Just like the curse, just like the stray
You feed it once, and now it stays
So tear me open, but beware
There's things inside without a care
And the dirt still stains me
So wash me, until I'm clean
In a terrific insult by the powers that be, there was absolutely nothing for Faith to kill, maim, or otherwise cause harm to. Not even a rat. And to top it off the Bronze was closed for renovations. Not that anyone was out at night these days. Although there had been no official word of `demons preying on the living', the town had responded as such and seemingly initiated a self-imposed curfew.
There was nothing. No slaying, no dancing, no sex, nothing.
So that's how she ended up where she was, pacing back and forth between crypts, nursing her bloody right hand.
She did say a wall would put up a better fight than Xander.
Angel found her, not surprisingly, within an hour of her storming out of the house. Wordlessly he approached her and reached out, and Faith held her right hand towards him so he could look at it.
"Have you broken anything?" He asked softly.
He let her hand go, and stood, just looking at her for a few seconds.
Faith caught the question before it had even left his mouth. "Having the time of my life, buddy." She said, lightly punching his arm with her other hand. "Couldn't be happier back in Sunny-Dale."
"You could cut them some slack, you know." He said. "Be less. antagonistic."
She shrugged. "Why, when I can give them exactly what they're expecting? Easier on everyone."
"It's not you."
"How do you know?" She countered, eyes flashing just slightly. Angel shook his head.
"Don't play that game with me Faith. I know you better than that."
"The second this thing is over, I'm leaving." She said, crossing her arms.
Angel nodded. "I think that's the idea." He glanced back at the Graveyard behind them. "It's not safe here. We need to get back."
"Hah.. and sleep in Buffy's room?" Faith snorted. "I'd rather take my chances out-"
Any further comment was silenced when an arc of light cut through the air above them and exploded into the side of one of the crypt, sending rocks pelting away in the opposite direction.
"SHIT" Faith hissed.
Faith and Angel both ducked, then leapt away from the path as a shadow swept past them, disappearing beyond the border of the graveyard itself.
"What was that!?"
Angel stared into the darkness, wiping some dust from the explosion off his cheek. "I don't know."
Gritting her teeth, Faith started walking in the direction it had disappeared to. "I'm going after it."
Faith spun. "Come on, Angel, think about it! No-one's seen this fucker so hasn't got a clue what to do about it! Let's at least get a look." She turned back around. "Just a look. Promise."
Begrudgingly, Angel agreed. Perhaps he felt, at the very least, that if something went wrong he'd be there to help. Faith had always been better kept in sight than out of it, after all.
"Just a look. Then we're gone."
They'd barely taken ten steps along the path when a crackle swept across the space above their heads.
Faith jumped to the side, gritting her teeth as the force of her body's impact with the ground drove the air from her lungs. She gathered herself up and lunged forward, her eyes searching out the source of the attack, but all she could see were the shadows created by the Graveyard lights.
"Where the hell are you?" She whispered.
Out of nowhere, a second one came, this time slicing past her right shoulder. It missed her, but she was caught off-balance in an attempt to dodge it and ended up face-down on the concrete.
"Bastard!" She cursed. "What the hell is this thing!?" She pushed herself onto her hands and knees and ducking behind another gravestone. "It's like it's not even here!"
"I don't know!" Angel yelled back. A purple flash exploded overhead and Faith heard the grunt as he too went flying, rolling at the end and jumping back to his feet. "It hasn't materialised yet!"
Another crackle. "We can't touch it!" Angel cursed. "This isn't doing any good Faith! Let's get back to the house."
"Not a chance!"
"Faith? What are you doing..?" The last comment was question that turned mid-sentence into a warning as Angel watched Faith sprinting from behind her hiding spot, through the opening in the hedge into the larger, more open section of the graveyard. "Faith!"
"Getting my pound of shadow!"
"Angel!" The cry came from behind him and he spun around, seeing Buffy sprinting towards him. Her eyes were darting from left to right as she ran, as if looking for a trap.
She didn't slow when she reached him - instead grabbing his arm and yanking him back into the trees. Still with her hand on his arm she bent over, drawing in deep gulps of air.
"Angel.." She puffed. Another crackle sounded somewhere to the left of them - almost like the air itself was being crumpled like a noisy ball of paper. Buffy let go of Angel, ducked and covered her head, immediately turning towards the sound. "It's out there?"
"Faith's trying to kill it." Buffy detected a slight resigned tone to the latter part of his comment. A part of her was intensely relieved however. Faith was very good at looking after herself, and as long as it didn't have Angel, then the world could breathe for a few more days. Suddenly she felt Angel's hand clamp down on her arm, and when she looked up she was greeted with an intense stare. "What are you doing out here?"
