The Song Remains the Same

By Sara M

B/S

Rating: M

Summary: Life can be difficult when you are fifteen years old with a baby and few options. Fortunately Buffy Summers is a resourceful girl. Spuffy. All human AU in Four Parts. It's a high school fic with actual high school coming up in Parts Two thru Four. This is a very long saga and will be completed.

NOTE : The ratings and warnings I am giving for this story do not represent the entire story - they allow for occasional forays into difficult subjects, but most chapters do not dwell there. It's not a fluffy story, but it is not unrelentingly grim. Like life, it flows among the highs and lows.

IMPORTANT: Although Parts One and Two are rated R, beginning in Part Three the story will move into some NC-17 territory. 'The Song Remains the Same' consists of Parts One and Two. When we move into Part Three it will start a new posted 'story' so that I can reflect the new rating. Also, Parts One and Two are quite long enough on their own.

Winner of 'Judge's Pick' in Round 11 of Spuffy Awards and Winner of Best Fantasy Angst and Best Fantasy Author in Round 12 of the Spuffy Awards.

Warnings: Adult Language, Buffy/Other (past), Rape (referenced), Sexual Situations, Spike/Other (past), Violence

Spoilers: none, all human AU.

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Author's Note #1: I am a first time writer so constructive criticism is welcome. This is definitely a spuffy story but the tale is long and there's ground to cover before any spuffy action is involved. This is not a fluffy spuffy fic, however. Also, there is within the story sexual assault and rape, although not graphically described, so if you do not wish to read about that I will notate it when it appears so that you may skim over that section. Author's Note #2: The federal, state, and municipal laws referenced in the story are very complex and underwent massive federal and state changes in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and also vary widely from state to state and city to city in how they are enforced or interpreted. It is therefore not possible for me to pin down exact laws, in exact places, at exact times, as they are exactly enforced or not enforced by local law enforcement and social service agencies, there's too much variation. I've researched up the yazoo to be as accurate as possible but there will always be some differences between the law and how any particular law enforcement agency or social service worker decides to interpret or misinterpret it, even within the same local agency. Where a club mentioned in the story is concerned I have chosen to entirely ignore recent California laws that make certain club rules vastly different than the reader would expect and went with what worked best for the story.

Disclaimer: The characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox studios. This story is not meant to infringe upon anyone's rights, only to entertain.

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PART ONE

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Chapter One
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Baby Love

xxx

"I want to see her."

"Now Buffy, you know better than that."

"Bring her to me."

"We can't do that, sweetheart. It'll only make this harder for you."

"I don't care. I want to see her."

"It's against policy -"

"I don't care!" her voice broke, "I need to see her. Just this once...please."

Sister Margaret sighed unhappily. This was the moment when the girls were most vulnerable and she had hoped she could avoid this scene where Buffy was concerned. The girl had not appeared to be interested in her pregnancy nor in the baby itself throughout her time at St Anne's Maternity Home. She knew how vehemently the girl's parents insisted on adopting this infant out and returning to a 'normal' life again. Buffy was only fifteen years old, and hardly capable of providing a home for a baby, especially without parental assistance. No, adoption was the only alternative. Everyone had agreed.

But here, now, a mother was demanding to hold her baby. No matter that the mother was still a child herself, Sister Margaret knew she couldn't prevent this. But she'd make one last try.

"You've met the Andersons. You know they are good people and will provide the baby a happy and secure upbringing. And you know that seeing her will only hurt you in the end, child. Please, don't put yourself through this."

Tears were coursing down Buffy's cheeks and her chin trembled. "Please."

Sister Margaret let out a heavy sigh and turned to the nurse standing nearby. "Please go get the Summers infant." She turned back to Buffy and smiled gently at the sight before her. Buffy brushed the tears from her face and sat up straight in her hospital bed, arranging her blankets in readiness to greet her baby for the first time. Sister Margaret passed Buffy some tissues and tucked an errant strand of hair behind the girl's ear. No, this wasn't going to go smoothly at all.

xxxx

In the end, Sister Margaret had been right. That this was not going well was an understatement.

Buffy held her daughter carefully, and as had new mothers before her, counted the little fingers and toes, inspected her carefully, and then settled back, awestruck at the tiny creature in her arms. Not in her wildest dreams did she think that she would feel like this. This miraculous, beautiful, tiny little being rooting for her breast was her daughter. Her daughter. Her daughter. How could they have failed to tell her how amazing this was, how deeply this scrawny red little creature with her honey-colored hair and wrinkly skin would burrow itself inside her heart. How quickly her entire life would change when a tiny hand grasped her finger and held on. Give her up? How could she -

"Buffy, what are you doing!?"

Buffy was jolted down to earth by her mother's angry shout. "It isn't supposed to be here with you. Who gave you -"

"Mrs. Summers. Perhaps we should go into the hall and discuss this." Sister Margaret placed a calm hand on Joyce's arm and attempted to lead her away. Joyce would have none of it.

"No, I'm not leaving the room and I demand that you remove it immediately. This child is being adopted into a good home and there is absolutely no reason that Buffy should be holding it. You said yourself, there is no point in getting attached to it when it's not coming home with us." Joyce turned toward Buffy, "It's not coming home with you young lady, don't get any ideas - and you can turn the waterworks off too. You knew all along that this was going to happen and if you're upset you only have yourself to blame. Now give it back to the nurse."

"Please mom. I can do this. I know I can. Please." Silence. "She's my baby."

One look at the poor girl's face, pleading miserably, could melt the hardest heart, Sister Margaret thought. But not this mother's heart.

Joyce gazed stonily at her daughter in complete silence. Tension stretched taut between the two females for what seemed like an eternity. Joyce stepped forward slowly and finally broke the silence.

"You are fifteen years old, Buffy. There is no one going to give a fifteen year old girl custody of an infant without some sort of assistance, and believe me, you will get no help from your father or me on this. You're the one who decided you were so grown up and sneaked around with a 20 year old guy behind our backs and got yourself pregnant. And where is Mr. Wonderful now? Gone, that's where. Because at least he's smart enough to know that having a child at your age is ridiculous. You can't be anyone's mother, you haven't even started eleventh grade. You will hand this infant over to Sister Margaret now, and when it's time to sign the adoption papers you will sign them. Because if you don't sign them, we won't be taking you or it back home with us."

Joyce let that piece of information sit for a moment and then continued on quietly, "Do you know what PINS means, Buffy? It means a 'Person in need of supervision'. And that is what you will be if you try to walk out of here without signing those papers. Because your father and I will not put up with this. You've had your fun, played the party girl, the slut, sneaked out of the house, and now had a baby out of wedlock at fifteen years old. It would be a very simple thing for us to go before a judge and simply tell him that we've tried our best with you but you are simply incorrigible and you need to go to juvenile hall. And you know what will happen to your baby then, Buffy? Foster care, that's what. And foster care is not a place you want to see your baby grow up in. But that's exactly what will happen if you refuse to go through with the adoption. I promise you as God is my witness, whether you sign those papers or not, you will not be raising this child."

xxxx

In the end the nurse took the baby away to the nursery. Buffy couldn't believe how hollow and miserable she felt as she watched her child whisked away forever. Her mother was saying something about her father being out of town so he wouldn't be coming to the hospital to visit her, and that after all it was for the best, they could 'get on with their lives' once again now this 'terrible period had passed', blah blah blah. Buffy tuned out her words, staring blankly at the wall. She was concentrating hard to remember forever the feel of her daughter in her arms, the way she smelled, the softness of the downy hair on her head, the tiny little fingers closing around her own finger...these she must not forget, must always remember. Eventually her mother went home for the night.

The nurse returned with dinner and tried to cheer her up with happy talk about boys and dates and school and all the things that Buffy had to look forward to just as every young girl does.

"Don't worry Buffy, your life will pick up again and before you know it you'll have forgotten all about this and be having the time of your life in high school, dating and going to the dances. This is the best time of your life. Just have a little faith, you'll see how this will all work out for the best." Nurse Susan chirped happily as she took away the uneaten dinner and straightened up the bed clothes.

Buffy gave no indication she was really listening and Nurse Susan sighed deeply and left Buffy to the silence of her room. To anyone watching, Buffy looked for all the world like a girl who had lost her best friend and was in a serious depressive funk, but they'd be wrong. Nurse Susan had said something that sparked the turning of gears and the making of plans, serious and foolhardy plans. Maybe there was a way to keep her baby after all.

"You've just gotta have faith," Buffy whispered to herself. Faith.

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Author's Note #1: We're still in back-storyville right now but don't worry, there'll be Spuffy along in the near future. Thank you for your review.

