"One time around the block
Two times around the clock
Three times, don't cross the little lady (lady)
So pretty and, oh, so bold
Got a heart full of gold on a lonely road
She said, "I don't even think that God can save me" (save me)
(Am I) gainin' ground
(Am I) losin' face
(Have I) lost and found my saving grace
Thankful for the gift my angels gave me
Born alone, we die alone
'n' I'm just sittin' here by the phone
Waitin' for the Lord to send my callin'
Street wise from the boulevard
Jesus only knows that she tries too hard
She's only tryin' to keep the sky from fallin'
Any man who says it's Heaven and Hell
Prob'ly got somethin' useless to sell
You ask me if I'm saved, but what's it to ya?
Blow a quarter, cop another eight
You're runnin' out of high, you're losin' your faith
Throw your hands up and scream, "Hallelujah"
One time around the sun
Another year older and my work ain't done
It's time for me to write the final chapter (chapter)
Deal the cards and roll the dice
Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll are my only vice
Tryin' to figure out just what's here after (here after)
"Saving Grace," Everlast
For the next couple of days after the showdown at graduation, everyone was relaxed and unbothered, simply taking their time as things began to swing back to normal. Of course, the school being blown up on graduation day was headline news, and Faith and the others watched with great amusement as authorities scrambled to make sense of it, coming up with the brilliant theory of, as usual, "gangs high on PCP" crashing the ceremony and bombing the school. This, apparently, in their eyes, explained the mysterious disappearance of Wilkins and Snyder and the death of the students who had not survived, though how they explained the scattered snake pieces inside the school ruins and how the majority of dead students also were drained of blood rather than burned by fire, none of the police happened to mention. Still, they had an explanation, however feeble, and as long as it detracted attention from the true engineers of the dynamite explosion, Faith and the others were happy to publically agree.
Since the battle there had been next to nothing in the way of vampire activity; perhaps some had been scared out of town, while others, of course, had been killed in the fight. They knew this was temporary. The vampires would be back by the summer's end, and meanwhile, there were funerals and memorials, as all the parents came back into town, leaving time and space for Faith and the others to simply take time to relax and do nothing much at all after the stress of the past few weeks. They had kept out of the public eye, hanging out at Buffy's or the Bronze and genuinely enjoying each other's company. Though Buffy still seemed a little sad about Angel's departure, none of them let her mope about it for long, and in their presence she laughed, smiled, and teased almost as much as she normally would. It seemed that most of the time she was genuine in it as well.
As for Cordelia and Faith…well, that was a little more complicated…or actually, it was simple on surface level, harboring complicated feelings beneath.
They had not mentioned what Cordelia had said to Xander on graduation day, and certainly not delved into a deep conversation about to what extent Cordelia had been serious about being Faiths' "lesbian lover." It remained in both their thoughts, however, especially Faith's, keeping a slight awkwardness between them whenever they first initiated any form of physical contact, before they shoved the thought away and relaxed. They did not kiss any more frequently than they had before, and their cuddling on the couch- for however Faith attempted to reframe it in her mind, there was no other word for it- as of yet had not lead to straying hands onto more private areas of the body. They certainly were not often or openly affectionate in front of the others, or even when they were alone but in public.
But…the night after graduation, after Faith retired to her bedroom for the night, Cordelia followed her in, still talking casually, and slipped under the covers with her as if she had done so not once before, but every night for as long as she had lived with her. She made no mention of her actions and so neither did Faith, though she could hardly deny that they had been unexpected, and left her unsure of what it was, exactly, that Cordelia wanted.
Cordelia had continued to share her bed with her for every night after that, without ever mentioning in the day that she would do so, and after a few days it became the norm. They did not kiss while in bed, nor did they deliberately cuddle or embrace- it seemed that there was still a tentative line neither would cross, though Faith wasn't sure where it lay. Whatever the uncertainty, she couldn't say that she was unhappy or unsatisfied with where they were now…she felt that whatever was going on, whatever happened, it would unfold in its own time and way, if meant to.
So when Cordelia finally came to Faith one evening and sat on her bed with a serious expression, telling her she needed to talk to her, Faith had figured the big conversation had finally come. Bracing herself, she had gestured for Cordelia to speak casually, even as her pulse quickened. "Sure, Cor. What's up?"
