Chapter Six: Waiting Room Watermelon
You’re starting to think this might be a little childish. ‘No,’ your brain counters ‘this was childish five minutes ago.’
“B…? Come on B…? You know you wanna talk… talk to me… talk to me, B…” Faith draws out her words to make almost a tune and smiles her best impish grin. You’re ignoring her.
Because you’re mature like that.
And you’re proving a point. Though having come all the way here from Sunnydale and making sure the food was pre-checked so you could share it is probably working against you.
“Did I ever tell you ‘bout the time I screwed Xander? It was his first time so he was a little-”
“No! God no! Shut up!” You attempt to frown at her uproars laughter. It’s nice, the way she laughs, loud and like she doesn’t care who hears. A small part of you wants to bottle it to save, another bit is desperately thinking of whatever it can to keep her laughing. Mainly of course you’re just hideously embarrassed that every single person in the visitor’s room is staring at the two of you.
‘Stupid Faith and her stupid alluring visitors pass!’
She twists round to get comfortable in a move reminiscent of water settling. “Still haven’t worked on that curiosity thing, huh?”, the hairs on your neck prickle up at her wink. Would it be bad to confess it’s not exactly him you’re curious about?
“We’re friends, Faith. Friends don’t ‘screw’ each other.”
“Your friends… suck!” She grins at you from behind a giant slice of watermelon and stuffs it in her mouth, “‘is good ‘melon, B”. You really should be more repulsed by that.
“Thank you, I think they had to stick needles in it to check it though… And… hit it with a mallet” your eyes stray down to what looks like a fruity blood-bath underneath the few neat slices they’ve given her. On your side of the glass the pieces are set in clean rows… although the colour is starting to remind you of a demon you killed about a week ago. “Sorry.”
“Nah B, your heart’s in the right place. Kinda reminds me of old times.”
“The old times when you were trying to kill me or the old times when you were trying to kiss me?”
She flashes you another dimpled grin. “Either way involves semi-clothed you and eating… food.” The ever-so-thoughtful dramatic pause gives your heart enough time to miss several beats.
“Faith!” You glare across at her wiggling eyebrows, “you are so weird...” ‘And so cute’ “Have you ever considered you might have mental problems?”
“Like being stuck on you?”
“Your corny lines are not working on me young lady.”
Her grin widens “You’re blushing.”
“You want me.”
“I… wish you’d shut up and eat your melon.”
No amount of willpower is going to get rid of the blush you’re currently sporting. In fact, you could probably wash your face in bleach and she’d still be able to tell. But that’s Faith. Damn know-it-all.
“It’s ok, I think I’m hot too.”
You mean to tell her that you don’t think she’s hot, that she’s a pain in the ass but the hopeful spark behind her fake-happy eyes makes you tell the truth. “And lots of other things as well.”
“Aw stop! You’ll make me blush!” she drawls in her best Valley Girl voice.
You pause to time it just right, “Insane being one of them.” She cracks up and you giggle along, no longer caring about being watched. You’re not doing anything wrong after all. So what if you haven’t told anyone? So what if, yes, you are technically lying to your friends when you tell them you’re going to see Angel and wind up in a dirty visitors room at Stockton Women’s Jail. At least you’re not on the other side of the glass- then they could be mad.
“Do you think-?” She asks though a mouthful of melon, stopping to grin as your eyes trace the path of one red-tinted droplet down to her collar. Perhaps it’s a good thing she’s wearing a full jump suit and not a tank like last time- watching red liquid sliding away from someone’s mouth should really not be turning you on this much. “B? Buffy?”
Her seriousness knocks you for a moment- you’ve been away from her too long; you’d forgotten how quickly her moods could change.
“B… I want to… look, I know you said you’d beat me to death if I ever apologised but I figure that’s just for a general apology, right? If I take it bit by bit then that’s like… a lot of slaps on the wrist. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s a lot of girlie slaps or somethin’.” You take a few moments to attempt to batter down the little smile watching her try to look serious is giving you and nod as solemnly as you can. “Good. Uh… first I guess I should say that… um… I’m sorry for splitting up you and beef-uh-Riley.”
