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10 Months

by Jane Shadow

 


Rating:
NC-17 but don't expect much juicy bits
Disclaimer: No profit was made when I borrowed Joss Whedon's characters for my own personal nocturnal pleasure.
Warning: Somewhat dark, but not too bad. If you don't like it then please by all means be a baby and cry about it then complain to me.
Feedback: Beta me, I got none. Jimmy crack corn and I don't care.
Summary: 10 Months Later

Print Version: Adobe Reader PDF




Chapter One May, 2004 Detroit, Michigan

Ten months.

I think that's the longest relationship that I've ever been in. Well, you know; the longest real relationship... and I don't even know if this is one. It sure as hell doesn't feel like it sometimes.

When I was a little girl I had a perfect mental image of the way things were going to be, I had everything all planned out. I was going to get married at twenty four because I had once overheard my mother saying that was an age of sensibility and excitement and discovery. I was going to marry a tall man who would be gentle like my father but more loyal and would love me more than life, and we would have two children, two girls. Then he would be a doctor or a firefighter or maybe even something that didn't pay all that well but it was heroic and important and we would be so perfectly happy together in our little three bedroom house somewhere near Malibu.

But what really happened is I grew up to live in a studio apartment, downtown Detroit, waking up to the sound of air wrenches from the body shop across the alley every morning. It smells like bacon grease and gearing grease and everything is a far cry from white picket fences. My tall dark and handsome husband somehow transformed into a not-tall-but-taller-than-me sultry slayer with a soft spot for Jack Daniels and a job carrying auto parts on crates in a warehouse, which isn't heroic or important, and doesn't pay well at all. Oh yeah, and we're not happy.

Part of me wants to know just how I let something like this happen, but I guess that's just the denial taking charge because I know damn well how it happened, down to the very last detail. Really we've been together longer than ten months, but she says that then it was just fucking, and when we kissed for the first time without lust we were truly a couple and truly dedicated to each other.

I hate it when she says the f-word.

But I guess that's what it was. The first night I met her, seeing her pound that stake into a vamp outside the Bronze just like she'd been doing it since she could crawl ignited a flame in me that I had previously only felt for Angel. Then when she started flirting with all that "hungry and horny" crap... it irritated me beyond all belief but I still went back to a motel room with her that night under the guise of "getting to know my fellow slayer better". I remember everything about that night, and every night. The way she breathed, the way she clawed at my shirt, the way her fingers felt inside me for the very first time. We both felt the slayer connection even through our vigorous denial of any emotional attachment, and just claimed that it was good sex worth having. Maybe that's why it bothered me so damn much when I used Spike the same way... because it wasn't the same. It was like sex with Faith without the Faith.

I told myself when she came back from jail that I wasn't going to allow it to happen anymore, and no matter what she said to me I would never touch her again as long as I lived.

That lasted the whole of what, two, three hours?

Even then she was special to me, and I believed that behind all of her struggles with darkness she was truly capable of giving me her love and being all of the most passionate and dedicated woman that I could ever need.

I wish I had just backed out when I had the chance.

Now I sit in our apartment holding a chipped coffee mug and staring down at a newspaper from last week. It's the only thing I have to read and we sold the TV so that Faith could pay for her car to be fixed. I've already read every single article so now I start with the comics again, wondering if they will be funny the second time around even when they weren't the first. Nothing seems funny anymore.

In two hours I will need to put on something other than just my underwear and head out for yet another job interview that I will undoubtedly foul up just like the previous twelve or thirteen that I've had in the past two weeks. This one is as a junior high guidance counselor, something that I at least have experience in even though I am totally unqualified for.

Faith should have been home hours ago, she works a night shift on weekends and it ends at eight am. It's nearly noon now.

Ten months with this girl and I still can't trust her. Ten months believing that she is mine but never truly knowing, and definitely never trusting. Maybe this isn't the longest relationship I've ever had, but it sure as hell feels like it is, and everything else (everyONE else) in my past has gone down the drain for her, forgotten just as easily as what I had for breakfast four days ago. Though knowing how things have been going, it was probably coffee and only coffee.

I hear her boots in the hallway outside the apartment. She's either dead tired or dead drunk, and neither is something I want to deal with today. As she unlocks the door I practice my best stoicism and prepare to look incredibly interested in something I'm reading, which is really a salad recipe in the Home section of the paper. Without a word she shuts the door, tosses her jacket on a chair, kicks her boots off and heads straight for the refrigerator as thought nothing is wrong with her coming home three hours late. I want to ignore it. I want to pretend like I don't care where she's been since obviously she doesn't care enough to explain herself, but that little girl fantasy of having the perfect life and perfect lover are surfacing as if to mock me, and I want to prove them wrong for once. I want to hear a legitimate excuse leave her lips and feel foolish for even thinking that she was someplace I wouldn't approve of, someplace that would threaten our crumbling fantasy of happiness.

I want to turn and yell at her, but I don't, I keep my eyes focused on an article I'm definitely not reading and mumble my words. "You're late." Is all I manage to say.

She responds with a clearly agitated sigh and slams the door of the fridge shut. "Yeah well I put in overtime."

I don't need to turn around, I know she's holding a beer. The words "happy hour" don't mean jackshit to her. To Faith it's more like "happy day" and it lasts all day, every day, until she passes out and then the next day begins when she wakes up.

"Are they paying you extra for that?"

There's a long silence. I don't even know if she's still behind me but I don't want to look.

Finally she replies. "They'll start giving me time and a half when I take over Hank's spot on the floor. I'm going out. Need to get some groceries."

That's it, the end of the discussion. She kisses the back of my head and is out the door again, and I don't know where.

October, 1998 Sunnydale, California

"You can come up if you want, but the place looks like shit." I tried not to allow my nervousness to show, wiping my sweaty hands against my jeans as subtly as I could manage. "Ye-yeah. Sure, you know, we have a lot of slayer-ish catching up to do and there's only one way to do it. Well, two ways to do it. Oh god, not do IT, I mean, to catch up with-"

My words were dead in my throat when I looked into her eyes and saw the deeply hungry gaze, staring into me like a challenge. I wasn't sure if I should run into the hotel room or down the street, but something in me pulled me closer to her until our bodies were grazing, her hands on my waist, her breath hard against the sensitive, exposed skin of my neck. Even now I'm not sure what initially caused me to give into it, but as soon as I was laying back onto that squeaky, stained mattress and she began to undress me I knew that this was the only kind of life Faith would ever live, and I wanted this piece of her to be mine.

She was surrounded by situations exactly like that one every day, and maybe I just pushed the thought away and allowed myself to be captivated by her beauty and the heat we shared because it seemed so romantic, but that would take it's precious toll on the both of us.

Her hands were shaking when she pushed her middle finger inside me, and I moaned, but I didn't moan her name the entire night. Likewise she didn't say mine, and we never kissed. A few weeks later we would kiss for the first time in the Sunnydale high girl's bathroom during homecoming, but that was an accident. I guess I had just done it completely out of habit, and she didn't stop me, but she wasn't very responsive to the kiss either. The first night we had sex together I had tried to brush my lips against hers but she pulled away and had this look on her face like "what the hell are you doing?" I have to admit I felt ridiculously stupid, although now I don't think I was stupid, because it's not stupid to expect some kind of emotional union when you go to bed with someone. No, what's stupid is thinking the opposite is possible, especially for two people as driven by our feelings as Faith and I are.

After I had used my hand to get her off that first night in the hotel, she told me that I could stay and sleep or go home if I wanted, but she was going for a walk. I didn't realize that this was actually a groundbreaking and rare post-sex invitation from her. Of course, I went home, hurt and used, and vowing never to speak to her again, and definitely not to have sex with her again.

May, 2004 Gerald Ford Middle School, Detroit, Michigan

It used to be that the Watcher's council took care of their slayers, sending them checks or giving them a place to stay while they fought against vamps and demons, but things just ain't how they used to be. Now we have to get actual jobs and go to them and we can never call in with the excuse of "oh I'm sorry I'm covered in demon's blood do you think I could take the time to shower?" That's the kind of shit that Faith and I pulled when we first got to Michigan, because we didn't think that anyone or anything would stand in our way, not even being broke. Then the bills poured in and we quit making fun of life and enjoying it. Of course I still slay, that's something that I'll never stop doing. But I do it alone and I do it methodically and only when the vamps around city really start to become cocky enough that I feel the need to smack them back down to dust.