"We know what it is. It's after you. You have to get out of here. Get back to the house now - I'll get Faith."
"What?" Angel hissed, but grip on her arm didn't lessen. Somewhere in the back of Buffy's mind she remembered to a time when they knew each other's physical limits completely. Angel was using that knowledge now - anyone else would be in pain with the strength he was holding on. "Why me?"
"I don't have time to explain.. you. you need to get out!" She pushed at his chest with her other arm. Another explosion, and this time it was accompanied by the sound of stone shattering to their right and Faith's taunting voice. Buffy shook her head. "I'm sorry. I brought you here. I asked you to come down here."
"What the hell are you talking about Buffy!?"
"It feeds on souls, Angel!" She cried, looking up at him desperately as she tried to wrench herself free. "The tortured ones. It feeds on them - gives people nightmares until they die terrified and alone. That's why it's been hunting you! If it gets yours then it'll have enough to come to life and destroy everything!" She glanced to the graveyard where she knew Faith would be fighting to within an inch of her life. probably more. "Let me go and get her. I'll meet you back at the house. You have to go."
Angel's eyes widened. "No." He murmured. "NO!" He lunged forward, out of the shadows. Shocked, Buffy jumped after him, grabbing his shoulder and pulling him back.
But Angel shook himself free and continued running, his long dark coat billowing out behind him, truly casting a fearful picture. He jumped over the low hedge surrounding the Graveyard's path and crashed head-long through the second, higher one. The thick brush gave way under the force of his weight hurtling towards it, and left a man-sized hole that Buffy easily leaped through.
"Where are you going!?" She yelled at him, now fearful they'd be found. "You don't understand, it-"
"No you don't understand!!" Angel stopped, turned on Buffy and she gasped at his Vampiric features. They only came out when he was angry, or desperate. I don't have what it wants!"
Buffy shook her head. "What do you mean?"
Angel turned around and kept running, Buffy following close behind. "I have no burden in my past!" She heard him shout. "I came to terms with it! It won't get what it wants from me!"
Buffy stopped. "Then why-" Her lips parted. "No." She breathed. "Oh no."
Faith pressed herself up against another gravestone, and peered over the top. The demon was nowhere in sight. She took a calming breath and checked the upper part of her left arm - a victim of the last exploding gravestone. She'd been able to pull most of the stone fragments out of the muscle, but doubted she got them all. She could feel the sticky warmth of her own blood travelling down, dripping off her fingers.
Now she was wishing she hadn't attacked the damn door.
"Fuck this." She spat. "I don't have time for this."
Gingerly, she stripped off her jacket and pulled her t-shirt over her head, leaving the tank-top underneath. Part of her wondered where Angel had gone, but it wasn't a big enough part to give her any concern. She was used to being alone, and she was definitely used to fighting alone. Bracing it under her feet and using her good arm, Faith ripped the material up the middle, then ripped it across, creating a very crude tourniquet. She positioned it just above her elbow, tied it loosely, then grabbing one end between her teeth and the other in her other hand, she pulled. Hard.
"Shhiiiiiitt." She hissed, her mouth full of cotton. Pushing the pain out of her mind she arranged another knot and pulled again.
The rest of the gang wanted to sit in their little Brady Bunch house and discuss the thing? Let them! It was obvious she had little to contribute to their pow-wow session. Talking bored her. Fighting was what she did - what she was here to do.
Bracing herself against the stone at her back Faith slipped her arms back into her jacket, stood up, and began walking casually, brazenly between the graves, daring the demon to come and find her.
And find her it did.
At first, it seemed like the shadows of the trees were simply extending, as if the moon had just rapidly descended behind them. A quick glance upwards and Faith could tell this wasn't the case. The shadow flowed, pulsed, found form and then lost it again until suddenly it detached from the trees and moved forward - a disjointed black hole. Faith stared directly in front of her and bared her teeth in a menacing smile.
"There you are, you bastard."
When it finally gained shape, it was like light itself had no bearing with this creature, like it was simply bending the stuff around itself. Faith didn't pay much attention in school, but what little she remembered of science was that that was impossible.
"Come on you fucker." She breathed, then raised her voice. "Fight me, damnit!!!"
The demon stopped.
Unfazed, Faith cocked her head, sneering. "What, not used to someone fighting back?"
The shadow towering above her shifted, and Faith gasped as a face appeared. She took a step back.
It was as if she had looked into fear itself. At any one time the demon held the expression of a thousand people, all caught in the throes of some horrifying torture. Pain, desolation and terror distorted their features in a way that sent chills all the way up and down her spine. She heard a rumble, barely detectable at first but as it became louder she recognised it as a very low laugh.
