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“Hey Faith! Wait up!” I slow my walk but I don’t stop. I don’t exactly want to talk to anyone right now. Xander finally catches up to me but he’s too busy tryin’ ta catch his breath to talk right now. “Whoa. You sure do cover a lot of ground.” I flick some ash on the ground and take another hit off the joint I jacked from one of the newbies.

He watches me do it too. I always had my thoughts about Xander and the herbage but I never found out if he was cool or not. But I defy anyone to tell me I can’t. “What’s up?” He looks a little shocked at the distant behavior but it melts quickly.

“I’m guessing you know.” Oh yeah I know. I just snort and keep walking. A part of me wants to say I knew before Buffy told me but that’s just the paranoia talking. “Look you and I have kind of a friendship going right?” I nod without looking at him. “So I’m only saying this because I’m your friend as much as I’m Buffy’s.”

“Spit it out already Xander I don’t got all day for friendly advice.” I think I might have actually gotten him to shut up.

“Okay I’m spitting. It’s not what you think.” Ha. Buffy made damn sure it’s exactly what I think.

I turn to give him a blank look. “Doesn’t matter what I think. Like I told B, s’long as she’s happy. Now are ya gonna tell me whatever you ran over here to tell me or was this it?” I don’t want to be a bitch to him. I really don’t. But I can’t help it. I’m hurt and when I hurt, everyone gets to share. Xander stops walking and just stares at me as I keep goin’. “Guess that was it.”

The mutter is under my breath. No point it making the rest of my stay here more fucked up by being a dick to the only other person in this place besides Giles that doesn’t think I’m a total asshole. Though I’m pretty sure he’s thinkin’ I’m an asshole for sure now. I’m kinda surprised when I hear footsteps behind me and realize that Xander’s still following me. Only a little further back. I raise a brow at him.

“I’m just keeping my distance. In case you get the urge to hit something. I really don’t want to be that something today.” Or any day. Despite my funk I quirk my lips in a slight smile. Fine. Whatever.

“Hadn’t planned on hittin’ anything but this joint Xander. I think you’re safe with me.” For the time being. Until I finish this thing and my mellow wears off. Then I’ll want something to punch. Like maybe Buffy. Or the girl. Whoever she is. Nah that’s not right. Xander trots up to my side and puts his hands in his pockets. I glance at him through the corner of my eye and offer him the spliff without a word.

Yeap. I fuckin’ knew it. Xander takes it and hits like a pro. Good man. “So did you mean it?” Mean what? I look at him in mild confusion. It might be the weed but I totally didn’t get the question. “About Buffy being happy. Did you mean that?” Oh.

Part of me wants to say no. But the bigger part, the redemption thy name is Faith part is sayin’ yeah. “Kinda mostly.” He nods at that and hands the joint back. “Thing of it is...I always knew it wouldn’t be me. Doesn’t stop me from gettin’ in a twist over it.” Buffy was supposed to be my girl. Only things didn’t work out that way from way back.

So I got no right to complain about it. None at all. “It’s not like you think Faith.” I just give him another mild look and flick the roach in to the moat. It really doesn’t matter any more. Not a whole fuck of a lot does. “I can explain it all.”

That’s so not necessary. “Cut the chin music Xan. I really don’t wanna know what it’s like an’ what it isn’t. Buffy gave me the short an’ hard version complete with scratch and sniff confirmation. She’s with someone. An’ if she’s just fuckin’ ‘em to fuck ‘em I don’t wanna know that either.”

His mouth closes with a click. Right. Of course. I shake my head and laugh but it’s not fun filled. Pretty much I’m thinkin’ that when Giles gives B the info she needs we’re pullin’ up stakes an’ heading out. And I’m so five by with that. “Okay okay.” He raises his hands in a placating gesture but he doesn’t stop talking. Xander never stops talking. “I’m just saying, there’s more to the story if you ever want to hear it.”

I really don’t. But I do really want to climb a tree. Back home there ain’t that many good climbing trees and I miss the one I used to climb to get to Buffy’s window. But here. Here there are a ton of them. I get a running start and leap up to catch the lowest branch in a big a tree a few feet from where we were standin’. Xander looks up at me and grunts.

“Great. How am I supposed to get up there?” He wants to? With me bein’ all bitch face to him? Huh. I hook my legs around the limb and stretch a hand down to him. Xander looks at it an’ I think he might laugh at me but he grabs it with both of his hands. This is really fuckin’ bizarre. It’s like one of those stupid trust games the prison shrink tried to get me to play. I pull him up easily and he settles in next to me. “Wow. I haven’t been in a tree since Willow and I were short pants.”

Heh. Short pants. That’s so old school. I shift to let my feet swing down an’ lean against the trunk of the tree. “Been a long time for me too.” Xander looks down an’ I think because of the one eye he doesn’t really get how far up he is because he starts tippin’ forward. I’m quick ta catch him though. “Easy there Cyclops. Can’t have ya breakin’ your face while you’re with me. People would jump to conclusions and there’d be all kindsa hittin’ an’ cursin’.” Mostly from Buffy.

But maybe a little from me too. What? I like to hit and curse. It’s kinda my thing. “Yeah no kidding. They’ll probably think we had sex and then you beat me up.” Because it’s happened before. I give him a look that’s mostly apologetic. I shouldn’t have done that to him but I can’t keep sayin’ I’m sorry for old shit that I already paid up my debt on. “But I’d set them straight on the beating up part.”

My brow comes up again. “But not the sex part?”

He grins at me and I have ta roll my eyes. “Hey it’s been a long time. I think the girls in there are starting to think I’m kinda gay.” Well he is. But I’m not gonna be the one to burst his hetero bubble on that. After a few minutes of silence he starts to fidget. Man. I knew this was going to be a shitty with other people around. “Faith?”

“Xander?” I need a cigarette. An’ probably a nice hard fuck to get my mind offa things. But hey at least I got the first part covered. I dig in my jacket pocket an’ light one while I wait for him to say whatever it is he feels he’s gotta say.

“I’m glad you’re back.” Even if Buffy isn’t? I smirk but I’m not feelin’ it. Not really. I guess the smirk is just one of those automatic responses. Kinda how whenever I get under Buffy’s skin I give her a shit eatin’ grin ‘cause I know it fucks with her head. I just give him my nod of thanks but I don’t say anything. Not right now. Right now I just need to let things sink in.

