//How 'bout no longer being masochistic//
//How 'bout remembering your divinity//
//How 'bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out//
//How 'bout not equating death with stopping//
Alanis Morissette 'Uninvited'
It should've been raining, Joyce thought miserably as her car pulled up to the apartment complex. A torrential downpour would've reflected her mood, not this ridiculously clear, starry night. A night for romantics. Romance, she snorted. Stupid woman, thinking that a young girl could possibly fill the vague emptiness of her middle years. She'd been deluding herself, clinging to the belief that there had to be more to life, that it was still possible to find true love after giving the best part of her life to an ungrateful husband and a daughter that had drifted away from her. But she'd wanted to believe that, desperately. Maybe it was only possible to find companionship not passion once you reached middle age. Sometimes she insisted to herself that all she needed were five good friends and the gallery. Yes, sometimes she actually believed that. And whenever that happened, she picked herself up and gave herself a damn good shake. Just because she was forty-one, it didn't mean she had to keel over and die, for God's sake. Now that Buffy was an adult, she'd promised herself she would finally get around to doing all the things she'd always meant to. The things she would've done had she not married Hank and got sidetracked, like holidaying in Europe, taking up an unusual hobby, or simply meeting more interesting and accomplished people.
Was that the explanation for her affair with Faith? Was the girl one of her things-to-make-and-do? At first, perhaps, but she'd developed genuine feelings for Faith. Now those feelings lay in jagged shards of anger and betrayal, and still love. Because you don't stop loving someone just because they've broken your heart without a care. With Hank, they'd grown cool with each other over the years. When they'd divorced there wasn't even enough spark there for recriminations or animosity. It was simply a parting of acquaintances, no tears were shed. All very amicable. It had been hard on Buffy, of course, but...
With a heavy heart, Joyce stepped out of the car and locked it. There was only one person she could turn to now and she'd driven here with intent. Moments later she stood on the porch and tentatively knocked on the door. An attractive black woman whom she didn't recognise stood in the doorway, wearing a dressing gown, and Joyce felt suddenly uncertain about coming here unannounced. It had to be quite late now and she'd let impetuous assumptions lead her. "Is Mr. Giles in?"
The woman eyed her for a moment but Giles appeared behind her shoulder, obviously having recognised Joyce's voice. "Mrs. Summers?" He must've seen the weariness in her expression because a look of concern creased his forehead. "Is it Buffy?"
Joyce hesitated, then nodded. "Uh, come in, come in," Giles said hurriedly and Joyce gratefully accepted the chair offered to her. The ex-librarian exchanged a few hushed words with the woman, evidently his girlfriend, and she disappeared upstairs. Taking off his spectacles, Giles crouched to sit on the coffee table opposite Joyce. "Has something happened to her?" He was trying to appear calm but the anxiety showed clearly in his eyes.
"You could say that," Joyce replied and struggled to keep the pain from constricting her voice. "Faith." The word was spat out halfway between a curse and an incantation.
"But - she's returned?" Giles frowned.
Joyce nodded again. "About a week ago." Has it only been a week, she thought in disbelief. In a mere week her entire life had been turned upside down.
The ex-librarian had leapt to his feet, pacing restlessly. "And nobody thought to inform me of this development?" he demanded of the silent room and when he turned and saw how wrecked the blonde woman was he stopped his tirade. His expression softened. "Never mind, that's unimportant now. I'll contact the Watchers' Council at once..." He picked up the phone and was mid-dial when Joyce spoke up quietly.
"I'm afraid it's too late for that, Mr. Giles."
The receiver was replaced with an audible click. "What do you mean?"
Joyce shifted uncomfortably. She was awkward around Giles at the best of times, ever since their rather embarrassing encounter last year under the influence of magick candy bars. Since then, the whole episode had never been mentioned and she disliked the idea of discussing Buffy's sex life with him, never mind her own. "Faith's brainwashed her somehow. They've become..." Joyce paused, searching for a term that wouldn't tear her apart, "intimate." She almost choked on the word.
"Oh." The ex-librarian looked perplexed for a moment before his eyes bulged slightly. "Oh. I see." Actually, Giles had always thought that it didn't take a behavioural scientist to notice there was an underlying tension between the two girls. And teenagers being teenagers, some form of experimentation wasn't unusual. He'd been a teenager once himself and it was easy to fall under the influence of a charismatic rebel...
"She seems to have reformed but - " Joyce regarded him evenly, with the subdued ferocity in her tone that only a mother can achieve. "I want Faith away from my daughter."
