The Way, Way Back
by Liz Estrada

Title: The Way, Way Back
Author: Liz_Estrada (liz_estrada@ yahoo.com)
Rating: R (bad words, sex, violence)
Summary: Kate conscripts Faith to help with a tricky problem
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Makes me sad.
Warning & Spoilers: This story is much longer - and much weirder - than I ever intended. Short on action, long on talkyness... I think I'll blame it on excess exposure to paint fumes. Not many spoilers, just a few random refs to events from season one of Angel and seasons 3 and 4 of BtVS.

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |

"... and I don't feel it would be wise to leave the two of you alone while you're in this agitated state. Angel should return shortly after sundown."

That's the first thing I hear when I wake up. Is that Wesley talking? I can hear, but I can't see. Blindfolded. Hands bound behind my back. Feet tied. I'm laid out face-up on a bed, as best I can tell. Shit, I'm surprised he doesn't have me trussed up like Hannibal Lecter.

"Wesley, I understand your concern, but I'm not the one who started it."

Kate's voice, close by me. I feel her weight shift on the bed and she leans over me, presses a cool damp cloth against the throbbing right side of my skull. "Her head's finally stopped bleeding. She needs medical attention, a CAT scan -- "

"Faith will be fine. She always is."

I know that voice, too. Goddamn sonofabitch. Buffy's here.

"You're in need of a physician as well," Wesley says to one of them. "I've stitched you both up as best I can, but you need anti-biotics to stave off infection."

He better not be talking to Kate. I swallow to wet my scratchy throat and aim my words toward the sound of her breathing. "You okay?"

She shudders and wraps her hand around my left biceps, squeezes slightly. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. How do you feel?"

"Like some self-righteous bitch knocked me in the head with a tire iron."

Kate snickers. Wesley clears his throat. The self-righteous bitch says nothing.

"How you doin', B?" I ask, casting it out loud and clear.

"Aside from my heightened annoyance at seeing you again, and this excruciatingly painful bullet wound in my shoulder, I'm just *super,* thanks for asking."

Her voice is low and tight, pained. Without consciously wanting to, I halfway sit up and my black world spins. "Jesus, B! Somebody shot you?"

Buffy snorts softly. "Don't sound so hopeful -- it's just a flesh wound. Too bad your new girlfriend isn't a better shot."

"I hit where I aim," Kate responds. She sounds cold, hard, but her hands are gentle as she eases me back to the pillow. I feel her fiddling with the blindfold.

"Leave that alone," Buffy snaps.

"Kiss my ass." Okay -- gunplay and cursing. Lockley is ticked.

Wesley clears his throat again. Kate slips her fingers under the blindfold and slides it down over my face, carefully avoiding the head wound. It takes a second or two for my vision to clear, then I see her holding up three fingers; looks like one of Chuny's gang signs.

"What do you see?"

"West coast rocks the mike," I say.

She lowers one finger and raises an eyebrow, waits for me to recognize the shift.

"Peace, out."

Kate smiles at me and I feel better, not so dizzy now.

"I told you she was fine," Buffy grumbles.

B sounds weird, all pissed-off and dry. Maybe it's the pain or something, but she's not her old sassy self. Not making with the smarty-pants routine that used to charm the pants right off of me. Literally, on a few occasions. Whatever. She was mad at me last time we met, too, when she thought I was nailing Angel. Maybe this is all she's got left for me.

We're in a bedroom with white walls and gray carpet, blue curtains and bed linens. Clothes and shoes and knick-knacks are laying everywhere; the place looks like a tornado tore through it. Two windows to the right; beyond the curtains, I see iron burglar bars. Trapped.

Buffy sits in a straight-backed chair in the far corner. Her pink shirt is splotched with red and there's a bandage just above her collarbone. Wesley stands in the doorway, leaning against the jamb with his hands behind his suit jacket.

"Where are we?" I ask Kate, since I don't recognize the surroundings.

Buffy whispers, "I'm surprised this room wasn't your first stop," just loud enough for me to hear. Nobody else - just me. I try to ignore the crack, focus on Kate instead.

"This is my place," Kate says. "They caught us, Sundance."

"Shoot."

I notice she's sporting new duds, a short-sleeved gray sweater and faded jeans. She picks up my drifting eyes and explains, "Bloodstains. I looked pretty ghoulish."

Great. I probably bled all over her. "Sorry."

She smiles, smooths my hair away from my forehead. "I thought we had an agreement about the apologizing."

I shrug as best I can; it's a trick, being all bound up. "Guess I broke my word."

"Get used to it," Buffy announces. "It's one of her specialties."

"Buffy, please," Wesley moans. "You're only making this more difficult."

"Oh, so sorry! By all means, let's make things easy and comfortable for the psychotic fugitive murderer and the crooked cop."

