It used to be night was when you had to worry. Night and the full moon and werewolves and vampires and all the other bullshit that was supposed to be make believe but somehow never turned out that way. Over the years Faith was sure that she'd killed one of every type of thing that went bump in the night. She was good at it. Still, she'd gotten accustomed to at least a little downtime once that big yellow ball was in the sky .
That was starting to feel like a long, long time ago. Now you always had to worry.
Faith had felt the Hellmouth open, like someone ripping the marrow from her bones and pouring in lava. It wasn't until days later that she'd found out that it hadn't just been a Hellmouth (the one in Cleveland, maybe, although the town was such a pit Faith didn't think anyone would notice) or even the Hellmouth (happy, shiny, crateriffic Sunnydale, how she didn't miss it). It was all Hellmouths. Everywhere. One big worldwide demon party.
Faith figured her invitation must have gotten lost somewhere along the way. That she didn't mind so much; parties you crashed were always a better time than parties where you were invited to, anyway
She was starting to wonder why she was the only gatecrasher. Every time she dropped in on a nest of demons or vampires she got the same reaction: "A Slayer? Here?!" It was getting monotonous.
And worrying. There were supposed to be well over a thousand little baby Slayers out there fighting the good fight, but Faith hadn't managed to turn up any sign of them. She'd tried to send a messages back to Slayer Central — even convinced an extremely sketchy mage to send one magically — but it was all a no-go. Either the whole base was being magically jammed, or....Faith didn't want to dwell on the "or." Easier to stake as many of the uglies as she could and worry about tomorrow when she got there.
"So, how long do you really think you can keep this going?"
Faith is standing in room with dark stone walls and a vaulted ceiling. The room is lit but there's no obvious light source; the ground is hot under her boots, like she's standing over a heat vent.
Or somewhere in Hell. Everything has the oversaturated, too-real brightness of a Slayer dream: the air thick like walking through invisible velvet, every sound sharp like the volume on her ears has been turned up times one thousand. It's been a long, long time since she's Dreamed, and she hadn't missed it.
She knows the one-armed — well, one-handed, anyway — man in front of her, though it takes a minute to remember from where. He's kind of cute in a squinty, weaselly sort of way, and he's looking at her with a smirk that seems like it's his default expression. He shifts his weight and the sourceless light glints off a heavy metal collar around his neck; she hears the clink of metal on metal, like links of a chain scraping over each other. "Going out every night with no plan, no end game. How's that working for you?"
"Good so far. I'm five by five, always am." Her ribs hurt: a spike demon had taken a two-story plunge right on top of her the night before. She'd pulled something in her shoulder two nights before that punching her stake through an incredibly fat vampire's chest and she can't remember the last sit-down meal she's had.
"Suuuuure you are. What do you figure, another week like this? Two?"
His face clicked in her memory. "You're that lawyer. I remember you; you're a major scumbag. You and that chick laywer sent me after Angel."
He shrugs. "That was a long time ago."
"And a hand ago. I bet the scumbag stuff hasn't changed, though. Or your bosses."
"My...." It's clear he's trying to say something else, but what comes out is "masters", "take their contracts very seriously." The smirk is gone. "And they're prepared to offer you a deal. A way out."
Faith clicks her tongue, her arms crossed over her chest. "Yeah, somehow I don't think I'm gonna jump at that."
"It's not a contract, just a very simple service. One that will close the Hellmouths and end Armageddon. Isn't that what all you heroes always want?"
She snorts at the word hero. "Yeah, I think you've got me confused with a blonder, whiner Slayer. And why would your demon bosses want the Hellmouths closed again, anyway?"
"It wasn't part of their plan. And they're very attached to their plan."
"Yeah, well, I don't give a shit about their plan and I'm not good at playing with others. I'm doing just fine on my own."
"Of course. You'll be back. We'll be in touch."
She stole a car and drove until the tank went dry. The city she found herself in was just as demon-infested as her last one and Faith wasn't sure why she'd expected any different. The days bled into the nights — one long, ceaseless fight against where the only change was what wound up impaled on her stake.
After a week she heard whispers of a major sacrifice being planned for the night of the new moon — or a banquet, the rumors weren't really clear. Where demons were concerned, the differences were pretty minor. She'd crashed something similar back in Muncie; the demon overlord of the city had convinced the surviving humans that it would leave them be if they would give him a tribute.
Sometimes, when Faith closed her eyes she could still see that ballroom and that banquet table with its long row of infants blackened and stuffed like roast ducks at a fancy buffet. The demon lord still had his fork clutched in his claws (quivering, bloody piece of meat with fine strands of hair still attached, hold it together, don't vomit, don't vomit) when Faith had jumped up on the table and stabbed her stake through his forehead. When Faith had finished off the demons, the starving humans they'd dressed up as waiters came from hiding and fell on the table like jackals. Faith remembered staggering from the building heaving and woke up 200 miles away, her clothes smelling like smoke and gasoline. She had the dim memory of flames and blistering heat and screams, lots of screams. She wondered if she'd set the whole place aflame. She hoped so.
