Chapter 28: Prima Colazione Famosa Di Fede
At the time you didn't really get it; it wasn't easy, it wasn't fun and it certainly wasn't 'ok'. Trying to mesh Faith back into your lives was the hardest thing you've ever had to do (including killing your first love and sticking a knife in Faith's gut- something you spent most of that first year wishing you could do again). To start with Rosy loved it- an extended visit from her favourite aunt- until she realised that all she was gaining was just another mommy. On the rare occasion you could actually talk Faith into disciplining your daughter Rose would yell that she already had a mum and that only her Mummy was allowed to tell her off.
Faith freaked out every time Rose whined and her first reaction was to hit her. Of course, she didn't tell you that, she just ran away and got drunk (trying so hard not to be her mother she fell head-first into some of her habits anyway). They fought and screamed and hated each other. Faith was too strict then too soft then completely negligent and the inconsistency upset the two of you. Occasionally they'd go for days without talking or Faith would give a punishment that hideously outdid the crime and you'd be terrified that you'd done the wrong thing. It was the loss of their fun and carefree relationship that scared even you.
Reminding you it needs to either be fixed, replaced or just burnt for the firewood it so obviously is, the front door judders open with stilted groans. "Is this thing still not fixed?"
"It's an antique!" You yell back.
Henry's laugh echoes through to the kitchen, "An antique is worth money- this you should be paying someone to take away!"
Rosy's 'Favourite Pseudo-Dads' 1, 2 and 3 heave heavy bags through the rackety door. You wipe your dirt-smattered hands on your apron and lift the- suddenly feather light- bags away to leave space for a huge hug.
"Buff! At least leave me a little bit of my manhood- I can carry a bag!" Xander chuckles, ignoring Angel's snort and dwarfing you with his big arms.
"Sure you can. The flight was ok? Angel found you easily? You have something else to say about my crumbling house?" You pull Henry in on the other side to join the hug; he presses a kiss to the top of your head and murmurs that the house really does look good. "It better- I've been cleaning all freaking morning!"
"Mummy! Twenty Cents in the jar!"
Angel points and laughs. "Oh shut up." He's entirely too happy now he can sunbathe and fix his stupid hair in a mirror. Which, by the way, is pretty much all he's done since he arrived a month ago. "That wasn't swearing! I said 'freaking'…"
The men offer no back up so you leave them to their bags (except for Henry- who slips you the money for the Swear Jar and who you can't help but forgive for everything).
"Your hair…" He exclaims as you walk back to Rosy in the kitchen.
You tug a little self-consciously on it. "Is it awful? I haven't been blonde in so long… maybe they got my shade wrong? I couldn't understand a word the lady was saying- Rosy had to translate."
"No," He chuckles, "It's beautiful. Just a surprise."
"I was going for a natural, dark blonde but the sun made it lighter."
"You look great, Bethy, really. I wasn't even aware someone so naturally pale could become so tanned."
Xander laughs, "Yeah, check out Mr Straight Tooth- he's been here a month and he's got blazing white bits." Bla-what-now?
As one, you turn to stare at him. "Uh… pardon?"
"Xan?" You crush down your giggles, "Exactly how do you know that?"
He looks with minor horror between you and Henry, his eyes widening to humourous proportions.
"Ah- Ah- Ah!"
Okay… you were joking.
Rosy saves him, scrambling up from the table. "Uncle Xander!" (Her favourite person of the summer)
A smile unfolds across him as he sees her glowing cheeks and happy grin. He'd teamed up with Satsu back at the start of 2013, when Faith had moved in and everything had gone wrong. They'd given you the usual lectures and stern looks, told you to take it slowly and, from her miserable demeanour, that it probably wasn't the best thing for Rosy.
But now it's different.
"Hello there, Doctor Summers." He bows, his head still higher than hers.
"Doctor Summers-Lehane." Rosy corrects, "Soon to be 'professor'."
"Ah," Xander nods, "Of course."
Henry stretches out his arms and she cuddles into him with an easy familiarity. "Hello, Papa."
"Hello, my darling."
You pick up the bags he left and motion Angel and Xander to come upstairs and leave them to father-daughter bonding time.
The door is wonderfully close but Xander stops you from leaving, blocking the door with his big, hulking man-frame. "Buff, what's that on your back?"
"It's not nothing, turn around."
You glare up at him to keep his voice down. "I'm holding suitcases here, if you don't let me past I may become very weak suddenly and drop them."
"Did she hurt you?"
Fortunately for Xander's man-bits Rosy babbles on without noticing. "No, Faith didn't hurt me." You sigh, because it's the truth. Partly.
"Buff, if she's hurting you then you need to get help."
"I just told you she didn't." The cases wiggle menacingly above his sandaled feet. "I'm not a beaten wife, I'm a slayer- accidents happen."
He shakes his head sadly but has the class to move the contra ton out of Rose's eye line, "You don't have to stay with her just because you feel bad."
"I'm not with her because I feel bad- I'm with her because I love her!" Behind you Angel smiles warmly. You have the distinct impression he would have patted your head if common sense hadn't saved his limb.
Xander throws up his arms in defeat and trudges off. "You know, you could just have put on a shirt and saved all that." Angel chuckles. Or you could tell him the truth about Faith's illness… but it's her choice and if she's only comfortable with each of your best friends, your ex-husband and… Angel knowing, then that's her choice. "It looks like a cat attacked your shoulder."
You roll your eyes, "Yes, that's exactly what happened, a cat was sleeping in my bed and I rolled on top of it accidentally. Most embarrassing injury ever." There's a shared smile and you shrug though it hurts slightly, "I can't put a shirt on it- the damn thing won't heal, it stings like hell every time I try to wear something over it."
"I have a great potion with me, Willow sent it over as a joke when I had my first human paper cut- I'd forgotten how much those things hurt! Anyway, it actually works really well so just say the-"
Is it weird that you lied to Faith the next morning about how your shoulder got torn up? She woke up feeling groggy and flu-y so you made her pancakes and said you didn't mind risking Slayer Flu just to kiss her. Some times you think she's crazy and sometimes it's hard not to believe that she's the only sane one here.
After she moved into the London house it had been eleven months of the same thing; the same problems, day after day, until you felt like running away yourself; leaving them both behind. Rose's grades had dropped to a worrying low, she refused to speak except to yell when you tried to force her to eat or sleep, her hair lost it's shine and her weight plummeted. The change unsettled her. She was picking up on your own doubts about Faith and the erratic behaviour she couldn't understand but you knew all too well.
You'd been crouched at the bottom of the garden, wrapped up in your guilt and despair; your daughter was wilting like the damn wisteria bush that refused to climb the house. When Faith had slid the door open and joined you down in the dirt you'd almost cried, unable to take more of her, or- more of the 'not her' that seemed to be everywhere.
But, instead, her sitting there had turned into the best thing that could have happened.
"Lets go home."
"Huh?" It took a monumental effort to turn, to look in her unfocused and manic eyes.
Except that wasn't what you saw.
It was just Faith who smiled back at you, eyes lit with the excitement of a plan and the November waning moon.
"Let's go home. Our real home. Italy."
At first you'd wanted to refuse, except then you realised you didn't actually have a reason for it (other than a general hatred of flying). Nothing was keeping you there, in London, in that house you'd never grown to love.
