Summary: Companion Piece to Apocalyptic Splendor. "Your brain doesn't work like other people's. At least, that's what you assume." The week post-Chosen, Faith drinks a lot, spends 87 bucks on underwear, thinks about jumping off buildings, and works on that whole 'not being evil or going insane' thing.
Part XI ½:
Your brain doesn't work like other people's. At least, that's what you assume.
You walk into a room and within ten seconds, you've located every exit. You look at a table and, while other people see a place to drop their keys or prop up their feet, your mind breaks it down into four stakes and a shield—and as many flesh-carving tools as there are keys. You hold a weapon in your hands and unconsciously analyze it: how it was made, how to use it, how to fix any design flaws in order to make it faster, better, deadlier.
You look at a person and your mind starts whispering this is how he's going to hurt you.
You look at a person and your mind starts whispering this is how you can hurt her first.
People think that because you're not educated, you're not smart. They're wrong. Your choices, your actions haven't always been the best, and you've done things you've regretted a million times over. But your brain has been the thing that's kept you alive all these years, ever since you were the fifteen year old Blow Queen of South Boston, sleeping in shelters and old churches and picking pockets to stay fed.
Anyone else would have broken down, falling apart a little more each day until there was nothing left. You adapted, getting defensive, reflexive, liquid titanium. Pure survival instinct.
Until now. You're not sure how, you're not sure why, but you know this much—your brain? That thing that's kept you from becoming a footnote in history long before your time?
It's trying to kill you.
You're tired. Head spinningly tired.
Earth shattering, near tears, just-swallowed-a-handful-of-benzos tired. And in a fair world, you would have passed the fuck out in bed several hours earlier. But since this world pretty much sucks, you're awake; fully dressed and half-sprawled on the floor of the room you and B are sharing in Angel's hotel. The tarnished handles of the room's rickety dresser are digging into your spine, irritating you almost as much as the teenage-Slayer squawking that's been flooding in through the air vents. And through the narrow strip of space under the door. And occasionally through the window.
It's been three days since the Hellmouth crumbled into the earth, taking Sunnydale with it; three days since the rag-tag bunch of superheroes had made the mass-exodus to LA. It was as good a place to crash as any—better in some ways than most, since Angel's crew had been pretty damn welcoming, despite your numbers. They had been especially nice to you after Angel's whole Victor/Victoria deal, and you're definitely not going to complain about shacking up in the one place where people actually like you. Unfortunately, staying forever isn't really an option. That whole 'prison-escapee' bit was going to bite you in the ass sooner or later, and kicking around L.A. is pretty much the equivalent of painting a target on your back.
You're pretty sure Willow, or maybe Fred, could do something about your fugitive status, but so far nobody's offering and you aren't about to push your luck.
The Scoobies are slowly gathering resources and plotting their next move, including where to set up shop next. Giles hinted that you could be a welcome addition to whatever went down next, but since neither of you were particularly comfortable having that conversation, no deeds to do, no promises to keep. Still, you sort of figured that your best bet was to recover from the battle with The First, get some sleep and a few good meals under your belt, and get out of the city. You've flown under the radar before, and you can do it again until the Sunnydale team relocates for good, and it's safer for you to meet back up with them.
And it would have been a really fucking good plan too, except you haven't had a good night's sleep since prison, and you're currently nursing the mother of all migraines.
You wince as a particularly loud shriek from downstairs drills into your ears. You hate everyone under the age of twenty. Seriously, there has to be some sort of conspiracy that you don't know about, where the Baby Slayers purposely teamed up and decided it'd be fun to drive you batshit insane. Again. Your halfhearted attempts at mediation-as-anger-management are not helping the situation any, and the drugs that Fred had brought up—with a glass of soda and a cookie, damn that girl is bizarre—have yet to kick in.
Also, you're kind of pissed—on top of the headache, the near-death tiredness, and the looming prospect of fake names and shitty motels, you'd spaced out while holding a cigarette and managed to burn a hole in your jeans, only noticing when the burning embers started roasting your skin. And maybe it wasn't really fair to blame that one on the Newbies, but you aren't feeling particularly charitable. So the loudass wanna-bes can suck it.
You whip your head around out of pure instinct and instantly regret it, wincing painfully as your smarting brain shrieks in protest. Then suddenly your head doesn't matter and you leap to your feet, feeling your body react in horror to the sight in front of you: Angel shivering in the doorway, his hands and shirt stained crimson with blood.
Seeing you begin to panic, he holds up his hands in surrender. "It's okay," he says quickly, "most of it's not mine. I got stabbed, but I'm fine."
You blow out the breath you didn't realize you were holding, feel your pounding heartbeat start to relax. "Damn, way to age a chick before her time," you scold weakly, knowing he'll take it the right way. You eye the rips in his shirt—you can't tell where he's injured under all the blood, but most of the material damage seems to be concentrated on the right, several inches away from Angel's heart. Your muscles start to settle down. Your boy can take a pounding better than just about anyone—if he's standing, he'll live.
