The Jacaranda Tree
After the Hellmouth was closed, the years passed faster than any of them could have imagined. Dawn had just graduated college when they began to notice the changes in Buffy. Her skin, once so California golden-tan like a surfer girl had dulled to a jaundiced pallor. Her goldilocks were left behind on the couch pillow clothes shower. Everywhere she went, tiny clumps of wavy faded hair. Her nails broke off. Her body got skinny-minny like those girls in the movies with ana-wrecks-ya.
But they knew better, knew it before she said it. Knew probably months before she told them that the chemo wasn't working, that there were no more treatments left to try, that her time was up and it was over before it even truly began because all this time it had been a secret. A terrible terrible secret kept to protect everyone once again.
Dawn cried and screamed and punched and clawed at Faith like she was a little girl again, tiny green energy ball, yelling that it was no fair how could this happen? There were Slayers everywhere now and Buffy should live to be eighty and that was the plan and how could it go wrong oh so wrong with just one big-small bad word that started with "C" and ended with death and was just too horrible to say out loud.
And Faith, she obediently took the punches and scratches, held in her own tears and stood up strong like a warrior. Buffy cried to her one night.
"I don't want to be here anymore. England is cold and damp and bare. I want to go home I want to see sunshine I want to be warm and golden with the magnolia and hibiscus flowers."
Buffy didn't say, "I don't want to die with everyone watching," but that was mostly what she meant.
So that was what they did. Buffy said goodbye, good luck, I love you so much to everyone while she could still stand on her own, and Dawn hated her more every minute for leaving but she did, she left with Faith on a long plane ride to a little house on the coast of California.
Buffy used almost every airsick bag on the way there and people looked at her with pity as they handed theirs over. Faith wanted to scream at them her secret. That *she* was going to make Buffy better so stop looking at her like she's death walking!
The house that Giles got them was a cottage so close to the ocean you could hear it smell it feel it from every room. It had white shutters that worked and was made of something light brown that you could tell would crumble if you tried to hurt it with nails and made the whole thing look like a gingerbread house. Inside was a living room with a deep bay window that looked out onto the ocean and a jetty so beautiful that Buffy, who had never done anything but doodle boys' names in the margins of her schoolwork, felt her hands itching for drawing pencils and a sketch pad. There was no furniture except two large mattresses upstairs, in two rooms that adjoined to each other with a doorway that had no door. But there was money, and lots of it. Giles had made sure of that, and tomorrow if Buffy were up to it, they would go into town and look for furniture.
Faith dragged the mattresses into the living room, and that first night Buffy slept restlessly, tossing and turning and thumping the bed like popcorn in an old-fashioned popper, and Faith sat in the bay window watching the dark waves crash in the distance, down their grassy hill and across what seemed like miles of sand in the dark. All this was theirs. Faith smoked two packs of cigarettes, lighting them end to end to end and by sunrise she was breathless, her lungs heavy and stiff with menthol. Her lips chapped and cracked dried salty tracks down her face from her eyes. She washed her face quickly and cupped her hands under the faucet, drinking greedily the cool water, feeling it make its way through her body.
She returned to the living room to find Buffy just waking up, blinking in the new morning sun, mildly confused at first. Then a smile spread slowly over her face until she was beaming bright as the sun that lit up her hair like a halo. Faith saw her mouth the word a few times before she said it softly.
Buffy rested curled in the bay window, soaking the sunshine in, for nearly the entire morning. In the heat of the afternoon sun, when Faith was beginning to avoid every window in the house like the creatures of the night that she once fought, she stood carefully and requested they go into town. Defeated, Faith reluctantly went into what would eventually become her bedroom and changed into shorts and a tank top, then brought down a change for Buffy. She had a sinking feeling that at least one mattress would be making its home downstairs. She didn't even want to think about Buffy getting up in the middle of the night and attempting the stairs by herself. Faith made a mental note to look at fold-out couches.