I don’t know how I always end up in these situations. I really don’t. It’s like I’m some sort of magnet for badness when it comes to sex. I never know what’s going on and right now I’m thinking I should never have sex again. Oh! Or you know. Not with other people. I’m old enough and comfortable enough with myself to realize that I so need sex.

And despite my protests to it in the past...Slaying works up a serious lust. Not that I’ll ever admit out loud that Faith was ever right about anything. Because that’s just wrong. I let out a deep sigh and go back to punching the heavy leather bag in the corner of the workout room. I mean I could just work out more to take the edge off that particular itch but a: it’s sweaty in the ick way and b: it’s not as fun as sex.

Okay I know that thinking about sex is not the best way to go about cutting it out of your life but it seems like that’s the one thing that keeps fucking me up. In all the ways that could mean. And it’s making me angry and I’m not sure why. Lets review. I had sex with Satsu. Who loves me. Really truly loves me. And it was great. I mean she’s really...and with the...okay this isn’t helping me. Back to reviewing.

So. Sex with a Slayer. Extra steamy hot. And then Faith shows up and turns that all to shit. Like she always does. And yeah okay maybe I kinda fucked it up a little myself by running to one girl because I’m running away from the other but it’s not my fault. It’s totally Faith’s fault. No one told her to fall in love with me. I know I didn’t ask her to love me.

Because really if this what love is like for Faith I want no part of that. I’m so fucking tired of trying to survive my encounters with her. And usually surviving means having to fight her. Which I am also tired of because she has a really hard head and hitting it hurts. Plus there’s all that sexual tension between us because as much as I don’t want to admit it...I really want to sleep with her.

Which is almost as wrong as my fling with Spike. Granted, she’s not a vampire or evil. Much. But it’s still wrong. She tried to kill me and everyone I love. And hey I know that’s all in the past but the past is very much pertinent to the present. I hit the bag harder once more and step back to watch it swing wildly on it’s chain. I’m breathing heavily because I didn’t realize how hard I was going at it until I stopped.

Why does everything involving Faith have to be so complicated? Why can’t I just...I don’t know...fuck her and get it over with? Maybe then she’ll just leave me the hell alone. A soft knock at the door draws my attention to Satsu. She’s leaning against the frame of the door exactly in the same way Faith was earlier. Only you know, with clothes on.

“Hey.” I offer her a slight smile at that. At least she’s talking to me still. Even though I don’t deserve after how I treated her.

“Hey yourself.” I pull my hair back and in to a pony tail before moving more to the center of the room. She meets me halfway, and offers a tentative smile. She’s so cute sometimes I have a hard time not smiling when she’s around. That’s what I want you know? To feel okay just being around someone. To not need to constantly fight against all of these feelings inside. Someone to just make me feel like I’m a part of something and that it’s okay. Someone safe.

Like Riley was. Oh boy. “You look like you’re trying to work out some stuff.” Satsu gestures to the bag I was beating the hell out of. I glance at it and back at her before taking a seat on one of the padded weight benches. I pat the spot next to me and she settles in on it. “Buffy I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have...”

I have to stop her. Like right now. If I don’t stop her she’ll say it’s okay for me to treat her like an object and that is so not okay with me. “Satsu...you really shouldn’t be apologizing to me. Really.” If I’m that hard up for a good orgasm I should just invest in a really strong vibrator. “It was wrong of me to do what I did and I’m not proud of it.” Not the sex part. I’m kinda sort proud of that. I mean okay it’s not like I’m going to write a new chapter in the Kama Sutra or anything but I did enjoy my naked time with her. “I’m really sorry.”

She looks like she wants to laugh. Satsu tips her head up to stare at the ceiling. I think it’s because she doesn’t want to look at me right now. “We’re kind of sad you know that?” I nod at it. Yeah we kinda are. “The thing is Buffy, I know you care about me.” I do. “And I think I know how you feel about Faith.” She does?

“Great well fill me in since I’m pretty much looking for any explanation for my irrational desire to beat her face in every time I see her.” I had meant it as a joke but it’s just not funny anymore. I think it stopped being funny a few years ago actually. Wait. Was it ever really funny?

She chuckles and sighs. “You’re in love with her.” No. No. No. And Seriously no. I just give her an eyeball roll.

“That really isn’t the case.” I don’t think so anyway.

“I think it really is.” Why does she have to be so fucking smart? I couldn’t have slept with a stupid girl?

My sigh comes out heavy. About as heavy as my chest feels right now. “Whatever feelings I may or may not have for Faith...we’re just never going to work it out. And I don’t want to. I want things she can never give me.” Things I got from Satsu. But I can’t tell her that because that would be me giving in and letting myself use her. Like I used Riley.

And when I think back to that time I realize that yeah I had some good times. I was happy even for awhile. But in the end I was still left standing there by myself. And I couldn’t bear to have that happen with Satsu. “Who can give you what you need Buffy?”

That my friend is a very good question. And I’m just not going to look at her because when I do... Well when I do I want to loose myself in her. “I don’t think anyone can. Not without me hurting them in the end.” Because she’s right. I am in love with Faith. In my own twisted and freakass way. “I’m seriously considering the use of prostitutes though.” That gets me a laugh.

Actually it gets me to laugh too. “Um. Well ew factor aside, I guess that might be a plan.” Yeah. Probably not something I’m actually going to try. “And I know I’m probably asking for trouble by saying this but...my door is always open.” She really really is asking for trouble. I finally glance over at her and smile. “Just give me fair warning so I can look for the female equivalent to Viagra. You kinda wear a girl out.”

Hrm. And I could say I’m sorry about it but well I’m really not. “Is now good enough for fair warning?” This isn’t something I should do. Logically I know that. But. But the smile on her face, and the way she blushes it does something to me. I may not be in love with her but I care. A lot. A lot bordering on love. So I’m not IN love with her. That doesn’t mean I don’t love her at all. Or that I can’t love her.

“Yeah it’s fine. I’ll just post a bulletin on MySpace for my friends.” Um. Huh? “In case no one hears from me in a few days they know I’m in recovery.” Oh.

I hope she’s not serious. “I think enough people know without the public notice.” Faith included. Oh god. Faith. I was really horrible to her and the look on her face when I walked away causes a frown wrinkle in my forehead. Satsu runs her fingertips over it and frowns,

“What’s with the heavy thoughts?”