He's gazing at the floor like a kicked puppy. "I'm sorry, I should have changed," he apologizes. "I just…I did something, and I needed to talk to you." He lifts his head, meeting your eyes for the first time, and in that moment your heart drops as you realize why he's here. Why he had come to you, out of everyone in the house.
Angel had killed a human.
No. No, this is—this is so beyond bad. You don't even know what to feel.
Angel's still in the door. "Can I, um—" he gestures at the doorframe and you want to smack yourself for being such an idiot. "Yeah, right, come in," you say quickly. Angel blows past you and sits on your bed, rubbing his forehead and looking like shit. You close the door and sit next to him.
You want to touch him. You want to wash the blood off of his hands, tell him that everything's going to be all right. You want to turn the clock back half an hour, an hour, however long ago it was that this happened, take his hurt away.
You can smell the blood on him. It smells too familiar.
"I was fighting a pair of demons," Angel's explaining, his voice heavy with emotion. "There was this girl, they were trying to take her somewhere. I kept yelling at her to run, but she just stood there. Afraid. When I finally killed the bigger demon, I felt something on my back. I didn't look, I just turned and swung." He swallows, choking up. You grip his shoulders, bracing him.
"My knife was in her chest. She touched my back, and I thought it was the other demon, and I killed her. Her eyes…" he trails off, turning to look at you. You blink back your tears before he can see them. You can't fall apart, not when he needs you to be strong for him.
"Angel," you murmur, trying desperately to think of the right thing to say. If there even is a right thing. This whole situation is fucked up. You take a deep breath.
And freeze. That smell.
You can't hear any noises coming from downstairs.
No. No no no nonononononono this is not happening this is not—
Angel's still looking at you. "Yeah. I was kinda hoping you wouldn't notice that part."
And before you have a chance to react, Angelus has you pinned to the bed and is driving a knife through each of your hands, sinking the blades through flesh and bone and wood, spilling your blood as you scream in anguish. The smell of it mixes with the copper tang already in the air, the smell of the Slayer blood that gave him away.
Angelus's eyes are devoid of humanity, even as he grins at you like a maniac. "Sorry about the headboard, baby, but really? What's another couple of notches to a girl like you, huh?" You spit at him and he dodges, looking pleased. "There's my girl. Oh, I missed you."
You try to move one of your hands. Bad idea—the pain is blinding, spotting your vision even as your eyes fill with tears, and it's all you can do not to scream or pass out.
You will not scream. You will not scream for him. You will not.
"What, no hello kiss?" He asks, holding his hands up in a parody of surprise. "Are you still mad about me killing all those poor, innocent girls? I get it, I do. I mean, I didn't want to kill them, but they were just so damn annoying, you know? Wouldn't stop talking."
You ignore him. There's no way you can move your legs, Angelus has all his weight on your thighs.
You will not scream.
"I mean, you get it, right?" he's asking, looking at you earnestly. "I know you wanted to throttle them as much as I did, you just didn't have the stones to do it. Poor little Faithy, the neutered killer. And you know what's ironic, is that they're all dead, every last one of them, and they're still annoying! Blood all over the furniture, and I'm pretty sure all the carpeting down there is a complete loss. And the flavor…I was expecting better, I'll be honest, but they all kinda had that, factory mass-produced taste, you know what I mean? Had to completely drain this skinny little blonde chick just to get it out of my mouth. You know the one."
You've been trying desperately not to react, not to give him what he wants. But you can't stop the blood from draining out of your face when he mentions her.
Angelus looks amused. "I thought that might get your attention. Don't worry about Buffy, she's downstairs in my office. Well, her head is, anyway, and one of the legs. I'm not sure where the rest of her ended up, I was a little busy slaughtering everyone to pay attention to who ended up where."
And you know you can't move, but you're moving anyway, thrashing and fighting and trying to throw him off of you as you yell every horrible thing you can think of at him. He leans forward to drive the knives further into your hands, and you headbutt him in the face, breaking his nose. His hand flies up to his face, and he wipes the blood away, looking at it and starting to laugh horribly.
"There's that fire I love, I almost hate to put it out." Ripping your shirt up the middle with both hands, Angelus's eyes go straight to your exposed scar. He runs a finger over it gently, like a lover, before scratching it open and sucking your blood off his fingernail.
"But I'm starting to get a little hungry, and you remember how I like to play with my food."
"Fuck you," you hiss, and he runs a hand over your stomach, smearing your blood over your bare skin. "With pleasure," he replies, looking at you horribly. "But can you do me a favor? My innocent ears are so delicate, see—must be all the little girl blood—and I'd hate to have to gag you and risk injuring that exquisite mouth, not when I have so many plans for it. So if you could clean up the language, I'd really appreciate it.
