Faith closed the motel door behind her and tried to form some words.
She had known from the second that Seth appeared that everything was going to go completely to shit. It was written on the wall that Melinda would hate him and from Caleb and Lilith’s reactions, it would stand to reason that they were not exactly friends.
And Faith could see why he was disliked, she really could. Seth was arrogant and totally unapologetic. He talked about his transgressions like they were nothing, and to him, they probably were nothing. He took delight in winding everyone up, playing mind games.
OK, so she was guilty of that last one, too. But he did it with such reckless abandon, such style and – watcher fucking help her – Faith was into it.
“Well?” Seth prompted.
She hadn’t explicitly answered him yet; she’d opened the door and stepped out, beckoning him towards her. As he’d released his hold on Melinda, she had told them both to go screw themselves before promptly turning her attentions to April. Blondie’s silence was never a good sign, not that Melinda needed a reason to hold her favourite person.
Faith knew this should be a straightforward rejection; she couldn’t just throw everything away with Melinda and she knew why she should bin off Seth and his fucked up date suggestion. When she looked simply at the facts it was a black and white kind of solution. But the more she thought about it, the greyer it became.
And the worse she felt.
“Is Chuck dead?” she asked.
He raised an eyebrow. Clearly he hadn’t expected her to ask that. She hadn’t expected herself to ask that, either. She knew that he’d answer her honestly and she wasn’t sure if she was ready to hear it, if her conscience could take it.
“Unlikely,” he replied with a wry smile and motioned along the path. “Shall we?”
Shit. Faith couldn’t think of anything else to distract him. She had bitten her lip so hard that her fangs had broken her skin. “Your timing fucking sucks.”
“Some would say it was perfect. You were playing charades for Hell’s sake.”
“Hey! I love charades,” Faith lied. “Much more than walking, anyway.”
“Ah, so that’s the part of the night you’re not looking forward to,” Seth joked. “Now your reluctance makes sense.”
Faith almost laughed but turned it into an exasperated-sounding sigh at the last minute. “Look,” she said, suddenly serious, ish. “I don’t know where you got the idea that I’d be into ‘walking’, but I’m really not interested.”
“Really?” His doubt echoed her own. He smiled at her in that way that tied her insides up. “You’re not even curious?”
Of course I’m bloody curious or I’d be back in that room already. “Nope, not a bit. But don’t let me stop you.” She moved to casually flick her hair back, realising too late that she didn’t have any now and wafting the air at her shoulder like an idiot.
“I see,” he said, watching her pretend to fan herself, which was a bloody stupid thing to do because now she looked like she was swooning or something. “Well, then. Good night.”
As he turned to walk away, Faith tried to come up with a sassy quip, the last word but instead found herself running after him, like some sort of pathetic, lovesick bitch.
“Wait. Just because I don’t want to hunt with you, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see you again,” she admitted.
“Sounds familiar,” he murmured. “I could hazard a guess what you have in mind.”
“Yeah, well, you know. Watching you ignore me and hit on my friends must really get me going.” You asshole. Faith pulled herself together, glad that he couldn’t hear her thoughts. “Shall we get a room or enjoy the open air? You’ll have to speed things up a bit, leave the brain probing for your next go; this time I don’t have all night.”
Seth rolled his eyes. “I can’t fault your confidence, Fledgling, but if you think your sex is worth chasing, you’re mistaken.”
Excuse me?! “Like you have anything better to do!” Faith scoffed, affronted.
“Other than follow you around like a sad dog? I do. So I’ll pass.”
“Well, fuck you then,” Faith snorted.
As he walked past her again, Faith grabbed his arm.
“No! Wait. I didn’t mean that,” she sputtered around the lump in her throat. Holy fuck, what was happening here? Was she on the brink of tears? “I like that you follow me, I just… ugh. I just don’t understand why you do, OK?”
Shit. Faith never showed vulnerability to anyone, if she could help it. This put her at a huge disadvantage. She tried to backtrack, to think of a scathing one-liner but came up empty.