This would be different. This time she knew where the party would be and fucking hell, she was prepared.
And it was different. Just not because of any preparations on her part.
All the time she was investigating the sacrifice, none of the demons she'd beat on for information would give her the name of the guest of honor, referring to it as "She." Faith didn't worry about that too much; sure, there were hundreds of different kinds of demons but almost all of them died from a stake through the heart or a nice clean decapitation. The mistake she'd made was in assuming that the guest of honor at a demon banquet would be a demon.
Ever since the Hellmouths had opened Faith had wondered why she hadn't seen any other Slayers. She stopped wondering when she jumped down onto the table from her hiding place under the skylight and saw one sitting at the head of the table.
Faith thought she recognized the girl; a few years younger than her, one of the Potentials-Turned-Real-Girls, round cheeks and curly hair and eyes that Faith had been sure had been green and not the runny, blood-bright red they were now. The Slayer stood up, shouted in a guttural demon language and Faith felt dozens of pairs of eyes turn toward her. Then time sped to a blur and the air filled with claws and tails and Faith swore that one of the demons actually swung a flail at her head. The fight came to a sudden, jarring halt when Faith swung her stake in an arc and felt it connect with something more yielding than demon scales. She turned and saw the baby Slayer impaled on its point (Caitlin, chick's name is Caitlin); the room hushed as the girl groped weakly at the stake for a moment, the red draining from her eyes. She blinked in confusion at Faith, then collapsed, her open eyes human and green.
"See? We knew you'd be back."
Faith grabs him by his stupid lawyerly suit jacket and hurls him across the room; his invisible chain snaps taut before he hits the wall and yanks him back. He falls to the ground choking and Faith jumps on him, jamming one knee into his midsection and putting her stake to his throat. "Tell me what you did to the Slayers."
"Pretty...." The words dissolve into spasmed coughs. "Pretty rough for our first date, isn't it?"
Punching him helps. A lot. "You have no idea how rough I like it. Spill your guts or I'll spill them for you."
"Oh no, please don't kill me, I might wind up in Hell." That does take some of the bite out of her threats. "Feel like letting me up, or are we just jumping ahead to second base?" She rolls off of him and he gets up slowly, painfully. "Always fun doing business with you people."
"Just tell me what I need to know."
"We didn't do anything to them. In fact, if you'd remember my … my masters" — his face contorts on the word — "are trying to undo it."
"They sure do want to make sure you keep calling them that, huh?"
"They want to make sure I know my place."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm crying on the inside. Get to talking."
He sighs. "When your witch...."
"Hey, not my witch."
"Do you mind?" He rubs his throat before continuing. "People don't get magic sometimes. Especially the ones who think they do. They think its a circle you close or a ward you secure, but it's not. It's a door. All that energy has to come from somewhere, and the bigger the spell the wider that door has to be propped open." He nods to her. "Why do you think there was only supposed to be one Slayer? Keep the number small and the opening that the energy has to flow through can stay small."
Faith doesn't like at all how these pieces are falling. "So when we threw our big Slayer coming out party...."
"Nice big open door. Eventually someone noticed and decided to ride that energy in."
"That's why that baby Slayer I ganked was all demon-eyed." If she puts it like that, it's easier not to see the kid's eyes looking through her (Caitlin, Caitlin, quit thinking of the name.) "So how many of the others wound up like that?"
He just raises his eyebrows. "Seriously? You have to ask?"
"Fine. All of them."
Faith nods. She'd known that would be the answer — frankly, had suspected it as soon as Caitlin lunged at her throat — but that didn't change her legs wanting to buckle under her. "That's a lot of Slayers. Why am I fine?"
"You weren't part of the spell, remember? You were already in the Big Leagues. As far as the magic was concerned, you didn't exist.
And there was that familiar, also-ran feeling. "So how do I close the door? Not that I don't love these little chats and all."
He smiles, and she can tell that he wants it to be a shark's smile, a lawyer's smile, but there's no confidence, just sick, desperate vindictiveness. It's an expression that fills her with queasy familiarity. "It's easy," he says. "All you have to do is kill the First."
All she can do is stare. "You have got to be shitting me."
"I don't make the rules. Kill the First, all the corrupted Slayers go too."
"But you can't kill the First! It's not even alive, it's not a thing...."
"You'll see. It'll all make sense once you get there."
This deal just gets better all the time. "Get where?"
