by Amy

Heaven is harsh and fire unfaithful
Like the bird that you hold in your palm
Broken eyes in your head
Broken arms at your side
Broken bird on a string
Shake it till she sings
And you reel that songbird in
By her broken baby wing
And you shake her till she sings
--"Broken," Belly

They never thought it could happen, but they're all proud.

They finally broke her.

She's showing all the regular signs of wear and tear, all the things that anyone would have shown years ago. She's finally done. Over.

And that's when they let her out.

They allow her free passage by assuming she's no longer a threat.

The problem, of course, is that they're right.

She can remember when she wasn't like this. She remembers confidence. She remembers power. She remembers being on top.

She stands outside the prison walls for the first time in years. Her mouth tastes like mothballs. Her face is pale and gaunt. She takes everything in, every scene that she hasn't seen for so long.

She vomits in the bushes.

She feels weaker, poorer. Her body is rejecting everything it ever stood for. She can't go on.

They let her out and she said yes, she had somewhere to go, and they couldn't see through her act. She wasn't a good liar anymore; they just didn't have the time to know how bad a lie it was. She wasn't going to Angel; wasn't going to Sunnydale. She'd have to get to Boston.

Hitchhike. She'd have to hitchhike.

It used to be no problem. Smile flirtatiously, adjust the cleavage, and they'd take her, no questions asked, just where do you want to go, sweet thing and go. Of course, then she was pretty. Then she didn't look like shit.

Now she looks like a reject from a third world country. When she stands in front of a mirror, she can count the ribs protruding. Part of her reformation meant a loss of all unhealthy and unnatural appetites. Food was a part of that. She can't make herself eat. When she throws up now, it's all bile.

She runs, but half-heartedly; the energy is drained out of her. The running is good, though; the running lets her burn what energy there is so that she can get back to comforting lethargy. She lets herself give in to the idea of peace, whether it exists or not.

She's staring straight ahead, without seeing anything, just moving forward. She's jogging. She's wearing only what they gave her: baggy sweatshirt, blue jeans, socks, sneakers. Everything is second-hand, from people who show their Christian Decency by giving clothing that's too old or too stained to be used by them to the penal system. She can feel years of memories on the clothes, even though they've been washed to the point of blandness and smell like bleach and lye and the cheap detergent they must have been in for much longer than necessary because no one could be bothered to get them out of the laundry. She can feel the road through the sneakers, can feel it more in places where the soles wore out and were hastily and shoddily repaired and are already wearing through again.

She's feeling them when she runs into him.

He's just standing there, and he doesn't flinch as she slams into his chest. She crumples and falls to the ground. She mumbles apologies and readies herself to get out of the way, to keep going and forget the incident, but there's a fraction of a second where their eyes connect and he sees her and she sees him and she's frozen to the spot. She whispers his name, amazed that it doesn't sound stuck in her throat the way it feels, shocked not that the words sound a bit scratchy but that they sound at all. "Wesley."

"Faith." His voice is stronger, less hesitant, probing. It's very British. Very him.

She's too worn out to love him, too worn out to hate. She's just worn out. Her eyes are downcast, her body language hesitant. Her skin is covered with small lacerations and bruises that are easy to disguise. But even she knows that there's no disguising herself.

"Sorry about that," she says. "I was just-"

"What happened to you?" he demands. "You look like hell."

"Thanks, Wes."

"What did you do to yourself?"

"Nothing. Look, I have to- I have somewhere I need to be. I have to go."

He stares at her probingly. Somehow without touching her, he can hold her tighter than iron bars and prison guards ever could. She fidgets in place but says nothing. "Come with me," he says.

He touches her arm and she pulls back, recoils completely and totally, but somehow it's less than she ever could have done before, and she's only partially surprised that he can still manage to grasp one of her hands and not let go. She doesn't ask him to; she's too surprised.

The old her would be humiliated at how she's acting now. "I have to go somewhere," she repeats.

"The only place you're going is my house."

"You're not my Watcher anymore," she says. "You can't tell me what to do."

"Faith," he says, just that one word, and she reacts to it like it's a prayer, like it's a curse. Her eyes are hard and cold, tiny beads in the center of a face that's been forced to cave into itself, but even she knows that she's betraying it with the way her body is shaking.

"You don't have to do this," she says. The sentence flies out before she can stop it. They form an avalanche of words. "I know why, I know what you're doing, I don't, you don't have to, you don't need to, I don't need this."