"W-well, of course," Giles responded uneasily. This was hardly his area of expertise - not for the first time he'd wished the Council provided a crash course in adolescent crises of the romantic nature. Given Buffy's track record, she wasn't exactly the best judge of character when it came to affairs of the heart but she was a very determined girl. Perhaps Buffy was capable of seeing the good in people that wasn't immediately visible to others. "I'm sure Buffy wouldn't choose to pursue a - a relationship with Faith unless she was sure Faith had seen the error of her ways, so to speak. I'm not convinced that it would be advisable to interfere. I think it's best to let the infatuation run its course."
Joyce's eyes hardened. "I can't stand idly by and watch her corrupt my daughter." She tried, unsuccessfully, to keep a check on the bitterness that laced her words.
The former librarian replaced his spectacles and put his hands in his pockets. "With all due respect, Mrs. Summers, I don't think you have a choice." Joyce opened her mouth to speak but Giles ploughed on. "Buffy is more than capable of deciding who she wishes to - to consort with. Perhaps Faith has reformed, perhaps not. Certainly, Buffy would ask us to give her the benefit of the doubt and I, for one, am inclined to agree."
Joyce stared at him angrily. She was aware that Giles probably looked upon Buffy like a daughter but he was in no position to lecture her about her own child. She'd borne and raised Buffy for eighteen years. She knew what was best for Buffy, that was the privilege of being a mother, and Faith was *not* it, of that much she was sure.
"Fine," Joyce said tightly, ignoring the quiver in her voice. She stood, adjusting her shoulderbag. "I can see we have a difference of opinion. Goodnight."
Giles opened the door for her and as she stepped out onto the porch, she heard his voice behind her. "Don't do anything rash, Mrs. Summers."
But she didn't respond, just continued walking to the car with her head held high, despite the tears that now streaked down her cheeks.
Faith gazed down happily at the blonde head that was resting on her chest and making small snoring noises. This feeling that she couldn't describe but it must've been love filled her. So intense she almost couldn't breathe. Her arm was practically dead from the way B was lying on it and the wicked painful pins and needles but, fuck, she'd didn't care. That's what love did to a person, y'know? And she'd been watching Buffy sleep like it was the most amazing thing on Earth and, for Faith, it was. She wondered how Angel could leave this for LA, how Riley could tolerate one second apart from B. Didn't matter now. B was *hers*, had chosen *her* over those dumb ass jerks.
It still seemed like a dream though. She kept thinking that any second now she'd wake up as if she'd just woken up from her coma. Deep down, she knew she didn't deserve this but she was more than grateful for her unbelievable luck. Maybe someone up there liked her after all. Who knows? She'd never been one of the deep thinkers so why try and analyse this?
But no way was this a dream. 'Cause, shit, she was snuggling and she *never* dreamed she would ever do that. It was kinda cool though, the way Buffy cuddled closer. Kinda nice actually. More than. Reaching down, she tucked the covers more securely around them and placed a gentle kiss on Buffy's forehead. Yeah, she could definitely get used to coupledom.
She was starting to drift off herself when the door was flung open. She sat up abruptly, displacing Buffy from her human pillow, to see Joyce standing in the doorway. "Shit," she muttered under her breath and groped for B's shoulder, shaking her firmly.
Next to her, Buffy's head lifted groggily. "What?" she asked as she wiped the sleep from her eyes. She started when she saw her mother there. "Mom!" she said in alarm, quickly grabbing the sheet to cover herself.
"You've got five minutes to get the hell out of my house before I call the police," Joyce said with eerie calm. She was shrouded by shadow so Faith couldn't see the woman's expression but she guessed that Joyce was pretty pissed.
She felt Buffy touch her arm absently and it sent a shot straight to her groin. Damn libido. "Mom, please, we - "
"I said, get out," Joyce interrupted, enunciating each word with furious precision. "Both of you."
"C'mon, B," Faith said and threw back the covers, not giving a damn about her nudity. Not like Joyce hadn't already seen the goods anyway. Sampled them too... As the brunette quickly dressed, both mother and daughter remained dead still, staring each other out as if they had some private conversation going on.
"Five minutes," Joyce repeated and turned to leave them alone.
With ample experience of having to shoot through in a hurry, Faith grabbed her holdall and began stuffing her things into it. She glanced at the still unmoving Buffy. "Hey, girlfriend, we gotta go. She ain't joking. And I don't wanna spend the rest of my life in a holding cell."
Nodding dazedly, Buffy got out of bed and found her clothing. Once dressed she spoke up. "Faith, maybe I can explain to her..."
"You think? What're you gonna say to her? That it was a mistake?" Faith asked roughly, staring into hazel eyes, unable to prevent the panic that showed in her voice.
"No," Buffy whispered, shaking her head, reaching across to touch Faith's cheek. "I love you."
