"Isn't it great?"

I'm flying. No, falling.

I'm falling back off that same damn roof in Sunnydale, except this time there's no knife in my gut and B's falling with me. She's got a hold of my left hand, warm and tight, and she's looking up at the starry sky above us as we rush toward the ground.

"We should have done this sooner."

"Whaddya mean we, B? Been here, done this, spent almost a year getting over the side effects. I could skip the replay real easy, believe me."


She's the one that's right, though. This isn't like last time. I'm not hurting or mad at her; the giddy feeling is all that's left, the jolt of giving up all control, and just... letting go.

Lightening rips across the sky and I can see Dawn standing at the edge of the roof watching us fall, and she's crying, crying so hard I should be able to hear her, but there's no sound as she gets farther away every second. Just the breeze and B's voice every once in a while. I turn to look at her, and she speaks again, but her lips aren't moving. She's smiling this dreamy smile, and her eyes are half-closed.

"It's going to be okay."


"Yeah. But I need you to hold something for me."


Her fingers let go of mine, leaving behind the soul-switcher. I fumble it, shocked, turning toward Buffy in mid-air to ask her what's going on.

Now she's falling faster than me, plunging like a stone. That shouldn't be happening, I know that, it isn't possible that she's still heading for the ground and I'm not. But I'm just floating in space, frozen. I throw the magic device away from me and scream. "B! Stop it! What are you---"

"Faith. Pay attention."

She's floating next to me, her face calm. And she's crumpled in a heap on the ground, a hundred feet below me. And she's way above me, standing next to Dawn on some kind of tower that I can see now, speaking intensely to her, telling her little sister something I can't hear. I can't deal with this. Someone stop this---

"Dawn'll be okay. But you're going to have to look out for the next one, you know." She cups my face with her palm as I stare at her, wanting to cry. "You might need this back---"

And like *that*, I'm awake in my bunk. Shaking. Ice-cold.

Just a dream. Not a coma dream. Not a Slayer dream. Just a dream.

It doesn't mean--- No. Not gonna go there. Not gonna.... No. I feel like I'm forgetting something....

Not important. Get up. Get dressed. Get ready for breakfast. Work detail. Therapy. Just like every morning in prison.

Nothing special about today.

* * * * *

"You have reached the office of Angel Investigations--- we help the hopeless! We're not in right now, but if you leave your name and number, we'll call you back as soon as we're in, ready to hear about your problems and ready to help you with them!"

"Pick up the damn phone, Cordelia." Silence. "Fine. Wes?... Angel?... Anybody?" I lean my head against the phone and shut my eyes tight. "Please? Pick up the phone. I've got a really bad feeling about Buffy. I need you guys to check on her. The phones to Sunnydale are all screwed up because of the quake...." Not that I'd stay on the line if I called and actually got her. There's still too much between us. She'd get time added to my sentence for harassment, probably, if she heard my voice on the phone.

I just want to hear her voice. But all I got when I called there was a disconnect.

The tape runs out on the machine, and I slam the receiver back onto the hook and walk away without looking back.

* * * * *

"So what's on your mind today, Faith?"

Way more than you're ready for, Doc.

"Dreams." I stare out the window at the basketball game below. "Do you believe in psychic dreams, Doc?"

"What do you mean by psychic?" Dr. Sam leans back in her chair, probably giving me that aren't-you-a-surprise look she gets sometimes.

"Ones that predict the future. Or what's going on somewhere else."

"Do you?"

"I don't want to."

"What have you been dreaming, Faith?"

I dreamed my best friend, also my worst enemy, finally made up with me. But I dream that a lot. It doesn't mean anything. I never paid much attention to that part of being the Slayer, really. I leave the signs and omens to toll-free scam artists and Watchers with their books. I never wanted to know.

"Nothin' much. Just... some creepy stuff. About falling. Dying."

"Are you afraid of death?"

"Me?" I turn around, smile at the shrink, shake my head. "Nah. Done that. It's a trip. Well, almost. It's not great, but it's... workable." Months of running in my head, from B, from what I'd done; and I'm not running any more. If I die now, it can't be any worse. I hope. I have to believe it. Angel tells me so; Angel's got more to hurt about, more he feels guilty about than I do. Less cause, sure, but... he got sent back from Hell. With a track record like that, there's gotta be a prayer for me. "Worse case scenario, my life's over. The End. I don't wanna die any more, but I'm not scared of it."

"So who was dying in your dream?"

