Forge Part Four - Strike When The Iron Is Hot
I cried last night.
It's a wonder I haven't worn channels in my skin but I take care of it. Use Oil of Olay Nighttime formula. 'Helping me look younger'. No, not really. It's some herbal thingie I got in a book. Wiccan stuff..makes me clean. Keeps me clean.
Wish I felt clean.
Spike's story was just so awful though. It's easy to forget just what he is even though there's a steady stream of reminders, his attitude, his cocky demeanor, all can be explained away by the mind as just 'A Punk'. He's not a punk though, he's a demon..a monster. Something less than human. Then again, humans can and do far worse. I know. Believe me I know.
So I cried and Buffy cried, we both cried. I think the reasons were different though. She was crying for me, because she was sad for me being sad, she didn't ..she wasn't crying because of why I was. I'm not absolutely positive why I was either. I think I know though.
I wasn't crying because of what had happened to me, and I wasn't crying for the girl in Spike's story. I wasn't crying because of nightmares and I wasn't crying because of guilt. I think.. I think I was crying because I was scared.
Not of Spike, not of his 'reasoning'. I was scared because of his warning. That's what he was doing you know, giving me a warning. Except for the fact that I have friends, that I have a family..I could have become like that rich, beautiful woman in nineteenth century London.
The way Spike tells it she was more undead than he could ever be.
That's not now though, now is lunch time, now is a break from classes, now it time to rest and put down my 'I'm fine now, no nothing happened to me ever' mask. It's..it's really hard. I'm more aware of everyone around me all the time.
How close they are, how far they are. Are they going to touch me? Are they going to brush up against me when I'm not looking? Illusions..I get illusions too. Every conversation I can't quite hear or person I can't quite see..I feel like the center of attention and I have never wanted to be the center of attention.
Actually I lied, the break is over, Buffy just left for a class and I still have a while before my next one. So I'm just sitting here, outside the lunch room. It's a nice day..it's always a nice day. Sitting at a park bench, got the remains of my lunch in front of me. Half eaten burger, some fries, no ketchup. Hate ketchup on my fries. Bleah. Mustard? Mmm..mustard and fries..yummy, but they're out of mustard today.
People all around me, some sitting, others standing, moving, some with food to eat, others with empty trays going to the garbage. I can hear laughter, over to my left. Pretty girl..she's got all these guys around her. They're joking, talking, smiling, laughing. One of them just offered her his coke. What a nice young man. Are you a nice young man? Are you a nice young man when the sun goes down?
Goddess Willow, morbid much?
If I was in her place I'd be screaming. But I'm not, so I'm not. Just..looking at the few uneaten fries in front of me.
"I'm not here for anything. The bus doesn't leave for LA till four and I'm broke. Figured I'd swing by here and you could buy me lunch."
I don't jump though I am surprised.
I'll never be able to get my library organized. Every time I try something happens. If I believed in coincidence I'd think it was a plot. Oh..wait I do believe in coincidence..hmmm.
So she comes crashing through my door hey willy-nilly without so much as a by-your-leave your grace. Not that I mind, she's always welcome I just wished she'd be a tad more..restrained?
"Giles, we need to talk!" She says.
"Eh..Hello Buffy, of course, care for a glass of tea?"
She just levels a look at me.
"No, I suppose not then." I say. "Well, I do happen to have a bottle of cola as well. It was for Spike, he says he sometimes liked his food to fizz."
"That was just so beyond the realms of helpful.." She begins.
"Yes I gathered, have a seat."
"It's Willow" She says.
She has my absolute attention now. "Go on." I say.
"Something happened last night and it's got me worried, something to do with what happened to her and her powers. I think she's losing control."
She spends the next ten minutes telling of the events of the night before.
"And after she collapsed in your arms?" I ask.
"I..I took her home. She was asleep so I put her to bed and ..we went about our day today." She says.
Buffy's talents are amazing, she can analyze a situation and come up with a viable and survivable plan of action in seconds. While she is reluctant to do so, what she learns she retains so if she meets a monster of a type she's fought before she remembers the best way to defeat it. However, lying has never come to her as gracefully.
I am positive there is more to her story but I will respect, for the moment, her 'privacy'.
