The Worst thing
Disclaimers: I do not own these characters; Faith belongs to Joss Whedon, Legs belongs to Joyce Carol Oates.
Author notes: This story takes place in late winter 1997, when Faith is fourteen; it is a companion piece to my story Watch My Back, which is the main story of my Jailbait series.
The Boston winter air was milder than usual in its cold, without wind or even a light breeze to stir any greater chill into a person’s bones. The night sky glittered with an array of scattered stars, whose number seemed to noticeably increase with each passing hour of the evening. The sidewalks and dead grass of the cemetery grounds were covered with a small layer of power-soft snow; although it was already March, Boston winter allowed for snow outbreaks until it was nearly May at times. In the Everhard Perpetual Memories Cemetery, dimly lit by the four grounds’ lamps spread over its land, it was still and peaceful as the evening light lessened and the hour grew late.
Or rather, it would have been, if it weren’t for the two teenage girls, trampling carelessly over its grounds and running, dodging, and vaulting their way through the cemetery’s headstones in their lighthearted pursuit of each other.
“Come and get me, slow-ass!” yelled Faith Lehane, her voice ringing across the distance and carrying obvious glee as she ducked behind a mausoleum, dimples digging deeply into her cheeks as she grinned widely, her heart beating with rapid excitement in her chest.
“If one of us is slow, it’s you, and your brain and your ass gets the honor of that one!” Legs Sadovsky, her older companion, called back to her, but there was no anger or malice in her tone. Her voice was as playful and resonant with laughter as Faith’s, and she wasted no time in sprinting after her, her left arm pumping her forward as her right hand stretched out in anticipation of seizing her friend and pulling her close.
Faith threw a fast glance over her shoulder, tracking Legs’s advancement; the other girl’s generous mouth was open into a wide smile, her eyes glowing with pleasure and mischievous intent, and as Faith faced forward again, her long dark hair tangling in her self-made breeze and partly obscuring her forward view, she smiled too. Her heart was pounding, adrenaline spiking pleasurably through her veins, and a warmth and sense of rightness settled through her, an enjoyment she did not quite consciously classify as joy.
In those moments she felt light and free, as though every part of her glowed and relished the very state of being alive. She felt content in a way that had once eluded her…more than content. She felt happy. But then, she almost always did now, as long as she was with Legs. And that was the most amazing part of it all- that Faith could not only be happy, but that someone else, another girl at that, could make her so.
At fourteen years old, Faith knew all too well what it was to be alone. Before now she almost preferred it, believing it to be the best thing for her, the only way to protect herself, to keep herself safe in ways that went beyond physical. People to Faith were there to use and be used by, and no matter how much she might want it to be different, it never really would be, because that was just the way it was.
But ever since Legs had found her, sidling up alongside her in a gas station interior and easily giving her thieving instructions as if she had known and felt affection and concern for Faith for all of her life, it had been different. Things had changed in a way that Faith had never thought possible; for when she was with Legs, all the loneliness and fear, the anger and desperation Faith had felt and attempted to do away with so strongly for all her life really did go away, and Faith didn’t have to do anything to make it happen. With Legs, even the worst of what she had had to do to survive when she was alone seemed okay now, almost a joke, as long as Legs did it with her. With Legs, every day was special; every day was an adventure just waiting to be mapped out before them. No matter how cold or hungry they were, how sick or tired, or how many people they had to fight off or run away from to keep from being beaten, raped, or turned in to the police, no matter what they had to do to get by, it was okay…it was even fun, as long as they did it together.
And one things Legs definitely knew was how to make things fun.
Like this cemetery tag game. It had just reached the hour where most stores were closed, yet it was too early for Legs and Faith to be able to sleep. Their usual chosen locations to settle in for the night were occupied, and the cemetery seemed the safest place to choose for the night- even most of the homeless were too superstitious to make their lodgings so close to the buried dead. As Legs and Faith had walked aimlessly through its rows, shivering and sniffling as they stood arm in arm in an attempt to keep warm, Legs had come up with the chase as a way to warm up and forget the aching throat, persistent cough, and runny noses that living outside in Boston winter guaranteed to be chronic. And it worked better than ten blankets and a bottle of cough syrup ever could, with the added bonus of not only being free, but a hell of a lot of fun.
