There really is only so much turmoil a girl can go through before she has a breakdown.

Losing her mother should have been reason enough for that - and sure, Cassie cried. Buckets, really. She cried until her eyes felt like open wounds, until even blinking caused her pain. And she cried when she realized that all of her possessions - and her mother's - had been destroyed in the fire. She cried every night she stayed with the neighbors, and then the other neighbors, bouncing from house to house like a pinball because her kind but emotionally weak friends couldn't bear to witness her suffering any longer than absolutely necessarily. Cassie could have replenished oceans and drowned all of her caregivers with how much she cried.

And then came the long drive to her grandmother's, a woman she had known more by photographs and birthday cards than by an actual, physical presence. The trip was done in complete silence other than the sobs she swallowed in her throat. The short stop just before breaking the threshold into town was the only time she let herself shed any more tears, and then she swore to stop it, that a month was going to build a dam between her and her grief whether she liked it or not, and on she continued to her grandmother's.

Cassie didn't see even the tiniest fragment of her blonde, lean mother in the muscular, frizzy-haired figure of her new guardian. No, the closest Cassie could ever get to seeing a part of her mother still alive, other than the few photographs her grandma owned, was when she looked in the mirror at just the right angle, in just the right light. There her mother would be hiding in the shadow cast by her nose, or the delicate hilltop arch of her light eyebrows. Sometimes, that made her want to cry, but it was becoming easier and easier to shove it down. The pain certainly didn't ebb at all, and Cassie's nightmares were still highlighted hot yellows and reds, but she was coping - or something close, and that was enough for her, for now.

Cassie Blake had more than enough reason to lapse into a state of depression so deep and dark that it left her immobile for years. The fact that she was up and willing to not only be social, but to attempt to start over and make friends was a miracle that few in her position would have been able to accomplish.

She has her well deserved breakdown, but it has little do with her mother. Of course, the older Blake woman hovered around the edges - if one thing made Cassie upset, it would often snowball into worse things, things actually worth spilling tears over - but this time, it wasn't her mother, or something that reminded her of her mother. It wasn't watching someone drop a still lit cigarette in dried grass or seeing her mother frozen young in her high school yearbook or the lack of her beloved mother in her estranged grandmother. It didn't even have much to do with her being a witch, which really should have shocked her enough to send her to some kind of institution (finding her house, once a grand, voluminous building that she had toddled through the hallways in her diapers and watched sappy romances on the couch with her mom and notched her height on the doorway to one of the guest rooms every birthday as nothing more than smoking wood and smoldering embers with the charred remains of her mother's body somewhere among the wreckage and then finding out that both her and her mother were witches had quite an effect on her psyche), did not catapult her into the meltdown that had been boiling in the pot of her stomach for months now.

It is a completely different issue.

It is a girl. It is a dark-haired, coffee-eyed girl with lips that are always suppressing laughter. It is a girl with a stare like Medusa's that solidifies Cassie's blood to stone. It is a girl who also happens to be a witch and she is the reason Cassie is finally having a meltdown in the bathroom connected to her bedroom.

It's Faye Chamberlain who has sent her over the edge.

Because it's not fair that her mother dies and her house burns down and she has to move away from her friends and her hometown and she has to start over in a foreign place wrinkled with mysteries and danger she doesn't understand and it definitely isn't fair that she's a witch and she still doesn't even know what that rightly means but all she knows is that it's not fair.

The universe has been unusually cruel to Cassie Blake and she knows it, and she defiles every god and goddess she can think of because on top of the death of her mother and being a witch, they have also cursed her with a deadly attraction to Faye Chamberlain.

Which just is not fair at all.

Cassie blows her nose and tosses the soiled toilet paper on the growing pile in the trashcan by the sink. She's cradled on the floor in the typical, pathetic fetal position, blonde hair mussed, pale cheeks blotchy. She has seen better days, clearly, though had Cassie happened to glance in the mirror, she would have seen her mother in her face. She had cried the same way.

It feels as if tectonic plates are shifting within her and an earthquake is beginning to tremble. There's an edge here somewhere, a line she has been toeing for several weeks and now the tremors of her internal natural disaster are threatening to thrust her over. The fall doesn't scare her so much. It's what awaits her at the bottom that truly terrifies her.

She thought she had hit bottom when a policeman with a sober face held her shoulders as if to keep her rooted there and said the words that have echoed in the smoke of her nightmares for months - she didn't make it out, she didn't make it out, shedidntmakeitout - because it didn't seem like she could fall much further. But magic clearly existed, so fate probably did, too, and it did a fantastic job of taking people to lower levels than they thought they were capable of enduring.

