Time was the leaky faucet in the unused bathroom, dropping quiet molecules of water from its spout and hitting the enamel of the sink’s base with a wet sounding plop. Time was dripping all over the floor and passing so slowly that your naked eye could definitely catch sight of it. I had lost track of the slowness of time weeks ago. It was way too easy, for me, to lose yourself in the complete calm and oblivion of contentness. And in the complete calm oblivion of Buffy Summers.
We used each other too often too count. Get homesick? Come to me. Feel lonely? Go to Buffy. Miss your family? Come to me. Lose your mind? Go to Buffy. Go to Buffy. Go to Buffy. Every thing I could find wrong with myself I could change and resolve in Buffy. She was my saviour, my passion, my Christ if I were his child. She was usually the voice that put me to sleep at night. Or sometimes the soothing hand that gave attention to my recently ailing body.
Too many times that week had I been head over toilet, emptying the contents of my stomach in an unwanted frenzy. I would sit, muscles pumping a strange concoction between battery acid and radioactive waste, gagging on the thumping insides of my trachea and praying to God to take me then and there. We didn’t know what was wrong with me.
The day after I returned to a more orthodox, routine schedule at Stockton I was allowed the pleasure of a more effective shower than a two minute rainfall of water coming from the spout hanging over my head extracting water from its cracks and emptying into the drain in the center of the room.
Buffy led the both of us to the ‘ultra-bathroom’, keeping her eyes wide and open for an invisible monster she expected to attack. The bathroom was a stadium with a giant drain in the middle and rows of shower heads above. It wasn’t particularly like every 20th century prison movie Hollywood actors and directors could make. Rape and molestation didn’t happen; no one was afraid of an attack from behind or beside; and nobody had any trouble standing naked next to an inmate they had never seen, and probably never would see again.
My muscles were sore and burned like a raw nerve against a touch every time I moved. It was pain I could handle though. Clothes were shed like the shells of a molting crab and the water, a lukewarm chilling sort of temperature, turned on. As usual, there were two to three people sharing one shower head, and as expected, Buffy and I were left alone.
I felt like the legend I had dreamed of being, face painted in a beautiful mask of my accomplishments, the bruises and swollen parts of my face, dressed in the most elegant chiffons of delicate black silk, the blood that still caked and clung to my skin in clusters, and striding with all the stolen grace in the world down a catwalk surrounded by flashes of cameras and jealous twenty-somethings spitting out the words “Fabulous” and “Marvellous”, the long walk from cell to bathroom with more than one jillion pairs of eyes scanning quickly over me, then back to their default positions, muttering beneath their breath the rumours they had heard.
My hands made the usual path over and under crevices of my own whining body, guiding a miniscule amount of soap over the most important spots. Normally, respect for your showering partner stood as expected, except in the occasional 20th century prison movies, and Buffy by and large had that respect. Though when I had finished with my own washing and deposited what remains of soap I still had into the drain, a pair of hands had snaked their way to my shoulders like a gentle hand. I could feel my body rejecting the feeling though, as if violated, spoiled. I wrenched myself away, knowing it was Buffy’s used hands on me, expecting someone else. She wouldn’t back away, wouldn’t give up like a Slayer normally shouldn’t, and drew me in closer.
I fell for the welcoming touch and left my body somewhere else, letting her pull me towards a satin like pillow I knew was her skin. Her hands ran like a sponge down my arms and I finally, fully, let go. I understood what she wanted, what she was trying to do, and didn’t reject it.
She was washing me, pulling away gently the visible and invisible signs of any pain and sorrow, and regret, and guilt that had ever been caused by her, for her, for me, by me. Her hands were cleansing the skin of mine that I had so daftly destroyed, spoiled. A connection even stronger than the Slayer bond joined us as one and I think, for a few moments there, she forgave me.
Every night after that was a new exploration of the physical contact we could make with each other. We discovered whole worlds beside our own inside each movement of the other, inside each particle of skin, on every word that fell off of our tongues. We could touch each other and feel heaven wrapped in the soft outer layers we held. I was enlightened, on a new level of consciousness, a new plane. I assume, by the quiet, animal noises that she made, Buffy was too.
We spoke in tongues during our time together, invited by primal instinct to a primitive world of touch and see. There were no limits, no boundaries, but somehow, the elephant never forgets what it’s like inside its cage.
We went on for weeks like this, stumbling beside each other, forcing lopsided grins and pushing ourselves to find whatever limits existed between us. So far, we had found none.
October 19th, 2002, a Sunday, 6:17 pm was the exact moment in the endless, seamless, void of time that, in the midst of calamity I lost my mind.