He widens his eyes, a looks she doubts ever worked, even when he had two hands and wasn't chained up in hell. "Didn't I mention? You have to do it in Sunnydale. But don't worry, you'll have help." The grin broadens. "Just keep an eye out."
Faith crossed Sunnydale's border at half past dusk. During the long journey back to her own personal hell, the only good thing she could find about being set out to kill a concept was that at least the First wouldn't be too hard to find in the middle of a crater.
Of course, that had depended on the town still being a crater. As she heard her boot heels echo across the impossible street and walked past buildings where there should have been nothing but dust she realized that she was going to need a better plan. She felt eyes watching her as she passed, little furtive movements in the windows, the only sign on life in the whole town. "All right, First! Here I am! Come kill me!"
No answer. Not that she'd really expected there to be; the First had never been the type to just come when it was called. "You did a real good job fixing up the place!" she shouted. It had taken almost a good twenty minutes of walking around and touching everything to convince herself that the buildings weren't illusions. "Why don't you come out and we have a talk?"
The pavement just in front of her started to roil, bunching up like dirt in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. She tensed and waited, one hand on her stake as the ground opened up and a huge demon with the body of snake and the face of a child rose up in front of her. "Thisss isss her plassssee," it said, drawing its 'Ss' out into long sibilant hisses. "You musssst leave."
"Yeah, that's not gonna happen. 'Her' and I have a whole 'I'm here to kill her' problem, so if she could come out here and hold still, that would be great."
The thing laughed like an asthmatic coughing. "We will feasssst on you."
Faith smiled. "Bring it."
And they brought it. A lot of it. Demons and vampires of every size and description came pouring out of every door, some armed and ready and some just there for the show. Faith ripped her stake through the snake-demon's jaw and dusted the vampire who'd taken up next to it before taking stock and realizing that 40-1 wasn't odds even she was comfortable with. She took off running, trying to get to the Bronze and that narrow bottleneck alley behind it; if she could control how many of them could attack at once, she realized that she might have a shot. She didn't look behind her, didn't even pause to attack unless one was right on her, but the roar of footsteps and voices behind her let her know she wasn't losing them. She could hear one of the vampires actually taking bets on her many pieces she would be in by the time they were finished and made a mental note to kill him first.
She had almost made it when a trio of demons cut her off. The stronger-looking ones slowly formed a circle around her, licking their chops or proboscises or whatever it was they had that passed for mouths. Faith held a stake in both hands and waited, watching to see which of the demons would bow to impulse first. A blue-skinned, horned thing was the lucky winner, lurching forward with its claws — but it was clumsy and she was ready. The next two was more of the same; it was like not having to worry about Slayers for so long had made them forget how to fight. After that it seemed to dawn on them that they weren't mooks in a Bruce Lee movie and didn't have to attack one at a time.
She held her own for a while, but they had her surrounded; one with a long, sharp projection on its tail speared her through the right shoulder. Pain shot through her entire side; the stake fell from her useless hand as she fought to keep her knees from buckling. She told herself that this was always how things were going to end and stared the demon in its four eyes, spots obscuring her vision as she waited for the final blow. It reared up, smirked — then stopped, jerking once as a look of surprise crossed its face. Faith blinked, trying to make sense of what she was seeing as the demon's head slid neatly off its shoulders.
Something had spooked them; the demons were babbling to each other, breaking and running. She smelled the copper tang of blood as it ran warm and wet down her arm, everything muted, and her head felt like it was about to float away. Her vision had gone hazy, but behind the dead demon she made out a dark-haired man, holding what she first took to be an axe. It wasn't until he stepped closer that she realized it was actually the Scythe. Before she could jump at him and demand what he was doing with that she got a good look at his face — for some reason he seemed very familiar. Especially the eye patch.
She swayed on her feet as he walked up to her, his one visible eye wide with surprise. "Faith?" he said, and damned if the voice wasn't familiar, too. "Is that you? I mean, you, you?"
Harris, her addled memory finally supplied. "Anyone tell you y'look like a pirate?" Then she passed out.
Faith woke up in a strange bed, her shoulder bandaged and her head throbbing. She went all woozy and light-headed when she tried to stand, falling back against the bed on her first try. "Oh yeah, take on a demon army. Great plan." After another minute she felt her head start to clear — as much as it was going to, anyway — and she took stock. The room she was in was cheerful, actually almost cutesy, and large, clearly someone's master bedroom. She didn't see her Slaying supplies anywhere but her jacket was draped over the bed; she fished a switchblade out of the pocket, opened the door and crept down the stairs.
She smelled eggs cooking. And ham. And some really burned toast.
