The Way, Way Back
It's just past noon and we're riding again, this time in L.A. proper, right along Melrose. Kate's been quiet for a while now, probably burned out after spilling her story to me back at the trailer. After she finished, she ducked into the bedroom and didn't come out for a while. I wanted to go in and say something, do something to help, but my brain just drew a blank. I watched some crappy daytime tv instead and felt like a jerk for just sitting there, helpless.
Anyway, that January 13th mess she's so shook up about? Only half of it was her fault, but that half surprised the hell out of me.
Starts out like this: a retired couple goes out for lunch with their grandkids, three guys break into their house while they're gone. The couple comes back early and surprises the robbers, husband gets gutted, wife gets dragged off into a back bedroom for a bad time. Neighbor hears a scream, calls police. A black & white pulls up silent and a patrolman checks some windows, sees the body, calls for back-up. Kate and another detective respond to the call within a couple of minutes - they were right down the hill on another robbery/homicide case - and the three cops go into the house together to execute a search.
Kate lucks up and picks the bedroom where the assholes are partying with the old lady. She waves her gun and shouts down two of the punks. They hit the floor, scared half to death, but the third guy is Mr. I Don't Take No Shit From No Bitches and he puts a knife to the lady's throat and starts cutting. Kate fires at his head, he jerks up and the slug tears a hole in his throat instead. He lives long enough to slit the poor old woman's jugular. She's dead seconds after him.
Detective Lockley went off the rails at that point, I think. She blamed herself for missing the shot, for the woman dying, for not catching the assholes earlier, for a slew of things she couldn't control. Being out of control made her wicked pissed, and she took out that anger on the two little pricks who were left alive. They told Kate that their dead buddy had committed several robberies in the area, and several rape/murders in east L.A. to boot, but claimed that this was the first time they had ever accompanied the sicko during a crime. They thought it would be fun. They cried and cried and said they were sorry.
That wasn't good enough for Kate. She was sure they were lying about their part in the crimes, but she couldn't prove it. The previous crime scenes had no physical evidence from the two weepers, and she believed the only reason the loco amigos got sloppy on the hills job was simple: they were higher than the fucking moon on crack and hash, bought with the proceeds of the previous jobs.
This was her turning point, and boy, did she turn. Honest Katie went by their roach nest apartment that evening and planted evidence, then coaxed upright Judge Daniel Guerlain to help railroad them into a capital murder conviction. The boys were poor and alone and had only an overworked public defender standing between them and a ticked-off Kate Lockley and her black-robed buddy. The case was over in a few weeks. Guilty, all the way.
After the boys were sent to death row, Kate and the judge discovered that they were likely telling the truth about knife-guy being alone before that January afternoon - she said something about recovering lost security tapes from a previous victim's house - but it was too late for her to repent without flushing Judge Guerlain right down the toilet and giving the LAPD another police corruption black eye. She was caught and couldn't see how to get out.
She found a place to hide, took some sick days and cried and drank until she finally passed out. When she woke up, Kate looked in the mirror and screamed, punched the glass to bits. She went back to work, but kept hating herself so bad she couldn't sleep anymore. She screwed up and wanted to fix it, so she started looking for way to make things right without hurting any innocent by-standers.
That's how I understand it, anyhow. I'm still not clear on a few points, but I see now why she's so desperate -- she's not living her life anymore. She took a wrong turn and things got out of hand and she'll do practically anything to get back in control, back on the path where she does good things and helps people and knows who she is because of it.
I know how it feels to walk the high road, and I know how tempting it is to take that shortcut through the dark alley, thinking it leads to the same place. It doesn't. High road doesn't have any shortcuts. All those dark alleys are dead ends with no way out... unless you cheat. Magic is cheating. At this point, Kate doesn't care.
The box and fatecord were from someplace called Rick's Magic Shop. For a fat wad of cash, Very Helpful Rick told her everything he knew about time fixes (which wasn't much), he sold her every scrap of stuff he had that even partly related to Tailor demons, *and* he promised to lay low this week so that nobody else could pick his brain about Tailors or the blonde lady cops who were looking for them. By nobody else, I mean Angel. Kate covered her ass pretty good on that one.
I still haven't figured out why Judge Guerlain agreed to help her in the first place; if he was so honest and all, how come he bent the rules and helped her slam those two boys? She told me that their connection was personal and had no bearing on the current trouble, so I let it drop. Not my business if she and the old dude had a love thang going on. Makes me cringe, the mind picture of him touching her, but it's not my business.
Now we're cruising slow along the avenue, looking hard at all the storefronts and not seeing much in the way of demons. I'm chewing more of her gum and wishing I had a toothbrush. My teeth feel fuzzy. I hate that.
"You know where to find the Tailor?" I ask -- first words spoken on this drive.
"No." She stops at a red light and fixes me with a serious stare. "I'm counting on it finding you."
Fabulous. From jail-bait to demon-bait in three short years. "Keep talking."
"The locator spell pinpointed this street, but the Tailor's *shop*, for lack of a better word, will only become visible when the demon calls forth an illusion to lure a potential victim."
"You can't be sure that he'll home in on me, though."
"I'm fairly confident that he will. Remember, the book says that Tailors can sense the regret and desperation in mortal souls, and they seek out and court those souls valuable enough to steal. Your special status would make your soul quite the prize."
"So you're thinkin' the demon will try to lure me because I'm a Slayer?"
"Faith, you're gonna smell like catnip to this bastard... for several reasons."
Again, the blonde has a good point. If regret and desperation are the meat and potatoes of a Tailor's diet, wicked little Faith is gonna look like the buffet at Sizzler. And if this dude is as arrogant as his dead relatives, he'll take the Slayer thing as a challenge and woo me instead of Kate. "Okay, let's say you're on the money and he invites me in for a sales call -- what's the plan?"
"Do the doe-eyed ingenue routine," she suggests. "Make him think you're interested in his services, get him to show you how to work the equipment, then disable him and bring me in."
A simple plan -- good in theory, but when they blow up, it's atomic. And another thing... "Are you planning to arrest this demon?"
