And pulled the trigger harshly.
Words cannot describe what happened next. I know that I moved across the room to try to stop it. I know that I shouted for him to stop. I know that she was already dead as I pulled her into my arms, willing the blood to stop flowing out of the massive, irreparable head wound caused by the point blank shot. I *don't* know when I took hold of my crossbow and raised my arm, taking aim and releasing a bolt into the giggling Jokers shooting arm. I don't know when I reloaded the weapon and released another bolt into his thigh.
I *do* remember Commissioner Gordon's gentle voice as he spoke with the superheroes gathered around me and how he declared that he was sure no charges would be brought against me. I acted in Lex's defense and out of self-defense and that though I could have killed the Joker I didn't. Apparently the Commissioner had come to Metropolis to help the Police Department regarding the Jokers capture. And then Jim asked about me.
I stood up and faced him, not feeling the drying blood thicken as it slowly covered more of my costume and dribbled down onto my legs in dark streaks. "Will there be any delay in transporting my mother back to Sunnydale for burial?"
"Buffy?" I didn't move, letting him draw his own conclusions. That's what he'd done with Batman, he could do it with me. "No. I'll make sure of it. Let me know if you need anything."
I didn't really hear him. I watched the Coroners zip the bag closed over my mothers face.
"Will somebody untie me already?" Lex bellowed.
The Joker began to giggle. "It's your own fault Lexie-kins. You shouldn't trust a mad man you know."
I threw the unloaded crossbow at the Jokers head. He collapsed back onto the floor with a strange gurgling sound.
I looked at the outline of my mothers body in chalk on the carpet of Lex's office and realised I had still to tell my sister.
"Please tell me that was Lex," Green Lantern said quietly as they came into the room as the Police and other officials left.
I turned around to look at them all. "B," was all Faith could manage when she looked at me. I looked down at my clothes and saw all of the blood.
I tried to wipe the blood off my hands and onto my costume but the more I rubbed the more blood seemed to end up on and between my fingers, under my nails and covering my palms. With each following attempt to remove the evidence of my failure I began to cry harder. I just seemed to be putting more blood on my hands and forcing it to move across my costume and dribble in larger, congealing lumps from the hem of my costume down my legs.
"Buffy?" I don't know who called my name. The sound registered as nothing more than noise in my desperation to be rid of this stain that served as a reminder of my failure to save my mothers life.
I think I passed out. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and seeing the ceiling in Bruce's apartment. I slowly sat up, putting my feet on the floor and my back against the sofa back. I felt washed clean and was wearing oversized sweats. I think they must have been Dick's. I was far from alone in the room. Some of the JLA were still here though now they were in civilian dress. Wally is a friend of Dick's, Kyle is Willow's boyfriend, I've worked with Clark and Lois is still here. That explains them all. Dawn sat huddled in Tim's arms. I could see that the tears were all gone now. She was in shock. I'd have to ask her soon if she wanted to go to live with Dad or stay with me.
Right now I wanted to sleep it all away. I stood up and wandered to my room ignoring the silence that followed me but there was no ignoring the man that followed me. Dick didn't speak. He just waited.
Still dressed in the sweats I climbed into bed and under the covers. I looked up at him. He wasn't going anywhere so I put my back against the wall and patted the covers of the space I had just created. He removed his shoes and lay beside me on the covers, facing me, and held me close. The last thought that occurred to me was how soothing he smelled.
I woke up screaming.
At least in my mind I was screaming. I think every nightmarish thing I've ever faced invaded my dream last night. I say dream, singular, because it was. One very long unending dream that showed all of my successes and all of the faces of the people I had saved, ending with the one person I had been unable to save.
I turned my head to work out what the weight beside me was. Dick was watching me, his blue eyes without sympathy or pity, just watching me. I think I wanted to smile, to tell him I'd be ok but I couldn't, I didn't know that I would be ok. I'd failed. Not that I had a perfect record or anything but this was more personal.
Thinking thoughts of being strong for Dawn I asked Dick what the time was.
"It's eleven thirty a.m."
"I'll let you get dressed and... stuff. Is there anything you want for breakfast?"
"No. Thank you. How is Dawn?"
"Quiet. Bruce looked in on us this morning. He said she hasn't slept."
"Oh." I don't think I even hate the Joker. I don't know if I can.
"We'll be going back to Sunnydale today so arrangements can be made for your mothers funeral."