"I am not psychotic! I am a reformed sociopath with waning paranoid tendencies!" I counter, realizing too late that screaming out Steinman's last diagnosis makes me sound pretty freakin' psycho *and* makes my head ache something fierce. "And Kate is not crooked... goddamn, that hurts."

Kate turns to Wesley. "There's a bottle of T3 in the medicine cabinet."

He straightens and I see for the first time that he has Kate's fancy gun hidden behind his back. Guess that tells me who's in charge here. "Perhaps you could retrieve it," he suggests. "I feel I should remain here, for *everyone's* safety."

Kate nods, glances from me to Buffy, then gets up. "Stay away from her."

"Like you could stop me," B shoots back.

"Detective, please don't start this up again." Wesley sounds like he's tired, like he's been stuck between them for hours. Wonder how long I've been under. I see a clock on the dresser - 10:02 a.m., it says. That means I cruised through the twilight zone in about forty-five minutes. Not bad; I've shaved over eight months off my last race time.

"I'll be right back," Kate says to me. She strafes the icicle eyes over Buffy again, then darts out the bedroom door.

Buffy's staring at me, looking like she wants to toss me off another roof. "You do tend to attract the protective ones. Still doing that same tired routine? Little girl lost?"

And another happy Slayer reunion is underway. "Not that it's any of your biz, but I was trying to help her."

"Ahh, I see. You were helping her." Buffy nods and leans forward. "So, she stopped breathing and you were giving her mouth-to-mouth?"

What? Oh. In the car, before B turned my lights out, that kiss... "That is *definitely* none of your business."

"I thought all those anti-depressants they give people like you were supposed to dampen the libido," Buffy snipes. "From what I saw this morning, you need a higher dosage."

"I'm not on anything." Not that she cares, but I want her to know.

"You must have the prison psychiatrist fooled, too. Nailed him yet?"

Wesley's squirming like a worm on a hook. "Buffy, stop it."

"Come on, Wes. You know Faith only has two stages: torture and seduction. Their order is the only thing that varies."

I should say something here, I just don't know what. She's mad for sure, but I can't read whether it's pain from being shot, anger at having to be around me again, or something else. Truth is, I don't give a rusty fuck. She still hates me and it's plain that I'm never gonna be able to make that better. I'm different now and she can't see it. She won't see it. I turn my head and shut my eyes; I can't stand looking at her. All I see in her is what I did, who I was. Buffy's still talking, but it's just noise to me now. She's not saying anything new, and I hate oldies stations.

"Back off."

Kate's voice. I open my eyes and find her in the doorway. Buffy seems to have shut up for the moment. Kate moves past Wesley and comes over to the bed with pills and a glass of water. I raise up a little, open my mouth, and she lays the pills on my tongue, gives me a sip of water. It always gets me, how gentle she is with me, careful not to hurt me.

"One guess which stage they're in now," Buffy spits.

"Why are you still here?" Kate fires back. "You've cracked her head open, you've had your fun. Go home and entertain your friends."

"Believe me, I would like nothing more, but I'm not leaving until Angel gets here."

"Then the least you can do for all of us is to shut the hell up."

Buffy huffs, throws her hands up. "I'm getting that Cassandra feeling. I warn and warn and nobody listens."

"Because you're a crackpot with old information," Kate says. She points at me. "You've never even met *this* person."

"And you've known her for all of two days." Buffy shakes her head and sits back in the chair, crosses her legs. "Let me clue you in, Detective. Faith is like a condemned building with a new facade. Enjoy the outside all you want, but don't go in. You'll fall through the floor."

Kate's shoulders go back, chin tips up. "Like you did?"

Buffy's smug face turns hard and she glares at me, probably thinking I told Kate something I swore to keep secret. I didn't, though. If Lockley knows, she guessed it all by herself. This could get even uglier if it keeps up, so...

"Katie?" She looks over and I give a quick 'no' shake. "Not worth it. Let it fly."

She swallows hard, then sits down by me. "Can you sit up?"

I struggle a bit, but manage to sort-of sit up. Her hands go to the bonds on my wrists. Buffy and Wesley start in at the same time.

"Don't - "

"Kate, I don't think - "

"Would both of you please calm down?" Kate shouts. "There's a Slayer and an armed Watcher in the room. Faith's not going anywhere and she won't try anything. Right?"

"If you say so," I tell her. Not like I could jump up and throw down just yet, anyhow.

She nods in reply. "I'm untying her. If you want to stop me, shoot me."

Wesley brings the gun around, but sputters and lets it dangle by his leg. Buffy just rolls her eyes and groans. In a few seconds, my hands are loose, but totally numb. Kate takes them in hers and starts rubbing to get the blood flowing.

