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.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
FEEDBACK: valyssia[at]gmail.com

By Valyssia



Y’know…maybe it’s all the Saturday afternoons I spent in front of the tube, but I got the impression that walking a gauntlet would be a little less twisty.

And there’d be lots less climbing involved.

I raise my foot to the next tread. It lets out a threatening groan when I apply my weight. Doesn’t help that I’m loaded down like a mule. As I creep forward and up, my duffle scrapes either the wall or the column the stairs wrap around. It’s a real drag. The only place I have room for the stupid thing is at the corners where the steps are triangular.

Thank God there’s room there. I’d have gone over backwards a couple turns ago. And I’m not exactly clumsy.

I thought spiral staircases were supposed to be round. This stupid thing’s square, like it’s built into an old elevator shaft. But it probably predates the elevator enough to be declared either a national landmark or a serious code violation. My opinion leans toward that last thing.

But really, these stairs aren’t even the fun part. They’re nothing but another obstacle course. I’ve seen plenty of them. Which leads me to mistaken impression number three: usually my goal’s some dot on a map—a finish line—not the little blonde right in front of me who’s all loaded down too with her ass in my face. This’d be easier if the ass in question had something else on it besides a lace doily…

Yeah. Fun.

Can we skip the fun for now? A shower would be better. We didn’t exactly get one of those before we left the hotel. That was more of a snatch and dash, what with the potential bomb threat.

I don’t see why we couldn’t get another room somewhere else. This place is, umm…

And the smell’s a little—

It’s more B. than I’m used to. Yet somehow, that’s not as bad as it sounds.

I get that bailing was the thing to do. Once I got my head back on straight, what I saw made it pretty clear that the hotel and the school would be targets. Not that I needed that part spelled out.

There are a couple of things that still don’t fit. It’d be nice if whoever had explained those instead. Figures we’d get a guide who’s both sadistic and unnecessarily cryptic.

Speaking of…

Giles could’ve been less helpful. I’m not sure how, I just know he has it in him. He did his job, of course, but being told to sit tight?

Sit tight and do what?

I don’t get him at all. There’s all this other stuff and he wants me here? He knows about B. It’s not like she’s gone over the wall.

Unless he’s—

Oh now, there’s a cheery thought I’m not even going to entertain. I’ll pass. The idea that Giles might be the one with the problem really isn’t—

Thing is, he said I could ‘retire’ after this job.

What job?

I must be missing something because if I take what I’ve been told at face value, what I was sent to do is making my mouth water. And other stuff.

Talk about taking one for the team.

A thick swallow gives away just how relaxed I am. Good thing she’s not looking. She’s got her hands and everything else full just rounding the next corner. She deserves solid points for doing this in heels.

There’s just no way it’s that easy.

Not the climbing—that’s a bitch—but for me the sitch is worse. Call me skeptical…

Hell, call me whatever. Point is, shit only goes down this way for other people. Not me. Not ever.

Really, I should be up north dealing with damage control.

But he did have a valid point. Me being here does split Kako’s focus. And no battle can be fought on two fronts. Not if you want to win. So I guess I stay put and find the…

Amid my sigh and the creak of the stairs, I almost miss the faint thump of the front door shutting. B. follows it up with a question, “So what’d you think of Maeve?”

Another sigh would fit in nicely. I really, really want to. I was pretty proud of that mental block. I’d almost completely managed to forget something traumatic that happened only a few minutes ago. It wasn’t easy. Slogging up these goddamned stairs helped.

This just sucks. I’ve got nothing nice to say. Of course, that never stopped me before. But I’m trying to be—

I hate trying.

Glancing longingly back at the door we just passed, I reply, “She was, umm…” I bite my lip while I work out just the right word. The best I’ve got is, “Different.” Not the kind of person I’d ever imagine B. hanging with, let alone sharing an apartment.

At least the place is huge. We started off on the second story. Now we’re headed up the home stretch to the nosebleed seats by my count.

Not that I’m in any kind of hurry, but—

“You’d be surprised,” B. says.

How about not?

Can I skip the surprise? They have this nasty habit of ending in violence for me.

Completely ignoring how she looked…

And that’s not easy. She had on a pink vinyl babydoll dress and enough makeup to be the entertainment at some kid’s birthday party. Her haircut made me think tragic accident involving scissors and a ponytail. And just that would’ve been fine, but she had all the luck. She followed that up by taking a header through a bucket of hair gel into a weed eater. The big pink bow on top of her head was just—

I’m not even sure what that was.

Yeah I am. This chick completely missed the irony.

I normally don’t judge people by how they look, but she was, umm…

‘Different’ works.

But the truth is, I probably would’ve let that all slide if it hadn’t been for the look she gave me.

And the way she touched B. when they hugged. That wanted to be your standard friend stuff. It was for B., but on Maeve’s end it was just a touch too friendly.

We round the next corner and I catch sight of a door. Part of me wants to be happy. It’s almost over. The part of me that has any sense at all understands that the fun’s about to begin.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too hard on her. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been jealous over not much. Maybe I misread her?


I really didn’t expect—

I can’t see B. striking up a conversation with someone who looks like that. Suicide Girls aren’t exactly her type. The bad tit job alone…

They weren’t huge, just unnatural. There’s a certain smush-factor that should’ve been there, what with all that rubber.

“Is she a slayer?” I ask. It’s the only reasonable solution I can come up with.

“No,” B. replies, tackling the last couple stairs before she elaborates, “She’s a massage therapist.”

Guess that takes care of how they met. Maeve must work at the spa. Safe bet she doesn’t dress that way for work. That would explain the look…or rather, B. not being put out by it.

Not that I think she’s stuck up.

Well, maybe I do, a little, but she’s changed more than a little. Anyway, the image didn’t fit. Now it does.

There’s nothing fancy about this part of the house. It used to be the attic. At least I hope ‘used to be’ applies. A painted wooden floor with a plain railing runs the width of the stairwell. B. leads me to a door at the end, briefly setting her shopping bag down to open it. “Actually, she’s just a sweet girl who’s had a really crappy life,” she says. Her duffle bag clanks against the doorframe when she steps inside. “Not a new story, I know,” she adds, taking off across the room. “Thing is, she kind of reminded me of Will, so…”

I stick by the door. Something about not being invited in. May as well cling to the last few scraps of manners I have left. Or maybe I’m just stalling.

It’s probably that.

When I drop my duffle, B. says, “Oh, you can come in,” like she thinks she might’ve done something rude. She sets her stuff next to a trunk on the far wall.

These old houses are cool. There’s a round, stained glass window behind her, purple irises framed in cut lead crystal. It’s pretty.

“That closet over there’s empty,” she says, facing me and motioning to the first set of folding doors on my right. There’s no shortage. The area under the eaves got turned into closets. Four of them total, two on each sidewall. “Make yourself at home. I know it’s not much, but—”

It is, but it isn’t. Her room has this ‘just passing through’ look about it. Other than a bed, there’s not a whole lot here, just a large area rug, a trunk and a chest of drawers. And the bed’s really just a big, square mattress in the middle of the floor that’s made up like a bed. The room pretty much swallows everything except the mattress and the rug.

But the lack of stuff’s not that surprising considering those stairs. I wonder how they got the mattress up here. Bet that was fun.

Above the closets on each sidewall, the ceiling slopes. With the white walls, even now, this place is bright. Whoever finished it decided to add skylights too. There are three of them evenly spaced on each of the sloped ceilings.

This isn’t exactly what comes to mind when I hear the word ‘bedroom.’

Sunlight shines down on the mattress through the skylights. That’s becoming a theme. I wonder if it’s B.’s theme or Maeve’s.

I reach down to pick up my bag. “Maeve thought they could use this as a band room when she rented the place,” she says, watching me as I go to the closet. “That plan kind of fell apart. Can you imagine hauling amps up and down those stairs?”

I don’t answer. Her question’s kind of pointless and probably rhetorical. Besides, I have one of my own. And I’m not really looking forward to it. The sad part is that I already know the answer, but I still have to ask. My life just wouldn’t be complete without a little misery.

Not facing her is better. I slide the closet doors open. Look at that. It’s a closet. I could hide in here. Might be a plan.

Big surprise, the ceiling of the closet matches the slope of the roof. But that’s just a meaningless detail. I’m wasting time.

Dropping my bags, I hang up my dress as I struggle with the words, “Are you and Maeve, uh…?” Just saying them makes me feel stupid.

“What?” she replies through a giggle.

The giggle doesn’t help. “I don’t know. Maybe I read things wrong,” I mumble.

She speaks right over me, “No. I told you what I want.” The sharp edge to her voice isn’t all that shocking. But it is. Anyway, it’s less than helpful. As I shut the closet doors, she announces, “I’m gonna take a shower. I’ll be right back.”

I’m glad to see her leave. No clue when she undressed or put on a robe. Not that undressing would’ve taken any time.

So now what?

Now I wait.

‘Wait’ is pretty much all I have to do.

Well, not really. I take new cell phone out of the shopping bag she had, remove it from the packaging and plug it in. We’re not even together…or not really—at least I don’t think so…and B.’s already taking care of me. She made sure to save the SIM card from my old phone when she picked up the pieces. Is it wrong that I could get used to that?

I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. More waiting…

Things have gotta get better.

It’s not like I even want the stupid phone. I need it. Giles said he’d send a couple of slayers here for support. We’re supposed to get bios on them when the selections are made. I don’t see why he couldn’t just bring them with him on Friday.

Really, I don’t get why he needs to come here at all. Not that I won’t be thrilled to see him. It just seems like he should be busy with Cleveland…and everything else. But he wants to see us, so…

More stress.

I should find clothes. Hopefully, a shower’s in my immediate future too.

The door opens while I’m going through my duffle. I glance over my shoulder and she says, “Your turn. I put towels out for you.”

Wow. That was quick. I glance over my shoulder. Her hair’s not even wet, so…

“Thanks,” I reply, picking up the cotton shorts and camisole I located in the pile. It’s a pretty random pile. I’m amazed I found anything that matched. It’s not like I had scads of time to pack.

She moves to her closet and opens the door. On my way out, she says, “Oh, there’s one other thing.” I stop at the door and turn to face her. Leaning out of the closet so she can see me, she says, “If you run into Maeve later, please don’t umm…” Her pausing to find the right word makes me just that much more nervous. What’s next? “It’s just, she’s kind of sensitive,” B. mumbles.

