Rome is full of light and noise. One snapshot extreme
after another crowding your mind, making it safe again. Bougainvillea and
traffic fumes. Roaring scooters and Armani shades. Poor back streets, with
washing strung between balconies where skinny cats sit, staring, imperiously
down as if they own the world. Soaring arches and colonnades like insane
cake decorations. Doorways that swing open to show you one more ruin, one
more thing older than you could ever have imagined back home. You are discovering
the strange comfort of history. Occasionally you think this city's
like a giant graveyard, with the stream of life surging, oblivious, through
its bones and tombs; one long Day of the Dead. These days you simply let
it carry you, don't worry too much about where it's going. Which
is why when Faith showed up on your doorstep late one night, nervous and
exhausted underneath her bravado, you just went with it. Two months later
she's still here, still not saying what leaves that dark, bruised
look around her eyes; but you have your theories.
You scrape back your chair and go to stand behind her. It's
ridiculous, Faith's acting like the poster child for domesticity
-- which is both sweet and plain unnerving -- and you can't continue
pretending everything is okay. "Where have you been for the last
five days?"Oh so gentle voice, you will not shout, give her an
excuse to turn this into a fight again.
"Shit -- what are you my Watcher now?"Her hands contract into fists. You notice the fine ingrained dirt; dried blood? under her fingernails.
"Stop doing that. Stop throwing up walls when all I want is to…"Through your rising anger and frustration you ache to hold her; or at least to fuck her until she cries herself silent, shaking in your arms the way she did that first night. In the heat of your bed you could still smell the cold, Cleveland rain and the after-burn of battle on her skin. Why it happened, why you let her guide your clumsy, uncertain touches, you don't know; only that it felt like the right thing to do. Maybe you finally let yourself see her, and once you did, you couldn't stop seeing.
"Dawn was worried…I-I was worried."
"Think I've forgotten something,"Faith mumbles, staring at a shelf full of tins.
"Hey, Earth to ‘Denial Girl.' For once will you drop this bullshit?"It may be harsh, but you have to say this. "Jesus, Faith, you're about as subtle as a napalm bomb. Y'know what, if you wanna kill yourself -- go right ahead." You're fighting to keep your voice steady now. "Just, just don't expect me to be your audience."
The noise she makes could be meant as a snort of derision, or it could be a sob.
You move to lay your hands over hers and before you know what's happening she has you face down across the table; hard, polished wood against your cheek, her weight on your back pinning you there.
"Would you miss me?"Her breath is hot on your neck. She's trying to get that arrogant, ‘don't give a shit' tone into her voice; but she just sounds lost and desperate.
You moan quietly as she starts grinding her hips into your ass. You're already getting wet for her as the rocking movement presses the edge of the table, almost painfully, against you. Her hand is sliding up your thigh, gathering up the fabric of your light, cotton dress; then slipping underneath it. You automatically spread your legs a little wider in anticipation. You know how it will be, strobe-light fast, blinding; your whole life compressed into the sensation of her fingers on you, stroking, circling, driving into you until you're screaming, throat raw and cracking, and it sounds like someone else's voice. You scrabble at the table top, trying to regain some control. You know that afterwards, Faith will keep apologising for hurting you, even while you're insisting that she didn't; and when you try to touch her she will shy away from you as if she's contagious. And when Dawn comes home from school, Faith will concoct some tall tale about where she has been for the last -- fill in the blank number of -- days, which will make Dawn laugh and roll her eyes. And later she'll let Dawn beat her at poker.
Faith's fingers are hooking deftly inside your panties, starting to tug them down; you try to turn so you can see her, and she smacks your head back down with the palm of her hand; your ears are ringing -- she'll be especially sorry about that afterwards. Any second now you'll be too far gone to stop this, and you are determined that this time you will change the pattern, introduce some new rules.
"No,"you manage to say.
"Baby."Faith is trailing kisses over the top of your spine and shoulders, where the dress is cut low. "Want you so much."
"No,"you say it louder, forcing the word out. "No, not like this."
You pray she'll stop of her own accord; you need to believe she cares enough to stop without you having to make her. A shuddering breath, then her searching fingers still and withdraw slowly. She sags against you for a moment, practically dead weight, and you feel how badly she's shaking before she stands up and backs away.
You are gripping the door handle so hard you are sure it will snap off; you can't breathe for the pain clawing through your chest; and you knew, God, you knew. "How long?"
Faith's eyes are dark, shadow-plays full of smoke and ash. She shrugs. "Since LA, I dunno; don't really remember anymore. Everything's kinda hazy."Her hands wander over her skin, strangely helpless, hiding and uncovering the damage. "I need it. Thought I could kick it but…I-I need…guess I'm just destined to be a fuck-up, huh?"
Destined. The history in your blood. The past which divides, and connects you forever, flowing through Faith's ruined body. She's swaying on her feet, tense and frightened; more vulnerable than you ever imagined she could be; and you realise, like clouds parting, that you can't hate her anymore; her trust has washed the last trace of bitterness away. You finally prise your cramping hand off the door handle and move towards her, not knowing what the hell you are meant to do now.
Even as she is trying to escape into the shadows of the corner, you have her wrapped in your arms. She struggles half-heartedly, twisting and bucking, but you tighten your grip and refuse to let go. After a few seconds she makes a strangled, whimpering noise and gives in, grabbing onto you as if you are the only solid thing left in the world. You are stroking her hair, her sweat-damp back, gentling her as best you can, while her heart pounds through her ribs, and her breathing comes in ragged gasps.
She shudders and presses her head harder into your chest, as your fingers find a part healed bite. "Does it hurt?"Man, if there was ever a prize for asking stupid questions, you'd win it.
"Not enough."Her voice is dull, desperate. "Never enough. I just want it finished."
"I know. It's okay, just let go, let it go." You're crying now, your tears falling into the dark, straggling mass of her hair, as she whispers words you don't understand. "Faith, listen, shhh, listen sweetheart, I know I can't make you stay…hell, I can't make you stop watching ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,' and in Italian that's just scary. Um, okay, so not the point -- the point is, I'm gonna keep on holding you for as long as you need, and I'm not gonna leave you."
"Buffy, please. I can't…"As you cradle her against your body, trying to lull the nightmare away, Faith starts sobbing.
"I'm not leaving you."
"Shhh. It's okay."Rebuild, adapt, walk over the bones and go on living. This is what you've learned; what you do; what you can give her. "I'm not leaving."
You know that Faith is strong enough to break, and strong enough to mend again. As the golden, trails of sunlight travel across your room, narrow and vanish; you watch her bruises fade slowly to nothing. And when she asks, you tell her every story you can remember from Sunnydale, and your life before, until she finally falls asleep.