The Confessional


Rating: R, for language and some images
Warnings: This fic contains reference to slash and some subjects which I guess could be considered controversial.
Pairings: This is not a shippy fic. B/A and A/S are explicitly referenced; many others are hinted at.
Summary: Angel visits Faith in prison. Takes places between AtS S1 & 2.
A/N: Although this fic has a definite time frame, it can't be read as "missing scenes". Among other things, Faith's prison is too far away for Angel to visit this often in one summer. This fic is much more of a "what if", especially towards the end.


Prologue

This story about the firmness of my fabu tits and the tightness of this highly fuckable ass. It’s about where my mind went last time I was high and why, exactly, Where Eagles Dare is the best movie ever. Maybe if you want, and definitely if you don’t, there’ll be a word from our sponsors about demons I’ve whacked: how I slice; I dice. I murder without all that pesky muss and fuss, just name your price. If you order today, you’ll get what you were looking for—something personal, honey, something all about Faith: I’ll tell you ‘bout my soft spot for pancakes with bananas, free of charge.

But I’m not gonna tell you how bad I feel about what I’ve done and how much I wish I could change. That’s between me, my bars, my cell-mate Davida and a pack of fifty other women who’re just itching to make me their bitch. The parole board and a vamp are in on it too, but I didn’t ask them here. And I sure as a bear shits in the woods didn’t ask you.

I can see we’re not connecting. Why would we be? I’m a murderer, aren’t I—that and one really good lay, if you’ll excuse my saying so. Just a killer and a cunt, that’s me; and who might you be? Some pity-pussy who wanted to cry over the joke that is my life, I’ll bet that’s who you are. I’ll bet you were all cozy on your couch with your coffee and your comforter, and ten to one you were expecting to cuddle up with me, weren’t you, you sad fuck.

Not so warm and cozy as you thought now, is it? This is my turf, my mind. So let’s get a few things straight, shall we? There will be no cuddling. There will be no crying. There will be no condolences, commiseration, or comfort. Don’t like it? Get out. I don’t want you here.

I don’t want anyone here.



1.

Can’t say as I’m tickled Angel’s here, either, on the other side of the glass and all broad and brooding shoulders hell-bent too gorgeous for this place. I slide into my seat, pick up my phone, and say coolly, “Well, if it isn’t the white-wingéd halo-man himself. What brings you to my scrawny neck of the woods?”

“I came to see you,” he says.

“Great. Are we done? ‘Cause there’s a game of dominoes down in the rec I’m really sorry to miss right now.”

“Thought you might want to talk.”

“What? You, me, and your high and mighty soul make three? I’m not your little project.”

“You’re right.” Voice is bland. “You’re not worth the effort.” A brow lifts, the cocky bastard. “Or is that what you wanted to hear?”

A ‘hello’ would’ve been nice. “It’s just I like dominoes,” I say.

“How have you been?”

“Me? Oh, it’s all daffodils and daisies in the joint, Angel. Tonight the girls and I are painting our toe-nails and French-braiding our hair, and I know a dyke on fourth who’s going to try to slit her wrists with a plastic spoon.”

Just looks at me. Then says: “Your hair would look nice. French-braided.”

“Really?” The boss said once I should pull back my hair—said I had a pretty face.

“You look thinner.”

Now he sounds concerned. I don’t like this. I don’t like this I don’t like this I don’t like—“Checking me out, big stud?”

“You know, it doesn’t sound like you’re interested in change at all, Faith.” He speaks his sentence very smoothly. “Have fun with your plastic spoons, huh? Officer!”

“What, you’re leaving?” He’s hanging up the phone, standing up. “No, this conversation isn’t over. Sit back down! Hey!” I stand up on my side, slam a hand on the glass. I can break it; I can hurt people; I can kill him. Bells would ring and flowers would bloom; there’d be a spring in my step, I’d be so content, and my feet would be shredded to ribbons by the shards of glass on the floor. “Did you hear me?” I’m hollering. “I said—” There’re guards on me, hauling me away. I can snap their bones like butterfly backs—

Angel talks to a corrections officer on the other side, puts on an innocent act of alarm. I read his lips. “She’s a bad seed, I guess,” he says and shakes his head.

“Hey!” I yell, thinking of the only thing I want from him, the only thing that really matters. “Are you coming back?”

He smirks at me and walks away.

*

Now, when I say it was “the only thing that really matters,” don’t get your panties in a twist. Just so we got things clear, I don’t care if he comes back. If you really want to know, I’ll pay cash money never to see his Buffy-whipped ass again.

I’m busy. Don’t believe me? Alright then, big shot, do some time in the big house, where half the girls’ll want to make you their fluff n’ stuff ‘cause the other half’s already been butched in. Try convincing them you’re tough enough not to need a sugar mama while at the same time not hurting a hair on their eighty-five IQ skulls. Try knowing you could blood in and be the toppest of top dogs, and try putting your head down instead, keeping to yourself at rec, minding your own business in the mess—letting them walk all over you, thinking they’re bigger than you. Better than you.

You think this is easy, don’t you—doing nothing, being nothing. Yeah, you would; you’re just as bad as he is. For people like me, on the other hand, jail’s kind of a wish your heart makes, if you get my drift. It’s all about confidence, strength, rack and bush. It’s about showing the girls who’s boss, sticking it to the ones who think they can screw you, making your way by the blood on your fists. If it weren’t for one itty bitty issue, I’d be all over the dynamics in this hole like a duck on a June bug.

But somehow I can’t quite figure, quality time with my little sisters got knocked back in line, ‘cause I’m already someone else’s punk. I’m the biggest sissy in the slammer, the most submissive, the most owned. I get on my knees whenever I hear “please” from that catty flirting whore—Angel’s big daddy, his dom and darling cocktease: that thing he likes to call redemption. Him and me, we’re its bitch and we’re just begging for more.


2.

The next time, I walk in, pick up the phone, and keep my mouth shut.

“How are you?” Angel asks.

“Good. I’m . . . good.” I’m the good little girl you want me to be. “How are you?”

“Same old.”

We stare at each other and then I remember I’m supposed to pretend like I’m interested. “Oh?” I ask.

He tilts his head at me; it’s Law and Order: small talk with subtext. “Wolfram and Hart blew up my office,” he says finally. “A redneck in a business suit wants redemption so I cut off his hand; big bad’s got some bigger bad in a box which they’ll probably use to kill me and my friends . . . you know, the usual.”

“Yo, bright side,” I suggest. “You got friends.”

“I know,” he says.

“But you’re not perfectly happy.”

“No.”

There, got rid of that smug rat-bastard smile. “Miss the blonde runt, huh?”

Doesn’t even flinch. “She could wipe the floor with you.”

“Bull feathers. Look, she’s got a lot going for her, I’ll give you that. But when it comes to brute strength hand to hand, let me tell—”

“Does it ever come down to just brute strength?”

“Sure. When I fight demons,” I answer. Easy.

“But not in the war you’re waging. Those other things Buffy has going for her, they make her stronger than you. Smarter. Better.”

“Prettier,” I add sullenly.

“Buffy loves the world. She can’t help herself. She loved it enough to give you more chances than you deserved. More chances than I . . .” He trails off. Come on baby, that’s it. Just hurt yourself a little more—

“She loves it enough to fight for it.” His eyes sidle away from mine; voice is low. “And die for it. To her, the world is beautiful.”

“Also,” I add flippantly, because I like to bathe my hands in blood and dig the wounds yet deeper, “she has this really tight little ass and a complete come-fuck-me mouth.”

Now he just looks bored. “Would you like me to leave you to your wet dreams, Faith?”

“What?” I snap. He’s starting to hang up his phone. “No—don’t go. I mean, I didn’t mean it. I mean I did but I didn’t mean to say it. Uh.” Here comes part I hate: “Sorry?”

He doesn’t hang up, but he shakes his head. “Starting to like that new word of yours, aren’t you?” he asks. “‘Sorry’ is only the beginning. An inch around the circumference of the world, Faith.”

“But . . . but you’re not leaving?”

He’s standing up. “I think I’ve had enough of you for one day.”

*

Angel is weak.

You wouldn’t think it to look at him, would you? The sucker packs a wicked punch; he’s given Buffy and me a run for our money. I’d be all over that if I thought I had half a chance. Screw him half way to Sunday before he knew what hit him. He’d buck; I’d suck; we’d fuck and fuck and fuck, and sweet Jesus but it’d be one hell of a ride.