The laughter really does drain from you face as she speaks and not even her stumble over his name provokes a smile. At the back of your mind you wish she’d apologised for something simple- like the way she used to tease Willow by sliding her hands up and down your back as the red-head watched or sitting a little too close to you but looking the picture of innocence when Willow finally stumped up the courage to drag you away.
You like this double world. The one where you can hate Faith and love her at the same time; bitch about her then come here and feel like you’re free.
In the world of Faith there is no Riley. You have no boyfriend, no watcher, no friends, just a distant idea of a mother who once expressed how much she’d like the girl sitting across from you to come live in your home. There is no pressure and you want to keep it that way. No one here will judge you for the way your heart clenches as she smiles. It’s just the flat-out lying that’s hard.
You’d tell her things if she asked. You’d tell her about the huge demon/man/machine hybrid thing you fought 24 hours ago or about your dream with the stinky cheese guy. If she really wanted to know you’d even make her laugh with tales of complete academic boredom.
But no boyfriends.
“That’s… ok.” You squeeze the words out past gritted teeth and a fake smile but her obvious relief relaxes you.
“Man. That was harder than Fang said. And also- a lie. I didn’t like him. Never did.” A beat “Too good for you.” You expel the remaining tension in a shout of surprised laughter. Her eyes twinkle at you as you forcibly hold your mouth closed. How like Faith to say to opposite of what you were expecting. “You should come roll round in the dirt with me- much more fun.”
You spin your head round to look at the clock- and also to give Faith a good view of your super-blonde, bouncy curls as you know she loves your volumising shampoo and looks to be missing her own as proved by the tangle she accidentally caught her hand in earlier. “Well, I’m all yours for another twenty minutes.”
‘And all the other minutes after that,’ you think but don’t say. Partly because it’s disgustingly soppy but mainly because it’s more than a little creepy.
“Just twenty minutes? Huh, I guess that’s enough time to get you really dirty.” She smirks and proceeds to whisper down the phone line as many truly disturbing sexual references as she can while you hide your tomato-red face in your free hand.
Chapter Seven: Choking on Cookies
The chairs are hard and sticky against bare skin, just like in any other waiting room. The smell is disgustingly clean with just that faint hint of what it’s really covering up. The receptionist is polite but bored, she hands you the forms without looking up from her perfect nails.
You take a seat and try to think of other similarities between this and a ‘normal’ waiting room; sickly green walls make the list as does the water cooler but that’s pretty much where it ends. The doors have more metal than wood; it makes you queasy- slayers hate to be caged. You think you know how she feels now but then a woman shuffles past between two hospital orderlies, her feet bound, eyes fixed onto her metal wrist cuffs, and you realise this is just a fraction of what she must feel every day.
This is love.
Not syrupy valentines cards or mawkish poetry or candy or flowers or any thing that isn’t this. She has given her freedom for you.
And now she may have given her life.
You are still watching the retreating back of the bound woman as the nurse calls your name. She over-enunciates until you are out of earshot of the deceptively dim-looking receptionist.
“I’m sorry to have left it so late to call you, she wasn’t allowed visitors for a month while she was in solitary and then she was unconscious while in the hospital ward and… and- and you weren’t listed as her next of kin but I found your picture with her belongings and I remembered you from when she spoke of you last time she was here, while I sewed-up her arm, so I knew I had to find you and…” She eventually runs out of steam, taking a moment to gasp for breath. “I’m sorry.” She says it like she means it rather than as if she’s hoping you won’t sue.
Your first desire is to ask how Faith is but the nurse had already explained part of it and Cordelia the rest (though what she was doing near your Faith is a matter your fist is itching to find out).
This was supposed to be a visit to tell her all about fighting Dracula but instead you’d got the call from the hospital.
“You shouldn’t really even be in here now it’s just… well, she’s so sweet and I couldn’t- I think you should see her. A… a final goodbye.” She takes you into the room with the lumpy sheet then it obviously becomes too much for her, she sobs a few times, pats your shoulder and nearly runs from the room.
For a moment you doubt yourself. The arm sticking out from under the hospital regulation blanket is sickeningly thin- the result of a body that’s gone three weeks without food. A few more stray hairs than normal litter the pillow around a gaunt and yellowed face you almost have trouble recognising.
“Anything to get out of making number plates”
The thin lips stretch wide enough to re-tear the skin in the middle. “You have no idea how dull it is, B.” A scratchy, high voice you don’t recognise replies. “I swear, if I never see another number-letter set it’ll be too soon.”
