"Here, let me get that, Ma. You sit. Keep an eye on our bags." Faith arranges the trash from both trays onto one, nesting them together, then strides toward the closest trash barrel in the food court.
She's wanted a day like this with her ma for so long.
They've already got her outfitted for school, but her mother had said, "Let's make a day of it. We haven't had a girls' day out in a long time."
In forever, actually.
They've had makeovers at the Clinique counter, the girl behind the counter giving Faith a real working over, going on the whole time about the fresh and natural look. At the end of it she looked like some other girl. Faith keeps catching glimpses of her reflection in store windows, wondering who the hell that is with her ma, then realizing it's her. Ma left the makeup counter looking just the same. Though the Clinique girl tried to pressure them into buying everything she'd painted on their faces, her ma bought only a lipstick, presenting Faith with a wink and the wickedest red shade they make.
They already bought their tickets for the four thirty showing of the new Tom Cruise movie, but there's still almost an hour to kill, so they wander in and out of stores they wouldn't normally go into.
As they emerge from one, Faith nudges her ma. "Hey, there's your boyfriend."
"There. In the powder blue pants and white belt. Check out the pants-creep. He's not wearing 'em up to his armpits yet, he's still a young guy. Bet he's got a Viagra prescription."
Her ma pinches her on the butt. "You are a devil child."
They go into the Hello Kitty store, where Ma practically goes into a seizure from the cute. She can be a hoot and a half when she's wound up.
An elbow digs into her ribs as they round the fountain. "There's your boyfriend. In the jewelry store."
There's this broody young tough standing behind the counter, wearing a leather jacket with a white wifebeater underneath. Deeply cute, but not even Faith would give him a job surrounded by expensive merch like this.
"Come on," Ma says. "Why don't we go in?"
The guy gives her ma a flirty smile as they walk up to the counter. "Joyce, it's good to see you again."
Her ma blushes, tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "I thought I'd bring my daughter in, get her a necklace or maybe a ring. She's starting school again in a few days."
"You know, we just got a shipment of rings that I'm really partial to," the guy says. He unlocks the counter, slides out a case. "They're called claddagh rings, from Ireland." He points out the hands, heart and crown, explaining what each one means. The guy gives her ma a kind of leering smile. "You wear the heart pointed toward yourself like this --" he indicates the ring on his own finger -- "if you've torn a warm and beating heart from someone's chest. You wear it the other way, pointing out, if you're looking to have your heart ripped out."
"Oh, honey," her ma says, "isn't that a charming custom?" She sounds like a fricken tourist making over the natives, embarrassing the shit out of Faith.
"Sure, Ma, whatever."
"Any particular kind of heart?" Ma asks brightly.
"Well, a virgin's always preferable. Which definitely lets your daughter out, but hey --" he gestures with a smirk at Faith's newly made-up face -- "nice try."
"Ohhh, that is a shame," her ma says. "That's all right, honey. We'll have ice cream instead."
As they ride the escalators toward the ice cream place, she hisses, "Jesus, Ma. That guy was flirting with you."
"Don't be silly. He was just being nice."
Ma buys her one of the fancy waffle cones dipped in dark chocolate, and when Faith reaches to take it from the guy behind the counter, she notices two things: she's wearing a claddagh ring with the heart pointed outward, and the guy handing her the cone has some kinda hooflike thing for a hand, split right down the middle. A huge scar rips across his face, and one of his eyes is all fucked up. "I'd be happy to tear that heart out for you, miss. Just say the word. That's $3.85, ma'am."
Ma hands over the money, then says, "I know I always do this, but can I have just one bite?"
Then it's time for the movie, but ten minutes in, the film breaks. Her ma refuses to ask for their money back -- I hate to bother them, sweetheart -- so they sit in the dark for two hours, watching the black screen.
Faith rolls over on the cruddy mattress, her head pounding. It feels like something died in her mouth. She was only planning to do the one hit, but fuck it. Digging into her stash -- no one tries to steal from her, not anymore -- she finds enough cash for another round of Orpheus, which she carefully mixes with drugs from her own supply. She's found the magic mix that keeps the Orpheus from killing her, the Slayer Speedball.
