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by KW Jordan


Rating: NC -17
A/N: I'll warn you ahead of time that the contents of this story may be considered inappropriate for anyone under the age of eighteen. I'm just that kind of person. I like violence, and I like sex--better yet, I like sex between women and sometimes it's rough. If you don't listen to my warning and read this anyway, I don't want to hear about it if you don't like what you find.
Personalized Disclaimer: This story contains mention of child abuse, both sexual and otherwise. I do not condone this behavior. I find it personally abhorrent. It's only what was necessary for the story.
Summary: Post S7. Faith receives a head injury during patrol, forcing her to revert to what had to have been the worst stage of her life. Lost, confused, and defenseless, she's more than a little wary of the people around her. That is, until Buffy walked into the hospital room. Can she let down her walls enough to depend on Buffy as she heals, or will she repeat the past?



Prologue: How Did I Get Here?

(Faith's POV)

Sometimes I wonder how I got here. I'm head of the Cleveland, California branch of the ISDA, the International Supernatural Defense Agency. I train young women to fight against things that would give a horror writer nightmares, I train them to survive despite the odds. I have an apartment across town from the office, drive a 1984 Harley Davidson ShovelHead, and recently got a two month old Alaskan Husky who only listens when I call her `Summer'.

I grew up in South Boston, the section everyone calls Southie. I never knew my dad, and my Ma, well, she wasn't gonna be a runner up for the `Mother of the Year' award. She was a prostitute, brought home a new john every few hours, sometimes for cash, but more often for drugs or booze. We lived in a rundown apartment buildin' where we were lucky if the heater worked, we didn't have the money for a car, and the only pets I ever had were the roaches and the rats.

Ma made me call her johns `uncle', she'd smack me around if I didn't. I was ten, just at that stage when I'd started to develop, when one of `em decided I was more interestin' than Ma. Fuck, I'd thought nothin' could ever hurt that bad. I realized different when I tried to tell Ma what had happened, and she got pissed, but for all the wrong reasons.

She only got upset `cause I'd stolen one of her `boyfriends'. Then she told me if I was gonna be a little whore, she was gonna get paid for it. From that point on, whatever life I'd had was over. She started sellin' me to johns for whatever she could get, not carin' what they did to me at all.

At first, I kept goin' to school. The teachers didn't even care that I was comin' to school covered in bruises and fuck knows what other injuries, they just ignored it. I doubt they even noticed the days when I couldn't come to school `cause of how bad some dickhead had hurt me. Then when I was twelve, I just quit goin' altogether.

I figured, what was the point? Ma had gone to school, accordin' to the diploma I'd found in her dresser she'd even graduated. But that hadn't helped her any, had it? She was still spreadin' her legs for whatever dickhead came along, so I'd probably end up in the same goddamn sitch as her.

When I was little, even before the sexual abuse started, I daydreamed a lot. Middle of winter, my lips blue, shiverin' like crazy, belly hurtin' from hunger, I'd close my eyes and think about bein' somewhere else. `Course, I'd always imagine someplace like Disneyland. Sometimes, though, I'd daydream about what it'd be like to have a normal mom, y'know, one that cared.

It was the daydreams that helped get me through it at first. Some sick bastard would have me pinned down, and I'd just close my eyes and let my mind go somewhere else. I used to think about what I'd do when I could get away, where I'd go, how I'd get there. It was all I had.

Then the spring before my thirteenth birthday came. This one guy, perverted motherfucker named Guido, started comin' around. He liked to make it hurt as much as possible, loved to hear beggin' and cryin', loved the taste of blood, liked to mark `his' property by pissin' on me. He was a sick son of a bitch, can't help but wonder if he was maybe a fuckin' demon or somethin'.

He wasn't fond of usin' condoms. I'd only recently started my period, didn't know what could happen. It wasn't as if Ma was gonna take time to explain where babies came from, and the Southie educational system was far from the greatest. He knocked me up.

I didn't know. I didn't think nothin' of it when I missed my monthly that month, or the one after. Then I started showin', and Guido and Ma realized what was up. Ma was fuckin' enraged, she was bent on makin' me have an abortion, but Guido said he'd pay her, `cause he wanted it.

I wasn't fuckin' havin' it. No fuckin' way was I gonna make some kid go through what I was goin' through, much less my own, y'know? I thought about runnin' away, but I knew from past experiences that it wouldn't work. Ma had too many connections on the street that could find me.

I did the only thing that I thought could work. I did what I'd seen Ma do when she'd gotten pregnant. I locked myself in the fuckin' bathroom and downed an entire bottle of vodka. It should've worked—fuck, it should've killed me, considerin' how small I was for my age.

But I didn't know that I was different. I didn't realize I was somethin' stronger than Ma could ever dream of bein'. The only thing the vodka did was make me puke `til my throat was raw, and then I puked some more. The only good thing to come of it was Ma never found out.

She'd have fuckin' belted me for tryin' to take money from her. So I ended up havin' the kid anyway. I freaked when I went into labor six months later, was gonna tell `em everything. Guido was there, though, and he told me in no uncertain terms what he'd do to the kid if I even tried.

Givin' birth almost killed me. I was too small, I hadn't finished growin' yet and my hips were really narrow. They had to do a C-section. I was out of it from the drugs, unconscious mostly.

I only saw my baby girl once. She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. She had my hair, my eyes from what I'd seen, she even had my dimples. The only thing she inherited from Guido was his skin-tone, and quite possibly his height, `cause she was kinda long for bein' a preemie.

I made so many promises to her. I knew in my heart that I wouldn't be able to keep any of `em, but they were still in my heart, and I wanted my baby girl to hear `em at least once. I told her that her mother would never hurt her, she'd never just let others hurt her, wouldn't make her ashamed of her. I swore to her that I'd become someone she'd want to meet someday.

My heart broke when they took her away. I knew it'd be the last time I'd see her, I wasn't stupid. I kissed her forehead, told her I loved her, and asked the nurse to get the birth certificate. I named her Rhiannon, `cause I'd thought the name was pretty when I'd heard Fleetwood Mac's song.

A lady from D-FACS came to ask a bunch of questions. They were all kinds of invasive, about the baby's father, `bout my livin' sitch, etc. I lied, `cause I knew I'd be in trouble if I didn't. A couple days later she came back and had me sign some papers, givin' up custody of my baby.

The entire time, my heart was screamin' at me not to do it. When she left, I just felt empty, dead inside. Then the docs sent me home, told me to come back if I had any problems, and gave me an appointment time to come and have my stitches removed. For the followin' week, I just barely existed, hopin' that maybe, just maybe, Guido might let me see my girl sometime.

Then one day Ma came in and she was pissed, more than I'd ever seen her. Seemed that despite Ma's ringin' endorsements of the bastard, they weren't gonna approve him as Rhi's foster dad. Apparently he had priors of child molestation on his record. He'd been stupid enough to think that they'd let him get custody of a kid, even with that shit.

Funny enough, at least to me, they were hintin' at the possibility of him bein' Rhi's father. Ma blamed me. She accused me of tellin' D-FACS on him. She didn't like it very much when I reminded her, very loudly, that had I done that, she'd be in trouble too.

Then, three days later, a D-FACS employee and a couple of cops showed up. They'd done the paternity test, and of course, the results were positive. Guido had decided to plea out, and apparently he'd given up every little bit of info he had. And then I was bein' driven off to foster care before they'd even finished readin' Ma her rights.

The foster home they put me in was great at first. The mom, she was a genuine, home-cooked meals, sacked lunch for school, mend your clothes when they tore, type of lady. The dad, he wasn't around much `cause he was a trucker, but when he was, he was nothin' like Ma's johns. Their two sons liked to roughhouse, but they were fourteen and sixteen, so it was to be expected.

My caseworker came around every few days to check on things. She was great, asked how I was doin', listened to what I did and didn't say. The visits started to slack off after a couple of months, but that seemed fine. I'd been there three months when everything changed.

