Chapter Twenty-Two: Hospital Gum
It’s become a mantra, like the beat of a drum; can’t ever give up, must never give up. The drum beats harder, tighter, faster. So taught it even repels the air. Can’t ever give up, must never give up. It beats inside your heart until you begin to think; maybe it is your heart. Can’t ever give up, must never give up. Maybe you’re the drum-skin. Day after day- can’t ever give up, must never give up- they beat against you, you throw them back- can’t ever give up, must never give up- but they keep coming. You love her. Can’t ever give up, must never give up. For your child, you’d kill them all. Cant’ ever give up, must never give up. You’d fight to the death. Can’t ever give up, must never give up. Up until that day- can’t ever give up, must never give up. That awful day. Can’t ever give up, must never give up. That time it- can’t ever give up, must never give up!- time it-
You dread the day it stops.
They day you’re finally alone.
No doctors rushing round, no nurses making checks. No more cards or visits or flowers.
When it’s just you.
And no more her.
She’s ill, but they don’t know why. She’s infected, but they don’t know with what.
Xander stands above her cot. It’s almost comical to see her tiny, plump toddler hand in his.
You make no move to raise your head from the back of the armchair or even look away from her face, “Mm?”
“Have you slept yet?”
“On and off.” A blatant lie but he doesn’t call you on it.
It’s been twenty days. Twenty days of staring at your baby in a white hospital cot. They’d first put her in a tiny bed- she’s almost two and a half- but Rose is so small for her age it had looked wrong, like she was about to be lost in swathes of starched fabric.
She wears baby grows meant for a one year old!
They claim it’s something to do with her stomach- that she’s not digesting the food properly- but last week it was her kidneys and you’ve learnt not to listen. Tomorrow it’ll be something different.
Only Willow knows. And she’s not telling.
You’d thought she was just mad at you, angry with herself too for not acting on… on her ‘duty’ to protect you (as she so kindly put it). But then things had started to add up; the way she’d looked at Rose the first time she’d met her- weirdly… like she was scared, not of Rose but… of what she stood for- never coming around anymore and then, when she needed a slayer, risking the fiery arguments with Kennedy and Faith rather than see you- her supposed ‘best friend’.
Willow gave you the look that day that the doctors give you now. They have bad news and are too scared to tell you; the tiny little blonde single mother, frail enough to snap.
Then again, it’s been twenty days and you’re still here. You wish Rosy was back at the castle, running (slowly) up and down the stairs and driving you crazy, but she’s not.
What is it with Lehanes and hospitals?
To start with, it had just been a fever with occasional vomiting- you’d been worried but not enough to take her to the hospital! It was Saturday night and you figured the place would most likely be full of drunks and… alcohol related injuries. Besides, she’s always getting sick with different colds- the doctors had warned you of that when she was born. But by the next night she was ice cold and her wailing sobs had turned into only the occasional mewl, like a little lost kitten too confused to find it’s way home. There was no way you’d wait for an ambulance so Xander drove at near break-neck speeds to the hospital with Satsu in the passenger seat, trying to read directions and chastise him at the same time.
You’d scrunched into the backseat, not caring that it was technically a two-person car, and held Rose’s sweaty little body against yours, pressing hurried kisses to her damp forehead and begging forgiveness for waiting.
There aren’t many times you feel like the ‘bad parent’ now- sure, at the start, when you were crap and Faith had suddenly turned into Super Mom- but watching the medical staff running down the stark, white corridor with your little girl on a stretcher… you thought that, maybe, just maybe, Faith wouldn’t have let this happen.
Faith still stumbles into your life from time to time, with unkempt hair and an untidier mind. But she’s all you want right now, when nobody else understands and an embrace doesn’t bring comfort but confusion.
The nurse sticks the fresh IV into Rose’s arm but she barely moves and doesn’t complain. Xander hovers by the door, ready to jump in and wrestle her away from his niece at any moment.
“Any luck?” Your voice is thin and weary; you don’t expect him to say ‘yes’.
He shrugs, shaking his head, “I spoke to Angel but he said he hadn’t heard from her.”
You roll your eyes as he avoids looking at you, “You’re a bad liar.”
“It’s not a lie, he really doesn’t know where she is… right now. He’s been watching over her… in a creepy, vampire, stalkery way.”
“Oh. That’s good.”