"So, what did I miss?" I ask her while trying to smile.

"Angel had people watching for me. Someone called his office and reported seeing me with you. Angel's out of town, so Cordelia phoned Buffy, who showed up this morning and tried to beat you to death."

"If that's what I wanted, she'd be dead," Buffy contributes.

"You were rearing back to hit her again. If I hadn't I shot you, she *would* be dead."

"And we wouldn't be enjoying this scintillating banter."

Kate gives her the evil eye. "No. I'd be on my way to prison for murder, and the world would have two brand-new Slayers."

Oh, boy. The air in here just got really thick. Speak, Fido. "I bet it was the bartender."

"What?" Kate's back on me now, thank god. She lets go of my tingling hands and tackles the knotted ropes around my ankles.

"The creepy bartender. The one who knew you."

"You took her to a bar?" Buffy gasps. "Jailbreaks, alcohol and sex. Let me guess - this was going to end with the two of you driving a convertible into the Grand Canyon, right?"

Before either of us can respond, Wesley steps forward. "Now, I've had just about enough of this childish baiting. If you can't behave in a more mature manner, I'll have to insist that you wait in another room."

Buffy stiffens and hisses at him. "You'll insist?"

Wes clears his throat and stands up tall. "I am the one with the gun, Miss Summers."

It takes a few painfully long moments, but she backs down. Wesley's got stones, I'll give him that much. Kate's got my feet loose now, and she slides back up beside me.

"Hey - if you shot B, how did Wes wind up with your piece?"

She half-shrugs and says, "I gave it to him right after we got here."

That was about the last thing I expected to hear. "Why??"

"To calm them down, show trust. Nobody's been shot or brained since I handed it over, so the plan seems to be working."

Huh. Not what I would have done, but okay. "So this is where you hang your holster?"

"Mmm. It was the closest place for you to recuperate." She tips her head toward Buffy. "Her, too. You like it?"

"Messier than I expected, but it's nice."

"The mess isn't mine. They were hoping to find the Tailor demon before I did, so they searched the apartment, hoping to find some kind of artifacts to do a locator spell. If I had been home, I could have told you that I didn't have any such things and spared you the effort."

Didn't have any such things. They don't know how far along Kate was, don't know about the box and the fatecord, about Rick's helping her. Guess she was right again; the guy was worth four grand after all.

"I apologize again for the disarray," Wesley says. "You had a head start, and we were in a great rush - "

"It's okay, really," Kate interrupts. "I know you were doing what you thought best. Too bad you didn't have any luck, either."

Either? They didn't know where to find the Tailor? Shit, they must have done some voodoo spell to locate *me* instead. That's how they found us this morning.

"Truly, I am glad that the two of you were unable to find the demon," Wes goes on, "Tailors are a virtually unknown species. They could be highly dangerous, even to Slayers."

I bite down on my tongue to keep from laughing. Without the spells from the machine, that demon was about as dangerous as a bag of wet noodles. I hadn't noticed before, but my pockets still feel lumpy; the crystal and seam ripper and all that stuff are still on me.

We could still pull this off. If Kate could get her gun away from Wesley and cover Buffy, we could make a break for it, get back to the shop and slip inside before they catch up. Crap, why did she give it to him in the first place?

Wes is still yammering and Kate's nodding, humoring him. Buffy looks like she's about to fall asleep.

"... so when Angel finds this Rick fellow he's seeking, he will no doubt locate the demon and bring an end to this entire debacle. Oftentimes, the only way to avoid a temptation such as the Tailor offers is to remove it entirely. In this case, I feel this is the appropriate course."

Angel's gone looking for Rick. Even if he finds him, it won't be safe for him to chase after us until nightfall. If we could just shake these two, we'd have a real chance to -

"Can you stand up?" Kate asks. Heading me off, natch.

I take stock of the bod and find the pain is slacking off. Not too dizzy now, either. "Yeah, I think so."

"Try to stand up and take a few steps."

Buffy rouses and bows up. "Just what do you think you're doing?"

Kate's slipped her arm around my waist and is helping me find the floor. "Without benefit of a CAT scan, we don't know if she has a concussion. If she can walk a straight line, that's a good indicator that there's no cerebral damage."

Sounds like bullshit to me. Buffy, too, I notice, but Wes is buying it.

"Just a few steps, then," he says. He lifts Kate's gun and rests his finger on the trigger. "I have no wish to fire this weapon."

"Don't worry," Kate tells him, "you won't be using that on us."

I'm wobbly on the first step, better on the second, good by the third. I'm at the end of the bed when Kate lets me go and I stand on my own. A couple of neck turns and I feel okay. I'm not sure I can dance yet, but I'm better. Those pills must be kicking in.