She'd started packing before you even had time to call and cancel the milk, making it into a game to tempt Rosy away from her room. The poor child was so sleep-deprived she worked like a drone, putting things in boxes, a pile of books on top of a packet of grapes. On discovery of this and other mishaps (open shampoo bottles in with light bulbs) she'd been downgraded to 'wrapper' and merely had to package various non-breakables in old newspaper, sweetly delivered by StJohn, free of charge.
It only took thirty hours of work with the occasional falling-asleep-on-the-job to have your whole lives packed into a pile of boxes that barely filled half the living room. You didn't need the rest, didn't want it, too much of your past when all you wanted was to get a head start on this new and shiny future.
The keys were left with a neighbour, Dawn was to pick them up the next day, arrange a sale and then send the money on. At first the intention was to fly to Rome, hire a car and drive as far down the coast as you could before finding a place to rent. You hadn't counted on the Demon Network actually doing its job for once. So were surprised upon arrival at the International Airport (with an unconscious (medicated) child thrown over one shoulder and Faith buried somewhere under a mound of suitcases) to see a smartly dressed man holding an embossed sign; Famore.
'Family I Love'
Xander is nowhere to be seen once you make it downstairs but Henry points non-too-subtly towards the garden and you know they've been doing that odd Man Language thing again, where they don't actually have to use words to know what the other is saying. Just grunts. And the occasional upwards-nod. Men are so much less complicated sometimes.
Willow's lotion is sticky and there's the distinct possibility it may dry your hair to your back so you let Rose sweep it up with a scrunchie made of tissue paper and five colours of elastic band. Good luck getting that out tonight.
Once you're looking strange enough to suit your daughter's weird clothes taste (if it's colourful and helps you find her in the dark she loves it) she ignores you completely, making the short hop up- or the long clamber from her reduced height- onto Henry's lap. Once settled her head tucks in perfectly beneath his chin. "Papa, I can't use these scissors properly- can you do it?"
"Sure thing, Sweet Pea, what am I cutting?"
She replies in Italian before realising he has no idea what she's talking about, "Sorry. I'm making pretty decorations for later."
Faith's party. Her semi-annual (in the sense it happens whenever she feels like a reunion) extravaganza of everyone the two of you have pulled together to make an extended family.
For two weeks beforehand she whirls the house into a wonderful disorder, creating beautiful food, decorations and party games for no reason other than you'll let her.
It's… not in any way worrying.
Rose winks (with both eyes), 'it's ok.'
You smile back guiltily. 'She's been gone too long.'
Her eyes flick to the clock and then back to you, 'She was fine when she left.'
'Dawn will be here any minute and I can't stand her smug little look whenever your mother messes up' you try to message back- but just get a very confused raised eyebrow in return. "Never mind. It'll be fine."
She nods, slowly, the way she's picked up from Sassy- whose motions are calm and deliberate with you whenever she's being comforting (or thinks you're an idiot).
In the difficult months before you moved to Italy there were plenty of times you were more than willing to just give it all up and send Faith away. Satsu talked you down- with harsh words and the occasional 'throwing you out of her kitchen at one in the morning, no matter how much wine you've sneaked'.
"You know," She groaned after yet another of your annoying whinges, "You're always so busy complaining you don't even see how lucky you are."
Your silly little brain had taken her attempted advice as pure insult; "Oh I know you just translated that wrong!"
"I really, really didn't. Faith might not be perfect but she's yours. Do you know how rare that is? To have someone so devoted to you that they'd do anything for you? Most people never meet their 'one' and you have- you've got her and you don't- you don't… you don't see."
"You're still in love with me."
Always. Painfully always. "It's not about that. It's about Faith. Just give the girl some credit."
So you have. You let her have this party and go a little crazy and try not to worry because that's who she is; just a little crazy. There isn't a stage you can note in her life where everything changed- sure, the whole 'turning evil and trying to take over the world' thing was pretty big but it's not like she didn't have loose-canon tendencies before that! Point being, as a person, her personality, the bit that makes her 'Faith'… it likes big parties, loud music and lots and lots of people!
You were supposed to be happy without her. But you're delirious with her.
The first person you called after booking the plane tickets was Tavi. You wanted someone who wasn't going to yell at you for being an idiot who trusts too much or say you're brave for wanting to make it work. She doesn't really get the whole 'slayer history' aspect but she understands that it isn't a choice. You don't stop loving somebody just because they're… different.
It's probably a product of living together in a country where you barely speak the language but you've become so incredibly close to Faith it's crazy. When she's away from you for more than an hour you begin to pine- depressingly like a dog, but it's kind of sweet too.
Having a tentative grasp of French isn't that much of a help. And they tend to glare at you when you speak Spanish, for some reason you've yet to discover.
Faith's Italian was only mildly rusty and Rosy picked it up almost as soon as she came round from the plane ride. As Mimtal's driver took you back 'home' to the old apartment she managed to learn her first fifty words; seven of which were swear words and the rest car related… but you have to start somewhere.
The rooms of the old apartment were almost untouched, not a speck of dust in a place it shouldn't have been. The staff smiled politely and fetched your favourite drinks, as if you had stepped out to the local market a few hours before and not 12 years ago. Even the fridge was stocked. Only one marked change; a room, somewhere deep in your mind you recalled it being a study or similar, was now lilac with white rosebushes delicately painted to curl around the frames. A bed- not as long as to make her feel bad about the parts of it she didn't fill, but not so short as to be seen to be a 'first' bed- took Rosy's immediate attention and she had flopped down on it. Bathed in the light from the grand window above the bed she'd seemed almost angelic, despite the dark circles and greasy hair.
Later, while filling the cupboards with whatever you'd managed to grab of hers, you uncovered peeling wallpaper and pulled back to reveal 7 layers of children's prints- one for every year of Rose's life.
You cried then, for what should have been, for the life you should have been leading, in the warm sun and not in the grey drizzle of London and Scotland. But it is only possible to lie to oneself for so long and so you cried harder, because it wouldn't have changed Faith and you still weren't sure if it would be possible to.
Back then it seemed impossible that anything could help, no matter how much expectant optimism weighed upon you… but the warm air soothed like a balm over Faith and, while you huddled in a too-warm, sticky ball of slight jet-lag, she swam in the pool, made friends with the neighbours and introduced Rosy to the local market. They charmed free gelato from the parlour at the end of the street and found fifty thousand things in common. For no real reason… it worked.
The only- not 'problem', because you're awfully sick of that word… the only slight difficulty was that the old apartment felt… too much like the past when all you wanted was to move on. So, during a visit to Mimtal's Palaszoo (his Summer Palace; 'Palaszoo'- a bastardisation of the Italian 'palazzo', meaning 'palace'. Because you're dumb. And can't learn Italian. Also, Mimtal does have a strange amount of wild animals as pets so in many ways it's very appropriate), you broke the news to him. Of course, you hadn't really thought through a plan so when he suggested staying nearby- at least temporarily- the three of you grabbed your bags and headed into the small town on the other side of the bay.