If I get this job at the middle school it might be harder to creep around graveyards until four o'clock in the morning during the week though.

Everything about the place is totally sterile. No pictures on the walls, no banners, nothing. Just a hallway of uniformed blue lockers and several maroon doors, one that opens up to the superintendent's office, which is where I'm headed. I try my best not to space out when he tells me about their level of quality learning and preparing children for the future, I've heard it eight dozen times but the coffee is that expensive stuff straight out of Seattle and the chair is comfortable so I grin and nod myself into a frenzy.

Then the questions. Your basic interview questions designed to get to know the candidate and more or less back them into a corner until they admit something that will allow you to disqualify them. No wait, that's just what the questions become every time I am the one being interviewed.

He's entirely passive. Doesn't even indicate if the answer is good or helpful in terms of the job, he just nods and goes on to the next one, making my time in his office slowly evolve to torture. He asks me why I left Sunnydale, and what am I supposed to say? "Gees, the whole town kind of imploded when hell literally sucked it into oblivion." No I didn't say that. I told him that the school was now shut down for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with me and I was forced to be out of a job along with that shutting down.

Again with the passive nod. Next question.

And so on and so forth until I'm standing up and shaking his clammy hand that feels like a dead fish (remember to smile and make eye contact), then it's over.

No matter how bad that was, I still would rather sit through the whole thing again than go home to face Faith.

April, 2003 Sunnydale, California

I guess I should have been happy when she came back from jail; came to help us with one final big bad and one more impeding apocalypse.

But the only thing I could focus on when I saw her was the first night that we had sex and the look she had given me when I had tried to kiss her. It was burned into my mind, burned in along with her brown eyes staring straight into mine as we both clutched the knife that I had forced into her. Maybe it was guilt that made my heart change, or maybe some twisted form of sympathy, but we had sex the night she arrived in Sunnydale after her being gone for around three years. I hadn't planned for it, in fact I had planned AGAINST it, but I couldn't sleep no matter what I did and when I heard footsteps in the hall outside my door I hoped maybe it was Willow or Xander; they always seemed to have the right thing to say that would help me put things into perspective.

Of course I had to get up to see, and of course it had to be Faith.

She said that she had just gotten up to use the bathroom, and I knew she was lying but none of that mattered. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry for what I did and I knew she was sorry for what she did and that I had forgiven her and I wanted to slay with her again, but instead I pushed her against the wall and slid my hands up her shirt. Faith was surprised but not enough to stop me, and I bit roughly at her neck and shoulders while groping at her breasts under her tank top, pulling at her nipples so hard she sucked in a breath and bit her lip to keep from moaning in pain. I didn't care if I hurt her, because it wasn't making love that way. It wasn't tender, it wasn't gentle, it wasn't any of the things that made us feel too much or think too much for each other or even whisper lies in the darkness.

It was just fucking.

May, 2004 Detroit, Michigan

When I got home from the interview Faith was sprawled out in our bed underneath an obscene amount of blankets, eating a turkey sandwich and staring at where the TV used to be.

"How wuff the innerview?" She mumbled through a mouthful of hoagie.

"Could have been worse I guess. Did you take a shower after work?"

Faith rolled her eyes. I was constantly nagging her to take showers after work because otherwise she would smell like motor oil for days and general car engine smells just drove me nuts.

"Why the fuck does it matter?" She called out to my back as I walked to the bathroom. "You never come close enough anymore to know what I smell like anyways!"

I ignored her and turned on the bathroom light. There were clothes all over the floor, wet towels thrown on the side of the shower, and a few random rolls of toilet paper that appeared to be wandering aimlessly through our bathing zone. But no work clothes. I reached down to pick up a red bra that caught my eye, wondering for a minute if it was mine or hers or someone else's, but the thought was disrupted when I heard the distinct sound of Faith's open palm slamming hard against the doorframe behind me.

"Whatcha doin' babe?" She growled.

I turned around and stood as tall as I could, still not as tall as her but close enough to make me equally intimidating. "Maybe I wanted to use the bathroom without your supervision."

"Maybe I wanted to watch anyway."

"That's disgusting, Faith."

Both of us stared angrily at each other like a tiny show-down happening right there in our very own trashy bathroom. Seems she couldn't think of a comeback.

"I suppose you're going to tell me that you think I'm cheating on you again." Faith finally said with a sneer. "It's about the right day of the week for it. In fact you may just be a little past schedule, so go ahead and accuse me twice."

"Fuck you."

This only made her smile.

"What was that baby? I didn't hear you... I thought for a minute that you said the f-word but I can't be right, I must have heard wrong."

My senses kicked into overdrive and I could literally feel my pulse in my neck, which was not a good sign, because that only happened just before I did serious damage to something or someone. "I said `fuck you'." I repeated coldly, stepping forward to exit the room but she held me up in the doorway, not moving aside.

"It's funny you mention fucking me, because that hasn't really been the subject on your mind for quite a while now, has it?"

"Move out of my way."

Faith leaned down so that our faces were less than an inch apart, her dark eyes penetrating mine and her amusement quivering at the corners of her mouth like she was about to burst into uncontrolled laughter any second. "Don't change the subject." She emphasized each of her words sharply and slowly before her gaze lowered, scanning my body and licking her lips. I couldn't smell alcohol on her breath, could only smell her, and I knew just how aroused she was, but I was pissed off and didn't want to make love.

Without looking down I reached out and grabbed the front of her pants, unbuttoning and unzipping them quickly, staring steadily into her eyes with a vicious glare that I know could melt daisies if I stared at them long enough. She didn't even seem the slightest bit uncomfortable as I forced my hand into her briefs and pushed two fingers up inside of her without wasting time. Her breaths became short and hard but her expression was one of rage, almost as if being fucked and hating me were one and the same, and maybe at that moment, they were.

After a few minutes of this methodical, passionless fucking she grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand out from inside her center then pushed me back lightly before walking into the kitchen. I didn't even bother to push the issue, I knew it was worthless, and we both knew that this wasn't about having sex with each other, it was about proving a point. Of course I haven't a clue what my point was, but I was standing by it just the same.

The problem with a studio apartment is that you can't just go into a bedroom and read a book while the other party is in the living room if you want to get away. No, the bedroom is the living room and really there is no living room or bedroom at all. It's just one big room with a kitchen and sometimes an area with a dinner table but we didn't even have that, we either ate in bed or on at the kitchen counter while sitting on stools. So our fight couldn't really end, because as long as were both stubborn and in tiny quarters with one another we were going to continuing being angry. So I looked for something to distract me and found the answering machine.

"You have two new messages" the robotic voice informed me. I heard Faith coughing in the kitchen.

The first message was Dawn, saying that she had gone to some concert at her college and wanted to tell me about it because she was sure that I would have enjoyed it. She asked me to call her back but it had been ages since I had actually called Dawnie just to chat.

The second message was from the body shop telling Faith they had accidentally left one of their jacks in her trunk and could she please return it. How the hell they managed to leave a jack in her trunk, I will never know, but the guys at that place have always been stoned off their asses so it's something I've come to expect.

Then like clockwork, Faith is pulling on her boots and stepping out the door. She mumbles that she needs to return the jack but I don't know why she bothers because we both know it's a lie. I lay down in the tub when she's gone and I turn on the shower to feel the warm water and try to forget where I am.

Chapter Two

May, 2004 Detroit, Michigan

A Mr. John Hartley calls me two days after my interview at the middle school and asks me to come in and go through an orientation and drug/alcohol testing. I guess that means I got the job, but I can't say that I feel any excitement about that after everything that has gone on for the past few days between Faith and I.