“Okay, no problem. I get it,” I reply. But I really don’t. It’s amazing I sound so sure of myself. Mostly I just want to go get cleaned up.

“You probably don’t,” she informs me. And rightly so. It’s not like I put lots of thought into that answer. While I’m playing around, B. fills me in, “Maeve has cancer.”

That’s not at all what I expected. “Oh,” I mouth. Pretty much everything I had up to now needs some work. Okay, a lot of work.

Is she even working? It’s impossible to say. Guess I’m back to square one on the roommate. Where’s Maddie when I need her?

B.’s expression tinges with sadness just before she disappears back into her closet. “It’s pretty bad,” she says. Hangers scrape the metal rod. “Just don’t stare, ’kay?”

Alrighty then…check, no staring at the roommate. She should seriously think about a wardrobe change if that’s what she wants. 

Huh. Maybe that’s the point. She’s giving them a reason. I might do the same thing if—

I nod—like B. can even see me—and get while the getting’s good. A shower sounds fantastic. And the stairs aren’t half as bad without all the crap.

I’m not gonna dwell on my earlier question. That’d just make me feel like more of an ass. B.’s got enough heart she could be here just because. And that’s fine. I’ll butt out. It’s none of my business anyway.

My business is to get clean and face whatever surprise she’s got in store for me next. I should just throw out everything I know and start over. If I could, I would. It might make things easier.

Passing through the utility room door, I hang a left and enter the bathroom. I got the brush-through tour when we arrived, so…

The shower’s a bunch of chromed pipes attached to an old clawfoot tub. The tub’s kinda huge and inviting. I debate the merits of a bath for about three-point-two seconds while I turn the faucets. The idea starts to sound better when I have to mess with the lever to get the showerhead to stay on. A good jiggle gets me what I want, ending the debate. I pull the curtain closed and strip.

The bathroom’s tiny and kinda packed. It’s pretty obvious just looking around that the occupants are women. Every available space is covered in brightly colored poufs, bottles and boxes. Not that there are many. There’s barely room left for the tub. The toilet seat’s the only place to set stuff, so my clean clothes go there on top of the towel and the dirty ones end up balled up on the floor. It doesn’t matter. I could pitch those old sweats and it wouldn’t be a loss.

Why I’m in rush I don’t know, but once I’m in, I don’t mess around. It feels good too. I catch myself lingering a little longer than I should on parts I shouldn’t.

I can’t help it. If something doesn’t give soon, I may snap. The real bitch is how tender they are. But it feels great once it stops hurting.

And that’s about the time I give up.

This is still pointless.

Talk about contradictions. I’m scared to face her, but I can’t wait to get back there. The most messed up thing is that being scared pisses me off. It always has. There’s no in-between. I feel the first thing and it instantly becomes the second. So I’m pretty much intense, overreacting to every little thing and just biting my lip.

What’s worse, I know it. Well, it’d be even worse if I didn’t, but not being able to do a damned thing just isn’t fun.

There’s actually a pile of ‘worse’ to match the contradictions and the misleading impressions. Part of me thinks we should wait. That we’re rushing this and it’s going to end badly.

Maybe that’s just because I’m scared?

And more pissed off…

When have I ever wanted to wait before in my life?

When has it mattered this much? I didn’t wait with Wood. That was supposed to be…

I was gonna check out how the other half lived. Maybe that’s part of the problem. If I’d—hell, I dunno.

What I do know is…add the fact that when she smiles at me, it makes me stupidly happy and…

I need a quiet space, something kinda small and dark to crawl into so I can come unglued.

So much for rushing through my shower. I’m just standing here, letting the water flow over my shoulders. At least it’s getting rid of some of the tension.

It’ll be back before I make it halfway up the stairs. I have faith.

I snicker and stoop to turn off the water.

I’m clean. Time to go face—


Sliding my clothes aside, I grab the towel off the toilet seat and rub myself down. I’d like to think ‘dry off,’ but it isn’t working that way. And it isn’t gonna. The bathroom’s so steamy that the idea’s pretty much laughable. An exhaust fan would help. It’d be nice if there was one.

I give up and throw on my clothes. Of course, it’s less of a ‘throw’ and more of a ‘pull.’ They stick, stretch and fight me every inch of the way. I sigh and wrap my hair in a towel. That’s not gonna get any better either. I don’t see a blow dryer. You’d think B. would have one, but—

Oh well.

The air hits me when I open the door and I’m instantly chilled. I plod from the hallway into the utility room and back up the stairs. It’d probably warm me up if I could get moving.

I can’t. Every step brings me closer to…

Round and round she goes…or would that be ‘square and square’?

The thickest contradiction here is my name. Cancer Girl could take a lesson in irony from me.

When I finally reach the room, B.’s curled up on the bed, bathed in sunlight. She’s wearing a light blue, stretchy cotton teddy. It’s pretty and very girlie…and a little like those things the girls in gymnastics used to wear when I was a kid, without the tights. I don’t remember what they were called, but the coverage is pretty much the same…

Except not.

Her cleavage is almost framed in sheer lace. She’s on her right side so her breasts are—

Gravity works. It works so well that about half of her left nipple’s bare. It’s, umm…really hot. Similar lace borders the tops of her thighs. And the cotton’s not very opaque either.

Who needs an imagination?

Personally, I think it’s overrated. At least I do now.

The appeal still escapes me. She’s one of the girliest girls I know and I’m so not into girls.

Thing is, she’s got a lot more going on than that. Buffy’s also one of the strongest people I know. Strong women are usually ignored.

She isn’t. I think it’s the mix. The two things work together. I wish I had that.

Anyway, it’s pointless to question. It just is.

When I swing the door shut with my foot and lean against it, her attention comes to rest on me. “Have you ever built something up in your mind?” she asks.

So I guess this is it. Time to put up or shut up.

That expression’s just funny in this case. She no more shuts up…

“You get an idea and it sounds like just the thing.” No, I’m the mute. And the next item on the menu. “So you go for it.” She makes me feel like a particularly fat canary. “You do all the scheming…and all the planning.” The cage door’s open. “Of course the idea gets bigger.” And her head’s inside. “There’s this whole ‘fantasy’ thing that happens. You create all these expectations about how it’ll be.”

And in a couple short statements, she’s just B. again. It’s like she deflated. She gives me a quirky half-smile and says, “Things just can’t be simple.” Even the tone of her voice changes, just that fast.

But cynical’s more my thing. I’m not sure I like it on her. Thankfully, that goes away too. Something else that’s gone in a flash.

She should come with a warning label.

“The moment arrives and you wonder.” She finds this funny. What I find funny is that she’s looking right at me. I know she sees me, but she’s way too wrapped up. “The idea that might’ve been good goes from ‘fabulous’ to ‘just plain stupid’ in that moment.”

Now all the funny’s gone.

My neck won’t cooperate. It’d be nice to hold on. To look my opponent in the eye. I can’t.

She can’t be having second thoughts, can she?

Go figure, I’m still not important.

She keeps going, without missing a beat. “It’s weird. Nothing’s even happened and still—” It seems like my feet should be puffy and red. They aren’t. They’re still just my feet. “You build it up just to tear it down without ever knowing.” That’s what happens when all the blood drains, right? “Was I wrong?” My face feels clammy. That ‘draining’ thing has to be it. “Did I make all this up just to…”

Hissing with disgust, she proclaims, “It’s stupid.”

No, I’m the one who’s stupid. I get all worked up and stress myself out. And for what?


She sounds confused. I glance without moving my head, half afraid of what I’ll find.

Her brow’s creased. Searching my face, she stammers, “Why are—uh, what’s wrong?”

What do you mean ‘what’s wrong?’ My feet may be bloated, but at least they aren’t cold. I can’t look. This is so bad.

“Oh, would you stop it?” she snaps, snatching my attention. I’m not sure what’s more shocking; that she finally saw me or that she’s pissed.

But when she follows up with, “Look, Faith, you’re overthinking things again,” I get that she’s not mad at all. Weird. I even catch a little of that ‘pot calling the kettle black’ irony in her tone.

I missed it. She was talking about something else. Something she did that she feels silly about. Now I want to know what, but she doesn’t spill. Instead, she continues chiding, “You need to quit that.” Like I need it. “It’s not all that hard. I’m not gonna change my mind.” I’m hard enough on myself without her help. “I just need to know one thing. How do you feel about me?”

My face is hot. The blood’s back. Sounds like progress, but it’s not. I clench my jaw. My head hums with pent up angst. I want to snap, but—

It’s her question. Finally, she asks something that isn’t rhetorical. And if I were to answer it truthfully now…

She irritates the holy living shit out of me!

I want to scream, but I bite my lip…and my tongue. The truth is—the other truth—the one that actually matters…I care. If I didn’t, I sure wouldn’t put up with all of this crap.

I won’t tell her that I love her. I don’t know if that’s what she’s looking for. Probably not. She knows me. Good thing too. I’ve only said that a few times in my life and it…

It’s pretty sad that I might. I don’t know yet. I need time.

Another glaring contradiction jumps out…she’s probably said those words to more people than I’ve called ‘friend.’ Well, that’s not so much a contradiction as…we’re just different. Two very different people.

“I care about you,” I reply. I deserve points. That almost sounded calm. Almost—not quite. But it’s the truth. And the truth usually works.

No, the truth usually gets me into more trouble. Proving my point, she whispers, “Show me.”


There are five steps between me and the bed. Taking them should be easy. It’s not like I don’t know what I want. I just—

I do.

That doesn’t keep each step from being a little harder than the last. And each one gets a token, unspoken curse. I finally found my gauntlet. At least the trudge, ‘shit,’ trudge, ‘fuck’…kinda takes my mind off the impending doom. I have to find a new cuss word for each one. It’s fun.

And that so doesn’t matter. It doesn’t help. Or it doesn’t help nearly enough. Five cuss words really aren’t a challenge for a girl like me. When I reach her, I’m all but trembling. I’ve never been—

The really screwed up part…

Not that there’s any shortage of ‘screwed up’ here. This whole situation’s…

She kneels on the edge of the mattress in front of me. I lean down. She asked me to show her. A kiss is the simplest way. It’s easy. It’s just everything else that’s—

I cup her face in my hands. It feels so good. She tastes like raspberries again. Her hand rests on my chest above my breasts. I don’t want to stop, but she pushes. Her hand slides down between my breasts as she guides me to stand. It comes to rest just above the waistband of my shorts.