"You said disable, not kill. I assumed you'd want me to waste it."
Kate looks at me funny, turns away and hits the gas as the stoplight goes green. "I wouldn't ask you to do that."
I'm wearing my surprised face now and my response sounds thick, slow-witted. "But... that's what I'm good at."
"It's not the only thing," she says. "Don't sell yourself short."
Firm voice, brooking no argument. Like the teachers who told me that I could do anything I wanted, if only I would apply myself. Mayor Wilkins used that tone of voice to get me to buck up, smile pretty, drink my milk and murder people. But when that voice comes out of someone I don't respect, it pisses me off, makes me feel -- what's the word? -- patronized? Yeah. Only I'm not feeling that now, with Kate. In fact, I think I liked it.
I smile at my shoes - no, come to think of it, they're *her* shoes -- and I press the issue. Maybe she'll use that voice again. "It's sure as hell in the top five."
"Huh." She's watching me from the corner of her eye, curious now. "Dare I ask about the other four?"
I shrug, crack my knuckles. My hands start to sweat. Why am I nervous? Just tell the truth and everything will be cool. "Sure. In no particular order: kicking ass, dancing, playing video games, shooting pool..."
Oh. *That's* why the nervous. I go quiet and look out the window. Maybe I should make something up. Macrame? Woodworking? Christ, my lying machine's gotten all rusty.
"And?" Kate waves her hand in a 'come on, now' circle. "That's only four."
Well, she asked for it, and I'm not gonna chicken out. So much for her thinking highly of me. Nice while it lasted. "I'm really good in bed."
We're waiting at another stoplight and she looks over at me. I expect to see reproach or disgust or something bad like that, but Kate just narrows her eyes and turns up the edge of her mouth.
"I bet I could beat you at nine-ball," she says.
I snort out a breath I didn't know I was holding. This chick is too much. Nothing I say flaps her. "Dream on," I tell her.
"Hey, I was running tables at a cop bar when you were in diapers, Britney."
My mouth drops open and my cheeks get hot. "Nuh-uh. Don't go there." First fight I had in prison was when some lardy lifer put the make on me, calling me Britney. Happened *once.* I bet "hit me baby one more time" now has a whole new meaning for that grabby bitch.
"No offense," Kate grins, "but I do have a few years experience over you."
"Not that many."
"Mmm. Enough to keep your cue on the rack all day."
She's looking smug and I'm just beginning to realize what she did. Took my mind right off being embarrassed about the slut thing, made me feel okay again... like I tried to do for her earlier. Could she really mean that bit about "you get what you give?" If so, she'd be the first one I ever met who lived by the words instead of just saying 'em. I don't know -- maybe she *is* playing me, but if Kate's planning to stick the knife in me, I can't feel it coming. Probably because I don't want to.
I peel my eyes off her and look at the passing shops. Mostly fancy window displays loaded with jewelry I'd never wear and dresses I wouldn't be caught dead in. None of these money pits have anything I'd want - hey, except that one store right there. Dark blue leather jacket on the mannequin looks pretty boss. Having a sale on motorcycle boots and chaps, too. I always wondered what I'd look like in tight leather chaps over faded jeans, with a pair of biker kicks and a jacket just like... aww, crap! I got a fuckin' brick between my ears!
"Kate, stop!" I'm yelling too loud, I know, 'cause she's right beside me, but I'm freaked and I can't help it. "That's it! That's gotta be the place!"
She's rubbernecking hard, trying to spot what I'm seeing. "Where?"
"Half a block back, leather jacket in the window! Chaps!"
"Trust me - it's like the window display read my mind, knew exactly what it'd take to pull me in."
"I didn't see any leather stores or - "
"Well, you wouldn't, right? Demon's trying to sucker me, not you."
Kate's face slides soft, gets pale. "Oh, God." She looks like she's gonna be sick.
"What? What's wrong?"
"You're right, I just... I didn't think it would happen so fast."
She finds a parking spot, pulls in and cuts the engine. I'm reaching to open the door when her hand lights on my shoulder. "Faith, wait. I'm getting a bad feeling, here."
I swear, she looks like she's fighting off the flu or something. Her hand is shaking where she's touching me, so I take it and hold tight. Her fingers are thin and cool but they're really strong, biting into my skin. The cuts on her knuckles are starting to bleed a little. "Take it easy."
"We should come back later. You need to prepare more -- "
"How? By reading that dusty old book again? Listening to you recite Rick and Wesley's not-so helpful hints one last time? There's no FAQ on Tailor demons, so there's no way to *prepare* for this. I'll just jump in and see what's what, do some recon."
Squinting at me now, shaking her head. She's getting upset. "Of all the short-sighted, selfish things I've ever done... God, I must have been crazy to involve you! I shouldn't be risking you like this!"
Risking me? Is that what's bothering her? Man, that's just a waste of stomach acid. "Hey, don't stress over it. If something happens to me, another Slayer gets called and she'll probably be a damn sight better than I ever was," I explain. "I'm second-string, you know. Expendable."
"No." Her eyes flash hot and she's squeezing my hand hard enough to hurt us both. "I'm not buying that."
This doesn't feel like she's playing me. She's seriously worried that I'm gonna get messed up. Damn, I must really be growing on her. Normally, this would make me ten kinds of happy, but I'm already in 'search and disable demon' mode, and I want to get on with it. She can dote on me all she wants after this is done. After I prove I'm worth it.
"Thanks for giving a damn, Kate, but we're in too deep to hit reverse now," I say. "You gotta hang tough for a little while longer. I'll head in there and take the crash course, then we'll set things right together, okay?"
"It can't be that easy -- *nothing* is that easy. I know it's late, but I'm having some pretty serious second thoughts."
"Don't bother, they're a waste of time," I say. "So are first thoughts, for that matter. Slayer instinct -- now that's the way to go."
She almost smiles, then fixes those serious eyes on me. "Are Slayer instincts reliable?"
"Well, Buffy's are pretty sharp. Mine should be kicking in anyday now."
"I'm not kidding, Faith. If you feel like you're in real danger, just get the hell out."