She shoots the shit into her arm, bares her thigh for the vamp who's been hanging around waiting to score.
Faith carefully considers her next move, running a hand through her hair. "The third one," she finally says into the phone. "No, not that, the one next to it."
The Mayor moves her checker piece as she watches through the Plexiglas. "That blue is such a nice, soft color for you, Faith. You should wear it more often."
She glances down at her chambray prison shirt. "I wear it every day."
"Well, it becomes you. Milk?"
She shrugs. "Why not?"
The Mayor lifts the glass at his left, takes a sip on her behalf. Then he sets it down and has a few swallows from his own glass, at his right. There are two plates of chocolate chip cookies, too. Both on his side of the barrier.
"Now ... let's see." He ponders the arrangement of checkers on the board. He was like this back in Sunnydale, too, when they'd played in his office. Took this shit way too seriously. Well, it makes him happy, so she plays. At least it's not Parcheesi -- of all the stupid board games she learned as a kid, that's the most boring by a long shot.
Finally he makes his move, and she directs her own. The Mayor's hand hovers over the piece. "Are you sure you want to do that?"
She hesitates, starts to tell him to move another piece, then changes her mind, back to the original move. "Yeah. That's the one."
"OHHHHH, bad move!" Angel's voice stabs through the phone line, making her jump.
She looks up from the checkerboard to see him sitting in the Mayor's place.
"But then, you always were for shit when it came to strategic thinking, weren't you?" His checker clacks on the board as he hops it over her pieces and to the back row of the board. "King me." He places a red checker over the one he just moved, then lifts the glass of blood at his right hand and drinks.
The guard says they've got five minutes to wrap it up.
"I appreciate you coming, Angel. Means a lot to me."
"You know I've always enjoyed your company, Faith. You're easy to be with." He smiles. "No danger of being happy when I'm with you, now, is there?" It's not just the cruelty in his voice, but the delight he takes in it. Easy to believe he's happy now. "Besides, you're all I have left. Wes and Gunn -- they had a lot of heart, both of 'em. But Fred's -- so petite and tender. Now that's what I call good eating. But I'm saving yours for last."
"You'll come next week, won't you?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world."
The blackout panel slides over the Plexiglas as Angel leaves the booth. She wonders if she has time to sneak in a smoke before the next one comes. Her break's not for another twenty minutes. She's scratching her ass when the black screen slides up, and she finishes before she goes into her routine. The guy's eyes are so dead it doesn't even look like he noticed. Young guy, in a suit and tie, kind of nervous-looking. He seems familiar.
She cups her tits in her hands, touches her tongue to the corner of her mouth. Twitching her hips to the music, Faith works her way south, so that when his five minutes is up, it seems like she's just about to give up the good stuff.
He doesn't pay for more time.
The black slides down, and she's swallowed in it.
Angel. Dust now.
She wakes to the sound of someone puking. "Go do that somewhere else, asshole," she snarls, but there's no response. Probably whoever it is ain't even awake to realize. The puking turns to coughing, then finally subsides.
She definitely wasn't planning to do more than the one hit, but fuck it. She finds almost enough cash and an unopened pack of cigarettes, which Eddie accepts in trade for another round of Orpheus. She mixes her cocktail, rummages for a good vein.
She shoots up, bares her thigh.
The vamp still has his fangs buried in her leg when the door comes crashing in. "Fuck," Faith mutters. She thinks about getting up, but decides, screw it. She'd been riding the wave of the drug. She and Buffy out slaying, back before things got all fucked up.
No high like that one.
A figure in black stakes the vamp hunched over her thigh. He's framed by the brightness outside the door, so she can't make out his features. She can tell, though, that he looks at her crotch, her legs splayed to expose her dingy panties.
His head raises a fraction of an inch. "Cover yourself."
