DISCLAIMER: Joss and twentieth century fox own all.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here it is, the last chapter. There may or may not be a sequel, largely depending on my muse (thought feedback never hurts). I hope you've enjoyed the fic and the kids, as well as the complicated mess that is the Buffy/Faith relationship. I've enjoyed writing it, and you've been a wonderful audience.
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN: Chapter Twelve
"Come on, Faith," Buffy said. Not Faith Giles. Just Faith. She held her hand out to me. For a moment, all I did was stare at it.
"Maybe she's been frozen by the orgasmless pit of despair," Andrew whispered loudly when I didn't move.
I grinned. I had to give it to the kid. He was an original. Andrew's words snapped me out of my stupor, and after a moment, I took Buffy's hand.
"Do you need representation, Faith?" Lindsey asked me seriously. "Or a friend? Because it would be within the bounds of the law for me to do that for you." Once Lindsey got into over-protective lawyer-brother mode, it was hard to snap him out of it.
"Lindsey," Buffy said dryly, "she'll be fine."
All of my brothers and sisters stared at her pointedly.
"Go on, Fire Bit," Spike said finally after giving Buffy a long, measuring look. "Have the talk with big sis, eh?"
I looked at Spike for a moment, and then I nodded.
"Five by five," I said.
Buffy and I walked away from the others in silence, and she held onto my hand tightly. She didn't hold it like she was afraid I was going to run away. She held it like she was afraid to let go, of me, of the family. Of us.
Finally, when we were out of earshot, she sat down on the ground cross-legged, and I sat down next to her, saying nothing.
"I didn't realize-" she started to say, but then she stopped and breathed in, measuring out her words. "I didn't mean to…"
"No sweat, B," I said, my tone cavalier. "It happens."
"No," Buffy said, her voice brimming with something I didn't quite understand. "It doesn't happen. Not to my sister. Not by me." She paused. "It's just… I'm finally out on my own, and Mom and Dad uproot you all and move, and all I wanted was to have something that was just me, you know? Something real. Something outside of the crazy Giles household." She paused. "It was like all these years in the house, day after day, it was crisis after crisis, craziness on top of craziness, the world about to crumble down any second."
"That's why we stick together," I said, staring down at the ground. "Giles kid solidarity."
Buffy nodded and bit her bottom lip. "I know that, but it was time for me to go, to make my own life, and after all these years of crisis after crisis, apocalypse after apocalypse…"
B always had been a bit dramatic.
"I just wanted to be me. Not the oldest. Not a daughter, not a sister, not a savior. Just me."
"Don't you get it, B?" I asked. "You are you. The sister, the fighter, that's who you are." Everyone had always thought Buffy was so perfect. It had never occurred to me that she might want to be someone else.
Secretly, in my heart of hearts, I'd always wanted to be her.
Buffy looked away and spoke again. "And when you guys moved, and you all banded together, Giles kid solidarity and whatnot, I wasn't a part of that. No whatnot for Buffy." She looked down at the ground. "None whatsoever. No what-ing of the not." She paused. "I was on my own, but the family, our whole Giles world needed me, and it kept sucking me back in. The harder I fought it, the more I came back, only I wasn't a part of anything anymore. Not really." She glanced away.
I'd thought she'd left us, and she had, but I hadn't realized that she hadn't felt like she could come back. She'd changed, and we'd changed, and she wasn't sure how she fit into the scheme of things anymore.
"You grew up," I said, shrugging. "It's not the end of the world, B."
Once upon a time, to me, it had felt like the end of the world.
"I grew up too fast," she said softly, "and when I came back, and saw the craziness that was our family, all I could think about was the fact that, no matter what I did or tried to do, I wasn't part of it anymore, at least not in the same way, so I decided to be a part of it in a new way." She laughed under her breath, horribly sad laughter that made my stomach turn itself inside out.
"You thought you'd be the mom," I said, arching my eyebrows at her. Sometimes, Buffy wasn't the brightest.
"Mom was busy and things were crazy, and you guys needed me again."
"We never stopped needing you," I said. "Ever, Buffy." I looked away. I'd wanted to stop needing her so badly, wanted the others to stop needing her, too. For a tense moment, there was silence, and when I looked back up at Buffy, it all came pouring out. "They put Tara and Willow in different classes, and the mean boys make Tara cry every day, even when I punch them, and Xander almost poked his eye out doing a chandelier trick, and Riley's never happy anymore, and Cordy's always in the bathroom, and everyone teases Wesley…" I took a deep breath. "And Anya and Andrew don't have a playgroup here because of the whip cream incident and Lindsey tried to sue the school principle, and hell, B, no one even understands what Willow is talking about half the time."
"Is that about the it?" Buffy asked.
I paused for a moment and thought. "Dawnie can't decide whether she loves life or hates it and she's obsessed with our soccer coach, and Darla never leaves her alone for a single minute, and…" I trailed off as I thought of the candy bar Dawnie had stolen from the grocery store a few weeks ago. She'd promised me she'd never do it again. Even having a heart to heart with Buffy, I couldn't rat out my twin.
I looked up at Buffy. "And I can't make it better," I finished, the tears spilling over my eyes. "I keep trying and trying, but no matter what I do, they keep getting hurt, and I hate it." I paused. "I hate it." My body practically shook with the vehemence in my voice as the tears streamed down my face.
