Rating: PG-13

Content: Some adult situations and violence.

Spoiler warnings: BTVS episodes "Faith, Hope & Trick", "This Year's Girl", and "Who Are You"; ANGEL episodes "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary".

Summary: The concrete and steel of supermaximum-security prison can't protect Faith from loneliness, guilt...or the wrath of Wolfram & Hart.

Disclaimer: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL are the creations of Joss Whedon and the property of 20th Century Fox. This story is fictional, as are all of the persons, places, and events described in it.

Author's note: This story is set after the finales of season 4 of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and season 1 of ANGEL. I re-posted the text on 5/14/01 because after making some edits and correcting a couple of continuity errors.

Feedback is always welcome. Send it to gyrus1001@hotmail.com

-----

INSIDE

by Gyrus


She never dreamed anymore.

She would turn off the light and close her eyes. And eight hours later, she'd open them again, as if she'd simply been switched off and then switched back on by a timer. Only her tiny clock/radio -- one of the few possessions she was allowed -- told her that any time had passed in between.

When she turned on the light again, she would see the same concrete ceiling, utterly flat, almost deliberately featureless. Its gray-whiteness would occupy her whole field of view, as if it had leaned over to say, "Good morning! You're still in prison!"

The first couple of mornings there, she didn't remember where she was right away. She'd lift her head, and see that same gray-white color everywhere, and wonder if she was in heaven, or hell, or the loony bin.

And then the sleep would clear from her eyes, and she could make out the features of her new environment: the steel door with its single slot for a food tray; the concrete slab that jutted from the wall and which was supposed to serve as a desk; the stainless-steel sink and toilet in the corner, each of which could only be used once every ten minutes; the flat steel mirror, screwed into the wall above the sink; her steel cot, with sheets that were so flimsy she could rip them by accident in her sleep. (She'd done that once, the first week; the second week, no sheets came, and she'd had to sleep on the bare mattress from Sunday to Saturday.) Faith figured the sheets were made that way on purpose, so that you couldn't strangle a guard with them. Or hang yourself.

In the supermaximum-security block of the Fuller State Correctional Facility for Women, one of the basic rules of daily living was that no items were allowed which could be used as weapons. Faith's cell contained no loose furniture; even her supernatural strength could barely shift the steel bolts that fixed her bed to the bare concrete floor. The toilet was flushed by pressing a button, since a flush handle could be removed and used as a bludgeon. The only objects in her cell which could be moved were a felt-tip pen, a legal pad (spiral-bound pads were not allowed, as the wire could be removed and used as a lock pick or a garrote), and her battery-powered clock/radio, all of which she had had to purchase from the prison commissary with money she had earned in working in the prison laundry.

But she lost that job when they put her in 'supermax', as they liked to call it. Supermax prisoners weren't allowed the freedom that would be needed to do anything useful. Nor could they be trusted with irons, bleach, or clothes hangers.

She spent 23 hours a day in her cell. She slept there, ate her meals there. There were no windows, only fluorescent lights, which seemed to enhance the grayness of the walls. Posters and other wall decorations weren't allowed.

The 24th hour she spent in the "exercise yard", which was simply a larger room, and not a yard at all. It also had no windows. And there were certainly no weights, no treadmills, not even a jump rope. Just a dark circle on the floor, a path traced by dozens of prison boots over thousands of hours of walking around the room, over and over. She would be walked to and from the yard in chains, restrained at the wrists and ankles. And then, after her exercise, she'd be allowed a short shower (in a stall with no knobs or fixtures, just a button, and lukewarm water spraying through a grate in the ceiling), followed by a strip search by a stocky female guard with thick glasses and short, limp, black hair that reminded Faith of a dead crow she'd seen on the road once.

And then back to her room, for a few more hours of staring at the walls. Eventually, her mind would switch off, and, eight hours later, back on again, waking her to another day just like the last.

-----

Her sentence hadn't started like this. Supermax was reserved for convicts who committed violent acts while in prison. Faith had started out in general population ("GP", they called it), with all the dealers, gang girls, and armed robbers she could want for company. She minded her own business, laconically refused a couple of offers of gang membership, and ignored the threats that followed. No one in this place could hurt her, so why make waves? She'd behave, be the lone wolf for a while, figure things out.

That worked for about a week. Then, in the lunch line, some gangbanger stuck her from behind with a sharpened spoon handle. The makeshift blade got about halfway through Faith's kidney before Faith reflexively whipped around and backfisted her assailant, catching her at the hinge of her jaw with a cracking sound like the breaking of a yardstick.

Later, during her interrogation, Faith was told that she had fractured two of the woman's cervical vertebrae. (Faith protested, insisting that she hadn't hit the woman anywhere near that low, until it was explained to her that "cervical" meant "in the neck".) Faith tried to explain what happened, but, naturally, the girls near Faith in the line all happened to be in the same gang as her assailant, and they all told the same story -- Faith hit the woman first, and one of the others stabbed Faith in defense of her comrade.

So stupid, Faith thought later. I should've seen that something was up.

Faith had grown up in the area of Boston informally known as the Combat Zone; she didn't know L.A. gang signs. But she should have known what to look for, how to tell when all the girls around you are in the same posse.

She spent a week in the infirmary. She'd healed up in a matter of days, of course, but she faked a bit; she'd seen enough movies to imagine that, if the prison doctors saw how fast her body healed itself, she might end up on a dissecting table in a secret government lab somewhere. And from what she'd heard during her last visit to Sunnydale, she knew that such places really existed.

And now she was in supermax for what the prison authorities called "an indeterminate period". Which, in Faith's mind, meant something between a month and forever. Faith had been given a life sentence; it was only because she had confessed that she had avoided the death penalty. So how much of that sentence was she going to spend in this bare-walled hell?

It was that uncertainty that got to Faith most. She could handle it better, she thought, if she knew when she was going to go back to GP. Though Faith had always been a loner, the constant isolation was getting to her. She'd gotten so desperate for someone to talk to that she'd tried to strike up a conversation with the crow-haired guard during her daily strip search.

Nothing. Faith guessed the guards had been told not to talk to the prisoners more than necessary. She worried that, if she wasn't careful, she was going to end up like one of those crazy ladies with the shopping carts, babbling to herself about nothing all day and night.

-----

Faith was sitting at her concrete desk, doodling on her legal pad, when a voice came from outside the steel door of her cell.

"Hey! You've got a visitor," it said gruffly.

