Disclaimer: I do not own any characters.
Author notes: Takes place season 3, "Consequences."
All her life, for as long as she had started to understand where she came from, who she came from, and what that meant, as to her place in the world, Faith Lehane had been very much aware that she could expect only a few possible outcomes of her life. There were only so many options available to a white trash girl born in Southie to Pat and Diane Lehane, and Faith had witnessed others like her go through them too many times before to not be well aware of the possibilities.
She could end up drugged out and washed up, like her mother, dead before 35 by her own vices. She could end up stumbling around with a bottle in her hand, caught up in bets and gambles she could never pay off, in and out of jail every other weekend and taking no responsibility for the people she should be looking after, like her father. She could end up pregnant or homeless, on welfare or working several minimum wage jobs to still be unable to cover her rent or bills, and whatever her options, she would certainly end up dropping out of school and struggling for the rest of her life simply to survive. Being happy, being fulfilled, going somewhere and doing something meaningful or what society would define as successful in her life was never going to be an option, not with who she was and where she was from, and Faith had always known that. The best she could hope for was that she would live past twenty- something she had never quite expected or counted on- and it wouldn't' be because she had landed herself in prison.
For a brief period of time, almost a full year out of her life, Faith had actually thought that this would not have to happen after all. For one year out of seventeen, she had actually had the hope that she had been mistaken, that really, she was special, set apart from the world and people she had been born into, meant to be something better, something more. She had been chosen, one of the only two people in the world gifted with the strength and supernatural power to do some good, to make a difference. She was no longer just a Lehane, no longer just some dropout kid from Southie who never could keep herself out of trouble or find herself someone who really did care, someone who really would love her like he claimed he did before the first time she let him get her in the sack. She was even more special than the kids who got a full ride to Harvard or who got married and had kids and a perfect marriage, even more perfect than the kids with great jobs with high pay and who the all world loved and kissed ass over. Even if no one ever loved or wanted her, they damn well had to respect her, because there was only one other person anywhere near as good as she was in all of the world.
She was a Slayer now, better than anyone else could ever dream of being, able to do things they would never be able to, no matter how much they tried or how hard they worked, without hardly any effort from her part at all. She was finally special, and all the insults put to her as a kid, her own resignation to a life of not even scraping by, were never going to happen at all.
But she should have known that she couldn't escape her own genes, her own fate, the fact that she, Faith Lehane, had never been good enough to be meant for anything better, would play a heavier role even than what the Powers that Be could hand down to her.
Because even with more power, more strength, everything given to her that made her so much better than everyone else…even so, Faith had still managed to fuck it up as only she could. She had managed to make herself not only a loser and a user, not only inferior to the one person in the world who was her match, not only unwanted, disliked, and left out…she had managed to become a murderer. And if she had thought she was unhappy before, it would only be that much worse now- if she let it be.
But she wouldn't. She couldn't. There was no way she was going down without a fight, no way she'd trade her life for someone else's, not like this, not now. She didn't care what Buffy and her pals thought or wanted, she wasn't going to let them ruin what had barely been hers to start with. They hadn't understood before and they certainly wouldn't now- but there was still no way in hell she would let them reach out and mess it up that much more for her.
No doubt Buffy was going to correct Faith's own version of events soon, even though Faith had done her best to try to cast the blame on her for the deputy mayor's accidental slaying. And it had been accidental. No one would believe that, probably not even Buffy herself, but it had been accidental. If she had meant to kill him, would she keep seeing his face, the shock in his slowly blanking eyes as he bled to death in front of her, feeling the warm stickiness of his blood on her hands, on her shirt? If she had wanted him dead, wouldn't she have been able to sleep the next day without nightmares of his choked cry echoing in her ears?
She hadn't wanted that, she hadn't meant it. But that didn't mean that she was going to let it ruin her entire life, the life she had never thought she could have in the first place. That didn't mean she'd let this guy drag her back down to being just the Boston loser that Buffy and her pals already thought she was.
