Time had passed slowly, so agonizingly slow in the last moments of Buffy’s life; once she was gone, it seemed meaningless, events falling into place with numb efficiency that seemed to happen almost too fast for Faith to process. Within a few days’ time, arrangements had been made to care for Buffy’s remains, and then even that much of her was gone. There was no public funeral, or even a private one; there would have been only two people in all the world to mourn her, and besides, Giles had believed it best if they drew no attention to his and Faith’s continued survival. If those responsible for the deaths learned that Faith and Giles remained, it would be likely that they would strike against them again. Faith’s life held little meaning to her anymore, but this did not mean that she was willing to let ignorant murderers take it away from her.
Faith knew she should be tracking down every person who had been involved in the bombings, every person who had had anything to do with all the deaths…every person who had had any hand in the destruction of her universe. She should be hurting them within an inch of their lives, if not killing them outright. She should be handing them over to the police to be put in prison, where she had once resided. She should be dragging them back into the remains of the headquarters and exposing them to what remnants of the virus remained, forcing them to suffer the same fate they had condemned all her friends…the closest thing she had to family…to.
She should be doing something, anything to get them back, to make them pay for what they had done. But every time she thought of all the suffering faces and writhing forms of each person she had witnessed die, Faith could not summon up the rage she knew she should feel, the rage that she would need to take down their murderers. Instead, she felt pain so sharp and paralyzing she could form few logical thoughts at all, let alone a plan of action and vengeance to carry out.
She had not patrolled since the illnesses began, nor did she have any desire to now. Every time she thought of vampires, she thought of blood, and every time she thought of blood, dozens of dying faces, dripping blood from every facial opening, sprang forward into her thoughts. For the first time in her life, Faith could not tolerate the thought of death, even if she was its cause. And though she and Giles spoke little in the aftermath of Buffy’s death, could hardly even look at each other, she was sure without him having to say so that he felt the same way.
With only one Slayer and one Watcher alive, both no longer interested in performing their destined duties, though neither said so, they both knew this likely rendered the future of the world and its likelihood of being saved from any approaching apocalypses to be very bleak indeed. But if both were to be honest, neither much cared. In fact, in the darkest part of her unspoken thoughts, Faith sometimes wished it would just happen, already, and be done with.
It wasn’t long, however, until Giles had a plan. Faith should have known he wasn’t one to go long without one. Whatever tragedy struck, Giles was always so damn PLANNED, even if everyone knew from the start his plan would fail.
He had knocked on her door two evenings after Buffy’s burial; they had remained in the remains of the headquarters after partly in a continued effort not to be spotted out in public too often, and partly because in Faith’s case, she just couldn’t bring herself to leave. She had left the wing where they had quarantined the ill the moment Giles had gently taken Buffy’s body from her arms and never set foot near it again, not even to clean the mess that had been left behind. She suspected that Giles had done it for her, for as long as he had been missing that night, but she had not sought him out, and she had not asked.
There had been other matters on her mind.
When Faith had opened her door for him slowly, not stepping aside to let him in, Giles had told her awkwardly and with stiffness and distance clear on his expression and in his tone that he would be returning to England, that he had booked a flight for the following evening. He had hardly looked her in the eye as he spoke, or even turned a face in her direction, and Faith had not tried to make him. He didn’t tell her what he would do once back in England or where he would go, and she didn’t ask. Nor did she volunteer her own plans, for what she would do with herself, when Giles was gone. For one thing, she didn’t know herself…and for another, Giles did not ask her.
She could have asked him why, she guessed. She could have asked him if she could join him. She could have asked him if he would stay. But Faith Lehane was never one to do any of this, to volunteer any sort of need or uncertainty, regardless of how strongly it might exist. So instead she nodded. She told him okay. And then, she shut the door.
She truly was alone now.
“Well,” Giles said awkwardly, shifting his weight and adjusting his grip on the large suitcase in his hand as he stood before Faith in the doorway of her bedroom. “It appears to be very nice out today…I suppose it is good weather for flying at any rate.”
His eyes shifted towards her quickly, but Faith did not reply, nor did she rise from where she sat at the desk in the room’s corner to draw closer to him. She didn’t want him to be closer to her. If he was going to leave…well, then, she just wanted him to GO, already. To just do it, instead of doing what he thought was the “right thing” of a proper goodbye.
When Faith gave no verbal response to his statement, Giles shifted his weight uneasily, glancing down at his watch, then raised his eyes back to Faith’s face again, attempting to meet her eyes. Faith did not make this easy for him; in fact, she turned her face in such a manner that he could only partly see her profile, and she told herself that she wasn’t doing this for any specific reason. She didn’t have anything about her eyes or expression she didn’t want Giles to see- she didn’t care that much. She just didn’t want to drag this out into something so serious when she didn’t give a shit what he chose to do or where he chose to go, or even if she ever heard from him again or not, that was all. She was avoiding dramatics.
She didn’t care what he did. She wasn’t sad or upset or angry, or any of the rest. She just didn’t care.
That was what she kept telling herself over and over, hoping if she thought it often and insistently enough, it would become a natural idea linked to a natural and genuine feeling.
She refused to admit to herself that so far, if the tightness of her chest, the rapid pulsing of her heartbeat, and the constriction in her throat was anything to go by, it wasn’t working. In fact, the more times she thought it, the harder it was to accept it as truth.
“So…will you stay in the Cleveland area then?” Giles tried, clearing his throat, and Faith shrugged, careful to keep her face averted, her voice careless as she responded, stretching her arms.