"And Faith?" Before you can react, his hand is yanking your hair back and his mouth is at your ear.
"Before we get started, I just want you to know: if you're a screamer? Feel free."
And he plunges his hand into your stomach and smiles as you scream.
You jerk your head back, smacking it on the dresser with an impressive crack.
"Ow! Motherfuc…"you groan, trailing off as you reach up with both hands to caress your now-tender skull. Angel's kneeling in front of you, hands on your shoulders, peering into your eyes and looking concerned.
You look at him, then look down. There's not a trace of blood on either of you. Your hands are undamaged; neither of your shirts are torn. You put a hand to your stomach.
It's just a scar.
"Are you all right?" he asks, reaching behind your head to assess the damage. You wince sharply as his fingers probe your hair, and he quickly lets go. "Five by five, Soulboy," you mutter, pulling away from him and picking yourself up off the floor. You dust yourself off and he stands, looking for all the world like the Prince of Darkness, and a small part of your brain can't help but smirk over the wet dream Andrew would be having if he was witnessing this scene—the two stunningly attractive Dark Heroes who redefine 'moral grey area' and have switched teams more often than Reggie Jackson.
Angel won't let it go. "Where were you just now?" he presses. You bristle, but before you can tell him to mind his own business, Gunn sticks his head in the door. "Yo, you two coming or not?" he asks, tossing you a crossbow that you snag effortlessly out of the air.
God bless a man with great timing and good taste in offensive weaponry.
Angel looks back and forth between the two of you, clearly still worried. "We have a demon situation a few blocks east of here—challenging kill, but nothing we can't handle. Faith, if you're not feeling ok, I think you should—"
"Whatever, I'm over it," you cut him off, cracking the joints in your neck and shaking your shoulders loose. "Let's bounce." Gunn slaps you five and the two of you head for the front door, Angel trailing behind you. He's still staring at you, you can tell, but you ignore him.
It wasn't real. It was just a hallucination. It wasn't real. You're not scared.
All night you repeat it in your head, over and over, through the fight and the celebratory beers with Gunn and a round on the punching bag and a shower until its 6am and you're crawling into your bed, B sleeping peacefully in her bed just a few feet away, and you finally close your eyes in exhaustion.
You repeat it over and over, until you almost believe it.
You've been on hold for seventeen minutes without smashing the phone. It might be a new personal record for you.
When your big yellow schoolbus hit the road for L.A. the day after the battle, it was down a passenger. The Newbies with even the worst injuries were ready to travel after a night in the hospital and a healthy dose of slayer healing, but Robin was far less fortunate. The doctors at the hospital had put him in a coma on purpose, to keep him from going into shock from the pain while his body healed. They told you there was no way he was waking up for at least three days, but gave you a number you could call whenever you wanted to check on him.
When you went to say goodbye before leaving, you remember wondering if you looked so small and defenseless in your many stints of prolonged unconsciousness.
You're glad you never had to see it.
Finally, right when you're ready to tear an eardrum out just to make the Muzak stop, you hear a click on the receiver. "Hello, Gorgeous," he greets you, his voice hoarse from disuse. "Denzel," you reply, and even in the short time you've known him, you just know he's rolling his eyes at you disapprovingly. "Hey, sorry to break it to you, pal," you apologize flippantly, "but you've got at least three cups of ice chips 'til you knock that post-coma rasp. Then we'll see if we can bump you up to Morgan Freeman."
He laughs deeply, making you smile. "I'll see what I can do, but that might take a miracle. That man is far smoother than either you or I."
You can't argue with that one. You ask him when they're letting him go, and he doesn't know yet. Not for at least a week, and he makes you promise to stick it out in L.A., at least until he gets there. He offers to bring you some of his pudding, making you grumble that you spent eight freaking months in a hospital and not once did you get any damn pudding. He's puzzled by that one—you forgot that only the original crew knows about your fillet-o-Faith, tumble-off-a-building induced coma. Telling him it's a story for another time, but that it'll make him appreciate waking up inside of a week, you let him go so that he can get his morphine haze on.
You don't really know him, and he doesn't really know you. If it weren't for the whole 'We're about to die horribly in an apocalypse' thing, you probably would have been gone by morning and never seen him again. But except for claiming to be prettier than you—which is delusional thinking and not even close to true—he's turned out to be pretty cool. Nice to you, good in the sack, no glaring defects that make him unfit for human consumption.
You're not saying you want to marry the guy. Just that you're glad he didn't kick it before you got him to the hospital.
Gotta start somewhere.
Buffy's been looking at you funny all day. She's been sitting on the couch in the lobby, pretending to read a stack of boring legal documents, but really, she's been staring at you almost the whole time. Not that you blame her—you've been working your way through the main weapons cabinet, sharpening blades and axes in your five foot chalk circle, and looking mighty fine while doing it.
