Chapter 30: Crepes in the Garden
It was a full two years after the Christmas party before She was willing to come back to Italy again.
"Dawn?" You'd found her by the front door, a wide-awake Roo swinging his little legs from on top of a suitcase.
"Yah… We're going to drive over to Mimtal's before the snow really starts to come down."
"You can still stay here, Dawn."
The scoff had been pure teenager, "Right."
Hector's sleepy protests as his father pulled him up from the sofa stick firmly in your mind, even now. He'd been happily snuggled up next to GiGi and looked the very image of domestic perfection. It had been such a shame to pull them apart.
That familiar sigh of resignation tinged with annoyance rolled behind her tightly pursed lips, "Buff, if she's Anti-Dawn for tonight we both know me being here isn't a good idea."
You'd reluctantly passed over little Rosamund, "Fine, ok, go then."
"Nothing to be sorry for."
Roo and Heck were strapped into the child seats of their rented car and Dawn cradled Rosamund as she walked around to the passenger seat. It had started snowing; the soft, fluttering kind that comes after a snowstorm and makes words hover in the air. "We'll see you tomorrow, Buffy. Would it be alright if we came just before lunch?"
"Of course it's alright." You kissed them both goodbye and promised to pass their love on to Faith.
And that was it.
For two years.
It had hurt- horribly- but you'd understood.
The morning after the night before you'd woken to Faith's gaze, eyes unfocusing slightly even as she smiled. "Have you ever been on a boat? I'm gonna take you on a boat." You watched her bounce out of bed, grabbing for clothes and passports. Either disregarding or blissfully unaware of the house full of seasonal guests, she merely smiled vacuously.
You used to lock important things away so she couldn't get to them but it's hard explaining to a rational adult why they're not allowed to touch their own passport. Besides, you know almost every security guard in the province by now, they won't let her on a plane if she's acting crazy and you're not there.
An attempt at parental guilt had no effect; "What about Rose? She still has to study for that big test."
Instead she'd simply stopped momentarily to wrinkle her nose at you cutely. "Who?"
But this is your life- the daily wonderings of 'is she/isn't she? Will she be lucid enough for parent's evening?'- and as such you don't much mind. Just so long as you're together.
So you'd called that you love her, as she bounded off to make breakfast out of marshmallow (ignoring the many leftovers). Actually, where the hell did those come from? You don't even know where to buy marshmallows here… weird, tiny town…
Letting go like that- just accepting whatever happened- turned it into by far the best Christmas you've ever had.
It's your disease too. You will ride her every wave and you will always hang on. Always. No matter that you may sometimes become exasperated.
And that 'sometimes', recently, is 'every time'. You're angry because… because it feels as if Faith is not only constantly leaving you but then… but then burdening you with the care of someone else.
That Christmas party was… it was also the last time you really had a chance to speak with your… with your 'Sunnydale Family' (it still seems right to call them that). They could be anywhere, they might be dead- and you have no idea!
They'd taken Faith's suggestion, the one that, once she was clear-headed, even she stood against. You can't Napalm an underground cave system and assume you'll get away with it. The government called them terrorists and even Willow encouraged it when you cut all ties.
Not exactly the way you expected your life to go.
Rosy doesn't miss them and why would she? She sees herself as part of the Fortescue-Darlings; Charlotte and Edward are her grandparents, she has many sets of aunts, uncles and cousins- including Henry and Tavi, who are the rational-yet-cool parents, with the stable life, she occasionally craves.
"Where's Mammia?" Rosy rubs the sleep from her eyes, stretching like a cat against the doorframe.
"Hey, how about crepes for bre- Oh! You passed the mark!" She straightens excitedly, attempting to catch a glimpse of her fingers elapsing the scribbled line that promises she's done it, she's just that little bit taller. The happy smile is not, however, directed your way.
There is a new transgression to be added to your long list; Rose thinks you're… she thinks you're not trying. She seems to think that you just woke up a few days ago and decided that was it; time to give up. But the truth is… you just can't cope with Faith this time. It's been a week since the latest mania started and only a month since the last one. She's writing… something, papers spread about her on the living room floor; incoherent scribbles that you're not entirely sure are even in English. Or use a recognised alphabet.
It's exasperating and irritating to no end. Impossible to find the fun you occasionally can.
Sometimes you get a flash of the girl you think you're losing and that seems so much worse. So horribly cruel.
You want her back. You want her back so badly… there's really no one else to divulge all secrets to!
Can't she just stop it?
Ok, ok; irrational. You know it's just because Rose is going away to University and she hates change. As soon as things have settled down she'll go back to her version of normal.
But for now it's damned annoying!
Faith is disgustingly, achingly, happy in this 'upswing' and it's enough to make you want to hit her. She's convinced she's found the meaning of life or some such and has thus encountered euphoria; perfect 'well-being'.
Except it's just a chemical imbalance.
