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

What Lies Beneath
By Valyssia


As I inhale slowly, just enjoying the smell, a weight lifts. And the pain goes with it. It’s such a cool feeling. The smell’s her shampoo. My damaged brain even forms a picture and for a moment, I see B. A light breeze tousles her hair like in a commercial. She looks amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I’ve heard enough.

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

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

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

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

So why didn’t I wake up this time?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man, I watch too much TV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do evil things have to be so goddamned charming?

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

Do I?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I’ve got some. What of it?

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

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

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

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

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

“And when she does, I’ll be there,” Sparky rasps, pretty much drowning me out.

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

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

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

“Most people don’t get a second chance at greatness. Only a—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? I knew he was a perv.

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

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

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

After pitching me, Sparky bails. There’s nothing left to see. As I turn to follow the mayor’s lead, I hear an echo, “I’m doing you a favor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, this is how we look together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You want to see disgusting? Check your tie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to be sure.

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

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

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

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

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


I love her.

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

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

Except for that suit.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s bright out here.

I turn around. The door’s gone.

I’m standing in the middle of a rolling lawn.


Something’s tapping to my left. Not just one sound, but two. They’re distinctly different. I don’t recognize the softer sound. It’s too erratic. But the steady rhythm of the louder one’s easy enough to place. It’s a pencil eraser hitting something, uh…not paper, like a notebook. It’s not loud enough for that, but—

I don’t have to open my eyes to know. It’s B. She’s sitting beneath the window. I feel her.

Drifting off to sleep again wouldn’t be hard, but I don’t want to. I want to just lay here and enjoy this. The room’s dark. I have no idea whether it’s morning or evening. I either slept two hours or twelve. I’m not sure which.

And I really don’t care. Twelve would be unlike me.

Hell, twelve would be unheard of. Coma notwithstanding, I don’t think I’ve ever slept twelve hours in my life.

And I still can’t seem to care. All that really matters is that the bed feels good. I’m a little chilly, but it’s nice. A heater or something stirs the air. What flows over my skin isn’t warm, but it isn’t exactly cold either. The blankets lay heavy across my wrist and hips. I obviously pushed them down while I was sleeping. I should pull them back up, but I’d have to move for that.

I don’t want to move.

My left hand’s above my head. It’s tingly. Not quite asleep like my legs, but close.

Asleep’s the last thing my right hand is. It’s been way too busy for that. The tips of my fingers are wet. My skin’s warm and slippery. And so swollen that it’s, uh…

I should seriously stop, just because, but I need to pee and if I do…

I really don’t want to move.

Not yet.

The tapping stops. A click makes things plain. B.’s playing with her computer. Her attention shifts. I’m being watched.

So, should I be embarrassed?

Probably, but I’m not.

The pencil drums again. Safe bet she doesn’t get that she’s doing it. I take it that means she’s nervous. Or preoccupied. Maybe still worried. That’d track. Last night was pretty bad. Any night that ends with a little white pill’s bound to be bad.

I slept well. Deep, sound, dreamless…

No complaints here. And even if there were, I probably wouldn’t remember them for long anyway. I’m way too burnt out for that.

I’ll have to thank Maeve for the Ativan. Shit’s like an eraser for your brain. Just what I needed.

Or not. I’m not sure how that’d go over.

A few moments slip by before B. sets her laptop aside. She stands. I still haven’t opened my eyes. I feel her closing in. It surprises me when she pauses to put something down and walks right past the bed.

“I’ll be back,” she says. The door opens. “Just give me a sec.” She bounces down a couple of steps. “Don’t go anywhere.”

I wasn’t planning to. The patter from the stairwell’s fast. She must be running. I hope the fuss isn’t for me.

I pull my hand from under the covers. The slipperiness fades when I rub my fingers over my thumb and down onto the heel of my hand. A few passes and it’s gone. I stretch. My ears ring as the tension builds. A warm, muzzy flash blots everything out. I ease up and yawn. It feels great. When I tilt my head, putting pressure on my neck, it pops. I’m awake.