Once I was washed and dressed in some of my own clothes I sat on the sofa with Dawn and comforted her. I didn't know what to say, that failure feeling again, so I just held her and kept hold of her hand as we were ushered through the waiting throngs of journalists and photographers outside our building and again at the airport. Nobody said a word and it was only because of Superman's presence that the journalists were sombre and quiet as well. They seemed to hussle around us and hold out their microphones and tape recorders but they remained thankfully silent.
I think, from my very limited study of psychology, that I am repressing. I think I made the funeral arrangements, then the funeral happened but that's about all I know. There was still some of spring break left so Dawn and I went back to Gotham and stayed at Wayne Manor where Bruce offered to fund our move to Gotham and the renovation of another room just for Dawn. He even offered to arrange a transfer for me to Gotham so I could finish what small amount of my college career remained. I told him I'd think about it and I would but first I needed to speak with Dawn.
"Miss Buffy. Miss Dawn is in the living room."
"Staring blankly at the tv huh?"
He nodded. "With Master Tim and Miss Faith. Master Bruce is expected to return from the office any moment. He is being driven by a colleague, and Master Dick is still in Bludhaven."
"Thank you Alfred."
"Dawn?" She looked at me but didn't speak. She hadn't spoken since the night mom died. I didn't know what to do. I guess we all deal with grief in different ways. "Dawn, I didn't want to..." I sighed and sat down beside her. "You have a choice to make. Legally you have to go and live with Dad but because I'm old enough and because Bruce and Commissioner Gordon have offered their assistance I can be your guardian, which means you can stay with me if you want. The choice is entirely yours and I haven't yet decided whether I'm going to stay in Sunnydale or move out here to Gotham. I want you to know though that I would love to have you with me and you would be welcome wherever I choose to be."
Bruce had come home and I was peripherally aware of Alfred's soft voice briefing Bruce on the current happenings in his house. Bruce came into the living room but remained out of Dawn's view in the doorway.
Dawn remained silent for the longest time but she seemed to be considering her options.
"Dawn, the choice is yours," I reassured her. "You can go with whoever you want."
She opened her mouth and more quietly than I though humanly possible she said, "I'm not staying with Dad, Buffy. We have to stay together. It's what mom would want."
Faith stood up slowly. "Well, duty's done and all that. I guess it's time to go back." I don't know why she chose that moment to decide it was time. Maybe she wanted to make sure we'd be ok.
"Faith..." She turned her defeated expression on Bruce. "You don't have to go..."
"What? You'll pay for me to get a new identity? And I'll spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder? Thank you but no. Buffy I'm really sorry about your mom. She was great and I'm sorry I wasn't there. I'd have kicked his sorry ass."
"And earned another life sentence."
"I could have pleaded self defence," she said quietly. "Not that I can really say anything. I had my month or two of insanity. Would you call Commissioner Gordon for me Buffy? You're offer is really sweet Bruce but now isn't the time for me to be out in the big, bad world again." She sat on the bottom stair and waited.
I picked up the phone and dialled the police station. "Uh, yes. I'd like to speak with Commissioner Gordon please? ...No I won't wait. Tell him this is Buffy Summers... Thank you." I tapped my foot and looked at my watch while I waited in the short time it took Commissioner Gordon to answer the phone. "No, no Commissioner. I'm fine. I've been asked to call you. Do you remember the prisoner who was taken from the facility in LA?... Well she's here... WAIT JIM!!! She isn't dangerous.... I'm asking you to please come to Wayne Manor and advise us on how to return her... She wants to go back. We, that is I needed her help... With the last Joker case... Yes. I know that there were better ways we could have done it Commissioner but it was kind of an emergency and we didn't have time to petition for Faith's release... No she didn't know about it... Yes Batman knew she was in prison but he gave his sternest glare when I said I needed her help. I didn't know who else to ask... The Titans have their own situations to deal with Commissioner. There was a lot happening as part of the Jokers plan... Well if I told you it would ruin the surprise." I heard a click in the background before I continued. "We could discuss this when you get here Commissioner. It would be a lot safer than an insecure phone line... Thank you... Yes. 'Bye." I hung up and faced Faith. "Come with me." I indicated Dick and Tim should follow me and led them through to the study where I took a knock-out pellet from a pouch I had taken to wearing pinned to the inside of my trousers or skirt waistband, and cracked it open under Faith's nose.
"What?" she asked as her knees gave out and she collapsed to the floor.