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Chapter Two
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Escape From New York

Never underestimate the importance of good friends, especially good friends who are as naively optimistic as you are. It never even occurred to Buffy that her plan might fail, or be dangerous, and her stubborn optimism was infectious. She slipped out to a pay phone in the lobby; a few discreet calls later and Buffy's friends were on a mission. Amy Madison slipped into Buffy's house by climbing up the tree and into a bathroom window, just as Buffy directed her, and packed a carry-on bag of her clothes and some personal items, including the money Buffy had been saving from Christmas and birthday to buy new post-pregnancy clothes. Amy took the bag to the agreed rendezvous site and waited.

At eight-thirty that night Buffy was permitted to visit with her baby alone in her room 'one last time' before she had to give her up forever.

A different nurse brought the baby to her this time, and Buffy told her she wanted to give the baby her name now.

"Well, the baby is being adopted right away, and I'm sure the new parents will wish to name her," the nurse gently reminded her.

"I know. And they can change her name when she's adopted, but I want to give her a name I've chosen, so that for a little while she'll have been mine too. You know?" Buffy begged tearfully.

"If you really want to do that, then I guess that's not a problem. I'll get the papers for you."

"Thanks." Buffy smiled gratefully.

Well quickly, then. She had to come up with a name for this baby now. She hadn't really given it a lot of thought previously, as she believed she wouldn't have anything to do with the baby, and both her parents and the staff had told her the baby was going to another home right away. So, what name would she put on the birth certificate?

When the nurse returned with the papers, Buffy filled them out quickly and signed them. There. Her baby was now officially Katharine Marie Summers, for her great grandmothers. Buffy may not be able to give her daughter her family right now, but she could give her her heritage. She thought maybe Gramma and Nana would look down from heaven and be pleased with their beautiful little namesake, and perhaps watch out for little Katharine as well. She'd take help from anywhere that offered it right about now.

When the nurse left the room with the signed birth papers, Tara McClay saw her opportunity and slipped in quietly. The two girls hugged and Tara made over the baby a minute, while Buffy dressed quickly. With Tara acting as a lookout, Buffy made her way out of the hospital via the emergency stairs, her daughter tucked under her coat. Tara had brought a bag with sterile bottles filled with water, diapers, a pacifier, and some infant clothes and blanket belonging to her little brother. The fact that the blanket and clothes just screamed 'boy' was a plus, as anyone looking out for Buffy would think the baby was a boy and not a girl and perhaps not make any connection. For the first time since she could remember, Tara was glad for her large family, and her newest little brother's recent birth had come in very handy.

By the time anyone realized they were gone, Buffy and Tara had met up with Amy at Penn Station, where Amy had bought a ticket for her under an alias with a fake ID. By midnight, Buffy and baby were well on their way to California and Amy and Tara had slipped back into their homes with no one the wiser, proving once again that God does indeed watch over children and fools.

xxxx

Buffy didn't know a lot about babies, but she was infinitely grateful that hers slept so much her first few days of life. It made the train ride much less stressful for both her and her fellow passengers. She couldn't be sure the passengers would forget riding with a young mother with a baby 'boy', but she was certain they would remember a two day trip with a screaming infant. She took the fact that her baby was pretty easy to quiet down as another sign that she was doing the right thing, that she was meant to go down this road she had set herself upon.

Her breasts were full and painful, so in spite of her complete lack of information on the 'how to' of nursing, Buffy gave it her all. That was another thing no one thought to mention to her, how much nursing hurt. She did not recall seeing nursing mothers wincing in pain when their infants drank from them, and feared she might be doing it wrong, but since she could think of no better alternative to her full breasts and hungry infant, she set about enduring the feeding as best she could. The baby seemed to be content with the process, so Buffy decided she must be doing something right after all. Each time it hurt a little bit less.

Another thing Buffy had not anticipated was how much unwanted attention new mothers and babies attract, especially from older women. 'Mi baby es su baby' seemed to be the unwritten rule of the grandmotherly set. So she smiled and nodded and took any advice they cared to offer, no matter how strange it seemed to her. She made up a whole false identity for herself as the young wife of a soldier, on her way to California to live with her husband's parents while he was overseas. When asked her baby's name, she told them 'his' name was 'Jordan', after his father. By the time they arrived in California, she had spun so many wonderful tales about her courtship, wedding, and life with her young husband that she had almost forgotten that the story was untrue. When it was time to disembark in Los Angeles and the false identity was no longer necessary, Buffy found herself a little lost inside. It was time to be Buffy again, fifteen year old ignorant new mother with no visible means of support, and she thought how much better it would have been to be that beloved young wife of the soldier she had spun her stories around.

Buffy sat down in Union Station and began to have serious doubts about her ability to pull this off successfully. She worried her bottom lip as she thought of all the things that could go wrong. There was so much uncertainty in her life now, could she actually be a real mother to this baby? Was she being trailed already? Would she be found out and forced back to New York and all the terrible consequences her mother had threatened to rain down upon her? She suddenly felt very small, very young, and very much alone.

Lost in her dark thoughts, Buffy was caught by surprise by a tap on her shoulder. She leaped to her feet and whirled quickly around, letting out her breath in relief when she saw who stood before her. Her shoulders sagged as she mock-scowled her hello.

"Hey kid! Don't I know you from some place? It was that party last week at the Whiskey, right?" smirked the dark haired young woman standing before her.

Buffy rolled her eyes and smiled. "Hi Faith."

xxxx

"I called my mom yesterday, and she said Aunt Joyce had called to say you'd run away with your baby and no one knew where you'd run to."

"Oh God, you didn't say anything did you?"

"'Course not, B, I told you you're safe with me here. Geeze, give me some credit." Faith frowned. "Actually, my mom was more upset with Aunt Joyce than with you running off. 'How can Joyce be so cruel to her own daughter? What was she thinking, telling Buffy all that crap about giving up her kid and putting her in juvie', and on and on. It was hard to get her off the phone she was going on so much, you know how my mom can be when she gets going on a subject."

Faith took a long drag off her cigarette and rolled down her car window to flick the ash out of the car. "Anyway, no one has any idea you've managed to come out here and from what my mom said she doesn't think Aunt Joyce and Uncle Hank are going to be looking too hard for you. 'She made her bed, let her lie in it' seemed to be Aunt Joyce's big phrase according to my mom. But I wouldn't take any chances, just lay low and no one will know you're out here and you can start all over, clean slate." Faith looked over at Buffy holding the sleeping baby in her lap, and frowned, "Well, clean slate plus one, anyway."

"Thanks." Buffy mumbled. "How far is Sunnydale?"

"'Another hour or so. You hungry yet?"

"No, let's just get to your place. I could use a real bath and some sleep."

"Sure thing." Faith looked hard at Buffy, "But one thing though - you're getting up with short stuff, not me. I've gotta go to work early in the morning and I can't be getting up all night taking care of your kid. Okay?"

"Of course. I've got it covered. My kid, my responsibility. So far she's pretty quiet too." Buffy assured her. "She's a good baby."

"Yeah, okay. Hope you're right. I need my beauty rest you know?" Faith smirked.

"Tell me about it," Buffy teased back, just ducking in time to avoid receiving a friendly smack to the back of her head.

"You can settle in for a few weeks, but eventually you're gonna need to work too, you know? Bring in some cash for food and stuff for the baby. I don't exactly make a lot of money at the auto shop and kids ain't cheap."

Faith glanced sideways at her cousin, and saw the sadness and fear in her features as she stared silently out the car window. "But hey, we'll do alright, don't worry. I know this girl who does housecleaning jobs for cash, she does pretty well for herself. I could hook you up with her, get you some work. Since it's all informal and cash and stuff, you wouldn't need to show ID or pay taxes or show up on anybody's radar or nothin'. It'd be enough for now."

Buffy thought about what Faith was saying and nodded with a small smile. That was another thing no one had ever told her about being a mom; that you'd take any crappy job you could get to keep you and your kid in food and shelter and be grateful for it.

Buffy looked long and lovingly at her sleeping little girl and sighed. Her own childhood had slipped away from her, and she had just now realized its passing. She was the grown-up now. She was mom. God help her.

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Chapter Three
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Warning: This chapter contains some discussion of sexual assault/rape. It is not graphic and is only a brief discussion. If you are sensitive to these issues please take this into consideration when reading this particular chapter.