“Well…have you looked into other places?” Giles pressed, one hand absently touching and then rubbing the frame of his glasses. “Other cities…I don’t suppose you have family outside- but…well, at least other dwellings here. Apartments…town homes…I can’t imagine that you wish to remain here, even if it were fully…repaired.”
It would take more than “repairs” to make the Watcher/Slayer headquarters an acceptable permanent address. In the first week they had hired workers to begin repairing the roof, and collapsed wall, and they had only partly finished when the illness began and all outsiders began to refuse to set foot inside. For the building to even begin to approach being livable beyond in emergency circumstances, it would need not just simple repairs, but reconstruction, refurbishing, repainting, and redesigning…but most of all, beyond anything physical they could do to it, even beyond throwing away stained pillows, sheets, and mattresses, scrubbing the floors, and destroying the beds where so many had breathed their last, they would have to find a way to erase the vivid memories of broken bodies, crushed under piles of rubble, of agonized faces streaming blood as sickly bodies writhed in their slow suffering.
All of this would have to be wiped clean too, and nothing they did to rebuild the place could do that. But then it, didn’t really matter what they did to the place or how it physically changed, or if it stayed exactly the same as it was not. It didn’t matter if Faith stayed or ran far away, because everywhere she went, all the building’s memories remained deeply burned into her mind.
“Nope,” she said shortly in response to Giles’s inquiry, steepling her fingertips on the desktop and staring at the wall before her.
She was wearing a light but baggy navy hoody and considered pulling its hood up, to block out completely his face from her view, but decided this would show too much some evidence of feeling some way other than apathy, and so she remained still, eyes fixed steadily on the wall.
She couldn’t see Giles, but she knew his brow was likely furrowing in reluctant guilt and concern, that he was likely blinking through his glasses, still unconsciously touching their frames torn between his desire to head out for his flight and his nagging sense of obligation, or at least some limp token show of obligation towards Faith, however weak and slight it might be. She suspected strongly that it wasn’t that he wanted genuine solutions for her, or to make sure they occurred, so much as he wanted to make some sort of gesture towards doing so, in order to pacify his guilt.
And this suspicion sent a sudden surge of anger through Faith so intensely it was all she could do to keep from clinching her fists.
“Well,” Giles said awkwardly, clearing his throat again, and it sounded to Faith like he had taken one step forward, but remained in the open doorway of the room. “I, I’m sure there are many dwellings that would suit your needs here. You could start by looking online…and if you were to need any extra money, or-“
“Giles,” Faith interrupted tightly, her teeth clinched, eyes narrowing as she pressed the palms of her hands down flat on the desktop. “Just go, alright? Just…go.”
She could feel him regarding her now, processing the borderline hostility of her tone. She stared at the all, fierce and unblinking, until her eyes grew hot and she couldn’t really see at all. She waited as Giles struggled between his own personal desire and his conscience, and when finally his desire seemed to win out, her shoulders relaxed slightly, even as the heat lingered behind her eyes and her stomach twisted.
“Well…I suppose I do need to be going, if I’m to catch my plane on time…” Giles said slowly, exhaling audibly, and Faith tried to lighten her tone to something more casual this time as she replied, deliberately relaxing her posture further and flexing her hands.
“Yep. Suppose so,” she replied, but still her eyes did not shift in Giles’s direction.
A silence grew between them; Faith hoped this was the end of it, that Giles would simply take off and stop trying, stop delaying what they both knew to be inevitable. But then he was speaking up suddenly, his voice a little rushed, as if to attempt to get the words out and apart from his thoughts as was possible.
“Faith- it’s not too late- you’ve been to England before, if you were to decide-“
“No,” she said flatly, and the decision was bred not only from her own lack of a desire to join him in England but also from what she was certain his own. “No.”
Silence again; every second in which no one spoke seemed an hour, and yet each was over too soon, taking them that much closer to Giles’s walking out the door.
“Well,” he said finally, clearing his throat yet again. If Faith were to look, she suspected, he might be cleaning his glasses as well, or at least she suspected he had an urge to. “Well, you have my number, Faith…and I, I’ll send you my address. If you are…if you should need anything-“
“Yeah,” she cut him off, irritated by the roughness of her tone, by what she knew to be more than impatience or anger behind it. “Yeah, I know.”
They both knew she would never write, never call. But if was what he needed to say to make himself feel better, to get this fucking OVER, she would agree to whatever the hell he wanted, or at least pretend to.
“Well,” Giles repeated, the strain evident in his tone, making clear to Faith how badly he wished to do exactly what inside her own mind, she was almost screaming for to occur. “Take care of yourself, Faith.”
But even with the tension in his tone, and his obvious desire to leave, he wasn’t yet out the door…and Faith could hear the continued hesitation in his tone, could feel his eyes still on her even as he opened the door. It wasn’t that he truly wanted her to come. It was that he wanted reassurance from her that it was fine that he did not. He wanted, Faith knew, for her to turn, look him in the eye, and smile, telling him that what he was doing- where he was going- what he was leaving behind was right. He wouldn’t care if it was a lie; as long as he had a surface gesture to grab onto, he could lie to himself just as well as any.
But Faith could look at him only briefly, less than a full second, before turning her eyes back to the wall, and she could only smile with eyes as hard and insincere as stones.
“Yeah…you too,” she replied, and when Giles told her goodbye in a voice as quiet and solemn as a prayer, all she could say in response was “Yeah.”
She did not turn her head as Giles stepped through the doorway; she did not dare to look to see the absence of his presence. But the room’s sudden emptiness fell over her like a heavy, suffocating blanket of pain; she could almost physically feel the unoccupied space all around her, and it was too much, too PRESENT in his absence.
She truly was alone now.
To be continued