Chapter 29: Cheesecake Christmas
"No!" GiGi snatches away the t-shirt, "Rose likes purple! Not pink. She hates pink."
"And strawberries." Bliss adds. Purely to be difficult.
Tavi, perennially unflustered, simply shrugs, "Ok, we'll get her another one."
From inside a pile of wrapping paper Gigi starts up a whine, "We can't! We can't! It's almost Christmas!"
Huh. Perhaps you shouldn't be so smug about your already-wrapped pile if Gigi is going through the hideous picky phase. Still, you put a huge bow on top- that might win you a few points!
Jack wriggles out of the pile, yelping slightly as Gigi attaches herself to his tail. "No, puppy! Stay! Stay!"
He spots you on the bed and makes a break for it, a look of desperation in his eyes. "George, babe," Bliss drawls in her mother's voice, "I don't think Jacky wants to play with you anymore, let him go back to Buffy."
Joy tiptoes off your lap and towards the edge of the bed to investigate what's making her brother bark (in that cute, quiet way of his).
With all the gravitas of her 4 long years Georgina Guinevere Fortescue-Darling-Benn pulls herself up on to her tiny feet and over to the puppies. "My puppies!"
Tavi gives you the look of every parent who knows they're about to be persistently pestered for months until they give in.
"Not your fault, B."
No, technically it's Faith's for buying you such adorable little matching fluff-balls with pretty bows around their necks for Christmas. She gave them to you, surprisingly, on her own birthday a couple of weeks ago so they'd have time to settle in before everyone arrived for the Holidays.
They dash over to the door as the lock rattles, yipping happily. "Hello!" Rose calls, "It's me! Holding lots of presents! Need to come in and dump- uh… place them delicately in your cupboard."
"Just a second!" You throw a blanket to Tavi so she can hide the unwrapped gifts that may, through some smart swapping, find their way into Rosy's stocking.
Gigi fiddles with the latch, happily squealing as her chubby, toddler legs are licked by an over-enthusiastic Jack. Rosy grins at the little trio, once the door is finally opened. The not-so-huge pile of boxes not exactly seeming like that much hard work for a Slayer. "Hey Gig, are you having fun with the pups?"
"Rose, are those all the gifts you're giving? You are giving your cousins separate gifts, right?"
Her eyes flick guiltily to you as she drops her armful down on top of your neat little stack. There go the floozy ribbons you managed to tease into beautiful, 3D works of art. "Of course." She toes them gently and yet still manages to make you cringe, "That one's Little Rueben's, and that one is for Rosemont."
Bliss snorts and Tavi smiles at your righteously aghast face. "You can't not give Heck a Christmas present just because you resent his height!"
"What?" Her eyes twinkle like her mother's, "He's four- almost twelve years younger than me- and only half a foot shorter. I think I'm entitled to be a little jealous."
"To be jealous, yes, to be vindictive, no." You frown.
Bliss high-fives her as she passes. "Good show!"
They call themselves sisters- regardless of never having been further from it legally. You think it's Bliss' rarely seen kind streak that lets Rosy call GiGi her little sister too. "Thank you, darling. GiGi?" Rose bends to offer a piggyback ride. "Onwards!" The two of them bounce off with an entourage of over-excited pups.
"Why don't we give Rosy a tortoise?"
Tavi echoes your feelings out loud, with the added sentiment of 'where exactly are we going to find a tortoise in a tiny Italian town, four days before Christmas, with snow forecast?' Her daughter stews in silence until she leaves the room then flops down on the bed, arms over her head. "She hates me!"
"She said it was a bad idea." You correct, smirking because the immaturely-mature, teenage confusion between criticism and dislike is something you've been dealing with for years from both your girls.
"This is your fault for living in the middle of nowhere!" Life with Faith can be very fast-paced, which is why it's important to live in an environment where everything else is slow. She has to do things as soon as she thinks of them- just in case her mind changes. You can't plan very far ahead as you don't know how she'll be. Holidays are the "quick, we've got three days free from school and Faith is currently ok, lets jump in the car" kind of affair. Every day is an adventure.
"If it has the affect of you not giving me a tortoise to tread on then I'll happily take the blame." You pat her back and try to tidy up around her. Bliss just grunts in an boldly ladylike and amused way- even when offered a tipple out of her mother's eyeshot.
The adolescent mass growls, "She's a shitty parent who won't care anyway!" Except not minding her 15-year-old daughter drinking alcohol in moderation is probably one of those things any other teenager would think is 'amazing' about their parent. "Ever since Gigi was born she doesn't give a shit about me! I'm so alone!"
And now she's just saying things she thinks she should be feeling. "Would a bowl of homemade ice cream make this any better?"
"It's not homemade by you, is it?"
Still, she bounces out of the room with a happy grin and a childish swoosh to her long, extra-conditioned hair. You love that girl. You love her and her sister as if they are truly blood relations. Bliss is elegant and stroppy, Gigi is delightful and spoiled while their parents are two of the most laidback people you've ever met.
Housing Rosy's London friends for the week in the summer (and having the Fortescue-Darling-Benns for Christmas) reminds you just how much adults and teenagers can suck. Ava and Constance Huntington- who, if anything, have grown even more alike- aren't exactly the brightest bulbs but they are steadfastly loyal and one, or perhaps both, of these things mean that they are constantly surprised when reminded of Rosy's height. 'You're not that short though, are you?' Ava (possibly?) asked when they were all about 12- rather wonderful considering the twins' early growth spurt forced her to bend until her back was almost horizontal just to whisper in Rosy's ear.
While shopping for new school shoes in Kensington, you'd turned away for a split second to gossip (bitch) about a woman's ill-judged stilettos with Lexie... and, once she'd gasped, swung back around to see your daughter had been hoisted onto the counter and was being smothered against the large mink-covered breasts of a well-meaning busy-body. "Oh you poor darling, you fickle, wickle sweetie-pops! Don't you worry, we'll find your mummy. I've got it from here girls, you can go." Proving just how dim 'good breeding' can make you, the twins, recognising they'd been dismissed, robotically walked to the waiting seats and sat, awaiting further instruction.
There is something about children that means they see straight through to the heart of things. The only people who don't mistake Rose for being a child are actual children. Fortunately she'd found it funny and hadn't verbally lashed out the way Faith would have.
Lily skirts around you with a tray of drinks, "Big meeting in ten minutes! Giles said to bring the red files he left here last time!" The what? The where? The why?
"Giles hasn't visited in three years- how am I supposed to find the files?"
She shrugs, "I'm your slayer, not your housekeeper. Actually-" She pauses, "I'm Faith's slayer."
"And Faith still wants the drinks taken round."
"I'm pretty sure Faith wants the entire drinks tray to herself." Sadly true…
"So you're also doing the entire room a favour."
The sullen gum chewing takes on a more aggressive note. "You know, you have your own Apprentice now- get her to do stuff."
"Why has becoming a legal adult turned you into a pain in my ass?"
"Because I realised I no longer have to be your slave. I'm an adult." With pink streaks in her hair and a nose ring.
"And not going to graduate from SlaySchool unless Faith writes you a glowing letter of recommendation." Ha! Snap!
A light seems to ping on behind her eyes. "Which she won't do unless you remind her to?"
"Got it in one."
Like a freaky sad/happy doll she turns to Edward with a smile, "Wine?"
"What-what?" He frowns, refusing to believe for even a second that he might just be a little deaf.