She followed the smells down to the kitchen and saw Xander standing in front of the stove, wearing an apron and frantically trying to put out a flaming oven mitt. He turned around when he heard the click of her knife closing.
"Faith! Hey!" He beat at the still-smoldering mitt a few more times. "I made breakfast. Well, tried to." He paused. "I think I killed the toaster."
Faith rolled her eyes and sat down. "I don't care. Right now I'm hungry enough to eat the toaster."
"How about some slightly less metallic ham and eggs instead?"
The food was serviceable, which meant it was easily the best thing she'd eaten in weeks. Faith hadn't realized how ravenously hungry she'd been until the food was gone, seemingly before she could blink. Xander ate more slowly, trying to watch her without being obvious about it and failing. "I'm not a demon, Harris."
"Everyone else is." Those three words pricked up her ears; they were said in such an un-Xander Harris tone that if he hadn't been sitting in front of her she would never have guessed he spoke them.
The Scythe was leaning against the wall; now that she wasn't nearly out on her feet she could see that it was damaged, the stake at the end charred and destroyed. "What the hell did you do to my Scythe?"
She'd only been kidding, but he studied his plate and chewed for a long moment. "So, when did you get to town?"
All right, then. I can take a hint. "Last night. A one-armed man told me I had to come here to save the world."
His eyebrows rose. "A one-armed man?"
"Well, one-handed. One-armed just sounds better. He did say I'd get some help, so I guess you're it."
"One hand and now one eye," he mused. "Any chance you're working for Vecna?"
She stared blankly for a moment, trying to remember whether she'd ever heard that name before, then she realized that he'd been trying to make a joke. "Fuck, Harris, I never have any idea what you're talking about."
He let out a long, embarrassed breath. "Yeah, that one was bad, even by my standards. Too much hanging out with Andrew."
"How is the King of the Virgins?"
"He didn't make it."
Faith nodded. She doubted he meant that didn't make the trip. She almost asked how Robin was, then decided that she didn't want to know. "So, where are we?"
"You don't recognize it?"
That was when Faith realized that she'd been in this house before. It took all of her willpower not to run out the door. "Tell me we are not in Summers' house."
Xander shrugged. "Demons won't go near it. Closest thing to a safehouse we're going to find."
"What the hell is going on with this town?"
"Beats me. I was expecting Crater Central, then I come here and bam! Reliving my childhood."
"But why just rebuild the town?" Something happened behind his eyes, a flicker. He knew something, but Faith had kept enough secrets in her life to know that he wasn't about to share this one. "So, were you the one who patched me up?"
He nodded. "I didn't see anything. You know. In case you were worried about that."
"Harris, we've fucked. It's a little late for modesty now." She grinned as he choked on her drink. "Not bad work," she said, flexing her shoulder. "Where'd you learn how to do that?"
She didn't quite choke on her drink, but it was close. "You were in the Army?"
"Weeeelll…sort of. It's complicated."
The cards didn't get put on the table until later that night during patrol. After helping stake a vampire (who'd been carrying a case of Girl Scout cookies; Faith was glad the vamp hadn't gotten the chance to talk because she didn't want any part of that backstory) Xander asked, just a little too casually, "So, did Ol' One Hand say how you had to save the world?"
"No way that makes sense."
"Yeah, because the world is full of the sense making."
She sighed. "He said I had to kill the First. And that I had to be here to do it. Not too hard, right?"
She walked four steps before realizing that he wasn't following anymore. "Harris?" She turned around and saw him standing like he'd been glued to the ground, ashen-faced and staring at nothing. She approached cautiously, waving one hand in front of his face. "Earth to Xander Harris?" When she touched his sleeve, his knees buckled, and he went sliding down the wall until he was sitting on the ground with his head in his hands.
"What's wrong? It's a trick, obviously. You can't kill the First, we both know that...."
"He doesn't want you to kill the First Evil." His voice sounded like an old man's. "I think he means you have to kill the First Slayer."
Faith felt her brows knit together. "But that makes even less sense. How am I supposed to...."
"No, I don't mean...." He shook his head. "I said that wrong. I meant the First of Slayers." He looked up at her, his eyes hollow. "Buffy, Faith. You were sent here to kill Buffy."
The world had gone very, very still. "How do you know?"
He swallowed hard. "Because I came out here to do the same thing."
Then he started talking.
The story took a long time. Faith carved a new stake to replace the Scythe's ruined one as he spoke, her knife shaving a sharp point into the old ash. The demons had corrupted the energy, yes, but they'd known about that risk. The reason no one had worried about was because working magic on that level needed a vast amount of energy. For all practical purposes, that door was closed and locked.
Right until the demons found a key. Or rather, a Key. "Oh God, the kid," she breathed, putting it together, and he winced as if he was still watching it happen.
