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Chapter Thirty-Six: An Echo

She wanted to scream. She felt like crying. Or maybe she just really wanted to hit something. Well, she knew who she wanted to hit, but Shawna wasn't going to go there, no matter what.

The night her parents were killed, Shawna hadn't known there was any danger. They hadn't told her that the monsters from her dreams were real. They hadn't told her why she was having those nightmares. They hadn't told her why her favorite glass had shattered when she'd picked it up.

Shawna glanced down at the palm of her left hand where she could still see the faint remainders of the scars. The shards had been embedded so deep and the blood had been so startlingly red. It hadn't been the first time she'd been injured. It was just the most memorable of them all.

It was impossible to forget the night someone died so that you could live. And she had no doubt that she would be dead by now if it hadn't been for her predecessor's death. Demonic activity had been rife in the area Shawna had lived in. She was lucky to have survived there as long as she had.

There were days when she missed her parents so bad it was a physical ache. They'd loved her with everything they had. Then there were others when she was so angry with them that she shook from the emotion. They'd denied this part of her and allowed it to take them from her.

She understood, at least as much as a kid could. Her parents had been scared for her. They'd just been trying to protect her. But that understanding didn't help when she woke up screaming.

In the weeks following that night, the memories had tormented Shawna. She'd heard echoes of her mother's terror and then the crack of her spine as her neck was broken. She could smell her father's blood as a vampire ravaged his throat. Then the memories had gradually faded until the one thing that remained clear and haunting even now was the sight of a Slayer unleashed.

Shannon was her name and the way she'd moved had been the most beautiful thing Shawna had ever seen. She'd crept up behind the vampire feeding on Eric Nocona and staked him before anyone else had seen her. Then she'd caught Eric before he could hit the ground and laid him down gently before turning. Shawna had only been able to watch the ensuing violence.

The damage Shannon had wrought before killing the last vampire had left a lasting impression. Shawna hadn't understood it until later. If a Slayer could tear the head off of a supernaturally enhanced being like a vampire, what could she do to a human? Shawna didn't want to know.

Shawna really didn't remember much from the first couple of weeks after the death of her parents. The shock was just too much for a child to handle and her mind had all but shut down. She vaguely recalled the reasoning behind her refusal to attend the academy. She hadn't wanted to have to deal with so many people with their questions and their expectations at once.

It was her training that started to bring her back to herself. Oh, she'd disliked Aaron from the very beginning. He had been every bit as pretentious and full of it then as he was even now. But the savage satisfaction Shawna had felt every time she'd landed a hit on Aaron or the training dummy had been both unsettling and intriguing enough to draw her out of her grief.

Somewhere along the way, as reluctant as she'd been at the start, Shawna had become attached to the people in her home. Her sister Slayers, the girls she could feel in every fiber of her being, they fought alongside her and they patched her up whenever she got injured. They fought like sisters and they took sides in arguments at times but still. Even when they were refusing to room with her because she frequently called attention to herself, they were the only family she had.

Christina had been like a surrogate mother to her. She'd given Shawna the attention she'd needed that Aaron hadn't seen fit to because it wasn't related to their duty. She'd stepped in whenever it seemed like Aaron was being a little too harsh in his treatment of Shawna. Losing that hurt.

Then Danielle had been killed two months ago; Danielle, who had been so exuberant when it came to anything in life. She'd tackled Slaying quite often with a smile and a song on her lips. Next to Christina, Danni had been the least reluctant to befriend Shawna. That loss hurt too.

But Aaron, as much as she couldn't stand him, had given her the tools she'd needed to survive. He'd helped—albeit reluctantly—with her homework whenever Christina or Danielle, and later Diana, hadn't had time to. And now some stranger—who just so happened to be one of the two most dangerous Slayers ever—had told her that he'd betrayed everything he'd taught her to stand for. She'd always known something was off here, but there weren't enough words in the English language or even the dialects of her father's ancestors to describe what the truth made her feel.

And she didn't even know where to start with Diana. Shawna wondered how much of what she'd learned about Diana over the past year had been a lie. They'd been listening in at the door of the office after Diana had come out and it would have been difficult to miss what Faith had said. It had made it blatantly obvious that Diana was as much of a plant as Faith had been.

Shawna was so confused about everything. And to top it all off, she was worried. One concern was that she could sense that everything was about to change on her again. The other concern was more about how angry Corrine had seemed when she'd gone upstairs after breakfast.

Shawna had known that Corrine had emotional problems since before she had even understood why. She still didn't even know the entire story. She just knew enough to know that something was going to have to give eventually. Corrine would only be able to hold all that in for so long.

She'd noticed the rare moments when Corrine would let her guard slip. That was how Shawna had realized that men completely terrified Corrine. Any time Aaron got angry or upset, Corrine was the first one to start trying to placate him. Any time Aaron told them to do something, even when their team leader questioned it, Corrine didn't even bat an eyelash before giving in.

She'd also noticed a disturbing trend. Corrine's fighting style was always a little violent and unpredictable. But it grew increasingly so on the days when Aaron was at his most demanding. That recklessness was the reason Diana always paired herself with Corrine in her strategies.

Put her at anyone else's back and Corrine could get them injured or worse. Shawna didn't think that Corrine would mean to, and she doubted that Diana believed it either. But it was better not to take that risk. And that was the exact reason why Shawna was waiting where she was.