You've given up on getting her to eat or sleep. Instead you just leave her to her drawings and muttered mathematical equations she's never come into contact with in her life before.
She's given up on clothes.
And the reality she's completely lost touch with.
"I don't want crepes."
"You love crepes!"
Her response is a long-suffering sigh, "I don't want crepes with you."
"Rose!" That's a lot of anger in one little girl. She's furious with you. Despite swearing last time that you weren't going to force-feed Faith, she never actually expected you to go through with it. You found her yesterday, listening patiently as Faith explained her 'big idea' in return for letting herself be fed. It struck you that as Rose is now older than you were when you met her mother… you've known Faith for over half your life. A huge chunk of her own life. "Don't think that just because you're eighteen now I'm not going to tell you off!"
"You've never told me off. It's your obsessive desire for us to get along." It's said with a flash of reluctant dimple. "But… I would like crepes. I'm still angry with you though."
"I get that, ok- I do. It's just…" That ache that's been working it's way across your brow throbs again. "She's leaving me holding the baby- except it's not even like a baby because children you can over-rule! There are books on what to do when your children are difficult- there's no book for how to talk a 39-year-old into not being paranoid that the trees are plotting against her!"
"To be fair," Rosy considers, "that one tree really was hitting the window rather hard…"
"I'm tired." You just need a break, you'll be strong next time.
Rose shrugs, "I get that. She doesn't. Don't take it out on her."
"Oh, right, so I should take it out on you?"
Sometimes the world can throw things at you that are so completely, unexpectedly wonderful that no matter how far you try to integrate them into your life you never will. Rose is that thing.
It's not that she's a perfect human being- she has her faults, she's as stroppy as the next teenager and still has to sneakily add up on her fingers- but she is something you wish you could be; selfless.
"How did I create such a lovely person? I'm not too sure you weren't switched at birth." Except she's visually almost an exact clone of her mother. She's Faith but with a tan and your jaw line. If you really had to think, if someone asked you flat out, you'd say she's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.
But then you're biased. She's your baby. "In that case, you're very lucky!"
You kiss the top of her head. "I am. Now have you seen the… what the hell…?" The pancake pan winks at you from far beyond the reach of your fingertips. "How the hell did you get it up here?"
"Bliss put it there. Freak."
"Huh." That thing is really not coming down. "Can I-?"
Rosy reads your mind; "You're not jumping at the cupboards, that's just stupid."
"We could wake someone up?" Anyone but Lily. That girl is an evil cow. Who you are still bloody housing because Giles sent her to you and now the American government says it's wrong to send her back. But, hey- she might benefit from a stay in federal prison! Even though Faith is officially her 'Mentor' she listens to no one.
Giles never officially gave you an Apprentice Slayer but one turned up unannounced about a year ago and you'll happily claim she's yours!
"You go. They don't yell at you."
Rosy gives a wonderful 'you're an idiot, aren't you?' look; "That's because I don't yell at them."
True. But you have to be tough; it makes you feel good and boosts your not-insignificant ego! "Well yell now. Just try to keep your voice out of 'Faith' range." I.E. Pretend everything is really dull.
"Can't I just-" She steps to one side as Faith wanders into the kitchen, her face hidden by an upside-down book, "-wake up Bliss?"
How much can a person gain from studying an upturned diagram of a duck's intestines? Also; why? You nudge Faith towards a chair and start to re-plait the long braid saving her neglected hair. "And let her stepfather catch on that I accidentally sanctioned you both getting drunk last night?" On a single bottle of wine.
Flipping folded napkins onto the top of the cupboard in an attempt to bring down the pancake pan, Rose giggles devilishly, "Got to love that 'Slayer Metal'." And the low body mass that gets her drunk from a single glass of wine… "Just hide the Vodka bottle."
The WHAT now? "Whoa, whoa, whoa- back up, 'Perfect Child'!" Faith giggles, though perhaps for reasons other than your scandalised face. She's so…cute. When she isn't being a pain.
"I didn't drink any. You're still a good parent."
Huh… that is true… so really Bliss getting drunk on your watch is Tavi's fault… "I can live with that." Score one for involved parenting! "Faith, honey, do you have a moment to break from writing the next Pulitzer Prize Winner-"
"Right… that." It may possibly be a study on ant migration. Or else she really is educating herself on the finer points of a duck's insides. "Could you please reach down the pancake pan?"
She glances up. "I'm not that tall."
But she is surprisingly lucid. "Never mind, do you have a moment to talk about the papers we have to sign fo…" The look is outraged. "I'll take that as a 'no'?"
"Do you have any idea how important this is right now, Elizabeth?"
Rosy blinks at you; "Your real name is 'Elizabeth'?"
"She just spent three days calling you 'Josh', don't get too excited."
"Hmm…" Scrutiny washes over you.