I have no idea why they hired me; I was so out of it that I don't even know who John Hartley is. He could be the superintendent or he could just as easily be the janitor and I wouldn't even have a clue. Was it like this when I got the job as guidance counselor in Sunnydale? Was it like this when I was pulled out of heaven? Like my life was a butterfly but now it's a cockroach, wishing that some great exterminator would happen along to just put all of us cockroaches out of our misery. I should have gone to Cleveland with Willow and the girls. I should have gone to L.A. to stay with Wesley and Angel. I should have gone anywhere except here, and gone there with anyone except Faith. But no, we were all swept up in falling in love with each other and acting as though we were Mike and Carol Brady, sharing a toothbrush and cuddling to watch movies in our underwear so we couldn't stand the idea of being apart for more than ten seconds. Stupid me, should have seen it coming.

I have one clean outfit that makes me look not-trampy and I put that on. It's probably a Tuesday, or a Thursday. All I know is that I'm scheduled to meet with the superintendent at eight o'clock, and Faith is at work so I'll have to take the bus. I asked her before she left if she could get off early to give me a ride, and she said "sure" then went out and picked me up a bus pass instead, not even offering an explanation. Probably just as well since we haven't said more than three words together since we got in that fight over... I don't remember what it was about.

Check myself out in the mirror. I may have survived an apocalypse but that didn't stop me from gaining twenty pounds after the fact. Ok maybe it's only ten. I still think that I look like shit, and this skirt never used to fit so tight around my ass and hips before. Too late to do anything about that now, I have a bus to catch.

"...and this is our counseling center; or guidance center, if you will. At the front desk we mainly handle schedule changes and fulfillment of academic requirements, while those back two offices are reserved for student's personal counseling needs."

The walls are slate gray with black and blue trim. The desks are the same colors. Mr. John Hartley (who turned out to be the Principal of Gerald Ford Middle School) is wearing a black suit with a blue tie. It's a good thing that I've been wearing their school colors since the day I became a slayer, cause I know black and blue looks good on me. Ha, I'm hilarious.

"Would you like to see your new office, Ms. Summers?" Hartley asks with an enormous smile that hasn't left his face since I walked in.

"That would be great." I return the smile and wonder if his is any less a total fake than my own.

He opens the door to reveal another room exactly like every room I've seen so far in this building. So sterile it almost appears two-dimensional, same colors, no patterns, just solid lines. One cornflower blue chair sits at a right angle to the wall beside a small desk topped with gray Formica, and a matching blue couch opposite them both. The only nice thing about this room in contrast to the halls is that it at least has carpet instead of frighteningly well-waxed tile, but it matches the walls so well that the comfortable feeling that carpeting typically gives to a room is washed out and replaced by overbearing creepiness.

"Looks... clean." I observe. Hey, I practice honesty as a rule.

"We try to maintain a neat appearance here at GFMS, which I'm sure that you've noticed. We feel that by not cluttering our hallways and classrooms we not only keep students free of distractions, but we also remain distinguished in comparison to other middle schools." His beady eyes lit up the more he chattered, and I just kept on listening, trying not to stare at the fat under his chin that jiggled every time his mouth opened. "Every parent in the district who has sent their child to a junior high school knows that this is a no- nonsense institution for education, and we hold strongly to those standards. I'm sure that we can expect the same attitude and enthusiasm from you while you are working here with us, Ms. Summers." He paused and wet his lips. Jiggle jiggle went the double chin. "Well I've shown you everything so you are free to settle in to your new office while I attend to some paperwork. We won't be sending any students your way this afternoon unless Cheryl needs an extra hand, but I suspect things will be quiet around here. Go ahead and take the day to get to know the other faculty, then around one o'clock when Mr. Fryer is in he will take you through your final paperwork."

"Sounds great." Actually it didn't, it sounded painfully excruciating, but I threw that whole rule of honesty out the window to become a slave to the working world of guidance counselors. It felt just like old times, only this school didn't have a hellmouth resting beneath it and I don't think they hired me because the Principal's mom used to be a slayer. Welcome to some-what normal.

Hartley and his plastic smile said farewell for the time- being and I stepped into my new all-official office to sit in my cornflower blue chair and contemplate just how many things I won't be bringing in to decorate the place and make it seem more like home. The drawers of my desk are empty all but one, which holds a spiral bound notebook complete with dividers and a ball point pen. I suppose this is so I can take notes. I used to have a notebook just like this one that I took to school, and wrote down everything I was feeling like a diary, but I threw it away after Faith came to Sunnydale.

November 1998 Sunnydale, California

"Hey Buffster, whatcha' writing?"

"Nothing, hey. Xander." I quickly opened the top of my desk and threw the notebook inside.

This only sparked his interest. "Ooh, got a secret book there of your secret things? Let me guess, little hearts that say Rupert in them?"

"Rupert? Who's Ru... oh EW! Xander that's disgusting! Please keep your personal fantasies about middle aged Englishmen between yourself and yourself only. And try not to let them involve me, if you can help it."

"All right I can see that prying will get me nowhere, but I am a clever man full of tricky knowledge and the power to see many things, and I can see right now that Buffy is crushing on someone. I do believe the answers lies in a certain notebook."

He would have probably continued the rambling for hours if class had not started. I could feel how flushed my face was and hoped that no one had noticed, but it was pointless, I was red up to my ears. Xander WAS right about the little hearts with a name in them, only it wasn't Rupert (obviously), it was Faith. I'm not even sure why I was thinking about her, much less doodling about her during school, we had sex once, end of story. I wasn't even sure if it counted as real sex, because with girls it's not real, right? Just glorified making out. So why couldn't I get the night before out of my head?

After that period I got rid of the notebook, I don't remember how. I think I threw it in a dumpster or burned it... it wasn't significant. Faith wasn't significant, at least, I wouldn't allow her to be in my mind.

May 2004 Gerald Ford Middle School, Detroit, Michigan

"Hey Buffy, how is everything going?"

A voice from the doorway brought me back to reality. What had I been thinking about? I looked down to see what was in my hands... oh yeah, that's right. Memories of notebooks passed. I closed the drawer to the desk and tried like hell to remember the name of the woman who had just stepped in.

"Hey... it's good. This office is fantastic, what a view." I replied. What was her name? I thought it should be Laura but then I realized that I was only thinking that because she looked like Dr. Laura, that bitchy radio advice lady. Ugh, how unfortunate.

"I'm glad to hear you're comfortable. Did Principal Hartley tell you about the school colors?"

Oh, we have school colors? No shit, I didn't notice! Someone should make them more apparent, don't you think? "He may have, refresh my memory."

"Well as you can see, the colors are blue, black and gray. Everyone on staff wears them just to keep in the school spirit of things, and I think it allows for a subtle, clean-looking atmosphere. You probably didn't even realize that we were wearing them, most people don't! But when you see a teacher in something like red or orange, it really catches your eye and seems out of place."

God, by the way she talked about it I could tell that this whole issue was something that she believed pretty firmly in. She and Hartley both were pissing themselves with delight over the orderly state of this "educational institution", and she was smiling so hard over it I was positive that a new wrinkle was about to show up. Maybe that was the resemblance to Dr. Laura that I was seeing.

"So wear the school colors, gotcha." I said while hoping they would pay me enough to allow for me to buy new clothes.

"Good. Do you think you'll be ready to start seeing a few students today? We have a bit more activity than usual for some reason, and there are two girls waiting in the front if you wanted to get busy. How's that sound?"

"Perfect." For the first time all day, I wasn't lying through my teeth. I honestly looked forward to sitting and talking with students, helping them, knowing that I might be able to offer some advice. I loved being a guidance counselor in Sunnydale, it was not just a day job, it was kind of like a day purpose. Something that made me feel worthwhile other than slaying (which contrary to popular belief does not really offer tangible emotional benefits or a lasting notion of accomplishment for the individual slayer). I did wonder why they were handing over young impressionable minds to me after just two conversations and a résumé, but that was their choice and I wasn't going to point out to them that I could potentially be a psychotic killer or harbor ulterior Michael Jackson-ish motives towards 10 year olds. Ew.

Dr. Laura went into a different room for a moment and returned with a (go figure) blue folder, then set it in front of me on the desk. I glanced at the tab which read "Pierce, Sandy G". Dr. Laura gave me instructions on what was in the folder and what kind of things I should consider public and private. Basically she was saying "don't tell everyone in school if a kid claims to be pregnant", well no shit Sherlock. Then she made up a few hypothetical situations that served the purpose of allowing her to speak and me to listen before I said for the eighth time that yes, I understood, and in came Sandy G.