Where The Heart Is

As Faith drove into Sunnydale via the coastal highway, Buffy was impressed by the beauty of the California coast. Rugged trees overlooking the rocks and sand on the beaches below the cliffs added a wild charm to the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. She could see what Faith saw in her chosen west coast home. As they continued to drive into the city they left the coast behind and entered Sunnydale proper. The ocean views were replaced by the small town charm of little stores, beautifully kept homes, and clean, tree lined streets. Just as Buffy was thinking that she could definitely see herself living here, Faith continued driving east into an area that was less with the charm and more with the run down industrial ambience.

Well, this is depressing, Buffy thought to herself., but it's not too far from the other part so that's not too bad…

But Faith continued driving along a winding industrial road about another twenty minutes, past three cemeteries and a large park that had seen better days, until they reached the other side of the industrial area, and entered another older part of town where the run down houses and apartment buildings were interspersed with empty lots, liquor stores, bars, thrift shops, and auto repair and machine shops. It was hard to reconcile this seedy part of town with the charming little burg they entered from the coast highway. Buffy's spirits plummeted when she realized Faith was slowing down in front of an old three story brick building situated between a veterinarian's office and a thrift store, and parked directly in front of a bar.

"Welcome home, B," Faith grinned at her cousin.

Buffy had been staring disconsolately at a homeless man walking drunkenly down the mouth of a nearby alley when Faith's cheerful words penetrated her brain. Home!

Buffy turned toward Faith and frowned, "You live in a bar?"

"No, B! Above the bar, top floor!" Faith laughed. "See the door to the left there? It goes straight up to the second and third floors where the apartments are. No elevator though, that's the one bad thing."

The one bad thing?! Buffy silently cried. Oh. My. God. That guy is peeing in the alley.

"Let's get your stuff upstairs and unpacked, then you can have that bath and nap you wanted." Faith, completely oblivious to Buffy's internal dialogue, opened her door and got the bags out of the trunk. "You need some help gettin' out?" she called back to Buffy when the latter had still not moved from her seat.

It was at this point that Buffy snapped out of her shock and awkwardly left the car with Katie fast asleep in her arms. She followed Faith up the steep staircase to the third floor, and into a rear-facing apartment. Faith put the bags down and turned to Buffy.

"It ain't much, but it's home. This here's the living room - pretty good size dontcha think? - and to the back left, that's the kitchen. That door way on the right is the hall. The bathroom's down at the left end of the hall, and my room's in the middle, and your room is to the right. There's four apartments on each floor so we get the east and southern sunlight since we're on the southeast corner here." Faith picked up the bags again and motioned Buffy to follow her down the little hallway to the right.

"Well, here's your room. Not much in it right now, but we can pick up some stuff by hitting the garage sales this Saturday, and the thrift store gets new shipments every Monday morning so the best stuff to pick from is there then. We can see what they have first thing Monday mornin'."

Buffy nodded her understanding as she looked around her new room, which had two fairly large old sash windows, sans curtains, on the far side of the room. It had a strangely patterned dark brown linoleum floor with no carpet. A fairly decent although hideous orangey/brown patterned futon sofa was against the right wall, and a little dresser stood next to it with the ugliest white ceramic table lamp Buffy had ever seen gracing it's top. A very small closet was on the near left side, and there were a couple of cardboard boxes with someone's stuff in them against the same wall.

Faith noticed Buffy looking toward the boxes. "Those are my ex's things he didn't come back for when he left coupla months ago." There was a sadness in her voice as she said this, and Buffy had the impression that the breakup was a source of real pain to her cousin. "He was an artist. Can you believe it? Me with an artist?! Man, shoulda known that wasn't gonna work out, huh?" Faith attempted to make light of a situation that had clearly broken her heart.

Buffy didn't know what to say to that, so she settled for a smile and a nod which she hoped conveyed her sympathy and understanding. Faith wasn't known for over-sharing her emotional traumas, and Buffy didn't want to seem too inquisitive until Faith was in a more sharing mode. She assumed alcohol would be involved at that point, if past experience was any indicator.

"I know it isn't much right now, no one actually lived in this room before, you know? Greg used to paint in here...But we'll get it fixed up more homey for you in no time." Faith smiled as she opened the closet up. "There're hangars in here, and the sheets and pillows for the bed over there are on the shelf here. Don't worry, they're all clean and stuff, and there's two blankets here too. Besides Greg painting in here, we sometimes had friends spend the night in here so it was kinda a guest room, you know?" Faith started making up the futon bed for Buffy. "You wanna go sit down a minute in the livin' room while I get the bed ready? Put the kid down? You must be wiped."

"Yeah, I really am. Thanks Faith." Buffy smiled at her cousin and wandered back to the living room sofa and sat down carefully.

Nope, that won't work, Buffy thought as her soreness from giving birth combined with her long sitting during travel finally overwhelmed her.

Must. Lay. Down. Now.

Buffy carefully placed the sleeping baby on the seat of a faux leather-like recliner and then lay down slowly on the hard dark green sofa, using a throw pillow under her head. Another upholstered chair - in a strange blue-green fabric with seahorses all over it - sat in the opposite corner, and a coffee table and end table along with the mate of the ugly white lamp in the bedroom completed the living room furniture. There was also a large round shaggy green rug that covered most of the floor here, which was the same dark brown linoleum as the bedroom. It appeared the entire apartment had the same strange flooring. God, it must get cold in here at night. Buffy shivered. Actually, it's kinda cold now. She reached up and pulled a brown and yellow granny-square afghan from the back of the sofa over herself and got to thinking about the differences between her life and Faith's.

Buffy's mother Joyce was her Aunt Darlene's younger sister. Where Joyce's entire life revolved around status and money and appearances, Darlene had been a wild child with an insatiable thirst for life, who dropped out of high school to live with her boyfriend. While Darlene went through husbands and boyfriends and tended bar for a living, Joyce graduated from college with a degree in art history and married Hank Summers, who would become a very successful attorney practicing international law. Darlene had one daughter, Faith, who she raised in ratty houses and apartments and exposed her to the seamier side of life and men; Joyce had two daughters, Buffy and her thirteen year old sister Dawn, and raised them in a beautiful suburban home in Westchester County New York and sent them to the finest private schools. Darlene was down to earth and friendly, but with a quick temper, a foul mouth, and a tendency to turn to drink more and more as the years rolled on. Joyce was cultured and polite and presented the picture of the perfect calm and collected society woman, with a tight smile that could cut steel when she felt one of her daughters had wandered too far afield from their perfect manicured life. Joyce's dirty little secret was that she too was turning to a bottle a little more than was good for her as her life carried on it's carefully planned course.

Faith and Buffy saw each other frequently over their short lives, as Darlene lived close by, although in a seedier area of the county, and they had bonded over their shared irritation at the women who mothered them. At two and a half years older than Buffy, Faith was seventeen when she decided she couldn't live with her mom's latest boyfriend, so she dropped out of school and ran off to California to get as far away as possible and start her own hopefully better life. Buffy missed Faith like crazy, but secretly the girls kept in close touch by letter and phone, and Buffy respected her cousin's wish to keep her actual location unknown to the rest of the family.

As for Buffy, when she turned fourteen she felt she couldn't take one more day of that perfectly planned and circumscribed life her mother had plotted out for her. She started hanging with a rowdier group of girls at school and soon was climbing out her bedroom window to sneak off to clubs and dances that she was really too young to be going to. A fake ID and a winning smile - along with a very sexy outfit - was usually enough to get Buffy and her friends into any club they wished to enter. Joyce eventually caught on to what Buffy was doing and there were some fantastic screaming matches between the two during that year. Hank was rarely home anymore, as he was traveling overseas for work frequently, and from what Buffy could hear of her parents too frequent fights, he was cheating on her mom with regularity.

And so it was that one day, in May of her freshman year of high school, that Buffy found herself pregnant. A couple of months later, her parents discovered the fact, and after the screaming died down, her father flew off to Europe again and her mother found a maternity home in the city in which she could stash Buffy so that with any luck none of her society friends would be the wiser about the 'embarrassment'. At this point Dawn just sniffed disapprovingly at Buffy and refused to speak to her any longer. Buffy often thought that Dawn was the perfect Stepford daughter for Joyce, and that Buffy was a huge disappointment to her. She rather thought all three of them were a disappointment to her father.