To her surprise, Seth sighed softly, took her hand. “Of course you don’t, not if you’re this bloody difficult with everyone. Any sane man would run a mile from you. A bajillion have, apparently.”
Faith laughed, blinked back tears. “So why do you follow me? Is my brain really that interesting?”
“You are definitely interesting. And perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment,” he smirked. “I’m willing to take a chance on you, learn about you; as twisted, tainted and toilsome as you are. I only ask you do the same.”
“I want to,” she muttered quietly, immediately kicking herself. “Would you consider changing your hunting methods, maybe?”
“But they’re people,” Faith pleaded, remembering Melinda’s earlier words. “Doesn’t that bother you at all?”
“They’re prey,” he corrected. “And it doesn’t.”
“But you were one of them, once—“
“Was I?” Seth asked in a way that did not invite an answer. “Do you think that they would grant us any leniency if they knew what we were?”
“Well, no, but that doesn’t mean—“
“Clinging to humanity is pointless, Faith. Look at the Vatores; slaves to a weaker species, one that would destroy them given half a chance. The sooner you accept what you are, stop caring about humans, stop thinking like them, the better.”
Faith looked at the floor. “How do I do it? Stop caring?”
“You could learn to numb yourself slowly, feed by feed, kill by kill over many desperate, soul-destroying years. Or,” he growled, drawing her closer, “you could simply say the words.“
Faith was suddenly reminded of the conversation she’d had with Melinda, back at Marjorie’s. “I would much rather not care about anything and happily go on some sort of killing spree.“
She must have zoned out for a second. She became aware of Seth holding her.
“Well?” Seth asked.
“Trying to sway me with your manly charms,” she purred, feeling slightly dazed, “you’re such a bad influence.”
“Terrible,” he agreed, grazing his teeth against her skin. “Is that a yes?”
At the sound of footsteps, Faith glanced over Seth’s shoulder to see a much calmer-looking Caleb walking towards them. He barely acknowledged them, bar a slight flicker of disappointment, before letting himself into the room. Faith heard the tail end of Melinda’s greeting to him before the door closed.
“…People mean nothing to them. Fudge her!”
At Melinda’s words, an image fought its way to the front of Faith’s mind; it was cute, familiar and yet something about it felt so alien…
What am I doing?
“Wait.” Faith pushed back from Seth, gritted her teeth. “I don’t think I want to ‘not care’.”
Seth frowned, but didn’t say anything.
“I’m not going hunting with you, Seth,” Faith said. “And if that means you’re not interested in me then… so be it.”
Seth didn’t look bothered but she became aware of the thudding in her head as he tried to read her.
Wait; why was she only noticing this now?
“Are you sure? Your chances are not unlimited, Faith.”
No. “Yes.” She felt herself slipping back into her crude mask, her old friend. “Guess you’ll have to go jerk it alone from now on. Still, you had Blondie in her wet t-shirt practically undressing you earlier, so lots of new material for your wank bank.”
She held her snide smirk as he once again fruitlessly wrung her brain, before finally conceding and letting go of her hand.
“As you wish,” he said. “I shalln’t bother you again.”
She clenched her fists, bit her tongue, fought every fibre of her being that was telling her to stop him leaving. To take her. To teach her. Willed him to turn round as he walked away. If he so much as glanced back, would she reconsider?
Fight for me.
“Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment.“
“I’m willing to take a chance on you.”
So why aren’t you fucking fighting for me?!
Fight for me!
Don’t believe their pretty words and their promises. They’ll always take the easy option, Faith.
Lost in the mire of her memories, Faith opened the motel room door and slammed it shut behind her. The thud of the heavy door in its frame was like a full stop on everything, knocking her mask clean off her face and her knees out from beneath her.
…Fight for me.
Melinda materialised in an instant. She was far colder than Faith remembered, but the soft sounds of her voice, the familiar pattern of her soothing strokes and the placement of her arms as she rocked her was exactly the same.