"And your concern is that what she might to do if scared?" I ask.
"No I'm worried what she'll do if she doesn't get her daily mocha fix!" She snaps at me. "Of course I'm worried about what she'll do. Imagine what might happen is some poor schmo taps her on the shoulder asking for notes or something? She'll smear him over the wall! I mean, don't your books talk about something like this? Some calming ritual or herbal knicknack? Maybe something will sever her powers temporarily? Anything?"
I let her rant for a bit she doesn't meant to be harsh but her frustration has got to find an out somewhere, just bad timing I had to be in the vicinity I suppose.
Ah, she's run out of breath.
"Well," I say. "To answer in the order the questions were asked. I don't know, I don't know again and the last would probably be a very bad idea. You have to understand that Willow is now connected to the world in ways beyond a normal human, or did you think all those rituals, spices and candles were just for show?"
Buffy just looks at the floor.
"I guess..I never really thought about it." She finally mutters.
"Try to keep that in mind then for you have to understand that somehow severing her connection would be the same thing to you or me as ..well.. she's not experienced enough yet for such a drastic analogy as say, plucking out an eye but Willow is well on her way. To sever that connection would probably just add to her state of distress."
Buffy shrugs. "That makes sense..I guess. Doesn't answer the question how can I help her? Can't be there all the time even though I want to. I know I can't protect her from everything..."
"Buffy." I say but she rides over me.
"...I feel like I have to do more, be there more, stand by her and protect her but that's not reasonable. There are other things too, the very ..what happened to her scares the hell out of me. How can I talk about it? I just want it to go away!
To have things back to normal but that's not realistic either."
She gets up and starts pacing.
"It's some sort of vicious cycle. Happy, scared, happy, scared..it's like she doesn't believe she should be happy. And now this..magic thing. How do I help her with that? Magic isn't my area. I kick butt, not use eldritch forces!"
"Buffy." I say again but she just continues her tirade.
"To add to the whole mess is that I'm not sure protecting her is the right thing but then she gets all worked up again and I have to step in, have to make sure nothing happens. I love her Giles, don't ask how or why and don't you dare question the truth of it either. So I'm stuck in this loop of doubt, inaction and action. Well..hell with it then, if I have to protect her that's what I'll do. In every way I can."
She stops her pacing, seemingly pleased with her decision and now looks to me for a reaction, possibly support.
"Buffy," I say. "Have you thought about maybe not so much being in front of Willow but more along the lines of being beside her?"
She looks at me.
"Hi to you too I guess." Faith says. "What is this little ritual called..no..wait, don't tell me..it's on the tip of my tongue." She snaps her fingers a few times. "Oh that's right, manners!"
I bite my tongue. Babbling or being witty right now would be bad.
"Right. Manners, okay so I pretend that I care and that you're the one thing I've been looking forward too all day and you buy me lunch. Sweet." She sits down across from me.
"Or," She says, grabbing my coke and taking a large swallow. "Ah, thanks, needed that. Or we can skip the manners crap and go straight to you buying me lunch. Either works."
I sigh and reach for my cash. This'll wipe me out for the day which means no mocha. Well, this weekend is off to a great start.
"Here." I say handing her the money. "Lines behind you. They don't care about student ID's so you shouldn't have any trouble."
"What?" Faith says snatching the money out my hand. "You're not going to actually get it for lil' ol' me? Whatever happened to manners?"
"I..uh..would..but..." Yeah, but what? How can you tell someone you spend, on average, the entire morning prepping yourself up so you don't freak while standing in the cafeteria line? More often than not Buffy get's my food for me while I sit at a very empty table, usually surrounded by empty tables. Safer that way.
Faith seems to catch on 'cause for a second her hard eyed look fades. But just for a second. "Chill Red, I got it." She gets up.
"Maybe someone will try to cop a feel eh? I haven't had to break someone's arm in ages." She beams at me and goes to the line.
I would be lying if I said my feet were not itching like crazy to go somewhere else. I have some 'emergency funds' back at the dorm, I could run there, grab a five and have a mocha wouldn't have to deal with this whatever it is.