As Buffy drifted off to sleep, she was stricken with the thought that she was going down the same path her Aunt Darlene had so many years before. She loved Faith so much, but she did not want to raise her daughter the way Faith had been raised, nor did she want for her the life that Faith was now living. On the other hand, her mother's sterile existence of garden parties and club meetings was out of the question too. There must be a middle way, Buffy pondered, another way to live and raise my daughter so that she can be both free and happy, without ending up in a ratty apartment like this one someday. Another way...

xxxxx

About an hour later Buffy woke to the smell of spaghetti and garlic bread wafting from the little kitchen. She glanced over to the recliner and saw that Katie had been changed into a new jumper and blanket and was asleep again. Thanks Faith, Buffy silently sent out to her cousin. The new clothes must mean a diaper change too, Buffy thought. She looked at the clock and quickly figured she had about one hour before hunger would waken the sleeping infant again, so she got heavily to her feet and found Faith in the kitchen.

Food. God, yes!

Faith smiled brightly. "Just in time! Late lunch/early dinner. I changed the kid but the blanket and pajamas were all wet too so I dumped 'em in the laundry basket and put new ones on her. Then she just went back to sleep. You were so out of it you didn't even twitch the whole time she was cryin'," she laughed. "Sit down, let's eat!"

Buffy was famished, and tucked into her food hungrily. After most of the food was gone, Buffy noticed that Faith was eyeing her inquisitively as she ate.

"What?"

"Nothin'," Faith drawled. But then she seemed to think better of it and continued, "I was just wonderin' about the baby and all. Last I talked to you, you were still all virginal and didn't have a boyfriend or anything. Then - bam! Baby. So what happened, B? And where's the daddy in all this? If you don't mind talking about it, that is. I don't wanna upset you or nothin'." Faith seemed genuinely concerned, and Buffy hadn't really told anyone the truth before. Maybe she should tell someone. So Buffy began to trust Faith with her story.

"Nine months ago, my friend Amy and I snuck out to go to a party at an NYU dorm in the city. It was a good party, and we were having a good time at first, but then Amy's mom called her cell phone and so Amy had to leave to go home right away. I was stupid and told Amy that I'd go home in a bit since I was talking to this really cute guy and I didn't want to leave yet. Amy didn't want to leave me there but I had had some drinks and insisted on staying. So I really can't blame anyone else for what happened that night." Buffy stopped and stared down at her hands in her lap.

"What happened, B?" Faith was becoming very worried about the direction this story was going, and reached over and grabbed one of Buffy's hands and held on. Buffy continued, grateful for the support.

"I'd had some drinks, and later on I thought maybe someone put something in my drink too, because suddenly I was really dizzy and sleepy and needed to lay down. This guy I was talking to helped me into a dorm room and two other guys were in there too but that's the last thing I remember for a few hours. When I woke up I was on the bed...alone...and my dress was on me all twisted up...and...I was really sore...and you know...sticky...there... and I figured out that something must've happened to me with those guys when I passed out..." Tears were rolling down her cheeks now, and Faith moved her chair over next to her and put her arms around her shoulders as Buffy cried.

"I'm so sorry, B."

"Yeah," Buffy sniffed, and wiped her eyes and nose with a napkin. "I went home right away - this girl who lived there took me home - but I was just too scared and embarrassed to tell anyone what happened that night. I just wanted to forget it ever happened and just call it a learning experience and go on with my life, you know?" Faith nodded. "And that was working out okay, you know, I just decided to forget about it. Until a couple months went by and my period didn't come and I started getting sick and...and..." Buffy stopped again to blow her nose, "then I couldn't pretend anymore, couldn't forget...I took three home tests and they were all positive. God, I was sooo scared, Faith. You know my mom! She'd freak out, and I was fifteen! So I kept putting it off, telling her, you know, until one day she walked in on me undressing for bed and saw that I was starting to show and it was kinda obvious at that point and my mom just stared at me for the longest time. I mean, no words, no sound, nothing. We just kept looking at each other. Then she walked really slow, over to me and slapped my face really hard..."

Flashback

Buffy stood in her room and brought her hand up to her cheek where her mother had slapped her and started to cry.

"Don't!" Joyce bit out. "Don't you dare cry, Buffy. Don't. You. Dare."

But Buffy just cried harder as she saw her mother's cold glare directed toward her. She wanted so much to throw herself in Joyce's arms and cry and beg forgiveness and have her mom hold her and tell her everything was going to be okay, she'd make it all okay. But it wasn't that mom that was staring icily at her right now. The mom looking back at her now was a cold stony woman with hate in her eyes. For the first time in her life Buffy was truly frightened of her mother.

"Slut." There it was. The word that stopped Buffy's heart. Such an ugly word and it came from her mother, the thing that deep down inside Buffy feared she had become. And suddenly there was no pain, just a cold icy numbness that centered itself in her heart and expanded outward until it became all that Buffy could feel. And yet the tears didn't stop, but Buffy hardly noticed them coursing down her cheeks any longer. She just watched her mother turn around and walk out of her bedroom and away from her forever. That was the beginning of the new terms of the relationship between mother and daughter.

Buffy slowly finished dressing in her pajamas, and then went to the top of the stairs to see what was happening down in the living room where she could see her mom standing talking animatedly with her father. Sharp angry words from her mother, punctuated with low angry growls from her father. She couldn't hear the words, but the body language told her that this did not look good for her. Suddenly her father looked up right at her. The angry cold expression on his face made Buffy back up a step in unconscious self-preservation. Her mother followed his line of vision, and called to her to get down there now.

Regretting her decision not to lock herself in her room sooner, Buffy made her way down the stairs toward her unhappy parents.

End Flashback

"That was a long night," Buffy shivered. "Dad left for another conference in South Africa, and mom made arrangements for me to go to a home for pregnant teenagers in the city. She said she wanted me away so no one would find out what I'd done and they could get rid of the baby as soon as it was born." Buffy looked quickly at Faith, "Get rid of to an adoptive family, not, you know, dead or anything."

Faith nodded and asked, "God B, that's horrible. Didn't she even consider not giving the baby away?"

"No, she wouldn't even have a conversation about it. She just wanted everything to go back to 'normal' again. 'Normal, normal, normal'. It's all I ever heard from mom the whole time I was pregnant. 'Get back to normal life and go on as if nothing happened.' The people at the home were big on adoption too, and kept telling me how I was young and needed to give Katie up to people who 'could give her everything she deserves.'" Buffy added sarcastically, "Everything but her own mother." She sighed as her tears slowed and she became calmer. "So I just thought, okay, I'll just be the baby machine here and when she's born I'll just hand her to these people - the Andersons - and get back into my own life and go on. I kinda kept going that way until she was born, and then...it was too much, Faith. She was so beautiful - in an ugly red wrinkly troll doll kinda way - and I just loved her right from the start. I made them let me hold her and mom freaked on me then. But then a nurse said something about having faith, and I thought of you, and well you know the rest..."

"And you never told your mom what happened to you?"

"No! That would have been even worse! I just told her I had an older boyfriend she didn't know and that he left me when I told him I was pregnant and she bought it completely. God, I couldn't tell her that I didn't even know who the father was! She probably woulda beat me to death or my dad would've."

"Yeah, but you were raped, B."

"So? It was still my fault for going there and drinking, and...they would've never forgiven me then, Faith. God, they won't really forgive me now...Anyway, I begged mom to let me keep her but she just refused, said I couldn't come home and that I was too young to live on my own and that the authorities wouldn't let me keep Katie unless I lived at home so I had no choice and had to sign the papers. I overheard them saying they were keeping me in the hospital for three days partly to recover and partly cuz there's a 72 hour rule about signing the adoption papers or something, so I had a lot of time to lay there and think about it and finally I decided to call you and ask you to help me keep Katie. If it wasn't for you, Faith, I don't know what I could have done. I love you so much!"

Buffy hugged Faith hard and kissed her cheek, then drew back and continued, "But you know the worst part now?" Faith shook her head, she couldn't really think of anything worse than what she'd already been told so far. "The worst part is that I had sex." Faith frowned quizzically. "I mean, I had sex for the first time. I lost my virginity Faith, and I don't even remember it. I'm not a virgin, but I don't even know what sex is like. It's so weird. I feel dirty and used and..."

"Shit." Faith's jaw dropped. This was worse than she thought. Imagine... "B, I can't say for sure what I would have done if that had happened to me, but I'm pretty sure it would have ended with me in jail for killing someone. Fuck!" Faith got up and started pacing the small kitchen. She turned to Buffy suddenly and forcefully declared, "But you have no reason to feel dirty Buffy! And that wasn't sex! That wasn't your first time!" Faith sat down and grabbed both of Buffy's hands in hers, "Hear me now, B. That. Wasn't. Your. First. Time. That. Was. Assault. Not. Sex." Faith pumped both her hands to emphasize her point. "Your first time hasn't happened yet, B. And it's gonna be just as special as it is for any girl, you got me? I'm serious, B. I'm pissed that you can't remember and that those jackoffs got away scott free, but in a way it's a good thing you can't remember. You shouldn't ever have to remember something like that. Ever!...Ever..."

