Author: PrincessDushku PM
Complete with Epilogue, Finding the one person in the world who's your other half is never easy- especially when you happen to have good reason to hate them.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Buffy S. & Faith L. - Chapters: 31 - Words: 189,077 - Reviews: 254 - Favs: 88 - Follows: 71 - Updated: 02-27-11 - Published: 04-04-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3475265
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Five years later and it still hurts that she's gone from your life. Thirty years later and you're still grateful she came into it.
You think 'I should have saved her', because it's true- you should have- and 'I could have saved her' because it's a lie.
It came to you the other night that you live in a country where you barely speak the language and, just as Scotland had been all those years ago (and London has always felt), nowhere is really home without Faith.
Every day that she is gone chafes like sandpaper on your soul. You're just starting to have good days- just starting to have days when you don't think about her every second. For a time you wished you could dream forever, because it was there that you saw her. Nevertheless, you're getting there. It's a slow process but learning to live shouldn't be easy.
You still see her face sometimes, though it's getting less and less. And it's not just when Rose smiles a certain way or a trick of the light catches your eye in the bedroom you once shared. To start with it was every day, every face, the back of every brunette girl. Now it's only monthly, weekly in summer; the time she died. And winter; the three of you have winter birthdays- had. Rose in November, you in January and Faith in December between.
It's not your fault. Apparently. The doctors seemed so amazed at the time. That you had kept something like this under wraps, hidden away, was a feat of great strength and determination. You don't think so. What's the point if you failed anyway?
They say there's no way you could have known, no way you could have stopped her from doing something like that. But there is, of course there is, so much so that in the end it doesn't matter how she died just that she did and you should have been there. Should have stopped her. You ran through that house with such a fine toothcomb, risk assessing, childproofing, locking up anything and everything that could do her harm. You even kept buying her puppies just so there'd be an excuse as to why, for when your friends visited.
Silly to keep a secret when everyone knew. But they let you go on, let you… maybe it was all for you? Maybe Faith really didn't care, maybe she wouldn't have cared. Everything seems to be about Faith, to do with Faith, concerning Faith.
In truth, you'd forgotten how to be just the one, singular person.
At first, after the funeral, you'd thought it would be easy- Rosy didn't really need much more parenting and even if she did you'd done it by yourself before, what could go wrong?
It was a pretty stupid thing to think and you'd forgotten to factor in the help you had last time from family, friends and later Henry. Yet here you found yourself, stranded in a foreign country with an angry child who considered herself more English than American and more Italian than both. When you did something to piss her off- which was anything from breathing to asking if she was ok- she'd swear at you in three different languages, none of which you understood, and run away for days on end.
To be a good parent to a grieving child, you have to not be grieving yourself.
University came as a relief; she was in Rome and you were no longer trapped, you didn't have to stay in a tense house with a person who hated you… yet the desire to leave was no longer there. This home houses not just the bad memories but also the good ones- though it took you a long time to realize it. You'd avoided every room Faith loved and hadn't noticed how big the damn place was until it was just you and the dogs.
Life became all about the three back rooms on the ground floor- even the basement was out of bounds. There you slept, ate and bathed in the kitchen, previously-unused formal dinning room and the tiny bathroom someone had tacked on in the fifties. You didn't leave the house- what was the point, without a translator you barely understood every other word spoken to you- and ate just the vegetables that were left over from Faith's overgrown garden.
Your neighbours knocked at the door and you ignored them. Willow and Xander tried to call and you unplugged the phone. Giles wrote letters and you tossed them on the steadily increasing pile in the hall. Dawn even once threatened to visit- writing it on the back of a postcard in big, red letters- but when you didn't respond she lost interest in the idea.
It wasn't that you wanted to stay in the house, or that you even wanted to be alone… it seemed like you didn't want anything in particular. Except for Faith to come back. You were existing and as long as you concentrated on that, as long as your thoughts were purely about remembering to feed the dogs and fix the boiler, tap three times on the old window pane else it wouldn't open… as long as that was all you thought of, you didn't have to consider how terrible and gut wrenchingly awful the visions in your head were.
That Goddamn corpse.
Christmas break came too soon it seemed, you were faced with the prospect of your little world being shattered yet again by yelling and blame and far too much guilt. Just because you knew it was your fault didn't mean you wanted to be reminded of it at every available occasion.
But the woman who stepped through that door and accidentally tumbled into the pile of post wasn't what you were expecting. Instead of accusations and harsh glares she took one look at your rumpled appearance, the piles of plates in the sink, the dirt covering every surface, and dragged you upstairs to the bathroom. Ignoring your weak protests she stripped you of your ragged clothes and forced you into a warm bath, washing your hair as you'd done so many times before for Faith, talking in that same soothing tone until you were sobbing and scrubbed down, clinging to her lifeline.
