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Fifteen years of doing this, packing and moving, constantly in motion, make it a habit for her now. She folds her clothes with mechanical, steady movements- doesn’t marvel at the fact that her hands don’t shake. She’s learned how to keep steady even in the face of death, descending into hell with a bunch of scared girls and an eternity of monsters howling in their mad rush to end her life.
This, this shouldn’t compare.
Yet, it does. Some part of her, that small, hidden spark of hers that’s allowed her to claw her way back to life after a coma, numerous concussions, more bleed-outs than the average ER doctor will see in his lifetime- it quivers, that spark, shakes and shudders in her chest, echoes all the way down into the base of her spine with dull, painful beats.
“You going to be okay?” Buffy sits in the large armchair beside the oak dresser. At thirty two, they’re officially the oldest living slayers recorded. Both Buffy and her have been doing this for sixteen years, six of them with only each other to understand what being a slayer is all about.
“Yeah,” Faith shrugs, keeps moving. “I mean, it’s not like they’ve been in my life, so there’s nothing to lose really. I’ll be fine,” she throws Buffy one of her old grins, wicked and a little mean looking, “you know me. Always five by five.”
When Buffy frowns like that, the little crow’s feet beside her eyes become more pronounced. It gives Faith a sick kind of pleasure to see that Buffy has been just as affected by the passage of time as her. They’re still faster than any of the girls that were Called, stronger, with better reflexes. Older too. They’ve stopped training with the minis around five years ago, after the Sunnydale girls, led by Caridad, Rona and Vi had to sit them down and explain that it was discouraging the newer slayers to see something so unattainable. Inherently competitive, alpha females that could never measure up to their ideals- it was bad for their morale to see just how much more advanced Faith and Buffy were.
That was fine. Afterwards, they stuck to training with the Sunnydale girls- the ones Called at the Hellmouth directly, infused with more power than the ones called further away. Willow had explained it as them being directly in a portal of mystical energy, close to the original conduits of the slayers’ power- Faith, Buffy and the scythe.
“Faith, come on-“ Buffy huffs out in disbelief, “this is me you’re talking to.” She watches Faith’s jerky movements calmly, “you can’t lie to me. We’ve gone through everything together, we’re the original two.” She smiles, reaches over for one of the pillows that had fallen off the bed once Faith had started packing and throws it at her. “Just sit
alright, talk to me.”
Faith eyes her warily, “is this going to be a chick flick moment? You know I’m not into any of that girly shit, Summers. That’s what you have Red and Andrew for.”
“Oh my god,” Buffy moans, “you won’t have to talk about the fact that you’re not all leather and brooding sass, just… at least tell me where you’re going to be staying. How I’m going to reach you. Tell me what the plan is. If
,” a blonde eyebrow rises in challenge, “there is a plan.”
Her duffle is black, almost filled to the brim with her clothes, toiletries. The other bag, the one that she always keeps packed and in immaculate condition- is made of dragonhide, and is locked with a combination, a key and a blood activated spell of Willow’s. It says something about their lives that her weapons bag was ready to go before she even made the decision.
“There’s a bed and breakfast. It’s small, on the edge of town. I have a room there for at least a week, I’m going to see what the sitch is about staying longer. I’m taking both my cellphones with me and
the amulet…” Faith trails off, picking at a loose thread on her coverlet.
This is the same room that she’s had for four years, the same one that she always stays in when she’s in Cleveland. It doesn’t make sense that her coverlet would become so threadbare, look so old
when she’s not even in town that much.
“What about,” Buffy inhales and Faith isn’t surprised to feel her closer than before, “what about your family?” The small hand on Faith’s shoulder should be a shock she knows, but it’s more like a relief, a comfort and she’s leaning back into the touch before she can stop herself.
“I uh,” Faith clears her throat with a laugh, “family’s probably exaggerating it a bit.” The lump of gravel in her throat is so stubborn that she swallows three times before it starts to disintegrate. “There’s only three of them there. Only three alive.”
Buffy’s hand is a vice, she’s holding on that tightly and the pain is somehow enough to ground Faith. It’s stupid, really. She’s never known these people, the ones that the Council had taken her from and dumped her in the middle of Boston- with a nurse of a mother who was rapidly spiralling into addiction. Her hands are white knuckled as she blinks furiously, treacherous prickling in her eyes giving away just how stupid this is. She’s never even known them. Why is she this upset about what she read? What kind of family were they that they never even looked for her? And yet, the papers that Willow had handed her, white faced and stricken, hands shaking as she bit her lip- maybe this isn’t a good idea, you know? Maybe we shouldn’t go digging around in the past
- and the words, stark black on white- ‘eight people dead in an arson case’ are still enough to make her want to howl.
Somewhere out there, eight of her family members died, locked in their house and Faith hadn’t even known
“What are their names?” Buffy asks gently.
