Part IV

Faith was carrying the bag containing her meager possessions as she walked up the gangway to the freighter. . .it would leave in the morning, neatly ending her time in Sunnydale, for good or for bad. She reached the top of the gangway, and began to look for a convenient hatchway. . .

"Faith! Please don't go!"

Faith sighed in exasperation as she turned to face Buffy. "Damn it, B, I told you not to follow me! Don't think I won't kick your ass if you piss me off!"

Buffy's face hardened for a moment as she snapped, "I'm back to full strength now, Faith. Don't think that you'd have a cakewalk. . ." Her face softened, and she continued in a more sedate tone, "Faith, I didn't come here to fight with you. Won't you please talk to me?"

Buffy watched the younger Slayer as the emotions played a confused dance on her face. After a moment, she sat down on the gangway, dangling her legs over the edge, as she replied, "Fine. B. . .you know I don't have a problem with you now. . .but I've killed someone, we both damn well know it, and I'll be damned if I'll let those scumbags on the Watchers' Council be my judges, jury and executioners! If I leave, I take the problem with me."

Buffy looked at Faith and replied, "That's just it, Faith. You didn't kill a human being. . .not really. You were right about the Mayor. . . we got into his secret files, and we found all kinds of stuff about what he was about. He was planning to transform himself into a really nasty demon and eating the graduating class. . .and he was about to undergo a ritual that would have made him invulnerable. . .but the most important thing is that he already had transformed himself into a minor demon. . .he was over 100 years old, and when you killed him, his body dissolved into goo. You didn't kill a person, Faith."

Buffy saw a look of hope briefly cross Faith's face, only to harden into an implacable mask, "So what, Buffy? I thought he was human, and I killed him anyway! It's not as if I thought some guy was a vampire, and I killed him by mistake-I killed thinking I was ending the life of another human being! What does that make me?"

Buffy summoned all of her strength to suppress the burst of rage that went through her as she comprehended the anguish her friend was going through. With superhuman control, she managed to quietly continue, "Faith, the Mayor was a monster, for what he did to you even if we ignore everything else he was about. If I had been in your place, knowing what you knew and having been used like you were, I can't say that I would have acted any differently. So can't you come back with me and deal with this? I swear that you will never have to deal with the Council on this. . .just me, Giles, and you."

Buffy saw Faith smile: it was the most genuine emotion she ever saw the younger Slayer express. "Buffy, you're great. But can't you see that that doesn't solve my problem. . .maybe you can't, you're not in my head. . .not really, anyway." She looked intently at Buffy and asked quietly, 'Remember when Yen Lo put the last set of instructions in my head, the ones that were supposed to make me less distrustful of people?" Buffy nodded, and Faith continued, "Don't you get it, B? They recruited me because they thought I was the weak one. . . the one who could be turned against her friends. . .and when they got me, they decided that I was too messed up to even be evil without screwing with my brain!" She paused a long moment, then continued with the emotionless tone that Buffy knew had to be a surrogate for the tears that she knew that Faith would never shed, "Buffy, if I stay, I'll just hurt you. . . all of you. Please let me go. . .it's all I can give you."

Buffy tried to choke down the wave of sorrow that Faith's words provoked and failed: tears sprang to her eyes as she shouted back, "Damn it, Faith! Don't you think I know how crappy it is to be us? Ever since I became the Slayer, the world has been conspiring to make my life miserable! I had to watch the one person who knew what it was like to be me die in my arms! I had to send the man I loved to Hell with my own hands to keep the world from coming to an end! But, damn it, if you let those bastards send you running for cover, they win. . .and we can't let that happen! All right, maybe those scum actually managed to make you a better person by messing with you for their own sick purposes. . .use it, damn it! If the Master hadn't killed me, you wouldn't be here. . .and now there are two of us here ready to stick it to those evil bastards! Take what they gave you and use it to make their life hell! I'm not going to give up, Faith. . .you thought you were sacrificing yourself for us, but I've had enough of that crap. . .Come home, Faith."

The anger was gone from Faith's face, but there was still the taint of hopelessness as she whispered to Buffy, "B, you can't imagine what it was like. . .to be turned into a tool for evil against your will, not being able to do a damned thing about it. . .I'm not sure I can live with it."