"No, I don't need to. And I'm not here as a Watcher."

"Why are you here then?" she asks suspiciously.

"Logistically, as a pedestrian." He gently coaxes her head up to look at him in the eyes. "But as a friend."

"I tried to kill you. I didn't- I don't deserve this."

"We've all done horrible things."

She laughs hoarsely. "I tried to kill you, I tried to kill Angel, I tried to kill B... What did you do, cross on a red light? Run a stop sign maybe?"

"Angel tried to kill me for what I did," he says quietly.

He gently leads her over to a bench. She sits down on it and even turns to him, but her eyes still refuse to focus on anything. "Yeah, well, every other week, it seems like Angel's trying to kill someone. For someone with a soul, he seems to get around. I don't buy it."

"Souls don't determine everything. You know that." He stares at her for a long time. "I did something unforgivable."

"Everyone does. And then everyone makes up and they go back to being friends and it doesn't matter how many people you try to kill because Buffy loves you and thus you're automatically redeemable."

"I don't think Angel's redeemed," he says quietly.

"Everyone does. She loves him."

"I kidnapped Angel's son."

"Angel has a son? How'd that work out for him?"

"Surprisingly well, at first."

"So is he evil?"

"Not evil."

"Did he have a kid through immaculate conception, or...?"

"Sex. Not true happiness. There's a difference. You should know that." Wesley ran a hand through his hair. "I made him lose the one thing he valued more than life himself."

"But he isn't alive."


She draws her legs up and hugs them to her chest. "Since when can he have a son, anyway?"

"Darla had the child."

"Didn't Buffy kill her?"

"We used to think."

Abruptly, she focuses on his chin. "You're... didn't you used to shave?"

His hand finds the stubble growing evenly across his face. "At one point, yes."

"It looks better."

"Then, or now?"

"Now. You look pretty hot."

He smiles at her. "That's the Faith I knew and... well, knew."

She bites her lip. "There's... this is hard to say. But I have to say it."

"You don't have to say anything," he says calmly. "You just need to get home. You'll eat, you'll sleep, we'll talk about it tomorrow."

"No- I'm sorry." She laughs. Her throat feels dry, and she almost chokes on her humor. "That sounds... god. I am so sorry. There aren't even words."

"You really are, aren't you?" He stares at her for what feels like eternity. Her head is bowed slightly in supplication. "Come home. You need someplace to sleep."

"No. It's your house. You probably have... like, tons of people there, and stuff. Social butterfly with the scruffy look, right?" She smiles weakly.

"Just Lilah. She can come back later."

"Lilah? Like, from...."

"Wolfram and Hart. Yes."

"Wow. Weren't kidding about the dark side, were you?"

"Safe to say."

He gets up abruptly and waits for her to do the same, but this time doesn't offer an arm up. She stumbles to her feet and follows him. He sets the pace and she does her best to match it. "So are you taking me back to Angel's or something?" she asks.

"I told you- you can stay at my place tonight."

"But Lilah-"

"Fuck Lilah."

"Why would I? She's a horrible lay." She blushes. "I'm sorry. Not to you, I guess."

She can sense his raised eyebrow even though he's a few steps ahead of her. "And you know this how, exactly?"

"Nothing. No one." She smiles mischievously. "But just for the record? Your girlfriend might be fine at giving head, but she isn't great at going down."

"She's not my girlfriend," he says.

"Fuckbuddy, then."

"I wouldn't call her a buddy."


"Closer." They're silent for a moment. He hails a cab and indicates that she should climb in first. She smiles gratefully at him and does so; he follows her, and gives the cabbie his address.

They ride through the mean streets of LA without saying a word. They hear nothing but a Spanish radio station, tastefully turned low to not disturb the paying customers. It's not until fifteen minutes have passed that she says something. "Um... Wesley?"

His head snaps up. He had been engrossed in something- a pamphlet, she realizes, that he had been carrying in his leather jacket. "Yes?"

She doesn't say anything; just gestures forward towards the driver's seat. His eyes follow her hand. The back of the cabbie's neck is bright green.

"Shit," he mutters.

"No shit." She realizes the humor in what she's said, but it's not funny.

"You know, you could drop us off right here," he says loudly to the driver.

"Wes, it's okay," she whispers. "He's probably just another guy making a living the only way he knows how."

"I don't think so," says the driver. He pulls into an alley before he turns around, and they see his face for the first time. Her eyes focus on his teeth, sharp and pointy and filling his mouths. Plural.