Then it spoke, and the voice chilled Faith to the core.
The demon's voice, like it's face, wasn't distinct. Instead, it was a jumble of hundreds of different tortured screams at different pitches. This demon didn't have vocal chords. It had chords of a different kind. It paused, as if regarding his prize. Faith swore, and ducked to the left, ready to run.
At least, that was her plan. But where she thought she'd moved, she clearly hadn't. The demon still loomed overhead.
Somewhere in the distance, Faith could hear someone calling her name.
Angel, hurry the fuck up
It distracted her for barely a moment, but the second her attention returned she watched in horror as streams of purple flame darted out towards her. She tried to shout, to run, to fight, but nothing happened. Nothing moved.
And for an instant, she saw her mother's face.
Suddenly it surrounded her, and Faith screamed as a white hot fire pulsed through her body. Tiny tendrils of light bit into her, and unable to move, unable to breathe she felt herself lift off the ground. The crackling was so loud and the pain so great she wondered momentarily if it were her atoms tumbling apart, piece by piece.
Let me die She begged nothing in particular, Please just let me die
The pain inverted, and she was no longer burning, but terrifyingly cold. The purple changed to white, and Faith felt as if her very life-force was leaving her.
"Ohh.. God!!" She yelled, but her mouth barely made a sound.
And then the intensity dropped, and she felt her feet touch the ground. The vortex surrounding her had lessened, but she still couldn't move. Her whole body shook , and as the cold faded with the light, a voice resonated deep within her - deeper than her mind, her soul. deeper than time itself.
You are mine.
It disconnected, and, like a rag-doll Faith crumpled to the ground.
Crawling in my skin
These wounds they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real
-- Linkin Park
Reality can be a cold, hard thing to handle. Before the moment of truth actually sets in there can be numerous attempts at rationalisation, at disbelief. the point where all those `get out of jail free' cards that a person thinks they hold get thrown into the fray, hoping, pleading with the Ether that one of them will work.
But when the truth finally does reveal itself, and that sting rises up through the stomach, tingling down the arms and up to the neck, somehow it takes a person back to youth. Suddenly they feel like that time when they were five, and they were caught writing on the walls in permanent ink.
For those first few seconds, it's all about the walls, the ink, and the scolding received for doing it. Funny, how something like that can invoke the same feelings as an imminent apocalypse.
Buffy's lungs were burning by the time they reached the other side of the graveyard. The flash had illuminated the sky - they had both seen it - and they knew. They knew it was over.
"Faith!" Buffy's eyes snapped up from the path as she heard Angel call her name. Just beyond him lay a dark figure. In two strides he had closed the distance and he crouched down next to her, hands reaching out. "Faith."
Buffy was only a few feet behind, and she ran around Angel to the other side of Faith's body. Faith lay on her back, her legs bent, right arm outstretched and left hand resting on her abdomen. Her eyes were tightly closed, her fast breaths puffing short bursts of steam into the air.
She was shaking.
"Faith.." Angel repeated, placing his hand against her forehead, then left cheek. "Come on." Buffy knelt down and his eyes rose to meet her. "She's freezing."
Angel's features had returned to normal, but his eyes still held the desperation she had first seen in them when he'd realised what was happening. Desperation and. fear. Angel was afraid for her. Buffy, through a multitude of experience, had learned to trust Angel implicitly. The combination wrought havoc on Buffy's conscience. Angel was afraid for Faith. Concerned for Faith.
A part of her felt ashamed.
She looked up and down Faith's body, suddenly unsure of herself. If it were any of the others she would be holding their hand, trying to rouse them. She would be the one using her physical contact to pull them out. Somehow, it. this. just. didn't seem right. She felt the part of her holding her back. The part that screamed at her to look at who this was, and remember. remember all the things they'd done to them.
She felt the other part of her hating her for it.
"She's bleeding." She said, when she saw the blood streams down the back of Faith's left hand. Angel reached over and lifted the lapel of her jacket, wincing at the smell that only he could detect.
Blood. Lots of it.
"We've got to get her to the hospital." He leaned over Faith's body and slid his arms underneath her. He lifted her carefully - and both he and Buffy started when a weak groan left her lips as the motion caused her injured arm fall to away from her stomach and dangle awkwardly outwards.
"It's okay Faith, you're safe." He said softly. "Just relax."
Apparently, there are a couple of rules when handling an injured slayer. Number one, if you're too close to them when they regain consciousness, and they're likely to be disoriented and not in love with you, you're likely to come out with a few bruises. Number two; if you're going to carry them, make sure they know about it, or are unconscious with absolutely no likelihood of coming to mid- transport.