Buffy was trembling by this time with the effort of self-control, but then the dam burst for real and she began to sob uncontrollably in Faith's arms. Faith held Buffy as her cries wound down, and there came a moment when Buffy felt safe and at peace for the first time in a very long while.

Katie's wakeful cries interrupted the quiet between the two cousins, and Faith called out, "Hang on a minute, Katie. Auntie Faith'll be right there." She turned to Buffy. "Why don't you go in the bathroom and wash up and get in your pajamas and I'll bring Katie in to you so you can nurse her in bed and go to sleep for a while. You look like you could use the rest now."

Buffy nodded and did as she was told, falling into sleep with her daughter by her side. A little later on, Faith came into her room with a dresser drawer lined with sheets and a small blanket and placed the now sleeping baby in it by her young mother's bedside. Faith watched them both sleeping peacefully for a few minutes, then closed the door and went to wash up the dishes.

There were a lot of decisions that would have to be made and life was going to be hard for them for awhile, perhaps for always. But for now, some peace and quiet was just what was needed. Faith vowed they would at least get that for now.

Tomorrow would take care of itself.

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Chapter Four
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Rude Awakenings

That first week in Sunnydale was a time when real life took a swing against hopeful fantasy and knocked it on it's ass. Buffy had thought that once she made it to California and to her cousin Faith her big problems would be over and things would settle quickly into place in their new life. So it was with astonishment that she felt like her world was crumbling over and over again her first few days there.

The first and foremost problem was that Katie cycled every four hours or so between the most adorable sleeping baby in the world to the most god-awful screeching banshee that the poor girl had ever heard. Buffy's entire existence narrowed down into desperately doing whatever it took to make the screeching stop as soon as possible, and getting enough rest became her one goal in life, one that she did not see herself achieving any time soon. She walked the walk of the living dead. The very poorly dressed, pudgy living dead.

Which was problem number two: Amy had packed her things for her, and was able to find the jewelry, hidden money, photo album, and Mr Gordo the stuffed pig that she had been directed to, much to Buffy's grateful relief. However, she did not do nearly so well with the clothing. This was not entirely Amy's fault. Buffy had naively assumed that when you pop out a baby your figure would melt down to something closer to normal human size. Instead, she barely registered a difference between her pregnant figure and her post-pregnancy dimensions. None of the clothes Amy packed looked like they would fit her before they were hopelessly out of style. This left her with the maternity blouse and jeans she wore out of the hospital and a set of powder blue sweats. For a girl whose passion had been the latest fashions, it was rather like being consigned to the third circle of hell.

The combination of the stress of being a runaway, new motherhood, too little sleep, raging hormones, and clothes that made her feel like a thirty year old homeless woman, had Buffy teetering on the edge of her sanity. A few sudden and completely unexpected blow-ups had Faith circling her warily lest something set her off again.

Once Buffy realized her clothing options were unacceptable, she decided that she would simply stay behind in the apartment at all times until she had the figure to wear something decent she already owned out the door. However, that plan was shot to hell when she realized that this meant that Faith would be making all of the decisions on her furniture and clothing. Buffy had never given it much thought until she had seen Faith's decor, but she now wondered whether it were possible that Faith was colorblind. She could think of no other reason for the color scheme throughout the apartment, and after all, Faith did tend toward black and red in her wardrobe. The very thought of Faith coming back home with more of the same questionable choices spurred Buffy to rethink her stay-at-home plan.

So, first thing Sunday morning, the girls went shopping. Buffy still had about eight hundred dollars after paying for the train fare, food, and diapers during her escape from New York. She needed to make it stretch for awhile, until she felt strong enough to bring some money into the home herself. They picked up a new car seat to keep Katie safe while in the car, a baby bathtub, and some disposable diapers, wipes, and baby shampoo. Buffy felt bad about the prospect of living on Faith's meager earnings, and bought a little notebook in which to keep a careful tab of the items that Faith paid for, intending some day to be able to pay her back. Then they hit the three thrift shops in Sunnydale for used baby clothes, and bought some dresses, sweat pants, and t-shirts for Buffy that were not too terrible although still quite mortifying to the young girl. She began to understand Faith's choices by the time they were done shopping. Thrift stores, Buffy now understood, were the places hideous merchandise went to die.

They would wait for the weekend garage sales before buying furniture for the room or the baby, in hopes of getting better prices for better items sold by private parties. Surely, it couldn't be worse.

When they got home, Buffy put her new purchases away and shuffled over to the futon bed, laying herself down with a care for her aching muscles. Closing her eyes, she thought, Well, there it is. I am now officially living in a country western song. Only thing missing is a trailer and a dog...and whiskey.

Katie immediately woke up and started winding up again in her little drawer-bed. Of course. Buffy began to cry. "Lunch for one, coming right up." Mother and daughter cried together that afternoon.

xxxxx

Faith left for work each day that week with a sense of tremendous relief. It was the first time she had ever looked forward to going to the auto shop instead of staying home. She wasn't used to being awakened at all hours by a squalling infant, and Buffy's short temper was getting on her nerves. The Great Baby Invasion was more stressful than she had imagined it would be, and she too longed for some much needed rest.

"Faith!" Frank bellowed.

Faith was brought out of a dazed trance by her boss's gravelly bellow from deep inside the storage room.

"Yeah!?" she turned and found Frank standing directly behind her. "Shit! Don't do that!" she backed up a step and glared at him. "Give me a heart attack why dontcha!"

The large man just frowned and barreled right into the problem of the moment. "This here order is for a hundred fifty alternators. Should be fifteen. And snow tires? I asked you to order all season radials. Pull it together Faith! Can't afford these kind of mix-ups in the inventory." He shoved the form into her chest and lumbered off to the service bays.

Faith stared glumly at his retreating back, and swore softly to herself. She hated this job, but she couldn't afford to lose it. However, she was barely conscious of what she was doing any more. She needed some uninterrupted sleep pronto.

One of the service mechanics overheard the exchange and quietly approached her. "Hey Faith."

"Hey Ed." Faith didn't even look up from her work.

Ed pulled up a chair and leaned in toward her personal space.

"Can I help you with something?" Faith asked slowly, as though speaking to a lunatic. Ed kinda creeped her out on a good day, but this up close and personal invasion of her space was new.

"Any time, sweetheart, just say the word," he smirked.

"In your dreams, Mercado." she snapped.

"Yeah, well, speakin' of dreams...you seem a little tired lately. Trouble sleepin'?"

"Uh-huh." Faith once again was focused on her task, hoping Ed would take a hint and get lost.

"Maybe I can help with that."

"You're married, and you're not my type. Give it up."

Ed laughed silkily, "Well, there's that. But I was thinkin' of something else to help you sleep." He pulled out a small bag of pills and displayed it beneath the desk, well hidden from prying eyes. "Guaranteed to help you get a good night's sleep."

Faith's eyes followed Ed's arm down to the little bag of pills he was offering her. She geared up to yell at him to get lost but found herself instead closing her mouth and actually contemplating the offer. She knew she couldn't maintain much longer on the job without decent sleep, but she also knew that sleeping pills were not without their own risks.

"Nu-uh. No thanks. I appreciate the offer, but I just need to get some sleep - the natural way - and I'll be fine. Thanks anyway." she watched as he pocketed the bag and stood to go.

"Okay, well if you change your mind, you know where to find me."

"Yeah, I'll do that. But I'm sure it won't come to that. Thanks again." Faith stared after him as Ed headed back into the service bays. No way was she going to start that shit. She just needed some real sleep. These nights couldn't last forever, and she'd just be sure to double-check her work for now. Everything was going to be fine.

xxxxxxx

An apartment unit situated over a bar, next to an alley, and to the side of a veterinary kennel offered few benefits to the residents, and peace and quiet was not usually part of the ambience. Where Buffy and Faith lived on the third floor, the noise from all three was somewhat lessened, although never completely muffled. However, for those unfortunates who lived on the second floor, the music, fighting, clanging of trashcans, and barking dogs was an ever-present background noise, and one grew used to it in much the same way as those who live near waterfalls cease hearing the water rushing past after a while.

It was in one of these second floor apartments that a small thin young woman with long mousy brown hair and nondescript clothing paced worriedly back and forth, wondering what on earth was happening upstairs. A baby, very young from the sound of it, had been crying nonstop for three and a half hours now, and the woman had become more frantic that it stop with each passing minute. There was something in a very young infant's cries that was akin to fingernails on a chalkboard, nature's way of making sure an adult somewhere met it's infant needs and shut it up. Somehow, nature's plan was not working this week, and the incessant howling was driving the young woman to distraction.

