I was working -- whether or not that was a dream is still unclear. Working. That's how I've come to think of Slaying: a full-time job which occupies my evenings and occasionally poaches a few daylight hours from my schedule. Anyhow, I was working the graveyard on Halcyon Hill, prowling the stones for vamps and not having a great deal of luck. Just when I was ready to knock off for the night, the sound of a familiar whistled tune (always look on - the briiight side of life) reached my ears.
"Faith?" I called out in the darkness. A long shadow rounded the corner of a moldering mausoleum. I recognized her posture, even in silhouette.
"How'd you know it was me and not some bloodsucking nightcrawler?" She stalked through the weeds, approaching me slowly, her hips swaying, hands hanging loose and empty.
"Most vamps don't go around whistling Python's greatest hits," I replied, edging away. My chest still held a phantom ache from her attack and I was nervous. I lofted a stake and pointed the business end at Faith. "Stay back."
"Ease off, girl. I'm not packing. Check it."
She displayed her empty hands and turned a full 360, showing me she wore no weapons. Her faded jeans and red tee were too tight to allow concealed toys, and I relaxed a fraction knowing that damnable knife was not to play a part in this encounter.
"What do you want from me?" I asked, skipping right to the hard stuff.
"Bupkus, babe. I'm just out for a stroll." She smiled at me and looked around the graveyard with an almost wistful expression. "I miss this. Roaming around, looking for trouble. You find any?"
"Not counting you?" I quipped. She smirked in response and waited for an answer. "No, nary a vampire or ghoulie in sight."
"Pish. I was hoping I'd get to watch you in action."
She stepped nearer and my hackles rose. My hand tightened around the stake and I felt my palm sweating. "Come any closer and you'll get your wish."
"Aww, you still upset that I didn't run to your rescue last night?"
My jaw clenched tight, teeth ground painfully as I remembered her earlier visit. "No. I'm still circling the previous incident, which ended with you doing the dirty work all by yourself."
"Well, Buffy, the way I see it, that little poke I gave you in your bedroom drew us nearly even," she said, "and the abandonment thing put us on par. You stick it in me, I stick it in you. You turn your back on me, I do the same. It's beneficial to have parity in a relationship."
More un-Faith speak. Beneficial, parity. Giles had certainly upped the level of her discourse. Just when I thought she wouldn't stop coming at me, she hopped up on a tombstone and crossed her ankles. She looked so relaxed, so composed that I felt silly standing there in combat mode. I lowered the stake and uncurled my clenched fist.
"Is that what this is about?" I inquired. "Getting even?"
"Hard to say." She scratched her head and thought about it. "The first thing might not have happened if you'd played it straight with me. I have some trust issues."
"A common problem with chronic liars," I observed.
"But you're the one who lied this time, Buffy." Faith looked straight at me and I wished she hadn't. Her dark eyes were swimming with sharks, ripping her apart inside, hungry to get at me. "You lied to me so I'd fuck you."
It might have been true, but it sounded so harsh, so ugly that I couldn't help trying to deny it. "No, I didn't lie, I just wanted - "
"The same thing everybody else wanted from me." Her focus dropped down again, eyes combing the grass. "I expected more than that from you."
Somehow, she'd done it again. I was ashamed of myself for wanting her so much that night, for spitting out a flimsy, insincere promise to keep her close. I wanted to apologize again, but I remembered her reaction. Occasionally, I learn from my mistakes. "I expected more from me, too."
She shrugged her shoulders, dismissing my admission of guilt. "Well, like you said, you don't know how to deal with me."
"That's no excuse. You asked a serious question and I gave you a fast answer without thinking it through. I just get... confused around you."
"Hey, I'm a complicated girl," she allowed. "But it's not all that hard to find our trouble spot. Despite what you say, you never really wanted to be my friend, and we threw too many sparks to just be co-workers. That left two options: one was to shut me out, and the other... man, talk about bad timing. Things might have been different if he hadn't been around."