Buffy's standing now, looking grave and deadly. She wants to hurt me some more, I can see it in her eyes. "Satisfied? Good. Back on the bed, Faith."

"Now where have I heard that before?" It's out of my mouth before I can think better.

She's bull-mad and moving toward me and I see the fist coming up and I react. Just react. One hand on the bedpost, tilt the torso sideways back and bring the left foot up, spin on the right foot and BAM!! Right against her jaw. I feel the impact still running through my bones as I finish the turn and come back around and the room keeps spinning while I stand still.

I expect Buffy to pop back up and deck me. I expect Wesley to shoot me. Neither thing happens. Buffy's on the floor, a hand on her cheek, spitting blood. Capoera. Thanks, Chuny.

Wes is holding up the gun and pulling the trigger, but no shots are coming. Kate steps right in front of him and yanks the gun out of his hands, kicks him square in the nuts. Wes goes down.

"Let's go," Kate says to me. Businesslike and calm.

She takes my arm and we're moving out the door. She stops in the hall, slams the bedroom door and drags a chair under the knob. We continue down the hall and into the living room; more windows, more burglar bars. This place is like Fort Knox -- my girl's made it almost monster-proof.

She grabs a long iron rod by the front door, which is made of metal itself, and rushes me out of the apartment and into the stairwell. There's a small rug underfoot, which she kicks aside, revealing a dime-sized hole drilled into the cement. Kate drops the bent end of the iron rod into the hole and tilts the other end toward the door, fits it into a metal-cased divot, pulls the door shut. Never seen a burglar bar that works two ways. Then again, I've never met anyone quite like Kate Lockley.

"Sweet."

"It won't hold them for long," she says, turning her keys in the deadbolts, "but it might be long enough to make the airport."

Shit. She wants to bolt.

I feel kinda queasy as we take the stairs down floor after floor, but it's not from my busted head. I know this feeling, this sickly tilt-a-whirl sensation. This is what it felt like when I killed Finch and blamed Buffy, when I dusted Trick and visited Richard Wilkens.

This is a bad feeling, an on-the-verge feeling. I'm about to start running in the wrong direction again. Kate's probably not stained enough inside to know this energy for what it is; at first, it always feels like thrill, like if you just make it past an obstacle or two, the good times are gonna come rushing in. That's a lie. The things you leave undone always catch up to you, always overtake you and push your face in the mud. You wake up scared every day, go to bed every night with one eye open, waiting for the fear to take shape and grab your throat.

I won't live like that again... and I won't let Kate do it, either.

++++++++++

People stare at us as we fastwalk down the concourse at LAX. Why wouldn't they? Gorgeous blonde dragging a scraggly brunette with a head wound, blood on her sporty soccer t-shirt - not your typical air travelers. We reach the locker bank and I take the key out of my shoe, give it to Kate. She unlocks number 219 and pulls out an envelope.

"In there," she says, nodding toward the ladies room.

We go in and head to the handicapped stall, lock the door. She rips open the envelope and digs out the papers, hands me all the creds I would ever need to prove that I am Stephanie Frieberg, twenty-five years old and hailing from Albany, New York. Clean as a whistle.

"Daniel's on his way down there. He'll be at the hotel by the time we arrive."

I nod and keep my face neutral. She called him on the cell phone while we drove here, said three words to him: early retirement, immediate.

"Go to the counter, buy a first-class ticket and get on the plane. I'll follow in a few minutes. I'll sit in coach. We shouldn't be seen together again until the plane lands."

Now or never, Faith. Show some class. Come through for her.

"One for the road?" I ask, my smile shaking like every other part of me.

Kate looks puzzled, so I take the lead. I put my arms around her shoulders and pull her in, kiss her deep and soft and crazy, let everything out like a breath I've been holding all my life. It's the best thing I've ever felt, her cradled against me, hands around my waist, holding me close. Best thing I've ever felt.

As soon as the kiss ends and she backs up a step, Kate Lockley smiles at me.

I punch her in the face. Drop her with one quick blow and catch her before she falls.

Goddammit, I want to scream 'til I go hoarse. Knives and guns and tire irons don't mean anything right now -- *this* is pain. I settle her on the toilet seat, slip my fake papers back into the envelope, then take her car keys. I fish out the money she gave me and take one fifty dollar bill, tuck the rest into her pocket.

"I'm gonna make this right, Katie," I whisper. "But if I do fuck it up, have a margarita for me."

I lean down and kiss her forehead, then slide out under the door so it's still locked from the inside. A couple of kids see me and laugh, then go back to playing with their Pokļæ½mon cards while their mommy changes a diaper on the counter.

++++++++++

The taxi ride back to Melrose takes forever. Fucking Los Angeles traffic. The driver looks at me funny, all bloodied as I am, but like most cabbies he doesn't ask questions. When we get on the Tailor's block, I tell him to pull over and let me out. I fork over the fifty and tell him to keep the change, and he starts raving about how lovely American actresses are. He thinks I'm in movie make-up.