A pair of male guards opened her door. Most of the guards at Fuller were women, but she'd heard these two come to get prisoners out of nearby cells now and then. Faith figured the men were called whenever particularly dangerous prisoners (which meant everybody in supermax) had to be escorted outside the unit.

One of the guards, a heavyset, mustachioed man in his 40s whose ID tag read "LeBeck", tossed a tangle of chains to the floor at Faith's feet. "Put 'em on," he said, leering conspicuously. His partner, a younger, muscular black man with a shaved head and a tag that read "Curtis", said nothing, his face a blank.

Faith sat on the floor, untangled the chains, and snapped the cuffs on her wrists and ankles. The guard with the mustache reminded her of Frank, one of her mother's many hard-drinking boyfriends from when Faith was growing up. Frank would have loved to see this, she thought. He had been especially fond of those women-in-prison movies. He'd also given Faith, who'd been fourteen at the time, that same leering look on several occasions. And a couple of times, when he was especially drunk, he'd done a lot more than look. She remembered her mother slapping her, when Faith told, and screaming at her to never say anything like that about Frank again.

"Who is it?" Faith asked, not looking up.

"Your lawyer," the other guard, Curtis, said flatly.

"I don't have a lawyer," Faith responded. She was deeply curious about who could be visiting her, but she didn't want to be obvious about it.

Neither guard said anything.

Once Faith was shackled, the guards led her down the hall, with its conspicuous security cameras, to the unit entrance. There were eight cells to a unit; Faith wasn't sure how many units there were.

LeBeck held up his ID to the camera in front of the door and said, "Exit". A couple of seconds later, a speaker next to the camera buzzed, and the door lock clicked open.

Faith was led down another hallway, past the entrances to several other units, and then to another door, which was connected to an identical door by a hallway twelve feet long with a guard station on one side. The station was a booth in which the guard sat behind three inches of Plexiglas, and from which the guard could open each door electronically.

Finally, Faith was brought into a visiting room, much like the ones she'd seen on television -- a thick glass window separating inmates from visitors, and phone receivers so that each could speak to the other. Behind Faith, there was another station with a guard wearing headphones. The two guards who had brought her sat Faith down in a chair by the glass, then took seats behind her, watching her.

Across the glass from Faith was Lilah Morgan, up-and-coming associate at Wolfram & Hart. The woman who had hired Faith to kill Angel. She was looking tastefully predatory in a conservative and, no doubt, very expensive gray suit. Faith was suddenly conscious of her own prison-orange outfit.

Faith wasn't sure why the woman was visiting her. She decided, as usual, to take the direct approach.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

Morgan smiled.

"Legal visitation. The firm just wants you to know that we haven't given up on you."

What the hell is she talking about, Faith wondered.

"Wolfram & Hart frowns on unfinished business," Lilah continued. "We want to follow your case through to the end." Faith said nothing, maintaining a blank expression as she tried to figure out what Morgan was going on about.

Suddenly, it hit her. She's threatening me, Faith thought. Only she can't say it right out 'cause she knows the guards are listening.

Undeterred by Faith's silence, Morgan kept talking.

"We were sorry to hear about the...incident with the young lady in the lunch line. We're representing her in her next appeal, by the way. Pro bono."

Faith had no formal education in law -- or much of anything, really -- but she'd watched enough L.A. LAW as a kid to know that "pro bono" meant "for free".

That explained the attack. Faith hadn't known why the girl had stabbed her; her gang wasn't one of the ones whose offers of protection Faith had refused. Wolfram & Hart must have promised the girl free legal help if she and her friends got Faith put in supermax.

The thought pissed Faith off. But she held herself in check; she couldn't threaten Lilah Morgan any more than Morgan could threaten Faith. She remained silent.

"Has your friend Angel been by to see you?" Morgan asked. It wasn't really a question. "It's a pity they scheduled your visiting hours in the middle of the day, when Angel has to...work. I don't suppose he has the time anyway. We've kept him very busy."

Bitch, Faith thought. She didn't know what the woman was implying, but she knew it couldn't be good. She just hoped Angel could deal with whatever plans Wolfram & Hart had for him.

"Well," the lawyer said, "I just dropped by to see how you were. You'll hear from us again." With that, Morgan hung up her receiver, and a guard let her out of the visiting room.

-----

As Faith shuffled back to her cell between the two beefy male guards, she considered what Morgan had said. Faith was angry, and a little scared. It sounded like Wolfram & Hart was going to try to kill her. She'd stopped them once, but in here she was more vulnerable.

When would it come? Who would it be? No other prisoners were allowed contact with her, which meant that it either had to be a guard, or someone else who could get into her cell. And her cell was probably the only place it could happen; there were cameras everywhere else. But the when was an open question.

And why had they told her?

To scare me, she thought. To get me thinking about it, in here where there's nothing else to think about. Make me chew on it twenty-four/seven until it drives me crazy.

Bastards.

She barely felt it when the guards tossed her roughly back into her cell, so occupied was her mind.

-----

She knew she had to find something else, something different to think about. She tried to pull in a station on her clock radio, but reception was piss-poor through the concrete walls. There were only a couple of stations that she could hear at all, and it was still ninety percent static.

Finally, she decided to try writing a letter.

It was hard; she hadn't written a real letter since she was eight, and that one was to Santa Claus. (She'd wanted some kind of baby doll she'd seen advertised on TV, she remembered. She hadn't gotten it.) If she'd been out in the world, she probably would have started ten letters, then crumpled up each one after the first sentence and thrown them away. In here, however, it was hard to get paper. Faith couldn't afford to waste any.

She wrote to Angel. He was the only one she could imagine wanting to hear from her.

At first, she didn't know what to write. It wasn't like there was a lot of news to report. She wrote about how she had ended up in supermax and what life was like there, but she could only fill a couple of pages with that.

What else was there to say? She wracked her brain. She wrote about her favorite movies, her favorite songs, the food and clothes and other things she missed from life in the free world. But, by dinner time, even this material had run out.

She took her time with her evening meal, but couldn't prolong it forever; she needed something else to occupy her mind until lights out, or she would start going over her interview with Morgan in her mind again and again until it drove her crazy.

Then she tried something she hadn't done in a long time. She sat on the floor, closed her eyes, slowed her breathing down, and tried not to think about anything at all.

It was something her first Watcher had encouraged her to do. Lydia had been very big on discipline, and she believed that meditation was a good way to focus the mind. Faith had always hated it. She didn't see the point of it, just sitting there with your eyes closed, doing nothing. Not to mention that, the moment she tried to concentrate, some part of her would start to itch. Or some dumb song would start repeating itself in her head. Lydia would see Faith twitch or squirm, and she'd bark "Focus!" in her sharp, upper-crusty British accent.

