Actions

Work Header

Holding life and death in our hands

Work Text:

Martha had come to the US to get away from the weirdness of her life – not that there was any less weirdness in the US as such, just take the incident with the Daleks and the Empire State Building for one, but because nobody knew her there – or at least, nobody would know her if she kept her head down. She knew that UNIT had a base there, of course, UNIT couldn’t not have a base in the US, but she deliberately didn’t inform them of where she was going, and picked a nondescript, small town that hadn’t had any alien activity registered in UNIT’s files. They probably had her under surveillance, but she was hopefully trusted enough that it was cursory, routine surveillance that would peter off if she didn’t do anything weird and didn’t go blabbing about aliens to anyone. Which, hopefully, she would have no need to. Hopefully, she was done with all that for a while, and could settle into normality, saving lives with a stethoscope and a scalpel, not a nuclear bomb. She’d joined UNIT to change it from the inside, but she should have known really, that it would change her first – it wasn’t just that the Doctor disapproved of how quickly UNIT would take to violence as an answer (she didn’t need the Doctor’s approval, not any more), but also that she was a healer, a doctor, and she’d forgotten that somewhere on the way. It would be good to get back her roots.

So she’d picked Sunnydale because UNIT had registered absolutely no interest in the place whatsoever, it was anonymous, large enough to have a hospital but not so large as to have any distinguishing features whatsoever. But it seemed UNIT’s files were in a serious need of an update – because something was definitely weird about Sunnydale. There were the mysterious disappearances, the odd memory lapses on the part of so many people, and the dog bites that were definitely not dog bites. Dog bites didn’t look like two prominent fangs and no other teeth marks, and dogs didn’t consistently aim for the neck and nowhere else. No, there was one creature that did that: mythical, of course, but it wasn’t the first creature to come crawling out of legends and into Martha’s reality. Martha knew enough to know that legends often had a kernel of truth in them: she’d defeated witches with the power of poetry, almost been swallowed by a vengeful living star, and stopped a mad scientist looking for immortality. Vampires? That was something she hadn’t experienced before, but part of her, the part that had happily travelled across time and space to explore the universe, was almost looking forward to see what the reality behind that particular myth was. Whatever it was, it was causing harm, and she wasn’t about to let it continue like that, not if she could help it. She hadn’t gone saving planets and lives all over the galaxy to ignore killers in her own back yard.

On one of her nights off, she ventured out into the town. She’d prepared with wooden stakes, a wooden cross and a cross necklace, garlic, holy water, mirrors, rice, and a knife made out of silver (helpfully sold to her by the town’s magic shop, which might not be as full of bullshit as she’d initially dismissed it as), all things that could potentially stop a vampire according to legend – hopefully at least one of them would work. If she’d had a gun, she’d have loaded it with silver bullets, but she didn’t. And it was too bad there was no running water around, just the beach and the ocean. But aside from those two things, she thought she was as prepared as she could be.

She didn’t have to walk long before she struck gold – a woman, slightly older than herself, who screamed for help. When Martha came rushing to help her, her face transformed: her forehead going ridged and pronounced, her mouth growing fangs, her eyes turning yellow. This was the exact kind of situation where the Doctor would run, and Martha kept that option open just in case, making sure her escape route out the back of the alley was clear. But she hadn’t gotten to where she was by ignoring opportunities to learn more, despite the danger.

She learned three things quite quickly – garlic didn’t work, holy water did for a short time, and vampires were stronger than humans. This was probably the point where she should take a leaf out of the Doctor’s book. She turned around and bolted towards her exit route. There was a girl at the entrance of the alley, mid-teens or so, but dressed and made up to look older.

“Run!” Martha shouted at her, trying to grab her arm and lead her to safety. “No time to explain, just run!”

“Thanks, sis, but I’m good,” said the teenager, pulling out a wooden stake from inside her leather jacket.

Well, at least she knew her vampire lore. That was reassuring, aside from the part where this teenage girl wanted to take on a vampire all by herself, which was not something Martha could in good conscience allow. She slowed down, and turned back round to face the vampire again. If she died trying to save this girl from herself, then so be it. Better than the girl dying because she hadn’t even tried to save her. The girl seemed to know what she was doing as she rushed the vampire, dodging its blows, moving with the punches, and landing a few of her own, but Martha had never been in the habit of leaving people in tough situations by themselves, and she wasn’t about to start now.

She uncorked her bottle of holy water and threw it over both of them. The vampire reared back in pain, and the girl took the opportunity to ram her stake through its heart. It disappeared in a cloud of dust.

“You all right?” Martha asked the girl.

“Five by five,” she replied.

“That was really impressive.”

The girl shrugged.

“It’s what I do, man. No big.”

“Seemed pretty big to me,” Martha said. “What was that?” she continued.

“Vampire,” said the girl.

“Actual vampire? As in, garlic, holy cross and all? Not an alien pretending to be a vampire?”

The girl gave her a very dubious look.

“Yeah. Actual vampire. Sucks blood, kill you, makes new vampire. Just like the fairy tales your Mom told you growing up.”

“Wow.” She wondered how long ago whatever alien that had spawned the vampire myth had arrived at Earth. If they propagated by killing, and had been around at least since the 1800s, there was probably no driving them off the planet. She wondered if she should call in UNIT, but she wasn’t keen on the town being turned into a crater. UNIT probably wouldn’t do that, they tended to want to go unnoticed and not actually destroy Earth when they were trying to protect it, but. She’d keep it from them, for now, until she wasn’t able to handle the situation on her own.