Actually, you used electrical tape because you couldn't find any chalk, but the message is still the same: come in here, and risk losing a finger.
You've been working for three hours. Nobody asked you to, but you're wicked good with your hands and it's nice to work on something more challenging than a license plate.
Nearly everybody in the house has wandered through at some point—Andrew nearly wet himself when he saw you with a broadsword, but brought you an iced tea in exchange for a solemn oath that you wouldn't hurt him—but so far, B is the only one that's stuck around. You get the feeling that she wants to say something, but can't bring herself to do it. You're not sure what: maybe Angel snitched to her about the other night, maybe she wants to speed up your relocation out of town, maybe she's planning a sanctimonious speech about how you should be back in jail now that the world isn't circling the drain anymore. And since none of those are conversations that you want to have, you're not going to make it any easier on her by asking her to spit it out.
Your knife slips, slicing a clean line on the back of your hand. You swear colorfully, causing B to drop her papers and rush over. "Are you ok?" she asks, taking your hand into hers and examining it without waiting for an answer. You nod; it's a shallow cut, at worst a slight nick to a vein. You flex your fingers and the blood pools on your skin before running down your wrist. As Buffy heads into the office to grab a first aid kit, you twist your arm slowly, watching as gravity pulls at the lead drop of blood.
By the time B gets back with some gauze and a bandage, you've made a spiral halfway to your elbow. The look on her face is priceless, a combination of exasperated, grossed out, and horrified.
You mop up your arm so that she doesn't have to do it, then hold out your hand so that she can bandage it. She does so, with the efficiency of a veteran nurse. Or a girl who's spent about eight years getting scraped up on a regular basis. When she's done, you toss the wrappers and gauze into the trash before rinsing the remaining streaks of blood off your arm in the bathroom sink.
When you get back to the lobby, she's still standing in your circle.
"Why did you come to the church that day?" she asks, looking you straight in the eye.
Out of all the things she could have asked you…it isn't the worst question she could have thought up, not by a long shot. But you weren't expecting it either.
Her expression isn't hard, or accusing, or even curious. Instead, she's looking at you like you have something she needs.
You weren't prepared for the gravity of this moment, but you know you can't avoid it. You've spent so much time wishing you could just make her see the whys behind your path of destruction, to the extent that you understand them yourself, without getting beat up by her fists or cut down by her cruelty. And whether you're ready or not, you have to take this chance—you may not get another one otherwise.
Of course, you may not get one anyway: you know she's not going to like the answer.
"When I was gone," you start hesitantly, "I…I guess they were dreams. Eight months of dreaming, and they all ended the same way. Pain, destruction, death. Everything hurt, nothing felt right. You were in most of them, hurting me, torturing me, destroying the things I loved." You see her eyes darken and her mouth open, and you raise your hands in surrender.
"I'm not saying that to blame you," you cut her off before she can interrupt. "I'm trying to explain. It felt like a day, and it felt like forever. But the things that were real and the things that were just dreams kept mixing themselves up in my head, and by the time I woke up…I'd been in hell for so long that the only thing that was clear in my head was that you had hurt me. That you'd made me weak, and that I needed to be stronger than you, hurt you so you couldn't hurt me anymore."
You pause, holding up your hand to keep her quiet as you struggle to find the words you need to make her understand.
"When…I saw the news report, about the church," you say slowly, looking anywhere but at the girl in front of you, "I was leaving. I was free from you, I was safe again. But…the people needed a slayer, and you weren't there. And it was like, I just knew. I had to go and help them."
You bite the inside of your mouth, suppressing the urge to cry. You will not cry, not now. When the feeling passes, you breathe deeply, making one final admission:
"It felt right. From the night you stabbed me until the day I went to jail, it was the only single thing that didn't feel like poison."
You don't know if that's what she wanted to hear. You don't know what effect, if any, your answer had on her. You just know that you can't handle any more Moment right now. Putting the knife still slick with your blood back in the cabinet, you turn around and walk away.
Part IVYou hate this city. You hate this whole state. You have no idea why you're still here.
That's a lie, you know why you're still here: Angel. Gunn, Fred, Wes, Lorne.
The Baby Slayers and Scoobies, for all they'd probably prefer you gone.
That promise you made Robin.
The fact that you have nowhere else to go.
You know why you're still here, you have a lot of reasons.
And not a single one of them is enough to motivate you today. The energy it would take to beat yourself down, to wrestle yourself into the mold you need to fit, to pretend like everything's Five by Five and you're not insane; it's just not there today.
It's not self pity, it's self preservation. You'll get out of bed tomorrow.
