Feeling It (The How To Use The Washing Machine Remix)
by Kathryne

Remix of Feeling It by Buffonia

How to Use the Washing Machine

1. Separate the clothes by colour - whites in one pile, blacks in another, everything else in a third.

Joyce puts the pen down and rubs her sore eyes. She started writing these lists not long after she was diagnosed, and she's already been leaving them all over the house. She made a list of how long various foods could be frozen and put it in the downstairs freezer, along with instructions on how to defrost. She detailed when, why, and how to pour water into the basement floor drains and left it in the broom closet; she redid the labels in the fuse box with explanations as to why one might have blown (upstairs bathroom: do not use hair dryer, curler, radio, and electric toothbrush at same time); she taped an explanation of the furnace filters to the side of the furnace. She knows that there's no danger of Buffy or Dawn finding them yet, although they'll need them someday. Right now she's the only one who sees the lists, and every time she does, she realizes anew how soon that someday will be.

2. Make sure to check the tags. Do NOT wash anything that says "Dry Clean Only."

Without warning, Joyce's hand shakes violently, smearing her words across the page. She gets these little episodes sometimes, a little reminder; they come more often when she's been up all day and is still up this late at night.

As if she could forget.

She doesn't want Buffy or Dawn walking in when she's writing these, so she waits until they're in bed - or until Dawn is in bed and Buffy is out. It makes her tired the next day, but she's almost always tired nowadays.

3. For a white load, set the washer to "hot" and add half a scoop of the soap labelled "white."

The door creaks as she opens it, but Joyce can barely hear it over the pounding that has begun in her head - thumpthumpthump, as regular as a wash cycle. As she pads unsteadily to the bathroom, she darts a look into her daughters' bedrooms. Dawn is asleep, her covers puddling on the ground beside the bed; Joyce wants to fix them, but her hands are trembling so badly she's afraid she'd wake Dawn.

Buffy, unsurprisingly, isn't home at all. Will she stay home more when her mother is dead, or will she just take Dawn out with her? Joyce doesn't want to know.

She stumbles into the bathroom and fumbles through her pills. Finding the right ones, she tosses two into her mouth and gulps down some water. It burns going down, and she can almost pretend that it's a slug of Scotch - except, of course, that it won't make her forget anything.

4. For a black or coloured load, set the washer to "cold" and use half a scoop of the soap labelled "colours."

Well, maybe the pills do help her forget; she forgets the pain, at least. Thank God for the pills. She knows she's supposed to take them on a schedule, but when the pain comes, the time doesn't matter. She thinks she's forgotten the schedule anyways.

She's not sure how long she stands there, braced over the sink by her trembling arms, before a cool wave breaks over her and the pain retreats enough for her to unclench her fingers. The pounding in her head doesn't go away, but she doesn't feel like she's being broken apart from the inside by something with really big fists any more.

Her mental simile makes her think of Buffy. Joyce understands that her daughter spends her free time fighting the forces of evil. Buffy may be a Slayer, Joyce thinks, but she's still terribly na•ve. It will be very hard for her to take care of herself.

Not like Faith.

Joyce doesn't know why the other Slayer has suddenly come to mind, but whatever else might be said of her, Faith certainly was completely self-sufficient.

5. If white clothes are stained, apply bleach before washing. Do not get bleach on coloured clothes; they will be ruined.

Joyce's hands have stopped trembling; she splashes her face with water, trying to stay awake. The white, hollow-cheeked face that stares back at her from the mirror no longer looks anything like her. She's not dead yet, but it's almost hard to tell from looking at her. It's impossible to believe that only a few months ago, she'd looked at her rounded, soft, healthily colourful face in this same mirror and cursed the few tiny wrinkles she'd thought had appeared overnight. She's aged years since then, with her dark, sunken eye sockets and deeply-etched pain lines; maybe she doesn't quite look dead, but she certainly looks like she's ready to die.

She supposes she is.

She dries her face slowly and looks again, almost hoping the reflection has changed somehow.

Faith is looking back at her.

6. If the machine won't start, make sure that the clothes aren't stuck in the door, preventing it from locking.

Joyce is sure it's just one of her hallucinations, a visual manifestation of her pulsing skull. She's been having them more often lately, like the shakes; Buffy found her talking to the curtains last week. But when she turns away form the mirror, Faith is still there, looking disturbingly solid and grinning slyly. "Hey, Joyce," she says, leaning casually against the wall.

Joyce nods back, then snaps the top back on the pill bottle and shuffles the others around the shelf, trying to put them back in the right order. She's afraid if she talks to Faith, the girl will disappear, or turn back into the toilet. Faith brushes past her and pokes around in the medical cabinet. She points at the painkillers. "You know, you could get stronger stuff on the streets. Cheaper, too," she observes.