"I'm not sure." Not a lie. Not quite the truth. "Not me, though." Close enough to true, so it has to count for something. "Just--- you know how dreams are? How they feel so important while you're in them, but when you wake up, you don't know why? And you look around, to make sure you're where you're supposed to be, and you just want to make sure that it can't be real?"

Doc nods, still watching me closely, and then tilts her head. "And where are you supposed to be, Faith?"

"Here." I shrug, turn back to the window. "Inside. Away from the world...."


I turn back around. I don't like the sound of that hmmmm. "What?"

"Well, I wasn't going to bring this up during this session, but since you're thinking about it, maybe we ought to discuss it now."

I'm cold again. Oh, this can't be good. "Too many pronouns, Doc. Discuss what?"

She takes a deep breath, and looks me straight in the face, no fear; the reason I kept coming back here, after that first session. "The judge who sentenced you is being asked to step down due to some irregularities in his legal procedures. Your P.D. seems to think she could get your current sentence reduced by calling your case into question. There's a strong possibility that you could be eligible for parole by the end of the summer."

"No fucking way." My back's against the wall, and my hands are bunching into fists before I even think about it. I do my relaxation exercises and breathe out, easy, steady; then in. I look back at the Doc, trying for control, missing by a mile. "It's a mistake."

"A legal mistake, or a mistake for you to be back outside?"

"You know damn well which. The corrections department wouldn't even let me go to the firefighting school, not with my record. Too violent, remember?" I press my hands back against the wall, hard. "They can't let me go. I'm a danger to others. They'd be nuts to parole me after a year and a half!"


"You have to tell them that!"

"Faith, please calm down. It's not decided yet." Doc's looking worried, watching me close for twitches and fidgets and every other damn giveaway habit she's cataloged this year. "And I'm certainly not going to recommend it if it scares you this badly."

"I'm not---" Who am I kidding. "It's just too much, okay? I... I know I've got problems. Christ, I'm a freaking mess. I'm admitting it, I'm owning it, I'm working on it. Just don't ask me to do that out there. It's too hard. There's too much stuff, too many people, and at least in here, some people are almost as bad as me. I don't have to be so careful every single minute."

"I know that you still need more time. But I want you to think about this before our next session. Some day, you are going to be back out there. It won't be an immediate transition back into normal life, probably. You'll still have court-appointed therapy and probably work-release to complete. But you're going to have to be ready for it when it happens." She stands up and crosses the room to me, taking my hands off the wall, holding them in her own. "You're too young to spend your entire life in here, hiding. You have a world to get back to, a chance to make something of yourself."

I have a destiny waiting for me, is that what you're saying, Doc?

Tell it to someone else.

"Are we through? I've got people waiting on me for b-ball."

Doc sighs. "Yes. I think we are. But you're going to have to come back to this later, Faith."

Later may never get here, Doc. That's what I've always counted on.

* * * * *

I beg out of the game after two rounds, and sit out on the bleachers with my knees pulled up to my chin. The sun's shining bright and hard, and the other inmates' shouts and voices are too clear and loud. I tried to call A.I. again after therapy. No answer.

Tried to reach Cordelia, even if it was to get called a psychotic bitch, and got her machine. Got Wesley's too, when I called him. Jesus, I'm must be desperate to be calling him.

And the lines to Sunnydale are still down.

I close my eyes and try to remember the rest of my dream. The part that was happening somewhere else, at the same time that B and I were falling off a roof.

"Is this your mind or mine?" Buffy's joking, but her face looks like she really wants an answer.

We're in my apartment, the one the Mayor gave me, and the light is shining through the broken skylight across the bed. There's a cat there, prowling around the covers, and boxes piled up everywhere, some packed, some not. For once, we're not fighting; it's like she just came over to visit, something she never did while I was working for the Mayor.

"Beats me." I laugh a little, amused, and turn away from the window where I'm standing, then sober up. Something is happening. Something important. "Getting towards that time."

"How are you gonna fit all this stuff?" She's looking around at all the boxes, impressed by how much there is, a little worried, maybe.

I'm still walking towards her, and now I stop. "Not gonna. It's yours."

"I can't use all of this," Buffy objects, and now she's confused, but her eyes are sad, scared.

"Just take what you need." I have to let her know it's okay. That I'm not mad. I can't smile, but I reach out and put my hand against her cheek. "You ready?"

What the hell was that?

