Chapter 26: A Canapé Reception
What the fuck are you doing? No really- what the fuck?! Sassy is right- you have a complete inability to follow through.
You turned round the other day and suddenly realised that you love him. You're in love with him.
But- but you can't marry the guy you're in love with! That's- it's… ok, that's what people normally do…
It was just all too much, too large a concept to even consider; actually being happy. You're really that much of an idiot.
So you ran out. Of your own wedding reception.
Because it was beautiful, it was everything you'd ever dreamed of- centrepieces and all. You're even in love, just like you imagined… but it's not right. It's not right because it's not 'her'. It was almost the wedding you imagined when Faith 'almost-sort-of-proposed' before Rose was almost born.
You'd be a perfect family; Henry loves Rose, his family love Rose, Henry loves you, his family… tolerate you. The three of you look very, very pretty together. He completely understands you. He's your best friend.
But even thinking that isn't right! Because if you can't have a half-life with Faith then you shouldn't be delighting in a perfect one with someone else.
You're a bad person.
You don't deserve Henry and Rose and the pretty wedding and the lovely marriage and the… house that's too big and kind of cold.
Stupid complicated life!
Everyone you know is here, inside the hotel… well, everyone you know personally… well, everyone but Leah, who's slaying, Angel who's disappeared and the many, many dead… well, Cordelia's ghost is still annoyingly hanging around…
There are a lot of people. A lot.
And you dragged your way out of bed this morning, fake smiled so hard your cheeks ache and (actually rather happily) accepted far too many presents, because it was what you'd planned to do. This wedding took you a whole year to organise and everything ran perfectly; the timing was slick, the guests were gorgeous, you look… you look bloody fantastic!
Your dress is custom-made; gold and fluffy and crushes when you sit. Despite the huge skirt it barely shields you from the cold and you makes you wish for your old buttoned-up look. When you were a teenager fashion was one of the most important things in your life (along with saving the world and scraping through school) and now you have the money to go designer it is again. Yet… it seems so frivolous now. And you look a little like Rose's doll, Mimi.
This stupid, expensive, gorgeous dress!
You could probably live off the proceeds from this dress for two years. With Rosy!
It's the best dress you could have asked for; marrying Henry is the best thing that could ever happen to you, this life is what's best for you. But it's not right. It's not what you want.
And you can't even pretend you're doing what you think is best for everyone else because it's not and because… because even though you've got one hell of a martyr syndrome this life could never be called bad, could never be seen as 'awful'!
You're doing this for yourself. You're tearing your daughter away from the only man she's ever known as 'father'. You've ruined your future security.
There's barely any money in your account- the last of it was spent on this stupid dress! The one thing you insisted you pay for. Stupid, stupid dress!
Fifty bridal magazines, nine, day-long shopping trips and enough fabric samples to create your next year's wardrobe, mean you now have a greater understanding of the many, many shades of white. You took Mimtal shopping because Italian, effeminate men who've lived forever have probably seen quite a few wedding dresses… and his fashion sense is very 'Queer Eye' (i.e. brilliant). It seemed too important a task to complete with Lexie or Tavi and utterly inappropriate to invite Sassy or Faith. Of course, you could have asked Dawn but it seemed more likely she'd just have made derogatory comments about your tan-less skin tone and I-no-longer-work-out-every-minute-of-every-day muscles. And your stretch marks. Which, while you don't mind (because, let's face it, you got something brilliant out of them), you don't exactly like showing people under harsh shop lighting.
He flew over from Italy especially for the occasion, smelling sweetly of wisteria and musky cologne, which on him works so well.
The other reason you lured him over was to hold Faith's hand at the wedding. She's always had a thing for strong males to look up to and since you blew up her favourite father-figure and Angel has mysteriously disappeared (again), you knew she'd need one here. They talk often and you know he watches out for her, giving her money when she has none and a place to stay wherever in the world she needs one.
A fortnight ago you spoke to Kennedy properly for the first time in years (aside from a dismissive argument in April and some snide voicemails). She called from a field hospital in Bosnia of all places and your first thought had been the age-old 'what is it with Lehanes and hospitals?'
"Kakistos." She'd said in place of 'hello', your heart shooting up to your throat and your stomach dropping to your feet. "He beat her half to death and she didn't even try to fight back!" The satellite phone had crackled in your ear, crinkling whatever else she'd said into a mess of noise.
It had taken over three minutes for the sound to come back to normal. You'd escaped upstairs while listening to the few chopped words that managed to make it through. Rosy had followed, ignoring your attempts to send her back to Satsu and her flash cards.
"You- Ten- Axe-" The connection had suddenly became clear, "-have to fight for her!"
"I'm retired." You'd sat on the top step next to Rose and brushed your fingers through her pretty hair.
"Retired from being Faith's lover or from being her friend?"
"Retired from slaying." You're turning freaking thirty soon!
Rosy had shaken her head condescendingly, green hair-ribbon bobbing, "Retired from saving the world. That's like ignoring racism."