She'd know that voice anywhere, even as rough and cold as it is now. "Wes? Shit, Wes. I thought you --"
Faith doesn't move fast enough for him, and the next thing she knows, he's jerked her up by her arm and hauled her to her feet.
"Hell, Wes. Welcome back. I'll dance for you. That's what I do these days." She starts off with the end of the first five minutes, gives him the stuff she saves for the guys who keep feeding money into the booth.
"Stop it." He shoves her back against the wall, but she just slides both hands down her panties and moans for him. That's when he takes this big pig-sticker of a knife and slams it into her shoulder.
Faith yells, because it's what you do. But truthfully, she barely even feels it.
"Look at yourself, Faith."
She glances down at herself. She's wearing a pink dress with little red flowers on it. Goes with the red seeping down from the knife. "So?"
"Can you even tell me how long you've been here?"
She just came in for that one hit. But as she thinks about it, it seems she's been here for a long while. Maybe a couple of days. Anger surges through her -- thinking about it is not what she laid out her good cash for. "Fuck off, Captain Buzzkill. I've got a right to be here as much as I want, as long as I want."
"I'll give you one thing. You're extraordinarily clever. You should be dead by now, but you've come up with the perfect combination of drugs to keep you alive."
"I'm smarter than you thought. That's real flattering, Wes. And you're maybe not so smart as you always thought. Your plan was for shit." She hadn't meant to shove it in his face, but her grief surges up, slicing through the curtain of the drugs. She hates him for taking the numbness from her. "We didn't save Angel. We just made Angelus stronger. He killed them all. Cordelia, Gunn and Fred." And you. How can you be here? "He drove Lorne crazy before he killed him. Made all the others sing before they died." It had been Wes who broke him. Faith had seen the whole thing, too badly broken to intervene, but she'd never lost consciousness. Angelus had seen to that. "Then he turned Connor." She'd managed to dust Angelus, but Connor was still out there. Or maybe he'd gone back to Quor'toth. On her good days she could manage it so she didn't much care.
"Those were unfortunate losses, yes, but unavoidable," Wes says. His face hasn't shown so much as a flicker of emotion. "As for my plan, it worked exactly as I intended." He steps toward her, strokes the side of her face, rubbing his thumb gently over her bottom lip. "You neglected some of the more exquisite torture groups that day we had our little session. But then, subtlety was never your style."
"A knife in the shoulder? That's your idea of subtle? I wouldn't even call it torture. An inconvenience, maybe."
"I'm talking about a living death. I'm talking about self-awareness -- though strictly speaking, that may be a torture group all on its own. You're a junkie, Faith. And a whore. And during those brief times you let yourself come down, you know what you are."
"I dance, but I'm no whore."
He smiles. "Are you telling me you wouldn't fuck a stranger if that's what it took to get your next high?"
"Are you telling me that's your revenge for what I did to you? Getting me hooked on this shit?"
"Oh, you're the one who did all the heavy lifting. All I did was introduce you to Orpheus, play on your pathetic longing for Angel's approval." Wes caresses her hair. "I'm sure he's looking down on you now, along with everyone else you ever failed. They must be so proud -- don't you think? Everything Angel did for you -- and here stands the result."
"And there's the talking torture. Can't forget that one, Wes." She reaches up, jerks the shiv out of her shoulder. Yells even louder than she had when it went in. "That's the one you excel at." She drops the knife at his feet.
Nice line, she thinks as everything around her starts to swim. Too bad she's going to fuck it up by keeling over. She manages to shove her way past him before she goes down, before she surrenders to the black.
Wes is gone when she wakes up. There's no blood leaking out of her shoulder. No pink dress. Faith wonders where she conjured up that hallucination.
She's out of cash, but Eddie agrees he'll swap a private dance for a hit, just this once.
Just this once is all she'll need.
She dances just as she'd started to dance for Wes. But that still doesn't make her a whore.
Faith ties off her arm, finds a vein.
"Hey," says Eddie. "Ain't you gonna mix your speedball?"
She doesn't bother to answer as she rams the plunger home.
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