Title: Jasmine Tears (the Pang of Memory Remix)
Summary: “Better to have loved and lost …” Right. But what if you don’t even have that much?
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel: the Series
Characters: Faith, Lorne
Rating: PG-13 (violence, language)
Disclaimer: This universe and these characters don’t belong to me, but to Joss Whedon and all other entities (networks, production companies, etc.) to whom he licensed subsidiary rights. No profit is being derived from this story, aside from the enjoyment I had in writing it and whatever pleasure anyone else gets from reading it.
Original story: “Do and Talk and Do”, by redwinevinegar, writing as Morphea
Notes: This story takes place following the events of “Chosen” (Buffy S7-22) and “Not Fade Away” (Angel S5-22). Some elements of Dark Horse Comics’ Buffy, Season 8 are referenced here, but this story is not compatible with the IDW series Angel: After the Fall.
(the Pang of Memory Remix)
He looked older than she remembered. Not that theyd spent a lot of time together, first there had been the necessity of tracking down Angelus and then Willow had hauled her back to Sunnydale as soon as theyd managed to pull Faith out of the Orpheus dream. Still, shed made careful note of him on first sight any demon you didnt kill right away, you gave it a once-over in case you had to kill it later and she was willing to trust her memory on this.
There were no new lines in that improbable lime-avocado face, no gray streaks in hair the color of butterscotch. (Food theme going here, next shed be calling those eyes maraschino.) No, it was all body language. The Lorne she remembered had always had something upbeat about him, even when things were grim he stood jaunty. Now he moved as if feeling gravity drag at him, and his face sagged from some internal weariness. She took in these things at a glance as he showed her to a chair in the snug little sitting-room (that much hadnt changed, hed made this space his own in the midst of industrial drear), and they were facing each other, waiting to see who spoke first.
It was Faith who broke the silence. Not from nerves or impatience, but because there was something that needed to be said. I would have come, she told Lorne and, at the sudden immobility of his expression, she went on. For the showdown against those Black Thorn scrotes. Ida been there. I was pretty busy that first year, didnt hear about any of the LA stuff till it was all over, but I swear Idve come if Id known. I owed Angel that much.
Lorne closed his eyes, seeming to sink into himself just that little bit more, then opened them again. Maybe thats why he didnt call you, he said to her. Maybe what he wanted from you was for you to have the life youd earned. That scene at the end he let me go, and I didnt argue. Dying gloriously is still dying.
Yeah, whatever, Faith said. Ida been there.
Another long silence, and this time Faith let it go on; having come this far, she suddenly couldnt decide how to begin. Here we are, then, honey lamb, Lorne observed at last. Im keeping a low profile these days, so I dont see you happening across me by accident, and if you went to this much trouble to find me, its not just casual curiosity. So, you have some questions, about yourself you said. It must be some edge-of-your-seat kind of important to you.
Important, yeah. Faiths laugh was harsh, choppy. You could say important.
Lorne sat back in his chair, crossing silk-slippered feet in front of himself. Mm-hmm? he prompted.
You read people, Faith said. Thats what Willow told me, in the spaces between givin me the lowdown on Sunnydales latest impending apocalypse. I mean, thats your specialty, right? You can look into somebody and tell her things about herself that she doesnt even know.
Its my specialty, Lorne agreed. Except for my smashing sense of style and the beautiful melodies that glide forth from these golden pipes, its the main thing I have to offer the world. He tilted his head to study her. Not that the news I deliver is always what my listeners want to hear.
Yeah, well, right now any answers better than none at all. She closed her eyes, feeling her mouth twist in the bitter sneer of old, and forced her facial muscles to relax. I just have to know, okay? One way or another, Ive gotta know.
I get that. He sighed. Believe you me, Sweet Mistress of Leather, I dont need any special empathy mojo to pick up that much. If you want an answer from me, though, it might help if I knew the question.
Faith nodded, vexed but recognizing the need. Question, right. Shed been trying to work that out, without luck, since the first decision to go seeking Lorne. She knew what she wanted to know, but how to say it She wasnt big on verbal, her best communicating was done with fists or edged weapons. Am I crazy? she blurted at last.
Lorne sat regarding her without speaking for perhaps twenty seconds before he said, Meaning no insult by this, my little Tabasco muffin, but you might want to be a teeny bit more specific.
She made a violent gesture of frustration. It just doesnt make sense, she said. I got two things in my head that dont agree, and I know they cant both be true, but I cant tell which one is real and I cant see how either one could be wrong. They dont work together, no way they ever could, and if Im crazy thatd at least be an explanation. She looked back to her half-unwilling host. So, am I?