I don't have time to think about how screwy that is. I hit the street, march right up to the door of Retro Active, whip out Rick's skunky inhaler and take a deep hit.

Then I go through the door.

It's different inside, not so creepy as before. The decor is the same - black walls, roses, Terrazzo underfoot - but it's lost that mausoleum feeling. It's just a place now, a place where a demon plies his trade. I clomp past the mannequins and through the beaded curtain into the back room where I find the Tailor demon sitting in his puffy chair, sipping a glass of lemonade.

"I was wondering when you would return," he says.

"Stop wondering. Let's crank this mother up."

He twitches his mustache. "The machine will not function without the crystal, though I am sure you already know that."

"You mean this little thing?"

I produce the rock and his eyes bulge. He wants it back in the worst way, knows he's helpless without it. No rock, no magic. No magic, no stupid Faith to manipulate.

He sets his glass on a coaster and stands up, steps toward me.

"Nuh-uh. Stay back." I don't want him to smell the immunity on my breath, but he takes my response for fear.

"I have no desire to harm you, Faith. Give me the crystal and I will bring your wishes to reality. You know I can."

I nod and toss the crystal to him. He bobbles it, but hangs on, sighs like bliss once it's in his hands. It's like I just handed him back his dick.

"Marvelous," he says.

He goes straight to the machine and slides the crystal into place. I see that the same thread is still on the needle, the thread stained with my blood. Old blood, old desires. We need to do that part again.

"Prick me."

He turns around, all confused. "I beg your pardon?"

"Things have changed since last time. I want something else now."

"Ahh, I see."

He takes the needle out, slips a new fatecord into the eye, and comes toward me. I hold my breath and pray that he can't pick up the monumental reek coming off me. I offer a finger and he stabs me quick, runs the cord through the bubble of blood, just like before. Places the needle in the machine, just like before, winds the thread around the crystal.

Everything's just like the first time, everything except me. I know where I'm going.

The Tailor sits at the machine, works the pedals, and the crystal starts glowing green. He looks over at me expectantly, and I take that as my cue. I smile and let out a little giggle, which sets him at ease. He thinks he's got me now. He keeps working the machine until the hissing sound comes again, that sound that scared me straight yesterday means something entirely different today. It's like a factory whistle calling me to work.

The Tailor gets up and walks over to me. I see him coming this time, no hocus-pocus to make him seem all mysterious and floaty, and he opens his hand.

"I believe you borrowed an implement from me. Please give it back."

I take the seam ripper from my back pocket and unwrap the sharp end. I smile at the demon and step up in his face. He doesn't know what hit him as I grab his tie and yank him down, place the point of the tool against his throat.

"Do exactly what I say and there's a small chance I won't *gut you* like a tuna."

"You, you, you don't want to do that," he stammers. "Just take a deep breath and calm yourself, my dear."

I take a deep breath. No chills in the chest, no happy buzz. Magic Rick fuckin' rocks.

"How do you feel?" the demon asks meekly.

"I feel like taking a trip. You're coming with me."

I say a quick pleasepleaseplease to the universe and whip the seam ripper across the air in front of the big mirror... and a hole opens up. Six feet tall and glowing around the edges.

"Hot damn! Grab your balls, Johnny! We're going in!"

"Oh, no, please ...

... don't do this!"

What a rip off. I thought it was gonna be some psychedelic ride, all colors and fast speeds and falling down the rabbit hole, but it's nothing like that. Without the magic twisting my melon, the trip is just like stepping into a totally dark room. I've still got the Tailor's tie in my fist and the seam ripper is pressed against his neck. Gotta hang on to him since I can't see shit.

"Where are we?"

"In the between space where there is no time," he whispers.

"Layman's terms, Johnny."

I hear him sigh and I think I hear him roll his eyes. "This is the staging area between was and will be, past and future."

"How do we get to the past from here?"

"That is the function of the spell... the one which you took it upon yourself to neutralize," he sneers. "When your inhibitions are lowered, the spell elegantly guides you through the darkness, whisking you back to the moment you secretly seek."

"Drops you on your ass in the middle of a scene, is more like it," I counter. "So how do we get anywhere without the spell? Hoof it?"

"It's impossible," the Tailor snorts. "Nobody walks in Los Angeles."

He just repeated Kate's words back to me. The blood, the thread, he knew all my favorite flavors... he knows how to do this. I jab the seam ripper into his skin, just a little wound to get his attention. He shrieks and struggles to get away from me, but I yank hard on his tie and wrap in around his neck, step behind him and cinch it tight.

"Let's get kinky and do it manually," I suggest. "Get moving or die where you stand."