It wasn't fair. Buffy was just as guilty as she was anyway. Buffy was the one who took hold of the guy and threw him at Faith in the first place, wasn't he? And yet no one would ever acknowledge Buffy as having any part in it. Everyone would put it entirely on Faith, as usual…and they would believe anything Buffy said over her. Maybe for right now she had them off track, saying that it was Buffy who killed him, but give her time and she knew Buffy would convince them that it was all Faith. It would be best for Faith to run away, as far and fast as she could, before that happened.
Faith didn't know why she had ever let herself think or expect anything different or better out of her life. It was obvious now that no matter how hard she tried or what she did or said, it would never be enough. She would always fall short, always find a way to screw up and make things even worse for herself than they had to be, and she would always make sure that anyone she cared about or wanted to care about her would leave her. Whether that was because they outright died, or because she did something to make them turn their backs on her, it didn't matter- they would be gone, leaving her scrambling to try to pull herself together, to fight or run away from the mess she had made.
Maybe this was really who she was after all. Maybe she would never be able to outrun her past and her upbringing and the future it indicated, no matter what alternate labels she tried to slap on herself and no matter what other path she tried to take. Maybe everyone in her life before, everyone who had ever sneered or left her or walked away, was right all along, that she was nothing, no one. Maybe it was her fate to be even worse than anyone had predicted for her, even more of a failure, because she had briefly been allowed to rise to a greater height.
Maybe this was who she really was. Not a Slayer, not someone special and chosen, not a protector, but a killer, nothing more.
That's what the others saw her as now, and always would, no matter how sorry she might be. They would only care that her hands, even if helped by Buffy's hands, had ended a man's life, even accidentally, and that she as a result must be punished.
Death was her curse, Faith was beginning to understand. It followed her everywhere she went, always a dark cloud preceding her and trailing behind. Her mother, two of her Watchers, one of her friends from school, the victims she had not saved, and the vampires, monsters, and demons she finished off on a daily basis…her life revolved around killing and those who had been killed, and always before she had been fighting back, trying and sometimes failing to be on the correct side of things. But maybe it was useless to struggle any longer. If death was her curse, then maybe it was better that she give up and give herself free reign to cause it, rather than to observe it or let it happen to her. She had killed once…what was there to stop her from killing again, from ridding herself of any threat to the life she had only just tentatively begun to craft for herself?
Nothing, and no one, except, that is, for Buffy and her friends. Faith knew that Buffy would do anything to stop her from putting so much as one toe across the line, that Buffy's opinion of right and wrong, good and evil, were carved in stone- except when it came to her own behavior, and with her own less than morally straightforward boyfriend. Buffy, she knew, could become a problem…but the more Faith thought about it, and the more determined to protect her own future did she become, the more she began to think that she could handle her, however Buffy might require.
Let her come at her. Faith would be ready, and unlike Buffy, she would be prepared to use whatever means necessary to get her own way. She had crossed the line once- why back away now, if it meant messing up her finish?
The knock on her motel room door later that evening was not surprising to Faith. She had delayed her hazy plan to flee town precisely because of her expectation of Buffy's appearance, feeling almost certain that the blonde would interrupt any plan she might set in motion, determined to try her hand at talking her into whatever Buffy thought the "right" thing to do one more time. Whether that would be talking to Giles, turning herself in to the police, Faith didn't know and didn't care, because she knew that whatever the course of action Buffy recommended, it would mean denying Faith her liberty and labeling her as a criminal, in need of "treatment" and "rehabilitation." It was all well and good for Buffy to look at her wide-eyed and tell her about doing the right thing, when it wouldn't be Buffy's ass locked up in a space barely big enough to breathe in for the rest of her life.
Faith came to the door with one hand on her stake, at her belt, ready to react and counterattack at the first sign of any threatening move. But when she opened the door, she saw Xander's sheepish form standing there, giving her an awkward smile as he rocked back and forth on his heels, hands stuffed in his pockets. Faith rolled her eyes, somewhat disgusted. It figured Buffy couldn't even do her own dirty work; she had to dispatch out one of her sidekicks, and one of the most overly earnest and oblivious ones, at that. The one who genuinely seemed to think that she was nice, that she had any interest in him at all beyond the seven minutes she had once allowed him into her bed.