Mark, the dad, he decided that his sons needed lessons in how to kiss a woman. And apparently I was the prime candidate. I learned pretty fuckin' fast that just `cause they were government approved, didn't mean that they were any better than Ma was. When Mark decided they needed further `lessons', I got scared enough to take off.

It wasn't that I was afraid of goin' through that again. It was more `cause I was frightened out of my mind that I'd end up pregnant again. I decided I'd rather take my chances on the street. But I wasn't out there on my own long before I was forced to get past my fears just to be able to eat.

I'd been livin' on the streets and in no-tell motels for almost two years when it happened. One night I found myself dreamin', and it was like nothin' I'd ever experienced before. It was so real, like I was really there. It was somethin' out of one of the horror movies I loved.

I was a young black chick, from the accent I spoke with, I was Jamaican. There was this dorky guy bein' attacked by a guy with a deformed face, somethin' inside me called him a `vampire'. I went to defend the dork, and I moved with unbelievable speed. I felt so strong, like I could do anything, and puttin' my stake through that vamp just felt so fuckin' right.

Then two more vamps came in through the doors and this old guy was yellin', tellin' someone to get out. Two chicks went runnin' for the stairs and I punched the first of the two vamps as he reached me. I grabbed the second and shoved her back against the wall, then landed two punches to her face. I ducked down and around to avoid a punch and backed into her, grabbin' her head under my arm and comin' back up to plunge my stake through her heart.

She turned to dust and I looked for another opponent. I saw the vamp I punched earlier goin' for the old guy and rushed over to pull him off. I shoved him to the ground and then punched him as he tried to get back up. He tried again, and I grabbed and threw him through an office window. Then I was tackled from the side by a vamp I hadn't noticed. I gave an annoyed sigh and we tussled briefly, but it didn't last long. Then I was up and lookin' for another fight. A vamp came up, swingin' out at me and I stumbled from the punch a sec before regainin' my balance.

He managed to get a roundhouse kick through my defenses and I hit the floor with a grunt. He tried to kick me but I blocked it, then I swept my leg out, trippin' him before I got back to my feet. I was facin' off against two more vamps and then my previous opponent got back up. They started to close in and someone clapped, drawin' our attention before we could continue.

"Enough," A female vamp I hadn't seen enter said.

She gave me the `come hither' gesture and the others backed off. I faced her, more than ready to fight. She walked around me, goadin' me on. I kicked at her, but she blocked it easily, as well as my two follow-up swings. She punched me and the force of it spun me right to the floor.

I got back on my feet before she could take advantage of it. She ducked my kick and then grabbed my arms, swingin' me around and then shovin' me away. I came back at her, this time with a kick aimed at her gut and she doubled over. I lunged at her, but she grabbed me by the throat and then forced me back against the counter, her grip painful as she choked me.

My eyes locked with hers as I struggled to get free. I could feel somethin' ticklin' at the edges of my awareness and I blinked, tryin' to force my gaze away. I found that I couldn't, and then she started sayin' some kind of crazy ass shit.

"Look at me, Dearie."

Two of her fingers waved in front of my eyes and that ticklin' feelin' intensified. My struggles started to lessen, fadin' as whatever she was doin' began to take effect. My mind was screamin' for me to fight, but I just couldn't. She was hypnotizin' me.

"Be... in my eyes. Be... in me."

She let me go. Everything I was, everything in me, screamed for me to take that bitch out, but I couldn't. She had me under whatever spell she'd just weaved and as angry as I was, I couldn't do shit. She swayed side to side like a snake and all I could do was just follow her every move.

She backed away a little, lowering her arms, but never losing eye contact. Then the fingers of her right hand extended at her side. I knew what was comin' before it happened. A dark, evil smile crossed her lips and faster than a human could follow, her talon-like nails sliced through the air towards me. Then I grabbed for my throat, blood gushin' out over my fingers as I collapsed.

 "Night-Night," Was the last thing she said to me.

Then a voice that was more growl than speech asked, "Are you ready to be strong?"

I woke up at that point, pantin' and soaked with sweat. I was lookin' around frantically to make sure I was alone in my motel room. Somehow, I wasn't sure why, I just knew the dream had been real. I made a promise to myself right then and there that I was gonna get a cross ASAP.

It was less than a week later that Diana Dormer, my watcher, showed up. She's the only person I ever told about the dream. No one else ever asked, and I ain't the type to just share things. Of course, it took a while before I actually trusted her enough to tell even her.



Chapter One: Outside Looking In

Diana Dormer was one Hell of a woman. She was nothin' like Giles or Wesley. Don't get me wrong, Giles is great, and Wes was fine after Angel and crew got hold of him. But Di, she was just... awesome. I didn't know what to make of her at first.

I mean, every other person I'd ever met had abused me or been indifferent towards me in some way. And then there comes this woman, patient and genuine in a way I'd never known, I didn't know what to make of her. She told me she didn't want anything from me but to help me be the best I could be. I couldn't, didn't want to, believe her, I was afraid to.

It wasn't as if I hadn't ever had someone seem genuine, and then turn out to be just like everyone else. Some of my johns had been like that, pretended to be nice guys, and then did the same thing at least a hundred other guys have done to me. Then there was that caseworker from D-FACS, she'd acted like she'd cared about me, like she wanted to protect me. But where was she when Mark decided that I was a blowup doll for Jeff and David?

I was a total bitch those first two months. Everything she said and did was met with suspicion. I accused her of wantin' to train me to fight for an excuse to hit me, of wantin' me to live with her for easy access, even accused her of wantin' to clean my wounds for an excuse to touch me. She'd just let it go, wait `til later to bring it up again, all the while keepin' her expression calm. She was always careful to keep from showin' any pity, any sympathy.

She was smart. I think she'd have made a better caseworker than most if she hadn't chosen to be a watcher instead, `cause she knew just how to handle me. She was sneaky as fuck, too. I found myself trustin' her before I'd even realized it.

I didn't know how she did it. It just seemed like one day, I was still all jumpy, and then the next, I was movin' in with her and actually talkin' to her about stuff. I thought I'd lost my mind when I finally realized what I was doin'. I almost fucked up big time when it happened.

I attacked her. I didn't hit her, but I came on to her. I pinned her to the wall and kissed her hard. Then I jerked away and asked her if that was what she was after as nastily as I could.

She talked me down, got me to back off. She walked me through it, helped me to see what was happenin', she helped me understand. She'd gotten past my defenses by bein' a steady, positive presence in my life, and I was just scared. Then she'd had to reassure me that she wasn't goin' to kick me out, `cause then I started freakin' out that she would.

Things seemed to smooth out between us for the most part after that. She began to try to help me see myself differently. She thought my sleepin' around was disrespectin' myself and she wanted me to treat myself better. I just didn't get why it mattered back then.

She even got me to start thinkin' about goin' back to school, or even gettin' my GED. I didn't really care to, one way or another. I mean, I'd always hated school, and it wasn't like I'd get to live long enough for it to make a difference. Her arguments were gentle, but fierce, and even though it didn't show, it actually did get through to me a little.

For the first time in my life, I had found safety. I'd started to see that maybe I was worth somethin', I mean, there I was with someone who cared about me, and I was a hero. Then Kakistos showed up. In less than an hour, five months of progress were completely destroyed.

It didn't matter that I'd been too injured to even do anythin'. `Cause let's face it, Kakistos' goons had kicked my ass while I was tryin' to get us out before he could do anything to either of us. It didn't matter to me that she'd told me to run. What mattered to me is that I'd just laid there on the cold hard cement and watched as he violated and tortured my watcher to death.

Sometimes durin' trainin', Di used to tell me stories about past Slayers from their Watcher's diaries. I was fascinated, especially by the ones about B, `cause the idea that there was someone else like me out there touched me in a way nothin' else ever had. But fuck, the first time I heard her name, I thought I was gonna bust a gut laughin'. My amusement didn't last for long, `cause I was awed by the description Di gave me of her fight against the Master.