Lydia had found Faith when she was seventeen. Faith wasn't a Slayer yet -- she still had only strength and agility of a teenage girl -- but, somehow, Lydia had known that Faith would one day have more than that. Thinking back on it, Faith still wasn't sure how her Watcher had known that Faith would become a Slayer, but she imagined that it had something to do with ancient prophesy. Watchers lived for that crap.

Lydia had been smart enough not to try to impress the whole truth on Faith right away. She'd simply told Faith that she was special, that she'd been chosen to do something important. And she began to train Faith in hand-to-hand combat, although, at first, Faith was skeptical that Lydia could teach her anything more than what she already knew. Faith lived in a tough neighborhood, after all, and she had had to learn how to fight in order to get along. But a couple of sessions with Lydia proved how little she really knew.

Lydia looked about fifty, with salt-and-pepper hair, and she dressed in conservative scarves and overcoats that were completely out of place in Faith's world. Faith didn't think the woman could handle harsh language, much less a blow to the head. But when Lydia finally convinced Faith to take a swing at her, Faith found herself on the ground, her punching arm locked up by Lydia's deceptively thin, wiry hands.

Convinced by that demonstration, Faith threw herself headlong into training. She'd already dropped out of high school -- Lydia had expressed disapproval over that, but she could not change Faith's mind -- so Faith was able to train whenever she wasn't working at the convenience store down the street. In a matter of months, Faith developed enough skill to convince Tommy Garretty, the punk down the street who was always hitting on her and then calling her a tease or a lesbo when she wouldn't cooperate, to leave her alone. Tommy's nose had been in a metal splint for two weeks after that. And that was BEFORE Faith got her Slayer strength.

Months later, it came. That night, Faith had felt as if the energy of the sun had been liquefied and poured into her. Suddenly, she could jump almost twice her own height into the air, lift the front end of a Volkswagen off the ground, and turn handsprings like a professional gymnast. And she could fight like no one she'd ever seen.

The rush was incredible. For all the months since she'd met Lydia, Faith had been skeptical about what the older woman had told her about her future, her importance. But now Faith knew it was all true. It was like the fantasy that she'd had when she was little -- that she wasn't really a poor kid from the worst part of town, but a lost princess, whose royal family would one day come and take her back to their castle far away.

But this was even better. Princesses couldn't kick ass the way Faith now could.

Then came the real work. For the first time, Lydia told Faith all the details of her destiny -- to fight vampires, demons, evil in all its supernatural forms.

Faith was scared, the first time she faced one. She'd been on patrol, as Lydia called it, and seen a figure in an alley, apparently sucking on a woman's neck. Faith shouted at it, and the overconfident beast dropped its victim and ran at her. Only too late did it see that his new quarry wasn't running, that she was standing her ground with a sharp stake in her hand. The vampire was still trying to stop when it ran straight onto the weapon and exploded into dust.

This, too, was a rush. After that first encounter, Faith threw herself into the task of hunting the monsters that haunted the Boston slums. They weren't all that easy to find -- she was lucky to make one kill a week -- but when she did, it was exciting as hell. And she trained even harder, now that there was something concrete to train for.

Then Kakistos came, and for the first time since she'd become a Slayer, Faith felt helpless. The vampire was stronger and tougher than anything Faith had ever fought; her punches and kicks bothered him as much as small gusts of wind might. And his cloven hands, hard as chunks of iron, could knock her senseless with a single blow.

She had gotten lucky, taken his eye with her sharp stake. In retaliation, he went for Lydia. And what he did to her...

Was not so different from what Faith had done to Wesley.

Faith's eyes snapped open. Same as always, she'd let her mind wander, and now it had wandered to a place she didn't want to be. But once she'd started thinking about it, she couldn't stop.

Wesley's face as she'd cut him, the agony in his eyes when she dug into his shoulder with a sharp shard of glass. The fear, when she'd held the flaming spray can in front of his face.

Stop it, stop it, stop it, she thought to herself, but she couldn't control it now. Memories flooded over her -- Deputy Mayor Finch's face, full of surprise and confusion, when she'd rammed the stake into his chest. Like the look on the face of the girl who'd tried to help Faith at the hospital, when Faith started beating her. Or Angel, when she'd put a poisoned arrow through his back from a rooftop. Or Dr. Wirth, the completely innocent vulcanologist she'd killed on the Mayor's orders. Or the silly, harmless horned demon she'd murdered for the Books of Ascension. The list went on and on and on...

She had to stop it. She got down on her hands and feet and started doing pushups, fast, like a steam engine, trying to block out the thoughts.

Too easy, she thought desperately; the memories were still coming. Faith got up fast, then went into a handstand in the middle of the floor and did pushups that way, the soles of her prison sneakers moving up and down in mid-air. She pumped harder and harder, sweating with the effort, but it wasn't enough. The faces, the voices, the screams and grunts of pain, the looks of surprise, hurt, and betrayal, kept coming. There were so many. And she remembered every single one in perfect detail.

Overwhelmed, Faith fell over, her back hitting flat against the concrete floor. It might have knocked the wind out of her, she wasn't sure; she could barely feel her own body now. She drew her knees up to her chest and put her forehead against them, rocking her body forward and back as the unstoppable rush of memories washed over her.

I can't take this, she thought.

But, from somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice said, Yes I can. I can take it for one more minute.

One more minute, one more minute, she thought, over and over, squeezing her knees against her body.

She didn't know how long she sat like that, because, when she opened her eyes some time later, it was morning. Somehow, she'd fallen asleep.

-----

This wasn't the first time the guilt had overcome her. That night when she lay freezing cold on the floor of a freight car, traveling through the California desert as she fled from Sunnydale, she had experienced those same thoughts and feelings. She hadn't immediately recognized them, of course; the emotion of guilt was one she hadn't felt since childhood. Experience had taught her that everyone was out for themselves, that there were no innocent bystanders, and that everybody had it coming. She'd learned early on that it was OK to screw people over, because they would do the same to you if you gave them the chance. Besides, everybody owed her. She had fought all kinds of monsters, saved lives, and what thanks had she received? It was obvious how the world worked; if you could take something, you did. If you could get away with something, you did it. Anyone who said otherwise was naïve, or else they were trying to use their so-called morality to get you to do what they wanted. People who took the moral high ground did so because it was a good place to give orders from.

