Summary: My goal when I began this project was to replace the events of No Future for You with something perhaps slightly more compelling. Where I ended up bears almost no resemblance to the root story. Instead of replacing a mere four books in the series, I replace something closer to six. It's a mess…an extremely controlled, intentionally created mess.

The first act is primarily composed of a cutesy romance. There are, of course, elements that defy that description, but the core story is a romance wrought with your standard coupling angst. I never lose sight of that even when stuff goes straight to hell. That's what second acts are for, right?

So, if you'd like to see one of your favorite characters spread thin like too little butter on dry toast, this is the story for you.

Rating: Adult Content: Sexual Situations and/ or Explicit Violence.

Warning: Start with the Carlin Seven and work your way out. This one's pretty much got it all: overt violence, torture, sex, the death of a minor character, candid deliberations on the affects of trauma… It won't be for everyone.

Word Count: 148,939.

Comma Guy: Howard Russell.

Pairing: Buffy/Faith.

Disclaimer: Another day, another…they don't pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That's what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.


One


Raindrops splash my head and shoulders. My clothes are soaked again. At least when they're wet they don't stink so much.

I look down, playing that kid's game, avoiding the cracks as the sidewalk passes under my feet. This part of town's pretty run down. There are lots of cracks. My heels click an offbeat rhythm against the steady patter of the rain.

Pulling my hand from my jeans pocket, I reach up to slick back a clump of hair that's plastered across my forehead. Cold water pours down my back. That's just what I was missing, something to make me miserable.

Christ, it sucks out here tonight! I shiver and put my hand back.

Yeah, it sucked last night too. And the night before. And the night before that.

Ohio just sucks. I mean, really…Sunnydale wasn't bad, but Ohio? Whose bright idea was that?

Why not the Bahamas? Or if there just had to be a second Hellmouth in the States—kind of makes sense, what with the States—Key West might've been nice.

Hell, even Boston would've been better. Not for me, but—

Kind of goes without saying, but whoever made that call was one evil bastard.

I glance up. This is sort of new. My timing's actually working out. Up ahead, at the end of this block, the residential neighborhood lets out. I'm nearly there.

Time's a bastard too. Kind of weird how stuff blends. Kickin' around, mindin' my own…in all the right places at all the right times. One day I look up and the hours have turned into days.

And the days into weeks.

Has it really been weeks? I search, looking for a clue. Huh. Maybe it is has. I shrug.

Eh, whatever…I sound like one of those nine-to-fivers who can't remember what they had for lunch on Tuesday.

Yeah, that's me, a real working stiff.

Not even close.

At least our calling comes with three hots and a cot now. That is if you bother to stick around.

Shit. That's almost like progress. Trouble is—the sticking around. That and the death sentence. I've been trying for years and I'm still not over that part.

Residential turns commercial and not a moment too soon. My destination's in view. A pair of loading docks along the street make it look like a warehouse, but it isn't. It's actually a Chinese grocery store.

I hang a right, enter the alley behind it, move just out of view and pause to listen. Through the white noise of the rain and traffic on the ninety, I hear a muffled clip-clop. The sound's a little heavier than mine, but then, so is its owner. It's also much more regular—an even, metered pace—nothing like my bullshit stagger.

Speaking of…

I'm almost glad I noticed the notice. Noticing might even mean that I avoid that death sentence.

I have mixed feelings about that.

As my stalker draws closer, I stare blankly at the cross street ahead. I'm not even gonna try to figure it out. Not now. There's no point. Me surviving will piss them off and that's enough.

A car cruises by, glinting under the streetlights and I look down. The tips of my boots are outlined by a puddle. Lightning crackles to my distant right, making the water on the patchy brick street shimmer. This alley's trashed in ways you only find out east. Urban renewal's skipped over it for the last couple centuries. Yet somehow the flashes of light make it look cool.

I've been at this way too long.

Y'know, I get that I asked for it, but this is seriously cutting into my drunken stupor. It's really rude. I haven't been this close to sober in…

No telling.

