Marie’s dark, hollow eyes stared at her two companions. Xander and Spike were side by side, mouths agape at her revelation. No one spoke for a long while.
Marie ducked her head, trying to control the flood of tears that threatened to spill. Of course they wouldn’t jump to reassure her. She was a monster, right? She could destroy with a single touch. They had no reason to trust her.
“I’ll go,” she choked out, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Hearing no answer, Marie took off, running blindly. Her only thought was how stupid and foolish she had been to relax, to admit to her weakness, to forget that her lone course of action was to run.
As Marie retreated, Xander finally shook himself from the shock her revelation had caused.
“Wait! We can help you! Just hold on a second!”
He ran after her, shouting that and similar phrases. Spike watched the two go. For a split second, he considered ignoring the lot of them and going back to his crypt. But his innate curiosity won out. With the inherent speed of a vampire, within moments he had caught up with Marie.
“Slow down, mouse. What’s the rush?”
Marie ignored him and kept running. Spike easily matched her speed, asking, “C’mon, can’t leave us hanging with a revelation like that. What’s your deal?”
She skidded to a halt, a flicker of memory telling her that once Spike started a conversation, he kept at it until he was satisfied with the answers.
“I hurt people.”
“So do I. Well, if I could I would.”
She looked away. “It’s different.”
“Is it? Can you hear them in your head? Screaming and shouting and hating you? Trying to rip whatever shred of sanity left into pieces?” Marie met his eyes, her own filled with turmoil and anguish. “I know you’ve killed. SHE knows. Torture and blood and death. But every time I do what I do, it’s like I AM them. I feel what they feel, think what they think, hate what they hate. And do you know what they all hate? ME. That I’m some evil monster for doing to them whatever the hell it is I do.”
“You’re not evil.”
“I’m not? Every time, I take a piece of someone’s soul. Their very life force or whatever you call it. I steal it. How can that be not evil?”
Spike couldn’t help but laugh. “Mouse, evil things don’t care. They don’t cry and they don’t wail about the horrors of their crimes. I should know. I’m one of them, remember?”
Maybe Spike was right. Maybe she wasn’t evil. Marie tried out that thought, one she hadn’t believed for a long time. I am not evil. Evil enjoys itself; evil feeds off pain and suffering, Buffy whispered in her mind.
“Speaking of the Slayer, you can’t tell me she’s hating you over this. She’ll forgive a human of the worst crimes. It’s part of her whole ‘hero’ package.”
“She’s not hating me, right now. But I don’t know if I’m even human,” Marie said quietly. “Last I checked, this wasn’t standard issue.”
“Doesn’t have to be standard to fit, does it? Though I can’t see what the big deal about humanity is,” Spike said with a wink, “seein’ how I’m not.”
“Right.” Marie managed a weak smile. Somehow an evil bloodthirsty vampire telling you that you are not evil was strangely comforting.
“Hey, Marie,” Xander wheezed, finally catching up. Man, he needed to get in shape. “You’re looking better. Ready to talk?”
Marie nodded. Xander smiled, “Good. Listen, I can’t say I understand what the hell this is about, but I can promise this. You come back with us and the Scooby research team will figure out whatever you’ve got going. We can help, if you let us.”
Marie paused before answering. Out of the corner of her eye, she say Spike give her a look, saying, “You gonna risk it?”
Marie cautiously entered the Magic Box. This was the very first time since that long ago kiss with Cody that she confronted a victim and the victim's family. She braced herself for the fear and hate. No matter Xander and Spike told her, part of her still whispered dire things.
They were all sitting at the round table in the back of the shop. No one gave her spiteful looks or hissed curses. Even Buffy, recovered from her encounter with Marie, watched her with only an expression of curiosity and concern.
Xander filed in behind Marie, silently heading towards the table. He sensed that this was something that needed no funny remarks or humor. Sliding into a chair, he gave Anya a smile and a quick hug. She smiled back and returned her attention to Marie.
