Chapter 27: Christmas Wine
Love is not love if it alters when it alteration finds.
How can you love her if she's always someone else?
Sometimes you look at Faith and you think about what might have been, you think about Rose and how much they love each other. But it's a different kind of love. And sometimes that makes you jealous; Rose will forgive Faith for showing up three days late to her Easter play, she doesn't expect presents and when she grows up and starts kissing boys Faith will be the one she'll tell. You're jealous.
The only thing that makes it better is knowing that Faith feels the same way. You can see the sadness in her eyes when Rose runs to you with a cut or a hug or a hurt over a playground taunt. You are 'Mummy' and Faith is nothing, or if not nothing then a cool friend of Mummy's at best. When she looks in the mirror Rose doesn't see Faith's mouth or Faith's eyes or even Faith's bouncy dark hair- she sees how she looks like her Mummy.
Faith lets her daughter call her 'aunt' because that's what love is- it's moulding yourself to someone else's perfect life.
You hope that one day Faith will be mature enough to care for Rosy like you do, that nightmares and tantrums and clinginess won't scare her. Until then you let her go, let her have a key and come round whenever (even if sometimes she forgets it's a school day or tennis practise) but you won't set her boundaries and you won't give her rules even though you know it's what she craves.
Faith wishes you would just make this easier for her, yell and scream at her until she comes home. She wants you to make her do the school run so she won't be so afraid of turning up at the school gates and all the other mothers looking down their noses at the white-trash, ex-con ('low class convict') with the tattoos, because she didn't ask to be there, she doesn't want to fit in.
Except she does. And she will, when she makes the choice herself. When it's not always a decision between 'Faith' and 'Hope'. When she'll just be herself.
"Faith?" She's lying on the couch with Rosy asleep in her arms and it takes a monumental effort for her to lift her face. Normally you wouldn't let them get in this position, you try to keep their relationship light so Rosy doesn't expect cuddles. Tonight Faith told you about a guy she's been 'seeing' (since when does she 'see' anyone anyway?) so you decided to be spiteful and give her a taste of what she's been missing.
"Yeah, B?" Her voice croaks and a mean part of you points out that it's more likely to be from late night partying than emotion. "Ya want me gone? I've… well, I- I've got somewhere to be anyway."
Of course. Him. "You mean that guy?" Bitch.
"Nah, there's no 'guy'- we're just screwin'."
"Oh." See now, this is why it's so hard to talk to Faith. If she lied all the time or told the truth all the time you'd actually have some kind of idea as to where you stood.
She shifts a little, uncomfortable under Rose's powerful grip. "I jus' wanted you to- I dunno, stop lookin' at me like that." Like what? "Or maybe I wanted to see if you'd get jealous."
"Good, great, fantastic." Faith winces a little at your sarcasm, "Is there any chance of you going any time soon? I have to put Rose to bed and then drown my sorrows in red wine while I mope."
A knot worthy of a scouts' badge forms itself in your stomach as she chuckles, "Moping, huh? Sounds fun, room for one more?"
Momentarily the desire to slap her streaks through your mind- doesn't she know she's the one causing your troubles? Yet Rose sleeping peacefully on her chest and an ache in your bones makes you hold back. You've given her the evening to pretend, might as well give yourself the night. "Sure. Go put her in bed and then come back down- her room and right next to the fire are probably the warmest places in the house."
You wait for the scared look you know should pass over her face, wait for the idea of 'responsibility' to catch up with her. Instead she smiles, surprising you, and shifts Rose in her arms as she stands. Your little girl stirs as she's moved and starts to wake. Faith gives you a pacifying nod to stop you moving forward, turns to the stairs and walks off, mumbling lullabies into Rosy's hair.
This 'caring Faith' is just one of a number of 'normal' you've been seeing more of recently. You want to believe more than anything that it's all calming down, that she's growing out of 'it'. But you've been fooled before.
November before last, just a few weeks after the wedding, before all the fuss had even died down, before you'd had the chance to just sit and think, Henry (with a little help from Giles) booked Faith into a specialist clinic. She was there two weeks before disappearing off into the ether. Well- 'disappearing' doesn't quite cover the mess she left behind. Not that you expected any different or even noticed all that much.
There were so many different things to sort out, so many problems, so many… so much of everything that Christmas was suddenly upon you before you even had a chance to prepare. Satsu had, like a thousand times before, taken charge and kept Rosy's routine, remembered that the last day of school before the holiday was Mufti Day, remembered to look up what the hell the definition of 'Mufti' actually was (plain clothes, instead of uniform and not exactly a good excuse for excessive giggling it turned out) and just generally took charge of the house while you and Henry dodged around the subject of who was to stay and who was to go. Like the fantastic father he wished he could have had the chance to be, Henry wanted you to have the house. He was steadfast that in a divorce (annulment) it was the mother- providing she was a capable caregiver- who kept the children and the house. Every effort should be made to keep the child's life as stable as possible.
But the house was his, the life was his, the money was his and the funny thing about an annulment is that you don't actually get alimony… or half his worldly wealth. So you were poor. And really should have just said 'yes' immediately when he offered to sign it over to you rather than carrying on for months, looking for a new place to live, asking around for a place to stay temporarily, generally making a big fuss. Being a universal pain.
No one really called you on it or told you off for messing things around- not even Sassy, working so damn hard to keep Rose happy, complained when you made her help pack all your shoes for the fifth time.
The only person who eventually yelled at you for being an idiot was Faith. She phoned on Christmas Day that year, from 'somewhere in Texas- or maybe more north…', to talk in code to Rosy and freak you out with the efficiency of the slayer grapevine; "You're moving?!"
"Yeah, which would be a problem, if you lived in one fixed place and had to commute! You live everywhere- and nowhere when it comes time to pay fake-child-support or for your daughter to send you a letter! You don't even know what state you're in so don't give me grief about this!"
"Where the hell are you gonna go, B? You told me you don't have any money."
"We'll find a place!"
"Henry offered you the house, Rose loves the house, take the damn house!" Which smarted slightly- bringing Rose into it was just unnecessary. In a way that was totally necessary.
"And what about you?! You're the unstable parent here!"
"I'll find a place."
You'd scoffed right into the mouthpiece, in that really annoying way that crackles and hurts eardrums. "Oh, wow, really? Because I've never heard you make a promise you couldn't keep before."
She ignored your sarcasm, "I will. I'll do it. I'll getta place to stay, near you guys, and I'll… I'll do the program- treatment… whatever. It… it just might take me a little time though. But please, please, take the damn house."
You'd passed the phone over to Rose for a conversation of what sounded weirdly like munching on ball bearings but was apparently some odd language the two of them had managed to create… which then made you wonder… exactly how much time had the two of them spent talking together and just how out of it were you to not notice?
Suitably chastised, you'd agreed to sign the papers.
And Faith took her sweet time. Almost a year.
But, she bought a house in town a month ago, all on her own, no money taken from Giles or Mimtal. You'd hidden a proud smile behind a book when Kennedy told you- just 'mm'd instead.
Seeing her so often, almost every day now, has made you realise things you'd forgotten. That laugh and those twinkling eyes- they belong to her. It's so easy, knowing that something else lives in her, to think that everything that made you fall in love with her is just a symptom. It's the disease that made you give up but it's still Faith who made you happy in the first place.
She's still your girl, no matter how far down she may occasionally be buried.
All those funny little things that made you smile still do and you don't have to panic every time she laughs. You don't have to worry every time you laugh either. So you invited her to the house for Christmas Day and to stay (in one of the guest rooms) for breakfast this morning… which then turned into lunch… and supper…
The first thing she said on arriving yesterday, other than a wolf whistle directed at your pencil skirt, was a rather scandalised; "you gave my daughter a fringe?"
"Just because you can't pull one off doesn't mean she can't."
Those pretty brown eyes had lit with a scandalised humour, "You've never seen me with a fringe!"
"Remember the first time we broke up after Rose was born and you cut off all your hair? In bits."
"Dude, those were random chunks of hair- they didn't count!"
"Still looked stupid…"
When she laughed you felt as if a dam had broken in your chest- you'd mentioned something painful in your past, even made fun of it and she'd laughed! The two of you, without any punching or crying, actually talked about something difficult. And ok, so it wasn't the deepest of- it's progress! Progress should never be questioned!
And these few days have most definitely been progress. The time has been wonderful. Even if Dawn can be the most awful brat sometimes and Rosy likes to bait her until they're rolling on the floor, pulling each other's hair and whining in identical voices for you to 'do something!' And that damn headache has been following you like a bad smell.
It's just the Summers women this Christmas- there will never truly be a man in your little group of four. Unless someone wipes your father's personality and hands him back as a lovely and caring parent who actually wants something to do with your life.
You're desperate to not end up like him but it seems in many ways incomprehensible; how could a parent ever stop caring about their child to the point that they wouldn't even attend the kid's funeral?
Maybe you weren't exactly a 'kid' when you were buried and maybe you sort-of kept the whole death thing a secret so Dawn wouldn't get taken away but you know the others called, wrote and tried their hardest to send word to him. It's not even that he didn't try once you were dead- you get that, you were dead, it's ok he wasn't attempting to make up for lost time but what hurts the most, what really cuts to the bone, is that he left Dawn.