This was more than disappointing of Buffy. This was a blatant insult.
She barely listened to what Xander had to say; it was all the same blah blah blah that Buffy had said too, minus the self-righteous and judgmental tone and with the addition of Xander's own overly earnest one. It didn't matter if he meant it or thought he meant it, it was all bullshit.
He wanted to help her, he was saying…he wanted to be a friend. He knew she hadn't meant to do it, he wanted to be there for her. They had a connection, and due to that, he, Xander Harris, could help her out.
It would have been laughable, if it wasn't so ridiculous. Even in the best of times, Xander Harris offering himself up as her friend, as being able to help her with anything more than fetching her a donut or temporarily scratching an itch was hardly a prize that she would have snatched up with gratitude. But whereas she might have laughed or smirked a few days ago, now, hearing Xander's offer caused Faith's anger to flare through her, increasingly markedly with every word he spoke until her hands were in fists, her face and chest so hot she felt as though her own rage would cause her to begin to perspire.
How dare he say that he could help her? What could he offer her that her own parents, her Watchers, both of them, Giles, Buffy, and Faith herself couldn't or wouldn't? He was a very average, painfully so, eighteen-year-old boy who couldn't get his own life together, and he had the nerve to feel sorry for her, to think he could give her anything she couldn't take for herself?
Be her friend…what a fucking joke. He had never wanted to be her friend, Faith could see that from the second she first saw him and watched him hang on her every word, practically drooling into his girlfriend's lap. He had never cared what she had to say, unless it had something to do with describing herself naked; he never wanted to spend any time with her, unless it was on a horizontal basis. She knew damn well who Xander's real friends were, and the only reason he wasn't with them now instead of here with her was because they obviously didn't even care enough about her not to send the lowest man on their Scooby totem pole to try to make them feel better about themselves and their efforts to "reach out to her" without having to do any work themselves.
He said he cared about her, and that, more than anything else, angered her…that, even more than the rest, was a lie. Nobody cared about Faith Lehane. They cared about what she did or what she said, how her actions affected them and what she could do for them- but no one cared about her. Faith knew this now with utter clarity and certainty; it had only been her hope and wish, rather than the reality, for her to ever entertain any notion otherwise.
But here was Xander Harris, standing at her door with those earnest, puppy eyes, telling her that he cared, and Faith could not tolerate it, let alone accept it.
How much would he "care" about her if he saw her for what she really was, what she was really capable of? How much would he "care" if she rid him of all his illusions of the lost, pretty girl he wants in the pants of, the damaged child who only needed a pat on the back and a one way ticket to prison to make herself right again? How much would he care if he could see every thought she had ever had, every terrible thing she had ever done…how much would he care, if he knew how much she hated him, how much she wanted to hurt him right this second, for even pretending to feel the way he claimed?
Xander didn't know her. Xander didn't even want to know her, to ruin his illusions of her supposed goodness. He didn't know who she was at all, and as Faith regarded him with narrowed eyes, a dark, bitter anger towards him beginning to tighten more and more around her heart, she came to a decision.
Faith was going to show him, and all his friends too. She would use him as a message, use him to get across to him and all the rest of them exactly the kind of person she truly was, the person that they had both refused to accept and driven her into becoming. She would leave them a clear message, with Xander's lifeless body being her template, of just what she was capable of, and perhaps always had been.
Xander thought she was a weak little girl, that he could offer her a shoulder to cry on…he would take those shoulders and leave them limp and permanently stilled, incapable of any such masculine action. Xander thought she was some sort of sexual goddess, that she could be turned to as his accomplishment or his conquest…she would show him that it was he who had been conquered, that he had been her object from the start. Xander thought that he could be her hero, her rescuer, that his words and his kindness could undo her…she would be his nightmare, and she would show him what it really was to be helpless, how it felt to truly be without power in the world.