And love was the same way. You told people you loved them so they'd do things for you -- give you money, or drugs, or their bodies. It was like those steel slugs you could use instead of quarters to get a free phone call or a candy bar, without having to give up anything. When you said you loved someone, how much stuff you got in return depended on how long you could get them to believe you.

Love, guilt, and morality were the things that made people weak. That got them hurt, or killed. They were what killed Lydia, and she was one of the strongest people Faith had ever known.

But, in the time she spent in Buffy's body, Faith had seen things that made no sense in the context of her philosophy. She saw what genuine gratitude looked like, and felt what it was like to be on the receiving end of it. She saw a man who actually seemed to care about his friends, and, oddly, she felt anger and shame when that man called her a killer.

And she heard someone say, "I love you" without wanting anything in return.

No experience had ever rocked her world like that. Because it made her see that everything she believed about people, about the world, was wrong. That goodness wasn't some notion made up by priests or Hollywood filmmakers. It was real. Right and wrong, good and evil, all suddenly made sense. Because if real friendship and real love were possible, then so were real innocence and selflessness. And if human beings had the potential for that kind of goodness, then it was Faith's responsibility to protect every last one of them.

It was that revelation that had made Faith turn back and try to rescue the people held hostage in the church. Not for the rush, not for the challenge, but because it was right.

For those few minutes, she had been a true Slayer.

And then it all came crashing down. Buffy had shown up, wearing Faith's face, and Faith realized that she couldn't bear to look at that face again. Because if what she was doing now was right, then everything she had done before was wrong.

She wasn't a hero; she was a monster.

She'd gone crazy, battering at her own face as if destroying it would somehow kill the evil within her. And then, after Buffy switched their bodies back, Faith had run and run, trying to escape it.

But, like the song says, wherever you go, there you are.

Faith imagined that, inside her own head, there was one of those big red buttons like you see in the movies, with a sign that reads "self-destruct". Maybe she pushed it that day. Or maybe she had pushed it a long time before then; she had taken a lot of foolish chances with her life. It was hard to say.

But, in L.A., she actively looked for trouble; she realized now that she had been trying to provoke someone into taking her down. But there were damn few people who could. So when the Wolfram & Hart people offered her the chance for a run-in with Angel, she grabbed at it. Not even knowing why, for certain.

Fortunately, Angel had been smarter than her, had seen her desire to end her life even more clearly than Faith did herself.

For a while afterwards, she hadn't thought it was so fortunate. She had wanted to die, couldn't bear the thought of one more hour of life as herself. But Angel made the possibility of change, of redemption, seem very real. And that was what Faith wanted. Because if she died now, there would never be a chance to set any of the wrongs right.

Pay now or pay later, she'd once heard someone say. And though she now remembered that it was a mechanic, talking about the importance of regular oil changes, it still made sense. She could do her penance here in prison, or she could do it in Hell. And from what she knew about Angel's past, she knew that Hell was a very real place. A life sentence was a long time to be punished, but it was a heck of a lot shorter than eternity.

She laughed inwardly. She'd used the word "heck".

-----

Some time after dinner that night, LeBeck, the mustachioed guard who had escorted her to the visiting room, came to her cell. He unlocked the door and walked in while she was at her desk, composing another letter to Angel. Faith guessed he wasn't the type to knock.

"Hey, pretty girl," he said, regarding her with his dark, slow-moving eyes. "What'd you do to get in here, huh?"

Faith looked over at him, but said nothing.

"You kill somebody?" he went on as he walked towards her. "Hmm... rape somebody? Naah, you're too nice a piece of ass to have to do that. Maybe some big dyke out there tried to rape YOU, and you killed her for it."

He leaned over to her as she sat at her desk. "Am I getting warmer?" he said quietly.

His hands went onto her shoulders as he said, "Y'know, if you're nice, I can get you all kinds of stuff you've got no other chance in hell of getting. What're you into, hah? Rock? Crystal? You look like you like to go fast."

She turned her head to look into his face. He was so much like Frank.

"And if you're NOT nice to me...." She heard the jingling of his handcuffs. "Well, we don't have to talk about that right now. Unless you like that kind of stuff." He smiled.

Faith felt a paralysis come over her. Not because she couldn't think of what to do, but because there were so many little voices in her head giving her suggestions, she didn't know which one to listen to.

Do it, one of them said. Throw him on that cot and fuck his brains out, for hours, make him feel so good that he comes back begging for more. Make him give you anything you want, just for another taste. A TV, decent food, cigarettes, anything.

But another voice, the one from way in the back of her mind, said,

That's not what you're here for.

And then, as LeBeck's filthy hands began to travel down her body, a red haze came over her, and the next thing she knew, she was out of her chair, grabbing him by his shirt, slamming his huge body against the concrete wall. Her left hand held his right wrist tightly, while her right hand gripped his throat.

He fought her, of course, using his left arm to try to pull her hand from his throat while attempting wrest his right arm from her grip. He was strong, by normal standards, and fairly skilled; he was twisting his wrist hard towards her thumb, which would have broken the grip of most men. Faith felt a twinge of pity for the other women this pig had no doubt forced himself on in his lifetime, who would certainly have been helpless against him.

Kill him, another inner voice said. It was a voice she'd listened to, many times before.

She felt the life pulsing through the guard's throat. Air, blood, coursing up and down. She could stop it with one good, strong squeeze. It would take five seconds, ten at the outside. Longer, if she wanted to enjoy it.

And then she thought of Xander.

He'd come to try to talk to her, so long ago, back when Buffy and her friends still thought there was a chance of helping her. And she'd assumed, instead, that he'd come to get laid, and she almost killed him for it. She held him down on her bed, straddling his wriggling body while her hands squeezed the breath out of him. It had made her feel so strong, so in control, to feel him squirming helplessly beneath her. To be doing the hurting instead of being hurt. Seeing Frank's face instead of Xander's.

Looking back, though, she knew that Xander had been nothing like Frank.

But SHE had.

Faith let the guard go, pushing him away. He stumbled sideways, coughing.

"Just leave me alone," she said dully.

LeBeck, having left the door open, backed out of the cell. He was saying something, but Faith wasn't paying attention, too distracted was she by her sudden, horrible epiphany. Then LeBeck slammed the bare steel door shut behind him.

Faith walked carefully towards the toilet. She felt like she might throw up. Her train of thought raced on, unchecked: Frank violates me, I violate Xander. Kakistos tortures Lydia, I torture Wesley. Mom hits me, I hit... everybody. Jesus Christ, she thought as she fought off tears and the urge to vomit. I'm everyone I ever hated.