Your bitchy, difficult, and often entirely 'up her own arse' sister is still in the top two of 'people you would kill for' (hey, it's not like you share blood with Faith and being third isn't that bad!), you can't stand that your father left her. It's no wonder she's such a pain really.
Angel mentioned some time ago that, as her childhood memories were actually fake, he only really encountered Dawn for the first time after Sunnydale had become a big crater. Hank Summers has never met his youngest daughter.
Every day in December Rose picks a box from the tiny decorated ones hanging in a mobile above the table (you make them yourself from matchstick boxes and the liberal use of expensive wrapping paper), in each of the boxes is an activity for the two of you to do to together, generally places Rose has been begging to go; the Children's Ballet, that cool museum with all the interactive exhibits, the ice cream shop where they let you create your own flavour, Legoland and, of course, a trip somewhere with Faith. The boxes also hold activities; fun craft ideas, practical jokes, dares and recipes.
Each box is identical so, despite having made them, you have no idea what the day's adventure will be until she carefully unfolds the paper inside. It can mean grabbing her as soon as school finishes and driving as fast as is legally possible to a theme park or spending all Saturday painting a mural on the kitchen wall- there are only two rules; that whatever the challenge is it must be completed by the end of the day and secondly, that it must be done together.
It's not that the rest of the year is dull- at Easter you join the egg hunt in London's largest park, in summer you travel the world and she soaks up as many languages as she can, for her birthday you have a grand purple party; with everyone dressing in Rose's favourite colour and eating all her favourite foods. Plus there are all the younger slayers, who fawn over her and insist on taking her to the latest kid's film or helping with her homework or buying her naughty presents that any sensible parent would ban- SuperStickyDough being the top of your mind, seeing as it is still ingrained in a large portion of the hall carpet.
Bliss and The Twins (knowing them for three years apparently doesn't make telling them apart any easier) think you're the best mother in the whole wide world.
Faith thinks its overkill. She hops down the stairs completely silently, dodging the debris of daily life with a small chuckle. Her feet only make a noise once she hits the hall floorboards- the Turkish carpet having gone with Henry. A lot of the furniture has gone now but oddly nothing that you miss. The living room could almost be called 'cosy' with the couch now cutting the room in half, closer to the blazing, warm fire and the silent, flickering television screen.
Halfway through pulling up her hair into a messy bun she pauses with a funny look, "I jus' said goodnight to our daughter and in return she told me that bird shit is white because it's actually bird piss."
"She cussed?!" You gasp, not quite as surprised as you sound.
"Oh." Faith scratches her head as if it's a deep question, "No. That was me. Still, she's a weird kid sometimes."
"She's the best kid."
"Why does that sound like an insult?"
'Because you're an over-sensitive child'. "Whatever. It's just a lot of work- that's all." A lot of work on your own (kind of). A lot of work without Faith. "I should have…" You've left it too long, it's too late for you to really be a family now.
Faith frowns as if reading your mind, "Stop thinking like that."
"Oh so sorry, should I be thinking with my 'cerebral cortex' instead?" You snark.
"I have no idea what that is." She grins, "But neither do you. So stop being a bitch and stop over-thinking everything, sometimes it's ok for things to just… organically grow. Ya don't have to be in control of everything all the time."
"Well who else is going to be?"
She shrugs, "God?"
"Ha! I knew prison was going to catch up with you!"
You bounce as she drops down onto the couch beside you like a dead stone… not that stones are generally ever alive… "Back off, Jehovah. I was joking. Look, there doesn't have to be someone busy manufacturing the perfect little family- ya don't have to spend so much time makin' 'special days' for different things. The best things are just kinda natural and… simple." You sigh as the headache creeps back. Faith frowns, watching you rub your temples. "What's wrong?"
"I'm just… so tired. There's so much to do."
She kisses your aching temple, picks up the bottle of wine from the floor and presses it to you. "Here, start on this, I'm going to make us something to eat and then you're going to take the night off- let me take care of you for once, 'k?"
Which is a sweet sentiment but you're still going to follow her down to the kitchen. Just to supervise.
Bouncy dark curls spring as she flicks her gaze around the kitchen- what the hell is there left to eat? Faith pushes the minimal clutter on the kitchen counter back and finds a new dishcloth to wipe the space with; horizontal, vertical, diagonal. A freshly washed and folded dishcloth is pulled from the cupboard and brushed towards the edge in clean and even strokes. Then a bowl is taken from the already-run dishwasher and washed again, by hand, dried with another new dishcloth and placed in the exact centre of the 'clean' space.
You barely notice.
It's not that your kitchen is dirty or Faith is some kind of clean freak (well, when it comes to Rosy she is)- it's just a habit born of necessity. She's been cooking her own food since she was three, in what you can only imagine was a grimy flat with chipped bowls and salmonella.
She bends to rifle through the cupboards and you dodge around her on the way to sit down. Unfortunately, on your way there, accidentally knocking against the old table (that Xander spent a full two weeks repairing after Rosy's birthday over a year ago) and a pile of five bowls containing various nibbles from the Christmas Eve party clatter to the ground. "Woops…"
Faith smiles crookedly, "Huh. Pretty sure that was the only food left in the house." Ok, so maybe some parts of the kitchen are a mess.
But this whole parenting/housekeeping/working/studying/juggling-several-other-balls-at-once thing is hard!
Satsu hasn't spoken to you in three weeks on the grounds that 'she was too blonde' is not a valid reason for dumping someone in her book. But she was too blonde. In that very obviously 'bottle' way. And besides, lesbian couples shouldn't have the same hair colour- it's confusing. Even if you're actually brunette now and Faith- well… there can be exceptions!
You're expecting Sassy any day now; standing on your doorstep with a thousand complaints about living with Dawn. As much as you love your sister she's become even more of a bitch since loosing her best friend (her boyfriend is nice though- one of Henry's cousins and you think that was probably the way it was meant to be, you were accidentally caught up in a life not meant for you).
Sassy still takes Rosy after school for two days a week; Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It fits in with her University schedule (Second Year of the undergraduate medicine programme- which makes you laugh because she has another hundred to go) and lets you have time to help out at the London Headquarters.
The online course neither takes up enough time to stop you thinking nor pays the bills so you agreed, without any sort of begging on his part (but perhaps a little on yours), to go back and work for Giles.
But not as an active slayer! God no.
No more late nights and dangerous fights. It's just that no matter how many times you try to retire… slaying always drags you back. Even now, when the world almost universally hates Slayers.
It's only an office job now and teaching some of the more advanced classes. There's an opening for a new Leader that you think would be just perfect for Faith- she doesn't always have to be around the 'bad' slayers, these girls are just the ones who need to feel like they've got friends in high places, they need someone to watch out for them. Funny how in the heat of the moment you never considered what giving sight back to a blind girl would do to her psyche. The fight with The First didn't just result in super-powers for the girls- it left their lives forever changed.
For seven months you've counselled the girls brought back from the front line and felt the joys you missed before. Every girl who's name you hadn't learnt, every back-story you'd dismissed, suddenly takes on a different feeling when you're faced with their overwhelmed tears and hopeful smiles- often both at the same time.
It's a wonderful, meaningful job but you can't help still keeping a professional barrier between yourself and them. Faith still watches over Allegra but you've refused your own Personal Apprentice. You don't need another death to tear your heart out- you have your own missing little girl for that.
Most of your friends have encouraged you to get further involved with the girls (as if listening to their problems isn't enough!) but you're resolutely not taking their advice. You're aware it's plain obstinacy but when it comes to the Academy you're as bad as Rose in a clothes shop; yes, you know she's seven but no, she's not going to fit clothes for a three-year-old.
Loosing Leah hurt but loosing Emily… loosing Emily felt like something had torn its way into your heart and died. Like a huge empty space inside your body filled with gut twisting, burning smoke that boiled your flesh with every brush against it.
Even after your mother died you still didn't… understand. You didn't get the pain these girls have so much of. Maybe you do now, maybe you don't. Oddly it makes you feel a little better, to know you're not alone. The girls feel the same way. When put together in groups, housed close to each other and allowed to express their emotions in a 'safe place' the girls respond beautifully.
Which is exactly why you want Faith to take the job helping the younger girls. If it helps them, it'll help her. Right?
Maybe if she just talks about things…?
Still, you approve of her current job, even if it kind of hurts that Giles headhunted her to be the Council's Weapons Expert- you know loads about weapons! It isn't surprising however as she can name twenty different types of short daggers and your knowledge pretty much extends to 'the one with the swirls' and 'that one that cuts bone really well'.
But, you handed the Slayer Academy over to Giles back in April '05… you don't really get to be jealous.
You take another swig of the wine bottle- in a totally lady-like way, of course.
"How's the food coming?"
Faith flips you off from over the top of a cupboard door. "What the hell happened to all the food I bought las' time?"
"Well… half of it was junk that Sass threw away as soon as she saw it and the other half we ate. Duh."
"Yeah, but then ya meant to go buy new stuff. Duh. Besides, there was, like, a tonne o' dried pasta and shit."
"And your daughter, though undersized, has the stomach of someone twice her age."
A proud gleam lights in her eyes, "She had three helpings of Christmas Pudding last night."
