Laconic

Erase/Rewind

So, Los Angeles is the City of Angels. Faith kinda found that hard to believe. 'Cause she knew a real live Angel, and he was in hell before any of this. She thought about calling him, still had the card he gave her - 'Angel Investigations' - but she doubted how welcome she'd be. Cordelia would definitely turn the air blue if she ever showed up. As for Wesley... But the first person she thought about was B and Faith toyed with the idea of paying her a visit, for old times' sake. Thing is, Faith was sure B would stake her sooner than look at her. And Faith couldn't blame her 'cause if Faith was her, she'd do exactly the same thing. Wicked ironic how six months inside can give you a fresh perspective on things. In the end, all the cops could pin on her was the assault of that girl at the hospital. Seems the Mayor took care of everything else before he went snake and Faith would always be grateful to the sick son of a bitch for that. Yeah, he'd been livin' la vida loco but the Boss had always looked out for her. It seemed like a whole lifetime ago, not just under two years. That was a different Faith though. She kept herself under control now... well, mostly. She still had a wicked temper on her. Guess she inherited that from mom...

See, she developed a kinda discipline when she was in jail. Because routine is all you have, if you didn't have that then the loneliness, the guilt at what you've done could just eat away at you. There were people in there who made prison a career option but Faith didn't want that. Not that she wasn't tempted. She could've run that place but she wanted out. She did her time, like a good girl, kept her nose clean, signed up for a few inmate programs - the basketball team, the drama group, even got half-way to getting her high school diploma. 'Course, she had to see the prison psychologist, only for the jerk to tell her what she already knew. Yeah, she had a problem with authority figures (they kinda end up dead) and, yeah, she had trust issues. That's what happens when you get screwed over your whole life through. But it had made her see one thing: none of it was B's fault. She kinda wanted to tell Buff this stunning realisation that has taken her two years, y'know? The pills had a big part in helping her reach that conclusion. She has to take them every day, twice a day, for the rest of her life. Which bites, but unmedicated Faith is bad Faith. Anyways, she saw it as a trade-off and it was a condition of her parole.

She thought about B a lot. If she'd dealt and moved on or if B still cared about her. Given how pissed B was the last time she saw her, that seemed unlikely. Yeah, Faith dwelt on dumb things like that because she couldn't erase the past and didn't know where to begin to atone for it.

When she last showed up in Sunnydale B told her it didn't have to be this way. She was right but Faith couldn't see that then. She was full of hate, full of crazy shit hatred at B, at the world, at herself. For the longest time she saw her conscience as some little Buffy-shaped angel on her shoulder but the little Faith-shaped devil was usually the wicked vocal one. She always thought 'what would Buffy do?' because B was so damn perfect. Everyone looked up to Buffy, and everyone always wanted to know why Faith couldn't be more like her. Well, Faith had wanted to know why Buffy couldn't be more like her. Now, she was glad B wasn't.

Some of the people that became friends in prison told her that the air always tasted sweeter when you got out. It just tasted of smog to Faith. For the first time since before she was called as a Slayer, she wondered what the hell she was gonna do with her life. The only sure thing was the weekly visit of her parole officer. He'd given her the address of some half-way house for ex-cons that was expecting her to show up. The old Faith would've just took off but this Faith didn't wanna go back inside, not for that, so she decided she was gonna do this right. Job, apartment, straight up. Maybe she'd even get that dog she always wanted when she was a kid. She could just forget about vampires and demons and shit and just get on with her life. Like the good ol' Watchers' Council said, there can only be one Slayer in every generation. /Well, consider this my resignation, tweed guys./ But she knew that she couldn't have that life here, in LA, not being this close to B.

Actually, the half-way house place wasn't so bad. At least she had an en suite shower. And the mattress was soft which was a major bonus. Nobody checked on them, they could come and go as they please. After dinner that night, some of the girls talked about going out to a club and invited Faith along. She hadn't been dancing for so long, after slaying it was her favourite thing, and she knew that she was good. Hell, she was the best. So she accepted and got ready. Leather pants, baby T (had to show off her pride and joy, her tattoo - she got it not long after saving that bus full of Baptists... good times) and her denim jacket. She looked at herself in the mirror and it was like a reflection of her old self. Except that she knew she was a different girl. She pouted at herself with scarlet lips. Knock 'em dead, girlfriend. In a metaphorical sense.

When they got to the club, it wasn't long before Faith realised that her new friends were the kind who liked to sit in the corner, making crappy conversation. Not this chick. She headed straight for the dance floor and didn't care that she didn't know the song. Pretty soon some guys were closing around her, and she smirked. Glad to see she hadn't lost the touch, being surrounded by women 24/7. Not that she didn't see any action in jail... Well, a girl can get frustrated and a girl's as good as a guy when it comes down to anatomy. But she wasn't here for screwing tonight, she just wanted to dance, just to let herself go and feel the music. All too soon the music stopped and some guy came onstage to announce the band. Could be good, so she stayed where she was. The band skulked on and she recognised the little guy playing bass. Shit...

She didn't know whether to jump up on stage and hug the guy or motor. Unable to decide, she just stood there, staring like a real spazz. They performed three songs before taking a break and she didn't really know what she was doing, maybe she forgot to take her pill or something, but she headed towards the little door beside the stage. There was no security in this place so there was no one to stop her. Like they could. The backstage area was small, a corridor with a couple of dressing rooms off it. She could hear the band behind one of the doors, and she walked towards it. Then it opened and it was him and she didn't know what to say. He was just standing there, staring at her, his eyebrow lifting slowly, which was about all the surprise he showed.

"Hey... long time no see," Faith said, the lamest of lame things.

Oz just looked at her and she began to realise that this was a really bad idea.

 

For a moment, the red haze clouds my vision, and a wash of pinpricks buzzes just under the surface of my skin.

For a moment I can't do or say anything, except breathe heavy, try to force myself to be calm, try not to let the balance tip in favour of my other self.

For a moment I have the battle between instinct and control.

For a fraction of that moment, I'm tempted to let instinct win.

But then she speaks. "Hey... long time no see,"she says, frowning for a second, casting her eyes to the ceiling, as if that wasn't what she intended to say. Then she looks back at me, her expression a mixture of the old cocky Faith and something that resembles nervousness. Nothing outwardly homicidal, so far as I can discern. She's dressed in typical Faith gear, provocative yet functional. If your function is the killing of vampires and...

But there is no reason for her to kill me.

But then, does she need one?

But I'd given her ample opportunity to make her move, and she hasn't. Whatever Faith wants, my being alive appeared to be a given. With that in mind, the red haze clears, but I hold her gaze.

She swallows, then puts on a fake smile. "Yeah, well, I thought I'd just pay my respects. The band was good, y'know. But I'd better go. People to see, places to go."With a shrug she turns, and starts to walk back down the little corridor. I watch her go, and the walk... is different, somehow. Less cocky. Resigned. My chest suddenly feels tight, my mouth dry, and I know I have to call her back.

"Faith..."

She stops, but doesn't turn.

"Look, I've got to finish the set, but..."