The whole time I was in the coma, I dreamed. I dreamed of the Mayor. I dreamed about Buffy. I dreamed about a little sister, the two of us waiting for one... which is dumb, because the only little sister I know is Dawn, and she never even showed up in those dreams. I think I must have known he was dead before I even came out of my nap, because even though I wanted to be surprised when that chick told me he was dead, it was like I already knew. I woke up alone, and feeling empty, and I knew.

I'm shivering again.

* * * * *

"Numbers continue to come in from the Sunnydale Earthquake, the worst in that area in over sixty-four years...."

The TV's showing the Red Cross workers going through the rumble, directing the dogs toward the collapsed buildings, hauling people out from under the wreckage. This is the worst I've ever seen the place. Even that night that the Hellmouth opened, and we all had to fight that demon-dog thing in the high school, it was nowhere near this bad.

"...as the death toll approaches fifty, with the injuries in the hundreds, emergency shelters are being set up at the Sunnydale University campus..."

I don't see any of them on the screen. I don't know if I want to. I have to know they're all right; they might hate me, and I still might hate them sometimes, but they have to be okay. Dawnie has to be okay. Giles and Xander can't be dead. Buffy would lose it if any of them got hurt now, with Joyce gone and all. Willow, even, has to be alive. We'll never be friends, even if she forgives me for some of the shit I pulled. But B loves them. If they get hurt, she gets hurt.

Goddamn reporters are circling Sunnydale like vampires around a hemophiliac. Christ, CNN is even carrying the story.

"... 6.7 on the Richter scale, bypassing the quakes of 1997 and 2000 by more than 1.2 ...."

"Change the channel."

"No, don't." I don't look over at Evie; she's just trying to start something. I'm not in the mood.

"C'mon! Trina, change the goddamn channel. There has to be something else on. Ignore her."

"Trina, you reach for that remote, I will rip off every single one of your fingers. And then I'll shove them down *your* throat, Evie." I turn away long enough to give her my best stone-psycho-bitch glare, and she backs off, muttering.

"You got family there?"

I blink at the guard, then look away. "Yeah. Family."

"They're probably okay. The news guys always make it look worse than it is."

I nod. "Right." Angel's probably there. Cordy and Wes, too. They probably drove up as soon as they heard, with him stuffed in the trunk. Gunn must've gone with them too, if he hasn't picked up A.I.'s messages yet. They'll find B and the Scoobies, and it'll all be fine. No problems. Five by five. Yeah.

I switch the channel to MTV and leave the remote when I go.

* * * * *

No one showed for visiting hours. I knew they wouldn't. But this is the first time they haven't even sent a message about why not. The first time in over a year. If I'm in here too long, they'll all forget me; even Angel will have to, he's got living people on the outside to help, not just safe-secure-psycho chicks in stir.

Of course, I could get out by the end of the summer. If the State of California decides to make it so.


The thing is, I know Fate when it bitch-slaps me. And this is not something that the D.A.'s office and a crooked judge are responsible for. No sane attorney in L.A. would ask for my release earlier than four years from now. Not even my pit-bull of a P.D. So I have to ask, what's wrong with this picture?

Why would anyone let me out before I'd served my time? Who would want me out on the streets? Not Wolfram & Hart. Not even the Watcher's Council; they're glad I'm out of there hands for now, and they're hoping I'll get knifed in the showers some fine day. The Mayor's guys are all gone. No other evil guys give a damn, and all the good guys think I need a vacation from harsh reality. So who? And why?

The cat's nosing at the sheets, looking for food, trying to sniff out who's been in the bed.

"Who's gonna look after him?" Buffy asks, concerned.

"It's a she. And aren't these things supposed to look after themselves?" The cat will be fine. I know that. As fine as strays ever are, anyway.

"A higher power guiding us?" It's half a joke, but I think she really wants to know.

"Pretty sure that's not what I meant." But it might be true, anyway.

The only --- the *only* --- answer to this question is a Higher Power. As in the Powers That Be. As in the creeps that send me bad dreams and worse memories and have always expected a return on their investment of super powers in darlin' me.

You can't make me do anything, O Mighty Karma Dudes. I'm a prisoner of my bad choices, just like the Doc said. I might be learning to break my habits and my cages and my hate, but I'm not breaking out of here until I'm good and ready. So you can't --- do you hear me? You *can't* --- let anything happen to Buffy for a goddamn long time. Because you have no back-up plan, and if you think I'm going to be it, you're screwed.

Angel would've called, if they were going to leave town for long. Wes would've sent a note, something stiff and fact-driven, but he'd never leave me hanging in here; he doesn't want to me to go crazy from isolation again. Cordy, even, might've left a message, something like, "Don't think this gives you an excuse to break out of jail or anything...."