Visitors weren’t a usual thing for me, not anymore. Angel had quit his non-existent visits long, long ago. For Buffy, they were expected. It seemed unlawful that Dawn Summers didn’t get a chance to see her sister before she melted away in the hands of government, correctional facilities, and me. So when the guard approached our homestead, clanging his knuckles against steel bars, proclaiming “Visitor!” as loud as he could, as if to provide torture to lonely inmates without even speaking to them, I feigned no surprise.
Buffy sent one last penetrating glance towards me, stood, and restricted herself from skipping down the hallways. I waited. I waited with mildly inspiring impatience, pacing back and forth between here and there, reading the numbers on the wall clock that stood opposite of my cage and devouring them.
The invisible monster strikes.
The axe she had been waiting for has apparently dropped.
When she returns, which, a bit unfortunate for my patience, is hours later, she is hunched, swallowed by herself, wide eyed and sounding as if she were reading a script, taking lines off of a tele-prompter.
“Did they finally come?” What sort of friends would they be, were they, visiting their best friend, who had often saved their sorry asses time and time again, only months after her incarceration?
I was in a movie. I was anything but real. These thoughts, these words, these actions, all muffled and non-existent by Buffy’s truthful stare, would have exploded out of me, had my mind not flipped over and detonated in a fit of silence. I stood, rooted, frozen solid by the chill that ran through my bones. What was real in this world? Pain and sorrow, yes, happiness, good for mankind, never.
I had officially lost myself.
Have you ever felt your head explode? Have you ever felt the pain that comes with a metallic, mental blow to the mind? It hurts. It’s like a buzzing, deafening shrill war cry that cradles itself in your ears and builds its home for all of eternity. It escalates into this dull, searing pain and cleaves apart every molecule that rests inside of you. You’ll never forget that pain and it’ll stay with you as reminder to why you were punished in the first place. I never once forgot the feeling.
“I’m leaving.” She says it again.
I am love’s loaded rifle, aimed at my throat. She says it to make sure I’m here. To make sure I am listening. I am. I am hearing every hidden message on every radio wave in the existence of infinity. I am in tune on every note leaving her shrunken, small bodied lips. I am listening.
“What…? Are you talking about?” These words aren’t mine. The voice isn’t mine either. They are backups, tumbling from my lips like spilled secrets. “Leaving?” I have comprehended, but my mind hasn’t.
“Yeah.” She confirms with too graceful of eloquence. “Tonight.” Tonight? No, not … Tonight. That’s not good for me. Did you ever stop and think, Buffy? About me? About what I NEED? What I WANT?
I am anger’s silent fear, ready to attack. If I have begun to understand, I don’t know it. She doesn’t wait for me to ask. She doesn’t debate in telling me the truth. Her lips begin to move and I let reality sink into the crevices that still remain in my battered brain.
“They need me in Sunnydale.” They don’t need you, they put you in here. They only come to talk to you about apocalypses, Slayer stuff. I’m the one who needs you. I need you. I love you. I need you. Not them. ME ME ME ME ME. “Something’s… happened.”
I am the straightjacket around my head. I am a sonnet of sobbing inside. Before the words drop from her mouth, her snake arms are attached to my sides, dragging me towards the bed, keeping me safe from the dark outside of our home. I hate her for this. I hate her more than I love her in every way possible, even though I don’t mean it.
She is death itself and if I touch her I may be infected.
“I have to go. You… understand, don’t you Faith? And look, I want you to come with me, I want you to come once it’s safe and I’ll send for you or something and we’ll be out and away from here forever and…”
We sit again in the silence of love and hate until I finally bring my eyes to her. She won’t look at me, like she’s allergic. Like she can’t. And then I see the bruises, and nothing else matters. There’s monsters rolling up and down her arms, purple tinted, yellow edged and a painful scream about them. They weren’t there before and why are they here now? My new train of thought takes over.
“What are these?”
“Nothing.” And her arm is pulled away, latched back around me, hidden from plain sight. I’m swooning, swearing, fringing at the hole and searching madly for answers. Why is she leaving? When will she be back? Where did she get hurt? Why am I passion’s little whore?
I believe her answer, though fruitful, and maybe if I close my eyes for a minute, a moment or so, she won’t leave, the bruises will go away, and I’ll wake up 1000 miles from home, happy. Only the sleep part becomes truthful and my mind shuts down for the time being. I am gone.
There was a blaring siren in the distinct airwaves, not far away, if my senses were up to par. There was a wave, a cloud, of chaos when I awoke. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear the yelling, cackling, screaming, whispers of questions from uneducated inmates. What was happening?