He's shaking, scared real good. I feel him nod and he takes a step. I move with him.

There's no light in here at all, and the only sound is coming from us. Breathing, walking, fabric whispering as we go... somewhere. After about twenty steps, the Tailor pulls up short.

"Here. The bolts are here."

"Bolts?"

I feel his moving his arms up, grabbing hold of something, and I press the ripper tighter against his throat. He shudders and stills.

"I need to loosen the edge of the fabric. Give me a small amount of latitude, please? I have not worked in this manner since the time of the Stroganoffs."

The fuck? He's talking about noodles? "Whatever, just go slow - I spook easy."

He nods, begins again and I hear cloth rustling and something squeaking, like rusty metal turning... and then I see myself.

Out of the dark, just in front of the Tailor, comes an image of me and the demon standing in front of the big mirror, half gone into the glowy-edged black gap. The picture is flat on a roll of fabric, like it's been ironed on to a t-shirt. The demon is holding the edge of the cloth, snapping and straightening it until it comes into clear focus. It's awesomely strange, and I stare at it for a while until find my voice.

"What the hell is this?"

"This was the last thing that happened to you in the real time," he says. "On these bolts are embroidered the moments of your life, every second since your birth is here, sewn into the fabric of time.

"We Tailors were gifted with the ability to correct bad seams, to darn the torn times and restore the fabric to suit the being it clothed... at a premium cost."

"Souls."

"The currency of the underworld; like gold, valued by all."

It shouldn't matter to me, but I want to know. "Why were you guys hunted down?"

In the dim glow from the fabric picture, I see his mustache twitch.

"Some of us stopped accepting payment. The overlords were displeased with our impunity. An edict was nailed to the door of the Temple of Jeulnor - our death warrant. Once, we were legion. Few of us remain... one less after today."

His voice is soft, and he sounds resigned to dying by my hand. I can't think about that right now.

"Do you know where I want to go? When, I mean."

"I believe I do."

"Then let's get on with it."

I let go of his tie and step back, take the ripper away from his skin. He steps closer to the fabric bolt and starts pulling down reams of the cloth, faster and faster. I catch glimpses, still frames of myself bloodied in the taxi, playing pool with Kate, practicing spinning kicks with Chuny, then it's all too blurry to pick anything out. The fabric's not pooling around the Tailor's feet like I expected - it's just rolling itself under the bolt, slipping out of sight.

I realize now that Angel was right, that no matter what the book says, a regular schmuck like me couldn't have done this. This is skilled labor, what this demon is doing. His hands are fast and light, moving over the scraps of my shoddy little life with care... like Kate. It's the same way she touched me. Gently, with affection.

The Tailor stops moving and I see the place he's picked. Bingo.

"Will this be adequate?" he asks.

"Looks good to me," I say. He waits, watches me. "What now?"

"You have the tool."

"And I'm not giving it back 'til this is over. What do I do?"

He smiles a little; I think he heard something hopeful in my words, like maybe I don't intend to kill him unless he fucks me over. I guess maybe I don't.

"Insert the point of the seam ripper along the line of your body and pull open a gap, then step through."

"That simple?"

"Just so. When you are done making your alteration, rip a gap along any mirrored surface and step back here. I will mend the tear and thy will be done."

I do exactly what he said; insert the ripper and tear a gap along the line of my body, then tuck the tool into my front pocket. Be strong. Just tell the truth and everything will be cool. I step through...

... and I'm sitting in a small chair with my hands cuffed in my lap. I smell bad, since I'm wearing the same clothes I wore that night. I remember I sweated right through the shirt, I was so scared. I'm not scared this time.

There's a table in front of me with a running tape recorder and a pitcher of water. Two glasses - one for me and one for the cop sitting across from me. Dolman. His name is Dolman.

Kate Lockley sits off to the side, watching me, listening to Dolman ask me about the guy I beat down. The one who tried to hassle me at the bus stop.

"You broke bones, young lady! And the vic claims you only used your hands! How did you manage that? Roll of dimes tucked in your fist?"

I know how I answered him, but I don't have anything to say to this guy. I'm here to talk to Kate, who at this point doesn't know me from shit. If this works, she never will.

"Detective Lockley?"

She stiffens, seems surprised that I called her by name. "I'm only observing Sargent Dolman's interrogation. Direct your comments to him."

No time to screw around, just get to the point. "You're investigating a robbery homicide in the hills, right? Rich people, home invasion, wife raped and murdered, husband stabbed multiple times."

Kate stands up, comes over and stands by Dolman. "You have information about that?"

"The guy who did it, his name is Rafael Acevedo. Hispanic male, six-two, two-twenty. He lives in Watts with his cousin."

She leans down, braces her hands on the table. "How do you know this?"