Joyce gives up on finding the right spot and slaps the bottle back on the shelf, closing the door harshly and wheeling to face Faith. "Street drugs?" she says angrily. "Are you trying to kill me?" And she freezes.

Faith's eyes soften a little. "I never woulda killed you, ya know," she says; nothing more, nothing less.

Joyce breaks the silence. "What about now?"

"What?" Faith is startled.

"What if I asked you to kill me now?" Joyce stops, catches sight of herself in the mirror, and presses on. "Would you do it?" Faith has Slayer strength, just like Buffy; she could snap Joyce's neck painlessly, kill her before the person in the mirror changed even further.

Faith looks at Joyce for a long moment, taking in the rapid weight loss, the thinning hair, the residual puffiness in her arm where her IV had leaked, and the look in her eyes. "Ain't gonna happen," she eventually replies, her words as harsh as they need to be. Joyce turns around and stalks out of the bathroom.

7. Make sure to clean out the lint trap in the dryer every time you use it.

Faith follows Joyce back to the bedroom, glancing in at Dawn as they pass. Joyce sits back down at her writing table; Faith, with her characteristic bluntness, picks the list up and reads it. "You still do B's laundry for her?" she asks drily. Joyce snatches the list away, not looking at her; Faith shakes her head. "You know, Buffy's really not the one you oughtta be worrying about right now."

"You mean Dawn?" Joyce asks, her heart jumping.

"No," Faith says, very quietly. "I don't."

And then her mouth is on Joyce's, and she's very real. She pulls Joyce up and leads her to the bed, and the rush of blood through her body drowns the thumping in Joyce's head.

Joyce thinks she must taste like sickness and medication, but Faith's moving over her skin, touching and licking and not treating her at all delicately. Faith knows Joyce won't break; Joyce hasn't felt this healthy in a long time.

Faith stops, suddenly, and waits for Joyce to focus on her face. "Do you still want me to kill you, Joyce?"

Joyce blinks. All she can manage in reply is, "Uh?"

"Do you still want to die?" Faith presses. One of her hands slides across Joyce's stomach to stroke the sensitive skin at the top of her inner thigh; Joyce gasps. "Do you?"

"If... if it feels like this," Joyce forces out. Faith's hand moves again and she leans down for a kiss, her tongue forcing the taste of pills out of Joyce's mouth and out of her mind.

Joyce hears a thumpthumpthump again, only it's not in her brain; it's the headboard banging against the wall as Faith moves over her, with her, in her. For a moment, she thinks there's someone else there, not Faith, someone with harsh platinum blonde hair, but she blinks and blames it on the pills. She's flushed one second, trembling with goosebumps the next. Faith takes her mouth away from Joyce's, licks her collarbone, tongues a nipple, and Joyce cries out. Faith's head snaps up, and she reclaims Joyce's mouth, whispering against it, "Can't wake the kiddies."

Joyce clutches the sheets and whimpers. She never dreamed that she'd feel this again, before...

With a muffled sob, she comes, her bones grinding together as she writhes against Faith's body. As she relaxes, she realizes that at least Faith has granted her a little death. Tears trickle out of her closed eyes and down her cheeks at the thought.

Faith's weight shifts off her, and she flinches and opens her eyes when fingers touch her cheek. Faith collects the salty liquid on her finger and licks it off, watching Joyce silently.

Joyce doesn't want to break the silence, but she has to. Faith has killed people before, knows what they look like when they die, so Joyce asks, "How much longer do you think I have?"

Faith shrugs, drinking the last of Joyce's tears. "Does it really matter?"

"Oh, yes," Joyce says, propping herself up and looking at the discarded pen on her table. "There's so much I need to tell them and teach them, so many things I have to set up for them." Her voice drops with guilt. "They're so young."

Faith pushes Joyce back against the pillows in exasperation. "Ya know, they really aren't," she says. "And what happened to wanting to go out with a bang, huh?" Faith chuckles. "Well, maybe we already did that, but ya know what I mean."

Joyce blushes, looking away. "It just hurts," she whispers. "It hurts all the time now."

She can't focus any longer; she's slipping into the dreamless sleep that seems to be taking up more and more of her time. The slip of Faith's hand into hers feels unreal, and she tightens her grip to reassure herself that they both exist. It's nice to have Faith there. She feels very safe; Faith's stroking her hair in much the same way that she stroked Buffy's when she was sick as a child.

"Faith," she says. "Take care of Buffy." She feels Faith's hand still for a moment.

"Take care of Buffy?" Faith echoes.

"And Dawn. Dawn's got Buffy, but Buffy needs someone. Take care of her."

Faith nods, then says it out loud, "Yeah, OK."

Joyce drifts off. Faith holds her for a few moments longer, then stands and walks to the table. She picks up the unfinished list, reads it, then crumples it and throws it into the garbage. "Take care of Buffy." She grins. "I can do that."


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