Marie swallowed. Maybe they wouldn't start yelling until after she announced what she was. They were probably just waiting for an opening. For a moment, Marie wished Spike had followed her here. After their impromptu heart to heart, he'd taken off for his crypt, without an explanation. Probably felt threatened by recent sensitive behavior unbecoming of a vampire.
Drawing on her sparse reserves of courage, Marie began to speak.
"I'm sorry about what happened earlier with Buffy. But it's not something I have control over. For some reason, whenever I have physical, skin to skin contact with a person I can absorb a part of them. It's hard to describe. I freaked because it is almost like a piece of that person's mind goes into me, and I feel like that person until it wears off. Xander says you can help figure out what I am and why I do that. Maybe even stop it.
Please, don't hate me. I didn't mean to hurt anyone."
Silence reigned for a moment.
"Told you so!" Tara crowed. Everyone stared at her. Tara does NOT crow. The Wiccan blushed. "Well, I did. I knew it was a personality/aura issue." To Marie, she added, "When you do whatever that is, your aura goes through the changes of someone being affected by a personality spell."
"Skin to skin contact only? When did you first experience this?" Giles asked, inner scholar awakened. "It doesn't sound particularly familiar. You might possess an overactive form of touch telepathy, but I've never heard of such an extreme case."
"Does this mean part of me is floating around inside your head? Exactly how much of me is in there now?" Buffy wanted to know.
Marie answered Buffy first. She had the right to know. "It is almost like I have your memories. Sometimes the feelings that go with them. It usually won't be very loud, but I'll be reminded of something, it will be your memories doing the reminding. Later, anyway. At the moment," she said awkwardly, "it's a sort of 100% transfer."
Buffy's expression turned wary. "Really?"
Looking her straight in the eye, Marie said softly, "Don't worry. When it's like that, a lot of what you feel, I feel. And I know better than to shout it all out to the world."
Mollified, Buffy relaxed. The message was understood. Dawn's nature would remain secret, if Marie had anything to say about it.
This exchange over, the rest of the Scoobies jumped in with their questions. Marie found herself in the wholly enjoyable position of being helped. They didn't pry, they only sought to determine exactly who she was.
Xander and Anya left part way through the interview, leaving the witches, Buffy, and Giles.
An hour after Marie's return, Giles studied his notes. Her patience in answering questions was quite admirable, especially given how awkward it must have been for her. Marie's desire for answers was so poignant. Given the chance, she poured out everything.
There was much to tell.
From her first kiss with Cody at fifteen to the incident with Buffy, Marie had described her life. How she had run away when her home town when their distrust and fear grew too much. How she had been running since then, barely hanging on to her essential self, constantly bombarded by the thoughts and feelings of those she touched. How she had come to this town on a whim, and how she hoped that this time she could stop running.
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He wished for the ability to give Marie all that she needed - control and peace of mind. But he doubted the first and could only offer a semblance of the latter. Meditation and studies on mental control could help the aftereffects of her abilities, but until he understood their precise nature, Marie would continue to live with her burden.
With any luck, some research would reveal enough answers to give her hope.
The girl in question sat in her chair silently, drained from the outpouring of emotion and memories. Marie had never expected this day to come, where she could speak honestly and openly about herself.
Even Buffy was being nice to her. The very one Marie had inadvertently violated. Instead of being angry, the Slayer was empathetic and acted as if their respective abilities formed a bond between them. Girls of the Not Normal must stick together. Marie's borrowed memories told her Buffy had been Called at fifteen, the same age Marie's powers had emerged at.
Marie envied Buffy's Calling. That your strange abilities were for a higher purpose sounded comforting to someone who had until recently believed herself to be innately evil.
Maybe with the Scoobies' help she could learn to use her powers for good. To help and not hurt. Maybe she could learn to be at peace with the voices in her head. Maybe she could finally and truly rest and stop running.
"I think we've done all we can for now," Giles announced. "Feel free to return home. And Marie, hopefully I can give you some answers soon. Possibly even by tomorrow - some of your descriptions are familiar to me. Good night."
"Ready to go?" Buffy asked. Marie nodded. "Good. Let's head on home. Mom'll be wanting to know what happened; who knows what Dawn told her."
Marie followed Buffy out the door.