She's back in under five minutes which is an impossibility, at best the line takes ten minutes to get through. She must have used her 'feminine wiles' to cut. She sets the tray down in front of me. Three burgers, three helpings of fries and a pile of those little ketchup packets a good two inches high.
"You say anything about 'me liking fries with my ketchup' I will smack you." Faith says as she sits across from me.
"I'd rather you didn't." I say. "Smack me I mean. Cause it would hurt and I'm tired of hurting and if you hurt me I might..I dunno..go a little crazy and what with all the crap I've..we've had to go through lately, a 'little crazy' might wind being something really nasty and really nasty things..uh.. and that would be kinda bad. Don't ya think?"
I'm not trying to be threatening, or scary, I'm just nervous and my mouth runs away like it's prone to. Faith just looks at me for a second before tearing off the corner of a ketchup packet with her teeth. She spits the piece out.
"Yeah Red." She says. "It just might be."
I don't say anything as she dumps her fries all over the tray then, using one of fry cartons, empties every one of her ketchup packets into it creating a lake of the red stuff. Ugh, looks like congealed blood. She catches me eyeing her 'labors', I'm sure I look a little squeamish.
"Ah, ah, ah, Red. No commentary please." She says. "It's just lunch, not a social event."
"You've been to social events?" I ask.
She raises an eyebrow. "Sarcasm miss you much?" She asks back.
Chastised I fall quiet and let her eat. She inhales the first two burgers which are oozing ketchup and as if that wasn't enough she also dips the things into her lake-o-tomato.
She doesn't say anything, seemingly content to eat.
I don't say anything as I don't know what to talk about.
Leaving half her fries behind and the third burger she gets up to leave.
"Thanks for the lunch." She says before pausing for a minute. "Good conversation too."
"Well..what did you want me to say?" I ask. "The only thing we seem to have in common isn't the best thing in the world! I don't even like ketchup on my fries and here you are drowning the damn things!"
"No Red, it's not one of the best things in the world. It is, in fact, one of the worst things and thats why I didn't want to be here." She says. Then. "You don't like ketchup on your fries?"
Without wanting to I find myself giggling. "Nope." I stammer out. "Can't stand the stuff."
She sits back down. "Blasphemy." She says with a smile.
We here an outraged squeal of laughter and turn to see the girl I noticed earlier, surrounded by boys, is half-heartily beating on one of them. He must have said something embarrassing but she's pleased anyway, she's laughing while pounding. They're all sitting and laughing and having a good time. Faith and I just watch them for a while.
"When was.." I begin then falter off. Swallowing a few times I try again. "When was the last time you felt that safe?" I ask.
She sits silently for a minute.
"I can't remember." She finally say.
"Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever feel that safe again." I say.
Faith turns to look at me. Her dark eyes, which are usually either closed off, or full of passion and humor, are strangely hollow now. She looks tired. She looks like me.
"You never will." She says.
Once again I'm stuck in the wonderful land of 'What do I say Now'.
Faith sits for a few minutes staring at the people at the other table for a few minutes.
"She's got 'Victim' written all over her." She finally say. "A statistic waiting to happen."
I'm still stuck in the 'never feel safe again' line of not-thinking. Faith gets up to leave.
"No!" I suddenly shout then more quietly. "Don't go. Please."
"Why not?" She asks. "You're not saying anything and, while you are a treat on the eyes I have better things to do."
"Because I.." I start before faultering off.
"Because you what Red?" Faith says. "I've done most of the talking while you've just sat quiet and harmless, and about as interesting I might add, as a mouse."
"BecauseI'mtiredofbeingscaredandquietandhavingnightmaresandmessingupandlosing controlandjumpingateverylittlesoundI'mtiredofbeingaloneeventhougheveryoneisaroundmeallthe timeIjustwanttoudnerstand!!" I say in one quick breath.
Faith sits back down. "Why didn't you say so?"
"How do you do it?" I ask again.
"Do what exactly?"
"Well..you're just..I mean so here and you're not worried that ..uh..someone might touch you or that something might happen."I can feel a babble coming on. "You're relaxed and..and..I..normal, yeah you're acting normal so I'm thinking to myself 'how does she do that' so with that in mind I'll uh..ask..er..how do you do that?"