And to top it off, he’s got grit. He went to Hell and back, withstood the First Evil, fought the big boss, blah, blah, that’s Angel: hit of the soul stars club. That’s fine, meet mister dandy, but want to know what the best part is?

He still hates himself.

It’s not ever gonna be over for that boy. The second he sees happiness, I’m telling you, he’ll run the other way. Sure, there’s the soul-poppin’ sex thing, but I’m not even talking about that. This is about the century before Sunnydale. What’s he do? How’s he live? I’m betting nine years out of ten, he’s kicking himself into a corner, huddling against the world, waiting for his beating from the wrists that feed him because he’s been such a bad boy.

I don’t need Angel here helping me lick my wounds with you, sick-o. Tongues have better uses, and pussy’s sweeter than a pup who’s lapped at the balls of atonement so long he’s made the fellatio of abstractions a fine art. Bet he tastes like shame by now. Besides, I’ve always liked chicks as much as dicks, and here’s another thing to be said for the bitch slammer: there certainly is an assortment of tail.


3.

I saunter in and pick up the phone. “Back for more, champ?”

“Let’s get something straight. We’re not going to talk about Buffy for a long, long time. And you’re never going to talk about Buffy’s relationship with me. Understood?”

“Sure,” I say; play it cool. “Sure. It’s not my fault, you know. It’s everyone else who always wants to talk about B. Me? I could care less. The bitch bores me.”

Angel stirs impatiently. “Somehow I doubt that.”

“Got a lot of that, don’t you,” I snap. “Doubt. You come across like this arrogant bastard, but really you’re just looking for someone in the world to love you, and you’re not even sure it can happen. You’re a sick fuck who gets off on being a martyr.”

“I’m a sick fuck who gets off on being a martyr,” says an indifferent mask, “but I was never searching for, or hoping for, love.”

“Aren’t you? Could’ve fooled me, what with you and—”

“Faith.” A broad hand clenches on the table. He sees me looking at it; it loosens and drops to his side, the better to be alone.

“I was going to say you and Wesley,” I lie. “Getting all cozy.”

He blinks. “I’m not in love with Wesley.”

“Sure about that?”

So perfectly still when he stares. “I never think of Wesley in that way,” he says at last, lowly.

“Maybe you should start. The man needs a nice hard screw. Hey, is being hetero a soulful thing? Bet you weren’t so discriminating back in the day.”

Suddenly, there’s a smirk. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“About how you get it up for Wesley?”

“I don’t.”

He’s cute when he’s defensive. “Why not? Those steely blue eyes, that English accent, that tight-set mouth—”

Now the smirk is back. “Sounds like I’m a lot less attracted to him than you are, Faith.”

Right, because you get it up for one and only, and now your cunt of choice is clenching around another cock.

I want to say that. I’m dying to say that, because I don’t get wet for Wesley. I don’t get wet for Wesley I don’t get wet for Wesley I don’t get wet for—“You’d never get your hands on him, anyway,” I snap. “You kidding? A Watcher? Former Watcher, whatever. The Council hates you. They don’t care about your poor pussy-whipped soul. And Giles—woo-ee, Giles. I heard what you did to his girlfriend, you know, you murderin—

“Are you trying to piss me off?” he asks mildly. “Because if you are, you suck at it. Just like you suck at everything else.”

“Yeah, well.” I tap the glass. I put this here between us so I can’t destroy him, so I can’t destroy the world in my hatred and my fury. “Can’t really hurt you, can I?”

“Sure you can,” he says, like he’s giving me a gift. “I’m just not going to let you.”

That’s why he’s not letting me talk about Buffy, and that’s why she’s all I wanna talk about. Oh shit, I might cry; where did that come from? Am I made of glass too? How long before I break and bare my wrists? “I don’t want to hurt you,” I’m saying, “but I do. I really do. You know I sit around, just hoping you’ll come back, just waiting for you to come back—”

“Yes,” he says, still soft, “I know that.”

*

I still dream about it. I fantasize about number two pencils. I’ll use one to pin up my hair, just like he told me to do, and I’ll walk in and smile. He’ll smile back and he’ll be waiting for me, only for me, just waiting. Soon as I get there I’ll crash a fist through the glass; it’ll only hurt for a moment, and the other hand’ll be whipping down my hair so fast it’ll make everything clouded, confused: streaming chestnut and gleaming shards of shattered sound. Trusty number two will find it’s way so sure it won’t even break—

But he’ll escape. The broken glass between us will splinter into stars, and the night will cut us up, slashing us with rain. I’ll follow Angel, long legs pounding wet pavement, lungs burning, breath catching, heart racing, and chasing chasing chasing the kill kill kill. You wouldn’t know, you’ve never felt how it feels to hunt; it’s better than breath than sex than life.

Then my foot will connect with his face. I’ll revel in the pain, never have my fill. This time there will be no tears and the rain will be only rain. There will be no forgiveness Angel, none of that schmaltz in this dream; there won’t be; there won’t be; no, no, no, and—

He is holding me and I am crying. His hands are moving through my hair, soft, stroking, sending rivulets of rain down into untouched places. I’m cold, shivering, but he is warm in all the wet and somehow that’s wrong—because it’s Wesley. Wesley holding me, touching me, feeling me forgiving me and I told Angel I didn’t want this!—and then Wesley is touching those untouched places, which can’t be right either, because with me there’s no where pure left to touch.

This can’t mean anything; I only tortured him, never cared for him, never loved him; you have to believe me—but it means everything because it’s Buffy. Buffy’s sitting with me in a puddle; we’re laughing at the way we’ve fallen, soaked to the skin; we don’t care. She smiles, and the sun comes out. She leans in, and loves me. She kisses me, and forgives me.

This isn’t fantasy. It’s a nightmare.

 

4.

“How are you?” Angel asks.

“Fine. How are you?”

“Same old.”

“Oh?” I’m already bored.

“We got a board.”

“What?”

“A white board,” he explains. “We write down the demons we’re hunting. Keep track of where they are, their habits, stuff like that, and cross them off when we kill them.” Sounds proud; now he’s smirking, “I like to do the crossing off part.”

“Slicker’n snot on a glass door knob.”

He nods. “It’s neat.”

“Neat?”

“Well, we’re prepared.”

“Just like Boy Scouts.”

“I am not a Boy Scout,” he says, mildly offended.

“Well, you’re back in the battery. Cocked, locked, and ready to rock.”

He stares at me, then says abruptly, “Were you an army brat?”

“Huh?”

“I just thought, with the battery, and the ‘five by—’” he begins.

“Ah, ten-four on that, Cap’n. No. I watched a lot of war movies. They’re my favorite kind.”

Apocalypse Now?”

“Shit no. How come everyone’s so Coppola crazy? Not that I didn’t like The Godfather, but give me Green Berets any day.”

“Really?” he asks, raising a brow.

“Hell yeah. John Wayne? Me and him, we could do our own rodeo with the way we’d ride. Talk about your bucking bronco, your bare-back—”

“Can we not?” he asks, looks slightly ill.

“Bet he’s hung like a stallion. What?” Officer, I’m innocent. “S’got the confidence of a platoon of tanks, is all I’m saying.”

“Okay, now, I liked that one.”

“What, Platoon?” I ask. “You don’t know shit from shinola, do you? Patton, now that’s a movie.”

Shakes his head. “Never would’ve guessed. You’re a conservative.”

“What? Conserve my ass. What I like is a hard fucker that doesn’t take any nonsense. Don’t give me any of this moral ‘what’re we doing,’ crap.”

“So you liked Robert Duvall.”

“Huh?”

“In Apocalypse Now,” he explains. “The Colonel who says, ‘I love the smell of—’”

“‘—napalm in the morning.’ Yeah, best line in the flick. The rest just complicates something that should be simple. It’s war. You kill the bad guys. End of story.”

“Sometimes you don’t know who the bad guys are.” All of a sudden he looks grave. Sneaky smart-ass, pulling on words like puppet-strings.

“Whatever,” I announce. “I like the way John Wayne walks.”

He smiles a little. You know, I can give most men a hard-on with just a few choice words—and yet, somehow that pales in comparison to being able to bring that light to Angel’s eyes. I feel triumphant, like I’m flying. “Remind me to show you my impression sometime,” he says.

