Faith glanced sideways at Grace and motioned her to be still. The girl stopped, and started to shake. "I hear them," she said, clasping her head in her hands, "The voices! They call out to me." She started to scrape at her head with her fingers, drawing bloody streaks on her skin. "Make it stop. Make it stop."
"Shut up," said Faith. The demon at the gate hadn't moved. "Is that the mate?"
Grace nodded, breathing heavily. "Mate, bate, burning fate, oh yes, oh yes."
Xander raised his eyebrows at Faith. His question was obvious. She ignored him. "Give me the baby."
"What are you doing?"
"Give me Lucy." She stood there with her arms out. She looked at Lucy and she heard the voices, same as Grace. She heard them forever and had done since the day she'd started slayin'. Thing was, the voices, they didn't rule her. Didn't leave her crumbling into nothing on the floor. Not now.
Xander unhooked Lucy from his shirt, holding her chubby fingers in his. "We killed its mate," he said, jerking his head towards it, "It wants revenge."
"Don't they all," replied Faith. She felt her heart break as Xander passed Lucy over to her. The baby murmured a little before settling.
Grace broke, then, and threw herself towards Faith. She fell to her knees, blooded and bruised. "Kill her," she whispered. Even her voice had changed. It was darker. Thicker. More – primal. As if the person Grace had been once had been totally lost.
"Oh no," said Xander. He grabbed Grace and tried to pull her back. Grace ducked, dropping her shoulder, and threw Xander over her shoulder. Hard. His back slammed into one of the walls and his eyes closed.
At the gates, the Cornu Alteris suddenly stood up.
Faith cried, "Grace!"
She held Lucy high, up above her head.
"Not my name, not my name," said Grace.
"Grace," said Faith again. "Grace, Grace Mandeville. So sad and scared and all alone. It works both ways Grace, I know you. I know who you are. I hear the voices too."
Lucy shifted a little, uncomfortable. Faith tightened her grip. Kept her eyes on Grace. "Fight it. Fight it. Remember who you are."
Grace shook her head. "Voices, voices, all the voices, I hear them and I am lost, I am no more."
Glancing around her, marking everything, knowing exactly where she was, Faith backed away towards the gates. Grace kept her eyes on the baby. She was drawn to it. You could see it in the way her whole body was focused on the tiny kicking person in Faith's arms. "Please," she whispered, "I don't know who I am any more."
"Your name is Grace Mandeville, and you are a Slayer." Faith closed her eyes and felt around inside the shadowy part of her head. "You're real," she said, "You like movies, and popcorn, and that moment when the credits roll in the cinema."
"Kill the child!" said Grace, still in that low barely controlled voice. "Kill it. Kill me. Kill yourself. This is all wrong."
"Tell me about the cinema, about the films."
Grace looked up at Faith, seeing her properly for the first time in a very long time. "I love Disney," she said.
"That's my girl. Tell me more."
"Princesses," she said, sort of shocked and surprised. "Princesses, crowns, crown of thorns, kill the child!"
"GRACE." Faith's voice was thunderous. "Face your fucking darkness already and fucking deal with the fucker! You are not the crazy bitch you're being right now!" Lucy squirmed and Faith tightened her grip. The baby started crying.
Xander started to stir, his body moving out of the dust where he lay. Behind him, the Cornu Alteris took a slow, nervous step towards the gate. Faith wrinkled her nose, feeling the magic of the barriers start to work on the demon. She could smell sulphur.
"Voices. All voices. I am no more."
"You ARE," snapped Faith, "You fucking well ARE. You're HERE Grace, we brought you here to SAVE You." Grace shook her head, unable to speak, and kicked out at Faith. Faith, expecting it, surprised it hadn't turned to this earlier, took a step back. Closer to the gates. If she didn't know better, she'd have thought she was being herded towards the walls.
"Grace, don't let the voices win!" Being a Slayer, it meant – opening yourself up. Shifting the sands of you and pouring in a thousand other voices. And Faith knew it. She'd been there. Listening to the darkness, the demons, and she'd drowned inside of it all. You just had to fight. To swim up, to free yourself of it. To remind yourself of you, and that regardless of all the thousands of others inside your head, it all boiled down to you.
"You matter, Grace, you do."
We shouldn't have done this, she thought, we gave this to everyone and not everyone can handle it, not everyone should handle it, how can they do it when they are alone, oh my baby girl I cannot let you see what your mother had done in her name I am so sorry.
Inside her mind, she heard Lucy call out to her.
Her baby. A Slayer. The first ever to be born a Slayer.
A fracture in the world.
And a brand marked on her forehead since day one.
Xander didn't know.
How could she tell him? How could she break his heart and tell him that the cycle of their lives would continue with this child they had fated to an early grave?
How could she tell him that they'd killed their daughter before she'd even begun?
Grace threw a punch that Faith sidestepped easily. The momentum made Grace fall, clumsily, towards Xander and the gate. Gravel span up from her legs as she skidded to the floor. Xander started to pull himself up, a look of pure red fury on his face.
Lucy began to scream.
Faith ignored it all. Looked at Grace. "Remember who you are," she said. "Please. Please don't let the darkness win. We brought you here to save you."
"Wrong," said the Cornu Alteris. It thrust its horn through the gate, through the magic barrier, and straight through Grace's heart. "You brought her here to die."
Grace spasmed, her arms flinging out to grab hold of nothing and then, she opened her mouth to say something. But it was too late. All of it was too late.
It was over.
Xander looked at Faith, looked at her across the body of a girl they'd set out to save, and at a woman he thought he knew.
"Give me my daughter," he said.
He didn't move.