Well, you dont talk crazy. Lorne was watching her with a hooded gaze that revealed precisely nothing. With my little inside peek to past, present and future, I deal with all types, including some that dont exactly have every hors doeuvre in their brain arranged according to Martha Stewart. You know you have a problem and you know its inside your own head, and that can be crazy but its not what I usually see. He pondered for a moment, fingers drumming on the arm of his chair. Just how deep do you want me to go?
Whatever it takes. Faith shook her head. I dont care. I just have to know.
Lorne nodded as if he had expected the response, which might very well be the case. Dont be too sure. Most peoples lives are pretty routine; even the ones who live active, its basically an ordinary kind of active. The ones like you, though and Angel, and Wes, and Cordy theyve got so many threads of destiny running through them, it can be hard to follow a single line. His eyes held Faiths. To find what you want, I might have to sift through a tangle of other stuff: big, dramatic, oh my stars and garters! other stuff. You may need to think twice about starting me on that. I know Im already having reservations myself.
All her instincts were warning her to listen what was the point of calling on a seer if you were going to ignore his advice? but Faith shook her head again. I cant, she said, throat so tight the words had to fight their way out. This is killing me. Only time I ever felt worse, I was trying to die. Forget destiny, cause unless I settle this I wont have one.
All right, then, Lorne said with a sigh. I did my best. So tell me, wild child, do you have a favorite song?
She couldnt stop her face from going blank, or offer an answer more intelligent than, Huh?
Thats how it works with me, Lorne explained. Some things are right on the surface and what a fierce stew Im picking up from you, sugar lump! but to really tune in, I have to hear you sing. He smiled, the first shed seen since her entrance. Its like music and the soul truly are the same thing which wouldnt explain how I can read vampires and truer-breed demons, but I still like to believe it. Any song will work, but in a case like yours Im thinking Ill get a clearer, quicker line from something that has meaning for you. So, any faves?
Singing. Wonderful. Exhibitionism of one form or another was neither new nor unwelcome to her, but Faith would have rather taken on Lagos in a bare-knuckle rematch than sing. She wasnt about to back down, though. Not just from pride, she really was at the end of her rope here.
Favorites? Most of what she listened to was neo-punk or heavy metal, with no real lyrics she could remember, okay for dancing or working out but no meaning at all. For a moment she was blank and then the memory came to her, clear and perfect, and she cleared her throat and began, I decided long ago / never to walk in anyones shadow
Whoa! Lorne broke in, holding up both hands. Stop! Enough! Faith faltered, confused, and he settled back into his chair, mopping his brow with a glossy handkerchief. Whew. I thought I was ready, but He pursed his lips, frowning as he assessed something only he could see. At last he looked back to Faith. Im sorry, he said. I cant help you.
What? Faith felt herself coming up out of the chair, and deliberately suppressed the aggressive motion. You cant tell me you didnt get anything, nothing just doesnt hit that hard.
I got something, all right. Lorne folded the handkerchief and returned it to the breast pocket of his dressing gown. It just wasnt what you wanted. The answer youre looking for, its there, I could feel it, but theres no way to reach it right now. Something else is blocking it, something big and ugly. Until that works itself out, the curtain wont be coming up on your show. Sorry, my earthy warrior maiden, but todays performance has been put on indefinite hold.
Thats it? She was standing now, poised on the balls of her feet, and she clenched her fists until the tendons creaked. There has to be a way. Try again, different song, strip-tease, something. I cant quit now!
Its not a matter of choice. He had changed, his demeanor subtly altered with the shift of his mood. No longer the semblance of a horned green human, he was something other now, alien, possessed of an ancient and implacable resignation. What I told you is how it is. You cant dig out the answer, you can only break it trying. Or break me, it comes to the same thing.
Maybe she would have made the attempt, but his very fatalism forestalled her. He knew, she could tell, how close she was to launching herself at him and doing her best to tear out the knowledge she sought; knew it, knew he couldnt stop her, and in the end it still wouldnt change anything.
So what do I do now? she heard herself ask, in a voice that didnt belong to her.
It isnt about doing. Its about being ready. Ready to adjust, to respond, to move in whatever direction you need to. His eyes caught hers, caught and held. You cant watch the meter on this one. At the right time, itll be there for you.