Now I’m just shocked. “You’re shitting me.”

“Yes, I am,” he says gravely.

I laugh, and it feels so good. “You know the best one, though? Where Eagles Dare.” He just looks at me. “Don’t tell me you don’t know it! Clint Eastwood? Richard Burton?”

His brow furrows. “Did it have a pretty blonde in it?”

“Yeah, Mary Ure,” I say, without inflection. Right now, bringing up B is barely a blip on my radar.

“Okay, I remember now,” Angel says, nodding. “I didn’t see the end.”

“Oh. The double agent is—”

“Don’t tell me,” he commands, waving a hand. He’s still smiling.

I lean in, getting into it. “But you’d never guess. And when’re you gonna find the time to see it, what with you and your white board? It’s Colonel—”

Angel starts to stand up.

“Hey,” I say, lean back, back off. “Hey, okay, I won’t tell you, if it’s really such a big deal.”

“I have to go.”

“Look. I’m sorry—”

“No,” he says gently. “I mean, I have to go, Faith.” He opens his hand, showing me what’s in it.

“You got a beeper,” I say flatly. The call number window says “911.” Of course, because there’s a world out there that needs saving more than me.

“Yes.”

I look at him, lip curled. “Does it vibrate?”

His lips twitch. “What, you want one?”

“Oh God,” I breathe, dripping sarcasm, “do you think you could get me one?”

He blinks, startled. “I was kidding.”

“So was I,” I snap. “I’ve got fingers, don’t I? And the sisters—Christ Almighty, but they’ve got fingers, too.”

“Good-bye, Faith,” he says softly.

“Fuck off.”

“I’ll be back next week.”

“Yeah. Whatever. I could care less.”

Other lies could broadcast more, but I’m not sure how.

*

Now, I said I’d tell you about Where Eagles Dare, so here goes. This plane goes down out in the boonies and there’s this general they have to get out—but the Nazis are all boobs; it’s the limey rescue team you gotta look out for (I won’t tell you who the dirty double-crosser is, in case you’re a spoil sport like Angel). It’s all quality action: blood everywhere, guys screaming in mortal agony left and right—right up my alley. Schaffer (that’s Clint) caps more guys in this one scene than Dirty Harry ever saw in his life.

When I first saw it, I almost peed my pants. I started bouncing in my seat, and when they got on the cable cars I jumped so hard I broke the damn couch. Luckily, it was Kit’s uncle’s couch. I was at his place ‘cause Mom took too many pills again. After that, we made the couch the castle and we played war all night. I’m not talking about any of that pansy cops n’ robbers, cowboys n’ Indians crap either. We had tanks, and artillery; we knew what caliber our machine guns were. We learned the whole NATO phonetic alphabet (I can still say, “fuck you, over,” in foxtrots and charlies).

Kit and me always played war and were never on the same side. We were always on about which of us was better, which of us got to use the water gun, which of us got to command the tanks. A lot of times, it came down to waling on each other. I always hit first and I always won, because I was stronger than him. But it was always tit for tat with Kit. He was faster, smarter, sneakier. He’d get back at me in ways I couldn’t fight. That’s why I liked to kick him when he was down, stood there with other kids and laughed at him. Lemme tell you, Kit was one ugly-ass little motherfucker.

Then my Watcher took me away and it was strange: I missed Kit at first. I even thought of ways to go get him out of Southie and bring him with me. But then you get Chosen and you just . . . forget. Scars fade with Slayer healing—the cigarette burns, bottle slashes, feelings you only settle by bashing your kid rival, just so you know you’re better than someone else. I became a Slayer and became a new person, someone without history; friends, family—they didn’t matter to me any more. Later, I heard Kit’s uncle beat him to death, or some sad shit like that. And all I got is this memory, sitting there with Kit watching Where Eagles Dare, and a thought like maybe I killed him, somehow, because I’ll never be a hero like Schaffer, or creeping Christ help me, Richard Burton.

Me, I’m the double-crosser.



5.

“How are you?” Angel says, and might as well be screaming “Stella!” for all the times we’ve been through this.

“I’m all peaches and cunt cream. How’re you?”

He raises his brows, but he sticks to his script and just says, “Same old.”

“Oh?” I say, prim again.

“Killing demons. We’re getting good.”

“Wolfram and Hart open their big box, yet?”

“No. Maybe it’s nothing, after all.”

“What?” I ask. “You? Hope? Optimism?”

“I’m a very optimistic person.”

“Get out.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” I forgot to tell you how his gentle-voice sounds. It’s like a cat finding the square of sunlight on the carpet, the hush the fur makes against itself as the cat curls up, and I keep thinking—he used this tongue on Buffy.

“I didn’t ask you to come,” I snarl.

“I know.” I’m allergic to cats. They make me itchy. This isn’t how he looked at B, but it’s warm and close like camp-fire friendship and Jesus, how her cunt must’ve been like a furnace for him. Why can’t we just go back to talking about John Wayne and the smell of napalm in the morning? “How’ve they been treating you?” he says finally.

My mouth twists in relief. “The food sucks. Beans n’ dicks.”

“What?”

“That’s what they called it in ‘Nam,” I explain. “Military rations.”

His nose wrinkles, looks kinda funny. “That’s what you’ve been eating?”

I shrug. “It’s similar.”

“Sounds disgusting.”

“The beans are gross. The dicks . . .” I trail off, and smirk. They’re just hotdogs, in case you’re thick-skulled and wondering, but it’s not like I can resist the innuendo. “The dicks I like.”

He doesn’t skip a beat. “Miss us, don’t you,” he taunts, and it’s not a question.

Tou-fuckin’-ché! “You just said it sounds disgusting because you like to pretend you’re not a closet queen,” I taunt right back.

He rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “Not this again.”

“Come on, tiger,” I goad. “Tell. There have to have been some juicy pickle-dillos in your past.”

“You mean ‘peccadilloes’?”

“Uh. Yeah. I mean pickles, Angel. Long, thick, juicy pickles.”

Angel blinks, and then he shakes his head. “You’re impossible.”

“Nah, I’m easy; trust me. Come on,” I dig. “I met Spike. Did you fuck him? If you didn’t, you’re more of a pussy than I thought. That boy sizzles. I can’t believe B—uh, B—Beatrice—hasn’t done h—um . . . hasn’t done his colors. Because you know Beatrice. His—um. Fashion designer? Black isn’t his color.”

“Yes it is,” he snaps. Then, because he’s not going to let me get away with it, “He doesn’t have a fashion designer. He doesn’t need one.”

“Do you just know these things, or what?”

“I just know.”

“And you say you’re interested in the opposite sex. What’s my color?”

He’s still scowling. “Pink?”

“And that just proves you’ve seen more pricks than a dartboard,” I shoot back. “Come on. Christ, you’re his Sire. You made him, and you still couldn’t get a piece of that ass? And did I even mention his ass in my list of shaftable features?”

“You weren’t listing features, and we’re not having this conversation.”

“Lean. Long, ropy muscles. Chiseled abs. Chiseled everything. Cheekbones that could cut lips. And shit, those lips. That tongue. And that di—”

“I said, we’re not having this conversation.”

“What, don’t you trust me?

“Why should I?”

“I was being . . . what do you call it, rhetorical.”

“You were being nosy.”

I sigh happily. “Hit a nerve, did I?”

“Lay off it.”

“I did!” Gleeful—gay—God, I want to giggle. “You’ve fucked him, haven’t you?

“I said shut up, Faith.”

“I’ll bet you were real bump-monkeys back in the day. Bet the crack of dawn wasn’t safe from you two. Then you got a soul and—and what?” I never much liked connect-the-dots but right now the end-picture looks like a great big cock up one fine ass, and I’ve never seen anything so hot. “You fucked him again, didn’t you,” I conclude.

He doesn’t say anything. It’s almost like he’s already said it.

“You did! You fucked him with a soul, and that’s what you’re so ashamed of, isn’t it.”

It’s like stabbing someone. The surprise in his eyes, suddenly realizing he’s been betrayed, the pain, the shock. It’s fun to look at. He opens his mouth, like a dying man waiting for the blood to gurgle out, then . . . he just closes it. Like he can’t even say anything.