Her head turns slightly. "But what?"

"Would I risk personal injury or death in continuing my association with you?"

A snort. "Nah. Not unless you insult my grandmother, or somethin'."

"I'll be in the band room after, if you want conversation that avoids the subject of your extended family."

"Maybe. If I don't get a better offer, of course."

Then she's gone, hips swaying with renewed confidence. The rest of the band are behind me, clamouring to get on stage and we've got songs to sing and chords to play. And I've got Faith to think about.

 

I watch the smoke drift up toward the ceiling, then take another toke of the joint. Before I discovered my "cure"grass was just something I did on the weekends with Devon, leaning out of his bedroom window so that the smoke didn't get into his room where his mom might smell it. Now it's medicinal. Clams me down, chills me out, helps me cope with the wolf. But I miss the conversation with Devon, when we would talk about music and politics and religion and cartoons and all the stuff that clutters up your head when you're stoned. I smoke alone now, and it's not the same.

Nothing in my life is anymore. I mean, I was never the one to conform to whatever was expected of me, whether I was listening to Bowie when everyone else was into Nirvana, or painting my nails with Black Cherry and dying my hair blond when half the girls in my classes wouldn't dare do either, or dating Willow to Dev's incomprehension, I did what I wanted to do and didn't care what other people thought. But I had my constants. People who were there whatever happened. Devon, the Dingoes, school, Willow, even my Mom and Dad. And now... I have none of them.

It feels like I've lost them all, like I should be grieving for my dearly departed. But none of them are dead, just lost to me in a worse way - by my own isolation. For two years I had been drifting away from my parents, and from Devon and the Dingoes. The lycanthropy had a lot to do with that, plus the fact I was helping Buffy and the others and that was a world they couldn't be a part of. I hated separating my friends and family like that, but it seemed necessary. For their protection, I would tell myself. Then college, and that changes things even when you're a "normal"kid. But not noticeably, you can carry on and gloss over the cracks that appear. It's what I had done since Jordy bit me in any case - until Veruca came along, and the wolf finally asserted himself in a way I couldn't control. Didn't want to control, in all truthfulness. When I killed her, I enjoyed it, because there was still enough human-Oz left to be aware of what was going on, caught up in the bloodlust, but not enough so that my conscience could counter it, stop me from taking a life. So I had to leave, because I couldn't be sure that I wouldn't get the taste for it. Even fully human Oz had flashes of rage that left me wondering just how far beneath the skin the wolf lay.

In driving off that day, in leaving my former life so completely, I destroyed the veneer I created to convince myself that everything was fine, that allowed me to ignore the fact that all of the Scoobies were drifting apart, that Devon and I hardly talked properly anymore. I didn't see it then, I couldn't see that much of the bigger picture.

Even then though, I knew that there was too much damage to my relationship with Willow. All the time I traveled the world I clung to the hope that I would go back, and that it everything would click back into place, except with the new improved Oz. Deep down I knew it to be a false hope, that even if Willow was still waiting for me ÷ and in a way she was ÷ things couldn't be anything like the same. It didn't matter, in the end. Willow had moved on to something ÷ someone ÷ else and I had lost her. Probably I had lost her when Veruca and I... probably then. I just didn't accept it until later.

So I couldn't stay with the Scoobies. And I couldn't stay with the Dingoes, either. Devon had found a new bass player. Not as good as me, he said, couldn't write songs like I used to, he said. However, this one turned up for practice and for gigs. He told me that I was always, always his friend, but that when it came to the band he couldn't let things coast along in the hope I would get my act together. The Dingoes were going somewhere, he was sure. He needed commitment. Something I couldn't give, certainly not to a band based in Sunnydale, not then. Not now.

As for my folks, they just gave me their concerned looks and stern lectures about responsibility and my future and about running away. Then they gave me tear-stained hugs and soft whispers that they were so glad to have me back, so glad. Then I left them again. I've caused them so much pain, and I wish I could make it up to them, but I can't. They don't really know where I am now, and I don't have the courage to face them. Not yet. Maybe never. I'm lost to them as well, now.

So gone are all the constants I had.

Which is maybe, probably why I called Faith back tonight. She represented a constant. Something from my past I could cling to. And for a little moment, when she walked away, she looked as lost as I feel.

 

I stub out the joint in the ugly orange ashtray, and examine my fingernails for chips in the polish. There's a knock on the door and, without waiting for an invitation, Faith pushes it open. She sways in, a bottle of beer in each hand and a cigarette between two fingers. She throws herself onto the elderly leather sofa next to me and hands me a bottle before taking a long drag from the cigarette. I take a slug from the bottle.

She turns her head and looks at me; pupils dilated and drink on her breath. "Angel said you'd disappeared,"she says, hiccuping and exhaling smoke a she does so.

"Yeah, I had."

"Same old talkative Oz. Give me details, man."She stabs the cigarette in my direction for emphasis.

"What did Angel tell you?"

She shrugs. "That you and Willow had had some fight, that you'd gone off. He said Cordelia knew more, but she and I aren't really talking. What with me giving her a good smack the last time we met"

I raise an eyebrow ÷ hey, I can't help it ÷ and wonder what exactly went on when she met Angel. "Wolf me mated with another werewolf, Willow found us. The other werewolf tried to kill Willow, so I had to kill her."

She gives me a puzzled look that could also be an attempt to focus. "You killed Willow?"

I smile. "No. I killed the other werewolf."

"Oh. Shame." Another drag on the cigarette.

I ignore the insult to Willow. "I wasn't sure I could control the wolf so I left."

"And you came to fucking LA? Yeah, cos that makes sense."

"No, I'm in LA now. I traveled all over before. Tibet, Rumania, places like that."

Her eyes widen and a look that resembles... respect, I suppose, flits across her features. "You're ╬shitting me, right?" I shake my head. "Wicked."

"It was pretty intense."

"Have you been back to Sunnydale?" I nod. She gives me a mischievous grin, leans over and whispers, "So is Red really a bean?"

"She chose Tara over me." It's not something I like to think about, but there's no point in denying it to her. Cigarette between her harlot red lips, she smiles smugly and mutters something like, ╬oh yeah'. I decide to change the subject, "So what about you?"

"Me? Nothing much."

"Last I heard you'd swapped bodies with Buffy and slept with her boyfriend."

For a moment she grins, then the smile fades.

"Yeah, I guess I did. Not proud of it though." I don't know if I believe her, not quite.

"Then what?"

Another shrug. "I met Angel, we had... words. I handed myself in to the fuzz, it turns out Mayor Wilkins had got me cleared of most of the charges, and they couldn't pin anything else on me. So, I'm a free agent, mostly."

There's more to that, I'm certain, but I'm not about to push. "Cool."

"Yeah, it is. Like... like, I'm trying to be a good guy now. I fucked up way much, but I want to make it up. But I can't go back to Sunnydale, cos B still hates my guts, and I can't help Angel cos Wesley still hates my guts, and the Watcher's Council just want me locked up in Tea and Scones City jail. So... I dunno. I'm not doing much just now. I don't know what to do. Which is not cool."

