I got word of Faith's jailbreak the day before my first final. Angel called to give me the news. I said 'I told you so'. We fought. Afterwards, I lay on bed for an hour, staring at the ceiling. But I didn't cry. I wouldn't give her the satisfaction. I was sure I knew what her escape meant: one last round between us. And I was determined it *really* would be the last.
The next month was a nightmare. I gave up trying to study after only two days: it just wasn't possible when my imagination was turning every half-heard sound into Faith's footsteps. I started to patrol more and more: anything to burn off energy. Exhaustion was the only way I could get any sleep. No-one else had ever got to me like this, not even Angellus. No-one had ever hurt me the way she did.
Being on edge all the time did nothing for my temper. Willow all but moved out of our room, and I can't say I blamed her. Things were even worse with Riley: he kept trying to help me, and I kept pushing him away. My fear of Faith had turned me into her. The irony of the situation didn't make it any easier to deal with. In the end, I drove him away. It hurt, but so did everything else.
Ten minutes after I walked out of my last final of the year I realised I couldn't even remember the *questions*, let alone the answers. I knew I'd be lucky to pass even a single subject. Two days later, the Council called. I've got to give them credit: they chose exactly the right moment. My life was in ruins, and they offered me an answer.
Six weeks after the Council's phone call, and I'm standing in an alleyway in Canada, waiting for a certain brunette vampire slayer.
The Council's proposal was simple enough: if I bring in Faith for re-education, they'll get out of my life for good. Letting me go is preferable to having a rogue on the loose, it seems. I agreed. Pretty mercenary of me, perhaps, but I couldn't live with Faith out there in the darkness. I wouldn’t have any peace until this thing between us was over.
I laid down some conditions, of course. The Council gives me the tools I need and makes sure I can cross the border without problems. Otherwise, I don't see or hear from them until I'm ready to hand Faith over. I remember their last two attempts to capture her, and I have no intention of being caught in a third.
The only one I told about this was Riley. Not where I was going, but what I had planned. He insisted on coming. I should have realised he would. When I said no, things got pretty heated. In the end, he told me I had to choose: that there could either be an "us", or a "me". I chose me. I know it tore him up, but I couldn’t find it in me to care, anymore. "Me" was easier. That's another lesson I learned from Faith, I guess.
So for most of the last month I've been following Faith's trail. The Council knew she'd passed through Vancouver, but by the time I got there she was long gone. Since then I've moved from town to town in her wake, sometimes losing the trail, but always relocating it. Twice, I missed her by only a few hours. But this time, she's stayed in one place just that little bit too long.
She comes round the corner and I’m ready for anything: or at least I think I am. But she surprises me: she freezes.
I don’t stop to think about it, though. I put her down and out. She’s most of the way drunk and seriously out of practice. A roundhouse to the head, then a straight to the jaw and she’s kissing concrete. I’m left feeling disappointed. This is the girl who haunted my dreams?
It takes almost five hours for Faith to wake up, and in the meantime I feel myself falling to pieces. I didn't like what I was doing, but I couldn't see another way.
If that suggests that I wasn't already a wreck, don't be fooled. It was just that, driving alone in the mountains with only the sounds of a ratty old van for company gave me a lot of time to think. I hadn't done much of that since Faith did her little disappearing act. I hadn't trusted myself to.
We've just passed through a town when I hear her speak from the back of the van. I don't catch the words; some wisecrack, I guess; and I don't bother to answer. Instead, I swing the van over to the side of the road and go in back to check her restraints.
I'd used metal straps to bind her to the floor of the van, making sure that they prevented her from getting any leverage to break free. That's the key to holding us. I'd hit her hard enough to bruise even a slayer, but it was already faded. Somehow, prisoner or not, she managed to look good. For myself, with the van's heating out, I was swaddled in about four layers of clothing. I must have looked like an idiot.
"You wanna let me up, B?" she said with that 'screw you' smile I knew so well, "My ass is getting numb."
I kept silent. Any answer at all would have just been playing her game. Maybe she sensed that, because her next question was more neutral,
"Where are we, anyway?"
"Clearwater." I kept my answer as brief as possible. No point giving her too much information.
"You must have really clobbered me." She sounded impressed. Only Faith could get off on how much I hated her. I just shrugged and, satisfied that she wasn't going anywhere, started to climb back into the front seat.
"C'mon, B. At least tell me what this is about. How d'you find me, anyway?"
I started the van without answering, because I can't trust myself to talk. My mind is on the night she told me she wouldn't do this again. The night Angel told me she'd changed. Well, we knew now who'd been right that night.