"We knew there was some bad juju in the works, but nothing on that scale. One second she was there and the next it was just...." He shuddered. Faith wondered if he needed a stiff drink as much as she did. "I remember a green flash. When I came to, they were...well, you met one, you said. All of the Slayers, just working for the other side. Every last one of them. Nothing to stop the Hellmouths from opening after that."
"Why didn't they kill you?"
His mouth curled into a sneer. "They just didn't bother to."
"The self-pity train's not helping anyone here."
"Huh? No, Buff told me that herself. Said that they'd get around to me eventually. Then a bunch of them took turns kicking me in the head until I blacked out."
"Ouch. On multiple levels."
Giles hadn't been so lucky, she learned. Buffy had gathered together a pack of her new minions and went right for him, figuring that if knowledge was power Giles was the biggest threat they had. Xander said Giles had been working some spell to give everyone a chance to escape — ever the faithful Watcher, right to the end — but that many Slayers was too much to hold back. Xander glossed over some of the details after that, but after Faith heard the phrase "found most of him" she found her imagination could more than fill in the rest.
She soaked the stake in holy water and passed it through the flame of a candle she'd swiped from a church. Xander was in the middle of telling her how he'd wound up with the Scythe. It wasn't the focus of the spell anymore — that had shifted to Buffy, Miss First of Slayers herself — but it was still full of magic. Enough magic to open Hellmouths, if plugged into the proper power source. And even with Little Sister gone, Buffy still had one hell of a magical resource at her fingertips.
Xander described finding Willow suspended in a spell circle with the stake end of the Scythe buried in her chest as if it had happened in a particularly horrible novel. The circuit of magic between her and the Scythe had kept her alive and aware, and that was when Xander's voice finally broke. Faith did go get some booze then and poured him a generous shot. She continued tempering the stake as he knocked it back and composed himself. "She asked me to take out the Scythe. That there'd be no way to close the Hellmouths if I didn't. She's the one who said I had kill Buffy to end it, that she should have done it but she...she just couldn't, and then...." He let out a long, shuddering breath. "She said I'd have to be Rambo. That she...that she was sorry." He didn't break, not quite, and Faith could see how much harder he'd grown. The kid she'd known back in Sunnydale would have been sobbing on the floor by now. Faith wasn't sure whether she liked the change or not. "So!" he said, injecting fake cheer into his voice, "That's the story. What do you think our plan should be?"
The stake was finished. Faith fitted it carefully into the end of the Scythe and tested the balance, watching the light gleam off of the new wood. "The snake demon told me this was her place," she said, tossing it from hand to hand. "I was wrong about who it'd been talking about, but it's really all the same." She swung the Scythe around her head, pleased at the whistling sound the blade made through the air. "We make a big enough mess, she's gonna come right to us."
Xander had four more shots and passed out on the sofa. Faith waited until she heard him snoring, then crept up the stairs as if the walls were spying on her. She walked to a certain door and lingered outside, her fingers just brushing the doorknob. Her heart was drumming in her ears, her stomach roiling like a whole mariachi band had decided to throw a party in there. She took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
For a second she expected to see Buffy lying on the bed, her eyes red and her hands bloody, tensing up to leap for Faith's throat. Then she blinked and the vision was gone, replaced by an ordinary bedroom. It startled Faith how well she remembered it.
She curled up against the bed and wrapped her arms around her knees. The house was still and quiet; this place had almost seemed like home once, back when Buffy had almost seemed like a friend. Their relationship had changed a lot since then — mostly Faith's bad; she was big enough to admit it — but the one thing that had always been consistent was that Faith was the one playing catch up.
She hadn't wanted to admit it in front of Xander, but considering her track record she really thought she had a better shot at killing the metaphorical source of all evil than being able to kill Buffy Summers.
So they had a plan of attack. Well, of sorts. Mostly the plan involved kicking down the door of one house a night, beating the hell out of whatever demon they found there, rescuing whatever was left, then setting the place ablaze, like firing up a Buffy-signal. Soon the Summers house was crawling with refugees; kids they'd found hiding in crawl spaces or people that the demons had been rationing out like fine chocolate. One old lady had kept demons away because her umbrella had been blessed by the Pope.
But those were the exceptions. Usually there wasn't much left, or at least not much left human. Too many people had made deals so that they would be allowed to keep breathing for one more day, one more hour, and the more of them they found the more Faith and Xander understood the difference between "rescuing" and "saving."
But there were times — when the blade of the Scythe caught the moonlight after a hard fight, or that one time when they caught a group of demons so engrossed in a card game that they played two full hands before realizing Faith and Xander were even there — that it was almost fun. She hadn't patrolled in so long that that she'd forgotten the rush of it, the way tracking down the bad guys put electricity under her skin.