She looks up at me. Considering where she is and what she’s doing, it seems like her smile should be wolfish. It isn’t. She’s genuinely happy. “I think it should be my turn to lead for a while, if that’s okay,” she whispers. Her attention drifts lower. “Not that last night wasn’t a blast.” She’s a little distracted now.

Happy, hungry, horny…she’s got all those H’s and more.

Figures I missed something. I usually do.

I nod.

She’s bound to do better than I did. It wouldn’t take much. “That wasn’t your fault,” she tells me. It’s nice of her to try and reassure me, but we both know the truth.

Reaching around with her other hand, she hooks her index fingers into my waistband and pulls down. Her remaining fingers trace a line over my pubes and…

“I know it’s confusing.” Her breath makes me shudder. She’s so close. “It’s right for you to be a little wigged.” I inhale. The air catches in my throat. I sound like someone’s shaking me. And she is. She needs to be closer. “Just trust me.” Lots closer. My shorts fall around my ankles. I want to take her head in my hands, but I don’t get the chance. Not before she—

Her mouth closes over my pussy. My knees turn to mush. I grab the sides of her head. She licks and sucks, pinching my clit between her lips. I push…or is that pull? I’m not even sure. I just want more. It doesn’t matter that it hurts at first. More is better. Just when the aching ends, she slips from my grasp. How I’m still standing is anyone’s guess.

Her fingertips come to rest on my clit. Playing with me, she says, “You’ll do exactly what I ask?”

These are the kind of choices I’m actually good at.

When I manage another nod without landing on my ass, she directs, “Take your shirt off,” and I do. Anything else would be dumb. “Now lay down.” I’m done being dumb. For a mattress on the floor, the bed’s not half bad.

She lies on her side next to me. I turn my head to face her and she rewards me with another kiss. What starts simple grows. I’m not sure which one of us gets there first. It’s like a mutual agreement. Our tongues entwine. She rolls on top of me, but holds herself up. Her attention’s split. What’s she up to?

The top of her teddy ties at the back of her neck. I play with the bow, feeling her move. She doesn’t let go. I tug on the end of a string and the bow slips free. Her top falls. I know it does, but I don’t get to watch. It’s a damned shame. She’s relentless. Our lips caress. Our tongues dance. I wish she’d touch me.

After a few moments, she does, but it’s not her. Smooth plastic slides between my vulva, pressing inside me. As I break the kiss to moan, she says, “Please don’t laugh.”

I blink, wondering what the hell she’s talking about. I’m not laughing. She thrusts her hips, burying the dildo inside me and smiles.

It takes a moment for the trembling to die away. She holds still, giving me time to get used to—

She didn’t skimp. My body just reacts. It’s not—

It doesn’t hurt, but—

“I just—” she starts and falls flat. It’s funny. After all that, she’s the one who’s blushing. I kinda get why, but she spells it out. “I-I—you do get how silly these things are, right? It’s like the worst fashion accessory ever. I feel like a complete idiot.” Every word she said when I entered the room makes sense now. “I just wanted you to be comfortable.” She licks her lips. “I wanted—”

I place my finger against her lips and make a gentle hushing sound. It’s funny. For all her confidence, sometimes B.’s just—

“I get it,” I whisper. “You’re fine.” I want to reassure her more, but I think the best way to do that is…

Pushing her teddy up, I grab hold of her ass and tilt my hips back. She’s right. The leather straps are kind of funny.

The funny lasts about as long my smile. About as long as anything else.


There’s nothing new about feeling like I’ve been fucked a couple dozen different ways. It’s a running feature. What I’m not used to is liking it.

I take a deep breath through my mouth. My nose is hopeless. I’m drowning. Yet somehow, that’s not horrible.

I sort of thought it might be, what with the descriptions. Whoever came up with ‘tuna’ should be beat. I don’t see that at all.

I’ve heard other people try to talk it up by using the word ‘sweet.’ Yeah, that fits too. If anything, it’s a little tart. And I guess kind of salty. Not quite like sweat. Not as strong. And more, umm…


My head rests on her thigh. I’m so spent…sleepy, happy and a ton of other good things. Imagine me happy. Even the sticky’s kinda nice. I could pass out.

She’s so quiet, I just have to look. When it got dark is a complete mystery. But it’s really not all that dark in here. The light’s just cool and blue now.

The first thing I see is my own hand. I’ve been running my fingertips through her pubes. For how long, I’m not sure. They’re so soft. It’s soothing. I stop. ‘Soothing’ for me is probably ‘annoying’ for her. It goes that way. I ask, “Is that it?” mostly because it feels like the sort of thing I should ask, even if I already pretty much know the answer. We don’t fit, so…

When you’re faking to make something work, the combinations are pretty much endless.

But this isn’t all that different, really. The combinations are normally endless. It’s unbelievable that some people get stuck in a rut.

Using my index finger, I trace a line from her pubes to a mark I noticed earlier. We do fit. She’s just much cuter than I’ll ever be. Even in the dim light, the little freckle shows up. There’s no way this is just a freckle. It looks like one, which probably means part of it is, but the rest—

I’m not buying it. Heart-shaped freckles just don’t happen. I feel for the poor guy who got this job ’cause maintaining a professional attitude…

Yeah, umm…I’ll pass.

“Uh…” She sounds really with it. “That was about a quarter.”

A quarter of what?

A quarter of nine? Yeah, I guess that’s about what time it is. Sounds close enough. If you mean that other thing…

Unless I’m just dense, that seemed like the full ten rounds to me. I prop myself up and cock an eyebrow. This should be precious. It takes a few, but she finally cracks. “Don’t look at me like that. So I read a book. What’s wrong with that?” And all I have to do is wait. I let a little of the smirk show. “Well, mostly read, there were pictures too.” I bite my lip.

God, I love her. Umm…

Years of practice and I almost lose it over three little words. I’m pathetic.

She doesn’t even notice me. Her face flushes. “Oh,” she exclaims. “It really wasn’t like that. I—”

I might. I dunno. I hang my head. This is hard. I really need time. I’m just not used to the warm and fuzzy. That’s the last thing I usually feel.

Anyway, I don’t bother to hold back the snicker. With the head shake, it reads totally different. Like I think something’s sad. I do. It’s just not her. I probably could’ve milked this for more, but—

I’m hopeless. “Well, not really. They were like diagrams,” she explains. And she’s still just hopelessly cute. Yeah, that makes a huge difference. It takes her a moment, but she eventually gets there too. I look up, mask already in place. She has to look away. Recovery for her doesn’t come nearly as easy my shit-eating grin, but when it does, she whispers, “That was just the parts that sounded like the most fun. There’s more. A lot more.”

Well, B…look at you. It might be my turn to blush ’cause the image of her sitting around, thinking about me, reading some lesbian sex manual…it’s not half bad. And ‘planning’ as a euphemism…I thought I’d heard them all. That’s good. Nice and simple. I like it.

I lean down to kiss her freckle and my stomach grumbles. Stupid thing. Of course, she says, “We should feed that thing.”

A ‘thank you’ for the ‘planning’ was more what I had in mind. Gotta love a good euphemism…

I focus on what I was ‘planning.’ It’s a little surprising how different we are. Not that I’d ever given it much thought. It makes sense. Our hands are different. Why not this?

It’s just—

I never imagined that I’d find something like this appealing, but it is. Perfectly symmetrical, thin, delicate…

We’re exactly the opposite. I have this thick, swollen bundle of need between my legs. She never gets like that. Even now, after all that fun, she’s still…

Her skin’s a rosy shade of pink. It’s so pretty. I never would’ve guessed.

When she says, “That’s not exactly what I had in mind,” I grin and look up. Busted. She slides away, rolling her eyes. “I’ve created a monster.”

I reply through a laugh, “And you expected…?” Oops. I really didn’t mean to say that.

Getting up, she flips on a light and goes for a box that’s sitting on her chest of drawers. While her back’s turned, she mumbles, “Pretty much that.”

The truth gets me every time.

She faces me with the box and a hairbrush in her hands. No surprise, letting B. into my life means she gets to play with my hair. “Sit up,” she says. Honestly, I’m glad for the help. It went from the shower, to a towel, to…my hair’s a complete disaster. Maybe she can do something with it. All I’ve got is ‘take another shower,’ which really isn’t a bad idea considering.

Sliding in behind me, she whispers, “I’ll tell you what, after pizza, we can check out the next quarter.” She sections off a little of my hair, gently brushing the tangles out.

That’s not quite what I had in mind. I liked the first quarter just fine. I just want my turn. Starting with…

Is it wrong that I really want to fuck her pretty little blonde brains out?


Yeah. I guess her brains aren’t really blonde. Or pretty for that matter. She stops brushing long enough to ask, “What?” when another snicker slips from my stupid mouth.

They say they’re kind of gray and squishy. I’ll happily take their word for it. I’ve seen enough shit to last me a lifetime. I don’t need any more.

I should’ve kept quiet, but that would’ve been too easy. It’s time to bail myself out. The usual reply would be, ‘Oh, nothing.’ I don’t even go there. As she moves on to the next clump of my hair, I get back to the good stuff. “Alright, you got a deal, but it’s my turn to look silly.”

I expect it to take her a second, but she surprises me. “That’s fair, but on one condition: I want to go out.”

Her answer’s less than helpful. This image of her clinging to a balcony railing in that dress from last night flashes through my demented brain. I’m behind her. The pervert show only lasts for a second, but that’s just long enough. Unable to resist the urge, I mumble, “Public performances aren’t exactly my—”

She swats me on the hip. Were I standing, that would’ve been a swat on the ass. She tries…and she pulls my hair. All at the same time, she cuts me off by scolding, “That’s so not what I meant.”

Yeah. If I don’t stop, I’m gonna end up with a well deserved concussion. I guess pizza and beer it is. And to think I was actually looking forward to that. Now I’m a lot more interested in dessert.

I wonder if she works the same way I do. My guess is ‘no.’ I always want more. And really good sex…that ‘going at it like there’s no tomorrow, serious rock ’em, sock ’em, claw the covers off the bed’ sex, makes me want lots more.

That’s one of the biggest reasons monogamy’s never cut it for me. If they were worth a second shot, I’d just wear them out. Course, it might help if I had some self control, but—

I really don’t.

