sinking (This Little Masochist)
by cheebs!

Everything had been so much easier for Faith in prison. She'd always known what to expect and what was expected of her. Life had been regulated by bells and slamming gates. No one had had to remind her to eat, or shower before she itched or stank, or change her clothes every day -- a concept she now had trouble with, having grown accustomed to wearing identical outfits every day for just over three years -- things which had been made easy by every other woman doing the same.

Here in Cleveland, though, no such luxury; just a few dozen girls taking a well-earned rest and doing everything to avoid any semblance of routine.

There were days the world felt too big and freedom seemed too much to bear, and it took everything not to run to the nearest House of Bacon and turn herself in. On these days she often stayed in her room, hypnotized by the television she stared at blankly, lulled by the murmur of one mindless show or another turned just low enough to be heard or tuned out as she wished. Days like this one.

If she stared long enough, she could forget: where she was; who she wasn't and never would be. She thought she'd come to terms with this inside -- her shrink had commended her on coming as far as she had done -- but after what she perceived as spectacular failure during her brief tenure as general, self-doubt reared its ugly head and, more than ever, she wished for Buffy's...certainty? No, that wasn't right -- she knew better from their pre-apocalyptic heart-to-heart -- sanctimony, perhaps. She'd learned that word from Robin; he used it often in reference to the blonde. Should've taken a look in the mirror.

She wasn't sure when Robin had left for good. It had been during the last month, she thought; possibly the one before that. He'd never quite dealt with the reality of her, always putting her on a pedestal so high that he'd been disappointed every time she'd failed to meet his expectations. She'd never been able to understand that, nor why he'd had any in the first place.

She knew she should be concerned about this -- about his having left as well -- but she couldn't even bring herself to care that she wasn't. She embraced the numbness and sank into it just a little deeper every day, like a fly in amber.

Sinking was better than cracking. Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it...even if the physical ones didn't show, thanks to Slayer healing.

Some things just didn't heal. She got that now. Saw it in the eyes of everyone around her, when she could bring herself to look. Some of the slayers (not Slayers, they'd never be Slayers -- there were only two of those left, the Chosen Two, together again forever and ever with no souled vampires in sight and oh how she hated those thoughts) who'd stayed on after Sunnydale still blamed her for leading them into a trap. Willow and Xander were friendly enough but they never. stopped. watching. her. Like they were just waiting for her to snap so they could run to Buffy with a big 'I told you so.'

It unnerved her, especially Xander, with his one eye always staring at her from one part of the room or another; if she dared to meet his gaze, he looked away and rubbed his throat. She could never tell if it was purposeful, to make her feel guilty, or -- what was that word? Oh yeah -- psychosomatic. Her shrink would be so proud of her for remembering that word! ...except the shrink was back in Stockton and she wasn't, and wasn't going back.

...was she?

She could, she supposed; it'd certainly be easier on Bu -- everyone if they didn't have to watch for pigs. And it'd be nice to let her hair grow out - she missed her own deep brown shade, though the blonde with fuschia streaks Dawn had talked her into was pretty wicked, she had to admit. But it wasn't her, and she hated seeing a stranger in the mirror every morning: new hair; blue contacts; facial piercings and a new tat to cover the old. At least she could still dress in something approximating her usual style, since her new look practically demanded it.

Her new look made it easier to get what she wanted, too. Some hydroponic here; a little Special K there; whatever it took to keep her from flying off the deep end, wherever and whenever she could get it, and always in large quantities so she could stay in for the longest stretches of time possible.

Reality had become harder to hold on to in the weeks immediately following her escape and the Hellmouth's closing. It had been a slow loss of grip as the psychotropics prescribed by the state had left her system; also sudden, as hundreds of voices had begun to chatter away in her mind as Willow's spell hit her like a physical blow. She had felt them all from the moment her power had begun to drain from her in drips and droves. She had also felt the passing of those who died; every blade and claw and fang that ripped into newly-powerful flesh. She had fought through it all, her awareness so scattered that she had only been able to battle defensively.

The other girls had been given a choice. No one had asked her if she wanted to share her power or her mind.

Not that they'd had any way of knowing the result of the spell, she knows; how could they, when they were entering virgin territory? Such a spell had never been attempted before. If she'd told them that she'd met Buffy in dreams long before she'd ever laid eyes on her, that she'd wandered the other Slayer's mind many times since, that she'd felt Buffy die, it might never have been. Now, however, it was too late for regrets.

It was too late for a lot of things.

Too late to say she was sorry for everything: to Xander and his ever-flinching gaze; most especially to Joyce, who had shown her more kindness than she thought she'd deserved. Thankfully she'd already made amends with Wes before she took Angelus down, since he was now gone as well.

Too late to save either of her Watchers. It didn't matter that she'd been too green and too injured in her own right to save the one, nor that she hadn't known the other had been in trouble until she'd learned of his death. She was supposed to know these things. She was The Slayer.

And that was the crux of the problem, wasn't it? She was The One among so many that she couldn't tell which thoughts were her own anymore. Her own were bad enough, but what some of these other girls had been through made her own experiences seem the charmed exsistence Buffy's life had been to her a lifetime ago.

When she'd kicked Robin across the room, accusing him of rape in what had later turned out to be a Croatian dialect, she hadn't been able to hide her growing insanity anymore.

That had been within days of Dana's arrival. The reality of Dana had been something out of Faith's worst nightmares. If Faith had been Buffy's darker half, Dana was Faith's, tormented and twisted beyond humanity; beyond even the knowledge of what she'd done. Even at her worst, Faith had always been cognizant of her actions, though God knows there'd been times she wished she hadn't been.

Faith had been there when Andrew returned with Dana, strapped to a gurney and pumped full of a sedative that was as near to the Council's serum as Willow had been able to synthesize.

Buffy had been also there. The blonde's expression of deep sympathy had become something dark as she turned to Faith: a promise of things to come if she didn't stay in line. Chills had run along every nerve in the brunette's being, making her shiver suddenly. Goosebumps had dotted every inch of skin, rising under her fingers as they rested on her crossed arms, which had tightened without her being conscious of them. With her new army, Buffy had more than enough backup to take Faith down, and she hadn't been afraid to let her one-time nemesis know it.

As Dana had been wheeled past, Faith had gotten a good look at her hollow, dark eyes. Though unfocused, they had told of too many horrors inflicted on one so young. Faith had been all-too-familiar with such eyes, having seen them in the mirror for as long as she could remember.

The way they'd all looked at Dana with pity had made Faith ill. It was nothing compared to the way they now looked at Faith: warily; usually from the farthest possible vantage point. They were extremely careful around her, leery of setting her off and still not quite sure of what would.

She wasn't quite sure herself. These days she felt like she was just waiting to explode, between the constant drone in her head and the orpheus flashbacks which dotted her waking hours like night terrors from which she couldn't wake. Keeping to herself and minimizing possible antagonism seemed to help, and as long as she wasn't trying to hurt anyone else the other residents of Slayer Central were all too happy to leave her be.

Well...physically, anyway.


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