In an attempt to distract her you yell for "Mo… Mol- Molbi- Moo…" Uh, 'Molehill'- sweet girl, completely unpronounceable name. She is your new slayer; fourteen and eager, coming from Botswana she rolls every 'r' except for the one in Rose's name, which she never pronounces. Like all teenagers she pretends to be fearless and confident, yet changed her name to something local upon realising no one could pronounce 'lie' as 'dee-yeh'. "Anna-Lisa!"
Is that racist? Is that colonial? When exactly did you become British?
Rosy, with an impeccable grasp of language that has recently begun to slightly irk you, pronounces 'Mo-dee-yeh-hee' perfectly. And then smirks. "God, you've gotten smug recently. I knew there were some of my genes in there."
Her head has been expanding ever since she got her place in 'The Most Prestigious Medical School In Italy Like Ever' (Mimtal's addiction to American Teen Shows continues!) Flicking you away from the only-marginally-messy plait, your daughter sticks out her tongue. "Whatever, crazy lady, no me interesso un cazzo."
"Non, stai zitto!"
Anna-Lisa stops stock-still in the doorway, arms stuck into a hooded sweater and head twisting uncomfortably to stare, wide-eyed, at you both. "Oh. You are fighting?"
Ha! Rosy is mean sometimes! Except, then she winks and blows you a kiss instead of continuing. "I'm just cheering Mama up. It's banter. Don't worry."
"Ah… Ea." She nods. "It is all ok." Yet she shivers even in the warm kitchen and wears sweaters when you're wishing there was an appropriate clothing level below bikini… which isn't actually all that appropriate for a training session…
Ugh, just looking at her thick cardigan going on over that sweater makes your light, cotton dress feel sticky and hot. "Are you still cold?"
"No, no, no, no… I am here."
Right… She continues her reassurances in broken Italian, testing the unfamiliar words in an English accent. Rose subtly steers her towards the problem, pointing discreetly towards the pan.
"I will see to it right away!" She calls.
"Thank you, Anna-Lisa."
"Dumela, Mme." She nods. "I fix the problem-o."
"'Problem'." You correct, automatically. Utterly unaware if it's right. Faith slaps your hand. Hard. And digs in her nails "Ow! Hey!" That's not so fair! "What the hell…?" There are actual grooves in your skin. "I know I'm not good at languages but there's no need to punish me for it!"
You toss her other, sympathetic, hand away and Rosy frowns reproachfully.
What the hell are you supposed to do? Not mind? "Leave it Rosy," You sigh, "I'm not up to it…"
Good mood hastily evaporating you wave Anna-Lisa away from stretching towards your least-used-but-most-beloved pan.
Actually yaps. Jack and Joy sit up in their basket.
"Oh, you want food now?"
She stands, staring at you like you're stupid- no, not 'stupid', that's too… too small a word… she looks at you as if you are worse than stupid; dense, disgusting and repulsive, yet at the same time… 'nothing'. You are nothing.
It chills you. It kills you. It burns at your heart. You think she might attack you now and never care.
"Leave her, Mammia." Rosy easily presses Faith to turn and holds her, watching you around her shoulder. You watch her back, Anna-Lisa hovering, unnoticed, next to the sink. The pan in hand. "I'll make you crepes, just the way you like. And then we'll leave you to work, ok? I'm going to take my Mommy out for a bit of retail therapy…"
As expected, though it really isn't a chore, you play along. Play-pretend, that everything is normal. "How about a trip to Carlo's?"
Rosy's eyes light up and you almost expect her to start clapping her hands together, squealing 'love, love, love!"
The tiny, ancient shop on a hidden corner is one of her favourite places. The walls drip with twinkling Venetian beads in every colour and style. She can spend hours closely examining the minute flowers and pictures enclosed.
'Carlo' is not the name of the owner but rather of the obese cat; who sits in the window, languidly surveying all that he owns. And most likely he will inherit, in the creepy, old-lady-cares-more-for-cat-than-children con he is currently running.
Faith hates cats.
Because they are not dogs.
That is your wife being rational. And you love the natural absurdities of human beings. You like to tease her about it; there's a freedom in mentioning, even in part, that which troubles you the most. So you smile, and tell her you're just going to get dressed… and pet your wounded heart.
"I'll…" Rosy motions to Faith. Who is now resting her book on the top of her daughter's head. You snort. "Please try to keep the short jokes to yourself."
"Hush!" Faith chastises, lifting the book to swat Rosy's head. "Was it this talkative when we bought it?" Always.
"Whatever mother, I'm just looking forward to the day when I can lean my head on your shoulder rather than against it."
With a puzzled frown, Faith turns to smile at you- utterly loving, utterly sweet- "Was the old table extra quiet or is this one extra loud?"
Unsure as to whether she's still 'in on the joke' or being literal you simply shrug and fake a smile back. "You'll be back later?" She asks as if the 'back' part is in question.
"Uhuh…" You love her, every part of her, even the crazy bits. It's just that sometimes you need a break.
A long break.
Possibly on another continent.
It's embarrassing and you're ashamed to admit that's what it makes you feel.