She actually seems earnest. I should probably know better than to trust Faith, but I do anyway. "You and me both."

Now she raises an eyebrow.

"Not knowing what to do is a specialty of mine also."

She gives me an affectionate but painful thump on the shoulder. "Rebels without a clue, huh? Y'know, it's a shame I never got to know you better, Oz. I bet we coulda had a lot of fun."

"Fun? Like the fun you had with Xander?"

"Maybe." She looks at me and grins. "But I think the fun would be better with you."

I say nothing ÷ I don't know what to say. Then she leans over, the cigarette free hand on my thigh and lunges towards my lips. Realizing too late that my silence was interpreted as something else I quickly turn my head and she meets stubble. She jumps away, leaving a streak of red up my cheek.

"Faith, I didn't mean..."I trail off as words fail me again.

As she gets up she doesn't reply, but gives me a look that is a mixture of anger at her rejection and embarrassment at her mistake. Without another word she turns and runs for the door, throwing it open with such force that it nearly comes off its hinges. Her bottle wobbles on the table and tips over, and cold beer sloshes to the floor. I get up and jump into the doorframe, shouting "Faith!"at her receding back.

She doesn't reply.

 

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Stupid fucker. Faith crashed and lurched through the side door beside the stage. In the corner of her vision she saw those drippy bitches from the halfway house wave to her while sipping on their pina coladas but she pretended not to notice them. She shoved her way through the dancefloor, head down, and barged into some dude and was so drunk that she lost her balance, falling to the floor with a curse. The room was swaying back and forth like she was on a fucking boat - man, she hated boats - and all she could focus on was this guy. His beer was stained down the front of his shirt and the soaked material clung to his well-developed pecs and washboard stomach. She licked her lips. Anger and horniness were almost interchangeable in Faith. In fact, one precipitated the other.

"Hey, you okay?" the guy yelled over the music, let's call him Butch 'cause he was all that. And a real tasty piece of meat too. So Butch reached down a hand to help her up. She knew how to play this game so she let him. Yeah, she could play damsel in distress. Why the fuck not? The rest of the night had gone to shit so she might as well have a little fun.

"Five by five," she shouted into his ear. "Can I get ya another drink?" She flashed a flirtatious smile at him and when he smiled back, she knew she had him wrapped around her little finger already. Guys were such pushovers. Well, most of them. She couldn't figure Oz out at all. Fuck, she didn't even dig him that much, she just thought he might like some company. She wasn't asking for a frickin' wedding ring. Guess a guy like Oz figured he was too good for the likes of her. She couldn't do the cutesy babble thing, the wrapping one leg around the other routine that Willow had perfected. Seems it worked on the babes too if that stuttering Tara chick was anything to go by.

She weaved drunkenly towards the bar and gave a wolf whistle to get the attention of the sullen barman. After ordering two beers she reached into her back pocket for her smokes. Dammit, they were all squashed from how she'd landed on her ass. Stupid, dickwad fucker. See, she'd taken up the habit soon after arriving in jail. In there cigarettes were currency and Faith had been... an accumulator of wealth. Heh. Smoking had been her only true pleasure and, well, now she was addicted. Figures, huh? The others smuggled drugs inside, to deal or to help them through their pathetic lives. Faith had never touched any of it. She'd spent too many days as a kid watching her mother get drugged up to the eyeballs before lunch. Ever since she'd promised herself she'd never be like that... she got her kicks in other ways. Jamming a cigarette between her lips, she turned to Butch. "Got a light?"

He produced a gold-plated lighter from his shirt pocket and lit the cigarette for her like guys did in old movies. That made her, what, fucking Lauren Bacall? That's another thing about her mother; the bitch would beach herself on the sofa watching black and white movies while she waited for her dealer to show up. Sometimes Faith had sat with her in silence, watching the flickering old TV set, wondering when Humphrey Bogart was gonna whisk her away from her trailer trash existence. Back then she believed in shit like that. "What's your name?" he asked as she swigged from her beer.

Faith took a long drag on her cigarette and smirked. "Lauren," she said, exhaling a plume of smoke slowly.

 

It was closing time now and Faith was completely out of her face. Hey, if Butch here was buying then she wasn't complaining. 'Course, she wasn't supposed to drink alcohol with her medication but... fuck, it made her high as kite. Her slayer metabolism meant the combo wouldn't overload her system, it just gave her an artificial happy.

Well, she and Butch had got to talking. He told her he'd done a stint in jail too for armed robbery. She could just picture him packing a sawn-off shotgun and telling cowering grocery shoppers to hit the deck. With a feral grin, Faith grabbed him by the face and kissed him, meeting his tongue immediately. She'd missed this, the coarse stubble that brushed against her lips and chin that was uniquely male. She could taste beer on his tongue, or was it her own?

"Faith," someone said behind her, distracting her from Butch's rough, overeager hands on her breasts. She ignored whoever it was. She wanted to lose herself tonight. It didn't matter who, just that it was a warm body and maybe someone who liked it a little rough. Kink or vanilla, it didn't matter which...

"Faith."

It was Butch who broke off the kiss abruptly. "Take a hike, man," he said in a warning tone over her shoulder. Mmm, he was most definitely butch. That was how she liked her men and she liked her women like... B. Soft around the edges but fierce underneath, a bad girl raring to get out. Faith herself was maybe the other way round. On the outside she was bad but inside she wanted to be good. Only thing was, the bad side still tended to win out 'cause, fuck, it was more fun that way. Mostly, she just wanted to have a blast and screw the consequences. Jail hadn't done anything to change that.

"I need to talk to her."

Butch sneered. "Who the fuck are you? Her fairy godmother?"

Finally, Faith turned her head to look at Oz who was standing his ground. Mostly, he looked calm but there was a tiny nervous tick in his eyes, the dope wearing off now. Faith noticed that even though she was having difficulty focusing on his funny-lookin' little face with its spiky bleach blonde hair. "Hey, Oz," she grinned, slurring the single consonant of his name, "you missed your chance, big time. I'm with Butch here now." Faith pawed Butch's chest, still damp from the beer spillage earlier.

Oz persevered manfully. "Faith, please can we talk?"

"Yeah, okay." With a sigh, Faith slid off Butch's lap, deliberately rubbing against his crotch. Leaning over, she licked the side of his cheek. "Don't go anywhere, baby." In response, Butch slapped her leather-clad ass. Definitely kink.

She staggered after Oz, backstage again. The band were packing up their gear and heading out the rear exit to where Oz's van was parked. Faith folded her arms impatiently, waiting for the werewolf to speak. "So, talk."

"Look, I didn't mean to offend you or anything," Oz shrugged and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his baggy jeans that were two sizes too big. "I'm just not looking for any kind of attachment right now."

Faith smiled sultrily, actually, it was more of a drunken leer, and stepped towards Oz, running a hand down his chest. "Me neither." The sly little dog... why else would he have come after her?

The bassist caught hold of her hand gently. "No."

