To Remember Them
The library was quiet. Even the hum of the computer terminals had been silenced for the day as the doors closed and the young students were barred entry. It was a small library in a small town and, on any other day, it would have been wholly unremarkable.
Willow slipped quietly into the room. The line upon line of books failing to capture her attention as she laid her candle atop the issuing desk. She hadn't come to read; her only purpose was to pay her respects for the dead, just as she had done for the past five years.
"What is it with you and libraries? Don't you have enough of books back at the house?" Faith grumbled.
A match sparked into life, and Willow carefully lit the candle. "I needed somewhere to be alone with my thoughts."
Faith chose to ignore the more than obvious implication that her presence was surplus to requirements. She'd known that already and, if she hadn't, Willow's annoyance when she'd jumped into the car would have quickly clued her in. Not that she'd let a little thing like the redhead's frosty greeting keep her from tagging along.
"I knew 'em too," Faith reminded her. "Maybe not all of them as well as you, but I knew 'em."
Willow could have argued; however, given the lateness of the hour, she decided to save her breath. She supposed it was only years of indoctrination through television and film, but she wanted to have everything in place by midnight. The moment between the day gone by and the one yet to come seemed fitting, in some way, to how she had been forced to go on without them, one after the other, since she first met Buffy and her life began to change.
"Shouldn't you be doing this in a graveyard or something?"
"No." Graveyards were places of work, the Scoobie equivalent of a factory floor. "A school library is where everything started to change, and it's the only place where I feel connected to them all."
Schools and books were not Faith's thing. "I hope, when I go, you do your little mojo in a bar or strip club or something."
The first smile of the evening appeared on Willow's face. "When was the last time you were in a strip club?"
"But when was the last time?"
Faith shrugged before walking away; the reminder that she was no longer as edgy as she once liked the world to believe made her feel uncomfortable. She still wore leather and had even taken to riding a motorcycle, but it had been years since she'd hated the world and herself and that lack of edge left her feeling incomplete, somehow, while at the same time grateful that those days were behind her. "I still watch porn," she muttered.
"Do you have any names for the list?" Willow opened her laptop and brought up the document she had prepared earlier; a list of names she would never forget, although she was forever terrified that one lone name would slip her memory and be lost forevermore to a history that didn't care. "Faith?"
Her first Watcher, Faith knew, was already among the list of the dead and, apart from her parents, who she refused to mourn, there was no one in Faith's list of death that Willow didn't also know. She would have thought it funny, in a sick kind of way, that they were in such harmony when it came to loss. The only other place they'd ever been that in sync was in the bedroom but, not wanting to ponder the correlation between sex and death, Faith chose to ignore that particular line of thought. Besides, it would only end with her sleeping on the couch, and she wasn't fool enough to risk that. "No one."
The light from the candle flickered but the glow of the computer more than made up for its temperamental illumination. Willow knelt in front of the screen, the candle to her right, and reached with her left hand towards Faith.
"I still don't get why we're doing this now." Kneeling at Willow's side, Faith was tempted to make the sign of the cross, despite her lack of a religion and belief in anything beyond the people she now called her friends. "What's so special about today?"
"Nothing." It was the ordinariness of the day that had captured Willow's attention years before; no apocalypse or dead loved ones, just a normal day. It was something she knew couldn't last; nearly every date on the calendar was marked by some loss or the other but, so far, this one had remained free and, even when the inevitable happened, it would make no difference. That night, when today became yesterday, she would pay tribute to all the fallen. "I just like to remember."
After years of Wiccan ritual and fighting the powers of darkness with words and magick deeds, the ceremony to honour and remember the dead was unremarkable in its simplicity. No chants in dead languages or sprinkling of hard-to-find herbs, just two women sitting together and reading out the names of the dead.
As always, the list started with Jesse; he wasn't, Willow knew, the first person she'd ever lost, but he was the first she'd lost to her new life. The first friend who had been taken away by the darkness and turned into something out of a child's nightmares. It was a long list, with friends, lovers and even the occasional enemy's name passing their lips. Some were always harder to say than others just as some had been harder to let go when their time came.
The litany at last came to an end as the final casualty to their war against the unknown was given her place among the dead. She had been a sweet girl, they would both agree on that, but never meant to wield a sword or fight the darkness. She was a casualty of their own making; a potential made slayer when all she really wanted was to live her life and be ordinary. The latest warrior to fall because of their long ago battle with the First.
"There are too many."
Willow nodded in agreement, "And there will be more next year, and the year after, and the year after that, and -"
"Don't." Faith tried to stay strong. She had borne witness to countless deaths and, each time, she had felt her own humanity crumble just that little bit further towards dust. It had only been with Willow's help that she'd managed to fight the tide of destruction and slowly learn to take comfort in those left behind, but it was a fight that continued anew with each body left broken and bloodied in their path, and one she didn't know if she'd always be able to win. "We're alive," she pleaded. "Doesn't that count for anything?"
Willow buried her head in Faith's shoulder; tears streaming down her face as she placed the gentlest of kisses against her lover's neck. Her voice catching as she whispered, "Everything."
As the computer screen went black and the candle flickered to non-existence, two girls, now women, held each other close and gave thanks for those whom death had still not claimed.
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