"I guess… I'll… I'll see you… We'll…"
Rose snorts at your ineffective falters. "She'll come home, promise." Faith swears the same, "Except you're not going anywhere, right?" Tying her up in a room you've been longing for her to vacate? Not above you. "Mammia? Ow! Ok, ok, I'll keep my head still!"
You skirt out of the room to avoid getting involved. Anna-Lisa obviously doesn't get the hint and her panicked calls for calm follow you up the stairs.
You're going to fix Faith. You're going to- once Rosy is safely away- spend as much time as needed working through each and every scar on her heart and you're going to fix them.
It might take years, it might not work, it may make her worse… but you have to try. Because you're damn sick of this thing hurting Faith- your Faith.
Besides, what's the harm in trying?
You got her over her fear of closed bathroom doors. Which is a really hard thing to explain to houseguests.
Dawn sent you a postcard on her last trip to America and ordered that you stick it to your mirror; 'So you can stare at this instead'. It makes you laugh every time you see it; purely from the cringingly soppy sentimentality.
"Huh, 'do you promise to still love me tomorrow even though I can't be who you want me to be today'? Yeah, right…"
The answer is still 'yes' though- as disgustingly corny as that seems.
"Do you regret not having a father?"
It's sunny, a little too humidly warm, even as your light, cotton dress waves in the breeze. Your sticky flesh presses against Rosy's slightly cooler skin as she wraps her arm around yours. Pausing in her merry jaunt to reach up and kiss your cheek she skirts the late-morning shoppers. "No," She says, because it's true, "It's not like you two raised me in a normal household anyway… you're more like really cool big sisters than parents- except when I was really little, then you sincerely got your parent on."
With Henry- encouraged by Henry. Faith's parenting style is more… uh… 'unique'? 'Free'? 'Conceptual'? 'Spiritual'? Ok, the last one definitely not. She's just a little kind of… relaxed. And she helps you be. The world is not going to end if you don't keep to a schedule. Dawn is not the greatest thing to ever happen to parenting and you can loosen up. "Yeah… I guess, as parents go, we're not too awful…"
As you enter the little bits-and-bobs shop on the corner she grows suddenly pensive, "I-" She stops, "I miss my Mummy. She's still here but she's not."
"I know, baby." And you do. Your heart still aches for your own mother.
Rose shifts awkwardly, aware she's changed the light tone of conversation and seeming to regret it.
You dither between the blue card and the green one. "Do you think posting the card on Heck's actual birthday counts as being on time or should I send… something, to win auntie points?"
"Do you have to send him something?" She grins.
"I'm just joshing…" Yet serious at the core. "It doesn't mean anything, I swear." Ha! If she expects you to bel- "Except that I really do think the Monks made Dawn from all of your worst parts and then she spawned with the Devil." The child is entirely serious. "Poor Uncle Rueben."
Yes, poor cuckold, Uncle Rueben… never mind that every single one of their (still growing) brood has his, slightly receded, chin. Faith assures you it's a sign of their pedigree. "Dawn was almost a child bride once- kinda cool, Jazz-singing demon." You think it was jazz anyway… could have been 'Big Band'… which you've never really got, because surely that's all about the music playing and not the singer or what it is they're actually- …
The hairs on your arms, just a moment ago heavy in the damp, stand on end almost painfully. A low churn works its way across your abdomen, as if there were a vampire standing right next to you… but the sunlight streams in through the open shutters…
How can you feel at once as if the sun might frazzle the flesh from your very bones while the blood pumping through it fills with an icy chill that slows your heart?
Demon. Bad, bad demon.
"Mom? Mom, are you…?"
"We need to get home. We need to call the girls, have a meeting."
"O-okay…" She slides the blue card from your petrified grasp and watches closely as you turn to stone. It's quiet, awfully quiet; no birds, no insects, no chattering children, though you watch them each in turn.
The silence stretches onwards.
It isn't… it's weird. You should be feeling awful- but you don't. A good vibes demon? Hold on…
"I jinxed us!"
The shop jumps! The sound snaps back! "Mom! Inside voice."
"Sorry, sorry, I just… I think we're about to start singing." Disturbance eats away at you. A bitter caramel smothers your lips.
It's bright. Through the open shutters the sky is a light pastel blue.
"Can you feel that?" The goose bumps refuse to smooth.
"No, I- I…"
The shopkeeper distracts her with rolling Italian, kindly taking his time to wrap the fancy beads she's buying with the birthday card. Rosy joins in the gossip and you vaguely understand that they're talking about Ariadne's new baby- her first. You took her freshly baked American muffins (your best talent). She looked content, but oh so young. Being over forty is strange, you expect to feel so old but instead feel… like yourself. A different self to the one you began with, or- or perhaps… you were there all along and just covered by the fake blonde hair and 'carry on regardless' attitude. Brave to the imprudent.