She was sitting on the floor outside the office with her back against the door. Shawna wanted to be able to say that she was there because she was protecting Aaron. That was the right thing to do when someone was bound and defenseless. But she was really kind of apathetic toward that.

There was just too much going on inside Shawna to care. Right now, she needed a distraction. She needed something to keep her from just going in there and breaking him. And what better to do that than to focus on keeping someone else from snapping and doing the exact same thing?

The logic may have been skewed. It wasn't noble. But it made sense to her. And it was working.

And that was the reason Shawna wasn't surprised in the least when Corrine finally came downstairs. Shawna had heard mentioned before that the Slayer was made from a demon. In that moment, looking up at Corrine standing just in front of her, Shawna knew it to be true. Corrine's dark eyes were fathomless pits of black and her expression was hard and unyielding.

"Move," Corrine bit out.

Something shifted inside Shawna. Instead of the expected protest, she silently unfolded from her seated position and stood to step aside. Shawna's chest was tight from emotion. Her hands balled into fists at her sides as she just watched Corrine enter the office and close the door behind her.

"It took you lot long enough," Shawna heard Aaron spit out venomously just as the door shut.

There was no reply from Corrine for several long, agonizing moments. Then Shawna caught a sound that was more familiar to her than anything else was these days. A sharp, pained cry followed the hit. Shawna let out a shuddering breath as Corrine spoke in rapid-fire Spanish.

Shawna briefly closed her eyes against the noise that followed. Then she turned and strode down the hall towards the front door. As much as everything in her screamed to let Corrine do as she would, she couldn't. Shawna just wasn't stupid enough to try to stop Corrine on her own.

She opened the front door and paused, her eyes meeting Faith's. This was her last chance to back out. If she stepped out there, she would be placing her trust in this woman. She'd be betraying a member of her family even if she was just trying to protect her all in the same move.

Taking a deep breath, she bowed to logic and her heart. She stepped outside and closed the door behind her. She pretended not to notice Faith's expression. Shawna wasn't interested in gaining Faith's concern, and she sure the Hell wasn't interested in her pity or any kind of sympathy.

"What's up, kid?"

"I thought maybe you should know..." She started, then hesitated a moment before blurting, "Corrine just went into Aaron's office, and she didn't look too concerned with his safety."

There was a long moment where Faith just gazed at her with an odd look. Shawna was aware that her wording sounded more than just a little bit Disney censored. She saw when Faith registered her meaning in the widening of her eyes and barely had time to move out of Faith's path. She glanced around the yard, then sighed and shook her head as she turned to follow.



Faith reached the office and shoved the door open, pausing to take in the scene before her with a sort of morbid curiosity. It was almost a mirror image of another room at another time with a different set of players. Corrine's fist was cocked back for what was obviously just another in a long line of punches judging by the blood and color already staining Aaron's skin and hers. Faith shuddered at the parallels and she had to remind herself to move when Corrine's fist descended.

She closed the distance between them in a blur. Stepping between Corrine and her intended target, she caught Corrine's fist in her own. The momentum of Corrine's arm came to a dead stop, making Faith's palm sting lightly from the impact. Corrine's incensed gaze jerked up to meet Faith's and Faith wasn't surprised at the maelstrom of emotions she found.

It was always there. In every girl Faith had helped since Giles set her on this path, she'd seen that faint echo of herself. She suspected that was why she did this. This way, she'd never forget.

Faith just waited. She knew what would be coming. It always did. It was what came easiest for the ones like them, like her and Corrine, like Shawna, and even Buffy herself at times.

It was so much easier to feel anger. It was so much easier to hate. It was so much easier to lash out. Anything was easier than that kind of pain, than the tears that would inevitably come.

Faith saw the moment the change came over her. Everything else Corrine was feeling faded from her expression. It gave way to untainted fury. Tension vibrated through the fist still held firmly in Faith's own, making Faith's body ache in shameful remembrance of that sensation.

"No," Faith said harshly, letting go of Corrine's fist, "That is not the answer."

"Move out of my way," Corrine snarled.

"You really think that will help?" Faith asked, voice unconsciously softening.

She stepped to the side. It was supposed to help make a point, but Aaron's sullen glare made her realize her mistake immediately. She sensed the movement as Corrine's body coiled up, prepared to strike. Faith caught Corrine's fist again and flung it away, stepping back in front of Aaron.

"It won't make the hurt stop," Faith continued. "The ache will keep comin' back and you'll keep hittin' harder and faster to make it go away. You'll keep goin' `til you're just so tired you can't tell up from down and nothin' will make sense. You think you're in control, but you're not—"

"Shut up!" Corrine snapped, stepping into Faith's personal space. "Just shut the fuck up!"

"I've been where you are, Corrine," Faith finished, undeterred. "And the longer you go on like this, the faster and harder you hit, the more it hurts for everyone involved; the more they win."

Faith wasn't just talking about Aaron. And she knew the second it registered for Corrine. A shudder wracked Corrine's body even as hate twisted her features. Faith sighed in regret, then she let it all fall away and all that was left was the dominant predator inside her, the Slayer.

"But if you're so determined to take it out on someone else, you're fuckin' insane if you think for even one second that I'm just goin' to let you inflict your damage on a human—even him."

Faith didn't react when Corrine's body uncoiled in a savage release. She let the punch make contact with her jaw and rolled her head with the blow. A satisfied grin creased her lips as a copper tang burst inside her mouth. She turned to face her, licking blood from her lower lip.

"Let's see what you got then, little sister," Faith laughed as she shifted to retaliate.



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