Kennedy had laughed, despite the tension, "Your daughter has issues."
"So does her mother."
"Which is why I need you to be here. It's a Korvesh Demon- they fix on one person and then take the form of whomever they're most afraid of!"
"How very Harry Potter." You'd sighed and then had to attempt to explain to someone who has neither a child inside nor an actual one. "Look, never mind, it doesn't matter- I'll be there. But… why can't you do anything?"
"Because she freezes up and I thought that maybe… maybe you could use your 'Chosen Two' thing?"
Stupid Andrew! Stupid pamphlet!
Though, to be fair, it is kind of cool to see your name in print… and his illustrations aren't all that inaccurate even if they are a little completely wrong. It isn't actually possible to read each other's minds (unless Willow gets involved), you don't 'sense' where she is in the world and you can't make her do anything, even with a reasoned argument. Though it would, of course, be helpful if you could… generally food helps- who cares about reason when food will do just as well?
"We don't actually have a… I'll be there."
Kennedy battled on anyway; "But it's so important that you-!"
"I'll be there." You reiterated, only slightly strained. The thought that maybe it wasn't a good idea to take a trip this close to your wedding had barely crossed your mind. Besides, it was a distraction and that was precisely what you were wanting at that moment in time.
"Thank you. I'll tell her if she wakes up."
"'IF'? What do you mean-?" But the line had cut out before you'd had the chance to finish. "Faith had better be alive when I get there…"
Rose's bottom lip had trembled, "Mummy, is Aunty Faith going to be ok?"
"I hope so Sweet Pea." Which, of course, hadn't consoled her, "But, if she isn't, I promise you can beat her up, ok?"
"That won't make her any better."
"No, no, you're right, been there, done that… don't think I've ever baked her cookies though."
Your daughter had simply sighed and, not bothering with the 'biscuits, mother, biscuits' talk again, pulled you from the stairs and towards your room. "Go right now, Mummy, go save the world!"
Faith/The World. Your World. Oh hell, you're tragic.
The bag had been packed in five minutes flat- everything and anything shoved into your designer, leather luggage (with cute hidden wheels) and then into a canvas sack when you realised it wasn't quite appropriate for travelling. Satsu trailed you like a lost, but persistent, puppy; "I understand what you're trying to do Buffy but you're not making Rose's life any easier. What she needs is stability."
It was hard not to snort in amusement. Saving Faith's life is not an indication of wanting to get back with her. But Faith is one of your oldest friends- you couldn't just let her die! "What she needs is a father figure. And for her 'aunt' not to die!"
Sassy groaned out her frustration, "You're doing the same thing with Henry as you did with me!"
"Oddly, I don't think you'd make a great father figure." Though she'd be better than either of yours so maybe you shouldn't judge.
"You're trying to get someone to fit into that 'Faith hole' but it's not going to happen! And I know that what happened last month has left a bigger hole inside of-" She cut off at your murderous glare. "Look, I don't agree with that you're doing here- tacking someone into your lives does not mean the pain of loosing… her will go away… but… you've committed now, to loving Henry and so you shouldn't randomly latch on to anyone else! Even if it is Faith! I know you're upset but-"
You'd yelled that she was just jealous and still in love with you (which she was and is but it being the truth doesn't make saying it right) until finally she'd just shaken her head and pulled a bag from the shelf to pack along with yours.
"I'm going." Your heart had stopped- Sassy is above and beyond the only way you pass as a good parent. "Just for the week, to see my family and Akira," She amended, "Just for…" She'd smiled then, a cruel smile and it was so unlike her you'd stopped your frenzied rush to listen, "I'm going away for a week so Rose and Henry can have some good Father/Daughter bonding and when you get back I hope they're so very close that even the idea of separating them curdles your stomach! You made your bed, now lie in it."
"What? Wha… why are you suddenly taking Dawn's position? I thought you were on Faith's side?"
Satsu stopped at the bedroom door and it replays in your memory, over and over, the way her hand rested lightly on the doorknob- not gripping, just resting, as if she wasn't really angry. "No! No. It's not about 'sides'- it has nothing to do with your stupid, stupid Buffy Verses Faith Love/Hate War. I'm… I'm mad at you for… being so thick sculled, for having a wall around your heart that means you never listen to it! You spent so long trying to love Faith as best as you could- trying to love her because of her flaws, not in spite of them- regardless of the violence and the craziness a- and then you just…" She'd kissed you then. Dropped her bag on the floor and pulled you to her. You'd stood there, stunned. "Thank you for not kissing me back."
"I was… I was trying to prove a point." She'd blushed, "Probably not the best way… I was trying to say that you always run when it gets serious and you get scared- that you jump on any excuse to avoid… well, I don't really get what it is you're trying to avoid."
Your lips had stung, and not just from that damn cinnamon chapstick Kennedy hates so much (though the reasons for that hatred are still a little foggy). "You were proving a point… by kissing me?"