I just knew, somehow, that B was my only chance of defeatin' Kakistos. So, that's how I ended up goin' all the way across the fuckin' country. Then, when I got there, I found myself so full of shame that I couldn't do anything more than lie. Here was this girl who had sent her lover to Hell to save the world, and I couldn't look her in the eyes and tell her what I'd just done.

Then he caught up to me and B found out the truth. That's when I first felt it. There was this part inside of me that just went numb. I was givin' up, finally doin' what I'd wanted to do for years.

B thought I was packin' up to run. I never let her think any different, `cause she'd have stopped me if I had. I was gonna go after him alone. I was gonna let him finish the job Ma started.

That numbness just kept spreadin', even after we defeated him. It was like, no matter what I did, I couldn't shake it. I tried openin' up to B, but she just wasn't interested. I could tell that she didn't really like me, that she thought I was honin' in on her territory.

Then we found out Angel was back. That hurt, God, how it hurt. I wasn't willin' to admit it—Hell, I wasn't even willin' to think about why it hurt. I just knew that here was this person, this girl that was everything I'd ever thought a hero should be, and she didn't trust me.

And there was Mrs. Post. She'd showed me just how little I mattered. I finally saw everything for what it really was. They were usin' me, just like every other fucker I'd ever met.

To them, I was just a back-up Slayer. It didn't matter that I wasn't even seventeen yet, that I was livin' in a rundown motel room that I had to bribe the manager for. It didn't matter to them that I was lucky to even get one meal a day, much less enough to stay healthy. They didn't even notice when I'd get injured on patrols, or if they did, they didn't care if I got it taken care of or not.

They were so oblivious, so self-involved, that they didn't notice any of that. Hell, they didn't even realize it when I started to pull away. I mean, yeah, I came around, but not so often. I didn't even keep up my stupid stories that Xander was so fuckin' obsessed with.

That Christmas, I wanted so fuckin' badly to just laugh when B invited me to her house. Instead, I just gave her that lame story. I only changed my mind `cause some part of me was still hopin' for somethin' from her, even if it was just friendship. That about died when she went after Angel.

I started to resent her. She had everything, and I had nothin'. Her mom loved her, worried about her, trusted her, respected her. She had people that supported her, and they barely tolerated me.

There was a week when things seemed to fall in place. She seemed to finally get where I was comin' from, seemed to finally be gettin' into the groove. It all went to Hell when Allan Finch stumbled into our fight. I had blood on my hands and the look she gave me killed any hope left.

B said I felt dirty. Like somethin' sick crept inside me and I couldn't get it out. That I kept hopin' it was just some nightmare. She was right, but I didn't feel it `til it was way too late.

Xander was... Fuck, he was probably one of my worst mistakes out of that whole mess. I did to him what so many have done to me. Took his innocence, abused his trust, I hurt him, and liked it.

Angel thought he was gettin' somewhere that night. Hell, he was just a joke to me. I'd wanted nothin' more than to dust his ass. I felt too much hatred and disgust towards him to listen then.

Of course, that was somethin' I wasn't lookin' too closely at. My feelings for B were obvious to me at that point, but I wasn't gonna admit `em. It hurt too much. I wasn't gonna leave myself wide open for even more hurt by thinkin' about it more than I all ready did.

Wes's stunt probably cemented what happened next. I was determined that I was done with the Council, done with B, done with it all. But still, even with that, I couldn't just let B die. I couldn't stand back and watch Trick kill her, no matter how much rage I felt at that moment.

Dealin' with them in the weeks that followed was easy. I just had to remind myself that they'd get theirs soon enough. That thought kept me from givin' it away for a while. But it was only `til the Mayor was ready for me to move on.

The Mayor, he was such a fuckin' idiot. Yeah, in that state of mind, I loved him. Well, as much as a psycho can love someone. But even then, he grated on my nerves a bit.

He said he didn't know what Angel was thinkin'. I just said, "She's Buffy Summers." Fuck, he didn't even get it then. How he was so oblivious to how I felt about her, I don't fuckin' know.

Then his plan with Angelus, that pissed me off. Just the thought of havin' to touch Angel made me sick. But at that point, I was all for makin' B hurt as much as possible. And I was willin' to do whatever it took to do it, even that.

When we took B to the mansion and chained her up, I wasn't thinkin' too much about what came after. I was too in the moment to. If I'd taken the time to think, it would've stopped me. I'd have saw what I was doin', who I was doin' it to, and I wouldn't have been able to go through with it.

Tellin' her that stuff, it didn't even touch the base of what I felt. I just told her the nastier, meaner things that I'd thought and felt. I wanted to fuck with her head. That was all.

But even `chained up', she still managed to get to me with nothin' but words. Those things she said, they hurt, and it made me wanna lash out. She said she never knew I had so much rage in me. I wanted nothin' more than to scream at her, to ask how she could be so fuckin' blind.

Then I found out it was all an act, that they'd played me. And I was pissed, so fuckin' pissed at them, at me for not seein' it. Before I could react, the gang busted in and I had to get out. On my way out, I couldn't resist one partin' shot, so I kissed B's forehead just to fuck with her.

Willow, God, I'd hated her since I met her. She had a place in Buffy's life that I'd wanted just a little piece of, one that some part of me still longed for. She pushed my buttons when she taunted me. I wanted to scream at her, "just when exactly was it that B was supposedly my friend?'.

Had it been when she was too busy sulkin' over Angel? Or how about all those nights when I was forced to sit in my motel room all alone? Or hey, maybe it was when I had to suck the motel manager off just to keep a place to sleep. Or fuck, maybe it was even when she was lyin' about Angel and then fightin' me `cause she was sidin' with that fuckin' vamp?

I hated havin' to let Red go. I considered ignorin' the boss and just killin' her when Angel made that dig. I decided it wasn't worth it. That I'd rather let her go than risk pissin' the Mayor off.

It almost got through to me when I saw those spiders. The shock that I'd killed that mostly harmless dude for those, it just about made me rethink everything. It almost made me see just what kind of bastard I was workin' for. But he called for me, pulled me back before it could.

After that I forced myself to buckle down, I was more than all in. Killin' the professor for the Mayor? I wanted to do it, it was easy for me. So easy that it makes me sick to think about it now.

Poisonin' Angel, that was dessert. I wanted him to hurt. I didn't know much about it, didn't really care to. All that mattered to me was that it would give him an agonizingly slow death.

I wasn't all that surprised when B showed up at my place. But I was surprised just how ready she was to throw down. I hadn't thought she had it in her. Though, some part of me had hoped.

That knife in my gut, the cold steel slidin' in, I'll never forget it. It hurt, reminded me of the one other time I'd had my stomach sliced into. In that moment, with that reminder, I felt remorse. I felt remorse for the baby girl I'd promised would have a better mother than mine. Her mother had turned out to be the bigger psycho, and I was so fuckin' sorry.

But I still wasn't gonna help Angel. Not him, not the reason I'd gone down that road. I didn't get where that thought had came from then. I still couldn't accept my jealousy for what it was. I let myself fall, knowin' that truck was there, but still doubtful that I'd live, and hopin' I wouldn't.

My coma, I remember confusin' dreams. They were full of cryptic bullshit, most of `em more like nightmares than others. There was a recurrin' theme of B runnin' me through with my knife. Wakin' up was like swimmin' up through mud, or some other disgustin' thick gunk.

I was stunned. I shouldn't have been alive, shouldn't have made it through that. Then I was angry. `Cause I didn't wanna be there, I didn't wanna have to deal with everything.

I probably would've been fine if I'd run into B first. Fuck, I might've been fine if I'd seen any sign that any of them had been there to see me. But I ran into that chick first, and she told me about graduation, and the Mayor. It was too easy to let that dark part of me win again.



Chapter Two: Inside Looking Out

I had some quality rage goin' by the time I reached Giles' place. The fact that I'd just beaten an innocent bystander to unconsciousness didn't make a difference to me. Then I saw B kiss that meathead and I felt somethin' I hadn't felt since my baby girl was in my arms. My heart broke.