I should seriously fix that.

I snicker and sing the first thing that comes to mind, The Ramones, I Believe in Miracles, really off key, belting out the words. Not that I remember them. "Oh, oh, oh…" Who gives a shit? I should be singing I Wanna Be Sedated, but that's way too predictable.

Besides, it'll be a goddamned miracle if I walk out of this alley alive. Dae's coming. Figures he's in no hurry. Smug asshole.

Sluggishly putting one foot in front of the other, I bellow, "I believe in miracles 'cause I'm one," switching to, "Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours to go…" without changing pitch. Predictable or not, there are just certain things.

I knew that bitch'd send someone. I just don't get why it had to be him.

Oh well. If I screw up, maybe someone will find something nice to say over my grave. "I wanna beee…lieve in miracles." I'm not counting on it, but stranger things…

A blue dumpster sits off to my left. It actually looks newer and nicer than the painted block wall behind it. That's not saying a whole lot. Clambering onto the dumpster's lid, I butcher a little more of the song. "I've been blessed with the power to survive." But that's doing nothing good for my head. It thuds as I stand, facing the grimy, peeling, once-white paint. I think I'm done. I'd kill for an aspirin.

And maybe some b-vitamins.

Nah, that'd just be asking too much.

I jump, trying to grab for the roof's edge and miss. My knee hits and the dumper's lid bangs like a big plastic gong.

What kind of a name for a vamp is Dae?

Yeah, like asking the same rhetorical question over and over is even close to constructive. It's just…there's a point where things skate right past ironic into an entirely different camp.

I drag myself upright. Sucks that part of this is an act and part is just the mother of all hangovers. I'd probably be better off drunk. Another bounce on the lid and I grab for top of the wall. This time I get it. Pulling myself up, I rest my hips on the ledge and swing my legs over.

Anyway, fucker's a complete pain in my ass. I wish he fought as campy as his name.

This is fun and all, but I gotta keep my eyes on what's in front of me. Trouble is, what's in front of me reminds me of that scene from Clerks—the guys playing street hockey on the roof of the neighborhood Quick Stop. It's the same sort of place. And fun…that movie was fun. This isn't.

Snickering, I make it to my feet and stare across the street to the north. There's a narrow red sign with squiggly golden letters. Hell if I remember what they mean, but the food's not half bad.

Who knew that Cleveland had a Chinatown?

Who wanted to know?

On the other side of the forgotten restaurant, the ninety stands on huge columns. And behind that is Cleveland's skyline. It's not a bad view, but I don't have time to enjoy. I gotta get a move on.

Blinking away the city lights, I turn right and run. I run right out of roof, diving for the fire escape ladder on the building next door. It's another one of those places. Three stories of dilapidated ocher brick, pre-nineteen-fifties architecture, a war era factory that needs to be torn down. And for now at least, home sweet home.

Funny thing, I've done this completely wasted. Maybe not so funny. I don't remember it going this well. After a certain amount of clattering and clumsiness, I pull myself up on the rusty metal rung and climb to the roof.

Really, I should be all pounding heart and sweaty palms. I just can't seem to care. This is just another thing in a long chain of things. If I die, who'll miss me?

No one.

Least of all me.

But I still gotta make myself try, if for no other reason than the ass-wipe deserves it. He's made it to the alley. This part has to be good, or I'm done. I stagger to the door and open it, passing by as it shuts. There's a plastic bag on the other side of the—

Shit!

These things have a name. I know they do. I'm just clueless what it is. They're like a little building on top of the building for the roof access door.

Whatever, right now its cover. Cover's close enough.

I reach into the bag and grab an aerosol can. He lands on top of the dumpster. The fire escape ladder barely makes a sound when he hits it. As he climbs, I skirt around the edge of the roof back to the ladder. There's just enough wall above roof-level to hide me. All I have to do is be quiet. It's lots to ask, but I think I'll manage.

I hope.

I glance at the aerosol can. Making sure it's not pointing at me seems useful. Once my shit's together, I poke my head up.