"Si signore, ringrazia" Rose trills out. She takes the lemon lollypop Carlo's offered her every time she's visited since she was seven and pops it into her bag. She's always preferred your lemon to Faith's orange
It warms your heart to hear her speak; both such beautiful Italian… and English, with that accent you so envy. Your daughter has the poise and grace her parents lack. She has the patience you wish you had and a peace that you know Faith will never find.
At her worst times Faith speaks so hurriedly and with such staccato that it is near impossible to understand her.
"He still thinks you're ten, huh?"
She pulls you from your grasping plinth and out into the sun, "Actually, he commented on my growth spurt. That whole inch."
"Hey, don't knock that inch! It's the difference between 'four and a half feet' and 'just over four and a half feet'."
"Sorry, it's just that I didn't think 'growth therapy' would be this slow." An inch in a year is, the hospital assures you, better than expected- particularly considering it's an unknown condition.
"Aw, Baby." You pull her close, "I'm pretty sure you could pass for a small twelve-year-old now- that's almost a teenager."
"Well, oddly, most teenagers don't date 'almost teenagers', not unless they want to go to prison."
"Just the way we like it." Faith can be wonderfully hypocritical.
"You wished me short didn't you? You broke the only rule we have and wished out loud that your daughter would never, ever get a date."
If so then it must have been one of those evil spells that backfire. "You've had three boyfriends-!"
"-this year." She rolls her eyes, "I could have done so much better."
Disturbing. "It's July."
"Still…" Rosy hops up onto the raised walkway and you bite back a warning to take the lolly stick out of her mouth.
"You take after your mother a disturbing amount."
"Mammia's had boyfriends?" She asks, genuinely confused.
Lying to your children is wrong, right?
"Uh… no. Not really." It's not as if she ever stuck around! If she'd had a 'relationship', an important one, then, of course, you'd… alright, you can't lie to yourself; you'd kill, bury and then obliterate all mention of that person.
"But you have…" She taunts, jumping away from your swat.
The front doors here are never locked; it's the kind of friendly place where the thought to do so rarely crosses one's mind. You all breeze through each other's houses. Yet, today, as you open the door, a rush of sea air blows full into your chest. Pricking against your skin, it pulls at every hair.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to… Mommy?" Rose pauses on the doorstep, "It's that thing again, isn't it?" You barely nod. "I'll get the girls!"
And so she charges upstairs, sloppy summer shoes clomping against the uneven stairs; an authorised violation of the rule to never spook her mother (once spooked). "Don't worry, darling, it's only Rosy being noisy!" Then, in case she's in the same mood as the one you left her in, "I'll ask the table to be quiet!"
The whole thing is said with annoyance and just the slightest bit of bitterness… you awfully don't want to have to explain. There are possibly much larger things right now for you to have to deal with.
'Saving the world, etc.'
Should be on your business card.
"We bought a birthday card for Heck! Rosy complained of course!" There is a large stack of unwashed laundry on the stairs. 'Stack' because, despite the fabric being covered in mud, blood and teenage sweat, every single piece is folded neatly- artfully in fact. Almost like origami. "Fay? If I buy you some pretty paper can I please stick the…" 'Modern Art'? "uh… things on the stairs, in the wash?"
Of course, there is no response. No noise other than your shuffling and half-hearted attempts to tidy up the hallway. Rose clunks down the stairs again, her footsteps speeding up as she hurtles down, throwing herself down steps a touch too tall for comfort. "è andato!"
"Mammia, she's not upstairs, she's gone," Rosy repeats in English, trying hard not to panic, "The kitchen window-" How could she even see that from upstairs?
"She can't be gone," You push past her into the kitchen- the cucina, "The windows don't brea… oh my god…!" The window isn't broken, it's missing, completely, from the wall. Both the countertops and the floor are caked in dirt, bricks crumble from the hole and down to the garden below. "What the hell…?"
Faith knows where the key to the back door is and she can use it fine. Unfortunately, when she's in one of her 'moods' she forgets and doesn't know how to get out. Generally it works in your favour as she can only create trouble within the house and not out on the streets. The windows are made up of super-strength metal latticework, supposed to keep the house safe from angry demons…
Apparently not so effective if you can just take the window right out.
It's lying in the garden below, which, as the ground slopes steeply away from the road and the kitchen is at the back of the house, is actually on a different level.
She moves to stand beside you, eyes scanning the tiny beach and then the sea beyond it, all the way to the other side of the bay. Closer to the house, you rake your eyes through the beautiful garden Faith has dedicated so many hours to. "I don't see anything either."
"Maybe she's still in the house?"
"And just knocked out the window for fun?" You pause, "Actually, yeah, that sounds like her."
The front door was open. It plays in your mind. 'The front door was open'.
"Faith?" Not in the study, though you wake Lily and disturb Anna-Lisa.
"Faith?" Not on the next floor, though you search through every room.
"FAITH? Not in the attic, though there are about a hundred places to hide.
Where are you?