It took Buffy a long time to get changed, even with Faith's help. She swatted her away when Faith came at her with a hairbrush, however, choosing to tie it back into a loose ponytail and let it hang instead. Eventually they were ready to go, and Buffy walked unsteadily, holding tightly to the other girl's hand as they made their way down to the shiny black pickup that Faith had been delighted to find waiting in the driveway for them.
Faith steered into town, Buffy staring out the window as she rested against the seat and the radio crooned quietly, "The empty handed painter from your streets…is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.."
When Buffy finally spoke, it was in a light, nearly breathless tone. "I need pencils."
"And drawing paper. I want to draw the ocean."
Faith nodded her agreement. 'Anything to make her happy,' Giles had said. Anything at all.
They avoided the expensive Beverly-Hills-Wannabe, Come-Spend-Your-Money-Here Boutiques and instead headed to a quaint, friendly looking house-turned-store called Mama's Treasures. Mama herself was inside, shuffling through a rack of sequined 70's dresses, but when they entered with Buffy leaning against Faith for support she turned around and with a thick Jamaican accent welcomed the two.
Buffy distractedly fingered the brightly colored dresses while Faith explained to Mama that they needed a whole house of furniture and two wardrobes. Mama took Faith's arm and led her through the store like a whirlwind, throwing stacks of tight jeans and tank tops and James Dean jackets for Faith, and light flowing tops and skirts with tulle and lace for Buffy. A triple cushion fold out couch-bed that was black with pink and green and blue fake paint spatters all over it. Two big overstuffed armchairs, black for Faith and palest blue for Buffy.
Mama's son Roy came back from lunch then. Faith looked at him and he was beautiful with milk chocolate skin and golden eyes like jewels that sparkled when he laughed as he helped her load the stuff in the back of the truck and offered to follow them home to help her put the furniture inside. Buffy got very quiet, listening to them compare their broken childhoods and how they healed from them.
They rode home one behind the other, Faith's brand new truck weighted down with furniture and clothing and even some groceries they stopped to pick up on the way. Buffy felt better when Roy pretended to attack her with a bag of shark meat while humming the "Jaws" theme. When they got to the house, Faith realized she'd forgotten to pick up drawing paper and pencils for Buffy, and Roy quickly brought Buffy out to his car. They were gone for awhile, and she started to worry. He seemed really nice but after all, he was still a stranger.
Just then, they came back in and Buffy's eyes were brimming with tears. Roy had given her a sketchpad with paper made from Daphne bush bark and a box of charcoals that his father had given to him just before he'd been shot in the neck. Roy said he could never draw after that and hopefully Buffy would bring the charcoals to life.
Buffy looked very tired, her eyes glassy and set deep amongst the permanent purple-black "bags" surrounding them. She had a sallow tint that indicated it was way past time for her to have something to eat and lay down for awhile. Roy headed back to the store with promises to come visit again, and Faith fixed cucumber and alfalfa sprout sandwiches and couscous with toasted pine nuts for lunch.
After lunch Buffy sank down onto her new silk bed sheets and down comforter, folding herself in like a burrito from King Taco's and floating off to sleep peacefully, her charcoals at her side.
"Life goes by so fast, you only want to do what you think is right. Close your eyes and then it's past; story of my life!"
Faith was rocking out. There were no other words for it; she was jumping up and down on the California king mattress on the floor, the stereo blasting some rock song from when she was growing up. A ladle was clutched tightly in her hand and she had the worst case of bedhead Buffy had ever seen. She guessed Faith had thought she'd take longer in the shower than she actually did, and that's why she was bearing witness to Faith losing her mind in the living room.
Buffy smiled and watched quietly until Faith started doing the Mashed Potato. Then she lost it; laughing a deep, unfamiliar guffaw that choked her and brought her to her knees, tears flowing freely down her pale, gaunt cheeks. Waves of hysterics rolled over her, sending her into convulsions of emotion as Faith wrapped her arms around her and rocked her comfortingly.
