Prologue: Just Lie There And Listen
“’...Lestat de Lioncourt, seventh son to the Marquis of Blah-de-blah blah, somewhere in France’, and I say: ‘Really, ‘cause in the movie, you’re not so much with the having of the sideburns.”
Buffy smiled to herself as she shifted in her seat, “So this guy, ‘Lestat’ apparently, says, ‘Pure fiction, the simple romanticism of the sheep that I prey upon. Also, Tom Cruise is far too short to play me.’”
“So then I say; ‘Well that’s a given, you are pretty tall, and a lot wider than I would’ve imagined – I think somebody’s been over-snacking just a little.’ His frilly shirt was, like, all stretchy. And so then he says...Well, I don’t actually remember that part. Something about ‘This is how I was turned and it’s a glandular thing anyway.’ You can imagine my disappointment. I’ve never actually killed a vampire from popular fiction before.” Buffy sighed to herself, “It would’ve been a nice change of pace.”
She straightened up as her smile widened. “But here’s the best part, okay. He then starts out with this whole ‘seduction act’, his opening line being: ‘Do you know how many slayers I have bedded?’ He actually said the word ‘bedded’... I swear my skin almost crawled right off me, and you didn’t even see this guy, he was completely gross.”
“Anyway, I pretend to go all gooey-eyed and step up closer to him and say, a little breathlessly, ‘Is it none? Is it somehow less than none? Because I’ll believe in leprechauns before I believe that you’ve ever known the touch of a woman. I mean, c’mon, you’re wearing corduroy pants!’ And so then he looks down at himself and says, all defensive-like, ‘One must move with the times.’ And that’s when I shoved a stake in his chest and said, ‘Should’ve moved a little faster.’”
Buffy paused and looked expectant, “...Waits for laugh.”
Faith didn’t say anything.
The room was quiet apart from the electronic beeping of the heart monitor, and the very soft liquid movements of the saline drip. Buffy couldn’t actually hear Faith breathing, it was so weak, but the monitor on the other side of the bed that showed Faith’s brainwaves assured Buffy that she was still... alive-ish.
The nurses hadn’t been too clear about some stuff: they said that Faith’s heart rate was getting stronger and that she was breathing unaided, and that the swelling in her brain had finally gone down. But they used words like ‘stable’ and ‘steady’, not ‘recovering’ or ‘getting better’. One of the nicer nurses had assured Buffy that the very act of talking would help Faith, that even if she didn’t understand what Buffy was saying – and there was a good chance that she couldn’t – the sound of her voice would keep Faith grounded, and it might even bring her back one day.
‘See, hear my voice, I’m all about the caring. In between slayings and mooching around the house all summer, I’m here. With some of my more amusing slayer-stories.’
“Not even an eyebrow twitch, huh? Well, I thought it was funny.”
The nurses tended to be kind, in a vague sort of way, but at least they hadn’t ignored Buffy like the doctors, giving her the brush-off as they raced through their rounds. They had little time for Faith, the living-dead girl, or the lone blonde visitor who’d tried to pester them with what they thought had been irrelevant questions.
Buffy hoped that Giles had better luck getting the exact details of Faith’s condition.
“Anyway, ‘Lestat’ going poof was the highlight, not much else to tell you. Xander’s gone on his ‘discover America’ tour; Cordelia’s following her dream of becoming an actor, or marrying an actor, or anybody with a fat wallet really. Willow’s busy doing a little summer interning to get some extra cash for college. Oz is still gigging; they’ve even played in LA a couple of times.” Buffy nodded to herself, “People seem to be moving on, getting on with their lives.”
Buffy paused again, hating the silence. Even the sound of her own voice was better than the quiet void here, where time seemed to somehow move too slowly and too quickly.
Visiting hours were like that.
Buffy continued. “Me? I’m good. Slaying’s a little constant, but that’s cool, keeps me busy.” She paused, hesitant, “I-I do have some trouble sleeping, sometimes. Waking up alone is... weird I guess. We used to snuggle so much I guess I kinda got used to it. The feel of your… warmth. And your smell. That’s right, I said you stink.” Buffy looked down at her hands twisting in her lap. “Most of the time, I end up tossing and turning half the night, wandering about the house. Usually end up sleeping on the couch instead.” Buffy paused, “When I’m not crying that is.”
Buffy concentrated on not getting teary, again. “Mom wasn’t sure what was going on, so I told her I sleepwalk. Stressing about college. I think she bought it – she wouldn’t understand the truth anyway.”
Buffy looked at the other slayer. “Though I’m not sure I know what the truth is anymore.”