For the first time in weeks, she thought about killing herself.

It would be easy enough to do; with her strength and speed, and a running start, she could hurl herself into the concrete wall headfirst and crack her skull like a boiled egg. Spill my brains all over the place, she thought. Let 'em clean THAT up.

But she couldn't. She didn't have that in her anymore. Not now, when Angel had shown her there was better way. One that didn't involve so many regrets, or burning in Hell.

Faith sat for a few minutes on her cot, letting her eyes unfocus, getting her breath.

Then, from near the door, there was a clank, and then a hissing sound. She looked over to see a metal cylinder on the floor, with a white gas spraying out of it and starting to fill the room.

Faith was only a little surprised. She knew there was going to be payback for what she'd done to the guard. She just hadn't expected it so soon.

She backed to the other end of her cell, keeping out of reach of the gas as long as possible, but eventually it reached her, and she began coughing and thrashing as the tear gas filled her eyes, nose, and lungs. In a matter of minutes, she was on the floor, alternately gasping for breath and hacking it back out.

Then the door burst open, and eight guards in riot gear, complete with shields and batons, flooded into the room and surrounded her. They beat and kicked her as she lay on the floor, unable to do much more than protect her head with her arms. She felt a couple of ribs crack under one of their sticks, then was dazed when the steel toe of a boot got past her arms and nailed her in the ear.

Then they bound her, chaining her wrists and ankles together behind her. When the guards were satisfied that she was immobile, they left her to spend the night, woozy and hurting, on the cold concrete floor.

-----

Worlds away, in a high-rise office building in downtown Los Angeles, three representatives of that city's most powerful law firm sat in conference. On one side of a large desk sat two of the firm's associates: Lilah Morgan, still looking prim and professional in her gray suit, and the equally sharply-dressed Lindsey McDonald, who, wearing his preferred blue suit and paisley tie, managed to seem both relaxed and businesslike at the same time. It was one of his gifts, appearing professional and confident before his clients and yet putting them at ease. Of course, these days, he carefully held the stump of his severed right wrist on his lap, or wherever else it would be inconspicuous.

On the other side of the desk, in front of a vast office window overlooking the glorious nighttime skyline of L.A., sat Mr. Holland Manners, their boss and mentor, recently promoted to the status of junior partner. It was rumored that he now made more money than most SENIOR partners at other law firms.

Their meeting had started well after dark, reducing the number of employees who could skulk near the door. There had also been the usual sweep of the office for listening devices, and anti-scrying magics were put into place by one of the firm's warlocks. A few such protections guarded every conversation at Wolfram & Hart, but, for certain discussions, extra precautions were prudent.

"My point, sir," Lindsey was saying, "is that this woman is a black eye on the face of our firm. If she continues to exist, she can only embarrass us."

"Not too many people know about her," Holland replied. "Unless you've been talking out of school again."

"No, sir," McDonald said. If he was angry or hurt at the comment, he didn't show it. "But anything she says in prison will get around fast."

"You're forgetting, Lindsey," Lilah Morgan interjected, "she's in supermax. She can't talk to anyone."

"She won't be in there forever," McDonald insisted. "And when they put her back into general population, there's always the possibility that she could talk, or change her mind about prison and simply escape."

"Hmm," Holland said. "It's a small risk, but not negligible. What do you propose?"

"We want to break her a little," McDonald responded, "wear her down psychologically before we attempt to terminate her. Ms. Morgan has already initiated efforts in that direction."

Lilah added, "We feel that a psychological campaign will increase the likelihood of a successful liquidation. And, should our attempt fail, a mental breakdown would also be an acceptable outcome."

Manners nodded. "That's fine. But nothing too costly. No shape-shifters, no invisible demons. We've wasted enough of the firm's resources on this girl already."

"I agree," Lindsey said. "I've already outlined a plan which should accomplish our goals at moderate expense." He pushed a folder across the table to Holland, who picked it up and leafed through its contents.

After a few moments, Holland said, "Very creative, Lindsey. But this is the last try. If it fails, we let the matter drop."

"Yes sir," McDonald replied. He and Lilah got up and took hold of their briefcases. "Thank you for hearing us out."

"I'm always happy to see the two of you demonstrate some corporate spirit," Holland replied. "Keep it up, and one day, when this firm is called Wolfram, Hart, & Manners, one of you may be sitting in this chair."

Holland stood up. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an outing with a potential client. She enjoys chamber music. And I believe you have another meeting to arrange." Holland indicated the folder Lindsey McDonald had placed on his desk.

"Good night, sir," Lilah Morgan said as she and McDonald exited the office.

When the two associates were gone, Holland walked out to his secretary's desk and put McDonald's folder through the shredder. Then he strolled towards the elevator, humming the first few notes of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" as he went.

-----

One hour later, Lindsey McDonald had his second meeting of the night, this one in his own office, a few floors below Holland's. The lights were dimmed, as McDonald's visitor preferred.

"Don't talk," Lindsey said to the burly figure on the other side of his desk. "Just read." He pushed a manila envelope across to the other man, who tore it open and removed a photograph and two pages of instructions. He looked them over for a few minutes.

"Easy enough to do," the man finally said. "When?"

"Tonight."

"Fine."

"Then we have a deal," McDonald said. "Now, with regard to payment...." The man looked up at him, the yellow of his eyes bright even in the dim overhead lights. "Shall we talk dollars, or pints?"

-----

At 4:15 am, just after the end of the graveyard shift, supermaximum-security prison guard Jason LeBeck walked out of the front entrance to the Fuller State Correctional Facility for Women and headed for his beaten yellow pickup in the fenced-in parking lot.

It had been hours since his encounter with the female prisoner, but he was still pissed. At her, and himself. How could he have let that little bitch pin him against the wall like that? She had seemed inhumanly strong at the time. Maybe she was some kind of psycho.

He got into his truck, started it up, and headed out the gate.

He'd gotten some revenge on the crazy bitch, beating and kicking on her with the other guards after he'd reported his version of the incident (which, of course, included her attacking him suddenly and without provocation, and him fighting her off successfully). But that wasn't enough, not for the way she'd humiliated him. No, he'd find more, better, and longer-lasting ways to punish her. He'd done it before.

LeBeck pulled to a stop at a deserted intersection, just out of sight of the penitentiary. Waiting for the light to turn green, he became lost in thoughts of the tortures and humiliations he could practice on his new prisoner.