She sobbed endlessly, a river of tears soaking through Faith's shirt and turning it near transparent as she held Buffy tightly. They sat like that for nearly an hour, with Buffy screaming into her chest the entire time, "I don't want to die I don't want to die please please don't let me die!"
Faith's heart felt like a rose that someone had pulled all the petals off of, and there was nothing left but wild, angry thorns.
That night, Faith ordered vegetarian pizza for dinner. Buffy picked at it unhappily, her leg shaking restlessly as she scratched her nails into the Oakwood table over and over again leaving behind tiny ditches of Pearly Pink nail polish that Faith had put on for her earlier. She suddenly slammed her cup down on the table.
"I want to go out dancing," she stated clearly.
"You heard me."
"No," Faith said simply. As though that were all there were to it. She said no, so it was no. Buffy glared at her and within seconds turned into a whiny, petulant child.
"I. Want. To. GO. OUT!" She yelled the last part so loudly that Faith winced with its force. Giles' words echoed in her head. 'Anything to make her happy…'
Within minutes Faith was decked out. Black leather spikes boots tight slick. Buffy looked like an angel in reams of pink tulle draped about her sharp hipbones and a shiny pink tank top hanging off her birdbone shoulders. Faith dusted her from head to toe with glitter and they dabbed their pulse points with patchouli oil.
The gay club they chose to ward off any would-be suitors pulsed and pounded in the night, multicolored strobes spinning in the dark. They, too, were spinning in the dark as disco balls bounced vermillion and cerulean off Buffy's sparkling body. They danced close, their legs intertwining with each others'. Faith's hands on her hips. Her hands on Faith's back. Thigh against thigh, hip to hip, and after awhile it was no longer dancing but suddenly became some sort of strange mating ritual. Faith's movements had always been sexual from the time they met, but something in Buffy's changed then. She felt a hungering in the pit of her stomach. She put her hands over Faith's ass and pulled her closer and Faith mistook it for the innocence of dirty dancing. A new song came on and Faith broke apart from her, sensing something odd between them and began to dance by herself.
"Lil' mama show me how you move it. Go ahead put ya back into it. Do ya thang like there ain't nothin' to it. Shake…shake…shake that ass girl…"
And she did. She moved like her body was built for nothing but sex and dancing and there was only a thin line between them and maybe that was true but Buffy didn't have time to think about it because she was busy trying to imitate Faith's movements. Faith was too good, though. Faith grew up with this kind of music. Faith had an ass to shake. Buffy was just a skinny little nothing girl who was going to die any day.
She wiped at the glitter on her face thinking Oh this was a mistake and how she was just trying to be normal, but then again how normal is cancer anyway? She turned and started to run. She ran through the club and out the door and smack into Roy. He recognized her sobbing face immediately and embraced her tightly as Faith ran out after her. The three of them hugged and hugged and slowly made their way back to Faith's truck.
When they got home, Roy brewed sage tea and they all sat in the kitchen silently sipping. The brisk ocean air wafted in from the open French doors, salty and fresh and bitter at the same time, a reminder of the freedom that Buffy was losing day by day.
Buffy finally spoke, startling them all. "I need to do something with my hair."
"Anything you want," Faith answered automatically.
Buffy's face turned bright red, tomato with thinning blonde hair from chemical treatments that lingered still in her body. Her eyes turned a deep jade and her fists clenched up like those babies that are born so stressed and don't know how to deal with it.
"STOP SAYING THAT!"
Roy jumped a little and looked back and forth between the two girls. A little blonde who looked like something you could hang off a charm bracelet, yet had an untapped fire in her, and a thinning brunette, beaten and tired, ready to give up. He frowned.
Faith looked at her dully.
Buffy jumped up out of her seat with more energy than she'd shown since coming to California a few weeks ago and punched Faith in the jaw. Faith took the punch but didn't react. Buffy did it again. Roy got up and came up behind Buffy, ready to restrain her.