She moved like a fastidious hurricane, throwing open the windows to let the rancid air out and enlisting the help of her local friends to scour the house of dirt and grime. It took a full two weeks until she deemed the house 'liveable', during which time more people had come and gone than you were sure actually lived in the village. They left gifts of food and the promise of free trade to mend what could be fixed and replace that which couldn't… everything but the most important thing missing.
Each of them clasped one of your shrunken hands in theirs and in broken English spoke about how sad they were for your loss. Rose facilitated your mental state, making sure no one talked for too long, brought you down too far, caring and taking charge until you began to wonder what the hell Rome put in the water to turn an enraged little girl into a capable young woman.
"I understand it all now." She explained when you asked, "I know that Mama was just special and we were lucky to have her but it was hard on you. There was nothing anyone could have done to stop what happened."
You argued at first, cited every time you'd left Faith, every time you'd run away or snapped back or hit her because you'd just finished painting that wall and now it was a pile of bricks or because it wasn't Monday and turning back all the clocks didn't actually make it so.
Rose had shaken her head, "It doesn't matter. I felt that way too but it doesn't mean anything- we still loved her and she knew it."
"But what if she didn't?"
Does it really matter how you feel if there's no way to ever express it enough?
You still have that nagging doubt sometimes. That little taunting feeling that says you didn't do enough; if you'd loved her just a little better, just a little more, she wouldn't have done it, she wouldn't have slipped, she'd have been sane.
'Sane'… as if she never was!
So many times you'd watch her eyes as she slipped away, as they glazed over with either depression or mania and you'd beg in your heart for her to come back, come home safely.
When she was well you'd clutch her to you, quiz her with a million questions so that you might feel as if you knew her just that little bit better, as if she was yours, as if just by knowing everything she'd stay with you even when she was gone.
And now she really is gone.
Yet you still have Rose- even though she spends most of her time somewhere deep in Africa, saving other people's lives. The rest of the time she's studying hard to be the only Lehane to ever finish med school… or any kind of 'school' actually.
That's an assumption. Worse; a story. Who is to say that Faith doesn't have three siblings who are currently a doctor, a lawyer and a banker?
'Didn't'. 'Doesn't'? What do people say when speaking of a living person in relation to someone who isn't? It really is a marvel you're allowed to teach English.
So why haven't the three of them- Dr. Lehane and co.- come to find the truth?
You want to tell everyone, there's this aching, burning need to talk about it. If Rosy even twists an ankle you have to know- you have to be sure your baby is all right!
So who else is there?
Who else to tell?
Why wasn't she given a mummy to cry over her?
For a while it hurt that the last thing you told her was a lie.
You said she'd be ok.
The phone rings from the pocket of your apron, just as you're tying the last ribbon. You take the flowers out into the garden and sit on the porch steps before pressing 'answer', knowing she'll wait.
"Perfect psychic timing."
Her chuckle is rich and warm, like hot chocolate. She must have stayed up late last night. "I am the Master of the Psychic Arts."
For a moment you just sit, both delighting in each other's presence.
"How's your father?"
"Freaking out. Officially. He can't cope with his 'little girl' being twenty-three and having to walk her down the isle."
"His 'little girl'? If there's one thing the two of you always had in common it's being disturbingly precocious."
She laughs again. "At least he still has GiGi- the pink obsession continues."
"As does her fixation with one Miss Rose Alice Fortescue-Darling Summers Lehane, I'm sure." It's your turn to laugh at her over-played groan. "Hey, at least Dawn didn't name you."
"Don't. Don't even mention her name. Do you know she's left me eight messages so far about Rosamund not allowed wheat and Elizabeth not eating dairy and Reuben being allergic to any bloody napkin that isn't one hundred percent pure Egyptian cotton? Oh, and of course: her own 'Macro' diet. I may just give them all bowls of rice and be- oh." There are scuffles and bangs in the background. "Hold on, Bee-Bee, either we're being burgled or the Stags have finally sobered up enough to drag themselves home…"
You listen to the clattering of her oh-so-fashionable clogs as she thumps her way down the stairs. Never, despite her diminutive stature, has Rose learnt to descend a staircase gracefully.
"Hey drunkards, how wa…? Oh my…"
There's a long, appalled silence.
"Rose? Rose, what's happening? Rose?"
"They did it," She whispers, "they actually did it…"
Does she not understand parental concern? Don't toy with slayer parents! "Did what? Are you alright?"
"They- the- the boys… they tattooed Artie's face."
You let out a rather unladylike snort. "Oh my God…"
Brides are known to be difficult. They're known to be obstinate, demanding perfectionists who can emotionally turn in a split second. When you take a girl who portrays all of these qualities normally and then put a ring on her finger…
"Bliss is going to kill them."