Everyone seems to have been compartmentalised but you’re not sure by whom or if they did it to themselves. Xander has taken it upon himself to find Faith and you think he might just have picked it because it’s the hardest job. No one wants to sit still anymore.
The last time you saw Faith was October; an early birthday party for Rosy. She came, of course, with Kennedy- the only person who has any idea where she is nowadays. Giles no longer receives reports from her and Willow… well you’re just not going there.
You’d woken up that morning to find the apartment in disarray and Satsu frantically going over a Spanish to Japanese dictionary. “That bitch! She’s left a message in Spanish with Japanese characters! I don’t speak Spanish! I don’t even know if I’m translating this right! I don’t know if it even is Spanish! That fucking, fucking bitch!”
“Ah.” You hadn’t had to ask which ‘bitch’ she was talking about- there is, of course, only one woman you know who can slip seamlessly between languages. “Faith. Where’s Rose?”
“That’s the fucking point! I went to get her up this morning and there was nothing in the crib but this fucking note!”
Faith and Kennedy had taken Rosy for a day out, completely disregarding your party plans, but it had taken two hours for Satsu and the only Spanish slayer in the castle to decode the message. During which time you’d managed to work yourself into a major freak-out. You’d found her in town at the arcade (exactly where she’d promised to be at that time) and started one of your biggest blowouts since you put her in a coma- and in front of your daughter!
There’d been punching and screaming and Giles had eventually had to pay off not only the owner of the arcade but the local police as well. From opposite cells (and separated by thick walls and metal) you’d finally got to the point- she agreed with everyone else, it was your fault. That hadn’t stood of course; “You’re the one who gave up on me! You let yourself be swept away!”
“You stopped loving me!” She yelled from the other side of the gaol corridor.
“I never stopped loving you and you will always mean more to me than… most things but- but I’m sick of coming third! I don’t expect to beat Rose but I do want to be higher than whatever odd scheme you’ve got going this week!”
But you’re not, and you’re not going to be.
Two more days tick by until it’s a full two weeks past the admittance tag on Rosy’s arm; Mon 10th March. So it’s technically your third Monday here. Everything is so different to home, so white and starched.
Giles has given you your own tower, like the little princesses you are. It’s three rooms; one on top of the other and then a bathroom built into the round attic. You suspect magic plumbing. Rose picked the colour scheme (you held and she pointed) so it’s all in shades of purple with cream accents. On Mondays you light candles and share a bath, she giggles and bats at the bubbles, you smile and press them to her dimples. Afterwards the two of you snuggle up in your big purple bed (so big you have to climb onto it) with three duvets and two quilts, watching the cold sleet out the window and old repeats of Friends on the tiny broken TV. She chuckles along with the laughter track and nuzzles into you.
When Faith stays, oh so rarely, she joins you and it’s her Rose attaches to. But you don’t mind because Faith cuddles you too and her arms are always big enough for both. Or maybe you’re just small.
The hospital air conditioning gets through all your jumpers, even the thick wool ones. It feels like it’s seeping into your bones. Xander sends you to the cafeteria, to get yet more coffee, in the hope a walk will warm you up. You take the lift to be faster.
When the doors ping open Leah’s inside, with hair big enough to be a separate person and a comically small, in comparison, bunch of flowers. “Fluffy?” She blushes, “Uh- Buffy!”
“It’s ok, Leah, I’m not deaf.” The younger slayers call you that now, because you’re a mom and therefore no longer strict, “It’s better than ‘General Buffy’ anyway.”
She nods, “Och-ay…” Which was probably just meant to be ‘ok’. Why are you surrounded by people with accents anyway? “I brought flowers.”
“All the girls chipped in.”
The mean thought crosses your mind that they probably didn’t chip in very much. But then she passes them over to you and suddenly they’re the largest, heaviest bunch you’ve ever felt. Your arms feel like lead and the laminate walls begin to spin.
“Whoa! Hold on there!” She grabs your waist and eases you down to the floor slowly. It’s cold and clinical. “The lift hasn’t even started moving yet!”
“Sorry. Just a little… light headed.”
Leah moves the flowers out the way and feels your forehead. “That’s ok.”
What’s she doing here? “Huh? What did you say?”
“Never mind.” She reaches up to press the button to go back down. “Sassy’s in the cafeteria, she was going to bring up some coffee but you could probably use the break.”