I open my eyes. I was right. The only light in the room comes from B.’s laptop where it sits in front of her trunk. The glowing white apple on the lid strikes me as silly. I wonder if computer companies get just how dumb their branding is.

Apparently not.

Footfalls echo from the stairwell. B.’s coming back. I wish she’d slow down. I’m in no hurry. 

I place my hand under the covers, resting it on my hip as she enters the room carrying a mug. The fashion show’s been cute up to now, but today’s a little different. It’s nice, still cute, but more what I’d think of as the usual B. Anything different about how she looks is because the styles have changed.

Her calf-length boots and long, loose-fitting cardigan are both dark-gray. They roughly match, but her boots are a little darker. The white scoop-neck shirt she has on could be a holdover from high school, but I somehow I doubt it.  Anything she wore back then is at the bottom of what scientists are calling ‘a sinkhole caused by instabilities in the San Andreas Fault.’ They’re still baffled by why the damned thing doesn’t fill up with water. Considering that it’s mostly below sea level, I can kind of see their concern. You’d think…

It’s another one of life’s little mysteries, unlike her shirt. That’s just a standard. She fills it out better now. Or maybe that’s just her bra.

Could be my developing appreciation for all things B. But whatever it is, it works.

It works well. On me.

Her clothes leave a strip of skin bare below her midriff. I want to kiss her there. Feel her softness with my lips and tongue. Pop the three tarnished brass buttons of her jeans free and…

Change is good.

I think that’s the point. One I’d missed up to now. The education’s truly helpful.

She walks around the bed and bends down to hand the cup off. “Morning,” she says with a smile.

It’s not, but that’s okay. I play along, saying, “Morning,” too as I sit up to take the cup. She’s managed to pick up enough to get that I need a couple of these to function in the morning. I have a sip. It’s perfect, bitter and just a little too hot to drink.

I don’t get why people think that coffee’s a dessert. It’s not. They can keep their steamed soy milk and sugary chocolate syrup. It’s better plain.

She kneels down next to me as I turn onto my side. I prop myself up on my elbow, hold the cup to my mouth and blow across the surface, breathing in the steam. It smells good. And the heat feels great. I guess I was a little cold.

As she studies me, her attention drifts from my face, lower. I’m glad she’s still not shy. One more sip’s enough for now. I lean forward and put my cup on the floor. She picks up her own from near the corner of the mattress and has a drink too. She barely looks at anything else but me as she does.

I wonder how long she watched me sleep. Obviously long enough. It’s not just me. The tension’s clear, thick, heavy… She wants to touch me. She’s wanted to for…

She leans forward to kiss me. I close my eyes and reach up, lacing my fingers through her hair. Our lips meet. This wants to be something quick, another peck, but I keep her longer. My tongue parts her lips. She tastes like chocolate. I may have to rethink that thing about coffee. It’s kind of nice. On her.

Her hand moves from the small of my back. She squeezes my ass. Her nails bite in. I turn, trying to get away and she rolls on top of me. I’m not sure if it’s her or me, but the blankets end up piled at our feet. I think she did it. Made me move and used the momentum to—

She used it alright. Her right hand’s between us. She cups my breast. Her thigh grinds against my crotch as she tweaks my nipple.

My stomach tenses, forcing us together, putting more pressure on all the right parts. I break the kiss long enough to gasp. It’s not enough. I need—

She trembles. Her body crushes against mine.

I respond…my body responds. It’s good. Everything’s fine, except I—

Her jeans soak up the moisture and pull. They’re rough. It almost hurts. The pain—it’s perfect.

I want this. So why am I falling apart? My face feels hot and tingly. Like there’s something covering it. Nothing’s there. I should be fine, but I can’t catch my breath. Her lips caress mine, so tender…and gentle. I don’t want to scare her again. I take what I can between kisses, but this is way too close to how I felt last night.