Cassie couldn't bring her mother back to life or rebuild her house or pretend she wasn't a witch. Those were facts, solid things, but liking Faye, wanting Faye - that was abstract, smoke and mirrors. Something her body teased her into without her really noticing until there it was, keeping time like a drum inside of her heart somewhere, increasing the tempo whenever Faye's arm brushed hers or when Faye leaned over in class to whisper something (usually an insult about a classmate or a teacher) with warm breath and a smile that Cassie could feel curving across the shell of her ear. It fizzled in and out of Cassie's conscious for weeks like a mirage in the hazy, hot waves of a desert. At first, she thought it was just because they were finally becoming friends. The warm pool in her gut she mistook for a budding friendship - albeit a reluctant one. Back home where Cassie had grown up, friends came together based on the similarities in their clothing. Had she seen someone like Faye - dark and mysterious and dressed like she was on her way to a Gothic club - Cassie would have kept her distance.

But they were in a now bonded circle and that forced them to be together more than either would have guessed. And then it wasn't force and it wasn't obligation and they weren't hanging out just to practice magic. They were laughing at each other and telling secrets and complaining about homework. Normal things. Magic had brought them together, but something everyone could relate to on some level kept them tied.

Cassie doesn't swear often, but she does now. She has picked up the tendency for foul language by hanging out with Faye so much, who had a tongue dirtier than a sailor. It didn't do anything to soothe her pain, really, but it seemed appropriate for what she was feeling. Faye would have cracked so many swear words, her teeth would shatter.

The back of her head smacks against the wall as if that would physically knock Faye out of her mind. She didn't want to think about her or what she would do in this situation or what she was doing right now or if she had a text waiting for her. She should be preoccupied with the fact that she's a witch and possibly a gay one at that - or maybe Faye's just an exception, or the only, or something. Cassie doesn't know. She doesn't care, really, because all that matters is that she has enough to deal with, more than she should have to, and that's all she could handle. That was her edge. Anything more and the plates would shift under the weight and she would shake and topple over.

Cassie stands. She wipes her eyes and blows her nose once more. A lot of the breakdown had less to do with the realization that Cassie liked Faye more than a friend and more with the decision to not pursue her. Faye is beautiful in a dangerous kind of way - a samurai's sword without the sheath. She has a hard shell and an even harder heart, but she isn't made of diamond - she can crack. There is softness to her. It's rarely shown but Cassie has witnessed it when Faye had somehow managed to turn Nick into a decent boyfriend for Melissa, or when she scooped down to pick up a dropped pencil for a classmate she insisted to Cassie she despised, or the one time when Faye was driving her home from their hidden house and she abruptly pulled over without saying anything and Cassie had watched in awe as Faye rescued two turtles from the middle of the road.

But Cassie could not want her - or she could, but she refuses to act on it - because she was already too broken. It was still up in the air if she would even ever repair enough to be able to fully and willingly let someone love her, and, Christ, Cassie didn't even know if Faye had a sexuality at all. She was so ambiguous about relationships in general, Cassie couldn't read it all that well.

It didn't matter either way.

Cassie turns off the bathroom light and blinks her puffy, swollen eyes. She falls atop the cream-colored blankets of her bed without covering up, still in her day clothes. Resuming the same position she had in the bathroom, only now on her side, Cassie stares at the other wall until her eyelids weigh down on her from her crying until they slam closed. And the darkness makes her feel dizzy, like she's falling, and she fell off the edge before she even felt the shift of the plates.

/

She wakes up to a disturbance on the other side of the mattress. Someone is sitting on it, making it dip. Cassie's mind is alert before her body is. The past few weeks have held a multitude of surprises for her, had sharpened her reflexes, and now she couldn't bring herself to think of the slightest noise in the dark as an innocent one. Blinking away the thick veil of sleep, unsure of whether it was night or day, Cassie's body slowly catches up with the whirling merry-go-round of her brain. Muscles tense and flexing, poised to flee, and her vision focuses on the object of her breakdown.

"Jesus." Cassie snaps up. Faye is leaning against her headboard. Her dark hair is on one shoulder, the other striped by the thin strap of a tank-top. Faye's skin is just the lightest shade of bronze. Cassie is staring at it before she realizes that she's doing so. "You scared the crap out of me, Faye. What are you, how, did my grandma -"

"She called me." Faye isn't look at her, but instead folding her fingers and examining her nails. Cassie used to think Faye's face was perpetually blank, but having known her for some time now, she knew that it was in fact scribbled with emotion, words, if one simply knew what to look for. The flat lines of her lips meant that Faye wasn't entirely sure what to say. The foot that jittered at the end of her crossed ankles meant she was nervous (Cassie had only seen this movement once before when Faye was about to get the results for a big test back - if she got anything lower than a B-, her mom was going to simply murder her). And that cleft digging above her nose where her eyebrows struggled to meet meant that Faye was confused. This was also a more rare action, something Cassie only caught glimpses of when Faye was pouring over Diana's book of spells.