But when Cordelia looked her in the eyes and lay out her thoughts, they had not at all been what Faith had expected…and in fact, stunned her so much she couldn't at first come up with a reply.
"I'm leaving, Faith. In a couple of days, I'm headed to L.A….permanently. So, we need to talk."
Faith thought at first she couldn't' have heard her correctly. Then, as Cordelia continued to watch her, her mind exploded with thought so she could hardly think of what to say first. Leaving…LA? PERMANENTLY? What…why…
"Leaving? But…why? When? I mean…college, or you just…want a new place to live, or…" Faith sputtered, her words stumbling over each other, eyebrows slanting down and a crease forming between her eyes as she grew quickly disturbed by this news. "Cor, WHY?"
Cordelia exhaled, reaching to rest a hand on Faith's inner arm, but Faith barely felt her touch. She stared at Cordelia, trying to understand her motives before she could attempt to explain them…she just didn't understand, this didn't make sense to her brain…at least, she didn't want it to.
Granted, she had never asked Cordelia about her plans post graduation, mainly because Faith not only hated thinking too far beyond tomorrow, but also because she hadn't been sure they would be alive post graduation. But now…for Cordelia to look at her like this, so seriously, as though this were not a passing whim but something she had considered for a long time, something she had decided…how could she have decided something like this and not SAID anything?
"I knew this would suck," Cordelia muttered, sighing, and she kept her hand on Faith's arm, her voice level as she replied. "Calm down, just hear me out, and try to understand. Can you do that?"
She eyed her, waiting for Faith's brief, jerky nod, before continuing, her voice still very even.
"I never wanted or meant to stay in Sunnydale, Faith. I had the bad luck of being born here, but that doesn't mean you have to stay here the rest of your life. I mean, who with two brain cells knocking around in their skull would CHOOSE to spend their life here? Yeah, Buffy's kind of stuck, and that's her bad karma, but me…I always said the minute I graduated, I was out of this freaky loser town. Who would pick to live in a freaking' HELLMOUTH if they could go somewhere else…you know, somewhere big enough to have more than one club and one mall and one Starbucks?"
Cordelia smiled, but it looked strained to Faith, not quite meeting her eyes, and she was still watching her closely.
"Faith…I'm sick of Sunnydale. I'm sick of the Hellmouth. If I'm going to be fighting evil and battling huge apocalypses, I want it to be because I choose to, not because it's forced into my life and taking place in my back yard…if I even HAD a backyard, which here in Sunnydale, I no longer do," Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Everyone with any sense leaves this place as soon as they can…everyone who actually wants to do something with their life, or get to do anything at all that's their own choice. Damn, even my parents were smart enough to leave, even if it was because the IRS gave them a huge shove…some people's choices might be to stay here, and I guess that's their right," she added doubtfully. "But…I want to be an actress, Faith. I always have…and I think I could do it, if I went to LA. Staying here…I know that isn't the right choice for me."
Faith swallowed, her shoulders hunching, and tore her gaze away, pretending to study the wall rather than to look directly at Cordelia and risk her seeing what she shouldn't in her face. Her throat choked slowly, and it took effort for her to force words through its blockage as the sharpness of the grief and rejection she was already feeling take over her heart spread.
Cordelia wanted to leave Sunnydale…and by extension, Faith. After everything they'd been through, everything they were becoming to each other…she would leave her. She wanted to.
"So, what…you just are gonna go? Just like that?" she couldn't keep the bitterness from her tone.
Cordelia sighed again, briefly biting her lip. This time, she didn't try to reason with her; perhaps she felt Faith had earned the right to respond in such a way.
"I'm not going right away, no," she said quietly. "Of course I'll make sure you're set up first, that you have a job and everything. I wouldn't just stick you with the full rent of this place out of nowhere. You have your GED now, and you understand about interviews, it shouldn't be as hard this time. And…LA's not that far. We can visit, and write, or, or call-"
"With the phone and car I don't have?" Faith shot back, her tone stiff and cold now, lips pressed tightly together; as angry as she sounded, it was taking all her energy to keep back the sudden tears she felt rising to burn the back of her eyes. "Nice to see you've got a plan not only for you but all the rest of us too, Cor. Good to know I'm not left out even if I am left behind."
