"Buffy, Faith's dead," Vi said over the phone.
When she first picked up the receiver Vi had told her to sit down, so she had expected the worst. Buffy hadn't seen Faith in years. The news didn't hit her as hard as she thought it should have. Buffy didn't drop the phone; she didn't crash, or even cry.
"How?" Was it one of the usual Slayer deaths? Vampire, demon, self-sacrifice to save the world?
"Car accident. She was driving too fast too late at night. Didn't even see the other car."
Buffy swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. A life so full of vigor and adventure ended by something so senseless...
"Did she suffer?"
"Mommy!" Brendon screamed and tugged on her leg.
Buffy covered up the mouthpiece on the phone. "Not now, sweetie," she said, as stern as possible. Brendon pouted but wandered off.
"I'm sorry, Vi," she continued. "It's a little crazy here. I didn't hear you."
"That's alright, Buffy," Vi said. "She felt no pain. It - it was over fast."
"That's good," was all Buffy could say.
"Listen, we're uh, we're having a funeral in Boston this Sunday. I know you're not involved in Slayer related events these days, but it would mean a lot to us if you came."
"I wouldn't think of deserting you at a time like this. I'll be there."
"It's good to see you again, Buff," greeted Xander when he and Willow arrived at the church. "In 3-D no less."
"Guys. I've missed you," Buffy said, giving her friends a hug. "The new eye looks good on you."
They chatted. They shared goings on. They reminisced. They did anything to keep the topic of conversation off Faith.
"How's family life treating you?" Willow asked.
"Great. Three wonderful children." Buffy thought for a bit. "Well, two lovely children, one brat."
Xander laughed. "You should have named him after me."
"Thought about it."
A hush fell upon the gathered as the young woman made her way to the front of the church.
Vi, as leader of the Slayers, was presiding over the funeral. It was a sad and sweet affair that spoke to every part of her being, except for her life from before; the parts that Buffy remembered. The bad girl Faith that Buffy had met way back when must have been long gone. Instead, the Faith that Vi spoke of was unfamiliar to her: kind, helpful, even matronly. She had been a shoulder to cry on to the young Slayers; teacher, confidant, role model. Was it cosmic irony that the high school dropout became a didactic icon to them?
Buffy found herself gravitating ever closer to Angel. Without warning she pulled him into a big hug.
"Hey," he said, softly, reaching out for her hand and pulling it into his chest. "You okay?"
She wasn't. It was finally starting to sink in for her. "Yeah," her voice cracked. "I'm fine."
And Angel held her for the rest of the eulogy.
After the service was over, people were free to pay their individual respects to Faith. Vi was first.
"Bye, boss," she said softly, while patting the coffin. Buffy felt odd hearing the personal laments whispered in confidence to the deceased. Secrets could not be kept from most of the people here, as they were Slayers. "You taught me so much. I'll never forget you."
A dark haired girl who reminded Buffy of Faith in the damaged soul sort of way was next. She rested her head on the mahogany and whispered words of encouragement. While the rest of the participants who had been closer to Faith lined up behind this girl, Buffy stood away. She needed her time alone.
"Vi." The younger Slayer joined alongside her mentor.
"I don't know everything that ever went on between you two," Vi said, "but I know it was a lot. And deep. And I, ah, I mourn your loss."
"Thanks," said Buffy. "I'd like to see her."
"I'm sorry, Buffy. We can't."
"I don't think it would be in your best interest. The crash was pretty bad." Vi teared up. "I had to identify the body for the coroner. Believe me, it's better this way."
Vi silently said to her "I have to go," before she left the hall. She looked so different without her hat.
The church was mostly empty now. Just her and Xander and Willow. Willow grabbed her wrist. Looking up at her old friend, Buffy smiled weakly.
"We'll leave you alone for this, Buff."
So. Here we are, Buffy thought to herself as she approached her casket. She ran her hand over the polished wood where the dark haired girl had been crying. Funny how it ended up being someone else, when in all her dreams it had been Buffy who ended up shedding tears on the casket.
Was there a place in heaven for murderers? Buffy hoped there was, for all their sakes. Surely God must embrace His children who were good in the end. It just wouldn't make any sense otherwise. Did it have to?
"It's just not fair," she said to no one in particular. Buffy had died twice, and was still here, alive and kicking, enjoying a wonderful family life and a career after slaying. And here was Faith, not even 35, dead with finality after only once. But she didn't have the friends who just wouldn't let it happen. Poor Faith. She'd died alone.
Buffy considered opening the casket for a minute.
Did she really want to replace the image of Faith that was burned in her mind with whatever fractured husk was left under this door? No, Buffy thought, she'd rather remember Faith in the tight leather pants with the boobs out to here, happy and slutting it up on the dance floor.
"I bet you were still hot," she said, with images of gyrations in her head. "Take care."
Buffy planted a kiss on the mahogany.
"Until we meet again, Faith," said Buffy. Then she left the church to join the others.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Buffy?" Willow asked as she joined Buffy sitting on the tiny single bed, which occupied much of the dingy apartment.
"Yes. She would have wanted it this way," Buffy replied. She looked around at the muted grays and sparse decorations of the bachelor apartment Faith had called home. Not much, all things considered. There was a small TV and a long obsolete Playstation 3 in the corner. A beat up old dresser supported a crumpled, mud encrusted jacket, strewn haphazardly overtop. The kitchen area was messy and nearly devoid of visible food.