"Oh, Faith," Buffy said. "Sweetie, you don't have to be everything to everyone."
I looked at her through my tears. "You were." I'd finally said it, and saying it hurt so bad that my teeth ached. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't be Buffy, because I just wasn't good enough.
"No, baby girl, I wasn't." Buffy reached out and pulled me onto her lap, even though I was almost too big to fit. I was nine, after all, and she was small for her age, but she held me tight, and despite myself, I cried bitterly into her shoulder.
"You don't have to hold the world on your shoulders, Faith," she said.
Not Faith Giles. Just Faith.
"I haven't been there for you," she said softly, and when I looked up, her cheeks were tear-stained as well. "Not like I should have been. All this time, I thought the only place for me once I moved out was as the girl in charge, but really…" she swallowed hard. "All this time, all you needed was a sister."
"Damn ironic," I muttered without thinking. "Since I already have so many."
"Faith," Buffy said, and I got the distinct feeling that she was about to mention my language, but then she shrugged it off. "Damn ironic," she agreed. She hugged me to her, and hugging her, for that moment, life didn't seem so bad.
"What about you?" she asked. "Kids are teasing Tara and Wesley, Lindsey's gotten himself lawyered into and out of a dozen detentions, Xander's on the verge of losing appendages… what about you, Faith?"
She was actually asking about me? That was a first, even for nice, concerned, sisterly Buffy.
"What about me?" I asked, my voice tough again. I sniffled and cursed myself for ruining the effect. "I'm the bad one," I said.
"No you're not," Buffy said. "You're the leader. There's a difference."
I said nothing.
"They look up to you, Faith, and whatever you say, they'll do," Buffy said.
"And I suck at saying the right things," I said.
"No," Buffy said, "but you do have a wicked sense of justice and only about an ounce of restraint."
I conceded the point with a grin. Across the parking lot, Angel was walking a pudding-covered Darla out to the car, Harmony trailing in their wake, asking very loudly about the pretty vagina tiara she wanted to wear so she could play Orgasm Princess when she got home.
Buffy laughed despite herself, and I smiled through my tears. "It wasn't me, you know," I said. "With the pudding. Not that I wouldn't have, because the stupid bint deserved it…"
"Bint?" Buffy asked wryly.
I shrugged sheepishly. "Spike," I said.
Buffy rolled her eyes.
All of a sudden, things were starting to get back to normal. In a good way.
"I'm sorry, Faith," Buffy said finally. "All this time, I thought you were making with the acting out just because you could, when really, you were only doing what you had to do." Buffy looked away. "Maybe part of me knew that," she admitted. "Maybe part of me was afraid you'd do it a little too well."
It took me a moment to process. She'd been afraid that I was going to replace her? I couldn't work my head around the idea.
"Part of it was because I could," I said. "You know, kind of a want, take, have kind of thing."
Buffy groaned. I smirked.
Things were definitely getting back to normal.
"You're a good kid," Buffy said. "And I love you."
I threw myself at her and hugged her fiercely. "I love you, too," I said. "Way too much to see you with a jerk like Parker," I added after a moment.
Buffy grinned sheepishly. "There's a small chance you might have been right about him," she said finally. "Way with the small," she tacked on.
I grinned. She knew I had been right, and even if she wasn't going to admit it completely, that was all that mattered.
"Want to go make sarcastic comments to Riley about the 'viagara forest' thing?" I asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Of course," Buffy replied without missing a beat.
We walked back toward the group, and as we walked closer, I knew exactly what we were walking towards. Chaos.
"GRANDMUMMY!" Dru yelled across the parking lot to Darla. "The pizza ate you, didn't it? It ate you and threw you right back up, back up." Dru twirled around, her arms held out and her dark pigtails flying.
Darla glared in her general direction before climbing into Angel's car.
Dru looked back at the rest of us solemnly. "That's what happens when you don't eat the pizza," she said. She paused and her little eyes went spacey as she spun around faster, yelling out the words one by one with each turn. "It. Eats." She smiled. "You."
"Quick, to the ejaculation booth!" Andrew said.
"We will not give up our right to orgasm, sexless fiends!" Anya yelled to imaginary enemies.
"Feel the wrath of my orgy-lasers," Andrew said, making laser sounds as he swung a pretend light saber around. "To infinity and beyond," he added.
Anya leaned over and whispered something in his ear.
Andrew nodded seriously, sniffed, and then corrected himself. "To ecstasy and beyond!"
I met Buffy's eyes and she smiled.
"Did we come to an amenable conclusion?" Willow asked nervously, wringing her hands.
Tara looked at me. "Are you happy?" she asked sweetly.
"Should I stick her with contempt of court?" Lindsey asked, still in over-protective brother mode.
"Yes, yes, and no," I told them. "I'm five by five."
I looked at Spike, who was grinning at the mess that was my family. Buffy squeezed my shoulder.
I looked back at Spike. "We don't call it Pepe's House of Chaos with Cheese for nothing," I said.
I looked at them, each one in turn. When it came right down to it, they were what really mattered, and I was what mattered to them, too.
Anya joined Andrew in yelling, and their words echoed throughout the parking lot. "TO ECSTASY AND BEYOOOOOOONNNNNNND!"
And that was that.
It's been fun writing for you all. I hope you enjoyed. Let me know what you think and what you'd like in any eventual sequels.