"I wanted to see if you'd take the easy way out and offer we run off to a different country again." She smiled once more when you shook your head, but this was her real smile, a soft and gentle one.
"No, I… I have to go and help Faith because- because no matter what, she's still my friend and the mother of my child and… and I know she can't stop this vampire." A sudden desire to tell her everything, to lay out exactly why Faith couldn't kill 'Kissing-Toast', had rushed upon you. Yet you'd refrained- not out of respect for the secrets you'd buried inside and promised to hide but because Satsu didn't need to know to understand. "But then I'm going to come home and I'm going to get married. To a man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with."
So yes, if someone had given you a choice, sat you down and said 'Faith or Henry; who do you want?' you'd have said 'Faith' but there would have been a hastily pinned 'as long as she's well' on the end.
"I'm going to Bosnia."
It took too long to get there- a shabby building pulled up in the middle of what had once been the front line against Yugoslavs but was now isolated above networks of caves burrowed by Korvesh demons.
Wind whipped in the empty spaces around the stocky, grey building and tore at your hair.
You've been lulled into a weird fast-forward idea of travel, thanks to Willow and her 'take you anywhere in the blink of an eye' ability- plus the Council's plane and endless monetary funds for when you 'just have to fly commercial (First Class of course)'- so it had seemed to take forever. The only airport you could fly in to was situated as far across the country as was possible- the rest of the journey had to be taken by train, car and, lastly, on horseback up a steep mountainside and rugged fields of frozen, clumped mud. Fortunately the weather held out for you and though the air was chilly it didn't once snow, or even rain.
Faith was barely conscious when you finally arrived- five days after Kennedy's call. She'd been beaten into yet another coma, making your heart ache with the guilt of reminiscence. Maybe… maybe if she hadn't been in that first coma her skull would be just that little bit thicker…?
Her first words on seeing you were her first words in a week; a croaky 'B?' followed by a whispered, and anguished, apology. "I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry!"
"You don't have to be sorry, darling, you haven't done anything wrong. I'll fight Kakistos for you, just get better, ok?"
The tormented wail had surprised you, the subsequent rapid speech and wild gestures had not. She'd gripped your hands; grinding the bones together without noticing, and, near-screamed at you in hurried staccato that Kakistos would kill you too and she wouldn't let that happen. "Not you too, not you too! He killed them, B! He can't kill you too!" Her arms had wrapped tightly around you- a little too tightly, "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry! I tried to stop Rose! He got Rose! He killed my Rosebud! MY BABY!"
Even though you knew Rosy was wrapped up in bed at home, hearing the words had still shocked you. "It's alright," You'd tried to hold Faith steady, relax her back onto the bed as she sobbed, "He's not-" the 'real' died on your lips. How do you explain to someone they're living a delusion within an illusion? "He's not going to hurt me. He won't hurt me if you just stay here. Can you do that?"
Her thrashing eventually sent a foot through the thin wall and Kennedy speeding into the room. "Help me hold her down for God sake! Don't just stand there!"
"Sorry," Kennedy shook herself out of her freeze and leapt to help, pinning Faith's legs to the bed, "Sorry!"
"How long has she been like this?!" Not that it would have mattered but it's always nice to know exactly which Faith you'll be dealing with at any particular time.
"About a month and a half- I followed her here, stupidly thinking it was actually Willow she'd been speaking to on the- ah!" She yelped as Faith kicked, "Phone!"
You'd held your hand over Faith's mouth while the two of you attempted to calm her down- which wasn't probably the smartest thing in the world, but you're horribly used to 'violent, scared Faith' and the only thing that can really be done is to contain her until she feels safe. And yes, recreating horrible childhood memories isn't exactly soothing but sometimes you have to look out for yourself too.
There was one bloodthirsty moment, after killing the Korvesh, that you considered chopping off it's head to take back to her, as if having something to hold- a physical representation that her fears were over- would make all the difference. But, two minutes after snapping Kakistos' spinal cord he shrivelled back into the creepy little demon he really was.
By the time you'd climbed out of the old sewer entrance, Kennedy was sporting a freshly bruised face and Faith was conversing sweetly with a small child who obviously spoke no English but was willing to nod along.
"Hey B, Rosy and I were wondering when you'd get here."
"Rosy?" The little boy shrugged, perfectly at ease with his new name.
"We didn't want to eat without you."
On reflection, the calm hallucinations are always the best. "What are we eating?"
"Uh-huh… And where are we eating?"
Faith's look had been sympathetic, sorry you didn't know. Her eyes floated around the room, seeing beauty you never could in rusty bed heads and flaking walls. "Heaven, Dumbass. Now he's killed you we can all be together."
You'd nodded and settled down beside her, to a meal of love and air.
Kennedy sent you a pamphlet once, completely out of the blue, about… about what to do with Faith when she's… at the times when she's not herself. You'd glanced at it and then taken it to your room, carefully removed every item from your underwear drawer, laid it at the bottom and then replaced everything, piece by piece, on top. It had lain there, for months, until Faith had drifted back into your life with a sunny smile.