“Because it was all about control, wasn’t it,” I announce. “It was a ‘who’s your daddy thing.’” What a beast he must have been, what an asshole rapist—someone darker, more brutal, more sadistic than I could ever be; it makes me feel so good. Dig it in, drive it deeper, hear his howls and taste the blood. “A ‘come to papa.’ A ‘get on your knees, son, and suck my—’”

“Wesley said not to visit you,” Angel interrupts suddenly.

“C—c—. . .” Cock. Cock. Cock. I’m trying to say it, trying to finish my sentence. And all I can think is, Wesley? “What about Wesley?”

Angel goes on, voice still sharp, clean, cold. Like a knife. “He said you weren’t worth it. A waste of my time. A lost cause.” Then he twists the blade, and it hurts as much as when Buffy did it: “He said a lot of things. I guess he was right about all of them.” Then he hangs up.

I think I just found Angel’s threshold, and he didn’t invite me in.

*

My first Watcher was Laine Caldwell. I still remember the click her heels made when she knocked on our door. I remember that Mom slurred, “Come in,” and sloshed amber liquid on the floor. I remembered thinking that I didn’t know a woman could look as poised or powerful as Laine looked when she crossed the threshold, that I didn’t know a woman could look as pitiful or profligate as my mother looked next to her.

A real mommy, I guess, should save me from my nightmares. Mine couldn’t, though, because my nightmares were real—my father’s dark obsession, my mother’s drunk depression, holes in my window, needles on the pavement, shadows and rape and hate. Then Laine entered that room, and I exited reality. She gave me the kind of nightmares a kid is supposed to have. Then she told me they were just as real, that the monsters I’d never had the luxury to invent were coming for me, and she wouldn’t turn on the light, check under the bed, or ever make them go away.

Six months later, my mother was dead and Laine wasn’t a surrogate for that something I’d never had. I was barely old enough to be on my own, and she was laying humanity in my arms, swaddled and helpless, and expecting me to care. The closest Laine ever came to saving me from the scaries was telling me I could save other people from them. That was supposed to be the difference between Laine’s world and the other: in Laine’s I could fight back.

In Mom’s, I could only live. Her world was all grays, and next to that, bugaboos and vampires look like black and white. But I’m her blood, aren’t I; I’m in her world; I’m her gray. I am my mother, looking down at me growing inside her rounded belly, wondering why I’m supposed to care about you, why I’m supposed to take care of you.

I am my mother, beating Wesley because he’s mine, to take care of and take control of, beating Wesley because he was supposed to take care of control me. He’s become his father—

“There’s one thing I want you to remember. You are a piece of—”

We’ve become our parents, who were only ever children in a life-long war of who gets to be in charge.

In Laine’s world, I can hold a man down and make him bleed. I can hold humanity cradled in my hands, and it’s my child, my very own. I am my mother, who tried to have an abortion but instead had me.


6.

When I walk in, Angel isn’t sitting there with the phone in his hands as usual. When I sit down and gingerly pick up mine, he just looks at me. Finally, almost grudgingly, he picks it up. “Hey,” I say.

“Hey.”

“So, how are you?”

“Fine,” he clips off. “We’re all fine.”

“I’ve been good, too.” First time he didn’t ask.

“Wesley asked about you.”

Look who’s asking, now. I lick chapped lips, and say, “Did he?”

Angel’s lips flat line. “Yes. I told him how you . . . were.” He tilts his head. “Did you know Wes was in the hospital a while back?”

I ask him to repeat that. I stutter.

“Yes,” Angel says again, nodding. “Not, of course, because of what you did to him. He doesn’t even have scars from that, you know. Shallow cuts.” His voice is toneless, unemotional—simply observant. “I know that technique. And yet, I didn’t have a soul the last time I used it.”

“I’ve got a soul, and I’ve done plenty of things,” I concede. A dodge, a block, a guard, then move in for the kill. “But at least I never made a vampire my bitch like you did—made him wait to come until after I did, made him suffer, made him like it—”

He stiffens, but his voice is rich and rippling, for a moment makes me think of what satin sheets must be like when people fuck between them. “Wesley didn’t like it, Faith. You were the one enjoying it. Remember?”

“And you hate it, don’t you,” I spit, “because you wanted it to be you. You want to be the one making Wesley whimper; you want to be the one getting off on his pain. You want to do to him what you did to Spike, and you hate yourself for it because you’re in love with—”

“At least I’m not the one on my knees.” His jeer is sudden and soft, a whisper, but the sex in the satin has turned brutal. “What would Daddy think of you,” he says, “letting the government, of all things, put you away? At least Dick was a worthy master. Or he would’ve been, if he had Ascended. But I forgot, he failed, didn’t he? Because you failed him.”

I’m going to rip his heart out, and dance in his blood. I’ll slather it on me and it’ll make me slick; it’ll turn me on when I put a stake through the heart in my hands. “Because of Buffy,” I snap. “Or oh, did I forget?” I mock. “Buffy is the one who likes to make vampires come for her, isn’t she? Makes you call her name out in the night even though she can’t hear you, won’t ever hear you—”

“That’s enough,” he says suddenly.

“Go fuck yourself! Because that’s what you do, isn’t it? Fuck yourself saying her name. Or is it his? Come on, tell me Angel, is it his name you—”

“This conversation is over,” he says simply, and hangs up.

“That’s right. Walk away. Walk away and whip off, because that’s all you’re ever gonna get. No one’s ever going to want you after what you’ve done, no one’s ever going to love you.”

I’m banging on the glass, and the C.O.s are coming to drag me away, and can you tellit ’s not him I’m talking about. It’s not him at all.

*

It wasn’t always this way. There was once a man who loved me.

Look, I understand the mayor was a . . . a bad guy, big bad if we’re speaking Buffy-speak, which we’re not. But out of all the people who’ve claimed to love or like me, he was the only one who gave me things. I’m whatsit called: materialistic, superficial? I needed to touch how he felt for me; his love for me was tangible. In my reflection on that knife and I saw how he saw me—as a weapon, something powerful, hard sharp cold beautiful, and no one’s looked at me that way before. Plus it was a wicked pointy killing instrument; how could he not love me?

Sure, he had that hang up about flossing, and he made me clean between my toes more than’s frankly sane . . . but I never had the kind of love that slapped me, scolded me, told me I should eat my greens, wash behind my ears, wear pastels ‘cause I look so pretty in them. No one ever minded how ragged my nails were before him, and it felt so good to have someone notice and warn me to take a file to them or no cookies tonight, Faith.

That’s what it comes down to. All I’ll ever understand is control, a heavy hand; my world is dominance submission dom sub dom sub I win you lose. I’m a cause that’s already lost, Wesley said.

I see myself in the surface of that knife. A weapon, to be used.

 

7.

Angel’s sitting there, phone in hand this time. I pick it up on my side. “Hey,” he says. Polite. “About last time.” A pause. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. Okay.” For the longest time, I don’t think I’m going to say anything. Then: “Me too.”

“I’m glad it happened, though.”

“Buzz off.”

“One of your less colorful epithets,” he observes.

“I’m tired.”

“We needed to get some cards out on the table.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “but I haven’t gone bust yet. Hit me again.”

I can see him swallow, a bob on a fishing line, almost as if he’s going to take the bait. “No.”

“Hit me, ace,” I demand.

He moves his hand, then remembers that there’s glass between us and he can’t touch me. His fingers move, long, spidery white, impatient. “We’re not playing that game.”

“What, don’t like blackjack?”

“I don’t like hurting each other to make you see the things you already know deep down inside yourself.”

“I’ll talk about Spike,” I threaten.

“No, you won’t,” he says simply.

“I’ll talk about—”

“You won’t.”

So poised to do both of those things that I’m swaying on the edge. I’m still trembling when I ask, “What’ll I do then?”

“You’ll be quiet, and you’ll listen to me.” He pauses, tilts his head. “Let’s talk about Wesley.”

“I don’t want to talk about Wesley,” I say.

“Of course you don’t,” he replies smugly. His eyes are all appraisal, confident assessment. “He can forgive you, you know. He has that in him.”

“Thought you said he said I was a lost cause.”

“That’s not exactly true. Wesley . . . trusts me. Even when it comes to you.” Sudden flash of warmth, and this time I recognize it for what it is. That’s Wes-warmth. “But in the end,” Angel goes on, “he’ll always do what he believes is right. He’ll give you a chance, if you let him.”