"Won't happen." I try for a steadfast, honorable look. "I gave my word that I'd help you. I owe you that much."
"But you don't owe me your life."
"I'm a Slayer. I owe the whole goddamned world my life."
Aww, man. That was *too* heavy. She's looking at me like I'm Joan of Arc trussed up on the barbecue. Better try to end on an up note, just in case. I don't want that hammy line to be the last thing outta my mouth.
"You know, the world hasn't seen my best yet. Hell, *I* haven't seen my best yet. I gotta know if I'm up to my calling, Kate. Thanks for trusting me enough to let me try."
She's gonna argue some more. I can see it those too-blue eyes, in the set of her mouth, and I really don't need to hear it 'cause I'm scared enough already and I don't want to die just now and let her down and CHRIST why does she have to be so fuckin' pretty and treat me like I'm worth a damn and so, of course, I do exactly the most inappropriate thing possible.
I lean across the seat and I kiss her.
A little wet smack on the lips and the words dry up in her throat and she just *stares* at me, struck mute for a couple seconds or so. The quiet lasts long enough for me to jump from the Dodge and slam the door on her parting shot. It sounded like "fetch me a bearclaw," but she probably said "Faith, be careful." Either way, I'm glad she wasn't cussing me.
She's a nice one, cop or no. I touch my lips and smile, reminded by my little stunt that I've still got the bad girl instinct. More than that, I actually feel like one of the good guys again, and the hot buzz that gives me inside is like lightning in a bottle. I owe Kate Lockley for this feeling, for this chance. I'm gonna set things right for her because I can and because I should, but mostly because I really want to.
That boss leather jacket is calling to me as I stand on the sidewalk and stare into the store called - get this - Retro Active. Aww, the demon made a funny! I'm re-thinking all the stuff I read from The Temporal Lore of Jewel, or whatever, along with Kate's second-hand info, but it's hard to focus with that fucking gorgeous jacket whispering at me.
"Come in, Faith, slip into me, you know you want me..."
This is mondo strange, hearing clothes ask you to buy them and knowing that it *is* actually the clothes talking and not some lame, pre-poorhouse Cordelia Chase shopping addiction. The Tailor demon is calling me into his lair, trying to seduce me with a piece of midnight blue calfskin that looks as soft as butter... and it's working. I walk up to the fancy smoked glass door, yank on the polished brass handle, step through the opening and over the threshold. The door closes behind me without a sound - that can't be a good sign.
The first thing I notice is that the air is thick -- not hot or humid, more cool and dense, like it's swarming with billions of icy little insects too small to see. As dumb as I am about this stuff, even *I* can smell the magic in here. It's strong, stronger than the leather smell, stronger than the florid stench coming off the hundreds of blood red roses that seem to be everywhere. Vases on stands, mounted on the walls. I can feel the magic getting inside me, filling my lungs, rushing around in my veins, making me feel slow and buzzed and... happy?
I know something's wrong now, 'cause I've been in here for ten seconds and I feel like I've been sucking on a bong of Napa bud all day. I'm grinning like a fool as I look around the shop, which is empty except for me. One customer at a time, eh? Makes perrrrfect sense. Soul-jacking requires privacy.
It's nice in here, like a brand-new mausoleum. Clean floors. Stone, polished all shiny, black with white and gray chips. Terrazzo flooring. I don't know how I know that, but I do. And there's all these well-dressed mannequins everywhere, but they've got no heads or hands and they look like mafia hit victims who'll never be identified. Black marble walls, shiny steel vases mounted to the rock and filled up with stinky red roses that smell like funerals and hospital rooms and $85 Valentine's Day please-fuck-me arrangements for the schmucks who still believe that old 'flowers = pussy' equation... wow. Ramble much, baby? Can't seem to concentrate...
"Good afternoon, Faith," a man says.
I think he's behind me so I turn around and there he is! "Yo, dog!"
Why did I say that? I should be pissed-off or scared, I should smack him and run, but the thing is, I've never been so happy to see a demon before in my life. I know he's evil, but it feels like he's my buddy -- like the Mayor or Bill Clinton. I might have to swallow some bitter spunk, but he's gonna help me get by. I know this feeling is a scam, that it's the magic, but I can't think right. He's wearing a wicked ugly suit, red and blue plaid, and a blue tie with little bleeding hearts dotted all over.
"Has anyone ever told you that you look just like John Waters?"
He twitches his pencil-thin mustache, straightens his lapels. "No."
"You've been expecting me," I tell him, but I don't remember why I know that. Did he say my name? I didn't tell him my name. Maybe the talking leather jacket told him. My gaze drops to the black-gray-white shine under Kate's Adidas sneakers. "Terrazzo flooring."
"Yes, I have. And yes, it is."
I point towards the window display. "I want that jacket. The one that talked to me."
"You are referring to this garment?"
He holds up the jacket. It's in his hand, but it was just in the window a second ago. I mean *one second* ago. I saw it. This is sooo fucked up... I gotta get out of here.
"It's pretty slick, huh?" I hear my voice say. I'm distant, muzzy, like my outside isn't connected to my inside properly. My will is calling my body on a baby phone made of tin cans and string. I can't get through, can't tell my legs to run or make my mouth shut the fuck up. "How much does it cost?"
"How much do you have?"
"Not a goddamned penny! Can I try it on?"
He smiles at me and I feel a cringe crawl down my spine. "Of course you may."
He slips around behind me and eases us together, me and the jacket. My arms slide into the silky-slick lined sleeves and the soft skin wraps around me and it's obscene and nasty how it feels like the thing is hugging me touching me and I know it's the magic -
"You belong together," he says. "If you still want her, I can make her yours."
"Are you talking to me or the jacket?"
He twitches his mustache again. "You're rather a funny girl, Faith."
"Not all the time," I tell him. "I'm only fun-curious. Mostly, I just sleep and read and eat baked fish."
"And as you sleep, do you dream?"
"You're never gonna believe this, but I actually do dream! Man, you're good!"
"The thing you dream of most fondly is in your left jacket pocket."
"Check it and see."