Never mind that I can hold my breath for nearly five minutes. I know that, but this…

Each breath just isn’t enough. They’re too shallow. It’s worse than not being able to breathe at all.

I should be remembering all of those things. There’s this thing she does with her tongue that’s just… Why am I…?

I should be able to—

I can’t. With every passing moment things get more and more…

Her tongue’s in my mouth and all I can think is that if it wasn’t, if she wasn’t on top of me…I might be able to breathe. I’m losing control. My heart beats a frantic rhythm, thudding in my ears. I need air. I want to turn my head. Shove her away. I try to make myself move. I can’t.

Or I could just let go and drown.

I don’t. She lets me go.

No. It’s not that. Her left hand slips from beneath me as I gulp for air. She’s not looking at me. Not my face. She kisses my neck.

She props herself up on her elbow. Her right hand leaves my chest. It moves lower, down my stomach. She’s watching that. She reaches just below my navel before I find the strength to move. I lift up on her right shoulder and roll, flipping her onto her back. She hangs on, taking me with her.

As she smiles up at me, I remember. She thinks we’re playing a game. The shortness of breath is normal. This all feels normal to her. She normally lets me win.

I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with me. This is crap. Maybe if I just take control, it’ll…?

She gives me a funny look, like she’s trying to figure me out. I stare at her throat, watching it move when she swallows. There’s a spot, just below her hairline, right above her scar…

I move with her when she sits up to take her sweater off. She’s undressing, so fast, so willing…she practically tears at her clothes. I guess I must be okay. Or she thinks I am.

This isn’t what I want.

She stops right in the middle of whipping her shirt over her head. She pulls it back down and stares at me. I—

What just happened?


I said that out loud?

Oh shit! I stammer, “I—” I need to say something. “I need to—” I sit up and hang my head. I guess I still need to pee.

I should stop her, but she slides off the top of the mattress. She’s on her feet, bending down for her sweater and I still don’t have a single thing to say. I wait till she has it on to look up, but she doesn’t wait for me. She walks over to my closet and opens the door. She has my robe in hand before I make it off the bed. I sigh as she helps me put it on. Maybe I could—?

Shit. No, no, I can’t. She just snapped from ‘red hot and ready to go’ to frosty. And who can blame her? What I said was…

It was pathetic…stupid and pathetic, not to mention way out of line. I can’t believe I did that. I sure didn’t mean to. I need a smoke. Or something. I need something.

Getting over feeling smothered by craving a cigarette—not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I should have my head examined. That’s what I really need.

She walks over to my side of the bed. Her boots are on the floor. No clue when she took them off, but—

I scan the room, looking for a missing pack of Marlboros. They have to be here somewhere. Last time I saw them they were in the pocket of her hoodie. They didn’t just disappear. We came up here, undressed and went to bed. That’s first time I’ve ever gone to bed like that. It felt strange when nothing happened.

It was strange, but nice. Really nice. Just feeling her body pressed against mine, holding her…

That sure is painful now. I shouldn’t have stopped her. I just—

She’s next to her dresser, holding my cigarettes up. “Looking for these?” she asks.

“Uh, yeah,” I reply. Smooth. I looked right at them not more than a second ago and didn’t see them.

She puts them in her sweater pocket, walks over to our cups and picks them up. “I’ll be on the porch,” she says, pointing at my closet. “I hope I did okay. I—” She walks out the door without finishing her thought. Whether she says it or not, what I hear is, ‘I tried.’


I don’t get her.

Worse, I don’t get myself. The second she’s gone, the pressure lifts. All of the…and the…

Seems like so much drama over nothing.

But that wasn’t nothing. The look her eyes was just—

I’m not sure I can do this.

Yeah, take away the angst. And what do I replace it with?

Nice. Is that really it? Am I getting cold feet? Or could it be that I just made a complete ass of myself?