"Don't touch me," She stated clearly without even turning around. He backed off and took his tea out to the porch. "Come on, pussy. Fight back." She punched Faith again.
She round-housed Faith out of the chair and halfway across the room. "What the FUCK is your problem?" Faith finally exclaimed, picking herself up painfully.
Buffy knew. Her problem was she was an angry little ball of cancer and hate and unfairness. Was that she fought for years to stay alive only to be taken out by something as insignificant and intangible as cancer. That she couldn't fight cancer.
"You!" she yelled instead, directing a series of rapid punches at her. "You're an asshole! I hate you! I'm gonna kill you!" She began to cry, still punching Faith over and over again. "It's not fair! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" She screamed her hate over and over again, punching Faith's abdomen until she was doing nothing but swiping at it and sobbing. Faith and Roy, who had come back in at some point during the whole episode, then wrapped their arms around her and all three sank down onto the floor, crying together.
Buffy sat very still as Roy trimmed around her ears. It felt weird to let someone touch her hair after all this time. She'd always had such beautiful goldilocks, long flowing thick. And now…
Roy finished up and got her a mirror. As she stared at her newly cropped hair, she began to smile.
"A pixie cut for my pixie girl," he said. His strong chocolatey colored hands squeezed her shoulders lightly. She turned her head and kissed his cheek.
"Where's Faith? I want to show her."
Roy bit his lip.
The bar was filled with smoke and flashing lights from the dance floor. Faith was already six sheets to the wind, dancing like a maniac and smoking something she was pretty sure was strictly pot, but couldn't make any guarantees. It felt so good to be free like when she was young.
The music pulsed inside her body.
"No, we're never gonna quit. Ain't nothing wrong with it, just acting like we're animals. No, no matter where we go cause everybody knows we're just a couple animals.."
She started to feel hazy, dreamy, like things were far away, and when a cute guy came over to her and asked her something, she just said yes. Because everything was yes when you felt this fucking good.
Touching… yes, please.
Can I put it in? Yes!
Is it okay that I don't have a condom? Yes.
Yes… Yes… Yes!
The next morning, Faith came straggling home toting a flowerpot for Buffy. It was made of the same gingerbread brown that their house was, and had a plant about a yard and a half tall in it. Buffy could hardly be mad at her disappearance as she explained.
"It's a baby jacaranda tree. I thought we could plant it around back and watch it grow together."
Buffy smiled as they set to work carving out a new home for their baby tree.
The jacaranda grew week by week. Buffy's skin turned golden tan as she spent more and more time on the beach with Roy. Faith started sleeping in her own room instead of downstairs with Buffy, so no one would see her throwing up every morning.
She turned pale and gaunt, but her stomach began to puff out a little and soon they all knew the truth even though no one said it.
Buffy took her bed into the spare room and locked herself in it for three days when she found out. She wouldn't even talk to Roy. Buffy ignored Faith and their tree for days and days. The little tree seemed to droop to the side without the girls' care, and nothing Roy did would make it stand up straight.
Buffy's tan began to fade. She got dizzy a lot. Roy took her to the doctor and he said it's back, it's back.
He used a lot of big fancy words like metastasized and chemotherapy, but all they really meant was that Buffy was going to be sick again and again. Her newly grown hair would turn brittle and crackly and fall out. She'd have bruises all over if she just tapped her arm against the staircase like she always did.
This time, Faith locked herself in her room for three days.
Roy moved into the living room to help out. Mama sent over lots of what she called "good old fashioned down-home cooking." The jacaranda tree wilted alongside Buffy.
Weeks passed, and the house was very, very quiet.
Roy blinked as the sun penetrated his eyes. He opened them to see Buffy standing there shakily opening the living room curtains, one pale fragile hand struggling with the window lock.
"Morning," she said, her voice hoarse.
"What are you doing up so early?" he asked, glancing at the clock. Seven-thirty. Had she gotten sick again?
"There's coffee. Come to the kitchen. Come look." She put a finger to the side of her nose and crept quietly towards it with him in tow. They went to the window and looked in the backyard.