I had forgotten just how small junior highers were. When she sat down the couch seemed to swallow her which is a great mystery since the cushions were formed from plywood I'm certain. She reminded me of Dawn, only a little tiny Dawn with stick-straight blonde hair, having that look of confused innocence about her. I smiled and it was genuine, I was so happy to see someone unbiased by social politics that I had an impulse to jump up and gratefully hug Sandy G. Pierce. Of course I didn't, that would undoubtedly arouse Michael Jackson-ish suspicions.

However I did get up to shake her hand and introduce myself. She looked surprised by it. No, wait, she just looked surprised by everything.

After Sandy G. Pierce told me the story of how her toddler brother was constantly using her homework as a coloring pad, I met Jamie L. Thompson who didn't know how to adjust to his parents becoming caretakers of a girl with down syndrome. Then before lunch I talked to Dr. Laura (or rather Cheryl as she is supposed to be called), who had the urge to fill me in on her husband's job as a prosecuting attorney for no apparent reason. God knows I didn't ask.

The day came to an end faster than I had thought it would. In fact it seemed to go by faster than any day had in the past six months that I could remember. Well except for paperwork hour with Mr. Fryer which somehow gave me flashbacks of the first time I restlessly watched `Titanic' and begged for the ship to fucking sink already. When 3:30 came I locked up my desk (another mysterious policy) and walked out into the hallway, not even noticing Faith standing just outside the counseling center. Of course with her dark blue garage jacket and black Dickies slacks, she fit right in.

"Hey slayer."

I stopped in surprise. If she hadn't said anything I would have walked right on by. "Faith, what are you doing here?"

"It's raining. I came to pick you up."

Neither one of us said anything for a long moment, and that familiar feeling of awkwardness set in. I had been so busy enjoying my day that I had forgotten just how painful it felt to be around her, and now I wondered if this was the way she felt after work every morning when she came home to me.

"You can take the bus if you want." Faith muttered quietly.

"No, sorry, I was just thinking. I'll ride with you, let's go."

As we walked out to the car I realized something for the very first time. Instead of thinking about how much happier I might be without Faith, I thought about how much happier she might be without me, and that hurt ten times more than debating my own satisfaction with our relationship. When we got in the car I couldn't even look at her, I just stared out the window until it felt like my eyes and throat burned from holding back tears. She didn't drag me into her miserable life. She had every right to white picket fences as Buffy Summers did, and maybe even more so, but I wouldn't be the one to decide that for her. For the first time I wondered why she was staying with me, and not why I was staying with her. But I knew why I was staying with her, even if I didn't admit it, even to myself. I couldn't live without her. She could hate me and believing that she did hurt like a thousand swords inside my soul, but I couldn't stand the thought of being without her there in our bed, in our apartment, in my life.

She could leave anytime. She could pack her things and be gone forever, and I didn't want that. I wanted my white picket fences and my Carol Brady wife and to never grow tired of just holding my lover's hand, and I wanted it all with Faith.

We got back to the apartment without saying a word to each other. While she took a shower I let myself break down and cry, curling up tightly on the bed and sobbing until my muscles ached. I didn't hear the water turn off and I didn't hear her open the bathroom door. I don't know how long she was standing there, watching me, before I heard her voice behind me.

"It's that terrible to be with me isn't it."

At first I didn't hear her, but as I forced myself to stop crying, wiped the tears, and rolled over to look at her, I knew what she had said. And she just stood next to the bed staring at me, the broken expression covering her, etched deep in her brown eyes. I'd seen it so many times but it never seemed any less painful when I knew I was the one that caused her to look that way.

"It... it isn't that..." I whispered, wiping my eyes again.

"I thought things would get better after a while. And it is that. You cry every night in your sleep because of me." Her voice cracked but she held back the emotion. "It's not getting better it's only getting worse."

"No, Faith." I could barely speak, the tears were welling up inside of me and making it impossible to swallow, difficult to breathe. Neither one of us could look at each other.

She forced a conclusive sigh as though she had just decided on something lasting and final, or maybe it was really just her way of shoving down her emotion, I couldn't tell. "You don't need me anymore, now that you've got this job. You can take care of yourself. You should."

"No, Faith... no..." it was all I could say. I didn't want to take care of myself, but the words wouldn't come out.

She stopped for a moment but then continued with a deep breath. "You, you know you aren't happy anymore. I know you aren't. It might not be what both of us think is all right but it will be better in the long run if I... if I leave."

"Faith," I whispered, tears streaming down my face. I looked into her eyes and she looked right back. "Faith, please don't leave me." I wanted to tell her that I would make her happy, if she only gave me a second chance. I knew I didn't love her anymore, if I ever truly did, but at least we could be there for each other. All I needed was to understand what she was feeling and I wanted to be a part of her life again, the way I used to be. But I couldn't. I couldn't make myself say it all.

Chapter Three

"You're happier without me." She said persistently, her demeanor ascending into indifference. I knew she was shutting down her emotions, she always did when things got too hard for her to handle.

"No, I'm not. I need you."

The silence that followed lasted far too long in my opinion. Faith stared at the floor as if her eyes would burn a hole through the carpet (it wouldn't have been noticeable among the cigarette burns). I searched her face for a sign of what she was thinking, feeling. I didn't want to beg because I knew if her leaving would make her happier than being with me, then she should leave, no matter how badly I needed her. But I wanted her to stay long enough to give me a chance to do things right. I wanted to show her that I could make it better, and I could love her the way that I used to. These thoughts raced through my mind while I waited for her to say something, anything at all. I watched as her eyes darted in the direction of the door and I inwardly prayed she wasn't about to walk out it.

She looked at my face but not in my eyes, and then reached out to wipe away my tears, gently, with the side of her thumb. Her hand was trembling and all of me was trembling, but I relished in the sensation of her touch that I hadn't felt for so unbelievably long. I waited to hear her tell me that she needed me, too, and when she opened her mouth, those were the words I was expecting.

"I..." Faith began to say, stammering. "I need... to go to work."

Simply enough her hand dropped away from me, and she was gone before I had anything to say about it. No kiss goodbye, no promise that we would talk more when she returned, and I didn't totally understand. I thought she would be happy to hear me say that I needed her, and things would change. Ok, they did change, but they left me in the dark and with no idea of what she was feeling.

August, 2003 Detroit, Michigan

We'd been living in the studio for three weeks before we had our first official fight as a couple. Of course fights had been numerous prior to our relationship (physical and verbal) but this one really struck hard because now was the time we were supposed to be loving and supportive. It had started when Faith came home from work and I was sitting on the bed watching a movie.

"Hello gorgeous." I said, like I had been saying every time she came home from work.

"Hey." Faith grunted and walked into the kitchen, not bothering to take her boots off, but I ignored it.

"What happened at work?"

"Nothing. Do we have anymore of those cheese bagels left?" She called out while rummaging through the cupboards and slamming the doors shut.

"I don't think so. I can pick up some more tomorrow if you want."

I probably should have paused the movie and gotten up to talk to her. But I didn't. I just kept watching it because I cared more about the plot at that exact moment than finding out what my girlfriend had been busy with all day long.

She slammed another door shut and walked into the front room with her arms folded across her chest, staring at me.

"What?" I asked, sharing a glance between her and the TV set.

"I'm hungry."

"So eat something."

There was a brief silence, one that would have made me uncomfortable if it weren't for the fact that I was listening to the characters in the film and not to Faith's apparent need for my attention just then. But evidently my lack of interest frustrated her, because she abruptly turned and slammed her open fist down on the kitchen counter. I think I probably jumped and might have cursed at her, and when she looked at me, it was like evil old Faith coming back to haunt, without a purpose in her anger.

"Why the fuck are you watching this movie?!" She yelled, pointing violently at the TV screen. "Why the fuck are you so absorbed in all this bullshit? That's not real, B, OUR life is real, and you don't seem to even give a damn about us. But you care about what happens to those little fuckers. You don't care about what happens to me? Is that what this is?"