"And seconds of Boxing Day Pie tonight, I saw."
Yet nothing seems to help Rosy grow- you can't even fatten her up with ice cream and cake! The strawberry ice cream disappeared within days of Faith's buying it (regardless of there being three tubs) yet her appetite wasn't spoiled and she managed to loose a pound that week due to The Twins' excessively energetic birthday party.
"Maybe I should hook her up to some kind of feeding drip while she sleeps." You mean to laugh but the realisation hits you instead and you wince- talk about a little close to the bone! "That's really not funny. I don't know why I said that. I must be drunker than I think."
"B…" Faith's eyes grin, "You know I love you but ya chow down on ya goddamn feet way more than is healthy."
"I don't know what's wrong with me. I just spit things out. It's like… like a disease…"
England is moist. Really, really moist.
No, not 'moist'… humid!
England is humid. It makes Faith's hair curl.
"A disease of the mouth."
The cupboard door snorts, "Dude, that's herpes."
"No…" You frown in all seriousness, "that's foot in mouth disease, though I guess that makes you crusty too."
It takes a second for her to stare, stand and realise you're joking. Her face lights up, "I forgot how much fun you are drunk."
"I'm always fun!" She raises a sardonic eyebrow. "Ok, sometimes I'm dull."
"Especially…" Faith pulls you close, exciting you even through three layers of sweater, "When ya bein' General Buffy."
You let her smooth hands caress your face and comb through your messy, end-of-the-day hair before you playfully push her away. "You promised not to bring that up!"
"When? When the hell did I say that? Doesn't really sound like something I'd say…"
Uh… "I think I'm a little sozzled."
She sniggers, "Now who has a 'funny British accent'?"
"Shut up and feed me." Meany.
A glance is cast around the (slightly messy) kitchen. "Pretty sure we don't have anything left…" Her shoe scuffs at the fallen finger food. "Unless you want to eat from the floor."
"Shop." She agrees, then does a double-take, "wait, you have a shop around here? Like an honest to God corner shop?"
You trample a few Chinese peanut crackers and giggle as they pop. "Yeah, just at the corner of the road."
"Wha-! So why did Zoo send me all the way into town for milk that time?"
Poor, sweet fool. "Because she hates you."
She slips the wine bottle from your grasp and frowns on finding it empty. "Fair enough. Shop?"
The stairs clatter under your fumbling feet, Faith smacks alternate buttocks for every step. A woolly Kosak hat is snatched from the top of the skiing box you dragged down from the attic last week. It looks cute rather than stupid on her. The world swims slightly in front of your eyes as you step out to the street.
"Whoa… I think I'm drunk."
Faith laughs, jumps and almost gets hit by a car.
You don't even pretend to look surprised.
Life would probably be a whole lot easier if you could attach a lead to her. Or have her microchipped for that matter.
"Car." You point out a little futilely. And then push her through the shop door before yet another one has the chance to slam into her. "Oh God, you're like a working death zone!"
The truculent shop girl tosses her expensively high-and-low lighted hair (why do the posh teenagers here have such a thing for messy hair?) but doesn't bother to say anything when your tipsy non-girlfriend scoops up a handful of penny-sweets. "Don't worry," Faith tears off a piece of liquorish with her teeth. "I'll be fine- all th'women in my family die on their birthday." How comforting.
You stop scanning the shelves to gawk at her. "Oh good, rather than being mildly concerned every time you do something dumb I can now have one day a year where I freak out."
"Two. Ya got Rosy."
She was, undoubtedly, put on this earth to kill you. "Don't tell me that!" You snatch the speedily disappearing liquorish from her hand, "And, please, pay for things before you eat them."
"Because… because… because this is my local shop and if I get banned from here than I really will need to go into town every time I want milk."
Shop Girl gives you a funny look. Might have something to do with the furry slippers. Stupid, snobby, expensive-shabby-chic-shoe-wearing girl!
"Maybe I should do that anyway…"
"Fine." Faith rolls her eyes (as if asking someone not to steal is an unreasonable demand) and drops the handful of mixed candy down into the wire basket.
They fall through to the floor.
"Huh. Shoulda thought that through."
"Latest in a long line of many." You mumble, skimming over the many, many varieties of 'organic, naturally flavoured crisps' and going for the Tyrrell's Mixed Root Chips because they're the only ones with 'chips' on.
She yanks the basket out of your reach as soon as you come near with the bag. "B, if fried carrots tasted good then all chips would help your eyesight."
Wrinkles crease her nose as she screws her mouth up in slight disgust suddenly, smacking her lips together.
"Ok, whoa, after-kick. What the fuck did I just put in my mouth?"
You snort. "It's an organic shop, F. You didn't think those 'sweets' were made with actual 'sweet', did you?" Did that make sense? "Sugar. Not made with 'sugar'." Sugar, sugar, du-du-du-du du-du, oh honey, honey, ba-
"You really can't hum."
"I can too!"
"Nah…" She wanders off down the isle, twisting insults about a lack of 'pitch' drifting back to you. "I'm gunna get the food- you just read the magazines and look pretty!"
Shop Girl snorts. "Hey! I'm pretty! And don't snort. It's unladylike…" You add when she just looks witheringly at you. And then think hard about how often you do it… "Man, that's a bad habit."
Organic Wholefood Shops don't sell glossy magazines. Of any kind.
No really- literally none of the paper is shiny; just dry newspapers and those odd British magazines, full of odd British humour and printed on dull paper. "You should sell unsub- un- uh… un… sub… stan… un… gossip. You should sell gossip mags. With lots of lies. And those pictures which make it look like they're totally kissing when really they're just good friends. Or gay. Sometimes he's-"
"B! Leave the poor girl alone!"
Traitorous Shop Girl (who, to be honest, wasn't all that dependable to begin with) sighs with relief as you go back to pouting and reading the front pages. "Don't even think about giving her flirty eyes- I'm a lot stronger than I look." You don't look up to check she heard your muttering but she steps back a little and there's something quite satisfying about that.
If only you could put off all the people who fancy Faith but she is the wind and you are a rock. A really tiny rock. Possibly in a stream.
Xander's eye has started twitching when he hears Faith's name again. You don't ask.
You're too afraid.
The wire shopping-basket hits the counter, bottles clanking. "Wine is not a food Faith."
"Is it tasty?"
"Do you no longer want to eat?"
"Yes, but only because I feel sick."
"And why do you feel sick?"
"Because I've had too much."
"Exactly." She grins, "See; food."
Sick, twisted logic it may be… but hey, alcohol is your friend! And you don't even have to carry any of it back over the only-busy-when-Faith-tries-to-run-across-it road. The bottles clank as she weaves in and out of traffic, leaving you laughing in her dust. It's not as if she's actually going to get hurt.
"Oh I totally could!" She earnestly corrects once you're back snuggled under the sheepskin rug in front of the fire. "By something big and fierce like a lion or a demon made of stone!"
You chuckle, "Right… because being attacked by a lion in London is way more likely than being hit by a car."
"Hey, you c'n be as sarcastic as ya like- you'd cry until ya turned into a raisin if the zoo left it's doors open and a big ol' lion came for me."
Ok, so maybe no more trips to the zoo for Faith and her imagination.
"I'd probably be too busy getting out of the way- I always get hit by the backswing… remember the whole coma/bloodsucking incident?"
She frowns, looking up from scratching off the wine bottle's label. "Uh… that would only make sense if you stabbed me and then, when pulling the knife out, accidentally sliced ya own wrists." A pause. "And let a vamp suck at them." A naughty spark plays through her eyes, "'Course… if you wanted something sucked-" You smack her shoulder. Hard enough that she rolls and takes the blanket with her. It's beautiful- swirls of green and blue- picked out by Mimtal because it matches your eyes. Oh… pretty…
You might just be a little drunk… "Can we please change the subject before we end up naked on the couch?"
"Why do you think I'll say 'yes' to that?" She snorts.
"I'm eternally hopeful. It's a problem."
A beat. "But you're easy."
To spite her you dash a suck-y kiss against her cheek with the excuse of making her squeal and shut up. "If I'm easy then why aren't you getting any right now?"
"This isn't just because you miss Gay!Sex is it?"
You snort as she actually draws an exclamation mark in the air. "Still finding it hard to grow-up, huh?"
"Dude, Eighteen/Twenty-Eight, it's all the same."
"Don't lump me in there with you! You're the one who's actually passed the big three-oh."
She baked you pancakes that morning- the thick kind you never get in England- and helped Rosy decorate the kitchen in puffs of sparkly tissue paper.
The one thing you hadn't really thought through on giving Faith a key to the house was that natural reaction every time you woke or came home to find things moved and signs of another person. So that morning you'd had to hide the broad sword behind the welsh-dresser before Rosy noticed.
By your birthday it had been a month since Faith had literally torn her way out of the 'facility' Henry steered her towards and there hadn't been a word from her other than one hurried transatlantic phone call.
She's spent the last year in and out of therapy, 'trying different things' according to Dawn. Faith still won't talk to you about 'it'. You like to believe it's because being here is something of a respite, a welcome break.