I knew what she meant. If not for Angel, I might have had enough room in my heart to truly let Faith in. That was what she wanted from me, what she needed from me, and nothing less would do. Without that deep a trust, we would rip each other apart trying to find a way to exist in the same space. Too much energy, too much friction. Too many sparks, as Faith put it. No town is big enough for two Slayers, unless they find a way to exist as one.
"We would have been lovers," I said aloud, endorsing her theory. I was surprised to hear the words come from my own mouth, partly because they were so different from the reality of the waking world, partly because I felt the truth of it in my bones. "And it would have been good."
"When I dream, I dream about that. Reset button, parallel universe shit, you know?" Faith lifted her eyes and smiled sadly, briefly, before eyeing the ground again. "A few nips and tucks in fate's tapestry and we would have been in it for the long haul, you and me. I'd rather have died than let you down."
"You love me," I said.
"Yeah." She didn't say it so much as snort it, as if the admission would produce a foul, irritating scent. "I'm such a fucking loser."
"You love me." I don't know why I repeated it. Maybe just to make it real, since Faith wasn't about to speak the actual words.
I went to put the stake away and realized I'd already dropped it on the grass. I started to walk toward her and realized I was already there, in front of her, my arms reaching out to wrap around her and pull her against me. It was like my body was racing ahead of my mind; before I could process the desire to kiss her, my lips were on her skin, pressing against her collarbone, feeling her pulse flutter against my tongue.
"Will you let me in?" I asked, turning her own question around on her.
"Two way street," she said. "You've got right of way. You go first."
I kissed her hand and placed it across my heart. "I yield," I pronounced, and then I kissed her for a very long time. And it was right and fine and better than anything I'd felt in ages. I felt parts of me wake up, parts I thought were dead. My heart felt flooded, swollen; my flesh was prickly hot, damp. I got lost in it, and I think I could have kissed her through hurricanes.
"You sure you got enough room in there for me?" she asked after a while, her fingers dancing over my heart. "I bring a lot of baggage."
"I'll clear out a closet for you," I murmured, kissing a trail up her neck.
She giggled and drew back, looking me in the eye. "I'm not one to hang around in closets, B."
I got the whole gay joke-thing a little late and we laughed together. She held me so tight, her face nuzzling my ear, my hair. It felt so good to hold someone - to hold her - and to be held that all my fears and pains seemed to melt away, to dissolve in the heat of our embrace. Nothing mattered then except letting her know that I was ready to let her in, ready to take that step and accept her love, ready to love her in return.
"Will you let me in?" she asked.
"Will you trust me?"
"Will you let me believe in you?"
"I'd sooner die than let you down," I said, and perhaps for the first time since we'd met, I knew it was the right thing to say to her.
I felt a wet smear on my cheek and I knew she was crying. Her breath hitched and she breathed soft words into my ear: "Thank you."
Turning my head, I kissed her cheek as if it were a baby's soft crown. I felt nothing of the urgency I experienced that first night in my own bed. Amid the quiet stones and the quieter dead, I had no sense of time passing. Their peace was eternal, and we shared their repose for the length of our embrace. I shut my eyes tight and wished for that moment to last as long as forever could spare.
When I opened my eyes, the sun was rising over the trees. Evidently, forever chose to give us the entire night. I was lying with my back against Faith's chest, her arms warm and loose around me. She was braced against the tombstone and she grinned at my confused blinking.
"It's a new day," she said. "Time for you to wake up and get home."
"Come with me," I said, but she acted like she didn't her me.
"Joyce will be freaked that you stayed out all night."
I half turned in her lap and touched her face, trying to make her look at me, and I rephrased my plea with more definitive words. "Faith, I want you to wake up and come home with me."
She pursed her lips and tsk-tsked at me. "No can do. Gotta play out my run as Sleeping Beauty at Sunnydale General's vegetable ward."
In light of all we had said, her flip words angered me. I scrambled to my feet and looked down on her from my favorite horse -- the really high one.