"Drink!" The poor man jumps.
You pass him his favourite scotch, "Ignore her Pa. Lily, please don't yell at the over-50s… or the children… or anyone."
"Cow." She grumbles after you.
"Love you too!" You call, skirting around a hyper Gigi and taking a small jump over tail-chasing Joy, on your way to the kitchen. Which, hopefully, does not contain a semi-inebriated Faith (but hopefully a frisky one- there's a reason you squeezed into this dress!).
Tavi and Laura stand either side of the kitchen table, one filling glasses and the other trying to divide the various deserts fairly. "This is impossible!" Laura smacks down the cake knife, "What the hell is this thing?"
"Cantuccini. Uncut biscotti basically." You pass over the huge bread knife. "It needs a serrated blade. And a lot of 'oomph'."
She hands the knife back. "Have fun with that." And picks up the cake knife again to move on to softer puddings. Laura has been hiding pretty much exclusively in the kitchen since she arrived and while it's been nice getting to know her better you also feel slightly guilty. You're the hostess! You should be hostess…ing! And making her feel comfortable in your home.
But having slave labour to get the buffet sorted was great!
"Thank God for cheesecake." She grins, happily slicing through a blueberry one. "Who made all these?"
"There aren't that-" Huh. The cantuccini sawing stops as you notice for the first time exactly how many different varieties of cheesecake there actually are. "Well… everyone likes different things." Plus cheesecake is pretty much the only thing you can cook and be complimented on.
"B," Tavi grins cheekily, "You've made one for every person here!"
"A slayer can eat two of those in one sitting. Trust me."
Three for Faith. And that time you hadn't actually cooked a fourth.
"Yah, well, make sure you don't wave any of them under Hen's nose- he's not taking the new lactose intolerance thing too well…" You should have made a cow free version! Ooh… the possibilities! "B, don't bother." One slender hand waves across the current selection, "He's got other options. Plus, you really shouldn't spoil him or else he'll start expecting the same at home."
Not many things can shake your confidence in your physical appearance. You're hot. You're thirty-ahem and a mother but that doesn't stop the local young men being respectfully interested.
There is, however, the problem of Tavi. Faith is gorgeous and sexy but it doesn't exactly make you feel… bad or anything, because she wants to have sex with you! But, as much as you love Octavia Fortescue-Darling-Benn (who triple-barrels their surname anyway?), she is stunningly handsome in an old-fashioned, Katherine Hepburn kind of way.
"I'm sure you're a wonderful wife." You mumble, slightly sourly. You sort of hate that Faith doesn't hate being reminded of when you belonged to someone else. You sort of hate that you never really did belong to someone else- it was always Faith. You sort of hate-… to be honest; flying. Still. Not really relevant to what a crappy actor you are but it irks you just as much.
Tavi elegantly slinks around your kitchen, glimpsing into all the hidden nooks. "Aw, that's adorable!" She fingers two of the photos on the fridge; one a crumpled and much loved picture of you and toddler Rose, in matching Rudolf jumpers. It lived for a long time in Faith's front pocket and then next to whichever temporary bed she'd fallen into. The second is the same picture but with a rather blatantly (i.e., 'badly') photoshopped Faith, wearing the obligatory jumper and looking very reluctant to have her picture taken.
"Andrew gave it to me as a Christmas present a couple of years ago."
"He's the gay guy with the blonde hair? Or the one with brown hair?"
Laura snorts, "Ah, no, the brunette is actually my husband."
Tavi looks caught between 'sorry' and 'really?'
"Yah, I know." She pats her still-not-showing stomach, "I was pretty surprised myself."
You'd like to say that the reason there is such a split between your friends- the reason Tavi knows the names of all the shopkeepers and Xander has to ask the way to the bathroom- is that there just aren't enough bedrooms to house them all at once… or something. But in reality you've all just grown up. Xander isn't so fun and Willow isn't so innocent.
It's weird but… even though you've been through more, even though you're the one with all the drama it's still… your life is still fun. Yes, Faith is aggravating and hard work and occasionally so frustrating you want to batter her about the head but she makes it… she makes life enjoyable.
Xander and Willow are your family and will always be but you're not… friends.
They don't find waking up in the middle of the night to go skinny-dipping in the moonlight a fun idea. Tavi and Bliss have been joining you on midnight adventures for years.
They don't enjoy spending days doing absolutely nothing or- or dressing up for Mimtal's fancy dinners and shocking everyone with your informality! When you go to Lexi's illustrious London balls everyone amazes at the beautiful, jet-setting Americans and their precocious daughter- Rosy likes to say that she is as old as her clothing size (7 to 8 years) to seem even smarter. It's funny and wonderful and you love your life in the sun.
But Willow freckles and Xander burns.
The same conversations always rear their ugly heads; 'leave Faith' and 'find a job'. Which is just unfair! You have a job! Sort of. You train slayers at the house and accompany Faith around the world to pick up newbies.
Plus Mimtal seems to gift you everything you could ever need- including groceries- so why buy things?
They don't understand why, when Mimtal invites you to yet more parties, you both wear gloves up to your elbows and pretend to be somebody else. It's not that you want to hide, it's just that you're stripping away the layers, taking off the experiences and the friendships and the battles, until you're just 'Buffy' and 'Faith'.
In those moments- fancy balls and relaxed afternoons at the Palazzo- you get to be fresh and clean and yourselves. Faith doesn't panic, as she holds court among the cream of Italian society, that her mother may burst in at any moment. Because when her scars are covered- when the psychological torment is soothed by a balm of gossip and clothes and laughter- she doesn't think, doesn't remember. When you watch her in the Palaszoo's pool, literally frolicking with Rosy and the baby slayers, you cover your left wrist with concealer and invent reasons not to get wet.
And yes, maybe it isn't the smartest idea, maybe it would be better to talk about it often, always keep it there in the open, prod at your scabs until they leave bigger scars because that's what you're supposed to do. But what's the harm in being happy? If you have a bruise you don't press your thumb against it until a yell arises- you treat it gently and kindly, try not to lean against it and get on with other things.
Bringing up the past won't make it disappear. Faith won't magically get better.
You do know your time is limited. So why not enjoy it? Why not have fun?
"Whoa!" You grab the knife back from Laura just seconds before she slices her thumb off, "Careful! Just because it's a rounded blade doesn't mean it isn't sharp!"
She stares at you, "Want to try that again, I think you were only about ninety percent condescending there?"
You like Laura. She's not afraid to answer you back and she never dances around a topic. Meaning she's very self-assured. "I was reserving the ten percent to hit you with later."
"Much appreciated." She grins.
It isn't until much later that you finally see Faith, once the other adults have let their hair down and gotten a little drunker. Laura laughs as your wife bounces around with a huge smile.
"Hey girlfriend." Faith jumps up on the counter next to you, Joy tucked under one arm, "This party blows- wanna go make out?" But, 22 years after you first met and Faith isn't any politer.
"Love to!" Then again, no one said you had to be either… "I'm not wearing panties."
A grin the size of the Grand Canyon shoots across her face "I know."
"My room or yours?"
So you don't technically share a bed yet- still in separate rooms- but you always wake up together (mainly in your room, as it's closest to the stairs, but when you're feeling especially horny, Faith's room, as it's furthest away from Rosy's and Willow refuses to soundproof your rooms for such a trivial reason as your daughter's slayer hearing). The official 'coupledom' might still be a little way off but to everyone else you never stopped being. Xander especially continued to refer to Faith as 'your wife' even when you were separated- which makes the fact he slept with her during that time even worse. You still don't fully trust him again.
