image of women sitting in armchair writing

Exit

She is the rain,
waits in it for you,
finds blood spotting her legs
from the long ride.

Diane Wakoski, Uneasy Rider

***

She'd been ladling slop in the canteen when they came for her. Followed the guards like a good little puppy, no questions asked and therefore no beatings taken. Man, and they'd though Pavlov's dog had been whipped - not a patch on Faith. There had been stuffy, tweedy Brits waiting for her in the interview room. Quentin Travers, head honcho of the Watchers' Council, and she'd wondered whether she should curtsey. It was like royalty coming to visit. He'd brought the Britpack with him -- a chick she referred to as Miss Moneypenny in her head, and a guy who looked like Clark Kent (from the comics, not the lame-ass TV show.)

Travers was brandishing her release papers. Seemed they'd pulled a whole lot of strings in the Justice Department because she was supposed to be in here for at least a ten year stretch. Now they couldn't wait to get her out the front door. So who was she to question her good fortune?

But there was a catch. Ain't there always? She'd figured B was being obstinate, that the Council needed a job done, and Buffy was digging her heels in. Well, fine, Faith could play the Council pet -- a year in an institutional regime had made her more docile than she cared to admit.

When they'd told her, in hushed voices, that Buffy was dead, she didn't believe them at first. She'd remembered enough about having assassins on her tail not to put all her trust in the Council yet. Then they showed her the pictures. The funeral, the headstone -- 'she saved the world a lot' -- the autopsy report. Broken neck, suffered from a fall. She'd read Giles' official eyewitness account, and felt the palpable grief that shrouded every precise, stark word on the page.

It made her sick. Literally.

And she realised a thing or two. The Council didn't want her because of her abilities, they wanted her because *somebody* had to do it. Buffy was dead -- the greatest slayer there had ever been, whispered the Watchers-in-training amongst themselves -- and, somehow, Faith was supposed to fill those shoes, albeit after extensive 're-training'.

She was the default.

Faith did the only thing she could in the circumstances. She shot through, first chance she got. The one time her Council minders took their eyes off her for a second, she was gone. Not a difficult thing to do, she'd been giving people the slip her entire life.

From bus station, to train, to bus station, she didn't know where she was headed other than out of this State. Only this time when she mugged people and stole their cash, she had the good grace to apologise. Small steps, Faith, small steps.

She toyed idly with the idea of visiting those Southern Baptists. Crazy people thought she was some kind of modern day saint because she'd saved them from the Devil. They hadn't a clue that the Devil was in her. Well, if Buffy was going to be remembered as the best, Faith knew she'd been remembered as the one who fought on the wrong side, who fucked-up again and again. Maybe it was some kinda genetic destiny...

She also knew that just as easily as she could make herself disappear, the Council would find her. They were biding their time, allowing her to adjust, but they'd follow eventually. So she kept moving, unconsciously, in the direction of the wide-open prairie states. She felt closer to the sky, to God, or whatever it was that defined 'good.'

Buffy was good, Buffy was her religion, Buffy was dead.

First Joyce, then Buffy. Only the great and the good die young and good guys always finish last, wasn't that how it went? Well, if winning equalled death then Faith couldn't care less. She didn't have what it takes to win, to be a hero, or a martyr, whichever way she looked at it. She was too tired to be a villain. Been there, done that, and it ain't much fun in the end. Which left what?

In her most self-piteous moments in her cell, she'd thought about ending it. She'd wished Buffy had finished her off before the Mayor's Ascension because she was too much of a gutless wonder to end her own life. But things had changed... She wasn't ready to step off the ride just yet -- that little lust for life was burning through her veins again and she couldn't bring herself to feel guilty for being alive. Maybe the next girl, the next Slayer, would do a better job or maybe she'd struggle to live up to Buffy's shinning example too but Faith would never know.

Briefly, she wondered how Giles and the Scoobs were coping and then decided she didn't care -- they'd never given a fuck about her. Angel, different story, but she wouldn't know what to say. She never had the right words.

So when she found herself at a roadside diner she saved her change for a blueberry muffin and didn't call anyone from the payphone. The little things like this, she'd missed. She remembered the pastries and cakes Grandma used to make, back when she'd had a family, before her mom drank and her dad walked out. Before her Watcher came and gave her a way out.

Funny how exits appeared when she least expected them. Well, she was waiting for one now. She'd wait as long as it took, watching the trucks pass, listening to the bell above the door ring, and sinking her teeth into the soft dough of the muffin.

There was a voice behind her, barely above a murmur. "This seat taken?"

She inched her head around and barely recognised the guy. That lawyer, Lindsey something, in a cowboy hat and denim with two day's stubble growth on his face. Redneck was an interesting look on him.

She smirked. "It's a free world."

There was silence as a bored waitress wearing too much mascara refilled Lindsey's coffee cup. He placed his battered hat on the counter. Had to be the only cowboy with highlights in his hair. As he took a gulp, Faith noticed the prosthetic hand was gone and its replacement looked pretty human. He'd come to visit her one time in prison, with that female partner of his -- the one with the snake eyes - promising her the world if she'd just co-operate with his firm. She'd told them both where to stick their contract.

With one finger she made a neat pile of crumbs on the counter. "You can tell your boss, I'm not for hire... I don't do that kinda shit anymore."

Lindsey brought the cup to his lips and blew on the hot liquid. "Me neither." Another swallow. "I quit."

He stared at her in one long glance, making her shift on the plastic stool, sticky with the heat. The diner fan whirred above their heads. "You headed someplace?"

Faith shrugged. "No vamps around here. Not much call for a Slayer."

"I'm going South. If you need a ride." Eyelids lowered over his baby blues as he gazed at the cup cradled in his hands.

She flashed a dark red grin, edging towards a leer. "Maybe. I got some people I could look up down there."

She watched him knock back the rest of the coffee in one gulp and wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. He reached for the cowboy hat and set it snugly on his head. Hmm, not bad, not bad at all. "Ready to go?"

Together, they walked out onto the dusty parking lot over to Lindsey's sun-scorched, beat up truck, squinting in the sunlight. There was a sign tied to the back and Faith could just make out the faded letters written in black marker.

"'Cops suck'? Nice," she said with a low whistle of appreciation.

Lindsey's lips curled into a smirk. "Nearly got my ass kicked by some patrolmen in Colorado."

"Yeah?" Faith chuckled as she climbed into the passenger seat, and it sounded so strange to her own ears. Prison hadn't exactly been a barrel of laughs.

Lindsey pulled out of the parking lot and gunned the accelerator. "I'll tell you about it on the way."

Reaching over, Faith clicked on the radio, searching through static until she found a song she liked and whacked the volume up. A chick singing 'where have all the cowboys gone?' Did nobody tell her? No shit, they have law degrees now.

Faith turned her head to stare out the passenger window, watching the prairie slide past in a haze of dust and heat and motion. It didn't matter where she was headed -- the destination was irrelevant. The important part was the journey, moving, living, and breathing. Not stopping because the world never stops for a second.

Exits didn't have to lead anywhere. Sometimes they just went round in circles. And she wasn't ready to get off the ride. Not yet.

The End