Summary: The dream sequence divorced from the remainder of the second act of Crimes, presented contiguously as it was first composed.

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

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.

What Lies Beneath: Dream Sequence

Something brushes my thigh. The bed gives way and I fall. Breathless and scraping for…

I catch myself. Part of me springs up, snapping back into place.

Goddammit! I hate that shit!

I'm not exactly sure what part it is that lets go, but for a moment my insides feel like a dangling Slinky.

B. slides between my legs, resting her head on my left inner thigh. My stomach's still figuring out where it wants to be when she whispers, "Sorry." Her breath tickles.

A shiver starts at my lower back and works its way up. When it fades, I'm not sure what she said. Umm…

Was I just, uh…?

I was stressed about something, wasn't I?

I even don't remember moving, but I obviously did. Or maybe she moved me?

No clue.

My right leg's bent, leaning propped up on her hip. Her breasts are crushed against my thigh. If I have to worry about something, I'd rather it be—

She steals my hand when I lift it. Hey, I was, uh…

I try, but she's not giving it back. Alright, that's cool. It's probably for the best. My fingers are—

I'm not sure whether it's a feature or a flaw that my arm's just the right length and bent in all the right places for them to end up…

A few minutes ago, I would've probably thought 'flaw,' but…as she passes my fingertips over her lips, tasting them with her tongue, my opinion changes. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Good thing I'm used to that.

I remember being curious about the time, but I didn't have the energy to look. Really, I didn't care that much.

That wasn't that long ago either. Or I don't think it was. What with the falling, I can't be sure.

Now I care, but not about that. It's nighttime. That's close enou—

Her teeth scrape the tip of my middle finger. I feel it all the way down. My toes actually curl. It's another one of those things. I think I'm just defective.

I should move while I still can. I suck it up and open my eyes. Nice night. It's not half as dark as I thought. Framed by the skylight, stars twinkle overhead. The hand she holds hostage slips free when I haul my sorry, lazy, worthless…

I lean in. As I help to lift her, she asks, "Is this okay?"

It's more than okay. I try to say so, but stammer, "Umm…" instead. Half asleep and horny as hell, I make George Bush look like he didn't just buy that diploma from Yale.

Her lips crush against mine when I give up and nod. I may be in trouble.

She massages my back as we kiss, if it's fair to call this that. Our tongues spar, looking for an advantage, one pushing the other out. The tilt of her head randomly changes. I match, mirror, shadow…more like just scramble to keep up. Her hands move rhythmically with our heads, our tongues, us…one side up and the other down. It's dizzying.



I wind her hair around my hand. Her nails bite into my shoulder and side when I pull away.

There was something I wanted and I'm going to take it. Otherwise…getting rolled up, even by her, even like this, just doesn't sit well with me.

Warm and tingly, my lips throb as I kiss her cheek. She breathes a series of soft sighs, gasping when I reach her ear.

That's probably got nothing to do with this. I mean, yeah…I'm sure that the nibbling's nice and all. Her earrings click against my teeth. I like them. They feel hard and bumpy between my lips. It goes nice with the tingle.

The problem's my right hand. It's developed a mind of its own. I don't notice where it's wandered off to until she gasps. Her nipple pops from between my slippery fingers. I circle the tip, smearing the moisture around. She seems to like it, so…


I'm sure my hand'll find all kinds of no good to keep it entertained. Damned thing usually does. Moving on…

Moving down. Her ear's so tender. This isn't. Less nibbling, I follow the path set by my delinquent hand.

It amazes me how much stuff changes. I've always been a real meat-and-potatoes kind of gal.

This isn't that.

Or I guess it can be, but not exactly. Not really.

It's more like filling up on appetizers. Each taste is different. Different textures. Different smells.

I never would've gone there without her. And now that I have, I can't picture anything…

I need her.

As much as I can't imagine not doing this, I can't image doing this with anyone else, so…

I'd be lost without her.

She says my name through a groan. The sound sends a chill down my spine, calling me back.


I focus on that muscle, the one that bridges her neck and shoulder. What I'm doing to it isn't very nice. No wonder she…

I stop.

She frets as I nuzzle her nipple, dragging my lips over the hard little knot, letting it slip between them…

My index finger dips into her belly button. I give my hand a nudge so it doesn't stick around to play. That's just annoying.

Drawing her nipple into my mouth, I suckle and flick, then let go. She trembles when I exhale. Tasting even a hint of myself on her skin is…

My right hand reaches its goal. So soft, like the petals of a flower.

That's exactly it too. She's just like a flower. I can even picture the one I mean, but damned if I know its name. It looks sort of like a curled up sheet of paper.

And that's probably the tiredest simile ever. I've heard it and I don't—

I don't know. That part's not supposed to be pretty, is it? I never expected to think that. Not about anyone. But somehow B…

Still kind of mindlessly teasing her nipple with my lips and tongue, I part her folds, fondling…

Skin smooth as warm butter flows beneath my fingertips…


Supple works. And slippery…

And warm. And…



And distracting…severely distracting…

It still blows me away. Every inch of her is just

We're both somewhere between here and gone. Her body's so rigid, she shivers with the stress. I move up to find—

She draws in a desperate sounding breath. It's amazing that something so small can—

Her hand touches mine. She's shaking like a leaf, but the contact helps. She pushes, directing me back…

Guess she thinks I've screwed around enough. I take the hint and she takes over, cupping my cheek, guiding me to face her. My fingers push inside her as she kisses me. What starts with a few frantic pecks becomes—

I think this is the sort of thing people write sappy poetry about. I lose track as it grows, falling into…

Every move she makes sends a ripple through me. Pressure builds, white static at the base of my skull, radiating out, warm and blurry…

She draws in breathy little sighs between, umm…

My hand's lost too. Leave it alone for a moment and…

Figures it fell into a rut. My fingers move back and forth rather than in and out, in sort of a subtle 'come hither' gesture, but with three instead of one. As my hand closes, I swirl my fingertips. This is something I do to myself. It's soothing, but not—

The goal's not—

It's not what she wants.

Her hands move to my hips when I slide down. She steadies me and nothing changes. My fingertips turn the same tight circle as I focus on her stomach. I'm impatient, but I—

I take my time, tasting the salt on her skin, feeling her warmth against my lips, just enjoying…


I hold my leg out, swinging it wide to miss her hair before I plant my knee. She guides me to where I want to be, but I hold back. I kind of took over. It's her turn. My eyes drift shut as she threads her arm between my legs. I concentrate on my hand, just feeling her.

Just feeling her is pretty amazing. I could get lost.

I did get lost.

As she eases herself down, I compensate, moving with her, then she kisses me. It's exactly like that too.

And I'm pretty sure that's stupid. What else would she do?

But this just isn't what I expect. She takes a single lip between hers and tastes it. She doesn't bother trying to cover her teeth. And that makes it that much…

It's painful, but not. I ache, wanting more, but more than that, I want her. Just breathing in her scent makes me—

My mouth waters. I open my eyes and my breath catches in my throat.

Cool light creates sharp contrasts, highlighting the golden tufts of her pubes. Below them there's a dimple with a fine pleat of skin centered inside. What I want hides behind that perfect piece of creamy flesh.


I swallow.

It calls to me as her lips find another fold. She's so tender, but I'm so tender…this is gonna send me up—

Her tongue slides down fast, swirling. Pushing everything out of the way, she clamps down, singling out one spot. Somehow she finds…

My brain turns to mush. I slump against her. In the time it takes to blink, she reduces me to twitching, trembling, breathless heap. I hold on. Or try. I'm not even sure—

She's pinched the whole wedge of flesh between her lips. Her tongue presses down. She swirls it again. And just when every nerve ending in my body tries to escape, she lets go. Her tongue pushes inside me. She could back up and I…

I can think straight and I'd really rather not. This is just…

I don't know. Not. I mean…it's not like I hate it. I just can't see anyone wanting that much of—

I'm no flower.

Yeah, and all I have to do to fix this is raise my head. It's not that damned hard.

As I lift myself up to focus on her and forget, a gloved hand clamps around my throat.

It strangles away my gasp, flipping me up and flinging me back. I hit the ground, sliding across—

Kicking and scraping, but I can't stop. The crown of my head cracks—

Pain blinds me.

My neck buckles. My shoulder folds. I crumple against the wall.

Before I can grunt or groan or…he's on me again. I grab his wrist as he goes for my throat. It's no use. He jerks me upright. My head smacks into—

Another white flash and more sharp pain drowns everything out. Splotches of light dance with shadow streaking my view. They leave behind a blurry blob when I try to blink them away. The inkblot looms inches from my face. I shut my eyes. My ears ring as I bear down, hoping something will change.

Goddammit! Can I just go back to the part where—?

Where the hell is she? You'd think she'd be pissed. I know I am.

So, I'm not there?

Or she's not here? Wherever here is.

He didn't throw me that far. I should be—

I should've gone through the wall. I should be in the back yard. As hard as I hit…

The way I was thrown, from where I was on the bed…I would've hit beneath the window. And the wall…

Sharp edges cut into the back of my head. That isn't drywall.

I'm definitely not there.

Well, fuck! Maybe if I knock my heels together…?

Nope. That's out. My legs are screwed.

I'm screwed.

Guessing games are out too. Last time I felt this bad, some cocksucker used my skull to bust a tombstone. I swallow. My stomach's so queasy I may—

If I think it, I'll probably do it, so…I get around to cracking my eyes a little sooner than I want.

Shit. It's the same son of a bitch from the other night, doubled. Just what I needed: two-for-the-price-of-one masked mystery villains. They must've been on sale.

Squeezing my eyes shut doesn't do a damned bit of good. I'd rub them, but I've got my hands full keeping Mucha Lucha from throttling the shit out of me.

So, two it is. He's got a jagged yellow stripe down the middle of his face. Seeing that twice is really special.

Wonder what he calls himself. Sparky? Or maybe Bumblebee?

I'd laugh, but I think my head might fall off.

Struggling's pointless. He's got a grip like a vice. I can't even pry one of his fingers up.

My elbow touches the wall when I draw back. There's no room to swing, but I have to try. Focusing everything I've got two inches behind the target, I unload. My fist cracks against his ribs.