You try to push your way to standing. “If she’s doing it then I don’t have to- I need to go back, I need to check on Rosy-”
“Buffy, no! You need a few minutes, ok? When was the last time you slept? Or took a shower?”
In the Children’s Ward they provide camp beds for parents, yours has stayed folded-up in the corner of the room. And the showering…? “It’s not really a priority right now, Leah.”
“Mrs Summers?” You look around, dazed, for your mother.
Leah coughs politely and nods towards the baby-faced doctor holding the elevator door open. “Miss.”
“Miss Summers, m’afraid I’ve got some bad news-”
“No!” You both gasp and scream at once. Leah sprawls out on her backside as you push her over in order to stand up.
The doctor looks confused “What?”
“No, please, not my baby!” Goddamn Xander! Goddamn fucking Xander!
“No, sorry, sorry, no!” He babbles, “I di’n’t mean- Rose is foine, well, not- not foine- Rose isn’t dead, I- I meant that her test results arenei good! I’m so sorry.”
You visibly deflate. Leah glares at him for you, “Ya foockin’ erse! Shite! Ya ooty mind!? Numpty!”
“A dinnie think, sorry!” He holds his hands up and tries to placate the fire haired girl swearing at him in rapid Scottish slang.
“Leah! Shut up! Just… Doctor, please, tell me what’s wrong.”
“We, uh, we… dinnieken- I mean, don’t know.” He corrects, remembering you’re American, “Her kidneys aren’t filtering her blood as well as they should, there’s a chemical build-up. We still can’t find why.”
Another day, another thing going wrong. You watch from the sidelines as the doctors huddle around the bed, talking in hushed tones. The worst part is not being able to hold her.
You want to reach into that stupid crib and wrap your arms around her and tear her away from this hospital as if it’s the thing making her worse rather than better because you deal in the unnatural and what could be more perverted than a child and a hospital crib? Giles is there for a reason; he tells you what to fight, you go get it and the problem is solved! You can’t fight what you don’t know! You can’t kill something without a diagnosis! You cant-! You can’t-… you just can’t… can’t keep this up.
You blink slowly. Leah’s voice breaks the stillness and you realise it’s been many moments that they’ve been staring at you. “Yeah?”
“We should get you back to Rose’s room.”
When you get further along the corridor you hear Rose’s plaintive, “Bee-Bee! Bee-Bee!” She cries out even when you enter the room and doesn’t stop until the side of the crib has been put down and you’re holding her as tight as you can.
“I’m here, baby, I’m here, Rosy. It’s alright.”
“Alright.” She sobs back to you.
Goddamn Xander making you goddamn leave your baby! “Mama promises she’s going to stay right here, she’s not going anywhere.”
“No go an’where, no an’where. Bee-Bee stay.”
You stroke her tangled brown curls away from her face and stare into those sad brown eyes, “Bee-Bee stay, Bee-Bee stay.” Her hair is soft and doesn’t grow, just like the rest of her. Xander lingers near the door, apologetic and gaping like a fish. He stares back at you, eyes running over your face. You lay your cheek atop of hers. “It’s ok, you didn’t know she was going to wake up.” Xander sinks into the big armchair and tries not to look too sorry.
Two doctors strut into the room and give you that ‘poor thing’ look again. They see a lot of sad things, day-to-day on the Children’s Ward, but for some reason you pull harder on their heartstrings. That’s the thing about Slayers; you look so delicate when really you’re so tough- it’s the opposite for your heart, the hard shell that survived so long through the Faith Years is now cracked and bleeding.
They threaten dialysis but instead give her a medication that sounds something like ‘darling-protein’ but isn’t (and it doesn’t matter that you don’t know because it’s written down, along with possible side-affects and medications it cannot ever possibly be used with in the little red book Satsu transcribes everything into).
She throws up everywhere and then flops back down, groaning. Rose doesn’t even grumble when the nurses come to clean up, instead she falls asleep in the arms of a hospital orderly, her cold, smelly body wrapping in on itself as he holds her outstretched, watching that he doesn’t tangle the wires connecting her to the machines.
You help two nurses wash the puke off Rosy’s body and change her ‘nappy’.
“Diaper.” one nurse corrects the other, winking at you.
Normally Rose only wears diapers at night but the hospital have her in them all day long. You know she’d hate it if she were entirely herself right now. Seeing her still is so strange, so wrong. Rose talks near-constantly, a stream of curious babble as if she’s trying to work out the intricacies of everything and then congratulating herself for doing so.