"Why, Faith? Why punch a hole in my heart and then come back to fix it? Why make me say these things -- *feel* these things... why come to me like this if you can't stay?"
She looked up and shrugged. "Who can say? Maybe my brain isn't working right, maybe this isn't real. I'm lying in a hospital, deep in comaland, and I still can't seem to stay away from you. Go figure."
"Go to hell!" I yelled, and regretted it instantly. I was crying by the time I kneeled down at her side and took her hand. "This isn't fair."
"Tell me about it. I'd hop up from that bed and do cartwheels down the hall if I could," Faith exclaimed. She sounded strange, her laughing voice tainted with regret. "Buffy, I'd jump out the fuckin' window and fly to your house with a bedsheet cape flapping in the breeze. If I could. I can't."
"You have to. If you don't, you're gonna let me down." That hit her hard. She turned away from me and shut her eyes.
"I don't wanna do that, but - "
"No buts, no excuses. You have to try. I want another chance with you. I'll do better this time, I swear. We'll both do better. Please."
I wonder if I sounded as pathetic to her as I did to myself. I was begging. On my knees in front of another dark, distant lover, begging them to stay with me -- the sad cycle of my life, a pattern repeating like a stitch in time. Pride is a big thing with me, but when it comes to love, my pride goes right out the window. I wanted her and said so, needed her and said so.
"I want a chance to love you, Faith."
Maybe it was just a dream, maybe it didn't count. But I loved her and I said so, and that made all the difference to me. Whether it mattered at all to Faith was difficult to tell. She didn't look at me, just got up and started walking away into the maze of stone markers and sheltering trees.
"Go home," she called over her shoulder. "I'll see you tonight, one way or another."
The sun was rising as I walked home in a daze. I don't think I actually woke up for real until I was on my own doorstep with my mother shaking me, demanding to know if I was okay.
I slept into the afternoon, woke again, showered, ate microwave pierogi, watched some self-help cheerleader sing the praises of self-involved autonomy on Oprah, then I collected my courage and went to the hospital. If the dreams were real, if they belonged to both of us, I had to know.
Faith's bed was empty. The duty nurse had no answers for me, so she called the doctor, who proved equally ignorant. Apparently, coma patients are a low priority since they don't often press the call button and demand more Jell-O or extra pillows. The night shift doctor was at home and not answering his phone. No one could tell me where Faith was, if she'd been moved to another ward... or was down in the morgue. I was nearly hysterical by the time I thought to go down there and check for myself.
Action always eases my nerves. Sitting around waiting for other people to do things sets my teeth on edge, makes me crazy. I felt better rushing down the stairs toward uncertainty than when perched on that cold vinyl bench at the nurse's station, waiting for fate to creep up and bite my ass.
The morgue was empty. There were bodies, of course, but no medical examiner, no diener, no attendants. I checked toe tags, lifted sheets, opened refrigerated compartments looking for someone I didn't want to find there. Each time, my heart stopped beating, paused in its duty until I realized that each corpse was a stranger, not Faith. Not my Faith. Then it resumed beating.
I thought of calling Giles, but I would have to explain myself to him and we'd argue about why he'd visited Faith on the sly. I didn't call Giles. Willow had too many issues with Faith, as did Xander, who was somewhere on the road chasing Kerouac's shadow. My mother was a whole other can of worms. Absurdly, I wanted to talk to Angel.
I wanted to tell him what I was feeling, how hopeful I was again, how wonderful it felt to know that love wasn't dead in me, that it just changed faces. Stupid, selfish idea. Telling him would hurt him, but he would listen, he would try to help me understand. He would help me find Faith. Angel is in Los Angeles now, too far away and somehow just far enough.
By the time I left the morgue, I smelled like dead things. Not unusual for me, merely distasteful. First thing I did when I got home was climb into the bathtub for a long soak. I lit candles and shaved my legs. I exfoliated the hell out of my epidermis. When I touched my breasts with a hot washcloth, I felt Faith's phantom hands on my skin and I did not cry.
