Note: This vignette takes place after the Doyle Investigations "episode" Third Time Unlucky.
A DI vignette
Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills?
Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,
The small graveyard was set just off a busy main street, but secluded from it by the thickly planted trees around its slightly overgrown edges. Stepping into it, the noises of the traffic seemed to fade as though there was a soundproof wall guarding that boundary, and not just shrubs and air.
It was empty, and peaceful, and standing there in the speckled sunlight which insinuated its way between the leafy branches overhead, the traffic and bustle of that busy little LA suburb felt like a long way away.
"Here," Wesley said, leading us immediately down the slightly chaotic rows of graves, our progress slow as he manoeuvred his crutches carefully in the grassy and uneven ground. His movements were decisive, as though he'd been here before. Maybe he had.
He stopped in front of a headstone, and moved aside to allow Faith to come past him to the fore. She hung back, and he reached out and took her shoulder, urging her forward gently but insistently. The expression on his face was concentrated and slightly concerned, as though he was hoping Faith wouldn't decide to pull any of her usual tricks, or be awkward and uncooperative in this place.
I stayed well back. Well out of it. This had very little to do with me, after all.
A few seconds after silence had descended, those few seconds spent in awkward stillness, Faith shifted her feet uncomfortably and said, her voice the closest I'd ever heard it come to an actual whine, "I don't see why we hafta drive for over two hours through LA traffic to look at some grass and some rocks, y'know."
Wesley's glare on her back was so sour and disenchanted that it was probably just as well she wasn't looking at him. She shot a pleading glance back at me, as though asking me with her eyes alone to extricate her from this embarrassing situation her Watcher had dragged her into: Get me out of this, Doyle.
I leaned against a gravestone, muttering an apology to Arnold Cornell, whoever he'd been, and frowned at Faith, angling my head in Wesley's direction: Humour him, Faith. Or we'll never hear the last of it.
She added, "We should be back in LA. You know. Demons to fight, and all that."
Wesley sighed, and said crossly, "You know very well there'll be no demon fighting until your wrist is fully healed. I'm not going to risk..." His voice died away, and I think only I heard the last part. Faith had turned her back on him, grimacing down at the grave. "...Losing you," he murmured, under his breath, a long-suffering sigh in his voice.
Faith's feet scuffed the grass, kicking up the turf with her big black boots. Wesley's eyes fixed on this small sacrilege, narrowing as the damage continued. She seemed completely unaware it was even a problem, maybe even unaware she was actually doing it. "Well, what if Migraine Man over there gets a vision of someone in danger back on our patch? Had you thought of that?"
"I don't imagine they'll send me a vision of anythin' we can't possibly have time to get to," I said apologetically, still feeling slightly guilty about the possibility, and also not really wanting to contradict her. I had an idea what Wesley was trying to do, with this outing, and I didn't entirely agree with it either.
She huffed, and squatted down on her heels in front of the grave. Her actions had an air about them of getting it over and done with - of simply satisfying Wesley's purposes in coming here so we could all go home. I winced.
"Buffy Summers," she read, her voice exasperated but her anger carefully softened all the same, for Wesley's benefit. "1980 to 1998. Rest in peace. You'd have thought the Council could have come up with something better, right? I mean, she was a Slayer and all."
Wesley's own exasperation first exacerbated at her tone, then lessened in recognition of the fact she was at least trying. "Do you want them to write 'Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer' on her headstone?" he asked gently. "Even if they could, questions aside, why would they? Why would she want them to? It isn't the sum total of all that she was."
"It isn't?" Faith's surprise was tellingly genuine.
"Besides, the Council went to extraordinary lengths to get her a decent burial, Faith. Not to mention Mr Giles, who risked his life to retrieve her body to be returned home from Sunnydale." He looked at his feet, sombrely. "A pity they could never retrieve Kendra's body also. Poor girl."
"Huh." Faith didn't seem particularly to find it an issue. "When it happens - you can leave mine. Or cremate it. Yeah, burn me all up, then I won't have strange people I don't know getting all morose over my grave."
Although I couldn't say I wasn't shocked, I also wasn't surprised. Wesley spluttered and choked.
"Wesley," I said quickly, waving him over. "A word in your ear."
He looked between myself and Faith, and after a moment he left her squatting there by the headstone and swung haltingly through the graves to where I stood. I moved a safer distance away out of Faith's earshot, and he followed me to the shadow of a huge old tree.
He waved me into silence even as I opened my mouth, his pained expression communicating all too clearly that he already knew what I'd been going to say. He sighed and leaned back against the tree's trunk, relaxing his grip on the crutches. They flopped loosely in the crooks of his elbows as he let his arms fall to his sides. He said, quietly, "I wish I hadn't brought her here."
I asked, sympathetic but with an undoubted feeling of 'I told you so', "What did you expect? You want her to break down, pay her respects, perhaps admit some awareness of her own mortality?"
He shrugged helplessly. "I thought... yes, I suppose... maybe some reaction. Something. I thought there might be something to be learned here, especially after her encounter with Spike."
I watched Faith, who had stood up now and was shuffling her feet, bored, occasionally glancing down at the grave of her predecessor-but-one. "When she does that," I said, "She does it in private. Nobody else gets to see."