“No,” She sighed the other day to her doll, “I don’t think it’s entirely possible.”
You chuckled, sharing a look with Xander, “What’s not possible, Rosy?”
“Well…” Belle-Belle- her favourite doll, and mini version of Leah- came in for a belittling glare, “I think vanilla is best because that’s yellow and I like yellow and when Xan-Xan makes it he puts the yummy crackles in but… then Belly-Belle said that choc’late is best and brown is tasty but… then I said we couldn’t tell until Bee-Bee gave us both choc’late and vanilla. In the same bowl!” Rose gave her best cheeky grin with ‘believe me’ eyes and you’d laughed. Hard. But not hard enough to give in to ice cream demands in the middle of the day.
Your beautiful little girl, smart enough to be potty trained already. And she hates anyone even attempting to feed her- which you’re quite proud of. She loves building with bricks and making Xander fetch her ball. Her favourite colour is purple and she sticks her tongue out if you even mention bananas.
“Buffy?” Giles’ voice breaks the semi-quiet and the nurses nod at him awkwardly as they leave. The nurses have all, according to Satsu, been gossiping over who, exactly, he is. They’re currently working under the idea that as Giles is Rose’s ‘grandparent’ but not your parent (the atmosphere between you is still a little too frosty for that) and Rose’s father isn’t around he’s probably dead. Which makes them extra sorry for Giles; loosing a child and then possibly a grandchild.
You can’t loose her, not after all this work, not after you’ve had all this time to fall in love. She’s no longer ‘the baby’- not even the doctors call her ‘your daughter’ any more… it’s ‘Rose’; her own little person.
She’s beautiful and funny and yours.
“I… They’ve put her on meds for-”
“No,” He corrects kindly, “I know that, I’ve already spoken to her doctor. I meant, how is she doing?”
“I…” You shrug, not wanting to put it into words.
He’s been here for days, called in by Satsu and Dawn. Along with Xander the three of them seem to have taken up permanent residence here with you- except you barely see Dawn, she’s finding it too hard to watch yet another family member lie in a hospital bed. Instead she spends all her time in the Family Room, working furiously to make up for all the University lectures she’s missing. Every five hours or so she’ll appear with something made of carbohydrate and try to coax you into eating (nothing takes your fancy except gum). Satsu keeps on top of every single medical decision, Googling each new term and treatment on her phone, asking all the right questions and watching the professionals like a hawk.
Giles doesn’t do much to help though and Xander’s attempts to cheer you along are sweet but… you want one of them to wrap you in their arms, call you Bumble Bee and promise everything will be ok. Instead they just gaze at you with those forlorn eyes; awkward and uncomfortable and with no idea what to do.
Faith may not have been entirely rational in her manner but at least she was optimistic!
It’s not that you’re stupidly positive- there’s too much realism in your life for that but… but so what if sometimes you don’t want to think about the bad things. What’s so wrong with trying to make yourself happy? Do they have to look at you with that stupid ‘Every Summers Woman Dies Too Soon’ look? Maybe you don’t want to consider just how much sitting in that damn hospital room reminds you of watching your mother die?!
And this time you don’t even have stupid Riley or… or the possibility of driving away to see Faith. You’d rather be like the deer and run into the wind, knowing what’s ahead of you, than turn to see what’s pursuing.
“She’s going to be Ok. I know she will. She’s a fighter.”
Seven hours later, when Rose still hasn’t woken up, Xander asks you how it’s possible to stay so positive. You tell him that your baby is just sleeping right now, that she’s just healing, but she’ll wake up soon. He gives you that look the nurses do; the one that says ‘you poor, poor thing,’
You miss Faith. She never looked at you like that. When she sat the other side of the bed all you’d talk about was nonsense and the world. The parts you want your baby to see when she grows up.
He thinks that should be ‘if’.
He doesn’t say it, but you know.
The next day no one comes up to the room and you hit a sugar-gum-slump. Sniffling and wiping at your grainy eyes you slouch off to find sustenance. Apparently gum really is the only thing available on this floor.
Are there drawbacks to eating too much gum? Aside, from your mouth ostensibly being now unable to make saliva.