You glimpse her life from time to time, just as she occasionally glides into yours- turning even the most mundane tasks into delights with just her fascination. A traffic jam with Faith is never boring. Breaks and damages are never a cause for despair. Every happenstance is a chance for something. There is always more to learn.
This last month- seeing her so often… it makes your heart sing.
Nothing has actually happened between the two of you- not really. Just a few kisses here and there. Kisses that are more familiar and automatic than passionate. When she leaves the house you kiss her and… sometimes forget that it's her cheek you're meant to be aiming for.
It seems rude to Henry almost- as if you're cheating even though you're not technically even together anymore. Actually, that's much weirder as you did cheat on him with her but it now seems worse than then.
She looks up from pouring more wine. "Mm…?"
"Do you ever… do you ever hear my voice?"
Not finding it in the slightest strange to swap to such a subject she nods, "Sometimes it's the only voice I hear." You let her leave it there.
Instead you talk about safe topics; Rose, alcohol, how fat Elsa is getting, Christmas in general and the possible demonic influences of Saint Nick in particular. She lays back to stare at the ceiling, entangling her long legs with yours.
"Ya know," Faith coughs uncomfortably, "Rosy… said she's been having some trouble at the new school."
"What?" Uh, no she hasn't. If she had she would have told you, right?
"She said a couple of boys in the year above have been saying stuff about how small she is."
Oh God... You're not worried for Rose, she's pretty tough and you're going to go raise hell at the school when term starts again, but it's just so… inevitable. Children reject what's different. Your seven year old being the size of a three year old is different.
"And she doesn't have Bliss and Heck to kick their asses."
You stop and stare. "You… you actually know who Bliss and Heck are?"
"Sure," She shrugs as if it's the most natural thing in the world, "Felicity Benn- Tavi's kid and Hector… uh… Long-Surname, Rosy's 'non-boyfriend'."
Faith gives you that look- the one that says 'I know something you don't', "And I can tell the Huntington Twins apart."
"I can too! Ava has the rounder face and Constance has a mole above her left eyebrow."
You stare, numb, in shock and awe. "Wow… you do realise you're like a God to me right now?"
Rosy's own little Scooby Gang are adorable; they'd defend her to the death (even though she doesn't need it) and claim they never get embarrassed when people stare (even though they do). As annoyingly superior and posh as they may be the four of them love Rose- Bliss, Heck and the Twins still invite her to their houses and make time to call round, despite the new school. Variation comes only in that Bliss has (finally) changed from 'won't' to 'shalln't'.
The new school isn't quite so advanced; they don't learn Latin or Computer Programming, the teacher doesn't have a fancy degree from Cambridge or get paid enough to own a sports car and Rose is no longer daily sprouting new words you've never heard before. But, she isn't so different or alone. The other day she came home covered in mud and didn't even insist on immediately reading the backs of a variety of washing powders until she found the right one. Now when you take her to the playground she talks to other children, rather than being bored by their 'inane chat' or hating them for being too loud.
Granted, she's not quite at the stage where she'll delight in 'Biff and Chip Go to the Park' over 'The Complete and Unabridged Works of the Brothers Grimm' but she can no longer list the names of the British Ministerial Cabinet and for that you are unashamedly grateful.
"Why-" You take another sip, "why didn't you ever yell at me?"
She frowns, "What?"
"When you found out I was having Rose, why didn't you yell at me?"
It's not exactly a trick question but Faith chews it over, waiting for the catch to emerge. "Why should I have?"
"I basically forced you to have a child you didn't want, when you were only just out of your teens, yet you've never… said anything about it. No one mentions it." Well… "Except for Dawn." One hell of a lot.
She sinks further down into the couch, lifting your legs to drape over her lap. "Dunno, guess I just kinda saw her as a present. Never figured I'd have kids- not exactly a stable parent, ya know?"
Her hands are soft and warm and still fit yours perfectly. "Believe me, I know."
"Right." A satisfied hum emanates as you trace patterns on her palm. "Well, I thought it was a nice idea I just wouldn't have chosen it by myself. I didn't know you were pregnant until I saw you so…" She yawns into the hand holding her wineglass rather than move the empty one radiating heat into your leg. "I don't know, when you told me she was mine it was like this weight off my shoulders- I could have this great kid and she'd always have someone amazing watching out for her. I knew you could cope all on your own."
Sure, with Satsu and Henry and Mimtal and Giles and Xander and Kennedy and Leah and Tavi and Lexi and the Fortescue-Darlings and the amazing school and Rose being amazing enough to bring herself up in some respects and… and… a huge amount of help. From everyone but Dawn. Who still has 'sibling issues'.
"Kinda selfish, huh?"
But, when it comes down to it, you are the only person who's really looked after Rose since she was born. And dear God do you try hard!
"If it makes you feel any better; I created her intending to be a single parent. Obviously, I would have liked you to be there but I guess I knew I could do it my myself if I had to." Neither of you mention that Faith couldn't do it on her own but it hangs in the air between you as if the words have been spat out. "Sorry."
"You're so much better now though! Think about September- you had her for a whole week!"
She laughs, "You wrote me a list of fifty thousand things to do."
"Yeah, but I had trust in you to do them. You're her favourite aunt." She smiles bitterly before your eyes widen. "Sorry. Again. I didn't mean to say 'aunt'."
Whatever you're calling her, Rose is devoted to Faith.
You worry slightly that it's become too much- you've created the Cult of Faith. To the younger slayers she is a cross between a god and the perfect big sister. They adore her and Rose puffs her chest every time Faith picks her up from the Slayer School and gives her all of her attention.
It's silly to be jealous, completely stupid; you're her mother for Godsake! But… you can't help it. You see the two of them, hiding in caves made of bed sheets, wearing taffeta ball gowns, doing their little catchphrases and sharing secrets… and your heart aches. You want to be in there! You want to be part of their little gang!
Being the bad cop sucks.
And why has Faith taken to fancy dresses so quickly?!
Mimtal sent Rosy five matching velvet dresses in Red, Green, Navy, Cream and Purple with delicate gold embroidery and huge puffy skirts for Christmas.
She stood guard in the upstairs window yesterday afternoon, dressed only in her underwear and vest, refusing all attempts at clothing her. Goosebumps covered her and even her teeth started chattering. Half an hour later than expected, Faith arrived with a red top on. There was what sounded like a frantic rush from upstairs and then Rose charged down the stairs, red dress hastily buttoned up and red ribbons flying everywhere.
You didn't comment.
You didn't even say anything when she suddenly decided boiled potatoes were the worst things in the world just because Faith went back for seconds of the roasted ones. There may have been a knowing smile but you held your tongue as she grilled Faith on her favourite foods, games, colours, people and mentally filed the answers away for future use.
But you're no slacker on the mothering front. You're a good mother- a great one around Christmas. Every 31st November Rose wakes to a book in place of her breakfast, the type with beautiful covers and a hundred empty pages for her to fill with memories of the past year; photos, drawings, ticket stubs, letters and too much glitter to ever be considered aesthetically pleasing. It generally takes a month for her to diligently note down everything.
Overflowing and purple they sit on her bookshelf, for her to flick through or add things to. Like interactive photo albums you hope they can give her some kind of stability, that she can look back and see how in the first one (admittedly made by you), detailing the first fifty six days of her life- 5th November to 31st December 2005- Faith features heavily, on every page, in almost every photo. You hope that she can see from her fourth one that Henry really loved her- that he spent a week with her, helping her glue and willingly being covered in paint to leave his handprint beside hers.
A lot of people go in and out of your daughter's life, you want her to know that it's not her fault, that the reason Aunty Leah stopped the day trips to the zoo wasn't because she wanted to but because sometimes people go to sleep for a really long time and don't wake up again. The only thing you can do for Rose is to be there, always ready to spring into action as soon as you're needed, always honest and always loving.
There is, however, someone else who wishes he could be that involved in Rosy's life. You didn't realise it at first but Henry lost both his daughters that year.
"That's sweet…" You mumble, only half listening to Faith's rambling about the days she spent with Rose in September.
You want to tell her that two months ago she missed a poetry recital and Rose held her hand to the stove until her skin turned black. Slayer Healing took care of the outer scars but you want Faith to cleanse her insides.
Falling in and out of parenting just isn't… It isn't…
Even now it still seems like there's something magical about your relationship with Faith. You might not always want to feel it but really… where it counts, you'd forgive her anything. Anything she does to you.
Not to Rose.
She never means to hurt her daughter but she does. She really, really does.
Sure, there's always a good reason why she can't be there- and not being able to make it to the Easter play (or the Huntington's Easter Ball) because she was helping Angel become human again is a pretty good excuse… Rosy certainly loved getting to know him for the few days he stayed- but it isn't good enough.
Of course, when anyone else brings up Faith's inadequacies you defend her fiercely. You lied to Willow, just to hurt her. She'd gotten mad again, Faith hadn't shown up when promised to her engagement party in August and that was, apparently, reason enough to give you grief. "Just let her go, Buffy! I know you're waiting for her or whatever but it's not going to happen! I don't have an unhealthy attachment to my ex."
"She's not just my ex… she's my best friend and I can't let that go."