He barely moves. His impassive mask just hangs in a cloud. A cloud of fog I created because he gave me some slack. I suck the cold air in like each breath might be my last. I need to get my head on straight. My hand throbs as I clutch it. This is just sad.

And screaming…? "I said no!" Oh yeah, that helps. A sharp twinge shoots from my temple to somewhere behind my right eye. What'd be truly helpful is knowing the— "If you think cracking my skull's gonna get you shit, you're stupider—"

His fist comes out of nowhere. My head snaps sideways. More stars. More pain. Huge surprise.

What's really sad is that's mostly true. Feeling it build, hearing myself scream and having no clue what or why is plenty enough mindfuck for me. The rest of this is pure bonus. Tasting blood is only thing that doesn't come as a shock. I spit and two identical red globs splatter the crappy, overlapping yellow stripes.

He yanks my hair and sends me flying. The in-flight scenery includes a jagged, vaguely oval hole in the brick—not drywall—wall and double the rubble littering the floor.

But it's the abrupt, bone jarring, deep-tissue-bruising stop and the accompanying white flash that really suck. I flop flat on my face.

My shivers turn to shakes when he snatches me up. I have all the coordination of a ragdoll, but I really don't need any. He just pins me by my throat again.

My scalp feels wet. That's not the best sign. But when I check, it's actually dry.


Well, at least the fireworks are pretty.

I let my arms fall. Anything else would be a waste. I can't do shit. And I can breathe, so…

This could be so much worse. I mean…

I guess.

It's slim consolation, but at least no one ever taught Sparky the Wonder Troll how to dish out pain. There's a point where more of the same's just kind of…duh, the same…and pretty much pointless.

We blew past that a while back. I'd be easier for me to pick out the parts that aren't screwed. I think the big toe on my left foot's fine.

Or maybe it's my right foot. I'm still having a hell of a time telling what's what below my waist.

Point is, there is no point. Shit just goes numb when you wail on it. I'd roll my eyes, but I might pass out.

I'm still breathing hard, almost panting. Wouldn't want him to think he's actually getting to me, so I force a deep, calm breath.

One breath gets me a whole lot more than I bargained for. But it's not the breath, it's what I smell. I have trouble making sense of it. The sweet, vaguely floral scent just doesn't match the carnage.

One isn't enough. As I inhale slowly, just enjoying the smell, a weight lifts. And the pain goes with it. It's such a cool feeling. The smell's her shampoo. My damaged brain even forms a picture and for a moment, I see B. A light breeze tousles her hair like in a commercial. She looks amazing.

The upshot is: I didn't go anywhere. I'm still in bed. I can almost feel her in my arms. Safe bet I'll be fine unless Sparky here gets out a Ginsu glove.

I should be so lucky. He gets preachy instead, "It might pay you to reconsider my offer." Oh, please, the voice too? Idiot sounds like he's auditioning to do ads for the Whole Truth. "I can't see you believing that your life's worth…"

He's too late. I've had enough of his bullshit. My legs are back. I tune him out and stand, but he doesn't move an inch and neither do I. I leave myself behind. It's like David Lynch has taken up directing my dreams as a hobby. I just wish I'd gotten the dancing midget instead of this douchebag. Little guy looked like he knew how to party. We could've had a time.

Backing slowly away is probably the thing to do, but seeing even part of what the me on the floor sees is just too trippy. Sparky's mask elongates as he rants, but his voice is too hollow and muffled. I can't make out a single word he says now.

I should probably count my blessings. Wonder if he gets that the jackboots and trenchcoat make him look like a deranged perv.

Or a Gestapo hitman. He's truly scary, but fanatics always are.

Yeah, I've heard enough.

I look like hell. Fat lot of good those fake-leather pants did me. It looks like he hung me waist-deep in cage full of badgers. A wide scratch on my stomach peeks out from a rip in my sweater. There's a deep gash along my cheekbone. And I'm not even going to start counting bruises. I'd be here all night.

There's no way any of that would've been healed by the next day. I was pretty bad off, but I don't remember being this bad.

I'd probably be cool if that was it, but it's not. There's a lot here that doesn't make sense. Starting with: why am I so lucid? Dreams are all about going with the flow. Accepting what happens at face value. And if it's something really crappy…

Even slayer dreams just are what they are. Your average nightmare on crack. Getting my head chopped off was fun. But there wasn't any bouncing. And I didn't end up staring at the inside of a basket or at my decapitated corpse.

So why didn't I wake up this time?

Asking 'what if I can't?' would just be masochistic. I'll pass. But it sure makes that Freddy Krueger joke seem a whole lot less amusing.

My best guess is that this more of what Alicia did to me. But without her here to explain, I'm stuck fishing. For all I know, someone slipped me a mickey. That'd fit with not being able to wake up. But B.'s the only one who would've had a chance and I can't accept that she'd do that. There's just no way.

So, if this is a memory, how does Kako fit in? Did Sparky come back to finish me? Or did he feed me to her? That wouldn't make any sense—what with the big rescue.

But neither thing makes sense. And where the hell's B.?

For that matter, who's doing the forcing? My tour guide's M.I.A. and I could seriously use her help.

Even seeing myself like this doesn't exactly scream 'memory.' If that is what this is, then I'm coloring way outside the lines. This is like one of those stupid—


I blink, but nothing changes. This completely takes the cake.

Is this just the most wickedly real, blatantly formula, half-assed, contrived, poorly concocted dream ever?

The blood streaming down the wall behind the other me's head would seem to say 'yes.' At least I think it's blood. That'd track what with—

I look up. Black shit dribbles out along the crack where the grubby brick wall meets whatever that other black shit is they used for the ceiling. Maybe the ceiling's bloody too? It's tough to tell without much light. But whatever—

I'm done. My brain's definitely been dropped too many times. I turn away.

If this just has to happen, I'm onboard for a rewind. A little realism sounds nice, tossed in with some deeply smutty, erotic fantasy. No repercussions. No recriminations. Not even a funny aftertaste. Sign me up. Now how do I get back there?

The floor's collapsed in the middle of the room. As I head over to give it a look, a friendly male voice calls out, "You should've listened. The man had a point," hard to believe, but I don't recognize him until he calls me, "Firecracker."

Great! This is just great! So, instead of Punky Brewster, this time around I get life coaching from Roy Stoner?

Man, I watch too much TV.

I look from one blood-streaked wall to the next as he rattles off some crap about 'my elders' and having 'taught me better.' Make that a disembodied Mayor Stoner. What's he supposed to be? The Ghost of Villains Past or some shit?

And why's he so ticked? I'm not even sure I said anything. Is he in my head like the kid was? I hope not, 'cause that'd just suck.

Whatever. He can run his mouth all he wants. He skipped the 'little' this time, but that other thing—the first thing he said—

Mom was screwed. It's easy to overlook that things were good once or twice. Him calling me that always brings back…

I stare blankly at the floor remembering the good times. It's not much more than a few impressions. My memory isn't the best. But there were a couple of evenings when she cooked for me and things seemed almost normal.

I'm not sure how to feel. Anything besides resentment or blind indifference gets confusing.

She trashed my life, but I loved her. That's as good as it gets.

He trashed my life too, but there's just something about the old guy that's—

Why do evil things have to be so goddamned charming?

Thankfully, most of Mayor Wilkins' charm goes out the window when he opens his mouth this time, "You know you were wrong."

Do I?

I drop the debate and head for the hole. This is fun and—


I blink out of pure habit, but I don't expect the view to improve. It hasn't so far and it doesn't now. The upper half of the wall's streaked in black and red. The highest points in the center shimmer in the faint light that shines in through the hole behind me.

See what I get for thinking about David Lynch? My twisted brain snapped up the idea and mangled it. The blood's not pooling on the floor. And where it's run together, it's gathered up like fabric. The bleeding velvet drapes pretty much wreck any allegory.

But who needs symbolism, really? I like the direct approach. Cross this line and you'll end bloody.

The one major up is this looks cool as hell. I'm tempted to hang out and watch. I don't. I've got better things…

The bottom half or so of the drapes are still ragged. Blood trickles from the ends. It looks sticky, like some kind of candy. Taffy maybe?

No, not taffy. It's stringy like that, but—

I dunno. Fake blood usually has Karo syrup in it, so the candy angle isn't bad. It's just…


I know what this is like. It's like when you sneeze. You cover your mouth and sometimes—well, it's just gross…the way the snot webs between your fingers. This isn't clear like that, but that's how it looks.

As I take the half dozen or so steps it takes me to reach the hole, two tattered edges meet and cling, like sticky shit does. A few more dribbles and presto a thin new fold of velvet puckers out, glistening as it catches the light.

And this is happening all around. Hollywood's got nothing on me.

The hole's a bust. There's nothing here. Just a few broken floorboards folded down between two steel support beams. The boards hang into darkness so deep it's fuzzy. This is like staring into the mouth of a cave.

I should watch the walls. They're cooler. But I have to look. I just know that any second now a light's gonna come on and something will happen. And that something will make all of this crap make sense.

It doesn't. Sparky's the thing that starts making sense. "Just look at yourself, Faith. Eventually, she'll tire of you." Or at least he stops sounding like he's in the next room talking through a fan with his mouth full of peanut butter. The 'sense' part's debatable. It's more like he's jerking my chain. Spewing the obvious. Preying on my doubts.

Yeah, I've got some. What of it?

The Horrible Mayor Wilkins has to get his shot in too, "He's right, y'know? As sure as the sun will set, your little chickadee is going to fly the coop."

Yeah, yeah…keep going. So, of course, he does, "There's no sense in lying to yourself about something that's as clear as day." He's right next to me now.

I'm actually more concerned by the little bit of this dress I can see than anything they say. I'd been ignoring it up to now, but morbid curiosity takes its toll.

Besides, it beats granting His Honor an audience. Anything's better.

Still half-focused on the hole, I look at the antique floral print that covers my chest. And I do mean covers. This is the sort of thing a ten-year-old might wear to church. I hold the skirt out like chicks do in the movies when they curtsey and grumble, "Look, if you clowns really want to set me off, start in on this rag."