"No?" Faith said, anger flaring as she made a fool of herself for the second time that night. She knew she was doing it but she couldn't stop herself. That's what being a total fuck-up was all about, right? She pulled her hand away. "What's up with you anyway? You turnin' into Big Gay Oz? 'Cause I'm thinkin' there must be somethin' in the water in Sunnydale, y'know? I mean, I never woulda figured Red as a rugmuncher, and if you're drivin' stick now, then maybe someone should let B know before she jumps Anya."

There was a moment of silence as Oz regarded her calmly. Most guys she knew, if you said they were homo, they'd beat the crap outta you. What the fuck did it take to make this guy lose his composure? At this moment she found it difficult to believe he'd killed someone. Then again, she'd never seen him wolfed out.

"Faith, you got a serious problem," Oz said, his voice and demeanour as placid as always. "When people try to help you, you see it as some attempt to get into your pants." The bassist shook his head. "I don't work that way."

"Yeah, well, sooner or later the beast comes out in every guy and you're no different," Faith said, using one hand to steady herself against the wall. Crazy how the world seemed to be tilting at a strange angle... "And, straight up, I don't need anyone's help. Me," she pointed her thumb at her chest, "I'm peachy."

Must've been one of the band members, yeah, the singer, that called out to Oz. He nodded to the purple-haired girl who glanced at Faith with mild interest and a little distrust before disappearing again.

The bassist raised an eyebrow as he backed away. "Yeah, I can see that but, if you change your mind and wanna talk, we're playing here tomorrow night," he said quietly and turned, leaving Faith in the empty corridor.

She didn't really have time to think on that because she doubled over quickly and left a small puddle of vomit on the floor. Carrots, she thought dimly, why are there always fucking carrots? Somehow the thought of Butch sticking his tongue down her throat didn't seem like such a hot prospect anymore. So she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and snuck out the rear exit into the humid night, feeling slightly better already.

 

I waited for Eve's reedy voice to finish the last note, and then my fingers closed around my strings, silencing them, and the gig ended. The crowd, less tonight than in either of the last two gigs, applauded. You could tell they were being polite as much as expressing their enjoyment. But we had done three nights in a row in this dive, and you had to expect diminishing returns. Still, we got paid. Not much, which is probably why the owner kept asking us back. I think, though, that this is us. Any more gigs here will only result in booing at the end at best, but probably halfway through.

At least I played better tonight. I'd dropped so many notes last night in a futile search of the crowd for Faith I might as well been playing the triangle. Eve had been seriously pissed. Which was an unwelcome change; Devon would just have shrugged it off as a bad night but Eve was different. I got a lecture about the fact that she could get another bass player real easy, that I'd better watch my step or I'd be out. She was probably bluffing; but either way she wasn't happy. Given that she lets me crash at her place ÷ well, you don't bite the hand that feeds you. Or in my case, shelters you.

I'd looked for Faith tonight as well, but it's hard to look for a person dressed all in black in a dark club if you're trying to remember what chords come next and where to put your fingers. Was she there? I don't think so. I think I blew it the other night by rejecting her. Not that I think I should have responded, should have taken advantage of her. But I should have handled it differently. And now? I just hope she's doing OK. Not killing anyone, or fucking idiot jocks.

We packed away the instruments and the amps in the van, then head back to the club for a beer. I'm driving so I just order a soda, which I finish quickly. It's a scummy place and the smell is nauseating. The rest of the band want to stay and drink some more, then maybe go off to get stoned round at the drummer's place, but I'm just tired. I want to go home. I make my excuses and leave, glad to be out of the club, even if LA's air really isn't that much more fragrant.

I walk around the corner to the alley where the van is parked. Above the fetid smell of the trash there's a new smell, a musky smell that sort of floats on top of everything else. Perfume. I near the van, and it's stronger. . .

I smile, because I'm glad she's decided to come back. Even if I am disturbed that she got into the van so easy, because I can't see any broken windows. I open the door at the driver's side.

"If you want to surprise me in future, don't use that perfume. I can smell you two blocks away."

Faith's eyes glitter in the reflection from the streetlamps, even though much of the rest of her is hidden in the shadows. She grins, chewing her gum.

"Damn, I thought I'd surprise you. Wicked sensitive nose ya got there."

"It's one of the few benefits of lycanthropy."

"The others being?"

I pause. "I actually can't think of any."

"So it's kinda like bein' a Slayer."

"You have a better sense of smell?"

She snickers, face screwed up in laughter. "No! I mean the shitty aspects sure outweigh the good things."

"You think that?"

Her face becomes more serious. "My life wouldn't be this fucked up if I hadn't drawn the winning ticket in the Slayer raffle, that's for sure. I wouldn't have killed anyone, I wouldn't have been in jail. . . well, OK, I mighta been jail, but not on murder in the first, y'know?"

"I thought they didn't pin the charges on you."

"No, but that's only cuz the Mayor saw to it otherwise. I he hadn't, I'd be the first Slayer to celebrate my 95th birthday."

I decide it's best to change the subject. "I'm glad you turned up. Didn't think you were going to."

"Yeah, sorry 'bout the other night." She looked out of the side window into the alley. "Guess I felt a bit dumb, coming on to you like that. S'why I didn't come along last night. Sorry, and everything."

"It's OK. I was mildly flattered, which is a good feeling."

She turned to face me again, a sardonic expression on her face. "Don't shit me. You saw a very drunk, disgusting girl and ran a metaphorical mile. Don't blame you."

"Hence the term mildly."

She grins again. "Fuck you."

"I thought we already discussed that wasn't happening."

She flips me the bird.

"So, what made you come back?"

"Well, we figured we didn't have a clue. So I thought, y'know, we could decide together."

"We became a we?"

The grins fades a little. "Well, it'd be cool. I mean, the gals at the halfway house wouldn't really understand the whole Chosen One thing. Anymore than your bandmates must dig your hairy half."

She had a point. For all that I want to forget about the lycanthropy, I never can. I certainly can't tell Eve or the others about it. At least she'd understand, up to a point. "Faith, what I said before about not looking for attachment. . . I meant it."

"Hey, it's cool. This is a buddy thing, like. . . Dorothy and Toto. Y'know, with you being Oz and everything." She's grinning again; she must find that funny.

I don't smile.

"Ah, c'mon, you must have a sense of humour. . . OK, OK, no more Oz jokes. Jeez. . ."

"Agreed."

"I guess it just helps talking to someone who knows about the Slayer deal. I mean, Angel's cool, and all, but. . . I think he wants to save my soul cuz he can't save his. Puts a lot of pressure on a girl. I figure you're not the pressurising type."

"Not known for my pressure."

"So you don't mind if I hang with you for a bit?"

I shrug. "Yeah, it's cool." I turn the key in the ignition, and the van rumbles into life. "I've got some weed back at my place."

"Oz, man, I love you. Haven't got wasted in a long while."

"OK."

I drive off.

 

The journey across town is slow. We talk a little in the van, just about me playing in the club and her not really knowing what to do with herself ("Somehow I doubt they'll let me be a cop or a prison guard, and what else would I be good at?"). Then the conversation drifts off.

So does Faith. By the time I reach the apartment, she's asleep.