What can I say? I’m as much of a dog as your average guy. And what’s good for the goose…

Sad, it rarely works that way.

Why’s that expression even exist? It’s older than dirt and it suggests some equality that I know didn’t exist back then. Hell, it barely exists now.

She’s almost done turning my rat’s nest into something a little more presentable. I don’t want to interrupt her, but I have another sudden urge. I don’t even know why. Maybe it’s more of those manners I’d forgotten I had cropping up. Or maybe I’m feeling guilty for razzing her. I can’t help it. She’s just too funny.

Anyway, it’s not a bad thing, so I run with it. Slowly turning my upper body, I reach around and touch her. She follows my lead, accepting the kiss. It doesn’t need to be much. Just a little and I break it off, whispering, “Thanks, B.”

As I face forward, she smiles and asks, “For what?”

“Where do you want me to start?” I reply. I hope she doesn’t take that for smartass. It’s just…she’s been pretty great and there’s a list.

“It’s my pleasure,” she replies, sweeping my hair back, brushing from my hairline to the tips in long, full strokes. Here’s another thing I could get used to. It feels nice. She must understand that because she brushes long after all of the tangles are gone.

Nothing good can last forever. And things that are good for a while can get boring. She abandons the brush, rests her thumbs just above my temples, and using her forefingers, draws back, collecting a lock of hair on either side of my head. She twists them both and holds them with her left hand as she moves on her knees to face me.

The change of scenery’s nice. I lose interest in everything except for what’s right in front of me. They’re pretty. When she leans forward to reach behind me and clip my hair in place, I take advantage of a good thing. It’s not hard. I barely have to move, just cup the closest part in my hand and latch on. The left one wins out. I run my tongue over the tip of her nipple. Her breathing labors just a bit, but she finishes what she’s doing. I let go when she leans back.

No surprise, I get scolded. “Food first,” she says, taking my chin in her hand. “I’m starving, ’kay?” She tilts my head up. I want to say, ‘So am I,’ but I fake distraction instead. Not much faking to it, but hamming it up makes her grin.

She’s having none of it. My grin gets me another eye roll and a snarky, “Oh, please.” After giving my hair a quick once-over, she stands up.

I take the hint and get up when she goes to her closet. Hangers scrape behind me. She’s looking for something to wear. Glancing over my shoulder, I fold my closet door open as I ask, “No shower?”

She replies, “We probably should, but I’m not sure I care that much.” Living out of a bag just sucks. I unzip the damned thing and stir the contents, looking for panties and a bra. Something that actually matches might be novel. “Besides, I kind of like smelling like you.” She sounds a tad sentimental. “I sure waited long enough. I think I deserve to enjoy it.”

That’s sweet, in a quirky kind of way. It might be a little gross too, but I’ll let that part slide. We’ll call it ‘sweet’ and ignore the fact that it’s not exactly the sort of thing I’d expect from B.

Repacking might help. I put on the first pair of panties I find and keep digging, setting aside a pair of black fake-leather pants and a red, ribbed Henley sweater. My panties are white. This shouldn’t be that hard.

“Anyway, we’re going to a pizza joint. The air’s yeasty enough. Who’s gonna notice?” she says as I lay hands on a white bra. Wouldya look at that?

Now that she mentions it, I guess the smell is a little yeasty. Not really something I wanted pointed out, but it fits.

I stand up to put on my bra, turning around for a peek. Now this is something I’d expect from B. I’m lucky to find things that match and she’s…

She’s a fucking knockout. She always did dress nice, but not like this. At least, not that she shared.

Her back’s turned, so I take advantage, watching as she hooks her bra. It’s a black lacy thing to match the garter-thong and the tops of the stockings she has on. The thong has a short lace skirt attached that just covers her ass. Using the word ‘cover’ is a bit of a stretch.

Of course, my mind’s only got one track. All I want is to take it off her. Or maybe leave it on for a while and just work around it.

I bite my lip hard enough to hurt. This is fun and all, but the sooner I get my shit together…

When she moves to her closet, I turn around and stoop for my pants. There’s nowhere to sit, so putting them on is amusing. A belt’s probably too much to ask. I’m not even sure I packed one. It’s pointless. I didn’t see any. I give up. If this lasts long, I’m gonna have to go shopping. She’ll love that. Careful not to mess up my hair, I slip on my shirt.

When I turn around, she’s watching me. Her blue-gray, turtleneck sweater dress could pass for conservative in somebody’s book. Somebody—not me. It has that classy kind of look. And if I couldn’t pick out every major muscle group in her body…

Puckers at the sides cause it to wrinkle across her hips, stomach and thighs. Everywhere there aren’t wrinkles, the dress clings like a glove. It’s damned sexy.

She says, “I’m gonna go wash up.” I watch her leave. Her dress is even better in action. Yeah, getting used to this is gonna be tough, but I’ll muddle through somehow.

Turning around, I dig a pair of socks out, grab my boots and sit on the corner of the bed. She’s gonna be a while. I use the extra time to pick up the room. We kind of trashed it.

The strap-on’s so B. it’s not even funny. If something like this can be…

It’s pink and decorated with little white hearts cut into the leather. No wonder she felt silly. There’s no way she found this in some catalog. Figures she’d want a designer dick. A one-off.

I can see her thinking that’s the last thing she wants, which explains the smooth shape of the dildo. And I’m right there with her. If I wanted a dick, I’d go pick up the entire package.

I have no idea where she keeps this thing. And I’m not gonna snoop. Best I’ve got is ‘get it up off the floor.’ It’s a trip hazard. And tripping over this…

My luck I’d land funny and break my neck. Not exactly like slipping on a bar of soap. The obit would be, uh, hmm…

I place her dick on top of the weapons trunk. Seems like a reasonable spot to me. The rest of the mess is just our clothes and the bed.

Oh, and there’s the box and brush. B. was a little spacey. Not surprising.

It all goes quick enough. When everything’s squared away, I grab my makeup bag out of my backpack and head downstairs.

She’s already in the living room talking with Maeve. Before hitting the bathroom, I poke my head in to say, “Hi.” B.’s attention comes little quicker then I expect. She’s sitting sort of sideways on the couch, facing Maeve. All she really has to do is look up to make eye contact. “I’ll just be a minute,” I add, hoping she doesn’t feel chatty.

Wow. B. wasn’t kidding. Chemo really wrecks a body. Baldness notwithstanding, even with her back to me, it’s obvious that Maeve isn’t well. The view doesn’t improve when she half-turns to look over her shoulder. I wish she wouldn’t. She doesn’t need to.

It’s weird, without all the shit, I feel like I recognize her. I’m not sure from where, but that doesn’t matter. When she says, “Hi,” too, I offer a friendly smile. I want to be nice, but really, that’s my cue to bail.

B. calls after me, “I’m ready when you are.”

It only takes me a few minutes to pee, blow my nose, wash my face and put on eye makeup. Washing my face hardly matters. I still smell her. It’s strange, but I’m kind of glad. I was just getting used to it.

I duck down the other half of the L-shaped hallway that wraps around the living room to give them more time. The TV’s on, but I catch enough to get that they’re talking about some guy named Aaron. Maeve seems pretty upset.

I’m amazed I didn’t notice it earlier. The downstairs has that smell. It’s not really obvious. Air fresheners, incense and B. pretty much cover it up, but it’s there. That ‘sterile death’ smell that makes hospitals such fun places to be.

At the end of the hall, I catch the word, “Marriot,” on the TV and freeze. B. stops talking too. It sucks. I was almost distracted enough to forget. The stupid reporter pretty much kills that for me. “…led local police to discover a device which was later disarmed without incident. Covington Police Chief, Harold Mitchell, had this to say…” The story breaks down to a press Q and A with this cop who sounds too much like Deputy Dawg to take seriously. I don’t even waste my time. The upshot is that no one else was hurt. That’s all I need to know.

B. and Maeve pick up their conversation as I go to the closet in the front room for my coat. Damned thing’s still heavy. I really shouldn’t have left this down here, but she insisted and I didn’t take time to explain. She has no reason to suspect that there’s a small arsenal stashed inside. When we get back, I’ll snag a hanger and take my coat upstairs. Putting it on as I go, I walk to the door.

And of course, as I get closer, the TV gets louder. So do B. and Maeve. Of the two, I’d rather listen to the TV. “…hotel in downtown Covington. Though terrorist activity is suspected, no one has come forward claiming responsibility for the device.” If they only knew…

I can even see the picture now. Not that there’s much to look at. The reporter reminds me a little of a younger Jerry Orbach. “Were it not for the anonymous tip received by the police, this story might’ve had a very different ending. Back to you, Ed.”

Oh well. I did a good thing. It sucked, but I did it. Kudos to me. Funny, Ed thinks so too. “That was quite story, Henry. I suppose we should count our blessings that the tip came in when it did.”

“Yes we should, Ed,” Henry agrees.

Ed replies with the obvious, “Though, I am curious to know how the caller came by their information.” A little birdie told him.

Ed’s insinuation isn’t exactly veiled in concrete. He’s suspicious. Henry’s suspicious. The cops are suspicious. Everyone’s suspicious. What else is new? Good things usually make people suspicious.

While Ed and Henry banter back and forth, failing to put a human touch on the report, I boil the whole thing down. What I did doesn’t mean shit. Fact is, there wouldn’t have even been a bomb if it wasn’t for me. Being given a chance to keep more innocent blood off my hands…

It was damned nice of the Putas That Be to spare me that.

And in breaking news, watching the news is still worse than watching golf. It’s hard to believe they get by with calling that shit drama. There’s as much drama in your average golf game as watching that old car in the dirt lot behind the school rust. Y’know eventually there’ll be nothing left but an orangey spot on the ground. Same as y’know someone will eventually win the U.S. Open. Sure, it’ll happen. Doesn’t mean I wanna see the play-by-play.

I’m tempted to step outside for a smoke. I’ve had about as much of Ed and Henry as I can take for one night. B. doesn’t let me get that far. She stands. Stretching, she asks, “Need anything while we’re out?”

I don’t have to be psychic to predict Maeve’s answer. “No thanks.” People who are that sick usually only want one thing. And it’s not pizza.

I’ve gotta give her credit. I had no idea how things were when I got here. Anyone who’s tough enough to go to all that trouble to hide something like that deserves my respect.