I don’t even get why I’m here. I mean, it’s obvious she wants me here. She’s gone to a lot of trouble. My bag’s sitting empty on the shelf in my closet. All of my clothes plus a bunch more are hanging up. She moved me in. I just don’t understand why.

I could ask her. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Yeah, I can just imagine her answer. I’ll pass. How about I get dressed instead?

I wonder what she did with my underwear. Best guess…I limp over to her chest of drawers. My leg’s better. It itches, but that’s good. Or so they say.

I’d be willing to argue the point. It’s messed up. The stupid thing doesn’t itch until I look at it. But whatever, the bandage is clean. It’s a little rumpled, but—

The bottom drawer’s still full of her sweats. The next one up hasn’t changed either. But the center drawer’s mine now. That’s obvious too. She must’ve noticed that I have a thing for black. I take out the first bra and panties I lay my hands on that aren’t black. It’s easier. White lace trimmed satin is a little frilly for me. And the bra’s one of those strapless, underwire, push and scrunch torture devices. But go figure, they match. My robe gets in the way as I stumble through putting them on.

When my shit’s finally together, I grab a pair of socks and head for my closet. First thing’s last…I put my stupid robe up. I should’ve done that before I started, but that would’ve made too much sense. Why not fight it?

Yeah, because fighting’s always fun. And useful.

I need to just tell her the truth. Shit. Like I even know what that is. Hearing myself grumble just sets me off. I’m not even sure how much of that I said. I heard ‘shit.’ But before that…?

I don’t have a single clue. What I need to do is get a grip ’cause one thing’s for sure: this weird thing I’ve got going on between my mouth and brain just isn’t gonna fly. Not when I’ve pretty much screwed myself into a heart-to-heart. I suck at those enough without the handicap. I really wish I didn’t, but maybe if I start with what I know I can…?

Umm, yeah, I guess…I mean, maybe…I don’t know. That’s as good a place to start as any. It’d help to have a clue. So, what do I know?

Besides that I’m a walking tragedy, not a hell of a lot. I need more coffee. There’s something I definitely know.

Yeah. The sooner I haul my ass down there and fake it, the sooner…

The sooner…?

Other than dread, I’ve got nothing. I’m really not naïve enough to think this’ll just work out. Not much does. And the few things that have…I’ve got a scar to show for each and every one. This is gonna be a bitch.

The first top that catches my eye gets snatched off the hanger. It’s not exactly what I have in mind. I want a sweater. What I end up with is a white, soft, stretchy, knit-cotton body suit with a boat-neck and three-quarter length sleeves.

I guess I could look for something different, but why bother? It’s not worth the effort. I put the top on and snag a pair of jeans. No surprise, I look like a mall store mannequin when I’m done. All I need is a colorful scarf to tie around my neck. The rub is…I kind of like it.

Bet B. thinks the Internet’s evil. That or she thinks it’s great and Giles thinks it’s evil.

Yeah, that’s the better story. It’s kind of funny. My heart bleeds for poor, poor Giles.

Sighing, I sit down to put on my socks and shoes. How I look still isn’t important, but—

Why’d she do this? I wouldn’t last five-minutes on the street dressed like this. Someone would just have to prick with me.

Guess it’s a good thing I’m not on the street. I pull on my socks and reach for some shoes. I’ll forgive her the new Doc Martins. Mine were getting pretty beat up.

And there’s the little matter of the blood. I hope she pitched them. There could be an upside to all of this. Forgetting the better part of yesterday wouldn’t be bad. Not having the reminder’s a start.

Standing up’s a pain. There’s no sense in rushing. When I make it to the stairwell, I do the same thing I did last night: press and hop… It’s safer. I don’t need to—

She doesn’t deserve to go through that again.

I duck into the bathroom to pee, wash my hands and brush my teeth. That first part takes forever. I have to relax and that doesn’t come easy.