"And when she does, I'll be there," Sparky rasps, pretty much drowning me out.

Yeah, I'll make note that Team Evil thinks I'm screwed too. But fact is, I couldn't give a shit less what this fuckwit does or where he'll be. If this thing with B. goes the usual way—straight to hell—he'll be the least of my problems.

The mayor's hand closes around my upper arm. He poses half behind me. I still don't bother. It's pointless. He speaks over my shoulder into my ear, mentoring me like the father I always craved, "I have good feeling about this young man. He has potential. He shows initiative. I believe he's really going places."

It doesn't play. Even his breath on my cheek and the faint smell of peppermint—he always smelled like peppermint—none of it works. If he'd say something worth hearing, his act would be perfect. But what he's pushing is complete bullshit.

"Most people don't get a second chance at greatness. Only a—"

Oh, no. He's not getting to call me a fool. Not for this. I give him a scathing over-the-shoulder glance and cut him off, "Yeah, he looks like a real winner." I've been a fool. I've even been a fool in recent memory. But not over this.

I try to pull away, but he holds tight, scolding me like a spoiled child, "Now, Faith, I'll admit his fashion sense is a bit misguided, but the clothes don't make the man."

That tears it. I snap, "A bit? This jerk is afraid to—"

He talks right over me, "Mark my words, you'll regret this. I thought you were smarter than—"

Screw this! I yank my arm free as I turn on him and shout, "If he's all that, then why the mask? What's he hiding?"

"Does it matter?" he asks, gesturing to something behind me. I just glare. "You threw away a golden opportunity. And for what?" He's the picture of patience. Even tone, subtle smile…in short, he plays the politician. Imagine that.

And I end up feeling like a horse's ass. Not about Sparky. I'm right about him. I've just got such a soft spot for Mayor Wilkins.

He keeps glancing over my shoulder. Finally, I crack. I should know what's back there. We're standing right next to the red velvet drapes. My back's practically pressed against them. They're not nasty anymore. Actually, they look perfectly normal.

Well, alright. Go me! I made imaginary drapes.

Hey, maybe I can whip up an imaginary door while I'm at it. And get my imaginary ass out of this dive.

I turn and look past him. The act of turning moves me. Or maybe it moved me when I looked at the drapes. Whichever, whatever…I didn't go anywhere, but now we're on the other side of the hole. And on the far side of that, Sparky's leaned over me. My shirt's ripped open. His hand glows against my chest.

See? I knew he was a perv.

The mayor blocks my way when I try to go look. "You don't need to see that," he says.

Yeah, I do. I need to know what that fucker's doing to me. But before I can even get clear, the glow dies. Sparky picks me up and chucks me into the hole in the floor like I'm nothing.

And I guess he's right. I am nothing. I'm a limp, lifeless, beat up thing that just drops from view like so much trash.

After pitching me, Sparky bails. There's nothing left to see. As I turn to follow the mayor's lead, I hear an echo, "I'm going to do you a favor."

God, I remember that. That's what the bastard said right before I passed out. I have no clue what he did to me or what happened next, but that much…I remember.

Stepping through the drapes doesn't quite live up to the metaphor this time. I just go from one dimly lit room to another. But the light here's bluer…less 'city light,' more 'starry night.'

What first catches my eye is a round, stained glass window, like the one in B.'s room. The vibrant purples and greens are deepened in the starlight. The darkest shades are almost black. It's beautiful.

But that isn't what I should be looking at. The mayor clues me in by grumbling, "Would you look at yourself? This is just disgusting."

B. groans my name as I direct my attention toward the floor. I've come full circle. Well, not really. I'd have to figure out how to put myself back together for that. But I stand at the edge of the mattress, overlooking us.

What I see doesn't disgust me at all. It's pretty creepy, but only because someone who could've been my dad is right next to me bitching. That'd creep anyone out. He sure has a lot to say. Awful stuff, like how we're 'rutting around' and 'behaving like animals.' Predictable stuff. Stuff that's not worth my time. I tune him out.

So, this is how we look together?

I guess, short of taking pictures, this is as close to knowing as I'm gonna get. And that really does creep me out. I don't get why people do that.

I hold B. cradled across my lap. Her hand slips between us as I nibble her neck. I vaguely recall that, but it was over so quick. She found an opening and used it to stroke my nipple with the edge of her thumb.

But I guess I missed quite a bit. Like how she's caressing the small of my back with her other hand. I got so wrapped up I glossed over it.

And no wonder. Sometimes she takes my breath away. I can't believe she's mine. That she's with me of all people. I end up feeling like I'm thirteen again with the worst crush ever. All butterflies and giggles. It's truly pathetic…I snicker…in a really, really wonderful way.

Her hand—the one that was between us, playing with my nipple—returns to where it was behind my neck. She laces her fingers through my hair. It looks almost like she's guiding me. She's not. We just both want the same thing.

As my head moves down, she turns hers and kisses my neck. I gave her just enough room and she took advantage. It's sad. I don't remember that either. It was really sweet.

When reach her breast, her head falls back and she groans. The gravely edge to her voice sends chills down my spine. Even here. Even now with…

I don't want to think about him. He pisses me off.


You want to see disgusting? Check your tie.

Or that suit. I can't believe I ever looked up to someone who'd wear such cheap-ass, bargain basement, thrift store—

My hand moves down her stomach. I swing my leg out of the way, folding it beneath me as she guides me up.

She rests her hand over mine. I can't see what's happening, but I know. I'm sliding my fingers up and down.

I bite my lip. Echoes of something like sense memory affect me. My eyes drift shut. I almost feel—

There's a knot in my gut. Stupid butterflies flutter around it. What if I hurt her?

That doesn't hurt me, but I'm not her. She's—

I have to be sure.

But what if I do something else wrong? What if this doesn't feel good?

And y'know, I never worried about any of that before. The last thing that mattered was them. I knew they were getting off. That was cool and all, but I didn't give a crap.

With her, even the small stuff throws me. Like…I don't know…that time—the first time we…she gasped. It was one of those. A sharp sound, like she'd jabbed her finger with a needle or something. I couldn't see how I'd hurt her, but it sounded…

I thought for sure I'd screwed up. I hadn't. Her expression was priceless. I felt like an idiot.

That's the problem. I don't always know with her. And I can't take any chances. I might nick her with my nail or something and…


I love her.

When I open my eyes, all I see is that. None of the other stuff shows.

No. He's wrong. There's nothing disgusting here.

Except for that suit.

"What would you know about this?" I ask, turning to face him. I want him gone. The idea that he's watching us makes me—

I'd like to slap that sour look off his face. I can't. Part of me still—

He replies, "Not one single thing. This is—" His face twists like he just tasted something nasty. "But about love, commitment, the sanctity of marriage? I know more than you can imagine. I was with my Edna May—"

Oh, yeah…I remember this spiel. The big evil guy has a heart. Heading for the door, I stop him cold by snapping, "Then why are you asking?" There's no reason for me to stick around. If he doesn't get that I love her…if he can't figure out that B. means the same to me as Edna May did to him, screw him. I'm gone.

He calls after me, "Well, excuse me for my concern. But rest assured, little missy, this thing's bound to blow up in your face. You're backing…" The door clicks shut, muffling his voice. "…the losing filly."

I turn around. The door's gone.


It's bright out here. I shade my eyes with my hand. I'm standing in the middle of a rolling lawn. There's no sign of him…or anyone else, for that matter.

He might've had a point about some of that. There's no way of knowing. But that last part…

"She kicked your ass," I mumble and take off across the lawn. I don't even know where I'm headed. Just away works for me. But after a few steps, it occurs to me. That's not quite all. For the record, I add, "And mine too."

So that's it? After all that…


Oh, man.

Shit. I got back there and I left like a moron.

See? I knew my priorities were whacked. I should've sent him packin' and…

Yeah. So much for my gratuitous fantasy. I'm stuck here now, wherever here is.

The grayish, overcast sky and hot, dry air positively scream Southern California in the summertime, so I'll go with that. Not that it matters. I'm in the middle of a big ass yard. The nearest tree is—I swing around—just on the other side of that hill. Looks like as good a direction as any.

Figures the bastard put me in heels. They drag in the grass as I walk. I'm tempted to take the stupid things off. My skirt flows around my legs. That part actually feels nice, even if it does look like something from a sixties sitcom. But the heels just suck. I make it about ten feet before my foot lands cockeyed, my ankle turns and I damned near stumble.

Me. I haven't stumbled in…

I have no idea.

I end up looking at the ground just because. I'm standing half on a headstone. At least I get where I am now: a cemetery, but not one of those things like they had in Sunnydale. I don't even know what happened there. This is a regular cemetery with headstones that sit level with the ground. No clue which one. They kind of all look the same. There are usually more trees, but—

That's it. I'm done. I stoop down and unbuckle the straps. Kicking the stiff, annoying, useless, pointless, awkward, goddamned shoes off is best thing that's happened so far except…

I can't believe I left!


That I ended up in another godforsaken, lame-ass graveyard just figures. I stomp off toward the tree, paying more attention to my feet. I have to walk at an angle through the graves. Stepping on the corner of one would suck more than those stupid shoes, so…

I'd like to know who came up with skinny heels. Who started that? And what moron thought it'd be great to wear them?

Someone had to actually wear them. And other people had to actually jump on board. How'd that become a thing?

Strapping boards to your feet would be more comfortable. And unless you're walking on a smooth surface, they're a nightmare! Even for me! And I'm no klutz.

I'll leave—

Dammit! I can't believe I left! I'm stuck here in some fuckin'…

I left!

I'm the moron.

Whatever. B. can have being a girly girl. She's just so much better at it than me.

The ground levels out. There's an old black guy sitting on a park bench beneath the tree about twenty feet away. When I look up, he smiles and waves like he knows me. His face is familiar, but I can't place where I've seen him. The nape of my neck prickles, branching out to my scalp and shoulders. I tense. He could be a vamp for all I know. Broad daylight, but—

He makes me just that edgy.

I don't get how B. did it. Even the big guy sets me off sometimes. And I love him. I owe him my life. But I can't see—

What does she see in me?