“You’re saying he would trust me?”

“No. I’m not saying that at all. Wesley isn’t stupid. I think he’d sacrifice both trust and desire to do what he thinks is right.”

“Sounds pretty stupid to me.”

“You could win him back.”

I roll eyes. “My squeeze he ain’t, Angel.”

He stares at me blankly. Then abruptly, asks, “Do you want him to be?”

I smirk. “What do I look like, a home-wrecker? I’m not gonna pull the moves on your boyfriend, gorgeous.”

“He is very good looking, now that you mention it.” Angel simply smiles. “Again.”

“Yeah,” I agree. “I’ll say he’s rompworthy.” Did I just say Wesley is hot? Angel smirks, as if this whole conversation he was steering me to say that without me knowing. Voice low, teeth grit, I grind out, “He’d never think of me.”

“Oh, I’m sure he thinks of you a lot,” Angel says charitably. Then he shrugs. “Has nightmares, probably.”

I can’t believe we’re having this conversation. Grudgingly, because the bastard knew what I meant: “He’d never think of me that way.”

“Why not?”

“Well, first thing—Cordelia.”

“Not since she was in high school.”

Lips fall open and shit, fuck, damn, there’s probably Wesley-warmth in my eyes, too. “He likes his women . . . young?” (I’m only 18, in case you were wondering.)

The corner of Angel’s mouth twitches. “I’m not sure how Wesley likes his women.” Another twitch. “Or his men. Should I find out?”

My jaw clicks shut with a little snap. “You know, you’re . . . not so uptight as you seem sometimes,” I offer.

He can wash away all those parries, blocks, and blows between us just with his eyes, his smile. “It’s been a good summer,” he confides, and does this thing that’d be a grin if it wasn’t Angel.

I grin back. “Tell me about it,” I say.

And he tells me about it.

*

Remember how I told you about Angel and me’s mistress, redemption? He’s bare-ass naked on the floor, begging for it, kissing the cane, gazing up into that vortex of a cunt and believing, with every ounce of his being, that when she takes him in, drains him dry, she’s going to snuggle up with him afterwards. See, Angel thinks the ultimate orgasm is attainable.

He still believes in love.

Once I would’ve said it’s no great shakes. Love is a war; sex is a battle; it’s all about who gets to be on top. Bop into ‘em ‘til their balls’re tighter than paint on a wall, then bust ‘em ‘til they’re broke; that’s how it goes. That’s how it went, until I bagged the wrong guy. Boinked Buffy’s boyfriend and got the fight fucked right out of me.

You’d think it’d take a hard-line, a harder hand than his. You’d be wrong. He kissed her arm, so . . . reverent—just Buffy’s arm, get it, like that single stretch of flesh is his salvation. I’m stiff and shaking at that touch; I’m a convulsing nun in cloisters—just found God; I’m biting Buffy’s tongue and he’s biting Buffy’s breasts—just found how tight and wet she is, how ready we are for love. It’s a sacrilege, this love, a violation of rites, a heathen in my sanctuary—because I don’t understand being touched this way. I don’t even want it; I’m being raped by tenderness.

Then he’s inside me and I finally understand coming doesn’t mean going; we’re together, two—no three—we’re a mountain moving, Muhammad; we’re the moon rising, a child crying, the earth, a birth, light stars love; I’m screaming in Buffy’s voice and he’s grunting Buffy’s name. Then we’re only two, because she was the temple and he was the worshipper and I was the one outside—like you, looking in, a voyeur.

Riley inside me, me inside Buffy: I know how Angel knows what making love is like. After that, there’s no going back. And there’s no getting in, either.


8.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I say.

“How are you?”

“Good. As good as it gets, anyway. How are you?”

“Same old.” He says his line, but he’s smirking.

I raise a brow. “Oh?”

“We crossed three off the board,” he says smugly. When I fail to look impressed, he adds, “In as many days.”

I shrug. “You’re getting cocky.”

“I was always cocky.”

“You were, weren’t you?” I dig in. “You play this puppy dog act, but you really are one arrogant sonuvabitch, aren’t you.”

It rolls right off those massive shoulders. “A man can be both,” is all he says, mild.

“You oxymoron. You can’t be dom and sub at once. Those are the rules of the game.”

“Except that this isn’t a game,” he says, voice tugging velvet bonds. “We’re not playing. We’re living.”

“You aren’t,” I point out.

“Well, yeah,” he concedes, but it’s not gonna stop this bent he’s on. “Humility takes strength, Faith.”

“‘And the meek shall inherit the Earth,’” I mutter.

His mouth opens, eyes widening a little. “Say that again.”

“I read it somewhere once.”

“Well, yeah. It’s in the Bible.” He seems like he’s resisting the word “duh.” At my glare, he’s defensive. “I was raised Catholic. Well, not when I was raised the second time, but you know what I . . .” Now he just looks confused, and unhappy. He moves his hand in an uncontrolled gesture, and brightening, says, “I’m Irish, you know.” Then he frowns again. “Or was.”

“I’m Korean,” I offer.

“So I’ve heard.” He doesn’t miss a beat. I think it’s too much to expect that a little non-sequitur conversation would be enough to throw off anyone who’s ever been in love with Buffy.

“I’d like to be Korean,” I say finally. “I bet they eat better’n me.”

“Most of them don’t.”

“You been there?”

“Of course.” He looks mildly offended that I might think he hadn’t been. “When you get out, we’ll go for kimchi.”

“I’m not getting out.”

“With that attitude? No, probably not. Not in any way that matters, at least.”

“I smell a lecture,” I huff, nose wrinkling. “Or is that kimchi?”

“You have to want to atone,” he goes on steadily.

“What do you think I’m in here for?”

“It’s a start. But it doesn’t really matter where your body is. It’s where your soul is.”

“Are you Buddhist?” I ask. You got to admit, he sounded a little Zen just then.

He scowls. “I just told you I used to be Catholic.”

“See, figures. That religion is all about knowing you’re unworthy. It’s about guilt. It’s about hating yourself and asking the Big Guy to punish you for not being as good as he is.”

“Yes, kind of, and not at all,” he says. His eyes are warm with pity. “Prayer isn’t a weakness, Faith. It’s about being strong enough to beg for forgiveness.”

“Want me to call you Father, do you?” It was meant to come out snarky, an innuendo, but instead I just sound angry.

“Tempting,” he says flatly, “but no.”

“I can’t believe you’re sitting there taking God’s side, of all things.”

“I’m not taking God’s side. I’m taking faith’s.”

“Witty.”

“I’m clever; I can’t help it,” he says, hitching a shoulder, all self-deprecation. “It’s the same in every religion, Faith. Even the ones without a God.” He frowns suddenly. “Maybe I am Buddhist?” He shakes his head, eyes unhappy. “This is much less confusing when you’re just evil.”

“I’ll say.”

“We can talk about the Red Sox, if you want,” he suggests.

“Not if you don’t want to talk about religion.”

His lips spasm in a smile. “That’s why we’re not talking about hockey.”

“That’s why we’re not talking about Buffy.” Then I realize what I just said. My eyes widen and I’m wondering if there’ll ever be a time I don’t want to hurt him, a time when I’m not trying. “I didn’t mean to,” I say helplessly. “I swear I didn’t mean to. Angel, I—I’m sorry. It just—I was just thinking . . .”

He hasn’t moved a muscle since I said her name. Now his head is turning away, eyes dropping, neck exposed. He stares off into space for a moment—at Shawanda, talking to her sister in the booth next to me. “How about those Sox?” he says suddenly, so low it’s hard to hear. He’s looking at me; his eyes are clear, and I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be forgiven.

*

You can’t swing a dead cat in Southie without hitting someone Catholic or Irish. My mother was both from a long way back, fancy that. We still went to church sometimes, and I liked it. I got to wear a dress with flowers on it, and at my First Communion, I fell in love with those wafer things. I was eating Christ, and it made me feel strong. When I prayed, I was talking to a Ghost, and it made me feel brave. When I marched up to St. Brigid’s in my buckle shoes, I was visiting the house of God, and He was even more important than my gran. The King was in my corner, and no one could push me around.