I sat up on the bottom bunk where I had previously fallen asleep, but my pillow was absent. Buffy was gone, disappeared. Somehow my Slayer and the pandemonium were connected; I knew it in my gut. And now that I looked around what was once, briefly, our home, there was no evidence that Buffy had ever been here before. Her own bunk was made with extreme care, however large patches of blood caked the fabric.
The pictures she kept stationary at the mouldy desk, cramped in the corner of the room unsteadily, were gone.
She had disappeared, escaped, run back to Sunnydale as she had promised she would.
And I was alone.
Alone. Like before. Things were how they were. I was alone. I was with unsinkable reputation, and alone. And Buffy wasn’t here.
I turned towards the door, hoping maybe for a sign, as simpleton as it would be, for Buffy’s whereabouts, whyabouts, or howabouts. Instead of a note, a sign, a waiting messenger I found the door to my cell standing wide open. Strange. It was close to lights out. Doors were closed around this time and it was unlikely for special circumstances to open them.
With a sigh of hesitance on my left shoulder and a galloping whistle of curiousness on my right, I stepped through the door and peered down the hallway. Chaos ensues. Three EMTs carried a gurney, a lumpy figure beneath a dark blue body bag atop, down the corridor, shouting orders to each other, screaming into walkie-talkies. There was blood pooled around my feet, in a wide, deepening puddle. From behind, along another block of cells, two more gurneys emerged carrying bodies.
I didn’t know what was happening, didn’t care to. Buffy was gone, I was alone, and that was important.
I stepped back inside my own cell and for the first time noticed a lone piece of paper sitting folded across the desk. My name, quickly, nervously was scrawled across the top. I unfolded the paper, squinted at the smudged sort of letters and silently read Buffy’s verdict to myself:
I wish I could explain. I wish you could come with me. Things are happening and you need to leave. I’ve arranged it already. Don’t ask how, don’t ask why, don’t ask, just go. Leave. You are free to go. So come to me. Come to Sunnydale, come to me and we’ll be free together. Just get here, fast and now.
I look at the door.
Can I? Can I just… leave?
Did Buffy create this scene for me? Did she create this death and travesty just so I could slip away, into the night, back to Sunnydale, back to her? She had to have. I look back into the scene, and it is still raging.
For me. It’s all for me.
She didn’t leave me to return to Sunnydale, to get a fix on what caged life is and leave. She came for me, and she’s asking for me. I pocketed the letter and glanced once more outside. No one particularly seemed to notice me. And so, as instructed, I left.
I let my feet pull me down the hallway, down the blocks, following a collection of EMTs holding one more gurney. I pretend to walk with it, as if the body beneath the cover is someone I care for. Which, I don’t. My steps fall into the rhythm of the rolling wheels on the body’s cast and I feel a surge of slowly failing energy. Something that could have been strong, dying away.
From in front of me, a walkie-talkie is told, “We’ve lost her.”
And I am free. The gurney wheels outside and no one seems to notice me run along with it. Except I’m not loaded into the back of an ambulance and carted off to the closest morgue. Instead I run. I run as fast as my legs will take me, working solely on the battery acid and radioactive waste in my system. I run until I get to Sunnydale.
For a moment, for a brief, quiet moment in my head, in my mind, in the endless continuum of time, I felt beautifully human. I was no longer the monster parents hid from their children at night. I was no longer the evil, dark shadow of the world. I was not a convict, a fugitive, alone. I was the figure God’s hands had shaped around me and I was standing point centre of Rest field Cemetery. My legs burned like a flame hid beneath the skin, though no wounds would appear. I had, as pushed myself, run the whole way, run to Buffy, to Sunnydale. And here I was. Here, I had made it in equal time. What I found was the only difference in my plans.Headstones.
Four of them. Each placed strategically close to the other, all with the same sort of epitaph. They read easy like ‘Dawn Elaine Summers, A gift from God, the youngest of the Angels’. I read all of them, none many made sense. Although I hadn’t been home, in Sunnydale, for a long, long time. So, what did this mean? All of Buffy’s friends were dead, and they were the ones who needed her.
I looked at the date on the stones, and they all read a year or so ago.
Why did Buffy come to jail?
Why did Buffy need me?
What was my purpose in this whole scheme? I was beginning to wonder.
I didn’t like looking at the graves, so I stopped. They were all too confusing. I turned away and nearly stepped into a freshly dug plot, not yet covered. Clumsily, I slipped away and backed through the endless rows of tombstones.