He didn't have time to react when a fisted arm smashed through the rear window of the truck's cab and snaked around his neck. And when the arm yanked him backwards and sideways, pulling his head around the side of the headrest, no amount of stretching and straining could enable him to reach the high-caliber Ruger pistol he kept in the glove compartment. He was still grasping for it when a pair of fangs sank into his neck.

LeBeck screamed then, long and loud. The sharp teeth pulled away for a moment.

"Relax," a deep voice said. "I'm going to make a new man of you."

This assurance didn't stop the screaming. But soon the blood loss reduced it to a sort of desperate murmur.

A yellow-eyed figure climbed out of the pickup bed and entered the cab on the driver's side, pushing LeBeck's huge body out of the way with ease. The burly vamp restarted the truck, which had stalled when LeBeck's foot had been pulled away from the clutch, and started driving towards LeBeck's house. The guard lived alone, and at this time of night, no one would notice someone carrying a body into the house.

The demon-in-a-man's-body looked over at LeBeck's barely-conscious form. Then, with its teeth, the vampire ripped open a vein in its own wrist and pulled LeBeck's head down, placing the man's mouth over the bleeding wound.

"Welcome to the family," the monster said.

-----

Weeks passed. Faith's injuries healed rapidly, and she began to spend more time exercising, writing, and making a few more stabs at meditation, the last without a great deal of success. But, lacking anything better to do, she kept at it.

The guard, LeBeck, hadn't come back, though Faith thought she still heard his voice out in the corridors now and then. He'd gotten his payback, she thought, and he probably didn't want to risk another confrontation with her.

But the isolation was getting to her. The only people who had initiated contact with her since she'd been here had been people who wanted to hurt her. To hear one friendly voice would have been a blessing. Of course, she thought, for that, I'd have to have some actual friends.

The closest thing Faith had to a friend was Angel, and he'd remained silent. Faith understood that he couldn't come to visit her, but he at least could have answered her letters. She'd been pouring her heart and soul into themlately, writing about her past, trying to recall each of the steps she had taken down into the darkness. She wrote, too, about her attempts to climb back up, to find a way of being that she could live with. And he hadn't written her back once.

She didn't know why. Maybe he was busy with whatever Wolfram & Hart was throwing at him. Maybe he was testing her.

Or maybe, once she'd gone to jail, he'd dusted off his hands and put her out of his mind, happy to be rid of her.

No, she thought, I'm not going there. The temptation to ruminate over the possibilities was strong, but that way lay madness. She had to focus on the here and now.

Except here and now wasn't much. She wished she had a ball to bounce off the wall.

Another workout might be the thing. She took a piece of paper from her legal pad, on which she'd doodled so extensively that there was barely any of the yellow left showing, and folded one end up tightly so that she could jam it in between her cell door and the concrete door jamb. Placing the paper at head height, she used it as a target, slapping it with basic front, roundhouse, and crescent kicks, then moving on to spinning kicks, jumping kicks, then jumping, spinning kicks. Once she'd exhausted her repertoire of kicks, she shadow-boxed, working her jabs, crosses, and backfists, then elbow and knee strikes. She trained for almost two hours, working up an intense sweat despite the fact that she'd already had her time in the "yard" for that day, and wouldn't be able to get a shower until tomorrow. It just felt good to throw herself completely into the exercise.

When she was finished, she stretched for a few minutes, then cleaned herself off with water from the sink and the one gray washcloth that had to serve all her wetting and drying needs. Then she collapsed on her cot, staring up at the ceiling.

Her inhumanly strong heart recovered rapidly from the exercise, slowing to her resting heart rate in short order. And before she knew it, her eyes had closed against the lights, and she was sound asleep.

-----

For the first time in more than a month, she dreamed.

She stood in the doorway of the offices of Angel Investigations. The furniture had been moved to the sides of the room, and Wesley was in the middle of the floor, thrusting and slashing clumsily at the air with a fencing foil, which he held in his left hand. He did not look in the direction of his attack, however; he kept his head turned sideways, never even glancing at his imaginary opponent.

"You're left-handed?" Faith asked.

"I am now," Wesley said. "Thanks to you."

"I'm so sor-" she started.

"Don't bother," Wesley snapped. "I'm just trying to adapt and move on."

She watched him for a minute. His movements got a bit smoother, until he bumped into a desk and stumbled for a moment because he hadn't been watching where he was going.

"Why are you looking around like that, instead of straight ahead?" she asked.

He looked at her as if she were an idiot. "Because sometimes the best place to look for an enemy is where you can't see him."

Faith didn't get it, but given Wesley's stormy mood, she wasn't inclined to probe further.

She heard footsteps behind her. She moved out of the doorway and turned just in time to see Angel walk in.

"'Morning, Wesley," he said.

"Good morning, Angel," Wesley responded seriously, continuing his exercise.

Angel walked through the door to his own office, completely ignoring Faith. This made her angry, and she followed him.

"Hey!" she shouted when Angel sat down at his desk. "I'm here, you know."

"Really?" said Angel. "And where is here, exactly?"

Faith was suddenly confused. "I- I'm not sure," she said.

"That's what I thought," Angel said derisively. "Pathetic. I mean, look at yourself." Faith looked down and saw that she was wearing her orange prison uniform. "You look like the world's most bitter Creamsicle."

"I'm not so bitter, anymore," Faith said, trying to not show how much Angel's words had hurt.

Angel looked Faith straight in the eye. "Funny how that doesn't change a damn thing. Finch is still dead, Buffy and Riley hate each other, and Wesley's new nickname is 'Lefty'. So excuse us if your personal revelations don't stir up a whole lot of sympathy."

"I'm trying-"

"It doesn't matter; you're going to get yours pretty soon, anyway."

"What are you talking about?" she asked, suddenly afraid.

"Just look at yourself!" Angel shouted as he stood up and went into vamp face, snarling at her.

-----

Faith awoke. Her stomach hurt, like she'd just eaten a big ball of sour cookie dough.

Was any of that real? she wondered. Faith used to have dreams that told her about the future, though often in ways that didn't make any sense until it was almost too late. But she hadn't had one of those dreams in a long time.

She looked at her alarm clock; it was 6:35 am. Almost an hour until breakfast. Might as well go back to sleep.

Except she couldn't. She tossed and turned, feeling miserable. The dream had felt like a warning, or maybe a threat. Maybe whatever power it was that sent the dreams was telling her that it planned to get rid of her, to make someone else the Slayer.

It wasn't fair, she thought.