I know this is wrong and I know it's the magic turning me into Forrest Gump, but my hand is in that pocket before I can stop myself. I feel a sharp sting on my fingertip and jerk my hand out and there's a long needle stuck in my index finger and it has a green string threaded through the eye... a fatecord. Kate showed me one of those. It was in her pretty box and I made a bad joke and she didn't get mad. She's great. I'm gonna help her with... something.
"Let me take care of that," he says. He gently plucks the needle out of my finger and runs the fatecord through the bubble of blood. I feel no more pain. "Come with me, Faith."
My brain's turned to pudding. Pudd'nhead Faith. My feet are moving and I don't know how to make them stop. I'm following him through a black beaded curtain and into a big changing room with puffy chairs and tall mirrors and red green black silver colors everywhere but the far right corner, because that's where the machine is. THE MACHINE!!!
"Ooh! I scared!" I chirp, giggling and giggling like I'm four years old on a Saturday morning and I just saw Tweety Bird say that line for the first time. I fall backwards into a puffy chair in front of a mirror and I know I'm blowing it blowing it and Kate's gonna shoot herself and it'll all be my fault since I can't stop laughing. But that's okay, because this demon's gonna take my immortal soul and I'll be in hell forever and Kate can be mad at me all she wants and it won't matter because I never had any real friends anyway.
The Tailor is fitting the bloody needle into the machine and winding the stained fatecord around the clear glassy thread holder on top. He works the big pedal, then the small one, drawing the green string inside, and the machine makes a sound like water hitting hot grease - it hisses loud and it's scary for real. Some machines can sound pissed-off, like GTOs with no mufflers. This is like that sound.
The thread holder on top of the machine starts glowing bright green and now fatecord is glowing bright green so the clear thing must be some kind of power source or spark plug. The Tailor's feet are working both pedals at the same time, priming the machine, warming it up to send me to hell. Hell. This is not a joke. The only comfort is that I haven't signed anything... yet. He'll ask me to sign and I'll probably do it unless I get a fucking grip on myself and STOP THIS GodDAMNED LAUGHING!!!
I stop laughing. My hands are sweating and I rub them on my pants. Kate's pants. Chats me up for five minutes and lets me jump into her jeans. I didn't say that to her, did I? No, I didn't. Not like me to pass up a cheap joke. Maybe I didn't want her to think I was cheap. Maybe I'm not cheap. Kate doesn't treat me like I'm cheap. She's great. I'm gonna help her with -
The Tailor is suddenly standing in front of me, oily-headed and smelling like flowers. "Would you like to taste a dream, Faith? I know all your favorite flavors now."
He put the string in the machine and now he knows all my --
"I don't eat between meals. If you get caught snacking, you get no fruit cup."
"I won't tell the warden," he says.
He put the string in the machine and my blood was on it, and now he knows my --
"Oh, good. I hate tattletales," I say and fuck me fuck me I can't keep my mouth shut long enough to think and I need to think about the blood and the cord and the machine and the dreams -
"Just a sweet little taste for the funny, funny girl, the black-eyed Chosen, the Slayer with a rap sheet. If you like the taste, I'll let you buy some more. Take my hand."
Don't say it don't don't don't say it don't --
"But that would leave you with only one."
"They'll call you 'stumpy!' Kids can be so cruel."
Shit, I can't stop! It's like all the good parts of my brain are on vacation and the smart-ass segment is pulling a double shift. The demon's got me by the arm and I'm up now on wobbly legs and my head is spinning lazy and slow. He's got something shinysharp in his hand and it whizzes by my face. Like magic - *exactly* like magic - there comes a black hole with glowy green edges, opening up right across the big tall mirror, right before my blinky eyes and the sonofabitch takes my shoulders and pushes me into the black...
... and I'm lying on my stomach and everything is dark and everything is different. Everything feels different. He's sent me someplace else. I think I know where.
I hear the rattle and hum of a motel room air conditioner. I can barely breathe because my mouth and nose are buried in a pillow and there's something hot but not heavy pushing down on me. It doesn't hurt, except for a dull pain in my side, and I don't really want to move.
Everything's soft and nice and warm, so I just stay put, lying on my stomach in this motel room bed with my arms and legs stretched out, with those other arms and legs covering and alongside and between mine, and the warm breath on my neck and the smooth sweet softness all along my back and the kind whisper in my ear that says, "I'm sorry about your rib."
I know what to say back -- what I *did* say back -- but I'm paralyzed, stunned dumb. This is a dream of a memory or a memory of a dream, I can't remember which, and I'm here inside it. Breathing, feeling, aware. Alive inside something that's dead.
My head is clearer and I can think without getting dizzy and I have zero desire to laugh. I know where and when he's sent me. I know how things go in this room, on this night, what I'll hear and what I'm supposed to say. I've dreamed myself back here a hundred times over. Still, it's hard to push the words out of my mouth because I know this shouldn't be happening to the person I am now. I don't belong here now... as if I ever did.
"You wait 'til now to apologize? Rude much?" I sound croaky, exhausted. Partly from angry screaming during the vamp fight, partly from good screaming.
Chin digging between my shoulderblades, lips against my skin. "You should have let me take that last one alone. The space was too small for two Slayers and a vamp, all throwing punches --"
"Excuse me -- it was your *foot* that nailed me, Van Damme, not your fist."
Quiet then, except the slide of skin on skin as fingers slide down, behind and under, press and curl tight and press again and again. "My fist didn't nail you, huh?"
"Not the left, not the right. Glancing blows."
"Either one could knock you out."
"Heh. Not from where they are right now."
"We'll see about that."
It's too real to be anything but real. The stale smell of the pillow from the old room, the busted sound of the air conditioner, the fading taste of her in my mouth and the please-don't ever-stop feeling of her pushing down on me and into me and holding me. This isn't a dream or a memory. This is happening *again,* in the right now... and it's good.
She hurts me just enough to make me feel it, then kisses me soft enough to make it go away. She could make it all go away for a while, and I nearly loved her for it. As close as I could get to loving anybody, that's how near it was.
It's good... Jesus God, it's good... but that doesn't make it right.