“You new here?” the girl asked.

“Just moved in. I work at Sunnydale Memorial,” Martha said, because it couldn’t hurt to put something of herself out there, and because she wanted the girl to have a way of finding her again. “Martha Jones.”

“I’m Faith,” said the teenager. She didn’t give a last name. “If you work at the hospital, I might see you around. You may have noticed that I’m not in the safest job in the world. Also, keep out of the alleys at night. I don’t want to have to rescue your ass again. Anyway, take care. I’ve got places to be, vampires to Slay, you know the drill. Or maybe you don’t, but you’ll learn.”

“Normally I can look after myself, but thanks for the help,” Martha said. It was a little embarrassing how easily Faith had dealt with the vampires compared to how much Martha had struggled, but she wasn’t about to look any gift horses in any mouths.

The girl jumped and clambered over the roof of the building, rather than taking the road. Martha smiled to herself and turned back. She’d probably meet Faith again, if not in some alley, then maybe at the hospital, or possibly in the shops or on the street – Sunnydale wasn’t a large town. They’d only spoken a few minutes, but Martha was oddly charmed. Faith was young, and brash, but clearly competent – and far too young to be facing such threats on a regular basis. Martha hadn’t turned 30 yet, and she’d been in her mid-20s when she’d travelled with the Doctor, but she’d at least gotten through secondary school.

*

She did see Faith again fairly soon afterwards, at Sunnydale Memorial. Thankfully not as a patient, but as a visitor to an older man who’d been in a fight and had been rather badly beaten up – it looked like he’d been clobbered with some heavy object over the head, more than once. He wouldn’t let them know who did it, and she watched him with Faith, since she knew what the girl was capable of, but although they were awkward around each other, there was no wariness on the man’s – Rupert Giles, according to his patient file – part.

He was an interesting case, and not just because Martha had wanted to get the police involved, and met with resistance from the man himself, the rest of the staff, and the police (what was wrong with this town?). Most of his visitors were teenagers. There was Faith, and a blonde girl who seemed to be Faith’s particular friend, as well as a red-headed girl, a dark-haired boy, and a sandy blond-haired boy, who were more intermittent visitors. It seemed Rupert was particularly close to the blonde, Buffy, and while she spent most of her time at Rupert’s bedside, Faith roamed to corridors looking for coffee and snacks for them.

She exuded an air of misery, such that Martha had to intervene.

“The coffee from the automat is terrible, you should try the stuff from the staff room instead.”

“Hey, you’re that lady from that alley once! Fancy seeing you here.” Faith eyed her suspiciously. “What do you want?”

“I want to do a favour for someone who saved my life,” she said.

“Nobody does anything out of the goodness of their heart,” Faith said. It was sad that she was so young, and so cynical.

“That’s not true,” Martha replied.

“Yeah? Name one example.”

“Well, I know at least one young woman who rushed in to save a clueless civilian from a vampire, without getting anything in return. And if I’m not wrong, that wasn’t the first time she did it, either.”

Faith looked thoughtful, then her face hardened.

“I didn’t do it for you. I did it ‘coz it’s fun.”

“Okay,” Martha said, not willing to argue the point. “You still saved my life for no recompense. It’s still altruistic, even if you enjoy it.”

“Whatever,” said Faith. She waited a beat. “Hey, did you say you had better coffee in your break room than this swill?”

“Sure. Follow me.”

*

“So, you’re a doctor here,” Faith asked on the way to the break room.

“I am,” Martha said. “The name tag didn’t give it away?”

“Hey, just making conversation. What made you want to be a doctor? The money, the prestige? Wanting to look snazzy in those white robes? You ever do role play? Doctor and patient?”

She was deliberately needling her, but Martha had dealt with worse. Much worse.

“I like helping people,” Martha said. “But I also like solving mysteries and puzzles. Like diagnosing people and working out the right treatment. It’s never boring. I mean, they say it’s a call, not a job, and I feel that.”

She smiled at Faith and opened the door to the break room.

“Never was any good at school, but being a Slayer, that’s my call,” Faith said. “It’s a rush, you know. Like, this is what I was made for. This is what I am and what I’m good at.”

“Well, life can take a funny turn sometimes, and you end up somewhere you really weren’t expecting,” Martha said. Like the moon. It sounded trite to hear ears, and flat – it seemed much more mundane than what she’d actually meant. But Faith just nodded.

“Amen, sister,” she said. Martha supposed she knew a bit about the completely unexpected. She wondered how one became a ‘Slayer’ and took up the call to fight vampires, if there was some kind of organisation, or if it was just something they called themselves, those who had extra strength, stamina and agility that Martha had seen her display, and whatever else they’d been gifted with.

*

Faith was developing a bruise on her chin, possibly from the same person or entity that had hurt Rupert. Martha wondered if it was related to Faith being a Slayer – if maybe Rupert was one as well. Or maybe the cause of her bruise and his injuries was more sinister – and how was it her life, that even when she wanted to get away from the weirdness, she was still in a situation where she wondered if what was going on was more sinister than going out at night and shoving stakes through the hearts of vampires. How did it get more sinister than that? But of course, the monsters that roamed at night had little against human evil. It was just that humans also had the capability for astounding goodness and selflessness. You never knew what you were going to get.

“Want me to take a look at that?” she asked, gesturing with her coffee cup at Faith’s chin.