Together they descended the stairs. Joyce was waiting at the bottom, arms folded sternly across her chest. She looked as though she was gonna lecture them for breaking curfew or something. For some reason, that struck Faith as real funny. But if you looked deeper, her eyes were a storm of love and loathing for both of them. Faith knew that look well, she'd seen it every morning in the mirror. Maybe Joyce would call the cops anyway, that was the kinda thing people did when the couldn't see straight for hate...
"Mom," Buffy said abortively, her eyes tearing up as they pleaded with the older woman.
Joyce refused to meet Buffy's stare. "Just go."
B's face seemed to cave in on itself and Faith felt the urge to wrap her arms around her girlfriend. A week ago she would've just laughed. You've come a long way, baby, so don't blow it now. Buffy left in a hurry and Faith moved to catch up but Joyce grabbed her by the arm, surprising the brunette with her strength.
"How long have you been fucking my daughter?" Joyce asked icily but her eyes were blazing. She'd never looked more formidable or brittle in that moment. It reminded Faith why she'd wanted this woman, she had ever since that moment when she'd threatened to kill Joyce, stolen her lipstick and had seen the similarity in their situations. They'd both been left behind by Buffy.
The silence was almost painful. "I love her. Don't cheapen it."
Joyce snorted. "Cheapen it?" She moved a little closer, her eyes tracking over Faith's face and down to her cleavage. "Faith, you redefine cheap."
"Really?" Faith said, lifting an arrogant eyebrow. She flicked her eyes over Joyce. "Cheaper than you?" She added a smirk for good measure, to get Joyce even more pissed.
It worked. The sting of Joyce's hand across her face wasn't completely unexpected or the pain that throbbed outwards from her cheek. But the drop of blood that dripped onto the carpet between them was. Joyce's lips twitched and for a second Faith thought the woman was actually going to apologise. "Get out."
Dragging the back of her hand under her nose, Faith stared at the smear of crimson on her skin. Son of a... She grinned. "You were a great lay, you know that?"
A thin, cruel smile spread over Joyce's lips and Faith shifted the weight of the holdall on her shoulder. "Well, it's been really... something," the brunette said finally.
As soon as she was out the door she heard her name shouted painfully. That's when she saw them, four fucking vamps surrounding B. The blonde was sprawled on the lawn, clutching her left arm which was bent at an unnatural angle. Motherfucking vamps. Dropping the holdall, she sprinted to Buffy's defense. When she slayed, it was like she went into a haze and that's how it was now. She was like some unstoppable force of nature, barely aware of her hands and feet connecting with undead body parts. Those son of a bitch vamps didn't know what hit them. After quickly staking one, she glanced to check on B who'd managed to get back to her feet and stake one herself. That left two. Usually she liked to beat them to a pulp, really pound 'em into the ground to work out her aggression before she staked them but there was no time for that now. B was injured and that was all she cared about. So a roundhouse kick and a lethal uppercut allowed her to pin down the third vamp and take him out. Three down...
"Mom!" Buffy screamed suddenly and Faith turned and froze to see the last vamp pull his fangs out of Joyce's throat, letting her slump forward to the ground. It was Faith who recovered enough to throw her stake, wicked accurate, just as the evil undead bastard was licking his chops in satisfaction. He'd barely been dusted before Buffy ran over to where her mother's prone body sagged on the doorstep. B was weeping soundlessly, her shoulders shaking with sobs as she cradled Joyce's head in her lap.
Everything was in slow-motion as Faith approached and sank down on the ground in front of Buffy. She stared at Joyce, wanting to look away but she couldn't, like when you saw a road accident. Her throat was dry.
"B," she rasped, "we gotta call the cops. But I gotta motor before they get here." Always thinking of number one, maybe she hadn't changed as much as she thought she had.
Blurry hazel eyes turned to her, lost and full of grief. "This is my fault. This is all my fault, Faith. If I hadn't..."
"You couldn't know," Faith said firmly. "You were hurt and I shoulda..."
"No," Buffy sniffled, placing a finger over Faith's lips to silence her. She gazed down at her mother, tenderly stroking blonde curls away from Joyce's forehead. "Forgive me," she said softly as she wept, her tears spilling onto her mother's pale face.
Feeling that she had to do or say something, Faith took the other girl in her arms, rocking her gently back and forth. "It's gonna be okay," she repeated over and over. They had to believe that.