And to be fair, credit to Xander. He could hold his own in a fight and knew enough about the demons to give them an edge. "Y'know," she said one night, looking up from a demon tome they'd grabbed while raiding a cultist's hideout, "you're turning out to be a pretty good Watcher."
His head picked up. "Did I pick up an accent when I wasn't looking?"
Faith rolled her eyes. "I don't think the accent is...." he trailed off, remembering every Watcher she'd ever met. "Okay, so maybe it used to an accent-and-tweed only thing but they're not exactly around anymore to enforce the dress code. Seriously. You knowing the yellow spiny guys had a phobia about nail polish saved my ass last week."
"And we're never getting into how I found that out." Every so often he sounded just like the same dorky kid from Sunnydale.
But, most of the time, that kid disappeared behind the grown-up lines creasing his forehead and at the corner of his visible eye. Sometimes it made her wish she'd been nicer to that kid. She kind of missed him.
Maybe that was what made her lean forward and kiss him then. Usually Faith didn't ponder too hard about why she did things and just found herself in the middle of doing.
Xander didn't return the kiss, but she felt his hand close around her wrist. When she pulled back she stayed close enough that their lips could almost touch, and he didn't push away. "You do that with all your Watchers?" His voice had gone rough and husky; she almost said to hell with it and kissed him again.
"What, so now you're good with being my Watcher?"
"I...I mean, you're...um....."
She laughed. "And no. God, no. But hey, first time for everything, right?" He swallowed hard and she stayed close. "We gonna do this, or not?"
She felt his mouth curl up. "Depends. You gonna kick me out the door as soon we're done?"
"Only if you're into that."
His hand reached around to the small of her back and she arched into the touch; it had been a long, long time since anyone had touched her without also being in the middle of trying to kill her and she reveled in the luxury. It was a little taste of before, and while "before" hadn't always been great it was a whole lot better than 'now'. She told herself that was all it was: that she just needed someone to hold onto and he was the best prospect.
That way she didn't have to wonder whether that little murmur had really been a murmur, or him about to say "Buffy" and catching himself. And she could shut up the little voice that said she was only doing this because she was worried that when Summers finally showed up he suddenly wouldn't be able to go through with things, or that when the deed was done he would figure his part was over. None of that mattered if he was just a warm body.
When Faith woke up in the master bedroom tangled in the sheets she refused to think about how relieved she was that he was still there. "Hey."
"Hey yourself." He twirled a strand of her hair around his fingers. "This was probably a really bad idea."
"Yeah, I'm good at those."
He leaned his head back. "Yeah," he echoed, after a long moment. "Me too."
She rolled on top of him, her hair brushing his face. "So let's have another one."
Sometimes the only way to deal with living up to your hips in horror was to close your eyes. Even if only for an hour.
"Give me one reason not to rip out your tongue and beat you with it."
He raises his eyebrows, the fake-innocent look back on his face. "Something wrong?"
She looks down and she's holding the Scythe (her Scythe, she has to remind herself) and she's had just about enough of him. "Why didn't you tell me it was Summers I was after?"
"What difference would that have made? I knew you would figure it out." He leans against the wall, his chain clinking as he moves. "How's it feel, knowing that if you pull this off you'll be the Slayer. The One Girl In All The World, and all that?"
"Yeah, that sounds like the dream of a lifetime."
His grin broadens, his eyes glittering like he's thought of something very, very funny, and Faith feels her shoulders tense. Slayer dreams were a pain in the ass, but they always had a point; she didn't know why she was back in this room, but she knew she's not going to like it. The Scythe feels hot in her hands. "What am I missing here?"
"She's coming. Tomorrow."
"Oh." She wishes she'd managed that with a little more bravado.
"C'mon, you didn't think you and Harris would be able to play house forever, did you?"
"You want me to stab you?
"Fine, fine." He drums his fingers against the wall. "Funny how things worked out, isn't it. You, me. Harris. The three biggest afterthoughts and we're the ones saving the world."
She snorts, her hands on her hips. "Like you did anything, errand boy."
"Yeah, about that." He fingers the dull metal collar around his neck. "My 'masters'" — apparently he's made peace with having to say the word by putting audible air quotes around it — "have me down here so they know where I am. Apparently Wolfram & Hart takes its absenteeism policy very seriously."
"Think I said this before, but yeah, my heart bleeds."
"Do you mind? I'm having a moment here." He shakes his head. "Anyway, like I was saying, they know where I am but they don't keep the closest tabs on what I do."
"So they had nothing to do with giving you the information on how to close the Hellmouths."
"But...you said that it wasn't their plan...."
"Oh, it wasn't. And they'll get around to closing them eventually, I'm sure. I just took some initiative."