He's there, right at eye level.

I smile.

He reaches.

I spray.

He screams and goes for his eyes.

Quick, easy, simple…all the things I like. It's nice when a plan works out. Really weird, but kinda nice. I could almost get used to this. Not that I will 'cause it's so rare. I revel in the rareness, laughing as he tumbles backwards.

On the way down his head hits the top of the block wall. It's a two story drop right into one major migraine. Now we match. The blow throws him forward and his face bounces off the factory wall. He ping-pongs back and forth, landing face down in the walkway between the two buildings.

Yeah, y'know that had to hurt. I'm amazed he's still screaming.

It's really fascinating the kinda crap you can get at your local hardware store. I glance at the label, Gumout Xtra Concentrated Carburetor Cleaner. Shit's gotta be worse than tear gas.

I need a smoke.

It can wait. Smoking around this stuff wouldn't be smart. Safety first. Wouldn't want him to get all dusty and boring. And setting myself on fire…

That'd be classy.

I go for my bag, stash the can of carb cleaner inside and climb down the ladder. Dropping the last ten feet, I stoop down.

He reacts by rolling over. Even fucked up, he's quick as hell. Huge shock, he has a gun.

I still don't know about vamps and guns. It's pretty wrong. Call me an old fashioned slayer, but I prefer a straight fight.

Considering that he can't see, it's pretty damned easy to disarm him. Just turn out of the line-of-fire, grab the slide and twist down.

At least he tried. It's the thought that counts, right?

I pay him back for his trouble. Blood sprays from his mouth when I smack him with the butt of the gun. Really don't like guns, but I have to admit it makes a good club.

I toss it aside and roll him onto his smashed face. First things, first. This coat's too damned nice for a scumbag like him. It might be a bit opportunistic, but really—

He tries to grab me as I pull his coat off. "What the fuck are you doing?" he asks, sounding like complete shit. I might feel bad if I felt anything at all.

"Same thing you are. Everyone's gotta eat," I reply. It's the cold, hard truth. The coat pulls free and I step back to look through it. There's bound to be a wad of cash here somewhere. They all have one. No sense in taking a chance on it burning up.

"Well, actually drink. I'm dying for a beer," I mumble, completely preoccupied by all of the pointy things in his pockets. Something to eat wouldn't hurt either, but I gotta have my priorities.

While I'm rifling through his shit, Dae rolls over and tries to sit up. Again, he doesn't make it very far. I plant my foot across the bridge of his nose and he flops back.

Kako should've sent backup with her boy, but so far all I've heard is the pitter-pat of the rain and him. At least he's over the screaming. It was on my last nerve.

There's nothing in his damned coat…expect a small weapons locker. It's heavy as hell. I put it on and look down. Poor ol' Dae wasn't bad looking. Now he's a puffy, bleeding mess. The yellow and pink eyes are pretty freakish. One of them's hemorrhaged, making the look that much better.

While I'm on the subject, I grab the can of carb cleaner and hose him down. It's good to be sure. He opens his mouth to yell and I give him a reason not to. This is gonna get gross. I move out of the way. He spits, spraying the shit all over. Glad it's him, not me. All those open cuts must hurt like a bitch. He clutches his face, writhing and moaning.

There's a bulge in his jeans pocket.

Score.

I snap another kick to his face and bend down. He tries to stop me. It's pointless. I just break his arm and do what I want. When I locate the lump, he barks, "Hey! Nasty, fucked up bitch!"

That really wasn't what I was looking for. And he thinks I'm fucked up…?

"Okay, so…you gonna just tell me where your cash is, or—?" I grumble, going for the carb cleaner again.

I spray down the lump and he yowls, "Where you think it is, crazy fuckin' cunt?" He has priorities too. His hands go from his face to his groin. When I smack him with the can, he gets confused. Sputtering, he finally arrives at his point, "Alright, alright, it's in my goddamned wallet!"