Part VYou can't help but notice The Barrier. It would be kind of hard not to notice it really, in a house full of girls crawling all over each other, and anyone else who gets in their way. Everyone except you. When you throw a sandwich together in the kitchen, you magically have three people's worth of counter space while the brats bicker over table real estate. When you crash in front of the tv in the evening, somehow the couch becomes yours by the first commercial break. Even training in the gym nets you a wide berth, a ten foot circle of personal space around you while you're whaling on a punching bag.
Of course, that last one could be because the skin on your knuckles split fifteen minutes ago and, despite the hand wraps, your face and shirt are splattered with blood.
There's some sort of commotion going on around you, outside the ten foot bubble, but you can't really hear it. Watching the bloody smears on the bag slowly drip onto the floor mats, everything else fades into the background.
Blood. Skin. A stake in your hand.
Voices, begging for mercy. Eyes, pleading for reprieve, reason, redemption.
And your own horrible laughter in your head as you refuse, and you kill them and you kill them and you kill them—
A harsh slap across your face brings you back. Kennedy is standing in front of you, giving you a look that's half pissed, half terrified. Behind her, closer than the cowering girls that line the walls—but still out of grabbing distance—Fred is clutching a first aid kit and looking alarmed at the amount of blood you've managed to fling everywhere.
"Defensive positions," Kennedy snaps, and slowly the Baby Slayers fall in line, assuming crouching stances and doing their best to guard their weak spots. You have to give them props for courage, if not for brains—they have to know that if you were going to hurt them, you could snap every neck in the room in less than three minutes.
Kennedy is still glaring at you. "I'm all for giving you space until you get your head on straight," she spits out, "but if you're about to switch from Rocky to Carrie at the Prom, I want to know right now. Vi, door." Out of the corner of your eye, you see the girl in question shift positions, grasping the door handle and preparing to run for reinforcements.
It's almost enough to make you smile. Not quite, but almost.
Instead, you tilt your head appraisingly. "Ok, first of all," you sigh, "you really think you can take me, Junior?" She doesn't answer, and you mentally award her points for finally figuring out when to keep her mouth shut. "Second, what the hell makes you think I'd be caught dead in a prom dress?"
The entire room visibly relaxes, and Kennedy claps your shoulder before giving Fred space to work. You can't go to a hospital—for obvious, felony-related reasons—but the total damage isn't terrible: one broken finger in your right hand, six stitches in your left. You'll be fine in a day or two. The wraps are a total loss—Fred has to use surgical scissors to cut them from your skin.
You're not sure who the Slayerettes are taking orders from these days. Or, more to the point, you're not sure if Kennedy was just shooting her mouth off, or if someone higher up on the food chain knows you're losing it.
And you're not sure why the answer matters so much to you.
Part VIYou can't remember how you got to the park, or where the picnic basket on the ground near you came from, or why the hell you're wearing a blue sundress. But the sun is warm on your face and you're pleasantly full, so you're not too concerned about the details. Blinking drowsily, you settle back into the grass, breathing in the scent of flowers and chocolate chip cookies, letting the breeze play with your hair. A hand threads itself through yours, and you smile as a familiar tingle works its way up your arm. When you look over, you're not surprised to see B lying next to you, wearing a pink dress you vaguely remember from way back when. She smiles back at you, more warmly and freely than the real B's smiled at anything lately.
You don't know if you said that part out loud, or if there's some sort of mindreading thing going on, but B's smile falters a little. "So you know this is a dream, huh?" she asks sadly, squinting a little in the sunlight. "I was kinda hoping you wouldn't notice that part."
Angelus smirking at you. "I was kinda hoping you wouldn't notice that part."
Angelus pinning you to the bed, Angelus tearing your shirt.
Blood on his hands, your hands. Harsh laughter—
"Hey hey hey," B soothes, stroking your face with her free hand. "Not here. That's not real, don't bring it here."
You bite your lip and breathe deeply, trying to banish the unwanted images. You reach up and capture her hand, holding it to your cheek. "This isn't real either, B," you point out, making her smirk and squeeze your hand.
"It could be," she responds. "You choose what's real and what's not, it's your mind. Choose me."
It could be so easy. But despite B's smile, her soft touch, the sun and the grass and the largely unfamiliar sense of contentment, you hesitate. There's something wrong with her logic, but you're not sure what.
There's something…there it is.
"When did I fall asleep?" you ask Dream-B, looking her straight in the eye. Her smile grows, like a proud parent listening to her child say something wicked smart. Leaning in, she lets go of your hands and gently twines her fingers into your hair. Her lips brush your forehead, your temple, your cheek, before coming to rest over your ear:
"Who says you're sleeping?"
And in an instant, you're standing—no, falling—in a damp alley somewhere in downtown Los Angeles. Your knees hit the filthy pavement, and your reflexes are barely quick enough to save your face from landing in a puddle of god-knows-what. Sitting up and looking around, you recognize the nightclub in the distance—you were planning on sitting at the bar, mainlining whiskey and not-listening to the band for a few hours.