You trundled down the bumpy streets, dirt with cobbles between, everything in oranges and reds, looking as if people had built it straight from the clay-dirt and let it set in the sun. An old couple by the roadside had suggested a house that they knew was for rent, nothing spectacular but good just for now. When the road began to narrow your heart sank. Even as a 'just for now' house, lugging the cases by hand was going to be a pain- even with Mini-Slayer helping out.
The sight that greeted your eyes as you turned the corner, four bags on your arms, three in your hands and another two strapped across your back, was worth it.
A tall, thin townhouse; four floors high, two windows across with a connecting balcony on every upper level. It was stone coloured but the balconies were white and though intricate not too fancy, awnings covered the tops and plants spilled down from every level. It made you long for a wisteria sapling to train up against the wall.
Yet, you had to remind yourself, this was just a temporary place.
At least Faith and Rose seemed to be having the same problem. They were the ones who discovered the garden; a few metal stairs down to a grassy area that slowly sloped down and became sandier until a more extreme, but short, drop down to a little beach with white sand and a view across the bay.
Giles had choked around his tea, when you'd asked him for the money to buy it, the very next morning. But had, at least, sent it as long as Faith agreed to look after a new slayer, Lily (now 13) seeing as she'd left Allegra back in London.
You're in Faith's garden, tying bright ribbons around the trees when Henry calls from the kitchen window that your sister is arriving. A swift warning to Rosy not to jump down from the top of the tree goes unheeded as she merely shrugs and ponders aloud why on earth she'd want to.
"Because she's your aunt!"
"I find that under some contention- she's not actually a real person." … is what you imagine she mutters under her breath, in Italian; 'conflitto' is the word of the week.
Dawn bustles in with a thousand matching luggage cases and designer sunglasses, casually flashing a rock the size of Gibraltar under your nose before you notice which finger it's attached to and squeak in excitement.
"He did it right in the middle of The Huntingtons' Easter Ball- I was so embarrassed!"
"You were not!"
"No," She grins, "I wasn't. The look on his mother's face was totally worth it!"
You give off another long squeal and try to crush down the pain you feel for having missed so much. Even the brief mention of Lexie makes you sad- but, you try to remind yourself, just another few hours until she arrives en mass with Tavi and all the girls. "Tavi didn't tell me!"
"Oh, I made her swear not to- just like she made me promise not to tell you some… exciting news."
"Dawn!" Henry stands in the doorway to the garden, glaring in shock and reproach. "That doesn't sound much like 'keeping your mouth shut'."
They attempt to stare each other out before you finally get too antsy and pinch Dawn in the hope some light torture will make her tell. "Dawn Marie Summers-soon-to-be-Fortescue, you'd better tell me right now!"
"Dawn…" Henry warns again.
Her eyes flick between the two of you before it finally gets too much and she blurts out, "Tavi and Henry are getting married!"
"Dawn!" He gasps
"Henry!" You gasp in return, "You didn't even tell me the two of you were…! Oh. My. God."
Refusing to cower under Henry's glare, Dawn continues to giggle naughtily. "They want you to be a bridesmaid!"
"Dawn! I'm pretty sure that was something Tavi wanted to ask me herself!"
"Yah, but I'm not having grown up bridesmaids because it's tacky so I had to ask you for her." She flicks her long, stupidly expensive hair (and yes, so your ends are a little sun-frazzled…) and flounces off, cackling all the way.
"What happened to the 'learning and growing' Reuben was supposed to be helping her with?"
She's never been the same since Leah… and she was pretty bad to begin with. You think there might be some awful poetry in Leah dying as you married Henry. Except that's horribly selfish; thinking of someone else's life purely in the ways they relate to you.
The wedding was a stupid idea but at least you've gained a friend for life from it.
Henry shrugs, "Just be happy she's marrying my cousin and not Xander." You give him a dead arm for making you shudder. "Ow! Unnecessary!" He grins.
"Totally necessary- now go and hide your head in shame for keeping secrets from me."
"That means 'carry Dawn's cases upstairs' doesn't it?"
"Clever boy." You smack his arse to make him mush and check the street one more time as Angel is leaving to pick up yet more guests from the Airport. It's getting hot already and Faith… really should be back by now.
Some things you can't take back, some things you can't untangle once you've messed them up. Bruiser will never again respond to 'Bruiser'- it's Elsa now (Elsa Benn to be exact since you left her to Bliss and Tavi).
You're just relieved your life turned out this way.
The plan was to stay a year, maybe less, until everything stopped spinning and you could finally work out where the hell you were going. But once you were here it seemed as if there was no place else you could possibly belong. Italy is home.
Faith is stronger in Italy- happier too. It's as if here, she knows how to fight it. Or- or not 'fight' as such, more… she can deal, she can cope. The bathroom here doesn't scare her. Since you moved to Italy two years ago she's only slipped away four times and only one of those was a 'down'. It's just a shame she missed her birthday- 'the big three-oh'.
She wears socks that don't match and gets overexcited when her favourite soap-stars have big story lines. You have to drag her away from the fish stall in the market else she'll spend hours debating with Louis over 'which twin Paulo was sleeping with when Sandy walked in and whether or not one of them is actually evil'. When you watch soppy movies together she's the one who cries but then every Saturday night when you drag her to the town square to watch the family film of the week, projected onto the largest white wall you've ever seen, she stands at the back with the men and talks about football.
Sometimes she's all… butch, and gets amped up over motorbikes, sometimes she wears your pink fluffy robe and paints your toes for you. The contradiction thing- it's part of being human, it's just a little more obvious in Faith.
"Cristo, cristo, Mama, step away from the door! Ai, she'll come back when she's done." Rose pinches your side as she passes, searching for yet more ribbons- the girl is obsessed with colour.
It took a long time for Rose to get Faith (and, indeed the other way around but Faith likes to deny that) and to understand her odd ways… which aren't really that much weirder than her weird ways but they both like to deny things. They fought like cat and dog, for months, until Rose fell off her bike one day and Faith let her eat an entire tub of ice cream to make up for it. After that they found a common enemy in you- the 'no fun mum'. They went wild painting the kitchen with pasta sauce and disappearing for hours on end with no clue as to where they'd gone or if they were ok. They came home one night after five hours of late-night Christmas present shopping to find you in near-hysterics on the sofa. You'd gone to pick Rosy up from school but she wasn't there and no one could say who'd taken her… at least, not in English. The '9' button on the phone was starting to wear off from where you'd almost called the police a thousand times before slamming the handset back down because god damn it you couldn't remember the Italian number!
Seeing you hurt like that had finally jolted something in Faith's brain.
She settled down. You learnt to share discipline equally and, sure, Faith was always the parent who bought the expensive and totally insane toys home and, yes, she never actually made any final decisions (relying heavily on the classic 'ask your mother') but she was steady for once in her life. The two of you even made the landmark move of telling the school that Faith was also Rose's mother. And sure, they all basically gave you the same 'this is new information, how?' look but you like to think that being the first out, lesbian couple (who kind of aren't a couple) in a tiny, catholic town is special. Mimtal laughed weirdly, in an oddly knowing way, when you told him that so you just… kind of let it go…
"Do you know where the ginger ribbon is?"
Still in the bin? Hopefully. "You mean that disgusting orange with the shiny silver bits? The stuff I said I'd rather die than see attached to my beautiful fig trees?"