Standing in the kitchen, Buffy ran herself a glass of water, washed it out and replaced it in the crate with all the other crockery wrapped in old newspaper. The cupboards were bare, the walls stripped of the decorative (and creepy, she'd always thought) tribal art that her mother had liked to hang around the house. The lace curtains had been taken down and she could see into the garden where the pansies and posies withered away in their neglect. Swallowing the inexplicable lump that rose in her throat, Buffy decided to lose herself in the physical exertion of moving the packing crates and cardboard boxes wound with scotch tape into the hallway. For anyone else it would've been a backbreaking task. When her dad came with the removal van, she'd have to pretend to struggle. Her mom had never told him about Buffy's calling but she knew that, today, she'd tell him herself. She just couldn't stomach the secrets and lies anymore.
Officially, Joyce Summers was a statistic. One of hundreds of Sunnydale residents who had met mysterious deaths. Off the record, everyone knew that these people were victims of the supernatural and demonic goings on that were part and parcel of living on the Hellmouth. Everyone seemed to forget that these people were somebody's mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son. More than ever Buffy was determined to bring an end to these unnatural deaths, even though both Faith and Giles tried to convince her that she couldn't be everywhere at once, that there were bound to be losses in the nightly battle against the vampires and the other hellish creatures that preyed on innocent people. It didn't bring her mother back though, did it? Every vamp she slew had the same face, sometimes her mother, sometimes the vamp that killed her. No matter how many she dusted, it would never right that wrong and each life that was lost only served to remind of her how badly she'd failed.
Wiping the leakage from under her eyes, Buffy perched on one of the sturdier boxes and watched the dust motes falling through the still air, catching the afternoon sunlight as it streamed through open door. The Scoobies had offered to help her move her mother's things out of the house and into storage but she'd politely declined. She was sure she'd witnessed a collective sigh of relief. They were still wary of Faith, perhaps that was why. Or maybe they feared she'd lapse into some unsightly, untapped pool of hysterical grief and wanted to miss that particular sideshow. She couldn't blame them. Condolences somehow just weren't enough and rang hollow ultimately. There was nothing anyone could say to her that would take away the dull ache of guilt and helplessness that she felt. All she could do was hold onto the flimsy belief that her mother was in a better place now, that somehow, somewhere, some part of her mom went on
She remembered how Faith had offered to stay away from the funeral, anticipating the hostility she'd encounter. Eventually, Buffy had persuaded her to attend. She'd needed the brunette there, the only thing she had left. The Scoobies, Willow in particular, had been shocked and angered to see Faith there. They couldn't understand how Buffy could choose her, after all they'd been through. Maybe that was one of the reasons she loved Faith. No one knew her so well, no one else had witnessed her dark side and embraced it. Giles was the one who had murmured quiet words of support. He was her watcher and he would always stick by her. As far as Buffy was concerned, he and Faith were her family now. Angel had made an unexpected appearance too, keeping a respectful distance, the heavily overcast skies providing him with protection as he stepped out of his car with its tinted windows. She hadn't even thought to invite him but he was there with Cordelia and Wesley. They didn't speak or approach her, only their eyes met over the windy cemetery. He was lost to her now, as Willow and Xander were becoming too.
Soon after the funeral, Faith went to the police voluntarily. She felt she had something to prove but Buffy wasn't so sure. It turned out Faith's good intentions were redundant - the former mayor had seen to it that the murder cases be closed and Faith's name be removed from the list of suspects. Sometimes it did pay to have friends in high places. Faith was amazed and elated, but still ostensibly remorseful because people had died after all. Second chances didn't fall out of the sky so she was determined to take this one. Since then Faith had been living with Giles, a temporary arrangement, they both insisted, but, despite their complaints, they actually got on well together . Which *no one* could have foreseen.
A dark shape blocked out the sun then, rousing Buffy from her daze. It wasn't her dad, as expected, but Faith.
"Hey, you okay?" Faith seemed to be asking her that a lot lately.
"Just getting all mopey and nostalgic," Buffy said, wiping her eyes again, and attempting a small smile that convinced neither of them.
The brunette walked over the threshold to sit cross-legged on the floor beside her. "It gets better, straight up," Faith said quietly, picking at her nails where the black polish had chipped.
She'd almost forgotten that Faith had lost her own mother at a precocious age. She didn't really want to talk about this now, too close to her own pain and loss. Instead she reached out and tucked the hair that had fallen over Faith's face behind her ear. The brunette turned towards her at the now familiar touch, the faint trace of a smile on her lips, her eyes dark and glossy with their own secret grief. "I love you," Buffy whispered, almost in awe, and touched her lips to Faith's.
Maybe it was slayer sense or maybe it was the law of annoying coincidences, but Buffy chose that moment to open her eyes and look towards the door. Her father stood there, an alarmed and deeply embarrassed expression on his face, not knowing where to look. She pulled back and gave a small wave. "Um, hi," she glanced at Faith who was trying her hardest not to snicker, "there's a... couple of things I have to tell you."