Yet another good question. “I kinda sorta announced our private life to Faith in a not so good way.” Her brows come up almost to her hairline. I think she’s actually a little afraid of Faith. Which...not really a bad thing to be. Faith isn’t Little Miss Stable and now that she knows I’m in to oral sex with hot young girls...wait that didn’t sound right. Whatever. Now that she knows I’m sleeping with a Slayer she could go koo koo nuts again.

“Wow. But you didn’t tell her that we...had a disagreement?” That’s what she calls a disagreement? Dear god where has this girl been all my life? I take a second to smile and shake my head.

“You mean did I tell her you kicked me out of your room after you turned me out? No. I was um less truthful and just went for the gut. I kinda sorta told her that we were still...together.” I wonder now if that was the right thing to do.

For her part Satsu just nods and leans in to me to nudge me with her shoulder. “So is that what we are? Together I mean.” I don’t even know how to answer that.

“I think that if I say yes you’re going to grow to hate me. And I don’t think I can live with that because I really do care about you. I want this. This thing that you and I have. I want you. Kinda sorta a lot actually but I don’t want to fuck it all up.” She nods her understanding. “So no we’re not together. But yes I am glad that your door is always open because sometimes it’s nice to just need someone.”

I’m shocked at the intensity of her kiss when she leans in. So shocked that I respond with a low groan of need. I need this. Satsu’s body presses in to mine and we topple over on to the floor giggling like retards. But it feels good you know? The feeling of her hands working slowly up my body and over my chest. The way her breath is so warm on my neck as she nibbles down it. I arc up in to her as she travels down my chest leaving hot, wet kisses.

God she’s good at that. And just as the thought that this isn’t a good place for this a familiar tingle down my spine makes me open my eyes. My head tips back and I can see Faith standing at the door to the training room. Oh god. Xander runs in to her back and then looks over her shoulder to see me and Satsu pretty much about to get it on. My hand grips her shoulder and Satsu looks up.

Oh god. Faith doesn’t say anything though. She doesn’t even move. I start to sit up without actually pushing Satsu off of me because I don’t want her to think I’m pushing her away. Faith turns on a heel and brushes right past Xander who’s still standing there. This is so bad. So so bad. “Buffy...”

I look over at Satsu when she speaks but Xander is quick to cut her off. “Okay this is a bad thing.” No shit Xander, thanks for stating the obvious. “Are you going to go after her?” Um. Satsu’s hand is warm on my hip where she’s still touching me and I’m really don’t want that to go away.

“No. I’m really not. Not this time.” The look he gives me breaks my heart. Almost as much as the look on Faith’s face when she walked out. My life is a mess. And it just keeps getting worse. What’s that phrase? One step forward two steps back? Try one stumble forward and six feet back. That is pretty much the story of my life. Xander takes off after Faith and I glance over at Satsu. “I...”

“I get it.” I want to yell at her and shake her and tell her she doesn’t get it. Not at all. But I think I just don’t want her to get it. “I’m not going anywhere Buffy. I’ll always be right here.” Waiting. It’s the part she doesn’t say but it hangs in the air between us. I lean closer and kiss her lightly on the lips before getting up. Once standing I look down at her and smile a little.

“I know.” Because that’s really all I’m capable of saying right now. “I think I’m going to shower...” A really cold shower. She nods and I leave without looking back. I really should just resign myself to being alone because everything I touch turns to shit.

Chapter 5

“C’mon Faith please?” I cut Xander the nastiest fuckin’ look I can manage but he just stands there all puppy dog like. It’s hard ta ignore him when he’s right in my fuckin’ grill like that. An’ I don’t actually want to hurt him but I’m kinda feelin’ the urge to do somethin’ drastic. “Right now I know you’re feeling all explosive volcanic action angry but if you let me come with you I promise all that lava spewing out of your head will cool to a really neat igneous rock formation.”

I blink at him, confused for a second. “You callin’ me a rock head?” Oh I can see him tryin’ ta swallow that laugh that’s bubblin’ up outta him. But I’m pissed an’ now ain’t the time to fuck with me.

“There would have to be something wrong with your medulla oblongata if you think I’m stupid enough to call you a rock head.” See I know what this is. I give him a mildly annoyed look before givin’ him the answer he wants to hear.

“There’s somethin’ wrong with –your- medulla oblongata.” Yeah we’re fuckin’ ten year olds recitin’ lines from The Waterboy. That’ll teach me ta bond with Xander after closin’ a Hellmouth. You never know what movie you’re gonna be subjected to. Ya wanna know the funny part? G-man fuckin’ loves that movie.

Xander slings an arm over my shoulders an’ leads me in to a pub. I guess he thinks I’m not gonna hurt him since I played along a second ago. An’ maybe I won’t since he’s bein’ all tight like glue with me. I shrug him off though ‘cause I’m just not feelin’ that whole tactile gestures of acceptance thing. Not right now. He doesn’t get all butt-hurt about it which I suppose is cool.

“This is more like it. For a second I thought I was going to have to employ the use of a wrecking ball to get you in here.” I give him a hard look.

“The only balls you employ are Ben Wa Balls.” I swear to whatever high and mighty is up there that Xander is gonna choke on his own tongue. I smack him hard on the back to get him to breathe an’ he goes sprawlin’ forward. It kinda makes me feel a lil bad ‘cause it’s not his fault I’m in a piss poor mood. But at the same time he kinda asked for it comin’ in here with me.

When I settle in at the bar I let a low whistle out to let the bartender know we’re here. “Neat trick.” I don’t answer. This is gonna be fuckin’ unbearable with him here. But since he is...

“Whiskey. Leave the bottle.” The barkeep looks at me but does it anyway. “Ya got rooms here?” He nods and points up with a slightly crooked index finger. I give a nod and pull out a hundred dollar bill. “I don’t wanna be bothered.” I can see his eyes go wide but he doesn’t say anythin’ he just takes the money and tucks it in to a pocket. Xander is watchin’ me pour the first shot in to a glass. I knock it back and fill the second one for him.

Ya know I didn’t think he’d be able to kick that drink back but he does easily. The bartender drops a rusty key in front of me. I pick it up an’ run my fingers over the worn in etching of the number one. Always one. ‘Cause one is the loneliest fuckin’ number right? I tuck the key in to my jacket pocket an’ pour myself another drink. One bottle ain’t gonna cut it but it’s a start.