"Sounds to me like the timing's off. Story of our lives, ain't it, B?" Even now, Faith couldn't leave it alone. I checked the road behind me, ready to pull out.
"B, please. Talk to me?"
Her voice cracked as she said it. And somehow I found myself turning off the engine and climbing in back of the van again. I couldn't believe I was doing it, couldn't believe that one little tremor in her voice could get to me so easily. And so I used another of the lessons Faith taught me: if you're hurting, hit out.
"What's there to talk about, Faith?" I let the anger I feel underline every word, "Your stab at reform lasted, what, ten weeks? I don't intend to take the risk that you might decide to settle scores, again. Since it's obvious the cops can't hold you, I guess the Council will have to do. They say they can re-educate you."
She's silent for a long moment, and I realise the idea scares her. Knowing that gives me mixed emotions: part is satisfaction, but part is pity. I doubt Faith would welcome either.
"God, B." she whispered at last, "I'd rather you stake me now. At least it'd be over quickly."
"Not going to happen, Faith." I dug in a duffel that was strapped to the bag of the seats. "*I* don't kill people in cold blood."
It was a cheap shot, but she deserved it.
"I'm sensing a little negativity, here." She tried to laugh it off.
I pulled the pack of Oreo's I'd been looking for out of the duffel. They were pretty crushed, but they must have looked good to Faith, because her stomach growled audibly.
"Eat." I commanded, opening the packet of Oreos and holding half of one above her head. She complied. She didn't really have a choice. I kept my fingers clear of her teeth. I'm not stupid.
Most of the packet is gone before she shakes her head that she wants no more. With nothing to say to her and no enthusiasm for going back to driving, I sit silently, chewing one of the remaining Oreo's.
"I'm serious, B." she said suddenly, "I'd rather be dead than the Council's robot."
"They won't make you into a robot."
"B, they shot at me with a machine gun. Hell, they shot at *you* with a machine gun. You think they're gonna take any chances at all with me? And once they see how co-operative their new 'improved' Faith is, how long will it be before they start thinking about a new, improved Buffy?"
God help me, that one actually hits home. I stop chewing for several seconds, and I can't look at her. Truth to tell, I'm seeing that night on the roof in LA, with the bullets whipping through the air around us. Remembering the anger, the fear … and the excitement.
"Will you try to bite me if I wipe your face?" I say, changing the subject.
"No. But you might wanna make sure the Council won't either."
I don't answer, silently cleaning her face with a hand-wipe I still had from stopping at KFC two days earlier. To my surprise, she didn't say any more. Absurdly, I felt grateful for that, and I stopped long enough to drape a couple of blankets over her before climbing back in front.
We still had a long way to go.
I drove for eight more hours. It was still light, but I was shattered, and more than ready to stop. More than once I'd thought the van was going to give up on me. It hadn't, for which I was glad, and worrying about it kept my mind off Faith, for which I was even more glad.
I pulled off the side of the road and nosed the van in behind some cover. The last thing I wanted was for someone to come by and stop to check if I'd had a breakdown. Explaining Faith could have been a little difficult.
"Where are we now?" she asked.
"Five miles north of the border. We'll go through first thing tomorrow." The Council had given me the name of the guy who ran this post. All I had to do was tell him who I was and nothing would be said about the tied-up girl in the back of the van. It was nice to have someone else worry about stuff like that. Not nice enough to put up with the Council on a regular basis, but nice.
"Y'know, B, I am *bustin'* for a leak, here. Not to mention the fact that I think my ass got a divorce from the rest of my body about four hours ago."
"You'll just have to hold it." I told her, keeping my voice cool.
"Hold it?" she sounds surprised. Then she continued, in a rising
voice: "What the hell are you doing?"
I just slid a foam mattress under the blankets next to her, and lay down on it. We aren't quite touching, but I can feel her body warmth. "This way I'll feel it if you try to break free." I yawn.
"C'mon B, you can't be serious. What if you start dreamin' I'm Beefstick in the middle of the night? The last thing I want is to be groped by a horny vampire slayer."
"Riley and I aren't together, anymore." I have no idea why I'm telling her. It just slips out.
"We broke up." It's been long enough now that the pain is dull. Remembered, but not actually felt "It wasn't good, anymore. It felt stale." Which was true, but the real reason was her, and the fight we had about my doing this.
"Does Angel know?"
"Yeah." I snuggle closer to her, partly for warmth and partly because it seems to make her nervous, "He tried to be sad for my sake, but he wasn't."