Faith yelled out loud as Legs’s fingers barely missed grasping her shoulder, hurriedly twisting her body out from the other girl’s reach and attempting to duck out to the other side. But her worn, snow-soaked sneakers slipped, instead causing her to skid forward and fall onto her backside, narrowly avoiding hitting her head on the gravestone behind her. Beaming, eyes flashing with triumph, Legs pounced on her, diving directly onto Faith’s chest and straddling her with a wide grin, seizing Faith’s arms and pinning them to her chest as she called out victoriously.
“Got you!” she crowed, her face close to Faith’s, flushed with exertion and pleasure as she smirked down at her. “Who’s the slow-ass now, huh?”
“You couldn’t catch me if I hadn’t thrown myself down at your feet,” Faith argued, though she was trying to suppress a smile of her own, her breathing still quicker than usual as Legs sat comfortably on her chest, warmth rapidly spreading through her limbs even in parts of her that were making no physical contact. “Slow ass!”
“I can think of a few other places other than my feet you can throw yourself at, babe,” Legs grinned, raising an eyebrow, and both she and Faith caught each other’s eyes and burst out laughing, the sound echoing around them in the relative stillness of their surroundings. Faith felt Legs relax against her, almost lying on top of her, and she shivered, breathless, dimples fully in view. She didn’t feel the dampness of the snow soaking into her jeans or through her thin jacket. She felt only Legs, solid and living against her, and that was all the warmth she needed.
As their laughter eased, Legs didn’t pull away from her; she continued to smile down at Faith, sitting on her torso as she moved her hand to touch her head, gently stroking her fingertips over Faith’s hair. Faith held herself very still, trying to keep from shivering again in response to the older girl’s touch. A brief, silly urge came over her to nuzzle her head further under Legs’s hand like an affectionate cat seeking further caresses, but she shoved the impulse aside hurriedly and simply smiled, almost shy, enjoying the sensation of her touch.
Somehow, with Legs, just being touched was different in a way Faith had no words for, and she was often almost light-headed with pleasure when Legs took her hands away.
Legs’s hand paused against the side of Faith’s head, and she smiled, teasing affection in her expression and tone.
“Watch it, babe. Wouldn’t want to crack open that fragile skull of yours.”
Faith scowled at her, more in jest than reality, taking a handful of Legs’s hair into her fist as she spoke. “Who the hell are YOU calling fragile?” She pulled Legs’s hair just hard enough to make her flinch, smirking when she got the reaction she had wanted. “Hm, looks like someone’s head is way more fragile than mine.”
“Oooh, I like it when you’re rough,” Legs smirked, and she met Faith’s eyes, her own gleaming with playful intent.
When she leaned in closer, her breasts brushing Faith’s, and almost lay on top of her, Faith’s heartbeat sped faster, her mouth going dry as her cheeks flushed slightly. For a split second she expected Legs to kiss her, was almost counting down to the moment…the moment that almost three months after they had met, was still yet to come.
But instead Legs merely nuzzled her cheek against Faith’s, in the same oddly feline manner that Faith had considered earlier using in response to her. Legs’s cheek was cold, but Faith didn’t care; her own was still heated, and it felt good…soothing.
Faith smiled, careful to keep her voice flippant even as she continued to hold herself very still, hoping that Legs would not stop her actions.
“Down and dirty, that’s me. Got the down part covered now, want to skip ahead to the dirty?”
“Oh, I’m ALWAYS dirty, babe,” Legs said with heavy innuendo, pulling her face slightly apart from Faith to meet her eyes, and for a few moments as they looked at each other, there was something between, a connection so heavy and tangible that Faith could almost see it physically, almost grasp it into her hands. She nearly held her breath, waiting for Legs to make her move. A sentence, a caress, a kiss…she swallowed subtly, wanting to lick her lips, but not daring, not wanting to break what was happening between them.