She looks like she's actually thinking hard about it and you're slightly afraid she's going to go with 'hall cupboard' or 'garden'.
Joy squirrels away from Faith to paw at your top, sending a handful of sequins glittering down to the floor. "Whoa Joy-Joy, let's not ruin Mummy's nice dress, huh?"
You turn her around so she can slobber all over Faith's exposed chest. "Ew! B!"
"Hey, you're the fool wearing a tummy button-grazing top to a Christmas party…"
Faith gasps in mock offence, "First, its low cut but nowhere near my bra even so don't give me that Little Miss Backless. And secondly- I'm pretty sure this isn't a party."
"That's what I've been saying." Dawn snarks as she attempts to squeeze herself into the room. Normally, you'd feel a bit guilty about watching a heavily pregnant woman struggle but for some odd reason (largely because she's a hormonal bitch) you don't. Besides, Rosy rather helpfully shoves her through from behind. "And I can't even drink any Champagne!"
"Well, yeah, duh, we don't have any." Your wife shrugs, seemingly deciding the 'evil eye' isn't worth it. Dawn isn't really looking anyway- too busy standing in awe of the pudding table.
Rosy snuggles into Faith's arms. She sneaks her hand up behind herself to curl her fingers through the hair at the nape of Faith's neck. The way she used to when she was little. "Are we sure it's just twins in there?"
"Be nice to your aunt." You drone along with Faith, on autopilot. "Or, y'know, don't bother." Your wife adds.
You give her a friendly thump. Mm…
Then, reminded just how toned and soft her arm is, stroke up and down her skin.
Like any teenager confronted with an aide memoire of their parents' sex life, Rosy retreats into her phone, pulling it out to check her texts and then make expeditious Italian phone calls.
Faith winds her fingers through yours to kiss the back of your hand. The late afternoon sunlight caresses her as you do.
She watches you slowly push hot hair away from your shoulders, a happy glint in her eye.
"Have you ever thought of dying your hair blue?"
"You should, it would bring out the green in your cheeks." A thoughtful pause as she wades though her brain fog. "I mean pink."
"For my hair or my cheeks?"
"Either." Her thankful beam makes you grin back.
You distract her with another thoughtfully provided slice of cheesecake from Laura before she starts to question what exactly it was she said a moment ago. Often now, when she's going, the anger that was there before is missing. It's… it's not that there's more awareness of what's going on… but there seems to be a greater acceptance in the dissolving. Those specks of her smile at you because she's knows, with you, she's safe.
She is more than her illness, so much more. Faith is a beautiful and caring person, she never uses being ill as an excuse but at the same time she knows it's something she cannot possibly fix. She might be a fruitcake but she's your fruitcake.
"Ok, so I'll have pink hair-"
Cheesecake hovers temptingly nowhere near your mouth. Her smirk dances, "With blue highlights."
"Oh, of course- pink hair with blue highlights, and you'll have…?"
"Mm…" Faith considers as you wind her gentle ringlets around your fingers. She's grown her hair for you so now it matches Rosy's- all the way down their backs and you're neither jealous nor envious because, on them, it belongs to you too. It's bouncy the way you can never get yours to really be and curled the way you wish yours was. "I like apple, it's new."
Is that even a colour? "So… red?"
Tasty hair? "Oh! You mean the cheesecake!" That Kennedy had, oh so sweetly, passed you her family recipe for- after you'd raved to everyone about inventing a new flavour. "So you think it works with the red apples rather than the cooking ones?"
Faith laughs and rubs her forehead into the crook of your neck until you squirm. "Baby! Not the time for colour quizzes!"
She awakens, sometimes, as if from a dream; coming suddenly into clarity. Last year you woke in the middle of the night to flickering lights across the bedroom ceiling. Faith had spent the previous three weeks planning a trip around the Sahara in excruciating detail and refusing to sleep until you agreed to it. That night she'd finally fallen asleep and then woken to realise wallpapering the den in maps wasn't smart (neither was painting her preferred route on the carpet, but you let her off that one on account of wanting a new floor anyway).
Rose came down once she heard the commotion and helped drag the scrumpled papers of her mother's insanity out to the garden. You made cocoa and watched them stoke the flames.
"Right, sorry." The now-clean plate is passed back to you, "So… we don't share anymore?"
"Oh, we share. Just not apple cheesecake."
"Noted." You hop down to grab a slice of bay-leaf cheesecake (an oddly addictive recipe from one of your neighbours) and then have to leap out of the way before a very angry Rose tramples you. Your daughter slams her phone shut and curses glibly in Italian.
"Hey!" Faith reprimands her but you only understand 'don't' and 'house'.
Ok, so you still have issues with languages. Fortunately Rosy inherited Faith's multi-nationalism and the language skills that go with it. So she speaks American fluently too (though only to you in normal life). "Who's on the phone?"
"Flower Dim Arco. Bitch." You swap a look but decide it's not swearing if it's true so let it slide.
"What's the little 'ho want now?" Faith asks, reaching for yet another beer. "Slayer Metab and it's only my fourth." She doesn't need to see you to know you're looking disapproving just as you don't need to see her to know she's rolling her eyes.
Flower DiMarco is your daughter's nemesis and has been ever since you moved to the town and her cop father said she couldn't play at your house. The two girls were best friends for the first few months but blood is thicker than water… or… some other metaphor… and soon Flower was spreading stories around the playground that Rose's second-mommy was a 'Psycho Serial Killer who eats children.' You'd found it hilarious, Faith hadn't. You'd agreed that it was pretty rich coming from someone who'd actually named their child 'Flower' rather than just after a flower (the name thing had been the bed-rock of the girl's friendship) but telling your seven-year-old daughter reputation-destroying gossip to spread around the playground in revenge was NOT the way to fix things. Even if some of it was quite clever.
As punishment you made Faith finally take the Principal up on his offer of giving a speech to the older kids about gangs and how hanging with the wrong crowd can mean you end up in prison. You hadn't known she could act before you saw her up on that stage managing to keep a straight face as she told them all about "The Slayers" and how their 'thing' had been to beat their victims up and then stab them with a bit of wood "So everyone'd know it was them."
"She says she wants me at the party Lucio is throwing her next week. Uck! I get that she stole my boyfriend- she doesn't have to gloat about it!" Rosy cuddles up to her Mama and steals a sip of your beer while you're not looking. Faith just grins. And cranes over to kiss the top of Rose's head.
"You were going to dump him anyway."
"Yeah, but only because he was so embarrassed kissing me in public- not because I was done with him!"
Poor Lucio, it's not that you don't understand his position- it must be hard for a teenage boy to make out with a girl who, at first glance, looks like a nine-year old- but oh does it make you happy. You'll be happy if no boy ever goes near your little girl again until she's over twenty-five. Oh! And then she'll loose her virginity on her wedding night to a man you've personally pre-checked for vampirism. Then you can die happy.
Giles and Reuben move at a snail's pace into the kitchen, involved in some kind of deep discussion. Dawn makes motions at them to sit down and then orders them to do so when they don't. Almost an entire cheesecake disappears into Dawn's stomach in the time it takes them both to shuffle to the table and do the obligatory 'after you/ no, after you'. You put a soothing hand on Faith's arm and find Rosy's already there as Dawn reaches for another. "We'll make some more tomorrow."