She didn't quite realize that her thoughts had become actions, barely paid attention to her own instinctive, breathless words, and when she straddled him, her hands circling his neck, Faith became only gradually aware of the intensity of the situation. She could feel Xander's larger yet infinitely less powerful body growing rigid beneath hers, his warmth heating her own skin even through his clothing. She could feel his wild pulse at his neck, protesting against the increasing constriction of her hands around his neck, getting more frantic in its throbbing against her hand as she continued to squeeze harder and harder, preventing it from completion. She could feel Xander's body stiffening beneath her, going totally still rather than fighting back, trying to buck her off, and she knew that she had complete and total control of him. His life was fully in her hands, and he knew it every bit as much as she did- so much that he was not trying to do anything at all to prevent her from doing as she would.
It wasn't Xander at all that she saw or focused on at first. Faith was looking straight down at him, hearing her own voice speaking words that she had not quite planned, but he seemed less than real to her, a figure or a dummy of sorts, an idea of a person more than a living being, a person she knew. He was not Xander to her, but an object, something onto which she could project out all the rage and confusion and pain she had been feeling from the moment her stake plunged downward into the deputy mayor's chest, too fast, too late to prevent or retract. Although she was seeing his face, she didn't really look at him, not into his eyes- and when she finally did so, it was this that gave her pause.
She hadn't been looking at Xander, but when Faith finally met his eyes, she saw that he was looking straight back at her. There was fear, stark and raw, in his gaze, an obvious and strangely unsettling terror mingled with pain, and Faith knew that it was directed at her, at what she was doing to him. This would perhaps have been satisfactory, maybe would have even given her the extra push she needed to finish off the job.
But then the fear she was watching began to soften, its brightness across the surface of his eyes beginning to shift to what Faith slowly began to recognize as resignation. Xander was not fighting back; he was, in fact, on the verge of losing consciousness, the only reason that he hadn't already due to the slowness of Faith's tightening her grip. Xander was not fighting her, though he was fully aware of what she was doing, though he no doubt realized the extent to which she could and would take this…and yet there was no hatred, or even anger in his gaze. Xander was looking back at her with what Faith understood with a sharp pang to be acceptance.
Xander knew that he was dying…he knew that she was choosing to kill him. But he was accepting it. Accepting his death, accepting that she was killing him…and still there was no hatred or resentment towards her in his eyes. He was simply waiting for her to finish…waiting for her to end his pain.
Faith felt her breath catch in her throat, and despite the warmth of his body against hers, a heavy coldness came over her then, causing her to shudder sharply. Unconsciously her hands loosened around his throat as she stared down at him, beginning to blink rapidly, as though she could somehow change what she was seeing, alter the look in his eyes. But he kept looking back at her exactly as he had, waiting, watching…
She had seen eyes like this once before, almost exactly a year before. The suffering, the pain, the hopeless weariness, and that waiting, that horrible waiting for death to come….she had seen it in the eyes of her Watcher, from where she hung, bleeding, Kakistos's clawed hands on her skin…and as Faith's hands loosen further, her breathing beginning to come in sharp gasps, she can swear she can almost hear her voice, a hoarse, barely audible whisper, torn apart by her pain.
Her reaction is swift, automatic, and instinctive. Ripping her hands away from Xander and rolling off his body, she stood and walked on shaking legs towards the corner of the room, as far from him as she could get. Facing the wall, Faith sucked in several uneven breaths, hearing Xander doing the same from the bed. She didn't dare turn to look at him, but she could vividly envision him touching his throat, could hear him coughing, trying to clear it. And over it all she could still hear her Watcher's voice, faintly ringing in her ears, repeating her name in various inflections of urgency, the disappointment clear in every whispered syllable.
She is still shaking, her vision slowly blurring when she hears Xander's voice, hoarse, heavy with wonder as he addresses her.
"You…you didn't kill me."
Faith didn't answer him; she suspected dimly that she wouldn't have been able to find her voice. In a strange irony she has found herself so choked she can barely breathe, the hot dampness now standing in her eyes thickening her throat and making every breath labored and pained. She tries to still her trembling hands, the twitching muscles of her legs, but with every effort she makes to tighten her muscles, to make firm her limbs, their shaking only seems to worsen that much more.