“So does this mean you’re not going back to the castle?” I look over at Xander and snort. Is he a moron? I can’t go back there. Not right now. Maybe not ever.

Before I can say anything though my phone goes off. I tug it outta my other pocket as I slam down another shot. I don’t even bother to look at the caller ID ‘cause there are only two people in the whole world with the number. An’ neither of them is Buffy. “Sup?”

“Faith. Ah. You’re answering. I was worried that you might be neck deep in whiskey at some dirty pub by now.” Well his worries were kinda founded. I flick my eyes to Xander who’s already pourin’ another shot and slidin’ it over to me. At least he finally figured out the rules here.

“Don’t get ‘em in a bunch G. I’m only ankle deep at the moment.” But I’m plannin’ on fuckin’ that up real fast. “I hope ya don’t expect me ta make with the Slayin’ or the helpin’ or the carin’ anytime soon.” He sighs kinda soft like an’ I feel bad for makin’ him worry. See? This is why I don’t do the friend thing. Always someone else to worry about that ain’t me.

An’ why does it hafta be such a big deal for me to be gone right now? It’s not like there aren’t hundreds of Slayers that can do everything I can. “I was hoping you’d be willing to second under Buffy for tonight’s patrol.” Okay I don’t think he even knows what’s goin’ on. An’ that only makes me laugh.

“Sorry G. Get Sushi ta second, I hear she’s been under Buffy lots.” I shut my phone with a snap an’ tuck it back in to my jacket. I know he’s gonna call back. He always does. Not right away but he’ll get worried when I don’t turn up in a few hours. An’ then he’ll call. Maybe I’ll be passed out by then an’ not hear the phone.

Xander clears his throat after taking a shot. “Her name is Satsu.” Okay I’ve had just about all I can take of my little buddy here. I take the bottle and leave the shot glass full before gettin’ up an’ reaching behind the counter for the second bottle. “Faith...just let me...”

I can’t take it anymore. I spin an’ face Xander an’ yeah I’m spittin’ mad. “Let ya what Xander? Tell me it’s not like I think? Explain it all to me?” Because there ain’t shit he can tell me to make me think it’s anything but what it is. An’ I’m dying inside because I wanna believe whatever he’s gonna say. Maybe I will ‘cause then it won’t hurt as bad.

“Just let me be your friend.” If I wasn’t so pissed off right now that might have made me pause. As it is the only thing it makes me do is scoff. “I’m serious Faith. I’ll wait here all night with you if you need me to.”

Yeah I can see big bad Xander tryin’ to keep up with me as I drink him under the table. He doesn’t get it though. “I don’t want ya here.” Because no one needs ta see me like this. And it’s not like he can offer me anythin’ right now. Well...there is one thing. I eye him up an’ down thinkin’ through all the ways I can work him. I could hurt this boy eighty different ways an’ make him get off on all of ‘em. “Unless of course ya wanna take a tumble.”

“You don’t want me Faith and we both know it.” I flick my eyes up to his an’ there isn’t one damn thing I can say to him that wouldn’t be a lie. My head drops in shame and I sigh. “And I know you don’t want me around but I didn’t say I’d wait all night if you want me to. I said I’d do it if you need me. And I think you do.”

It would be so easy right now. To break the bottle on the counter and shove it right through his face. An’ it’d be just as easy to collapse in to him an’ cry like a fuckin’ baby an’ let him tell me it’ll be okay. But it won’t. It can’t ever be okay. I was gonna leave him that shot of alcohol but now he’s pissed me off. “Never needed anyone before, sure as fuck don’t now.” I toss the drink back and slam the shot glass on the bartop. “It’s been real Xan.”

An’ I’m gonna miss him. More than I even know how to say, so I don’t bother. I just grip his shoulder for a second before takin’ the rickety ass stairs up to my room. No point in startin’ a brawl so close to the castle. It’ll just bring Buffy runnin’ an’ her face is the last thing I wanna see right now. As a matter of fact the only thing I wanna see is the bottom of this bottle. I turn the key in the lock of room one. I swear this shit is gonna break off in my hand.

Rooms must not get used much. I slip in to the darkened room an’ drop my duffel bag on the floor before floppin’ on to the bed with both bottles of booze. My phone rings again but I don’t think I’m gonna answer just yet. When it gets quiet again I sit up an’ take in the room. It’s no winner that’s for sure but I feel oddly at home. Must be the musty smell of booze and stale sex and cigarettes.

I snort to myself and tip the bottle to my lips. If that’s what makes me feel so at home it’s a miracle B doesn’t gag just lookin’ at me. Whatever. I already knew this was gonna happen sooner or later. Sure I thought maybe I’d come sweepin’ in to her rescue an’ she’d be all grateful and shit and show me all fuckin’ night how much she missed me. But I never really believed that would happen.

Buffy doesn’t need anyone to rescue her. She never did. So that fucks up that little fantasy right off. Not too mention the fact that up until earlier I was pretty sure Buffy was gonna wear her straight pride badge to her freaking grave. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. The only thing I gotta do is get through the night. I gotta flight to catch first thing in the morning. And I’ll be damned if anything keeps me from that. My phone goes off an’ I pick it up again without lookin’ at the caller ID. “What?”

“Faith?” Oh fuck me. I glance at the screen and want to kick Giles in the head. He gave Buffy his phone to call me on. Motherfucker! “Don’t hang up okay?” I don’t but I fuckin’ want to. “I need to talk to you. Please?”

Please? Is that what Sushi likes to hear? I hang up before I can even go there. And just to be a bitch I turn off my phone so I don’t have to deal. Giles will just have to deal without me. Buffy’s been doin’ that for years. Shouldn’t be anything new.

It took me the better part of an hour just to get Giles to agree to me going out to look for Faith. And only after I completed my patrol. He was kind enough not to mention what Faith said but I heard anyway. Slayer hearing is both a bitch and a blessing. I had managed to get his phone but that option is out. As soon as Faith hung up on me she turned it off.

Which should seriously be my cue to leave it alone. Just let her go and chalk all of this up to the usual bullshit that happens whenever she’s around. But I can’t. I just can’t let it go this time. Hrm. I think I meant I can’t let her go this time. I need to talk to her, I need for her to know what I’m thinking and feeling. Because if I don’t...it’s all my fault.

If she leaves and I don’t say what I want to say. Well then I have no one to blame. Not even Faith. Especially not Faith. I’ve been so horrible to her since she got here, the things I’ve said and done. Or. Not done. I...I fucked up. And she just let me hurt her without so much as raising her voice. She’s different.