She talks in her sleep, not very loudly, but. . . well, she's either dreaming about bunnies, or. . . oh. Buffy. Interesting.

The van splutters to a halt, and I shake Faith awake.

 

B just looked at her with shame. Like when they'd been caught breaking into that weapon store by the cops. Only multiplied by a factor of ten. The ambiguous thing was that she couldn't figure exactly why. Was it because of the knight in shining fangs or because Buffy was supposed to be as straight as they come? See, in Buffy's little self-involved world there was nothing beyond the non-stop angst fest that was her look-but-don't-fuck relationship with Angel. Buffy in her self-imposed martyrdom couldn't see that there was whole line of people who, wow! did have souls and could hold hands with the intent for more without turning evil. Faith was one of those people and, yeah, she'd elbowed her way to the front of the line.

Faith was also a glutton for what she couldn't have. She leaned in again to kiss that angry, pouty little mouth but B turned her head away. "Don't."

With one hand, Faith pushed away from the wall, shoving down the urge to lash out. She walked a few paces away, squinting at the moon before turning on her heel. The blonde was still huddled against the wall, watching her like a caged animal. "What is it with you anyway? One minute you want it, then next you don't. Make a choice, B." She waited, and Buffy said nothing. "Well, guess that says it all."

When she turned to walk away this time, she heard the approach of soft footfalls behind her and felt Buffy's hand on her upper arm. "I don't want to be alone tonight."

Faith turned to face her. "Alone? You have Angel, your friends and family," the brunette said with open scorn. "You got no idea what alone is."

"Alright! I get that you're some world expert on loneliness, Faith," Buffy snapped. She looked away, sighing, annoyance warring with apology on her face. "It's just, okay, I have these people around me but sometimes. I wonder if they know me at all. They see me as this perfect being, on call to save the world 24/7. Sometimes I'm selfish, sometimes I don't want to avert the end of the world, sometimes I'd like to stay in bed." The slayer laughed despite herself. "And I can just see Giles clucking with disapproval as I'm saying this, I didn't ask to be a slayer. It was thrust upon me and a lot of the time I'd like to throw it back."

Buffy was watching Faith closely for her reaction. "You're the first person I've ever said that to."

Shit. Faith didn't know what to say. She knew Buffy wasn't the most enthusiastic person about her calling but... For Faith slaying was life, for B it was death. She'd never seen so clearly that they were the flip side of the coin for each other. The brunette couldn't imagine not loving the buzz that she got from slaying, there was nothing else for her.

She was surprised when Buffy took a step closer, staring back at her with sincere green eyes. "Again I say, I don't wanna be alone tonight."

The soft admission hung in the air between them and Faith took the initiative, because, if she misjudged the situation, the worst B could do was kick her ass. So she reached out with one - fuck - slightly shaking hand and touched the blonde's cheek. With her heart in her mouth she watched B's eyelids slide shut, fanning cheeks with dark lashes.

Then she kissed her and Buffy opened her mouth to deepen the kiss almost immediately, making Faith think that she hadn't been the only one who'd imagined and plotted this moment. She felt B's arms around her back and B's tongue touching and coiling around her own.

There was cool, dirty concrete against her back, soft curves and hard muscles pressing against her. Damn, wasn't she supposed to be the one in control here? B's hands had wormed their way inside Faith's jacket and were now moving deliberately over her breasts, skimming the hard nipples that poked through the thin material of her tank top.

Faith broke the kiss. "Much as I'm getting' off on this, can we take this someplace less public? I got a perfectly good motel..."

"My place is nearer, c'mon," Buffy interrupted and sloped off, not looking back. Running a hand through her hair, Faith took a moment to catch her breath before following the blonde.

They didn't talk at all as they power-walked to the Summers house and B remained a couple of paces ahead so it didn't actually look like they were together. Funny how some things don't change even when it comes to screwing. The blonde climbed up the tree in the garden and disappeared through the window to her bedroom. Obviously, B had done this before. With a smirk, Faith followed. Almost as soon as she got one leg over the sill, Buffy grabbed her and tossed her onto the bed.

"Wow, B," Faith drawled, not entirely a taunt, "I never figured you were so wicked butch."

Buffy just smiled this cryptic little smile and threw her jacket onto the floor. Next off were her shoes and B stalked towards the bed, climbing on and crawling over Faith's body. The brunette watched, mouth dry, as B pulled her top up and over her head, casting it onto a nearby bookcase. Small but perfectly formed breasts were just there, the way Faith had pictured them countless times. Kinda tanned and petite like the rest of B's body.

Grabbing a handful of jacket, Buffy pulled Faith into a sitting position. "This isn't right. I mean, here I am all semi-naked and...," the blonde paused to glance down at Faith, a mock pout on her lips, "you're not."

Faith just grinned and shirked her jacket, quickly followed by her tank top. "There. We're even now, girlfriend." B was just staring at her chest like she'd never seen a pair of tits before and Faith had to bite her lip when one small hand curled around her breast.

Suddenly B was kissing her again, almost fiercely, as she stroked and caressed Faith's flesh. A thumb brushed tentatively against Faith's nipple and she groaned, the sound echoing in her ears. Her own hands moved down Buffy's spine, playing over the ridges like some musical instrument.

Buffy ended the kiss with a tease, drawling lingering kisses before finally pulling away. The lust in Buffy's eyes burned like a fucking blast furnace. She smiled shyly as if it'd only just hit her that they were on her bed, naked from the waist up. Faith watched as Buffy slid off the bed to lock the bedroom door and slip out of her jeans. Wouldn't do for dear old mom to walk in on her daughter fucking another girl, much as that mental image cracked the brunette up.

Faith used the respite to peel off her leather pants and dislodge the stuffed toy she'd been sitting on, flinging it across the room. It knocked over a photo frame with a snapshot of the Scoobies but B didn't seem to care. That was B, always wicked focused, and at this moment she was focused on Faith.

The blonde returned to her place on the bed, those wise green eyes never leaving Faith's dark ones. "Make love to me?" B asked quietly.

For once, Faith didn't make a smart-ass response. She just cupped Buffy's face and kissed her, 'cause she craved those lips much more than she wanted to admit. Fingers curled around her wrist, guiding her hand to that much fantasised place between B's thighs and B shivered against her.

"Buffy," Faith said, something between a groan and a whisper.

"Please," Buffy whimpered.

Without needing any further encouragement, Faith's hand slipped under the waistband of the blonde's underwear. "Oh, God, B," she said, feeling just how desperately the other girl wanted this.

 

"Buffy," Faith said in protest at the hand that was shaking her elbow. Her eyes snapped open, and she stared straight ahead, knowing immediately that this wasn't Buffy's bedroom, hell, it wasn't even Sunnydale. It was raining now, spots of drizzle streaking the windshield and obscuring the view of an alleyway at the back of an apartment block.

Just for a moment there she'd actually believed that she was with B still, that they were really... It made her want to scream and shout and break things, not necessarily in that order. But she controlled that urge, like she controlled all her urges now, under a blanket of regret and medication.

She was aware of Oz sitting next to her, silent and watching her carefully.

