Marie stood outside Giles’ office a moment, collecting herself. She ignored the burn of unshed tears, shunting away the emotion. She had been a fool to get her hopes up; she should have known better. Be she mutant or monster, she was stuck that way. Marie swallowed, a lump sticking in her throat. At least she wasn’t a demon or anything. That had to mean something, right? With effort, she straightened her shoulders and tried to hold her head high. Then slumped again, Giles’ words echoing in her head, “I do not believe you will ever be able to physically control your abilities.”
Sometimes, life just sucked.
Over by the register, Buffy and Anya were talking. Buffy looked up and saw Marie standing, looking as if her birthday puppy had run off. Letting Anya babble on, she asked, “Hey Marie, you okay? Giles didn’t drive you too crazy with Watcher-speak, did he?”
Hearing her name, Marie looked up and wet her lips to speak. Part of her wanted to run over and start sobbing. Another whispered, you can’t cry, they need you to be strong. Marie knew that was the Buffy voice talking, but she clung to the denial of emotion it promised. “I’m fine,” she finally answered, surprised at how steady her voice sounded. A thought crossed her mind. “Though I think I’m gonna go a few rounds with the punching bag out back before we leave.”
Buffy nodded. There was more going on than Marie was saying, as always was the case, but she’d wait to pry. “I left it in one piece. Feel free to give it a whirl.”
A few minutes later, Marie fell into the comforting monotony of striking the bag, the blows echoing throughout the room. As her fists flew, memories of past times where she had dealt with depression the same way came to her. The image of a padded dummy, not a punching bag. Hitting it harder and harder, thinking about the pale-faced monster. His teeth sinking into her neck, draining her of life.
Marie’s pace quickened.
Falling, falling into cold water, unable to fight.
She continued, unaware that bruises were forming on hands unused to the strain.
Cold water all around, unable to breathe, dark coming close. Dark. Darker. Darkest!
Marie drew back and struck hard, letting out the anger and frustration. Frustration for the memories that weren’t hers, for the darkness, for the knowledge it would always be this way……
“OW!” Marie doubled over, nursing her fist. “Ow ow ow.” Her face twisted as her body finally caught up with her brain, loudly exclaiming that she really, really shouldn’t go hitting tender, unprotected flesh against hard objects. “OW.”
Buffy entered the room, drawn by the cries of pain. “Marie? You okay?”
Marie looked up, a weak smile on her face. “Uh-huh. Just a little bruised.” She forced her hand to uncurl. “No serious damage done.”
Buffy’s eyes flicked down to examine the gloved hand Marie had extended so awkwardly. She had a strong feeling that if the fabric were to disappear, she could see bruises forming. “Want some ice?”
“Yes. Where’s the fridge?” Marie moved to get the aforementioned ice herself. Buffy rested a hand gently on her shoulder, noting Marie’s automatic flinch. She went to the refrigerator in the back of the room. A moment later, she returned with one of those freezer packs. Marie took it with a sigh of relief. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Buffy tried for a smile. “You think you’re the only one who makes with the beatings and the bruisings?”
“I thought your Slayer thing would help with that.”
“It does.” Buffy winked at Marie. “Giles keeps them around for when he gets knocked unconscious – of course, that’s about once or twice a week.”
They stood there in the middle of the training room, Marie pressing the freezer pack against her hand, Buffy watching with concern from the side. She noticed that Marie wouldn’t look her in the eye. Awkwardly, Buffy tried to reach out to the other girl. “So – ”
“How do you deal with it?” Marie asked suddenly, eyes still staring straight ahead.
Buffy frowned, confused. “Deal with what?”
“Being what you are. Knowing that it is what you will always be.”
Buffy blinked as she understood what Marie meant. She wanted to know how Buffy coped with being the Slayer. As she fumbled for words, Marie answered her own question. “Oh, I remember now. You deal with friends, with companionship. You deal by not being alone.”
That’s true, Buffy realized. That was how she dealt. “You can deal the same way. I don’t know what Giles told you that made you all punch bag happy, but you’re not alone.” Buffy reached out and touched Marie on the arm, refusing to draw back when Marie flinched. “You’ve got the whole Scooby Gang on your side, remember?”
Marie tried to pull away, as memories bubbled to the surface. Buffy’s memories. Memories that she had stolen. “Maybe I *should* be alone.”
Buffy refused to let her friend flee. “Says who? I’ve got a whole prophecy that says it’s supposed to be me against the demons, and you don’t see me playing by the rules. And Marie, last I checked you didn’t have a prophecy and a council of stuffy old British guys trying to boss you around, so you’ve got even less a ‘should’ than me.”
“Giles said I’ll never be able to control my powers,” Marie blurted out. She needed to make Buffy understand exactly what was wrong, why she felt the way she did.