Rule number three. if that slayer is Faith, you're better off waking her up and letting her walk herself, or you're likely to lose a limb.
Angel had yet to encounter any of the Rules.
Faith's eyes shot open, and her breathing quickened in pace. Angel felt her body tense completely in his arms.
Buffy.well Buffy was learning Rule number three right now. And she was learning fast.
"Angel let her go." She said quickly, "Put her down."
"She needs a doctor Buffy." He simply said.
Buffy shook her head. "Angel, trust me. You need to put her down now."
Before he could act on the second warning Faith growled, kicked up, locked her legs around Angel's neck, and sent a cracking punch towards his jaw. Angel doubled over in pain, hands darting to his face. It was the release Faith needed and in a final move she flipped off him, landing awkwardly on her feet and backing up with her left arm hanging loosely beside her, her right fist raised, glazed eyes glaring at them both.
"Faith!" Buffy cried out, holding up her hands. Faith stood, blinking the disorientation away and shaking her head every few seconds. The action was causing her hair to flick haphazardly across her face, which made her look. wild. Feral. Buffy felt a pang of. guilt? Sympathy?
There was something about that picture, with Faith standing injured and shivering in the shadows that etched itself into Buffy's mind. And it would stay there, regardless of how long it took her to accept it.
Buffy shook her own head and inhaled deeply to clear the image from her immediate thoughts. She knew that if this wasn't handled properly Faith would fall back on her instincts and simply run. That would prove difficult for them all.
"Faith, stop." She said more softly. "It's just me. Me and Angel."
Slowly, the ache in her arm focused some clarity into Faith's consciousness. The threatening figures before her began to take more shape.
`Me and Angel.'
"What..?" Faith finally croaked. She tried to draw into recollection, to bring out something, anything that could place her whereabouts, and why she was there. All she could find was darkness. Faith blinked harder, unclenched her right fist and lifted her hand, rubbing furiously at her forehead.
This wasn't the Faith she knew. Buffy's frown deepened, and she closed her eyes briefly. This wasn't Faith the murderer, the heartless, fearless loveless weapon. That Faith would have been long gone, rather than risk appearing unsure. Attacking Angel, yeah, well, Buffy could live with that. Instincts were heightened in Slayers - even the animal ones. Faith had used a viciousness that only came from a wounded animal believing it was trapped. At the most basic level, Buffy understood. And it was that understanding that drove her now.
"Faith, I'm going to come closer." Buffy closed the distance between them even further, so there was only a foot between them, and Buffy could whisper her next words without having to worry that Faith wouldn't hear it. "But I'm not going to hurt you."
Faith didn't acknowledge Buffy, nor did she retreat any further. She just continued rubbing at her forehead, stopping when she touched a raised mark on the left side of her face. With a frown, she pulled her fingers away to look at them, then pressed down on it again, repeating the process as if looking for blood.
It was just above her left cheekbone. Buffy didn't need to see it to know what it was, and the knowledge made her sick to her stomach.
Faith had been marked.
In that instant, Buffy chose to forget about the betrayal, the lies, the hurt. She silenced the voice screaming at her to come to her senses, to realise who this was... to realise what she'd done. She chose to forget it all. Just for a moment. Just for the chance to be the one to bring back the person, the one person who truly understood her.
"Faith it's okay." She murmured, and reached out.
It was a motion that would spell the end of them. Or perhaps the beginning - who knew. There was such power in hands. Such a bond could be created by the simple gesture of taking another person's hand. Buffy could have grabbed Faith's sleeve, or her forearm, but she didn't. She would remember that. She would also remember the iciness of Faith's skin as their fingertips finally connected, and connected for the first time in years.
But most of all she would remember the connection itself. The link re-established between them in such a simple gesture, for such a simple purpose. The way Faith looked at her as Buffy's fingers curled around the side of her hand and she felt it - the power of another slayer - the vulnerability of a lost girl.
"I'm sorry." Buffy whispered.
It was a moment not to be forgotten, regardless of the fact that only seconds after the words left Buffy's mouth Faith would break the contact, yanking her hand away and glaring. Perhaps it was for that very reason Faith stalked past her, mumbled an apology to Angel, and kept on going.
Perhaps that's why none of them said a word until they reached the hospital.
Giles hung up the phone, dropping his head.
Lying awake, watching the sunlight
"So what was it?" She asked as they turned the corner from the emergency ward. "The number for a drug rehab place?"
Angel started and stared at her. "How did you know?"