"Why the fuck would you do that? You work for demons. Don't buy you as the saving the world type."
"Would you buy petty, indirect revenge?" He smiles, but his eyes are cold. "Summers getting killed would hurt the guy who put me down here more than anything else. Something like that falls in my lap, I'm not missing my chance."
Angel, her brain finally supplies. He's talking about Angel. "So you hustled up this plan just to get back at him for...what, killing you?"
The smile freezes. "No. I'm getting back at him for not killing me." None of that makes any sense to her and it must show on her face, because he shakes his head. "But that's between me and him. The information's good."
"How the fuck am I supposed to believe that?"
He shrugs. "Don't. But Harris sure intends to try and kill her. How do you think he's going to do?" Her mouth tastes like ashes. She can picture very well how he would do. "Let's say everything I've fed you is one big lie. If I hadn't sent you to Sunnydale, he'd still be there. And tomorrow, so will she." He tsks. "That's not a lot of options for you."
She narrows her eyes, then swings her Scythe around in an arc and catches him in the stomach with the blade, the air rushing out of him with a whoosh. "That's for lying." Then she backhands him. "And that's for being a smug son of a bitch about it." It's disturbing that he doesn't bleed. "Whatever Angel did to you, you deserved."
He shakes his head, doubled over and gasping. "Problem is...didn't do anything." He looks up as she turns to leave. "Hey! Hey, I helped you!"
She glances back over her shoulder. "You said you got what you wanted."
"They were going to let the world burn for two hundred years while they put their pieces in place. You're going to just let that go?"
He's trying to bargain but his tone is desperate, pleading. She wonders what his "masters" are going to do when they find out about his creative problem solving and tells herself she doesn't care. Afterthoughts and also-rans. Her free hand balls into a fist. "Tell them that when all the demons are back where they belong, I'm gonna come for them where they live."
She can almost hear his smile as the dream dissolves. "Looking forward to it."
He may have been lying lawyer scum, but Lindsey had been telling the truth about one thing: the next day at dusk Buffy Summers came back to Sunnydale. Faith felt it when she crossed that boundary, a small echo of the burning agony of the Hellmouths opening and tried not to throw up all over the demon she was slicing apart. She didn't quite succeed, but at least by then the thing was dead and no one actually saw it.
Xander took one look at her face and knew it was finally the time. "You don't have to stick around for this, you know."
He picked up a sword they'd found somewhere, the waving tip betraying how hard his hands were shaking. "Yeah, I do. I have to see it."
Now that the token protest was out of the way Faith was glad to have Xander behind her, just to know that she wasn't the only one shaking. They made for the Bronze, one of the first places they'd cleared out and where Faith had insisted the fight take place — if this was going to be her last dance with Buffy Summers, Faith figured that was as good a place as any. She sat down at one of the tables and wished they'd bothered restocking the bar.
Say what you would about Buffy Summers, but the woman didn't keep you waiting. Faith and Xander had been there barely a half hour before the door opened and they heard her heels clicking across the floor. "You know I can smell you guys, right?" she said, her hands on her hips. "Because if this is supposed to be an ambush, that's just kind of sad."
She moved like a panther, the demon filling her with a confidence she'd only been able to fake in life. She swung her head from side to side, testing the air, her arms loose at her side. Faith felt the hairs on her arms rise when Buffy locked her in her gaze. "I heard you're living in my house."
Faith shrugged. "What happened to the whole Slayer sisterhood thing? You used to have all of them packed in there."
Buffy flipped her hair over her shoulder. "You always wanted my life. I shouldn't...." Her voice trailed off as she noticed the Scythe lying across Faith's knees. "You have my Scythe."
Faith drew up into a crouch. "Come get it, bitch."
Buffy charged, her fist aimed squarely at Faith's face, but Faith was ready. She flipped over Buffy and landed on both feet facing her, the Scythe held out in front of her. Buffy spun around to face again, her eyes not taking in anything but the Scythe in Faith's hands.
The momentary distraction let Xander sneak up behind her and pin her arms. "Buff, don't make this any harder than it has to be —"
Before he could get the words out, Buffy flipped him over her shoulder, sending him sailing through the air to crash through a table. "Shut up. The adults are speaking."
Faith tried not to cringe. She'd known deep down that Xander wouldn't be able to go for a kill shot from behind, but just then she really wished he'd pulled it off. It might have been their only chance to catch her off guard. And from how slowly Xander was getting up, Faith knew she was on her own.