You’d honestly believed you were all cried out… right up until you come back from the vending machine to see the last thing you expected; Faith, sitting in the over-stuffed armchair with Rosy’s tiny body cradled in her arms like a baby and a huge backpack by her feet.
“Fay… oh my God…!”
What the hell?! She thinks she can-! She wants to just-! It’s not-! There isn’t any way you-! She’s not…
Your hand itches, begging to slap her. Where the hell has she been?! You should just smack her, right here, right now!
She places Rose back into the crib as tenderly as possible and then throws her arms around your thrashing body in a bear hug. “Shh, baby, I’m here, I’m here.”
But then, you don’t care that you’re supposed to be mad, you don’t care that everything that was and might have been between you is thoroughly screwed up because she’s here.
And if your mom can’t be then, by God, Faith is the next best thing!
“I called and I called but you didn’t-!”
You struggle and struggle against her but she just pulls you closer. “It’s ok, it’s ok.”
Except it isn’t. It’s not ‘ok’, it’s not ‘alright’, it’s not ‘fine’- it’s never, ever going to be anything but awful ever again! Your sobs into her shoulder are noisy and messy and loud but you don’t care. You don’t give a flying fuck! It sucks, it all sucks and it’s not right! Bad things happen to you and Faith not your baby girl! She hasn’t done anything wrong, she’s never been so pigheaded a group of girls died or been to prison or taken drugs or… or anything because she’s just a kid- not even a kid, a baby. Your baby.
Once you dissolve into just hiccups Faith pulls you onto her lap and smoothes your hair with kisses. “Do they know anything?”
“She’s… sick. That’s- all.”
“Shit.” She breathes out, “There’s… there’s nothing… we didn’t…”
“It’s- not because- she’s got two mommies.”
“Oh.” Faith smiles and pushes the greasy dreads out of your face, “I was actually going to go with ‘slayers’ rather than ‘lesbians’.”
She rests her forehead against yours and chuckles, “You awful, awful fool.” Her eyes scan the room. “Is there something to eat around here?”
You run your fingers through Faith’s bouncy, apple scented hair and smile back. “You still eat when you’re nervous?”
“I’m always nervous around you. Makes my tummy ache. Stupid butterflies.” She’s so normal it takes you a few moments to adjust- like the shock of a gold necklace flush against your skin and not yet warmed by body heat.
It’s embarrassing too.
This is a girl you’ve had to bathe because she couldn’t do it herself. Whenever she comes out of a bad patch and gets back to herself your cheeks flush and your heart clenches- what if she remembers? How much does she know? All the things that you whisper to her, things you could never tell anyone else… the oddities of life.
“Gum.” She sighs. The two of you chew in companionable silence. “No real food then, huh?”
“Uh… well, I’ll ask one of the others when they come back up. Though I haven’t seen anyone else today… normally Sassy or Dawn comes up in the mornings, then Xander bundles in and out all day- that’s an odd expression, isn’t it; ‘bundles’? It’s kind of… weird not… not having Willow around but then I guess it isn’t. Since the whole ‘back to the future’ thing and Rose being born I haven’t seen her… I guess she was nice enough to pass along the message to you though.”
Faith frowns, “I didn’t get any message from Willow.”
“What? Why are you here then?” She raises an eyebrow, semi-amused. “Not that I don’t want you to be!”
“I brought your Christmas present to the castle, Zoo sent me here.”
You roll your eyes, “The Christmas present you promised to bring at Christmas?”
“It’s March, Faith.”
There’s silence for a moment before she holds up the suspicious-looking rucksack.
“It’s not a bomb is it?”
“Wow, terrorist humour, I wasn’t aware you did that.”
“Only when nervous.”
“Well it’s not a bomb.” She places the bag down with dubious care and pulls from it a ball of apricot wool.
“Did you bring knitting needles too because I- oh my god!” The wool uncurls itself and stares up at you with the cutest brown eyes you’ve ever seen. “A puppy?! You brought-!?”
“Shh!” Faith motions to the door and the hospital staff probably right outside.
You lean across the bed to squeal, very quietly, in her ear with excitement. “This is the best present ever!”
There’s a flash of back teeth as she beams with pride.
“Though you totally bought it for yourself, didn’t you?” She frowns as she tries to work out if you’re angry or teasing. A flash of light catches the tag around the little furry Disney-cute creature. Bruiser? Really? “Don’t answer that. I can already tell.”