"Eh." Rosy shrugs, "You've died twice, you can handle it. Besides, I solemnly swear to tie it in conspicuously large bows on every tree in the garden with the exception of yours."
"Excuse me for having been too specific- tie it to any tree in my garden and lose your allowance."
"That threat would have a much firmer grounding if my money wasn't drawn directly from the pockets of my grandparents." Bitch. She turns her back before you can voice the thought- which is probably in the best interests of everybody, you really don't have any change in your pocket. Thank god for Charlotte and Edward.
Light twinkles off her sparkly sandals as she upends herself in a box, searching for the damn ribbon (which is, most likely, in the town's rubbish processing bank).
There are brown boxes littered everywhere. You didn't bring anything from England- except in suitcases you could carry. The boxes are from Mimtal; as many pieces of beautiful furniture as could fit in a mint green bedroom.
Rose opened one the other day and screamed loudly enough to bring you both to arms. She'd laughed at your impromptu weapons- a table leg and jagged ribbon-cutter. The box was full of just a single gown.
"The Countess' Anniversary Dress!"
There are very few clothes that make Faith excited without an over-use of leather, this dress was one of them. It was the first banquet Mimtal held for you, the first time you were in Italy. Officially it was in honour of the local Countess (although it was never quite explained what kind of 'anniversary' it was), who took one look at Faith and saw 'possibilities'. That night her hair had been swept up with a delicate, antique comb, leaving half of it in curls to drape over one shoulder. You sat in the back of a carriage across the city and couldn't take your eyes off her. When the butler slipped her coat off she'd become a hundred times more beautiful; the velvet silk wrapped classically around her upper body to flow down over a huge petticoat and then along the floor for at least a foot behind her. Despite the skirt she'd gamely danced with every ancient Italian noble who asked (though not any who were young and handsome). You didn't notice the way everyone stared at you, the way they called you 'charming' and adored everything you did, because you were busy watching the girl who laughed too loud and ate with the wrong fork and forgot to say thank you.
"Remember what we did in this dress?"
You'd flushed, trust Faith to think of the fun you had after the party. "You two are very disturbing for my young mind."
Faith had merely raised an eyebrow, "Hush, Rosy. Your mother and I are going upstairs…"
The boxes are full of designer clothes, over-elaborate dresses and the tiniest scraps of bikini they can legally charge over two hundred euros for. But nothing useful, which is really why they are still, years after you actually moved in, stacked against the long wall running from the hallway down one side of the kitchen.
"I should have made your mother move the boxes… Why didn't I make her move the boxes? I should have made her tidy up… why didn't I…?"
Rose flattens your hands to stop the drumming. "You only gave her enough for juice and a bit of food- she can't have got very far."
"Oh, you'd be surprised how far she can get on even one euro."
"Mother, I'm not above drugging you so take a seat and calm the hell down." Oh so she can cuss now? "The 'hell' was entirely appropriate."
She steers you back out into the garden to sit beneath one of the larger trees with Dawn (wearing the world's largest sunhat to protect her milky white skin) and cut stars out of shiny paper. You talk quietly of unimportant things and breeze along next to the shore. A slight, cooling wave rolls up to catch at your toes from time to time.
The house is cupped by the bay and from the garden you can see between the two large cliffs at the mouth and out to the wide Mediterranean Sea. On days off you sometimes swim out and across to the wide aperture, just to prove you still can.
But swimming back is a different matter.
Rose can make it there and back three times before getting tired. You reach the other side and drag yourself out, gasping for breath and happy because now you're winding down you're just 'amazing'.
You're not a freak.
Mimtal claims he built the grand, sprawling house, that stands guard atop the left cliff, with his own hands. You believe it was the rocks. That they saw the threat of the outside world (consumerism, progress, general future type stuff) and heaved to push from the stone a fist. But the danger had abated, the people fought the battle with words and custom and choice- and so the fist lay flat, ready to clench at any time. The villagers cut themselves off so that they might live forever- so that their generations would live on in the shadow of a man who'd seen it all and decided that home was best.
There are two TVs in the village; the one with no reception in Town Hall, used only on movie nights and hooked up to the projector, and the other in Pepe's Bar- because no matter how disconnected from the outside world they may choose to be, the Italians cannot give up their football.
You've never read so much in your life. And books are strangely good.
And… uh… your laptop plays DVDs but you keep that one a little quiet as Rosy more than disapproves.
Rose reads voraciously, anything she can get her hands on- Regency literature for fun but anything with facts and figures is gobbled up as soon as she sees it.
Every day she grows and changes and gets better. When Rose was born you thought you'd never love anyone as much as her- but then she smiled for the first time, sat up, said her first word and you realised that your heart could expand, could develop. It's true that with every new thing she does, every way she grows, you love her more.
"So you're… what? 'Just weirdly living together'?"
Huh? "Uh… ok, that's kind of an odd question."
"It's not odd." Dawn sighs, "It's just random. Why would it be strange to ask my sister if she's any closer to being married to the woman she's being sleeping with for… how old are you now?"
"33! You refused to come to my birthday party because you were skiing with Reuben's parents!"
"Well, when you actually have future-in-laws it's generally a good idea to be friendly with them."
But it's apparently not that important to be nice to the people who share your DNA. At least she's found one nice way of getting along with Rose- they're now joint founders of the 'Buffy and Faith must get married!' club.
Henry still doesn't quite approve- and you get that. He's seen the damage that can occur from Faith's occasional insanity, even if he didn't know it at the time. You love him for not voicing those opinions, just as he sat with you all night one late September, years ago, bandaging up what was left of your bloody and mangled left wrist and didn't ask why.
For a while after Faith moved in you took to wrapping things around that wrist. But you'd made a pact with her to always be open and honest with each other- she had agreed not to hide her scars so you shouldn't have needed to hide yours. If she couldn't cope with seeing what she had done to you then she wasn't ready. If she couldn't admit that something else controlled her sometimes then it wasn't safe for her to be in the house yet.
The first step is admitting you have a problem, the second is being willing to ask for help.
You tried the drugs, last year, and you'd been right all along- they destroyed not only the unhinged Faith but the normal one too. She didn't go up, she didn't go down, but neither did she smile or have interests or want to be involved in the town any more. A shrug became her favourite means of communication and you missed Real Faith- the chatty, lively woman who captivated people at the first meeting.
She also didn't have any opinion about being taken off the drugs so, along with Rosy, you made an executive decision and agreed to clear it with her once she was back. It might not have been the safest or smartest option but you reasoned that you'd much rather have a whole-Faith some of the time than a half-Faith all of the time. She agreed, once she remembered how to and the three of you drew up coping plans instead.
The worst part was that she stopped reading, tutoring and… sculpting bits of wood into crazily beautiful things. Sometimes you feel sorry for having kept her world so small- you feel it's your fault she hasn't become a world-renowned sculptor or a critically acclaimed translator of obscure Russian literature.
But, you know that this way she can cope. In this tiny town- where the only expectation of her is to be at home between three and six every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to run tutoring sessions, and her only responsibility concerns a girl who can pretty much parent herself- she is settled. Sure, in the big wide world she'd probably live a fast and exciting life but there would always be the temptation of not just narcotics but of pushing herself just that little bit further, being just a little wilder and living without boundaries until she'd be over the edge of that cliff again.