"A friend told me. Someone I trust."

"Who?"

"That's not important. Thing is, if you don't stop him now, he'll do it again and things will get *really* out of control. But he's a mean fucker, so be careful. He hates women and he loves to cut people up."

"Heh. Old boyfriend?" Dolman asks me.

Kate takes a pen and notepad from her jacket, jots down the info. I see her gun in the shoulder holster and a question occurs to me, one I didn't think to ask her before.

"Detective?"

She fixes me with those goddamned beautiful eyes and my train of thought derails.

"What is it?"

"Uhh... not that I'm planning to try anything stupid here, but does your gun have one of those security things that keeps other people from firing it?"

Dolman tenses up, but Kate puts a hand on his shoulder and eases him down.

"Yes," she tells me. "It's a grip lock, molded to fit my hand."

I nod and give her my best smile. "Cool. That's a good thing."

She looks at me with this weird expression, like she's wondering what to make of me, then she blinks and shakes it off. She raps Dolman on the arm.

"Sargent, could I talk to you outside for a moment?"

Dolman grunts a yeah and gets up. He shuts off the tape recorder and follows Kate out of the room. I get a glimpse of her standing in the hallway, looking back at me, then the door closes and I'm alone.

I draw in a deep breath and it comes out broken. I did it. I fucking well did it. I changed something for the better. Kate's gonna catch this guy and January 13th won't happen. Her life won't crash into the wall. She'll never get desperate enough to break me out of jail. None of it will happen... not even the good parts.

Just when I think I know what pain is, something new comes along and redefines the whole fucking concept. I'm aching in a whole new way; it's different because I know I did the right thing. There's no shame attached to this.

I stand up and walk over to the mirror, the one the cops are standing behind, watching me cry. Let 'em look. I might be crying, but my head is up high.

I take the seam ripper out of my pocket and run a fast line across the mirror, jump through the hole into the black...

... and the Tailor demon is there, catches me as I stumble. He's stronger than he looks and he holds me up until I get my feet back. I look up at him and ask,

"What do I owe you, Johnny?"

He shakes his head, twitches the 'stache. "Professional discretion. I never charge for selfless acts."

A weird sound comes out of my throat and I realize that I'm still crying. Fuck it. I'm hurting and I need to let it go. I drop the seam ripper and put my arms around a goddamned demon and cry for myself, for doing the right thing and losing anyway.

Steinman says I don't normally cry because I don't allow myself to feel deeply enough. I'm feelin' it now, you hippie sonofabitch. Hope you're happy.

After a while, after I'm tapped and snuffling like a baby, I pull away from the Tailor and scoop the seam ripper off the floor. Even in the dim light, I can see he's afraid.

"Sew it up," I tell him. "That's all I wanted."

Silently, he turns and starts darning the tear with a needle and fatecord, closing the hole in the police station mirror until it's completely shut. I see the scene has changed; now I sit alone in the interrogation room. The Tailor only lets me look for a second before he begins rolling the following days back onto the bolt. They all look pretty much the same as I remember.

"Nothing looks different," I say. "You sure it took?"

"You changed *her* life much more than your own. The differences are subtle, but you will notice some changes in the hand... in the way your days drape around you."

He's done now, back to the end of the bolt, the picture of us halfway through the black gap, and when it rolls away, the darkness falls again.

"I'm ready," he says from close beside me. One hand lights on my shoulder and the other takes my hand, guides the ripper to his throat. "The needles and thread are in my left coat pocket. Make the stitches as tight as possible."

He can't fight me, so he won't even try. I take his tie and start walking, pacing off the twenty steps back to where we started, then I pick a random point in the blackness and whip the ripper down. A gap opens, though I can only see the edges glowing green - beyond the black is just more black. I turn toward the demon and I feel him tense, preparing for attack.

I lean down, wedge the ripper under Kate Lockley's sneaker, and snap off the point. A bright green flash washes through the dark, and we both know the thing is broken. He can sew things up, but his days of ripping holes in time are over. Not everybody who comes to a temporal demon for help is as nice as me.

"Get out of the game before you get killed, Johnny," I tell him. "Call it early retirement."

"But... but where will I go? What will I do?" His voice is shaking bad.

"I hear Cabo San Lucas is a pretty happenin' place. Open a juice stand."

"A juice stand?"

I wipe my eyes and chuck him on the shoulder, and I'm laughing as I step through the gap...

... screw you, Luther! Can't you see she's sleeping?"

I open my eyes and find myself on my bunk, in my cell, with Chuny Escobar smart-mouthing my favorite prison hack. I groan and take a moment to re-assemble my brain before chiming in.

"What's up, Sipowicz?"

"See there? I told *you* she was just faking!" he says to Chuny, who flips him off and goes back to reading her magazine. "You gotta come with me. Cops wanna talk to you."