As it turns out, He was pushing me. I hear “turn the other cheek” and I think about how ripe and round a child’s buttocks can look for a parent’s eyes, how red the welts can rise against ready, rosy skin, how black the belt can be. I hear “I am the handmaid of the Lord” and I think about my mother, forced to bear me, to accept the burden of me, when what she wanted was to pluck the fruit of me from herself with all the disobedience of Eve. I hear prayer, and I hear an orgy of submission: men, women, children doling out the blow jobs to Jesus Christ.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Did you know that Jesus asked us to pray in a closet? It’ll be our little secret, children; I’ll show you God if you show me yours; remember not to tell anyone.

Me, I’d prefer to sit on your face and shut your “I’m a sinner; save me” bullshit. I’m a sadist. Like God.

Except that God doesn’t huddle into corners, crying and alone, thinking these thoughts and hating them. I’m not God, but my mother once again, giving me my name because it was the last thing she had and He wouldn’t let her lose Faith.

Are there Buddhists in Korea? I think I’d like it there.

In Korean, my name doesn’t mean a thing.


9.

“Hey,” Angel says.

“Hey.”

“How’re you?” His eyes are already weighing mine. What’s he think he’ll find?

For the first time I tell the truth. “I don’t know.” Then I lie. “Alright, I guess.”

“Something wrong?”

I tilt back my chair and look away. Tapping my fingers on the counter between us, I ask, “Angel, what’s kimchi?”

The corner of his lips twitch, but he isn’t about to laugh at me. “Cabbage, mostly.”

“Yuck!” My chair comes down with a thunk. “You were going to take me out on a date for cabbage?”

His lips stop twitching. “It’s also fermented chili peppers, and I didn’t ask you on a date.”

“I like pancakes,” I announce. “With bananas.”

“Breakfast? Because if you’re into breakfast, I make mean eggs.”

“Who says?” I ask skeptically.

He scowls. “Cordelia.”

“And I’m supposed to believe Cordelia?” I—oh God, a pun. I’m turning into Buffy in every way possible—I’m egging him on.

“Cordelia would make sure I knew if they were bad. In vivid detail. Cordy . . .” He pauses and looks thoughtful, and says the last so soft I almost miss it. “I trust her.”

“You like her.” Should’ve known. For a while there, I almost forgot I was never a cheerleader.

“Yes. She’s my friend. She’s . . . family.”

“Yeah. I’ll bet.”

A subtle shift in posture, and suddenly there’s that silky steel “don’t go there” look—the one I never seem to notice. “Let’s talk about murder.” A turn on the axis of battle. Sometimes I forget we’re still fighting it.

“I don’t know what the word ‘segue’ means, but I’m guessing you don’t either,” I comment peevishly. “Suddenly I feel so brainy.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Don’t you want to talk about it?” he prods.

“God. You’re like a dog with a T-bone steak, pal.”

His lips flatten, jaw sets, brow lowers (can it get any lower?)—you know the serious, sober, “listen to me” drill. “You can’t just hate what you’ve done. It gets you nowhere. Believe me.” He looks down at his hands, and for a minute, its like he despises them. “We can’t change who we are, or what we’ve been.” Then his fists clench and he pulls them under the counter to hide. “I think it’s about knowing that, and—”

“Yeah, we are not worthy. Get on your knees, suck God’s cock. I know the routine by now.”

“God has a monster cock. It’s too big for you to suck,” he observes smoothly. He tilts his head. “I think maybe you don’t know what that act can mean for people who love each other.”

“And you would?”

His eyes flick away from mine, no other part of him moving. When he speaks, his eyes are back on mine. There’s pain there, and a longing he can’t disguise no matter how hard he’s trying, and maybe I should be reveling in the hurt or pitying the grief, but all I can think is—did she suck his dick? Buffy’s bubble-gum lips wrapped around his hard cock and was that the perfect moment? Or was he inside of her? Did he go down on her too? Did she let him come in her mouth?

Would she let me—

“The reason I’m here isn’t because I have the answers,” he says abruptly. “It’s because I have the same questions you do.”

“So,” I say. Now I’m looking away. “I killed someone.”

“I know.”

“I killed more than one someone. And I wanted . . . wanted the mayor to Ascend so he could . . . we could . . . Is this what you want?” I demand, voice husky and harsh to close my throat on the stammering and stumbling. “Am I really supposed to be sitting here wishing I didn’t do these things? ‘Cause that doesn’t seem so productive to me.”

“It’s not what I want, no. But have you thought about it, Faith? Have you let yourself think about it at all?”

“I have nightmares,” I say bitterly. “That’s enough, right?”

He shakes his head. “Don’t leave it in the darkness. Let yourself care. That’s how it starts.”

I scowl. “How what starts?”

He takes the phone away from his ear and for a second, I think he’s going to leave me. But he rests the receiver on his chest, leaning back, looking away—as if searching for the words. I wonder if he had a heartbeat whether I’d hear it through these phones. At last he lifts the receiver and says, “I wanted redemption for a long time. It wasn’t until the moment I saw Buffy that I thought maybe I could get it. I loved her and . . . everything changed.”

“Sweet story.”

His stare is always so still. It's freaky. “Are you going to make me regret it?”

“No, I meant it,” I say quickly. Shit, he’s trusting me. What do I do with that? What do I—what would Buffy do? “She . . . has that effect on people,” I say finally, choking up. “Buffy does.” Shit, her name, he doesn’t want me to say—“I mean—I mean, she does. I didn’t mean—”

“We can talk about her, if you want to.”

“What, think I’m ready now, precious?” Sarcastic because I don’t know how else to handle this.

“No. I am.”

Once said I had the power to hurt him. He said it like he was giving me a gift. “She may not take you back,” he says after a moment.

“Look, I know that already.”

“But you’re hoping for it, aren’t you?” he presses, then he shakes his head. “Maybe once, she would have. She has . . . such a capacity for . . . forgiveness.” His lips move over that last word like a hungry man tasting something forbidden and sweet. Like a sinner letting the Eucharist dissolve in his mouth. “But the inevitable will one day happen,” he goes on. Now he spits it out. “She’ll grow up.”

“And you hate that.”

That still, still stare. “Yes.”

“She won’t stop doing the right thing,” I try to reassure him. “She’s a stubborn bitch that way.”

“I don’t know about that. Sometimes . . . it’s so hard to find your way.” He’s looking down at his hands, as if they could point him in the right direction—or destroy the right direction altogether, with the single flick of a white wrist. “You have to accept that. Some things can never be forgiven.”

“You should know,” I say softly.

He nods. “I should know.”

*

Buffy.

Everyone thinks I want to be her—but that’s not why I stole her body.

When her mother looked at us, I didn’t want her to see Buffy, but I didn’t want her to see just me either. I wanted her to see us both. I wanted her to love us both, twin daughters, sisters of a single mother calling. I wanted us to have a Watcher who watched us both, who treated both the same, who still wanted the freak deviant that is a second Slayer.

In the end, I just plain want her. Stealing her body was the only way I was ever going to feel her wanting me back. It was the only way I could feel her breasts, soft and heavy in my hands, dusky nipples tightening under my touch; her quim—shivering, shuddering, fluttering for me and falling apart with my fingers; her voice, hoarse with longing for me. Stealing her body was the only way I was ever going to feel her loving me—because she loves herself, more than I could ever love me.

I meant what I said—she has that effect on people. Her mother with her golden-halo hair holding her and hugging her. Giles with his British stuffed shirt ready to make his Ripper days look like Leave It To Beaver reruns if he thought it would keep her safe. Angel . . . sinner to saint in less than a day and why? Because he caught a glimpse of sour-apple sucker eyes and a priggish up-turned nose, heard a cheerleader voice and her guileless girlish quips, sensed a do-gooding bent a mile wide and laces so straight she won’t ever let the darkness loose and she won’t ever fuck me.

And Xander—another wrong, something silvery, splendid, slipping through my fingers. Angel was right that time he pulled me off him; I did forget the safe-word. Or maybe there’s a word I didn’t know the meaning of, hadn’t heard and didn’t care to listen to. The one Buffy, never a poster-child for vocabulary, knew before “mama.”

A word like love.

 

10.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“How are you?”

I surprise myself by blurting, “Glad to see you.”

“That’s a first.”