She was a very shy woman, and did not tend to stick her nose in other people's business, especially around here, and would have happily kept out of things were it not for the loud crash of a door slamming, followed by the deep sobbing that now could be heard coming from the apartment directly upstairs. Something wasn't right, and the young woman was now determined to find out what it was. If someone needed help, she could not sit there and ignore it any longer.

xxxxxx

By mid-morning, Buffy had finally given up making any attempt at quieting Katie down. Nothing worked - she was dry, fed, burped, and dressed comfortably with no pins sticking her anywhere, and all the singing, rocking, walking, and soothing in the world did not lessen her wails a bit. By ten-thirty, Buffy had finally lost it completely and greatly feared she might actually throw the baby against a wall to get her to shut up. In a panic, the young mother placed her infant in the drawer-bed, and ran from her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. The next half-hour was spent sitting against the far living room wall, on the floor, arms wrapped around her knees, and sobbing uncontrollably. She just knew that her daughter had somehow, instinctively, figured out she had the worst mother in the world and the very fact that she could even consider hurting Katie to quiet her was all the proof that Buffy needed to prove her right.

Oh God, oh God, oh God, she chanted silently over and over again, rocking back and forth and sobbing as though her very world had ended.

Suddenly, there came a loud knock-knock-knock on the other side of the door. Buffy startled, stopped her chanting, stared in terror at the door, and held her breath. Someone was here! Who would come here?! Who would knock!? She only knew Faith, no one had any reason to knock on the door... Unless... Someone called the police... Someone had heard the crying and called the police and now Buffy was going to be discovered not only as a runaway and delinquent and possible kidnapper, but also as a horrible person who couldn't even get her own baby to stop crying, a person who had actually thought of throwing her own baby against a wall...

Oh God, oh God, oh God, the internal chanting started up again.

Buffy rose shakily to her feet and listened to hear if the person had given up and gone away. Knock-knock-knock. Buffy jumped. There it came again!

Oh God...

"Hello? Please open the door. I'm just the tenant from the apartment right below yours, and I heard all the crying and all and I was just wonderin' if there was anything I could do to help," the Voice on the Other Side of the Door called out.

Buffy remained completely still, not daring to breathe.

The Voice continued, "Really. I'd like to meet you, and perhaps I could help a bit. If you want. I don't want to intrude or anythin'. But I have a little boy, he's five now, and so I've had a little baby to take care of before, so I was thinkin' maybe you could use a hand. With the baby. A-and since we're neighbors and all, perhaps it would be nice to have a new friend. If you want. I don't want to interfere or anythin'..."

Buffy remained absolutely still.

"Um...Well, I guess I'll go then. I live in apartment 2C, right below yours, if you change your--"

Buffy unlocked the door and opened it to see the young woman nervously wringing her hands and babbling away in the doorway.

"...mind."

They stood there for a moment, and the young woman smiled at Buffy and offered her a handshake. "Hi. My name is Fred."

Buffy's lower lip began trembling and tears started up anew. "I'm Bu-bu-bu-bu-fee-ee-ee.."

"Oh sweetie." Fred smiled sympathetically, and shut the door softly. She pulled the young girl into her arms, and led her over to the sofa. "It's gonna be all right."

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Author's Note: There is method to my madness. Laying the groundwork is important in my story, and I have no intention of rushing things at this point. Please be patient, sit back, and enjoy the tale while it wends it's way to spuffiness. Remember, life is about the journey, not the destination. (But there is a destination, I swear!)

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Chapter Five
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Getting to Know You

Fred shut the door softly behind her and took Buffy into her arms, leading her to the sofa. "Oh sweetie, it's gonna be alright." Fred handed her a gob of tissues from a box on the coffee table, keeping her arm around Buffy's shoulders, and waited for the poor thing to calm a bit.

Buffy was still shuddering, tears falling freely, when she turned to face Fred. "I didn't want to hurt her..I didn't want to hurt her...I wouldn't hurt her, I wouldn't..." she shook her head back and forth. "I wouldn't..."

Fred's level of concern ratcheted up, but she schooled her face to hide it. "I know you wouldn't honey. You're a good mother." She glanced around the room quickly, and then caught the faint cries of the baby in the background somewhere. "Where is the baby, sweetie?"

"I didn't want to hurt her..." Buffy shook her head vigorously.

"I know, I know, sweetie." Fred squeezed her hand gently. "And where is the baby now?"

"In..in..the dra-wer. I..I put her in the drawer." Buffy nodded in a childlike manner. She felt as though she finally could stop being the grownup now, a real grownup had arrived to make everything all right again. Fred would've found it adorable, if she hadn't been so worried about what may have happened to the baby. Her prior concern had now wound itself up into actual fear. Where!?

"You shut the baby in a drawer?" Fred put her whole self into remaining calm and helpful on the outside, while inside she was dreading what she might find in this little apartment today.

"Yes, in the drawer." Buffy nodded, then frowned at her statement, "Not shut in the drawer, the drawer is her bed right now. In my bedroom," she clarified, trying to control her crying and accept whatever help this strange woman was offering her.

Fred allowed herself to relax a little bit, and asked, "Is it okay if I go see the baby for a minute? I'll come right back, okay? I just want to see how she's doing in there, okay?"

Buffy gave another childlike nod and pointed to the hallway door, "It's on the right side at the end. I shut the door so I wouldn't hear anymore..." She trailed off, and looked down at her hands in her lap as sadness enveloped her. She just knew she was a bad mother.

"Okay, then I'll be right back."

Fred went down the little hall and opened the door to peek into the room where Katie was still crying uncontrollably but not as loudly as before. From where Fred stood the child seemed to be fine, and she left quickly and closed the door again, returning to where Buffy still sat on the sofa with her legs curled under her. Buffy seemed a little calmer already, so that was a good sign.

"She's still crying, but she seems okay in there right now." Fred reassured the girl as she took her seat again. "She sure is a cute little thing. What's her name?"

"Katharine. Katie." Buffy said quietly, her tears finally having stopped and the exhaustion returned full force.

"That's a beautiful name." Fred smiled softly, and watched as the girl before her just seemed to deflate and lose all energy now that the panic and sobbing that had animated her lost it's force. "You did exactly the right thing today, Buffy."

Buffy glanced up sharply. "I did?"

"Yes. If you have a day like this one, where you are just so desperate that you don't think you can help yourself from doing something you'd regret, you just remember to do what you did today. Put the baby somewhere you know she'll be very safe, and then get yourself a little away from her until you can calm down enough to handle things again."

"Really?"

"Yes. Of course, you need to stay close by, you can't leave her alone in the apartment or anythin', but putting her in her bed all safe and closing the door so you can get yourself together in another room is the right thing to do. A little chilling out time for you." she assured her gently. "What happened today is very common for new mothers. The early weeks are very hard on us moms. Makes us doubt our sanity a bit. But we get through em, and so do the babies." Fred nodded reassuringly.

"Wow. I actually did something right," Buffy said wonderingly. She became lost in her own thoughts for a moment.

Fred contemplated how best to help this obviously very young mother of a baby who looked only days old. It would be noon in about thirty minutes, and she'd have to go pick up her own child from the kindergarten five blocks away. Whatever she did, she'd need to do it quickly.

"Okay, here's the thing with babies. They smell fear."

Buffy frowned in puzzlement. "They do?"

"Yes. Well, not exactly smell it, like animals do. But they get nervous if you're nervous, and the more nervous you get the more nervous the baby gets, and pretty soon you're looping a whole lot of nerves there, and you get days like this one." Fred thought a moment. "Or it could be gas," she nodded wisely. "But I kinda think it's the nervous thing this time. You burp her after she eats?"

Buffy nodded, "Yeah, always."

"Then it's probably the nerves. What we have to do is get her to settle down and feel more secure. And get you settled down and feeling more secure too. It's hard when you're new at all this and you haven't had any sleep, I know how that can be," she smiled helpfully. "I have a few tricks I learned the hard way. Would you mind if I tried to settle Katie down for you, get her calmer so she could perhaps nurse, or go to sleep?"

Buffy nodded quickly, relief flowing into her upon hearing Fred's offer. "God yes! Please, if you can get her calmed down that would be so great!"