Like every time, her forgiving embrace felt so undeserved that it just made Faith cry harder.
“I’m a fucking idiot,” she sobbed.
“You are,” Melinda agreed. “But I love you anyway.”
“I’ve fucked up everything and he doesn’t even really want me. Oh my god, your dad—“
“—Will be fine. Trust me; if he’s anywhere near as kind as Melinda is, he’ll be fine, Faith.” Caleb said assuredly, running his fingers idly through April’s hair as she clung to his shirt.
“How can you be so sure?” Melinda asked. “Lilith was thirsty, angry at us…”
“Yes. But if I know anything about Lil, it’s this; she’s an absolute fool for a soft-hearted man.”
Chuck had driven home on autopilot; he had almost run a red light and had ignored the blinking, gravy boat shaped one on his dashboard. A problem for another day.
Before Chuck had even set both feet in the house, he’d noticed that something was amiss. The lights were on, so Babs would be home, but the house was suspiciously quiet. He realised, with surprise, that the television – a constant hum of background noise in the house – was off. The only sounds he could hear were coming from the dining table.
Chuck gently closed the door. The sound of the latch snapping back caused Babs to sit upright. her shock at seeing him return didn’t even waver as he sat beside her.
“You’re back? Did you find her?”
Watcher. Babs’ big doe eyes didn’t seem to age. That look she gave him, hope tinged with woe… he was reminded of every attempt, every test, every loss.
He’d hoped they’d never be here again, contending with failure. “No. I’ve…”
We won’t give up. We’ll find a way.
“You’ve what?” she prompted.
“I’ve had a voicemail message from Mellybean.” He pulled his phone from his pocket, dusted off a few biscuit crumbs and handed it to her.
Babs made a confused face as she listened.
“Oh no, wait. Not the first one. That’s my mother.”
“We need to talk about your parents. I went round earlier; your dad hadn’t had his dressings changed, again. With Melinda gone, we have room now—“
“She’ll be back.”
Babs sighed and nodded, lifting the phone to her ear again.
She pressed one, twice more to listen again, before lowering the phone. Chuck could hear the robotic voice ringing out.
To listen to the message again, press one. To save it, press two. To delete it, press three.
Babs hesitated, her finger hovering over the screen. “How many times have you listened to this?” she asked.
“About a hundred,” he replied, without exaggeration.
Babs nodded and pressed the screen.
Chuck blinked at her in surprise. “Why would you—“
“I don’t know what’s going on but I do know one thing. They don’t want to be found, Chuck.”
Babs pushed away from the table and Chuck was beside her like a shot.
“She could be in danger, Barbara. The police could have used that, traced the call.”
“You think that tracing the call would have found her? That she’s hanging around by the phone box, waiting for you to show up? Chuck, listen to me. I don’t know what the girls are up to, but one thing is certain; if Melinda was in trouble she’d find a way to tell you.”
“Maybe she did though and I just missed it, or misheard it or—“
Babs tutted and pulled him into her arms.
“Chuck; you’re going to drive yourself insane. Trust me; to leave us, to leave you, she must have a very good reason. She’ll contact you again. I know it.” She paused, sniffing him. “Why do you smell like disinfectant?”
“That would be from Lilith’s surgery,” he said.
“Lilith? Dr. Vatore is a she?” Babs asked. “You neglected to mention that.”
“Is her gender important? I’ll go and take a shower, grab a change of clothes,” he said as he made his way towards the stairs. Babs listened to him go, heard him stumbling around as he discarded his jeans.
Is it important?
He called down to her. “Did you go and see Adina?”
Babs winced. “Yes. She wasn’t home.” A lie. She’d spent forty minutes on the doorstep, watching her old friend inside, through the window, trying to get up enough courage to knock.
More heavy footsteps and stumbling before he spoke again. “We’ll visit together, if that’s all right? Maybe she’ll be able to shed some light from Faith’s perspective.”