You have no memory of being in the club, or of anything after you left the hotel, for that matter. And it's with the shitty experience of the thoroughly fucked that you begin the self assessment that you haven't had to use in a while:
Head—apart from that same damn headache, no bumps or bruises, everything unbroken and intact. Neck—free of puncture wounds. Hands—no fresh scrapes or scratches, stitches undamaged. Arms and legs—no new bruises or needle marks, no rope burns, bite marks, or chafing. Clothes—a little muddy where they hit the ground, but otherwise undamaged; belt still securely buckled. Chest, hips, and crotch—un-manhandled. Pockets—stake, switchblade, the $20 you started the evening with, and a cell phone proclaiming eleven missed calls since midnight. No messages, but a look at the time log tells you that the failed attempts came closer together as the night wore on.
You inhale deeply, process the scent, and let out a sigh of relief even as you're trying not to vomit. The alley stinks of beer and stale piss, but you're not picking up on any blood or sex—your own or anyone else's. You clearly weren't mugged, you doubt you were drugged, you're alone and alive. Whatever shit your brain's pulling, it wasn't enough to get you killed. Score one for the mostly reformed.
When you get back to the hotel nearly an hour later, the sky is just starting to brighten in the east. You bypass the front door completely, choosing instead to shimmy up the drainpipe and slip in noiselessly through your window. Whatever it was that the others wanted will just have to wait until the morning.
Or until your subconscious stops trying to erase you from the planet.
Part VIIMaybe it pays to have the Babies scared of you—if only it didn't come into play so early in the morning.
B shakes you awake from a nightmare at 9am, easily catching your wrist in her hand when you instinctually lash out at the dark shadow over your bed. After raising an eyebrow at you and dryly quipping about your sub-par phone answering skills (guess you know who was calling the night before) she tells you that she has a bunch of shit to do all day and she needs you to supervise sparring in an hour. Now it's your turn to raise an eyebrow. She sighs before conceding that she'd rather let you terrorize everyone a little than put Kennedy in charge and have to deal with her ego swelling even more than it already has. She says you can run it however you want—spar with them, offer corrections and pointers from the sidelines, make the losers paint your toenails—she really just needs you to go and make sure nobody dies.
You don't have the heart to refuse her when she looks so tired and is clearly trying so hard to meet you halfway. When you agree and ask to borrow a bottle of red nail polish, she smiles and squeezes your hand before leaving.
After pinching your hand until it bruises, pretty much ruling out that you're anywhere but your room, you drag yourself into the shower and prepare to kick some teenage girl ass.
You don't feel like ripping your stitches open, so you settle for running them through some drills before pitting them against each other. You run the fights quick and dirty—cage match style, no weapons or rules. After each fight, you hop into the makeshift ring with the loser and explain what her biggest mistake was, as well as how to fix it. Then you beat her down over and over until she fixes it. Most of them are eager to avoid getting pummeled by you, one hand sutured into uselessness or not, adding a whiff of desperation to the combat. Some of the girls fight the better for it; others unravel under the pressure and make stupid mistakes. You treat them all the same, but mentally categorize them in your head.
Pretty soon, your little slayer army is limping back upstairs, bruised and bloodied but in awe of your mad skills. When B comes home a few hours later, she barely makes it through the doorway before three Slayers are in her face, trying to convince her to let you teach them knife throwing. Correctly guessing that you'd threatened one of the girls and she'd taken your special brand of sarcasm at face value, she gives them permission and you a nod of approval. Also the finger, but you're willing to overlook that one.
Part VIIIIt takes six days before it happens. All the other Scoobies and Bitty Slayers had made the trip already, but you'd been putting it off. You're not sure who makes the final decision to stage an intervention, but you suspect Giles and Angel were involved, mostly because this has passive-aggressiveness written all over it—they're willing to stick their noses into your personal business, but too chicken-shit to show up and do the dirty work. Consequently, it's Willow who shows up bright and early at your bedroom door, holding a bank card with $500 and explaining in her babbling, almost cute way that they couldn't help but notice that you'd been wearing the same outfit all week, and it's not that you smell, because you don't! but everyone else had already used the Council's money to buy a few more sets of clothing, and they thought you knew that of course you were welcome to do the same, because you were part of the team, and it had to be time consuming, washing your clothes in the sink every night, and it wasn't much, but it should be enough for a few pairs of leather pants and some shirts and work-out clothes and pajamas, except Do you still sleep naked? well you don't have to buy pajamas if you don't want to but she was planning on going out in a bit and could go with you if you wanted, and if you felt like coffee you could even get some mocha-goodness while you were out and—
You agreed to go shopping with her just to get her to take a breath.