The last part’s arguably a waste of time because I head straight for the back porch to smoke right after I rinse my mouth. She’s sitting on the glider close to the door, rocking. There’s a cigarette lit in the ashtray beside her. I look around for someone else. There must be someone in the house who—

I can’t believe it when she winks. She has to actually say, “We’ve all tried it, Faith,” for me to firm up. “I don’t hate it half as much as you think I do. It just isn’t me.” She smiles.

This really isn’t—

I catch myself mid-thought.

I don’t know her. There’s the truth. I never really knew her. We didn’t take the time. Or drop our guards long enough. Alicia’s right. If I hang on every single thing that seems a little off…

I’m right. Alicia’s really me. Or some buried part of me. It’s hard for me to get my head around that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

B.’s right too. If we cling to the past…

If I waste my time measuring her against that, I won’t get to know her. This is bullshit. It needs to stop.

Besides, she dealt with Spike somehow and he wasn’t exactly big on hygiene.

“If I’d known this was going to be half as much fun…” she teases, trailing off when I let the screen door close. I’m over it. I move around to face her, lean down and take the arm of the glider. She stops rocking and lets me kiss her. She tastes like smoke and chocolate. I’m not even sure what I think about that.

It doesn’t mix well with toothpaste.

I have to stop, and when I do, I see that something’s wrong. Her eyes are puffy. She’s been crying. How’d I miss that?

It surprises me. I touch her face. She doesn’t shy away. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, caressing her cheek with my thumb. “It’s just—”

“It’s not your fault,” she says. I’m grateful she doesn’t let me flounder, but I don’t see how she gets that. I reach for my cigarette and flick the ash as she fills in, “I had a bad day. Maeve’s doctor appointment was this morning.” When B. looks down at her hands, I back off. She doesn’t need me hanging over her.

“She’s always so sick after,” she mumbles. I lean against the wall, facing her with my back to the screen. “I spent the first part of the day in a waiting room dreading the rest of the day we spent in the bathroom. Or that’s how is seemed.”

Well, that explains it. The last thing she needed was for me to flip out.

I glance down. My coffee’s on the window ledge next to me. Am I really that predictable?

S’pose I am. But it seems to me…I’m gonna spent a lot of time staring at my feet if I stand here. I grab my cup and take a sip.

Snagging the ashtray, I move my stuff to the table at the other end of the glider and sit down. She gives me a sidelong glance when I rest my left arm behind her. It’s an invitation that doesn’t go unanswered. I’m glad. She curls up next to me, nestling against my shoulder.

She whispers, “She’s asleep now. I’m glad things…” Her voice loses strength as I stroke her hair. This worked last night too. She settled down and went to sleep. It was sweet. And it feels good. Kind of mindless. Her hair’s so soft. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure who put who to sleep.

I’m not sure what to say about Maeve either. The whole thing sucks. It’d probably be best just left alone.

I take hit off my smoke to postpone the inevitable. I have no clue where to begin, so I go with what I know. What we both know. Maybe if I can just get myself talking… “This has always been about—” But I can’t even finish my first thought. My cigarette casts a faint red glow across my knuckles. I focus on that, searching for the right word. All that comes to mind is ‘fucking.’ I tap my smoke against the rim of the ashtray. I don’t want to say that. I avoid saying that. It makes me sound so—

‘Sex’ would be better. ‘This has always been about sex for me.’ That works, but it’s not as accurate. Sex can be nice, fucking isn’t.

During the debate, I stammer, “Uh…” For something that really isn’t a word, it sure sounds dirty. I glance down. She’s grinning. Another of my many skills rears its ugly head. I can make anything sound dirty. At least I made her smile.

I really need to get laid.

Hey. That would’ve been a good one, but I think she takes my meaning. I should find a point before things fall apart. This needs to be different.

Not bad, but what comes out is, “I want this to be different.” I have to fill in, “I need it.” More specifically…I say, “I need for this to be about you.” But I’m pretty sure she won’t get what I mean. I have one last puff off my smoke and crush it out. I’m done. We could go back inside, but this is nice. I caress her cheek, working toward her neck. She’s relaxed. Patiently waiting…

I snicker.