“Yeah, well.” I try to cover it up. “Don’t expect a repeat performance, mack.” I sit back and soften up a bit. “You said I gotta open myself up, and who else am I gonna be open with? Bertha the Butch-Queen?”

Angel looks thoughtful. “I’m not sure if I had had my way you’d be in jail.”

“And you like getting your way, huh?”

“I like getting my way,” he affirms steadily.

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“It was your choice.” Angel waves a hand dismissively. “Besides, protecting you from the police all the time . . . more trouble than you’re worth.”

“Yeah.” I want to scowl, but shit, I’m smiling. “Maybe I’ll prove you wrong some day.”

He nods. “Hopefully.”

Now I’m really smiling, and there’s that blasted surge of warmth his approval pushes through me. I only remember feeling this way around someone one other time in my life. “You know what really floated my boat about the mayor?” I say finally.

He stiffens up. Maybe it freaks him, that he can make me feel like the boss did: loved. “What?” he asks warily.

“The milk and cookies. He used to tell me milk was good for my teeth.”

Bit by bit, tight muscles loosen, but his eyes don’t. They’re fixed on me fast, watching me, thinking. At last gravely he observes, “Milk does a body good.”

I laugh. God, I laugh. “Angel, you’re . . . you’re . . . you know what you said about freeing yourself, first?”

“Yes?”

“I think I’m getting there.” I want to talk about movies with him, about the food I like, about the demons he’s fighting. I want to talk about Wesley with him, and Buffy, and . . . my mother? “I mean . . . inch, circumference, world,” I rush on. “I know, I know. But I feel . . . freer.”

He nods like he knows. “That’s the way it feels.”

“The way what feels?”

“When you start to think maybe you have a chance.”

“You think so?” I ask, not quite believing him. “I mean, do you think you have a chance?”

He looks away. At first, I think he’s changing the subject. “I stole a scroll. From Wolfram and Hart. And Wesley translated it. There was a prophecy in it, about a vampire with a soul.”

“Get out. There’s a prophecy about you?”

Angel presses his lips together and shifts in his chair. “It . . . seems that way. There was this word. Sanshu. It means death.”

“Some prophecy.”

“No. It means . . . I can die.” His voice somehow reminds me of how he sounds sometimes when he talks about Buffy. “When I’ve suffered enough, battled enough, won enough . . . I’ll become human.”

I frown. “And then you’ll die.”

“Preferably at an old age. I’ll . . . get gray hair, Faith.”

Still frowning, here. “You sound excited about that.”

“Well, it’s . . . it’s my reward. From the Powers That Be.”

“Gray hair is your reward?”

“Maybe we can’t make up for what we’ve done, but the good we do . . . matters. Makes a difference. And one day it can be over.”

“You’re happy,” I announce wonderingly.

“I feel . . .” He trails off, still looking at that inner light. “Like you said. Free.”

“I’m happy you’re happy.” Now, this is a revelation.

He snaps back down. “Look, I know you don’t—”

“No. I’m serious. I’m happy you’re happy.” Shit, it’s all new to me too, and I’m half afraid I look as much like a boob as he just did—glowing with like a damn Timex Indiglo. But it’s true; my chest is tight again and . . . “I’ve never . . . never felt this way. God, I think it hurts.”

“Faith, you know I—”

Here comes the cautionary tale. “Oh, don’t get your panties in a twist. A summer in the joint’s made me a complete lesbo anyway.”

“I was going to tell you that I cared about you.” The earnestness is killing me, and luckily, he smirks. “I think you’re over the wanting to jump my bones stage.”

“Shiddle-cum-shite, no,” I counter. “You do realize I only see one good-looking man a week, right?”

He laughs, and we’re good.

*

I left my mom to her drinks and Kit to his fabuloso uncle. I left them, one, and forgot them. Two.

Kakistos had knocked me out; when I came to, his fangs were already in my Laine’s throat—but that wasn’t what stopped me. It was fear. I’d tried staking him, decapitating him, burning him, playing a mean game of cat and mouse to lure him into sunlight—but it wasn’t dusting him I doubted. It was myself. Fear, doubt, and the thought that maybe that other Slayer out there would be doing this better. Three.

Buffy told me no; she told me to wait; she told me long before it happened that I was too into it. The worst part is I’ll always wonder whether some part of me knew he was a human, and just didn’t care. I’ll always wonder if when my hands pushed in the stake, bringing down death, bathing in blood, whether I wanted this—wanted to have the hands of a murderer and feet that would run from the scene of the crime. Four.

I handed the boss the Books of Ascension, still sticky. There were five of them.

I heard an old pain in Buffy’s voice when she asked, “You actually think I can form a thought right now?” and a part of me seized up with joy and desire. For once, she was jealous of me. Another part of me was worried Angel could smell what happened to me when she walked in and saw us, because the rest of me knows that me driving them apart is an arrogant fantasy, an unattainable wet dream. I dream of me in front of Angel and Buffy behind me, whispering words and guiding me down onto him, and me being a part of that perfect, private happiness. But the truth of it is the three of us could fuck six ways to Sunday and I would never come between them.

Riley. Damn near seven inches, if you want to know. What can I say, he’s got big hands.

I was going to make a cut for every way I wanted Angel to kill me, for every moment I didn’t die and had to hate myself, for every wrong I’d done. Wesley was going to be red, riddled in slashes, repeatedly screaming, and I was still going to be cutting him until his veins ran dry. Eight doesn’t begin to cover it.

Cutting him because I couldn’t exonerate myself—nine years ago, decked out in my floral-print dress and buckle shoes, I thought that was how it went. They told me Christ died to absolve us, and the only way that really works is if we killed him. He was giving us a free ride, I thought. I used to march up to that booth in those buckle shoes and rattle off my misdeeds until my voice got tired. I couldn’t wait to be forgiven so I could sin again.

When I was ten I stopped. I’d finally realized confession was about a remorse I didn’t feel, penance was a prayer in which I could not take pleasure, and forgiveness was a gift, not a given.

Now, going on eleven visits from Angel, everything is different.


11.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“How’re you doing?” Angel asks.

“Fine,” I answer. “I’ve been reading.”

“Reading?”

I smirk a little at the surprise in his voice. “Yeah, it’s this new thing I’m learning where you sound out these letters and make words.”

His jaw falls a little. “You didn’t know how to—”

My mouth purses up and I can’t believe how much he makes me want to laugh. “I was kidding.”

“Well,” he says, flustered now, “What’re you reading? I could recommend some good—”

Cricket In Times Square.

“I was going to say Victor Hugo, but okay.” I give him my, “We got nothing in common, dickwad” face, and he looks appropriately contrite. “I used to read Cosmopolitan,” he offers, and at my horror looks defensive. “It was . . . homework.”

“Homework,” I repeat dumbly. Hey, still horrified here.

“When a guy like me is dating someone like Buffy, he picks up a little extra reading, alright?”

Okay, now I get it, but you know what? Not helping. Still horrified. “So you read Cosmo,” I repeat. Once again, dumbly.

He nods. “Useful magazine.”

“Ten ways to make a man orgasm?” I say skeptically.

He gives up. “You’re right, it was hopeless. I mean, ten? I can do it in about fifty different ways, and that’s not counting . . .” He trails off and grimaces. “You know, I didn’t really count back then.”

“You could make a lot of money, writing for women’s magazine’s.”

“I could. You know, maybe if—when I get old, I’ll be a writer.”

If—when. Angel, waiting for his orgasmic redemption. “I think you’re wrong,” I say suddenly.

He scowls. “I could do it. I know plenty of stuff about women.”

“Yo, not talking about that.”

“Oh.”

“Know how you told me that you’ve been looking for forgiveness, like, forever?” I lean in, fingers tapping on the table, hand tightening on the phone, and eye him in a way I wish was wise. “I think it’s stupid,” I announce. “What’s the point if you’re never gonna get it?”

Angel looks startled, abruptly a little tired. “It’s not about—”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re going to tell me it’s the journey that counts, huh?”

“Well, kind of,” he answers, lips twitching in chagrin.

“I don’t think that’s it.” I spread my hand flat on the table, looking at my five fingers, thinking about the seven sacraments, eighteen years of ignorance, about twenty mysteries of Mary, about one hundred and two years with a soul and one hundred and fifty-two years without one, and about the infinite love of whatever god is out there. “I think you need to forgive yourself.”