Of course, Faith isn't your best friend but Willow lied too so it was fair. If she had been over Kennedy then the brunette wouldn't have been forced to come to said engagement party and watch Willow flirt mercilessly with a woman who might just be the (self confessed) quietest Jamaican in all history. You wouldn't really know but you've never heard the poor girl say more than just that explanation so it may indeed be true. (Grace tends to just smile when you talk to her)
What does it take to make them accept her? Faith, not Grace- everyone loved Grace within just minutes of meeting her. Everyone except Kennedy.
And Faith is calmer now- the hospitals she's been in and out of, the treatments she's tried… they seem to be helping, they seem to be working.
So why can't you support her? Why can't you stand up for her the rest of the time? Why does it feel wrong?
Kennedy had, of course, had something to say on the matter after cornering you at Headquarters one day; "It's a cop-out! You letting Henry jump in and 'save' her when you left Angel and Giles to do it before-"
"When has Giles ever 'saved' her?!" You and Angel had to drag Faith out of his country cottage to get her some help!
But nothing had stopped her stupid mouth. "The point is it should have been you! If you really loved her you should have fought for her, no matter what!"
"Get off your freaking high-horse! Actually no, get out of my office altogether, come back when you have someone you have to look after and worry about and- and watch die slowly knowing that there is nothing you can do to make it any easier on her! There's no way you can make her life better! She's scared and heartbroken and it tears you up inside to watch her but it hurts more to- to watch it… to watch it get worse. I… I can't put her through more pain just because I want her to change."
"It's not 'changing' her Buffy- it's saving her!"
'Saving' means preserving. 'Saving her' means keeping that special part of her that you love.
This is not saving her. She might be ok right now- sitting with you on the couch, tipsy and happy, laughing over the amusing idiosyncrasies of tiny children- but that's just because you're here.
You've heard the stories. You know the truth. Willow says she's 'dangerous', Giles calls her 'uncontrollable', even Angel, her once biggest supporter, confesses that at times he can't restrain her. They say she is inappropriate, unrealistic and impulsive. She refuses to sleep for days at a time, laughs when others cry and blames herself for everyone's inadvertent mistakes.
It's nothing new, this is not news. You only recognise now, with slightly more gratitude than you've ever felt before, that the reason you do not see it now… is that she keeps herself away. She doesn't show up at the house on days she feels she will be low, or high or susceptible to change.
And just her ability to recognise that within herself… gives you hope.
Sanitizing her personality isn't what you want but you are nothing if not incredibly stubborn. Kennedy has not been allowed in your office since the argument. It makes things a little complicated but you really couldn't care less.
The truths of Kennedy's argument are only halves- Henry hasn't always been so willing to support Faith. Sure, he paid the first three times for her care but after that he refused.
You fear that he may have been waiting- that he still is- for you to come to your senses. It's true that you could never not love him. He showed you who you could be. Henry took 'Buffy', a selfish, pig-headed and bitchy girl masquerading as a woman, and made her 'Bethy'… who was all of those things but at least aware of it. You'd like to be able to point out that you're more mature than Faith. But it's really not that hard.
You tug on the old necklace she's wearing for Christmas. "God, were we really once that young?"
She chuckles, "B, you were like… three year older than-"
"Two! For the month between our birthdays we're only two years apart."
"Y'ok, you hold on to that." Her hand stretches out to vaguely grab at your arm for a bit of leverage to pull herself up to sitting. "Oldest slayer in the world but whatever."
"I think we should take off the 147 days I was dead for- it's only fair."
Joking doesn't seem to go that far. "Don't do that." She frowns unhappily, unconsciously itching her left arm and then catching sight of the scars around her wrist.
"Sorry." Of all the head slayers at the academy, Faith is the most affected by the pains of the younger girls. You lift your arm so she can snuggle into your side, "I miss Leah… the way I'd think she was swearing every time she'd say 'can't'."
"And 'knee' instead of 'no'?"
Rowena hates you, Sassy won't talk to you and Leah died because you had a party and sent her out alone. You're a great leader. Really.
Even having an office job and refusing an Apprentice has stopped Giles from putting you in charge of another group of slayers. As slaying jobs go it isn't the hardest- they're not the elite and they probably never will be. It's more about organising their schedules and making sure they're coping with the pressure. Once a week you take them out around the quieter graveyards and try not to groan. "One of the girls on my team apologises to every grave she walks over. Almost had a fit when a vamp put her through a tombstone."
Faith rumbles a chuckle into your shoulder, "Don't worry about it- last week one of Ken's girls left to join Simone. Poppa Bear said not to tell anyone."
"But I don't count?"
"Want me to go through the 'one person, blue/red souls' thing again?"
"No, the collage you made me was… informative." And also rude. With a side plate of 'oh God, she really did keep those photos'. "What…? What about Simone?"
"Last I heard she was busy murdering in Chicago."
"Oh. Nice of her to give Las Vegas a rest."
Faith smirks and clinks her glass against yours.
Children without protectors, seek power because they have none. And sometimes, when a girl is given that power, becomes drunk on it, then finds that still there is someone better; still there is a girl others will choose over her, still there is a person more powerful… well, that might just be enough to tip her over that point. She may just become a victim to her own power. "It's my fault, isn't it?"
That- that didn't sound as jokey as you expected. "And you?"
You slide out from under her and down to the other end of the couch. "Are you my fault? Was what happened in Sunnydale my fault?"
She studies her wrists again, "Well… you pulled me in and then cut me loose just when I needed you. So yeah. Little bit."
Right, right, because the murdering and whoring… well you pushed her knife wielding hand into that poor scientist and stripped her down to hand her over to nearly every guy in Sunnydale. You're a Bond villain crossed with a pimp. "Of course"
Faith crosses her arms extra tightly when she's angry and it has the unfortunate effect of making her breasts protrude. Unfortunate for the person attempting to argue with her anyway. "What does that mean?"
"It means that things always just 'happen' to you, don't they Faith? It's never your fault."
A grunt of pure offence hits you, "You cut me out of everything."
"Do you ever think that maybe, just maybe, I cut you out because you're difficult?" Sorrowful blushes rush her cheeks. "You can't blame my wanting to have a normal life for you being screwed up- I don't have a duty to you, Faith. Yeah, you might be more 'owed than owing' but that doesn't mean I'm the one who has to do it." You stand up to rant better and the room spins slightly. "The only thing I owe you is contact with your daughter- which, by the way, I have given you every opportunity for this year- everything else is my choice." Elsa whines at the tone in your voice.
She sighs conciliatorily, picking the bottle back up, "I don't think you…"
"Yes you do. You do, Kennedy does, Giles does, even Henry does! Everyone thinks I should be willing to give up everything, put my life on hold, drop everything as soon as you call and make every damn effort to include you in the tinniest aspects of my life…" Her cheeks flush, "But I don't. Have to. I don't have to. I choose to." Touch her hand? Shoulder? Smile? Attempt to be sweet? Just explain? "And if sometimes I'm a little busy or- or I just don't want to then that isn't a reason to go on some kind of witch hunt! I don't hurt you on purpose, I don't 'play' with your emotions and I don't ignore you all the time- sometimes I just forget!"
"I didn't say you-"
"No, everyone else does! And I'm sick of it!" It's not always your fault, it isn't, it really, really isn't. "I'm just sick of doing the wrong thing."
At this point there may not be such a thing as the 'right' path to follow.
It doesn't seem weird to drop everything and change all the plans just because she needs you. It's your duty, right? That's what everyone thinks. Sure, for a while you tried to stop it- for a while you were just trying to work out the single parenting thing and having another 'child' to care for was pretty much hell.
You told her as much when, barely eight weeks after your birthday, she turned up on your doorstep at two in the morning with wild eyes and clumps of hair missing from behind her ears.
"I just don't want to keep doing this Faith, I can't. I left two weeks before my wedding to find you in Bosnia in a hospital so old the lights blinked out every time a plane flew over."
"Planes didn't fly over B, I remember that from you taking me out of there- on horseback."
"Oh. What was the noise?"
"Thunder, Dumbo, thunder."
What you should have noticed was that she stood there and argued the finer points of Disney-related-nicknames and selective deafness wearing nothing but a khaki jacket and hospital scrubs. In an early English March, surrounded by sleeting rain.
It took the heavy door almost closing on you for the glinting light, reflecting off the blood slowly rolling down behind her ear, to finally catch your attention.
"Can we stay with you?" She'd jumped out and you'd answered 'of course' before registering the 'we'.
The 'who' was lanky, blonde and addicted to Faith. Or, at least, it seemed that way.
They stood in your hallway, matching bleeding ears and dark bags under their eyes. Slutty (who you met three times and who's name you never learnt) refused to release her grip on Faith's hand and glared at you like a rabid dog from beneath a canopy of greasy bangs.
"We broke out."
Her hands shook harder as you enveloped them in yours- brushing the sweaty little limpet off in the process. "Where were you?"
A routine is a 'typical pattern of behaviour that a person adopts in certain circumstances'. You test how long she can keep eye contact while estimating how long it's been since she slept and whether she'll get upset if attempts are made to calm her. You hold her right hand in your left and squeeze twice, a few seconds apart to measure reactions and check for clamminess. With your right hand you feel her wrist- how thin it is and how fast her pulse races. If she doesn't notice (which she generally doesn't- you've got it down to a fine art) you feel up her arm, wait until you can interject to move across and feel down her other arm then hold both her hands and swing her arms gently to check for central injuries.