But it was. She'd turned the honor of being a Slayer into a weapon for evil, betrayed the very forces that had empowered her in the first place. If they wanted to execute her, that was their right.

Her breakfast arrived, but she only picked at it. She felt even sicker afterwards; she lay on her side on the cot, curled up around her aching stomach. The crow-haired guard dragged her to the "yard", made her walk around some, but Faith didn't even feel up to that. She was a bit better by lunch, or thought she was, until she lost the whole thing in her stainless-
steel toilet. She thought of asking to see the doctor, but remembered her plan to avoid contact with the prison doctors as much as possible, for her own safety. It was probably just the flu or something, anyway. She lay in bed the rest of the day, and didn't even touch her dinner that night.

At about midnight, long after lights out, Faith was still in bed, trying to get to sleep. Her stomach was now doubly upset from illness and hunger.

She heard her cell door being unlocked. She sat up in the bed, feeling dizzy from having laid down for so long. Light flooded in from the corridor, backlighting a large male figure in the doorway. She couldn't make out any of his features.

"Hello, Faith," a voice said, full of menace. She recognized it as LeBeck's. "Not feeling so good?"

Son-of-a-bitch, she thought, I'll bet he put something in my food. Smart. But it won't help him.

"Back for more?" she said as LeBeck closed the door behind him. It locked automatically.

"Call it Round 2," LeBeck said.

"You're a slow learner," Faith replied.

"Wrong. I've picked up a new trick," LeBeck said. He stepped close enough for Faith to see his face in the dim light. "Wanna see?"

With that, his face suddenly contorted, forming ridges along the cheeks and forehead as the eyes changed from brown to yellow.

Faith leaped to her feet, ignoring the protests from her stomach. "I've seen that trick before," she said, and threw a punch at LeBeck's face.

He backed away from the blow, but Faith followed up with a hard roundhouse kick at his ribs. She hurt him that time; he continued to back up as Faith launched a rapid-fire combination of kicks that forced him up against the wall. Once he was pinned down, Faith threw a hook punch at LeBeck's jaw, which landed solidly and stunned him.

Faith glanced at LeBeck's belt. He wasn't wearing his nightstick, pepper spray, handcuffs, or any other gear. Why had he come in here unarmed?

Then it occurred to her: If LeBeck had brought his nightstick, she could have taken it away from him, broken it, and used it as a stake. But without it, there was nothing in the cell Faith could use to kill him.

LeBeck suddenly lunged forward, driving his knee into Faith's solar plexus, pushing her back and making her double over. Now it was Faith's turn to retreat as LeBeck came at her, punching at her face and body with surprising speed. She blocked most of the blows, but then he threw himself on her, wrapped his beefy arms around her, and dragged her to the floor. He landed on top of her; his bulk knocked the wind out of her.

"Come on, Slayer," LeBeck said as his right arm circled Faith's neck, putting her in a headlock. "I can do this all night."

With effort, Faith pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, LeBeck still on top of her, choking her. She grabbed his arm with both hands and twisted her body rapidly to the right. LeBeck was thrown off of Faith's back and slammed spine-first into the side of her cot. Faith quickly got to her feet and kicked LeBeck in the face before he could recover, snapping his head back.

She kicked again, aiming for the ribs, but this time LeBeck was ready; he crossed his forearms in an X-block, caught the ankle of her kicking leg, and twisted her foot sharply to the side. Faith was forced to leap into the air and twist to avoid having her ankle broken, but she used the momentum to throw a flying roundhouse kick with her jumping leg. Her foot caught LeBeck in the head again; then she fell hard onto the concrete floor. By the time she flipped herself back into a standing position, LeBeck was on his feet again, too.

He knows I'm a Slayer, she thought as she tried to get her breath. That's gotta mean that Wolfram & Hart sent him. And he's right -- he CAN do this all night. Even if I knock him out, there's no way to finish him off. He'll just get back up and keep after me.

There wasn't a sliver of wood anywhere in the cell, and nothing she could use to make fire. The fluorescent lights were recessed high in the ceiling, their electricity unreachable. There was no weapon available that could decapitate him, and no windows anywhere in the whole unit through which sunlight could shine, even if she could hold him off until morning, which was doubtful.

They traded punches and kicks, LeBeck ever on the offensive, trying to wear Faith down. She backed away, retreating in a circle and trying to keep him from getting his hands on her. While she couldn't kill HIM, she knew, he could certainly choke HER to death or snap her neck if he got her on the ground again.

She started shouting for help, thinking it might attract guards with weapons she could use, but LeBeck only laughed.

"I turned off the mikes in the hallway, and there aren't any other guards within earshot. Only the other prisoners can hear you, and since they're locked in their cells, that ain't gonna help you much."

Her last hope was crushed.

So this is how I'm going to go out, Faith thought. Trapped in a no-win situation with a guy who was a son-of-a-bitch BEFORE he was a vampire.

It wasn't the way she wanted to go. She had always envisioned her death as a John Woo-esque affair involving explosions and motorcycles and a spectacular finish in which she took dozens of bad guys with her. Not this hopeless, anonymous end, killed in the dark by a creature that she could have beaten on the outside.

LeBeck advanced again, smashing his fist into Faith's jaw. Faith fell back just in time to be kicked in the chest and knocked back so hard that her head banged into the stainless steel sink in the corner.

Woozy, she pulled herself up on the metal fixture and saw her own reflection wavering in the steel mirror. LeBeck, of course, wasn't visible at all, even though he was directly behind her.

Look at yourself, Angel had said.

Faith heard LeBeck approaching from behind. With all the speed she could muster, Faith lashed out with a back kick. Her heel thumped into the man's chest and knocked him to the floor. But instead of turning to face him, Faith put one foot against the wall and grasped the edges of the steel mirror as best she could with her fingertips.

Grunting loudly with the effort, Faith pried the mirror away from the wall; bolts popped out of the concrete one by one. Finally, the mirror came loose, and Faith fell backwards from the force with which she'd pulled the flat piece of steel free.

LeBeck got up when Faith did and charged her, preparing to tackle her harder than any NFL lineman. Faith gave a loud cry and whipped her body around with all her strength; she held an edge of the steel mirror in each hand. The force of the movement drove the sharp corner of the mirror straight into the vampire's neck, cutting off his shout of surprise as the flat piece of steel moved through flesh and bone and out the other side.

The head and body, now separate, fell forward. Faith stepped out of the way just in time to see them hit the floor, then explode into dust.