By the time you make it back downstairs a sleepy crowd has gathered. The girls stare in bland confusion at the hole in the wall. You haven't told them to be slayers. These days, these girls, you have to. "Where's Faith? Have you seen Faith?"
Like a ray of the most beautiful sunlight ever seen, Satsu comes to the kitchen, fully dressed in battle gear and ready for anything. "Where is it? Stake or bullets?" Kennedy joins her, in full armour, swinging the battle-axe normally mounted above the stairs.
Lily rolls her eyes, shifting from one hip to the other, "Dude, it's not a demon… she's just going loco because Faith has…" She rolls her hand, "tripped off the face of the earth."
"That's probably a good description of it." Sassy replies. And then immediately seems to regret it. "Sorry."
It registers vaguely on the periphery. Anna-Lisa stares out of the empty space- one, slightly shaking, pointed finger, seeing whatever you couldn't.
"What? What is it? Can you see her?"
And then suddenly you can… suddenly you so, so horribly get the feeling that the coloured blob you'd dismissed as being just a blown-down piece of Rosy's garden decorations… really shouldn't be that darkly red.
Sassy tears the back of your dress as she grabs for it but you're already gone, already hurtling down away. Not away; towards.
Your utterly impractical shoes catch on every blade of grass until it's dragging you back yet still you skid, overshoot the lip and land painfully on the side of your foot. Scrabbling to your knees you haul the lead of your bones; speeding and heavy, desperate and denying- you don't want to get to her… you don't want to see… you can't let this be true.
There's blood everywhere; on the ground, on her clothes, in her hair. Her eyes when she looks at you let you know that she's back. That she understands what's happening.
They're unfocused but aware.
"Oh God… Oh God…"
"Mama?" Rose is rushing out of the house, her eyes wide.
"Get back inside!" You scream, "Get back, don't look!"
Faith's shaking hand reaches out to wherever she imagines Rose's voice to have come from.
"No! Rose, don't!" Kennedy snatches Rosy up just as she's almost in view of her mother.
She struggles, glaring at you as if she can pierce your soul. "Mammia! Mammia! Let me go!"
The others are now streaming out of the house but you can't bring yourself to care. Not even slightly. Not even to be relieved that Anna-Lisa and Bliss are shielding Rose.
The wet, red sand sticks to your palms.
"Baby please, please, stop bleeding, please, be alright."
Her distress is writ painfully across her face.
You cup her gaze and breathe slowly, evenly, in the hope she will do the same. "Come on baby… hey… Hold on baby, please hold on, you promised me a happy ending, remember?"
Sticky hair moulds to your fingertips.
"You promised. I'm your Bumble Bee and you have to give me a Happily Ever After. Remember?"
Her eyes smile as her mouth gasps, again, again, again.
The sound is awful- racking… please, dear God, that it can continue.
You hold her hands, thumbs stroking across the mangled mass of scars on her wrists. Goddamn prison- it stole so much time!
It's not fair! It isn't fair! IT ISN'T FUCKING FAIR!
It seems like hours but it's really only seconds before Satsu is crouched next to you with her medical bag and blankets. "Here, take this, put pressure right here." She guides your hands and, although you know time is of the essence, takes a moment to stroke your palm calmingly. "It's going to be ok."
Your sobs subside as the Slayer takes over. Tears and snot continue to stream and your chest jerks. "Please, please… help her…"
"I am, I am. I just need you to calm down."
So you breathe, and you take a moment, and you remember that you're the woman who's faced down fears bigger than most people are fortunate enough to never have in their lifetimes. You're the slayer.
But you still cry like a little girl when Faith stops breathing.
And then cry harder when she starts again.
"Fuck! Don't you dare do that to me again, Faith, I'm a damn good doctor and you are not going down as my first loss!"
"Yeah, Sass, that's the right attitude- it's not as if you've been in love with Faith for decades or anything…"
Those beautiful eyes smile up at you. It almost makes you scream when she finally squeezes back.
You're married. You have a daughter. You have a Masters Degree and beautiful home and a worldwide family of friends. There's a great job, private beach and neighbours who drop in with huge amounts of food for no apparent reason. But none of it would mean anything without Faith. Italy wouldn't mean anything without Faith.
"It's going to be ok, Buffy."
And she doesn't even scratch her left arm anymore. Or, at least, not often.
"Just keep holding her hand."
Your skin prickles wherever it's in contact. Blood coats your clasped hands until they seem indistinguishable. Except for those scars. You are covered in signs of your love for Faith; the wrist she crushed under a boot, the scratch marks on your shoulder that never seem to fade, the slice along your thigh made with a carving knife.
The scars on your heart and soul.
It's not the willingness to take these blemishes and accept them that shows your love- it's that you went back.