"I'm not afraid of you," she hears Xander say suddenly, and though she doesn't turn, she can hear him slowly sitting up on the bed, the cheap mattress creaking beneath his weight. "Okay, that, that was a lie, I'm terrified, because you could kill me with your bare hands, and you kind of almost did…but I don't hate you. I…Faith, I…" here his voice stuttered, and she heard even from across the room his noisy swallow before he plunged ahead. "I care about you. I just…I really…I just wanted…want…to help you."
Those gentle words felt like an assault to Faith, hitting her like a physical blow. She felt her entire body jerk in response, and she barely managed to choke back a cry. Nearly a full minute passed before she could answer, each word ground out so it sounded like a growl- and yet even she could hear the plea behind them.
"Stay away from me."
"Okay, okay," Xander said quickly, and out the corner of her eyes, even as Faith tried to keep her vision focused straight ahead of her to the wall, she could see him hold up his hands, as though in surrender. "I will, I swear, believe me, I'm not wanting another…I'll do what you say, whatever you say, you don't have to worry about that. I just…I wanted you to know that," his voice trailed off into a rasp again as he coughed, clearing his throat. "I just…want you to know, I still would help…still."
Faith could hardly believe what she was hearing. It seemed a hallucination, no more real than her Watcher's voice, still dimly echoing in her ears. Anyone would have to be crazy, even suicidally stupid, to want to help her, even before what she had done. And now? After putting her hands around his throat, holding his body down with hers, and squeezing until she could feel his life beginning to ebb away? How could he possibly remain in the same room with her, let alone tell her this in such a completely sincere tone?
And yet this was so typical, so STUPIDLY typical of Buffy and her friends.
"You can't do it," she said finally, but her voice was much quieter, lacking the conviction and aggression she had intended. In fact, it faltered and shook, so much less in power than it ever should have been, than it had any right to be. "Nobody can…especially not you. You just saw what I am…you just saw what I do…how the hell can you help me? How the hell could you even want to? You can't do it…you can't help me. You CAN'T."
And surely Xander hears the crack in her voice at the last word…surely he hears the desperation in her tone, can see the shivering continuing, unchecked, visible and undeniable in her turned back. Surely he can see, and yet she can't move…she can't even ask him to look away.
His words were slow in coming, hesitant, but still sincere when he responded.
"Maybe not…maybe no one can. But we can try. I can try. And if I fail…well, I can be there, all the same. If you want…if you let me." Another pause. "I don't think…Faith, I don't think this is who you are….and I want to help make sure it isn't who you'll become."
It was the first time he had said her name since she released him. His voice sounded nothing like her Watcher's, nothing at all; he was an American young man, she had been a British middle-aged woman, and yet somehow, the tone and feeling behind it was so similar that it seemed to her one and the same. So similar, that spite of everything, Faith believed.
She didn't realize that she was crying until the first sob burst from her throat, until the first tears began to dampen her t-shirt, staining with a damp smatter that quickly smeared and spread. Soon her already blurred vision became almost nonexistent, and as Faith's shoulders slumped forward, her hand moving to cover her mouth in an effort to suppress further sobs, she felt her legs threatening to give way, one hand having to come forward to support herself against the wall.
She couldn't have said when it was that Xander slowly, painfully stood up from his hunched position on the bed, when it was that he approached her, coming to stand behind her. She couldn't have said when his fear finally buckled beneath his stronger empathy and concern, and when he reached to touch her shoulder, she couldn't have articulated what it was that made her turn around and let herself fall forward against him, her weight nearly toppling him to the floor. She couldn't have explained how it was that she had ended up winding her arms around his waist, burying her face into the bruising tenderness of his neck as her tears wetted his damaged skin. She couldn't have put into any words at all how it had felt for Xander to slowly wrap his arms around her, to hear his quiet words spoken near her ear, to feel the solidness of his frame, supporting her weight. She couldn't have told anyone, but she vividly knew now what it felt like to be held, to be comforted, even accepted, even as her killer's hands, limp and loose, now dangled, rendered harmless, from behind him.