It's scary to think how easy it would be for her to fall.
"Everything is so great right now, I don't want to ruin it."
"Buff, come on, it's not as if the-"
"Hey!" An indignant little voice calls down from a branch hanging over the porch. "I can see that heart Dawn Summers! If I wanted your mushy love hearts all over my trees I would have asked you to cut them out!"
You don't even bother to attempt holding Dawn down. "There's nothing wrong with hearts Rose! They're pretty!"
She lets out a flow of rapid, angry Italian and Dawn answers in… stilted Italian. You understand 'stella' and a few swear words but none are from Rosy so you let it go.
And it's back to worrying about Faith's whereabouts.
You know she isn't entirely sane, know that sometimes she gets lost in her mind when she's fighting and can't stop. Sometimes you have to hold her back when she's high on nothing- desperately wanting to dive off a cliff just to show you she can and you have to stop her because that roaring sound isn't a river it's a road. Those times you have to hold her down and say, 'no'; no, it's not ok, no, you can't do that and no, there isn't anyone else here but us.
Fighting demons is your job but you can't kill the monsters in her head. She won't ever be fixed and you can't ever tell. Your friends see Faith as irresponsible and childish but pretty OK all the same, to joint friends Faith appears loving and fun if a little scatter-brained and those who know just Faith are never kept around long enough to think of her as anything other than wonderful. You won't- can't take that away from her. Faith's… secret is kept inside. So few people will ever know the enormous amount of effort you put in to keeping this little family together or how bad the bad days really get.
But they don't get to see all the good bits either. It's only ten percent of the time now that she has that glazed look in her eye and only half of that time is she completely unmanageable. The rest of the time you can indulge her whims. Like two weeks ago when the three of you spent all day on the kitchen floor eating a chocolate cake because Faith was convinced something awful would happen if any of you stood up. It sounds strange but it was a good day, you joked around and laughed until your stomachs ached.
Rose is the thing that keeps you sane. Not because you have to 'for her' anymore but because she's genuinely the greatest help. She's even better than you at judging Faith's moods, knowing within a split second if they're going to change. Having another slayer in the house is, of course, always helpful. Especially when you're stressing about where the hell Faith's run off to… Perhaps not so weirdly, sitting on the front step in a bright white dress, like a beacon, doesn't seem to be tempting her home.
You've learnt that it's a sliding scale and not always doom and gloom- there's even humour in the fringes of her madness. When some days she's reckless enough to urge you into being a little braver, letting your hair down, or she realises what's going on and makes fun of her own sulking. In January she booked, on the spur of the moment, a romantic vacation to Paris and you spent the whole hour until your left feeling guilty for feeling happy.
It was one of the best weeks of your life.
Faith has more energy than you can ever catch up with, she's constantly on the go, constantly thinking of the next big idea and running off to wherever. You can't keep up with her. But you don't have to.
There was a time when you tried, when you thought it was completely imperative that you followed the two of them on every adventure. Yet… it seems that sometimes it's ok to be still when everything around you is swirling, it's alright to be calm when they're jumping off the ceilings. Faith won't leave you for being too still because that's exactly what she needs- someone she can curl up to when it all gets too much, someone to watch from the sidelines as she commands a room, making them all fall in love with her and knowing you're the one person who's love she can never loose. She needs a rock.
And maybe she keeps you on the straight and narrow too- you are the glue and she makes you hold fast. "Oh… where the he-!" A beaming face pops around the corner of the street.
"Hey, baby-baby." Faith bounds inside with overflowing shopping bags and a smile, "They were out of orange so I got apple, that ok?"
You pull her close with a tug and a kiss. "That's fine." Her grey sweatpants are slipping off her hips so you tug them up slightly but they still don't cover the top of her girl-boxers. "Did you cut the top off your pants?"
"The elastic dug in."
"The elastic is what stops you committing public indecency in a catholic country." She yelps when you give a tiny slap to her bare hip and bites your ear lobe playfully.
Despite the still-falling-down pants she looks cute today- tiny white tank top and huge patterned scarf, haphazardly thrown around her shoulders. She likes to wear cuffs around her wrists when she's in town, to hide the mass of scars.
It makes her look sexy and tough.
"Ew, lesbians kissing in the hallway." Dawn grins, coating one side of her dark dress in white powder by leaning against the wall you've been meaning to ask Xander to look at.
"Don't make them stop!" The man in question chuckles, draping one huge arm around your little sister and sufficiently raising your hackles for Faith to discreetly steer you towards the kitchen.
"S'up, X-Man? Sunshine?"
A rather horrified "'Sunshine'!?" follows you. Faith remains attached to your back as you go but takes care to flip her hair out of the way of your scratches. Tickly kisses rain down your neck and Dawn groans. "Can you two not be separated for a second when you're in the same room?"
Faith hugs harder, "Nope! Could you keep your hands off a gorgeous girl like this?"
"Uh… seeing as she's my sister? An emphatic 'yes'." Dawn scowls but tries to hide a tiny smile as soon as Faith gives her a hug (one armed- the other is wrapped around your waist).
"Love ya, D."
"Love you too, F."
Xander coughs pointedly and gets both a fist bump and a hug, giving you just enough time to take the shopping from Faith and dump it on the side before she pulls you back for a kiss. Which you return with perhaps more fervour than is strictly polite in company.
"Seriously guys, Dawn has a point. Do you gross Rosy out like this or is it just for guests?"
You pull apart and agree to try and keep the PDAs to a minimum… which is stupid because have they seen how hot Faith is?! Dawn and Xander split up to bring the others down for lunch and so begins a smooth dance to put away the food while keeping at least one point of contact with Faith at all times. As you arabesque to keep your toes touching a sudden thought hits you.
"Promise me something?"
She throws her hands up and says 'anything' because, in that moment, she means it.
"Promise me… promise me just for today, this week- this holiday! Say that just for this holiday you'll try to stay here?"
The first time it rained you lost Faith for two nights then woke to a note on your pillow; 'Five-thirty, I stole you a present'.
You'd left Rose with a neighbour (Rosa, who your daughter loves for her house full of children and having the good sense to have 'the best name in the world') and walked across town to the old aqueduct, a huge, towering, yet somehow homely thing. Faith had been huddled, just where you knew she would be, on a ledge about six meters off the ground. "You know, eventually, you will have to come down." 'and return whatever it is you've stolen'.
"But it's so pretty…"
"The view or…?"
A bracelet, green and sparkly, had dropped directly onto your forehead.
"OW! Faith! That stung like a b-i-t-c-h!"
Her head popped over the side, long hair dangling down. You considered jumping and pulling on it in retaliation for what was, quite probably, a crater just above your nose. "Rosy's here?"
"No, I just can't stop spelling out cuss words!"
"Oh." A brooch almost took out your eye.
"Faith! Stop throwing jewellery! This is not the way to make me forgive you for missing supper!"
It was, possibly (but only 'possibly') your fault. You looked up. You got hit. A diamond earring was practically swallowed.
After a lengthy coughing fit you made your own way up the near sheer side of the aqueduct's column. "So glad I didn't wear my good boots for this… that had better not have been a real diamond- you know they can chip tee..oh no."