When she found out you had moved in with Henry she drank for five days straight and then turned up on your doorstep, convinced that you had somehow morphed into her mother and were using your little girl as bait for his attention. You'd tried to calm her down but she was so past rationality you grabbed a knife to defend yourself. It had been a stupid thing to do- you, knife, Faith- considering it was always history that made her paranoia worse. She put you through a wall and then stamped on your wrist until you let it go. Once she came back to herself, stopped referring to you as her mother and was huddled in the corner… you forgave her.
You don't like to ask whom it was that she saw when one night you were woken in bed to the feeling of the flesh being torn from your skin but the nightlight wasn't on so you can guess. The old house has odd plug sockets, dotted all over the place, and you hadn't yet worked out where to buy an extension cable from so the light could be left on next to the bed. She froze once you'd scrambled away from her and managed to turn on the overhead light. The damage wasn't as bad as it felt, just the shoulder and no skin was actually missing, but the criss-cross nature of the scratches and how deep they are mean it's never properly healed. Now, every night before you go to sleep, she kisses the area just above it and makes sure to lie with her face towards the light. The heartbroken look she gave you that night, the fact you know it could have been much worse were it anything other than a little girl trying to break free and the way she tenderly cleaned it, with tears of penitence, means… you forgave her.
Faith's 'ups' can hurt you too. Once she drove a knife into your hip and then down, laughing sweetly all the while. She had no understanding of what was happening, no awareness. The blood on the floor was 'strawberry juice' and she pouted like a little girl when you yelled in pain, thinking you'd be mad at her for spilling it. Thirteen-year-old Rose handled that one while you sat in shock and stared blindly at your hipbone. She replaced the knife in her mother's hand with a wooden spoon and let her swing that around instead. The pyjama bottoms were peeled away from your blood-soaked body before you were helped up onto the kitchen table (a plastic sheet had already been laid on top). Rose sang as she cleaned and then sewed you up expertly- partly to keep you conscious and partly to not clue Faith in that this was anything more than a game. By the next night Faith was herself again and went around the house securing everything that could possibly be harmful away. The knives are now kept in a padlocked kitchen cupboard with a combination only you and Rosy know. It was the first time Faith had really faced up to her illness (and her face flushes even now when she has to ask her young daughter for permission to use a knife) so… you forgave her.
Marriage is about collaboration and compassion. You can forgive her crimes against you because you love her and because you know no matter how much she may hurt you just doing so hurts her more.
Faith has her own scars.
The sand is red but you still can't see where it's coming from. When the tide changes and sweeps up the sand her blood will be gone, she will be gone. You want to scoop up the grains and stuff them back in her limp form like a ragdoll that can be kept and carried and bumped rather than the china doll she's been discovered to be.
Your tears mix with her blood.
Rosy joins you, having screamed herself to serenity. Her hand slips over your free one as Sassy continues working to stem the blood… but it comes from everywhere.
You're loud, inconsolable, yelling.
It hurts- hurts- …hurts! Just hurts.
"Mimtal's coming, Mimtal's coming…" Rose prays, her voice scratchy and raw.
You can't care, you can't, you can't slip your arms around your little girl and make her feel better because you feel awful, you feel… You just can't give a shit.
But you're still thankful when Bliss hugs Rosy, holding her up. "He's sending a helicopter, Buffy. They'll take her to the hospital." She knows better than to touch you- no matter how reassuringly.
Helicopter. Hospital. Safe.
And you're begging, begging, chanting that they just have to hurry, they just have to move a little better, slice cleaner through the air, hurry, goddamn, hurry!
They'll come, they'll get here, they'll arrive- they can save her! You'll clamber in the back with Sassy and Faith and have to push people out of the way because they love her. Rosy will cry but you'll turn around and shake her and tell her that it will all be okay, that you'll call from the hospital, that it isn't re ally that bad, that her mother has lived through worse. And she'll believe you because it's the truth, because anything you say right now is the truth and it'll happen, it'll be okay, it always is. Sassy will keep her going, Faith's slayer healing will kick in, you'll get there in time, the doctors will be confused, they'll look at the wound, see the already-forming, pink scar tissue around it and throw their hands up in amazement- because they're Italian and it's what they do every time. They always look confused, no matter what you say, no matter the story no matter, the-! The…
But the choppers won't make it.
They can't scoop her up from the sand. There is no way to put her back together.
Her hands are warm in the sun and you know they'll stay that way.
She isn't going to be ok. Sassy realises at exactly the same time. She moves to make Faith just comfortable instead.
You stroke her face gently, "You're melting snowflake."
Rosy understands what's going on and her scream cuts through the sudden calm. Bliss rocks her closely.
The helicopters reach halfway. Kennedy yells that they're almost here.
You've imagined this happening, of course you have. It would be stupid to not;
Three years ago, that Christmas party… Once Faith had run out into the snow… You'd been afraid. Rose stood beside you on the doorstep and her tiny, cold hands had shaken just as they do now. "You look stressed"
"Oh, I wonder why…! I can't remember the last time I sat down. Or ate something. Or had a conversation lasting longer than five mili-seconds. Plus I may be slightly drunk. Which isn't really as soothing as it normally is." Single-mindedly you'd become fixated on the myriad of ways your life would have been much easier had you married another woman; "I'd have treated her so much better than stupid Chuck Bass…!"