Some day—probably soon—she'll remember all of the terrible things I've done. She'll see all of the stupid mistakes I've made and all of the horrible things I can potentially do. She'll see all of that and what a liability I am will hit her.

"They're right. She's going to leave me." Hearing myself mumble throws me off completely. I didn't mean to say anything. It's just—

"You're selling her awfully short, aren't you?"

Getting an answer's even worse. I spin to face the speaker ready to—

It's just Willow. She's sitting on a park bench next to a grove of trees that by my count shouldn't be there.

What else is new? I seriously need to lighten up. She didn't even get to complete her thought before wanted to kill her.

And last I knew, we were cool. I relax as she goes on, "Buffy may be a lot of things, but fickle isn't one of them. She doesn't give up on the people she cares for."

Nice sentiment, but she lost me somewhere between her pink shirt and pastel violet skorts.

They still make skorts? And tights? She's seriously wearing fuzzy white tights like some little girl?

But what really tears it is the white cartoon kitten on her tee-shirt. I vowed never to take anyone in a Hello Kitty shirt seriously.

It's rude as hell, but I have to look away. I just can't. Considering…busting up laughing really would be worse. I just can't get past the…

She looks like a great big wad of cotton candy. I'll lose it if I…

I really can't.

And true to form…

We're next to a lake. The eye roll just happens. Shit changing every time I turn around is getting kind of tired.

Doesn't matter that it's pretty. Or that the temperature dropped at least ten degrees when I turned. The air's a little crisp, but not quite chilly. And it's not that thick shit. Breathing actually feels good now.

There's this grassy stuff growing along the shore. A breeze stirs it and creates ripples on the surface of water that's as clear as the air. Sunlight catches the ripples making them sparkle. Little white flowers dot the opposite shoreline.

It's all that and more set against a backdrop of forest and mountains. There are even ducks. This is some serious picture-postcard shit.

It doesn't seem right that I'm alone. A place like this should be crawling with tourists. At the very least there should be a sailboat on the water.

There isn't jack. Bob Ross should be here with his easel, but it's just me and the ducks. Willow even left. Either that or she clammed up. I'd look, but I'm not up for a change just yet. It's nice here. And 'alone' means there's no one to hit me or call me a 'filthy, disgusting animal.'

I could use the slack.

As I enjoy a moment's peace, clouds cover the sun. Or I guess that's it. The sun's somewhere behind me and I—

I really deserve some slack.

Anyway, the shade I'm standing in grows. Even the snowy mountaintops in the distance get duller.

Weird how it feels cooler when this happens.

I wish she'd say something. That is if she's back there. I can't feel her, but that doesn't mean much. She's always been kind of strange. There were days when it was hard to even be around her. She'd totally set me off. My skin would prickle just like it did with that old guy—I'm glad he's gone—and other days we'd be in the same room together and I wouldn't even notice her.

Like any of that means anything here. I should just forget what I think I know. None of it applies.

What she did say was nice. I think she was trying to help. But I'm not willing to call her an authority on the subject. She and B. have always been tight. That hasn't really changed. And it's not going to. Willow isn't like me.

The sun hasn't come back out yet. If anything, it's getting darker. I feel dizzy, but not bad. It's a little like I'm drunk. I want to sit down, but—

Seeing movement out of corner of my eye is…

I want it to stop. I know that nothing's there. Colors streak for no reason. It's similar to that thing that makes you feel like the room's spinning, but both sides move the same way. I resist the urge to turn my head. That really does make it worse.

It's actually more like being in a car, without the car.

Or running.

It's about that fast, but I'm not moving. I haven't gone anywhere. I look down. The water's edge is still about three or four feet from my toes. The sandy soil around them isn't moving either, but the angle of the blur changes when I tilt my head. It's weird as hell.

The ducks forage in the grassy stuff right along the shore for whatever ducks eat. They're not more than ten feet from me. It's like I'm not even here. There's a big one and four little ones. The babies look almost like miniature versions of their mom, but they're still fuzzy…and kind of cute.

They're solid distraction. And I sure need one. Everything around me's moving. But it's all the stuff I can't see. I cling to what I can. I can't help it. This place is peaceful. I don't want to leave. I don't even blink for fear it might change. But the blur is…

It's getting worse. Where I am is like some distant point on the horizon. Even if I am standing right here, the world speeds by. My eyes do as much as they can to keep up, but the blur is…

It's nauseating, disorienting and a couple dozen other things, all of them fucked up.

My eyes tell me that my hair should be whipping around. My cheeks should be flapping or plastered against the bones of my face. I should feel something. Wind should be roaring in my ears. But I'm stuck here.

It's not just that. It's everything. While I watch the ducks, the sun sets and my little oasis is momentarily lit orangey-red. I don't even get that that's what's happening until it's over. The moon's already up when it hits me. Its silver sliver travels like a satellite. Actual satellites move so fast that they look like shooting stars.

Or maybe that was a plane. It was gone too quick. I couldn't tell. This is like watching one of those time-lapse videos, reflected on the surface of the water.

But the ducks still swim like they should. Leaves rustle in the same light breeze that tickles the little hairs on my arms. Crickets chirp. My little picture postcard world goes on largely unaffected.

"You missed something."

Willow's still here. She stands and I see her reflection. But I can't see her face, just the dark shape of her silhouette.

"Don't I always?" slips out before I really understand. She didn't say a word. Not really. She's here with me. Really here. And she's ashamed.

Most people don't get that when a nine millimeter bullet impacts the human body, it's travelling at roughly twelve-hundred feet-per-second. To put that in a way that's easier to visualize: unhindered by gravity and friction that same bullet would travel a mile in roughly four and a half seconds.

I don't know why I'm so nervous. Other than—

Now, that's not really realistic because gravity and friction do play a part, but at close range the effect is…

I blink and the lake's gone. There's this big dorky looking guy in front of me, trussed up with vines between two trees. And Willow—

But saying that is still sort of meaningless. It sounds really impressive, but it doesn't lead to a clear picture. Typically, all we have to tell us how that'd be are movies and television. But the pictures they paint are inaccurate. They're glamorized. The hero never gets hurt as badly as he should and the villain…

This villain had exactly that to go on when he pulled the trigger. Not that he cared.

I feel like I know him, but I don't. Not really. He's just familiar.

And I really wish he wasn't.

I hate him.

That's another thing we trivialize. It's hard to appreciate what hate actually means until you've felt the deep burning rage.

I'm not nervous anymore. This feels so familiar. It's almost comfortable. I lived like this for years.

I lived on it. It made me feel powerful and alive.

I hate guns too.

And not just average hatred. Not that banal term we use frivolously. Meaningless bullshit.

I despise them.

Now I'm all for convenience, don't get me wrong, but taking a life should never be easy. Killing should be personal. Guns make the act mindless. A little pressure on one piece of metal—just a twitch—and another tiny piece of metal does all of your dirty work for you. No muss, no fuss.

This villain won't get to do that again. I hold a piece of metal. It's an insignificant thing. A scrap that I pulled from the chest of someone I love.

She's coming. I really wish she'd mind her own damned business. But it isn't like Buffy not to meddle. She just has to stick her nose in, even where it doesn't belong. She thinks she's helping.

I'm not really holding the bullet. I don't understand how I'm doing it, but it floats, spinning closer and closer to his chest. As near as I can figure, I hold it by sheer will.

My hatred holds the bullet. It seems easy, but I know it isn't. This feels horrible. Like that night when—

The initial impact—the act of touching—starts a cascade. It's called hydrostatic shock. But that's just a fancy way of describing the same thing that happens when you drop a pebble into a pond. It's the same effect…amplified a thousand fold.

I make that happen. His ribs snap. Not all at once, but gradually. I want him to really feel this.

The fluids in his chest, blood and mucus…and all that gory stuff that should stay on the inside, move with the shockwave, like water sloshing in a tank. Cell membranes burst, tissues rupture and the bullet has barely even broken his skin.

His nerve endings light up like the Sunset Strip at night, sending signals to his brain. His amygdala stimulates his hypothalamus to release a hormone called CRH or corticotropin-releasing hormone. Because sciencey things always have cool acronyms. It makes them easier to remember.

Or forget.

Or confuse with other stuff.

Or whatever…but the CRH in his system causes his pituitary gland to release another hormone, which in turn stimulates his adrenal glands to release yet another hormone.

But not adrenaline. Not yet. First it releases cortisol to help him cope.

That chemical soup swishes around for another microsecond before his eyes well up and his cheeks billow out. But he can't really beg. I got sick of his whining and sewed his mouth shut. The desperation makes him look like a great big puffer fish. His muscles tighten. He's in way over his head and he knows it.

And that makes me happy.

Or as happy as I can be with this gaping hole in my chest.

I ache, but I—

I can't stop to think about that. The quiet…

I tear the stitches from his mouth and he shrieks, "Please!" He takes that simple single syllable word and makes it sound like twelve. I nearly crack a grin. "God! Please. I did wrong…"


Sure you're sorry.

I concentrate on his chest. The bullet just pierced his sternum. As I twist and mangle and rip, turning his insides into a gooey paste, the cavalry arrives. I nearly sigh when Buffy shouts my name.

Uh, boy, I'm really in for it now. Mommy's here.

What she thinks doesn't matter. But stupid me, I glance over my shoulder, see the disbelief in her eyes and I almost feel…


An unpleasant little twinge. It passes.

And the sad part is, I think she gets it. I truly believe that if anyone can understand this, it's her.

There's just one slight problem. She might understand the loss, but she'll never understand what I'm doing and why.

People are shaped by loss. By tragedy. The good times—all that warm, fuzzy stuff—yeah, it affects us, but not the same way.

It's how we deal with the pain of loss that really molds us. That's why we remember those things above all the rest.

That's just how we are. Trauma leaves a lasting impression. Call it a flaw if you want.

And Buffy's first major loss—the big one—

Well, to be fair, there were lots. And they were all big. She's had a rough life. But that first one…

The only one she could blame for that was herself. And because of that, deep down, she hates herself…

…not quite as much as I hate Warren.

He begs, "When you get caught—" stammering because I think he gets that this isn't the most persuasive argument "—you'll lose them too. Your friends."

What if I don't plan to get caught?