"Fai, this isn't anything, I don't know what-"

She stepped towards me and even though she was driven by an inward rage, I knew she wasn't going to hurt me so I didn't back away or cringe in the least. "I know my life isn't glamorous to you and maybe no interesting, but I thought you wanted to be a part of it! Now I don't-"

I couldn't let her rant on like that. I jumped off the bed and grabbed both her arms, holding her still. "Relax, Ok? Relax. I'm just watching a movie. I'm sorry I wasn't paying attention, but it doesn't mean anything. I'm watching. A movie. No big deal. Why are you so angry about this?"

Her expression fell and she could only manage to shrug before falling into my arms. I never even knew why, she never explained. Ten minutes later she started cooking herself dinner with a smile as if everything was perfectly normal. I probably should have forced her to explain what was going on, but I didn't want anything to be wrong, I wanted to ignore it, too. It was the first time I had seen her lose control with a total lack of reasoning in nearly five years, and somehow I wasn't even the slightest bit worried about it.

May 2004 Gerald Ford Middle School, Detroit, Michigan

"...while my mom doesn't think that it's totally ok, I still know she isn't totally mad about it either, except that I think maybe she'd like it if I didn't have any boyfriend at all. But my dad is just totally insane crazy because no one really thinks that way anymore, not like they did in the 40s or whatever. He's old. He's really old. He told me that he didn't date a girl until he was 24, and it was my mom, but my mom says something about not knowing if the fish are good unless you catch and taste a whole bunch of them first. Maybe all of them, but I hope she doesn't mean that like fish are boys because then it would be gross to catch and test all of them. You know?"

My enthusiasm was slipping dramatically. The girl was kind of a cutie but even cuteness wears off and once that happens you are all personality, of which she seemed to have far too much for her own good. I glanced down at the name written across the top of her blue file folder, trying to make it look like I was concentrating on the best possible answer, while really I couldn't remember who she was. All junior high girls have kind of that same look about them and I knew she was either Sarah or Jessica...

"Well, Jessica," ah I'm good, "what do you think would happen if you asked your parents to decide together, instead of each telling you something different?"

She smiled shyly and looked at the floor. "They don't decide anything together."

I waited for a minute to see if maybe she would voluntarily elaborate, but instead she pushed down her cuticles, scraping away some of her sparkled pink nail polish in the process. It was in accordance with her pink shirt that said "Prom Queen" on it, which was amusing considering it would be five years before she could go to Prom.

"Do you want to talk about them?" I asked softly.

Jessica shrugged and feigned interest in something on the wall, but of course there was nothing in the room to look at.

"Can you tell me what's really bothering you?"

She thought about it before giving me an answer. "I don't want my parents to tell me that I can't see Eric anymore. I mean it's not like we are totally serious or something, we just like to go to the movies and sometimes we hang out at his house after school. But I like Eric. I think my dad will tell me I can't see him."

"Would you stop seeing him then?"

"No."

She looked slightly uneasy with that answer. She probably didn't blatantly defy her parents much. As far as my experiences with middle school went, I never had any need to defy my parents before then, so of course when a world of new possibilities popped up, I was (hesitant) game. I could see a little of that in her thoughtfulness and her voice reminded me of myself. Tiny little potential slayer that I was. Just realizing that I was in control of myself and no one else was, just realizing that some of the things we believe to be "bad" aren't all that bad at all, so I tested the waters every chance I got.

I was about to ask Jessica another question, but the bell rang. I hadn't realized that we had been talking for so long. Well, she did most of the talking. She looked at me as if not sure whether or not the bell meant we were done for the day.

"Do you need to catch the bus?" I asked her.

She nodded.

"You'd better hurry then. I'm sorry we couldn't talk longer, but we'll get all caught up next time, I'm sure." I stood up and walked over to her, extending my hand. I would have given her a hug but I wasn't sure how the other staff at black and blue Gerald Ford would feel about that. She shook my hand with uncertainty. "You're a smart girl, Jessica. I know you'll do what's best for you, but don't be afraid to ask your parents why they decide some things the way that they do. Maybe they have a really good reason that will help you to understand their point of view. You could be surprised."

"Thanks Ms. Summers." She said quietly. "I'll see ya tomorrow."

I returned to my desk to get my papers in order before it would be time to head home. It didn't seem like home at all without Faith, though, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to be there, but I pushed the thought aside and tried like hell to think about the files I was organizing. She had been gone three days. I didn't know where she was staying or if she was still in Detroit. That old familiar slayer sense didn't work to find her anymore, with every city packed full of them since Willow's famous spell. Yet still when Faith was close enough to me, I knew, because the feeling that came over me was a warmth that only she could give.

I cursed under my breath, none of those thoughts were helping, I had to get her off my mind before I broke down into thoughts of pain and self-pity. Quickly I finished filing, said goodbye to the other staff members in the counseling center, and headed out towards downtown, not bothering to wait for the bus. Besides, the bus would only take me back home, and that was the last place I wanted to be.

By the time I found myself downtown the sun was setting and Detroit had become dark, a swarm of activity, the after-hours crowd beginning to show their faces and wander out to pace the sidewalks. Most of them were in groups, threes and fours, girls walking with their arms linked and the strong boyfriend-types along as protectors. It was obvious the way they stayed close and eyed every alleyway suspiciously that they took their job seriously, while around them the females chattered, oblivious to the true dangers of night that I had come to know so well. Vampire, in the alley, two in the park, one outside the book store. I could smell them, could recognize them, could sense them without even taking a good look, but I didn't bother to chase and slay them. Giles would probably say that my lack of interest in dusting a few each night is reckless and should be considered endangering the lives of others, but Giles isn't here, and he wouldn't see the other shadows I see lurking in the streets... the shadows of slayers just one year into their calling, still trying out their duties like a new pair of leather boots. They are the ones leaving body-shaped clouds of dust against the sides of buildings in Michigan, Illinois, California, Australia, Guatemala... the list goes on for every place there is a vampire or demon, there is now a slayer.

I'm used to seeing it, just as I'm used to the hive of the city, and I know how to get to every store and club downtown and how long it takes to walk there. I'm captivated by the reflection of a neon sign in a puddle, trickling out of an overturned paper coffee cup on the sidewalk, and I stop to look at it. I wonder where Faith is.

Just four more blocks to the club, the one I always wanted to try out just to see what it was like, but Faith would never go with me. I saw it the first night we went out in Detroit, and pulled her arm, begging her to take me, but she refused and said that it was "too trashy a place for classy gals like us". Now I might as well go, right? She may never come back.

The security in front pats down every guy before me in line that enters, and when I turn around and spread my arms expecting him to check me, he just grabs me by the waist and slides me sideways into the club effortlessly. I think he's giggling at me. Apparently they don't believe in small blondes being capable of violence in this place, which as I know from firsthand experience, is incredibly unrealistic of a theory to have.

It's low-lit, smoky, the music is pounding... just like all the other nightclubs I've ever been in. Round tables with metal chairs, a quirky gay bartender, strobes hitting a dance floor that's nearly empty save for three indulged couples. I wish Faith were beside me, laughing at me the way she used to when we went to the Bronze, bringing me paper cups of rum and coke, groping me under the table just to see if she could get away with it while Willow's head was turned.

In light of that I order rum and coke then make my way to a table in the corner where it looks like I will be the most unapproachable. Maybe after a few drinks are in me, I'll be more in the mood to dance with strange women, or men, whatever the alcohol decides.

But they always jump the gun, don't they.

"Hey, don't I know you from someplace?"

"No." So leave me the fuck alone.

"Yeah, I do. You went to OSU, right? Remember me? I'm Charlie Tatter."

He extends his hand, which is a dead giveaway that he's full of shit right there. If I'd met him before, he wouldn't be introducing himself. Normally I would point this out and tell him to stick his sweaty palms in some other girl's face, but the music is so loud I know he wouldn't hear me and I'd have to repeat myself... it just doesn't seem worth the effort. Saying the least amount possible in such a scenario really does pay off. So I offer him my hand in return, only with one finger more prominent then the others, extended gratefully to match the broad, somewhat cruel grin I'm flashing before I take a gluttonous swig of my rum and coke.