Frighteningly, Rosy can, quite often see into your soul yet not even your creepy, mind-reading baby-slayer could understand the complete machinations of your drunken mind. Which was a long and pretty word that had fascinated you for another five minutes.
"Where's Faith- she's pretty?"
"Why was only the latter part a question?" Rose has your cute nose-scrunching thing but without the weird nose, it always looks good on her.
You had stepped out, part fear and part… anticipation? It plays in your memory as wanting to be sure Faith was alright, wanting to be certain she was safe. But you know that wasn't entirely it. Guiltily, you were looking forward to the chase. You wanted to run off into the dark night, under twinkling snowflakes and get lost forever. With Faith. You should love other people just as much as her. Or perhaps… you just shouldn't love her. "I'm sorry about… Me."
The snow crunched satisfyingly underneath your feet even after such a short fall. You'd brushed fat specks off your nose and attempted to calm down. Rosy hung out of the doorway, "You're not a bad mother- just a little fuzzy!"
''Fuzzy'?' You'd thought, "As in; 'hairy'? Or, like, drunk… wait, did she even say 'fuzzy'?'
By the time you'd turned to ask, Rose had gone, leaving just the warm glow and pleasant buzz of conversation to join your heavy breaths in filling the echoing street.
Running away, you'd trekked cobbled paths and thought deep thoughts- attempted to remember why exactly you wanted friends. All they ever seemed to do was create problems. Which had created the most awful of downward spirals in your thoughts… what if something really had happened to Faith? What if she was hurt, what if she was…?
Because- because as romantic as it might have been to think of slipping away into the starry darkness with Faith… you know it isn't really possible. You can't follow.
So everything had suddenly become very realistic.
Faith had found you even in the snow; miserable and damp and in pain from a twisted ankle. Running out in your party shoes wasn't the smartest of non-thoughts.
The snow drifted down in thick clumps that by rights should be heavy and hard but were instead soft and fluttering. It settled on her wild hair and the old, over-sized blazer she must have blindly grabbed.
"Isn't tasting snow supposed to be bad for you?" Only yellow snow.
"I figured it might be my only form of sustenance until the rescue party found me." You explained the 'strappy shoe, lots of cobbles, pretty, diverting snow' incident whilst Faith chuckled. She wiped away the tears you'd like to say were from the pain but were instead just products of your over-active imagination.
You remember the look she gave you then because it… because her eyes glowed just looking at you. Crying like a baby didn't seem to matter suddenly. "You're pretty in the snow!" She hoisted you onto her back so you could be tall for once.
"I'm always pretty!" A flake slid down your nose and onto hers. Your kiss melted it. So you tried to free her upturned face of snow using just your lips.
She had almost dropped you and it only made her laugh all the harder. "I told you not to eat that! It'll give you snowman disease and then you'll be all fat and I'll drop you!"
"You'll love me anyway because I'm kooky like that!"
"You're right," Faith hoped up onto the side of the town square's fountain, comically wiggling to make you hold on harder. "There's not another girl like you in the world!"
"I'm your snowflake!"
"And I'm yours!"
Satsu holds onto your arm, squeezing so hard you wince and bat her away. Lily leans in, like an idiot; "Buffy? Try and stay calm, ok? The last thing we need is you going into shock right now, ok? Be brave for Faith."
Bliss is staring at you too; with the kind of expectant, trusting, believing look of an orphaned puppy- the kind of look that right now would have made you hit her. Except you just can't give a crap.
Rosy laughs through her sobs and Faith's half-lidded eyes are approving. "You're my Knightess in Shining Armour," you hear her thinking sarcastically. It strikes you that perhaps you will always be able to do that.
Faith is brave in the face of danger- she once let herself get run through with a metal pipe rather than see a weaker girl be hurt in prison.
"I've used up my bravery."
Instead you hold her hand and squeeze as the bleeding starts to slow. Her smile is faint but it's there. It's still there.
"Do you remember, sweetheart, I… I…" No, "Do you remember our first kiss? I was so afraid but then…"
Her eyes squint against the misty sun and it seems as if looking up at you is a monumental effort. You rest your head in the red sand beside hers. She moves to kiss your cheek. And her breath passes against your neck.
"Then I was very brave."
You've spent your life imagining.
So now you tell the truth. You lie next to your wife and remind her of every important moment in your past, every monumental kiss and all the little ones in between. Rosy soaks her dress in fresh blood to lie across from you, shushing Faith's gasps and smoothing down her juddering chest.
The three of you huddle, surrounded by silent people shouting frantically, a pretty beach and a beautiful garden.
This isn't a movie, there is no prolonged goodbye, no sudden rousing; she doesn't let out that final shuddering breath, leaving you to cry and then- gasp!- takes a second.