Wallet? "No shit?" I exclaim. "Really?" This is new. "You carry a wallet?" I've never seen a vamp carry a wallet. When he rolls his hips and tries to fish it out, I lend a hand.

"What the fuck's your problem?" he asks as I rise.

I pull the cash out, pitching the wallet over my shoulder before bothering to reply, "Which one?" His question's so lame it barely deserves an answer. I give him one anyway. "Could be that you tried to kill me."

I pause to count the pile of bills. Huh. Nice take. I could pretty much go where ever I want on a couple grand. Stashing the cash in my jeans pocket, I roll my eyes. "Nah. That scenario's so tired. It'd be easier to list who hasn't tried to kill me." Sad part is that's true.

No, the sad part is, it's mostly my so-called friends who pull that trick. It gets even sadder when I consider how often it's happened. For some of them it's practically become a hobby.

I bend down. My little bag of tricks rustles when I open it. It makes him nervous. At least he's not stupid.

He shouldn't have gotten me started. I move on to the next bullet point on my list. "Maybe it was that slayer you did a few weeks back?" I pause to mock-ponder again. "Shooting fourteen-year-old Mary Ann from Hoboken Kansas isn't exactly the best way to get on my good side." I really wish I could remember her name.

It's gone.

He's got nothing but drool and blood, not that I expect anything. A mouthful of whatever noxious shit carb cleaner is probably wouldn't make me chatty either.

I take out a pair of handcuffs. I had to seriously look for these. They aren't those cheesy ones, like the cops use, with the chain. They're the kind with the hinge between the two bracelets. I couldn't break them. I doubt he's gonna.

"Might be the need you and your people have to act like major boneheads," I say with a snicker. "Imagine that." It's hardly funny. More like kindergarten humor. But then, there are the ridges.

"Have you ever seen the inside of a Hellmouth?" I ask, seizing his right wrist. The cuff snaps closed and I ratchet it down past the point of painful. "They aren't the homiest places." Using the empty cuff as a handle, I plant him on his face. "I doubt your dimwitted disciples would be so thrilled if they had a clue."

His left arm still works. He tries to twist free when I grab it. My knee digs into his lower back. I wrench his arms into place and close the second cuff as I consider, "Or maybe it's the busload of preschoolers you vamped last week." I'm not even sure it was last week. It might've been the week before. There's this thick haze between here and there. But 'last week' sounds good, so I run with it. And—smart boy—he doesn't try to correct me. "I dunno. Lemme think about it. I'll get back to ya."

I torque the cuff down before rendering a verdict, "Yeah, I think it was the definitely kids that did it. That was some sick ass shit." Lacing my fingers through his short spiky hair, I make a fist. "You didn't think they'd send some green little girl, fresh off the bus to clean up that clusterfuck, did you?" I rip him over onto his back.

His eyes are unfocused. I'm pretty sure he can't see me, but I still make eye contact before I growl, "No, they sent me." Strange how just admitting it makes me feel a little better.

I walked into the house and this pretty little girl with long red curls was sitting on an old recliner. She might've been six. Her legs were folded underneath her. There was an old quilt draped over her shoulders. She said 'Hi,' and before I knew it, I was surrounded. It was so weird. Like something out of a bad horror flick.

They were already dead.

Yeah, that's been my story. And so far it's been helpful. The only time I don't see her face is when I'm too trashed to see anything at all.

As I reach into my bag and take out a bundle of rope, he finds something to say, "I just follow orders." He cackles. It's pretty weak, but still a laugh. It makes me want to hit him. I've always had this problem with impulse control, or so the shrinks tell me. But this time, I'm just a little slow. Before I can shut him up, he gets out, "It's not like all those brats wuh—"

It's not news that he wasn't alone. It shouldn't be news to him that I'm just warming up.

I put the noose over his neck and pull it tight. "I don't give a shit," I mutter as I toss the bundle of rope over my head. It hits the roof of the grocery store and I walk away. I know he can hear me, so I keep talking as I climb onto the roof, pull the rope tight and lash it to a pipe. "Oh, don't worry. I'm not gonna kill you. I know this'll sound completely tired, but I need you to send a message to the others." I giggle. "Death is coming…" And bust up laughing.

