Please Stay

 

I'd heard she was out of prison, but for some reason, I didn't think she'd have the balls to come back.

My first thought is that she's cut her hair. It barely skims her shoulders and it's thicker and wavier than I remember. Has she lightened it? This new style, I'm not sure if I like it. Cordelia's influence, no doubt. It's just like Queen C to take someone and mould them into something else. Faith could almost be a stranger, a college kid asking for directions, except for her eyes. I know those eyes; they've haunted me for two years now. And my sudden, uncontrollable anger comes and goes in the space of a second.

She's here and she's on my doorstep and I really could do without another enemy right now. But she's nervous, rocking on her heels, and fiddling with a loose thread on her jacket. I don't think she's here to start another fight. So I can only think that she's come here to gloat, to rub it in my face that she's out after only ten months. Because that's just Faith's style.

"Hey." She tosses a greeting in my direction with the tiniest flicker of a smile.

I don't rise to it; I don't want her friendly smiles. She is not my friend. "What do you want?" My voice is almost as harsh as I feel.

There's a dent in her resolve and her dark eyes skitter away from me. "I guess you could say I'm the reinforcements."

"What?"

She shrugs and I notice how thin she is under the coat that's at least two sizes too large. Prison food obviously hasn't agreed with her and I find this new fragility disturbing. "Heard about the trouble you've been having with this Glory chick so Angel thought it'd be a good idea if I lent a hand."

It's a struggle to conceal my indignence and she smirks. "I didn't think you'd go for it."

Her eyes lift and stare beyond my shoulder. It's Dawn hovering behind me in the doorway, being nosy as usual. "Dawn, go to your room," I say in the most authoritative voice I can gather but her curiosity has got the better of her and she remains. "*Dawn*."

She gives me a murderous look, a muttered 'alright, I'm going,' and stomps away, hair swinging behind her.

"That your sister?" Faith asks, faint amusement curling the corners of her mouth.

"Yes," I reply bluntly, volunteering no more information than that. As far as implanted memories go, Faith never met my sister, and somehow it seems safer to keep Faith on a need-to-know basis. Minimises the damage when Faith does what she does best. . . "Look, does Giles know about this?"

"Should do. He suggested it to Angel."

I restrain the impulse to scream and wonder why Giles and Angel want to torture me like this. Instead I chew on my bottom lip for a moment. "You'd better come in then."

I really don't feel like being the good little hostess but I offer her something to drink. She refuses, kicks back on the couch, and puts her feet up on Mom's coffee table. Shimmer of the old Faith there, thumbing through one of Dawn's teen mags left lying around. There's some petty comfort in the knowledge that Dawn would object to Faith reading her magazine and Mom would disapprove of Faith putting her feet on the furniture. So I don't mention either.

"How long are you in town?" I ask, finding my voice croaky as if I haven't used it in days.

She shrugs, not looking up from the page - some article on this season's hottest fashions. "'Til we bring this hellbitch down."

I expect her to toss some arrogant grin my way but she doesn't. Cautiously, I take a seat at the opposite end of the couch, watching, waiting for her composure to crack. As she turns the pages of the magazine I catch the slight trembling of her fingers. To my chagrin, I find myself making conversation because for some reason I want to put her at ease. She doesn't deserve ease.

"Where are you staying?"

Gentle shrug of her shoulders. "Same old fleabag motel."

A hiss escapes through my nostrils. "I'm surprised they haven't shut that place down yet."

Faith looks up briefly from the glossy pages, from reviews of the latest boybands and teen flicks. "Don't start being concerned for my well-being now, B."

"I wasn't - " I stop myself, checking my outrage at her rudeness. Always baiting me, even after everything that's gone between us. "How much did Angel tell you?"

"That Glory is after your little sis, who just happens to be the nifty little key to opening a portal between dimensions."

I was dismayed that my entire predicament could be so concisely summarised. "My, you do pay attention in class after all," I say sarcastically. "Although you missed out the part about us not knowing how to defeat Glory."

"And the bit about Spike having a boner for you," she smirks. "What *is* it about you and attracting the undead or the brain-dead?"

"Which category did you fall into, Faith?" I bite back, impulsively. The silence as she stares at me, mouth hanging open, is unbearable. I stand awkwardly, just for something to do, and move over to the window, peering out onto sleepy suburbia.

Her words reach me through the filter of my embarrassment. "You knew?"

A noise like amusement leaves my throat. "How could I not know?"

She curses softly under her breath and I turn to look at her. She's still so damn pretty, even damaged and gaunt. I think, back then, back in high school, I was more than a little infatuated with her but I couldn't be what she wanted. I couldn't be like her no matter how much I wanted to cut loose. And she couldn't tone it - whatever it was between us - down, it was all or nothing with her.

We still feel the repercussions of this *thing* that neither of us could put a name to, or talk about, or admit to. It wasn't love. It was far too fucked up to be love and I'm the queen of fucked-up relationships. I killed the man I loved, pushed another man away because I didn't love him enough, and nearly killed a woman I couldn't love.

I want to kiss her, as much as I've ever wanted to kiss her. But something holds me back from going over to her right now, from crossing the three metres of carpeting between the window and the couch and taking that heart-shaped face in my hands. I want to touch her hair, run my thumb over the grey circles of skin beneath her eyes, feel the dimples that form on her cheeks when she smiles. I want to make her smile.

She looks scared, like she did when I saw her in Angel's apartment, like the time I put a knife in her gut. It gives me a strange satisfaction to see the naked fear on her face and that cannot be love. It isn't hatred either. Resentment lingers but the hatred became so diluted so long ago that I can't quite remember feeling that way. I never realised I could be so hard, even after that slap in the face when Riley left me.

*And he tells me, I pushed him away, that my heart's been hard to find*.

She's standing now, looking for an out. "Well," she says, "I gotta - "

Everything about her posture just screams of the flight instinct. Stubbornly, I won't allow her that. Not now. "Stay for dinner. Please."

"That isn't such a good idea, B. I mean, your Mom. . ."

"Is more forgiving than I am," I say, putting on what Willow refers to as my 'resolve face' and folding my arms.

A very small smile flickers across her lips and she nods before slumping on the couch again. She's incongruous in this room, and I like the contrast of her dark leather jacket, her dark eyes and dark hair, with the cream wallpaper and floral couch. I think her very incongruity was the reason I admired her in high school. She was larger than my world, larger than life.

Maybe this town was too small for her; maybe there wasn't enough room in my heart and head. Angel was everything and then he was gone. I guess I always considered Riley to be rebound guy, and it took him leaving for me to realise that there was more to it than that. But I'm through living in the past, of rehashing scenarios in my head. Everything is focused on the present now. Glory is stronger than I am, and I could die today or tomorrow or the next day protecting Dawn.

Faith is here, in the *now*. So I sit beside her and we listen to the music that filters through the ceiling from Dawn's room. N*Sync or something, and Faith and I roll our eyes at each other in silent conspiracy, glossing over the cracks.

 

~ Fin ~