His sweat and his tears…

Should I hemorrhage his brain? That happens sometimes, but it's pretty rare. That's a lot of fluid to displace. The impact has to generate closer to one-thousand p.s.i.

"You don't want that. I know…" When I come to my decision—huge shock—the pathetic, dribbling, inconsequential piece of shit loses his voice. Blood bubbles up in his throat. He practically gurgles his final words, "You're in pain, but—"

You know nothing.

I say, "Bored now," for the benefit of my 'friends.' The rest happens with a casual thought, just like pulling a trigger.

This is no dream.

I feel the same resentment. That revulsion I used to feel when I looked at B.'s face. Only I'm not feeling it. I can completely relate to what she's going through. Willow just peeled that guy like a banana.

Giles told me back in Sunnydale that things had been rough, but—major understatement—that's about all he said. No one else was jumping up and down to share, so…

And no wonder. That's not something you see every day.

I desperately want to say something to Willow. I need to tell her that I'm sorry. I need for her to know—

B.'s holding my hand. We're walking together. We round the corner by the chili place and the wind dies down. It's easier to hear her when she says, "But yeah, I think we have a real shot if we can put all that behind us."

We're almost home and I really, really, really want to be there. I'm tempted to pick her up and just go for it. I want to be warm and safe in bed, holding her. I long to feel her body pressed against mine. I want hear her whisper, instead of almost shouting. I need to feel her breath caress my ear as she talks, not this bitter wind.

I don't really even need anything else. Just that'd be fine.

Boy, don't I sound like a—?

"I really like you, Faith," she says. "Even with all that other stuff, I guess I always have. Or I wanted to. It hurt. And you really pissed me off, but—" The pause is funny. I remember this. She's so cute. Finally, she adds, "Noticing a theme?"

She's looking right at me, waiting for me to snark, "Drawn to the bad?"

"Not exactly a positive theme," she replies like clockwork, but her smile's so sweet…

A little sap can be nice. I wish I could let myself get sucked in. This was so good. But I can't shake the feeling that something awful's gonna happen. I try to shrug it off. I play my part. I have no choice but to think that it isn't. I have to point out, "You do know that you can't save us, right?"

But we're not alone. And if my hunch is right, that's only going to get worse. I recognize the older black guy who's huddled in a guard shack behind the chili place. It's the same guy from the graveyard. And he gives me the same wicked case of the creeps. But still I nod to him before I say, "Not all of us, at least. It's not the healthiest thing to even try."

He's not supposed to notice us. That's how this went down. But now he turns to me, meets my eyes and says, "I don't think Buffy's the problem. It's her." His face changes as he speaks. It isn't the old man who's looking at me now. It's Wood.

Completely unaffected, Buffy follows the script, "I know." She's not really here. She doesn't know what's happening.

I guess it's good she doesn't see the hatred in his eyes.

But he's not indifferent to her. He actually looks right at her when he says, "I wouldn't count on anything that bitch says. Give it few months. She'll walk away and leave you hanging too. That's all she's good for."

I blink. When my eyes open, he's strung up by his neck from a rafter in the little shack. His head's wrapped in duct tape. The guard uniform is gone. All he has on is a pair of blood soaked red shorts and a grubby white tee-shirt. The insides of his thighs are crusted with blood.

I need to be sick, but I can't. I'm not in control. I wait to blink again, praying that he'll go away. And when my eyelids flutter, I actually catch a break. He does. The guard sits there, normal as you please. And he's not interested in us at all. Something down the alley across the street has his attention. He leans forward, straining to see what it is.

I should follow his example, but instead I ask right on cue, "So what part of that was hard to understand?"

Why'd I say that? It was so unnecessary. God, I need to—

"None of it, I guess," she replies.

I should—

The guard's eyes are bugged out. He's on the right page. Or close. He's still not running. We should all be—

I'm frozen. Locked in. And my heart's somewhere around my shoes. I'm having one those empty, vacant 'oh shit' moments. Holding my breath, hanging on, waiting for my world to come apart…

But her hand's in mine and part of me feels happy. I walk like I haven't got a care in the world. On the surface, I'm contented. Underneath, I need to scream.

Her heels clicking against the pavement, like the second hand of a watch. Counting down…

It's killing me. I can't make my voice work. I can't—

We need to move!

The thicket we cut through to get home is just right there. Another three yards and we'll be okay. We can make it if we run.

We need to—!

My arm yanks tight. She whips me around. I don't know how I keep hold. My shoulder wrenches and pops as my feet leave the ground. The backs of my legs smack something solid. My head snaps forward. It feels like she grabbed hold of a passing train.

My eyes are shut. I don't remember closing them. I'm just glad I did. Shit hits my head, my arms, my back, my legs…

I lose track. But the random flashes of pain fade after a short eternity and I find enough control to lift my head.

The guard shack's a pile of kindling, cracked boards and twisted metal. And there was a fence on that one side.

But we're not—

The shack's not that far away. I should be…

We should be in the next county.

The guard springs to his feet. He was buried in the pile. I'm amazed he's moving. Moving's right. His hair could be on fire and he'd—

My right boot touches down. Whatever it hits makes a hollow metallic thud. Funny, I hear that. Nothing else gets through. A car horn blares. I look down just as my calves slam into the windshield of a white truck.

Something gouges my side. The guard runs into the middle of the street as I spin.

My free hand touches something. No clue what, but I latch hold. It's something smooth and cold…something metal and it feels pretty solid. A thin part, like a wire or—cuts into the side of my middle finger as my arms pull tight. We stop, but only just barely. The snapping pressure on my shoulders and arms—

I groan or…almost drowning out B. when she says, "Oh, I dunno. I'd say she's doing alright."

But it's not really B. Or it is, but it's not my B. She's stretched out somewhere between me and whatever this thing is that has us.

The other B.—half of my impromptu, out-of-context pep squad…who lean casually against the back of a red Dodge parked across from us

This is half-past twisted and getting worse. The car horn sounds muffed. Everything's—

I'm not even gonna think about Willow. She's—

I'm not sure—

Maybe I'm just screwed in the head, but she looks like the Ice Queen, Winter Witch, White Witch…or whatever else from every classic fairytale on the planet. The only thing spoiling the look is her clothes. She should be dressed like some ren-faire reject. But wardrobe really blew it this time. She's wearing a blue sweater, jeans and white tennies.

That's trippy, but Buffy's even worse. The last time I saw that face was in a mirror. The black tank top and brown pleather pants she wears…I picked out. The red lipstick—that was me too. She'd never wear that shade. Her hair's not really fixed either, not like she'd do it. I just picked the tangles out, clipped it back, slapped on a little war paint and went. I was kind of in a hurry that night.

If this is some sort of headtrip—major points to the prick who thought it up—it's totally working. Seeing that face makes me feel more like shit than I already did. And that's quite a feat.

Hearing her defend me…

My B…her hand slips in mine. I almost let go of the metal thing, but she clamps down.

My hand pops. She may've broken it, but that doesn't matter. I'm glad she did. I want to stop this, but losing her isn't an option.

Spectator B. says, "Yeah, that looks like it's gonna suck."

I have no clue what she's going on about. All I've seen so far is her and—

"You're not seriously buying this act?" Wood taunts. I can't see him, but he's close. "That's how things were with us at first too. She cared so much." He has to be somewhere around this truck. I want to find him, but instead, I look up.

Judging from B.'s expression—the one I'm clinging to for dear life—we're screwed. I peer past her, hoping I can tell what's got us. The angle's bad. I don't know. All I see are feet. There are lots of things with feet.

This thing with feet says, "It's touching to see you girls getting along so well." If the lugged soles of his boots didn't give him away, the metallic rasp of his voice does. It's Sparky. I should've guessed. And if I'd had a moment's—

"Why didn't you let go?" Willow asks.


I wish I could answer. But I, umm…

She's seriously freaking me out. Being this close to her makes me feel like I'm standing next to a power transformer. And not one of those wimpy things they mount to the poles. The kind they have in the relay stations outside of town. She's just plain scary. All of the fine hairs on my body prickle, my skin tingles…

It's messed up. And that's only part of it. Sparky's trying to draw and quarter me. Or draw and half me? Something like that.

My arms shake with the strain. But it's not right. This only lasted a few seconds. But that's—

Anyway, Willow isn't helping.

And like I don't have enough to deal with, spectator Buffy chimes in, asking the same damned thing, "Yeah, why didn't you just let go, Faith?" I kick, looking for something to snag hold of, but my legs are— "It would've been so much easier. You could've dropped to the ground and walked away. No big."

What is this? Are we gonna have a moment? I know…let's all share our feelings. That'd be—

How 'bout not? I'm a little busy now. This kick is taking for-goddamned-ever. Can I put this off till the next time I get off? Now's not really a moment I want to savor.

But somehow hearing the question from her makes it different. I still can't answer, but I can't brush her off either. How do I explain that it makes me—?

My boot finally strikes metal. I get that I had to try, but that couldn't have be more pointless. And I'm still stuck, waiting for my legs to…

Her question's hanging too. And even considering why makes me panic. How should I answer? What would she believe?

Can I even answer? I try to say 'I don't know,' but Wood has to get in another shot.

He says something about me just 'doing what comes natural.' And I guess if I'm honest, he might have a point.

But I miss most of that because Willow talks right over him, "It'd leave a great big gaping hole in your chest, wouldn't it?"

It'd be great if she'd just say it. I might have a chance to deal. But she doesn't. It's the same story as before. She's not really talking. The line's even kind of stale. She said something close when she wasn't talking about that other thing.

The funny part…I feel better after she says it. Or doesn't say it. That's just—

But someone else understands.

I understand. Yeah, needing to fight was probably part of it. I don't take shit like this lying down. But that's not it. This is when it happened. This was the moment I really knew. I couldn't let go. I knew that it'd be like cutting a piece of myself off if I did. I had to stay with B. What it might cost me didn't even enter in. I didn't care.

Spectator Buffy looks me over. It takes her a long, uncomfortable moment to size me up.

I catch a little slack. My head tilts up toward my B. as the other B. goes off, "Look, Wood, I'm sorry for what happened to you. I really am. It sucks. But sticking your head out during a shit storm—" from the pause, I'm guessing there's a face "—you should expect to get some on ya."