Don't ask me why then, why I hadn't felt it back when I went to work for the Mayor. I don't know. It was just the sight of someone who wasn't her `soul-mate' kissin' her that did it. It wasn't hatred fueled anger runnin' through me anymore. It was pure grief induced.

I knew the moment she found out I was awake. I saw the expression on her face. But it wasn't the anger I'd expected it to be, it was more concerned, worried, and I had to get out of there. I didn't want her feelin' anything but anger, `cause we were gonna finish what we'd started.

We had our confrontation. I don't know what I'd been hopin' for. But whatever it was went right out the window as soon as I heard what she was sayin' to Red. I lost control for a bit.

Then later I got the Mayor's gift. I wasn't sure what it'd do for me. But it wasn't like I had anything left to lose. So I figured, what the fuck, why not.

I knew goin' after Joyce would get her attention. So I did. Even then, part of me was screamin' at me not to do it. But, like always, I just ignored it, `cause she was another person who'd used me.

Yeah, she hadn't been as obvious. It hadn't even been with malicious intent. But she saw me as a way to get her kid away from our lifestyle. It made what I was doin' just a little easier for me.

Then havin' B at my mercy, bein' able to do things to her body I'd only been able to dream about, even if it was me inside? At the time, it was the most exhilaratin' thing I'd ever felt. I'm relieved that B ain't ever asked me just what I did to her body. But that part's probably the one thing I ain't ever felt truly guilty about, and I realize just how fucked up that is.

Maybe it's `cause that's the only way I'll ever have her. Those few hours when I was alone with her body is all I'll ever have. Fuck, obsessive compulsive, much? I had two and a half years of sittin' still to finally come to terms with my issues, for the most part, at least.

In her body, I felt free for the first time in years. I could finally look in the mirror and not feel disgust at what I saw. I could look in the mirror and not see what had brought on all the abuse I'd suffered as a kid, not see the face that had caused all of it. It almost started to crash down around me when I got to Giles' and then heard that the Council had B.

But I figured that they were just gonna take her to England. So I just shrugged it off and went on with what I thought would be my new life. I couldn't think about what they'd do to her. I'd have gone insane if I had—well, further insane.

That girl thanked me at the Bronze when I saved her. It hit me unexpectedly. None of the people I'd saved had ever thanked me before. I brushed it off at the time, not lettin' it get to me.

Then there was Riley. He was just another toy, somethin' for me to fuck with, literally. That he was Buffy's just made it that much sweeter. It made me want it that much more.

Love's always been somethin' dirty to me. If someone said it, they wanted somethin' nasty, wanted somethin' wrong, somethin' painful. And he said those three words, Riley said `I love you' to me in her body. And I freaked, but it wasn't for me, it was for B, at the thought of someone doin' to her what had been done to me so often in the past.

I was gonna take off the next mornin'. I'd all ready arranged my flight the day before with Joyce's credit card. But that fuckin' news report... I saw it and I couldn't go. I saw it and I knew, I knew, that if I walked away, I'd really be everything I'd promised my baby girl I wouldn't be.

Then I saw B. She was everything I'd always hated about myself in that moment and I saw it from a new prospective. I was disgusted, I was angry, I hated myself, and I knew that no matter what I did, I'd always be too low to be good enough for either of them, B or Rhi. I took it out on B and then it was over and I was runnin' again, runnin' from her and from myself.

That creep in LA, I was in shock at first. Then I was just angry. In my eyes, in that moment, he was my past made flesh. I didn't feel a bit of remorse when I attacked him.

Then I was just doin' what was familiar. I was gettin' lost in my lust, in my anger. I was lettin' every bad habit I'd ever learned come out to play. It was the only thing I knew.

When that legal shark from W&H approached me, I knew what I was gonna do. `Course, first I thought I was just gonna bang and roll her, but I've always thought the best plans could be adapted. I was a little freaked when I heard about the warrant for my arrest. But then they mentioned Angel, and all thoughts about what they were offerin' just disappeared.

He was the key to everything. Lilah thought I was lurin' him out so I could kill him. But I was lurin' him out so he could kill me, and that was it. That was all I had wanted.

`Course, no one realizes that I could've taken it out on Queen C instead of just knockin' her out. All they see is what I did to Wes. No one considered that the only reason I brought him into it was `cause he was all ready in it. I didn't have a problem usin' him to get to Angel `cause he'd put himself into the sitch way before then by betrayin' me to the Council.

But Angel came through for me; fuckin' vamp, `cept now it's said with fondness instead of revulsion. He knew what I was doin', but I still kept tryin' to push him into killin' me. I was screamin' on the inside, and he heard it over everything I was screamin' out loud. He saved me.

I didn't know why I let him. I think about it now, and I can see how much I really did wanna change. Because if I hadn't really wanted it, then how else could he of all people have gotten through? I hated him so fuckin' much, but at that point, I hated myself even more.

I finally felt it, that thing B had said I'd felt. I felt dirty. It was like somethin' sick had crept inside me and I couldn't get it out. I kept hopin' it was just some nightmare. But it wasn't, and I was finally gonna have to deal, I just didn't know how, but he did.

It would've been so easy to just give up. Fuck, I wanted to. I wanted to run, and I wanted to die, and I wanted to kill him, but I wanted the opposite too. I wanted to be able to stay somewhere for once, and I wanted to be able to really live, and I wanted him to help me.

B didn't seem to get that I wanted her to beat me to death. I can't blame her for that. She'd been sheltered all her life; I couldn't expect her to understand why I had fucked her over. I wanted to explain it to her, wanted to tell her everything, but she wouldn't let me, even though I tried.

I hated seein' them fight over me. It was too much like my past. It reminded me of a couple of Ma's johns that tried to get her to leave me alone. They weren't all bad, just the majority of `em.

B tried to say she'd given me a chance. Yeah, she might have. But it was half-assed. We were both at fault for the stuff that happened in the beginnin', even if she didn't wanna accept it.

B said I made her a victim. She was right. I did. But she never asked why, didn't wanna know.

I didn't get why she helped me escape the Council's goons. I still don't. If she hated me so much, wanted me gone, why didn't she let them do their job? It couldn't have just been her conscience.

She'd had no problem puttin' my knife in my gut that night on my roof. She could've justified her actions the same way then as she had in the past. But she didn't. And it confused me.

Prison; B may have meant for it to be a punishment, but it was exactly what I'd needed. There, I was given the rock-solid stability that I'd never had. They kept me fed, they gave me a place to sleep, there was someone there I could talk to, they kept me on a schedule. The worst thing I had to worry about was a few overzealous guards and inmates, and I've had worse done to me.

I had time to think. I finally began to put some of the past away. And I knew that Angel was there for me, even if he only came to visit a few times. Where most felt caged, I felt sheltered.

Then Wes came, and he only had to say those three words. `Angelus is back'. I knew my time there was over, that this was my chance to repay him. This was my chance to make up for the shit I'd done to Angel, by doin' my damndest to keep him from gettin' more blood on his hands.

That first fight, those first vamps that I fought after gettin' out? God, that felt so fuckin' great. The reminder of what I was, the feelin' of adrenaline racin' through me, nothin' else like it. But still, there was a little fear in the back of my mind, fear that I was rustier that I'd thought.

But Wes, he was a surprise. It seemed like the boy watcher finally got it. He finally seemed to get what bein' a Slayer was like for me. He understood how much I needed that release.

It's no surprise I didn't realize somethin' was up with Queen C. She's always hated me. And after I hit her, I fully understood her resentment of me. At least it was better than her hatin' me just `cause she was an uppity bitch and I was the lowest of the low.

Y'know, Kakistos had scared me, but that was mostly `cause of what he did to Di. But Angelus, I was afraid for more than one reason. One, if he'd killed me, what would that've done to Angel? Two, I'd gotten to a point where I wanted to live, and whereas Angel wouldn't kill me, he would.