B. goes for her coat, slips it on and ties the belt as she walks my way. I manage to split my attention long enough to get the door for her. Life can be rough sometimes.

Her coat’s like a smaller version of mine, a black leather duster that covers her to her mid-shin. The matching just adds to the impression that I’m her butcher half. And not the kind that parts out cows.

Now there’s a role I never saw myself in. I’d be more comfortable with the goddamned cows. But I guess I may as well face it. The drooling’s a pretty solid clue.

She takes my hand. We walk around the railing and down the stairs. I get the door for her again, further cementing my role. It’s a little chilly out here, but there’s no sense in complaining. Her mind’s made up. As I pull the door shut, she strides across the porch, explaining, “Maeve broke up with her boyfriend. She doesn’t want him to see her like this.” She descends the stairs to the sidewalk. “It’s a shame. He’s such a sweet guy. I don’t think it’s fair to him, but she’s the one who’s sick, so…”

I catch up. “That’s tough,” I reply, taking her hand. This still isn’t any of my business, but honestly, I can see Maeve’s point. I’m not sure what I’d want. It’s impossible for me to judge. I guess it’d depend on the situation. But I’ve never had a relationship that lasted much over a few months, so…

We make it to the street. Instead of turning down the city sidewalk, B. crosses and I follow her lead. “How long were they together?” I ask.

I don’t think anyone visited when I was in the hospital. But then, I didn’t exactly give them a reason. And it’s not like I would’ve known if they had.

“I’m not really sure. Off and on for years,” she replies. That makes a real difference, but it’s still not my place to judge. Besides, B. gets that as well as I do.

The sidewalk on the other side of the street’s a little wider and newer. She steers us left. This is a nice neighborhood. The street’s well lit. There are lots of trees. All of the houses are occupied except one up ahead with a realtor’s sign in the yard. Pretty much every other porch light is on. The places are old, but that just adds to the charm. There are even toys in a few of the yards. It’s quite a change from what I’m used to.

As we slowly descend the hill, her heels click. She’s not trying to be quiet. Her mind’s too wrapped up in her friend’s problems. She says, “It doesn’t surprise me. Maeve did the same thing when she was first diagnosed. The cancer went into remission and she got back together with him. But I don’t know if that’ll happen this time.”

She makes it sound like she’s known Maeve for years. Or maybe that’s just an impression. What’s going on is really intense.

Makes me wonder, would B. want me around if she was hurt really bad or sick like Maeve is? It’s way too early to think about stuff like that now, but—

Maybe it’s the fact that B.’s a stranger. That might actually make things easier on Maeve. It’s just a thought…and not an unreasonable one. Once Maeve gets her old life back—if that happens—she can move on without B. to remind her of the bad times.

I wonder if B. sees that.

I doubt it. She’s just not that jaded.

I actually doubt both. I can’t see B. wanting me around. Not yet at least. She’s got other people who are lots closer. She has a history with them. She loves them.

It’s kind of hard to miss.

And that’s one of the things that’s been bugging me. In the world of vamps and demons and slayers, there’s a fourth option. One that’s in no way normal. Someone who makes a hell of a lot more sense than me. Someone who already loves her. Hell, someone who’s already gay.

It seems to me if Red can wiggle her nose and whip up a slayer army, that one slayer and her little plastic happy shouldn’t be much of a challenge at all.

That’s where my mind would go if someone told me that B. was seeing a chick. All that was stopping that was her.

Maybe I’m missing something? Maybe it’s not that way anymore.

Yeah. Who am I kidding? Everyone who got close to B. had some sort of crush on her. And Red was the worst of all. She was like this poster child for unrequited love. There were even a few times those last weeks in Sunnydale they were bickering and I wanted to tell them to get a room. Like we had any to spare.

It doesn’t take keen powers of observation to see that the feelings are pretty much mutual. If I’d really wanted to fuck B. over, I would’ve gone straight for the redhead. I didn’t, not that bad, so…

But really, there just isn’t a better way to hurt her.

I sure didn’t expect to ever compete with that. Yet here I am. And it makes no sense.

“I’m not sure what to say about Maeve. I wish I had something, but it’s not really my place,” I explain to wrap up the previous topic. Hopefully, B.’ll take the hint.

“I get that,” she says. “It’s just hard. I want to be there for her, but saying that’s a whole lot easier than actually doing it.”

“Well, all you can really do is listen. And it seems to me you’re doing that,” I reply.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she mumbles.

Good. That’s done. Or I hope it is. Now all I need is to find the nerve ’cause, face it, as much as I want it to, this isn’t gonna go away. I stop to light a smoke. She turns to face me, not quite tapping her foot while she waits. Yeah, I know you don’t like it. Sorry, B.

Once I have my coffin nail, we get moving again and I go straight for the pointless bullshit. What better way to set myself up? “I had this friend back in Southie who used to say, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The bastard might sneeze’.” Jeff was such an idiot. I let a laugh slip. The last thing I am is happy, but the memory isn’t bad.

We’re almost at the end of the street. There’s a barricade up ahead, a narrow thicket and beyond that the lights of a main street. B. cuts across the street we’re on, heading for a narrow dirt path that leads through the thicket.

Keeping pace with her, I take a drag, exhaling the smoke as I say, “I’m not trying to question a good thing.” Bullshit’s right. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I should have my head examined. “Yeah, really I am. Thing is, I have to question until all of the questions are gone. That’s the only way I’m gonna get right with this.”

That was great. Now what?

Well, at least we’re making progress one way. When we leave the thicket, she turns left onto the sidewalk. The intersection just ahead is Ludlow. That’s where we’re going. I just don’t know where on Ludlow. The four or five block section immediately right of us is a major strip. There are at least a dozen restaurants and a bunch of small businesses catering to the college crowd.

I stifle a sigh and give her a sidelong glance. She looks too, holding my gaze for just a sec. Oh well, it’s not like I can take it all back. She’s way too interested for that. But maybe if I can drag this out long enough, there’ll be enough people around that she won’t yell. Best plan I’ve got. The last thing I want is to get into a screaming match with B.

I’m not even sure what makes me think that’s gonna happen. She’s been cool so far. I’ve just got this bad feeling.

That might be the problem. Things have been too good. Me ‘getting the worst’ is a solid trend. No surprise, I’ve come to expect it. And when it doesn’t happen—

Of course, I don’t cut my own throat fast enough for her, so she prompts, “Go on.” My heart rate jumps the second she opens her mouth.

I can’t compete. That’s just a fact. There’s no way. Red’s this amazing person. She’s got her life together. What do I have that she doesn’t? A murder rap? An arrest warrant? A G.E.D.?

Shit, I’m looking at more time and she’s probably got her degree by now. I don’t get what B. sees in me. I’m a train wreck without the thrilling explosions.

I manage to follow my first stellar performance with, “It’s just—” Yeah, stammering’s really helpful. I’ve gotta get my shit together. Like that’s such a new theme.

Okay, so…I should go with the obvious. She told me why she made the move. Letting her know I haven’t forgotten might be good. “I know what you told me, but it just seems—” I clear my throat to stall. The five seconds that takes, buys me all of nothing. “I don’t know. I just—” I need a new brain. This one’s probably been dropped too many times.

I take puff off my smoke. My hand’s cold, clammy and trembling. Yeah, I’m a wreck.

And it’s no wonder. We just hopped out of bed after sex.

But not sex, sex. Not just any sex. That was pretty amazing sex. What I’m trying to do now is just…

The walk light comes on, she follows instructions and I follow her.

Insane, that’s what this is. I just scored the winning lottery ticket and I’m trying to give it away.

B. runs out of patience as we cross whatever street this is. “Look, Faith, I’m not a telepath.” Clifton I think. I glance at the sign. Yeah, it’s Clifton. “You have to say what’s on your mind for me to understand. It’s called communication.” She releases my hand. It’s so sweaty I’m surprised she held on this long. I shove it into my pocket so it doesn’t freeze. “I get that you’re nervous, but you should try it. Who knows, I might even be able to help.”

Good things always come with complications.

Well, there’s a Skyline Chili behind us. I don’t get what’s up with chili around here, but it’s a major thing. The only other restaurants I see are a Thai place and a gyro shop on this block. I’m screwed. I have to say something. “I just don’t understand why you care.” I’m not gonna mention Red unless I have to. Boil the whole issue down and what you get is pretty much this: “Of all people…why’d you pick me?”

Dickhead had a pouch of throwing stars built into this pocket. I take one out. Holding it with my middle finger through the hole, I rotate it, pressing my thumb into the points, one at a time. Between the smoke and this, maybe I won’t bite my nails.

She replies, “You make it sound like some sort of choice,” as I take another drag. “Like I pulled out a rolodex, flipped through it and went, ‘I know, I could seduce Faith. She’s probably bored’.” They say this shit calms your nerves. I’m waiting. Any time now would be nice. 

It won’t happen. This is where things head south. I’ll disagree kinda like this, “It was a choice. You told me that yourself,” she’ll snap defensive and presto: instant fight. To my credit, I do everything I can to keep the peace. It just doesn’t get much more conciliatory than a weak mumble.

The upside is that things are exactly like I’d hoped. This is a busy little street. There’s a steady flow of traffic. Not lots, but enough. And there are a few people out. Considering the cold…

I don’t get how B. does it. This has to suck for her. It’s in the low forties and even with this coat, I’m sort of cold.

“Okay, it was, but it wasn’t.” She sounds normal enough at first, but as she goes on her voice picks up tension. At least she’s not yelling. “You don’t get to pick who you’re attracted to. You know that. It just happens.” She stops talking. I glance. Her brow furrows. I take a drag and she goes off, “Why are you doing this?” I knew it. “Did I do something to upset you?” I hate being right.

This is the last thing I need. I’ll chance my nails. After sliding the throwing star back into its pouch, I say, “No. You didn’t do anything. I just don’t—”

She cuts me off, “I did do something wrong, didn’t I?” It’s hopeless. I wish we could stop, but I know she won’t. Thing is, it might help if I could look her in the eyes. “Why do you do that? You act like nothing’s wrong when—”

That does it. I snap, “B., you said ‘slayers’.” Funny, for a snap my voice is still pretty weak. “There are lots of slayers now.” She has to see the sense in what I’m saying, even if I don’t say the name. “I just don’t get why you’d pick me. Wouldn’t it be better to pick someone who’s not…” I let her have the blank. She can fill that in while I rack my brain for a replacement. “What about that girl Red was seeing? She’s kind of hot and—”

Go figure, she laughs it off. “Who? Kennedy? She’s an annoying brat. You know that.” Yeah, I do. It was lame. But the idea isn’t.