She's not the only one. I still can't believe she's defending me. "Whatever else was up really doesn't…" Sparky picks a fine time to yank our arms "…matter."

And time picks the same time to unglitch. "You should've stayed in your bunk and you know it," she concludes as I check out what's 'gonna suck.' I've been clinging to a goddamned bicycle wheel, like that's gonna do a damn bit of good.


We're so screwed. The bike's mounted upside-down to the roof of one huge boat of a sport-ute. Morons. Shit makes no sense. They get eight gallons to the mile driving the family assault vehicle to the—

I'm the moron. While I'm on that, bad things go down. As the rim ovals, spokes pop and bend. I don't let go quick enough and my hand gets folded in the stupid thing. It does suck. The metal cracks when it folds. Sparky surges forward, ripping my hand free and open.

I end up like the teddy bear that kid with the glasses had in Peter Pan, dangling along for the ride. As the streetlights at the back of the parking lot whiz past, everything goes back to normal. The car alarm blares. And that stupid guard gets his shit together. He's finally headed the right way.

I swing around and reach up, hoping for a handhold. I find the belt of B.'s coat and latch onto the knot.

Wonder what he'll tell the cops. Should be goo—

A tree limb whacks my shins.

This isn't—

Air whooshes past me the wrong way. My stomach's in my throat.

I'm falling. And my hand—

The stop should rattle my teeth. I brace for it, but—

My legs don't even flex when I land. I'm in an alley. I don't even feel like I fell. I'm fine. My legs are fine. It's everything else—

I know exactly where I am, but it's not anything about where I am that gives it away. I recognize stuff, but—

It's not Buffy either…or the fact that she's crouched over someone.

My heart's got the right idea. It runs rabbit. I want to join it. Instead, I stand frozen, numb…like an idiot, repeating the same three pointless words, "I didn't know."

The stake I held clatters against the concrete. The sound sends a chill down my spine. Ants crawl over my skin. The tension breaks enough for me to—

As I turn, Allan Finch says, "You people are kidding yourselves if you think she'll ever be anything more that a filthy, stinking, mindless animal."


What is it with you guys?

But he might have a point. I froze up like one. The flight response takes over and I bolt like one. My heart just got there first.

B. talks right over him, repeating the same stuff I remember, telling him not to move. But when she notices I've gone, she shouts, "Faith, wait!" a little too soon.

I don't. I know I should. I know that's—

Leaving early doesn't change much. I sprint down the alley the same way we did. I dodge the same old trash. The sirens are just a little farther away. And she's not with me, trying to talk sense. When I don't stop, she reverts, saying, "I need a rag…something to…" But I barely hear her over my lungs laboring to suck in the same stale air…

The rattle of chain link as I hop the fence…

My feet pounding the pavement…

Not that it matters now, but I was right. What B. didn't get is that the moment they figure this out, it'll be game over. If something doesn't change, they'll use this to take us out. The powers in this town know the score. They've just been waiting—

But something did happen. I betrayed her.

As I duck around the first corner, Willow shouts, "Faith!" from somewhere behind me.

I glance over my shoulder and run headlong into that other guy. Hell if I can even remember his name.

He grabs my upper arms, looks me straight in the eye and says, "She's a coldblooded killer. That's all she'll ever be."

He's right. My hands are sticky with his blood. I want to wipe it off, but I—

This guy wasn't like Finch. That fucker was dirty. This guy's just some scientist. The mayor wasn't even sure he'd be a problem, but what he knew was inconvenient. It was the possibility that got him…

I was only doing what I was told. I—

Turning, I pull away, push past him and run. This isn't the way I went, but I hang a left at the next intersection. A long alleyway reaches between two vacant warehouses. It isn't very wide and there's a bunch of crap blocking my path. I weave past trash heaps, skids, a dumpster…

What I needed—why I—

None of that makes one bit of difference.

The fact is, I did. And I didn't care that there were people who loved him. I didn't know. I still don't. I've never had the courage to check. He probably had kids. And they had kids. And they all miss him. I caused them the same misery I—

Why can't I even remember his name?

There's some chick at the end of the alley. I'm running right at her. I have no—

While I'm checking her out, someone snatches hold of my arm. I whip around and draw back. I can't stop.

Angel doesn't even try to avoid it. I slug him and he doubles over. His hands go to his thighs. It takes him a sec, but when he recovers enough to look up and say, "So am I," I couldn't feel more like shit.

Or that's what I think until I glance over my shoulder. That chick at the end of the alley…I'm pretty sure that's B. Her hair threw me. It's at least two shades too dark. But that could just be the light. Or maybe it's the way she's done it up. She almost never wears it back like that.

I find a nice piece of trash to examine while Angel continues, "I've been called all of those things and more. But you can't let that effect you. You've done some real good."

So, either Dingoes are playing the Bronze or some kid lost their dog. The paper's too far gone for me to tell which. I move on to the next ruined scrap as he lifts himself up, still talking, "Willow's right. You need to get control. If you don't, this thing's going to eat you alive."

Talking sense doesn't gain him much this time. I've got no clue about most of that and we're not gonna get into it. I can't even face him. He's here again, trying to help me. He's always trying to help me. I'm like his pet project. I have been for—

Fuck, I dunno…going on six years now he's been trying to steer me right. He's been like a brother to me. And how do I pay him back?

I glance at B. and turn away. Yeah, that's her. She closed in enough for me to—

Just how many faces can one person wear in a dream? My skin tingles, but I shrug it off.

I've got so little reason to tweak. This isn't the same B. I saw back in the alley. And she wasn't the same as the B. whose hand I held in the parking lot…or the B. who was leaning against the car. It's crazy.

But none of that means a damned thing. I can't face any of them now. Why didn't I see this before? It's only the oldest story in the book.

The pressure behind my eyes makes me feel like my head's gonna burst. But I'm not gonna cry. I refuse to. A lump hangs in my throat. It doesn't budge when I swallow. That's as useful as anything else I've done. I dart past Angel, back the way I came. I don't care what happens. They can have me.

B. wraps her legs around me. The strain and the pressure on my ribs throw me off. I'm back where I was. Funny, I still hear Angel calling my name. But that fades as she pulls me up. We're towed through next batch of branches. They whack my legs so hard I have to clench my jaw to hold in a yelp.

So much for not crying. My eyes leak as we're batted around like a piñata. The cold makes them sting. But they're nothing compared with my legs. I try to lift them, but they just get smacked around. It's useless. I can't avoid this. After a few seconds or minutes, or…hell, I don't know. I have no clue what's up with them. They're one big burning…

But I guess I know what happened now. Above my legs, B.'s pretty much got me covered which means…

She's still trying to protect me. I really wish she wouldn't. Things might've turned out different if she'd just worried about herself.

He doesn't even want her. It's me the bastard's after. She should just let go. She might be able to get away without me weighing her down. But that's not like her.

She adjusts her grip. Following her cues, I grab hold of her wrist. The sharp pain's a solid clue that my hand is broken. Like I care.

I keep expecting to get dropped—hoping it'll happen—but it doesn't.

This is about damage. He sticks to the small stuff. Nothing hits hard enough to even threaten to tear us apart. A big limb would. That's just a fact. After a while, the constant battering is just monotonous.

That's what this has all been about. Whoever's doing this is trying to wear me down. The moment one thing lets up, I jump to the next. It's been non-stop fun and games.

And to think I thought this was amateurish.

Well, the first part was, but whoever's doing the rest is a master. They've played on all my fears and doubts. They've put me through…

Yeah. It's been a total blast.

What's worse, I feel better having her with me. I'm relieved that, whatever happens, we'll be together. In spite of the pain, the contact is comforting.

And that feeling makes me sick. I can't shake it. It's part of the memory. I didn't know then what I know now.

But the only other person person I've seen here is Willow. I can't buy that she'd do this. It's not her style.

At least, I hope it's not. We're all screwed if it is.


Why would she?

Even if she has come unhinged, why would she bother with me?


Yeah. That makes perfect sense.

Really, I don't think I would've missed it if she was that pissed.

She had to be trying to help. The way she went about it was a little, umm…


Feeling what she felt—that wasn't exactly pleasant. And the way she filled in, explaining what she was doing. That was just plain weird.

Yeah, and when has Willow ever been weird?

But the point is, it wasn't cruel.

She wasn't, umm…

Nah, I think what she did was human…after a fashion.

As the beating lets up, I hear trains screech in the distance. I can't see much except for B.'s stomach, but guess we're getting closer to—


This was planned.

Yeah, whatever, it's not Willow. She's not doing this. She was just trying to tell me that I'm not the only one.

I've thought the same thing myself. 'If only I could just show them, they'd understand.' I think we've all thought that.

The difference is she can. She probably didn't consider how that'd be. Or maybe she thought—

There might not have been another way to get through. I've been…

I haven't really stopped. Maybe that's it. It's me.

I might be onto something. Maybe.

Just a little.

The instant the thought crosses my mind, I slip away and drop like a rock. So, the mystery villain in this little psychodrama is me? That's really—?

Whatever I crash into makes one hell of a noise. The clinking glass and clattering crap goes well with the splat.

I'm not alone. I roll half on top of someone else. We fall again. Before we even hit the ground, the rage takes hold. I feel—

Hot pressure burns inside my skull. My muscles feel like coiled springs. Ready to bust loose and—

And again…I know exactly where I am. Another alley. I swear, I spend half my life—

It figures I'd end up in this particular alley, what with Willow…

Desperation chews at my heels…if I slow down…

But I don't have to do shit. Just deal. Deal with being on my feet seconds after that fall.

I barely feel it. Tomorrow I will, but now—

Now I have to deal with seething…screaming, "You're gonna die!" in Angel's face.

Deal with shoving him to the ground.

Deal with kicking him when he tries to get up.

Deal with that cheap-ass move.

Tomorrow's not gonna—

But tomorrow does happen. It's a total bitch. Trust me. I was there.

Angel isn't like me. He hits the wall. I grab him and yell, "You hear me?" kicking him under the chin. He's got this real Yoda complex. All 'do or do not'…discipline and training. I get a second shot in straight to his ribs. B.'s the same way. They're a couple of regular workaholics.