A leather bag- the type you take to the gym, or a weekend retreat, or a handover with mafia bosses- lay on its side next to her, dazzling jewels spilling out. Faith sat on crossed legs and patted her thighs excitedly. "They're for the baby."
"Baby? I think big Rose will be much more appreciative." You shook your head, "By which I mean; 'no Faith, we have to give them back'. Give all the pretty things back. But if one or two pieces happen to fall out along the way- that lovely opal and sapphire brooch you just threw at my head for instance- then we can't really be held accountable now can we?" So your morals have got a little grey recently…
"Not Rose's." She'd laughed, "The new baby."
You did a quick metal dates check, "Sweetie, I think I'd remember you giving birth and if this is your way of telling me you're pregnant it's highly… well, improbable yet appropriate considering who you are."
"I'm Faith." Occasionally, she gets a little more than confused and you know she doesn't really understand what the hell you're talking about but it makes you feel better to prattle on.
"Not the current problem, but good to know there's at least one point we agree on."
"I have a baby."
"Is this one of those times I can distract you with something shiny," You'd handed her back the earring, "Or do I need to play along? If so, I think Rosa just had a new one she'll probably let you hold."
The bag had been shoved your way, "No, I have a baby."
And, sure enough, because life never works the way you want it to, there'd been a baby, badly cut umbilical cord and all, wiggling away inside. "Faith! You can't just steal children away from their-!" It took a few seconds for you to realise the child was actually purple- not in the 'I'm dead' way, more in the 'I'm a demon with tiny horns' sense. "Ah. Did you bust the Demon Mafia or something?"
"Bang, bang." She'd agreed cheerfully.
Faith carried the tiny demon around, literally without putting him down, for two weeks (much to the chagrin of poor Rosy) before she woke up one morning, acutely embarrassed at having let a little purple thing replace you in your bed. But, much like a very quickly aging duck, the little demon- who, by this time, was taller than Rosy and a lot furrier- had attached itself to her. So another five weeks had to be spent separating the two of them.
A task not exactly easy when you're dealing not with a duck but instead with a rather toothy and angry demon…
Rose was happy to create a diversion and, by begging Rosa (the nicest neighbour ever) to come over multiple times, you successfully attached it/him/the thing to her instead. He's actually quite a sweet little thing- as long as you don't touch Faith around him. In any way. Including passing things to her. Then he tries to bite your hand off.
Ok, so not that sweet.
He likes to follow her around in the daytime when Rose is at school but never says a word. Ever. Creepy little thing.
"Mammia-Mammia!" Rosy hurtles down the stairs at a heart-stopping, breakneck speed, hair half-brushed with curls bouncing and waves flowing.
Faith throws you the rest of the shopping in the split second before she catches Rose. "Baby-Baby! What have you been up to?"
"This and that…" They wink conspiratorially (and painfully obviously) at each other.
"Smooth guys, smooth." You chuckle as they both stick their tongues out.
Unlike whenever you pick her up (having the legs of a girl half her age does unfortunately mean she gets tired jumping up to see things) Rose cuddles into her mother's side and rests her head against her shoulder. Her eyes are calm and childlike around Faith. She is uncomplicated and unsophisticated.
They sing a cheery Italian song about different types of bread until Dawn swans in, modelling a new dress- this one yellow with white flowers and a huge skirt. It's beautiful and vintage and in about an hour she'll be sweating buckets.
"Geez, Dawnie, that ring looks like it's ready to pull your finger off!"
"Eh." Rosy grunts, "Mine'll be bigger." A quick glare and Faith quiets her chuckles, smacking your behind with silent stealth.
"Reuben was going to give me his mother's ring, but, obviously, due to h-"
"Owing." Rosy buts in.
"The train is due to arrive late owing to leaves on the track."
Unfortunately, Faith's calming affect on Rose is cancelled out by Dawn's more bile-raising presence. "I hate you, pustule."
"Says the oh-so-mysterious carbuncle- shiny on the outside, pussy on the in. My abhorrence of which increases exponentially with each new stopover."
Dawn snorts, "You know, using big words doesn't actually make you sound smarter, viaka."
"Ti les re malaka!?"
"Girls…" You chide, motioning to Faith to put Rosy down- no positive reinforcement of bad behaviour, "Please play nicely. Rose, help your aunt set the table."
Rose is perfect eye-height to see Faith's stomach and she runs her finger across the raised edges of her mother's winged tattoo/scar. She once asked if that was her- if that was where she came from.
That scar saved Faith's life; it tied you to her- the guilt kept you visiting first the hospital, then the prison and (eventually) led to Rosy being born.
"I'm not a child, Buffy, I'm getting married next year."
You raise a perfectly sculpted eyebrow (just because your life is like a permanent holiday doesn't mean you have to let yourself go!), "Well maybe I'll think of you as an adult when you stop arguing with a nine-year-old."
"She started it!"
"Go!" Once they've sloped off you share a small laugh with Faith. "What was that?"
"Greek. And sibling hatred." Her laugh bubbles in your chest. The girl who "has never and will never learn to smile through the pain"- as Giles calls her- now grins absentmindedly at all times.
There's a smack, and then a cry and then the sound of cutlery whistling through the air at the exact moment Satsu enters with Angel, carrying a battered old leather bag and narrowly missing having her eye taken out by a fork. "WHOA! Daiban!"
"Sorry!" The girls chime in unison before Rosy does the most comical double take you've ever seen. "ZOO!" You all jump in for a hug.
You burrow in between the others to make sure you get the best hug. "I've been missing you so much, Sass!"
"I've missed you too! And this place… I swear, once I graduate, I'm going to come and just live here."
"You won't have much to do- our tiny little town already has three doctors!" Not that you want to put off your best friend from coming to stay! It really does hurt your heart not seeing her often anymore.
"Oh I don't mind… A bit of calm would be good." She promises to stick by your side the entire time she's around.
Before that is, Faith drags Sassy off to a dark corner… to whisper. "What are you two up to?"
Faith chuckles at the other girl's answering too fast. "I was just admiring Zoo's bracelet."
"But you wouldn't get it!"
You both frown at the girl who apparently can't lie to save her life. "I think I understand the appreciation of jewellery. I might not be smart but I get that at least."
It's sort of a friendship bracelet with three beads, each with a '5' stamped on. Blue, Green and Brown threads but not especially funny, or pretty.
"Ok, I don't get it."
"My sister sent it to me, it means 'don't miss me'."
You hang your head on the side and try to see if that way they're Japanese characters.
"No, B, look- three 5s. In Chinese the number five makes a 'wu' noise, right? So in Chinese internet slang they put three fives together to make 'wu wu wu'; crying. But in Thailand five is a 'ha' so it's laughter- 'ha ha ha'."
Satsu smiles when you just look more confused. "But we're Japanese, when we see five-five-five we neither cry nor laugh. So… she sent it to me to say 'don't cry or laugh over being separated, I'll see you soon'. It's kind of a threat between siblings."
"Aw, that's sweet." You pause, "Now will you tell me what's really going on?"
"No." They giggle.
Faith grins and tugs Sassy away from you, winking.