There was Faith, long flowing white shirt covering her distended belly, crouched low over the tiny little tree. She had pruned it, watered it, and was carefully mixing the coffee grounds into compost and settling them around its base.
Roy and Buffy looked at each other and smiled.
Faith flattened her hands into the wet dirt, inhaling the sweet aroma of the jacaranda blossoms. The earth sang beneath her fingertips, fresh and new. She carefully spread the damp coffee grinds over the tree's base, her cheeks turned golden-pink in the California sun. She turned the silty dirt with care, occasionally squeezing it in her hands, enjoying the feel of the freshly tilled ground.
Buffy sat on the porch in an old-fashioned rocker, slowly swaying in the new warmth of spring. It had been a long, dreary winter that reminded her of England and sickness and everything she wanted to forget.
The gingerbread house's deck creaked lightly under the rocker, and Buffy watched Faith, pretending for a few moments that everything was good. But Faith was still too thin for her second trimester, and Buffy was even thinner. Her bones were brittle and Faith and Roy watched her constantly to make sure she didn't bang her elbows on the doorway or fall down the stairs she rarely climbed anymore.
Roy brought her iced green tea and gluten-free pasta for lunch, his heart aching as he watched the girls. Faith doting on their little tree so innocently, wrapped up in her loneliness that not even the swelling of her womb could relieve. Her belly belied the rest of her body, which was stick-thin and fragile like the legs of a new fawn.
Buffy barely touched her lunch, which was not unusual. Her cancer had metastasized and the treatment made her nauseous all the time now. As fast as Giles could Western Union it, the money disappeared into doctors and herbalists and acupuncture, none of which seemed to do any good. Buffy was once a golden star, but her light was fading fast. Roy felt that the only thing keeping her holding on was the one thing that seemed to trouble Faith the most.
That night, Roy fell to his knees beside the couch bed and spoke to a God he had ignored for years. Please, please, he prayed. Let them survive. Take me, let me be with my father, but let them live well and be happy. Inside the pit of his stomach churned angrily, knowing that it might not be one or the other. Earlier that day, he'd been to the doctor and found out there was sickness in his blood, too, a different kind of sickness but every bit as serious. Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the doctor had said, frowning so hard that Roy thought his face might break. Roy wished he were back in the sixties, a flower child, back in a time when no one died from making love.
He had never prayed so hard in his life.
Buffy's cancer grew and Faith's belly swelled and Roy's T-cell numbers shrank. Mama kept sending her down home meals. Dawn kept calling and talking to the answering machine. Giles kept sending money, but the amounts began to dwindle. Times were not easy as summer was ushered in at the gingerbread house. The jacaranda was wilting again, seemingly along with the rest of their odd little family. Roy took over its care once again as Faith's belly got too big for her to bend.
Buffy spent most days on the pullout couch, sketching the windows and everything on the other side of them. Her energy had been sapped, and she found it hard to care about anything. This was her second summer back in California, and she felt very insignificant among the surfer boys and golden beauties.
Summer was still in its early days when Faith first noticed the specks of blood that quickly became more and more. Roy sat for hours in the emergency room with her while Buffy paced the kitchen anxiously, thinking. She thought about life and God and somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered that female rabbits under great duress will absorb their litters back into their bodies to protect them.
Rabbit, Rabbit on the first of the month. Buffy saw a rabbit nibbling some clover that had sprouted up around the jacaranda and burst into tears. She knew.
Faith came back looking pale and drawn, like someone had stolen the soul from her body.
Maybe they had.
Faith curled up beside Buffy on the pullout and Buffy wrapped her long arms around her. Roy checked on them, two pairs of birdbone shoulders pressed against each other. He made tabouli for dinner, but no one was really hungry.
Roy slept upstairs that night, sacrificing his bed to his girls.
A tangle of limbs surrounded Buffy as the other girl kissed her desperately. She wanted so bad to sink into it, give in, feel something for once. The moon shone brightly on the blossoms outside the window.