In the ten years you've been doing it she's only noticed twice.
"Hospital. A little one. In the country." She rambled on about how they broke out, how they had no idea where they were but tested the theory 'all roads lead to London' anyway and wound up crossing into Wales before they thought of hitchhiking.
They stayed two hours (during which you managed to get them warm, fed and bandaged) until you went up to check on Rose and heard them, quietly and considerately, slip out the front door.
Three days later she phoned and asked you to bring a bag of things to a bus station just outside the city. When you arrived The Blonde was still hanging on- her spindly, track marked arms wrapped around your girl who, you were glad to notice, had eyes purely for the road. But she looked happy.
You gave them money for a ticket because it was easier than dealing with her and the frustration was, by that point, getting out of control. For two months you kidded yourself into being happy she wasn't phoning, wasn't showing up, wasn't needing you.
Except she was in need of you. She just wasn't asking for help.
Henry drew you back into the spiral of Faith, which was strange for all the obvious reasons. You met him in the lobby in one of his father's smaller hotels, this time in Brighton- a seaside city, to the south of London and a two hour drive on a clear day. That same damn blonde girl was the first thing you saw as he opened the suite door. She was curled up on the couch, surrounded by glossy magazines and engrossed in the blaring television.
Faith lay on the floor in front of her, too weak to raise her head and groaning slightly. Slutty's inattention rapidly turned into a scowl as soon as she realised you weren't Room Service. "What are you doing here?!"
"This is my ex-husband's hotel." You'd sniffed, dropping to your knees to check Faith over. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm with Faith. She needs me. We have something." The next bit is sort of a haze in your memory. A red and angry haze.
"Look," The skank lifted easily and hit the wall with a satisfying 'thunk'. For a small woman you can hold someone up pretty well. "You can choose to believe you're special to Faith, but you're not. You can pretend that tomorrow, when she wakes up, that it'll be your name she remembers- but it won't. It's always going to be me. You aren't anything to her. And you definitely aren't capable of looking after her!" It took Henry and three security guards to loosen your hand from around her neck.
The bone in Faith's left upper-arm had broken through the skin and as the wound couldn't heal around it (and no one had made her go to hospital) an infection had spread through her body.
A truce was reached then- you agreed to the calls for help never stopping and pretended to mind. The truth is you like that you're 'that girl'- the one no one else will ever measure up to.
As if the bar you set is really that high.
"I'm sick of doing the wrong thing but I don't know what to do to make you feel better, Fay- I can't just… I…"
She rolls her eyes and doesn't bother to raise from the couch. "I just want you to need me."
"Well I learnt not to need you, Faith… I made myself be able to cope if I didn't hear from you for a few weeks because you have no idea, ok, no idea how hard it is for me to have to- to function knowing you're…" You pause, needing more alcohol for this discussion, "Well, not knowing where you are. Or how you're doing. Or even if you're broken and bleeding in some ditch somewhere!"
"Great. Good for you. How fucking nice that you no longer need me." She spits. "So sorry I still need a bit of help- so sorry you're the only person in my entire fucking life that I feel like I can lean on!"
"But I'm not, I'm not the only person you have. And, hey! This wasn't meant to be an argument! I was going to say; I wanted to have my life sorted out." Except for one area… "This… It's just that… by 30 I was supposed to be married with an amazing career and a first-rate degree and two fantastic children…" And a Faith who you love and look forward to seeing. "But instead I'm a divorced, single parent, struggling to hand in my online essays in time."
Her angry reply in swallowed down. "Wait, I thought you guys got that annulled?"
Elsa sighs in relief as you slump down onto the couch. "We did but 'divorcee' sounds a lot better than 'annullee'."
She chuckles, "Where does 'lesbian' rank on that scale?"
The monster of all shrugs does nothing but jostle her slightly. "I loved him, you know. Actual, real, love."
Faith snorts, "I gathered."
"I'm just telling the truth."
"Well fine," She sneers, "If we're being truly honest- I hate that thing you do with the front of your hair."
"What 'thing'?" What hair thing? You don't have a fringe! You don't suit fringes! There is no fringe!
"When you plait just the front but then tie the back down really harshly. It looks stupid."
Gasp! "It does not!"
"It really, really does."
You humph and stroke the offended hair. Yeah, that's right; 'offended'- it knows! And it hates Faith too!
Of course. Of course Faith would have named your hair.
An unhappy air settles over her as she catches sight of the hand currently flattening your ultra-shiny brunette locks. The sweater you're wearing has huge cuffs and has slipped down to expose your left arm to the elbow.
"Does your wrist still hurt?"
You check it, even though it obviously doesn't hurt right now. The scar is still pretty ugly though- you smother it in concealer for special occasions. "Only when I bend it a certain way. Yours?"
She smiles thinly and wiggles both hands, "Only when I bend them a certain way."
"I'm sorry you had to go through that."
"I'm sorry I put you through that."
Elsa rolls over on the rug towards the fire, making satisfied grumbles in her quickly regained sleep. Her fur has turned from apricot fuzz to glossy chestnut curls and she no longer cares for Faith. But she doesn't seem to mind all that much when the woman in question slides down to the floor beside her and scratches the sweet spot behind her right ear.
"B, I…" Faith raises her knees and sinks her face down into the circle of her arms. Blocking out the light from the flickering fire to make herself feel better.
"I don't want Rosy to have scars." You assert, when it doesn't seem as if she's going to continue.
"Why would…?" She frowns- or, at least, you assume she does.
"I don't want Rose to ever be hurt- inside or out. I don't want her to start thinking this is normal. That every- that everything being messed around is normal." You don't want her to see your scars and think that's the way she's supposed to be. What if, when she gets older, the finds herself in a relationship that… that isn't quite right? How can you look her in the eyes and tell her to save herself? "Its… its emotional abuse or whatever."
Heat from the fire seeps into your bones and crackling logs fill a velvety silence. It feels, for the long moments as she raises her head and turns to study you with deep eyes, almost as if she fills the room, as if you could open your mouth, slide out your tongue and taste her on the heavy air. "You could never do that."
But she could. Unintentionally yet… it would still hurt Rose. Right?
"The…" Faith turns her body to sit at your feet and rest both palms on your lap. "The thing about child abuse is that it doesn't ever become normal, it doesn't ever start to feel… normal. No matter if you've never had an adult be nice to you or spent some time at a friend's or even seen a happy family on TV- you still know that it's wrong, you still know that what's happening to you isn't right."
When she was younger Faith had at once a rabid desire to tell everyone her pain and prideful shame that swallowed it back down. She'd use her past as a weapon; either refusing to share or using nuggets of excruciating information like bullets- to hurt or shock. In the years that have passed, through the sheen of recent hurts and highs, the past doesn't seem quite so raw. Now, on the rare occasion she actually talks about it, memories of her childhood are spoken softly, sensibly and with just a hint of detachment. She's angry over the fact the abuse happened, not the memories themselves. Still, it doesn't hurt to comfort and so you lay a hand against the side of her face, caress her cheek until she shuffles a little closer to lean her head on your thighs.
"I guess it's instinctive. It has to be. Nature over nurture. Just like they say that parenting doesn't come with a handbook yet it obviously does- we know not to leave our babies in the wild when they cry a little too loud, the baby knows, we know." You don't mention that people obviously do leave their children in the wild- or the bathrooms of scuzzy motels. She can be contradictory if she wants to be. "It's all nature." Her fingertips skate over your free palm. "Doesn't matter what's done to screw up kids, you can always do something else to put it right. Rosy's got good genes, B- she might look like me but inside, where it matters, she's all you."
You turn her head so she'll face you. "Don't say that. There are so many good things you've given her."
"Good-" She pauses, and smiles. Little feet patter down the stairs. It's an awful indignity (and you get that) but really, Rosy should be coming down the stairs on her bottom if there's no one with her- the stair risers almost reach her knees. "We hear you out there Ro-Ro, no point in trying to be quiet!" Faith calls, moving up to her feet in one swift and easy transfer to hide the alcohol.
A little raggedy head of curls peeks through the banisters a little further up, in the eye line of the open living room door. "I don't want to sleep."
"You need to."
Rose ignores your 'parent voice'. "No, on average, a child of my age only needs-"
"Baby," chuckling, Faith cuts in, "Give ya ma a break- we'll let you stay up just a little longer, 'k?"
"How much longer?"
You raise your eyebrows as Faith goes to answer and she gracefully shuts up. "Long enough for you to get sleepy." And bored of hanging around with drunk adults.
"I'm never gonna be sleepy ever again!" Rosy boasts, scampering back upstairs to grab Mimi.
You turn around to see Faith with a look of both awe and pride. "Did our daughter just say 'gonna'?"
"I know, I'm so proud!"
Aside from a new fondness for slang there really are other things Rose has inherited from Faith. Her sensitivity for the feelings of those she cares about and pinpoint perception are the two you probably notice most often (along with her blind loyalty and the negative lashing out physically). You swear sometimes that child knows everything you're thinking. "Mummy," Rose turned the other day, pen poised over her English homework, "What rhymes with Lehane other than 'insane'?"