"You're a bitch!" He informs me before storming off. Yeah, as if I didn't know that already.

Ten minutes later it occurs to me that I actually did know the guy, or at least had seen him before. He's one of the grease monkeys from the garage Faith likes to hang out in, working on cars and bullshitting about engines all day. I never understood why she enjoyed that so much. The thought crosses my mind that I should ask him if he's seen her lately, but if he had, he probably wouldn't tell me now.

I feel my senses begin to tingle just slightly, the effects of the drink, but I'm going to need several more before I'll be able to dance and relax. That's just the way my slayer metabolism works, I guess, or maybe it's just an acquired tolerance. Either way, I order another and glance towards the door at two girls as they come in, arms linked, eyes darting around, nervously laughing. They look no older than seventeen, dressed like Malibu hookers with sparkled, flashy halter tops drawing attention to their flat chests. Still, they're kind of cute. That's something I never would have thought when I was in highschool (or even college), but after growing used to the idea of my relationship with Faith, I've allowed myself to occasionally check out other girls. Especially ones that send out a certain... vibe. The kind of vibe that puts blips on my internal gay- dar.

Between my seat and the door there are two other tables, one of them occupied by what appears to be a couple. Rather mismatched, since the guy is nearing two hundred pounds (half of it in his midsection) with broad shoulders and a military haircut, spitting what I assume to be chew into a Snapple bottle, and the girl is about my size in baggy jeans and a button-up shirt. Her hair is only a few inches longer than his, and that vibe I was talking about is coming off her like someone painted it on. In three coats.

As soon as the underage Malibu hookers get past the bouncer, the girl at the table in front of me is on her feet, going over to them with little or no resolve, and making some ridiculous hand motions while she talks feverishly. It seems to work, whatever she said to them, because in a few minutes they are on the dance floor bumping and grinding, while the military boy leans back in his chair to watch indifferently. Without knowing why, I move to the seat next to him. I guess he looked lonely.

"Hey." I mumble. Of course he didn't hear that but the message came across.

"How you doin'." He responds.

"Is that your girlfriend?" Not like I care, but it's something worth asking.

He laughs and empties his lip into the bottle. "Hell no, she's gay."

I nod in response and look back out towards the floor, the lights seeming brighter than they did just a second ago, and the movements appear smoother, almost in slow-motion. It's time for another drink.

** 2:32am.

Well intoxicated.

I decided to leave the club after finding myself on a couch in the corner with the body of a complete stranger on top of me, dry- humping my leg. That seemed like a prime time to start walking home, and to get some cold, sobering air on my face.

I'm not sure who she was except I recognized her from being the one who chased the Malibu sluts from earlier on in the night. Apparently I was easier than them, but I have no memory of ever saying yes, or no, or anything; it doesn't matter either way because now the most important thing to me is crawling into bed and praying that the hangover gods are not cruel to me when morning comes.

When my hand touches the doorknob, I know something isn't right. It's not the way it's supposed to be... or maybe it is the way it's supposed to be, but I can't recognize that because I was wasted five drinks before I quit. Maybe six... and that would make the grand total exactly... I have no fucking clue.

The door swings open and my apartment is dark, which seems right enough, only it smells like Lucky Strikes unfiltered and Polo Sport. It smells like Faith.

I ignore that and stumble in and shut the door, grateful for the first time ever that the bed is in the living room, just a few feet away from the entrance as I fall forward, collapsing happily. I don't care if she's been there, I just want to sleep for days if it's possible, and I do believe that it is as my body instantly goes limp, the only sound my breathing, and my heartbeat echoing in my head. Hours pass.

I dream about Faith, I dream that I am holding her, and she is holding me. I dream that she is crying... shaking into my embrace, and letting me in. She is pushing my hair back, and touching my face, kissing me gently, and I can taste her tears. I see her and feel her so clearly it's like she's really there beside me.

I hear the phone ring, or is that part of my dream? The phone is ringing... in my head or maybe for real, and I'm answering it, and I'm talking to Dawn. I'm telling her about Faith, and she's so upset by it... sounds like she's crying. Now I'm going down a waterslide at a theme park, still on the phone, only Dawn is behind me and we are on the phone with Willow, who is calling collect from Heaven. I don't remember Willow dying, why would she be in Heaven? So I ask her, and she explains, she's there during visiting hours, spending some quality time cuddling and chatting with Tara. It makes me think about cuddling with Faith, and I hear a voice that sounds like Faith's voice, only I think that it's really my voice, because it's talking on the phone and I'm asleep, trying to wake myself up.

No, I really am asleep... as I realize that shit, I must be dreaming, and my eyes spring open to search for the phone as I'm positive that I missed some important call.

"...calm down, it's all right. No, we're both fine."

I can't answer the phone, because Faith answered it. I think (or maybe hope) that I'm still dreaming now, but it's useless, she's standing beside the bed. She's in our apartment, talking on our phone, and I don't know if I should jump up to shower her with pleading kisses or backhand her, demanding to know why she left me when I needed her so badly. But she's here, she's finally back, and I feel such a wave of relief like the tide that finally breaks after a three day wait.

"...no, she's awake..." Faith says.

Her voice sounds lower than usual, more strained. I wonder who she's talking to but I kind of wish she would just get off the phone so we could talk, but instead I sit there staring at her silhouette, which is all I can see in near-absolute darkness.

"...yeah, I love you too... ok... I'll tell her... ok I'll tell her... yes I promise... right. Bye."

Faith hangs up the phone and then she stands there, totally still. One arm is hanging at her side and the other is bent so it hovers awkwardly in front of her stomach as if she has some use for it there that hasn't presented itself yet. Maybe she's expecting a need to defend herself, but I already dismissed the backhanding idea.

"Hey." She mumbles.

I reach over to the desk and turn on the lamp, causing her to jump a little in surprise. Now I can study her face, the same way she is studying mine. I probably look like shit, but there's no way I can look worse than she does. The part of her eye that is typically reserved for a color white in nature is now occupied by a shade similar to cherry, her standard black eyeliner has gone MIA, her lips are dry and chapped in several places. The dark garage-style outfit she left in is still on her, only it looks like she took it to five or six bar fights then rolled off a cliff and possibly jumped into a tank full of cutlery just for giggles. And her hair... I'm not sure I want to know the story there. It still has some wave to it, here and there, but it's been dyed black.

"Hey." It's all I can think to say back, only it doesn't come out as a real word, and more of a failed attempt at making a word, as though my voice has forgotten how to form sounds. Faith clears her throat and starts to look around nervously. I don't want her to do that, it's what she does when she wants to find an exit.

"I just came to get my stuff."

"You... your stuff?" I feel my eyes beginning to burn and literally pray that the tears won't come. "You're leaving fo-for good, then?"

"I'm sorry but it just isn't working an-"

"Are you sure? Are you sure you're leaving? Because before... I mean I knew you left, I knew you... were leaving," my lip is trembling and I can't stop it, my eyes are filling with tears I can't stop, I can only look away, my throat catching and none of it will let me put my mind over my heart in control. "Y-you didn't come back and I thought maybe it was forever but it didn't hurt, Faith, because I didn't believe it, but now I have to believe it."

The words sink in and the feeling is indescribable. The closest thing to it I have ever felt was when Warren shot me through the heart, and it burned, and ached, but my mind seemed to escape from my body and it was as though I was looking down on myself, surrounded in a white ball of excruciating pain that my mind wouldn't be acknowledging. Only my body would feel it. That's it now, only this time, I am feeling it, and I feel it in every nerve as they all tell me that it's killing me. So why are her eyes so full of compassion? I've seen it before, because this is almost exactly the way we were three days ago, when I begged her to stay, and she said she had to go to work. It's the same room, we're in the same places, I'm crying with no control and she's standing there, full of confusion. I can almost see events repeating themselves, as if now I have a second chance.

Faith eyes the door again, then looks at the floor as she tells me. "I know, it hurts now. I'm sorry. The last three days gave me time to figure out that I should have left such a long time ago, I should never have even gone back to Sunnydale or even been with you the very first time. But I was stupid, and I did it anyway because I wanted to have you, and I never thought about what would happen... what it would do to you, the way I would destroy you, the way I destroyed everything else. I never could have hurt you then, if I never even started. It's too late now."