Me? I just knock the piss out of stuff. Avoid the worst, look for openings and…

He's giving me way too many. I could back off, but—

This isn't working. I'm just too—

I grab him and toss him at the wall, shouting, "You don't know what evil is!"

I have to think. Who else would do this? The easiest way is to go with the flow. Control the emotions. Work around them.

Deal with shouting, "I'm bad!" as I wail on him. Punch after punch and he just lets me through. I lose track. Rain falls. "Fight back!" I demand. Don't you do this to me, you bastard!

I can't deal. He's not doing shit!

I had this all planned. Grab Wesley, rough him up a little, just enough to scare him…break a few fingers. No big.

Angel should've come charging in to save the day. I thought he'd have no choice. He'd see what I'd done and do what he does. He's the big hero.

I'm all out of options. I could let the Council catch up. Wouldn't that be fun?

Yeah, no…I'll pass. If they'd just man up, it'd be…

But they're way too flippin' British for that. I've had enough of their games.

There's nothing for me here. I don't have a life. They have lives. No one gives a rat's ass what I…

I can't afford a moment's peace and—


Stop! Just stop!

Who? That's what I need to be…who else would bother screwing with me like this?

Finally, Angel grabs me. He wrenches my shoulder. "Nice try, Faith," he says as he shoves me away.

I don't get it. I tumble across the pavement. He's coming after me.

Maybe he's—

He's not! That's not how this goes down.

Now think! Who?

Kako doesn't have the skill, so it probably isn't her.

Nah, screwing with people's heads is her thing, but she's way more direct. This'd be too much work.

It could be Sparky. He has a major beef. Maybe he switched tactics. Maybe he has—

Angel says, "I know what you want." I didn't get this then. When he gives me another shot, I play right in.

Now it makes all kinds of sense. He's screwing with me. I leave myself open and he sends me flying.

As I smack the asphalt and tumble, my chin throbs. I see stars. My ears ring. My head feels two sizes too big, but—

I know he told me he was done. That he wasn't gonna do it. I wait for a capper that doesn't come.

Getting clocked by him sucks, but I should be on my feet again, in his face. I'm twice as—

"I don't believe that you appreciate the problems you've caused."

A piece of concrete gouges my cheek as I tilt my head up and open my eyes. That wasn't Angel.

The brick wall that comes vaguely into focus isn't much help. But I'm not soaked anymore and my legs are toast. Good bet I've moved on.

What really cinches it is B. Right next to me, moving away fast, she replies, "Yeah, sorry to screw up your plans." Between breaths and light thuds, she continues, "I've been known to do that." Something crashes. Sparky growls. "I get that it's insensitive." I tilt my head a little more, looking almost straight up. She evades and tumbles, finally finishing her thought, "But I just can't help myself, y'know?"

Well, not so much 'straight up' as into the center of the room. I traveled almost two thousand miles, but I haven't moved much. And the way I feel, I'm not sure I can. I catch sight of Sparky.

Okay, well…I see two of him, both blurry. Anyway, I'm back where I started—in that place—the warehouse. There's no hole in the floor, but—

I lose track when he rushes the corner to my left, seething, "You silly little girl—"

B. laughs as she whips past me. It almost feels like she brushes me. It's just the wind. The hole in the wall's right there, at my feet. Why'd she pass me? She could've bailed. She could be—

She's on my right, hauling ass, still goading him, "Me? I'm not the one dressed up for Halloween. You do get that it's February, right?"

Jesus Christ, B…enough of the small talk. Please, just run!

She doesn't. As Sparky stops right in front of me, she asks, "What're you supposed to be, anyway?"

I stare at the toes of his boots. This close they're almost in focus. He says, "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" Obviously tracking her, he pivots on the balls of his feet. "You've created an imbalance that can only end one way." He stops, so she must've stopped too.

She should keep going. Engaging him by replying, "Huh?" really isn't the thing to do. She could probably lure him from in front of the hole. She has a chance. She could still get out of here.


Talk about 'a chance.' She might stand one if I wasn't so goddamned useless.

Moving my legs is pointless. I was right. I'm done. It only gets me—

"You raised an army," he says, rushing her.

Something's cutting into my knee. I can't—if I fold my legs, it just—

You know what? Screw it. I'm pathetic.

"An army?" she exclaims as she vaults over him. "You mean the—?" Her question's cut short when he tags her. She's moving with the punch, so…

It's hard to tell how bad it is. But she hits the ground, sliding right at me.

She grinds to a halt and I shout, "Go!" Or try. It comes out more of a squeak. Yeah, I'm a complete waste.

She's not going anywhere. Not that I expect her to. But I see in her eyes before she says, "I'm not leaving you."

She rolls, picking herself up on her hands and knees. Sparky must be waiting. I turn to look just before she launches herself.

Giving her a moment to breathe costs him. I miss most of it, but what do see…looks suspiciously like her ducking his punch and clobbering him. He confirms my suspicions by flying past me out the hole. Jerk almost hits me.

She comes to stop. Go figure. Her hand's on her hip.

It takes him a sec, but after a few he calls in through the hole, "Yes, I mean your ridiculous girls." Maybe he had to cough up a few teeth. "Don't tell me you expected that to end well." Can't hurt to dream.

He flies over me. But she stands her ground long enough to say, "It's not like I had a choice." He almost reaches her before she lunges sideways.

He stays with her, not more than a few steps behind, still running his goddamn mouth, "There's always a choice."

Even trying to brush the crap from my face is useless. I rest my cheek on my hand as she replies, "Yeah, the end."

He cuts her off. She tries to dive underneath him, but I from the sound of things, I don't think it works out.

I don't want to know. So, back to that other thing. Could it really be him? Am I still here?

Or I guess I'd be here. I don't see why he'd move me.

I don't think—

B. says though a chuckle, "Y'know, curtains, the big finish…" Even pinned down, she's the same old B. When he doesn't respond, she gets indignant, "Oh, for crying out loud! And you think I'm challenged?"

Nah, if Sparky's that much of a badass, he sure wouldn't let Willow butt in. Or there'd be—

Sparky smacks B. The crack makes me flinch. But it doesn't set her back much. It only takes her a few seconds to snark, "You've heard of an apocalypse before, haven't you?"

What Willow did to get through—playing show and tell—that wouldn't make much sense if he—

I feel a little better when Sparky grunts. B. must've taken a poke too.

Yeah, Willow's like Angel and B. and the rest of them. If this was that, she'd bust in and play the hero too. She couldn't resist. There'd be fireworks, fireballs…all kinds of flashy shit. This is too—

It's dull.

B. jabbing Sparky in the ribs is just too…

I want to think 'normal,' but flying guys in masks…not exactly 'normal'…or 'dull.' Watching American Idol—now that's dull.

Only I could be so lucky to have something as twisted as this freak—

Well, B. too. She's stuck dealing with the trauma right alongside me.

I need to get my head right. It's me. It has to be. There's no other choice. I must've flipped out, feeling guilty for—

That last shot obviously did it. B.'s given up. The 'whatever' is clear from her tone. "I wasn't the only one to play the army card. The First brought its own army to the party. We just did what we had to."

And I have so little reason to feel guilty. If only she'd run…

I wish I could at least see her face, but I'm stuck with a view of his back. I'm sure her expression's precious.

She draws in a deep breath, but he chokes her off. She struggles to say, "You think—" coughing "—it's bad now?" He must let up because her voice gets stronger. "Things could be so much worse."

Okay…maybe not. I'm not sure I can take much of this. This is… Things only get worse from here. She didn't run.

Thing is, I could swear that as Sparky gets preachy, "Perhaps, but you've only prolonged the inevitable." B. stands up. "You've created chaos."

It's gotta be wishful thinking. She moves right through him. My eyes are obviously useless too. As I shut the stupid things, something next to my head crunches. I—


I open my eyes and see feet. It's a pretty safe bet that Sparky doesn't paint his toenails. Or if he does, he probably wouldn't pick that particular shade of pink.

B. sits down. Folding her legs, she lifts my head onto her lap. "It's okay. This'll be over soon," she says as she rubs the grime from my cheek. Her brow scrunches like she's considering something. She starts to turn, asking, "You don't want to watch, right? This is more of a 'listen' sort of thing."

I shake my head.

I get that we've all got an agenda. But I swear, you'd think this bastard would get sick of his own voice. "Right now a significant number of your girls remain at large." I am. "Are you naïve enough to believe they're going door-to-door selling coo—?"

The B. who holds me says through a giggle, "But I dunno…you might want to see this." She twists just enough so I can look.

From Sparky's pose…curled up fetal and moaning and her sudden mobility—the other her—my guess, she bludgeoned the family jewels.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. But that isn't—

I'm not even gonna go there. Instead, I ask, "Since when do you fight dirty?"

"Sometimes," she says through a bashful grin. "I don't know. There are just certain people who bring out the worst in me, y'know?"

Do I ever…

She blocks my view again. I turn my head, paying attention to her, trying to ignore—

"They sow discord. They pit the public against you," he rants. Something wooden cracks and she groans. "You delude yourself to believe you have any chance at all." He sounds completely unaffected. Not that it'd be obvious through the distortion. "Even the armies of men turn against you. Be assured, your days are numbered."

In the background she's in trouble. Part of me wants to look, but—

"Those petty human affairs are nothing compared to the effect you've had on the preternatural," he says.

She resists, but it's really no contest. He's just biding his time like he did with me. I can imagine what he said then.

I won't do it. I won't make the same mistake twice.

What he says now…

"Your little stunt has caused creatures to amass that would normally be solitary."

It makes a little too much sense. And that's just irritating.

And the pauses…?

This asshole's flair for the dramatic really is bordering on tedious.

"Congratulations. You've inspired the underworld to cooperate." There's another pause before he asks, "Do you understand exactly what that means?"

I want to think 'more drama.' I'd love to write him off, but Kako's what's really on my mind. It means things like her.

But I still don't see how that's anyone's fault. We're just trying to deal too. If this fucker has a suggestion, I wish he'd quit playing around and make it. This bullshit of 'both ends against the middle' really ain't cutting it.

