Disclaimer: Faith is Joss Whedon's, Diana Dormer is….sort of mine but sort of not…and Legs/Sheena/Margaret is Joyce Carol Oates, none are mine.
Author notes: This is an AU take of my Watch My Back series; a reviewer asked me to write a story from an alternate universe in which Diana takes Legs in and gives her a happy ending along with Faith. The idea didn't leave my mind so here is the result. Sheena is Legs, by the way.
I had the distinct feeling before I opened the door to the training room that the girls were not diligently engaging in anything one could remotely describe as training, as they had professed to be intending after they had left their studies for the day. Somehow the loud, frequent bursts of laughter I was hearing did not strike me as likely to be associated with intense weight lifting or cardio activities, nor did the occasional shrieked swear word.
No, the girls were playing- and hopefully fully clothed this time, because the last time around when this had not been the case had been as uncomfortable for them as for me, if not more so, and I had hoped they had learned from it. Adolescents and hormones, however, and particularly in adolescents as active as these particular girls, often interfere with logic, and I made sure to knock loudly before opening the door.
The girls were sprawled out on the mats of the training room floor, flushed, breathless, laughing, eyes glowing with pleasure and adrenaline. Faith was straddling Sheena, pinning the older and taller, though more slightly built, girl down with her knees and her hands on Sheena's arms, and Sheena was twisting against her, trying to buck her off and having little success against Faith's Slayer strength. Faith's dark hair was coming loose from her ponytail, hanging in her face, and Sheena's hair, longer, darker, and straighter than Faith's, was loose and tangled all over the mat, her face, chest, and Faith's arms as she yelled to me half indignantly, half laughing from where I stood in the doorway, arms crossed, eyebrows raised, trying to suppress a smile.
"She cheats, Diana! She's such a cheater, how the hell am I supposed to get her off?"
"Language, Sheena," I reminded her, then continued, looking between the two, "I must say that this does not look like the two of you were training very hard to me, now, does it?"
"We were sparring, Di," Faith grinned, looking entirely too pleased with herself from where she sat perched on Sheena's torso, still pinning her down, though it appeared she had loosened her grip on her.
She was fifteen and a half to Sheena's just-turned-seventeen, and still quite impressed with her newfound calling as one of the Chosen Two, the Slayers, to the point that she often required a firm hand and level head holding her back, for she now at times seemed to think herself nearly invincible. And she was certainly not yet fully in control of her new strength.
"And you are not to do that without my supervision, yes, Faith, Sheena? You could badly injure her without intending to, Faith, you know this. Now please let her go, and the two of you begin your warm-up routine- not that I think it truly necessary, as you both look very warm indeed," I said dryly, allowing a visible smile, and the girls snickered before Faith rolled off of Sheena, extending a hand to help her up.
As Faith walked over to the far corner of the mats, beginning to stretch alone, Sheena lingered near me where I had approached them, holding herself with some tension and biting her lip as she cut her eyes at me, her voice more serious now as she spoke hesitantly.
"Diana? Um, sorry about the swearing."
I smiled back at her warmly, hoping her to be assured by the gesture, and slipped an arm around her slim shoulders, squeezing them briefly. It had only been six months since she came to stay, and though Sheena had made considerable progress in all areas a child could improve, she was still in need of validation more frequently than one might expect, still often anxious if she felt that she was displeasing me, and this was a trait in her I did not wish to neglect.
"I accept the apology, Sheena, and I am not fussed. Now go stretch along with Faith, I wish to see your progress in blocking today."
For just a few moments she leaned into my side, seeming as usual reluctant to leave it, though at 17 she was fast leaving childhood to become a young woman, Sheena is still often more physically inclined than Faith in affection, seeming to want and need contact with me in a greater amount, though I am certain it would take literal torture for her to say so.
I rubbed the ball of my thumb briefly over her shoulder, and then she pulled away, joining Faith in her warm-up on the mats. I stood observing them, in their sloppy clothing and disheveled hair, their young faces now serious with their concentration, and smiled. I had never at any point in my life thought I would wish for one child, and certainly not two, and never would I have dreamed I would one day find myself responsible for the care of two teenage former streetwalkers, for certain. But life has a way of doing away with one's expectations, and I cannot imagine now living without either one of them- nor would I have it any other way than it is at present.
I was not aware of Sheena's existence, and certainly not her prominence in Faith's life, until she showed up on my doorstep. Up until then I had of course been focusing all my energies on Faith, my 15-year-old Slayer and adopted daughter. In the year since I had taken her into my care she had grown exponentially in many aspects of her development, and it was of immense satisfaction for me to watch her do so and know that it was a result of my efforts, at least partially, that were its cause. I felt that I knew Faith well by this point, if not every detail of her past, and that she had finally grown to love and trust me, as I had done so for her.
So one can imagine my shock when, upon answering the doorbell and finding a bedraggled teenage girl standing before me, a child so tall and thin and in such sorry assortment of clothing she rather resembled a dark scarecrow, Faith, who was standing just behind me, did not show my bemusement, but instead went rigid, her eyes widening, face draining of color so I feared she would faint. And my amazement only increased when the child at the door hesitantly spoke Faith's name- and Faith, whom I had seen weeping only once in the entire year of living in my care, burst into tears and flung her arms about the girl's neck.
It took some time to sort out any semblance of logic in what exactly I was witnessing as well as the identity of the girl that Faith was most reluctant to lease hold of. Eventually I was able to urge the two of them to come inside, for the girl to sit at my table, with Faith scooting her chair close to her, frequently gripping her shoulder or leg and still watching her with wide eyes, as if she had not entirely convinced herself that she was real. I gave the girl food and drink, which I did not fail to notice she eagerly partook of with hands that actually shook in anticipation, and tried with patience to sort out what she and a rather shellshocked Faith was able to tell me.