She moves, and I don't know if she's moving towards the door, or just leaning back to look at something... it doesn't matter. All that I needed was her to move away from me and I'm up off the bed in an instant, my hands briefly touching her shoulders before I step forward into her body, knowing she can only choose to hold me or choose to leave, but this time I won't let her walk away without her knowing how I feel. It's the second chance I've been longing for, the one I've replayed in my imagination but haven't been given up until now. No fucking way I'll pass it up.

Faith stiffens at first as I'm against her, but then her arms instinctively, comfortably respond to embrace me. I forgot how much strength her hands impressed in their touch, as I feel their warmth against my back, the only part of her that truly seems to be letting me in. It's as if she is allowing me to be close, and not receiving me there, but it's more than I had just seconds before so I'll accept that, and I bury my face against her neck.

If I weren't shaking so hard, maybe I could hear her breathing, or feel her chest rising and falling against mine. I know she must feel my tears against her skin as they fall from my treacherous eyes, and I wish I knew what she was thinking.

I don't want to push her away, I don't want to do anything that will scare her out the door now, so I move slowly, gradually sliding my hand along her shoulder to her hair and holding still for a moment to see if she pulls away from that. She doesn't... so I let my fingers trace lazily under her auburn - no... black curls that fall across both our shoulders.

"Faith... if you're going to le-leave me, for... forever, then please wait until morning. Please, it's the only thing I have to ask, just please don't go yet." I tried hard not to sound like I was begging, but this was clearly unsuccessful.

"Can't you understand it? I'm doing this for you?" Faith whispers against my cheek.

"If you do anything for me... stay."

She pulls away, putting me at arm's length. "I know it's hard, but it's only hard... because we've been together for so long, you don't know how to be without me. I don't know how to be without you, either, but that doesn't mean that we're happy together. I can't stand to make you miserable anymore, I really can't, and it's all I ever do. Once I'm gone for a while, you'll get used to it, and the pain will go away."

The only thing I can do is ask her again.

"Please. Please stay." I whisper, seeing the reflection of my desperation in her eyes. I don't know what it is in the end that convinces her, but I'm forever grateful to it, because Faith silently nods her head in submission to my pleading, and my fears drop aside, knowing I have until morning to change her mind.

November, 2001 Sunnydale, California

I closed my eyes and imagined she was there.

Falling all around me, gracefully, emotionless, yet her moans a whispered lover's poetry against my skin.

I imagined we might laugh together, the way we... well, we never really had. But there would be a first time for it, and a first time for me to tell her that I had forgiven her, if only she were close by.

I felt so alone that I started thinking about Riley, wondering if maybe he wasn't really all that bad, and making up my own distorted excuses for all of the senseless crap he had done just so that I had the possibility of not being alone. No one else was alone, Xander and Anya had each other, Willow and Tara had each other. Giles has always been too old and too British to qualify as single or taken when in either regard so that left me the only one alone.

As I laid there in the darkness I thought about her, wondering if she was all right, if she was surviving the pain that came with being in prison. I tried to imagine what she might look like in orange coveralls with her head shaved and an excessive amount of sloppy tattoos. Somehow I didn't think that they would make her shave her head, but it was a fun image to try and create anyway.

I remembered again the first night we had been together, it was something I had been thinking back on more and more frequently since Willow brought me back. It was so painful knowing that she had felt nothing for me, and we had shared such intimate moments, yet somehow it brought me a twisted sense of comfort to think about how our bodies moved as one for the first time, as though we had been lovers for eternity. Each time I envisioned it, I embellished a little more, making it seem a little more personal, imagining that Faith had kissed me, or whispered that she needed me. I had even imagined that she whispered "I love you" and it scared me, yet I knew that I needed to hear it, because the depression would not subside, and the thought of her made me a little less empty.

But this was a night that I couldn't get lost in longing and sentiment, so I settled once more for the memories of how her mouth felt against my chest, her breath rhythmically pulling me in. She captivated me with her fingertips and I was willingly seduced, innocently trembling as I tried to search for confirmation that my touches were equally pleasurable for her. All this and more was on my mind as I came, believing that it was her body sweating on top of me, even though it didn't smell like Faith. I believed that it was her fingers inside of me, even though, I knew it wasn't... the thought of her was still enough.

So as he finally pulled out, he grinned madly, as though his cock had some sort of power over me, the miserable fuck.

"See slayer," he growled, "I told you I would make you come."

I closed my eyes but the images of Faith would not return. It was over and done with, spoiled, disgusting. I grabbed the remnants of my clothes and literally threw him across the room.

"Oh don't be mad at me, I only gave you the best orgasm you've ever had in your life!" He yelled after me, looking rather ridiculous naked in a corner."Second best, and fuck you, Spike."

Chapter Four

May, 2004 Detroit, Michigan I know the sunlight is coming through the window, but I don't open my eyes. Maybe that will make it go away, and morning will never come if my eyes never open to see it.

The sensation I am experiencing is so powerfully moving in the most positively beautiful way that my chest feels as though it's collapsing, breaking from the inside with the weight of this happiness that is overcoming me. Never, in my entire life, has it felt so good to wake up in someone's arms, and I don't want to let go.

Faith is halfway on top of me, her thigh around my waist, her face nuzzled warmly into my neck in such a way that she has been permanently and inactively kissing just above my collarbone for the past six hours. I made her take off her shirt, and her boots, but she insisted on keeping her pants and bra, saying that if she wore any less I wouldn't be able to control myself and then we'd be right back at square one with emotionless-sex. She was right, about me not being able to control myself, but once she laid down at my side and wrapped her arms around me I was out like a light, bathing in the peace and security that I find only when I'm so close to her it feels like we are one person, and every ounce of my soul is deep inside of hers. Yes, she is inside of me, her pulse beating in time with mine and each breath a masterful expression of what we share, complimenting - no, completing each other.

I wonder if she will see this from my point of view when she wakes up, or if she will only remember that I was promised the night before and the night before only, then continue on her original destination out of my life. Somehow I feel that I already know the answer, maybe it's because I can feel what she feels sometimes, when we are close enough to one another.

And in the worst possible kind of coincidence I am suddenly faced with finding out the answer to these questions bouncing round my head when the sound of a jackhammer starting up on the pavement outside our apartment building makes Faith jump, alarmed... and very awake.

"What the fuck?" She mumbles, supporting herself to look out the window and separating her body from mine. There's nothing I can do but lay there under her and look up now as she cranes her neck, and I remember how I used to love the way her eyes were darker in the morning, and stayed half-closed when she was still tired. She is adorable and beyond beautiful all at once... even when she turns her head to look down at me and I see her expression of surprise fading into something else, something darker, something numb.

"Expecting someone else?" I say, my voice audibly cracking just slightly. It's a poor joke but it's all I can think of in reaction to her look of shock and confusion. Then I realize that, oh god, maybe she really WAS expecting someone else, and it feels as though I've been kicked in the stomach. I'm unable to disguise the fact that I cringe in anguish from the very idea of it.

Faith rolls herself to the side and her bare feet hit the floor with a firm smacking sound before she runs her fingers through tousled black curls.

I feel my stomach, it's in my throat, because I know that this isn't a good sign. If she felt the same way I did about holding me all night then she wouldn't have her back turned to me now, she would have given me a sweet `good morning, lover' kiss and returned to the warmth we created until one of us got too hungry to stay in bed listening to the other breathe.

She stares at the empty wall in front of her, and I stare at her back, naked except for the simple black straps of her bra and her hair hanging down over her shoulders. It's hardly the setting for a conversation, even a decent goodbye if that's what is coming. But no, I tell myself that it isn't, because I want to believe that she's about to change her mind.

Faith reaches down to grab her pack of Lucky Strikes off the floor, and in a few seconds she has one lit and between her lips. Her hands shake noticeably. I wish I could see her eyes.

She takes another drag and then tosses bitter words over her shoulder like trash at me. "Are we going to do this again?"

I know exactly what she means, but I just have to go on being an idiot now, it's a brilliant pattern I've fallen into and no sense stopping now, is there? "Do what again?"