“So then the fat, sweaty guy with the bald head, who’s now naked apart from a... I guess it’s some kind of pink nappy, tries to punch stubbly Matt Murdock in the face. But stubbly Matt ducks and hits him with a club, breaking his nose.” Buffy squinted at the page as she described it, “But fatty just laughs it off, big chuckles in beating up a blind man, I guess. Uh, then he... Daredevil hits baldy again and breaks his club. That’s either some shoddy club making, or the Kingpin guy’s got rocks in his head. Which would make sense since he looks like that and then goes and dresses all in white, not exactly a slimming colour. Anyway, the fight goes badly for our hero and he gets wailed on with big ham-fists. I feel for you buddy, I do.”
Buffy flicked over the page. “Aha! Then this Kingpin guy makes his first mistake. Instead of, say, dropping Daredevil out a window, he puts him in a junked up cab death-trap thing and pushes it into the Hudson, and when the cops discover it, there’s no body. Bad move, Porky.”
Buffy stopped to slip a bit of scrap paper into the big comic – sorry graphic novel – that the guy had sold her. The look on his face when she’d walked in had been one of stunned disbelief, though it had quickly turned to snide condescension when she had said she was looking to buy something for a friend. Still, this was pretty good, (not that she was an expert when it came to superhero comics) but she guessed Faith would’ve liked it. Drugs, violence, a descent into insanity before coming out better on the other side – plus, judging by her own collection, Faith seemed to like Daredevil, or maybe...
(‘I ain’t frigging Wolverine. I’m… that hot Greek chick, Elektra. Deadly ninja’s more my style.’)
Buffy shook away the memory and spoke up. “Y’know, I’m kinda like a superhero, I mean with the powers and stuff, and I never, ever get put in a deathtrap. If I actually lost a fight, it’s not like the vamp is gonna monologue over me and then put me in his spinning buzzsaw death-thing, or dangle me over a pit of sharks... A water-filled pit of sharks obviously. Nope. It would just be ‘chomp then suck’ or maybe just ‘kill’.”
Buffy frowned as she thought about it, “I mean, sometimes I get a villain who will monologue, or give a witty quip here and there, and I guess I do have one of those, uh, rogues gallery things. Let’s see, there’s Ethan Rayne the royal pain in my butt, uh... Spike, I guess, since his drunken return. Maybe… Gorch? He showed up twice.”
She shook her head, “Man, that’s a pretty pathetic showing; I need to get better villains. Somebody I could really shake my fist at. Maybe I should stop killing all of them.”
Buffy brightened, “Or maybe get a costume? Actually no, that’s a disturbing idea. Maybe a mask, though, that could work... No, ‘cause again that would be super-dorky. I’ll just have to settle for fashionable yet comfortable fighting pants instead.”
Buffy put down the comic, dropping it into the bag she’d brought with her, and looked over at Faith.
“There’s, uh, a new security guard outside. He gave me the hairy eyeball when I came in; I guess he’s on sentry duty or something. And the police... they came to my house as well... Detective Clark he said his name was. I hadn’t seen him before.” Buffy leaned forward a little, “He wanted to know why I was visiting you, y’know, somebody who was a suspect in stuff. So, looks like the cops have started figuring things out. Sure, it took them a couple of months instead of a couple of weeks, but still...I, um, just told him that I knew you from before, t-that I heard you’d had an accident.” Buffy bit her bottom lip, “And that nobody seemed to visit you or even care really.” She sighed, “Luckily Mom was out shopping, otherwise I would’ve had to tell her what I’d been up to. And that would lead to awkward talks I don’t really want to have. It’s just easier this way.”
Buffy brightened as she thought of something. “But, um, there is good news. Giles managed to get hold of a copy of your, uh, file, with the tests and scans and stuff. I think he used some crusty British charm, or maybe just bribery – he doesn’t exactly seem to lack for cash. So, anyway, we’re going to get busy letter writing, second opinions and medical expertise, there are a few neurologist- type people that we can talk to, and if that doesn’t work there’s the whole magic angle we still haven’t tried. But Giles is still tied up with research the Djinn so...”
Buffy stopped herself: probably best not to mention the ‘D’ word, just in case Faith was hearing every little detail, although Buffy was beginning to doubt that. There had been a few hand twitches and an eyelid flutter a few days ago and Buffy had gotten all excited. But after reviewing the brain-scan thingy, the nurse had said that they were just muscles spasms, every coma patient had them, so now Buffy wasn’t sure that Faith was even aware that she was here.