Punchin' the Beast was like punchin' a brick wall. Now him, him I was just frightened of, straight-up. No reasonin' in that shit. He hit like a fuckin' freight-train goin' full speed ahead.

But havin' Angelus look at me like I was lunch? That didn't scare me. It pissed me off. Angel was the one person, the one man, who never treated me like I was somethin' to be used, and `cause of Angelus, I wasn't gonna be able to look at Angel and not see that expression of lust.

At the time when Wes was pushin' me, it was killin' me. I wanted to make him shut up. I was so fuckin' pissed at him. But I get it now, get that he was just tryin' to prepare me for the worst.

I was more than thankful that I'd never succeeded in removin' Angel's soul back in the day. I'd have never had a chance in Hell at savin' myself. Angelus knew the exact words to reach the darkness inside of me, what to say to try to pull it out of me. He understood that part of me better than I'd expected, and it gave me a new understandin' of how Angel was able to reach me.

I've been on some head trips in my day, y'know? You don't live the kind of life I've had, and not try it all. I had to do somethin' to deal with the shit-storm that was my life, and all I knew was what I'd seen Ma do. But Orpheus, that was some wicked fucked junk.

Seein' Angel's memories, it kinda helped me resolve a few issues. It helped me see what I needed to do. At the same time, though, it cleared up any lingerin' resentment I'd had over his relationship with B. I couldn't begrudge him that love, that kind of peace, not with everything he'd done and everything he'd gone through.

Meetin' up with Red again, seein' the changes she'd gone through, it kinda felt like justice. I felt bad about that when I heard about what she'd gone through on the way to the `Dale. But I was too worried about seein' B again to really care about anything else. Then again, that's the way it always has been with me, probably always will be.

Durin' that whole thing with the First, I did my damndest to tolerate their attitudes. But, even I have limits. It's hard to change a lifetime's habits, so reignin' in my defensive tendencies was a little difficult. There were moments when I couldn't, and some when I didn't even bother.

I was hurt that they hadn't told me what was goin' down before then. I mean, I get that I wasn't exactly on their minds much, if at all, but you'd think that would've made `em think about me. Somethin' was gunnin' for potentials, and Slayers, and there were only two of us. It would've been nice to know why Deb was so interested in knifin' me in all my vital organs.

I mouthed off a lot when I couldn't hold my attitude in completely. I couldn't help it. But at least I managed to keep most of the physical shit in, right? Though, I still felt really bad when I did go off on B a few times, `cause it felt like I was lettin' us both down.

I wanted to prove to her that I'd gotten better. Fuck, I wanted to prove it to me, still. And I think B wanted me to prove it. But it seemed like somethin' was always waitin' to set us back.

I don't get what my deal with Spike was. I guess he was just proof that I had changed a little. I mean, bein' able to tolerate him even after I found out about him and B? Though, I gotta admit, I kinda wanted to introduce my fist to his face a few more times when I first found out.

Then I really wanted to kill him later, but that's another issue altogether. He was all ready dusted and gone, again, by that point. Pipsqueak slipped up a while back and told me about what he'd tried to do to B before he went and got his soul. That was rage at a whole `nother level, man.

That whole time we were in the `Dale I was fightin' not to bitch slap Kennedy. I mean, kid was cool most of the time. But she kept goin' off on B, raggin' on her. I got her point, B was bein' a bit of a bitch, but that sitch was rough on all of us, and it was worse for B.

Everything got out of control that night at the Bronze. I hadn't really thought about the cops. I'd just thought the girls needed some release. Who could've expected the cops to go all Hellmouth induced on us?

The only reason I even considered givin' Rob the time of day was `cause of my frustration with B. I needed a distraction, and he was handy. Old habits struck again. He just turned out to be a better guy than the ones I'd been around before.

But as pissed as I was at B? God, when the gang turned on her, I wanted to slaughter `em, even if I did kinda get where they were comin' from. But she'd done her damndest to be what they'd needed, and `cause she made a few mistakes... They just abandoned her when she needed them the most. I couldn't fuckin' believe it and I knew I was makin' it worse, what I was tryin' to say to her just wasn't comin' out right. Then Pipsqueak...

Aight, kid knows what she is. She knows all that, and she knows what B done for her. B fuckin' gave her life so the kid could live, and she still did that. She's the one that actually kicked B out.

Oh yeah, I was feelin' for B after that. All that weight was on my shoulders, tryin' to keep the girls calm, tryin' to make plans, all the while tryin' to keep calm myself? It was too much for me.

I guess durin' that time, I wasn't thinkin' much. `Cause if I had been, I'd have been out of my mind worried about B. She was out there all alone with Bringers and Uber-vamps crawlin' the fuckin' street. When Spike and I came to blows, I don't know if I was more pissed at him `cause of his feelings for B, or if I was pissed at myself for not worryin' more about her.

The First was a fuckin' idiot. Yeah, he kinda got to me with that love shit, but showin' up as the Mayor? That wasn't gonna do much more than piss me off. You'd think he'd have known that.

Rob showed up just in time to keep me from snappin'. I just kept stringin' him along, tellin' him what he wanted to hear. He thought he was gettin' through to me, gettin' some trust? I was just gettin' him right where I wanted him, `cause I was in that frame of mind.

The explosion at the school, it hit me hard. It wasn't just the injuries, even though those were a bitch. One of these days, I'm gonna get brain damage from bein' in so many comas. But no, that failure just seemed like one more in a long line of `em and it messed with me bad.

Then B and me, we finally got to talk. It helped a little. Well, a lot actually. We were finally startin' to get each other, to understand, for real this time.

Then there was more shit with Rob. He was fuckin' with my ego, and that's never good. But I ended up givin' him a chance, for a little bit anyway. And I'm glad I did, `cause I needed to see what it was like to be with someone who wasn't out to use me.

The battle in the Hellmouth, it was the most intense fight I've ever been in. I didn't think about whether I'd make it through, I couldn't, I just let myself live in the moment. `Til I saw B go down, then I was pulled back to reality and I couldn't get to her fast enough. The trust she showed, that she gave me, just by handin' me the scythe, it said more than words ever would.

Everything I'd been fightin' for? It was all possible. They could forgive me, better yet, they would forgive me. And I found my path of redemption in the mouth of Hell.

It wasn't gonna be just like Angel's. His would be lonely, fightin' against his very nature. But mine? I could follow my destiny, be true to my heart in every sense of the word, and it would ease the burden of fightin' against my darkness as I go.

I'll never have B. I can accept that now. But, I have her friendship, her trust, her respect. In that moment when she told me to hold the line, it was more than enough.

I went down for a minute and thought it was over. But then I felt it. I felt a surge of energy, knew it came from the same place deep inside of me that feels B, has always felt B. I knew she was up and alive, and I had to see it again, I couldn't let those bastards take me down.

I freaked when I saw B wasn't followin' us out. The sight of her just standin' there as the entire cavern came down around her and Spike, that's somethin' that I'll never forget. That image was hauntin' me as the bus drove away, my heart breakin' the further we got from her. The weaker our connection grew, the closer we got to leavin' B behind, the more it tore me apart inside.



Chapter Three: Maybe I Was Heartsick

The sight of her leapin' from the rooftop to the bus, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I barely restrained myself from openin' the emergency door and climbin' up there to hug her. I could just imagine what the general reaction to that would've been. I wasn't havin' it.

Instead, I turned my attention to Rob `til after the bus stopped. It was easier. Our entire relationship was easier than dwellin' on how much I love B would've been. In the end, he left me `cause he knew it wasn't him I was in love with, but I'm gettin' ahead of myself.

We only stayed in LA long enough for our injured to become mobile. None of us was thrilled at the thought of stayin' for long after we found out about Angel and Wolfram & Hart. We wanted to put some distance between us and Angel's crew before things went south. It was too soon after the battle against the First for us to chance havin' to deal with Angelus again.