There had been a certain reluctance towards even thinking of opening that drawer at the time- why mention it when she's happy? Why ruin the few times you actually have with her?
It's been… months and months since you saw her last- that afternoon with Henry's parents, when she looked like she'd just come from watching her blue blood brother play polo. Now she's at your wedding, in a dress- no, a gown, with a full skirt and slashed neck. Horizontally slashed, not vertically; no cleavage, barely any collarbones. Her hair is set in vintage-y waves and rests perfectly, just below her shoulders. It's all very 'Hope'.
Even knowing that going months without seeing her is the norm you still try to keep her a part of Rosy's life- putting Faith's picture in her room, telling funny stories about her, making a big deal of every postcard and parcel that arrives from different corners of the globe.
You like that in Rosy's mind Faith is this amazing, glamorous, semi-fictitious figure who never announces herself before a visit. It means you don't have to explain when she's not there.
Drops of rain begin to plop sporadically on the street in front of you. How nice of whomever owns this shop to put a metal awning up for runaway brides to cower under.
If you lean forward, around the adjoined, closed shop front, the entrance to the party is still visible.
It took weeks to find the pretty hotel with a grand ballroom for the reception. Henry suggested a myriad of options- including his father's Gentlemen's Club- but their opulence turned your stomach; you wanted to pretend, if only unconsciously, that this was the wedding you'd planned for years, that the diamond necklace around your neck was special because your husband (wife) had saved for those tiny stones interspersed with little pearls. Instead it's a huge mass of sparkles- tasteful sparkles, but too much all the same. There's the slightest chance it used to belong to Henry's mother… either way, it's more expensive than your car and he barely batted an eyelid at the thought of letting you touch such a beautiful thing- let alone wear it!
And now you're sheltering by a stranger's front door, watching material more expensive than you could reasonably afford by yourself cascade down seven steps to the pavement… where water soaks into it like dark brown trees growing against a golden sky. As if it's not enough you're ruining three people's lives, you now have to ruin a perfectly good skirt too?
This day just literally could not get any better.
There's a larger step right in front of the door but there's some kind of macabre pleasure in standing further forward on the platform and letting the water seep up your dress. Maybe it'll find its way through the layers and layers of petticoats and material to the girl inside.
You scrape your palm against the rough wall until it bleeds- let her come out that way. For a second you're tempted to drip the blood down onto the silk and study if it moves faster than the water… but then you realise you're acting like a crazy person and just watch as your skin heals over instead.
This is stupid.
The whole thing. Is stupid.
You can't go back in- even if you wanted to, you can't stand the looks that will be on their faces. All those people. All those people you didn't really know a year ago but have now become so close to… Lexie and Tavi are two of your best friends in the whole wide world but they have no clue what on earth would make you leave Henry, why you'd run out on your wedding day. You don't even know yourself if you're running towards something or just 'away'.
Are you willing to start a new life? Do you have to?
Yes, of course you do, of course. The house is Henry's, the friends are either his or from Rosy's expensive school- which he pays for so you'll probably have to drag her out of it. You still don't really know the rest of the city all that well. Except for Islington- where the old London house was, but you were only there for a few months when Rose was a baby and she doesn't even remember.
If you go back inside now, if you say you're sorry, if you act like it was all some kind of temporary laps of judgement… that you didn't really mean it when you froze in the middle of your first dance, said 'I can't do this' loud enough for it to carry over the music, gave him back his ring and then ran. If you pretend that didn't really happen then maybe Rose can keep her storybook life at the best prep school in the country (which is also surprisingly arty and fun), her deep, deep on-again-off-again frenemyship with Bliss Benn and that cute crush she's been working on for Hector Spencer-Bluethal in the year above.
You can pretend, you can lie, and you can act like seeing Faith cry silently as she watched what should have, by all rights, been your dance didn't tear you up inside.
In a perfect world this is the moment you get back together with Faith. In a perfect world it also wouldn't be raining and freezing cold. In a perfect world you would have really thought through the implications of getting married in October- namely that if you felt like running away you'd also have to think of grabbing a coat on the way out. Or at least a shawl. Something more than a silk bolero.
Hypothermia's chic now, don't you know?
Much more popular than being able to feel your feet.
Stupid Jimmy Choos. Stupid wedding. Stupid desperately trying to look as posh and fashionable as everyone else.
Besides, you're not the kind of girl who's supposed to live this life- you weren't made to have lunch every Friday with Alexia Huntington (born 'Merton-Booth'), who grew up with three nannies and a title, or Octavia Benn, who in her 'wild' period once blew over six hundred thousand pounds on a yacht, burnt it to a crisp in a rage and got nothing more than a slap on the wrist! You were made to kill things with your bare hands and eat raw meat. Though, for argument sake, Lexie and Tavi do have quite a thing for sushi and the three of you love to indulge.