My feet take me to a dingy pub. I know she’s here because I can feel her but even if I couldn’t I know this would be the place. I step inside and wait for my eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. And why am I not surprised to see Xander sitting at the bar with a very pink and fruity looking drink? “That’s a nice manly drink for a guy to have.” I gesture at it with my chin as I settle on to the stool next to him.

Xander looks at the drink and shrugs. “Well see I got it so that I could attract beautiful women to me and offer them a drink.” He slides it over to me and I take a sip. Oh. My. GOD. I nearly choke on it and slide it back.

“My god Xander what the hell is that?”

He just smiles at me and sips it from the big red straw sticking out of it. “Vodka, Gatorade, alka-seltzer, and pixie stix.” Oh god I think I’m going to puke. That is the most vile sounding thing I’ve ever heard. “It’s called a Hellmouth.”

Well that...actually sounds about right. I order up a beer and rest my forearms on the bar. “So...how’s she doing?” Because asking where she is right now, while a top priority, is not what’s going to get Xander to talk to me. He bonded with Faith and I never realized it until now. I mean I knew. I just didn’t know how attached to her he is.

Xander sighs and puts his drink down. “Well she’s not jumping for joy or anything but she hasn’t started mangling bodies either.” I can see that. Since everyone here looks roughly in one piece I can only assume that it had nothing to do with her. “But she’s hurting Buff. I’ve been sitting here for half the night and she still hasn’t left her room.” She has a room?

Okay. She has a room and she’s angry. Which means one of three things. She’s taking her frustration out by drinking her face off, or she’s taking her frustrations out on whatever able body she turns those dimples on, or option C, all of the above. Can I just say how unhappy I am at these turn of events? “Guess it could be worse. She could be in league with Twilight and planning on attack on my...” On my what? Because I think I made it pretty clear I’m not exactly with Satsu.

“Yeah well she’s not exactly how you remember is she?” Wow. That actually had some heat in it. I blink at Xander and sip my beer idly. “I gotta say Buffy, as one of your oldest and dearest...you really fucked the pooch on this one.” I know I did.

Really he so doesn’t need to point that out to me. “She’s changed.” So different that she didn’t even raise her voice or beat up an innocent bystander. Or even try to take a swing at me or Satsu. She just walked away. “How did I not notice a change that big?”

“Because you didn’t want to look.” Ouch. It’s not something I can argue. “She’s in room number one by the way.” Oh. So he knows that I’m here to talk to her. I mean obviously. Since I’m here instead of with someone else. I swallow against the lump that crawled in to my throat at the idea of walking in on something I really don’t want to see.

“And if she’s not in the mood for company?” Xander snorts and finishes off his drink. I don’t know what that snort is supposed to mean but I guess it’s better than shrugging and sighing. “That’s your way of telling me to suck it up and find out isn’t it?” He just nods once and pays for my beer. This isn’t going to be easy. I have a lot to apologize for and I have no clue if she’s even going to hear me out.

Worse. I don’t think I deserve her to hear me out. I pass him and take the stairs up. The second I’m at the top it’s like all the air goes rushing out of my lungs. There’s so much anger and pain flowing through our connection that I almost can’t stand to be here. So. I know she’s at least pretty shit faced or she wouldn’t allow me to feel anything like that through our connection.

I’m just about to knock when the door swings open quickly and Faith’s body blocks the entrance. I think I caught her by surprise because she blinks at me a little bleary eyed right before she slams the door in my face. Okay. Let me try that again. “Faith, please let me in. I think we need to talk.” There’s silence and finally the sounds of muttered curse words. Wow. When did she learn how to swear in German?

The door opens again and she completely blocks the way in. “What?” Her tone is short and not exactly welcoming. Guess I can’t blame her for that.

“Can I come in?” Because I really don’t want to stand in the hall of a dirty pub and explain why I am as fucked up as I am. Faith grunts and steps back on unsteady feet. She’s had a lot to drink. I can smell it rolling off her in waves. I close the door behind me and lean against it. “So...you’re not staying at the castle the rest of your visit?”

Lame. Why did I ask that? Clearly she’s not staying at the castle until Giles is done. She raises her brow and glances around the room. “The fuck do you want?” Okay now I’m starting to feel all defensive. Why does she always do that to me? Belittle me like that? Oh wait. I did that first this time. Shit. Okay.

“I came here to apologize Faith. I...” Words fail me for a second and I have to clear my throat before I start again. “I was a real bitch, and worse than that I tried to hurt you, for no good reason. I’m sorry.” There. I said it. Of course I’m not exactly looking her in the eye here as I say it but I think it’s pretty clear how sorry I am.

When she doesn’t say anything I glance up and see Faith laying on the bed staring in to the bottom of an empty bottle. “You done yet?” That’s really not what I was expecting to hear. It’s like a slap in the face and I have to try really hard not to get angry.

I open my mouth but close it quickly. I don’t want to say something angry and have this blow all out of proportion. “No. I’m really not.” Okay so this is the stressful part. This is the part with the actual talking. Moving slowly so I don’t startle her I sit on the edge of the bed and look down at her. “What I did to you was really fucked up Faith. Really fucked up. And I want you to know that I wish I could explain everything to you but...” But I’m still figuring it out.

“But what?” She’s uncertain and I can feel it in my gut. Well at least she’s not making me feel about an inch tall.

“But I don’t know how to work through all the things I feel whenever you’re around.” And it makes me act like a crazy person. Well it makes me act like MORE of a crazy person. “It’s like this thing is inside of me, driving my body and making all the wrong choices and I can’t seem to stop because if I do then I have to think. And sometimes when I think, I think of you. And that’s kind of scary so...crazy lady takes the wheel.”

Does that even make sense? “Okay I know I’m drunk here but that makes less sense than the time Giles tried ta tell me that the Dewey Decimal System was really invented by a Scornak demon.” I’m pretty sure she means Skorneck demon. But really a demon is a demon. Sure some are less demony than others but on the whole they aren’t exactly doers of right and paragons of good will.

“What I’m saying Faith is that you make me crazy.” And really if she doesn’t know this by now she really wasn’t paying attention all the times I beat her up. "Everything about you drives me fucking insane. The way you talk, the way you slay, the way you always seem to be flirting with like everyone you meet. The drinking, the cursing, everything. Well. Everything but the leather.”