…for me to make sense.

Glad she’s comfy. This could take a while.

I tried with Wood. I was ready for something else. Making it about him wasn’t an issue. He loved that. The problem was he was like me. He wanted a fuck buddy. When I tried to make that about something more, he wanted me gone.

The sad part is that I wasn’t sure about anything. I just knew the ‘same old, same old’ wasn’t cutting it anymore. I needed better. I hoped he was it. And that turned into another tired, old cliché come true. It just wasn’t meant to be. I thought he might actually give a crap about me, but he didn’t.

Yeah. And who really cares? I don’t want to think about him. This isn’t the same and I say so, “This is different.” She probably thinks I mean because she’s a chick. It’s not that.

Well, it is, but it isn’t. That’s part of it. Let’s face it. It’d be stupid to say that doesn’t make a difference. It does. But it’s not just about that.

I take a drink of my coffee. It’s cooling off really quickly out here. I need to finish before it gets cold.

“This part’s always been about how I feel. I’ve always—” I stop cold. Should I admit that I’m selfish? Why not? It’s no mystery. “I’ve always made this about me. I controlled things, made the other person…” Used the other person…

That’s pretty much all I know. I can read people and play them when it comes to sex, but anything more and I’m done. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know anything.

I turn and crane my neck so I can kiss the top of her head. What I do know is this: “I don’t want to do that to you,” I whisper.

“I didn’t think that,” she replies. “I thought we were having fun.” She leans away just enough to look up at me. “That’s part of it, right? It’s supposed to be fun.”

I should tell her that I’m lost, that I have no idea what I’m doing. That’d be honest. What I do say is so much bullshit, “Yeah, but you always let me win.” That’s true enough, I guess, but it’s also misleading and unfair in a couple of different ways. Besides having nothing to do with anything, there’s only been the one time. That’s not much to—

“We could try not,” she says with a grin. “Would it be better if I didn’t let you win?”

It figures, she flirts. Cute, but that’s just about as useful any of the garbage I’ve said. This is going well. I don’t get why, but as my perverted brain toddles off, remembering that first time, she shuts down. Eventually, she surfaces enough to mumble, “What if I want to let you win?”

That kills it. All I’ve managed to do so far is to hone my already exceptional avoidance issues. May as well chicken out and change the subject. “We have to meet Giles tonight, right?” That helps. If there was ever a solid substitute for a cold shower, it’s Giles.

“Yeah,” she says, pulling away to stretch. “Yeah.” She glances around like she’s looking for something. “What time is it?” It takes a shrug from me for her to remember she’s the one with the watch. When she glances at it and says, “Shit,” I take that as my cue to rise.

I grab my cup and down the rest of my coffee. It’s too tepid to be good, but maybe it’ll wake me up. Hanging my cup from my pinky, I put my smokes in the same hand and head inside. I don’t know if it’s possible. And doubtful that it’s smart. But I need to know, so as I hold the screen door open for her, I ask, “Do we have time for me to look at your back before we take off?”

She passes me, glancing over her shoulder to reply, “Not really, but we’ll make time.”

I move in behind her when she stops to put her cup in sink. Reaching around her, I do the same after dropping my cigarettes on the counter. With my left hand, I brush her hair from her neck. My left hand trails a path across her shoulders. I wrap my arms around her. She tries to turn, but I hold her, kissing right above her scar.

After what just happened I should probably… “It’s not you,” I whisper. When my breath makes her tremble, I give in. I’m not sure what it is about slayers and their necks. Her pulse quickens as I play, feeling her skin between my lips, caressing her with my tongue. I nibble and her breathing labors, tightening and becoming shallow. I think we’re all this way. I could take a poll. That might be fun.

Whatever it is, this works like magic. She melts against me. Her hands meet mine. She guides them lower.