"Yeah, whatever…this isn't some goddamned movie. It's my life. And I'm sick of you assholes screwing it up." I look over the edge of the roof. Predictably, he's sitting up. He can't quite stand, so his neck's stretched out. He's half-hanging by it. Pretty much what I was looking for.

I drop down. Stooping to reach into my bag, I say, "Y'know, I've been wondering something." I pull out a bottle of liquid drain cleaner and turn to show him. "Now the way I've got it figured, if you're upright, this won't kill you. I could be wrong, but—"

Ah, it's nice to see we've finally reached an understanding. I'm surprised he can see. But through all the puffy gore, he looks mortified.

I picked the nastiest stuff I could find. There are warnings on the bottle about this shit eating your chromed fixtures. Like I have chromed fixtures. I have vamps.

I have vamps coming out my ears. Vamps who think it's funny to shoot at little girls. Vamps who're adept at social networking.

Needless to say, I ran out of patience a while ago.

I gotta hand it to him—he doesn't grovel. He probably gets just how pointless that'd be.

Setting the bottle aside, I grab a shop rag out of my bag and stuff it in his mouth. Wouldn't want him to spit on me. He gags when I push a funnel in next to the rag.

This is a real test of my remaining patience. It'll be worth it, though. He tries to shake his head and I hold him by the hair. He smokes, retches and stinks as I pour. Some of the caustic shit comes out his nose. This doesn't look good for our villain. His skin bubbles where it runs.

I manage to get about ninety percent of the crap down the hatch without wearing too much. My hands are the worst of it. I rinse them in a puddle, wipe them on my jeans and reach for the next item: duct tape. It wouldn't do for all my hard work to come back up. I tape his mouth and nose first. The smoke rolling out of them is just plain nasty. He's so wet and slimy it takes a full wrap, but that's kind of the plan anyway.

And look at that…there's just enough left to do his eyes. He does his best impression of a flounder when I empty the bottle over his face.

Perfect. There won't be much of this prick left by morning. I cocoon his head in a thick, tight layer of tape. Way I got it figured, dickhead's got a choice: either rip a hand off, or—well, all that gas is gonna have to go somewhere.

Reaching into the bag, I pull out a butter knife I borrowed from the forgotten restaurant across the street. "If you're smart, you'll start now," I say, leaning down to put it in his hand. He tries to take it, but he's at that stage where there's so much pain that his body just shakes. I'm nothing if not helpful. I press the handle into his palm until I feel him take hold.

Again, horror movie cliché, but there are just certain things that make sense.

Giving him a hacksaw doesn't make sense.

Now for my message…

I pull a small, grubby cardboard sign from my bag. The guy I got this off of looked like he could use the help. A few bucks saved me the trouble of making my own. I hope he didn't spend it all on booze. On one side the sign says, 'Will work for food.' What it says the other side's a little more direct. I hang the sign around Dae's neck, 'fuck you' side out.

After policing the scene, I return to the roof, dropping the plastic bag in the dumpster on my way past. It might be time to move. Have to say, a hot shower and a warm bed hold some appeal.

Untying the rope, I make a run at the fire escape and climb up. There's just enough slack to reach the top. It comes to me that I'm not alone as I pull the rope tight.

From behind me someone asks, "You don't intend to leave him that way do you?" The someone is male, English and really, really condescending. Two guesses—

I don't need this crap.

"What business is it of yours, Giles?" I growl. This fucker's heavy. And he's thrashing around. It's annoying. I tow his cumbersome ass up another couple of feet and grumble under my breath, "Look, if you really want to help out so much, I could use a hand with the dead weight."

Giles ignores me. "Well, I'm pleased to see that your rehabilitation has paid off." Snark from the bloody British comes out positively desiccated.

I haven't got time for this. Cutting through the bullshit, I ask, "What do you want?"

"I'm here to offer you a job," he replies. He's closer now. Not quite close enough to reach out and touch, but too close.