Hey I know the value of a good leather pants now. I totally get it. Plus. She looks good in lather. ER. LEATHER. Faith looks good in leather. God. So not the time for that kind of thinking. Faith frowns and I swear for a few seconds I think she’s going to hit me. “Yeah I think I got that the time ya gutted my ass.” Fuck. She’s going to be as difficult as possible about this. Okay lets try another route. Breathe in Buddha, breathe out Hitler. Breathe in Buddha, breathe out Hitler.

“Yeah. Well we both made that one hell of a mess.” Hey okay so I wasn’t innocent in that. But lets not forget that Faith did her part to fuck me over. More than her part anyway. But I don’t want to get in to that. That way leads to badness. “We were never known for our long quiet talks and walks on the beach.”

Faith snorts and sits up more fully. “Yeah well those are couple things an’ you an’ me are anything but.” Well she’s got that right. “An’ while we’re on the subject I fuckin’ hate the way you act so fuckin’ innocent when we both know that’s bullshit. Ya drive me fuckin’ insane with the way you’re so fuckin’ high an’ mighty and all super hot an’ shit. Just ‘cause you’re big shit doesn’t mean everyone else is a lil shit.” Um. Huh? I think in a totally drunken slur kind of way that her statement actually made sense.

“So you hate me because I’m pretty?” Faith gives me an irritated look and rolls over on her side so she doesn’t have to look at me. See that’s not okay for me. I sigh and lean over her body so I can still look at her even if this isn't the most comfortable position to be in. “I was kidding. I know I know. Xander was pretty willing to share my flaws with me before you came here.”

And during. And I’m pretty sure after too. “Yeah well good someone should.” Someone did. I just wasn’t listening. “Ya know what else Buffy? I don’t give a fuck who you take ta bed, or how fuckin’ good they are. That don’t mean shit because that person wasn’t me. You wouldn’t know a good fuck if one landed in your lap.”

Okay. This is where it gets personal. And this is where I try not to get pissed. “So if you don’t give a fuck why did you bring it up?” As soon as I say it I know I should have kept my mouth shut. Faith looks at me like she wishes she could shove my face through the wall. And the way her hands are clenching I’m thinking she might try.

“Just get the fuck off my bed and get out already. You’re sorry. Fine. Me too. G’way now.” What? Is she fucking serious? That’s it? Just yell at me then say okay I’m sorry too now get the fuck out? I chuckle humorlessly and lean back and away from her.

“Wow. New personal first. Never been kicked out of two beds in one day.” I wasn’t ready for the fist that flies toward me. Or the impact. And I’m not really ready for the pain but that’s there too. Ouch.

Chapter 6

Goddamn you Buffy. Goddamn you straight to hell. “Just get the fuck off my bed and get our already. You’re sorry. Fine. Me too. G’way now.” It’s the only thing I can think to say because I really don’t wanna answer that question. I don’t even know why I said all that. I’m gonna go ahead an’ blame it on the drinkin’ though. Maybe I can get a lil bit more fucked up so then I won’t remember this when I wake up back home. ‘Cause I know I’m gonna knock the fuck out on the plane after all this.

“Wow. New personal first. Never been kicked out of two beds in one day.”

When she says that it’s like everything about me goes flyin’ out the window. Everything that I worked so hard to keep together just...dies. An’ I’m back to me. The me that I know and hate. The me that everyone knows and hates. Maybe that’s why I don’t stop myself from takin’ a swing at her. Maybe it’s why I don’t stop myself from grabbin’ a hold of Buffy an’ pinning her under me.

She struggles against me, tryin’ ta push me offa her but I grip her wrists tight in one hand over her head. It’s rough and it’s hard when I push a knee between her legs and grind in to her. Buffy almost yelps an’ I can’t lie. It fuckin’ drives me ape shit with need. “This where ya wanna be? Tired of gettin’ booted out of beds...”


I growl down at her bring a hand to her chest so I can pull the snaps of her western shirt open. The little pearlized buttons sound loud when they pop like that. “Say it again.” My voice is low and close to her ear ‘cause I want her to know she’s here with me. “Fuckin’ say it again Buffy.” I’m not loud but I could get loud if she doesn’t fuckin’ do what I tell her.

“Faith please...”

Those green eyes go wide an’ I don’t know why but it only makes me more mad at her. Like she doesn’t have a right to beg me for shit. I kiss Buffy for the first time then. Not like how I always thought it would go. Not all soft. It’s rough an’ I know the smell of liquor is practically gaggin’ her but she can’t do anything about it. “Ya like ta beg B?” Her brow furrows and she starts to shake her head but I don’t even let her try ta talk.

No talkin’. No more fuckin’ talkin’. With my free hand I yank the belt on her pants hard and she whimpers. If she only fuckin’ knew how long I wanted her to whimper like that while she’s under me. How I wanted to be the one to make her feel that way. But I wasn’t. She took that away from me too. She takes everything away from me. Once her belt is loose I tug an’ pull an’ yank her jeans down to her knees.

The air is filled with her scent an’ I think I might just fuckin’ loose it here. “Faith...wait...please...I...” I don’t wanna hear it so I kiss her hard again an’ bite down on her lip until it bleeds. The taste of it fills my mouth an’ I half wanna spit it out. But then I remember. I’m fuckin’ Faith Lehane. Motherfuckin’ FAITH LEHANE. I don’t give a shit if it hurts or freaks her out. I don’t care if she begs me to stop. All I care about is fuckin’ Buffy.

Fuckin’ her raw an’ leavin’ her to her bitch. “Wait? Wait for what B? You ta tell me ya want it?” ‘Cause it’s kinda too late for that shit. “You already want it. Ya want me B an’ we both fuckin’ know it.” She bucks up tryin’ ta get me offa her but I’m stronger than she is. An’ I want this more than she wants me ta stop. I bring my face close to her ear again an’ whisper in a low rasp. “I can fuckin’ smell how much ya want me...so ya can’t lie this time.”

I reach down an’ I swear to God I’m gonna take her. Except that I don’t. I don’t cause she shudders under me an’ spreads her legs as far as they can go all trapped the way they are. “I...” I don’t wanna hear it. I don’t even fuckin’ wanna hear it right now. My hand goes to her neck instead an’ I squeeze to cut off the words threatening to come out of her mouth.