"Or not," Wes mutters.

"I've got it." She pushes at the sleeves of her sweatshirt up like a child in a schoolyard fight, but they fall back on her arms almost before she removes her hands. "I'm on it."

The cabbie growls. She swallows thickly. "I'm... I've got it," she says again. He opens his door and steps out. She does the same, but unlike him, her legs refuse to stay steady and level under pressure. "I've got it," she says again.

She throws the first punch. It misses his face and glances harmlessly off his shoulder. She curses inwardly but refuses to let down her guard. Still, that doesn't stop him from getting in a good hit, a solid connection with her right cheek. She can feel it swelling as she continues to fight. Her left leg swings out and connects to his calf, but he doesn't fall; doesn't even sway. His skin leaves a sludgy residue on her shoes, and for the first time she realizes that something similar is coating her cheek. "What's with the slime?" she gasps out. "Demons don't know how to take a fucking shower once in a while? See, this is why everyone says cabbies reek."

"Faith-" Wes tries, but she's not listening.

The cabbie is bigger than she is, and he weighs more than she does. In the back of her mind, this is a fitting way to die. Years as the Rogue Slayer, she finally redeems herself, and she dies that night. It's irony or something.

It hurts.

She doesn't know how it happened, but she can feel blood trickling down her stomach. It's over. She gets that.

She allows herself to sink to the ground. She doesn't feel it that much. When you reach a certain level of pain, it doesn't register. It's all just superfluous.

Buffy would never have given in, she thinks, and then waits for the world to go black.

But it doesn't. The cabbie teeters forwards before he falls backwards. She silently thanks every deity she never quite believed in that he doesn't crush her; there is a world of difference between dying while fighting the good fight and dying from being crushed by a multi-mouthed purply-green creature from fuck-knows-where.

She sees Wesley then, his black leather jacket that she had once somewhat coveted covered with translucent green gook, his hand wrapped around a knife coated with gelatin-like blue gunk. "My hero," she rasps out dryly.

"Do you need to get to the emergency room?" he asks her, ignoring her sarcasm.

"I don't know. I can't tell. Am I bleeding a lot?"

"More than one would hope," he admits. "But you're alive. Let me try to wrap it up first."

"No, it's okay-" she starts, but he shakes his head no adamantly.

"You're hurt," he says. "Let me take care of it."

"No!" but it's too late, he's removing her sweatshirt in the middle of the alley and she's exposed.

He swears, curses at her with British words she doesn't quite recognize. His first physical response is to begin fixing the cuts, to dry the slit section of her stomach and decide how bad it is. But he says nothing to her.

She knew it was too good to last.

The cut on her stomach isn't nearly as bad as it looked through the shirt. He doesn't even need to bind it up. He just says that they'll have to look at it again in his apartment.

His fingers trace a browning scar that twirls up languidly from her belly button. He stops when his finger hits the bra, although the scab goes farther up. Neither of them questions; neither moves to explain.

He opens the driver's seat door and climbs in. Wesley's body motions are quick and precise, but he's careful to make sure she's following him. She appreciates it as she eases herself into the backseat, where she can lie down.

"Is this horrible for you?" she asks quietly.


"Just... last time I saw you, I tried to kill you. And now you're trying to save me."

"I'm a Watcher. You're a Slayer. It's my duty."

She turns over to avoid seeing him. At a traffic light, Wesley notices, and turns around in his seat. "What?" he asks, hints of irritation playing in his voice.

"I'm not a charity case. Don't try to save me if you're doing it for your fucking job."

"Faith, I'm not with the Council anymore."

"You quit?" she asks, surprised.

"I was fired."

"You? But you're... you. You're Britisher than Giles was."

"Interestingly, not what the Council was most concerned with. Did you know they have Watchers who were born in California? Three of them go around in speedos and what Cordelia described as..." He shrugs distastefully. "Wifebeaters."

"Surfing Watchers? No way." She laughs. "Where the hell would you meet them?"

"Local Watchers' Picnic. Part of the Council's attempts to branch out and make the Watchers... connect more."

"So they want everyone to know each other, but then fire you and Giles for... knowing us."


"I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"You got fired for me. So, I'm sorry. Or whatever."

"Don't be. The pay was shit anyway."

She laughs and finally starts to walk again. "So... how do you make money now? Angel?"

"I don't work for Angel anymore."

"So how do you exist? Food stamps?"