"I know. We mug- SIMMONS, IF YOU LET THAT BOY VOMIT IN THE DRAWING ROOM I WILL make you eat your own scalp, fekwit!"
Is it weird to be proud? Also, that cute little accent of hers makes 'uc' sound like 'e'.
"Sorry, Mama, what were we saying? I'm going to lock them in and be done with it, Uncle Ardy can deal with the berks- he's the one who encouraged them to get so drunk in the first place."
Rose takes control the way she did when she was little, the way she saw you do as she grew up. Drunken people aren't always that different from ill people. At least, not in the way you handle them.
The trick is, probably, not to let them know you're 'handling' them. You try not to think of the hours you spent nagging Faith or avoiding her or attempting to put her out of your thoughts because missed opportunities then somehow seem so much worse than being generally without her now.
Rose sat up with her mother in the week before she died, spending all night cooking food to mush and then attempting to slip past Faith's lips- not minding when the bowls were pushed to the floor.
She's such a beautiful young woman it makes your heart both ache and bloom to think of all the young men who will one day fall at her feet. They probably already do but she just doesn't notice… or, at least, doesn't tell you about them.
Over and over she asks you to move closer to the city, or to her, or 'the family'. But you don't want to leave the house, and Faith. This house will be perfect for grandchildren and you can just imagine their little brunette heads bobbing as they run about, squealing in joy. Long and wavy, with little curls at the ends- like their mother, like their grandmother.
Of course, that's not the only thing they might inherit. You watch Rosy like a hawk (and so, in her subtle way, does Bliss); every time she cries, every time she's just a little irrational, every time she's happy. You've heard the stories and you've lived the truth; like mother, like daughter, like granddaughter?
You hate that woman- whose name you don't even know. Something tells you, at the very back of your mind, that even had she loved her daughter, given Faith everything her heart desired, she would still have been the same. So you love her too, for bringing into the world your magnetic other-half.
When Rosy asks about her family you tell her everything you know, even the things that contradict. She tried, last year, to find her possible aunts and uncles, but there were too many Lehanes in Boston and not one of them remembered loosing a dark haired girl with twinkling eyes called Faith.
But then again, who's to say that's even her real name?
You wish you could go back in time, take that tiny Faith in your arms and tell her that though she may cry and though she may have been born into a family that never loved her she will one day be loved and happy and smile. You're not sure what you'd say about her moods- she lived in fear of her mother's depressions… it might almost be worse to warn her.
"How is Ardy?"
"I think after the fourth divorce one stops caring. Wife number two is going to be at the wedding, though- just ghastly! She's Artie's fifth cousin four times removed. Seating her on the plan was quite the barrel of laughs. Speaking of; you are going to be 'plus one', aren't you? I mean, I know he's slightly offended he didn't get his own invitation but we sort of assumed…"
"He's over it, don't worry. I'm sure, in his long life, many other things have affronted him just as much."
"Well now you're just being cruel!"
Most likely she's pouting. Your pout. "I'm sorry, what else would you like to talk about?"
"Oh… anything other than 'Wimp of the Year' Artie apparently knowing half the Rigger-Buggers in the Home Counties."
Huh? "Okay, I have no idea what that means."
"Which is exactly why I need you here! The other day I actually said 'righty-ho old bean' and I'm not entirely sure it was ironic…"
Your sarcasm doesn't amuse her, "Stop it…"
"What are you doing this evening?" Crying? Hiding in a bunker? Making another thirty flower arrangements?
On the second anniversary of Faith's death you sunk to a new low. Somehow, it was worse than the first- when you'd built up your reserves, so sure that just one look into the garden would break you. It had been stupid but you couldn't help it- Rose went out to fetch the milk and when she came back you were crying. Inconsolably. Stupid Milk.
You cried for two weeks, until you'd been so thoroughly dehydrated that the tears just didn't come anymore.
Rosy hadn't wanted to leave you alone but you knew, even through the haze of grief, that her schooling was more important. So you made that call. And he came, just like you knew he would.
Mimtal smiles up at you from the vegetable garden and waves away your insistence that he come inside from the sun for a rest. He doesn't feel the heat, he doesn't age, he won't ever die, but he's chosen to live, from now until you go, with you. He says it makes him happy, to do the things he once did as a human over again.
You're not even fifty yet but already it feels as if you'll be forever happy with life at a slow pace.
At the weekend and on weekdays after school you help tutor the town's children- in English and martial arts, which is an odd mix but the parents don't seem to mind. You have chores every day and errands to run, people to see. Maybe it's because you've already lived so much in such a short space of time but you can feel your whole being beginning to wind down, slowing beyond your years. You think there are perhaps ten left, yes, ten seems like a good number.