Buffy picked up her bag and stood up. “Anyway, I’m starting college next week and Willow – she wants to hang out a bit more, which will be fun. So I might not be able to come round as often, but uh, weekly at least, I promise. Just concentrate...”
Buffy spun round see her Mom standing in the doorway, looking at her with concern.
Buffy was surprised. “Mom? I, uh...w-what are you doing here?”
Her mom stepped into the room. “Apparently the police came to the house yesterday and you didn’t tell me about it. Also, Darlene said that she’s been seeing you around the hospital recently. What are you…” She tilted her head to look past Buffy’s shoulder, her eyes widening, “Is that Faith?”
It was late in the evening as Buffy sat down in the chair. The hospital was quiet; the shifts were changing from day to very-busy evening, so Buffy had a small window of opportunity.
Buffy winced slightly as she cradled her arm protectively. “Forget what I said about wanting a rogues gallery, I’m not sure I’d be able to cope. Just got my ass handed to me by a random vamp.”
She shook her head and allowed silence to fill the room: she’d tried going home for comfort, only to find that, like college, there didn’t seem to be a place for her there anymore, just memories. Her friends on campus were busy having a blast with their new lives, embracing them, making new memories, not stuck in the past with old ones.
Maybe Buffy had just sleepwalked through the entire summer, preoccupied with Giles and the Djinn, which all in all had turned out to be a big fat waste. Apparently she’d remembered stuff wrong because Giles had said that he couldn’t even find any medieval occult expert to contact about sandstorms in England or evil wish-making monks or glow-y eyes. And with Giles still being all fired, there was no access to the Watcher’s Council and stuffy-stuffed shirts.
And now he didn’t seem particularly inclined to help her with other, vampire-related stuff. Maybe she’d burned him out and now he was all grouchy, or possibly lazy.
‘You don’t need a Watcher for this; you have to stand up for yourself. Find the badguy, beat the badguy, and then celebrate. It’s that simple.’
Or at least it should be.
Buffy looked solemnly at Faith. “Now would a great time for some slayer reinforcements, y’know.”
Just like home. No easy answers, no comfort. Just the quiet. Like life was passing her by.
Buffy sighed. Maybe she should try the Bronze.
Buffy swirled in her red cloak, smiling widely. “Pretty snazzy, doncha think?” She sat down on the chair and smoothed out her chequered skirt. “Of course I’m ignoring the possible pervy overtones of dressing up like Little Red Riding Hood. I just wanna look good for the party, plus recycling a childhood costume is environmentally friendly.”
She leaned forward and peered at Faith’s slumbering form. “So, what’s been happening here? You’re looking a lot better; the bruising is almost entirely gone. That’s great right? Still pretty pale, but that’s the easiest thing to fix, you’ll see.”
Buffy’s smile faded slightly as she thought back to previous events. “So, something happened a week or so ago and I didn’t mention it last time because, well, I didn’t think it was anything major. Turned out it wasn’t even anything minor.”
“I, uh, met this guy, Parker. Just one of those ‘ships that pass’ things and there was sparkage, minor sparkage, and it was nice, he was nice. I guess I was flattered and maybe a little attention-starved… So we hung out, but only a little. It was just so nice to.” Buffy smiled to herself, “Just talk and take my mind off of things here. Plus, Willow’s on at me, like, every five minutes to ‘meet someone’ and ‘get over’ Angel.”
Buffy frowned, “Anyway it was going well until I told Parker that I really wasn’t – well, that slow would be good, y’know, hanging out, coffee, then maybe some dates? And he acted like that was cool, being all ‘sensitive’ and stuff. Then the next day he just totally blew me off, he was like all ‘Yeah, we’ll hook up later and hang out’ while he’s chatting up this other girl, right there in front of me.”
Buffy grumbled, “Stupid guy. I guess I might just get where you’re coming from about the whole ‘guy equals butthead’ equation. Guess I dodged a bullet.”
Buffy rolled her eyes as she remembered. “Oh, and Spike showed up again. Sucky timing, right? He made fun of me getting dumped – which I totally didn’t – while sporting some magically do-dad that meant he was invulnerable. Sun, stakes, crosses, nothing doing. I still kicked his ass though. I think he might be one of those villains who gets less effective the more times they show up – like, he used to be ‘Bullseye’ and now he’s... ‘Stilt-Man’. And god, I’ve read too many comics this summer; it’s so not healthy. Anyway, point is I’ve moved on, next please.”
“S-So...just gimme a sec here, so these guys...the guys...they drink this beer. This... m-magic beer.” Buffy had had a hard enough time holding it together when it was happening, but even retelling it she was in fits of giggles, “Or cursed beer, I really don’t care which, and they turn into cavemen.”