"But peach is my favourite!" Since when? An hour ago she told you she'd have to murder someone if they ate the blueberry… just for that you're not telling her you hid it above the cupboards!
"Right," Dawn puffs up her recently very ample chest, "Now you're all here- we have something to tell you."
Laura reaches around Dawn, while she's busy arranging everyone so they'll give her their full attention, and steals the half-eaten peach cheesecake. She offers you three spoons but you know Faith well enough to let her feed you rather than risk 'ruining' the cake by not cutting it properly.
"We've finally decided," 'I've decided', "After a long, hard deliberation," 'Reuben is just going along with whatever I say', "On the girls' names."
Ok, so that actually is kind of interesting. Unless she calls them both something beginning with 'R' just to match mini-Reuben and Rosamund. That's just harsh. Oh! Or if their names rhyme! Or go together in any way. Like- like…. Uh… 'Chalk' and 'Cheese' or… 'Bread' and 'Butter'. That would be weird.
"Think she'll name them 'Chalk' and 'Cheese'?" Faith whispers, disturbingly seriously.
"I think we've been spending too much time together." You whisper back.
Your overly dramatic little sister takes a deep, shuddery breath as if preparing to impart the decision of life and death. "Elizabeth Joyce and Tara Rose."
You slide back up onto the counter. "Wow. Ok. Good."
She glares at you, fire behind her eyes. "'Good'? 'Good'? That's all I'm getting!"
"Uh-oh." Rose and Faith chime in unison.
"I tell you I'm naming my child after you and all you can say is; 'GOOD'?"
Reuben slips the strawberry cheesecake in front of the demon's nose. "Blood pressure darling." Gestational Diabetes is apparently not a problem however.
"I hope you die…" She sneers, but grabs the cheesecake anyway.
"Welcome." Even Faith gives you a look as you jibe. "Sorry."
The uncomfortable silence is made worse by the rather disgusting noises of a heavily pregnant woman inhaling a cheesecake. Tavi and Laura make a point of examining the intricacies of your kitchen while the men just look scared.
Rose braves the dangerous waters; "Thank you for using my name."
She digs an elbow into your side until you echo the compliment. "Uh… yeah." Or something. Faith snorts and takes one arm from around Rosy to wrap round your waist. She seems extra-specially pleased you're the one causing yet another awkward silence.
"Yes, they are nice names." Reuben finally pipes up. "And I have a sister called Gertrude- they should be thankful!" Which may just be his attempt at a joke.
"You don't have a sister." Faith corrects. 'Hope'- as the British part of your family still likes to call her- has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the Fortescue-Darlings
"Would have been awful if I did though." He smiles. It looks weird.
You all stand around again.
Gigi and Heck charge into the room, yelling at the top of their voices about nothing in particular. You all breathe a sign of relief and surge back into animation. "George! Careful around hot ovens please!" Reuben chastises when Tavi doesn't.
Faith groans and scoops up one of the frying pans from the stove, calling Andrew in from the other room, "Andy! Use the back hobs when we have little kids in the house! Geez…" You're irrationally proud she sounds so grown-up.
"You said 'we'!"
"Uh, yeah… I live here with other people."
"I live here!"
Her look is somewhere between 'sucking on lemons' and all out panic. "No! No, you were not included in the 'we'! You're staying here, Andrew, there's like, a world of difference." She swears a few times- In English, possibly, but her Bostonian accent (which she's never lost) gets thicker with the application of alcohol.
He pouts, "Shouldn't they be in bed anyway?"
Its dark out but the winter sunset happens in the afternoon and the children, since they're on holiday and it's the continental way, have been allowed to stay up late. You miss when Rosy was that- young! The next word was definitely going to be 'young'. No 'small' jokes today, no sir! Rosy raises an eyebrow, reading your mind again.
"You'd better be." But she stands up on her toes to give you a kiss. "So, now everyone is here… are we getting on with the meeting?"
"Rosebud, do you mind watching the little ones?" Faith throws over her shoulder.
"Or, in other words; 'honey, you're still too young to join in Slayer Meetings'?" Her daughter snarks back.
"No." Rose snorts. "That would be would be; 'Rosebud, you're still too young to join in Slayer Meetings'."
You give her a consolatory hug. "Bliss doesn't get to play either."
"Bliss doesn't have two slayers for parents!"
The girl in question shrugs, "She does have a drug baron though. Biologically anyway."
Disturbingly, Faith looks mildly impressed. "Dude, he's moved up from 'lord'?"
"I know. We're so proud." Tavi sniffs. Bliss glares at her mother for even daring to speak. "Christ Bean! I'll work on finding a… thing, for you, ok?"
Oh hell no! No way are you going to let them give Rosy an actual-! "Relax, B." Tavi soothes, "It's almost Christmas, I doubt we're going to-"
"Gah!" Bliss yells and storms out. Rose joins her tantrum (but makes sure she grins at the children).
"Really can't get that one right, huh?"
"Yeah…" But you don't feel anything other than lucky. In your eyes at least Rosy is close to perfect. She loves to wear bright, jewel colours, to match her sunny self. You like that especially about her. She has a wardrobe full of different coloured sheath-dresses and boxes upon boxes of long, colourful beads. Today her dress is a burnt yellow and the beads are multicoloured with a sparkly gold one every third bead. She glitters in the glow of dying light and stops for a second in the hallway to untangle a long curl that's been caught.
Your colouring would never be able to pull off Rose's clothes and Faith has never been… unconsciously confident enough- too concerned with everyone knowing from her clothes not to mess with her.
When she's happy, Faith wears muted colours, mainly blue.
Andrew gives off another distressed squeal, sounding amusingly like a stuck pig, and you reluctantly pull Faith away from inflicting terror. "Meeting, Darling, meeting."
She narrows her eyes at your ironic use of soubriquet; "One day I'm going to marry a man called 'And' for all of three hours and ruin that word for you."
"I can live without the word 'and'- besides, I don't think that's a real surname."
Her heels plant against the floor (impressive as she isn't actually wearing shoes) "It is too; 'Anderson'!"
"Well then you'd be ruining 'Anderson' for me and I could definitely live without that."
"No, you couldn't, look-" You grab her arm as she heads for the dictionary.
"Meeting, Faith, big meeting, end of the world type stuff."
A raised eyebrow, "And that's more important than your being upset that I've married someone? Actually, you don't really seem that upset." Could she be any more aggravating?
"It's a hypothetical marriage! And you said it only lasted a few hours!"
Worryingly, her bottom lip trembles, "Might still be nice if you showed a little-"
"Fine!" You swing round to face her, still blocking the doorway but everyone else has already squeezed past- other than Andrew, that is, who hovers annoyingly. "Faith, if you leave me now to go and marry a man named Anderson, not only will I be so distraught that I will, most probably, hunt you down and lock you up in an adamantium cage at the bottom of the garden but I will also make him pay. Possibly be removing his testicles through his nose. With a pair of tweezers."
Ugh. Ok, that's kind of gross… maybe not. Still, the threat produces one of the largest smiles you've ever seen so that's good.
"Is that good enough for you?"
"You'd really keep me in a cage?" Her smile drops, "Wait, in the garden? Wouldn't you want it more…?" The next part is in Italian and involves heavy wiggling of expressive eyebrows. That you don't get so much- the kissing… you definitely do! Her soft lips glide against your gloss, heady apple scent engulfing you.