You'd never really been clothes shopping before, with actual money—the good majority of your pre-prison wardrobe was acquired courtesy of the five-finger discount. But even though Red's taste in clothes might kind of suck, she turns out to be a pretty decent shopping companion: keeping track of how much you've spent, using the mall directory to guide you to stores that are more your style, magically mending the shirt you accidently tear when trying to un-jam the zipper.
It's clear to you that the secondary purpose of this trip, besides buying you $87 worth of clean underwear, was for the two of you to engage in some girl bonding. Pre-prison, you would have been pissed at the transparency of the gesture; like they think you're so stupid that you don't know a setup when you see one. But even though it's obvious to you that the Scoobies got together and decided you needed to socialize, and somehow the witch drew the short straw, you decide to play nice—Red might be obvious as shit, but she's clearly making a genuine effort, and the least you could do is behave.
Besides, whatever her motivations might be, it's nice to pretend that you have a friend who isn't a brooding dead guy.
You actually kind of enjoy yourself for the first hour. You know what you like and what you don't like, so you only really need to try things on to make sure they fit. You're tempted to be a total girl and preen in front of the mirror in each new item, but Red seems pleased that you're a much more efficient shopper than the rest of the gang, and a part of you likes earning her approval over something so effortless. Besides, it's not like you don't know that you're a stone-cold fox; you don't need a dressing room mirror to tell you that.
The trouble starts when you've bought everything you needed except a handful of sports bras—not your fave, but you want to keep the girls pointing north for a good long time—and Willow decides its time for a caffeine hookup.
You hadn't even noticed that the stores the two of you had been to were all smaller shops, mostly light on traffic and easy to navigate. Now that you're in the food court, though, you're realizing that all too suddenly. The atrium is huge and there are people everywhere, talking and shouting and shoving and eating and you can't see everyone at once, if there was a riot you might not even notice it starting, and the health food café and cheesesteak joint are both giving out metal knives instead of plastic ones, which is a terrible idea, anyone can just buy a fucking sandwich and walk off with a handful of weapons, and the doors and ceilings are made of glass that you could break without even really trying and what the fuck were the contractors thinking, didn't they realize this is California, where the earthquakes happen and your chest is tightening and your bags are on the ground and you can't breathe goddammit why can't you breathe—
The next thing you know, Willow's stroking your hair as you puke for England in the parking lot, clutching the open car door so hard that you leave fingermarks in the chrome.
"I'm sorry, I haven't worked out how to fix the teleportation sickness yet," Red's apologizing apprehensively. "It was just the fastest way out, and I didn't want to try and drag you out while you were having an attack and maybe make it worse, and that way I could take the bags instead of leaving—"
You cut her off, spitting out the last of the bile. "While I was having a what-now?" you demand hoarsely, brushing your hair out of your face. Her cheeks go slightly pink as she digs through her purse. "Well, um, I could be wrong, 'cause that happens sometimes, but it looked like you were having a panic attack," she explains. "Which would be totally understandable, because malls? Way with the sensory overload, especially after spending so long in prison, and I guess it's kinda not helping that you've only been out for two weeks and have already gotten beaten up about twelve times, huh?"
She emerges from her purse with a pack of gum and chances a glance at you. You're not sure what she's seeing, because you can feel yourself locking down, but it must not be very good because she looks nervous. "Not that I'm saying it was one," she backpedals awkwardly, "just that it would be okay if it was. Hey, you don't think it was a magical attack, do you? I mean, I probably would have felt it if it was, but I'm still a little wonky after last week, and do you think we should call Buffy, just to make sure nothing's attacking the slayers?"
Buffy can't know, if Buffy knows than everyone will know and you don't want them to know you're scared you're sad you're weak you're pathetic you're nothing
You grab her wrist without thinking.
Willow, looking at you with terror, than hatred. Willow, with a knife at her throat. Willow, standing in front of you while you look through Buffy's eyes, face peaceful and innocent as you lunge forward to rip her throat out.
You let go of her as quickly as you can and throw yourself back, your shoulderblades hitting the car before the pack of gum hits the ground.
Part IXThree years.
Three years since you hit rock bottom and began clawing your way back up. You thought you were becoming a better person—a temperamental person, a mouthy one, but better than Raving Lunatic PsychoSlayer.
But three years of self improvement, and your first instinct is still to attack. There are no vamps or demons or dark shadows to excuse your actions, just a human chick with an idea you didn't like.
Maybe you haven't learned anything at all.
Willow looks hide-under-the-bed scared, and you don't really blame her. It isn't until she begins approaching you with her hands up that you realize that she's not scared of you, she's scared for you: you're shaking like a leaf, apologizing over and over in a pathetic, breaking little girl voice that doesn't sound like yours, but is. You let her put her hands on your shoulders and guide you into your seat.
"It's okay," she's saying, "Faith, its okay. It's not your fault, it's not anyone's fault. We should have gone somewhere less crowded, eased you into things a little more. I didn't even think of how that might have been tough for you, I'm sorry."