Pulling on the rope, I remark bitterly, "I'm retired." I wedge my right hand in next to the wall so I don't lose any ground. "Get Heaven to do it. She's the new two-one-six chosen one." Rolling my eyes, I grumble, "Heaven," hissing distastefully. Just what kind of drugs were her folks on?

Hell if I know. I guess whatever drugs they serve in bum-fuck Arkansas. Considering that Bentonville's major contribution is Wal-Mart—

I've got more important stuff to worry about, like hauling this two-hundred pound worm up the side of this godforsaken building. I get to it as Mr. Wizard predictably corrects me, "I'm afraid you're mistaken. Firstly, retirements are granted, not taken."

I have to interrupt, "Retirement also indicates a paying gig." But it's like I'm not even here.

The truly annoying part is he doesn't even raise his voice when talks over me. "Furthermore, simply because Robin Wood has romantic designs on a young woman doesn't qualify her for a leadership role. Your replacement arrived on Monday. She was hand selected by the Council."

I'm sure she's a real piece of work. I wonder if Giles has a clue that I don't give a shit. I care so little I'm not even sure what day it is. Does it really matter?

Not a whole lot. Not to me at least. Might to Wood. He'll probably be in the bitch's pants by Friday. Fucker's worse than I am.

I stop to say, "I quit, then." The rope bites into my hands. I should've worn gloves.

Giles chuckles. "You truly believe it's that easy?" A metallic clacking sound comes from behind me. I don't have to look to know. It's the bolt of a gun snapping into place. I've heard that a lot lately. That Frasier has one too isn't terribly surprising. Everyone does. Smug as hell, he says, "You have a decision to make, Faith."

I peek over the edge of the roof as he remarks, "You can either refuse my offer." This piece of shit's above the level of the grocery store. As far as I'm concerned, that's close enough. Gripping the rope for all I'm worth, I turn.

There's a vent pipe that should hold him right next to Giles. He backs off when I go for it. Crossing the short distance without dropping the prick's a complete bitch. I finally lose it when I try to loop the rope around the pipe. The fucker drops about five feet. But once the rope's in place, things get much easier. If I were smart…

I'm not.

Giles is rattling, "…your unconscious body on the steps of that local sheriff's office." I missed most of that, but—

It's pretty much what I expected. Doesn't matter what I do, the past will always haunt me. Again, it's not like I'm surprised. I did some pretty shitty stuff.

Sitting on the wet roof, I brace my legs against the pipe and pull the douchebag up. Giles waits for me to finish. Once the rope's tied off, I stand. Being upright just sucks. If it's possible, I've found new things that hurt. And my hands are a mess. I look them over before bothering to face Giles. At least it's only a tranq gun. I figured as much. He really isn't the type to destroy something that could be useful later.

Funny, for all his attitude, he hasn't glanced once at the rope. And he didn't try to stop me. He really couldn't care less.

At least there's that.

I fold my arms and listen to option B. "Should you arrive at the sensible conclusion, I will see to it that you retire with a full pardon and compensation for your services. You will be a free woman. I'll even throw in a passport and airline tickets to the destination of your choice."

I have to admit that sounds one hell of a lot better than that first thing. What I heard of it. But he hasn't said what the job is. If there's one thing I've learned—

That doesn't matter much to him. He says, "Now come along. We have things to attend to," letting me know that in his mind this is a done deal.

Really, he's right. Here's the bottom line: unless he's got an infant he wants me to drown, this can't be any worse than the last order I got from Wood. And that's just not Giles' style. Provided he hasn't found the Antichrist, I should be straight.

I guess that means I'm in. "Alright," I reply. But I can't make it that easy. I just have to add, "On one condition."

His eyes narrow. "You're in no position to bargain, Faith."

I laugh. "Chill, Giles, I just want a beer."

That earns me a smile. "Ah," he says. "Well, I believe we can manage that." He turns to head for the door, motioning me on. "Shall we?"

I'm probably gonna regret this.