You wait, fingers tearing into Tupperware held by your side, teeth nibbling your own bottom lip. When gummy eyelids finally pry themselves apart you’re relieved to see the same intense brown eyes you once let yourself get lost in for hours.
“The nurse thinks you’re dieing.”
“Am. But I’ll be okay in a few days.”
The room is static for a few moments.
You pray for a wind to come. To once again circulate the stale air. So you don’t have to smell her.
“Good.” You’re not sure what else to say from there so instead you study the dried blood on her sheets, try to make stupid cartoon animals out of stupid shapes on a stupid day in a stupid hot room. “Would you like me to open a window?”
“God yes! If you think the smell is sickening now try livin’ with it 24/7.” She tries to prop herself up but her skinny wrists shake and bow under her miniscule weight. You catch her as she falls. The bag of bones and failing organs she now calls a body flops down into your waiting arms rather than crashing into the metal bars at the side.
She stares resolutely at the still-spinning container on the floor as if imagining away your aid. You slip her into the crook of your left arm and flex uncomfortably to pull a pillow down and below her back.
Once she is again resting in the mass of starched and bloodied cotton you return to the window. Women in jumpsuits converge in the yard below playing a game of basketball. Their shouts float up through the gap you have opened between the glass. The way she sets her jaw makes you almost think of closing it again before she shifts in the bed and another nauseating wave of reeking odour reaches out to grab you.
Your face spins almost involuntarily away, gasping lungfuls of the fresh air as you try to rid your nose of the stench.
“Sorry.” Her whisper is so quiet and so full of fear it grates against the forced cheerfulness of only moments ago.
‘She’s not dieing, just ill.’ Plays like a mantra in your head. You make a gargled sound as you attempt to reply. Finally, after many forcefully smothered coughs and a non-too-gentle thump to the chest you manage to choke out a strangled “It’s ok”.
“No. It’s not. It’s gross.” Big brown eyes flick up to you from sunken eye-sockets. She is ugly. Almost so hideous you could mistake her for something that would normally be meeting the pointy end of your sword. The imagery makes you wince. ‘Rusty piping, at least three meters, all the way through.’ Cordelia’s sarky voice echoes, ‘Totally gross, and of course it’s completely infected. Idiot’
“It’s… Why didn’t you tell anybody?” You know Faith isn’t altogether sane one hundred percent of the time but you’d thought even she would be beyond the realms of sitting in a box with no windows for a month with a gaping hole in her stomach. You leave the window with an almost remorseful glance back.
The flush that seeps into her cheeks gives her the illusion of life for a few moments. You know she isn’t dead but you’ve seen better-looking corpses after hungry vamps have mauled them. “I knew they’d call Angel and he’d call you.”
“So?” Slapping her suddenly seems like a completely acceptable option. “We care about you, Faith. We want to know when you’re hurt.” Your smile waves for a few moments as the hand that had been reaching for her’s succeeds and a wave of revulsion passes over you. The cold and clammy flesh leaves a residue on yours and as her hand turns over in order to grasp back her rough and dry palm connects with your vainly smoothed one. A mental note to buy more hand cream pops up out of nowhere.
“I didn’ want you to be mad at me for starting a fight!” You rip your body away from her and towards the other side of the room.
“You started it?” She cringes at your shout.
“I was tryin’ to keep them away from-”
“Shut up!” Her mouth opens and closes for a few moments like a goldfish left gasping for air. You have the unpleasant thought that perhaps it is you playing the part of necessity. “You swore to me Faith! You said no more fighting! God! Why do you- why do you feel like you have to destroy yourself? You make it so easy for me to stop-” You stomp over to the Tupperware. “I made you these. We were going to have a nice time- talk about how you’re fooling all the nurses into giving you special treatment when we both know you’ll be fine in a week. But…” You let out a frustrated growl “Just eat them.”
As you watch her thin fingers fumble with opening the container you’ve thrust upon her a slight drop of cooling guilt drips into the pot of bubbling resentment you have inside of you. Why does she make you feel this way? How can you hate her so much and yet still feel… something? ‘Something for her’- you’ll allow yourself that at least.