“Alright then, someone else,” I reply. It’s not like this is rocket science. “There has to be another slayer you like. I mean, there are two-thousand of us now.” The worst part—

She says, “You really didn’t like it.” The hurt comes through in her voice. “How can you look at me—?”

I feel like a major shit cutting her off. I just hate the fact that she’s making this about her. “That’s not it. I just think—” I don’t know what I think. Shit! “B., I’m a fucking nightmare! Can’t you see that? Of all people, how could you want to be with me?” I keep saying that…‘the worst part,’ or at least thinking it. But if this whole fucked mess has a ‘worst part,’ it’s this…

I thought for sure when I took Angelus down that I was gonna die. I was ready. No one was more surprised than me when I got up. Except maybe Lorne. Poor guy almost had a heart attack. The look on his face was…

Except…well, I’m not really sure Pylean demons have hearts. Fred said his brain’s in his…

Whatever. Reliving the bad anatomy lesson really isn’t helping.

It’s hard to believe that was almost three years ago. I moved on. Went where I was needed. None of us thought we’d leave Sunnydale. We were all prepared to lay down our lives to stop The First. And some of us did. But some of us survived. Or parts of some of us survived. After that, I just went where I was needed again. Cleveland was a total—

“So this is about you?” she says, but she’s not buying it. “I so don’t buy that.” She even says so. “You were trying to make it work with Wood. What makes him so much different than me…besides the obvious?” None of this is her fault. Wish I could get that through her thick skull.

It’s me.

Just my luck, I get to Cleveland and end up toe-to-toe with another vamp who’s older than dirt and batshit crazy. I was ready to die there too. I still am. And that’s the thing, the ‘worst part.’ I’ve spent so much time waiting to die, I think I’ve forgotten how to live.

“It’s not you. I think you’re sexy as hell,” I reply. For a really short time Wood made me feel alive. She makes feel the same way. How can she think I’m faking that? “It’s just—” I’ve gotta do this. If I don’t, things are only gonna get worse. “I don’t see why you’d want to be with me when there’s someone else. Someone who’d be so much better for you.”

A gust of wind blows through the intersection. I shiver as she asks the obvious, “Who?” She stops to check for traffic. The walk light’s not on, but it’s late enough that she just keeps going.

Tensing to shake off the cold, I follow a few steps behind her. It’s no small deal for me to say her name. I feel I’m giving B. up when I do. “Willow.” It comes out weak and broken, but I say it.

She exclaims, “Oh, you’ve gotta be joking? That’s what this is about?” She’s so loud I almost jump out of my skin. We even get a look from some guy who’s standing on the street corner. It’s great.

My cigarette’s practically burning my fingers. I drop the damned thing. I don’t remember smoking the last half, but I guess I did.

I’m such a stupid— I actually plead with her to see the sense, “She’d be better for you than I would.” It’s the last thing I want. “You two have this really special thing.” The last thing right next to hurting her, or dragging her down into this shit heap I call a life. “I mean, it’s obvious you care. And she’s—”

She doesn’t let me finish. “Here’s a better idea, Faith. How about I pick someone?” I take another peek. Oh boy. “There are lots of people in my past, right? Surely there has to be another candidate.” Here we go. If she wasn’t pissed before, she is now.

No wonder my life’s a shit heap. Look at the decisions I make.

She asks, “How about, Jenny Calendar?” That name rings a bell. “She was a little before your time.” I just can’t place it. “She was almost my mom’s age, but that shouldn’t matter.”

Some of her anger fades, but her voice keeps that snarky edge. She’s pricking with me. “The fact that she was totally into Giles might.” Oh Jesus! That’s the chick who— “She’s also dead because I couldn’t just be with the man that I loved.” Shit, B. That’s almost as bad as me suggesting I look up Allan Finch and see if he’s up for a good time. Not that she— “No, I’m way too special for that. I turned him into the monster who snapped Jenny’s neck just for spite.” It’s the same difference. She feels responsible for the death.

Turning sullen, she says, “It’s gotten better, but I’m still not sure Giles is over that.” Yeah, that had to suck, but I don’t see the point. “You want to compare nightmares? I don’t even have to really screw up to be poison. I just am.” She’s the one who said she didn’t want to talk about this shit.

I hope she’s done. “Oh! There’s Anya.” No. Not even close. It just took her a moment to locate the next barb.

I have to try, “It’s okay, B. I get it,” but sneaking a word in edgewise just doesn’t work.

She talks right over me, “Too bad she died because she stayed to help me.” I give up. Hurricane Buffy’s just gonna have to run her course. “But you were there. You saw.” Really, she’d make a better earthquake. “Xander’s, umm…he’s been pretty…” Too bad they don’t name those.

Under a maroon awning just ahead of us, a door swings open. A well-dressed, middle-aged man steps though, followed by an attractive woman in her mid-to-late twenties. He holds the door for her and takes her hand. They do the ‘we’re so in love’ pantomime as they walk our way.

Is it sad that I envy them? If I’d just kept my damned mouth shut, that’d be us.

I file in behind B. to make room for them as she says, “I know. How about Tara? She was even gay.” The guy gives us a snotty look. Asshole.

Okay, so…not really us. B. adds, “And totally in love with Will,” as we pass up the red state special.

Fuck it! I have to try again. “B., please, I get it.”

Figures, I don’t even put a dent in her rant. “They had a rough time. Will had a lot of problems to work out.” I have to speed up to catch her. She’s actually walking away from me. “But they were so in love. And she was getting better.” Taking my place at her side, I match pace. Like it’s my place. “They were just getting back together when Tara was killed by a bullet that was meant for me.” She looks terrible. And of course, I feel like more of a shit for upsetting her. I promised I wouldn’t bring up the past. Looks like I stepped right in it without even knowing.

“But then, I guess you sort of missed that part,” she grumbles. “So if things seemed a little intense around the house when you came back, maybe now you’ll get why.” Well, that’s just great, but my role as an asshole isn’t quite complete until she adds, “You also should get that there are things that people just can’t forgive.” Wish I’d known. Some of the stuff that happened makes a lot more sense now.

Stopping under the maroon awning, she faces me. “You say you’re a mess? Well, look at me,” she demands. I wish I could, but I can’t. “You’re one of the few people I can think of who might have a shot at surviving me.”

My mouth’s so pasty I don’t get the impulse. It makes no sense, but I follow it anyway, reaching into my coat for a smoke as she says, “I just don’t see why you won’t hear me. I’ve tried like—”

Something hits me when she cuts off. I totally blew it. Not just a little bit blew it, but I completely screwed the pooch. I couldn’t have fucked up harder if I’d tried. She’s in such a snit she can’t even finish a thought and all I can smell are these stupid things.

Oh well, done’s done. I place the nasty thing between my lips. There’s no going back now. I may as well make it worse. That’s what I’m best at.

The gold ‘Uno’s’ logo on the glass to her left catches my eye as I light up. I suppose it should remind me of Chicago, but it doesn’t. I’ve never been. There was one near a mall I used to go to back in Boston. She’s right, they make a good pizza. Too bad I—

“This isn’t some sort of compromise for me. I actually want this. Yeah, I thought about it, but that doesn’t mean that I—” When she stops short, I look up. I can’t believe my luck. Instead of telling me to go get bent, she combs her bangs back. Holding them at the crown of her head, she explains, “That doesn’t change how I feel. This isn’t something that happened overnight. I’ve been really attracted to you. I just had to think about it to get that.” She lets her hair go. Her hand falls to her side. “Now, I’ve tried to tell you. I’ve tried to show you, but you just won’t believe me.”

That was never an issue. Y’know what? I’m gonna end this. Or try. I say, “But I do—”

When she cuts me off with a firm, “No,” I raise my voice.

“I just needed—”

It doesn’t matter. She wins out. “I’m sick and tired of playing games, Faith.” I lower my eyes like a whipped pup. “I’ve told you how things are. I’m done. If you aren’t into me, I want to know right now.” I guess she has every right to be mad. It’d just be nice if she was mad for the right reasons.

Now’s really not the time, but it’s the only time I’ve got. I have to do something or I’m gonna lose her. I just never thought—

And that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why either. Fact is, the idea makes me sick. I can figure the rest out later.

I drop my smoke. Damned things are evil. I hope she doesn’t care.

Yeah. That’s really bright. I know she does, but like everything else, there’s not a lot I can do about it now.

“This was never about you. I’m so sorry, Buffy,” I say, taking a step toward her. “I just don’t want to hurt you.” At least she’s finally listening to me. I pull my hand from my pocket and move another step. “That’s all I’m really good for.” I take the final step. It surprises me when she lets me hold her. I figured it’d be harder, but she just puts her arms around me. I whisper in her ear, “You deserve to be happy.”

Actually, she’s holding me so tight it’s like she’s afraid I’m gonna try to get away. I guess I’m forgiven. I pull back enough to see her face. There’s so much sorrow in her eyes it’s—

It hurts.

I whisper, “If you think I can do that…”

Her lips are cold. But then, so are mine. Even cold, it’s still nice. I tilt my head, wanting more and she responds. Her mouth opens, mirroring my own. Our tongues touch. They’re chilly too at first, but everything warms in time, even her nose.

It’s strange. This has always been about sex for me. About getting worked up. A way of making the juices flow. But this isn’t like that. All of the hunger’s been shelved. But even shelved I kind of feel it. I feel like all I’d have to do is push and she’d—

I don’t. That’s the last thing I want. Letting her lead, I echo her movements. Every touch is a caress, gentle and slow. The acrid taste dulls, turning sweet.

Barring the misunderstanding, she must have a lot more faith in me than I do. Where it came from is anyone’s guess. I sure haven’t done anything to deserve it.

I do know one thing: I’m done questioning her this time. I need to be grateful she does. That’s the important part.

A low rumble in the distance causes me to break the kiss. It’s the last thing I want, but I have to stop. I’m not sure she gets why. Hell, she might even be mad at me for the stereotype. Trouble is, it’s mostly true.