"Meeting." Andrew buts in. His funny-looking face popping up over Faith's shoulder.
She shoves backwards without looking. Another barnyard squeal.
"He's right. We can argue the specifics later."
"We're not arguing."
Technically, she's probably right but you're a very thin line away from just throwing her over your shoulder and marching her into the meeting room-slash-formal dining room you never actually use. "Just do it; move."
"I can't, you're in the way."
Contradicting herself she slides past you and towards the front of the house. "How do these things keep happening to me?"
"Mm, probably cosmic fates." Andrew does his sage-nodding thing. "Actually, you're in my way too."
You stand on his toe.
The largest portion of the ground floor is towards the back, the big, open plan kitchen with the comfy sofas and dinning-table-it-doesn't-really-matter-if-you-put-something-hot-on. Light floods in from the garden but, even with the doors shut and A/C on, in the height of summer it's horribly hot. The front of the house has the smaller, cooler rooms but, due to the narrow street, little natural light.
Everyone has split between the two largest of these rooms; the afore-mentioned dinning room for those at the top of the slayer pile and the 'Christmas Room' for the others. Not that you have a year-round room dedicated to Christmas it's just… a room… that you don't really ever do much with other than watch the occasional DVD on the widescreen and dress up for various occasions. Wow, life changes when you don't have cable.
You pop your head in to check on the oldies and the littlies. The children have spread themselves out on the floor, a game of 'who can excite a puppy into what looks disturbingly like an epileptic fit' is in full swing and the others are seated around them, toasting randomly and enjoying Andrew's warm canapés.
There's a disturbing amount of switching between sweet and savoury going on. Dawn puts down the tray of still-steaming, crispy pork wontons and grabs the last remaining whole cheesecake (a South African rose petal experiment), as soon as she sees you. "I'm coming! Just give me a sec!" She attempts to raise herself up on just the one spindly chicken-arm and growls like a rabid dog when Rosy offers to help by taking the plate away.
"You really don't need to come to the meeting, Dawn." Her role in the Council is mainly just an honoury title to appease her.
Charlotte and Henry, in perfect mother-son unison, give you a pointed look at your tone and lack of jumping to help. Weirdly, being parented by your ex-husband doesn't even feel that strange anymore.
Yes, yes, be a good person and all that… You proffer a single, solitary finger for Dawn to grip on to as she hefts the mini-planet around. It's all she'd probably accept in way of help anyway.
Ok, the stumbling over an over-excited puppy does make you feel a little guilty… but she's been pretty much a bitch for the past… ever. "Thanks." She grins, tugging at your heartstrings.
"S'alright." You swing her up into your arms and over Gigi's head, keeping the plate stable and amazing them both. "May I help you, m'lady?"
"Ah, my good sir, you already are." Her little childish giggle rings out, effectively easing the tension in the room. Seriously, not a single person has been immune from her vitriol.
"Everyone ok in here, for the moment, then?"
Tavi toasts you from Henry's arms, turning from gaping in bemused amazement at the Christmas tree that… doesn't, to be honest, really fit in the room. The children chirp, Laura attempts to convince Reuben to try Andrew's creations and Rose cuddles up with Edward and Charlotte, comfortable in a way she'll never really be with your biological father (which makes you just a little sad when you pause to think about it). Bliss half-sneers, half-smirks in what you're starting to fear may just be her neutral face.
Right, ok, everyone's fine. And, hey, you made the effort to invite your dad- it's not your fault if Dawn then rang him to insist he didn't come!
You wouldn't argue with That, even over the phone. Even in her current good mood.
"Enjoying your cake?"
It's surprisingly good." She mumbles around a mouthful, dropping bits of the cracker base down the front of your top.
There's a slight worry that Faith is going to get a little… out of sorts… to see Dawn eating yet another cheesecake but she's happily perched on the back of the large chair at the head of the dinning table, in full swing; "… and yeah, a double headed axe mighta been useful but sometimes you just gotta work with what ya got! So I swing the pipe back around and I'm just; 'whack', 'whack', 'whack'! And his creepy, pussy face is all spittin' blood…" You tune out the more gruesome details of Faith's last work trip- the entire story is pretty much burnt into your brain now anyway.
Kennedy whistles ironically to see you carrying Dawn, "Aw, and here we thought those strain-lines on your face were just age- if we'd known you were actually working out…"
Willow giggles involuntarily and attempts to cover it by picking up the over-excited puppy following you.
"Thanks for the support there, Will."
"Sorry." She blushes.
You leave Dawn to join the worshipers and squirrel yourself away with your oldest friends at the other end of the table. Willow cuddles Jack like a baby, tickling his fluffy white tummy, while you pretend to not notice… just like you're pretending to ignore how she hasn't said one word to Grace since they arrived. It's pretty surprising that you managed to take that in actually… you're not the most observant of people.
"I just realised something."
She frowns, "I have no idea what 'Mimtal''s real name is. You've never told me."
"I don't know it. Other than 'The Immortal', we just call him Mimtal."
Xander snorts, "That's a little weird."
You grin, "It's a lot weird, try not to think about it."
Angel and Spike, newly arrived and basking in the evening sun, barely acknowledge your presence, still feeling a little hurt.
It's an odd kind of meeting- everyone rubbing against each other and pretending not to. You're supposed to be brainstorming how to save the world but no one other than Faith can come up with anything. She bounces on her toes, spinning snippets into fables, and water into wine. You watch your own personal revelation with a heart so full of love it forgets how to beat.
"I just figured I'd get my kicks into the bargain."
You giggle and point.
"Seriously? Still? B, we've known each other for twenty years and you still squee like a little girl when I say an 'r' after an 'a'?"
"Mainly just in my head but I think I'm a little drunk."
Sitting next to you, Willow scratches the side of her neck- she still gets an unattractive rash when around Faith. With the exception of your ex.s, the others don't seem anything but admiring.
Andrew sighs in complete awe, "She's so a Maureen."
"A what?" You whisper back. Faith's an old lady?
"You know; 'Rent'- take me baby or leave me? She's all rough around the edges but with a heart of gold?"
"Shut up before I have to break the 'no killing humans' rule."
He fiddles with the pile of maps, mumbling under his breath, "You threaten me with that a lot."
"You deserve it."
His blush dissolves into a charming smile, "You love me really."
And you kind of do- he's… Andrew. He plays tic-tack-toe with you while the others argue. There's the threat of a drop-down fight over Faith's idea to use an expanding silicone block- which has got to be one of the most boring things to argue about ever. You attempt to voice an opinion (it's actually a pretty good idea, even if it is a little 'out there') but just end up getting shouted-down.
"You'd pick her side over mine?"
The utter stupidity of that statement makes near everyone in the room gape. "Her? Love of my life? You? Vampire who tried to rape me? Uh… not seeing the confusion."
Besides, you're near bored to death with how goddamn boring this whole thing is. Everyone else seems to agree as the suggestions become more outlandish and less feasible with every passing second. Willow is the next to be yelled at by the ex-vampire and, despite being fully capable of protecting herself, at least half the room shouts back on her behalf.
