It was shortly after eight-thirty when Faith and Veronica reached St. Mary's. Even though it was well after confession time, the church was still open and the doors unlocked. Soon a few stragglers would start showing up for the nine-thirty evening mass so they had plenty of time to get in and out before they were noticed.
Faith parked the car just a few yards down the block and Veronica stepped out and onto the sidewalk. Faith joined her there just a few moments later, both of them pausing to look up at the old church.
"You look scared," Faith said and Veronica looked over to her, a wry smile on her face.
"Of the church, no. Of your family, well, yeah. This is their turf and you heard firsthand what Liam said to me back at the Styx."
"Well ya ain't gotta worry about that meathead, not when I'm around," Faith replied, then started leading them toward the front doors. "Besides, he only comes here during daylight hours. Thinks it looks better for him if he's seen here in public, not that he's usually worried about what people think of him."
She stopped on the top step and pulled the door open, waiting for Veronica to enter before her.
Veronica looked inside warily and then took a deep breath before stepping inside. She was surprised to find that the church wasn't completely empty. There were a few older women scattered amongst the pews, rosaries in hand and lips mumbling their silent prayers. Faith didn't seem fazed by them but their simple presence made Veronica want to abort the mission and get out of there before she was noticed and the news reported back to Liam.
But as Faith escorted her down the center aisle with a hand on her lower back guiding her along, Veronica noticed that the old women didn't even pay them any attention. In fact, she and Faith made it to the front of the church without so much as a single scoff or awkward look. They headed off to the side and stopped at a small alcove where a statue was surrounded by dozens of candles in yellow-tinted glass cups. Veronica watched as Faith popped a few coins in a brass box below the candles and then picked up a small stick, igniting it with one candle so she could light another ablaze.
"Grab a stick and light one up, V. Don't wanna stick out like a sore thumb, do ya?" Faith teased, but Veronica got the message.
She grabbed one of the small sticks from the holder and lit one end, then touched it to the wick of another candle. When she was finished she blew out the stick and set it down, then looked back up to the statue with an apologetic look upon her face.
"I'm sorry that I'm about to defile your church," she whispered to it, then reached out to pat its ceramic foot. The sound of Faith chuckling next to her caught her attention and she looked over at her, an eyebrow raised in question. "What? What else am I supposed to say?"
"I dunno, but 'defile'? Really? It's not like we're about to get down and dirty in the confessional," Faith whispered and Veronica had to hide her surprise at Faith's choice of words. "It ain't no big, V. We get in there, you plant the cam, and we get outta dodge post haste. It's not like you're coveting your neighbor's wife or anything."
"So far as you know. Mrs. Leonardi is three hundred pounds of sock-with-sandals-wearing fun," Veronica replied quietly, more focused on making sure they weren't causing a scene then on Faith's reaction. "And she is always calling me dear, so . . . there could be something there."
"Hot," Faith said with a chuckle, then took Veronica's hand and led her down the side aisle until they reached the large wooden confessional booth.
"What if they see us go in there?" Veronica whispered harshly, still watching the praying women.
"Who, the Pious Five?" Faith asked, nodding out toward the women. When Veronica nodded, she continued, "They're too busy to notice or even care. Now come on."
Without any more ado, Faith opened the wooden door and peeked inside before stepping in and pulling Veronica along with her. It wasn't that the space was extremely small like most confessionals were, but with the two of them in there together, it definitely made for an intimate fit. Veronica took a quick glance around and then looked up at Faith, eyebrow raised in question.
"Is this really a two person job?"
"You seriously think you're gonna be able to reach high enough to plant the cam? Someone's in height denial."
That was when Veronica realized that Faith was right; there wasn't a chair or bench for her to stand on and the kneeler wouldn't boost her nearly high enough. Admitting defeat, she pulled the small camera from her pocket and checked the battery before holding it out to Faith.
"Just be careful when you attach it, you'll need to make sure you don't pull the wire ou-uuuuut, Faith!"
Veronica's harsh whisper and surprise didn't stop Faith from grabbing her around the waist and hoisting her up so that she could easily reach the back corner of the confessional. Her hands made a dull thump as they reached out for the back wall to steady herself, nearly crushing the camera as she did so.