My eyes drift shut as he says, "Even a simpleton…"

Her snapping, "Hey!" makes them pop back open. Even as thrashed as I am, she gets a chuckle.

Shame, Sparky's the only one who seems immune. He doesn't miss a beat. "…such as yourself should be able to see how this ends."

Funny, even after all of that, she still has attitude. "So, besides being a total jerk…" she gasps "…how do you fit in?" It's pretty obvious he has her pinned again. Her voice is weak. She struggles for breath before she asks, "Concerned citizen?" I couldn't love her more. I grin at the B. who holds me as the other B. suggests, "Lemme guess, you represent a new upstart group: People for the Ethical Treatment of Vamp—?"

It's obvious from the clap and how she cuts off that he hit her. I want him dead.

"I'm the one who intends to stop you," he replies, punctuating by breaking a whole lot of shit.

The B. who's with me mouths, "That's it. Now don't you think you've had enough?"

Or maybe she said it. Sparky the not-so human wrecking ball pretty much drowns everything out.

The rumble ends. A single board clatters onto the floor below. One final piece. Like she said, that must be it. I mumble, "I should've done—"

She stops me by resting her finger over my mouth and asking the obvious, "What?" Her finger slips away, brushing my chin and neck as she says, "This guy was smart. He knew that the two of us would be a handful."

That just kind of slipped out. I have no clue how to follow it up, so…

And this is just my luck. She's downright grumpy. "Faith, look," she says. "Your left ankle's broken. You have a fractured femur, a concussion, a dislocated shoulder…both of your hands are broken." She pauses to let that sink in before she asks, "Want me to go on?"

She lifts my head from her lap and pivots onto her knees. I guess we're leaving. I've been looking forward to this. But I get a temporary reprieve. She's not done lecturing. "If anyone gets this, it's you. You've seen both sides. Caring for people can make you vulnerable. It's not your fault that he used that."

I'm no help, but she gets me on my feet. The head rush almost takes us both down. She's right about my ankle. It's toast. Just shifting positions sucks, but putting weight on it to try and stop the fall—that's a real treat.

"We've got this if you want to get ready," Willow says from behind us.

"Yeah, sure, Will. Thanks," B. says as Willow supports my left shoulder. It sucks, but I grit my teeth and bear it. I'd like to know who—

The red drapes are back. I wonder when that happened. Buffy passes through them as Willow says, "You really had us worried."

I must be missing something. Who was worried and why?

How are you even involved? And who's—?

Angel slips underneath my right arm, answering that last question and taking a lot of stress off of…

I can almost think straight now.


Well, I guess he knows, so…I stammer, "I'm sorry, I—"

"It's okay," Angel says, brushing me off as we move steadily toward the drapes to our right. "Buffy called. She was pretty upset."

I'm just along for the ride. No control.

Willow picks up his thought, "We just did what we do when one of our own is in trouble."

It's a little strange hearing that from her, but I let it slide. I'd like to know what prompted B. to make the call.

I don't even get there. We stop at the drapes and Willow says, "The last step's yours. We can't help." The pressure on my shoulder eases as she parts the draperies and steps through. All that's behind them is a whole lot of nothing. As it swallows her, she says, "Just give in to the darkness."

Taking hold of my sides, Angel steadies me as he turns away from his duty as a human crutch. He lets go, careful to give me time to adjust.

It's my right femur. Putting weight on either leg's a major problem, but the right one's the best.

"Well, I guess this is it," he says, glancing over his shoulder. "Take care of yourself."

I want to say something about B., but I can't think of how to begin. How do I even—?

He rests his hand on my shoulder and stresses, "It's okay." Before I can get a word in, he flits past the drapes and disappears.

Well, looks like it's just me. No pressure. I know that hole's behind me. We passed right by it. I'm really tempted to take a peek, but I'm not even sure I can get there.

It's not hard to figure that Kako's one floor down waiting. We were set up. Sparky was just the delivery boy. Why he came back is the only thing that still bugs, but I'm not gonna learn that here. And if I stick around, I might get sucked back in. It's my turn to play punching bag.

Yeah. That's it. I'm just gonna do what Willow said. It'd be great if it made sense, but that's Willow for ya.

Besides, if there's more to this than just one really wicked nightmare, I should find out. I part the drapes and limp past them.

She's right. It's dark. Now I'm supposed to 'give in to the darkness,' whatever the hell that means. Sounds like witchy doubletalk for 'just chill.'

That's kind of a tall order, but as I do my best to relax, it gets easier. The pain fades. It feels like I'm drifting, then it doesn't. Stuff comes into focus. Arms are wrapped around me. Hands are pressed over the backs of my own, fingers laced, holding them tight. And legs…they're tangled with mine.

B. lies behind me, clinging to me like she's afraid I'm going to get away. The layers of fabric between us are…I can't tell which of us has what on, but the shirt I'm wearing feels like it's twisted around me three times.

I open my eyes. As I turn and crane my neck to get a look, she stammers, "I'm sorry. I—" Quickly gaining control, she arrives at her point, "You were hurting yourself. I had to."

Well, that might explain part of it. It's a funny thing though…that's not—

My head's surprisingly clear. I should have a million questions. I really should care about all of this, everything. But I don't. In the dark, right here, now, in her bed, what occurs to me is really out of left field…and arguably kind of stupid. It has nothing to do with anything.

That probably just means I'm insane, but—

What's new?

As her grip loosens, the arm and leg that are pinned beneath me still feel hard and dense. She looks soft. Her skin's soft, but she's like me. Over the years we've hardened.

And not just figuratively. Our bodies have changed. The difference isn't huge. What most people think of as tensed, we see as relaxed. The well meant suggestions can get a little annoying, but otherwise…

None of the new girls are like us. It's just so subtle. It took them for me to even notice. And with her…

I move with her, rolling onto my back. "There's no need," I say as a lift my ass up. Seeing her face makes me smile. My legs ache but nothing like they did. I straighten out my tee-shirt and shorts. Wearing clothes I don't remember putting on is a little strange, but that's the least of it.

I let myself down and kick back. Yeah, I'm okay. A little sore, but—

So, questions…? Looks like she's expecting them. I hate this feeling. I remember what happened. But what I remember…

There are too many things that don't add up. I guess I could start by asking what day it is. That's always fun. I could—

Yeah, she'll get around to filling me in. What should do is say I'm sorry. But this is probably way too complicated for a simple sorry. I could try that, but—

I have no idea. I bunch my pillow up, tuck my arm beneath it. "Y'know that little voice," I whisper, "the one that nags you when you do something wrong?"

Dealing with a guilty conscience by talking about my guilty conscience—not exactly genius, but it might be place to start.


No, this is good. I may be able to apologize without ever using those stupid words. I just have to find the nerve.

Her brow furrows. She twists away from me and reaches up, looking at something above the bed. She has a glass of water in her hand when I next see it. She sits just enough to take a sip and offers it to me. As I accept it, she offers helpfully, "You mean your conscience?"

It's completely messed up. All I can think as she goes through that, is I want a place for us with real furniture. I'm sick of cleaning up spills. You'd think all this grace would count for something.

I take a drink and pass the glass back. Maybe we'll remember this one.

Whatever, I need to stop pretending I'm a regular chick. The whole nesting thing really isn't me. I haven't had a place of my own since—

"Yeah, that," I reply, cutting myself off and getting back on track. We both kind of settle in as I explain, "I like 'little voice' better because it feels like that. Like those old cartoons…an angel perched on your shoulder, whispering in your ear." She rests her head on my shoulder. It just kind of happens. And that's pretty cool.

"That makes it sound detached," I whisper, pausing to clear my throat. "And I think it is. It's something we're taught. Or mostly taught. Some of it just happens." I snicker. "The guilt…that part just happens. But I think some of what we feel guilty about is learned."

I hope she gets this. It's not exactly to the point.

I think she will. It isn't exactly an ingenious code either.

"That can get twisted up," I say, feeling a sheepish smile coming on. I'm damned to do anything about it, so I just let it ride. That doesn't mean I have to face her…or that I even can. What I see through the skylights is sort of grayish and murky, but close enough…it's dawn. Another day, another…hell, if I know.

I mumble, "My little angel got bored and flew away." There's no reason for me get upset, but my eyes burn anyway. This shit just sort of is. It's an uncomfortable fact of my past. Nothing more. I wipe the moisture from their corners with my fingertips.

"Funny thing about that little voice," I say through a sigh. "You ignore it long enough, eventually you push too far and it becomes a scream."

She says, "It's okay, Faith. You don't have to—"

"Yes, I do," I reply. I need to. But I need to just do it. No screwing around.

"Look, B., I'm not asking for forgiveness," I say. "You don't get to make amends for the things I've done. I know it's not like that." I swallow, wishing she'd pass me that glass of water again. My mouth feels nasty. My throat's—

And I don't give a shit. So what if my voice cracks. I stare at the stupid ceiling and make myself say the words, "All I've got…the best I can hope for is that one of these days—" As predicted, my voice isn't cooperating. It cracks. Not just once, but twice. "When people look back—" Three times. I'm a wreck, but I clear my throat. "When they remember who I was, they'll see something besides a monster." And somehow I make it through.

I rub my eyes. Figures they're wet and slimy this time. Telling myself, 'I won't cry,' rarely works.

I add, "That's all I can do, y'know?" It just slips out. Goddamn nervous tic. Tensing my jaw, I force myself to shut the hell up.

It's fuckin' retarded. Can't get going for shit. It takes every ounce of everything I've got. But once I get started, I'm a total motor mouth.

She turns her head to speak, but nothing comes out. It wasn't fair for me to put that off on her. She doesn't know. She can't. She looks away.

I should say something…or do something. I don't know. The silence is worse. There has to be—

She faces me again. I don't want to see her expression. I know she's gonna look…

And the gray coming in through the skylights is only getting grayer.

She touches my chin, coaxing me to turn. I'm not sure I can. I compromise, shutting my eyes as I let her have her way.

She's so close. Her breath caresses my lips as she whispers, "You're not a monster." A tear drop clings to her cheek. It wets the tip of my nose when she kisses me.