Disclaimer: Joss Whedon is all.

A/N: This fic takes place at the end of "Chosen" when Willow makes all the Potentials into Slayers.

It is the story of the girl who stood up to the punch.

Read and enjoy. Written for Mermaidrain.


He's drinking again.

The sickly sweet smell of warm beer has already permeated the shag carpet in our trailer. The light brown stains have barely been given time to dry before new ones joined them. Our floor smells like Jimmy's Bar.

Worse. Like beer and puke and tears and sweat and hands and groping and pain and dark. Like home.

I know. I spend most of my time on the floor. My face pressed against the carpet, my skin rubbed raw by the rough fibers. The smell has made me retch many times.

He likes that.

When I leave for school I can still smell it. The Home-Smell. It follows me around, to my classes, to my seat in the lunch room, through the hallways and the bathrooms where I avoid the mirror. It taunts me, it chains me, it keeps me thinking of him. Of the carpet. Of my place on the floor.

My classmates can smell it, too. It's like an invisible bubble, pushing everyone away.

They don't taunt me. They don't take my lunch or call me names or go out of their way to avoid me.

They just pass by me. Because they know, they can tell.

I'm not worth it.

That's what he tells me. While he's doing it. While he's burying my face into the floor, raising welts on my arms, making me bleed and cry and gasp in pain. Making me hate myself for living through it.

I'm not worth it. The air I breathe, the food I eat, the clothes I fill, the space I take - it is wasted on me.

Because that smell clings to me. Because I can never get free.

Every day, just for a moment, I stand outside my door. I look to the left and the right and up at the empty sky. And I think, I could run. I could go somewhere, a place where the smell can't find me.

But then I look back at the door. At the gaping windows. And I know.

There's no such place. All that was sucked out of me a long time ago.

There's nothing left to save.

He is standing in front of me. I used to beg, to plead. Tears would run down my face as I searched his eyes for something real.

But now I just stare at the floor. His eyes are empty, black and cold.

No mercy, no restraint. Only leering rage.

He says something. I'm sure it's meant to hurt me, to belittle me. Foolish man. Doesn't he realize that he's taken away everything that could shame me?

Then the pain comes. First a fist to the head. Then a kick to my ribs. Hits rain down on my body. My nose is bleeding, pressed into the carpet. The smell climbs into my brain, chokes my eyes.

His voice is a litany behind the slap of flesh on flesh. I am worthless, I am no one, I am his to use because I am powerless.

Powerless.

My brain tries to take me away, so I don't have to see the horrible things he's preparing to do. But I have no more safe refuges.

He's taken them all. Conquered them all.

He kicks me again, and I'm on my back. I see the gleam in his eye, I know what it means.

I would weep, but it would only make him more powerful.

Then there's a glimmer. In the corner of my mind I see a girl - golden and strong. Behind her is...an army. Of girls - girls of every size and shape and color. And one by one, the girls begin to become.

Strong.

Then I feel it. Past the pain, past the terror and the grief and the smell, I feel -

Oh.

Rushing at me, breaking over me. It's a white light of everything I could ever become. Then I realize.

I am part of that army, now. I feel alive. I am alive. I am strong.

I look up at him. He is lifting his arm for another blow. The smell is trying to cling to me, to pull me back under.

But I am more, now. More me than the smell can ever control. More myself than he can dominate.

I stand up.

My arm blocks his. I lift my face to meet his gaze. Suddenly I'm not afraid anymore. Suddenly I see him, know him.

He is so small. So weak.

His power came only from my submission. From my cowering into the floor.

But now I'm standing.

He backs away. He has to.

Because I'm standing.

The sickly smell of my imprisonment seems to fall away. I feel...full, somehow. A part of something.

I take a deep breath. The air seems cleaner.

And I smell...

Hope.