Cassie took all of this in in seconds. She straightened herself, ran her palms over her jeans and tried to tame her hair. She gave up before she made much of an effect, though. She was still trying to climb out of hole she had plummeted in, and trivial things like her appearance had suddenly been drained of their importance.

"What time is it?" Cassie fumbles around the bedside table for her phone. It tells her it's nine at night. She doesn't know when she fell asleep, but it feels a lot longer than it must have been. Ages must have gone by. The world surely ended while she had been submerged in sleep.

Faye is studying her profile with her arms crossed. That stance means she's trying to make a decision. It makes Cassie uncomfortable.

"Your grandma said you were hysterical. She didn't know what to do. Apparently she called Diana and Melissa and neither answered." Faye uncrosses her arms. A decision had been made, but Cassie couldn't tell what about. "So, here I am. Your angel."

Cassie swallows. She hadn't realized she had been making such a fit. With nothing else to say, she simply admits, "That's embarrassing."

"Was it about your mom?"

Faye doesn't exactly know the definition of 'sensitive subjects'. Bluntness is a curse. But it doesn't bother Cassie; it's just another mark on the scoreboard her subconscious is keeping without her fully aware - falling under the 'pros' list of Faye Chamberlain.

"No." Cassie's throat feels scratchy and sore. She must have been really wailing. Rubbing under her chin, Cassie's eyes fall down from Faye's face to her exposed shoulder and her breasts and her flat stomach and her legs and the still jittering foot. "Not her."

"Anxiety? Depression? Should I get you a hotline?" There's a soft curve to her tone that suggests she's joking, but when Cassie meets her eyes again, they're hardened with severity. She's not taking this lightly. It surprises Cassie, who gives a slow shake of her head.

"I'm fine. Just needed a cry, I guess."

"You can't spook me like that."

Cassie blinks. The cleft between Faye's eyes deepens. Her lips press more tightly together before spreading to speak once more.

"Your grandma calls me in the middle of dinner to tell me that you are completely losing your mind and I nearly kill myself speeding over here. I almost blew a stop sign. I ran over two curbs. You just - you can't scare me like that, okay?"

A smile that Cassie doesn't have to force spreads softly over her lips. "Faye, you're having feelings."

The brunette's dark eyes roll, but a smile reflects back to her. "Yeah, yeah. Soak it up."

"You were really that worried?"

Faye gives a puff of an exhale. "Yes. Yes, I was that worried. You've been through hell, Cass, -" (the nickname makes Cassie's poor heart stutter) " - and you make a good show of keeping it together, but you don't lose your mom and your home and come out scratch free."

"I'm having a few hiccups on my grief journey." Cassie draws her knees up. "That's all. Nothing serious. I swear, Faye, I'd - I'd let you know if I ever went off the deep end." She already had just a few hours ago, but the promise hadn't been made yet. Now it would seal Cassie to Faye forever, a spell neither of them knew they were performing. "I promise."

Faye's thumb knuckle brushes over her pinched lips. Her eyes stay on her lap for nearly a minute before rising and finding Cassie's. Faye never met Cassie's mother, but if she had, she might have recognized the woman peeking out through the identical angle of Cassie's nose or her cerulean eyes. But Faye didn' t know that woman, only Cassie, and in a town where everyone told her how much they reminded her of her mother, Cassie was glad to have someone who associated Cassie Blake with just Cassie Blake and no one else.

"You'll be okay, Cass. I'll make sure of it."

And then she leans in and - no, Faye does not suddenly, least of all magically, know that Cassie is already half in love with her, nor does she know that the real reason Cassie was breaking down was because of her conflicted feelings about her fellow witch, and she certainly doesn't know that as she leans in, Cassie is praying to whatever god or goddess witches pray to for Faye to truly, sincerely kiss her - Faye presses her lips to Cassie's cheek. It's a friendly kiss, soft and warm, the more modern version of a pinky-swear.

It's not a kiss on the lips. It isn't erotic, barely even romantic - but Faye cares about her and now Cassie has proof, blazing beneath her blush, the ghost of a kiss haunting her cheek. And Cassie can do nothing but smile and lean her head on the bare skin of Faye's shoulder.

Faye had been the straw that broke her back and sent her plates grating against each other until she tumbled off. But, in a most ironic fashion, Faye is also the only one who Cassie will accept a lifeline from. And who knows what waits on the other end of that? A friendship that will blossom into romance that will pollinate into whatever should come next?

Maybe. It's a future that Cassie is willing to pull her head out of the dark well of her breakdown to catch a glimpse of; a horizon painted with yellows and reds that have nothing to do with fires that end things but with mornings that begin things.


A/N: First fic for The Secret Circle fandom. Be easy on me.

Reviews are excellent.