“Shut up! All ya do is lie ya know that? Ya lie to your friends, your family. Ya lie to yourself all the fuckin’ time. But ya can’t lie your way outta this Buffy. Not this time. You fucked me. An’ you just wouldn’t let it go. Ya had to dig and push an’ keep on pushin’. This is what ya want B.” An’ I’m not talkin’ about the sex. I’m talkin’ about me.

She wants me like this. She wants me to hurt her because then she can be the fucking victim all the time. “I..don’t...want...” I squeeze harder but she struggles to say it anyway. “Not like...this...” I laugh at her then. I laugh real hard an’ she winces. I can see how scared she is, fuck, I can practically smell it in the air. I let go and give her clit a hard tweak. Buffy’s body arches up an’ she squeals but it ain’t in pain.

“Fuck you Buffy. Ya don’t always get what ya want.” I push off of her an’ move off the bed so I can stand by the window. “Get out.” My voice is so cold I think I mighta given myself freezer burn. I can see her from the corner of my eye. Buffy’s sittin’ on the edge of the bed pullin’ her shirt closed an’ tight against her body. I feel sick. I didn’t at first but now that some of the anger is wearin’ off and the tiredness is settlin’ in...well I fuckin’ feel sick.

Sick for everything fucked up I’ve ever done. I mean yeah it could have been so much worse than just that but that was bad enough. But this is it. This is who I am. I was just fuckin’ kidding myself before. I’m not good. I’ll never be good. An’ I’ll never be good enough for her either. “Faith...”

Goddamnit does she ever fuckin’ shut up? I look at her with a look so full of hate she actually flinches. I can’t stand this anymore. I just...can’t. I push open the window and lean out to let the cold breeze slap me in the face. The sting of it does a fuck of a lot to sober me. Shock sobering gotta love it. Of course the wind doesn’t shock me half as much as Buffy’s hands on my back. I jump an’ practically take a header out of the window but her grip is firm on me.

“Don’t fuckin’ touch me.” Why do I just sound tired? Why don’t I sound pissed off?

“Stop me.”

I...can’t. I turn in Buffy’s arms an’ glare down at her. “I fuckin’ hate you. I hate everything about you.” It’s weak. I know and so does she. I gotta look away 'cause she’s cryin’ and I know I did that. Again. I always do that.

“I love you.”

My world stops spinnin’ an’ we stand here staring at each other. “You...” But I can’t ask. I can’t say anything ‘cause I think Buffy just broke my jaw. I stumble back in to a small table an’ go crashing to the floor.

“Goddamn you Faith! Why? Why did it have to be this way? Just tell me why...”

Why? Why not? I am who I am. But none of that comes out of my mouth. Nothin’ comes out of my mouth until I’m up an’ pushing her against the wall. “Because I fuckin’ love you.” I let go of Buffy and turn to start gettin’ my shit together. I just need to get away from her. Far enough away that she won’t try an’ find me this time. Far enough to get lost again. Buffy’s soft sobs make me stop an’ I don’t wanna look at her but I do. I look at her an’ my heart just fuckin’ breaks.

“This is love for you?” Yeah. Pretty fucked up huh? This is why it’s better she’s with the kid. At least she won’t break Buffy’s heart. An’ if she does I’ll break her fuckin’ legs. “You...almost...you almost did that for love?” I know she’s tryin’ to understand it. Make sense of it but she can’t. No one can. An’ I’m tired of tryin’. I’m sorry Giles, but I’m kind of a lost cause. Hope he forgives me but I’m not bankin’ on it once B gets back to the fort. I’m sure Red will be all over the place tryin’ ta find me. And Xander.

Xander’ll never forgive me. Ever. I don’t want to be forgiven so I guess that’s okay. It’s better if they all hate my guts. I turn away from Buffy an’ pull off my shirt to change in to a fresh one. This one smells like booze an’ Buffy’s pussy. An’ it’s makin’ me even more sick. I start tuggin’ on my clean shirt when I feel her hands on me again. On my bare stomach. The fingertips of her hand glide over the long scar she put there an’ I grip her hand hard. “Don’t go there B. I just wanna get outta here before the bloodshed starts.”

Maybe it’s a little late for that. Maybe this is just how it hasta be. “Tell me you love me again Faith.”

Why? Why is that important? I sigh heavily an’ finish pulling my shirt down. “Does it even matter anymore? Does any of this even fucking matter Buffy?” I settle on to the edge of the bed and hang my head. It’s all confused in my head. I love her but I hate her. She wants me but she can’t fucking stand me. Anyone else feel like we’re still in high school here?

Her voice is so soft that I almost miss it. “It matters to me.”

Now it’s my turn to ask why? But I don’t. I don’t wanna make this even more drawn out than it already is. I don’t say anything because I can’t. What I did to her just now wasn’t love. She’s right about that much. “Why’d ya do it Buffy? Why’d ya hafta push me?” It’s not an apology because I can’t just give her that. I can’t let go enough to give her the one thing I know I owe her. Buffy kneels in front of me an’ rests a warm hand on my knee.

“I’m so sorry Faith.” How come she gets to do that? How come she gets to say sorry to me like it’s her fault I’m a psycho? “I’m sorry I never told you how I felt. I’m sorry I didn’t realize it sooner. I’m sorry for the way I treated you since the moment you got here and the way I told you about...” I cut her off there because I really don’t need anymore painful reminders here. I know already. B fucked a girl. And guess what? It wasn’t me.

It’ll never be me. “Stop fuckin’ sayin’ that.” I can’t even put a lil heat in that because it’s like I can’t move. Like I’m just sinkin’ and I can’t get free. “Just...stop.”

“I can’t Faith. I can’t just stop loving you. No matter how angry I am right now I can’t let you go without you knowing.” Well it’s too late for that Buffy. It’s too late for you to love me because the one you should have loved just died. I killed her the second I touched you an’ she ain’t never coming back. “No. Nonono. Don’t you do that to me Faith please. Don’t.” I know what she’s beggin’ me to stop doin’ but I can’t help it. It’s the only thing I know how to do.

So I shut down every part of me that’s left. I stand up an’ brush past her. “Almost B. Almost had it right this time.” But almost is never enough an’ we both know that. I sling the bag over my shoulder an’ blink the tears outta my eyes because I’m so tired of cryin’. Goodbye hopeless dream. I’ll try not ta think about you. I’m turnin’ my back on you. I should’ve known she’d bring me heartache. Almost lovers always do.