Sometimes you wonder what the town's people must think of this house and the people living in it- they saw you arrive ten years ago as a young woman with a child who always looked younger than she was and a woman who moved like a chameleon through cultures and made them all fall in love. And now, you're the old lady who is as much a part of their community as their own grandparents, who looks, acts and seems much older than they know her to be and who lives with the strange Duke from the castled hill, who doesn't feel the heat in summer or the cold in winter. You imagine what they must think of the other people who stay from time to time; the Japanese woman every summer, the smartly dressed English lady and her family of well-mannered children, the teenage girls who show up from time to time with backpacks full of nothing and heads full of confusion.
Every Christmas Rose returns and invites almost everybody you know so that they might fill the house with laughter and talk and hide that just for a second- just for one second out of every minute- your heart falters in it's beat. Because there's nothing to return it.
Near every week there's a letter in the post from your extended, worldwide family begging you to visit, to stay for an extended period.
They forget you're a slayer, they forget that even without supernatural powers you have a tough shell.
Perhaps they all see beneath to the half-girl who yearns.
Satsu thinks you're awfully lonely and that it's her fault. She counts being unable to save Faith as her biggest failure but Sassy gave you three extra hours with your wife and for that you are eternally grateful.
"Mm… I might call Sass tonight. She's been sending me 'random' letters again."
"She's…" Worried? Overprotective? "She loves you. I think Kennedy has been panicking her- overactive imagination and all that."
The soft petals smooth against your fingertips, tipping at the edges. Roses.
From time-to-time you receive phone calls that aren't so pleasant. You are… the stopgap for Rosy's anger and distress. If she yells and cries with you then she won't with other people.
When Faith first started living with you full-time Rosy fell to pieces. You thought it was because she couldn't stand the inconsistency, the way her mother would disappear, reappear and slip through the threads of her life. Yet, she tells you now, it was that she was exposed to so much more of Faith that was the hardship- she had experienced a true family and found it unravelling between her fingers every time she hold on; the weave too weak.
At La Sapienza she is a bright, medical star, rising quickly up the ranks, acing tests she shouldn't even be able to comprehend. In those late-night phone calls with you she is incensed and distressed.
She cries, these great, big, wracking sobs that make her tiny frame chatter. She plays happy music, and she cries.
It's the type they use for those montages in films where the characters have finally prevailed over all obstacles- where the little girl looses her mother but it's all ok in the end.
Rose cries because… because, sometimes, 'ok' doesn't feel right. And even though her mother would probably swear like a sailor if she knew… the two of you don't really want a 'happily ever after'- not one that doesn't contain Faith, not one with this awful, awful hole.
To be happy you have to let go of the past, admit that… that chapter is closed and it can't ever be opened… admit that every breath you take is one step further away from her. You have to start again.
"Are you're ever angry? For everything you lost? That normal childhood I always dreamed you'd have?"
She pauses and considers, ever mindful of your feelings, "That was always your dream for me- your plans that were scuppered. What did I loose? I must have been the most loved child on the planet…"
See… but now it's hard to know whether she actually means that or because it's… today.
"I had two 'fierce' female role models who I knew would always fight for me. I'm happy, Mama, really." She pauses to let you glow, "I miss her though and I thought I did before… but she always came back."
'She always came back'
You've seen a lot of corpses in your time; the peaceful, the broken and the hideous monstrosities. But it wrenched your gut to see Faith.
She died in your arms, letting out her last breath just minutes after you found her on the shore and way before any kind of help could get there. It's not those moments you hate- in a weird way you cherish them, your last moments together.
The corpse in the morgue is the thing you drank to forget, the reason you couldn't look at Rose for months… because you were so sure, standing there in a freezing, sterile room with the doctor speaking in Italian and expecting you to remember how to understand at a time like that… you were so sure it wasn't her.
"I miss her too." You whisper, so quietly only a slayer would hear. Why is it all so doom and gloom? Shouldn't death be about positive things as well?
That sounds stupid; 'death' is obviously negative.
But Faith… when you look back at her now, all you can remember about her- no, not 'all', obviously you can remember the bad things about her, the bad things she did, the awful things that happened… And the ache that now there won't be any more 'awful moments'. It wouldn't matter anymore what the encounters were like if only-
Ugh, it just seems so stupid now, so silly to consider it. Intellectually, you want to do just that- forget- but it isn't really possible.
Still, your heart sings to recollect the best of her, on her own merits and… also the daughter you could never have created by yourself (although, of course, you sort of did… well, you found the spell…)
"I'm still here for you, Mummy." She's not Faith. She's Rose. But she's bubbly and optimistic and… grounded, which Faith never really was.