The fight began in earnest then, a blur of punches and kicks and jabs. The demon made Buffy fearless and fast, enhancing her reflexes and strength even beyond her native Slayer levels. Faith couldn't keep up; she found herself stumbling backwards, giving ground, and as hard as she tried she couldn't land a telling blow with the Scythe. Buffy caught her with a right cross that made her teeth rattle; before she could recover Buffy swept her legs, knocking her down hard and sending the Scythe sailing through the air. Buffy caught it with a deft, one-handed motion and twirled it. "And I'll take this back now."
Faith couldn't believe she was actually taking the time to gloat. That's when Xander picked his moment; just as she raised the Scythe to take off Faith's head he tackled her, pulling her away from Faith.
She rewarded him with a brutal backhand that drove him to his knees. "I should have killed you back when you gave me the chance."
He wiped the blood away from his lip. "Yeah, probably would have been a good plan."
"Well, don't worry. I'll get around to it as soon as I finish taking out the trash."
He reached out, grabbed the sword from floor where he'd dropped it and thrust up towards her abdomen. "Can't let you do that, Buff."
She was faster. She batted the sword away so hard it broke in half, then drove her boot down on his wrist. Faith winced when she heard the crack. "Sit. Stay."
He screamed when the bone broke, curling up instinctively around the wounded arm. "You know what Willow said when I found her?" he said, the words coming out in gasps. He looked up and Faith had never seen rage like that in someone's eyes. "She said it wasn't your fault. She wanted you to know that she was sorry…that she should have been able to prevent it. Even after everything you did, she still wanted me to find a way to help you. But I can't, can I? This is the only way to do that. And Buffy, deep down you know that."
"Wow." She said it in an awed voice, as if she'd just had a revelation. Then she put the heel of her boot back on his injured wrist and twisted it, laughing. "That's just pathetic. I should've killed you then. At least I wouldn't have had to hear that little speech." She turned back to Faith, ignoring Xander entirely. "And let's finish this. I want to get my nails done later."
Faith had gotten back to her feet and made a desperate grab for the stake. The worst thing was, if this had been just normal Buffy, Faith knew she would have won.
But it wasn't Buffy. This was a creature with Buffy's face and blood-red eyes, sneering with a demon's contempt. Buffy clocked her in the head with the flat of the blade and Faith saw stars. When she hit the ground she didn't bother fighting back the tears. She should have known it would end like this. No matter what she'd tried, no matter what side she was on, she'd never, ever been able to beat Buffy Summers.
Faith saw everything that happened next in slow motion. Xander struggled back to his feet, something shining in his hand; Faith remembered that the reason he'd liked that sword so much in the first place was that it had a tiny, hidden dagger in the hilt. He buried that little knife between Buffy's shoulder blades, wrapping one arm around her waist like a lover. "You were my hero, Buffy. My hero."
The moment's distraction was all Faith needed. She grabbed the Scythe from Buffy's hands and stabbed her just below Angel's cross, feeling the enchanted ash stake punch through bone. Buffy gasped just once as Faith pulled out the Scythe; Xander let her go and she took two steps before falling.
Faith caught her before she hit the ground and watched the red bleed from her eyes. Her gaze flickered from Xander to Faith, clear human tears chasing out the demon bile. Those eyes locked on Faith and she said, in a barely audible whisper, "Thank you." Then she shuddered and took one last, hitching breath.
Faith felt her mind explode. Over one thousand voices screamed in her ears, Slayers upon Slayers upon Slayers screaming and dying behind her eyes. She felt a rush of energy, like a giant hands closing giant doors.
Then she felt nothing.
Someone was shaking her shoulder. Faith dragged her eyes open and saw Xander crouched over her, his one visible eye wide and his mouth tight with pain. "Hey. Hey, you okay?"
She was still a Slayer. She felt the power, felt in flowing purer somehow. The only one. She relived the horrible clip show of death for a second and wanted to go to sleep forever.
She'd felt the Hellmouths close but there would still be demons. A whole world of demons and vampires, and just her. The only girl in all the world.
"Faith, talk to me. You okay? How do you feel?"
She looked at Xander, cradling his broken wrist and trying not to show how much it hurt. She was the Slayer. She had a Watcher. That would have to do. She had to swallow a few times before she could speak. "Five by five."
He didn't call her on the lie. "We should go. Company's probably coming."
Faith nodded. "Then let's move. The bad guys aren't going to slay themselves. And we need to patch you up."
The sun was just rising as they limped out of the Bronze. Later that night they would burn it down, give Buffy Summers a proper pyre, but for the moment she just breathed deep, taking in the town.
Her town. Not much, but it was a start. "So, once we clear this place out where should we go?"
He cocked one eyebrow. "I hear L.A.'s in some kind of hell dimension."
Faith smiled. He hadn't corrected the "we." "Sounds like our kind of place." She strapped the Scythe to her back. Okay, so not just her. A whole world of demons versus two.
She could live with those kinds of odds.