You're meant to have movie nights crushed on one sofa- not in a home cinema- eating cheap snack food from crinkly packets- not calling down to your personal chef for wheat-free pizza with caviar and a range of healthy, mini versions of traditional junk-food (no matter how cute mini burgers are!)
Still, you love those girls, really- they've never held anything against you. Never once have they looked at you funny because you didn't know that the Earl of Shrewsbury's real surname is actually Chetwynd-Talbot (because, hello, why call him 'Shrewy' then?!) or you let slip that you actually have no damn idea which fork is used for fish. They helped you when you got stuck, smoothed over your public gaffes and showed you that though the British Upper Class come off as cold and unfeeling they're really all just trying to hold on to a way of life they love but can see crumbling. And never, not once, has anyone ever questioned Rosy's heritage, never whispered a quiet word in the nanny's ear about keeping little Prunella or Charles away from the tiny girl with the cheap American mother.
It probably helps that she's so disarmingly charming. And fiercely intelligent enough for them to assume she's probably adopted.
She still doesn't look anything like you. Not even with the new hair.
If you had a Pound for every time someone told Henry his 'daughter' looks like him you could buy three more wedding dresses… and then sell them, obviously, for money to live on now you're going to be homeless, jobless and probably unable to pay Sassy (thus leading to a lot of takeout food).
Faith likes takeout.
No, you shouldn't.
Ok, so perhaps it isn't the loss of Faith that makes this wrong and maybe having her back won't make it right- but it'll hurt less. She might often make things worse but just being around her, just knowing she's close, makes you feel a whole lot better.
Just sitting opposite her, watching her inhale food in a gross-and-yet-somehow-attractive manner… well, it makes you feel good. Feels like home.
"Is there something you're not telling me?"
Henry's smart shoes tap against the stone steps. You're not exactly far from the hotel but you're still impressed he found you.
He stands close, backlit by the streetlight and frowns at the goosebumps covering your arms.
For one dreadful second you think he might take off his jacket and put it round your shaking shoulders.
You don't deserve to be warm.
Yes. "No." Everything.
"I'm not stupid Bethy-"
"Buffy! My name is Buffy for fuck sake! You can't marry me and not use the right goddamn name!" You snap without meaning to.
"Ok, ok, I'm sorry."
He sighs, in a calm and measured way- as if in front of a dangerous wild animal. It occurs to you that he's seen you break a vampire's neck before.
"Just tell me what's wrong."
"Is it…? Is it too soon? God," He shakes his head in agitation, "my mother was right- we should have postponed… it's just that you put so much work into today and I thought it might help. I know… two months is probably-"
You put both hands up; 'stop'. "Nothing was 'wrong'. It just wasn't what I… it wasn't… perfect."
"You ran out because the reception wasn't 'perfect'?" Henry chuckles and it seems so much easier to lie and smile back, "You've spent the last year planning for today, what on earth have you forgotten? Wait, let me guess; you've finally come around to Rosy's way of thinking- your dress should have been purple after all? The cake really should have been nothing but chocolate and the other bridesmaids had no right to look so pretty?"
There weren't two aisles and two wedding dresses and two brides. And Rosy, in her purple dress (because any other colour would be sacrilege!), smiling so hugely to see her 'Mummy' and 'Daddy' getting married so she could be like every other little girl in her class… Everything was just so slightly off; Tavi and Lexie are never going to be Willow and Dawn- or Tara, in the original dream- and as much as you love Sassy… you just wish she hadn't spent the entire walk down the aisle watching you like a hawk in case the doctors were wrong and you shouldn't have been moving this soon.
You had a party. An actual party. It's only been two months since- since… her. And you had a party.
"Does that make me a bad person?"
He misses your train of thought and thinks you're just carrying on the conversation. "No, of course not. A finicky one perhaps but not a bad person."
"No, I… I just couldn't stop-" 'trying not to think about her'
"It's about Faith isn't it?"
You affect an innocent air, "Faith…?"
Henry doesn't buy it, "Faith; 'Hope'. She's not who she says she is, or- or you're not who you say you are. I've come to understand you, to understand you and the people in your life but there is still one mystery to me; Faith. Is she…" He trails off and attempts to measure the look in your eyes, "Is there… I can't help thinking that perhaps…" Finally he coughs and puts aside his near guesses, getting straight to the point; "Who- who is she Buffy?"
Your surprised face must match his because you really hadn't meant to say that- not consciously anyway, "This day- this dress, this… everything! She should be here, and not just here but she should be the one I'm marrying."
"Ah." He nods, "You're a lesbian? That certainly explains…" There's no end to that sentence, even when you wait for a few seconds.
"What? Explains what? And I'm not a lesbian- we have sex!"
The look is one of both amusement and reproach, "'Had'- I somehow doubt it'll be happening again." You share a self-conscious smile, "Do you even love me?"