"I survive by my wits," he says. "And a surprisingly good severance package from the Council."

She laughs again. "When did you develop a sense of humor?"

"Enough pain and it's amazing what you'll use to cope."

"Was that a veiled comment about the... blowtorch thing?" She winces. "Because I can't say sorry enough about that."

"Faith, since then I've been shot and stabbed more times than most people have ridden in taxis."

"Well, sure, if the cabbies all kill them after they get their tips."

"I've been to the hospital so often that the doctors know my name."

"Really? They last long enough to see you twice?"

"You really are quite the cynic, aren't you?"

She turns around to face him through the rear-view mirror. "Have you heard of what they do in all-male prisons to people if they drop the soap, or some shit?"

He nods without speaking.

"With all chicks? It's worse." She tucks hair behind her ear uncertainly. It's a surprisingly innocent gesture for her, and he smiles at it. She turns to the back of the car again, trying to not let him see her anymore. He pulls into a parking lot and gets out, again waiting for her to follow suit. She starts to walk one way before he clears his throat loudly and turns the other. She follows him almost bashfully.

He leads her down a street and up stairs and into an apartment with more locks than her cell in prison. She walks away while he locks the door and wanders into the bathroom. She stares at herself in the mirror for a long time.

She looks, for the first time, gaunt. Her eyes have sunken into her face. Her skin is too pale, except for spots that run the gamut from red to blue to greenish-purple to black. She feels unsexy. She splashes cold water at herself and is surprised to see the face in the mirror react to the ice just as she is. It takes time to acknowledge that you're a completely different person. She didn't spend much time with mirrors in prison; mirrors could be broken, and were thus sharps.

She wasn't trusted with sharps.

After the first time, she was only allowed to even shave her legs when someone was watching.

She peels off her sweatshirt slowly, trying to see where she went wrong, trying to see what Wesley saw. After a moment she unhooks her bra and stares at herself wholly, her eyes penetrating thick scabs that run from neck to navel. She feels around the sink without looking at it, trying to find the razor that Wesley presumably hasn't used in a while. Her hand finally finds a handle and she slowly, methodically picks it up. She doesn't look at it, but rather its reflection in the mirror, as she pries the blade out of the mechanism.

"Faith," he says, and when she looks slightly higher than the razor, she can see him standing in the doorway behind her. She knows she should cover her breasts, should aim for some semblance of decency, but years outside of society have left her somewhat lost and she can't bring herself to find the bra tossed to the side.

He comes up closer and she sees that he's holding a small jar. Almost gently, he begins rubbing it on the most recent cut, the one on her stomach from the demon. "Vitamin E," he explains quietly. "It'll quicken the healing."

"You don't have to. I don't mind it."

"I do." He starts on another one, one of the older ones. He hesitates for a moment, then continues up her chest. He skims over her nipple before he continues up her collarbone.

"Hey," she says quietly, "you don't have to be so gentleman-y. You're not my Watcher anymore, right?" She takes hold of his hand and eases it back down her breast. "Just cause you don't have Lilah here doesn't mean you can't have fun."

"No," he says.

"No?" she repeats, as though the word is in a foreign language she's just beginning to understand. "But-"

"Faith, I didn't have you come back here because I wanted that. If you did, I'm sorry, but that's the wrong impression. If I wanted pointless sex, I would have invited Lilah. If that's why you did... I'll bandage you up and give you money for a cab somewhere." He moves away.

"No. Wait." Her voice sounds higher than normal- desperate. It wavers just a bit. "You- don't go."

"I wasn't leaving you, Faith." He steps back into view, this time carrying a strip of bandages. "I'm not going to leave you if you don't want me to, okay?"

"I don't... I don't need anything. Just don't leave me. Please?"

And before she can stop herself, before she can remember the Faith she wants to be to all of them, she starts bawling, loud, messy crying that she can't stop. Her mouth fills with saliva, mucusy and thick. Her eyes tear of their own accord. Her nose runs so much that she doesn't even think about it; she merely wipes it with the back of her hand, and isn't surprised to have to do it again. She doesn't wash her hands.

"Faith, no one's leaving you," he says. "Hold still." He hands her a tissue. She wipes her nose but never moves her gaze from the mirror. He disappears from view for a moment before returning with a small bottle. She can only make out the largest words on the bottle.

"Alcohol?" She smiles broadly. "I've been clean for years now. I'm just dying for some-"

"Rubbing alcohol," he says quietly. "For your..." He nods at the cuts and she nods. He passes her a towel. "Clean yourself off first, okay? The slime..."