"A little warning next time?" she whispered and shook her head when she heard Faith quietly chuckle.
"Hurry up, blondie. We ain't got all day."
"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying," Veronica muttered quietly.
She double-checked that the camera was okay and then wedged it up in the corner of the booth, making sure that it wasn't overtly noticeable. When she was sure it was at the right angle, she turned it on and gave it a final adjustment.
"I'm going to hell. It's that simple. I am going straight to hell," she said, her voice a bit louder than she planned. Fear had a tendency of doing that to her.
"We can be bunkmates," Faith whispered in reply, then gently lowered her back to the ground.
Veronica gave the perfectly hidden camera one last once-over before turning around and facing Faith, giving her a pleased nod. She opened her mouth to speak . . . but was immediately interrupted by a low, male voice.
"Why do you think you're going to hell?" it asked.
Veronica's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open even more when she realized that the priest must have heard the soft thud a few moments back and entered his side of the confessional. She looked up to Faith whose eyes were also wide, but when Veronica tried to say something, only a soft squeak came out of her mouth.
Suddenly Faith's hand shot out and covered her mouth, preventing any more sound from following. She shook her head no and then used her other hand to indicate for Veronica to be quiet.
"Why do you think you're going to hell?" Father Patrick repeated patiently.
Veronica just nodded to Faith and Faith slowly pulled her hand away, making sure Veronica was really going to be quiet. A moment later Veronica watched as Faith took a deep breath and knelt down on the cushioned kneeler, elbows coming up to rest on the ledge of the shadowed window between booths.
"Uh, well . . . you know how it goes, Patty. Me and the big guy upstairs have some issues."
Father Patrick chuckled quietly, his voice gentle. Gentler than Veronica imagined any Fitzpatrick could be, even Faith.
"The Lord wants to forgive your sins, Faith. I've already told you that. All you have to do is ask his forgiveness."
Veronica raised her eyebrow. So Faith had been to confession before? Things seemed like they were about to get real interesting, especially seeing as that they were kind of trapped in there together. She rested back against the confessional wall and crossed her arms over her chest, ignoring the unamused glare that Faith shot her way.
"I'll think about it," Faith answered evasively, and surprisingly Father Patrick seemed to be okay with that response.
"That's all I ask," he replied. "What about Buffy? Have you spoken with her?"
Again Faith quickly looked over at Veronica, probably hoping that Veronica wasn't listening, but she was. This could actually be beneficial, or at least that's what Veronica thought anyhow. It only took risking certain death for her to finally start finding out some things about Faith. Of course she was paying attention!
Adjusting her jaw a bit, obviously uncomfortable talking about it in front of Veronica, Faith looked back toward the shadowed window and took a deep breath.
"Nope. Not ready for that either," she answered vaguely.
Father Patrick tutted with disappointment. "Faith, I understand that you feel there is bad blood there, but she never would have invited you along to Los Angeles had she not wanted you there. It sounds to me as though she wants to forgive you, too."
Veronica watched as Faith visibly stiffened and did her best to avoid Veronica's gaze.
Father Patrick continued, "If you don't talk things out, discuss your feelings, then it's all a wasted opportunity to grow and move on."
"I have moved on," Faith answered evenly, guarded; her voice taking on a more argumentative tone. "I've moved on to Neptune and I'm tryin' to keep my family here from imploding. Far as I'm concerned, I'm doing what's important."
Father Patrick seemed thoughtful for a moment before replying, "Sometimes what's important isn't what's right. You need to work on yourself before you can help anyone else."
Faith sighed and ran a hand through her hair. She was obviously uncomfortable but Veronica was too invested now to pretend that she hadn't heard anything. Who was this Buffy person, and why did Faith seem so unwilling to speak about her? And what exactly did she need forgiveness for?
"Yeah, well . . ." Faith looked up at Veronica, "we'll talk about that another time, alright?"
Veronica got the message there and she nodded gently, trying to let Faith know with a single look that she understood; that she wouldn't push.