She pushed Faith away gently.
"I can't." Faith gave her a wounded-puppy look. "You're my best friend. I love you. But I can't be with you."
Faith didn't hear anything else, because her world shattered with the rejection. Her eyes were broken mirror bits, flashing in the moonlight. She got up, got into the shower numbly and scrubbed until her skin was bloody raw painful. Her thoughts swirled around her hopelessly, engulfing her over the sound of the water splashing about her legs.
She came out of the shower red and broken. Buffy waited outside in the hallway for her.
The frail blonde tried desperately to speak, but there were no words for how she felt. Tangled and torn. How could she take on Faith's love when her own thoughts were too much of a burden for her?
"I'm going to die, Faith," she said hoarsely. Her voice strangled and strained to be heard. She put her hand up to stop Faith's protests. "I'm okay with it. But you're not. And that's okay. But I can't hurt you more by being with you and then leaving. I have to know it's okay to leave."
Faith's eyes welled with unwanted tears as she dug her nails into her palms. "You're not even fighting it."
Buffy retained her solemn look. "I've been fighting, and it's too hard now. I can't fight my body anymore." Her voice cracked. "I'm not giving up. I need to feel safe and warm and not be in pain. Please," she started crying as well, "Please let me go."
She turned and walked away.
Faith sat in a lone chair between two doors. She desperately wanted something to eat, but she didn't know the floor too well, and hesitated to leave. As though maybe if she stayed, nothing bad could happen. What a joke.
Life was a joke, in fact. The whole sordid concept was funny, but not in the way that made you laugh. Her whole life was one big fucking joke, from start to finish.
She dug her nails into the padded arms of the chair, clenching her teeth. Thoughts swirled around her angrily and she nearly choked on them. She stood and walked out of the hospital, taking a seat in the abandoned courtyard to have a cigarette.
Suddenly her gut contracted and her heart began to race. The hair on her arms stood on end.
Faith licked her lips and stood nonchalantly, dropping her cigarette to the ground and stomping it out with her new sneakers. She'd never been much for running shoes, but her black platform boots had gone the way of the rest of her typical wardrobe. The heat of SoCal in summer just made an all-black wardrobe seem totally inappropriate.
She forced herself to focus, narrowing the vamp's location to just behind her, concealed by bushes that led to trees that led to woods. She put her cigarettes back in her pocket, lightly fingering the stake there for reassurance. The vampire stalked her silently through the high shrubs, and Faith watched carefully with her eyes, never once moving her head.
Faith was a force to be reckoned with. When she slayed, it was like watching a very violent ballet, every move graceful and calculated.
Not this time.
The vamp quickly got the upper hand, ducking her blows easily and grabbing her by her hair. He swung her around by it and she shouted out in pain, too focused on the ripping sensation in her scalp to do anything about it. He let go of her and she slammed into a mottled old tree.
The collision made her brain rattle inside her skull. She saw flashes of deep red among the view of the vamp coming back for her. He kicked her side so hard that she heard, more than felt, her ribs cracking.
"Fuck!" she yelled, curling into a ball instinctively to protect her injured side. For the first time in her life, she felt that she might lose a fight.
Faith took as deep a breath as she could manage as his foot reared back for another blow, and rolled away.
'It takes more energy to swing and miss than to swing and connect. Remember that.'
It was as though her Watcher were standing beside her as she continued rolling, able to see only flashes of the vampire as he fell backward.
She stopped at the edge of a ravine and let out a breath she didn't even realize she'd been holding as he came after her again.
"Didn't… anybody ever tell you… it's not nice...to hit girls?" she said, every breath more painful than the next.
He ignored her and squatted over her, grinning and baring his gleaming fangs. Faith closed her eyes. Swung out at him, knocking him off her. And rolled again, right into the ravine.
Faith dragged herself back through the woods, hoping she'd find the hospital soon. Not that a few shattered ribs couldn't wait or anything, but she was a city girl. Not much for the nature.