"Faith, it's not like I'm looking forward to this!" Cordelia burst out with, and her sudden volume and emotion in her voice startled Faith, making her slide her eyes to her to regard her more carefully. "I don't want to leave YOU, this isn't about you and your abandonment issues, this has nothing to do with you at all! Or at least, it's not SUPPOSED to be…it's supposed to be about me and my dreams, me and my future, maybe even me and my life, because let's face it, anyone who's in Sunnydale has a better chance of dying within six months than the president has of being caught in a sex scandal, and we all know the chances of that are pretty damn high! But even though this is supposed to be about ME, not you, I DID keep thinking of you, and how you'd feel when I left, and how it would feel to leave you…and I don't want to feel that way, Faith, I don't want YOU to feel that way, but if I stay here knowing I could have had my chance in LA, I know I'll resent it…and I don't want to resent you," she finished fiercely, and Faith was shocked to see that Cordelia was blinking back tears, to see her lips trembling before she thinned them out, struggling for control.
For several moments there remained between them only the noise of each girl's shallow respiration, as each sat still, overwhelmed by her own thought and emotion. Finally Faith slid her eyes to Cordelia, wetting her lips.
"Do you…do you not want me to stay in Sunnydale?" she asked tentatively.
Cordelia let out a slow breath, her shoulders rising and falling. "I couldn't ask you to move," she mumbled, not meeting her eyes. "That wouldn't be fair to you. You have slaying…and leaving everyone else…they're more your friends than mine, so…"
But Faith was thinking about what Cordelia had said, about making her own choices, choosing her own battles, rather than having her battles chosen for her…about making her own path. She was thinking about her conversation with Buffy weeks before in Buffy's kitchen, about Buffy's choice to stay…and her offer for Faith to leave, if Faith chose. She thought about how she had felt in the battle of the Mayor, as if she finally understood what a Slayer truly could be…and Faith knew in her heart the right choice. Her choice.
"Cor, if you're going to LA," she said simply, meeting her eyes, "I'm going with you."
As Cordelia turned to face her, her mouth opening, Faith shook her head, heading her off.
"It's not just for you, it's for me too. Making my own way, finding out for myself who I am and what I want to be, you know? As me…as a Slayer…and I don't think I can do that here, where everyone kind of already has me in a peg…even if it's the right peg, for the moment. So, I'm doing this for me…but that doesn't mean it's not also because of you. Because Cor…" her voice lowered, and she swallowed eyes shifting aside briefly before the words would come. "How'm I gonna find my own way, without you around to yank me back when I step off onto the wrong path?"
Cordelia didn't say anything for a long time; she just looked at her with her eyes softly aglow, her features smoothing out as her smile grew. Faith barely heard or remembered the smartass statement she finally muttered, because it was immediately followed by Cordelia's lips on hers, her arms going around her tightly, and all Faith could focus on was her current decision to hold on, for as long as Cordelia didn't let her go.
"What I'd like to know," Xander said to Faith softly enough that only she could hear, his eyes turned towards Cordelia, standing several feet across from him, "is how she not only managed to decide which of her ten zillion possessions she would take with her, but also got them all to fit in the car. Guess that was fun to load up, huh?"
Faith just smiled, not indicating that there had been no such decision to make, since the majority of Cordelia's possessions had been placed in with IRS long ago. In fact, all they'd had to do was take everything they owned and cram it into the trunk and backseat of Cordelia's car, and since most of their possessions were clothes, it hadn't been nearly as difficult as Xander must be imagining.
"It wasn't as hard as you might think," she said evasively, though truthfully. "We managed."
The three of them were standing, along with Buffy and Willow, on the sidewalk in front of Buffy's house, where Cordelia's car was parked, packed and ready for her and Faiths' Los Angeles destination. Keeping her word to Cordelia about keeping their apartment a secret, the girls had packed earlier in the day by themselves, and now were dropping by Buffy's on their way of heading out of town for a final goodbye. They had come by the night before to say goodbye to Mrs. Summers, and she had insisted on making a final dinner, inviting Giles, Wesley, and Oz over too.
