“So what, I can’t talk to her?” Debbie finally tore her eyes away from Buffy and made to stand in front of me, her stubby fingers rising, as if ready to strike between my eyes. I was maybe an inch taller than her, but her body mass easily overtook mine. She raised a fist, ready to wallop, and the whole room went into madness. It was like each and every prisoner had built in radar for when the slightest bits of tension and airiness for a fight was shown.
My fists slammed into her face before she could gather enough energy for a single sock. And there, I unleashed. A veil was taken off my head, chains were released, and I was the Slayer again. I was the Slayer, beating out my stress against ruthless numbers of vampires, demons, and the evil I was born for. My legs were swinging, making circles in the sky, and the whole of the room formed an unbreakable circle throughout the area. A few other Unmentionables joined and I was jostled in a cloud of prisoners. I was stuck in an infinite loop, hitting, tearing, and kicking with every ounce of strength that was still alive within me. If anyone could stop me, I’d dare them. There was truly only one person in the room who had the power to, but I’d lost her along the way and hoped she was beside me, alive in the Slayer as well.
I had broken sometime in the last two minutes. My insides, everything I’d been working towards in this place, the reasons I was here, it all disappeared and washed away within me. I didn’t know if I’d see it again, but now, all I cared about was seeing Debbie’s face in the cracks of the floor
There’s innocence and beauty flooding through the walls of this place. It surrounds you no matter where you stand, sit, or lie. You can sense it in the callused hands of testosterone loaded guards, you can smell it in the air, you can hear it in the quiet cries of a prisoner missing home, and you can see it in the soft smiles of few visitors. I have seen it first hand once before, and it’s not a common thing. The Billy club is screaming at me: This is your fault, why did you do this?
According to my daily and regular schedule, I am supposed to be sitting in a brown coloured office, lined with photos of small smiling children, decorated with the undertones of dark green and maroon, and accustomed with three soft leather chairs with a wood polish finish, listening to my own personal Stockton “doctor”. She’s a shrink. I’m not though. I’m not in the comfy office, being offered tea and books to read to fill my time. I’m sitting on the crusty concrete floor, ruined with blotches and stains of what I know are the past occupant’s blood. I don’t feel guilty; I’m leaving my mark as well. I haven’t bled so much in years. The fists and legs are accusing: State Property Damage! Paralyzed from her legs down!
My eye feels swollen shut and there’s a warped, indirect look about the way my arm is twisted. As much slayer healing I have within my system, I can still feel slowly growing bruises making their way up my arms, over my abdomen. I had blacked out sometime after Debbie’s legs stretched over her head, and when I awoke I was here, in the overheated cell with the marks of punishment and pleasantries. Solitary. Vaguely I could remember hands pulling me in all different directions. Some were prisoners, some guards. Then I was being dragged down a corridor, and every time I moved I’d receive another strike with the club in the face. Voices are condemning: You’ll never see the light of day again.
All I hope is that Debbie and the rest of them got what they were looking for. They wanted a fight, and I sure as hell gave it to them. I couldn’t wait to get back out just to see their faces contorted with fear when I stepped outside for yard time. They wouldn’t mess with B or me again. I had made sure of it. A pair of footsteps comes clicking against the floor, softly, as if not to be noticed. Not to be noticed by anyone without Slayer hearing. A guard passed by the barred door, giving me a steady glance at what must have been the amount of gore I was covered in. Only then did I feel the wetness dripping down my face. My tongue was painted a bright red, dripping sac and it felt like I had lost a couple of teeth. Whatever, Slayer healing, right?
(Buffy’s Point of View)
Faith’s fighting. I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know what to do.
What do I do?
She can handle herself, but there’s people flying just to get their fists on her. She’s knocking them off, but she could get in trouble for this. And what am I going to do if she has to leave? I can’t be alone here. Please God, don’t let me be alone here.
Guards are approaching.
They’re fighting through the crowd.
The crowd is fighting back.
Faith appears beneath a large dog pile and there are uniformed professionals wielding guns at her. She stops—
No guns are fired.
She holds her hands up and they lead her away. And it’s over.
She submitted to higher authority, and it’s over.
I’m alone here. I’m alone. I’m without Faith.
I’m without faith.
This place is disgusting. There’s nothing here. No virtue, no humanity. There is only hate, and pain. And this is her life. This has been Faith’s life for the past three years. How does she….
I don’t even want to know how she survives. I don’t want to know what she does to keep herself sane here. Then again, she was never sane. She was never normal, never right. And I judged her for that. I never considered her a friend, I considered her an object, a work partner, a thing. I belong here. I belong here in so many ways.
The people that come here, they're are animals. They are primitive and stuck in a never ending loop of reverence in their deluded minds of evil. The ones thatuse intellect as a coping mechanism, the ones you don't think would strike, are the binds that hold this ridiculous room together in chaos. Chaos that unleashes the monster within and shows you what it is like to truly face evil and fear in the eye.
I watch her being led away and see her finally struggle, then go to the ground as her entourage bombards her and reins blow against her. I want to help. I want to throw them through the walls, but this isn’t the real world. This isn’t Sunnydale. This isn’t a place where I can throw down every Slayer combo I know and force face into cement. I am not the Slayer here. I am not the Slayer here.
(Faith’s Point of View)
The head of Infirmary has led me back to my normal cell with a normal bunk set, a normal toilet in the corner, and the normal roommate, who presently isn’t present. I was neatly deposited into bed (the head was a gentle, understanding woman of 50 something), and immediately found the sleep I hadn’t been getting in the heat of the temperature controlled room I had resided in for the past two weeks. Where is Buffy? Where is Buffy? Where is Buffy? Just by sight, I’ve considerably lost needed inches in my waistline, and the remnant of Billy sticks against my face hasn’t faded; many times was the procedure repeated.
I don’t remember much after waiting for Buffy for the three minutes I could stay awake back in my bed, but afterwards I was sleeping, apparently, to soundly to be woken. When I did awake, I was turned to one side and my head lay against the soft fleshy thigh of my Slayer. She was crying, but I didn’t question, or speak.
Neither did she. We were both back in a zone of comfort and specialty and I wasn’t particular for moving anytime soon. We were both in an utter state of contentment. We were where we wanted to be in the state of mind, rather than the state of place. If were happy, together, we would be fine.