"Like I said, been there, done that." Faith simply held up her hands. "The way he was looking at you and me? I reckon he thought you were my dealer."
Angel had to chuckle at that.
Faith flashed him a big smile. Not a grin, not a sneer, but a genuine, uninhibited smile. Angel relaxed into it, and once again he was reminded of how glad he was he had taken the time to fight for her. Everything he had seen since they had left that protective bubble of the car was so... Anti Faith. It was the `old' Faith. It was. a façade that he could see through in a second, yet was afraid she couldn't. The longer she stayed away from the person she had become, the more he had worried. Now he felt his worry ease, just a fraction. These brief moments he knew would remind her, at least unconsciously, that she was more.
Just like Faith, to bail herself out at the last minute.
Faith had managed to conceal the nightmare from Angel better than she even knew. Her reaction when she came to in the graveyard had been so similar to the one in the hospital that Angel didn't know the difference. She had no idea where the memory came from, why her mind felt it necessary to dredge those images out of the silt and flash them up in front of her eyes like a bright fucking neon Burger King sign.
Did it have something to do with that. thing? Faith shuddered at the memory of the graveyard, drawing a sideways glance from Angel.
"Five by Five."
They rounded another corner, and almost immediately something floated gently across Faith's subconscious - something. vaguely comforting. With all the switching off she was doing, she didn't even see it coming. She'd definitely felt it before, but couldn't quite place it. It seeped into the cracks between her disjointed, agitated thoughts, calming her long enough to pull away from them.
Buffy, who had since returned to her seat, lifted her head. and turned towards the doors at the end of the hallway. She had felt. what had she felt? Discontinuity. Uncertainty. And a dark.. edge. that she knew instantly to be distinctly Faith.
Buffy lowered her head again, pressing her thumb and middle fingers to each temple as she began to grapple with some truths of her own. The connection that, despite them both, was slowly materialising back into existence was torturous. It brought with it feelings and an implicit trust in the other that was unavoidable. She couldn't explain it, any more than she could break away from it, but it was rooted so deep that only the deepest kind of hurt could result from it.
The deepest pain.
The war within Buffy spoke of that very pain - showed how that implicit trust had burned her. It threw up pictures of death, violence, fighting that had been the result of Faith. Faith's betrayal. Faith's evil. Another part of her showed pictures of her betrayal. Her inability to see what was in front of her. Her jealousy.
She rose from her seat, waiting, only seconds before Faith and Angel appeared through the doors. Faith had put her jacket back on, so her arm was concealed. Just like Faith - your enemy mustn't know your weaknesses. Buffy sighed.
No two people were so different than she and Faith.
And yet so fundamentally alike.
All that passion they exerted, all that fear they commanded. All the times they pushed the boundaries. One of them would have crossed it, eventually.
Buffy knew that.
As they approached Buffy could see Faith was troubled, though she was trying to fight it. She had that. crease between her eyebrows that only appeared when she was trying to stop thinking. Buffy remembered that look. She remembered it from the countless conversations after Alan Finch's death.
Damnit, why didn't she act on it then?
"Hey guys." Buffy said, wearily. "How did it go?"
Faith's expression was instantly replaced by a nonchalant smile. She shook a small white bottle in front of her face, which rattled in a very pill-reminiscent manner. "Druuugs." She waggled her eyebrows.
"Just some stitches, some antibiotics." Angel offered.
Buffy nodded, her eyes not leaving Faith's face. "How are you feeling?"
"Sane, actually." She answered lightly. "Well in control of all my faculties." She finished with a tilt of her head and a sweet smile. "I think it lucked out on me, B."
"Let's hope so." Buffy smiled slightly, an action that seemed to surprise the hell out of Faith who had to pretend to stare at something near the exit in order to hide her shock. Buffy looked up at Angel. "I've called a cab. It's waiting for us out the front."
"There's still a long time before dawn." Angel said. "You two go back, get some rest. I'm going to have look around and see what I can find."
Buffy shook her head. "Angel I don't think that's a good idea-"
"And I second that!" Faith interjected, staring at him incredulously.
"I can find out much more out there than I can in the house." Angel said. "There are enough people working on theory. There are places I can go that no website has access to. You know that." His last comment was directed at Buffy, who nodded slowly.
"Be careful." She said gently, then turned to Faith, who still glaring daggers into Angel's shoulder. "Come on, let's go." Buffy turned to go, paused, and turned back for a moment. "I won't bite."
"Yeah, but I might." Faith grunted. "Fox with the chickens, remember?"
This time, Buffy didn't turn to make her next comment, but she knew Faith heard it.
"I seem to remember fox with the hounds."