I know what's going on. The Tailor is using this to tempt me, soften me up, make me want a second chance so bad that I'll do anything for it. "If you still want her, I can make her yours," he said. Well, fuck him, fuck him sideways with a chainsaw. Magic or not, I've got my head and I know what I'm about better than he does.
Some dumb-ass part of me wants to stay here, that shrunk-down part of me that still wants her, still takes me back to her side when I'm sleeping and can't help myself. Now I'm awake and I know better. I know this is wrong, that I'm supposed to be helping Kate, not stealing a lay from someone who currently wouldn't spit on me if I caught fire. She hates me now and I know it and I earned it.
If she could know what I know, she wouldn't be touching me like this, with good hands and good intentions. She doesn't know any better, but I do and if I don't stop this right now, I'm no better than the bastard who raped Chuny and, goddammit, I *am* better than that.
I'm stronger than this. I'm smarter than this. I'm better than this. No more lies.
I twist away from her and stand up. I'm sweaty and it's cold here without her covering me. My legs are shaking, so I brace my hands on the dusty night stand until they stop. There's a Bible in that night stand drawer that I never took out, not even once.
"Faith? What's wrong?"
Her voice is so sweet, it hurts my ears. I don't think she ever sounded like that. All my memories of her are crooked and warped even when I'm straight, but the magic is making it worse. I guess the machine must be doing its job now, since things didn't happen like this. This has gotta count as an alteration 'cause I didn't pull away from her and get out of bed until later, when she talked about me seeming lonely and sad and I freaked out and got pissy.
I can't stay here. I'm supposed to learn how to work the machine, not how to get worked over by it. I have to focus on what to do next, how to get out of here. What's Doc Steinman's golden rule? Tell the truth and everything will be cool. Truth is, I'm in over my head and I have to get out this room and away from her before I lose what's left of my sense and the Tailor pumps me full of stupid again and I sign away the only thing of value I've got left 'cause then it'll be too late for sorry or redemption and I'll go out a total failure as a Slayer, as a friend, as a human fucking being and I CANNOT DEAL with that possibility.
So scan your brain, shithead! What did you read or hear that could help?
"Tailor demons could experience difficulty maintaining hastily stitched alterations in the face of strong disbelief, as flaws will become apparent to a disbeliever gifted with destiny's sight... "
So says the dusty old book. Way to go, brain! Eatin' all that prison baked fish is paying off. Disbelief, huh? Easy enough. I think about all the ways I hurt her, how I wrecked her trust and burned the bridge between us... and the only thought in my head is how it's impossible to justify being here. I don't deserve her. I never did.
"This is wrong. I'm gonna hurt you... you'll hate me... you should go home... this is wrong. I can't do this."
"I knew those weren't sesame seeds on the dresser! What have you been smoking?" she asks, teasing first, then serious. "I don't understand where this is coming from."
She's up on her knees, coming across the bed toward me with no hate or fear in her eyes and I want to touch her so bad and I want to blaze a trail right out the door and I can't do either one and I just feel like screaming --
"I can't do this! I want to leave!" I'm turning round and round, screaming at the walls and through them, calling to the demon who must be watching, listening. "Let me out!"
I turn around and scan the room, looking for something that I'll know when I see, a flaw, something that could lead out... there. In the corner by the trash can. A thin line glowing green. I lunge across the room and slide on the carpet, laying deep rug burns on my knees, and I grab at the green and pinch the end of a thread between my nails and start pulling. Nothing's happening. I can't tear the cords with my fingers and I don't have a knife and it probably wouldn't work, anyway. Dammit! I need a tool for this... and the demon had one, didn't he? That shinysharp thing that ripped the hole open in the first place. I need that thing.
"Let me out, you sonofabitch! Unzip this fuckin' door and let me out!"
"Faith! What *is* that? What are you doing?"
She's yelling and I hear her getting up to come check when the green finally pops open starts tearing upwards from the other side and the black gap appears and I feel myself falling forward into the dark and I have enough sense to take a really deep breath...
... and I'm back in the changing room, sitting in the cushy chair, wearing Kate's clothes and the dark blue leather jacket that's still clinging to me and feeling me up like a horny sophomore. My knees don't hurt now, and that happy buzzy feeling is nowhere to be found. I'm sober as a judge and I feel like shit. I have to run, but there's things I need, things I have to take from here... think, dammit!
John Waters' evil twin, the Tailor demon, is right in front of me. He's staring down at me saying, "Take deep breaths. The dizziness will pass and you'll feel better."
No dice, motherfucker. I know part of your game now. I'm still holding my breath so his magical laughing gas can't creep into me again, and I clench my right fist and bury it in his stomach as hard as I fucking can. I hear and feel the wind go out of the Tailor and he crumples to the floor, squeaking and gasping.
I stand up and blink until the room stops whirling, then I drop down beside him and frisk his pockets until I feel a steely sharp point inside his jacket. I reach in and lift the tool, stuff it handle-first into the back pocket of Kate's jeans.
I'm ready to run now, but there's something else gnawing at my brain, something else I should take to keep him from dropping down the rabbit hole... the spark plug! If it is the power source for the way, way back, the demon probably can't run off without it -- I can come back and try this again. I make for the machine and snatch the clear plastic-glassy thing off the top and I run like Marion Jones through the beaded curtain and past the headless dummies and sweet roses and stumble right out the door.
Once on the sidewalk, I let the motel room air out of my lungs and take a deep breath of plain old California smog and I feel like I'm gonna pass out or blow chunks on the pavement. I look back to the shop called Retro Active and see a "Closed" sign on the door. Guess the Tailor's not up to more visitors today.
I take the demon's tool out of my pocket - it looks like a fancy seam ripper, with a long silvery blade and polished black handle that looks like a goat's horn. I look at the glassy cylinder in my other sweaty hand and I have no fucking clue what it really is, just an oblong lump of smooth clear whatsits. One of those magic rocks or crystals or something. Who knows? Maybe these things'll come in handy. Maybe I actually did something right for a change.
"Yeah, nice job. Out of prison half a day, and I'm already shoplifting again."