It's nothing. They just forgot. It's cool. I'm an adult, I don't need to know where they are....

* * * * *

Dolores is playing her guitar two levels down; I can hear it easy in my corner cell, because the echoes hit just the right spot to send the music in here to me. I've got the place to myself now that Nina's out--- no one else wants to room with me, my rep being what it is. The song is something soft, in Spanish, and I can't hear the words.

Buffy's voice is uncertain behind me, like she's trying to remember. "Something I'm supposed to be doing..."

"Oh yeah. Miles to go. Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0." It makes perfect sense to me, what I just said, and I'm angry and sad, and it's funny and awful all at the same time.

"Great, riddles."

"Sorry, it's my head. Lot of new stuff." B doesn't get it. B shouldn't get it. I look out over Sunnydale, and the sadness just wells up in me. "They're never gonna fix this, are they?" I'm talking about the window, but I'm not. It's the world and the Slayer deal and my life, all at the same time.

"What about you?"

I turn around, half-surprised she still cares. Half-surprised she has to ask. "Scar tissue." I gesture across my face, even though she can't see the bruises, the broken bones. "It fades. It all fades."

Buffy looks down at the knife in her hand as it flickers in, appearing with my blood on it, then disappears again. Token of love from my killer father figure; token of hate from my sister-in-arms. I can see she's getting upset. I catch a glimpse of myself, broken and still, lying asleep on the bed, but the cat there is more real than I am.

No more time. I smile at her and ask, "You wanna know the deal?" Buffy looks at me, still confused, not expecting what I'm going to say. "Human weakness never goes away. Even his."

I didn't say that. Not in this life. Never. I loved him, I'd never....

I did. Holy hell. I told B how to take him out.

It's like watching a Tetris game fall into place, feeling the memories slide into sight like they'd always been there in my mind. I did that. I chose Buffy over the Mayor two years ago, inside my head and inside my heart. I told her how to play him so he'd make a mistake, so she could kill him and stop him from destroying everyone. I forgot it while I was out cold; I got all tied up in missing him, being mad at her, but right after I stepped off that roof, I made a choice, and the choice was to stop him....

I hope he never knew. I'm not sorry I did it, which is weird. But I really, really hope he never knew.

If that's real, if that really happened, then---

I lean my face against the bars, feeling the tears slide down my face as I shake and Dolores starts to play something by Eric Clapton. I'd yell for her to stop, but my throat has closed up and I'm too weak to pound on the bars.

* * * * *

"Are you ready?"

"Are you delusional? Get a grip, B."

Buffy's grinning at me, and she tucks her hair behind her ear as I look out over Sunnydale. I could swear I see a dragon perched on the top of City Hall, which looks like the set from the last "Aliens" movie but one.

"You'll do okay. It doesn't have to be like last time."

"I'm still me, you know. It could go the same way."

"No." Buffy's definite; using her stop-I-am-the-Slayer, don't-because-it's-wrong voice. "You're not. You're the Slayer now."

"So's someone else. She could do it better. Whoever she is." I glance away, and reach for her hand without looking at her. I find it, and hang on, hard, her fingers cool and soft in mine. "But not as good as you." Her face is serious, studying me, trying to figure me out again, and it all hits me at once. "You can't do this. You can't do it to me, or to Dawn... the others, Giles... Angel, think about him, you can't...." I tighten my hand around hers, tight enough to hurt. "I won't let you."

She smiles. "You can't stop me."

I never could. I never won against her, not really. Even when it looked like I won, she always did me one better.

So much to say. No time, though. "I'm sorry. Again. I still mean it. For everything. Every. Single. Thing. You know that, right?" Please say you know that.

"I know." She smiles, and leans forward and stretches up to kiss my forehead, like I'm her kid. Like I'm her friend. "I love you too, Faith."

"Don't go," I whisper.

"Already gone."


"Hey." She shakes her head, steps back, away, fading like the knife, like the cat, like me. "If the sitch changes... I'll let you know."

* * * * *

And when I wake up this time, I know.

One Slayer dies. The next one's called.

"Love you, B."

Wherever she is, Powers, pass on the message. Okay? You owe it to her. To me.

Then I get up. Get dressed. Get ready for breakfast. Work. Therapy. Visiting hours later; and whoever shows up, at least I can tell them I already know what they have to tell me....

Another day in prison. And nothing will ever be the same.



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