“What? Oh, this?” Faith reached up a hand to touch it. “It’s nothing – I barely feel it. It’ll be gone in like a day.”

So, she probably had some kind of accelerated healing factor. That spoke against Rupert being a Slayer, since there had been no indications that he also had one. But she supposed it was early days, maybe the wounds would be gone tomorrow.

“Still,” Martha said. “I’m a doctor. It’s kind of what I do.”

Faith shrugged.

“I guess, if you really want.”

“I do.”

There wasn’t much she could do, but she could put an elastic band around it, to give her some compression. Faith put up with it, and Martha wondered if she’d ever been fussed over, or if part of being a Slayer was being supposed to shrug off any injuries. It seemed like a sad way to live. She knew nothing about Faith’s life, of course, other than that she walked around at night killing vampires, didn’t trust people, and was kind of prickly, but those three things told her enough to paint a fairly grim picture. She didn’t know if Faith would even accept the help and support she wanted to offer, but it was better to try and be rejected, than not try at all.

“Looks like you and Rupert Giles were in a fight,” she said. “Vampires again?”

“No. Demons,” Faith said. “And an evil Watcher.”

“What’s a Watcher?” Martha asked. She could work out what a demon might be, although she’d probably need to do some research to figure out how much of the legends were actually true.

“They’re people who are supposed to help us Slayers. Train us, give us info and so on. Except this one was just using me to get to this glove thing.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah. I just feel so stupid, you know. Like, I trusted her. I thought she was good. She was meant to be my Watcher, like Giles is Buffy’s, and I thought I could have someone like that for myself. But I’m like, cursed or something. That’s two of my Watcher’s who’ve ended up dead. I’m just an idiot for not seeing it coming. Like, she was waiting to betray me. There must have been some signs.”

Martha made a sympathetic noise.

“It’s not your fault you believe the best of people,” Martha said. “It’s not a flaw.”

“It is when it gets people hurt. I should know better.”

“You can’t go around suspecting everyone of ulterior motives.”

“Why not?”

“Because humans aren’t meant to live like that.”

“Humans aren’t meant to be able to bend rebar in half, either, but here we are.” She swallowed the rest of the coffee in one gulp. “Anyway, I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. You’re a total stranger.

“Maybe it’s because I’m a stranger you feel able to tell it to me. I’m not involved in the situation, and you aren’t as worried about me judging you.”

Faith eyed her.

“You’ve been trained in this, haven’t you – getting people to talk to you?” she asked. “Is that part of your fancy doctor training?”

“Little bit,” Martha said. “And I’ve had experience talking and listening to all kinds of people. A Slayer seems pretty normal, in comparison, actually.”

*

They released Rupert Giles (who apparently went by his surname) after just a few hours of observation. The next day, Faith was hanging around outside the break room during Martha’s shift.

“Did you have any more of that coffee?” she asked, clearly tying for nonchalant, but it was obvious to Martha how much she wanted a place to belong. The coffee wasn’t actually that good.

“Sure,” she said.

The day after that, she was there again.

*

“Buffy and Giles are worried about you,” Faith said. “They think you’re going to use me, just like Gwendolyn Post did.”

Martha shrugged.

“There’s nothing I can say to disprove that,” she said. “I could say I’m not going to, but I’d say that even if I were. So. I guess you just have to trust me.”

“Well, if you double cross me, I’ll probably kill you. It’s what I did to Post.”

“Didn’t the glove kill Post?” Martha asked.

“Same shit,” Faith said. “You’ll die, anyway.”

“Well, I don’t want that,” Martha said. “So I guess I’ll just have to refrain from double crossing you.”

“Buffy and Giles say I was wrong to tell you about vampires and Slayers and all that. They seem to be big on secrets, especially Buffy,” she said. She sounded bitter.

“You didn’t actually tell me anything I couldn’t have worked out for myself, not to begin with, at least,” Martha said. “Given that I saw what I saw.”

“That’s what I said, but they were all ‘she was going to forget it and rationalise it away’ and ‘people see vamps every day and we don’t tell them our secrets’.”

“I’ve seen too much to rationalise things away easily,” Martha said.

“Buffy implied I’m a bad judge of character because I didn’t see that my Watcher was evil,” Faith continued, caught up in her vent. “But none of them saw it either. You should have seen Giles, falling over himself trying to appease and impress her.”

“That doesn’t sound fair to you,” Martha said.

Faith shrugged.

“It is what it is. Anyway, let’s not talk about my problems, they’re boring. Let’s talk about you. What weird and wonderful things have you see, since you call Vampire Slayers normal?”

Martha hesitated, and she could see Faith close off, and her eyes fill with hurt.

“Yeah, no. It’s a secret, I get it,” she said. “That seems to be a running theme around these parts.”

“No, I was just trying to decide where to start,” Martha said. “But I guess it starts in a hospital a bit like this one, in London, and a patient with two hearts.”

“Two hearts? Was he a demon or something?”

“No, he was an alien.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“I swear to God I’m not. That’s not even the weird part. Okay, it’s pretty weird,” she admitted, “but the truly weird part came after we met, when the hospital ended up on the Moon.”

And so Martha talked, of Time Lords, of meeting Shakespeare and seeing the universe, of the organisation dedicated to protecting the Earth that was losing its way into military jingoism, of the people she had saved and the people she had failed to save, of aliens and humans, of friends and allies, and enemies, and people who started out as enemies but became allies and even friends.

“Sounds like you’ve seen some shit,” Faith said.

“You could say that,” Martha replied. “But my break’s over, so I’m afraid I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

It was the first time she had alluded to the regularity of Faith’s visits, and she was half afraid that by drawing attention to it, Faith would draw back on herself, like a stray cat pushed too far, but Faith just nodded.

“Sure thing, Doctor Alien-fighter,” she said.

*

Faith felt left out of the “Scoobies”, the gang that had formed around the first Slayer Buffy, like she didn’t fit in with them, entirely – they were nice and all, but they weren’t hers, she wasn’t quite one of them, which was a feeling Martha could relate to all too well. She too had come in late, and been constantly compared to her predecessor and felt she didn’t quite measure up. But it might be even worse for Faith, because for her it was the entire group with everyone being more Buffy’s friend than hers. She didn’t blame the teenagers, teenagers were who they were, and hadn’t developed the emotional maturity to deal with that sort of situation yet. She did blame the adults, Gwendolyn Post who should have looked out for Faith and been on her side, and Rupert Giles, who meant well but made his preference and priority order between the two girls quite obvious. But Martha had met Faith first, and Faith had saved her life, and it was Faith who sought her out to have coffee on Martha’s breaks at the hospital. Martha could be Faith’s and not Buffy’s, so she’d at least have one person who put her first to even it out a little bit. And if she did see Rupert Giles again, she could give him a piece of her mind.

She got her opportunity a few weeks later, when another of the Scooby-gang adjacent members, one Cordelia Chase, ended up in the hospital. The surrounding details were vague enough that Martha could conclude that there were more vampire or demon shenanigans involved. The various “Scoobies” came to visit her, one boy who was probably her boyfriend bringing a large bouquet of flowers, but leaving looking fairly crushed, and while they were there, Rupert Giles made a point of seeking Martha out.

“Ah, Doctor Jones. I was wondering if I could have a word?”

“I’m a little busy at the moment,” Martha said, because she did have a job to do, “but if it’s quick.”

“I just wanted to introduce myself and make myself known. You’re Faith’s friend, if I’m not mistaken? The one who was informed about her night-time activities, and was remarkably well prepared for someone who knew nothing about what she was facing.”

He sounded judgemental and wary of her, which fair enough to him, but she wasn’t his biggest fan either.

“That’s me,” she said bracingly, almost inviting him to comment further. He did not disappoint.

“I have to wonder why, and what you’re doing here,” he said.

“Right now, I’m on my way to give your friend Cordelia her medication,” Martha said. He took off his glasses and polished them.

“I meant on a larger scale. What are you doing here in Sunnydale?”

“Practicing medicine. I’m a doctor.”

“As I understand it, that’s not all you are. And I find it a bit too on the nose that someone like you should find their way to someplace like this.”

“I didn’t mean to seek out the main supernatural hotspot in the US, it just happened.”

He probably wouldn’t believe her, but as far as Martha was concerned, it was pure happenstance. Privately Martha wondered if maybe it wasn’t as coincidental as it seemed. If UNIT had perhaps seen the opportunity to get someone in Council territory, to find out what was going on, to plant their own mole there. That perhaps their files had been almost suspiciously clean of anything related to Sunnydale – surely they couldn’t be completely ignorant of all the weirdness going on? If that was the case, their plan had backfired – Martha wasn’t about to tell them anything.

“You have to excuse me if I seem sceptical,” said Giles.

“You know, if you really were worried, you could have sought me out months ago, when Faith and I first made friends,” Martha pointed out. “But I really do mean no harm.”

“That doesn’t mean you might not still do harm.”

That was rich, coming from him.

“I’m not the only one that applies to,” Martha said. “Perhaps you could take a look closer to home?”

To his credit, Giles actually looked thoughtful.

“Yes, I suppose.”

“Well, I have to get back to seeing to my patients. Thank you for this chat.”

“Quite. I’m sure we’ll see each other around.”

“You bet on it.”

*

Martha had come to understand that Faith’s living situation was far from ideal, and that she was renting a room in a nearby motel on her own. Post should have looked after her, but didn’t, and she was now dead. Giles was next in line, but he had his own Slayer to worry about and apparently considered Faith an afterthought, and she could see why he’d have reservations about having a teenage girl living with him. But she’d also come to understand that vampires could not enter someone’s home, but that motels and hotels did not count as someone’s home.

“What’s the catch?” Faith asked when Martha offered her a room in her house. “Look, I don’t think you’re some sort of creep, but if you are, I warn you – you haven’t seen the last of what I can do.”

“I’m not a creep,” she said. “I’m definitely not interested – I like people who are a bit less seventeen. And I’m not being a doo-gooder, or interested in being a parent. I just think you should have somewhere to stay that’s not a motel, is all. You can pay rent, the same amount you pay the motel if that makes you feel better, but it would be an actual house. A home, one that vampires can’t enter. At least come over to look at the room. If you don’t like it, no hard feelings.”

Martha’s house was fairly small, with a kitchen and living room downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. It was the kind of house you’d find in England in a row of terraced housing, but this being the US, it also had a small lawn and a post-card-sized back garden.

She showed Faith the small room overlooking the front, which she’d been using as her guest room.

“It’s a bit Spartan,” she said, “but if you do move in, we can spruce it up a bit.”

“Spartan is good. It helps to be a better warrior.”

“Well, that’s rubbish,” Martha said. “Your warrior ability has nothing to do with how your living space looks. Having embroidered cushions or paintings on the wall doesn’t weaken your punches or make you slower. If you want pretty things, have pretty things. If you don’t, don’t. It’s your choice. But you’re a good fighter regardless. Whoever told you differently was talking complete bullshit. Sorry, but it’s true.”

Faith’s face went through a series of complicated emotions.

“So, when can I move in?” was all she said. Whatever she was dealing with, she kept it from Martha. That was fine – as long as she was dealing, and not just suppressing.

Honestly. Martha was seriously considering giving every adult that had been in Faith’s life a good shake.

*

Not too long after Faith had moved in, Martha got a visitor.

“Faith’s out at the moment,” Martha told Buffy.

“I know. I left her in the library with Giles. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Well, then,” Martha said, opening the door and stepping aside to allow Buffy to pass. She still had to bite back the instinctual ‘come in’ or ‘welcome’, but she was learning. “Do you want coffee or tea or something?”

Buffy accepted the offer.

“Faith likes you, and Giles seems to think you’re on the up and up, but I just want you to know, that if you’re using my friend, if you turn out to be evil, I will Slay you, and I won’t hesitate,” she said over the rim of the Little Miss Bossy mug (a gift from Leo) Martha had served her coffee in.

“I promise I’ll do my best not to be evil,” Martha said.

“Just do your best?”

“I can’t promise not to be mind-controlled or possessed. If I did, I would be lying, and I don’t want to promise more than I can keep.”

“I’ll take it,” Buffy decided, after a moment’s thought.

They finished their coffee companionably.

Faith came home just after Buffy had left.

“I saw Buffy in the garden,” she said. “What was she doing here?”

“Making sure I had honourable intentions,” Martha said.

“I can look after myself.”

“Sure, and Buffy knows that. But she still cares about you, so she just wanted to make sure.”

“If that’s what she wants, I’m not going to stop her. I hope she wasn’t weird or anything.”

“I think we understood each other,” Martha said.

Faith shrugged as if it meant nothing to her, but Martha had the sense that she was actually quite pleased.

*

Christmas came – it was strange, being somewhere that had temperatures above 0 at Christmas, where it wasn’t overcast and full of sleet and slush the way Christmases in England tended to be. Martha found that she was a fan of the average winter temperature of California being that of a pleasant spring day in England.

“So, your family are coming to stay?” Faith said. “That’ll be nice for you.”

She gestured uncomfortable with her arms.

“And for you, I hope. I’ve told them about you, they can’t wait to meet you,” Martha said.

“Oh. That’s nice and all, but I’ve kind of got a… thing.”

“What, all Christmas?”

“Yeah. It’s a long thing.”

Martha raised an eyebrow. Surely Faith could see how thin that excuse was herself, right?

“Buffy asked if I wanted to do a thing with her at Christmas,” Faith said, defensively.

“That sounds nice,” Martha said, noncommittally. As far as she knew, Faith still had fairly complicated feelings about Buffy, especially the part where she’d lied and kept secrets about her vampire boyfriend being back from the dead – the Sunnydale supernatural scene was even more of a soap opera than her travels with the Doctor had been, in between all the adventures.

“Yeah. I think it’s mostly her mom’s invitation.”

Joyce Summers, who was a lovely woman who lived some streets over from Martha, seemed surprised when they bumped into each other in the store and Martha mentioned that Faith was spending Christmas with the Summers family.

“I thought she was spending it with you,” Joyce said. “That’s what she implied to Buffy, at least. I have to say, I’m so glad she’s moved in with you. I was quite worried about her in that old motel room.”

Martha agreed and deflected Joyce’s praise almost on autopilot, while her mind turned to Faith, and what she was doing at Christmas, if she wasn’t spending it with either Martha or Buffy.

“I got this party invite,” Faith said.

Martha said nothing.

“Okay, fine. I’m not good with families, is the thing. They give me the heebie-jeebies and I always say the wrong thing.”

She wasn’t the Doctor, and hadn’t spirited Martha away across the galaxy and almost led her to her death on several occasions, so Martha thought she was already ahead when it came to her family.

Mum, Dad, Tish and Leo arrived a few days before Christmas. They were staying in a hotel, since Martha didn’t have space for all of them – slightly more upmarket than Faith’s motel, and far enough outside Sunnydale that hopefully they wouldn’t be bothered by vampires. Still, Martha made sure they had stakes and holy water to hand at all times, and they, having seen stranger things, accepted this.

For all that Faith had been worried about family, she got on remarkably well with Martha’s – they were tactful enough not to ask about her family, and she was putting on a front of being blasé and careless, but was also funny and irreverent, and managed to charm at least Leo and Mum – Dad was a bit more reserved, but he had always been.

They were interrupted in the middle by Buffy, who was in a panic – there was something going on with Angel and she wanted Faith to stay with Joyce.

“Why not bring her over?” Martha asked, and that was how she spent Christmas with Buffy’s mum, her family, and Faith, while Buffy was off saving Angel from demons or saving Sunnydale from Angel, it wasn’t entirely clear which.

“You know, this whole family thing isn’t so bad,” Faith said when she and Martha were cleaning up, Martha’s family and Joyce getting on like a house on fire in the living room.

There was snow falling softly outside their window, and it took Martha a moment to register that that was not normal.

“What do you reckon – supernatural?” she asked.

“Definitely,” said Faith. That didn’t stop them from going outside and staging an all-out snowball fight, however. Somehow, it ended up with Martha and Faith against everyone else. Martha knew that the point of a snowball fight was to win, and judging who won a snowball fight was practically impossible, since everyone ended up equally soaked through by the end of it. She still gave the victory to herself and Faith.

*

“I’m going out patrolling tonight,” Faith said early in the New Year. “So don’t stay up.”

“You want me to pack you a snack?” Martha asked.

“You’d do that?” Faith replied. “I mean – sure. If you want,” she corrected herself.

Martha had actually been joking, but she could easily do it, since it seemed that Faith did actually want her to. It was easy enough to do.

“Wow, thanks,” Faith said, holding the bag containing a sandwich and a chocolate bar that Martha handed her just before she left. It reminded her of the packed lunches she’d take to school. All that was missing was a carton of Ribena or Capri-Sun or something like that. “None of my Watchers did anything like this before.”

“Good thing I’m not your Watcher then,” Martha said. “I guess this is just something roommates and friends do, not Watchers.”

She didn’t have a very high opinion of Watchers, from the two she’d either had contact with or seen the immediate aftermath of. Faith’s first Watcher sounded all right from her stories, but she wondered how much of that was rose-tinted memories of the dead.

It became a habit, preparing a snack for Faith before she went out Slaying. Martha wasn’t her parent, and she wasn’t ready to be a parent, but she was a kick-ass older sister, and she’d apparently missed being an older sister enough that she adopted the first needy younger person she’d come across. Well. There were things she could have done.

Faith did also need her own space – she’d been independent for some time, and would not take well to being parented. But Martha was good with that. She thought Faith had even possibly stopped waiting for Martha to let her down, although she wasn’t sure. For all she looked for a reaction and poked at boundaries, Faith kept her cards close to her chest.

For someone who made a point about being blasé and nonchalant about pretty much everything, Faith was a surprisingly considerate roommate – did the dishes, didn’t play loud music when Martha was trying to sleep, and mostly let her know when she was coming and going.

It was working out just fine, Martha thought.

*

Big sister duties included taking Faith shopping.

“Wow,” Faith said, as they left their third store where they had made a purchase, buoyant and excited. “I can’t remember the last time I paid for something I wanted. It’s kind of fun!”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Martha said.

“Yeah? Not gonna do anything about it?” Faith had gone defensive, and Martha had by now gotten used to her swings between helpful and eager, to sullen and antagonistic, but she did wish she’s stop pushing to see if she could drive Martha away.

“What can I do?” she asked instead. “Stealing is wrong, and you know it’s wrong, so it’s not like lecturing you is going to do any good. If I told you not to, would you listen?” she didn’t pause for Faith to answer – the question was rhetorical. “I can’t punish you, because I don’t have authority over you. The only thing I could do is issue an ultimatum if you continue, and I won’t do that, because there might come a time where I’d either have to kick you out or let my words become an empty threat. Kicking you out would send you back to that motel, which is actually the worse option, but I’d still rather not make empty threats. I wish you wouldn’t steal, but I can’t actually stop you.”

“So, can I like get away with anything because you don’t want to kick me out?”

“Well, not anything,” said Martha. “There are limits.”

Where they were remained to be seen, but Martha had become quite good at standing up for herself, and to recognise when a limit had been reached (she always had been, she’d just forgotten it somewhere along the way, but since she’d rediscovered her ability to put her foot down and walk away she was going to cherish it).

“What if I killed someone? Would you do anything then?”

“Well, it would depend on why you did it and how you felt about it,” Martha said. She’d once held the key to the Earth’s destruction in her hands and been ready to use it. She knew that sometimes there was no choice, no matter how much the Doctor wanted there to be. He wouldn’t always be around, and not everyone could talk their way out of trouble the way he did. “I can’t promise not to call the police, or whatever authority that can do something about it, because I doubt a prison could hold you if you didn’t let it. But I can promise I’d at least listen to you before I did anything, and to hear your side of the story.”

“I could probably stage a jail-break out of any human prison,” Faith agreed, “but I don’t want to find out. Good thing I’m not planning on killing anyone except vamps, yeah?”

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Martha said.

*

When Martha wasn’t on a night shift at the hospital, she’d often stay up and patch Faith up when she came home, which escalated to waiting at the high school library with Giles, which escalated to being part of the problem-solving discussions about whatever the monster of the week was up to, or what the Mayor was going to do next, and how they could counteract it. She supposed she shouldn’t have deluded herself that she could stay out of this situation when there were people that needed her. But still, she did also have her duties to the hospital, which were also important. They had several nights when they just passed each other – Martha coming home to an empty house and going to bed, Faith coming home as Martha headed out to work, or vice versa.

It was during one of those stretches of night shifts at the hospital, when Faith came home one night just as Martha was about to go to bed after a long shift, and declared:

“Giles got fired.”

“What? From the school?” Martha asked.

“No, as a Watcher. This high-up dude from England showed up and just gave him the boot.”

“Really? Why?”

“He was supposed to take away Buffy’s powers and test how well she did without them – it’s apparently a thing with Slayers on their 18th birthday. But he couldn’t go through with it, and he told her about it, and then they fired him.”

Well. Her estimation of Giles rose a notch – and her estimation of the Council sank by about a mile.

“They were going to take away her powers and send her up against a vampire or demon? Did they want her to die? I hope they cancelled the test when they found out Giles had told her about it?”

“Oh, no, they totally went through with it anyway, even though Giles was like ‘well, I’ve told her, so now the test is invalid’, and they were like ‘she still doesn’t have her powers so we can still do it’.”

“Wow.” She really couldn’t understand the logic the Council was operating on here. “There are just so many other ways to test her ingenuity and creativity, that don’t potentially kill one of your two best weapons in the fight against evil.”

“Well, we die, another Slayer is called, so it’s not like the Council cares,” Faith shrugged.

“That’s barbaric.”

“And you wonder why I have issues with authority.”

“The more I hear about your authority, the less I wonder,” Martha said.

“Yeah, Post would have done it to me for sure. She’d probably have gotten off on it, the bitch. Not sure about my first Watcher – I kind of hope not, but then, I wouldn’t have thought Giles would either. It’s like I always say, people are assholes.”

“Well, if I were your Watcher, like hell I would have done that,” Martha said with emphasis. Faith looked at her, and she must have believed her, because a quick smile stole across her face.

“Nah. You’re too cool to be a Watcher. They would have kicked you out long before that.”

“You don’t know that,” Martha said, also smiling. “Maybe I could pretend to be stuffy and pompous and get away with it. I’ve known a lot of stuffy and pompous people, I think I could pretend.”

“Sure, but would you want to?”

Martha had to admit that she would not.

*

Martha was just about to head to Sunnydale High School to see if her services as emergency medic would be needed one night, when Faith came almost crashing through the door, with Xander on her heels. She was clearly still on a Slayer adrenaline high.

“Welcome home,” Martha said when they were over the threshold. “How are you feeling?”

“Five by five,” Faith said. “Although my shoulder’s a little – yeah.”

Martha came over to take a look at it, and Faith shimmied out of her leather jacket.

“I think it’s dislocated,” Martha said, and started to go through the motions of reduction to get it back, gently rotating the arm back in place. “Ideally I’d want to x-ray this and have you in a sling, but I know it’s useless to suggest that.”

“Well, I was just going to have Xander help me as I popped it back into place.”

“Bwah?” Xander gaped. “Me? I don’t know anything about popping. Or anything.”

“Not that much to it. All I’d need is for you to hold me. Nothing like feeling someone’s hands on you when you’re all wound up.” She pouted slightly, and his eyes widened, and flashed to Martha for a panicked second. Martha had to struggle not to laugh.

“A fight like that and... no kill... I'm about ready to pop,” she said. Xander reached out a hand towards her.

Okay!” Martha said loudly, interrupting whatever was going on between them. “Who wants hot chocolate?”

The two teenagers sprung apart. Well, Xander sprung, Faith just rolled her eyes. But she did accept the hot chocolate. Martha wasn’t about to stop Faith from having sex, but she wasn’t particularly in the mood to see it. Or anything leading up to it. Faith often said she came home from Slaying hungry and horny – Martha could deal with the hunger first, and if she still wanted to sleep with Xander afterwards, then by all means. Martha could make herself scarce.

“So, what was today’s offering from the underworld?” she asked, grabbing the bag of marshmallows from the cupboard.

“Apocalypse cult. Super-crazed demons trying to open the Hellmouth and unleash hell on Earth, that kind of thing.”

“That sounds worse than usual.”

“It kind of is. We’re still trying to work out how to stop it. Or at least Giles and the brain-crew are. I just Slay where they point me.”

“Do you want help?”

“Well, I want you safe. But we could probably use a medic.”

She downed her hot chocolate in one sweep, and Martha wondered if it didn’t burn her tongue. Of course, she would heal fast. Martha got her prepared bag.

“Sorry we couldn’t be more hospitable,” she told Xander. “Feel free to finish your hot chocolate in leisure, just lock up after yourself and drop the key through the letter box when you’re done. Faith and I have keys of our own. You’re always welcome to stop by, as long as you stay human and don’t turn into a vampire,” she added, because that sort of invitation was not something you gave out unconditionally in Sunnydale.

“Yay?” he said. She could understand why he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, even if she’d meant it well.

“You know you kind of cock-blocked us there, right?” Faith asked. “I would have totally gone for it, if you hadn’t intervened.”

“Well, if you could be derailed by hot chocolate, you obviously didn’t want to have sex badly enough,” Martha said, and Faith laughed and elbowed her. Even with Faith holding back, Martha still thought she might bruise. The dangers of living with a Slayer.

*

Martha was not there when the new Watcher arrived from England, but heard about it from Faith later.

“He’s a stuck-up prick,” was Faith’s verdict, which seemed to match the Council’s track record so far.

She had the pleasure of making his acquaintance for herself the next night, when she checked in at the library before her shift at the hospital.

“Ah, Dr Jones,” Giles said. “Everything seems to be going calmly so far – Faith and Buffy are out looking for an amulet before a cult gets it.”

“So, business as usual then?” Martha confirmed. “No doomsday or apocalypse cult?”

“Hopefully not,” he replied.

“I’m sorry,” said what must be the new Watcher, “I don’t think we’ve met. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.”

Of course he had a double-barrelled surname.

“Martha Jones.”

“And how are you connected with Mr Giles?”

“Ah, Doctor Jones is Faith’s landlady, and occasionally acts as out emergency medic,” Giles said, and Martha nodded.

“Well, I’m sure that Buffy and Faith know their work well enough that you won’t be needed,” Wyndham-Pryce said, “or at least I’m sure that will be the case with proper management.”