Bunched threads of memory and thoughts, of dreams that will never be realised, crowd together in the crush of your skull.
Rose reads the tangled ball and smoothes your rumbling upset with trivial tales of 'cack-handed codgers' and 'Hooray Henrys'. She makes you laugh and relax until you're troubled by nothing more than the flowers in your hands.
"I can't believe that Charlotte would… no, wait, actually that sounds like just the sort of cutting, cruel- while oddly helpful- thing your grandmother would say."
"Honestly, I think Bliss was relieved. The hems were beastly and truly, Ava did look a little like a misshapen goose stuffed into a bright green, plastic bag!"
You share a guilty giggle. Poor, dear Ava Huntington- she can't even blame her sudden weight gain on genetics with a previously identical twin sister swanking around on slender poles. Lexie is in conniptions of panic, concerned more with avoiding her mother-in-law's scorn over her parenting abilities than her daughter's possible droop in self-esteem…
After all, why would a girl who has her entire life pre-mapped out care about going up two dress sizes? Ostensibly, Upper-Class wives are picked for brains and breeding with their facial beauty more important than a little bit of extra weight. That's your view anyway; the weird, American outsider.
"Have the dresses been changed?"
"That's quite the worst of it- it's far too late! Ava can't slim in time to fit back into her dress and I can't have new ones made, or… maybe if I found a sweatshop full of Eastern Europeans willing to work through the nights… I suppose they wouldn't be so put off by Bliss changing her mind every bloody minute!"
The poor bridesmaids have been running backwards and forwards all over London, catering to their bride's every whim. Even Rosy has set the normal bonds of their decade-and-a-half friendship to one side and isn't correcting her sister but rather agreeing just to placate her.
Faith has always been the only person to actually tell Bliss off. Not even Henry's rather formidable parents have any control over their step-granddaughter. "Don't give me that look. I'll stop being rude to her when you can make it through the opening sequence of the Gilmore Girls without crying."
"Hey! Chance made them family, love made them friends!"
"What are you chuckling about?" Rosy pauses from her rant to ask warmly.
Mimtal stands and shades his eyes from the sun, smiling to watch you hug your flowers with joy. When he takes his forearm away a smudge of brown mud colours his tanned skin. Working in your garden has given his complexion a ruddy, weathered edge. His hair waves in the salty air but is soft against your fingers. Occasionally you think it might not be the worst thing were he to kiss you.
"The oleanders are coming in nicely." He nods. In Italy the garden is reserved for vegetable-planting while flowers are grown in window boxes and on balconies. Faith always grew flowers between the 'useful' plants to surround you with beautiful things. You nod back.
"Nothing, RoRo, just something your mother once said. The flowers are beautiful here, Mimtal is looking after them- he's trying to teach me not to kill everything."
After Faith died, the flowers bloomed in late December, even through the snow.
You see marks of her everywhere, even after all this time. She used her hands to raise a home around her capsule family, in the hope it would help her stay. She built the kitchen table and the cabinets; this rustic Old Italian charm. Rose likes to believe her mother is part Italian because it gives Faith a heritage, a place to belong.
"I'm sure he's a good teacher. I trust him to…" She giggles, "I trust him to look after you. That's awful of me to say, isn't it? Sorry, I don't mean to be patronising."
"You're my daughter, at a certain point you're supposed to be more concerned with looking after me than I am with you… concerned. I was concerned. You are. Concerned."
Rosy hums affectionately, "I think I can twig what it is you're talking about. You're not tha-" Calls of 'Sweet Pea?' echo through the phone line. "One sec, Mama. Da-Henry, don't open the door to the drawing room!" He does it anyway. There's a crash as Rosy tumbles over one of the many piles of expensive, antique books, littering the floor. "Never mind then."
"Do you regret not having a father?"
"No," She says, sounding not that startled, "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."
"Ok then," Still you're not placated, "Do you regret not having siblings?"
"And miss out on being spoilt? No thanks." Henry's deep rumblings quieten childish screams in the background. Either the children have arrived or the drunks are becoming spirited. "Believe me, I have quite enough 'family'. They're all dying to see you, of course- Bliss has even let Tav have the afternoon off so she can pick you up from the airport!" She snorts, displaying an inherited love of literary idiosyncrasies, "that's funny; 'Tav-Have'."
Ugh; 'airport', so not funny.
"You know… if you lived here you wouldn't have to fly."
It's so easy to picture Tavi's kitchen, warmed by her green Aga, Bliss, Rosy and GiGi in their summer dresses and cardigans, huddled together to gossip. But they're not your three, beautiful brunettes. They belong to Tavi and Henry.
You know you'll never be part of their little gang but, oddly, just can't seem to care. You're still 'family'. It's difficult to explain; the way you fit but at the same time don't.
