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Hero(in)es

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Faith is going to grow up to be a hero.

She’s always known that, from the time she was young.

Faith , people have whispered. Hero . In Greek, her name is Πιστια , and she hears it everywhere. Pistia. Faith.

She is a daughter of Zeus, a bolt of lighting sent down to succeed.

No one is as strong as her, or as fast. She has spent her childhood doing whatever she pleases; no one would dare say no to a hero.

On her thirteenth birthday, she is taken to stand in front of her people. She is a princess, after all, and will someday rule. She looks at them and immediately decides that she wants no part in this. She has always known that her chances of dying in battle someday are high; now they are definite. She would rather die than rule.

The next day, Zeus comes down to speak with her. He rarely does this, and she ignores him when he does: she doesn’t need another person telling her what to do. And Zeus always speaks with so much gravitas, so much power , and Faith doesn’t like it when others have power over her.

He tells her that there will be a war soon , and she should train. She has to fulfill her destiny.

She smiles and nods and does what it takes to get him out of her hair, but she does not train.

To the immortal gods, “soon” is often a matter of years. Faith learns this the hard way. She spends her fourteenth year waiting for the war to start, and then her fifteenth, and then her sixteenth, and then her seventeenth. Finally, when she is seventeen years old, word comes to her of a war. There is a case of stolen love, they say, and heroes and commoners alike are taking this chance to prove themselves.

Faith has had her ships prepared for months, and now she gathers her soldiers. She knows full well that none of them have much stake in the war itself; they are all looking for honor and glory.

Faith isn’t really looking for honor and glory. She’s just looking for the thrill of fighting, of using the skills she’s been practicing for years on real people, instead of dummies or trees or thin air.

They set sail. Faith is on the biggest and safest boat, right in the middle of the fleet, and she’s calling the shots. Never mind that most of her soldiers are years older than her; Faith is the hero, so she’s in charge.

It takes a week to get to where the Greek armies are gathering. When they get there, Faith realizes that most of the heroes are men. The army is led by Agamemnon, who stands in front of the heroes, strong, and Faith stands in the back and doesn’t really listen.

There’s one other hero who’s a woman, and Faith watches her out of the corner of her eye. Her name is Ἀνοματια , Anomatia, unbound by oath, but she’s clearly bound by something, or she wouldn’t be here. Birthright, maybe. Faith’s heard she’s a daughter of Aphrodite, but she doesn’t look like it now; she’s standing with a straight back, steel in her eyes.

Faith introduces herself the first chance she gets.

The first thing the other hero says to her is that she prefers to be called Buffy, and Faith can’t figure out how she came by that name. Buffy doesn’t offer any explanation, and Faith doesn’t ask. Surely Faith will hear a song about it someday.

That first night, the heroes feast around campfires, one last celebration before the war. Faith sits with Buffy, feeling a little bit lost. She gets the sense Buffy feels the same way.

“I didn’t even want to come,” Buffy tells her. “But my father is adamant that I’m going to be a real hero.”

“I’d rather do this than rule Aetolia,” Faith says.

“I guess,” Buffy says, but she doesn’t sound certain. “I’ve trained for this for years, anyway.”

“Me, too,” Faith says.

When their ships sail, Faith’s and Buffy’s sail side by side, and when they arrive on the shores of Troy, Faith’s soldiers and Buffy’s soldiers march together. Faith and Buffy themselves are at the front, trying to muster up some excitement for what lies ahead.

They set up camp once they can see the city of Troy looming ahead of them, and once again there are feasts around campfires, and once again, Faith and Buffy are sitting together.

“Do you think we’re only here together because we’re girls?” Faith asks.

“Probably,” Buffy says.

Faith is filled with jittery adrenaline. She hasn’t properly trained in weeks, and she’s ready to go into battle tomorrow. Buffy is sitting, perfectly calm, staring into the fire. Faith asks her how she does it, and Buffy says, “I guess I just don’t really want to fight.”

“Are you serious?” Faith asks. “Come on, this is what we were made for.”

“Maybe,” Buffy says.

The next day, the battles begin. They’re raiding nearby towns, and they fight from dawn until dusk, and then they go back to their tents to sleep. Faith notices that Buffy shrinks back a little bit, hiding behind her soldiers, but no one dies that first day, and when Faith sleeps, she sleeps like a rock.

It’s the next day that things get bad. Faith is feeling good, finally getting to use the skills she’s honed her whole life, until her spear goes through a man’s chest and she watches the light fade from his eyes. She pulls it out and staggers backwards a little, until someone sees her weakness and strikes at her. She stabs at her attacker, and soon he, too, is fallen on the ground, and Faith has to get out.

She runs back through her army, grateful for her superhuman speed, until she is back at the camp.

How could she have looked forward to this?

She paces back and forth inside her tent, looking at the blood on her spear, her hands, her armor, and she realizes that this is not what she was born for. She don’t know what she was born for, but this isn’t it.

But it’s too late now.

Later, her soldiers come back and ask her what happened, and she tells them everything’s fine, she just remembered she had forgotten some part of her armor. She’s pretty sure that keeps them at bay, but that night, when she’s lying in her tent, the memory of blood shooting out of a man’s chest comes to her, and she knows she won’t be able to go back into battle the next day.

But she’ll have to.

Just as she’s resigning herself to a sleepless night, there’s a sound outside her tent, and she shoots up into a sitting position, already holding her still-bloody spear.

But when a head pokes through the entrance to the tent, it’s just Buffy, who doesn’t even blink at the spear in her face.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

Faith nods.

“Peachy,” she says.

“I saw you kill that guy earlier,” Buffy says.

Faith suppresses a shiver.

“What about him?” she asks.

“I was just-- never mind.”

Buffy looks like she’s about to leave, but Faith realizes suddenly how much she doesn’t want to be alone.

“No,” she says.

Buffy looks at her, confused.

“Sorry,” Faith says. “I mean-- I’m just-- do you want to stay here for a bit or something?”

Buffy crawls into the tent, sitting on the ground next to Faith.

“This has been a lot,” she says. “I’m not sure I can do it.”

Faith shrugs, swallowing over the lump in her throat.

“Life’s rough,” she says. “Sometimes you’ve got to do things you don’t like.”

“But why do we have to do this ?” Buffy asks.

“We’re heroes, B. It’s what we do.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Buffy says, quietly.

Faith remembers Buffy’s other name. Anomatia. Unbound by oath.

“I guess not,” she says. She smiles. “Surely Zeus has more to worry about than whether his daughter goes to war.”

“And my father already thinks I’m here,” Buffy says.

“Your mother doesn’t care?” Faith asks.

“She cares,” Buffy says, “but she wants me to live. She’s the goddess of love, remember. There’s no love in this.”

Faith starts to extricate herself from her bedding, strapping her armor together, checking the contents of her bag.

“What are you doing?” Buffy asks.

“Packing,” Faith says. “Let’s get out of here.”

As they walk away from camp in the darkness, bags packed with food and clean water, Faith wonders what the others will think. Probably that she and Buffy were weak, or that they’re deserters. They are, technically, deserters, and Faith thinks she likes that. It tastes like rebellion on her tongue.

She and Buffy just deserted the Greek army.

They take a lifeboat from one of Faith’s ships, hoping that somehow Poseidon will be on their side, and they row away from the shores of Troy.

A week later, they come up on an unfamiliar shore, and the people there ask who they are and where they came from. Faith and Buffy look at each other, then at the people, and Faith says, “It doesn’t matter.”

“We’re here now,” Buffy agrees.