She says something else, but I'm getting pretty muzzy by now, and I don't really hear it.
It feels good to really *sleep* again.
Faith convulses, and I wake instantly. I'm lying with my head on her shoulder and an arm across her. Seems like I did think she was Riley, after all.
But I'm not thinking about that, I'm up and crouched, trying to see if she's breaking free. It's a long moment before I realise that she's still asleep, and that the twitching and quiet cries are just symptoms of a nightmare. I'm surprised to realise that her sleep is as difficult as mine. There's some justice in it, I guess. She's caused enough nightmares, why shouldn't she live a few?
I know I won't sleep with her so agitated, so I sit with my back against the side of the van. It's quiet outside, except for the wind and the insects, and there's not much to do but listen to her soft cries.
"No …" she twists her head, "B, please."
I start, surprised to hear my name, then smile slightly. There is *definitely* some justice in her having nightmares about me. God knows I have them about her.
"B, no. Please … I love you … no B pleasenoBuffydon't."
My mind freezes. Did she just say that?
"Love you B." her lips curl in a sensuous smile, and my mind is still frozen.
And for the next two hours I listen to her moan my name. In fear. In anger. In love.
We're in Portland before she wakes up. I've been driving since it was light, and Washington State is already behind us.
"Do you know if they have Moosehead in England? Or just Budweiser?" she's back to playing the tough chick.
"I don't think they have either." Being back in the States makes me feel more comfortable, more like talking, "They have their own beer."
"Huh?" she wasn't listening. No surprise there.
"I said they have their own beer."
"Oh. I guess I probably don't get much chance to try them, anyway."
"Probably not." I agree shortly, wondering when she is going to notice.
"Uh, B?" I hear her move in the back and know she just sat up. "What happened to the straps?"
"I undid them." I glance in the side mirror and change lanes. And I had. Right after we got into the States. It was crazy, I admit. But I had to know.
Slowly, making no sudden moves, she clambers into the front passenger seat. That's a good sign. Better than if she'd attacked me while we were doing fifty, anyway.
"Want to tell me why?" she peers out of window at Portland.
"You talk in your sleep." Jesus. How could I ask this question?
"You. Talk. In Your Sleep." I repeat slowly, stalling.
She nods, apparently not surprised, then yawns and rakes her hair back with her fingers.
"What about it?"
"I never knew you loved me." Way to blurt it out on my part. But what else was there to do?
We drive in silence, the yards spinning past under the van. Finally, she speaks,
"I said that?"
"Yes. Do you?"
And that's the million dollar question, isn't it? Once, I would have asked her if she'd changed. But I know she hasn't, and that she never will. It's hardly the point, anyway. If she could change one way, she could change back the other. But love. I remember love. It never changes either. Love is something I can rely on.
"Yeah, I do." Once she's said it, she seems scared, "But it can't work, B. We've got nothing in common. Well, except slaying. Not to mention that we're both girls."
"That bothers you?" I'm surprised. I figured she would have done this before.
"Of course not. But it'll bother the hell out of most other people."
"When did you start to care what other people think?" I joke, then realise how it could be taken, "that's not a dig."
"I know it isn't, and I don't." she shrugs, "But I figured you would."
"Faith, I've dated a vampire and a commando from a secret government organisation. My best friend is a witch who used to go out with a werewolf. Xander is seeing a retired vengeance demon. Dating a girl would hardly seem an issue."
"Okay." She concedes the point. "But dating me? We're worlds apart, B. You know that. Your friends know it. And we've hurt one another too often."
She's wrong. Our worlds aren't different, they're mirrors. Mirrors like you get in those carnival fun houses. She's me and I'm her. We're both just twisted images of one another.
I pull the van over to the side of the road, ignoring the horns of irritated motorists around us. Folding my arms on the steering wheel, I turn to look at her. If I had the energy, I'd try to pin her to the seat with my stare. But I don't. It's too hard.
"Here's the deal, Faith. You can jump out now, and go back to your life, and never hear from me again. I'll tell the Council I couldn't find you. Or you can come back to Sunnydale with me, and we'll see what happens." It's an offer I never thought I'd make, and I regret it as soon as I have, but it's already said. "I'm not saying we'll be lovers. I don't know how I feel about you, yet. But I'm willing to give you a chance."
I can taste the lie even as I say it. Not that I don't know how I feel about her. That's true. But that I'm not saying we'll be lovers. I know we will. Just like I know she can't walk away. Because there are still more ways we can hurt one another. And neither of us is ready to stop hurting, yet.