She sat down, breathing hard. Once she recovered, Faith carefully swept up the dust with her hands and dumped it in the toilet. She flushed the remains of Jason LeBeck, then reattached the mirror to the wall as best she could. She did a good enough job that no one would notice the damage on casual inspection.

Then she went to bed. And, this time, though she was shaky from illness and exhaustion, she had little trouble falling asleep.

-----

The next day, the muscular guard, Curtis, and another guard she didn't know showed up at her cell. "You've got a visitor," Curtis said, opening the door and tossing her the set of chains.

Faith snapped the cuffs on her wrists and ankles, not even bothering to ask who the visitor was this time. She didn't want to know.

They led her out through the many hallways and guard checkpoints to the visiting room. On the other side of the glass sat an attractive young woman with long, straight, dark hair and an exasperated expression.

"Cordelia?" Faith said as she picked up her telephone receiver.

"Hey, Faith," Cordelia said.

"What are you doing here?"

"Oh, I'm fine, thanks for asking," Cordelia said caustically. "Apart from the fact that I just got searched by a guard who looks like she could bench- press my car, and who got totally fresh with that metal-detector-wand-thingy. And did I mention that florescent light does nothing for my complexion?"

Faith laughed. She'd forgotten how funny Cordelia was.

"Anyway," Cordelia continued, frowning, "Angel sent me to check on you. He got a letter from you a few weeks ago, but nothing since, even though he wrote to you a bunch of times."

"I didn't get anything," Faith said.

"Then I tried coming down here last week, but they told me that you had the flu and were quarantined, or something."

"What?" Faith replied. "I was fine last week." Unless LeBeck told them I wasn't, she thought. Bastard.

"Um, how's Wesley?" Faith asked.

"He's fine. He's not quite ready to come talk to you himself."

"His arm's OK?"

"Well, he's still swinging that stupid Bavarian adz of his with it, so I would say yeah. Almost took out the coffee maker yesterday."

"What about Buffy and Riley?"

Cordelia seemed surprised to hear Faith ask about Buffy and her new boyfriend, but answered anyway. "From what I hear, you can't pry them apart with a crowbar."

Faith smiled, then her expression turned serious.

"You know, I don't think I ever apologized for...your face. I'm really sorry."

Cordelia looked straight into Faith's eyes for a moment, as if searching for something. "You really are, aren't you?" she said with a small amount of wonder.

"Yeah," Faith replied, looking down. "One of my new emotions. Now if I can get, total, ecstatic happiness down, I'll have the whole range."

"Be careful with that one," Cordelia said. "Angel's had a lot of trouble with it."

They chatted for a little while longer, until Cordelia had to go. "Gotta get to the butcher's before they run out of" - she looked around - "ham, for Angel. I hate doing errands for the boss."

"Thanks for coming," Faith said. "It really...It was nice."

"Yeah. I'll see you again," Cordelia said, then hung up her receiver.

-----

By the afternoon of the following day, Jason LeBeck had been officially declared missing, and his locker in the male guards' changing room was opened. Inside were several letters from Faith to Angel, and from Angel to Faith. All of the mail was immediately checked for contraband and gang- related messages, then the outgoing letters were put in the mail. The incoming ones were delivered to Faith with only the briefest of explanations, and no apology.

The letters themselves were beautiful, written longhand in Angel's experienced script on thick, cream-colored paper. Faith had a mental image of Angel writing them by candlelight with a feathery quill pen.

Faith read each letter carefully, hearing Angel's voice in the words. The most recent letter read:

Dear Faith,

I haven't heard from you since your letter four weeks ago, and it worries me. Do you feel so cut off from the world that you can't speak to it? Or do you feel the darkness pulling you down again? Don't let anger or self-pity corrupt what you've begun. A newborn conscience is precious, but like all new things, it is always born in pain. But it's good pain. It makes you stronger.

I am well. W & H continues to be a problem, but we'll deal with it somehow. And Wesley gave me some good news recently, which I hope to share with you face-to-face someday.

Remember that you are not alone. I think of you often. You are so much like I was.

I had better go. It's almost morning, and I need to get to the office before Cordelia. Even to my dull taste buds, her coffee is like battery acid; I like to get there first and make it myself.

Be well.

Sincerely,

Angel

Faith carefully folded the letters and stacked them neatly on her concrete desk. She imagined that, in the days to come, she would read each one several more times. It was a whole lot better than studying the ceiling.

-----

That night, she dreamed again.

She stood in front of a steel door, identical to the one in her cell save for a small, barred window at the top. But the walls here, instead of being concrete-gray, were pure white, and seemed to stretch infinitely into the distance.

Buffy stood with her.

"Why are you always here?" Faith asked.

"Same wine, different bottles," Buffy replied, smiling enigmatically.

"Really? Feels to me like Merlot meets Mad Dog," Faith said.

"What is Merlot, anyway?" Buffy said.

"I don't know, it just sounds fancy."

There was a moment of silence.

"You're not, you know," Buffy said.

"What?" asked Faith.

"A mad dog. No one has to put you to sleep."

"I guess we've tried that already," Faith said without malice.

"Too many times," Buffy agreed.

Faith looked at the window. A beam of sunlight passed through it and made a square on the floor in front of her. It looked so inviting. Faith thought she could smell fresh grass outside. But she didn't dare to think about it too much.

"That door's locked, isn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah," Buffy said, a bit sadly.

Faith suddenly remembered something important.

"I'm sorry I have to miss-"

"It's OK," Buffy said. "The bed's made. And you have your own battles to fight."

"It was easier when the monsters were on the outside," Faith said.

"I know," said Buffy, then smiled again. "Miles to go, and all that." She pointed to the square of sunlight on the white floor a few feet ahead of them.

"I'm not sure I can even make it that far," Faith said.

Buffy took Faith's hand. "You can."

Faith squeezed Buffy's hand as they moved forward, one, two, three steps. And then, on the fourth step, she was standing in the light.

It shone on Faith's face, and she could see little motes of dust moving in it, errant particles of energy. It was so warm.

She turned to Buffy to say something, but Buffy was gone.

Faith dared to move up to the tiny window and look out. She could see grass, and blue sky, and people, walking, talking, living. A whole world.

Then a voice spoke from nowhere. It sounded kind of like Buffy's, and kind of like her own, and some others she didn't recognize. Or maybe she did.

"You are not ready," the voice said.

And then, a little softer, "But you will be."

In a room of concrete and steel, in one of the nation's deepest, darkest hellholes, Faith turned over in her sleep.

And smiled.