"Are you okay?" Joyce asked worriedly as Buffy and Marie entered the house. Dawn had come home with a garbled story of Marie attacking Buffy then running away. She examined the two girls carefully. They looked fine, albeit a little tired. "What happened?"
Buffy looked over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow in query to Marie, silently asking, 'Do you want me to say it, or you?'. Marie's eyes widened in that frightened, vulnerable look that Buffy was coming to identify as quintessential Marie. Buffy decided it would be kinder to do the talking instead of the younger girl.
"Turns out Marie's got a few surprises in her," Buffy told her mother, trying to sound as upbeat as possible. "I got a little too close to one of them."
"What sort of surprises?"
Marie spoke up. A big part of her wanted to hide behind Buffy and let her explain, but her innate sense of honor told her she owed this generous woman the truth from her own mouth. "I have some sort of power. I don't know what it is or what it's called, but I can some how take in a person's life force, for lack of a better word, when I come into direct contact with their skin." Marie's expression grew pleading. "I did it to Buffy, but it was only an accident. I didn't mean to hurt her!"
Joyce smiled gently. "Of course you didn't." To her eldest, she asked, "Everything okay now?"
"Yup. I was only out of it for a bit. I think Marie's more shaken up than I am."
Marie was somewhat puzzled on why that was true. Buffy was the one who had had part of her essential being sucked out, yet seemed barely fazed while she was the one on edge. Of course, lingering bits of Buffy told her that this sort of thing was par to course for a Tuesday night in Sunnydale.
On the couch, Dawn watched the exchange. Her only remark was, "You have super-powers? Cool. See, Buffy? You can't pull that I'm-the-only- one crap anymore."
"Dawn!" Joyce admonished automatically. In the more conscious part of her mind, she recognized that Marie's revelation revealed exactly why she was the way she was. It explained the clothes, the fear, the running away. Poor girl. No wonder she was troubled. Joyce decided to have a good talk with Marie in private at the first opportunity.
"If everyone's okay, then I think it's time for some people to got to bed," she announced.
Dawn frowned. That meant she went upstairs while everyone else stayed behind and talked about things not suitable for precious Dawn-ears. She momentarily considered arguing, but decided tonight was not the night. She could always sneak back down and sit on the stairs.
"I think that's my cue. G'night, guys."
Dawn left, leaving Joyce, Buffy, and Marie behind. With the youngest Summers out of earshot, Buffy quietly asked the question which had been burning in her mind all night.
"Why didn't you tell us, Marie?"
Marie was silent for a moment. Then, she whispered, "I was so scared."
Buffy was silent in return to that answer. She remembered being there herself, suddenly full of this strange new ability, being introduced to a frighteningly real world. She had been so scared she had not admitted the truth to her mother until she was forced to. Then she had run away from home.
Marie continued speaking. The floodgates on her words had been opened, and they poured out for the first time. "Every time I've tried to rest I've ended up hurting people, good people, then I have to run again because they are so angry at me and I thought I could rest here but I heard you were the Slayer and killed evil things and I thought what I was had to be evil, that it couldn't be good." She repeated her first words. "I was so scared."
Joyce had no words for this. Instead, she lay a hand on Marie's arm and gently guided her to the kitchen. "Let's talk about this over some hot chocolate."
As she bustled about preparing the drink, Buffy looked Marie in the eye and told her, "You're right when you say I kill evil things. But Marie, you aren't. You're like light-years away."
"I'm not so sure about the last part." Marie's lips quirked up bitterly. "I've only recently figured out that I'm not evil. Don't know if I'm good yet, but I don't think I'm evil."
Joyce sat down at the table, cups of cocoa in hand. "Here you go, Marie."
For a moment, silence filled the room. The three women sipped their drinks and added little marshmallows and cream. Then, unbidden, Marie began to talk. Sometimes she spoke of pointless nothings. Other times she spoke of deep pains. Joyce simply nodded and made the right remarks; Buffy did much the same. All Marie needed was someone to listen and to care.
Marie curled up on her couch bed. Buffy had offered to give up her room for the night, but Marie had refused. It would have felt far too familiar to sleep there. Even now, in the dark, echoes of Buffy reverberated throughout her mind. Being in her bedroom would only make them louder.
Marie shifted on the cushions, tossing with the multitude of emotions that roiled and boiled in her mind. Relief at her secret being out. Uncertainty about where this would lead. Fear that this will all turn to ashes, like so many other tries had. An overwhelming sense of gratitude for the people here, in this cursed town of Sunnydale, who had given her a chance.
Marie walks through tunnels, dark and dank. Water drips and the smell is overwhelming. She follows a young boy, knowing that he leads her to her doom.
The tunnels open into a cave. A monster stands there. His mouth is stained with blood, his hands are clawed, and he is bigger and stronger than she is. She mocks him to hide her fear. He returns the jibe. They fight. Marie tries so hard to strike, to wound, to cause even the most minute damage. She fails.
A hand encompasses her throat, squeezing. Her hands fly up to pry them away. She fails. Fangs into her neck, life drawn away, yet she cannot fight. Darkness overwhelms her. She fails. Her body collapses into water.
Her heart slows. She cannot breathe. She is dying. Marie weeps inside. She is sixteen years old and is dying. So many things she will never do. Marie wants to scream, to struggle, to fight! But all she can do is succumb to the encroaching darkness, the pull of nonexistence.
Marie jerks herself awake. She takes huge gasps of air, almost hyperventilating. The dream had been so real. She had died in it. She had felt her heart stop, her breath stop, her life stop.
Her hands clutch at the air, still in the midst of the dream battle. As she comes down, Marie realizes she's on her side on the ground. It hurts. She must have fallen off the couch in the course of her sleep.
Probably from when the Master had dropped her dying body into the pool of water. The experts are right. Drowning is a horrible way to die.
Marie curled up into the fetal position. Intellectually, she understood the dream was only a nightmare, only a distant memory of the woman who slept upstairs. It wasn't hers. But in the dark early hours of the morning, that does not matter.
What matters is that she died. She faced her own mortality. And Marie, unlike Buffy, has not yet lived the intervening years to deal with that.
This wasn't the first time she had dreamed the dreams of others, the dreams of all the voices in her mind. But this was the most vivid, the most real. This dream was the most terrifying.
Marie rocked gently on the floor, as she tried to fall asleep. As her eyes closed, all she could feel was the cool shock of water and the sudden gasp for air left unanswered.