“You don’t mind do you? I just didn’t want you giving him some kinda gay name like ‘buttons’.”
Ok, firstly, that’s a boy? And secondly- why is she judging gay people-slash-animals? Oh! And thirdly, ‘buttons’ is so not a gay name! It’s cute! Bruiser rolls onto his back as she tickles his tummy. You roll your eyes. “That’s a girl dog, Faith.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“It’s not got a penis. You never had pet…s? Ok, don’t answer that. Again.”
Dawn laughs at that part especially when you repeat the story, “A penis, huh?”
It’s Monday again, Faith’s been here just over a day. Now it’s the late afternoon and Rose has been taken off for yet more tests. The room seemed too empty without the bed so Dawn brought you downstairs to have Coffee in the canteen. Faith, taking one look at the dark dregs in the cups left in the room, offered to stay and wait for news.
“So Faith finally caught her plane?”
“How do you know she came by plane?”
“Uh…” She searches for the answer in the cold coffee, “England is an island? People don’t often travel by boat anymore?”
No. Way. “You’ve been seeing Faith!? Are… are you two friends now?”
“Uh…” Dawn smiles, “Think of it this way- it’s a much smaller betrayal than when I told Mom I caught you with your hand up Faith’s top.”
Being called into your mom’s room to have ‘that talk’ was probably the worst moment of your young life. Being called in there for the ‘Faith talk’ was not. Of course, you hadn’t known that all you’d get would be a knowing look and advice on locks so you’d sweated for hours and have held it over Dawn’s head for years… “Rose is so going to be an only child- little siblings suck.”
“I think if you force Faith to have another child with you she’s legally entitled to scream ‘rape’.”
Regardless of whatever Dawn says you know Faith is happy to have Rose. She begged to be let back into her life (after she’d spent the first Post-Break-Up year getting high with Kennedy and breaking nearly every bone in her body. Twice) and you’d given in.
“Please.” She had begged, “Rose is all I’ve got left.”
Something about her cracking, earnest voice and messy hair had reminded you of the seventeen-year-old who stood on Angel’s roof and pleaded for a second chance. You weren’t making the same decision the second time and so you resolved not to make the same mistake. It wasn’t about her trying to make it up to you anymore it was about her loving Rose and you couldn’t get in the way of that.
So began the random visits.
You’re not stupid, you don’t dream of… inconsequential things; walks in the moonlight and a rose on your pillow. You, who were once her whole world, will never be enough. It never occurs to you to think any other way. There is a seat at your dinner table that you leave empty. Always. Faith once said to you that she dreamed of a ‘sure place at your table’. But now that seat is apparently in some bar somewhere; dark and smoky, with men she can hustle at pool and flirt with ‘til they buy her drinks. Your table is not good enough.
Dawn makes the mistake of actually looking at her coffee and then has to push it to the side. “Is she staying back at the castle?”
“No, she made me sleep on the camp bed last night while she kept watch. Besides, she’s too attached to the puppy to leave it now.” A bobbing dark head across the room catches your attention and you roll your eyes. “Sassy! Where exactly have you been for the last twenty-four hours?”
She blushes like a child caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar. “Not trying to make your daughter happy?”
You kick her under the table as soon as she sits down and forgive her instantly. “Thank you.”
“Oh, that’s ok, we worked out a deal; I keep the puppy secret, Faith stops calling me ‘Zoo’.” There’s a pause. Satsu sighs at your look, “She’s still calling me Zoo, isn’t she?”
“Yes. Yes, she is. Religiously.”
But really, has she not been listening to your many, many stories of attempted ‘beat the nickname out of Faith’?
Rose’s first word was ‘‘m‘pire’, which, given who her mothers are, is oddly perfect. Her second was ‘zoo’, which makes you just plain guilty. Regardless of… arguments and anger and anything else your daughter’s first words should be ‘mommy’ or ‘mama’ or… anything but Satsu’s name.
The ‘vampire’ thing is pretty cool though. And her ability to lift a five year old over her head makes a great party trick.
She’s not too great at names- Satsu is still ‘zoo’, Dawn was, for a short while, ‘porn’, and you are, rather embarrassingly, ‘blubby’. Faith heard that for the first time and, after laughing so hard she may have cracked a few ribs, suggested ‘Fay-Fay’ for herself. It had been met the same way as all of Faith’s suggestions to Rose- with awed glee. “Lub, lub, lub!” And the customary clapping of hands.