She doesn't know. She thinks you're upset over your little psychological temper-tantrum—which you kind of are, what kind of pansy can't handle a freaking mall?—and she doesn't even realize that you almost snapped both bones in her forearm without even thinking about it.
You look blankly out the window as Red starts the car and heads for home. You need to talk to Angel. And at the same time, you know you can't talk to Angel, can't bear seeing the look of disappointment on his face when you tell him what's been happening in your head. And the others are finally starting to treat you like something approaching normal; you can't hand them the rope to hang you with. But if you're really sliding back into old habits, they need to know, need to have enough warning to stop you if you get dangerous.
Because they totally wouldn't jump the gun and kill you in your sleep. After all, they totally had your best interests at heart the first time around.
When you get home, you beg Red not to tell anyone what happened at the mall. She's reluctant, but eventually gives in like you knew she would. You use the last of your energy showing off your new clothes to Dawn, who's sprawled out on B's bed, waiting for her to finish girling up enough to take her to lunch. The minute they're out the door, you crawl into bed and don't move for six hours.
Later that night, you find a shopping bag hanging on your doorknob. Inside, along with a handwritten note offering to exchange anything that doesn't fit, are five sports bras.
Part XAngel's Haunted Mansion is sideways. When did it get sideways. Fuck.
No, now it's better. You just had to sit up. God, you're drunk.
You don't have a watch and you're not sure where your phone is, probably back at the bar, or maybe in the alley, or…you don't really remember how you got home, but you can't teleport without Willow, so you probably walked.
Oh, you really don't want to think about teleporting, teleporting makes you want to—
Fucking…you really hope Angel doesn't like that little tree. You need to get rid of it, before he sees it and beats the shit out of you with his belt.
No, that's not…Angel wouldn't do that. Angel wouldn't do that.
Where the hell is your belt anyway, you were definitely wearing one when you climbed out the window after B fell asleep.
You need to get rid of the tree, or they'll see it and they'll know what you did. Lucky for you it's in a little pot, so all you have to do is drag it somewhere and try not to spill the tequila-soaked dirt all over the ground.
You wonder if ninjas ever get drunk. You're gonna have to be a drunk freaking ninja, everyone in the big scary house has super hearing and you need to get to the shower without them hearing you, or they're going to see you, and they'll see your sticky hair and the scratches on your back and smell your smoke and tequila and they'll know you're a bad bad girl liar loser worthless piece of shit and you don't want them to know because there are so many of them and just one of you and you're such a mess, why are you such a mess, why—
Part XIYou're not getting out of bed today, either. You've already wasted the last four and a half years, what's another 24 hours?
You don't want to hurt anybody. And the hotel is running low on first aid supplies, mostly because of you.
Maybe you should just kill yourself and get it over with.
How many pivotal moments in your life have taken place on rooftops?
You've felt Angel watching you from the access door for about half an hour now, but he's got another five minutes before the sun dips below the horizon and it's safe for him to come out. If you were a nicer person, you'd have gone inside instead of making him stand there. But you're not really all that nice, and the simple act of peeling yourself off the cement and standing up feels so overwhelmingly difficult that you can't force yourself to do it.
Plus, Angel will be able to tell right away that you've been drinking Giles's scotch, and you'd like to hold onto the shattered remains of your dignity for at least four more minutes.
Without looking over, you can tell that B is climbing the final staircase up to the roof. When Red worked her mojo on all the Potentials, you thought maybe you'd be able to sense them, that the Slayer link that hummed between the two of you would expand to include them too. You don't know if B feels anything where they're concerned, but it didn't happen for you. She's the only one who pulls at something inside you—something instinctual, beyond senses or rational thought.
And for everything that's passed between the two of you, all the ups and downs and laughter and lies and betrayals, you know she feels it too. Because she's here, finally, right when you need her, without you having to ask.
And it's in that moment that you know what you have to do. And it's in that moment that you finally break.
As the sun sets, the two people you love more than anyone else in the world come out to sit with you while you break down and cry like a little girl, with your face in your hands. They don't say anything, but Angel strokes the back of your neck with his hand while B lays her head on your shoulder, arms wrapped around your waist. They sit, silently, until your fear and grief and rage run themselves down, and you're left feeling both peaceful and lost.
You have to say it. You know they already know, and the idea of verbalizing it makes you want to throw yourself off the roof, again. But you have to say it. Because it's the right thing to do. Because it just might be the bravest thing you've ever done.
And because once you've thrown yourself off a roof for real, opening up and letting people in really doesn't compare. The first one almost killed you. The second one only feels like it might.
Your mind doesn't work like other people's. But no matter how much it wants you dead, you want to live. And you're done reacting. So you say it:
It's all mixing together. All the things I did, things people did to me, all the bad things that might happen or that I might do.
I can't tell them apart anymore, and I'm scared.
I need help."