"I…" Why lie now? "How can I love another person when I miss her every day? Sometimes it feels like my whole heart is being torn out. I do love you but I love her. And even though I know it'll never work with her… I don't know what the fuck I'm doing here." You wave between the two of you, "I… I'm an idiot."
He nods again, weighing things up in his mind (and agreeing). "I should have guessed. I saw you at the hospital with her that… and I knew. I just thought it was an over-active male imagination… And then at Rosy's fifth birthday, when Rose… but Dawn called her a 'sister' and I just assumed…"
"Dawn thinks of her as a sister. She's known Faith since she was twelve. They're close. Sometimes."
There's another embarrassed moment. He twists his wedding band around his ring finger. "So, is this a… forever type of love or a 'thirteen-years-but-hopefully-over-next-month' one?"
How can you get over someone when they're your every waking thought? You'd give your life for her.
"Unfortunately no. It's more of a 'made-for-each-other' type of love. Believe me if I could trade soul mates I… I…" Suddenly, being glib doesn't seem quite so funny, "I wouldn't. She's just misunderstood really- she's smart and pretty and sexy and intense and passionate and… wow, this is an… inappropriate… turn in conversation."
You smile and he doesn't return it.
"I tried to get over her but- it's a bummer too because I really did try and I even had the good sense to thank the world for my good sense that I didn't have her name tattooed anywhere on me so I could either have it painfully removed or secretly treasure it in a very, very creepy way." His withering 'is now really the time to be cute?' look makes your toes curl. "Sorry, are you alright?"
"I'm fine." He says through his teeth, because of course he isn't, and of course it isn't ok to ask. "So this is it? You and Sweet Pea are… you're leaving me? You love Faith." Said as a fact you wish you weren't just as sure of.
"It's not about love- God, sometimes I don't even like Faith as a person!- I just want to do the right thing for Rose and… and lying to her isn't it."
He snorts but not, you're quite sure, out of amusement. "You're leaving me for a girl you don't like?"
"It's not that I want to get back together with her, it's just that I can't lie to myself forever and be with you."
You tug on the tulle of your skirt, "Sorry. Again. If it makes you feel any better… that girl in there; 'Hope'- there isn't anything between us. Not anymore. The two of us don't have anything… there isn't- there's no relationship so don't worry."
"Oddly, I think I'd feel a little better if you were leaving me for her rather than just leaving me to… pine over her."
"Me too. Would make everything a little simpler, wouldn't it? If I could be with her."
He frowns, "Why can't you? I apologise for not fully understanding but I… I really don't see what's stopping you." His eyes widen, "She's not some kind of a con woman is she? This whole 'Hope' thing- it isn't her way of… scamming my mother, is it?"
Uh… the jury is still out on that one. "Faith has this… thing, this… part of her… that she can't control. One day she's fine but the next… sometimes she thinks she's… I've seen her… it's not her fault."
"I didn't say it was." Henry's hands have always fit perfectly around your elbows, he likes to cup them and pull you forward to wrap your arms around his neck and share a kiss. This time he just leaves you there, on the other side of the circle. A gap in between and rain in the middle. "Tell me. Explain."
"I can't." You hide the tears behind loose fists but leave your physical connection. "I've never wanted to know. Not really. I tried to take her to a doctor but I didn't really want to know."
"Bethy,- No, don't correct me. You're my wife, my Bethy. Whether or not you're Faith's 'Buffy' is a little immaterial. Apparently." There's a hint of a smile. "Just take a breath and try to explain."
So you do. You tell him that you once made fast friends with a fifteen-year-old who turned out to be both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to you. You list the worst things about her; murder, kidnapping, drug taking, hallucinations, violence, lies, betrayal, life-stealing, seduction and just generally being a crap parent.
"Uh… you know how some children are planned and others are accidents?"
He frowns, not entirely sure where this is going, "Yes…?"
"Well, Rose was a split-second decision after a quick perusal of a magic book. Faith and I didn't have sex to create her, hell, Faith didn't even know she existed until I was eight months gone!"
Half of you thinks it's the shock of finding out who Rosy's other parent is that makes his face go white- until the other half slaps it with the reminder that normal people believe in normal biology. "Oh! Uh, yeah. Magic doesn't really discriminate."
"Let me get this right; you saw a baby-making spell, thought 'hey, I'd love swollen ankles!' and just muttered the words?"
"I had to look up the Latin version of 'Faith' but yes, pretty much. I didn't even tell Giles."
And you list the best things about her; Her light- her energy, the way she pulls people in as she speaks- how thoughtful she can be, how serious but silly, the way she puts all of her effort into whatever she believes in, her loud laugh and her genuine concern, her love of language and the way her hair smells like apples in summer.
"Forget the last thing." You blush.
"You're not really explaining how the bad behaviour isn't her fault Bethy, or why you'd choose to be with her over me. To be honest you're making her sound abusive, unpredictable and psychopathic, if… redolent."
