The characters belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy

Buffy, Riley and Joyce belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The song is "Two Beds and a Coffee Machine" from the Savage Garden album "Affirmation". Send feedback to queenclaire@chickmail.com

Neve's eyes were wide and frightened, her small frame tense and anxious as her mother gently nudged her out the door. Her mom was carrying Cassie in her arms, and was holding Mark's hand.

Neve was the eldest. She was meant to be brave. But she didn't feel it. She was scared her dad would wake up and start another fight. Her dad was terrifying. The fact that her mom was scared of him as well only made it even more frightening.

At seven, Neve could remember that things hadn't always been like this. She had vague memories of there being no fighting. No late-night arguments, the sound of raised voices and smashed dishes keeping her up. But for most of her life, the fighting had been there.

"Come on, honey, into the car," her mom said softly. They were leaving again. Another secret departure during the middle of the night. Neve could recall three more before this, there had probably been more. Whenever things got too bad for her mom to handle, she'd cope by taking off in the middle of the night. They'd find a new town to start over in, and everything would be fine for a couple of months, until her dad found them. He'd beg for forgiveness and her mom would take him back, but inevitably the fighting began again.

"OK, Mom," Neve said.

"Good girl," she responded, and Buffy Summers-Finn smiled a sad, tired smile.

And she takes another step

Slowly she opens the door

Check that he is sleeping

Pick up all the broken glass and furniture on the floor

Been up half the night screaming now it's time to get away

Pack up the kids in the car

Another bruise to try and hide

Another alibi to write.

Another ditch in the road

You keep moving

Another stop sign

You keep moving on

And the years go by so fast

Wonder how I ever made it through.

Buffy drove non-stop through the night. Her head ached from exhaustion and from the blow her loving husband had delivered to it earlier that night.

She really didn't understand where things had gone wrong. She and Riley had been in love. They'd got married, and had kids, and then the fighting had begun. He'd accuse her of having an affair, or of turning the kids against him, or of manipulating him into getting married. He'd pick a fight about anything and everything. And then the beating began. And Buffy Summers, the mighty and powerful vampire slayer, was too worn out from the emotional trauma of the constant abuse from the man she loved to fight back.

That was the killer. She still loved him, after it all. And every time he'd found her before and apologized and said it would never happen again and that he loved her, she believed him and forgave him. Her love for him would cancel out any wrongs he committed.

But this, she was sure, was going to be different. This time she wouldn't forgive him. This time she was going to try to be strong. For the kids sake. They didn't deserve this. And most of all, for herself.

And there are children to think of

Baby's asleep in the backseat

Wonder how they'll ever make it through this living nightmare

But the mind is an amazing thing

Full of candy dreams and new toys and another cheap hotel

Two beds and a coffee machine

But there are groceries to buy

And she knows she'll have to go home.

Another ditch in the road

You keep moving

Another stop sign

You keep moving on

And the years go by so fast

Wonder how I ever made it through.

The further she drove, the more insecure she became. Could she really cope on her own? She had to. She had to revive the old Buffy. The Buffy who'd slayed night after night while keeping up a social life, the Buffy who'd saved the world from ending a couple of times, the Buffy who would never had put up with this constant abuse from someone who claimed to love her.

"I'm not going to put up with!" she said aloud, and then hoped she hadn't woken up the sleeping kids in the backseat. "No one should have to suffer through this."

Another bruise to try and hide

Another alibi to write

Another lonely highway in the black of night

But there's hope in the darkness

You know you're going to make it.

Another ditch in the road

You keep moving

Another stop sign

You keep moving on

And the years go by so fast

Wonder how I ever made it.

As the dawn broke, the car drew to a halt in front of a familiar house. Seeing the time on her watch, Buffy debated whether to wake up her kids. She decided not to and walked up the driveway to her old home.

She thought her mom would be asleep, but when she knocked, Joyce answered right away.

"Buffy, thank God you're home," Joyce said, holding her tightly.

Buffy couldn't help bursting into tears.

"It's OK, it's OK," Joyce murmured soothingly. "It's going to be OK from now on. He's not going to do this to you again. You're going to stay here and be safe."

Through her tears, Buffy couldn't help feeling relieved. She was home. Back in Sunnydale, her own territory, where, despite not being protected from all the extra-dimensional evil out there, at least she was safe from violent husbands.

"Watch out, Riley," Buffy thought. "The slayer's back."

"Let's get those kids in here, huh?" Joyce smiled.

Buffy nodded, and, wiping her eyes, went to wake them up.

"Where are we?" Neve yawned as she got out of the car along with her brother and sister.

"Home," Buffy said. "We're home."