Faith had come full circle. From a troubled upbringing with nothing to a peaceful adulthood, content with nothing, all in the same city. But what a route to get there. In a way it was sad. After they had patched things up finally, Buffy had always thought that Faith had deserved more. Buffy had called it quits long ago, pleased with what she had accomplished and more than happy to leave the fight up to the next generation. She unchose herself at the first opportunity, said goodbye to the duty and never felt tempted. But Faith didn't feel the same way. Despite her pleadings to the contrary, Faith kept going, battling the demons and the vampires even though she no longer needed to, embracing the lifestyle of her youth even though she could afford better.
That's where the two of them had been different. They were polar opposites in so many ways, yet always ended up in pretty much the same place. The schism Buffy had with pretty much everyone from the Slaying circle extended to Faith as well. It just wasn't meant to carry this far.
Willow hadn't noticed Buffy's disappearance into dreamland, probably due to her own departure. It was Buffy who moved first.
"I'm sorry I let us grow apart," she said. Buffy illustrated the point with a hand on Willow's shoulder. "Friends again?" she asked.
"Always." Willow placed her own hand on top of Buffy's. "Funny how sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us see that."
Vi chose this moment to show up at the door. "Remember Buffy, you can give what you want to whoever you want, or you can donate it to charity. And if there's something you're unsure about, just leave it and I'll take care of it."
"I'd better let you get to it," Willow said.
"Thanks. I'll drop by your hotel room when I'm done." Willow let go of Buffy's hand. She closed the door behind her.
So Buffy started to sort through Faith's effects.
She started by opening the dresser. "Oh my God," Buffy exclaimed. What was she going to do with these? She didn't think the Salvation Army would want a few dozen pairs of skin-tight black pants. Or low cut t-shirts. Oh, Faith. The girl never changed.
A piece of pink caught her eye from deeper down in the drawer. No way was that Faith's.
She pulled out the shirt. It was a frilly sweater, totally un-Faithlike. There were matching pants underneath.
"Wait a second..." Buffy murmured to herself. Those were hers! Faith had one of Buffy's outfits.
Disturbing connotations aside, Buffy realized once and for all that her fashion sense at the turn of the century was awful. She couldn't help but laugh.
"Was I ever this thin?" she asked, holding the pants out in front of herself. She shook her head in disbelief. Even before three babies, that must have still been unhealthy.
"Well, fair's fair," Buffy said. She retrieved her old outfit and took one of Faiths, depositing them in a box she marked for herself. The rest she thought she'd give to Goodwill. As clothes for whorey poor women.
There was no need to keep any of this stuff. Everyone she knew was fairly well to-do now. All she needed, or any of them needed, were mementos. Tributes to a life they loved and will miss.
Anything of any value got boxed for charity. Faith would have appreciated that, coming from an underprivileged childhood. Too bad there wasn't more to give.
Most of it was done now. Buffy stretched out on Faith's bed. She wanted to stretch this out as long as possible. The feeling was nagging at her brain - once she was done this task Faith would truly be gone. She didn't want to face that yet.
So she was in Faith's bed. A little late, she thought with chagrin. It was small and hard. There were lumps where the springs were coming apart. Buffy wondered if Faith had ever slept in a comfy bed in her entire life. The Mayor's apartment, probably. In her one visit there, Buffy had neglected to inspect the furnishing.
She thought of Faith sleeping where she slept, all the "studs-of-the-night" who were used up and spat out here. Imagined or not, they were lucky ones. Buffy took a deep breath, filling her nostrils with the lingering, oh so distant and fading scents of cigarette smoke and sweat. She was almost there, with her. They were together in the room, if Buffy didn't open her eyes.
The nightstand was last to go. Before she put it with the rest of the items that were to be given away, Buffy looked inside. There was not much, but she was startled to find two old Polaroid photos. They were faded, hard to see, and curled around the edges.
Buffy stared into her own past. Faith must have taken this during one of their late night research parties. She couldn't place the incident, no matter how hard she raked her brain, though. Xander was holding a heavy text to the camera, open to a picture of some sort of monster. Too bad she couldn't make it out. Buffy saw herself clambering over top of his arm, smiling and pointing down to the drawing. In the background Willow and Giles were poring over some other books. They all looked so young.
She held the photo to her chest and tried to imagine being there again, as herself in the photo. Faith was there, holding a camera from the second floor of the library, yelling at them to hold their pose. She was gleefully climbing over Xander to point at the picture in the book. The more serious members of the gang were still reading. Oz had left to get a Coke. It was so vivid.
She had been pointing to a picture of a demon with its wang hanging between its legs. Xander had been so proud of that.
Maybe he'd be able to remember what calamity they were battling that night. Buffy laughed a little in spite of herself and tucked the Polaroid away in her pocket.
In the second photo she came face to face with herself. Tired, bruised and beaten, it was taken after their war with the First. Bandaged up in the back of a school bus, a weak smile on her face, she had been giving Faith a high five when the picture had been taken. So many emotions were captured in the still, a thousand words snapped with one hand on an old camera.
The photo was very well worn, crinkled all to hell. She knew what it meant. She had one of Faith in the same condition.
Buffy packed the rest of the mementos away in her purse. Before she left she retrieved her well-worn wallet-sized photo of Faith from her wallet and placed it on the bed next to Faith's picture of Buffy. What the hell, she had another Faith picture at home.
Turning out the light and closing the door, she left to meet Willow and Xander at the hotel. But first she pulled a stake from her purse. She was going to slay something. For Faith.