"Fair enough, Faith. Now if I tell you to say ten Our Father's and make an act of contrition, will you?"
Faith smiled and scoffed and then stood up, dusting off her knees. "Not a chance, cous. Not a chance."
Without another word, she grabbed Veronica's hand and quickly led them out of the booth and down the side aisle, earning only a quick look from an old woman near the front door who had only just walked in. She took in their appearance and then their joined hands and scoffed in disgust, obviously thinking the worst of the innocent gesture.
Faith rolled her eyes and let go of Veronica's hand and Veronica could see just how hard Faith was trying to keep back whatever comments were trying to fight their way out. Honestly, she was glad that Faith had some restraint. She didn't think she could handle whatever moral argument was about to happen there.
Instead, she followed Faith out to the street, not exactly paying attention to where she was walking. She had too much on her mind after what she'd heard in the confessional. Now she was starting to wish she'd planted a camera with a microphone to learn what might be discussed at Faith's next visit, presuming there would be one.
So lost in her thoughts, Veronica crashed right into Faith who had stopped unexpectedly on the sidewalk. It was like hitting a brick wall and Veronica began to stumble backwards. Faith seemed almost completely unaffected, standing there staring straight ahead, fists clenched tightly at her sides while Veronica tried to regain her footing. After a moment she made her way to Faith's side, and that's when she noticed the very empty parking space where Faith's car had been.
In its place, someone had painted an eyeball on the pavement in green paint.
A warning, obviously. Someone wanted Faith to know that she was being watched.
"I lived in LA for the entire summer and no one touched my car. I had to come to the 'burbs for it to get jacked," Faith said, shaking her head gently. "Guess the secret's out that I'm on Team Veronica."
"Just be happy no one's taped you naked to a flagpole yet," Veronica offered. Faith looked over at her and raised her eyebrow in question. "It's . . . nothing. Never mind. Did you . . . uh, should we call the police and report it stolen?"
Faith thought about it for a moment and then shook her head no.
"I'll just steal it back once I figure out where they've hidden it."
"You're sure it's them that took it?"
Faith pointed down at the painted eyeball on the pavement. "Pretty fucking sure." She sighed loudly and ran her hand through her hair, then turned to Veronica and planted on a fake smile. "Walk ya home?"
Fifteen minutes later they were already more than half way to Veronica's house. They'd been silent most of the journey, Faith only speaking up once to offer her jacket to Veronica when she'd shivered quietly. Veronica had wondered how Faith had heard the almost inaudible shiver but instead she shook her head no and thanked her for the offer.
They'd gone back to being quiet again after that but it wasn't exactly uncomfortable. Faith was obviously not in a great mood after what had happened in the confessional and after having her car stolen. Veronica had to admire the fact that she was able to keep her cool.
"You're remarkably cool after the night we've just had," Veronica finally spoke up, breaking the silence. "If I was in your place, I'd probably be in fetal position at the bottom of the church steps waiting for some bystander to call my Dad to come and pick me up."
Faith shrugged in the darkness, the small motion almost imperceptible.
"Ain't no sense in freaking out. I've done enough of that in my life. Only makes trouble, yunno?"
"Yeah, I get it."
They continued on in silence until Veronica just couldn't stand it any longer. She needed some answers to the burning questions in her mind before Faith closed off again.
"So . . . Buffy," she began casually, stealing a quick glance over at Faith who didn't react for the most part.
"What about her?" Faith asked after a moment, no sign of hostility in her voice.
It was all the go-ahead that Veronica needed.
"Well despite my complete lack of insight on her, I'm willing to bet that she wasn't some funnily named dog."
Faith chuckled at that and shook her head. "Nah, but she does have the habit of acting like a complete bitch every now and then if that makes ya feel any better."
"Maybe," Veronica replied, smiling too. "I'm taking it she's someone from your past then?"
"The not far-enough past, yeah," Faith said with a nod. "I was in LA before I came here. That's the last time I saw her. Kinda hoping distance will make the heart forgetful, or whatever."
"Don't you mean fonder?"