Buffy looked at her with an expression of utter openness as she replied, "No, Faith, I guess I can't." Noting the surprised and hurt expression on Faith's face, she quickly continued, "I know someone who does, though." She gestured to the shadows, and Angel walked into view, his face concerned and sympathetic. Buffy continued, "I think that you two might have a lot to talk about."

For a long moment, there was silence, and Buffy had begun to give up hope when a wistful smile appeared on Faith's face. She walked down the gangway and faced Buffy. She sighed and said softly, "I guess I can afford to give it a shot. . .after all, what do I have to lose now? Besides, I owe you guys, and I do want some payback. . .no place better than hanging out with you guys to do that."

Buffy smiled and hugged Faith tightly, only to feel her stiffen. She backed off and Faith looked at her with amusement. "I'm still me, B, not Miss Touchy Feely." Buffy had the good grace to look embarrassed as Faith continued, "Oh, and pass the word on, B. I may be grateful to you guys, but if any of you tell about me singing the Barney song, Snyder's car is going to have a severed head as a hood ornament. Got me?"

Buffy nodded. Faith was going to have a long road to recovery. . .but in some ways she was already back to normal..


. . .two weeks later

Xander's heart raced as he pressed on the accelerator, outdistancing the angry undead gang members chasing him down. That had been close. . .he had been within an eyelash of identifying far more with Dead Boy than he ever cared to. All right, if he was too damned fragile to help avert the apocalypse that Willow had implied was coming, he would go to the library and report the existence of the new hazard from the undead, then call it a night. He had dealt with enough danger for that night. . .

Violent motion to his right caught his eye, and the sounds of fighting reached his ears as he drove along. After a moment, he spotted Faith fighting with one of the Apocalypse demons. He knew that one of them was more than a match for a Slayer, and he had no intention of letting her die after they had fought so hard to get her back. After a moment, Faith knocked the demon back, and Xander slammed down the accelerator, plowing into the demon and knocking it back twenty feet, stunned. Xander shouted for Faith to get into the car, but instead she drew a nasty looking knife that he had never seen her use before and leaped onto the demon, driving the knife into the demon's chest and twisting hard. The demon wailed and slumped, dead beyond all doubt. Xander watched as Faith's eyes shone for a moment after the kill. . .then full awareness seemed to return, and she looked over at her benefactor. "Thanks for the assist, Xander. That bitch was putting up a wicked fight."

Xander managed a weak smile as he replied, "All part of the service, milady. Even us helpless types like to contribute now and again." He paused and continued, "Anything else I can do to help?"

Faith looked at him for a long moment before replying, "Yeah, you can drive me back to my room. . .I need a shower. . .and you can quit feeling sorry for yourself. We didn't ask you to back off because we think you're useless. . .we know better than that. It's just that these bitches are a lot nastier than your typical vamp. . .Giles was even upset about bringing Willow along, and she's one badass Wicca." She grinned and continued, "Relax, we still want you around. . .and if you can arrange to get that car into some fights, you might even manage to take out a few of these bitches for us." She put her hand on his shoulder and asked him quietly, "Are we five by five, Xander?"

Xander relaxed, and for the first time in the last day or so, he actually felt good about himself. "Yeah, Faith, we are." He looked at the bloody knife in her hand and asked, "When did you start carrying around the hardware?"

Faith smiled and replied, "After we took out that nest, Giles asked me to carry it around. . .just in case I ran into one of them. Funny, I don't think I would have listened to him a little while back. . .how about that as a side effect for my little problem, huh?"

Xander thought for a while, trying to find something useful to say, but failed as they drove back to her motel. Giles, Angel and Buffy had been spending a lot of time with Faith, trying to help her deal with what had been done to her, and she had seemed to be gradually recovering from the unpleasant things that had been done to her. She had gone out on several patrols since then, always with Buffy and the rest of the Scooby Gang, and the slaying had seemed to be good therapy for her. Still, he worried about her. . .he remembered the time that he was possessed by the hyena spirit, and how he had hurt his friends under its influence. . .he could identify with what she had gone through better than anyone, except maybe Dead Boy.