Buffy moves fast enough to get in front of me before I can get out the door. She’s beggin’ me with eyes. “So that’s it? You just pretend? You don’t even try a mock defense?” I drop my gaze from hers and shrug. “You’ll just step in to the night won’t you?” I nod once because it’s all I can manage. Just let me go Buffy. Just let me run in to the night an’ hide my pain in lust an’ rage. Just let me be. Her hands cup my face an’ she pulls me to her for a gentle kiss. “We can make this work.”

No we really can’t. I tip my head down an’ give her one last kiss. An’ it’s everything that I always wanted our first kiss to be. And then I leave. Because if I stay...

There is no staying. There’s nothing here for me. Not even Giles. He’s Buffy’s again.

She’s gone. She fucking left me. Again. Slayers must be slow to learn their lessons because I’d swear its high school all over again. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do now. Although curling up on this slightly smelly bed and crying until I die sounds like it might be a front runner option at the moment. I’ve grown up I know but right now I don’t feel that way. Right now it’s just like the time Angel walked away.

What is it about me that inspires so much wanderlust? I mean. Supposedly they all loved me. At least that’s they said. But they all left. Everyone but Spike but he decided his best option was to go up in flames for me. Which is leaving on a permanent level. It’s sad that I can find a reason that has nothing to do with me for each person that walked away. But this time it’s all me. I did this to her.

Okay I’m not ignoring what she just did to me. Because that was wrong on so many levels. And I’m not okay with that. It was a little too close to some Spike memories I don’t care to relive. And I really don’t want to think about the fact that I really wanted her to. I mean. I wanted her yes, and the violence of that act was both good and bad. Good because um yeah I have some issues and sometimes it gets me a little worked up. But bad because it should have never gone that far.

Whatever restraint Faith had was gone the second I made that stupid comment. I don’t even know what possessed me to say that. It just...flew out of my mouth and Faith’s fist flew in before I could take it back. I move to the dusty mirror in the corner and look at myself. My jaw is a little red but that’ll go away in a bit. I open the neck of my shirt a little and look at the slight bruising there. She wasn’t holding hard enough to do a lot of damage but it was really not comfortable.

Not especially with her angry eyes on me. I shudder just thinking about all the hate inside of her. I know it’s not for me. Well not entirely for me. Most of that is all about Faith. I know that. I know it and I want to vomit because I know I caused some of that. Always telling her she was wrong. Don’t get me wrong here, I am in no way taking the blame for the extreme crazy that happened after she killed Finch. But I do take the blame for pushing her just that much more over the edge.

Because I’m a pusher. I pushed her then and I pushed her now. And I shouldn’t be surprised that she pushed back. My gaze lands on my hands and the dark bruises on my wrists. They hurt. Tears slide down my cheeks as I stare at the bruises. I wish I could say that I can’t believe she’d hurt me like that but I’m not that stupid. She’s hurt me a lot worse in the past. It dawns on me as I’m rebuckling my belt and fixing my clothes that Faith in her own weird way was trying to make a point.

I don’t think she ever wants me to confuse her and Satsu. It’s an understandable motivation for point making. I don’t exactly agree with the way she made her point but I understand it. She wants me to think that’s all she is. She wants me to run right in to Satsu’s arms because she has some fucked up idea that it’s the best way to protect me from her. And maybe she’s right. There’s a knock at the door and I turn to see Xander standing there. He opens up his arms and I go to him and cling.

“She’s not coming back is she?”

I shake my head no and he sighs. She’s not coming back. “I messed everything up.” He holds me tightly and kisses the top of my head. I notice he’s not arguing with me just trying to comfort me.

“Come on Buffy lets go home. Giles will want to know what’s up and you should get cleaned up before Satsu sees you.”

Oh god. If she knew, if she saw the bruises she’d freak out. “Yeah that’s a good idea. She’ll be the first one to volunteer for the manhunt.” And as crushed as I am, Xander’s stifled laugh at that makes me smile a little. “Take me home?”

“Sure thing Buff.” He lets his arm rest over my shoulders as he leads me down the stairs and out in to the cold night air. I’m glad he’s not pushing me to talk about it all right now because I can’t. I don’t think I ever want to talk about it again. She’s gone. “We going to look for her?”

I think that’s the last thing that Faith wants right now. I start to shake my head no but stop. I can feel that tingle run down my spine from our connection and I glance up. If I didn’t have Slayer abilities I would never notice her standing on the roof of a building just watching us. Listening. I stare at her for what seems like a lifetime before she backs away and melts in to the black of night. “She doesn’t want to be found.” Not by me.

Not by anyone I think. Giles is going to kill me. I open my mouth to say so but I catch the slow roll of a tear out of Xander’s eye. I’m not the only person Faith keeps walking out on. I lean in to him as we walk. I could have loved her. I could have made all the pain go away. I just wish I figured it out before it was too late. But then I wish a lot of things and I never end up getting them.

It doesn’t take long to get to the castle but we took the scenic route which consists of us walking the perimeter a couple of times before we go in. Xander goes one way when we get in the doors to run interference for me. I head straight to my room and close the door behind me with a soft click. “Did you work it out?” The soft voice coming out of the dark startles me and I spin around ready to hurt someone. Oh.

It’s Satsu. I shake my head. “No.” She turns on the light and nods. There’s a hiss of shock when she gets a good look at me. I’m guessing the bruises on my neck are starting to get darker. I look at my hands and tuck them in to my back pockets. “It’s not what you think.” Her dark eyes go up to my face and I can see something building in there that I know I don’t want to see. “Believe me. I deserved...some of it.”

Her jaw clenches in that adorable way she has when she’s trying to keep from saying something nasty. I smile a little and move to sit on the bed next to her. I’m so tired. Of like, everything. “You want to talk about it?” How can she sit there being so sweet to me after the things I’ve put her through? I shake my head and lean in to her body. Satsu immediately opens her arms in invitation and I fall in to them. Almost literally. “You wanna cry for awhile?”

“Yes please.” I know right now I’m being a horrible person. Crying over another woman to the girl that loves me. But there is something undeniably comforting about her being here right now. “I’m sorry.” I’m so sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.

“Shhh shhh, save sorry for tomorrow.” Satsu reaches over and turns out the light. The dark helps and I let out a heartbreaking sob. Faith’s words come back to haunt me. Almost had it right this time. But almost is just never enough.


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