Not much for the Slaying anymore either, apparently. She'd never run away from a fight in her life. Well, technically she hadn't run. She'd rolled. Right into a deep ravine filled with murky water.
Her arms were scratched and bruised, her ribs cracked with every step she took, and she was pretty sure her meeting with the tree earlier had given her a concussion.
She hiked painfully, and when she finally saw the hospital in the distance, she broke into an all-out run, her gangly arms flying. She practically grabbed at the air and willed it to pull her forward to the hospital lobby, where she promptly fainted.
When Faith awoke, she was hooked to an I.V. that was pumping morphine straight into her veins. She glanced around blearily and sat up. No one was around, so she pulled the I.V. out and stood, walking out into the hallway.
She found herself across the hall from where she'd been sitting earlier that night. She looked at the door wistfully, not wanting to go in while she was in this condition, but knowing she had to.
She paced outside the door for awhile, feeling more lost and alone than when the blood had come last month. Her womb still ached hopelessly, clenching like a fist around emptiness. She rubbed her stomach absently and entered the room.
CHAPTER SIX: Epilogue
The vampire exploded into a dust-shower, glaring at her accusingly. She wanted to say something witty, but the best she could come up with was a play on steak, and that was just pathetic. She hunched over and put her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.
She leaned down and retrieved her stake from the ground where it had fallen. It smelled faintly of the jacaranda blossoms that had once bloomed on it. Well, that and the musty scent of vampire ashes. She pulled back and wrinkled her nose in disgust. She didn't really want to think about vampire smell.
She pocketed the carved wood and strolled down the street towards the gingerbread house.
"I'm home!" she called out as she entered. She kicked off her boots and searched the first floor, then slowly made her way up the steps and into Faith's room.
Faith was staring at the wall looking vaguely lost.
"Hey," she said gently.
Faith snapped out of it and glanced at her. "You're dusty." A beat. "Don't track it all over the house."
"You got it, Mom." Anne sat down on Faith's bed purposefully, a spark in her eyes as the dust billowed up off her pants and settled on the bedspread. "What are you doing, anyway?"
Faith sighed and lightly fingered the framed drawings. "Reminiscing, I guess."
"Oh. Buffy, right?" Faith nodded and glanced towards the window.
The jacaranda had grown to amazing heights. She remembered the small plant she had brought home so long ago as an apology. But it was more than that, she thought to herself. It was a symbol of some kind. Maybe her love for the little blonde she bought it for, maybe of her own growth as a person.
The years go by so fast. Anne was already sixteen, the same age Faith had been when she first came to California and met Buffy.
Buffy had been sick for so long. She spent more and more time in the hospital hooked up to tubes and wires and finally, in the last days, a machine that breathed for her. At the end she couldn't even speak, but Faith knew she'd heard just fine. Her eyes told Faith that.
And Roy… she'd been visiting him at the hospital the night a vampire attacked her. He'd been holding on for so long, and Faith broke down that night. She sobbed that he couldn't leave her, too, because Buffy was surely leaving eventually, and Faith did not want to be alone.
Roy liked to say that Faith saved his life. He still got sick sometimes, but he was never that close to death again. He was strong, a warrior, her brother-in-arms.
He was the first one to hold Anne when she was born. He sat at Faith's side night and day in the final days of her extremely high-risk pregnancy. He held her hand and Anne held his finger and he said, my god, she's so strong and Faith knew, then.
From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers…every one of us.
Faith touched the charcoal picture once more before turning back to her daughter, who was curled up like a kitten on the end of her bed. She sat down and stroked her hair lightly like she did when Anne was little.
"Once upon a time, there was a girl who had burned down the gym at her school, and another girl who burned everything in her path…"
Once upon a time. Once upon a time.
And they lived happily ever after.
Author's Note: I hope everyone that read this story enjoyed it, I really do. This story was a labor of love, and I am sad to see it end. Thanks for taking the ride with me.