He looked unconvinced - as though he doubted those emotions were there at all, if she could hide them so completely from him. "Maybe."
"She can't help who she is, Wesley."
In the background, I became aware that Faith had started pacing, back and forth over the same few feet of ground in front of the plain little grave. Speckled sunlight patches moved across her form as she shifted, and the wind rustled the branches above just slightly, but enough to bathe the little grave for a brief instant. And I thought that this was a good place, a peaceful place for someone to rest who'd seen little of peace in life, and whatever I personally thought of the Watchers' Council, at least here they had done a good thing.
"This place means something to you, doesn't it?" I hesitantly asked Wesley. "Did you... know her? Buffy?"
He laughed awkwardly, shaking his head. "No, no. I only met her once, very briefly." A moment of silence. "She was extraordinarily spirited, hard and tough. A strong fighter."
"Very much like Faith," I filled in.
"Yes, very much like Faith," he repeated, almost inaudible. "She lasted a long time, for a Slayer. Four years, almost. She was much younger than Faith when she was first Chosen, of course. She was very experienced by the time she finally went to Sunnydale. She'd faced a multitude of demons and vampires and world-threatening crises in that time. It took the Master himself to finally kill her."
I knew that, but I didn't comment. This wasn't about Buffy.
I was aware that somebody else had started talking. At first I thought I was imagining things, hearing voices on the wind. I could only just catch the words, on the edge of my hearing, if I listened very hard. But as I concentrated, I realised slowly just what I was listening to.
"Hiya there, Buffy... huh, how'd you ever live with that name anyway, girl? Hell, I can't call you that with a straight face... B... how about that, B? I guess you're not about to object, either way."
The wind whispered in the branches, drowning out what I thought was largely silence, hesitation on the part of the kneeling girl who I could see out of the corner of my eye with her hand - a splash of white marking her bandaged wrist - rested on the top of the headstone as though casually extended in greeting, to shake.
Wesley, oblivious, continued, "No, I didn't know her. I have communicated with her Watcher a great deal, however. He said... he blamed himself, when she died. Because he wasn't there. Not that he would have been expected to act if he was there, but all the same..."
I nodded, my attention split two ways. Wesley fell into silence, staring off contemplatively into the curtain of entangled greenery which we knew the streets and the traffic lay, unseen, beyond.
"I'm Faith. The Vampire Slayer. Yeah, just like you. I wonder how we'd have got along, huh? That English ponce over there with the crutches, he's my Watcher, in case you couldn't guess. He's why I'm here, 'cause I sure wouldn't have come on my own. No offence, but I'm not into seeking out these maudlin experiences. Hell, I know I'm not gonna live to grow old, I don't need to drown myself in it daily. What Slayer ever lived to be thirty, never mind seventy?"
She stood up and started to pace again, as she continued talking animatedly to the dead girl's grave, her voice floating thinly across to me, tugged slightly out of shape by the wind.
"That other guy? Oh, right, that's Doyle. Demon lover. Guess you never had one of those, huh? Don't worry, he's okay.
"I guess Wesley was right about one thing - it makes a change to talk to someone who knows what it feels like. All these people pushing you around - 'Chosen One, duty to humanity, blah, blah, blah. Listen to us and do what we say 'cause we've got a fuddy accent and a bunch of old books.' Then, the chance of dying any day, that sucks... which I guess you'd know." She flopped down on the grass next to the grave, sprawling on her front and tracing the letters carved into the stone. "Wish we could talk for real, B. It's funny, but I feel like... not like I know you, really - more like I should have known you. Which is crazy, huh?"
"It must be hard," said Wesley finally, tearing my attention back to him, "To lose someone you've trained and cared for. To lose someone you prepared for their placement in the firing line."
"Yeah," I said, somewhat numbly. His gaze held mine for a moment, intense enough that it took me several seconds to realise the air in that little cemetery had quietened once again.
I looked back to Faith. She was sitting hugging her knees, silent now, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully. I felt bad for being drawn to listen in on a conversation which had been essentially private. She was clearly unaware I'd heard. It must have been those demon senses of mine working overtime, because I was equally certain that Wesley hadn't heard a thing.
Although... I think Wesley had other things on his mind.
He blinked, and shook his head as though to shake away those bleak thoughts he'd half confided. His eyes drifted back to Faith and his face twisted in annoyance as he mistook her expression for boredom. He sighed irritably and gripping his crutches firmly in his hands, pushed off from the tree at his back. "Come along, Faith. I think it's time we were leaving."
She looked up, her eyes dark and the emotion in them indefinable. "Yeah. Right. Good," she said. She leaned on the headstone to help her stand up. I watched Wesley as his face purpled in annoyance.
Faith patted the stone before she lifted her hand. "See you, B," she said, the jauntiness of her tone barely carrying any hint of her previous introspection. "Who knows, maybe it'll even be sometime soon."
I caught Wesley's shoulder and steered him in the direction of the exit before he could say anything. And I turned my back and left too, determined to provide at least a moment of genuine privacy.
I don't know what Faith did or said those last few moments she was in there. But several seconds passed before she followed us out.