Really, there’s no trick to it at all. Getting bit and living through it feels wrong, even if it is just play.

And there’s my problem in a nutshell. If only I could’ve been so eloquent a few minutes ago.

I pause to whisper, “What about Giles?”

“He’ll wait,” she replies. Her hands rest over mine. My thumbs are hooked at the top of her jeans. My fingertips are…

I want to force the issue, but there’s no need. I kiss her neck again, lingering to nibble before I ask, “And Maeve?” This is a little wrong. We should go upstairs.

I don’t want to. It might be a little mean, but teasing’s just more fun. As my teeth brush her neck, she groans, “She’s out.” Her hands close around mine. She twists and pulls. The buttons open, one at a time. She gives me exactly what I want. My hand slips inside, beneath her panties. Soft hair and moist skin meets my fingertips.

“I—” I want to tell her how amazing I think she is, but I can’t. The words won’t come. She tries to turn. “I need this too,” I whisper, rotating my wrist, matching the angle of her body, allowing her to face me. That’s not a lie. Maybe I can show her the rest.

I place my left hand behind her. The edge of the counter’s so hard. I want to shield her from that.

My eyes shut. I concentrate on her. Damp, silky fabric clings to the back of my hand. My fingertips part her open. Warm, slippery skin flows beneath them. She kisses me. Our lips caress.

I hold my fingers together, forming a triangle with the tips. This is too much, but too much is good. I know it is. I push, applying careful, even pressure and she stretches tight around me.

Our kiss is broken when she breathes in. My hand cups her, holding her. My fingers—

I roll the heel of my hand, grinding against… It rests a little too high. Her pubic hair clumps beneath it. It feels nice. Soft and a little damp, but it’s not enough. Her skin drags against mine when I push making my movement jerky. She takes a sharp breath. I don’t know if that…

I open my eyes. Hers are still shut. Her mouth’s open. Her hands—the right one cups my ass. Her left hand grips my shoulder. She pulls. More contact. More pressure. Yeah, that was good. I should know. I remember exactly how that feels. It’s—

It amazes me that she lets me touch her like this. I could just—

Carefully, I part my fingers, stretching the skin that envelopes them. Her eyes open. She looks…

God, she’s beautiful. I could just stay like this for…

Her muscles reflect my movement, bearing down, squeezing my fingers. I whisper, “This is…” I search for a better word and end up with, “…nice.” There has to be a better one, but eloquent as ever, I can’t find it. I’m too caught up in her. The flood of moisture as her body reacts. The way she looks at me like I’m…

I pull back and her eyes close again. I—

I want to taste her.

She kisses me. I could drop to my knees and get lost in her smell, all of the textures, sensations and sounds. I’d do that for her without a second thought. I just can’t do that to her. It doesn’t seem right. I get lost in this instead. The feel of her skin, the way it seems to flow around me, the gentle crush, the taste of her mouth…

She moves, moving me. I follow. Or try. Her hand leaves my shoulder. She brushes my hair away and turns her attention to my ear.

We stand skewed. Her right foot’s between mine. My wrist presses against my hip, just above the top of my thigh. It’s not quite symmetrical, not quite what I’m used to, but perfect still. I don’t get why it feels that way. It’s—

I don’t move quite the way she wants, so she guides me. Her hand returns to my shoulder. She tightens her grip. Her actions become sharper, harder, more insistent. She uses me. Our bodies lock together. Move together. Her breath on my neck is…

I have no idea what happened to my pinky. It’s gone. My wrist is bent at an angle that almost hurts. That’s not what I focus on. Everything else disappears. Every move she makes, my right hand—what I can feel of it—it’s in heaven. It doesn’t seem like this should be so intense. My palm’s wet. My fingers…

She grinds against one hand and the sharp edge of the counter cuts into back of the other, balancing everything out. There’s a cost. And something about that feels right.

My left hand cups her ass, putting pressure at the base of her spine. She pushes and I push too.