Joyce had given Faith a warm, rather lengthy hug before she left, smoothing back her hair from her face and reminding her she was welcome to come back and stay at any time. Faith had noticed Cordelia accepting a hug without looking pained over it too…in fact, she had looked a little sad. Giles and Wesley too had wished them luck, and Faith had been somewhat stunned when Giles made as though to rest a hand on her shoulder, then changed his mind mid gesture and pulled her into a brief, slightly awkward embrace. However strange it might have felt, though, she knew he was sincere and was touched by the gesture- though she had to immediately cover by quickly giving Wesley, to his sputtering shock, a bear hug too. She made sure to inform him that she had done so because she knew he had wanted one.
Months ago Faith would have found it incredible to fathom she would miss the British Brigade if she were to go, but a she had left Buffy's house that night, she had known it was true. Even Wesley…how was she going to get delight out of ruffling uptight British feathers and saying things just to see the shock in Wes's face and time how fast Giles removed his glasses anymore?
"So you guys have your apartment set, then?" Xander spoke more loudly as he looked over to where Cordelia stood talking to Willow and Buffy, addressing her now as well as Faith.
"Yeah," Cordelia nodded, shifting her weight to one hip as she turned toward him partially, adjusting her purse on her shoulder. "We'll take a day to get moved in, then I'll head out, start making contacts, see if there's any open auditions already out there. I really need to get some head shots done too, once I find a decent place to do them at where the photographer isn't a guy named Larry making eyes and trying to cop a feel."
"What about you, Faith, are you going to look for a job too?" Willow asked. "Now that you have a GED, I guess it's easier, if you wanted…"
"Yep, about time I tried a normal, average citizen kind of thing, huh," Faith said lightly. "Don't worry, when I get bored I'll swing by and start up mayhem."
"So, about those acting jobs you'll be going for," Xander started with a smirk, even as Cordelia braced herself, already exhaling in exasperation for the joking she knew was coming. "It's just a suggestion, mind you, but some of those, uh, of an adult and mature nature, they can be of a very artistic type, no talent required…actually, Faith, have you ever considered being an actress too? You could-"
He dodged away, just in time from Faith's half-hearted swing, grinning as Cordelia glowered and retaliated with her usual venom.
"Great idea, Xander. Why don't you look into it too since you can't keep any of your jobs for longer than the time it takes for milk to sour? Good pay, no talent required…oh, wait, never mind. That would require a body and equipment that people had the ability to look at naked without laughing."
Xander flinched at that, even as he laughed nervously. "Okay, scratch the adult films…exotic dancer then? Or something REALLY suited to your charm and helpfulness…waitressing? Ow!"
"She's never even been in a school play before," Willow said softly to Faith as Cordelia and Xander continued in a heated banter that they both seemed to be rather enjoying, keeping her eyes on Cordy as if worrying she would hear. "Can she even act? Like a character?"
Thinking of Cordelia's months of deception, how quickly and blithely she had lied about her parents and her job, her living circumstances, how she had concealed not only the degree of pain in her life and feelings, but also the depth of her entire personality, Faith was entirely sincere in her reply.
"She's a pretty good actress, Will. She'll be fine…but even if she sucked, since when does that matter in Hollywood?"
Up until this point Buffy had said very little, listening to the others talk without smiling often or offering comments. Now she looked at Faith biting her lip, before speaking to her alone, as Xander and Cordelia continued to bicker.
"I guess this is goodbye…"
"Nah," Faith shook her head, bumping Buffy's hip with hers lightly. "It's not a goodbye, it's a see you later…come on, B, it's like 90 minutes away. We all have phones, and I'm sure you'll come to check us out…you're too nosy not to," she smirked.
Buffy smiled faintly, but still appeared troubled. Her next words came out in an awkward, stumbling fashion, but her earnestness was enough to make Faith almost feel sorry for her…because she really did seem to mean all of it, and to be having a hard time.
"Faith…I, I'm really glad you came here. And, and I'm grateful for all you've done to help…with everything. I'm just…I'm glad you've been here, and I'm sorry we were on edge for so long, and that I gave you a hard time, when it was already hard for you…and I'm just…I know you want to go, and that's good, that's, that's what you should do, you should have this chance…but…god, this sounds so lame, but…I'm glad we're friends. Sister Slayers…and…I'll miss you."
Her last sentence was soft, Buffy's eyes averted, and when she looked back up at Faith again, Faith was surprised to see the emotion in her face. Faith smiled, her heart warm, and nodded, replying with honesty in return.