I felt like a bitch for it, especially after big A sent Gunn over to our motel with my pardon. I still don't know how they swung it, but I was grateful—just not enough to stick around. He got it, though. Leavin' them there to deal with W&H alone is one of the things I regret the most now.

We headed straight for the Hellmouth in Cleveland. With the `Dale down and out, Giles was certain things would pick up here quickly. He was right. The ride in, all of us Slayers were on edge from the vibes comin' off that place in waves.

We had our work cut out for us. The demonic community here was untamed. We had to give `em more than a few lessons in the law of the Slayer's Hellmouth. There was fun to be had, lots of it.

It took a while for us to get settled in. First we had to track down the Council's resources, `cause we weren't gonna get anywhere without some cash flow. Red hackin' their accounts eventually got the attention of a handful of professional types who had at one time or another worked for the Council. A few of the Council's survivin' field operatives came sniffin' around, too.

Even with them comin' in to help us out, Red knew we were gonna have to do somethin' other than location-to-location searches to pick up the baby Slayers. In her research, she discovered a weak compulsion spell that she thought could help. She set up a locator spell to find `em, then she did the compulsion spell by area to bring `em in instead of us goin' out to look for `em. There were a few glitches that we had to work out, but it's become our best tool.

Sam Zabuto, Kendra's watcher, was one of the ones who came to help us out. He'd apparently retired from the Council once Kendra died, unable to tolerate `em anymore. It was with his help that Giles and Rob managed to get the Kendra Young Academy off the ground. That project was well under way by the time the six month mark came around.

Sam has become irreplaceable. He's our Director of Affairs. He travels with a team of Slayers, witches, and researchers between each of our branches. He keeps all of the branches on target with the ISDA's goals and regulations, and brings things to our attention that need dealt with.

The gang had the balls to be surprised when B stepped down about a year after we arrived. She started by passin' stuff off for me to handle, then began easin' her way out of goin' to meetings. She'd been out of sight for an entire month when they finally noticed. We went to her place for them to find out what was up and I couldn't help but smirk when she set `em straight.

She reminded `em that it's not her destiny alone anymore, and that she has a duty to more than just us. She has a little sister who needs a life outside of what we do. She wanted that for more than just Dawn, though, she wanted it for her, too. I was happy to see B finally stand up for herself to them after everything she's been through since becomin' a Slayer.

She promised that she wasn't gonna drop out of our lives. She even went as far as to propose a family night every Sunday, and that she would bring food to us if we were buried in research. Surprised us all when she told me, "Your butt had better be copping a squat on my couch come Sunday night or we'll see how effective a retired Slayer can still be", as we were leavin'. I thought she was jokin' at first, but I was the first one she called that Friday afternoon to confirm.

Then somethin' happened that I hadn't ever expected. About a week after that first family movie and dinner night, I got a call at the office out of nowhere, with B lookin' for some advice. Seems she'd been offered a security job at the warehouse sector, and she was seriously considerin' it. That somehow led to random calls and visits on her days off and durin' her breaks later on.

We weren't becomin' best friends; that title still belongs firmly to Xan and Red for her. But we did form a friendship. It was B I went to when Robin pissed me off on more than one occasion. It was B I went to when I freaked out the first time that he told me he loved me.

It surprised her that it had me so scared when I spilled what had upset me so much to her. But she got me calmed down, and then made me do a walkthrough of it. Yeah, he had said those three words. But he'd also told me he didn't expect anything in return, that he just wanted me to know how he felt, `cause he thought it was somethin' that I deserved to hear.

When the fear had finally faded, I could see the questions in B's eyes. She wanted to know why I was so scared to have someone love me. I almost closed myself off again, but somethin' stopped me. I told her that my experiences with love had left a lot to be desired, but I didn't go into detail, and she seemed satisfied to let me do what I felt comfortable with.

After that, things were goin' good for me, both in my relationship with Rob and my friendship with B. I don't know who was more surprised about either of those things, me or the gang. B tried to extend invites for Rob to come to dinner with us on Sundays too, but he always refused. I should've realized then that he knew, or that he at least suspected, that I had feelings for B.

Despite the issues he had with her `cause of Spike, Robin has always maintained a certain respect for B. Add in that she'd kept me from breakin' it off with him on more than one occasion, and I'd have thought he'd be eternally grateful to her. She'd made me talk things out with him every time instead of lettin' me lash out, and I hadn't kept that a secret. I didn't throw it in his face, but I'm sure I mentioned it enough durin' those conversations that he knew.

He even put up with me stayin' at B's for a month after LA went apocalyptic. We'd come back home after takin' a cleanup crew out there, and neither of us had wanted to be alone. We'd both been heartbroken when our search for Angel and crew only turned up Illyria, and what she'd told us had only made it worse for B. Rob had understood, `cause he knew what Angel meant to me.

We were together for two years when it finally fell apart on us. He wanted us to get a house together, but I just wasn't into him enough to wanna live with him. I didn't wanna tell him that, though. I cared about him, still do to a certain extent, but my heart ain't mine to give away.

I took off to B's again the night he brought it up. I stopped by a liquor store on the way, and was closin' in on three sheets to the wind by the time I reached her house. Pipsqueak answered the door, gave me a look when she saw the open brown bagged bottle in my hand, and then let me in. She left me in the den with a sarcastic remark about me drinkin' myself stupid.

I had forgotten B's schedule in my haste to escape Rob's hurt, questionin' gaze. I was lucky that Pipsqueak was even home to let me in, as she'd been pretty busy between her schoolin' and her social calendar that semester. I'd passed out by the time B got home from work. That didn't stop her from wakin' me up with a smack when she found my bottle tipped over on her carpet though.

And if anyone's curious, a retired Slayer still hits like a Mack truck, even with girly open-handed slaps like the ones she's fond of givin' me when I'm bein' a bonehead. I ain't sure what it was, maybe I was just avoidin' a rant, maybe somethin' was in my eye, or maybe I was heartsick and the woman I love was standin' right in front of me. I broke down and cried, though I tried my damndest to hold it in. The moment she pulled me upright and put her arms around me, I lost any chance of stayin' in control that I might've had.

It seemed like forever before the sobs finally stopped. My eyes were burnin', my throat ached from all the sobs and the snifflin' had clogged my nose up. I must've looked like Hell warmed over, `cause B winced when she looked at me. I cracked a smile, `cause it was kind of cute.

Her simple question of what was wrong almost set me off again. The panicked look she got after that didn't help any. She immediately jumped to a conclusion and asked if Robin was aight. That was it, and I found myself collapsin' in her arms again, cryin' harshly.

All I could manage to choke out in a muffled sob was, "Why the fuck does he always gotta push for more from me? Why can't he just be satisfied with what we have?"

I doubt it came out even remotely as clear as that, but that's what I meant to say. I think at that point, she'd finally realized that Rob was fine, but I wasn't. She waited `til I calmed down again to ask me what had happened. It took me a few tries before I could get it all out.

I was about halfway through my explanation when I began to appreciate the supreme irony of the sitch. I mean, there I was, explainin' that I didn't love the man I'd been in a relationship with for two years to the woman I've loved since before I even knew what love was. I didn't know if I should laugh or cry, `cause it was so awful that it was funny. The cryin' won out, and my voice cracked, makin' me have to stop talkin' `til I regained my self-control again.

Then I tried to explain that I cared for him, that maybe I loved him, but I wasn't in love with him. The look she gave me at that moment was heartbreakin'. It said that she understood all too well exactly what I meant. I took a chance and asked her what I was supposed to do, and all B told me was that I needed to do what was right for him and me both.

I didn't have to ask what she meant. I had known what I should've done all along; I just hadn't wanted to admit it. I'd stayed with him out of a selfish need for the distraction he provided me. I needed to break up with him, to let him find someone who could love him the way he deserved.

That was the moment the knock came at the door. I followed B into the livin' room in case she needed help. It wouldn't have been the first time a vamp knocked late at night and faked an emergency or some other reason to need to come inside someone's house. B ain't helpless, but I'd gotten so used to her not bein' an active Slayer that it was an instinct to try to protect her.