* * *
She found herself out in the main club again without any explicit memory of having moved. The noise and odors of the unhuman crowd were a fresh assault, but it was as if a wall of numbness insulated her from the harsh reality. No: the pain inside her simply overwhelmed any other stimulus. This had been the only avenue that had offered any promise, and now she was lost, with no thought of what to do next.
Even so, ingrained reflex gradually brought the environment around her into greater focus. Inner turmoil or not, drop a Slayer into a crowd of demons and she was gonna notice! She automatically picked out potential avenues of attack, movement, strong points and choke points and which species or groups would pose the greatest threat if it came down to a free-for-all. Shed never been big on names, but she recognized the type that were clustered around the foos-ball table, others of a different type crowded into a booth and alternating argument with long pulls from tankards of bubbling liquid the consistency of gravy. Others nursing solitary drinks at the bar while they glared at all around them, a four-armed insectile form flicking darts at a board with both right-side arms. Some game with lumps of veined crystal and glass balls perched on narrow stems, and a call of challenge from the raised platform where the odd-matched pair had been fighting earlier
She was halfway there before the intention fully formed, and kept going even as she recognized this as a thoroughly bad idea. Outnumbered fifty to one, sure, perfect time to call attention to herself! Didnt matter. Didnt matter. She shoved the last few spectators aside and vaulted up into the contest area. This, this, she knew how to do.
Voices fell as the onlookers got their first sight of her, then rose again in an excited babble. She ignored them. Across from her, the newest challenger was slightly taller than her and half again as wide, and looked more like a humanoid dinosaur than anything else. Brown pebbled skin, three-fingered hands tipped by hard stubby nails, a short spiked tail and a long horn jutting over a foot from his forehead. The mouth was beaked like a turtles, and he watched her from slitted eyes.
There were no instructions, announcements, warnings. The two of them just went at each other.
He was quicker than his size and build would have indicated, but nowhere near her speed. She hammered punches into his ribs and sternum, searching for a sensitive or vulnerable spot, dodged a swing from one massive arm and slammed a kick into his crotch. No result no visible genitalia, for that matter and she slammed in three more punches, two to the throat and a looping roundhouse to his more-or-less jawline. Skin tore on her knuckles, she didnt care, she was laughing, she evaded another swing and then a further turn of his body whipped the spiked tail into her legs at knee-level.
Starbursts of pain, the force of the blow had swept her legs from under her and she was falling. Land rolling, back upright with a pinwheel rotation of her legs (slow, too slow, hed done damage there), stab at his eyes with her fingers, double-clap to where ear canals might be. He ignored the blows, closing with her, this fucker didnt have any weak spots, and the thick arms closed around her as she chopped at his neck with the stiffened blades of her hands.
Not good, but couldve been worse, in seconds she knew he wasnt enough stronger to crush her, but that turtles mouth snapped at her and the forehead horn thrust at her face, she twisted in his arms and caught a fleeting moment of leverage and powered him into the air with an explosive sweep of leg and hip. He outmassed her by so much, the rotation of his body yanked her from her feet, they spun through the air together but she made sure he hit the floor first, she driving her knees into ribs and belly as she came down on top. Still not enough, he heaved and squirmed beneath her, again trying to pierce her with the forehead horn. She threw herself back and clear, and from her side she kicked him in the head three times with all her strength; then, bracing one foot against the side of his skull, she grabbed the horn with both hands and wrenched backward, screaming triumph as it broke free at the base.
She was up again before her disoriented opponent could recover, and she darted around the flailing body, clubbing him in the face with the thick end of the broken horn and launching kicks into the exposed sides, and he was feeling it now! She stamped on one knee and felt it snap, repeated the procedure on the other side, then stood astraddle her prostrate foe and smashed the horn into his face again and again, forehand and backhand, back and forth. Blood (or something) was pouring from the beaked mouth, he was making a rattling wail of distress as he rolled in blind agony. She let the horn slide through her hand till she was holding it point-down like a dagger, and raised it high, preparing to plunge it down through the creatures chest with both hands
The silence stopped her. She paused, weapon still up, not looking but letting her senses register the watching crowd. There were no more shouts of excitement, protest, or dismay. There was no movement. There was nothing except her and the hundred-some eyes fixed on her.
Maybe they couldnt believe the skinny human female had won. Maybe it was a breach of etiquette to fight to the death here. Hell, maybe she was supposed to let them decide, thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
She didnt know, she only knew that something hung in the air. And, as she stood in that moment of indecision, the ghosts of other voices came to her.
Oh, yeah, shes great at killing, Faith is. You want something killed, Faith is totally your girl.
Shame there isnt anything else to her.