Buffy put a hand over her mouth to try and stop laughing so loud – it wasn’t really appropriate to laugh so much around a coma patient, people might get the wrong idea.
She waved her hands slightly as she snorted. “So these...oh god, these cavemen go on a stupid rampage on campus and literally drag some poor co-eds into the grotto, which is vaguely cave-like, and end up starting a fire.” Buffy shook her head as she wiped away tears, “So I had to... rescue them, haul out Willow and Parker, who Willow seems to blame for my current funkiness, then I beat up the obnoxious upper-class cavemen and put out the fire. All in all, that took about ten seconds. But at least Xander was pleased.”
Buffy felt herself calming down and she put a hand on her chest. “Phew. Anyway, we had to deal with the tainted beer after the fact, flushed it and shut down that loser’s bar.”
Buffy smirked. “Magic beer. I swear, between that and tiny fear demons I think I’ve seen just about everything. Although, come to think of it, I haven’t been around that much beer since my, uh, my sexy dance.” Buffy flushed a little at the memory of her and Faith dancing at the Bronze.
(“And don’t be thinkin’ of me when you’re makin’ out.”)
Buffy paused as she craned her neck towards the door. “Security’s gone. Noticed it when I got here today, no guy throwing shifty looks my way. One of them was talking to the doctors last week, I guess they think you’re gonna lie here forever.”
Buffy looked around at the empty walls, the buzzing machines, the bed; Faith, still and slim and fragile beneath white sheets. Buffy felt her good humour fading.
“Shows what they know,” she murmured quietly.
Buffy looked around the room they’d moved Faith into. It was quiet, with it being off the main rounds and away from all the doctors. Poor lighting filtered everywhere, and discoloured walls with paint peeling off completed the look.
Buffy set the box by the side of the bed and slid it under her chair as she sat down. “Hey.”
Buffy nervously tucked her hair behind her ear. “So, uh, sorry I haven’t been by for a while. It’s just...Oz up and left Willow fairly, uh, broken, and I had to, no, I wanted to be there for her. Y’know, with the crying and the consoling and the ritual eating of chocolate...”
“And then there was the business of these commando guys swarming all over the place, being all mysterious and annoying, plus Spike showing up, again. Very busy.”
Buffy paused to take in the room again. “Pretty crappy accommodation they’ve got here. I mean, the lighting really does nothing for your complexion. Sorry, bad joke.”
Buffy paused and thought about how to phrase Giles’ news. “So, Giles told me some things – things I think he’s been putting off telling me for a while. Replies from doctors and stuff. They all seem to think...all the doctors say that the swelling, uh, in your brain, was kind of extensive. ‘Long-lasting’ was the term they used actually, and they said that your higher functions were. “Buffy swallowed, “are probably permanently damaged.”
Buffy cleared her throat before continuing. “Giles said that – even though you’re a slayer – healing head injuries can be tricky to.” Buffy cleared her throat, “He says that you could wake up at any time. It could be tomorrow or a week from now or maybe - maybe even years. Giles actually said years. He said that I should be prepared for...”
Buffy stopped as her throat became tight. “And the whole magic-thing is no-go mojo: magical healing isn’t really a one hundred percent thing, and when the brain’s involved it’s even more risky. Giles isn’t anywhere skilled enough to attempt anything, and even if Willow were willing, she couldn’t.”
Buffy forced her voice to harden. “So I need you to fight, okay? If you can hear me, I need you to show me something, anything. You’re a slayer Faith, and a tough one at that, way tougher than me. So don’t just lie there. You have to fight, please. For me.”
Buffy waited, hearing the beep of the machine, the echoing sound as time ticked by, as Faith, still pale and drawn, lay deathly still.
“I’ve met someone.” Buffy spoke finally, “It isn’t...It’s not something I was even looking for, and it’s not serious, not yet – but it could be. I mean, he’s nice. Yep, another ‘he’. Turns out you didn’t turn me gay or anything, with your wiles...”
(“I know all about your wiles.”)
“I mean, it’s not like I’m scoping the campus for chicks or anything, scoring them out of ten as they walk across the quad.” Buffy shrugged, “But I’ve speculated; looked at a girl to see if she did...anything for me and no, nothing. Zero attraction.”
“So, being that you’re all special and unique, if you could get up any time soon that would be good. Very good. Great even.”