It soon became clear that Legs Sadovsky, as Faith called her and she introduced herself to me as, was a street child as Faith had once been, who had for several months lived with Faith as her only friend and ally. It appeared to me from Faith's obvious emotion upon seeing her again, and the frequency with which she touched her- Faith, who had taken months to grow comfortable with and even enjoy affectionate touch from me- that Legs Sadovsky may have been more to her than merely a friend, and this too was astonishing to me in regards to what I knew of my adoptive daughter.
I had not seen evidence in Faith thus far that she was not fully heterosexual, nor that she was yet capable of engaging in a relationship with meaning and longitivity…and the latter was so encouraging to me that even had the girl not been a child who was clearly in need, I would still have been inclined to encourage her to remain in contact with Faith, if not perhaps actually living with her under the same roof. But as the initial few days of offering for Legs to stay as a guest went by and I began to discover more about her and her situation, it became obvious what I must do- not only for her sake, but for Faith's as well, and my own conscience.
The day that she first came to my door, Sheena, or Legs, as she called herself then, was about as pathetic a figure as one could be while still remaining upright and in one's right mind. She was quite thin, as I mentioned previously, to the point of concern, with clothes that were torn, dirty, and not appropriate to the cold, without a hat or glove on very chapped and reddened hands. Her hair was snarled and tangled badly, her lips as badly chapped as her hands, and she was ill, as Faith had been when she first came to stay with me. She appeared even at a glance to be feverish and to have a terrible cold, perhaps even pneumonia. I could not have lived with myself had I allowed her to leave my home while remaining in such a state, even if she did insist that she was eighteen and therefore capable of caring for herself.
She seemed rather wary about disclosing much about herself, and Faith, as I discussed while speaking with her privately, knew very little herself, not even her true name. But she seemed so very attached to her, and I myself was so concerned for her, that I began to use my connections with the Watcher's Council to ask for the resources needed to look up any records of a Sadovsky aka Legs in existence, even confidential files of minors, which I rather suspected she still was.
I was correct, as it turned out. "Legs" Sadovsky, whose true name was Margaret Ann, was only sixteen years old, and though the details of her file were not nearly as clear and explicit as I would have preferred, it gave me a framework from which to go forward with. At the time I met her she was only sixteen, not eighteen, and therefore very much in need of guardianship. Her file spoke of foster homes and repeated runaways and truancy, mentioning a deceased mother, alcoholic and physically abusive father, and repeated run-ins with the law on Legs's part as a young preteen and teenager. She had been in a juvenile detention center for assault with a weapon and auto theft, at not quite fifteen years old. I could only imagine what trouble she had gotten herself into that was not recorded in her file.
Clearly she was a troubled and troubling girl, one who could be aggressive, reckless, and violent. Clearly she had become so unaccustomed to any form of guidance or caring for by another that she showed antisocial and even nearly feral behaviors. She could undoubtedly influence Faith for the worse at a time when Faith had made such progress and yet was still fragile and easily molded. It could be a disastrous decision to take up responsibility for another child who would require so much of my time, energy, and effort to begin to better her life and behaviors.
But Faith loved her. It was clear to me that Faith loved her fully, with all of her heart, and that was a large part of the decision. And she was a child like Faith, a child in need of a home and care, and I could not have sent her away without first giving her generous opportunity to change and grow, within the safety and provisions I could provide.
She was quite astonished, I could see, when I sat them both down to explain to them my intention of allowing her to stay, and the conditions behind the offer. Legs, as she was still calling herself then, was still very sick and showing signs of it. It seemed to me, as she had herself voiced with irritation and bewilderment, that once she was out of the bitter outdoor conditions, warm and well fed, and given a comfortable bed and appropriate medicine, that she was actually more ill than she had been previously, when fully untreated. It was as if her body had recognized that it was now able to receive the care it needed, and had thus relaxed its defenses and allowed her illness to progress more intensively, as though knowing it would be cared for. She was curled up in several layers of clothing on the couch, wrapped in a blanket as well, and leaning into Faith's side in a manner I already recognized as unusual for her, and though I questioned her as to whether she felt well enough to talk with me then, she had nodded, insisting even through noticeable fatigue that she was.
It was important to her that the discussion was over soon, I could see, so I kept it as short and clear as possible, concerned that she return to resting as was needed. I informed her that I knew her name, age, and some of the details of her past, and that I was more than willing to focus entirely on her future, if she chose to work with me to better it. I told her she could stay in my home indefinitely, and I would act as her guardian without the mess of attempting to obtain legal guardianship or adoption, as I had with Faith. I would provide her with everything she needed- food, shelter, clothing, medical expenses, an education, and guidance for her future. In return, she would follow my rules, which were designed not to hamper her freedom, but rather to keep her safe and well. Although as with Faith, I would expect and be patient of mistakes, I would expect her to be continually and genuinely striving.
I had not been surprised by her shock. She had bolted up and away from Faith, stumbling over her words trying to question me, and ended up sending herself into a coughing fit that caused her to have to struggle for breath, her frame weakened considerably by its force. And I don't think I was ever as certain about the decision as when she looked up at me, shoulders hunched, eyes watery perhaps from coughing, perhaps from a deeper emotion, and asked me hoarsely if I meant it. I did, for in that brief moment something about her tugged at my heart in a way I could not quite explain, and Margaret Sadovsky was mine every bit as much as Faith.