There are two kinds of car owners. The first kind might have a car that sounds like this for a few days, but they see it as a problem and they get it fixed. The second kind makes their car sound like this on purpose because they think it’s cool. They’re mostly young guys who believe it’s perfectly fine to use the word ‘fag’ in casual conversation. And not to talk about smokes.

As loud as this car is…

We should bail. And soon.

Completely oblivious, she rests her head on my shoulder and whispers, “I’m sorry too. I didn’t—” She sighs. “I mean, I know that was hard. I probably made you pretty mad. Thanks for not—”

When she pauses, I tell her, “It’s okay.” Her hand moves from the small of my back. I look down just in time to see her brush a lock of hair from her face. She’s so pretty.

“It’s just—” she tries, but it’s her turn to come up short. Her hand comes to rest on my side. It’s a little surprising to see her so vulnerable after all that. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel good. “Your timing was awful. It’s not like I’m—” She swallows. “I knew you’d ask about Will, but I—”

We need time to talk. I wish there was someplace we could go, but there really isn’t unless we go home. I let her have as much as I can. “This is all so new to me. I don’t know what I’m doing. I thought I’d—I mean, I knew I hadn’t, but—” She sighs. “Oh, I’m not sure what I mean. You acted like—”

Gently pulling away, I give her another kiss to say ‘it’s okay’ again. She needs to understand that. I take her hands and say, “You didn’t do anything wrong, B. It was…” I smile. What else can I do? It was, uh… “It was nice.”

She smiles too. “Just nice?”

“It was really nice,” I reply. I’d add a few more ‘reallys’if I thought it’d help, but I think she gets the point.

Letting go of her right hand, I turn and open the door. I’m not even sure if it’s conscious, but her body language changes. She falls right into the routine. Everything gels and we’re a couple. How I ended up in the male role is anyone’s guess, but I’m fine with that. I’ve certainly had worse.

Really, I just want to protect her. I’m not even sure why. It’s just this weird compulsion. I guess the reason doesn’t matter. It works. We fit. She’s used to playing fem and I’ve never really done that. She can have it.

As the car passes by, I follow her inside. Putting my arm around her feels natural, so I run with it. The guy working the lobby looks up from writing something on the seating chart and smiles. It’s pretty cool. We might actually be okay.


She’s cold.

I don’t even know if that should matter to me. We’re slayers. Being uncomfortable pretty much comes with the territory.

Actually, it’s amazing that no one’s tried to kill us in the last few hours. We’ve had some peace. I may start feeling neglected if this keeps up.

Nice try, but it doesn’t help. I have to look again. Her jaw’s set and she’s all hunched over against the wind with her arms folded tightly across her chest. A gust of wind whips her hair. She brings her hand up to tuck it behind her ear. A couple hours have turned what should’ve been a pleasant evening stroll into something more like the Iditarod.

That’s the Midwest for ya. Sending her here was just plain cruel.

But I guess she sent herself. I just wish she’d stop dressing that way for me and… At least, I think that’s what she’s doing. Maybe she’s just that—

Yeah, using the word ‘dense’ wouldn’t be very nice, especially if it is for me. Although with Buffy and clothes, it’s impossible to tell. She’s got this thing.

Besides, who knew the temp was gonna drop ten degrees while we were in the restaurant? It feels like snow. The air has that bite. It’d be a fluke to get a storm this late in the season, especially here, but that’s really what this place is all about. There are cushier hell dimensions.

I pull more strands of hair from my mouth. Even with it back, that’s been a regular thing. The chili place is just ahead, but I’m tempted to duck into one of these alcoves to warm up. At the very least, not eating my hair for a few minutes might be nice.

She says, “Huh?” when I put my arm around her, but she gets the idea and follows. That’s the first thing she’s said since we left the restaurant. Go figure, it was about one notch above a grunt. Neither one of us has been feeling overly chatty. There’s something about fighting that just takes it out of you.

I kind of enjoyed the quiet. It was nice. And some of the looks she gave me were—

They were really nice.

It’s not exactly quiet here. The wind howls as we move under the cover of the storefront. Look at all that glass. This wouldn’t happen in Cleveland. There’d be a cage over this whole damned thing. Once we’re back in the corner, as out of the wind as we’re gonna get, I open my coat and wrap her inside it with me. There’s enough room through the shoulders and across the chest that she almost disappears when she bows her head. Or that’s how it seems.

A little late, I reply, “I just need a moment, B.” She probably needs it more than I do, but making it about me…

I rest my lips against the crown of her head and breathe in, kissing her just because. She smells so…

The smell has layers. There’s crisp, damp air, but that’s not her.

She smells like—

The top three buttons of my sweater are open. She nuzzles it out the way and kisses my chest. Her lips are chilly at first, but they warm up as her breath rolls over my skin, all hot and steamy.

I really can’t place the smell. It’s a little musky. Kind of spicy. Whatever it is, it blends well with us. She still smells like me.

Well, I’m warm now. Among other things.

She finds her way under my shirt. Her hands are cold just like her lips were. She’s hesitant to touch me. It’d be okay, but I never get to say so. She doesn’t let me. Her attention never leaves my chest. If I could communicate that with a moan or maybe write it out in drool, we’d be set. It’s good, though. Her hands warm up quick enough. She bundles them into my shirttail. A car cruises past as she pulls them free and starts to caress my back. Magically, we trade places. She stops shivering and I start. Uh…

It’s more like trembling, but who’s—?

She whispers against my chest, “There’s something else.” My heart flutters when she looks up. I focus on her mouth, watching her lips move. “Another reason.” My breath catches in my throat. I want to be annoyed, but I can’t. This is all just way too, umm…nice. “I’m just not sure I can explain it.” I look into her eyes. When she got so serious is a complete mystery. “I know I wouldn’t stand a chance with the others. There’s too much stuff to get in the way. They wouldn’t hear me.” She sighs and it sends a tingle rippling through me. “And that’s actually a big part of it.”

This is pretty bad. I don’t think she meant to get me started. Oh well, at least my twisted brain didn’t go skipping off to wallow in the gutter this time. I may be getting better. I take a deep breath to clear my head.

Alright, so…she wants to explain something. I caught that much. Why she waited till now is anyone’s guess. And there was something else about it being complicated. I’m so screwed.

I don’t reply in time, so she rests her head on my shoulder and says, “It’s okay. We don’t have to talk.”

“Oh, no,” I reply. “It’s oh—it’s cool, B. It’s just—” I start off spun, but miraculously manage to level out. “I was just—” Half-blinking, half-scrunching my eyes sort of does the trick. “I was just, uh…a little distracted.” The next part comes out almost okay, even if she does giggle. “I’m all ears. Give it a shot.”

I’m still a dog, but at least I amuse. She says through a smile, “It’s about Spike.” It doesn’t sound like she’s smiling at all. Her cheeks are pink, but it’s probably the cold. A curtain of hair falls in front of her face when she hangs her head. Or it could be—

“Gawd, I hated him!” she groans. “He was the most frustrating, two-faced, lying, sack of…evil. He was just evil.” Funny, I don’t remember this part. “Even when he tried to be good, he was just plain evil.” Last time I saw those two together, she had out the pompoms trying to sell him as part of the team.

Yeah. She’s playing this up too much. Something’s up.


Oh, well, fuck me. That was true? She was actually—

Jesus. It’s amazing what you can learn when you’re banished to the smoking lounge.

You learn to take it all in stride. I figured he was just blowing smoke up my ass, stroking his tiny ego. Not that I cared. I just played along.

It figures my worthless brain tries to form a picture. Not the sort of thing I want to see. I can’t imagine her letting him stick his dick inside her. The idea makes supper sit like a rock.

Considering what I saw, it doesn’t fit. I close my eyes and remember how she touched me. Even just a couple minutes ago, the way she kissed my chest. I can’t see her doing that to him. The two things don’t mesh. She’s so passionate and tender. Strip that away what’s left?


The answer stinks, but at least it’s honest.

Why would she do that? For her, this completely blows the profile.

I feel her move and open my eyes. She meets them. Her expression tells me that she’s waiting for me to get it figured. I need to say something.


What the hell can I say?

Now there’s a great question. Add a ‘when’ and a ‘where’ and I’ll have the full set.

Yeah, whatever, I just need to get her talking again. Anything’ll work. Plastering on a cheesy grin, I tease, “And you liked him.” It’s pretty lame, but so am I.

She grumbles, “Yeah, yeah, I did, dammit,” letting out a token sigh. I raise an eyebrow and she looks away, mumbling, “I still do.”

I snicker. It makes me sound less bitter. “He does have…I dunno.” I force a smile. “He’s one charming bastard.”

Make that ‘one charmed bastard.’ Her sallow little sweetheart’s still kickin’. I wonder if she knows.


“Yeah, that’s exactly it. But it’s not—” she says, glancing up to briefly meet my eyes. “It’s not just that.”

I stare vacantly into the street, but my attention’s really still on her. The way her body feels pressed against mine. Her fingertips moving over my skin. It’s still really nice. I need to get over this. So she knocked boots with that Cocky Cockney Corpse. That’s got nothing to do with us.

She lays her head on my shoulder. As she whispers, “Things got bad,” her breath flows over my neck. “They got so bad I didn’t have anyone I felt I could turn to. I wasn’t even sure I wanted anyone.” This is strange, strange in a really good way. In spite of the chill, the harshness of the lights, the concrete, glass and steel…this feels so intimate.

I’d like to return the favor and rub her back too, but I can’t and it sucks. My hands are full keeping us warm. Of course, the cold’s doing them no favors, but—

“It’s funny,” she says. “We hated each other so much. I didn’t care what Spike thought of me. It didn’t matter what I said, so I talked. It surprised me when he actually listened.”

I crane my neck, twisting to kiss her cheek. I don’t mean to interrupt. A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth, but it only lasts for an instant before she moves on, “And I dunno…it turned into this thing. I could talk to him about pretty much anything and I knew he wouldn’t judge. He’d just listen.”

Her eyelids flutter when I ask, “I guess it wasn’t like that with the others, huh?” She’s already said it wasn’t. Or isn’t. But this about the past and I’m not clear just how far ‘past’ she’s talking.

Stirring, she lifts her head and looks into my eyes again. “No. Not so much,” she replies. “And I’m not even sure why that happened.” I lean back and rest my shoulders in the corner. She moves with me, placing her feet between mine. Her hands go to my sides. Just that little shift gives me enough extra to overlap the front of my coat so I can hold it with one hand.