He blinks once, very slowly. “What?”

“I think you need to love yourself. Forgive yourself, first, before you expect anyone else to. It’s all very masturbatory.”

He swallows and with a minute, jerky movement, shakes his head. “Do you honestly think you could?”

“Yeah,” I say finally. “I think I could. I always liked me better than you liked you. I call my own name out during sex, you know.” He dips his head, and I see hundreds of years of self-hate. “How long you set to do penance?”

He’s looking at one of his hands; the fingers are moving, thumb and forefinger, a caress over a bead that isn’t there. “Are we . . .”

“What?”

Slowly, lifting liquid eyes to mine, he asks, “Are we in confession?”

“Maybe. How many Hail Marys is it going to take?”

“I’m not . . .” His gaze slides from mine again and he murmurs, “I’m not Catholic any more.”

“It’s the same in every religion. You said so yourself.”

His eyes close swiftly, and for a moment, he could be a statue. Then the lids slowly open, and he says my name.

“What?”

“There was a reason your mother named you that.”

And that’s something I’m not going into with him. “It was on a soap of hers,” I say blankly, hitching a shoulder.

“You have more of it than me.”

“I’m just smarter than you,” I offer guilelessly.

“I didn’t think . . .” He trails off, and begins again. “I hadn’t thought there was anything you could teach me. It’s . . . a leap.”

“Of Faith. Cute.”

Angel nods. “That’s what they call me at the office.” His deadpan is a mask. “So, Cosmo,” he suggests genially. “Think they’d hire me?”

We discuss the finer points of giving men orgasms. I’m pissed he knows so much more about it than me.

*

When Cassie comes at me with a flash of something wicked I pass the basketball behind me, grab it with my other hand, and bring it smack dab into her face. The ball drops through the hoop of her outstretched arms and my slick, sweaty hand is slipping down her elbow to her wrist, squeezing. She drops the blade; I toss it back to my other hand, turn her wrist so the veins’re exposed, and slice.

Sinking into her feels so good my mouth goes dry and I think I’m wet. I grip her head, palming her face, feeling her blood where the ball hit her nose, savoring the sticky thickness and the rush of power. I push her down head first, and I’m on top of her, knife raised, and I’m going to kill her. I see pleasure, pain, the knife the mayor gave me, my reflection—a weapon to be used—Wesley, Buffy, Angel—too many faces—

How can I still want it so much, when I’ve come so far?

I’m shivering for it, thighs are clenching for it, aching for it.

“You can’t do that. It’s wrong!”

I’m not sure whether it’s my voice or Buffy’s. Insane, unsated desire, the thrill and throb of power, the seductive proximity of death—they’ll make you do that. Faith—you can’t do this—Faith—it’s wrong—Faith—

“Faith. You have more of it than me.”

My hand convulses, and I drop the knife. As the C.O.s pull me off of Cassie, whipping out their sticks like dicks, I think: Angel was wrong. As the blows fall on me I don’t revel in them; I don’t think about how I deserve them. I just wait for them to end. After they stop, I’ll wait for the bruises to fade. After I get out of here, I’ll live my life. I’ll fight and I’ll fuck and with luck, I’ll love and I’ll hope and I’ll dream.

Angel, he isn’t the same. He just goes down too far. I’m in jail and I’ve killed people, but he’s been to Hell and kept people alive for things I can’t even imagine. The thing of it is, as far down as he goes, he wants to rise up that much higher. I’m just hoping to walk, to live, to find a place for myself and maybe do my duty. Angel, he wants to save the world.

He’s the one with all the faith, because he still thinks he can.

And you know, I’m not sure which of us is right. What I do know is that I’m happy to know a man like that. I’m happy to know a woman like Buffy. I’m happy there are heroes in the world, even if I’ll never be one of them.

And as the blows continue rain down, I think I at last know what love is like.


12.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“How you doing?”

“Pretty good, I guess.” The bruises might be fading, but it’s still a lie. I grimace. “I did sign up for this.”

Angel, hearing the twinge in my voice, lifts a brow. “Regretting the choice?”

I shrug a little, and tell him. “Bad day. One of the girls in the yard tried to build a rep by throwing down with me. She had low self-esteem, and a home-made knife, so . . .”

“Oh.” He knows what this means just as well as I do. My first test, really, and it’s a little different than pipe-dreams about love and forgiveness and Cosmo. “Is she . . . you know—alive?” he asks.

I smile proudly. “She lives to tell the tale. Took the knife away, and I can’t say much for the wrist it came in.”

I expect to hear bull about that, but he only looks relieved. “So you didn’t kill her,” he concludes.

“I really wanted to. Took a big beating from the guards, too.”

“Sorry.”

“Earned worse,” I say, shrugging it off. “Guys like us kind of got it coming.”

He offers his condolences. “I had to sing Barry Manilow.”

Okay, one of the most badass motherfucker (fatherfucker, littlechildrenfucker) mass murders to walk this earth singing the King of Camp? “You’re kidding.”

“In front of people.”

I’m trying not to laugh at him, because I’m guessing this is one of those things he doesn’t plan on telling other people—a confidence, that’s what this is. A confidence about Barry Manilow. “And here I am talking about my petty little problems.”

“Just wanted to give you a little perspective.”

“‘Copacabana’?”

“‘Mandy.’” Should’ve known. If I was sick and twisted I’d come up with a way that song parallels him and Buffy, but the only version of it I could ever stand was Homer’s. “Oh Margie. You came and you found me a turkey . . .” He can see I’m cracking up again and he scowls—amused, sardonic, and a little pained. “I don’t wanna dwell on it,” he says.

I just smirk. “The road to redemption is a rocky path.”

“That it is.”

There’s a heaviness in his voice and my eyes narrow, wondering what happened, why he had to sing of all things, and why the light I’ve been noticing around the eyes ever since he told me about his Sanshu thing seems suddenly faded a little. “You think we might make it?” I ask, narrowing my eyes a little.

“We might,” he says gravely. The answer is different than what I expected. Me and Angel, we’re on different paths. Doesn’t mean we’re not getting to the same place. “Food getting any better?” he asks.

“You know,” I say, smiling a little, “it’s not that different from what I grew up on. It’s a little one note. Eating the same thing every day.”

The side of Angel’s mouth quirks. “I wonder what that’s like.”

“Right,” I say, and laugh.

*

And as we sit here, talking about blood and Barry Manilow, I get this funny feeling. I feel like I could reach right out and touch him. I could touch his hand and feel his skin, and he wouldn’t be warm, but I would. And I could keep touching, touch right on through to the outside, to the world, where there are mothers loving and beating children, kids eating ice cream and shooting their class-mates and watching cartoons, men raping each other and dying for each other. I could go on touching; I could reach right out and touch you.

It’s so funny I laugh. I think he might’ve said something, something about hot dogs, and I might be saying something too, something about what I grew up on: TV dinners on Sundays, skipping school on Mondays, gin and tonic for Mom every other day, cigarettes, peppermint, moldy drywall, mothballs, love neglect squalor. I give him pieces of myself one by one, and they pass through the glass like nothing’s there. I’ve given you pieces of myself, and it’s like nothing’s between us at all.

He listens. That’s the thing about Angel. He’s a dork and he’s a vampire; sometimes he’s an asshole and I didn’t want to give a fuck. I didn’t want to care and I didn’t want to let him in and I didn’t want to love him. But he listens, and it makes me feel like I can touch him. We’re all flawed, but all of us have learned to love, haven’t we, because we listen.

I hated you; I was afraid of you; I didn’t want you here. You’ve seen me; you have the power to judge me, and I don’t like anyone having that kind of power over me. I’ve watched you this whole time, watched you and waited for you to turn away from me. But you haven’t.

I could turn away from you right now. I could move on; I could forget you. I don’t need your judgment; I don’t need your approval; I don’t need you to see me and love me for who I am.

But I’m not going to. I’m going to reach out, and try to touch you.

Take me, and make of me what you will.


*


Disclaimers: Lines from part 12 are stolen from AtS 2.1 "Judgment." I think I got the idea of Faith loving the Red Sox from dlgood (I think he said it was fanon). The end of this fic closely resembles the end of the novel Jazz, by Toni Morrison. If you have not read Jazz, do. That book teaches better than any other book I've ever read how to love your fellow man.


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