Brilliant. If I didn't feel so pathetic I'd probably be depressed. Wait..that doesn't make any sense.
"Being sober one day in three helps a lot." Faith says.
"Yeah but..that's not an option." I say. "When..uh.."
"Control." She says.
"Control. That's the secret. I'm in control of everything around me. If you breath a word of this to anyone.."
"I'll be mum." I say.
"I wake up scared, I spend the day scared and I go to bed scared. But I don't let it control me. I control it, I control everything, it's easier that way. It's easier if people expect the worst of you, easier to control them. That way I can almost feel safe. Almost."
She grabs one of her leftover fries and drops it in the ketchup. Slowly, it sinks into the red stuff, just swallowed up by it.
"I am the french fry." Faith say. "But I won't let myself drown."
"But.." I say. "But what if another fry helped the drowning one?"
Faith cocks an eyebrow.
"I mean.. what if someone reached out to help yo..the fry?" I say.
Faith sits quietly and just stares at ketchup lake in front of her. One tiny tip of the fry can still be seen peeking above the surface.
"I don't know." She says then carefully pokes the tip of the fry with a finger driving it under the ketchup. "No one ever asked."
She licks the ketchup off her finger.
"What..what if they asked now?" I say.
She shakes her head.
"You're lucky." She says. "You have B. Speaking of which when did that all start anyway?"
"Uh..." Yes! Four point Oh GPA, thousands of books read, large vocabulary and I can actually get out a 'Uh'.
"You love her." Faith declares.
Easy answer, I can answer that. Yes I can. "Yes." I say.
"And she loves you."
"Has she shown you?" Faith says.
"That's..er..that's kinda personal." I stammer.
Faith drums her fingers on the table.
"and.. well..yes. Yeah, I mean she's always there and she holds me and..y'know..other stuff nothing..I mean nothing major." I say. Why am I telling her this?
"No, I mean has she shown you?" Faith asks again.
Whoa! Hey, now that is getting really personal! What business is this of hers, what has this got to do with the topic of conversation?
What ..is the topic of conversation?
"No." I say.
"But you want her too." Faith says. She looks bored.
My mouth moves without me wanting it to.
"Yes." I say.
"I..that is..um.. it's ..more than desire?" I ask.
"I believe you." Faith says. "But what more do you mean?"
"I..uh..I'm not sure." I stammer. And I'm talking and talking and I can't stop myself, I don't want too. "Safe..warm..good memories. I want good memories. I don't just want to wait for things to become good, I want to ..I want..to make good memories, to make good times. I don't know why, but I'm just tired of waiting and waiting and ..people being nice and not caring. I want..I need something special! I don't want to drown but I'm tired of swimming and the ketchup is all so red and sticky and I hate ketchup, really I do and I don't want to sink but I'm getting so tired!"
Faith gives me a small smirk. "Ketchup?" She asks.
I smile, at..least I think I smile. It's been a while and I'm not sure what those feel like anymore. "I really..um..don't like ketchup."
"Now you know what you want at least." Faith says.
"I..do?" I say. "Yeah..I guess I do."
"So..tell her." Faith says.
"No no no no no no..not telling, can't tell, wouldn't work, couldn't do that." I babble.
"Cause..maybe..I'm scared?" I say.
"Two choices then Red." Faith says as she stands up. "The first is simple. Be scared, you could always wind up like me. Which, now that I think about it might be kind of fun." She licks her lips while looking me right in the eyes.
"Don't..don't do that." I say.
"Just making sure I get all the ketchup." She snaps back.
"The second choice?" I ask. Who is she? One minute caring the next..slutty. Is this what she means by 'control'? That if she says such and such and moves like so and so no one can get close to her?
"The second choice?" She repeats. "Well, you tell B, or I will. Ta!" And she walks off.
"Faith!" I shout. She ignores me.
"Faith! Don't you dare say anything to B..I mean Buffy!"
Without turning around she just tosses me a wave. I sit back down and look at the two trays still on the table. One is still has a hamburger on it and a few fries along with a tub of ketchup. There's a french fry somewhere down there and I wouldn't trade places with it for anything in the world.
Was this a good lunch or a bad lunch?