But even as she waited, trying to stretch the moment out in time, it was gone. Legs blinked, her smile flickering briefly, but even when it returned, her eyes were shifting away, not quite meeting Faith’s as she rolled off her, flopping onto her back beside her on the grave. For a few seconds Faith’s jaw tensed in unspoken disappointment, but then Legs squirmed closer to her, her leg and hip touching, and slid an arm beneath her shoulders, pulling Faith close against her side. They lay with their heads resting lightly against each other, stretched across the grave without speaking, eyes upturned to the stars, sniffing occasionally as a light breeze brushed across their faces, sending strands of Faith’s hair dancing across her face. They lay in quiet for several moments, their bodies loose and relaxed against each other, almost numb to the cold of the thin layer of snow beneath, and Faith smiled softly, content to remain there under Legs’s arm for as long as she was able to stay still.
After several moments the semi-high of the adrenaline surge from Legs’s proximity began to wear off, and Faith started to shiver, the dampness of the snow beneath her beginning to sink in. She turned her head slightly, catching a glimpse of the headstone positioned behind them, and the oddness of their current resting site occurred to her. She snickered, partly amused, partly uneasy, and turned her head back towards Legs, gesturing with the hand not wrapped around Legs’s waist.
“You know we’re totally laying on top of dead people, Legs?” she asked, and Legs nodded easily.
“Yep,” she replied, no concern whatsoever in her tone. “Generally, that’s who’s in cemeteries, you know. Dead people.”
Faith shifted her weight, thinking. It didn’t seem exactly right, somehow, to be laying on dead people, and to be comfortable there- at least as comfortable as possible while also freezing your ass off. But who says it was or wasn’t? It wasn’t like the dead person felt her, or was watching or something.
She didn’t say anything about her thoughts to Legs. Instead she stayed quiet, pressing close to her side, and didn’t speak for a few minutes. When she did speak, the words came without her planning, and she had to fight to keep at bay the image of a face in her mind that rose to accompany them.
“You ever know someone who died, Legs?”
Her eyes shifted to the other girl, watching her face. Legs’s expression didn’t change, but Faith thought her body felt suddenly tense against hers, just a little, even as she shrugged.
“Yeah, who hasn’t? Sucks for them, right?”
“Yeah,” Faith replied, but her tone was distant.
(A woman’s unmoving body, limbs slack, arms trailing off the side of the bed, sheets tangled on the floor, unwashed and stained with sweat and booze. Lolling head, parted lips, snarled hair with dark greasy roots, tilted at a weird angle that didn’t look entirely right…and the eyes. Open, staring eyes that were so empty it was like looking at a mannequin, a cheap copy of what her mother was supposed to be, how she was supposed to look-)
Faith shook her head slightly, trying to physically remove the persistent images from her mind. She wasn’t going there. She was never going there again…she was with Legs. She was here, and nothing from before mattered anymore…it didn’t even exist, not now. Not here.
Still…she couldn’t entirely shake the train of thought from her mind, and she spoke aloud without intending to do so, her words soft and somewhat hesitant.
“What do you think happens when you die, Legs?”
She had turned her head in Legs’s direction, but the other girl didn’t meet her eyes. Though Legs’s voice was still nonchalant when she answered, she continued to stare up at the sky, not turning to face Faith.
“Who knows, huh?” she shrugged. “Probably nothing. We probably just stop existing, whatever makes us who we are and alive. That’s about the worst of it, how you just stop being. Especially if it hurts, then it’s really a waste…hey,” she turned her head finally, raising an eyebrow as she shifted apart from Faith to look at her. “What’s with all the big deep talk anyway?”
“Nothing,” she replied quickly, giving her a smile and shrugging in an unconscious echo of Legs. “Just the cemetery, I guess, brings out the dark and deep.”
Changing the subject quickly, she asked Legs in an unconcerned tone, “Sure this is a good place to sleep? I know it’s not all that much snow, but my ass is still freezing here.”
