Author's Note: Just got to wondering what it would've been like for Buffy if she had Angel as her guide and "watcher" during her early years as a Slayer rather than Giles. Feedback welcome.

1. The Runaway

That night, the clouds were tearing themselves apart, sending rain down in cold, rippling curtains of high-velocity droplets. The streets were awash with rainwater several inches deep, the branches of trees dipped and swayed under the force of the wind and every living creature in the town of Sunnydale, except for one, had managed to seek some kind of shelter from the merciless storm.

And that one creature, the only one desperate enough to venture out of doors on such a day, was walking as best she could along Escondido Avenue, heading towards the junction at Third Street. From there on, she knew it wasn't far to the sign that marked Sunnydale's limits. The hood of a thin waterproof jacket obscured her face from view, but somehow the rain had gotten through and soaked her honey blonde hair so that was plastered uncomfortably to her neck and forehead.

Her petite form was almost bent double as she fought the wind-driven rainfall, trying desperately not to get knocked over. She had long since stopped worrying about her feet – since her so-called waterproof boots had managed to absorb massive amounts of icy water, she could no longer even feel them. The best she could hope for was that the numbness would pass once she got out of the storm. Not that she knew when that was going to be, but in her situation she could either be optimistic or collapse sobbing to the ground. It wasn't much of a choice.

---

Her mother had said that. "I know it's not much of a choice. But this is the best we can do right now, Buffy."

"Yeah, right. The only reason you moved us out to this sad excuse for a one-horse town was because it was the furthest place you could find from LA. Why don't you just admit it?"

Joyce Summers had sighed and smiled patiently at her daughter. "I think we can be happy here. And besides, like I said, you have choice. Not a very good one, but…"

"Either I stay here and get treated by a shrink, or I move out to LA long enough for dad to find me a good … what did he call it? … 'correctional boarding school'." She had blinked hard to stop the tears from welling up from the memory of her father's words and the icy tone that had accompanied them. "You call that a choice?"

"Buffy, we're trying to help you –"

"You're trying to help yourselves!" The fine thread of calm that she had been hanging onto had finally snapped. "Dad can't stand the sight of me anymore – and God forbid that anyone from work should find out about his delinquent daughter – so of course he wants to send me away. And you…" She was choking up, on the verge of tears. No, no. Not yet. "You won't need me once Dawn moves out here."

"You know that's not true. I love both of you."

Buffy had looked into her eyes for a long, silent moment. "Maybe. But you're closer to her. And she hasn't given you any reason to be ashamed of her." Her voice hardened, took on a faintly mocking tone. "That kind of tips the scales, doesn't it, mom?"

And then it had been Joyce's turn to snap. "For God's sake, Buffy! Stop acting like some innocent victim! You burned down a building! That's a little hard to get over, but we are trying. We want to help you. We want to understand why you did –"

"I've told you why! You asked, and I told you! What more do you want?"

"Darling." This time the smile was less patient, more patronizing. "You can't expect us to believe any of your stories about … vampires and monsters and the like. They're just not true."

"I expect you to believe it because I believe it." She had hated herself for the plaintive little quiver in her voice.

Her mother had sighed again and given her a pitying look. "I know. That's what worries me."

And that's when it dawned on Buffy that she had seen her mother give that same pitying look to complete strangers before, but never to her. She thinks I'm crazy. Joyce Summers may have loved the girl Buffy used to be – the one who spent most of her time at the mall and thought life revolved around boys and popularity – but the person Buffy had become was a stranger to her. She wants me to get 'treated' only so I can go back to being a shallow, purposeless airhead.

It amazed her to realize how impossible that would be. She really was a different person now. She might not want to be the Chosen One – and with Merrick gone, who was going to force her to? – but she couldn't pretend as though nothing important had happened during the past few months. She couldn't let herself be treated like some psych patient being kept on a short leash. She couldn't stay in a place where the indifference in her mother's eyes would hurt her a little more each day.

It hadn't taken long to make the decision to get the hell out of Sunnydale.

---

Even the rats were sheltering from the rain.

He could hear the occasional faint squeak and scuffle signaling their presence, but he hadn't caught sight of one all day and he was starting feel the thirst for blood gnawing at him. He didn't really feel the cold, and the rain didn't bother him, but the thirst worried him. A lot. It caused memories to flicker in and out of his consciousness – memories of soft throats with blood-filled veins pulsing just beneath the skin. Human throats. And what was worse, he could feel himself longing for the taste of the blood those throats had to offer.

But then he remembered the screams, the pleas for mercy, the terrified sobbing. They played on endlessly in his mind, one after another, like some heart-wrenching gruesome song, and all he could do was listen. He knew he deserved to hear it. Eventually it would stop, but until then he would just let himself be tortured by the voices of the countless victims whose lives he had taken so much pleasure in destroying. Monster. Not just then, but now as well. It's all I ever was. All I ever will be.

But then something interrupted the harsh torrent of his thoughts, and it wasn't a voice from his memory. These sounds had an altogether different quality and they were coming from close by. He could hear the rapid-fire thudding of blows being parried and the low, exasperated grunts of someone trying and failing to win a fight. After a brief internal struggle between wanting to ignore any potential difficulties and wanting to help anyone who might need him, he started to move silently towards the sounds, which were coming from the end of the nearest alleyway.

"You know, my food doesn't usually fight back." It was a male vampire, his brow ridged, fangs exposed. He was speaking to the slight figure standing opposite him, gripping a stake in one hand.

"Okay, no way am I being your after-dinner snack, so you can stop right there with the 'my food' crap. I have a name." It was, surprisingly enough, a girl's voice. As she finished speaking she lunged forward to drive home the stake, but the vampire evaded her and delivered a brutal blow to her face.

"Really? It wouldn't happen to be Blood-bait, would it?" the vampire taunted, as she staggered backwards. Her movements were sluggish and she was clearly not in prime fighting condition; as the vampire punched her again her grip on the stake slackened and it almost slipped out of her hand.

But then she seemed to gather her strength and suddenly her leg was whipping out in a roundhouse kick that brought the vampire onto the ground with a loud thud. As he scrambled to get up again she backhanded him across the face and, moving with terrifying speed, planted a booted foot firmly on his chest to keep him down.

She bent over him with her stake raised. "No, actually. It's Slayer." She waited long enough for a horrified expression to dawn on his face before driving the stake through his heart.

The man watching her drew further back into the shadows as she straightened up and looked around. He saw the uncertainty in her movements as she bent down to pick up a large backpack, the way she winced as she slipped it on. He saw the faint trembling in her limbs as she tried to stand up and buckled under its weight.

He saw that she swayed on her feet for a long moment before her body slumped, as though in slow motion, to the ground.

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