Angel stands by the counter, staring bemusedly at the still half unpacked shopping. "Uh… is any of this going to turn into lunch?"
He starts in horror, "Uh! Uh! I-!"
"Relax, it's a joke. And yes, I am at some point intending to feed the hungry hordes. Did you tell Kennedy she's in the study with Rose?"
"Kennedy?" His eyes widen farcically. "I knew there was something I forgot!"
Lame. "You're not funny, don't try to be." You kiss his cheek and pull away the bag of rice he's emptying into the pasta jar. "Now, please, try and get everyone sitting 'round the table- Giles is coming soon and Will and Grace- oh hey! 'Will and Grace'! I only just got that! Ha! That's funny… do you think they know?"
"Do I think Willow knows her fiancé's name?"
"Shut up and take that knife away from Rose."
You roll your eyes as a child outsmarts a three hundred-year-old man. "Don't let her stab anyone with anything!"
The commotion spills out into the garden and hopefully to find Xander and Henry while you… uh… try to make lunch. There's an attempt to slice a mushroom- in which you almost loose a finger- before a warm, familiar body melts into yours and Faith's deep chuckle rumbles through you from behind. "Point first, then bring it down." She wraps your hand around the knife correctly and shows you. "Didn't I teach you this the other day?" Her voice rolls across your skin.
"I'm more of a stabber, less of a slicer."
You giggle into the kisses on your bare shoulder. "Don't I know it… Now, what the hell are you trying to cook?"
"Something with mushrooms, evidently."
"Is that it?"
In this house there are two chefs- and neither of them are you. You're the girl who took Pop Tarts to a prison without either a toaster or a microwave. "Hey! There are plenty of things I'm good at; cakes, pies, fruit… salads."
"Yeah," Her hand moves yours to scrape the mushrooms to one side, "If we need a dessert you're the girl to call. In the mean time…" She spins you out from her arms and towards the fridge, "Grab some onions and butter, I'll get the balsamic vinegar and crusty bread."
The local paper is running a feature on 'Dolci Provenienti da Tutto il Mondo'- basically, 'puddings from around the world'. So far you've worked your way through over thirty of them!
Faith can't really read Italian all that well… but then she had a habit of sounding out English words too so you probably shouldn't think too much on that. Your problem with the language barrier is that things have to be visual for you to truly comprehend them. The newspaper doesn't talk too fast, slur words or jump from subject to subject. Right now it's the only way you really know what's going on.
Your little family works well together. A loud and angry grumble rumbles up from your stomach. You're actually pretty hungry- the only food that's been eaten so far this morning is a bowl of cereal by Rose. Faith pulls random ingredients down, guides your hand and, somehow, what started as your pathetic stab at cooking ("Oh the unintentional kitchen humour…" Rosy smirks when it's related) turns into a Prima Colazione Famosa Di Fede; Faith's Famous Breakfast. And ok, so maybe it's not very imaginatively named, but it sounds so damn good in Italian.
The typical Italian breakfast is made up of a hot drink- cappuccino for you, espresso for Faith and frothy milk for Rose- with something sweet and carb-y. But Faith glares at you when you put cake and cookies on the table so they're substituted for the more acceptable pastries and brioche with jam and savoury custard. Rosy's morning cereal is culturally seen as a bit strange by her friends, they eat theirs as an afternoon snack.
Kennedy stomps her way into the kitchen, looking both hung-over and miserably drunk but being probably neither- travelling really doesn't agree with her. "You got chap?" She grunts in Sassy's direction.
"Oh, I've moved on from Chap-Stick… It's lip-gloss now."
They smile at each other, one of those weird, secret smiles and you suddenly understand how alienating it is for other people to be around you and Faith. "Do we look like that?"
She pulls you closer and presses a kiss to the nape of your neck, "Nah, I've never looked that love-struck."
You let her live her lie and just smile instead, "Sure."
Faith bumps your hip affectionately as she leans over to pull the hazelnut and cinnamon rolls out of the oven and replace them with a tray of mini frittatas- Faith's addition as eggs, ham and bacon are seemingly only eaten in the evenings. You make a jug of iced cappuccino as it's really too hot for anything warm.
When she kisses you now it's no longer a case of 'letting her'- it's no longer because Rosy will form better adult relationships if her parents are happy together in front of her- it's because she bought that expensive cheese you like, even though it wasn't on offer.
You tried so hard to learn to live without her but what you denied in real life came out in your dreams. Every night, before you let her back in, your sleep was ruled by Faith- the younger one, fuller-faced and smiling. Sometimes you dressed her in white in your mind, just to see how it would look.
There's a ring on your finger. It doesn't mean anything in the strictest sense… it isn't an engagement ring or even a promise ring. It's just Faith's way of saying that she'll take care of you now- that yes, some times you have to look after her, but she'll happily do the same back. If there's no couple then there's no break-up, if there's no wedding there's no divorce.
You fetch the others from outside and on the way 'accidentally' tear out the ugly mass of colourful… stuff Rose tried into your hair earlier. Hair flowing and skirt swishing you race Rosy back into the kitchen from the very end of the sandy beach. Faith turns and freezes when she sees you then melts into a smile.
A tiny prick of apprehension sticks in you but she doesn't react strangely when you pull her close. "You ok?"
"Don't you just love it," She breathes, "When your girl walks in the room and she's so beautiful you loose every emotion but hers?"
Oh hell, oh hell…
But she pulls back once you stiffen and reads your face. "B," She rolls her eyes, "me wanting to have sex with you is a symptom, me not wanting to have sex with you is a symptom, me breathing is a symptom- just relax and accept you're incredibly sexy."
"I'm still me, I promise."
You nod- she wouldn't have the peace of mind to even assert that if it wasn't true. "Ok. Let me take something to the table for you?"
The tray of custard pastries almost hits the floor when Dawn crashes into you. "Sorry! Just trying to-" She snatches Rosy's arm as she runs past and you're about five seconds away from picking up the closest kitchen knife and stabbing it through that hand when Dawn's hurried advice not to go upstairs to 'look for Aunty Zoo' catches up to you; "I think she's a bit busy with 'Kenbuddy' right now- doing boring grown up things."
"You mean having sex?"
Her Papa gapes.
You daughter rolls her eyes. "Just because I'm the size of someone half my age, that doesn't mean I don't know what sex is. Have you met my parents?"
There is something so uniquely strange about a tiny, worldly child. She's still small enough for Dawn to carry (and that girl can barely lift a heavy bag!) but a few weeks ago she came to you for advice about her first 'semi-serious' crush. You're just grateful she didn't go to Faith. That is a conversation you're going to work hard to deter.
At least until you've read up on how to properly hide a body.
Faith tries to make you all hush, just in case embarrassing noises are coming from the bedrooms, but you turn the radio on and glare playfully at her over a plate of steaming mushroom toast. Xander looks slightly dubious when Faith passes him a plate and then blushes guiltily. The men joke that they're relieved Faith came home before they had to chance your cooking and Dawn picks annoyingly at a bowl of fruit salad. Faith and Rosy eat half the food on the over-flowing table between them. "Alice?" Rose beams- her mother only calls her that when she's herself and chooses to. "Please put your aunt down. If you promise not the inflict some kind of bodily damage on her for at least until the end of the day I'll… give you some sort of prize."