“Peter, Laura and Derek,” Faith says and their names are somehow soft on her tongue. Filled with hope, goddamn it. She’s thirty two years old and she’s been alone for most of her life. The idea of having at least three
family members should be too much, too big and yet- Faith feels young and stupid again. Like she’s back in Sunnydale, watching Joyce, Buffy and Dawn hungrily, a yearning pit of loneliness in her, so wide and so dark that she used to feel like it would swallow her whole.
“What was your name?”
And that’s the crux of the matter isn’t it? Her name. Her identity. Who she was and who she’ll be. Who she’s been all of her life. Faith the slayer, the killer, the thief. Faith the intruder, the interloper. So hungry for any sign of approval that she would have gladly done anything and had
done anything. For affection. For love. For a stupid sense of belonging that she’s never really felt.
“Faith,” she says with a burst of choked off laughter, because even though the bastards that kidnapped a toddler were evil, thoughtless fucks- they’d at least left her with the name that her parents had given her. “Faith Hale.”
Beacon Hills is not that far from the sinkhole where Sunnydale used to be. Faith makes the two hour detour gratefully, happy for a reprieve, desperate for some time alone with her memories.
The government had walled off the giant hole in the ground, eager to forget about the strange disaster that was Sunnyhell. People from all over used to drive up to the place, some tourists eager for a possible site of something unknown. Xander had once told them about overhearing a couple of freaking UFO hunters talk conspiracy theory and Faith had laughed and Dawn had laughed but they had all stopped when Andrew had said, in a strangely serious tone that he rarely used, that what made them think UFOs weren’t real. Monsters were real. What if the other things out there were real as well?
It’s still early, five in the morning and Faith hasn’t been to bed, too restless to fall asleep on the Council funded hotel mattress. The oldest slayers had a good sized travel allowance, one that Giles had looked primly gleeful about when he had discovered the hidden Council bank accounts all over the world. Maybe it was terrible of her to think so, people had died
and all but there were days when Faith felt a bone-deep kind of gratefulness that people like Giles were running the whole structure now. The money was going back into operations, into slayer and wiccan support, into going out and finding the newly called girls, talking to the families and recruiting potential magic users. Instead of fortunes being amassed for the upper elite, the families with hundreds of years of history in Council politics- it was now being used for the good of them all.
She gets out of the car easy, slipping on her aviators without a second thought. It’s still early but it is
California and her eyes feel like they’re covered in sand, light is definitely not her friend right now.
There are a couple of stragglers here and there, mostly bums that hang around for the chance to pickpocket tourists or to steal from some of the more enterprising small businesses that had popped up post-sinkhole. Stands that sell t-shirts, ‘I survived Sunnydale, ask me how!’
and mugs. Broken shards from the rubble. Things that Faith had never wanted to think about people coveting.
Things taken off the gravesites.
She walks right to the edge, where the fence is lowest and hops over easy.
“Pretty girl!” a drunken, slurring voice calls her and Faith keeps walking. “Hey pretty girl!” she stops and looks over her shoulder, just in case. Once or twice she had run into one of Riley’s Commando boys out here, undercover, pretending to be sight-seeing and doing a piss poor job at it.
It’s just a drunk this time, an old man with a stubbled face and more missing teeth than present ones. He’s holding onto a bottle of Jack and swigging merrily from it.
“Be careful out there, ya hear?” the old man squints at her, pointing at the sinkhole with an unsteady hand. “Them are bad
things down there, dark things. Stay in the light.”
Faith watches him steadily for a moment. There’s a chance that he was one of the evacuees from town, Willow had once mentioned it that the Hellmouth had a strange influence even on the mundanes in Sunnydale. All too clearly, Faith remembers the Mayor and how the town’s administration seemed to quiver under his rule. Worshipful and fearful, they knew exactly
what to do to appease him.
“Don’t worry about me,” she says to the man and smiles, bares her teeth is more like it. “I’m one of the dark things from down there.”
There’s a bundle of sage in her left pocket and a lighter in her right. She sits on the edge of the hole in the earth, watching the darkness intently. There’s nothing moving. There wouldn’t be. Buffy and her had taken the minis once they had healed after the Hellmouth, some of Angel’s crew and whatever supernatural beings had turned up to help and had spent two months living near the sinkhole to make sure nothing would come up. Faith still hates camping and her and Buffy don’t talk about the time that they had wandered into Angel’s tent and had found Lorne cutting his hair, singing Mandy with Angel and sounding pretty damn good too.
Manilow man, who knew?
She takes out the sage and lights an end on fire, watches the smoke curling into the early morning air, thick and fragrant and cleansing. She then starts the usual chant, Sumerian and Latin, before switching onto the names of the dead that they had left behind. The list is long and each name is engraved into her memory. When the last of the sage floats away on the wind, Faith exhales and whispers- “meh guptareh.” Peace. A cleansing ritual for the dead that they had left behind. Each of them do it when they visit. None of them want to be the ones to turn around one day and see a beloved face in front of them. Not again. Not after the First.
Willow’s ritual will ensure that the dead will stay at peace.
It’s the least they can do for leaving them behind.