I put my free hand to good use caressing her back as she goes on, “Well, there are some obvious reasons, but even before that, I used to talk to Will about everything and then things just…” She nestles into the curve of my shoulder. “They changed. They got complicated.” ‘Good use’is an overstatement. There’s too much leather in the way. I doubt she can even feel it. “Now she barely even looks at me. And the story’s not much different with Xander.” I’m half tempted to get going. This is making me a little crazy. I want to touch her.

I should let her finish. After—

I can’t even think it. Anyway, after that last bombshell, there can’t be—

“I couldn’t even make them understand what I saw in him,” she says. Well, this should be interesting. “It wasn’t his soul. Actually, it was what his soul meant. He didn’t do that for me.” She sighs. “Well, he did, but he didn’t.” I wish she’d talked to me then. It might’ve helped. “Really, he did it because he never wanted to be that thing again. He looked at what he’d done and he just couldn’t live with himself. He had to change.” Okay. I’m missing something. “And he did.” And it’s not a small something. “I just can’t let go of what happened. The way he—”

She falls flat, leaving me another puzzle. I hate how she just assumes I know this stuff.

Watching me intently, she waits for me to catch up. Or ask, I guess. Maybe, but I’m gonna try to put it together myself.

I turn to stare at our reflection in the shop window. My cheek touches the cold glass. She looks so small hiding inside my coat.

My hand falls to my side. I turn back to scan her face, searching for some clue, but she doesn’t leave me searching for long. “He tried to rape me, Faith.” Uh…

Christ! My jaw tightens. I’m damned to do anything about it.

And he had the nerve to back come around after that? No wonder the gang was tweaked.

This shit just keeps getting better and better.


What do I say to that? No clue, but I need to chill.

The hand that was free hurts. I was rubbing her back. I don’t remember stopping. Now my nails are cutting into my palm. Knocking that off might be a good place to start. Not grinding my teeth would be even better.

Okay, so…deep cleansing breath. Fuck me. Now what?

Well, I have to say something. ‘I should’ve fucking staked him when I had the chance’ won’t exactly work, so…

“That’s not something you’re supposed to forgive.” It beats I’m gonna rip his head off and shit on his ashes.

That threat gets a bit screwy with vamps.

I look into the gray car that’s parked on the street in front of us. A red light flashes on its dash. It’s one of those fifty-fifty things that’ve become so popular, not quite a sport-ute, not quite a car. Really, it’s just a station wagon, but because those screamed ‘soccer mom,’ someone got the bright idea to make them look like trucks. It’s not a bad trend.

She said ‘he listened.’ Yeah. My ass. The word ‘no’ must’ve been too complicated for the fuckwit. Goes to show there’s this huge difference between us and him.

First off, we’re human. Not that that really means anything. On the one side, just look around. On the other, Angel’s not. But he’s actually got a heart. More than most of us mere humans.

With Spike that’s questionable. He reads ‘slimy.’ So he got his soul back. Look at the huge difference that made.

I suppose I should be nicer. He did save all our asses.

Thing is, there’s a really simple way of looking at this that clears it all up.

B.’s still here because people love her. Several someones cared so much that they couldn’t let her go.

I’m still here because someone thought I deserved another shot. Angel saw something in me he thought was worth saving. Clueless what, but I’ll always be grateful.

Spike’s still here because someone wanted to hurt Angel. They thought having William the Bloody around to deal with would throw him off his game. Considering the source, you can pretty much bet they thought they could corrupt the bastard too. Whether they could or couldn’t doesn’t matter. The thing they saw is still there.

She squirms.

Spike may be pulling for the good now, but he’s—

Her nails dig into my lower back as she squeaks my name. I blink away the pulsing light. My arms are wrapped around her. I thought I was just holding her, but I guess it’s too tight. I pull away, unable to look. Imagining’s bad enough. I mutter, “Sorry,” under my breath.

Stepping away, she says, “It’s okay. I get that you’re stressed.” I just let her go. I should’ve—


I sigh and hang my head. Goddammit. I can’t do anything right.

Small conciliation, but my shoulders were starting to hurt anyway. I turn out of the corner and rest flat against the window.

“It’s hard to believe that Riley was my last real relationship,” she says, leaning next to me. “It’s been years.” She’s standing so close I feel her shrug even if I am looking at my feet. “With him things started off complicated. There were so many expectations they just got in the way of everything. Once we both knew the truth, we could barely even look at each other.”

This isn’t something I need to hear. I witnessed that firsthand. He touched me the way she touched me. Or whatever. God, that sounds screwed up.

Yeah. That’s because it is.

She whispers, “I mean, we tried, but really…” Hanging her head, she rubs her eyes. “I wanted it to work.”

I mumble, “He loved you, B.”

“I know,” she replies. I wait for the shit the hit the fan, but she clams up. I’ll just be over here counting my blessings that’s all she has on the subject.

Her study of the concrete slab looks every bit as thrilling as mine was. I think we may’ve found the point where this is just gonna be too much fun to continue.

I shift my weight, itching to get going. No clue where she was headed. I may never know. Ignoring the trauma, what she’s said so far is that she could talk to Spike.

Good for her, but it doesn’t change—

The sound of her voice takes me by surprise. “There’s this thing that happens.” My attention snaps to her. “I’m not even sure why.” She’s still studying the sidewalk, like it holds some sort of answer. She exhales through her nose. It wants to be a sigh, but it comes out lacking. “I’m there—wherever there is at the time—I know what I want to say and I just…”

She stalls, but she doesn’t need to say anything else. Shit happens to me all the time. I’m not big with sharing. It only ever gets me hurt.

“The words won’t come,” she says, fidgeting with her belt. “It feels like there’s a wall between us. It doesn’t matter what I do, I just can’t make myself…”

I don’t have much choice but to watch her. Between our reflections in the glass and the fact that she’s between me and the street, it’s her or the sidewalk. Besides, she’s just so…

“There are all these people around me. They love me. I know they do. But I’ve never been more alone in my life,” she mumbles as her leather belt passes between her fingers. “I went from actually knowing peace to so much pain.” Her snicker’s almost lost to a gust of wind that whistles into our alcove. I fail to see what’s funny. “That was bad, but the truly twisted part…this life was a gift. All of my friends, they loved me so much they couldn’t let go.”

The level of her voice drops. I have to concentrate to hear her. “And the walls grew higher and thicker. There wasn’t a single one of them I could talk to. I couldn’t tell them how I felt. Hell, I could barely even look at them.” She finally looks up, studying us in the glass for a moment before she concludes, “Hell’s about right.”

It comes as a relief when she tugs on my sleeve and says, “C’mon. Let’s go.”

I set off with her, keeping pace, watching the sidewalk pass under my boots and listening to her. “The thing with Spike was messed up.” I choke the snicker before it sneaks out. Yeah, that’s one way to put it. “I didn’t love him. I still really don’t. Things got so out of control, but there wasn’t once I couldn’t speak my mind with him.”

I glance at her. She stooped into the wind again. I wonder if she gets that this could wait. I guess she does, but she obviously doesn’t want to. “It doesn’t even seem right when I say it, but that’s how it was.”

We’re almost to the corner. Once we get back in the trees this shouldn’t be so bad. It might help if I actually talked too. “No, that makes sense,” I reply. “You were probably afraid you’d hurt their feelings.” It’s a little obvious, but at least she knows I’m listening.

“Yeah, that was part of it,” she says. “Thing is, Spike taught me something. What I want is that. Not the bad parts. I mean, obviously, not the deadness, or the violence, or the loneliness, or the complication. What I want is someone who I can really talk to. A friend, but…” The wind picks up causing her to fall silent for a moment. “I don’t know. It seems to me you should be able to put that part first.”

Huh. I wondered what she was getting at. Now she says it that makes complete sense. It’s a little messed up how she got there. Not to mention really unpleasant. But it’s good. She’s right. That might be alright.

I give her a quick peek and ask, “And you think we can have that?” It surprises me that she’s grinning. This hasn’t been the most cheerful talk.

When I look again, her grin’s gone. She says, “Yeah, I think if things hadn’t—” She stops to collect her thoughts. “We were so young and things—” It doesn’t really work, but that’s not all that surprising.

We could’ve been friends.

It’s not hard to find something reassuring to say this time. “Things did get pretty twisted up. I’m sorry. That was mostly my fault.” We stop at the corner to wait for the light. I smirk. This whole thing has that kind of Twilight Zone feel to it. We’re actually discussing the past and no one’s screaming. Part of me wants to look for the catch. This is just too good to be true.

I can’t.

I won’t.

I just listen. “They did. It’s okay. It was me too.” She squeezes my hand. “I didn’t know what I wanted. Or I couldn’t accept that I couldn’t have what I wanted. Maybe if I’d tried harder or—I don’t know…”

The light turns. She takes a step into the intersection. I follow, offering up more of the truth. “There wasn’t anything you could’ve done.” But that shouldn’t be news. “I was seriously screwed up and headed for one helluva crash. I would’ve just taken you with. I tried to anyway.” Time and distance. That was almost cold. I must be over it. Or almost…

She must be too ’cause she says, “Yeah, I guess.” We turn onto the sidewalk next to the chili place. “But yeah, I think we have a real shot if we can put all that behind us.”

Seems to me like we are.

“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—” She stops short and I fill in the blank. But that’s over. It takes her a sec. Finally, she adds, “Noticing a theme?” It’s prime bait. I have to take it.

I glance and find that she’s looking right at me, waiting. We make eye contact just long enough for me to reply, “Drawn to the bad?”

She says through a smile, “Not exactly a positive theme.”

No, it really isn’t, but I don’t say that. Instead, I offer the truth again, or at my brand of the truth. “You do know that you can’t save us, right?” I pause to consider and notice something. We’re not alone. There’s a parking lot behind the chili place. An older black guy in rent-a-cop blues is huddled in the guard shack. Giving him a nod, I continue, “Not all of us, at least. It’s not the healthiest thing to even try.” Typical. He isn’t paying any attention.

“I know,” she replies. As we pass by the shack, he looks up. I glance and smile, but he still doesn’t notice me. He’s straining to see something else. Something far away…past us.

I should look too, but this is more important. I have to ask, “So what part of that was hard to understand?” It seems pretty easy to me.

Her hand lifts just a touch. I think that wanted to be a shrug. “None of it, I guess,” she replies.

Page 4

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