Sighing, Buffy pulled out the box from under the chair and sorted through it. “I brought some stuff by for you, a few comics and a magazine. And some clothes and a pair of boots in a bag here just in case you wake up and nobody’s around. Nothing fancy. Mainly matching all black stuff. I’ll keep it all under this chair here.” Buffy sighed to herself as she pulled out another comic book, an Elektra one this time. Apparently, she and Faith had something in common; Elektra was also stabbed in the stomach and died for a little bit, but then she came back. That gave Buffy a little hope.
She would take any that was going at the moment.
The hospital was dark; the room seemed far away from anybody, even the janitors. Buffy sat alone, looking at one of the overhead lights as it flickered lazily. She would’ve complained, except she wasn’t actually allowed to be here; it was way passed visiting hours.
Buffy sat holding a cupcake, a lit candle poked out of its centre. It’s feeble, flickering glow seeming to imitate the weak, washed out lighting above her.
‘Two fragile lights in the darkness.’
Buffy looked at Faith.
‘Or maybe make that three.’
She tried to sound cheery. “I didn’t get you a present. And also, I couldn’t exactly sneak in here with a massive cake, so this is all you’re getting. One cupcake, strawberry frosting.” Buffy glanced down at her hands, “It looks very nice, but soon it’s gonna get all waxy.”
Buffy looked at the candle until it went blurry with tears. “Please Faith, time to wake up. It’s your birthday.”
“You missed an apocalypse. An actual ‘end of the world’ event. It had everything: earthquakes, human sacrifices, big, scary demons and death defying stunts.” Buffy wasn’t sitting, not for this. She wandered around the foot of Faith’s bed, pacing back and forth. Anxious, her stomach ached with tension.
She still felt tired and hurt, having just come from the high school and a battle with three ugly demons that’d come too damn close to opening the Hellmouth.
It had put things in perspective.
No matter how much you want it to, the world doesn’t stop – it doesn’t even slow down. It changes, it almost ends.
Buffy stopped pacing and looked at Faith. No bruising, no broken bones, her wounds had all healed up and still she slept. She looked so peaceful. No obvious reason why she shouldn’t get the hell up.
“I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided,” Buffy frowned hard, “I’m fooling myself. Right now I feel like an awful person for having feelings for somebody else, a good guy who... he saved my life last night. He – Riley, that’s his name, makes me happy. Happier anyway. When I’m with him, things aren’t so grim and unchanging all the time.”
Buffy sighed and shook her head, “I come here and every single time I look at you, it’s like I’m reliving things all over again – fighting you, stabbing you, trying to kill you. And then with all those other memories weaved in on top of all of them, being with you, fighting with you...making love. It’s all confusing.”
Buffy began pacing again. “So, like anybody would, I focus on the positive stuff, the good times, beating the Mayor and slaying anything that crossed us.” ‘The chosen two of us.’ “Except... that never happened, and every time I’m around people, I’m reminded that it’s all just... in my head. My friends,” Buffy sighed, “I look at my friends and at how different they are now and I can’t even share this with any of them… because it never happened, and if I did tell them it might put them in danger, Giles doesn’t know yet.”
“It’s driving me crazy.” Buffy shook her head, “Plus even if you do wake up, I don’t know how you’ll act, but what I do know is that you won’t remember. I know how you won’t be. So that’s why I was in serious denial mode... and I can’t do it anymore, all it does now is hurt.”
“When you... if you ever wake up, I’ll help you in any way I can. But I can’t wait for you; I just can’t, I’m sorry, Faith. I guess I’m weak.”
Buffy wanted to go over, to kiss Faith, to say one last goodbye.
But she couldn’t. Buffy wanted to remember Faith when she was alive and vibrant and hers. She wanted to hold on to that a little bit longer, safely put it in a box and store it away in part of her mind, protected and preserved. Always.
Buffy adjusted the vase of flowers by Faith’s bedside one last time before reluctantly, feeling with all her heart she was betraying the other slayer, she left. Walking through the quiet halls of the hospital and outside under the stars, Buffy felt that she’d left part of herself behind, a secret part of herself that she’d been carrying all these months, through everything.
Tomorrow she would go and see Riley, all heroic, hapless and confused. They both had left things unfinished between them, his secrets had frightened Buffy at first, had left her feeling wary and hurt. Had made her want to break things off between them –
‘No more fresh hurt for Buffy, I’ve had enough old hurts, thank you very much.’
But she couldn’t just stop living, stop feeling. Things don’t work that way. Buffy had to move on or eventually she’d wither and die, consumed by old feelings that were doomed to go nowhere.
So she had decided to end them, and in doing so try to start something new.
Buffy just hoped she could live with the guilt. And the regret that came with moving on.
Someday she might.