You're not entirely sure Kennedy actually knows what the hell the argument's about- she's just randomly yelling- but she'll protect her super-powered ex-girlfriend beyond the bounds of reason and you sort of love her for it. Not proper 'love' obviously… although there was that unfortunate thing on the couch that Faith walked in on back in London… You'd been pissed about Kennedy's complete and rather unflattering refusal that she'd even touched you (the phase 'flat-chested midget' was used along with something about stretch marks) but livid about the way Faith continued to burst out laughing randomly for days afterwards as if the thought of you ever having sex was hilarious. Fortunately you'd got your revenge with a well placed "So where do babies come from?" in ear-shot of a young Rose- who's curious nature means she won't let anything go until she's completely satisfied with the answer.
You get a bit drunker and snort at the hilarity of Dawn trying to get through a doorframe, and being miserably stuck. Until you pull yourself together long enough to help.
The room erupts at Giles' simple suggestion and you turn, wanting more than anything to not be there. No, that's not right; wanting more than anything for Faith to not be there. This party is manageable, this argument is too much. You're not stupid- a fifteen year old who knows the five basic torture groups? It's uncomfortably familiar, but Faith is willing to be the one who tries to find out who taught her.
Tonight you'll be mopping up the pieces. For the rest of this week you'll be mopping up the pieces. For who-knows-how-long you'll be bloody mopping up the pieces.
And it sucks.
Hindsight is a strange thing, to make things clearer and at once make them so indistinct. It even lets you predict a person's actions had a different course been taken. You know now that when Faith 'freaks' she doesn't do it in a way that could be called 'normal'. She runs (which you suppose is a little normal) or she gets annoyingly cocky. Plus she's scared of chains- really scared. It has something to do with a cupboard and a radiator but you've never really had the stomach to ask. Sure, she'll get into a little bondage… so long as she's the one with the key and she's checked fifty-thousand times you can break out if you really need to.
So, with hindsight, you know that chaining her up at Angel's mansion the night after she killed the deputy mayor wasn't the best idea. You probably could have lured her there with freshly baked cookies it you really had to.
"Let's napalm it!"
"No, Famore, no." Mimtal motions Faith towards the table.
She shrugs truculently and flops into the chair next to you, "Just a suggestion!"
Enough of obfuscating the past; you make things obscure by the unnecessary musings. You need to look after Faith for this evening. And stop Spike from calling her 'Faithy' before he finds a stake through his very much beating heart. Crowds make it so much worse. "Sweetheart," You rest your hand on her thigh and shift slightly so half the table is blocked from her view, "Calm down."
It's on the edge of her lips to say 'I am calm!' but she takes a breath and reasons with herself that you're not cutting off her fun for no reason. You're Buffy. You care. "Ok."
The pride bubbles in your stomach when she gently announces that she's going to get a drink and some air. She listened to you, now, even when getting manic.
You nod. "I'm going to go get some more drinks for everyone." Faith takes your hand and you wince. "Ow, sharp! Have you started biting your nails again?"
She giggles as you nudge her into the kitchen, "Ok fine, I tried to trim them with a knife, it didn't go very well."
"Please tell me it wasn't a kitchen knife?"
"I'm kidding!" Thank God. "It was my hunting knife."
You bite your tongue to stop from sounding like a mother.
"Oh thank God you're done!" Rosy dumps Rozzy into your arms and has to use a hand and a foot to keep squabbling Heck and Rueben apart due to a greatly reduced arm-span. Fortunately she's also weirdly strong. Bliss flicks crumbs at them from the plates she's picking at with distain (and yet still eating) while Gigi just seems to find everything fascinating.
"Are you ok?"
She scoffs, "I would be if one of you would-" Her eyes don't catch her mother's so she nods in understanding, "I've got it covered."
You mouth a 'thank you' and steer Faith towards a chair. "Right, lets get you an orange juice." She docilely accepts and even smiles when Gigi crawls onto her lap.
"Hello Big Hope."
"Hello Little Gwen." Oh hell…
"Georgina." Rose corrects, not even minding when she's entirely ignored.
Faith stares back at the equally absorbed small creature, "Why are you here?"
"Because it's Christmas."
You hold the juice glass between them and encourage Faith to drink it. A quick hug and you move on to tidying up the kitchen, finding solace in small actions. Rosy leaves you, recognising your need for comfort, and sweetly engages Laura in meaningless conversation as soon as she walks in the room.
Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, let it go. Calm, calm, ca- "Bliss!" She jumps about a foot in the air, "It's not that I mind you not eating my food, it's just that you look so disgusted while you're not doing it!"
She sniffs at you, "Why are you whispering?"
Take a hint, Bliss!
Faith turns, "We're whispering?"
"No, honey, we're not. Just drink your juice."
Which starts off a while terrible blether about juice and juicing and the fruits that should and should not be juiced- a banana features heavily.
Laura and Rose's conversation floats over Faith's rambling; "It was meant to be a 'thank you' to your parents, for welcoming me into the family… I have Buffy sorted but… what's Faith's favourite colour?"
"My mother doesn't have favourites." Rose deadpans, following the younger children out into the pathetic-attempt at a blizzard. "She loves everything. Truly everything."
Faith stands to stroke a piece of raspberry cheesecake, oblivious to the small child still sitting on her. A small 'thump' accompanies the tumble to the floor. Enamoured with the force of nature that is your wife, Gigi doesn't seem to mind and prances to sit on her sister's lap instead, messing her perfectly bobbed hair on Bliss' shoulder.
You cut a slice of cheesecake for Faith before she starts clawing hunks off. She's denied a fork however, due to possible growing resentment- despite that doped-up smile. "Spoon!" She tastes the word and decides she likes it. "Spoon… cool." And tucks in, winking at Gigi.
"Wow…" The little girl whispers, as if Faith's spoon-aided-eating is the most innovative thing she's ever seen.
The look on her face is one of the deepest and most complete awe possible. Georgina is utterly in love with both of her big sisters- Rose especially as seeing her is only bimonthly and the best kind of treat. She adores Heck as well (her second-cousin one way and… ex-step… uh… something, the other)- they're only three months apart in age.
You smile at her and she waves sweetly back. "Your little sister looks like a Suri Cruise clone. It's cute."
Bliss stares, aghast.
"By which I mean… a three-year-old Suri Cruise. Relax."
"Burn…!" Faith chuckles. She's calmed down almost immediately with the application of some food. "The children?"
"They've gone to watch the snow."
She smiles hazily, "Snow?"
Which may or may not be a request for information as to what snow actually is. Considering her track record of introductions to forgotten things you're more than a little concerned with educating her; she once attempted to patent 'exclamation'. "Uh, snow is-"
Bliss and Faith laugh at you, Laura just looks confused. "No B, I meant; 'When did it start to snow?'"
"Oh." Duh. "I knew that."
The stove is dirty. You should really clean the stove. A few sequins flutter down to shrivel on the still-warm hobs- there's a tear in your dress from carrying Dawn! Typical! Faith sticks her finger in it at the precise moment Mimtal walks in the room to complain about… well, something. He starts to tease you in Italian instead but he had his complain face on (for someone who quite literally has everything he finds a surprising amount to complain about).
"Ow!" Rose squeals from the garden as a well-aimed fist from a toddler smacks her directly in the nose. "Stupid Slayer Babies!"
Rozzy starts to grouse, tears brewing. You hop down the few short steps outside- risking pneumonia! When the hell did it get so cold? How is the house so stiflingly hot? Mm… does mean you get to snuggle extra close with your human radiator tonight… that is, if she's still into snuggling and hasn't decided to take apart the bed for wood to whittle into a chess set. You scoop up the toddler into the kitchen, making kissy faces.
The tiny hand reaches up to grasp yours, "I like you."