"Probably not," Faith answered, grinning. She drew in a deep breath and then looked over at Veronica, slowing her walk down to a stop. Veronica stopped too and faced her. "Listen, the story of me and B . . . it's complicated and kinda ugly. Not sure it's the kinda thing you wanna know about. Besides – long story."
"I've got the time," Veronica replied, smiling softly.
Nodding in understanding, they started a slow stroll - slower than they'd been going before - towards Veronica's house and Faith began at the very beginning of her friendship with Buffy. Traveling across the country to meet someone she'd only heard about from a mutual friend, trying to befriend her, always feeling on the outside; and then a big screw-up that had cost them their friendship and had made them proper enemies.
Boy did Veronica know about enemies.
And even though she could tell that Faith wasn't telling her everything, that she was missing some key piece of the puzzle, she still understood. She still felt for Faith and what had happened. Hell, she was Faith, always on the outside and never quite fitting in.
But, Faith continued, they'd tried the friendship deal again once some time went by. Faith went back to help Buffy and her friend when they were in a jamb, and even though she'd helped them, she still felt like an outsider. Like the enemy. Time hadn't made it better, so now that she was in Neptune, she hoped that distance would.
"And that's basically the story of me and Buffy," Faith said as they approached Veronica's apartment complex.
"Yeah, maybe without all of the horrible, messed up parts," Faith agreed with a nod and a wry chuckle. "But there's a lot you don't know, V. Stuff that ain't my business to tell. I probably wouldn't wanna even if I could cos honestly? Ya probably wouldn't believe it even if ya wanted to."
"Maybe," Veronica replied. She'd have to ask Faith about that another time. "But it sounds to me, and you can tell me if I'm getting it wrong here, but it sounds to me like she wasn't the only one hurt. She hurt you too, Faith."
She stopped just before the concrete walkway that led through the courtyard and turned to face Faith, who shrugged and slipped her hands into her pockets.
"Yeah. You're right. But I learned a good lesson from it all: if someone you love hurts you, you cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it. Ain't no sense in getting stuck on it forever."
And suddenly it all started to make more sense. This wasn't the case of two friends who had hurt each other. This was different; Faith had let slip her biggest secret yet.
"So it was love then," Veronica asked after a moment or two, trying her best not to sound accusatory. She guessed it didn't matter how it came across though because Faith didn't answer; she didn't react in any way whatsoever, which basically just affirmed Veronica's thought. Deciding that she didn't have much to lose, Veronica continued. "Is that why you're not there with her right now? Because you didn't want to face it for a second time?"
She noticed Faith's jaw clench just a little, but that was just a millisecond before Faith plastered on yet another fake smile.
"Ten points to the P.I's daughter. He teach you your keen powers of observiness?"
"No, this is all me," Veronica said, smiling softly. "But I get it. I won't push. If you ever want to talk about it . . ."
"I know where to find ya," Faith said, nodding up towards Veronica's door. "Better get up there before your Pops sics your pooch on me. I might be tryin' to keep on the straight and narrow but I ain't afraid to hit a dog if I have to."
Veronica opened her mouth in mock shock.
"You'd hit my dog?"
"In a heartbeat," Faith said, smiling.
Chuckling, Veronica began to head up the steps to her apartment, then turned to face Faith once again when she was just a few steps up.
"Hey Faith? I'm sorry if I pried . . ."
"Don't worry ‘bout it, kid," Faith quickly interrupted, waving her hand between them. "I wouldn't have answered if I didn't want to."
"So we're . . . okay?"
Faith smiled genuinely, which eased some of Veronica's guilt for pushing her to talk.
"Five by five. I'll meet ya back here tomorrow morning, same time. But you get to drive."
She gave Veronica a quick wink and then turned around and walked off, disappearing into the night. Veronica watched her until she was out of view, then turned and climbed the remaining stairs, ready to call it a night.
There were still lots of holes in Faith's story; holes that Veronica was eager to get to the bottom of. But for now she was just happy knowing that Faith trusted her enough to start sharing her story.
Their unlikely partnership had an actual chance of proving fruitful after all.
And Neptune had a chance of actually surviving the coming storm.
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