For a moment the Slayers looked at each other with continued awkwardness, faces slightly flushed, and then Faith laughed, raising an eyebrow. "Okay, I know you're wanting to hug, so just get it over with, alright?"
She held out an arm, and Buffy laughed a little too, still flushed, before stepping forward to hug her with surprising intensity. Faith closed her eyes, resting her head against the blonde's, and when they parted, impulsively kissed her forehead. At the startled look on Buffy's face in reaction, Faith grinned, dimples flickering into view as she teased her.
"What? You acted all weird when I kissed Cordy after graduation, I figured you were jealous. Damn, the way you guys act, you'd think I was going around Frenching everyone instead of a friggin' peck way far off from the mouth."
"There wouldn't be anything wrong with it if you WERE going around Frenching everyone, if you happened to have a sudden urge," Xander put in with feigned earnestness. "In fact, it might even be welcomed."
Several shoves and snipes back and forth, another brief round of hugs and verbal goodbyes, during which Faith was quite surprised to see Xander and Cordelia exchange a quick embrace, even if it was preluded and concluded with insults, and then she and Cordelia were getting into Cordelia's car, watching as the others waved goodbye. Faith was smiling slightly, even as the bittersweetness of the moment tightly coiled itself in her chest, and she kept her face turned towards the window as Cordelia arranged her purse and mirrors- until, of course, Cordelia spoke.
"You and Buffy got pretty cozy, with all that kissing and hugging crap," she remarked with a raised eyebrow, and Faith smirked to herself, hearing the faint undercurrent of jealousy in her tone and choosing to call her out on it.
"Aw, your turn's later…you know, you and Xander looked pretty cozy yourself, Cor," she added slyly, knowing that this, if nothing else, would be sufficient to detract Cordelia's attention, and as she had predicted, it definitely was. Stopping all movement, sitting up straight defensively, Cordelia snapped back with great emphasis to her words.
"We were NOT cozy. It was one two second hug, two seconds is NOT cozy."
"A hug's a hug, Cor," Faith snickered, and Cordelia pointed one imposing finger, her voice rising.
"We were not cozy, or cuddly, or cute, or any of those other stupid Willow and Buffy type words, got it? I just…I guess I just don't totally hate his guts anymore. SOMETIMES."
As her tone became more serious, Faith nodded, dropping the teasing as she answered with sincerity, "I'm glad, Cor…I think that's probably good."
She expected Cordelia to start the car then, but it seemed that for the moment, as Cordelia stared ahead of herself at the empty expanse of road, she had forgotten where she was. She sighed slowly, then looked over to Faith, her voice softer now.
"It's so weird, to leave. I always have wanted to, you know? I've been waiting for this day forever, and all you think about is how glad you'll be…but I didn't know it would be kind of sad too."
Faith nodded, holding her gaze, unable to deny the truth of the other girl's words. Even with the excitement and anticipation of the moment, there was also the faint dread of leaving what she'd finally come to regard as comfortable…as hers. Her town, her home, her life, her people…but this was her future too, her possibility, and that trumped it. Not to mention, Cordelia was hers too, in whatever undefined manner, and she would not wave goodbye to Cordelia only to stay in certainty.
"It'll be good…new start, new life….and whatever happens, it's for both of us, right?" she said bracingly, and when Cordelia nodded, she gave her a quick smile. "And on that note, before we take off, I gotta make a pit stop in an old and much-cleaner-than-truck-stops bathroom."
"Faith, we haven't even started the car yet!" Cordelia said incredulously, but Faith was already opening the door, yelling an explanation to the confused Willow, Xander, and Buffy still standing on the sidewalk as she headed back inside Buffy's house towards her bathroom. Scoff she might, but Faith knew damn well if they had to pull off at a gas station Cordy would freak at the condition of THEIR bathrooms.
As she washed her hands, Faith found herself looking up at her reflection in the sink's mirror, staring with slightly narrowed eyes at the girl she saw looking back at her…for somehow, as she looked at herself in that moment, it was as if she were not truly looking at herself as herself, but how an outside observer might. In the mirror was an attractive girl, a girl with a faint hint of a smile curving her lips, a girl with eyes that appeared intense, yet glistened with life and hope. Looking at herself in the mirror, it hit Faith suddenly that she didn't look like a girl who was stupid or unwanted, a girl who was a slut or loser, a girl with nothing and nowhere to go and no one to be with…she looked like a girl with a plan, however vague, a girl with a future, however undefined.