I hear myself say the words just as my knees give way, but I don't hit the concrete because Kate's here and she's got me. Her arms are around me and she's helping me walk down Melrose toward her gorilla truck. She's pretty strong. I'm leaning on her and she's taking the weight in stride, moving us along quick and easy. We get to the Dodge and I brace against the fender well while she unlocks and opens the door.
She looks me over good, probably worried that I'm wounded. Her hands slide all over, checking for blood or whatever, and she's gentle and careful. I wish I could enjoy it more, but I'm still too freaked out to feel much beyond relief. I'm alive and in one piece, and I didn't sign any contract - my soul is still *my* soul. I'm breathing good now, my head is calm and cool, and I don't feel puke-prone anymore.
"Well, that was an E-ticket ride," I say.
At my words, her head snaps up and she touches my face, turns it side to side. She's looking into my eyes, checking for signs of loopyness. She looks half-freaked herself.
"I was watching you go down the sidewalk, you stopped in front of that empty store then you just... disappeared," she whispers loud, just low enough so the passers-by can't hear. "I've been going crazy out here!"
Empty store? Oh, right -- the invitation was for me, so I'm the only one who can see the illusion. "Sheesh, keep your shirt on, Sargent Dee Dee. I was only in there a few minutes."
"A few minutes?" Her eyes get real big and she shakes her head. "Faith, you've been gone nearly three hours."
Three hours? I manage a lazy double-take and a mumbled curse - "Bullshit."
"I'm dead serious. I lost sight of you at twelve-fifteen and it's past three o'clock now."
"No way. I'd know if it took that long. Body clock, remember?"
Kate sighs and looks away. She doesn't want to argue about it and I don't have enough dumb left in me to think she's wrong. Minutes, hours, golden showers. It might not show on the outside that a sissyboy demon beat me down and pissed on me for the better part of an afternoon, but that's pretty much what happened... and that means I'm back in the game.
I just fought off a whole slew of demonic Jedi mind tricks all by my little self. He tempted me and I was strong. He tried to fool me and, for once, I wasn't a fool. I didn't knock him out this first time, but that's because I had no scouting report. I know a few things now, and I'm gonna take his nuts off next round. Normally, I'd be ticked that he put one over on me, but now, I'm just happy to be on the right team -- even if the team is only me and Kate.
"Three hours, huh?" I mutter. "I'll have to owe you for the parking meter."
That gets me the smirk, the one I'm coming to like. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Honest, I'm good. I even snagged a couple souvenirs." I hold up the seam ripper and spark plug and Kate seems duly impressed. "I just... I didn't fetch your bearclaw."
"Nevermind. I'll do better next time." I boost off the fender and she takes my elbow, helps me up into the passenger seat. I'm wondering how to tell her about the magic, about the total head-trip aspect. I hope she doesn't get upset again. "Kate?"
She ducks in close, one hand on the door, one hand on my arm. "Hmm?"
"If you wanna have that beer now, I won't rag on you."
Kate smiles, pats my arm, and shuts the door. I wonder if that means I get one, too.
The sun's bright and hot, and the car seat is really warm, but I feel cold inside, especially in my chest. My lungs ached like this when I was a little kid, after playing on the street for hours in a Boston February snow. I stash the stolens in the dash and rub my hands over my arms. That's when I finally realize that the warm, weird leather jacket is gone, leaving me in nothing but Kate's borrowed white shirt. I didn't take the jacket off, so it must've vanished when I left the shop... if it even existed in the first place. Observant me. I haven't felt this lame in a long time.
I fuckin' hate magic.
She's actually damn good at nine-ball. Two games out of three in this deserted pool hall/bar have gone to my opponent, and my one victory was a fluke. I'm nursing my Coke since Kate only bought us the two beers and they're long gone. She's not drinking anymore, either, unless water counts. In a place like this, I don't believe it does. Water is a mixer, not a mainstay.
The bartender looks at us funny whenever he peeks out of the store room, like he doesn't know what to make of us. At this point, I don't know what to make of us, either. This is turning out to be one of the weirdest days of my life, and the only solid thing in it is Kate Lockley. I'm still not vocab-girl or anything, but I think that counts as ironic. Moronic. Something -onic.
Kate draws back her cue and breaks, dropping half the stripes and sealing my fate for the fourth game. The gray jacket is off now, but she's still got the shoulder rig on over that snug blue shirt. I'm trying not to stare, but the girl has got some fine lines. Some very fine lines. She's cooking up another shot when she suddenly looks up at me and says, "You're not going back in there."
That sounded like an order. Guess I missed the part where she became the boss of me. I gotta remember that she's just scared, not trying to be a dictator. I told her as little as possible about where the Tailor sent me, but I didn't hold back about the magic and how it worked me down to brain dead in nothin' flat. That spooked her pretty good. Good enough that she's backing out and trying to drag me with her.
"The hell I'm not. I got the seam ripper, and I don't think the machine will crank up without that clear thing I nicked. We just gotta find some way to shut off the Gump spell, then I'll kick his ass and steal his sunshine. I can make this happen."
She sinks the shot, shakes her head. "No. Angel was right, it's too dangerous."
"Hold up -- *Angel* wasn't in there, *I* was. This Tailor is my beast. I'm drawing a bead and I'm gonna take him down."
"I said no. I won't take you back there."
Great. Now she's treating me like a kid so, naturally, I gotta start acting like one. I slam down my Coke and toss my cue onto the table. "Fine. I'll hoof it."
Kate sighs and steps into my path. "Nobody walks in Los Angeles. Urban sprawl."
"Fuck urban sprawl. I could walk to *Canada* if I wanted to."
I move to edge around her and she loops a hand under my arm, holds on until I look at her. "How about Mexico?" she says. Takes me a second to realize she's not kidding.
The first thing that comes to mind is 'holy shit - she's telling me to run for the border?' and then I remember the judge talking to her about tickets and papers and early retirement. She must have set up some kind of Plan B in case things went bad and she couldn't straighten out the legal mess through magic, but I didn't think I was included in that scheme.