"Yeah. I know." She bites her lip. "So you're going to have to step out while I do this, I guess?"

"I think it would be best," he says.

"Of course you do." She waits for him to leave and then peels off the rest of her clothing. She wipes her body down until the skin isn't slimy anymore, and then tosses the used towel onto the pile of clothing. She begins to rub herself down a second time, this time with a washcloth found sitting neatly by the sink. She runs the cloth over her skin until it's raw and then continues, pressing against scars until they peel away. She smiles at the pain until she notices the blood running down her stomach. She sighs and searches for the old sweatshirt to mop up the blood.

Then she screams.

The tiny droplets of slime are oozing together. As she watches, they combine with each other over and over and start to form a cohesive being. "Wesley!" she hears, and she can only vaguely associate it with her own voice. "Wesley, help!"

She can hear his footsteps, which is enough for her to try to fight back. She glances around for a weapon and grabs the first thing that she can find. She swings the electric toothbrush and jams it approximately where a face might be if a pile of goop could have a face.

The goop accepts it; it splits in two and she's somewhat pleased by her accomplishment until she notices that it seals up above even as she slices down. "Shit. Wesley!"

"Open the door, Faith!" he's calling. "Open the door."

"Wesley, it's splitting, it won't let me, it's-"

"Faith, what is it?"

She knows this. She knows that she knows this. "It's... um, you made me study this, I didn't give a crap what it was, it was, um..."

"Faith! What is it?" he repeats. His voice sounds desperate.

"A... um... Bucking Molter? With the... the teeth. Oh my god, the teeth are forming."

"Buccamultis?" he calls. "That would make sense. I hadn't seen one fully-grown before; normally they just exist in the form of slime and-"

"I don't care!" she shouts back. "I don't care what it is. I can't kill it! It just keeps re-forming!"

"Faith, open the door."

"I can't fight it and open the door."

"So just open the door. I'll help."

She pulls the toothbrush away, and then throws it at the pile of goop. As it vibrates the creature splatters, crawling quickly across the floor to find itself. She throws the door open, forgetting her nudity in her terror. "Faith, get into the bedroom."

"Wesley, they're-"

"Faith, now. You can take one of my shirts."

She follows his order. The voice is harsh. It cuts straight through; it hits bone. She suddenly feels naked- not nude, but naked. It's unpleasant, and she closes the door behind her to hide from everything. She finds herself kneeling on the floor of his room, going through his drawers to find shorts and shirts to wear. She finds some boxers and undershirts that smell freshly washed, and she starts to pull them on slowly. She feels better in the clothes now. They feel like they belong to someone- not her, maybe, but at least a person, rather than a bleach factory. She sits on his bed and hugs her knees to her chest, waiting for him. She waits to hear screams, her cue to back him up, but she doesn't hear any signals. She looks slowly over the room, and her eyes land on the answering machine. She's fighting the urge to check Wesley's messages when she hears the door open behind her.

"Did you get it?" she asks hollowly.

"If I didn't, would I be here?"

"I don't know. Maybe you called for a time out."

"It's dead."

"Was it the Buck and Otis?"

"Buccamultis. Yes. It's a bastardization of the Latin for many mouthed."

"Go Wes. How'd you kill it?"

He smiles, almost sheepishly. "I had an iron under the sink."

"Fried its ass?"

"Melted it."



She looks up at him. "You realize you're shirtless, right?"

"It got on the shirt."

"So you..."

"Ironed it. It'll peel off in a bit."

"That's... this job just keeps getting nastier. I'm starting to miss the prison."

"Aren't we all." He sighs.

"You were in prison?"

"No, I'm starting to miss your being there."

"That was cold, Wes."

"Faith, you're a Slayer. Start acting like it. Frankly, Cordelia could take better care of herself, even before she became part-demon."

"Cordelia has demon parts?" she repeats.

"Angel didn't tell you?"

"Angel stopped visiting about a year ago, maybe a little more." Suddenly she's very interested in the fabric of the undershirt she appropriated. "And you never visited at all. Don't act like I should know things no one bothered telling me."

"I'm sorry," he says, and his voice sounds sincere but she hasn't decided whether or not to trust him right now.

"Sorry you assumed I knew or sorry because you never visited?" she asks. "Because I have to say, you can't really make up for three years like that."