"Uh…" Blame? Shame? "Fame? Tame? Same?"
"Got stuck on 'blame' and 'shame' didn't you?"
"Shut up and act your age."
Which, of course, is easier said than done. To a lot of people Rosy comes off as cold and snobbish but she isn't. She loves things- too many things and too deeply, which seems strange, as if there could be such a thing as 'too much love'. But there is when it hurts her. They don't always love her back.
One person, at least, is just as devoted to your daughter as she is to them (even if Rosy doesn't quite know why). Faith positively glows when both Mimi and Blanket are chucked in her lap before her little 'Rosebud' plonks herself down. She still loves skin-to-skin contact with Faith.
"Tell me a story." She demands, "No, wait, don't. A story will make me sleepy… tell me a truth."
You shift uncomfortably as Faith considers- she's never been known for age-appropriateness. The people who took her childhood took that as well.
"What kind of truth?"
"A truth about…" Miniature versions of Faith's eyes scope the room, taking in every object, every corner, every play of light, before settling on you, your curled form relaxing on the sofa. "Mummy! Tell me a story about Mummy."
They share a look and giggle naughtily. "Alright, want to know about the first time we met?"
"No." Rosy groans, "I've heard that story far too often and from too many people- the reports are quite contradictory. I prefer your version. You're much more honest."
"And politer about yourself."
Wow, someone really needs to clean the carpet… and show you where the vacuum cleaner is. So you can break it. And make Henry pay to have the house cleaned. He bought the damn huge thing!
"I see you looking embarrassed Buffy Anne Summers."
"Oh hush it Faith Nothing Lehane."
"You don't have a middle name?" Rosy questions, showing remarkably higher levels of intellect than you did upon first hearing that. "You can borrow mine- we already share a surname, after all." A spark of something uncomfortably like insight glitters back at you when you frown at Rose- she knows better than to move away from light conversation.
Which strikes off telling the tale of flying to Peru to put down the demon accidentally hell-bent on hurting your daughter. "Tell her about where you found Elsa."
Rosy shakes her head, "No that's dull." Though she seems happy enough to warm her feet by burying them in Elsa's thick fur. "Tell me a story about when you were my age."
"Oh I was never a child." Faith shoots back, before you have time to worry. "I just appeared one day."
"Hmm… now see, normally, as a seven-year-old, my first response would be; 'but I'm not a child!', however…" Your daughter is odd, very, very odd. She pushes imaginary glasses down her nose and pretends to peer over them, "my classmates are what could only be described as 'juvenile'. Perhaps I've really never been a child either."
There is the distinct possibility you messed up the pregnancy spell.
Faith plus Giles perhaps?
Oh God that's a scary thought!
Ugh! And now you can't stop thinking about naked Giles! Oh this is so much worse than your mother and Giles and he hasn't actually even been near Faith… or, at least, you hope he hasn't.
"I think I'm mentally scarred now."
Faith pauses in whatever she was saying to frown, "At least you're not really scarred."
Not the Christmas story again! You roll your eyes and drink more wine. "There's a reason I haven't told her that story, darling."
"Wh-" Rosy hides a huge yawn in the shoulder she's currently snuggling into, "Why not? I mean… I mean… why?"
Sitting on the floor must not be very comfortable but Faith doesn't seem to feel it- or if she has, she hasn't noticed. On the other hand, Rose obviously has, if her drowsy shifting is anything to go by.
"Tell me the story more."
"Come up onto the couch first, Sweet Pea." You motion her up and she folds herself into the circle of your arms, slender limbs and tiny bones fitting where an average child of her age could not. Rosy's small hand fits in the centre of your palm. And you are not a big woman.
Two months ago, at just over seven, Rose passed the height of a fully-grown primordial dwarf. You celebrated with a new dress for Mimi, courtesy of Toys'R'Us and your handy sewing alterations- rather than the expensive 'silk and lace' toy shop Henry used to take her to.
As soon as you passed on the good news to Dawn and Sassy they dragged you both out to the zoo and spent all day helping Rose point out animals she's taller than now. You'd stumbled upon Tavi and Bliss by the penguins who, when they heard the cause for celebration, were very eager to get involved.
You want so much for the doctor to call her 'normal'.
"It is an awfully cheap necklace to give someone you love, Mummy."
'Love'? Uh… You share a scared look with Faith and then over-analyse why exactly it's 'scary' for your daughter to think her parents love each other.
Oh right, because she doesn't know you're her parents.
Faith, without standing, joins you under the blanket. "Cheap it may be but the necklace wasn't what scarred me."
"So what was it?"
"Well. That was her second present…"
"I like second presents…" Rosy yawns again, stretching out under the fluffy cloth until she's happily snuggled into both of you. "I like when you give me presents, Fay-Fay… I like…" You chuckle as she nestles further, reaching up and behind to twirl your hair around her fingers. "I like presents."
You wrap a chocolate ringlet around your finger. Sometimes it almost feels as if you forget how very real Rose is. You catch yourself as you're about to hand her a bowl of cereal or tuck her in at night or buy mangoes out of season just because you know she loves them- and you realise… you're a mother. This little girl is yours.
But not just yours. "You're my favourite person in the whole world, Aunty Faith."
"You're my favourite person in the galaxy, Rosebud."
Truthfully you love Faith more for the most important thing to her still being that Rose has everything she never had. She'll never know what it means to not be loved. She'll never even have an inkling what it feels like. "Baby?" No response, "Baby, I think it's time for bed."
"Con." Rosy gripes but can't quite seem to keep her eyes open.
You gasp and whisper in shocked but not entirely surprised tones, "Oh, you'd better hope my French really is that bad, Faith Lehane."
She pouts drunkenly, "I'm a failure as a parent."
"No," Not in that respect anyway- teaching a child new languages is supposed to raise their IQ. Which probably means you should be blaming Faith. "You're just addicted to swearing. But that's ok- I got you off drugs, I can fix this."
"I think you're over-simplifying things." She whispers back.
They say the chimney is blocked up but the whooshing wind plays chimes upon the roof's slates. When a storm howls above you put a tin bowl down to catch the drips and smile as the tinkling sound rings through the room. It's not like you paid for the carpet anyway.
Faith smiles at the sound and twines your fingers with hers. The line of her neck calls enticingly to you as she stretches, ready to move. "Geez this house is cold…"
"And this is the warmest room in the house." The pleasant weight on your chest shifts herself, turning to cuddle into you without waking up. "Do you want to take her up again? I'm too relaxed to move."
"I think the word is 'drunk'."
Mm… quite probably.
"Alright, come on." She slides out from under Rosy's legs, leans down to kiss your forehead and lifts her daughter as if she's both the lightest of clouds and the world's largest diamond. Rose protests all the same.
Christmas, for once, has made your house a home. It's vaguely toasty and smells delicious. Stupid bits of ancient furniture are no longer stupidly angled in stupidly perfect ways. Now everything is messy and lived-in with Rosy's huge collection of new toys strewn about the place- and oranges, individually wrapped like little presents so you can pretend to children that gifts can be fruit.
No matter how many presents there were waiting for her under the Christmas tree, the most important one in Rosy's eyes was always going to be the large wicker hamper with the purple bow on top. Faith carefully, and painstakingly, has collected tiny things from all over the world; trinkets, exotic candy, a million different hair clips, soaps, ethnic wooden toys and puzzles, mini books of brain teasers and word games and an Italian to English dictionary with seemingly random highlighted words to make a coded message.
Every small gift is either decorated in purple or with a Rose. Some Faith has drawn by hand and others she's obviously worked hard to find.
This is the woman you've strived to at once pull closer and push away.
You don't have the right to decide for Rose anymore. It might seem the kinder thing to keep Faith away from her, to keep her from the disappointment that comes with no longer being in that light and the fear when it's not so much 'light' as burning, blazing heat…
But she's older now. Also, quite possibly, smarter than you were at eighteen. Which is weird.
God… you just wish your mother was here so you could ask her what to do. Weirdly you wish your father was around too- you want to know him, how he is now, so you can know what sort of a parent you'll be. You smirk at the heavy footfalls so unlike the less-tired and slightly more sober woman who jumped down the stairs a few hours ago.
"I think she's really out of it this time." Faith throws herself some what gracefully over the back of the couch, rolling on top of you.
"We'll be fine, we'll end up like the Gilmore Girls- talking really fast and looking after each other."
Quite used to your odd jumps in conversation Faith doesn't seem to mind. "The who?"
"Do you not watch television?"
She scrunches up her face cutely. "Is that show still on the air?"
"Well… no, but I hunt out repeats."
"Watching TV isn't weird. Leaving me here to get lessdrunker is."
You kick her until she moves back to her earlier spot to grab the only full bottle. "If you're still mashing together words then you're not that 'lesdrunker'."
"Ha! 'Lesdrunker' sounds like one of Henry's nephews. You know Magda's calling the new one 'Toby'- with a silent 'h'! 'Tho-by'! But you say it like 'Toby' anyway so why bother? It's so… fucking pretentious."
Swearing is fun. Drinking is fun. Faith is fun.
"And I think his cousin is called 'Impotence'…"
She laughs so hard you give up attempting to shush her and put a pillow up against the closed door instead. "Hortense! She's called 'Hortense'!"