Buffy let go and stepped back. Not the most surprising piece of information, but not the best. Inwardly, she shuddered at the fate she knew Marie faced – to live with the entire world a step away. Outwardly, she summoned as much confidence as she could. “And that automatically makes you hermit-girl? So you get to wear gloves for the rest of you life. Consider it a fashion statement. But that doesn’t mean – ”
“Doesn’t mean what? Buffy, it means I can’t be near anybody for fear that I’ll end up violating them!”
“Yes. Like what I did to you.”
Buffy shook her head; this was going beyond her. “Huh?”
“You don’t understand, do you?” Marie demanded. “You think this is an inconvenience. You think that this is some magical mishap that’s left me overreacting. You think what I did to you is nothing. Guess what? It’s not nothing.”
“Marie, what happened was an accident. I don’t hold it against you. Do you think I should?” she asked as she tried to understand her friend.
“No, I don’t want that. But I don’t want you to forget about it, either.” Marie bit her lip, seeking to explain the true curse of her power. “Buffy, you are inside me.”
“I understand that your power takes a piece of a person into your mind. You told me that last night.”
“I did. But there’s more. It’s not just a piece; it’s everything. Buffy, I don’t have a piece of you inside my head. I have all of you. Everything that means to be you is now part of me. And that’s how I know what you think of this. You seek to comfort me, but you still pity my fate. You deny the sense of violation that comes from me knowing, because you always deny what you don’t want to acknowledge. In my mind, I can see each and every instant you closed your eyes. Your calling, the true nature of Angel, his death and his return, why you hate Faith, your problems with Riley – I know. I know the reasons, I know the emotions, I know the instant the situation changed. I know the only reason you ran after Riley was because of what Xander had said, and that as much as it broke your heart to see him leave, you were relieved that there was one less person to worry about.” The words poured out of Marie, as she needed to share, needed to explain the truth. Needed to release what was boiling about inside her.
Buffy listened to Marie’s outpouring, as it finally sunk into her what Marie meant. It was frightening, the insight Marie had into her. Marie knew exactly how she felt and what she thought, down to the details that, like Marie had said, Buffy didn’t want to acknowledge.
“Do you see now?” Marie pleaded. “Do you see what it means?”
“I’m inside you. You tell me.” Buffy hadn’t wanted to come off so snappish, but the intimacy of Marie’s words had frightened her.
For once Marie didn’t flinch at the harsh words. “Someone gets too close and they get cut,” she responded, something inside her replying in kind. “Classic Buffy. You’re telling me I’m don’t have to be alone? That’s rich. You are too. As far as you’re concerned, all the Scoobies are just window dressing. In the end, you’re always alone.”
“Thanks for the insight.”
“You’re welcome. And you do see what I mean now, but it frightens you. You wonder how I might use this power against you, even as you struggle to remind yourself I am your friend. But now that I have shown you how my power hurts its victims, I think we will have some troubles in that department.” Marie started to leave, throwing the ice bag to Buffy. “If you don’t mind, I think I need to go for a walk.”
Buffy watched Marie leave. This encounter had not ended the way she had wanted when it started. Marie seemed to have intentionally gone out of her way to be hurtful. But as much as these revelations troubled Buffy, this was the strongest, most outspoken she had ever seen Marie be. She frowned, then called out. “Last night you said this hurts you, too. How?”
Marie turned around. “I’m not ready to share that yet.”
Marie wandered down the street, having breezed past Giles and Anya on her way out. Both had overheard the raised voices – Giles had wanted to know what was wrong, Anya wanted to know if anything was broken that needed shop funds to be replaced. She had been remarkably bitchy in response.
As she passed an alley by the Bronze, a voice echoed in her mind, “Whatever is causing the Joan Collins 'tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it.” It wasn’t one of her constant companions, though. It was a memory. Marie paused, the fuzzy image of a dark haired woman coalescing in her mind. The woman was calling her out for bitchy, hurtful behavior – behavior that had been brought on by her death at the hands of the Master.
Marie growled and would have punched the brick wall, if her hand hadn’t still been sore. Buffy. It was Buffy’s memories in the forefront, subtly manipulating her. And with Buffy’s death so close to home after last night’s dream, she found herself coping the same way the Slayer had. Only there weren’t any Master bones for her to grind up for closure.
She *so* needed to find a way to take control and keep herself as, well, herself. And not playing out the echoes of another life.
Marie considered turning around and asking Giles to start her with some meditation exercises, but decided that was too close to being Buffy for the moment. Even if Buffy would avoid meditation exercises like a vampire avoided sunlight. And there she went again with the Buffy thoughts.
Marie took a deep breath. Whenever things got too stressful, there was only one thing left. Run.
She paused. Did she want to truly run, to flee? Marie thought of all those trains and buses she could hop on in an instant. It would be so easy. Be gone and Buffy would fade away, with nothing left to remind her of her existence. That’s what she had done before.
But not this time. This time there was Joyce. Dawn. Giles. And Buffy, who given time could give Marie the empathy she needed. Marie knew she could find peace here, if she was willing to try. And she was.