His voice lowered, and there was nothing in her consciousness left now but him, him and his hypnotic eyes.

"I could give you everything, Faith…all I ask is that you are open to receive."

Chapter 7

Dr. Lecter's words seemed to resonate inside of Faith's ears as he watched her, waiting for her response, and Faith knew that he could do it, that he really could give her what she was being offered. She didn't know how or by what methods…but he could do it, and he would. Whatever she wanted, whatever she needed, he would give her…if she would just say yes.

She could do it. She could say yes, step forward into Dr. Lecter's watchful gaze, his scrutinizing stare…she could bow to his authority, his seeming skill, and take up whatever mantle he was offering, accepting any and all prices that must be paid to do so. She could stop fighting, stop trying, stop straining against a nature that was so damn natural to her and instead shape it into something she had never fully allowed herself to become. She could give up on the redemption that was so slow in coming, that might never come at all, and give in to another way.

It would be so easy. And yet, so hard…and Faith was tempted. Swallowing, looking back into Dr. Lecter's sharp gaze, she could not deny that she was tempted.

What good did it do her, to be as she was now? How much good was she really doing herself or anyone else to stay in prison? Did anyone but Angel even care how hard she was trying, how much it hurt? Had trying ever gotten her anywhere before?

She thought of her mother, the way her brown eyes had clouded, her skin tightening with anger just before she struck out, the way her voice had hissed when she told Faith that she was a loser, a bitch, a slut, a mistake…she thought of Ronnie's glinting eyes, of Steve's dull grin, of Kenny's careless shrug, and a flurry of faces, of features contorted in violence, in lust, in ecstasy, of grasping hands and strong legs reaching out, pinning down. She thought of her Watcher's proud smile, quickly fading as anguish lit her eyes, of an ancient slashed face grinning with cruel delight, of a puppy-eyed, hopeful boy in his underwear outside her motel room, of a redheaded girl's eyes narrowed in judgment and jealousy, of a grimly silent British man, refusing to scream at her cruel, tormenting touch. She thought of Angel, of the gentle compassion and solid support of his arms as he held her sobbing form, of the quiet pride in his expression as he looked at her through the prison glass. She thought of them all, and then she thought of her.

Faith thought of Buffy. She thought of Buffy, and she knew what she would do…the only thing she could do.

She had averted her eyes, staring past Dr. Lecter as her thoughts ran freely, coming together to form her decision, and now she deliberately turned her gaze back to him, meeting and holding his eyes with resolve as she spoke quietly, calmly, but with complete conviction.

"Go to hell."

Dr. Lecter stared back at her for several moments without reply, and though nothing in his expression changed, Faith could physically feel the tension in the air lessen, and then disappear…so this was it. This was how it would be.

"You have made your decision, Faith," he said softly, almost respectfully, as he inclined his head towards her slightly. "As for your goodbye bidding, perhaps we will meet again in there one day. Until then…I am certain you will find ample preparation for it here on earth."

Standing unhurriedly, sidestepping Faith and striding to the door, he pressed the button to summon Larry to come to his aid; as the man quickly appeared outside the door and seized hold of Faith, casting his eyes upon the disturbed chair and table from where she had shoved them, Dr. Lecter spoke casually.

"I am afraid there is nothing more I can do for this case. I would take extra precautions, as she is quite unstable…and as you can see, given to sudden violent outbursts. I wish to speak privately with your supervisor…there are certain measures that would be beneficial for all if they were undertaken immediately."

Even as she heard this, even as she knew very well what Lecter's "measures" would probably mean for her, and could only imagine what lies he would spew, Faith could not really grow angry…she couldn't even bring herself to care. She would get past it, one way or another she would get past it.

As Larry hauled her back to her cell, somewhat more roughly than was needed, her anger still did nto reignite itself in her chest…if anything she kept her chin lifted, her shoulders straight as she left the room without another word or glance at Dr. Lecter, and a warm glow began to spread slowly through her…the beginnings of pride.

She didn't care if she had to live the rest of her life wondering what she could have had, what Lecter could have given her…not when she was finally beginning to understand, finally beginning to see, that it was herself she had to live with first.

Maybe Faith could have had everything. Maybe he could have given her all she ever needed, all she could ever want….but he couldn't give her happiness. He couldn't give her strength. He couldn't' give her peace. And that…that was what Faith really wanted. That was what she had to earn for herself.

And she would. No matter what it took, how long and how hard she had to work for it, she would. For Angel. For her Watcher. For all those she had failed, all those she had hurt…for Buffy. But mostly, for herself.

Because Faith damn well wasn't going to be some creepy old guy's puppet protégé again. She might be a slow learner, but she did learn. Eventually.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter was just gonna have to find himself another headcase, and as for that meeting in hell he had all planned out? He just damn well better be ready, and Satan too, because down there? There were no rules. And redemption or not, Faith did have a grudge to repay.

The man better hope he found a way to live forever.