'Oh God', you think, just as Rose says it out loud (though the intonation is entirely different). "Don't even think about it, Bee-Bee."
"But she's so cute!"
Mimtal carefully inserts himself, "Your wife purchased two very-sweet puppies to get you over your brooding, yes?" Ok, ouch! You truly had no idea that was why… huh, well, maybe you did- but they were so damn fluffy and cute in their little box with bows around their necks that you didn't want to complain!
"Well…" Rozzy gurgles a few times and Gigi claps her hands together at the cuteness of it all, "Obviously that didn't work."
Faith smacks her forehead with a beer bottle and then goes back to attempting to dissect it, "Rosebud likes being an only child, don't you kid?"
"I'm not an only child! I have Bliss and Gigi!" The girls in question beam happily, "Though, I shalln't deny, it is nice once they've returned home and the attentions of my parents are focused solely on me."
She pauses, to mull.
You try to shake off the weirdness of your very weird child. "But Rosy is going to be gone soon!"
The beer bottle crashes to the floor, "She is?"
Faith is apparently not yet at that stage where she absorbs without emotion.
"I am? You're not going to… what was that word Mammia?"
Glittering shards of glass litter the floor. Mimtal smacks Faith's hand as she leans down to collect them. "'Ice'? Oh…" He smoothly propels her out of the kitchen before she decides to make Superman's Ice Palace out of actual glass again.
"-'ice' me, are you?"
"Nine months of carting you round inside my body, going to all that effort to hide it from the world, giving birth, raising you for fifteen years and you really think I'd throw all that away just because your cuteness is rapidly decreasing?"
"Thanks Mum." A teenage glare and a trudge off to the very un-teenage job of sweeping up the glass smashed by her unhinged mother. Wow, that sounds bad…
"I meant; you're going to be going to University in three years time. I'll need a project."
Mimtal, steering Gigi's bare feet around the shards, chuckles in that wonderfully hearty way he shares with Faith. "Ah, yes, the puppies."
"If you're suggesting I go into dog shows I will attack you."
They shrug, "Hey, he has a point… it's the sort of thing you like; pink ribbons and everything."
"Rosy! That is so… uh…" that newspaper thing, "You know, the word they use when people say stuff that isn't true and isn't libel? Because 'libel' is a doing word?"
"And this other thing is…" Have you really been carrying around this bottle of wine the whole time? "How much have I had to drink?" Mimtal has to tug a few times to get the bottle out from under the baby. Surely as a slayer you should be able to juggle a sleeping baby and a bottle of wine? "That's really not a good parenting advert."
"You mean 'an advert for good parenting'?"
"Shut up, Rose."
She giggles, jumping up onto Bliss' knee, and starts on a long, complicated response to addle your drunken mind that is fortunately (in the loosest sense of the term!) drowned out by the stabs of a no-longer polite argument bursting through from the meeting room.
Rosamund snuggles further into your arms, making cute little baby noises. Aw… broody… "I'm not the one yelling, Faith!" It's just a shame her mother is a bitch.
Or perhaps expecting two women with raging hormones to get along is just dumb.
"And where exactly did we leave Faith?"
Mimtal looks guilty, which makes you feel guilty which… you're determined is never going to make Faith feel guilty. "I may have…" He waves towards the argument.
"You don't know what you're fucking talking about!" Dawn yells.
The lack of a raised voice on Faith's part isn't necessarily a good thing. You worry your lip. She's most likely confused and thinks what she's saying is perfectly rational. It takes too long to get them.
"Oh shut up, Psycho!"
Faith turns and you become horribly aware that you can't catch her hand in time. Kennedy grabs both her wrists and pulls her backwards only seconds before her fist reaches Dawn's face. "Whoa, come on you little drunk!"
The others nod in a 'we've all been there' way and you smile gratefully at Kennedy for continuing on a lie you're pretty sure no one believes in anymore.
In a move more ludicrous than any you've seen in a while, Dawn snaps back, taking hold of Faith's swinging hair and tugging with all her might. "NO!"
The room freezes.
Dawn gasps, realises what she's done, and protects her front.
Faith stares at her curls.
Kennedy instinctively lets go, reconsiders and over-rides her intuition. "Faith?" She slowly wraps her hands around Faith's upper-arms, restraining but not too ferociously, "Faith?"
With her forearms free she softly holds her own still-swaying curls, stroking them straight and then letting them spring back. Her mother used to hack off sections of her hair. She would never let it grow longer than Faith's chin. Once it did she would be dragged to the bathroom of whatever 'shitty motel' they were in. And there be reminded that she had no voice, no say, no power.
You've always known to be careful with her hair. It means more to Faith than
just her physical freedom. "F?"
"Mm?" She looks up with open eyes and a little smile, as if you'd wandered into the kitchen to ask whether she'd seen your silk scarf.
"Gigi was asking for you."
Dawn, Willow and Xander jump as if you've shot a bullet into them (your mouth quirks into a smile at thinking 'Willow' and 'Bullet' because you can't help but feel good things when reminded of Tara). They stare at you as if you are some kind of madwoman coaxing rabid big cats into the children's ward of the local hospital in some kind of misguided attempt to 'make them better'.
You're not an idiot and Kennedy melts away in understanding. Faith follows you into the living room, "I think she-"
"What the hell, Buffy?" Dawn demands, "My kids are-"
"-'fine'. They're fine Dawn. Can we please just settle down?"
Faith's eyebrow quirks, as if she realises, for the first time, that something strange is going on. Your efforts to avoid big crowds seem in vain as everyone in the house packs into the one room- in equal parts to stare; confused and concerned. "B?"
"Go check the Christmas tree, Sweetheart. The children can help you."
"Wait!" Dawn grabs your arm, "I'm not going to just let her loose on my children! For God sake, I love you Buffy but… but I hate that you put me in this position!" 'You'? You?
And what kind of 'pos- "You're a liar!"
Faith turns to you both earnestly, "She's lying! The opposite of love is not hate it's anagapesis."
Dawn rolls her eyes, "No. 'Anagapesis' means 'to fall out of love'."
For Christ sake Dawn! Being pregnant does not make you invincible! And an angry, snarling Faith is good for no one!
The children barely flinch at the swearing- too used to adults in pain. You panic slightly that one of the parents will say something and make 'it' worse. Yet Dawn realises her mistake and how stupid she's being.
Her smile is apologetic but basically worthless; "No, you're right."
"Faith?" Henry makes to go to her but Edward holds him back with a knowing, yet almost off-hand, shake of the head.
"Hope?" Charlotte tries.
You shake your head at all three of them as Faith storms past and up the stairs. There's a pile of yet-to-be-allocated bedding on the landing, ostensibly committing some kind of crime against humanity (or maybe just Faith) as it soon comes tumbling down the stairs in a flurry of feathers.
Rose laughs, the only relaxed person in the house over the age of five. It's a pretty laugh, an honest laugh and she's only doing it because she's unguarded- she's not afraid. "SHUT UP!" But it makes you so angry.
She gasps and her lip trembles.
It makes her look less like you, and less like Faith, and more like your little girl. "Rosy, I didn't-" But she's already gone.
You follow Rose out to the garden, ignoring everyone else.
You want to explain to her that if some days you can't look at her or find it hard to meet her eyes, it's not because she isn't beautiful, it's not because you don't love her, it's because she reminds you of what Faith could never have. Of what she could never be. And that hurts. That hurts a lot.