"We're here," he said in a tone that never strayed far from neutral.

She looked at him, at what was visible of his usual blank expression. "Cool." She hoped he didn't hear the catch in her voice and plucked the gum out of her mouth for something to do. She shoved his thigh playfully. "So, lead me to the weed, man."

After locking up the van, Oz led her round to the front entrance of the building and up the two flights of stairs to this Eve chick's apartment. The sounds of blaring TV sets, stereos and crying kids filtered through the paper thin walls as they climbed the stairs. There was a loud argument going on in one apartment, some guy freaking at his wife or girlfriend, followed by the sound of a slap and a slamming door. So, this place wasn't exactly a condo near the beach but she'd crashed in much worse dives. A ten by ten cell with a toilet in the corner being one of them. Comparatively, this was a slice of paradise.

Once inside Oz's place, Faith shirked her jacket and kicked back on the couch. There were rips down the sides, the stuffing seeping through torn fabric, and mysterious stains on the upholstery. Looked like they'd hauled this couch from a skip or something. "Got any beer?" she asked Oz when he returned with his stash, kept in an innocuous cookie tin with cartoon characters on the lid.

He nodded. "Couple of Buds in the fridge." He tossed the tin to her and disappeared into the kitchen, returning moments later with the beers.

Taking a slug of the sweet, malty liquid, Faith watched as the bassist expertly rolled a couple of roaches, passing one to her when he was done.

"So," Oz said calmly, taking a long toke on the joint, watching the thin plume of smoke rise towards the ceiling, "that dream seemed pretty intense."

Damn, she hadn't expected that. She took a quick drag on her roll-up, washed down with a gulp of beer, and tried to avoid his too-damn-cool stare. "Just crazy shit that was in the past."

"About Buffy," Oz said and it was a statement of fact not a question.

She nodded slowly. None of B's friends had known what really happened back then, stuff that she hardly knew herself. They'd fucked one time and afterwards B had acted like it hadn't happened. Hell, she was used to that kinda shit, she was get some, get gone girl but she never saw it coming from Buffy Summers. And, damn, if she hadn't already let B get to her and she was left with feelings that weren't reciprocated or acknowledged in any way. So she wanted to hurt B like the blonde had hurt her. Only Faith was more creative, giant snakes and all.

"You can tell me," Oz prompted and she stared at him, his head resting on the back of the couch, flattening bleached spikes, his lazy eyes rooted on the burning embers of the joint in his hand. She knew that she could trust him because he didn't want anything from her. If he helped her, he wouldn't gain anything from it, not like Angel who was looking to score points with some higher authority she knew jack-squat about.

Faith hung her head. "Ever screwed someone and regretted it?"

Oz considered that question for the longest time and Faith wondered if he'd dozed off or something. She was about to nudge him when he answered. "I've had sex with someone I maybe shouldn't have, if that's what you mean."

"Yeah?" she grinned. "Who?"

"Devon. Sings with the Dingoes."

"No shit?" Faith whistled low. "I love watchin' two guys goin' at it. And dogs," Faith deadpanned.

Oz just raised an eyebrow. "Hey, I'm joking, man," Faith said and pulled a leather clad leg up underneath herself, making herself comfortable. "So, spill dogboy."

The bassist took a swill from his bottle and sighed. "Well, it happened before I started dating Willow."

 

"Oz, man, did you know your sofa was so. . . soft?"

Devon was drunk. Not that this was an uncommon state for the singer to be in. He was at a droopy stage, sprawled across the furniture; long legs half-balanced on the arm of the couch, head resting against Oz's side. His right arm drooped towards the floor, a beer bottle clutched tightly in his hand.

Oz was not drunk. Which is not to say he hadn't been drinking. But, smaller person though he was, he could hold his drink much better than his best friend. . . but then, he'd started early. Oz's parents had decreed that he should learn how to respect alcohol from an early age. So he'd drank small glasses of wine at the table from 13, moving up, four years later, to the point where he could take bottles of Bud or whatever from the fridge with impunity. Well, ok, maybe with a deduction from his allowance.

Devon, on the other hand, had had no such training and three bottles of weak beer later he was intoxicated. But it was cool; Devon had smoked pot long before Oz, and so the same was true in reverse for weed; Oz would be very-not-Ozlike and giggling at old Tom and Jerry re-runs until his sides ached whilst Devon would sit with a wry smile and roll another joint.

But tonight was Oz's turn to smile at his friend, as Devon got his words confused and lost what few inhibitions he had left. Which could lead to bad things, maybe. But at least he wasn't a maudlin drunk.

Devon had rambled for a bit and eventually got onto the subject of their friendship. Oz and Devon had known each other since grade school, but only when Oz's initial attempts to learn guitar and Devon's natural instinct to break away from his Church choir into a more rebellious form of singing clashed in the form of a band had the 14-year-olds got to know each other well.

Because they hadn't been obvious friends. Devon was one of the cool set, the little inner circle of popular people that were good-looking, or good at sports, or good with fashion or just good at putting the others down. Naturally half the time they bitched mercilessly at each other, but to the rest of the kids. . . they were admired, desired, hated and feared. Oz wasn't part of that set. He was one of the quiet kids that no one really disliked, but no one particularly made an effort to get on with. Not one of the bullied like Jonathan, or the nerds like Willow, or the clueless like Xander and Jesse (all in the year below, of course). Just part of the background, filling in the spaces on the yearbook photo between the memorable people.

Their relationship worked because Devon, for all his outward shallowness, was quite, well, deep. Intelligent, though he'd fail a couple of classes so he didn't seem it. He managed to make Oz laugh, give Oz's character a little colour when the others just saw grey.

"You're my best mate, y'know that?" Devon asked, stretching his gaze to try and look at Oz.

"Yeah, Dev. I do. And you're mine," Oz answered, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Devon pushed slightly into Oz's side, making himself comfortable. "This is cool, y'know. Us just being here. With beer. Talkin'."

Oz shook his head in mock despair, and they lapsed for a moment into companionable silence. His fingers, idle, began to fiddle with the Bud label, peeling it slowly, carefully from the bottle, dried adhesive and paper fibre leaving a white mark on the glass.

Devon heard the soft ripping sound. "Peelin' off the labels?"

"Yeah."

The singer let out a snort. "Y'know that's a sign of sexual frustration."

"You sound surprised," Oz replied, still peeling.

Devon swivelled round to a sitting position, and looked at Oz. "Hey, that's a good point. Why ain't you getting any pussy, man? Fuck, the last time was that Nancy chick, and, yeah, ok, you got some then but that was, like, six months ago. You need to get back out there, man!"

Oz turned his head to face Devon. "Dev, look at me. I'm 5 feet 4, I have red hair, I'm not good at sports and I'm not rich. Girls. don't seem to dig me."

"Oz, shut up. You're a sexy bitch an' you know it. Ya just need to find a girl that puts out."

Oz just smiled. He didn't believe Devon, about the looks bit. But. . . it was nice.

"C'mon man, you're in a band. You have wheels. You could so get some."