"Mexico. What's on your mind, Farrah?" Kate throws me a tiny scowl for that one.
"I'm not sure, it's just... it's obvious that you don't belong in jail anymore," she tells me, "and I don't want to see you in the morgue."
Her words make me want to smile, so I do. "Those are my only options?"
"Maybe, if you stay in California. Between the police, Wolfram and Hart, the Watchers Council, and your fan club up in Sunnydale, this state is a minefield."
"And you think they'd gimme a great big "bienvenidos" down Mexico way."
"Yeah, I do. The world's running short on heroes, Faith. A fresh start would... "
Kate's still talking, but I'm stuck like a scratched cd, playing the same word over and over. Nobody's used *that* word about me in a really long time. The last person who talked about me like that is dead and gone, and she was the only one who really believed the "H" word belonged in the same sentence as my name. I never learned to see things her way, never got the chance thanks to cocksucking Kakistos. Pile of fuckin' dust motherfucker. Hope you're in hell being reamed out by a jackhammer, you goat-footed bitch.
" ... doesn't have to be Mexico. You could take a look around, find someplace that needs help and make a stand."
I tune in just in time to hear it. Just like my Watcher, Kate wants me to run. Fight another day, somewhere else, somewhere safer. Why not? It's what I know; I ran away from home, ran from the cops, ran from Kakistos, nearly ran my whole goddamned life away. Thing is, I can't do it anymore. I stopped running fourteen months ago, and I'm done with that for good.
"No," I tell her, "I'm making my stand right here."
She shuts her eyes, leans on her pool cue. I think she heard the serious in my voice and she's letting it sink in that I'm not down with her international flight plan. "Why?"
"What if I slide back into my old habits? Who'd mind the store while Buffy and Angel chase after me and put me down?"
"I don't believe you would," Kate says firmly.
"How could you know that? I don't even know that."
"The way you've behaved today, your record during incarceration - "
"Half a day with you plus fourteen months in lock-up -- what do they have in common? Faith is playing under careful adult supervision."
"I'm serious here. I don't trust myself to go it alone, not yet."
She shakes her head, exhales hard. "I wasn't being clear. You don't understand - "
"No, *you* don't understand. If I can't play this out without running off or cracking up, I might as well snuff myself right now so the next Slayer can get in the game."
Kate snaps her head up, glaring. "Don't even joke about that."
"Hey, I'm not going all 'Bell Jar' on you, alright? Truth is, Slayers don't' have a long shelf life - we're mostly gone by twenty-five, so I'll be taking the dirt nap soon enough."
"If that's the case, why are you wasting your time with me?"
"You are not a waste of time; you're my second chance. Hell, you might even be my third or fourth, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that life won't keep handing me this kind of luck unless I pay it forward, give something back."
I wait until she looks at me, because I want her to know I'm for real. She gives me her eyes and I've got her - now sell it, baby. Punch it in.
"Like it or not, Lockley, you're it. You asked for my help and now you're stuck with me. I am going to help you. If you want to stop me, make that call and wait for the sun to go down."
Kate knows what I mean and she squints, shakes her head. "This is none of his business. He opted out."
"Fine, I'm sure Buffy'd be willing to trek down here and bring me to heel if - "
"I'm not calling anyone," Kate says, a little too loud. Her voice rings off the cinder block walls and the barkeep peeps out of the store room. She glares at him and jerks her head, telling him to get lost. He drops back into his hole like a fraidy mole.
"Jeez, you got that guy on a short leash," I observe.
She shrugs and says, "He knows me. And he knows that I only get loud when I'm mad."
"So, what? You're mad at me?"
"No." Kate fixes me put with those eyes and her face softens a little. "No, I'm mad at myself for being so naive, for thinking that this would be a cakewalk. I'm mad because I couldn't just self-destruct alone, I had to drag good people down with me. I'm mad because this morning, I went to that prison and walked out with you like I was shoplifting a fancy tool kit from a hardware store."
I squint and my teeth clench. I know it's true, but it still burns me to hear it -- and from the pinched-up look on Kate's face, she knows it.
"I'm sorry. I was... I didn't know." Her eyes are apologizing louder than her voice, so I nod to let her know I'm not dwelling on that "fancy tool" remark. She leans her cue against the table and hops up on the edge, dangles her feet in a twitchy way. "I'm seeing clearer now, and I realize that I don't have a good excuse for letting things get to this point."
"I don't recall asking you for an excuse," I point out, but that doesn't slow her down.
"I know, but... all I can say is that when you have problems and you can't talk with anyone, when you have to keep it all inside your own head... you don't think clearly. Sometimes the solutions you come up with are worse than the problems."
She's singing my song again and it makes me kinda sad to hear my words coming out of her mouth. Nobody should ever have to explain shit like this to me, of all people. I hold up a hand and let her off the hook. "Say no more. Been there, done that, fucked it all up. Being wrong is half of being alive, you know?"
"But Faith, I've been wrong about nearly everything. I made a tremendous mess, and in trying to clean it up like this, I'm only making it bigger. I am so sorry for pulling you in."
That earns a half-shrug since she's half-right. "You pulled, I pushed. Doesn't matter who started it -- my thing now is, you're *not* shipping me off to Mexico or kicking me back to the state just because you're scared I'm gonna get a boo-boo, or because you're starting to like me."
Well, that hopped out of my big mouth too fucking fast. Shot right past my brain and over my tongue before I could even -
"I can't help that."
I've got good hearing, so I know what she said. I still want to hear it again. "What?"
"I said I can't help it - the worrying about you," Kate says, just as clear as day. "The liking you. You're risking your neck for me, for no better reason than because I asked for your help. Psychologically, most people are helpless against projecting positive character traits onto those who offer them aid in a time of crisis."
Projecting. Psychologically. Helpless. Ouch. Down, ego, down!
"Oh. Right." I'm trying for 'nonchalant and cool' as I reach onto the table and roll the cue ball into the far left pocket. Just to prove I'm okay with that explanation, I lean against the table, close beside her. "I think my shrink mentioned something about that."
"Did he mention anything about Stockholm Syndrome?"