"Look, that- that girl in there- I don't love her like I love you." You try to explain- faultingly and without lengthy examples- that sometimes… something comes over Faith, making her not herself, and it isn't mystical or magical or her fault… and she can't stop it. And you can't live with it. "I can't love her because she isn't my Faith anymore. She isn't herself."
Henry mulls that over, "Okay. And what happens if she is? If she gets medical help; pills, therapy… whatever they do for- you are aware she has a recognised medical condition, aren't you?" Oh, is it still raining? How pretty… "Buffy?"
"Will you still love her when one day she comes back to herself?"
"You make it sound like you want that to happen." You scoff and avoid the question.
He steps back away from you, looks you over in your soggy dress and frizzy hair. Then smiles as you wipe ineffectively at your panda eyes. Stupid non-waterproof mascara! "I just want you to be happy."
Oh sweet heaven… "Please stop being such a good person, it's really making me rethink the whole 'running out on you' thing."
"Fine!" He bursts, throwing his hands up excitedly, "Good! Don't! Come back with me and we can smooth over everything, pretend it never happened, go on to be married for the next sixty years and never once mention it!" You raise a brow, "alright, perhaps not then."
The two of you share a small smile at the awkwardness of it all. Which just sort of reminds you how good this might have been.
Although it seems easier to use the excuse that this is all- that you're doing this, that you've left him- because of Faith… it isn't exactly true.
Not that it's a lie!
You might just-
It's just that-
There might be…
Your eyes itch.
"I can always tell when you're thinking of her."
"Because I look like I'm going to cry?"
"Because you smile."
It's funny whom you call in a crisis. How the people you depend on aren't the ones you would have expected.
You're not supposed to tell family and friends of a pregnancy before three months.
At the time it had seemed so annoying of Henry to enforce that. With Rose the only other person who'd known you were pregnant was Satsu and you wanted to show this baby off. You wanted your friends to coo over your baby-bump and buy you those cute, matching outfits.
But you ended wishing he'd kept it up longer. For the full six months.
You'd spent half your pregnancy dieing to tell the world and the other half doing just that. So, when you came home after the scan that had changed everything- the one where the doctors tried three different ways to find a heartbeat- to your friends' expectant faces… you'd wanted to eat your words, crush them down between your teeth and take it all back.
Henry had been left to explain after you'd run from the room. And he'd been left to pack your overnight bag while you cried in the bathroom. He'd been left to make all the calls; cancel the decorator, the pre-natal classes and the crib arriving in the morning. You'd even begged him- once your breath stopped tearing at your chest- to please make everyone go away.
Even seeing Rose was hard for a while- which was stupid because loosing one child shouldn't make you want to push the other away!
You didn't want her scribbled drawings and 'get well soon kisses', you didn't want Satsu's herbal tea or soothing tones, you didn't want the simple friendship from Willow and Xander and Tavi and Lexie and every other damn person who tried.
Why did you have to give her a name?
You didn't want Henry. You wanted Giles. You wanted your daddy- actual or not. You wanted him to be the adult; to remind you that Leprechauns might still exist- that coincidences do happen, that people with cancer catch colds and you'd have lost this baby whether you were a slayer or not.
But he did the kind thing and didn't lie.
There was crying, yelling and the promise of a full medical work up by a Council doctor. It had seemed so perverse that everything with Rose had been fine after Faith's super strength punch to your stomach and yet this little girl, who you'd gone to such great lengths to protect, hadn't made it.
"I had a child." He'd said, surprising you, "I was young. Too young. It lived for three hours and I was never even allowed to know what sex it was."
"I'm sorry too."
"Will you come for the wedding?"
For future reference- because, hey, you just thoughtlessly walked out of one marriage, what's to say you won't idiotically try again?- you really can't invite someone to a wedding two months away and pretend you haven't been studiously avoiding it being mentioned around them. And in this case 'studiously avoiding' really means threatening to rescind invites from the baby slayers.
But, very graciously and with a lot of British charm, he didn't mention the date and accepted. He didn't even mind when you suddenly had an attack of conscience and phoned him three weeks ago to ask for him to walk you down the aisle. Mimtal (also very graciously) was happy to step down, just as he was happy to spend four days searching for a new 'shitty slayer stomach has snapped back into pre-baby flatness within a day' wedding dress.
"So?" You snap out of your depressing thoughts (or should that just be 'thoughts' at this point?) "What do you think? If Faith manages to get herself together." He asks you, as if this is a somehow normal experience, as if your heart isn't breaking in two. "Will you… will the three of you…?"
You shrug, "I always find a way to mess these things up; I ruined my parents' relationship, I'm destroying ours- Dawn barely speaks to me anymore, my friends all think I'm insane-"
"Rose loves you," He smiles, "more than anything."
"Rose is an idiot. Child! I meant 'she's a child'! Faith is the idiot." To the n-th degree.