Over B's head, my eyes met Rob's the moment the door opened. That was when I realized he knew. There was a deep pain there that he couldn't hide as he looked from me to her and back. He closed his eyes briefly, opened `em, then nodded at B before he turned and walked to his car.

I don't remember much else from that night. I'm pretty certain I spent the rest of what I was conscious for losin' more than even I could eat in one day. I know I passed out at some point, though, `cause the next thing I do remember was wakin' up in the guestroom mid-mornin'. See, told ya B's still Slayer-strong, `cause Pipsqueak sure as Hell didn't get me there.

Don't get me wrong, the kid doesn't hate me—at least, not anymore. She just lives to torment me, just like I used to live to torment B. It kinda makes me wonder if those monks maybe put a little of me in there with whatever they took from B to make the pipsqueak. But my point is that she ain't strong enough to haul my ass into the huge assed bed in their guestroom.

I was fine by lunchtime. The wonders of a Slayer's constitution; we burn off alcohol rapidly, our bodies make use of meds quickly, and our healin' tackles whatever ails us just as fast. Hangovers don't bother us for long, and they disappear even quicker when our blood gets pumpin'. But I could've used the distraction of the midgets poundin' away in my head for a bit longer that day.

B wasn't about to put up with my ass loungin' in front of her TV for long though. She only gave me `til just before dinnertime before she kicked me out. She told me I needed to go take care of my problems before they got worse. She was oh-so-magnanimous enough to offer not to make me explain his behavior from the night before `til I was ready.

By the by, I still ain't ready, and it's been four years. That's somethin' she ain't ever gonna get out of me, no matter how cute she is when she begs. I keep hopin' she'll forget about it, but my hopes are dashed every time someone mentions Rob. I'm gettin' ahead of myself again, though.

I thought about just goin' home to my apartment, it wasn't like B would have to find out. But in the end, I went to his place, `cause I knew it had to be done. He was waitin' for me when I got there. I've always suspected B had given him a head's up, but I could be wrong.

I was reminded of how awesome a guy he is when he spoke up before I could. He told me that he finally understood, and that he didn't hold it against me. He said he knew what it was like to love someone, and feel as if it were the most hopeless thing in the world. He told me he knew what it was like to grab onto the nearest person just to try to keep from drownin' in heartbreak.

I was stunned when he explained that I'd been that person for him at first as well. He had fallen for another teacher from the school he'd taught at in NY before comin' to Cali, but they'd had strict rules about that. He'd left at the first opportunity he'd gotten, which was how he'd ended up in the `Dale. He hadn't been able to handle seein' her, day in and day out, without havin' her.

We were both cryin' by the end of his story. He held me `til I calmed down, then he pushed me away gently. I asked him what we were gonna do. He just gave me an inscrutable smile.

I went home soon after. There wasn't anything left for me there with him. The next few weeks were kind of a daze for me. I went to work, went on a few solo patrols, and went home alone.

At the next meetin', Rob announced his intentions to leave. They were all surprised, `cause I hadn't told anyone that we'd split up. They kept shootin' me glances, like they expected me to say somethin' about it. I just shrugged off their looks, `cause I didn't wanna get into it.

After the meetin', the gang cornered me when Rob and Giles were gone. That was when I realized B wasn't the only one who had somehow become a true friend to me in the time we've been here. Red offered to turn Robin into a snake for me, so his outsides matched his insides. I smiled at her, amused, and gave a brief explanation that it had been an amicable breakup.

Two weeks later when he was finally gone, I still felt a little off-kilter. It was strange to suddenly find myself single after such a seemingly long time. I didn't know what to do with myself. I wasn't feelin' the urge to return to my previous habits, but I wasn't likin' the single life, either.

It was a month later when things finally got knocked back into prospective for me. Rob called. He had gone to look up his girl, only to find that she had died in a `wild animal' attack a few months after he'd left. I heard everything he was feelin' in his voice, and felt my own heart clench in sympathy at the anger and self-incrimination mixed in with his pain.

We spoke for a while. I guess I was the only person he thought could truly understand what he was goin' through. He admitted that he felt like a failure, `cause he'd left to protect himself, and had only managed to leave her defenseless. He hated himself.

Before he ended the call, he told me, "Faith, I just wish that I had stayed. Maybe if I had, Erin would still be alive. I'd rather ache to hold her and be unable to because I was only a friend, than to have to live through every day, wishing I could see her just one last time."

I was left with a dial tone ringin' in my ear and my heart in a vice-grip inside my chest. His words had suddenly made me remember what it was like when B died. And just like back then in prison, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think, I couldn't move, I couldn't do anything.

My world had narrowed to one focus. Somehow, in my grief, I had closed everything off `til all I could feel was that phantom sensation I always get from B that gets stronger with proximity. No matter how far apart we are, I can always feel it to some degree, and it was all that kept me from goin' off the deep end at that moment.

The almost tangible reminder our connection provided finally drew me back from the edge. I breathed in sharply, almost chokin' on the air. It took a while for me to calm down. Then when I did, I contemplated what Robin had told me.

He was right. I would rather ache to hold B than live through every day wishin' I could see her just one last time. I have to be content with the life I have. Friendship has to be enough, no matter how heartsick the thought of her findin' happiness with someone else makes me.



Chapter Four: Only Twice Today

The last four years haven't been easy. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have had it any other way. I may not be her lover, or even her best friend, but what we do have is amazin' to me. B really has become my best friend, and that's more precious to me than I'll ever be able to tell her.

She's the one person I've come to depend on. At one point in my life, I swore I'd never let anyone get close to me. I was an angry, hurt fourteen year old kid at the time, but I meant every word I said to myself at that moment. Then Di came into my life a few months later, and one by one, all the walls came tumblin' down around my heart.

I don't wanna imagine my life without B. I've been there, and it was a cold, hateful place. It's why I've found myself lettin' my walls down again. We'll never be as close as I want, so I promised myself that I wouldn't shut her out anymore, that way we're as close as she wants.

There are still some things I won't talk about, and I know it frustrates B. But I can't tell her the things that were done to me. I can't tell her the things I did to survive. I can't tell her about Rhi.

And it ain't `cause I don't wanna. It's `cause it hurts too much to think about any of that. It's `cause I look back at the things I did and the things that were done to me, and despite everything I know, I'm so fuckin' ashamed that I feel it like filth beneath my skin. The thought of tellin' B those things, it makes me shudder, `cause those are things she shouldn't even know exist.

B ain't a kid. And she ain't so naïve that she doesn't know bad things sometimes happen to kids. But she'll never know it personally. And I won't be the one to put those images in her head.

She'd probably get pissed as Hell if she heard me say those things. She hates it when I try to protect her, which I've developed a habit of. She's only got herself to blame, though. I ain't the one that told her to go live the `ordinary' life, complete with lack of physical trainin', too.

My protective streak spiked about two years ago. I was preoccupied and didn't notice the four vamps followin' me to her place after patrol. They attacked just when I entered her yard, and B bein' who she is, she came out to try to help. We eventually managed to gain the upper hand, but we both got our asses handed to us in that fight, me with a severed artery in my thigh.

Quick, efficient first aid and Slayer healin' was probably the only thing that kept me from bleedin' out before we got to ISDA's clinic, ISDAC. She was so angry at herself afterwards that Rona and Vi had to drag her ass into my room just so I could talk to her. I couldn't bring myself to be an asshole about it, seein' as how she was doin' enough lecturin' for us both. After that, I became an `overprotective cave-slayer'—her words—and she started trainin' three times a week.

She doesn't go on patrol. She just doesn't wanna get caught in a situation like that ever again. Not like I'm gonna complain, `cause I like to know she can take care of herself if I ain't with her. And it's funny to hear Kennedy bitch when B shows her up in one of the classes Ken teaches.