This version of her scares you. Being the harsh one scares you. Her near-death scares you. Your hate scares you! You’re terrified! If it were Willow lying in this bed, looking like this, you’d put every bad thing that had ever come between you (mainly her dislike of Faith) to one side and shower her with affection. Maybe it’s because she’s a slayer and you know she’ll be all right but you can’t do that for Faith.
You want her to tell you naughty jokes with that twinkle in her eye and woo you relentlessly. This thing is too real. You can’t cope with her dieing.
You think you’ll die too.
“They’re nice.” She forces out, around a mouthful of dry cookies, in that odd voice that comes with lack-of-use and fever. Her smile lets enough guilt fall to coat the surface of your rage until you concede and move to fill a plastic glass at the tap.
“Dawn made them really. I’m not allowed in the kitchen. Mom said I can burn water.” ‘Which is true’
“Who’s Dawn?” Your mind flashes between all your memories of the two of them together to see if this is one of their games of whether it’s the fever talking.
You sit on the bed and hold her up with one arm while you help her to sip from the cup. “Dawn is your little shadow. She worships you. To her you are God.”
“Why?” She seems genuinely confused, enough to worry you slightly.
“Because you’re older than her and cooler than me. She probably wishes she could trade sisters and get you instead.”
Faith stares back at you for a long moment, “Dawn is your sister?”
“Yes, little sister. Five years. Mainly. Six after my birthday. Do you- Should I- Should I get a nurse?”
“Why didn’ I know ya have a sister?” You’re about to reply when she grunts in pain suddenly and pinches the bridge of her nose. Whatever it was is gone before you have a chance to question her. “Oh. Dawn. Yeah. Brat, Kid, Daybreak. Sorry… they must have me on some wicked strong meds, I… say ‘hi’ from me, won’t you? And tell her... I’m sorry.”
You chew your lip at her earnest expression until your eyes finally drift down to her own parched lips. Your teeth retreat back into your mouth as quickly as possible. “They don’t actually know I’m here.”
“I tell them I’m coming to see Angel when I visit you.”
The two of you stay once again in uncomfortable silence. She seems to be considering for a long moment. Finally one emaciated hand raises and a skeletal finger beckons you over. You hover over the side of the bed, close enough to feel her sour breath on your face.
“I-” She fixes you with a stern look before it changes completely “I can see down your top!” She grins, train of thought completely forgotten. “And that is one sexy bra!” The look you are fixed with is one of mock-chastisement, “Did you think you were going to get lucky, B? Is that why you came all the way to the prison for little old me? You still not gettin’ any?”
Relief floods through you. If only you could solve every problem with a flash of boob. “Hey! Riley is highly ca… pa… ble… oh shit.” You cringe.
“You’re still with Riley?” A single nod is her only response “And you’re lying to the fam about being here?” You nod quickly a few times “Whoa… am I your dirty little secret? That is so cool!” Like a kid on Christmas day her eyes light up. “No one ever though I was special enough to keep a secret before.”
You chuckle as you lower yourself back onto the bed. Trust Faith to find the positive angle. She can be surprisingly optimistic when she’s not paying attention- you think it might be her natural state, the one she was born with before it was ruined.
“Maybe I just think you’re too gross to ever subject my family to?”
“What happened to ‘Dawn’s God’? I like that title better. Let’s bring that one back.”
“You are so mean. I almost died! Come on, that deserves at least a… hmm… at least a good flash of boob. For a whole three minutes.” She wiggles her eyebrows in that way that makes you think they might just be very finely groomed (does she hide tweezers in the walls of her cell?) caterpillars trying to escape from her face.
It takes you about twenty seconds to decide on your answer.
Those twenty seconds are spent moving to stand at the foot of her bed and untucking your shirt. And unclasping your bra. Obviously.
Two and a half minutes later a nurse, two orderlies and a doctor almost suffer fatal heart attacks having walked into a patient’s room to find a blonde (who squealed and ran away) exposing her chest to the obvious enjoyment of the patient. “Alternative therapy” the blonde managed to mumble as she ducked around them in a bid for the exit.
Dr. Timothy Warren had never before believed in a more holistic approach to healing but having seen a patient considered medically to be on the verge of death make a full recovery with barely any scaring after having dead flesh cut away from her stomach… he was inclined to agree. If only he could get that blonde girl back for some of his other patients…