"I like it here, Rose, it's… so beautiful right now… the sea is the colour of Lexie's eyes- that bright, brilliant blue." As you wander down to the shore you describe the different plants that are blooming, detail the latest gossip from the town, depict the feeling of welcome from a community that can barely understand you.
You lay the bunch of flowers down in front of the grave; yellow and red and summer. No boring flowers.
"Your mother is here."
Almost audibly, she bites her tongue, "I know that Mama, I know you don't want to leave her but… I just wish there was someone else there- and don't say Mimtal! You're not old, you should be around young people- Slayers. Maybe you shouldn't have sent the others away. Perhaps you need Lily there, so you can enjoy hating each other up close and not just send horrible letters."
But the letters are so much fun…
"They might be fun but I'm the one who has to catalogue them!"
"Oh you love it; being the crypt-keeper of all Slayer-secrets." She does- working at the Rome Office is quite possibly the best job for The Girl Who Could Have Been A Slayer. If she hadn't been cursed, if she hadn't been ill, if she hadn't grown up without the 'growing' part… Who knows how much of the world she could have taken over?
Rosy yawns, "Believe me, I am in no way paid enough to shift through pages and pages of abuse. It's awfully blush-making to read your own parent's hastily-scribbled swearwords!"
"I'm sorry; 'blush-making'? Exactly which century are you living in over there?"
"Oh, quiet!" She grouses.
"No, no, it's nice to hear your obsession with Jane Austen continues… what time did you get to sleep last night? I can hear you yawning."
Making mention of it begins another round of infectious yawns. "Late… and that wasn't Austen."
"Am I keeping you from your bed?"
"Of course not, it's alright, I have to pick up GiGi from the Pony Club and douse her in enough perfume to cover the 'horse' smell before she steps in Tav's car. Possibly let the cretins out of the drawing room. And then sort out the dresses. And the last-minute seating re-jig. And…" She groans, her head audibly hitting the wall. "I don't really want to sit down."
You didn't sleep that well last night either.
Faith's headstone is brown, unpolished sandstone. One of her local friends insisted on paying for the carving anonymously. It was delivered on a Sunday, ridiculously early, before mass. You were a puddle, lying on the beach. Rosa, normally the kindest of neighbours, let the stonemason in and then berated you like a trainer to a spoilt puppy until you thought you might not be able to live without her. The first- and only- time you've ever been to the local church. It didn't take your mind off of Faith though…
After she died it seemed almost as if you thought more about her in those first few months than you ever did while she was alive.
In her life she was so much bigger than this, so much more, you'd fooled yourself into believing she was literally bigger than life. So many times she'd burst into your life and then slid out of it you can't- just can't- stop waiting for her to pop around a corner.
Even in the years you were apart, even while you were with Henry, she was such a large part of your life that it felt strange not to see her daily. Your attempts to explain that to her- your desire to see her but wish she'd just fuck off- were garbled at best.
"No, I mean, I get it, I do." She'd warmed her back against the oven as your latest attempt at chocolate cake sank. You'd been trying so very, very hard to be the perfect British housewife… "You're all grown up and happy and… and normal. Which is what you've always wanted, right? And I'm just this girl, from your past. And I'm only supposed to live in yellow photos and hazy memories and sometimes you'll tell stories about our adventures and you'll leave out all the important parts and it won't really matter…"
You'd wanted to kiss her. You always wanted to kiss her. She clutched a hot mug of coffee, sipping from Rosy's newest artistic fixation. The misshapen ceramic beaker- decorated, of course, in purple- reminded you that Faith hadn't been there to congratulate her daughter as it was pulled from the kiln. You didn't kiss her. Just one of a thousand times.
"So, so I just want to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry that out of all the people who's lives I wander in and out of, you're the one I kept coming back to. I'm sorry that I… that I don't know my place. I'm sorry. I love you. I'm sorry."
You leave for England, thinking not of summer weddings and floaty dresses but dark evenings in warm kitchens, always just a second away from a kiss.
Bliss sits you on the 'singles' table, despite your 'plus one', and makes no delicacy of it. Rosy apologises profusely as soon as she realises but everyone else has already sat down and it's too late to change.
The gourmet meal is spent pushing food around your plate and avoiding attempts at conversation from well-meaning gentlemen. One, a rather rotund banker, finishes the meat course you've ignored and offers intentionally awful chat-up lines in return.
You wish you had a wedding ring. Or were hideously deformed. Except then people would still, most likely, attempt conversation with that same pitying look in their eyes.
Perhaps bereavement is a deformity? It feels as if the other guests can read it in your face. They must know.
Rosy looks charming, she sparkles in the sunlight and hits it off with a groomsman. Somehow it's easy to avoid her and her beauty.