"Cops?"

"Two of 'em. Down in the lawyer room."

He unlocks the cell door while I get up and give myself the once-over in the steel mirror. The good news is that I have no head wound. The bad news is obvious - I'm back in fucking prison, wearing my ugly-ass orange suit. Everything else is up for grabs.

Luther leads me down the halls and into the conference area by the vending machines. He waits by the door. I look at the machines and wish for the thousandth time that they had something in them besides milk and Snapple and those lousy peanut butter cheese crackers. Seems like just yesterday I had Pepsi and chocolate... among other things. Things I don't want to think about just yet.

I sit at the table and wait for the cops to show. No idea what they might want with me, so I'll just try to roll with the punches, feel my way through. I lean down and start picking at the sole of my slipper when two sets of legs appear in the doorway. Black boots and pants in front, tan loafers and faded jeans behind.

I raise up and find Angel looking down at me. I'm so happy to see the bloodsucking bastard that my face breaks out in a smile and my heart skips a beat.

Then I see Kate Lockley behind him, talking to Luther, and my heart just plain stops.

"Sorry we're late," Angel is saying as he sits down. "Traffic."

Late? I was expecting them? That sounds good. "S'okay," I say. "What's up?"

"Not much this week. Some activity down by the docks, but Gunn and Wesley handled it without incident."

"Uh-huh. Good, good."

"The comic shop was closed by the time we got there. I'll send Cordelia next time, just to be sure we don't miss the guy."

What's all this we business? Does Kate come with him every week? "Yeah, okay."

"I did manage to smuggle in some junk food."

He slides a brown paper bag across the table. I only see it from the corner of my eye, since I can't seem to stop looking at Kate. "Great. Thanks."

"Faith, are you feeling alright? You usually attack that stuff like a wolverine."

I should answer him, but Kate's coming into the room and my mouth won't open.

"Hi, Faith," she says as she walks up behind Angel. Puts her hands on his shoulders, leans down and whispers into his ear. "Luther told me a dirty joke. Remind me to share it on the way home."

Angel sort of nods, turns his head to the side as if he's embarrassed.

Some things I don't see right off, but I've never been slow on the uptake when it comes to signals like the ones Kate's sending him. She's totally into him. They're together now.

Probably goes something like this: I tell Kate where to find that killer guy, she does me a solid by arranging for Angel to visit me in the evenings by posing as a cop, they bond over mutual good deed-doing and things get physical. She falls for him, but he doesn't fall back.

This is Angel sneaking me junk food and comic books, not Angelus. He doesn't love her.

He doesn't love her, but I do. Jesus, my stomach hurts.

"Guys, I'm feeling pretty crappy," I mutter. "Mind if we cut this short?"

I get up and head for the door without waiting for an answer. Angel calls after me, but I ignore him. I start walking back toward my cell and Luther comes scrambling after me, keys jangling, words coming out of his mouth that I don't hear.

First Buffy, now Kate. Everybody loves Angel. Shit, I wish I could hate him again.

Things were so much simpler when I could just turn the hate on and forget all the stuff underneath. I try it for a minute, try cursing him and telling myself that it's not fair, that I never get a break, that this ISN'T FUCKING FAIR!!

And it burns out just as fast as it flared up. What has Faith learned from this experience? When you do evil, you get evil back. There's nothing more evil than showing somebody a little happiness, then taking it away. Angel knows it, and he tried to warn me that this might happen.

Jail isn't my punishment. My penance is knowing that I could have had Cabo San Lucas and Kate Lockley and I chucked it all because I'm a good person and I put somebody else ahead of me. Nice guys finish last.

"Luther?" I call ahead.

He stops unlocking the cell block door and turns to me. "Whatta you want now?"

"Call Doctor Steinman for me. Ask him if he can see me tomorrow."

"Your appointment ain't until three days."

"Please, Luther. I need to talk to him. Please."

He scratches his bald head with a thumbnail, nods. "Okay."

Minutes later I'm back in my cell. I drop on my bunk and stare at the ceiling 'til lights out. Just after bed check, Chuny comes over and slides in beside me, slips her hand over my ass.

"Don't."

She pulls back, shoots me a look. "You don't wanna?"

"No."

Chuny shrugs and starts to roll off the bed, but my arm rockets out and grabs her, pulls her close.

"Stay, okay?"

She lays still, stiff, like she doesn't get it. "Just lay here?"

"Yeah. Sucks being alone."

She laughs a little, loosens up and presses back against me. I shut my eyes and try to remember what Kate smelled like, how her arms felt around me, how she looked at me like I was worth something. She'll never know what I'm worth. It's up to me to remember.

It takes forever to fall asleep.

++++++++++

END

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