Oh. "Well, it's still stupid."
"Not as stupid as being horrible to the people you love and devoted to those you hate." Devoted? "Ok, 'slightly nicer'; "Henry is a complete buffoon- his shabby little American only less so"!"
You make the appropriate offended noises. "You said Charlotte Darling-Whatever likes me really!"
"Uh… no. I said she loves Rose and you're, like, an off-shoot." She catches the bottle back from you. "Not the same thing."
"Here's one, here's one- Henry's father will only pay by cheque and never buys anything costing an amount with 'forty' in it because he refused to learn the 'correct' way to spell it at boarding school. When they were renovating the house he added on a billiard room just so it would cost more!" Now the way you know that is an odd story.
Faith pauses to consider, "Should we feel bad for making fun of people who've been nothing but nice to us?"
"Probably. But they're English and rich which makes it the acceptable kind of inverse snobbery."
She toasts you with the bottle so you grab it back. "Mine."
As her hand makes it halfway to taking it back she pauses, "Are you…?" Her fingers glide through the moisture on your cheeks. "Are you crying? Why?"
"Because…" The sigh is, of course, intentional, the profundity isn't. "Love isn't enough." If it was you would have just married Henry and been happy, if it was you wouldn't have even met Henry. If love was really enough you would have just stayed with Faith when you were teenagers and things started to go wrong. You wouldn't have listened to Angel's demand that you keep away from her, you wouldn't have been freaked out by her, you wouldn't have…
She grunts in irritation, "Well maybe sometimes it is! Jesus, you make everything so fucking hard!"
"I do not!" Bitch!
"You do too!" Sofa jiggling she throws her arms around you. "Do you ever listen to yourself? 'Love isn't enough'! You over-analyse everything! Can't we just try, try living together, being a family, and see what happens?" You gulp a little but stare straight into her eyes. "If you're waiting for me to reach this magical point where I'm suddenly who you want me to be and can fit into your dream life and help you live it then I'm sorry- but that's not going to happen!" She smiles and takes your face in her hands. "I will always be myself, I will always be this way."
"But I don't want- that is, I do want…"
When you agree to have a child with someone it's not just about the product- it's not just about the child- it's agreeing to be tied to them forever. You're family. Always.
You still know so little about her- did Faith ever have a nickname? What subject was she best at in school? Has she ever met her father?
Mainly you make things up, you guess and you assume and you go along with whatever other people say about her because… because it sounds kind of right.
"I… you're family. And I love you being in my life but…" But…? But what exactly?
"What do you want, B? Just straight out, no complications, no ramifications."
'To be a family' is the first thing that pops into your mind, followed closely by 'for you to get better.'
"I want a happy ending."
She rolls her eyes, "Who doesn't?"
"Ya so weird sometimes. I wanna be happy, you wanna be happy, if our happiness overlaps then hey great- let's let other things overlap!"
Your lip curls, "Beautifully put Faith. And also; 'ramifications'? Have you been using that 'word of the day' toilet paper I've heard so much about?"
"No, Baby Brat sends me books. Huge books. I read 'em so Rosy'll pick up on stuff. Though I guess I should be tellin' her to start skippin' me and just send 'em to Roo."
Her accent always gets so funny when she's drunk. You chuck her chin affectionately. She's right, you were forcing her to take time apart from the family until she could be perfect but she's never going to be.
There's no point in waiting for a part of her to leave. You just have to love the whole.
She smiles, eyes twinkling, dimples deepening, and you know that… you do. Without the hard part she's not your girl. But your loving her doesn't mean she's a capable parent. "If we ever… it would have to be for sure Faith. No going back. You'd really have to be Rosy's Mom."
"Well, let's just… let's just agree that no matter what… no matter what I do, or you do or- or who we do. No matter what happens we stick it out?"
You pause. And sit. And consider. "Why did it all get so complex?"
Why couldn't it just be you, Faith, Rosy and a desert island. Just the three of you- just the three, not the unnamed fourth that shadows your family like a malicious cloud.
"How did we manage to mess it up? I remember when it felt like… we were somehow the same person-" She opens her mouth to jump in with a smart-aleck comment about body-swaps so you clamp a hand over it. "I want to go back to when seeing you made my life easier, made everything just that little bit… happier."
"You don't feel happy when you see me?"
"No, I do, I just… I do and then I feel guilty and then I over-analyse and then I…"
Faith rolls her eyes, grabs your shoulders and plants her lips firmly to yours. She tastes like apples and lipstick. You breathe through your nose so there's no reason for it to end.
Her lips slide over and between yours- spreading your expensive lip-gloss, but you don't care. She smiles and you can feel her lips pulling against yours as she does.
You smile back.
She's almost here, almost home.
Or maybe that should be; you're almost there, almost home.
"You're kidding me right?"
"Just wait." You were considering her trying to be Rosy's mom not her mother's girlfriend.
She yells into the blanket in frustration and pushes away from you to fall on the floor. Elsa jumps and, after seeing there's nothing to worry about, ambles closer to the fire. It's funny enough to make you giggle uncontrollably despite her pout-y face, "Just tell me what to do to make it right."
It seems as if you both ask that far too often. You flop off the couch to lie next to her. Wine sloshes around your stomach and from the bottle gripped in your hand to the floor. There's a rather feeble attempt on your part to wipe the seeping red stain from the once-cream carpet.
"Let me try." She says after a few moments, making no attempt to aid in halting the mess.
"Let me try to do it."
Again, she just lies there. Weird idea of 'helping'. "Huh? Wine messy." Eminently better at handling her alcohol, your girl snorts out a chuckle.
"And 'Faith pretty'?"
In all honesty, you know exactly what she's trying to ask. You just don't know how to gently say no.
"Faith… I… you're not…" The floor spins slightly as you roll onto your side to watch her reaction. "You're not stable enough yet…" Because, ok, yes, she's got the house now and the job and she spends way more time with Rosy than she ever has before but… it's not the same as being a fulltime parent. She has ups and downs; she's perfect half the time but then the extremes… Can you trust it'll all go ok? Can you trust her?
"But maybe this is what I need-" She replies, perfectly calmly with just a hint of 'please', "maybe being with you two is what makes me stable."
You flex your left hand and feel the burn around your throat. "Ok." What?
"What?" She looks just as shocked as you feel.
"I really should think through what I say more."
"You said 'ok'- ha! And now it's out there and you can't take it back!"
Oh God… "Believe me, I'm about to try…"
"Well don't." She clambers up to her knees without a hint of a boozed wooze. "Don't." You giggle in delight as she makes a grab for your hands, misses and ends up barely holding herself above you, her elbows on the floor. "Just…" Her breath blows across your face, "give me a chance. Another chance. My fifty millionth chance."
"In terms of trying to be Rosy's mother this will be your third. In terms of being my-"
"Don't!" She stops your mouth with sloppy, drunken fingers. "Don't. Again. Don't… put a name on it or whatever… I'm going to try to be Rosy's mom and if… if something happens between us then… just…"
"Let's not jinx it?"
As she kisses you again your conscience nudges you to point out that this is Henry's floor. It took him slightly longer to come around to the idea of giving Faith another chance last time. He took you aside the day he checked Faith in to the last 'definitely going to work' clinic, to assert, again, his exact motivations; "I'm doing this for Rose. Excuse me if I sound a little petulant but I don't exactly want the two of you to… I want Rose to be happy and if you believe that having Faith in her life is the thing to do it, then- then I'll stand by whatever you think."
You smack your conscience back by pointing out that at least this time you're not still engaged to him.
Around Faith, life seems to contract and expand, become at once more real and yet more dream-like. You suddenly see things in startling clarity and realise nothing is actually as big a deal as you think, in fact, it almost seems humorous to think you were so busy freaking out over something so silly. And then… everything becomes slightly blurred, because it's Faith. She is like a dream that you can never quite fully believe exists in real life. Because how could somebody love you that much and it be real?
How did you get so lucky?
You push her hair back to see her face but it slips through your fingers like silk. "Stay with me."
"No, I mean… I mean really; really stay with me. Live here. With us. Be Rosy's mom."
For a while there you'd forgotten the way her smile starts at one side and then rushes across her face, the way her skin glows when she laughs. "And what am I to you, B?"
"Anything. Everything. Mine."
"Is not going to be living here ever again. Trust me. There was an argument, a big one, one that seemed to centre around different lip-glosses and Kennedy always being right." You know it was you she was talking about, that she's still in love with you. And you don't know what to do about it. "Never mind."
Faith always kisses back, even in her sleep. She giggles in that gorgeous way no one else knows she has and doesn't mind when you get her drunker and make fun of her.
You find a cork on the floor and chuck it at her, "Say it."
"Ha!" You giggle, " 'Dudy' like 'Judy'…"
"You need a life. And a good screw."
"Fuck off Faith."
She grins cheekily at you, pissing you off more by downing the last of the wine.
Your blood boils and you think you just might like it- like that even after all these years she still pisses you off, still gets you, still makes you fall even more hopelessly in love every day. She's an infuriating hell-demon with a sexy smile.
"You know what, Bumble Bee?" Her fingers reach and hook around yours, leaving your hands clasped and hanging between you. "I think it's all gonna be ok."