No one other than Mimtal questions your monosyllabic responses. You remind him of his own, normally stoic, nature and leave him to the open bar.
It all feels empty.
Two days in to the 'Wedding Weekend' and you realise that, other than sips of white wine, nothing has passed your lips in twenty-four hours. You haven't said a word.
Henry calls in a ghostly Giles rather than talk to you himself. It's his daughter's wedding, you understand. He calls in the troops.
You fly back with Kennedy and Satsu after the wedding, Giles's almost-promise of 'a new lease of life' ringing in your ears.
"It'll be ok." Sassy whispers, wrapping her hand around yours as the plane takes off.
When did you become the woman who needs to be scraped up off the floor?
Why can't you cope?
They come in dribs and drabs at first; a little girl who walks through walls, a teenager who speaks in blue and twins with curling horns. Then suddenly six arrive at once and the house is alive again with noise.
The town's people pretend they're not superstitious but call the children 'cursed'. It takes a week for them to stop hiding their faces every time they walk past the house. Eventually, after you've attempted the proper introductions, Kennedy just rolls her eyes and sends your new brood off to play with the local children. When no one looses an eye or comes home with a curious rash the adults start to come around.
They want to learn how to survive- they need it so badly you forget you don't know how to do it yourself.
You teach them from your own life experiences and, naturally, Faith's.
There are some things you keep for yourself- the way her hair smelt like apples in summer, how her true smile started at one side of her mouth and spread across… her ability to name ten different types of duck.
"An amazing teacher", Sassy calls you. Kennedy shrugs and says you're doing 'ok'.
It's well into winter by Giles' first visit, by the time she arrives. The child at his side is scrawny and soaked- your first impression is that she looks not unlike a rat. Her features are sharp and her nose perhaps a little too large. Small, piercing eyes dart around your kitchen, never stopping for more than a moment. In contrast the rest of her is artificially still as she holds her body rigidly, almost daring someone to lay a hand on her.
She doesn't speak or even acknowledge your presence and, for a moment- while Giles babbles on- you forget yourself. You forget to ask if she wants something to eat, if she'll be alright sharing a room… you just stare at her neck, the angry, dark marks from thick fingers on thin skin.
Eventually nature overrides her own resolve as the cold in her bones makes them judder, an odd stop-start motion. Nonetheless she shirks away from Giles' offer of hot tea or to sit next to the stove, freshly stoked an hour ago.
It's hard not to watch her, standing like crumbling concrete in a puddle, as water seeps from her hip-length dull-brown hair. Giles looks flustered at your interest in her, embarrassed that you might think he has been unchivalrous, and explains that he offered her both a coat and a blanket but she refused both. The damp seat of his rented car must be playing on his mind because he darts out to 'check on the parking'- in a street where no one else needs to own a car.
"I'm Signe." She whispers, once you're alone, "And I'd like a cup of tea."
You pour two cups and perch on the rail of the stove. She nestles her pre-teen body against your side and tries to look disinterested. By the time Giles walks back in you've learnt that she's Danish and hates cheese, she had a dog when she was younger but thinks global warming would be solved if humans stopped trying to rule over animals. You ask if she's vegetarian but the words choke her lips as a distinctly 'male' presence unnerves her.
He claims sleep-deprivation and finds his own way to the guest room.
"I wish my hair would grow that long. It always seems to just stop at a certain point."
"I don't like scissors?" You both ignore the lines along her arms and then stifle smiles of joint acknowledgment. There is barely a pause before she launches into braiding tips.
The next morning you wake to a breakfast tray outside your room and a full-blown fight destroying your staircase. Five steps from the lower section are already missing and as Minnie soars back out her wings catch another three.
You jump over the railings in time to wrestle the bread knife out of Claire's hands before it goes much more than a centimetre into Signe's neck. Still blood pours from her wound and she doesn't help the clean up by jumping up to punch a retaliation.
The two boys freeze instantly; one with a crossbow aimed at the new girl; the other, his own distended, metallic fist. Minnie flattens herself to the ceiling and cries in the protective bubble of her shuddering wings.
Kennedy yells as her shoulder is pierced by a horn and it's enough to shame Clara into giving up the struggle for freedom. Claire drops to the floor the instant her sister does. "She started it!"
"It's true!" The younger girls chorus, three of them attempting to heft a large flail (how they intend to swing it is another matter!)
"I don't care. What's the rule about fighting?"
A tiny, purple hand waves from the breadbin, "As foon afs you get infolfed you're in the wrong! Thaf's why I didn't get infolfed…"
The others groan. "Fuck off!" Signe bites, not settling under your hands, "You bit me!"