Fred smiled and told Buffy to relax a minute and she'd see what she could do.

xxxx

Upon entering the bedroom and making herself known to Katie, Fred noted that the infant increased her cries again. Fred spoke silly baby talk to her while she examined her to see if she needed a diaper or clothing change, but seeing all was fine in those areas she grabbed a nearby baby blanket and set it on the bed. Picking up Katie, she placed her on the blanket and wrapped her very snugly within it's folds, and then carried her close to her chest. Katie calmed down immediately, and for the first time in almost four hours, the wailing ceased.

Fred held her for a little while, to see if she would go to sleep, but Katie still fussed a little bit in her arms and rooted for a breast. "I'll bet it's lunchtime for you, isn't it sweetie? Let's see if we can rustle up some grub for you."

xxxx

When Fred walked back into the living room with a tightly wrapped bundle of quiet-Katie, Buffy was both relieved and a little jealous. But mostly relieved.

"How did you do that?!" she mouthed a silent question.

"Experience. Days like this of my own," Fred whispered back. "Let's try to get her fed so she can sleep and so can you."

Buffy nodded, and went to take Katie from Fred's arms. Fred stepped back a bit, and warned her in a tight whisper, "Remember, no fear. If you don't feel confident, fake it. She's a baby, she won't know. Pretend you're a superhero, and you've been sent in to save the town from some monster or other. And you can't let the monster know you're afraid." Fred nodded at her. "Act it, become it."

Buffy smiled at the silly image of her as superhero, straightened her back and nodded more forcefully. "Cover me. I'm going in!" she whispered as she went to take Katie back again.

xxxx

Katie nursed her fill and fell asleep doing so. Buffy had never been so relieved at the sight of anything in her life, as she was at those two little eyes drifting shut. She placed the baby back in her little drawer-bed, and returned to tell Fred goodbye. It was ten after twelve, and the young woman couldn't stay a minute longer or she'd miss her own child's dismissal from school.

"Thank you sooo much!" she hugged Fred tightly. "I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't shown me how to do that."

"I'm glad I could help. Now you get some sleep, and we can talk again sometime soon, get to know each other better. I have other magic tricks I can do too!" she laughed, then remembered another bit of advice. "Oh! Speaking of tricks, she likes being wrapped snugly too. Makes her feel secure. You could try doing that - she reacted really well to being wrapped tightly in her blanket, fussed a lot less right away."

Buffy nodded, and began to feel as though she might be able to do the whole mom thing after all. Thanks to Fred, she had two new baby-tricks to use with Katie, and her instincts seemed to be right on track. Knowing she wasn't a bad mom meant the world to her right now.

They agreed together that they would talk at Fred's apartment on Friday morning, have tea and get better acquainted. Fred left that day knowing she'd done the right thing in going up there that morning. Buffy thought the same thing as she drifted off to sleep, feeling better than she had in quite a while.

It was wonderful to have the possibility of a friend again.

xxxx

Faith came home that evening with good news. A guy at work had come through with an excellent quality fake California ID for Buffy to use. The new birth date made her eighteen now, so she wouldn't get picked up for truancy if she was out during school hours and could whip it out to show anyone who required an ID for something. The New York fake ID would have stood out like a beacon here in little Sunnydale. Now she could blend.

The fake ID came from a man that Faith saw as potential boyfriend material. He had done the job at the request of a guy at work whose brother-in-law he was, and when he'd dropped the ID off for Faith they got to talking and discovered they had interests in common. Faith was excited at the prospect of seeing him again, and they'd made a date for lunch this Friday. Buffy was glad to see Faith so happy again. The sadness that tinged her demeanor the last week had now given way to cheerful hope, and things seemed to be looking up for both girls once again.

Buffy told Faith all about her day too - leaving out the grim panic that set in, and skipping to the part where she met Fred and felt she had found a friend in the young woman downstairs. Faith hadn't met Fred yet, as she kept to herself somewhat, and had made no real effort to meet her neighbors. She was happy, though, that Buffy had found another young mother to share with. Faith knew next to nothing about kids.

Since Faith had had to work late that day, Buffy had attempted dinner. Unfortunately, she only knew how to cook ramen, toast, and cereal. Since neither seemed very appetizing at the moment, she'd ordered pizza.

"Tomorrow's Thanksgiving," Buffy noted as she dug into a slice.

"Yeah." Faith ate silently, staring out the kitchen window.

Hmm, non-response. Try again. "Well, do you do anything for Thanksgiving?" she tried for hopeful enthusiasm, but it sounded to her ears a little like whining. Damn, have to work on that. Faith hates whining.

Faith turned back to Buffy, "Nah, not really. Last year I was with my mom so we did turkey day with your folks, remember? But now, I guess I hadn't really thought about it." She frowned. "You don't wanna do anything, do you? Cuz, I don't really cook like that, and it's kinda late to plan somethin'..."

"No, no. No problem," she quickly reassured her cousin. But Buffy was disappointed; she loved turkey. "I just wondered if I should be preparing for anything is all. I'm still wiped out from the last week and only have fat things to wear, so I'm good right here." She paused. "It's just..." she trailed off and looked somewhere else, anywhere but at Faith, "I love turkey!" Now she felt like a silly little girl. And there go the tears again! Damn! Hormones suck.

This was a development that took Faith by surprise, although in retrospect she felt she should have expected it. Buffy was still a kid at her core, and was looking at Faith like the adult here. And adults took care of things like holidays, and cooking, and...Dammit!

"Well, I could pick something up at the North Beach deli," Faith offered reluctantly. "I saw they were doing turkey and stuff to take out. If they still have some to sell, it's kinda late." Buffy's relieved smile was a welcome sight, even though it meant Faith would have to pull off this thing last minute. "I'm not sure about all the fixin's, but I think I might be able to get some turkey and stuffing for tomorrow. We could, you know, just keep it all informal and stuff, no big dinner to prepare or nothin'. That'd prob'ly be easier for you too, you know?" she nodded optimistically. Please say yes, please say yes.

"That sounds perfect! Thanks Faith." Buffy hugged her cousin for what seemed to Faith about the hundredth time in the last week. She endured it as best she could - she was not really a touchy-feely type girl outside of the sack - but thought that soon she would have to see about getting her to hold back a bit on the hugging. It was getting on her nerves.

All Buffy saw in Faith's demeanor was a promise and a smile. Faith would come through for her again, she just knew it. And Buffy smiled happily right back at her and snagged another slice.

xxxx

Friday morning Buffy and Fred settled in to talk over tea and cookies in Fred's living room. Katie was fast asleep on the bed in the next room.

Fred explained that she was married to Gary, and they had a little boy named Stevie who attended kindergarten in the mornings. Since it was a holiday, however, Stevie was on a play date down the street with a boy from his class, and the girls had the apartment to themselves for a few hours. They came to Sunnydale recently from Texas, when Gary got his new job. They were still trying to get on their feet from Gary being out of work for a couple of years in Texas. This was their new start in a new place. Fred was homesick a lot of the time, and wanted to return to Texas. Gary was pretty determined to make it work here, however. So here they stayed.

While Fred prepared the tea, Buffy took a look around her home. It was clean and simply decorated, with a definite casual country theme. Maple and plaid. It's a look. Buffy stopped dead still. Said the girl with no home and no money. Nevermind. It's perfect.

In one corner was a sewing machine and a pile of what looked like assorted mending. A dressmaker's dummy stood to one side with a skirt on it. Apparently Fred was a seamstress...

"Here we go!" Fred chirped happily as she brought in the tea tray and set it on the coffee table. "How do you like your tea?"

Buffy was new to the whole 'having tea' thing, and didn't know it came with choices. There was sugar on the tray. Sugar had to be a good choice, right? Iced tea had sugar and she liked that.

Stop obsessing. There's no right or wrong answer here. Choose "Some sugar would be good."

Fred smiled and prepared a tea cup for Buffy and one for herself as her guest settled down on the sofa next to her.

"So, Gary works on the oil rigs?" Buffy sipped her tea.

"Yeah, he goes out to the platform and stays on a week, then comes home for a week. It's weird having him gone all week, then just hanging out at home for the next week. Hard to get into a schedule and all. But the money's pretty good, and there's health benefits." She nodded. "It's good." The words were right, but the delivery carried a sadness behind it. Buffy felt she didn't know Fred well enough to pry, but decided she was going to pay attention and see what lay behind this. "He was on last week and this week too. He's covering for another man who had to go back home for a funeral. So, no Gary two whole weeks. Like I said, it's kinda weird sometimes."

"I guess it would be, getting used to that in and out schedule." Buffy nodded toward the sewing corner. "You sew?"