She let go of the broken horn, and as it clattered to the surface of the contest area she slammed one last brutal kick into her hapless opponent, then turned and stepped off the platform.
If she had looked around, if she had shown an instants hesitation or uncertainty, they might have torn her apart. As it was, a clear path somehow opened out in front of her, and no one challenged her as she stalked across the open expanse of the club floor, and to the door under the flickering EXIT light, and out.
* * *
As the adrenaline surge faded, so did the last trace of combat exhilaration. She was back in the darkness, only it was worse now because before there had been hope. That Lorne could explain the insanity whirling inside her, that the twin impossibilities could be reconciled or resolved. That it could be settled, one way or another.
She was passing out of the warehouse district where the demon hangout had been set up, and in the last few blocks had transitioned into something more commercial, shuttered shop-fronts and buzzing neon signs in the barred windows. The poled lamps were closer together now, and ahead she saw the beginning of a row of parking meters.
Heading uptown, moving toward something cleaner and brighter and less dismal. Just not where it really counted.
Her throat ached with the helplessness inside her. Her knee throbbed, blood seeping through the torn denim; the tail spikes had done some damage there. Her breath was coming in a harsh rhythm far too close to sobs, and she seized control of herself with ruthless force of will. Never mind that traffic right now was something like two or three cars a minute, never mind that she was a stranger here: nobody, nobody was going to see her and think she was crying. She didnt cry. Ever.
Memory came to her unbidden, and she stopped, closing her eyes, arms hanging at her sides as grief and anguish welled up inside her. She couldnt, she couldnt do this, it was too much
Another car coming. She shook herself back to the present, striding forward with grim determination. Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip. She had to find her balance, the mental steadiness that let her roll with things as they came. Like Lorne had said: Ready to adjust, to respond, to move in whatever direction you need to.
And, as the car overtaking her accelerated and swerved suddenly in her direction, she moved.
It should have been no big deal, easy and automatic. She had tried to push off the injured leg, however, and the ravaged knee locked for an instant. Desperately she threw her upper body forward, and it was almost enough, the hurtling automobile just caught the edge of her hip, and spun her in an off-tangent tumble as it plunged past her to plow through the first of the parking meters, snapping off the post even with the sidewalk.
She hit the pavement on back and shoulder, hard, no control, slamming the breath from her lungs. Wasnt going to stop her, she was tougher than anything that could be done to her! She levered up on one elbow, saw the cars door pushed open, and as the driver emerged she recognized the vampire who had identified himself as Calvin. I was right, he said conversationally, and as she tried to rise, he kicked the supporting arm from beneath her and followed that with a kick to her face. I knew you had to be a Slayer. One of the newer ones, anybody with experience would show more sense, but you really are good. Another kick, this one with serious force behind it, to her short ribs. Too bad I cant see us as a team, because wed be spectacular together. Sooner or later, though A fourth kick, and only a desperate backward jerk allowed her to take it in the collarbone instead of the throat. wed come to a showdown over who was boss. Neither one of us could ever be second banana, its just not in our nature. And if that day was going to come anyhow A flurry of kicks, she rolled and gasped and blocked what she could with her arms, but he was wearing her down relentlessly. best it be now, when I can set the conditions. He slacked his attack for a moment to stand smiling down at her. The guys who go on about what a rush Slayers blood is, I always figured they had no idea what they were talking about. Now I get to test it for myself.
Shed had those seconds to snatch back some wind and equilibrium. He was mimicking the tactics shed used when she had Dino-Boy on the ground, and it was working almost as well for him. Keeping her down, reducing her bit by bit until she was so battered that he could risk a direct drive at her throat. She could stretch it out, make him work for it, but sooner or later shed run out of time
and again Lornes words came back to her. You cant watch the meter on this one. At the right time, itll be there for you.
She rode the next kick, letting it carry her backward, and reached without looking around. Her fingers closed on the pole of the broken parking meter, she brought it around in a devastating arc, every last ounce of her remaining strength, and Calvin screamed as his pelvis shattered under the impact.
She made it to her knees, and swung the makeshift bludgeon again, crushing his chest. Another blow, she was on her feet now but staggering, and that one only broke an arm. She steadied herself, drawing on reserves that werent there, shed pound his head clear through the fucking pavement with the next swing !
Here, cupcake, a voice beside her, I think this is what you need just now. Lorne, he was holding a stake out to her, she dropped the parking meter and grabbed the other weapon, struck downward with the sureness of a motion imprinted directly into her muscle fibers, and fell through the explosion of dust and into darkness.