She looked ready…even happy.
Slowly Faith's smile grew, self-conscious at first, then more relaxed, and when she turned, she was somehow unsurprised to see Earl standing behind her, smiling back.
"So, Los Angeles, huh?" he said lightly. "Figures you'd pick a destination having to do with angels."
"Figures you'd corner me in the bathroom again…you've really got a thing for those," Faith retorted, leaning back against the sink.
Earl shrugged, shaking his head as he shifted slightly away from her. "Nah, just easier to get you alone in those."
"So, you here for a goodbye too?" Faith asked, tilting her head with some expectation in the gesture…and also some apprehension. She never would have thought the time would come where the thought of this sort of saddened her…but as she looked across to Earl now, she breathed in slowly, preparing herself for his departure.
But Earl laughed, and as Faith blinked, taken aback, he shook his head again, crossing his arms and looking at her under raised eyebrows.
"Goodbye? What for? It ain't like I'm going anywhere- except to Los Angeles, I guess."
Faith's heartbeat quickened, and even before she had an explanation, even before she spoke she was smiling, almost grinning.
"You're going too?" she asked, trying and failing to sound only mildly interested. "You don't think I graduated out of Angel Academy now that I'm educated and reformed and all the rest?"
"Didn't say I'd be following you every day giving commands and breathing down your neck, but that don't mean I'm gonna stop popping in to see how you're doing now and then," Earl asserted, chuckling. "You might be changed, girl, but my work with you ain't done until you're willing to have a sitdown with God, at least a time or two."
"Yeah, well, hope springs eternal on that, faith, not so much," she punned, before breaking into a grin, realizing triumphantly, "Hey! Swearing saved people's lives! Calling the Mayor a dirty cocksucker was what got him into the school to be made into Mayor barbecue!"
"Okay, maybe you got me on that one," Earl admitted, smiling back. "Call it a draw?"
"Nah, I call that a WIN," Faith said with satisfaction, and when Earl lay a hand on her shoulder, she found herself turning into him and hugging him instead, with genuine affection. Earl laughed, but hugged her back warmly.
"Whatever happened to you wanting me out of your life and leaving you alone, no matter what?" he teased, and Faith smiled as she pulled away.
"Guess I'm a glutton for punishment."
"Nah, not anymore…not you," he said quite softly and seriously, patting her shoulder, before inclining his head towards the bathroom's door. "Now you get on out there, girl, before Cordelia lays on the horn thinking you and Buffy are REALLY having a hard time saying goodbye."
Faith laughed at this, giving him one last glance back before stepping towards the door. As he raised his hand in a wave, she briefly returned it, even as she knew she looked silly doing so. Then, stepping out the door and walking down the hallway, she left Buffy's house and made her way to Cordelia's waiting car, slipping inside.
Cordelia raised an eyebrow and let her eyes shift pointedly to the clock on the dashboard, but Faith just smiled, gesturing for her to start the car.
"Don't worry, it all came out all right, and B didn't corner me for a last minute hugfest. Forward drive."
And as Cordelia started the engine, backing out of the driveway, Faith rolled down the window, letting the wind ruffle through her hair and smirking in response to Cordelia's protest. Even when Cordelia rolled the window back up and locked it in place, she continued to smile…because for once in her life, she truly felt that she could do anything, go anywhere, be anyone. She was a Slayer, maybe even the Slayer…but more than that, she was Faith Lehane. And for this point and time, one of the first times of her life, she felt like that was a pretty good person to be.
March 1, 2011- February 11, 2012
Author notes: Yep, this is the end. Nope, there will be no sequel because that was the longest story, barring the Comalies series, that I've ever written in my life, and I'm ready to move on. Thanks to all who read and commented, and special thanks to Lupo/Stevedore and to Ltlconf for the suggestions and plot help- especially Ltlconf, who literally sketched out many of the scenes and who totally changed my intended direction of the story with one of his suggestions. Thank ya much…and by the way, I think those lyrics are totally perfect for the story.