"Someone will be coming for you and it isn't Commissioner Gordon. The phone line was tapped. This is the only way to make sure you are safe. Please trust me Faith. I'm not going to hurt you. I promise."
"Trust you... Buffy..." she said and slumped to the floor.
"Take her down to the cave and stay with her," I instructed Tim and Dick. "Whatever you do, do not come back upstairs." I watched them vanish down the hidden stairway, with Faith slung over Dick's shoulder then exited the study just as the doorbell rang. "They've come for Faith," I said quietly to Bruce as I pulled him into the living room where Dawn was staring at the history channel. "Hey Dawn."
She started to cry again when she looked up at me. I felt the same way. In less than a week our lives were more completely changed than anything I had ever faced and defeated had changed my life before.
"I know that you don't want to talk about this Dawn but you have to be sure that with me is where you want to live. Dad..."
"I want to stay with you. Will you let me stay with you?"
"I want you wherever you want to be. If you want to stay with me that's fine."
"WHERE IS SHE?!" a voice bellowed in the corridor.
"Master Bruce," Alfred began as he led the people who had rung the doorbell into the living room. We all stood and stared at the immaculately dressed trio of men.
"These gentlemen are requesting to speak with a woman named Faith sir. They would not believe me when I told them there was no such person in residence here."
"We have phone conversations that prove..."
"Let me hear them."
"Pardon," the bossy man said, stopped short in his tracks when Bruce showed no sign of being intimidated.
"I said let me hear them. I want to hear the taped conversations."
The man pulled a miniature tape recorder out of his pocket and hit the play button. My voice began and quickly I realised it was the conversation from only minutes before. 'Uh, yes. I'd like to speak with Commissioner Gordon please?' 'Will you wait a moment please?' 'No I won't wait. Tell him this is Buffy Summers.' 'Ah, yes M'am' 'Thank you.' The sound of nothing for less than a minute in which Bruce turned a disinterested raised eyebrow on the man. 'Buffy? Is everything alright? Is something wrong?' 'No, no Commissioner. I'm fine. I've been asked to call you. Do you remember the prisoner who was taken from the facility in LA?' 'Faith Wilkins?''Well she's here.'I pretended to straighten my trousers using my thumb to push against the small electro magnet in my little mini-utility pouch when the man turned the cassette off.
"What was that?"
"I don't think so. That, if the conversation did actually occur, would be illegally tapping a home telephone line and certainly wouldn't be permitted as evidence."
The men behind Mr. Bossy the Cow exchanged looks. "You are free to look around my home," Bruce said calmly and I found myself wondering just how close to the surface the Bat was, "But I assure you, you will not find anyone named Faith here. We have a Buffy and a Dawn, a Bruce, an Alfred and soon a Commissioner Gordon will be here." As if on cue the doorbell rang again and Alfred permitted Commissioner Gordon, Detectives Montoya and Bullock entrance to our little drama. "And also a Renee and a Harvey. Still no Faith. Commissioner, these gentlemen claim to have a taped conversation between yourself and Buffy that proves an escaped convict named Faith is here."
"Harvey, do you know these men?"
"Sure do Commish. Legal trash from Metropolis for a company called Wolfram and Hart. These guys have been warned about their heavy and illegal tactics."
Dawn began to smile, the smile spread broadly across her face and soon she was starting to laugh, just small sounds at first like she was trying not to laugh, then she began to giggle. Soon there were tears in her eyes, on her face. She was hysterical.
Thank heavens Willow and Kyle chose that moment to arrive coming through the kitchen door to the living room. "She's hysterical Will. What do I do?"
Pulling her backpack from her back she quickly rummaged through it finding what she was searching for. She flicked through the pages of the book to a page marked by a pale blue ribbon. Taking one of Dawns hands in hers she mumbled some words and Dawn calmed as quickly as she had spun out of control.
"What was that?" Renee asked.
"A calming spell. By touching Dawn I transferred it to her. It will wear off fairly soon. What started it?"
"These men," I said, flicking a hand in the direction of the suited men, "Are searching for Faith."
"Faith that worked with Mayor 'I'll-ascend-into-a-big,-bad-demon-and-eat-your-school-principal-before-getting-blown-up-along-with-Sunnydale-High-School' Wilkins'? Faith, who tried to kill you?"
"Why would she be here?"
"They said they had taped proof."
"We do," Bossy said and rewound the tape before pressing play.