Regarding you with an affectionate smile he guides you further away from the stairs as it starts to drizzle harder. "For loving you? Well then I'm an idiot too. Satsu's an idiot. Xander's an idiot. My brother is certainly an idiot. That tall, dark haired chap with the nancy hair… actually, he might not be an idiot for you…"
"No," You chuckle, "Angel and I… he's straight. Ignore the hair. And the clothes. And the occasional sex with Spike. Come to think of it, they are pretty gay."
'As apparently are you' says his raised eyebrow. "Who is 'Spike'?
"Another idiot." Who you didn't actually invite to the wedding so he must be here as a 'plus one'… the plus one of someone you know. The plus one of an otherwise dateless person. Leaving only Xander, Angel and… Giles. Which is just disturbing on so many levels.
"I see." Really? "A lot of people love you, Buffy and you make… well, you make at least my world a little better for being in it."
"You're sweet but blinded by idiocy. I'm a pretty big failure in the love department- people tend to… leave." You pat his hand companionably.
He frowns, "Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't you the one who hightailed it out of our wedding reception? And then I followed you. I'd say that's a rather large indication of my not leaving."
"Believe me, you'll want to by the time you get back in there. Possibly coupled with the strong desire to hit me. You can totally go ahead and do that now, by the way- try not to hit a bone though, I don't want you to break your wrist."
"I'm not going to hit you, you sweet fool. Come here." He opens his arms for you and you settle against his chest, your head fitting snugly under his chin.
"Have you always been this tall?"
"Only for as long as you've been this short."
Your wet mascara stains his cream shirt but his hands don't pause in their soothing motions along your back.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry… It's just that… everything's such a mess. In my head. I don't know what I'm doing. I… I thought… I wanted… it was supposed to be perfect. We were going to have the perfect wedding and the perfect children and grow old together, except- except, you're-" You stop and start a few more times but the tears clog you up and he gets the gist anyway; he isn't part of that 'we'. "And now- now- now everything with… with Emily, it's just… God! We were so stupid! We decorated that- that gorgeous nursery and bought her all those beautiful clothes and- and- and I spent so much time trying to teach Rosy to not be jealous of- of her- her little- little sister that- that- we…"
He makes shushing noises and warms your trembling shoulders with his big, manly arms. Sort-of like Riley. Who you actually haven't thought of in years. "You're laughing, is this a good thing or a bad thing?"
A question silently asked of Faith a thousand times.
Which just makes you laugh harder.
"I'm- I'm sorry, I- I think- think I'm a- a bit hys- hysterical! You- you can s- slap me if- if you want!"
The eyebrows raise again.
He has beautiful eyebrows.
"It's just that… I'm ruining everybody's lives; your life and my life and Faith's life and… and, worst of all, Rosy's and that's- that's just not right! I'm her mother and I'm meant to make her life easier! I just… I've messed everything up!"
"Breathe, Bethy, deep breaths."
You'll never love Henry as much as you love Faith, you'll probably never love him as much as you did Angel (as juvenile and melodramatic as that might have been) but maybe you should have tried?! Perhaps-?! Maybe-?! You should have-?! It's-?!
"Bethy, calm down."
Why is it always so annoying when people say that? It's like when you're trying to paint a picture and someone walks up to say 'that's wrong' but won't tell you what to do to make it right!
It needs to be right. You just don't- don't have any idea what the hell it is you're doing!
"Henry, you- you make me want to be a better person; all the college courses and cleaning up my grammar and being on the PTA and dying my hair back to brown and- and trying so hard to be a perfect parent an- and I just realised that I said my English has improved but I totally keep saying 'and'! And-"
"I believe I understand." He seems half-amused at your raging stupidity.
"Faith eats my cooking and says thank you. She doesn't care that it's shit."
Henry frowns in vague confusion, "I… don't think you've ever cooked a meal for me."
"Well, I didn't want you to leave me. Obviously. It really is shit."
"So you said."
"But that's the point. Around her I… I can have baby sick in my hair and wear tattered clothes and not dye my hair for weeks on end and still know that I'm the most beautiful thing she's ever seen. I can be useless and messy and forget the capital city of Iran because to her I'm still brilliant."
It takes a few seconds for him to digest that before he turns away. You watch his broad shoulders sag slightly, "Bethy, I might not say it often but you really are my perfect wife. I've never liked those stiff, society girls my mother was always trying to fix me up with. I like that you still have a lot to learn. I'm interested in your heart and your mind a-" He stops.
His face turns towards the door of the shop, Romanesque profile clearly defined by the streetlights behind him.
"I'm arguing against a decision you've already settled upon."
You say 'yes' even though you haven't and 'I'm sorry' because you are.
He nods. Once. Twice. Then turns to leave.
"Henry!" Your small hand looks almost comical against his broad shoulders, "Henry, I… I really do love you. You'll make a wonderful husband one day. And…" The ache starts again, "And you would have been… you'll be a brilliant father."
He walks away. There is no long goodbye, no attempt to win back your heart. He knows he has at least a part of it. You both know that had things been different- if you'd never met Faith, if perhaps the wedding had just been pushed back- you would have been a wonderful couple and you would have been in love.