"I know what I did. I'm sorry. And... I deserve it. Totally. I do. But don't then blame me for what happened once I was in there. It's not my fault."

"I'm sorry," he says again.

"No, you're not. But anyway. I interrupted you." She gestures encouragingly. "You were berating me about my lack of power when compared to Cordelia. Go nuts."

There's silence for a long time. Finally he breaks it with a question. "How did you forget everything you've ever learned?"

"It was the only way to be free."

"Ignorance is bliss?"

She glares up at him from underneath hair. "Not fighting back is safer than solitary. Not killing is a lot better than facing a judge. Being someone's bitch is better than having to explain why Kira has a broken pubic bone and you don't have a scratch on you." She laughs. "Slayers shouldn't see themselves as better than regular people, right? The second we do, we become less than people. That's what Buffy always did, right?"

He doesn't answer, but this time, she knows his silence is agreement he'd never admit to.

"That's... she always made sure that if anyone died, it'd be her. She always throws herself right in the path of the speeding train, like her life was worth less because she had so much to offer. That's what I'm supposed to do, right?" She waits for an answer, but he doesn't have one. "So now... so now she's gone and I have to do what she did, you know? I can't fight. It's not my job. I thought it was, but it's not. Maybe I'm just dumb."

"You're not dumb, Faith."

"Well, I don't know anything. People call that dumb."

"Some people do. Some people call that naive. And that's not a bad thing."

"I'm a failure as a Slayer. Failure as a student; failure as a friend... What else is left?"

"Well," he says slowly, "I'm a failure as a Watcher. So maybe if we work together, we can fix that failure?"

"You don't want to do that. You've got a life going. Fucking Lilah, not shaving...."

"Are you scared to do it, Faith? I am too. But it could be worth it."

She glances at him doubtfully, but finally shrugs. "Okay. Can't be worse than the streets, I guess."

"Fabulous then. We'll start training tomorrow morning."

"Training?" she repeats.

"You want to get back into shape, don't you?"

"That couldn't come from eating my Wheaties or whatever? There's no special pill to just make me all, blammo, Slayer Extraordinaire again?"


"Shouldn't I be rushing a bit here? I mean, there is no active Slayer right now. Maybe we should head up to Sunnydale, post-hasty." She smiles.

"Why Sunnydale?"

"The Hellmouth needs protecting, doesn't it?"

"Buffy's doing it," he says.

"She's dead." Her voice is barely a whisper.

"Since when?"

"Since... like, years. I know you were still talking to Angel then."

His eyes suddenly light up, as though he has a present for her. She waits for it, but his words bring no joy. "She came back, Faith."

"I know. The Master. Then Kendra was called. I heard the whole story, like, a million times. After a while, it's like having to watch a video of yourself being born."

"The second time. Willow brought her back."

She stops. Her mind is whirring so fast that her body freezes up to counter it. Finally, she manages an "oh." She's saying so much in that single syllable that she herself can't even qualify it. Everything is new and nothing makes sense and "oh" was really quite coherent, given the circumstances.

"Angel didn't tell you?"

"Angel stopped telling me lots of things," she says, but her voice is distant and something in her face is causing Wesley to ease her over to the bed. "She's alive?"


"Buffy. She's alive."


"Is she happy?"

"I don't know."

"What about Joyce?"


"Is Joyce back too? Buffy's mom. Is she back?"

"Oh... no. I don't think so."


"Are you okay?"

"I just... can I sleep?" she asks. Her voice quivers and she wills herself not to cry. Crying is a sign of weakness.

"Of course. Do you want to wash up first?" He gestures towards the bathroom. "The buccamultis is gone."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course. Do you want the old clothes, or should I get rid of them?"

They still smell of lye and bleach, and now are lightly stained green. But she says "Keep them. For now, at least," and he nods as though he understands.

She throws water on her face quickly, trying to make herself look less corpse-like. It fails. She squats by her pile of clothing, trying to find anything that might make her feel more like Faith and less like a shell of nothing.

She pulls it out of the back pocket of the jeans and slides it into her right palm as she leaves. She's being discreet. She is. She's being good.

She falls asleep clenching it in her fist, and when she wakes up, it's on the pillow next to her. It's been creased so many times in so many ways as to be virtually unintelligible. But she can still almost see the face. She can make out eyes, mouth, nose, hair, the traditional senior class photo.

On the back, the words have almost worn off, although they had been written with permanent ink. Simple, basic: some lines about forever and love and eternity. Typical high school. Typical her.



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