"But mental and emotional tortures are ok?" Rose asks, at exactly the same time Dawn squeaks 'what about tomorrow?!'
"How about you just try to be nice to each other?"
Rosy snorts indignantly, "I am nice. She's the problem!"
"Dude," Faith sighs, "I offered a prize."
"A 'prize' such as…?"
"I dunno, helping me pick a colour for the new car?"
As. If. "We're not getting a car."
"Why?!" Faith moans, like an over-grown toddler.
"Because you drive like you're in a roller derby and everything we need is within walking distance."
Xander moves to back her up, "Isn't a 'roller derby' on roller-skates?
Faith shrugs semi-guiltily under his raised eyebrows.
"What? It's not like anyone ever taught me to drive…" Another reason you're not getting a car.
"Really instilling confidence in me there, F."
"Oh… look at you using big words!" You kick her sharply and she knocks her just-buttered brioche into her coffee as she jolts, "Ow. Don't be all jealous just because you had lessons and shit and still manage to hit every damn bollard. Some of us don't need a licence."
Henry laughs, "I'm pretty sure you still technically need a licence to drive, Faith- whether or not you drive well with it is a different matter."
"Have you seen my-?"
"Licence? Photograph? Yeah, Fang, we've seen them. And your social security and your birth certificate and your library card and your passport… we get it, you're proud to be a full-fledged, card-carrying American. Now don't wet your pants."
Xander giggles slightly louder than Rosy and then blushes as you all turn, once again, to stare at him. "What? That was a manly giggle!"
"No, Uncle Xander," Rosy lays a hand on his arm with all the gravity of one conveying news from the recently deceased. "It really, really wasn't."
"I can be manly!"
Faith opens her mouth to reply but sends an 'over to you' look your way instead.
"Xand, you probably couldn't even impregnate a Escella demon if you tried- and all you have to do is look them in the eye!"
They all laugh, including Xander- though he makes a show of being wounded.
"She got you Uncle Xander!"
Even Dawn laughs, for a second not caring that she snorts. "Ouch, hit him where it hurts!"
What the hell is with all the winking?! First Faith and Henry, then Faith and Angel, share a look. They both motion towards the clock and she grins.
You're about to kick her again when the phone rings and so you flick pastry crumbs her way and go to pick it up. "Hello?" Faith coughs and frowns. You roll your eyes and read the sheet above the phone, "Ciao, casa di Summers-Lehane, cui desiderate parlare con?"
She snorts at your awful accent.
"Buffy? Is that you?"
"Daddy? Is that really you?"
"Yes, yes it's me. Sweetheart, it's so good to hear your voice."
"You too, I-" 'don't care about the past anymore, I forgive you'. Tears slip down the sides of your smile. Faith kisses them away. "How did you…?"
His chuckle buzzes in your ear and makes you laugh, your heart jumping for joy. "A lovely young woman rang me last night to tell me that you're settled and have a little girl."
Faith grins wider and nods like a little bobbing doll. "Hey, Mr Summers!"
Dawn stands up from the table. "Buffy?"
"It's Dad! It's actually…!" Not a single one of them looks surprised, even Rose. "You all knew?"
"We all knew, Mummy!"
You know why she's done this, your eyes scan the family sitting around your table and for a brief second your heart makes you imagine that the little girl who should be there is. The little girl you lost on this day four years ago. Your Emily. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." She presses another kiss to your temple and then steers everyone back to the table, leaving only Dawn.
"Do you want to…?"
"No! I mean… you know, I've never actually met him? He's your dad, Buffy."
She gives you her own sweet kiss and then joins the others, accepting Rose up onto her lap 'just because you looked sad'.
"Was that Dawn?"
"Uh… yeah, Dad, that was… she's…"
"It's alright." You can feel his resigned smile through the phone. "I understand her not wanting to talk to me. What I did was awful and I'm very sorry for it."
"I get it." It's not like you've never walked away. Even from Rose- all those times when she was lying there in a hospital bed and it felt as if you'd just die if she didn't make it, that it would all be so much easier if you could just cut all ties. "She's just got engaged."
"Oh, wow! Is he nice? Do you know him well?"
You look at Henry and wince. "Yeah… his family are friends of ours. We know his aunt and uncle really well. They're British, kind of stiff upper lip and all that but really warm underneath." When you're no longer marrying their son. "They come and stay with us quite a lot. Rosy loves them."
"Ah, little Rose- I hear she's quite the bookworm."
"Oh yeah, anything that can be read, she'll read it. Sometimes the backs of cereal packets." The girl in question sticks her tongue out at you over her aunt's shoulder.
"Tell me more about her?"
"Okay…" It's a big task because you're one of those parents who's a little bit in love with their kids but you give him as much information as possible; her favourite colour, her favourite music, how, in some lights, she looks just like you (but not particularly often). You fill him in on all her reports from school, brag a little bit about her being moved up a grade ahead of her age group (which, yes, doesn't help the small thing very much) and vaguely explain the way she's been brought up… skirting over the huge 'actually, biologically, has two mothers' bit and the 'fighting the forces of evil' part. So you've lived a jet-setting lifestyle, travelling the world to handle PR for one of the most exclusive girls' boarding schools in the world. And now you've semi-retired to a pretty little town in Italy with your… 'wife' and daughter.
You wait for him to say something when you mention living with Faith but in the end he's the one who casually calls her your wife while asking about something else entirely.
Her deceptively delicate hands flutter around as she tells some big story and it suddenly hits you that a ring should be on her finger too. "Yeah, the linguist thing is all Faith. She's… amazing with words, and people and cooking and… art stuff."
He chuckles, "Sounds like you've got a good one there."
"She really, really is."
"So you're happy?"
"I am," you grab the back of Dawn's dress as she makes to lunge for Rose, "We all are."
"Do you-" He pauses, "Do you think I could possibly come to visit some time?"
"Of course. That would be nice."
"It would be lovely to meet Faith, and little Rose, of course."
Rosy wraps her arms around your waist, grinning up hugely with her eyes not quite hiding the fact she's just done something naughty. "I'm sure they'll love to meet you too."
"I'm so glad we got to talk, Buffy."
"Me too, Dad."
You hang up and pause, leaving your hand on the receiver where it's held against the wall. Faith grins and nods as you mouth a thank you.
Sometimes she really does just blow your mind. Happiness bubbles in your chest.
Occasionally you wonder how you found her but then remember that you've saved the world dozens of times- you deserve to be in love.
She takes one of your hands and spins you like a ballroom dancer. "Faith! You damn fruitcake!" That old feeling still holds true- everything seems a little less real with Faith around, you keep expecting music to swell and odd montages of things to flash by. For once you are not just watching. For once she does not just bring polish and sparkle to your dull life- for once you are the beauty. And there is no beast.
Life with Faith is hard. But always interesting.
You almost can't wait to see what happens.
Love is not about expectations. It's not about what she can do for you- or what she can't. It's about accepting who she is; loving the parts you can't change and maybe, just maybe, sensitively adjusting the things you can. She's not perfect.
But neither are you.
"So?" Angel slides silently up behind you, "Are you cookies yet?"
"Biscotti." You grin, "The extra-toasted, crunchy kind."