It's not like they're the same person in your mind because they really are two very separate and distinct personalities and Rose doesn't even look that much like a young Faith- no heavy make-up or leather armour. It just… sometimes, gets to be a little too much.
She's the same age now as Faith was when you first met and yes, ok, she doesn't actually look like a teenager so there's no real comparison there but… those twinkling eyes belong to Faith and those dimples and that hair. Except she's never guarded, she's never scared and she's never had to fight to survive. She has all the things that if you could go back in time you'd make sure Faith had.
There is no guarantee that Faith would be different had her life been better, that her illness would be gone or less or easier to handle, but it makes it easier somehow, to think that it might. It means that every time you make Rosy smile, you could be saving her from pain too harsh for a mother to contemplate.
"Fuck off!" Tavi's voice floats up from the garden below- except in her very English accent it sounds more like 'fack', "If we're paying the blaggard by the bloody word we can cut down on his facking script! Half of everything he says is bunkum anyway!"
She points towards the shore before you can even raise your eyebrows in question. "Thanks."
"She looks rather upset- what happened?"
"I…" Her mobile squaks in her ear but Tavi ignores whoever it is, concerned for her 'almost-step-daughter', "Just… Faith stuff."
Of all the people you know Tavi may be the only one who really gets that. She grew up on an estate in the middle of nowhere with a hundred servants and one psychotic, alcoholic mother. Her nanny was the only person to either touch her or speak to her before the age of four but they formed such a tight bond that even though Tavi's mother fired the poor woman every night she still returned every morning. Weirdly, Tavi (aside from that brief 'rebellious phase' everyone seems to talk about but no one gives the details on) is one of the most normal and well adjusted of people. She puts it down to boarding school and that nanny. "Cripes."
"How can I stop her blaming herself?"
"You can't. Kids either hate their parents or, if they're told it's true enough, believe it's their fault. It shows what a good person Rose is if she reached the second conclusion all by herself- as wrong as it may be."
Which is exactly what you didn't want her to ever feel, to ever think. You just want her to be free. "This is my fault. Or Faith's. Or…"
"I just want to avoid Rose feeling the same way about Faith as you do about your mother."
"It's different, Bethy, my mother let herself be insane- Faith uses everything she's got to fight against it."
If you weren't so drunk you'd find some kind of incredibly deep meaning in that which could make your life so much better. Maybe it'll come to you in the morning. You stare past her to the little huddled figure, dipping her feet into the rolling waves, and overlook whatever's in that bottle she's swigging from. Just as you try not to notice how, in the low light of lamps, Faith's ribs can be counted from her front. You're ignoring a lot tonight.
You vow not to let your girls slip away. And start with the one in front of you. "Righty-ho," Tavi squeezes your shoulder, "I have to go fire an entire office of incompetents." She pauses, "Oh hell, I sound disturbingly like my mother-in-law." Her mobile makes another agitated squeak and she grins, "Yes, you heard me right you tosser! Now, either rewrite the entire shitting book or else fill your time finding a way to express-deliver me a tortoise!"
Tavi's fluently inventive flow of curse words (half of them, you're pretty sure, in Olde English or Shakespearean) makes your little huddle chuckle. Snowflakes stick prettily to her eyelashes, her cheeks are pink and in the milky blackness of night her hair shines from the light of the kitchen. "Rosy?"
There's just a grunt in reply.
"You were supposed to be blonde."
"I apologise for being a let-down in the daughter department." She deadpans back. The bottle of strong whiskey is passed over to you. Against the better judgement of the only sober part of your brain left you take a swig. "She's not going to be here tomorrow, is she?"
"Oh, I don't know, if we find some rope strong enough…"
Rose fiddles with her expensively highlighted hair (just one of the huge amount of gifts Mimtal has showered on her). She looks slightly more like you now, though it might just be the lightened locks.
"You know, if you ever want to talk about your mother- about the things that she does- you can."
"I never feel like I can talk to you though. You're so in love with her…"
"I am. And I always have been. But there was a… remember when we lived with Henry?"
She nods, 'of course', "You made me call him 'Daddy'."
"I so wish your memory wasn't this good. Yes, we lived with Henry and I made you call him Daddy… because I was stupid and… Look." You roll the sleeve back from your left wrist. Rosy's seen the scar before- it's not like you've ever tried to hide it- but she's never properly looked at it before and now she does, running a finger over skin that still tingles.
"That must have been pretty bad to scar a slayer."
"It was. The bone was ground down by a boot. It fractured and tore through the skin."
"Faith did that."
It's not a question but you still nod. "She thought… ok, I don't really know what she thought," you lie, "but it must have been something awful. I left her and went to live with Henry. Probably not the smartest thing to do but he seemed… safe. So she…" You wave the wrist, "The time before that I left her because she…" Wait, when did this become about…? You trail off. "Never mind."
"So…" She smiles encouragingly (and not without a slightly patronising edge), "The point?"
"Just… know that I have doubts about her and worries, like everyone else. But I'll always… stick around." No more Summers running out on their families.
Rosy chuckles, "I wasn't worried about that." Aw, in a move too sweet for words she brushes a kiss across your cheek. "But I'm awfully glad you're staying." She snuggles closer, "You know, Mammia is my responsibility too."
Ugh, the 'R' word! "She shouldn't have to be."
"I don't mind. Yes, we're having a bad evening right now but it's not like she's always ill- she's pretty high up in the running for 'best mother in the world' the rest of the time- no offence."
"Oh, none taken, I know I can't compete. Sometimes I wish I was a man so you could buy me a 'best dad in the world' mug but then I think, hey, the whole field of parenting has got so competitive recently- what's with that? I'm comfortable being an 'averagely ok' mom."
"I… don't think they make a mug for that… but if I see one I'll buy it." She laughs.
"That's all I ask."
Light dances along the gentle waves that seek to lap at your feet. The water is so clear that the little fish swishing backwards and forwards in the shallows are picked out in exquisite detail. As they cavort so close to the surface specks of pale-yellowed glow brush against Rose's front.
Every parent wishes things for their child, some things are neither possible nor acceptable to waste a wish upon. Yet it's hard not to. It's hard not to dream of a lanky teenager in pretty, colourful dresses who's strong enough to go clubbing all night and then off to breakfast with her friends in the morning. Rose is neither weak nor ill, but her small body cannot always stand the things a regular teenager can.
You wish she had siblings too but she claims not to mind- her three cousins (and counting) are enough of a deterrent. As freakishly well behaved as they might be.
Her little forehead wrinkles as she's deep in thought, you wait for her to ask whatever it is.
Finally she turns with a look that you know says she hopes you'll disagree; "Do you ever wish your life was different?"
"Really? You wouldn't want Aunt Dawn's life; amazing husband, three, great, normal-sized kids, no need to ever work?" Dawn has spent a large portion of the last few months complaining- loudly- about her 'shitting husband' having got her 'up the shitting duff, a-shitting-gain!' only eight months after giving birth.
"Really? But Uncle Reuben is so lovely and would dote on you… Rosamund and Little Reuben are adorable and Hector is… tall." As if you care how short she is!
"Please don't transfer your irrational hatred of his mother onto Heck."
"'Transference' would suggest not only an unconscious redirection of my hatred but also that I would henceforth feel a lack of extreme dislike towards his mother."
"Mm. Still no. I'm keeping my life."
"Because, my darling," You squish her with a hug and kiss, "love is always enough."