They arrived outside her room, and Xander let her out, commenting, "Well, I guess I'll see you later, Faith." She smiled at him and replied, "I need to wind down a bit before I shower. . .why don't you tell me what you've been up to today. Maybe it's just those pesky Slayer instincts, but I have a feeling that you've been up to something more interesting than donut runs."

Xander smiled ruefully, then went into his story. Faith listened raptly to his story, and chuckled when he reached the point where he was fleeing madly from Jack and his boys. Xander looked annoyed, and she hastened to explain apologetically, "Sorry, I just was imagining a conversation between you and Angel if they had gotten their hands on you." After a moment, Xander was laughing too, and Faith winked at him before filling him in on the problem with the Hellmouth. Xander whistled and commented, "Not good for the home team. . .damn it, Faith, there has to be something I can do! I'm sick of being on the sidelines."

Faith frowned, then replied, "We can always go back to the library. . .I bet Giles can find something for you to do that doesn't involve you getting your brains eaten by some nasty demon bitch. . ." She paused, with an odd expression on her face, and Xander looked at her with concern. "You okay, Faith?"

She smiled at him and replied, "Yeah. . .I was just thinking. . .I ended up remembering everything that happened during that whole brainwashing gig, Xander. . .including that liplock I laid on you."

Xander blushed furiously and stammered, "Uh, yeah. . .Faith, I'm sorry. If I'd known what was going on. . ."

She smiled at him and retorted, "Yeah? Like you could have done anything about it in the state I was in. . .but I seem to remember that you were kissing back too, at least for a while, and doing a pretty good job of it, too." Xander was silent, and Faith continued, "Listen, I know you've been through a dry spell lately; in fact, it saved my life." She chuckled at the unlikeness of that, as did Xander, and she continued, "If you're up for it, I wouldn't mind another shot. . .there aren't that many good kissers around, you know."

Xander, with great effort, restrained himself from the first response that came to mind, then carefully considered his next words before replying, "Uh, Faith. . .I'd be lying if I didn't say that the kiss you gave me was the best I've ever had. . .and Cordelia was no slouch, believe me. But Buffy told me how you feel about the guys you. . .get involved with. . .and I don't want you to be thinking about me that way. . .I care about you, Faith. I don't want to be just another notch on your . . .whatever." He tensed, having seen an angry Slayer at close range before and not wanting to think of the consequences when the angry Slayer was Faith.

To his surprise, Faith only looked at him for a long moment before sighing and replying, "I can't say I blame you, Xander. . .but hear me out. I think that the main thing I've learned from this is that my old way of looking at things kind of sucked. I need to change some things. . .and I might as well start with you. I don't want to make you my boy toy. . .at least not yet." She smiled as Xander blushed again at this comment, then she continued, somewhat haltingly, "I've heard rumors that. . .sometimes people just go out on dates, without immediate danger of sex or demonic invasions. . .I think that might be kinda fun. . .how about you?"

Xander thought for a long moment, and realized that his relationship with Cordelia, which seemed to be evenly divided between broom closet makeout sessions, car makeout sessions, and hanging out at the Bronze, could hardly be called normal dating either. He took a deep breath and replied, "Well, I hear that some people actually go out to nice restaurants for a date, with everyone wearing nice clothes and all that." He pictured Faith in an evening gown in candlelight, and the image brought a gentle smile to his face. He looked at the Slayer and commented quietly, "I guess we both could benefit from a little normality. . .Okay, assuming we both make it through the night, let's talk about it." He got up and remarked breezily, "Well, I'll leave you to your shower. . .time to report to General Giles." He walked over and kissed Faith on the forehead gently, waiting for a negative response but noticing none, before whispering, "Thanks, Faith. . .I'm feeling quite a lot better about things since I ran into you." He quietly left the room, in a rather good mood. . .which lasted until he found the makings of a large bomb resting in his back seat.

Faith watched him go, a subtle smile on her face, then her face hardened again. Oh well, she thought, time to save the world again. She pulled off her clothes, ready to wash off the grime and get ready for yet another battle.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired