Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, that would be Whedon and company. I also do not own any song lyrics quoted, they are owned by the artists given credit.
Author Notes: Takes place about a year Post Chosen
"I've hardly been outside my room in days,
'cause I don't feel that I deserve the sunshine's rays.
The darkness helped until the whiskey wore away,
And it was then I realize the conscience never fades.
When you're young you have this image of your life:
That you'll be scrupulous and one day even make a wife.
And you make boundaries you'd never dream to cross,
And if you happen to you wake completely lost."
Missy Higgins, "The Special Two"
Not a single day passed where Faith didn’t see it, relive those final moments with just as much vivid feeling as she had the day it happened. The strength and efficient skill to their movements as they fought in complement to each other, the adrenaline pulsing through her, the energy almost visibly passing between them, pumping each other up, increasing their abilities with each other… the way Buffy’s long blonde hair flew out in a slow wave-like fan with every turn of her body, shining brightly under the moon’s soft glow. The racing of her heart, the physical release and sense of wholeness she felt each time her fists and feet made contact with their opponents. The triumphant, exhilarated smile Buffy flashed in her direction as she turned her head towards her for a split second… the way her hazel eyes glinted, holding Faith’s in a moment of shared intimacy, a moment Faith had not preserved, had not cherished as much as she should have… a moment she had not then fully understood.
And then Buffy’s eyes bulged, their light fading, dimming rapidly as her mouth gaped open, blood spilling forth from her lips, dripping down onto her chest…a chest from which the spiky two foot appendage from the massive creature they had been battling was now protruding, its tip through Buffy’s heart waving aggressively.
The sensations of it all overwhelmed Faith each and every time…the scent of Buffy’s blood, thick, metallic, and nauseating in the sheer amount produced, enough that her stomach flipped over with sickening urgency. The feeling of being outside herself, unable to move, unable to comprehend… the dryness of her mouth, so sudden and total that she was sure she would choke on it, stop breathing entirely. The sound of her own heartbeat, so loudly and wildly pounding its staccato in her veins, and the horrible gasps emerging from Buffy’s lips, pained attempts at words…
But worst of all was seeing it…just to watch Buffy’s agony, to watch her life fading fast before her eyes, and to know that she could do nothing. To know that she would fail to save her. To feel the screams tearing her voice apart, the shrill unbelief and anguish rising sharply in her tone, and to view it as an utterance outside of herself and her pain…
Faith always woke up with her throat raw and aching from her cries, her body sweating, shaking, yet somehow so chilled she could not get herself to become warm. She would curl into a fetal position, her eyes closing tightly as warm tears squeezed past her lids, and she knew that she could not comfort herself by saying it had only been a dream. It had been a dream, but she knew very well that it was all too real.
Faith hadn’t been there… she hadn’t even seen Buffy for several days before it happened. But she knew with no need to verify details that it had happened… and whether she had truly been there or not when it did, she had failed the other Slayer all the same. She had not been able to save her.
She couldn’t attend the funeral. She had tried, but she simply could not force herself to go through with it. Faith had gotten no closer than the front gate of the cemetery before her throat closed over, grief and panic choking her, her limbs tensing so that it was an effort to move them, and she had turned and fled blindly. She was unable to look any longer at the sea of black clothing before her, the pale, grief-stricken faces, the soft sobbing she could already hear before the service had even began. She could not handle the accusations from the others that she was sure she would face, the questioning as to her right to be there at all… and they were right. What right did she have to be with all of them, to mourn Buffy as they were, to behave as if Buffy had loved, respected, and welcomed her every bit as much as those she had long considered her family?
She had no right. If Faith were suffering, it was fitting only that she suffer alone, in penance for all she had done against Buffy, both in the past, and in her death. She had not saved her. Three times now Buffy had died, this time for good, and here stood Faith, as infuriatingly, unfairly alive and well as ever… it should have been her. What fate had she cheated that she was still alive, when Buffy, the true heroine, the true savior, was dead?
The thought of Buffy, utterly lifeless, utterly still, unable to move or touch or feel or say anything to anyone, to her, ever again…the thought of her in a coffin six feet underground, removed from all others, forever, made Faith feel as though something in her chest were cracking, shattering into tiny pieces inside her. Was it truly possible for a person’s heart to break, and still keep her alive…
So she ran, trying not to break down, trying not to simply fall to her knees and cry, to rage and beg the universe to make it right, to plead forgiveness from whatever it was out there that had chosen to punish her so harshly for her sins. She would have done so immediately if she thought it would truly have an affect… Faith would have done anything, if she thought it could have brought Buffy back.
But she knew by now that fate did not listen to any of her pleas, that the universe never took her side… and so she ran, and when she came across a bar at the edge of town, she stepped inside, finding another way to cope.
Faith drank until she lost count, drank until she could barely stand, until the bartender cut her off. Even so she managed to drink, for she made sure that several men were more than happy to provide her with more. She drank and she danced and she placed herself in the path of each man who looked her way, doing anything, anything to forget, anything to quiet the screaming of her own mind.
She didn’t know how she ended up back in a motel or how many men she took back with her, nor could she remember what they had done together. All she knew was that in the morning she felt too sick and dizzy to move, to even open her eyes all the way against the sun streaming in through the slits of the motel blinds. All she could do through her fierce self-loathing was cry in painful, heaving sobs that only increased the pain in her head and brought forth violent retching into the trash can beside her bed. All Faith wanted then was to die.
No one tried to call, the first few days, and this was hardly surprising. There was no Angel now to try to watch out for her, no Wesley or even Cordelia, and the others… why would they care for her? Why would they even remember her at all?
She left only to buy more alcohol, more cigarettes, and to bring back men, but by the morning it was always the same. Whatever and whoever she did now, Faith knew she was alone.
It was probably two weeks before Xander could bring himself to try to track Faith down. For the first week and a half he hadn’t even thought about her. It was difficult to think about anything but Buffy and the heavy grief and anger her death had overshadowed him with, the intense pain that her loss had inflicted upon the people who had become his family. It seemed that every year brought another loss upon them, and in that first week, Buffy’s was too much for them- too much for him- to bear. They had mourned her once before, in the other occasion where he- where everyone- had been unable to save her… her second death. One would think that it would make this time easier…but they all should have known that it wouldn’t. All those extra years, extra memories, extra depth of love and respect… it would never be less than excruciating to be cut off from it, forever.
Three strikes, and she’s out… a sentiment that had repeated bitterly in Xander’s mind for days, one he knew better than to express.
It was hard enough for him to deal with his own grief, but to see the others too, especially Dawn, made Xander want to rage violently against the unfairness of a world that could do so much to hurt such good people…a world that had never eased up on the true heroes, the people like Buffy. There was nothing he could do except be there for the rest of his family, to try to be strong for them.
And so that was what he did. He stuck with Dawn and Giles and Willow and tried to go on, tried to ignore that the person who had anchored them all together, made them family in the first place, was gone. He wanted nothing more than to be alone, to have time and space to deal in his own way and time, but he kept himself busy, so as not to think too much about Buffy… or of Anya. Why was it that every woman he ever loved seemed destined to die at the hands of evil, while he, Xander, who should have been the first and most likely to die, was left behind, helpless to do anything to fix the injustice of it all?
He didn’t know, and this only deepened his pain. He felt he had cheated death… what other explanation could there be?
He wasn’t sure why it had taken him so long to think about Faith. Maybe because she hadn’t gone to the funeral… maybe because she was still not really a part of them, still kept herself on the very fringe of their group, if even that close. Maybe because even as she had spent more time working with Buffy, they had still never been what he would consider close. Xander didn’t know. But eventually his thoughts extended to include her, and he began to feel the beginnings of concern for her, to wonder how she was coping…or if she was.
Not that anyone else, except maybe Kennedy, had noticed, or that either woman had ever spoken about it…but Xander hadn’t missed the change in the usual tension between Faith and Buffy since they had began to spend more time working together in the past year. He wasn’t even sure how aware they themselves were of it…but something was different. Had been different. he had watched them, sometimes, when neither woman was paying attention, and he had seen something in Faith’s eyes around Buffy that he had never noticed before… he could have sworn that she felt more strongly about Buffy than she would ever let on to him, her, or anyone else. And if he was right… then the fact that she seemed to have totally disappeared since she had been told of Buffy’s death could be a troubling sign.
He had asked around, but no one had heard from her or seen her since the date of Buffy’s death. He called her cell phone several times, and then the number of the motel she had been staying in before Giles set up a place for her. He figured if she wasn’t home, for whatever reason, and if she hadn’t taken off, she might have gone there. This proved to be correct, as the front desk guy had informed him that there was indeed a Faith Lehane staying with them. After trying her phone a few more times, Xander had finally decided to go check in on her at the motel, if she were there when he went by. If not, well, then he’d have to keep trying.
He couldn’t explain to himself exactly why it was that he cared so much. Anyone would have expected him, of all people, to be indifferent to anything Faith, of all people, decided to do with herself and her life. But Xander couldn’t be…even when he had wanted to hate her, it had been an effort, unnatural to him, and it felt better, if not easier, to admit that in some way, somehow, he did care for her. He did, despite all that had gone down, wish Faith well.
And so it was because of all this that Xander found himself standing outside of Faith’s motel door, knocking on it softly and hoping she was inside.
“Faith? Faith, it’s Xander…can I come in?”
There was no response…but then, this was hardly surprising. Xander knew that it was possible that Faith wasn’t in her room, but it was also likely that she was, and simply didn’t want to answer the door, or to talk to him.
He knocked again, a little more loudly this time, and put his eye up to the peephole. He didn’t expect to see Faith’s eyes looking back at him, but he tried just in case. “Faith? Faith, will you let me in, please?”
Still no reply came, not even a shout for him to go away… and this too bothered Xander. It was almost ten am… hadn’t Faith come home last night? Knowing her, almost anything could have happened. And if she were in the motel room, it probably wouldn’t be wise for him to wait for some kind of response from her.
The motel door looked flimsy, and with a few swipes of his driver’s license Xander had it open and was able to step inside. As soon as he could see the room’s interior it became obvious to him why Faith, though present in the room, had not answered when he called out to her, let alone got up to open the door.
The room stank so heavily of cigarettes that Xander almost choked when he stepped inside. The air felt thick and foul, and he found himself wondering if it was possible for an non-Slayer to get lung cancer through one instance of such heavy exposure to smoke. He could hardly walk on the floor, for nearly every inch of it was strewn with Faith’s belongings or discarded items. Cigarettes and dirty clothes, empty pizza boxes, bras and thongs, towels and what looked like pieces of torn up photos. Her trash can was overflowing, two used condoms on top, and the number of empty beer bottles piled beside the bed shocked Xander. Quite obviously Faith had not been taking care of herself.
She was lying on her side in the bed, facing the wall, the thin blanket scrunched down so that it only covered her shins. She looked thinner, pale, clad only in a rumpled tank top and bikini panties, and her hair was greasy, tangled about her face and shoulders. She looked so unwell at first glance that Xander’s heart seized, for he feared she was dead.
“Go away,” she muttered as he quickly came to the bedside, having to kick a lot of her things scattered about the floor away in order to do so. Her voice was barely understandable, even less so when she rasped again a few moments later, “Go away…”
“Sorry, Faith,” Xander said quietly as he came up alongside her bed, pausing and standing there for a moment, looking down at her and assessing her condition. “Can’t do that until I know you’re okay… and that, that is starting to look like an impossibility.”
“Fuck off,” Faith muttered, and her head just barely moved on the pillow. She was still facing away from him, her voice rough, gravelly, and she couldn’t seem to muster the energy and conviction needed to sound truly angry. “Leave me alone.”
Xander wondered if she even recognized his voice, if she had a clue who it was standing over her…or if she was capable of caring. Staring down at her, he let his eyes follow the length of her, for once not thinking about her exposed skin- although the thought was also prominent in his mind of course- so much as how strange it was to see her, Faith, in such a state…and how strange and sad it made him feel. He should be angry at her for being like this, for giving up like this, for letting herself fall so far so fast…but he couldn’t be. He looked at her, and all he could see was Faith’s pain… pain, and a strange vulnerability that encompassed her in an almost physical way, overshadowing her gruffness and grubbiness.
Xander couldn’t leave her like this any longer. He knew he couldn’t. Now that he was here he would have to step in and do something, pull her out of this, at least for today… after that, he didn’t know. All he could do was deal with right now.
Slowly he sat on the edge of the bed as he continued to look at Faith steadily, ignoring the stained sheets beneath him as he spoke to her, not yet trying to touch her. He really wouldn’t know how to go about this with anyone, and now, this being Faith, it was that much harder. But he kept his voice calm and low as he began, kept his eyes focused on her back, tracing the knobs of her spine showing through her shirt.
“When did you last eat something, Faith?”
No response, not that he expected it. He kept his patience, tried again.
“Showered…washed your clothes? Spent a day sober?”
Nothing, except a stiffening of her spine. He sighed, abandoning the question approach, and decided to just speak.
“Faith…you can’t do this, Faith.”
Faith didn’t reply; she only shifted slightly, making a noise somewhere between a groan and a shuddery sigh, and Xander repeated himself in the same firm, quiet tone.
“You can’t do this, Faith.”
“Yes I can,” she slurred, and her movements were more pronounced this time. She went so far as to cover one of her ears with one hand, mashing the other into her pillow, though the movements were jerky, uncoordinated. “Yes I can…fuck off, leave me alone…”
“Okay…maybe you can,” Xander acknowledged, realizing quickly that this conversation was getting them nowhere. He wasn’t going to be able to talk to Faith, not the way she was right now… he would have to just act. “Let me make it a little more clear to you, though…/I/ can’t let you do this.”
At that, Faith barked out a noise that sounded partly like a sardonic laugh, partly like choking, and her head lifted slightly, though she did not roll over to face him. Though still not entirely clear, her voice was louder, more intense, than before as she replied.
“Yeah you can, Xan, my man… why the hell not? It’s not like you care… you don’t care. Not like it matters… it doesn’t matter…”
“Yes it does, Faith… and yes, I do.”
With those words spoken quietly, Xander stood, abruptly moving to lift Faith into his arms. He braced himself, knowing that although she was small and slim, almost skinny now compared to when he had last seen her, he would not be able to carry her if she put up a fight. In fact, if she got angry enough at this invasion of her personal space, she could easily injure him seriously. As Xander wasn’t sure whether her inebriated state would help or hinder her in that, he was taking a pretty big gamble just by touching her.
As he had expected, Faith did not react passively to being picked up. She squawked, trying to twist her torso, to wiggle out of his hold, yelping even more loudly than she had managed before.
“HEY! What the fuck, lemme go… what the fuck are you doin’, lemme down, lemme go…what the fuck!”
She tried to break free of Xander’s arms, but her movements were much weaker and less controlled than normal, and he was able, with extreme effort, to maintain his grip on her. He could feel her heartbeat racing wildly in her chest, against his own, almost in sync in an erratic way, and he tightened his hold on her, as much in an attempt to provide reassurance as to keep a good grip on her. Though her body was tensed and fighting him, he was able to register how hot her skin was, almost fevered, and how easily he could feel the bones of her ribs and spine. Again he wondered if she had been eating or sleeping at all…
He carried her into the small, crowded bathroom, trying to ignore the filthy state of the toilet, tub, and floor, and deposited her in the tub, still dressed, as if she were a small child. Faith tried to stand, railing at him in a slurred indignant tone, but found herself too weak and clumsy to be able to do so. When Xander turned on the shower, however, with the water stuck on the iciest temperature possible, she screamed, her eyes bulging.
“FUCK! FUCK, holy shit, you asshole, FUCK!”
She tried to stand again, clawing at Xander’s arms, reaching for his face, but the shock of the cold water temporarily incapacitated her limbs even further, and the water made her slip, unable to stand. Kneeling beside her, Xander concentrated on keeping her in the tub, not yet wasting energy to speak to her. Faith made no such effort.
“FUCK! Get me the fuck out of here, what the fuck is wrong with you?! Get me out, you fucker, you bastard, get me out!”
Xander held her shoulders the best he could, saying nothing at all, trying to meet her eyes, to ride out the course of her rage, praying he was doing the right thing. He could feel his own clothes growing damp from her splashing and clutching at him, could tell that he would be bruised and battered within a few minutes, even as weakened as she was. Still he waited for her to give in, to wear herself down. She had to, right?
It happened quite suddenly. It seemed to him that one moment Faith was screaming, straining against him, her wet hair flying as she jerked her head back and forth. And in the next moment she was going still, her face crumpling, before breaking down into harsh sobs that shook her entire frame. Her shoulders hunched forward sharply, and she let go of Xander, slumping back against the tub’s walls, her head lowering, her cries overtaking her.
Watching her, Xander’s throat constricted. He hesitated, weighting, struggling, before reaching for her, pulling her as close against him as he could get with the tub outer wall separating them. He could feel her shaking, could feel the dampness of her clothes and her tears quickly soaking him as well, and Faith tried to speak, her words broken.
“I didn’t…she’s dead. She’s dead… I didn’t’ help…I didn’t save…Xander, she’s dead. Xander, she’s fuckin’ dead…”
“Shh,” he murmured, his cheek against her head, his mouth thinning, forcing back any expression of his own. His hand ran slowly over her sodden head, and he swallowed, staring past her to the shower wall. “Shh… I know. I know.”
He held her as the water streamed steadily upon them, making both cleaner in appearance, if not at heart. He held her as she wept, and he kept himself distant, kept himself removed, even as his actions, his thoughts, cleaved to the very heart of him.