She's got me on this one. I'm drawing a blank. "Is that where you have a seizure when you hear Ace of Base?"
Kate dips her chin to hide a grin. "It's what happens when someone who's been abducted begins to identify with their abductor, to project positive qualities onto them."
Huh. Now that Kate's got her excuse handy, she's trying to give me one. I don't need an excuse, but I'll play along anyhow. "Like Patty Hearst and the SLA?"
She hesitates, blinks, probably surprised I know about that. "Sort of. Sometimes, they believe they've developed a... personal affection... for the abductor, but it's all just a trick of the mind. It's not real or permanent, just a temporary bond resulting from extreme circumstances."
"Like Keanu and Sandra in 'Speed.'" She nods a little and I think I know where she's driving this bus -- make that 'buss.' Kinda hard to ignore the way she's looking at my mouth, and if you put that together with what she's talking about -
"You kissed me," she says, cutting me off at the pass -- again. Kate's developing a knack for that trick and I'm not sure how I feel about it. At least she's direct, though. No shadow puppets with this woman; if something's on her mind, you're gonna know it.
"Did that bother you?"
"No, I just... I'd rather you hadn't done it."
Ouch again. I snap my fingers and grin to cover the sting. "Dammit! I knew I needed to brush my teeth."
She elbows me lightly in the side, proving again that she doesn't flap easy. "Please. After all the gum you've chewed, your breath is not the issue."
"I don't think there *is* an issue," I tell her, keeping my tone light and jokey. "I thought there was a chance I might get croaked, and hey, you were *right there* so... "
"So it was merely a matter of convenience."
Kate's watching me pretty steady, combing over my face for clues. I don't think she wants some big explanation, just a way out of an uncomfortable spot. I can give her that, since I'm used to playing things down. Nothin' means nothin' to me, right? This kind of thing happens to me every week.
"That, and you're sorta hot... in a J. Crew, gun club kind of way." I nudge her knee with my fist and rock back against the table. Nonchalant and cool. "Didn't mean anything."
She turns away and when she looks back, the poker face is on again and her voice is dry when she says, "I thought as much. I'm just hoping to avoid additional confusion, complications."
"Don't stress on my account. I'm not confused."
"Well, I am." She picks up the eight ball and rolls it around in her fingers then squeezes tight. "I'm trying really hard to keep it together and I don't need to think what I'm thinking, so I would appreciate it if you... just don't do that again."
She's staring at the ball, won't even meet my eyes now. I'll be damned -- I believe she does like me. Psychologically helpless, my ass. I should let it drop, but I can't resist. While I breathe, I flirt. "Hey, after we bag the Tailor and your *confusion* clears up, you should drop by for a visit. You know where I'll be for at least the next decade."
Her mouth opens and shuts a few times before she looks at me. "You're planning to stay in prison?"
"Three hots and a cot," I shrug. "Besides, if I run off now, I'll never hear *the call,* right?"
The face stirs again, mouth open, slow blink... then the eyes go hard. I don't think she liked that answer. She glances down and her voice is low and frosty when she says, "I suppose Mexico is out of the question. I doubt Buffy Summers' dulcet voice would carry that far."
What? Fuck you! She's Angel's top concern, so you're thinking she's first with me, too? Angel might have used B as an excuse to blow you off, but I didn't... even though it hurt like a sonofabitch to see her again, touch her again, and run out on her again. Even though the Tailor's probably gonna try to use her against me some more when I go back there. Despite all that, Buffy is not the problem and she's none of your business and you sound almost *jealous,* Kate. That's what I want to say, but I won't. Her head's messed up and I know better than to get led into an argument by somebody who's trying to rile me up, make me quit on her. It's one of my old tricks: piss 'em off so they'll stop caring and go away.
"I know she won't be the one calling," I say instead. "B wouldn't trust me to walk an old lady across the street, much less duke it out with the big evil."
When she looks at me again, her eyes are softer. Even if she was trying to bait me, she seems pleasantly surprised that I didn't rise up and bite. "I heard you two were very close at one time."
I wonder who told her that. Angel? Cordelia? Wes? Doesn't matter, I guess. None of them knew the half of it. "No," I tell her, "Not really. Coulda, woulda... shouldn't have."
Kate's curious; she leans down just a hair and asks, "Shouldn't have what?"
None of your business. If that secret gets told, I won't be the one to spill it. "Let's just say there were only two things about me that Buffy didn't like."
"Yeah." I give her my little black grin. "My face."
That did the trick. She backs off, shakes her head, and there's zero tension in her voice when she asks, "Are you ever serious?"
"Naah, it's bad for the digestion. Speaking of which -- "
"You're hungry. Do you like fajitas?" she asks, heading me off for the umpteenth time.
"I could go for Taco Bell," I shrug.
Kate hops off the table and takes my elbow. "The food's better at Edgardo's. We should go there instead."
Something in the way she said that sounded funny, so I stop walking and follow up. "And just *where is* Edgardo's?"
"It's down by the beach... in Cabo San Lucas."
Persistent little chickadee, ain't she? "Jesus, will you drop the chalupa already?"
She smiles a little, almost laughs. "Okay, okay. But the food *is* better there."
I'm not gonna argue that point because I don't wanna hear any more talk about Mexico - it's dangerous. When she said that thing about Cabo, I had a mental flash of Kate in a bikini, brown as a nut against golden sand, waving for me to come jump in the ocean with her... and for a split-second, I saw myself doing just that. I can't afford to think about things like that because I know how my naughty little brain works. I know it'll start to look better and better and I'll start to want it and pretty soon, I'll be saying "Yeah, sure! Let's go!" and I am *not* gonna run away again... though it sure is nice to be asked.
On our way out of the pool hall, I see the cowardly bartender peek out of the back room. Kate's halfway out the door and he seems glad to see the back of her. He and I exchange a look, and I swear I see some kind of *recognition* on his ratty face. Maybe he remembers my mug shot from the evening news, maybe he thinks Julia Roberts is slumming it again, I can't really tell. Either way, I hope he's scared enough of Kate to keep his trap shut about us being here.