You’d been envious (and five seconds away from pinching the life out of Faith’s arm) until Rose’s happy little eyes had turned on you and christened you, for the second time; ‘Bee-Bee’.
When you get back to her room Rose is semi-conscious and drowsily prattling about the ‘woof-woof’. Faith pulls you close and tucks you into her arms, placing the puppy-brush in your hand. She guides you as you run it down Bruiser’s back, making sure not to pull on her delicate puppy skin.
Once she’s deemed you finished the two of you sit a while longer, perched on the edge of the crib.
“She’s beautiful, Faith, thank you.” You smile suddenly; remembering. “I have something for you too!”
“Oh?” ‘A knife in the gut?’ her eyes ask.
The photo is from Christmas and slightly crumpled from living in your back pocket.
She smiles and the faces in the picture smile back. Red sweaters with Rudolf faces had been the gift of choice for young slayers last year- everyone had received one from their Watcher, courtesy of the Council. Giles had sent yours along with a tiny one for Rose and brown parcel with ‘From Wesley’ stamped across the top. That was back when you were still mad with Faith for not showing (before you became resigned to the idea) so it had gone to Willow to send to Kennedy in the hopes one of them would bin it to spite the other.
“I was going to send it to you but…”
“No forwarding address.”
“Yeah, and Willow hasn’t been so keen on seeing me lately so I couldn’t ask her to magic you one.”
“I under.” Huh? “Understand.” She clarifies, smirking at your confusion. “There’s this kid I’m looking after- Tasha. She has this thing of shortening long words… kinda like I do… and I guess we just make each other worse.” You try not to scowl. You’re happy Faith helps out with the younger slayers, really. It’s just that… you’re jealous by proxy! She’s supposed to be Dawn’s ‘other’ big sister and Rose’s ‘other’ (but actual) mother! Faith pulls some blu-tac from the blodge on the windowsill. “Here, where Rose can see it.” She sticks the picture to the foot of the crib, facing Rose.
Dawn smiles when she comes in later and notices. As a prize she ‘let’s’ Faith win at Rummy.
“Hey, I won fair and square- don’t cheapen it.”
Your baby sister snorts, “‘Don’t cheapen it’? Faith, you redefine cheap.”
Rose giggles quietly when Faith’s gentle nudge with the tip of her finger has Dawn almost flying out of her chair. “Silly Daw-Daw!”
“Yes, Rosy, very silly.” You agree, tucking her in even tighter, just to be extra-specially sure.
“Fay-Fay tell story? The story with Kebuddy and the horsy!”
You haven’t heard that one before and, from the looks of Faith’s frown, you weren’t intended to. She tells you very few things of where she goes and what she does when not with you. It scares you that one day she might have a turn and be alone- that she might think she’s faster or smaller or… fly…able… weightless! That she might think she’s weightless and swan dive off a huge old bridge with tragically beautiful engravings and no water below. It’s all too clear in your mind.
So you like to believe that Kennedy takes care of her, that she makes good on that promise, that she really does get Faith some help- just because you don’t want to be the one doesn’t mean you’re unaware it’s necessary.
You try to believe every sight reminds her of home, that it’s just a long, winding path back to you. Every time you see her, every time she drops in with a smile and a story, you watch and chart her progress. She needs to get better on her own before your paths can rejoin, so you’ll believe anything that gets her safely home.
“No…!” Rosy chuckles, for the first time since she got here, “That’s not the proper story! Tell Daw-Daw the proper story!”
Faith pantomime-gasps, “Oh… so you don’t want to hear the one where the horsy ate all Kebuddy’s hair off?”
“That didn’t happen!” She pauses, checks your face, then her other mother’s, then her aunt’s, “Did it?”
You force a laugh and try to explain that ‘Fay-Fay’ is only joking- hopefully before she scares your daughter off horses for life! But Rose is an easy child and happily accepts all points of view. Her soft smiles remind you of Faith, which isn’t so strange considering she is a part of her- the uncomplicated part, the part that doesn’t scream when you touch her in the dark.
That night all four Summers girls stay in the same room. Dawn crashes out on the camp bed but Faith doesn’t sleep. Instead she sits in the armchair, one hand resting over Rose’s heart and her gaze on the photograph. You watch her through semi-lidded eyes. All night long.