"It was more of a nibble so you'd let go of my wing." Minnie sniffles in protest.
Signe swears in Danish (you assume) and leaps for the ceiling. Her sinewy frame stretches surprisingly far once she isn't curled in on herself.
"Hold it!" A split-second later Minnie is pinned to the ceiling with the broom handle.
She gives you a sheepish look, "Sorry, got carried away."
"Minnie, come down, Signe, stop trying to attack her, the rest of you… just shut up."
Beth bumbles out of the breadbin, bottom first and rolls off the counter like a mauve basketball, bouncing a few times. "Forry, Fuffy." She clambers up Clara's back to sit on her shoulder. Signe shudders watching her long, pointy tongue poke past her sharp teeth to lick away remaining crumbs.
"What the hell is that? Mr. Giles didn't say anything about…" She waves across the room of oddballs. "Weirdoes."
Almost as one you snort in laughter. Kennedy chortles so hard she nearly chokes.
Deviating from all expectations, Signe doesn't freak out. Instead she giggles. It's… odd. Very, very odd.
You're so used to treading on eggshells in your own home that having it full of children, who fight on minute and make best friends the next, is such a relief you forget the hard work.
All of them are 'difficult'; the adult that should be caring for them has unceremoniously dumped each. Yet they delight in simple things- spending an afternoon in the garden and the sea is their greatest pleasure. Despite the fights, the squabbles, the mass destruction of property, they're even easier to look after than Rosy was- your own daughter having been so intellectually demanding you felt it necessary to answer every probing question.
Only Signe hangs back.
She stays by your side, occasionally hovering outside a room to wait for you. She refuses to be left alone with other adults. Kennedy's theorises that you must look very similar to her mother. Giles puts it down to trauma. Either way it's… refreshing.
Not the clinginess- that you've dealt with- but the need to live in the 'now'. She keeps you busy; clowns for your entertainment and questions nothing until you realise suddenly that it's time for bed and you haven't cried yet.
You didn't think help would come in the form of a person… but here she is.
Suddenly you're no longer living in your head.
By Bliss' fourth anniversary the house has become a safe haven for the parentless children Slayers uncover within their working lives. Signe is long gone, having graduated to a Slayer Training Academy in Switzerland, but you still receive cards from time-to-time.
The older girls teach the younger children how to make garlands of roses and, despite not understanding the significance, decorate Faith's headstone with them.
You never stop missing her, the pain never goes away, but over time- a long, long period of time- the daily 'I should tell Faith that- oh wait' becomes a source of fond memory. Now you smile when the bright coloured awnings of the market fly like flecks of paint against the dusky, brown hillside opposite. You remember her enthusiasm, how she'd pull and persuade until you'd join her adventures. You go and see things she'd love, imagine her dancing in the tainted, coloured light under a million bright fabrics, and your heart is warmed.
She is with you in everything. Not just in her letters, hidden about the house- you kept all of them, even the one she sent while you were dead. As nasty as some of them may be.
Occasionally you imagine her fights and her arguments- catch yourself quarrelling a point to the air as you read a newspaper, just in case she thinks badly of you. But then you remember that if she can read your thoughts she probably knows their justifications and talking to no one is probably a sign of old age anyway.
You want her to talk back to you, just to let you know that she's ok.
But you know that she is.
You've been there before.
Faith was rude, and obsessive, and difficult, and adored by… most people she met. But people don't fall in love with perfection, they fall in love with flaws, with humanity, because we're all egotistical enough to believe that we'll be the one to make them change.
Did she change? Perhaps.
Or perhaps you just adjusted around her; that charming, immovable force.
She came back to you once, after an argument on a street corner in some god-forsaken small town you'd been sent to. It was raining and you'd earlier tried to help her stay dry while she hadn't even noticed the rain. Later, of course, she didn't take kindly to being reminded of her earlier weakness.
But she'd sprinted back and stopped abruptly, as if coming to the realisation that what she had wanted to say was completely stupid. "Sorry, I- I just meant… that I really did appreciate it. I might not have at the time but I really did."
Is that a silly thing to remember?
Her presence dances among the roses- not the way she was but the way she should have been.
You leave her in the olive grove, unblemished, unscarred, whole- a happy sixteen-year-old.
Happy endings can be drastically different- who's to say what makes 'happiness'? This is a happy ending, as different and unconventional as it may be.
Faith fought while she was alive; against demons, against you, against herself.
Now she lies at rest, content. She might no longer be with you but it's selfish to think of that as bad. There's no more struggle. And though your heart aches and your eyes are all cried out, it'll be ok. There was no map, no plan of your lives together- it had never been your intention to love her. You just do. Yet even without the map you still found ways back to each other. No matter how far she slipped she always came home.
One day you will follow her, find your way back home.