It ain't been all lightheartedness and roses. We've had arguments. Neither of us lets it elevate to a fight, but still. We're too different in our personalities to not occasionally clash.

There've been days when we've refused to talk to each other. Typically, B will distance herself from everyone, and I'll go silent and moody. It usually ends with Red forcin' us to work things out `cause she gets tired of us mopin' around. Luckily, it's never gone on longer than a week.

I think about her frequently. Whether it's wonderin' what she's doin', wonderin' what she's thinkin' about, or what she'd think about somethin' I saw, or if she'd like somethin' I found. On the days when we don't talk at all, I can't get her out of my mind. On more normal days, I can sometimes go a few hours without thinkin' about her, more than that here lately.

Occasionally, I've had to deal with B datin' someone. That's part of what makes stayin' here and bein' her friend the hardest. Seein' her with someone, seein' `em touch each other in ways I wish were reserved for me and her, it hurts. But the most painful part is havin' to encourage her.

She sometimes asks for advice. That's how I've learned to gage the seriousness of her relationships. If she asks for advice on how to handle somethin', what to wear, or what to buy the guy, then she feels more for him than just lust or serious like. I've had to force myself not to give her misleadin' advice more than once just to get rid of some of the guys.

The longest any of her relationships have lasted, has been the five months it's been since she started datin' Max. It's been really weird. None of us has met him, or even talked to him. She barely talks about him, except to ask what she should wear on a date or what to buy him.

If the gang tries to push, she gets pissed. If I do it, she asks me if I want her buryin' her nose in my life. It's a pretty damn good way to derail me. I've been content to just leave it, `cause I figure B just doesn't wanna jinx the relationship, and I don't really wanna hear about it anyway.

Pipsqueak will be home for Thanksgivin' break when it starts in about three weeks. A Harvard recruiter came by about four months before she graduated for an interview, and she received an acceptance letter about five weeks later. My ears still ache in remembrance of her reaction. It brought B to tears seein' her baby sister doin' somethin' that would've made Mrs. S. proud.

The little shit's rootin' for the Sox now. B blames me, but I think she should take a closer look at Pipsqueak's roomie. Me and B met Whitney when we helped Pipsqueak move into the dorms, and I swear the chick's a Southie. If anyone taught Pipsqueak to appreciate the Red Sox, it was her, `cause she'd have snubbed `em just to fuck with me if I'd tried to.

So, that's how we got here. B's reconsiderin' college, seein' someone, and livin' the `ordinary' life. The gang's helpin' me and Giles run the ISDA. I'm headin' up Cali's ISDA branch, takin' care of the puppy B helped me pick out last month, hangin' with B, and Slayin'. It doesn't sound like much, but it's my life and it's enough for me, and that's all that really matters, yeah?



"Faith, are you still heading up the sophomore group going out tonight?"

I glance up to see Red standin' in the doorway of my office. I jerk my head, gesturin' for her to come in and take a seat. She does, crossing her legs and tucking her funky flowin' skirt around her legs. I let my gaze fall back on the computer screen, not really seein' the words before me.

"Yeah," I reply, though I guess it's more of a grunt.

"You might want to keep an eye on Ashley Grey," She cautions. "Ken's still having difficulties getting her to act as part of her team instead of letting her instincts rule her."

I wince, glancin' at Red. She wouldn't have said anything if it wasn't a serious hazard. As Director of the Educational Department, it's her jurisdiction. She handles the classes, student schedules, curriculum, and coordinates anything that affects the entire agency with the rest of us.

Any time an instructor notices anything goin' on with one of the students, they report it to her. Then Red brings it to the notice of the rest of the board, which would be me, Giles, Xander, Sam, and Andy; though why we gotta let the ISDA Cali branch's Chief Dietitian in on it, I don't know.  Maybe the others are afraid that the students are gonna try to slip rat poison in the food.

The most common problem we've had is that Slayers aren't meant to be part of a pack. We're solitary predators, it goes against our nature. We're capable of pushin' it aside; IE, me, B, and most of the Slayers that survived the `Dale. But it's not the easiest thing to do, to ignore the demon inside of us that views other Slayers as challengers instead of as friends.

We'd noticed it at times with the Sunnydalers, but it really became obvious as more Slayers arrived. It was B that pointed out the aggression they showed each other. And Xander's the one who pointed out that it was eerily similar to our behavior when I first came to the `Dale. Then Andrew added that it was like two wolves battlin' for position of alpha, and that sparked a whole new set of issues, as Giles began to research pack structure for a solution.

I look at what we do to get them to fit into a group mentality as domestication. B didn't find it so funny when I quipped that if she could manage it with Spike, we could domesticate the Slayers. But then a while back, she commented that domesticatin' the Slayers is easier. It took me a minute to realize what she was talkin' about, and it just left me stunned.

"Does Ken want me to talk to her?" I ask, returnin' my mind to the conversation at hand.

"She said if it becomes an issue, you can do whatever you have to, but she has a few more things she wants to try before she gives up and passes her off to you."

I nod. Since Ken's her Field Maneuvers 101 instructor, I'll let her handle it. But if the kid causes problems tonight, her ass is mine. I've learned a lot when it comes to handlin' patrols, and I ain't lettin' any of the girls make the kind of mistakes I made that nearly and did get people killed.

I don't normally get involved with the sophomores, as they're only just gettin' field experience. They only go out for unwritten portions of their classes, such as part of a test or demonstrations, as do juniors, and freshmen never get sent out. It's the seniors and graduated Slayers I deal with, as they're the ones that handle regular patrols and apocalypses. I volunteered to take this class out tonight to give Ken time to heal since she pulled somethin' in her back yesterday.

B took over her Combat Techniques 508 class since today's her day off. I don't know who Ken got to handle her other three classes. We're a little short-staffed due to the lack of awareness, so it's not unusual for us to cross over into each other's worlds. It's one of the rare things that get B to do anything in an official capacity for the ISDA, other than goin' to random functions now.

She acts as a sort of substitute teacher for the majority of the physical classes. It's not often that she's needed, as three of the four `PE' instructors we have are Slayers, two of which have previous experience from before they were Called. The ex-watcher that coaches and trains has some as well, but he tends to stick to the less hands-on classes due to his age. B's work schedule won't let her sub often, which despite what the Scoobs think, she's actually grateful for.

It's not that she doesn't wanna make sure the girls survive, `cause she does, and she gives it her full attention when she's workin' with `em. It's just that teachin' here is just a step away from gettin' pulled back into our lifestyle, and she knows it. Demons have, on occasion, attacked here at the office and at the academy across the way, despite the protection spells we have in place. And we all know that if it happens while B's present, she wouldn't be able to just sit idly by.

"I'll keep an eye on the kid," I reply.

"That's what I figured you would say."

"Mmm," I murmur, and then I slump back in my seat, givin' her a wry smile. "So, what brings you to my corner of white collar Hell? That info didn't exactly require a personal visit."

"Patrol roster?" She asks me, shootin' me a knowin' look.

"Yeah," I grumble. "You know how it is. We've covered it in more than enough meetings. Some of the girls gotta be kept separated, else wise we'll all be havin' flashbacks, circa 1999."

"I was thinking lunch," Red said abruptly, smirkin' at me.

"Gee, Red," I say dryly. "Y'know you're hot and everything, but I don't think Ken would appreciate me takin' you up on that offer very much."

"Pig," She mutters, blushin'. "How does Buffy put up with you?"

"Very carefully," I answer, pausin' deliberately before I add, "And sometimes not at all."

"I'm sure," She drawls, heavy with sarcasm. "Anyway, do you want to go to Evander's?"

Evander's is a sports bar/restaurant just about a block away. They serve a fairly decent plate, or bowl, whichever number you order, and awesome beer. Do I want Evander's? I smirk.

"Don't I always?"



It's seven PM when I start to head out the door of my apartment to the sound of Summer's barkin'. I gotta pick up the girls from the academy. It's as I'm closin' the door behind me that it occurs to me that I've only thought about B twice today—damn. Well, three times now.



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