She kisses my neck, suckling, then biting down. Her muscles clench. She’s close. Her strokes are so firm. It worries me. I curl my fingers a little more. I’m afraid I’ll scratch her.

My body aches. Hers tenses. She shudders. Her hold on my neck gives out. She groans. She takes that same word—the one that isn’t—and make me look like an amateur. The sound sends shivers down my spine.

I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, swept up by the magic of a show. It’s so seductive. But the truth is, I’m not watching anything at all. My eyes are closed. I feel everything. I’m so numb. My body moves. I feel it, but I feel disconnected from it. I’m not in control. I hear her, smell her…she washes over me, pulling me in.

The tension and numbness consume me. What felt so good a few moments ago is now crippling. I freeze, standing rigid, like a statue. A stupid, trembling statue. I can’t even get that right.

She pulls, urging me on. Her muscles contract around my fingers. Crushing me, holding me, gripping…

I gulp for air. I need to stop. I’m hyperventilating. Knowing that is truly helpful. It’s these little moments of lucidity that just make things—

The counter digs in. My left hand’s pinned. I feel like an animal caught in a trap. A trap I made. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. There’s a hard knot where my throat used to be.

She reaches between us, taking my hand as I stare at the wall behind the sink. My reflection’s almost clear in slick white tile. I need to move. My skin crawls when she tries to move me. She wants more. My wrist and fingers fold. My nails dig in. She—

My knees buckle. They must have because they strike the floor. My hands fall to my sides.

What if I can’t feel anything at all?

The pressure in my head’s just brutal. My eyes burn. I lick my lips and try to swallow. The knot doesn’t move.


Everything is just shit! I’m gonna cry again. This is un-fucking-believable. What’s the hell’s wrong with me?

I can’t even bring myself to face her. I can’t raise my head that much. And what I wanted is right in front of me. What I want is…

I spring to my feet. I can’t do this. She tries to stop me, but I yank my arm free. She says something as I round the corner and sprint down the hall. I don’t care.

The door’s gone.


I shade my eyes with my hand.

There’s no sign of the mayor…or anyone else, for that matter.

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

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

So that’s it? After all that…


Oh, man.

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

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

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

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

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

Me. I haven’t stumbled in…

I have no idea.

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

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

I can’t believe I left!


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

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

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

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

I’ll leave—

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

I left!

I’m the moron.

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

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

He makes me just that edgy.

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

What does she see in me?

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

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

“You’re selling her awfully short, aren’t you?”

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

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

What else is new?

I seriously need to lighten up. She didn’t even get to complete her thought before I was all about killing her. That’s pretty much the epitome of rude. I chill out as she goes on, “Buffy may be a lot of things, but fickle isn’t one of them. She doesn’t give up on the people she cares for.”

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

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

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

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

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

I really can’t.

And true to form…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could use the slack.

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

I really deserve some slack.

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

Weird how it feels cooler when this happens.

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

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

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

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

Seeing movement out of corner of my eye is…

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

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

Or running.

It’s about that fast, but I’m not moving. There’s no bouncing. I haven’t gone anywhere. I look down. The water’s edge is still about three or four feet from my toes. The sandy soil around them isn’t moving either, but the angle of the blur changes when I tilt my head. It’s weird as hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You missed something.”

Willow’s still here. I see her reflection when she stands, but I can’t see her face, just the dark shape of her silhouette.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I really wish he wasn’t.

I hate him.

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

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

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

I hate guns too.

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

I despise them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or forget.

Or confuse with other stuff.

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

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

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

And that makes me happy.

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

I ache, but I—

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

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


Sure you’re sorry.

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

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

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


An unpleasant little twinge. It passes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…not quite as much as I hate Warren.

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

What if I don’t plan to get caught?

His sweat and his tears…

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

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

You know nothing.

I say, “Bored now,” for the benefit of my ‘friends.’ The rest happens with a casual thought, just like pulling a trigger.

This is no dream.

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

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

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

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

Page 6

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