"I don't think I could get you, and you're a big slut."

A grin. "Oh, yeah, you're not handsome enough for that."

"I'm that ugly?"

"The ugliest, man. Fell out of the ugly tree and hit the branches all the way down."

It was a joke, but Oz's smile still disappeared; the funny bubble had just burst. Devon seemed to recognise that, for all that he was drunk.

"Shit, Oz, I didn't mean that. Arrogant fuck that I am." Devon paused, unsure how to proceed. "Kiss and make up? That way at least you'll get some tonight!"

"Sure." Oz only meant that Devon was forgiven, but Devon still took the invitation and planted his lips on Oz's own. It was rough and sloppy and probably a joke, but whilst Oz's mind attempted to figure out if it was or not, his mouth responded anyway and he kissed back. For a few second they rubbed their lips together, then just as suddenly as he had started, Devon drew back an looked at Oz with shock.

"Fuck, man! We're making out!"

Oz heart was thumping in his chest. That had been too nice, and his cock had already surged in length in response. "Yeah," was all he could mutter, for fear of saying something he'd regret.

"Shit, I've never done it with a dude before."

"Me neither."

Devon's hand had moved to his crotch. He squeezed it, still looking at Oz. "Fuck, it actually made me hard. Fuck!"

Oz swallowed, and a glance at his own crotch told Devon that the same was true for his best friend. Then, the look of horror disappeared as Devon's face was split by a wide grin.

"See? Told ya you were a sexy bitch. The ugly tree thing - that was so wrong. Of course, I could just be horny. Not that I'm ever not."

They stared at each other for a moment, Devon unconsciously licking his lips, before hesitantly moving his head back toward Oz's face. When the smaller man didn't shy away, he gently brushed his mouth against that of Oz.

Then he was kissing Oz again, more gentle this time, so the stubble didn't scrape so bad, and there was just the hint of tongue on Oz's lips. Oz opened his mouth a little, nervous, and the tongue gently pushed in, touching Oz's teeth and exploring. Devon's body was pushing against Oz's own, and Oz's head swam with lust.

Hesitantly, Oz placed his hands on Devon's chest, the thin cotton of a vest covering the smooth skin, the hard nipples two stiff bumps pushing at the fabric, Oz running his callused thumb across them. Then Devon sat back and peeled the undershirt off, watching as Oz responded. Then Devon sat astride the guitarist, and they went back to the kiss, and there they stayed for a time, just touching and stroking.

The singer began to buck against Oz, his denim-clad erection pushing at Oz's stomach. He leaned over and hissed urgently in Oz's ear, "Oz, can I fuck you, please can I fuck you? Man, this is so hot. . . can I?"

 

"I said yes, and he did."

I took another draw on what was left of the roach, wondering just why I'd told Faith all that, given that until three days ago I barely knew her and still didn't know that much more today. She looked at me with wide eyes, and a smirk on her face.

"That's it? You can't stop it there! It was just gettin' interesting."

"I'm not going there, Faith."

"Aw, c'mon - I want the gory details! Did it hurt? Was he your first? How big was he?"

"Faith. . ."

"Hell, I didn't know you had it in you. . ." she stopped and snickered at her innuendo, "well, if ya get my meaning."

I just glared at her. She took the hint.

"Alright, already. . . but, there's one thing I don't understand. You said you were really into this Devon - so what's with the regret?"

A good question. "Afterwards - like, the next day - Devon, he felt really bad about it. Y'know, he was drunk, this didn't mean anything, he's not queer. That next night, we had a gig and he got sucked off by this groupie, in the dressing room - and he knew I'd walk in on them. Devspeak for it doesn't change anything."

"Bummer. Men are like that," she flashed a grin, "present company excepted."

I nod, accepting the implicit compliment. "That wasn't so bad, but. . . we didn't use protection, y'know. So I didn't feel that great about it either."

She gave me a sympathetic look, "We've all been there, man. Wicked stupid an' all, but ya get caught up in the moment, dontcha."

"Yeah." I drained the last of my Bud, and got up from the sofa. "Another?"

Another grin. "Shit, yeah."

I returned a moment later with another pair of bottles. She looked up at me as I handed her the bottle. "So, you get yourself checked out? I mean, this Devon guy seems like a bit of a two cent whore."

"Oh, yeah. Clean. Dunno about Devon - he'd never go to the doc's. Didn't like to use anything, either."

"He's a dumbass," Faith observed, with a trace of scorn.

I smile a little. "I know. But he was my best friend. And, y'know, I do miss him."

She just gave me a sad smile, and then there was a pause as I started to roll another joint. I'd just got the cigarette papers laid out when Faith began to speak.

"The dream. . ." she began, then faltered.

I didn't reply, but simply looked up at her, then back at the skins.

She started again. "I was dreaming about me and B. Before I went all crazy. Well, actually at right abut the time I went all crazy. Like, me and Buff? She was my Devon, y'know? We did the horizontal ho-ho, and next day she was all like 'Oh, I'm Miss Sunnydale 1999, oh, isn't Angel a broody hunk of an undead creature, we can only be friends, Faith.' Half the reason I got mad and ended up with the Mayor."

I looked up at her solemnly "I smelled you on Buffy, once. I wondered, but. . ."

A soft laugh at that. "You and your nose, huh? See, you're always found out by someone. I learned that lesson. Well, I'll tell you what happened. . ."

So she told me about her and Buffy, leaving out the "bits where my mouth was used for more than talkin,'" and that she would dream about it occasionally, like she had in the van. I just listened, and she seemed grateful to get it off her chest.

"Looks like we have that in common too," she said when she was done.

I smiled and nodded, and handed her the joint.

"Looks like we do."

When she left the next day, she promised to call me soon, and I found I was looking forward to it. And she did call me.

 

Two mornings later, the phone bleated in the hallway; I came out from my bedroom just in boxers, rubbing a sleepy eye and picked up the handset.

"Hey."

"Oz? Oz, it's Faith. I'm at the cop shop. . . Oz, it's bad this time."

"I'm on my way."

 

Hunched over the low bunk, Faith stared at the crack on the wall, letting dark hair curtain one side of her face. She swayed slightly, tiredness tugging at her heavy eyelids, and she blinked to clear her vision. It was starting to get light now, daylight gradually pushing at the shadows that hid God-knows-what. Insects the size of your fist probably. She had a dim memory of waking up one morning as a small kid to find a cockroach at the foot of her bed. Unlike most girls would've, she didn't freak. Just prodded and played with the damn thing. And she remembered the way her mom had exploded, finding Faith with a dirty roach in her hand. she'd been black and blue for a week. But, fuck, you gotta respect a creature that could survive a nuclear winter.

She'd been awake off and on for twenty-nine hours. At one point she'd dozed off and woken in the night, drenched in sweat from a recurring nightmare. Unable to move, like her legs were glued to the sheets, she'd imagined the flash of a knife and Finch coming for payback, a huge gaping hole in his chest dried with blood. The Boss had appeared behind Finch's shoulder, his face hard and clucking with disappointment. She wanted to reach out to him, beg forgiveness, and ask him why he'd left her behind. He just nodded gravely to his deputy and Finch brought the knife down with this wicked freaky blank expression on his face.