“Took you long enough.”
I looked around, but I didn’t need to. I knew who was standing behind me with her arms crossed neatly over her chest, leaning back against the trunk of a tree, her legs in a pair beside her.
“What’s happening?” I was desperate, my voice cracked with a slight whimper because I was scared. I didn’t know what was happening, I didn’t know what this was all about, but she had answers. And I wanted them.
She laughs at me. She looks at the ground like a shy little girl and laughs at me. “Haven’t you figured this out yet, Faith?” She moves away from the tree and starts to come closer. I step back. I don’t want her near me. Not until I know what this is. “Seen the reports? The newspapers come by your doorstep lately?”
I shake my head.
Buffy nods towards the tombstones. “They’ve been dead for … almost two years now.” She stops, smiling towards my direction, “Right about the time you went to jail.”
“Don’t worry,” She breaks our pregnant silence, she's in my mind “You didn’t kill them.” Her smile fades, falters, and turns into a stripe of remorse. She fingers the corners of one of the graves. “I did.”
She killed them. At least I didn’t. Good. Good. I’m not completely gone. I didn’t slip. I’m still here.
“But,” Her voice returns to my ears, “I’m sure you can figure out the rest yourself, right?”
Can I? I don’t know. No, I'm scared. I sat down on the ground, looking up at her like a child, like a useless human being because that’s what I felt like. That’s what I was. She stands up over me, her hands at her sides, and she continues. “I was on the run. That’s why I came to jail, to you, Faith. Because I had killed my friends. You were the only oneI could go to, who would understand. I turned myself in after one year. That’s why we were together.” She smiled as she almost whispered the last part, kneeling down beside me, coming so, so close, not touching though.
“But then, you.” Me. “You …” She doesn’t know how to keep going, so she lifts up the sleeve of her shirt and shows me the bruises. Oh, those ones, God, the ones I had seen, the ones she had denied me an explanation for. Me? “… Snapped.” I snapped. I… me…. Gave those to her…. Snapped.
“Yeah, Faith. You. And then you killed me.”
I? Killed her… I killed Buffy A. Summers, I did. Me. Me. Me. I did.
The only word I can manage is “Why?”
She doesn’t know, she says. But I forgive you. Then, with sympathy, she whispers into my ear, “You’re insane, Faith.”
Am I? Is all of this, their deaths, her death, real? If I killed her, why is she here, sitting beside me, holding my head in her hands, telling me the truth? Oh, because I’m insane.
“Maybe it was for the best though. I killed them because I was scared. There was a… God, coming for us. And I killed them so they wouldn’t suffer. So that they wouldn't have any pain to go through because there had been enough. Between all of us. I hope they understood. And then, you, Faith, loved me. And I loved you, but you’re sick. You’re crazy and we couldn’t be together. You wouldn’t let us. You killed me.”
I look up at her and ask what she is. “Your mind. I am your mind, just telling you what you already knew, just wouldn’t let yourself believe.”
Oh. And I guess it makes sense. Me, being insane and all, seeing not her. I look over at the grave I nearly fell into before, the uncovered one. And the headstone says it’s Buffy’s.
Sucker love is heaven sent
You pucker up, our passion’s spent
My heart’s a tart your body’s rent
My body’s broken yours is spent
She’s happy then, right? She is… gone. But she’s happy because she did something bad and maybe I helped her find peace. Maybe. And I’m starting to remember. Ducking around when I returned from solitary, my fist in her face, my leg pinning her to the ground. I remember killing her too. I remember shoving her head into the wall, doing it too many times to count, losing count after I tried, then tossing the body on the bed. Bloody sheets.
Carve your name into my arm
Instead of stressed I lie here charmed
Cause there’s nothing else to do
Every me and every you
I hope she understands. If I’m lucky she’ll understand and forgive me. The real her, not just my mind. She must have been insane too, killing all of her friends. Her reasons are always valid though. Mine, like killing Buffy, are not. My mind Buffy holds me still, whispering into my ear about the time we did have together, though it was spent in a cell, along a too small bed. It's going to be with me for a long time, I know. This mind Buffy. It's going to follow me back to Stockton where they'll finally tell me I'm crazy and feed me pills all day long. I'll finally be with the Buffy I deserve to be with, and I won't hurt her anymore. I'll sleep beside her at night and treasure each movement she makes, even though it will only be my mind. And I suppose that's what makes me insane. And I lay down beside it, laying my head upon its chest. And that’s how they found me the next morning, me lying beside Buffy Summer's grave. They'll take me back home.
I serve my head up on a plate