"Oh, yeah, since I was a little girl. I started out with Barbies, you know, and then my own clothes. Now I take in sewing from a coupla dry cleaners in town. Folks come in, they need a hem in new pants or a skirt, or to take in the waist, or let it out. That kind of thing. Get paid by the job, with a cut to the dry cleaners for the referral. It's just egg money."

Buffy didn't know what to say to that. Egg money? What's 'egg money'?

Fred noticed her confusion. "That's just an expression, from when women would make money for themselves to keep, aside from the family income, by selling eggs from their own chickens. That's kinda what I do, except it's hems, not eggs."

"You make your own clothes?"

"Well, mostly I buy them, but I have made some skirts and pants to wear sometimes. I don't really know what to make, I'm not really much with fashion or anythin'. My tastes are pretty simple. Jeans and t-shirts mostly." Fred paused and decided to ask some questions of her own. "How about you? Where's home for you?"

Buffy considered lying, and felt terrible about it. She liked Fred and didn't want to lie to her about anything. Yet, she couldn't afford to let her situation become known as that was step one to seeing the authorities knock on your door and take you away. Lie it was then.

"Well, I'm eighteen and used to live on the east coast. I got pregnant with Katie and decided when she was born that I wanted a new start and my cousin Faith said I could live with her for awhile, so here I am." Buffy smiled charmingly.

Fred was disappointed that Buffy was lying to her, but decided to let it go for now. Women didn't just travel three thousand miles to make a 'fresh start' with a days old baby right before Thanksgiving. And the 'east coast' was kinda vague. And she didn't look eighteen. But 'cousins' seems sincere, and is very good. Not that I'd have minded if they were a couple, but at least now I won't have any 'but they're lesbians!' drama from Gary.

"You look younger." Fred tried.

"I get that a lot." Buffy covered. "It runs in my family. My mom was carded until she was thirty." See, lying isn't so hard. And you have good reasons. No need to feel guilty.

Okay. Guess we'll leave that for later. Fred sighed. "How're you and Katie getting on now? You seem much more relaxed today."

"Oh God, you saved my life the other day! Katie and I are doing so much better since you came over. I just don't know how to thank you for doing that."

Now here was truth. "It wasn't anythin' sweetie. We moms have to stick together and help each other out. Goodness knows our men aren't much help!" she laughed.

Buffy decided to avoid the whole 'men' topic, as it would inevitably lead to 'who's the father?' conversation, so she looked over at the sewing corner again. "I used to make Barbie clothes too when I was little. We didn't really sew at our house, though, so I never took it any further," she turned back to Fred.

And the subject of men is deftly averted, Fred mused. There's a story there, but if I push it she'll turn tail and run for sure.

"Would you like me to show you how?" Fred offered.

"Seriously? You'd do that?" Buffy exclaimed. "I can't bear to wear these horrible clothes, but they're all I can afford. And I'm so fat right now," she added miserably.

Ah, common territory again! And definitely younger than eighteen. "Sure, I can do that. And don't worry about the weight. You've just had Katie, your body still has to adjust back to normal yet. Keep breastfeeding her, eat good healthy food, and start exercising in a couple of weeks and you'll be yourself again in no time. You just have to give yourself a little time, yet. You'll see. Your metabolism is probably working like a house afire!"

That was heartening news, although the word 'metabolism' was giving her a little trouble. Buffy decided right then she'd do whatever it took to get back to her figure again. She was fifteen, a runaway, an unwed mother, had no job and almost no money, and her only family here was Faith. She wasn't going to be fat too, she just couldn't be fat, too. The trailer and the whiskey flitted through her head again. No!

"You know," Fred offered, "we can alter the clothes you have into something you're more comfortable wearing. It wouldn't be that hard."

"Seriously? You know how to do that?"

"Sure. But you'd have to decide what it is you want it to be. Like I said, I don't know much about what's fashionable."

"I could totally do that! I could go see what girls are wearing here, do some window shopping, get some magazines..." Buffy mused more to herself than to Fred. "And I could help you too! To know what's fashionable, if you want."

Fred was taken aback. She wasn't too sure that putting herself in the hands of Buffy's so far unknown fashion sense was a wise idea. And she really didn't follow fashion anyway.

Buffy realized her mistake immediately and backed up quickly. "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't mean that to sound like that. You dress fine, and like you said, you're about jeans and t-shirts and I am sooo bad for saying anything like that and I'm just gonna shut up and drink my tea like a good girl right now." She took a big gulp and tried not to look toward where Fred was sitting.

Fred smiled indulgently at the poor girl. Put her out of her misery, quick! "I wasn't offended, honey. I just don't really follow fashion or anythin'. But I'd be interested to see what you thought might look good on me, if you want. We could call it a trade, of sorts. I teach you to sew, and you teach me what's the big deal about fashion for an old Texas farm girl like me." She reached over and squeezed Buffy's hand. "That sounds fair to me."

Buffy smiled gratefully, and they agreed to do just that. Buffy vowed to herself that first thing Monday morning, she'd get to the mall and do some window shopping and find out what fashion was about on the west coast.

It was time for Fred to pick up her son from his play date, so the girls hugged goodbye and Buffy retreated to her apartment just as Katie was waking up for her own lunch. She sat down on the sofa to nurse her and gazed at her little girl with so much love she thought her heart might burst.

"We're gonna be fine here, Katie. We had a rough start, but we're gonna be okay. Mommy's gonna take good care of you, and make you proud of her, too. I promise." Dammit, Buffy. You can stop crying any time now!

xxxx

It was Monday afternoon, and Buffy had at last made her way to the Sunnydale Mall. That had been a major project in itself. Juggling Katie's feeding schedule, balancing the stroller with a diaper bag, and doing all this while catching and riding the bus across town was a job of work. The experience was overwhelming and she almost didn't get off the bus again when it stopped at the mall. Just staying put and letting it take her back to her neighborhood was very tempting. Remembering what she was stuck wearing right now was the motivation she needed to get her going again. No way was she going to wear these horrible clothes any longer than necessary.

She walked through the mall for a while, going into all of the shops catering to young women, and seeing what was 'in' in Sunnydale this season. There was a lot that she didn't like much, but also quite a few dresses and tops that she thought she could pull off without much difficulty, using the materials she had at hand. She was heartened by what she saw today, and buoyed by her conversation with Fred, she thought she was going to go from fashion victim to casual chic in no time at all. She even looked through the sole baby store to get some ideas for Katie's clothes. No daughter of hers was going to wear rags while her mother dressed well. She also kept an eye out for things she thought Fred would be comfortable wearing. She was determined to repay Fred for all her kindness by coming up with some clothes that would make her 'pop' without making her cringe, although she had to admit that was a narrow range to work within.

She stopped to nurse Katie at a back table at the food court just as the high school crowd made an appearance after school. Damn! She'd meant to leave before high school let out, but apparently hadn't kept proper track of the time. She worked hard to look like a housewife doing some shopping as she knew such a woman would be nothing more than background scenery to these kids. She could not be seen as a peer of these girls when she was this unattractive and ill-clothed, with a baby attached to her tits. She loved her baby and didn't regret her decisions, but there was enough of the high school girl in Buffy to be mortified at the sight she made this afternoon.

She buttoned up and put the now sleeping baby in her stroller, careful to cause no attention to come her way.

Please God, don't let any older women walk by and demand to talk about Katie. Not now.

She carefully moved away from the food court and headed toward the exit.

Good, just a little way more, keep it cool, don't cause any attention. Just stay in the background.

Shit! Here came another young couple walking toward her. She ducked down into a seat nearby and leaned over the stroller as though she were looking for something, waiting for the couple to walk by.

They stopped to kiss!

Buffy didn't know why she was so panicky, more so than the occasion called for surely.

Wow. That's a long kiss. And the guy's kinda hot. Damn!

Buffy glanced up at the boy in front of her. He had the most shocking blond hair she'd ever seen on a man, a color that did not come in nature. Most guys couldn't pull it off, but it looked good on him. She couldn't see more than the side of his face, but loved the coat.

Okay, breathing must be an issue by now. Stop kissing and move on!

The couple broke the kiss, the boy putting his arm around his girl and pulling her forward down the walkway again. She watched their backs as they moved further into the mall, away from her. Buffy was both relieved and saddened as she watched them walk away. Somehow she had managed to go from 'too young to date' right into 'no longer date material'. She wanted to be the girl wrapped in the arms of the hot young guy in the killer coat. She wanted to be the girl he looked at like she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. She wanted to be her.

And she never would be.

xxxxxxx

Thank you everyone who has left me a review. They do my heart good. I really do appreciate all your kind words, every one of them. Thanks! And if you're still reading this, please leave a review. They leave me all tingly and itching to write even more.

Sara