She said she'd come back. One way or another. I told her I would believe in her and that seemed the perfect place to start.
Faith would come to me. I knew it because she said so.
When I woke up in the dream, the tub water was lukewarm, all the bubbles popped, the candles burning low... and Faith stood over me, smiling.
"Where were you today?" I asked, and I did *try* not to sound irked.
"Non-issue, B. Told you I'd be here, and here I be." She stooped over me and kissed my forehead, my nose, my mouth.
Questions clogged my mind and the mere idea of asking them made my throat seal shut with pain. I had to know. "Tell me... are you dead?"
"Would you still love me if I were?" Faith shucked her black denim jacket, revealing a tight white tee with a rip in the low midriff.
I said yes, I would. She grinned and called me a sicko, but she continued undressing. Small faded white lines on her shins, perhaps scars from old compound fractures. That must have hurt. A thin line above her hip, just over her kidney. I put that there. That must have hurt worse.
"I wish I had thought of another way," I muttered.
"Bygones," she said. "We're squared now. Five by five. Let it go."
Faith slipped into the tub behind me, wrapped her arms around me, and let me cry. A long time passed. My eyes were dry by the time I realized something bony and rather uncomfortable was poking into my back at multiple points. My eyes were wide when I realized that it was her ribcage. At that point, I hadn't put it together entirely.
She was asleep, her head tipped forward against my shoulder, breath dancing down my neck. Though I was concerned, I did not wake her, just surveyed her body as best I could. She was so thin; her belly was concave against my back, her arms across my chest and her legs twined with mine had lost their sinewy muscle tone. Her normally tanned skin was notably pale, even in the flickering low candlelight.
She didn't look like this when she came to my bedroom. She didn't look like this on the street or in the graveyard. I imagined that she looked like this in the hospital, in her own atrophied body made of flesh and blood. A body that doctors called an untenanted shell. A body that shouldn't be able to get up and walk out of the hospital to keep a promise made in a dream.
After a groggy moment, she answered. "Hmm?"
I felt her smile against my throat as she took my meaning. She pinched my nipple and rolled the tightening point between her fingers. I moaned, but I did not wake up. I didn't wake up as she ran her hands along my sides and tickled me, either, though I did laugh a little too loud. My voice still rang off the bathroom tiles when her arms tightened around me, pulled me against her as she kissed my throat.
"Not dreaming now, are we?" she whispered.
"One way to find out."
I turned slightly and found her mouth. She didn't taste sweet; she tasted like rust and bathwater and my skin. Warm and alive and real. I wanted to shout, to whoop and holler like a cowboy, but I couldn't bring myself to abandon her tongue and teeth and lips. I was happy and amazed, and that kiss was the best expression of joy I could muster.
I was testing the length and agility of my tongue in her mouth as my mother knocked on the door and shouted my name. In a moment of panic, I bit Faith's lip. She chuckled and quietly bled into my mouth.
She didn't say a word as I told mom I'd be out soon, to just give me a few more minutes. Faith understood that I didn't want mom to find out about her, about us, quite this way. Nekkid and wet and wrapped around each other like a compound pretzel was bad; clothed and upright and armed with full wits was infinitely better.
The other Slayer, the spare, the dark twin, the comatose black sheep cast-off had come back to life because she walked into my dreams and killed me, abandoned me, evened our score and confessed that she loved me. I would try with all I had to love her enough to make all those things fade, to make every day a dream we could walk through together, fearless and united.
My mother is a tolerant, open-minded sort and she would understand. Perhaps there would be disbelief and shock and disappointment, but she would understand and accept because she loves me and wants my happiness. Explaining this turn of events to everyone else could wait until another day, when Faith was stronger.
Slayers can share dreams. This is my own personal experience, not something I was told or read. I think future Slayers should be aware of this ability, should prepare for it and learn to use it, because it works.
Sometimes, it works miracles.