"The goodbye thing, Buffy. It's becoming a little redundant, don't you think? You can go on begging me to stay and I can continue telling myself that it's worth it, and that my feelings for you will change back to what they once were, but they truly won't, and we're kidding ourselves. Prolonging the situation will only make it worse."

She sighs for a long moment and there is nothing that I can say, I simply don't know how. Millions of thoughts seem to race through my head but I can't make sense of a single one enough to grasp onto it and verbalize to her justifiably what my reaction is at this exact moment.

Faith reaches for her boots and begins pulling them on while she continues, still turned away from me. "I know you think that you're in love with me, and maybe you are. But I'm not in love with you, Buffy. And it would be a lie for me to stay."

"What do you mean? After everything, after all we've been through... I know you love me."

"You don't know that, and you can't, because I don't even know it."

Finally she turns to look at me and her face looks softer than I've seen it in weeks, but doesn't reflect the same tears as mine.

"I wanted you," she whispers, "because I couldn't stand the idea of anyone else having you. I couldn't stand the thought of you loving anyone else... not Spike, not Angel... not that self-righteous soldier motherfucker who treated you like shit and never cared about you. I thought that I could do better than that, but all I cared about was making you love me and knowing that I had you. I just didn't realize it. So now I do, and you'd be crazy to ask me continue on with this, to ask me to go on pretending that I'm in love with you when all I want is to make you belong to me. It's fucked up, B, really it is."

Once again I can't say anything, and she looks in my eyes for a second. Whatever she sees in them scares or hurts her enough to turn her attention back to the laces of her steel toe boots, and once they are satisfactorily on, she reaches for her shirt.

"Are you going to stay in Detroit?" I ask. I can't believe I'm saying such a thing... already talking as though I've accepted the idea of living without her, when everything inside of me is screaming at me to beg her to stay.

"Nah, some of the guys from the garage are starting something up in Boston, and I figure it would be good. Go back to my shitty roots ya know?"

Wow, a real conversation. Is this what we're having? Is this one of those peaceful moments of relaxation after a hard break-up, just before you realize that you've just lost everything and the true panic sets in? The moment where we smile and pretend like we're both happy with this "mutual decision" before saying permanent goodbyes and left with only the constant nagging thought of what could have been said or done differently to make it last. Yeah. It's that moment. And she's putting on her coat, and taking the key to the apartment off her keyring, and I'm laying here in this bed that will no longer be ours, completely speechless.

I can't feel anything, I am so fucking numb. Her movements are a blur of grays and it seems her body is paint poured across the canvas of our apartment, through the watery haze of my tears that come at will, and I don't see anything clearly.

The same realization rolls around my head and doesn't stop as I feel her soft lips brush over my forehead, her trembling fingers quickly touching my cheek before recoiling as she closes the distance between herself and the door. I believe that I hear her say goodbye, and whether or not she does isn't the issue.

It's over.

It's over.

Faith is gone.

February, 2005 Gerald Ford Middle School, Detroit, Michigan

"Happy valentine's day, Ms. Summers."

"Happy valentine's, Jason. Try not to break too many hearts, right?"

The smile he flashes back at me seems awfully cocky for a thirteen year old, but it gives me a good chuckle as he leaves my office and makes his way on to the next class period. I watch him go, his bright red sweatshirt a welcome contrast to the depressing school colors, reminding me as always that if it weren't for the students, school would be a pointless endeavor; and much more boring.

I pull open the top drawer of my desk and slide my "Jason notes" into a file, pausing briefly to slide the papers out of the way and glance at a photo I keep on the bottom of the drawer. It's a photo of Faith and I, taken at a Mexican restaurant just outside of Michigan called "Little Cancun". I wonder if it would be easier for me to move on with my life if I didn't keep these little mementoes of her near and present to me throughout my everyday routine, but then I remember that I have moved on, and when I see reminders of her it only brings to mind the good times that we shared. That time in the photo is definitely one of the better memories. It was a weekend where for one reason or another we had some cash to blow, so we took a road trip and ended up lost for the majority of three incredible days. We stopped to ask directions at Little Cancun and it carried over into a delicious lunch, until Faith had drank more than her share of Coronas and tried to convince me to go down on her underneath the table like in the beginning of American Wedding. Only trouble was, she could barely even form an intelligible sentence to ask me that much, and the more I laughed and teased her for slurring, the more irritated she got with me. At some point she slammed her fist down on the table and started yelling "Tongue-fuck me, dammmnit!" and I was trying to tell her to quiet down, but laughing much too hard to manage that.

As we were leaving approximately four minutes later, we passed a waiter who was grinning like a fucking baby hyena and he asked us to "pleeease" come back and eat there again sometime.

Needless to say, we went straight to the backseat of the car and I helped her to get some of the drunken horniness right out of her system.

And the picture... well that's the best part of the whole story. Because not only was Faith cursing and screaming for me to perform orally on her under the table, but she was also wearing this ridiculous black and gold sombrero to boot. Wouldn't you know that I, her loving girlfriend, had somehow dropped into casual conversation with the manager that it just so happened to be my date's birthday? So they sang happy birthday to her, put the sombrero on, and snapped a Polaroid... leaving me with a beautiful image forever of my drunk, angry, gorgeous slayer under an enormous hat and then my cheesiest of all grins as I sit beside her, pointing at the 13 empty bottles of Corona.

With a smile I slip it back underneath a thick pile of papers and file folders, then shut the drawer.

It's been ten months since she left me.

I cried for days after she did, and the pain got so difficult to bear that I thought I would never make it through to the other side alive. I started going out slaying just for the hell of it, hoping that I would slip up and some vamp would put me out of my misery, or maybe one of the hundreds of other slayers in the city would mistake me for a big bad as I wandered in the shadows and she would do the favor. It was so destructive of me, and so very wrong to long for that responsibility on someone else's hands, but I couldn't see past my own selfishness and suffering. It was either have Faith back, or die. I didn't want to live without her.

But no vamp slipped up, in fact they never even came close. Once I began to slay again I could feel something in my blood that had been absent for so long it was hard for me to recognize at first. The thrill.

Never mind the fact that hundreds upon thousands of other girls had now become slayers as well, and were on the verge of eliminating vampires from the earth once and for all. Never mind that I had to track some of the bastards down for nights, maybe even weeks, just to find that a self-assured highschool cheerleading slayer not unlike myself six years in the past had already beat me to the punch. Never mind any of it, because once I felt the pressure of pushing my stake into their cold lifeless hearts, and the explosion of dust around my fist, it was all worth it. Everything was normal, everything seemed right. Yeah, there were countless other slayers, but only one of me, and I was staking vamps when they were still wearing footsie pajamas and reading Anne Rice novels under the blankets with a flashlight thinking it was simply an entertaining story, and of course it wasn't true, right?

I don't think I got over Faith, and I can't say that I ever will. It's not that hard to believe that she could have been the passionate love of my life. But that doesn't mean that I can't move on. That doesn't mean that I can't exist and be content without her, and it's something that I'm learning how to do as each day goes by and I find happiness in the optimism of students at the middle school or the sound of Dawn's voice on the phone when she tells me about her day.

It hasn't been easy. I eventually had to move out of the apartment because it hurt so much being there and feeling like I was continuously waiting for her to come home from work, then crawling into bed and turning out the light, feeling so much more alone. Sometimes it smelled like her. Sometimes I'd be eating breakfast and burst into tears because it was cereal that she liked. It was kind of pathetic. But the end result was good when it landed me a new, better apartment, so I suppose I would have to thank her for that aspect at least.

Now Valentine's day comes along, and I've been dreading it since February 1st. But at the end of the day just like any other, I clean up around my counseling office and say goodbye to the students and teachers I pass on the way out. I get in my car (came complete with payments, whoohoo), and drive out to my friend Mandy's townhouse to enjoy a casual, non-coupled get-together for this loneliest of holidays.

Do I still miss her? Of course, I probably always will. No matter what the future holds, we always were the chosen two, and those ten months with her may have been trying but they brought me closer to her than I had ever been with anyone before. Being with Faith was the best thing that ever happened to me, and now it's over. But life goes on, doesn't it?Obla-di, obla-fucking-da.

 
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