The nightmares came every night now and Finch's repetitive words kept ringing in her ears. "You can't run away from what you've done." But that's the thing, because most of the time she was too tired to move, to think. She couldn't run, physically, mentally, she was just being dragged under by the feeling of helplessness. She knew, in part, it was the medication. Every day, twice a day, Prozac, lithium to stabilise her moods, and Desyrel to sleep at night. But she'd stopped taking the sleeping pills because there was a weird kind of comfort in the panic and horror in those dreams. It was a kind of punishment, a satisfying kind of payment that eluded her for those six months in jail.

But, damn, if it didn't look like she was gonna end up back where she started. Seemed there was an en suite room in the state penitentiary with her name on it. The cops were making her sweat it out because she didn't have a fucking clue what they were holding her for, except for 'questioning in connection with a suspicious death.' In police talk that meant they thought she'd turned homicidal again. She'd been picked up on the way back to Oz's place, pounding the sidewalk during the early hours when LA was washed out and grey and reminded her of back home. All she was doing was minding her own business, wearing the scuzzy and smoky clothes from the night before when a squad car pulled up beside her. That blonde detective had jumped out, flashed her badge and cuffed Faith before she could say 'Cagney and Lacey.' Made some lame show of reading Faith her rights before pushing her head down and into the back of the car. Next thing she knew a couple of cops from Sunnydale showed up. Maybe they'd finally sussed what the Mayor had been doing all along and wanted to place the blame.

There was the jangle of keys and Faith looked up see Lockley, the Sunnydale cops and an uniformed officer outside the holding cell. "Detectives Thorn and Newman would like to ask you a few questions," Lockley said, striking a butch pose with her hands on her hips, making sure her holstered gun was in clear view. That woman was such a closet case, Faith thought with an inner smirk.

She allowed herself to be cuffed and went quietly because, fuck, she didn't want a bullet wound to match that thin white scar on her stomach, a little memento of the year she'd cracked up. She also knew the cops wouldn't hesitate in pulling their pieces on her. Soon she was sitting in the interview room with the Keystone Cops. Thorn was a sweaty, balding guy with a huge gut that hung over his belly and Newman was thin and gaunt with a ratty moustache and beady eyes. She could tell, just by looking at them, that they were out for blood.

"So, you wanna tell me what this is all about? 'Cause I know my rights - you can't hold me here without charging me for something." Faith cracked a smile. "And if it's wearing leather pants without a license, I'm guilty as charged."

She glanced at Lockley as she spoke, giving an exaggerated wink and the detective shifted uncomfortably. Score.

The sweaty cop cleared his throat, his jowls wobbling slightly. "When was the last time you saw Elizabeth Anne Summers?"

Faith blinked, her brain still foggy. "Who?"

A file was opened and pushed towards Faith and the smile slipped from her face as she stared at the recent monochrome yearbook photograph. "B?" She swallowed, searching all their faces. "What's going on?" The detectives said nothing, just watched her with interest. Faith's eyebrows came together in distress. "She's.?"

"Miss Summers was found dead outside her mother's residence two days ago. The coroner has yet to complete his report but she suffered a severe chest wound with what appears to be a sharpened wooden object," the thin cop supplied, his voice cold and precise. "You've been known to have a personal vendetta against Miss Summers. So, maybe you can tell us where you were on Tuesday and Wednesday this week?"

Faith was having difficulty separating her thoughts, but that question brought her mind sharply into focus. "You think I killed her? Fuck, I." Her mouth clamped shut and she shook her head bitterly. Of course they thought that. As far as the cops and B's friends were concerned, Faith had set out to systematically destroy Buffy's life in every way. All they had to go on was that Faith had hated Buffy, they never knew about the rest. What is was like to love someone so much that you hate them, to have that used and dismissed, to be left behind.

She closed her eyes in resignation. "Can I have my phone call now?"

Lockley nodded. "Follow me."

Maybe Faith should've called Angel. He had connections, hell, he'd been tight with Lockley at one point. He'd know what to do about this. But she'd thought of Oz immediately, because he was a friend in the way that Angel could never be. Angel would always be caught up in his own pain, because everything he did for people was designed to put him that one step closer in the grand plan of redemption. It was all about him and his destiny, whether he meant it or not. Guess if she'd been a two hundred and something vampire she'd be preoccupied with becoming human again too.

So she picked up the receiver with slightly shaking hands and dialled the number from memory. It was early still and when Oz picked up after the fifth ring his voice was sleepy and disorientated. "Hey."

"Oz? Oz, it's Faith. I'm at the cop shop. . . Oz, it's bad this time."

There was an infinite pause and she knew that in that moment Oz was making a conscious decision about their friendship. "I'm on my way."

She let out a small breath of relief as she gave him directions. There was something about his complete calm that made her suddenly feel a little less lost.

 

It was hours later before they finally emerged from the police station and some part of Faith was glad it was dark again. The cops had to let her go after Oz and his roomie Eve had corroborated her alibi, she'd been staying at their place and there was no way she could've got to Sunnydale and back to kill Buffy. A call to her probation officer also confirmed that she'd been in LA yesterday for her weekly appointment. Without any evidence the cops couldn't pin a thing on her and Lockley had unlocked her cuffs with a terse warning not to leave the state in case she was needed for further questioning. So now she wasn't the prime suspect, it begged the question 'who was?' There had to be fucking hundreds of demons and monsters who'd like to see B taken out and somehow Faith doubted any of them would appear on the official pyschologist's profile.

Oz was so typically calm about the whole thing, as if one of his former classmates died every day. Which. . . they kinda had when he was at school but this was different. Buffy was supposed to be invincible, she was a slayer. It was almost inconceivable that anyone could take her out. Then again, slayers didn't exactly have a long life expectancy.

And all Faith could think was that it should've been her not Buffy. Mostly, what bugged was that she hadn't got to say any of the things she'd practised, the apologies (sincere this time), the regrets, maybe even the confessions that she'd shoved down deep. She was just left with this taste of nausea in her mouth, she felt so damn sick. She wanted to lean over the sidewalk and wretch until there was nothing left in her gut. Her eyes itched with unshed tears and sheer exhaustion.

Oz was watching her, his expression thoughtful. "Where do you want to go?"

There was something about his tone that made her think he meant more than a choice between McDonalds and Burger King. She couldn't go back to the apartment, not without climbing the walls. She had the urge to get stoned, to let loose and just allow lazy detachment to wrap around her bones. Another part of her just wanted to revel in the pain that came from somewhere deep in her chest.

Faith dragged stray strands of hair away from her mouth, taking comfort in the chill of the wind as it penetrated her thin clothing. "Let's go, man. Let's just get the fuck out."

"Where to?" But he didn't really need to ask. Faith just gave him a half-smile and he nodded in understanding. "I need to pick up my stuff and say a few goodbyes first."

As they sauntered towards the van, Faith couldn't help thinking that all hell was gonna break out when they reached Sunnydale.



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Oz