He aimed a look at Giles, who took off his glasses and polished them, pretending he hadn’t picked up on the very unsubtle dig.

“Have you been involved in this operation long, Dr Jones?” Wyndham-Price asked superciliously.

“Long enough,” Martha said. She wasn’t about to go handing over her credentials for him to go over and judge – she knew her worth, and if he didn’t accept that, it was no skin off her nose.

“Well, I can’t say I’m entirely pleased about how open the operation run by my predecessor seems to have been, not only involving the Slayer’s friends, which is already an unprecedented situation, but also random bystanders. Have you been handing out fliers, Mr Giles?”

“Excuse you, I’m not a random anything,” Martha objected. “I dare say I have more experience of the weird and wonderful than you do.”

“I highly doubt that,” he said, raising his eyebrows and turning away, clearly dismissing her. Prick.

She was quite smug the next evening when Faith reported that he had turned out to be useless against the demon Balthazar who he claimed was dead, and had spent the fight cowering in a corner. So this was the best the Council could muster? Her estimation of the Council continued to be very low indeed.

Faith was at the tap, washing the blood out of a shirt as she told Martha about the Watcher’s incompetence. This was a reasonably frequent occurrence, but it was still worrying every time, all the same. There was something a tiny bit off about Faith’s demeanour, which was even more worrying – short sentences, no elaborating detail, trailing off every now and again.

“Are you all right? Do I need to crack open my med pack?” Martha asked.

“Blood’s not mine,” Faith said shortly. She seemed shaken and subdued, but pushing would just get her to clam up, so Martha left it at that and gave her space. An equally shaken and solemn Buffy came to see her, and Martha withdrew into the living room and turned on the TV as Faith and Buffy went up to Faith’s room to talk, so she wouldn’t be able to hear them. Of course she was curious, but she was well aware how much Faith treasured her privacy and independence.

When Buffy left, it was clear that the conversation had left neither of them happy, and Faith wandered restlessly around the living room.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Martha asked.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Okay.”

She went back to watching Top Gear on BBC World – not really anything that interested her as such, but it felt familiar and comforting to watch Jeremy Clarkson race around in fast cars. Or very slow cars, as the case may be, when they wanted to be funny.

Faith walked around for a bit before saying abruptly:

“I killed someone.”

Martha turned off the TV. This was going to be a serious conversation that she needed her full attention for.

“You promised you’d hear me out, so there you have it. I killed someone. Buffy’s freaking out about it.”

“But you’re not? Was it an accident? Or did you intend to kill them?”

“Accident. We were staking vamps, a lot of them and they were coming at us one at a time and I only realised he was human when I stuck my stake in his chest and he didn’t poof. B thinks it’s some kind of big deal, she’d really torn up about it, but I was doing my job. Accidents happen. It's his own fault for being out that late in Sunnydale, anyway. If I hadn’t staked him, some vamp would have had him as a snack in no time. If you think about it, I almost did him a favour, sparing him that.”

She didn’t meet Martha’s eyes as she said this, though, and Martha suspected she wasn’t as blasé as she seemed. This would require some careful handling – and if she got it wrong, she might alienate Faith forever.

“I get that,” she said, gentling her tone, “and accidents do happen. I spend my life healing people, saving them – a little bit like you do, but different, of course. Occasionally, we make mistakes, because we’re human, and humans make mistakes. But the thing is, Faith, people like you and me, with this level of responsibility, holding life and death in our hands, we don’t get to make mistakes.”

She looked at Faith, to see how she was taking it. She was looking at the wall, not at Martha, but she also looked like she was listening, and not lashing out or getting defensive.

“We have to do the right thing, and we have to be at our best all the time. That’s a lot for anyone to bear,” – especially a seventeen-year-old, but Martha wasn’t going to say that. Part of why Faith listened to her was because she treated her as the adult she essentially had been forced to become – “and it sucks that whenever we make mistakes, the consequences are potentially catastrophic. It takes a strong person to cope with that. But you are strong, Faith. I know it. You made a mistake, and someone died for it. That’s heavy stuff.”

Faith swallowed.

“What I would do, what I find helps me, is to think why it happened, and how I can make sure it doesn’t happen again. You will make more mistakes, but if you do your job right, you’ll only make each mistake once.”

“I thought he was a vamp,” Faith said.

“Yeah. I know.”

“Even if I do what you say, I don’t know what Buffy’s going to do. I mean, she’s real shaken up about it, and she wasn’t even the one with the stake. She might tell the police or Giles or the Prick.”

“You can’t control what Buffy does. You can only control what you do.”

“You’re saying I should tell them before she does, to make it look better if I confess.”

“That’s a possibility,” Martha said, inwardly glowing with pride at how well Faith was handling it, and incredibly relieved that it seemed like she wasn’t mucking it up beyond repair.

“I don’t know what the Prick will do,” Faith mused. “But Giles might get it. He’s almost like a real human being sometimes.”

“So go to Giles,” Martha said, “and if he or the new Watcher gives you any trouble, just send them my way.”

There were plenty of people who owed her favours – Torchwood, UNIT, hell, even the Doctor himself, if she needed, so even if the Council tried to put her away somewhere or mete out some unreasonable punishment, Faith wouldn’t lack people in her corner looking out for her.

“Anyone who wants you will have to go through me,” she promised. Faith gave her a shaky smile. Whatever the future may hold, they would face it, together.