“It’s as good a place as any,” Legs shrugged, and then smirked, arms tightening around Faith as she shifted to pull her closer against her, her legs overlapping Faith’s and her head once again resting against hers as she pressed her chilled, damp skin against Faith’s, creating warmth to share between them with the closer contact. “Besides, I’ll make sure to keep you warm, babe.”
Faith smiled, feeling her heart kick up the speed of its beats, and her body relaxed against the other girl’s, their shivering slowing at their contact until it was more sporadic, then almost entirely gone. As both embraced without speaking, Faith listened to the sound of Legs’s slowed breathing, to her own occasional stifled cough or sniff and to Legs’s, and gradually grew calm inside, even sleepy. She could always force all the bad away from her, if she tried, especially with Legs so close…it just took time.
She had almost drifted to sleep, her head heavily leaned against Legs’s shoulder, when she heard Legs speak out loud. The other girl’s voice was soft, thoughtful, and serious in a manner that Faith wasn’t used to hearing from her, and as Faith listened, frowning, she opened her eyes, dragging herself from sleep.
“I’m not gonna die, though, if I can help it. I’ll find a way where it won’t happen, if there is one. There’s got to be some way, right? Some way out there, somehow…anyone who’s smart should be out there looking for it. Kind of got other things to focus on now though.”
Faith turned her head to face her, still frowning. Legs’s head was tilted away, looking up at the sky, but even in the dim light and what little she could see of her profile, Faith knew that she was speaking seriously.
“What if there isn’t a way?” she asked softly, her body tensing slightly as she waited Legs’s reply. “What if it’s just life suck, and then you die, and there really is nothing you can do except try to push it back a while?”
“Then it’s like you said,” Legs shrugged, but she was still staring upward, not meeting Faith’s gaze. “But if there is a way, I’ll find out, and I’ll do it. Whatever it is…whatever it takes, you know?”
Faith shrugged without replying. She didn’t want to die, especially now, when it was so different, and so easy to be happy here with Legs. But she had wanted to before, and if things were to change- as much as she didn’t’ want to think about it, refused to- it was likely that she would want to again. Even now, at fourteen, and as happy as she had ever been, and as committed to survival for the longest amount of time possible, Faith wasn’t very sure that she would want to live forever.
She didn’t expect Legs to say anything further, and for several minutes, she didn’t. She had almost started to think that Legs too was drifting off when she spoke again, her voice even softer than before.
“Not like it scares me…it’s just, who the hell would pick to die if they could find a way to get around it? Dying is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person, and the fucked up thing is, everyone’s doing it. It’s like an addiction, only you can’t go cold turkey and 12 step it all away.”
(Unwashed hair in strings, hanging over a creased brow and taut, angry features…mascara streaked eyes, tightened jaw, and breath reeking so badly of booze you have to breathe from your mouth not to recoil. Bloodshot eyes narrowed in anger, hissing insults and shrieked accusations, skinned knuckles meting flesh and bone, and hatred, such hatred and disgust in eyes that at other times smiled, almost soft, eyes that were paired with hands that stroked instead of struck. And then all the movement and feeling gone, all gone, leaving a still form with staring eyes…)
Faith exhaled, closing her eyes, and it was several moments before she found her voice steady enough to voice the conviction the image had made solid in her mind.
“No,” she said with little expression, her voice tight. “Death isn’t the worst thing.”
When Legs looked over at her, questioning, Faith did not respond. And after a few seconds of silence, Legs abruptly jumped up, pulling Faith to her feet too, as if she couldn’t stand to lie down for even a few moments longer.
“I’m not ready to sleep…so come and get me! Catch me if you can!”
As she took off running through the cemetery, Faith hesitated, then began to follow, gradually picking up her pace until she was right at Legs’s heels, arms outstretched to seize her as Legs continually just eluded her grasp.
Faith didn’t want to die…but if there was some way she could stall life too, and just freeze one moment in time like this one, just stay here with Legs for all of time, she would give all she had to do it.
But for now she had a girl to catch, and she snatched at the air between them, seeking but continually failing to draw Legs close.