In the lead

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

Author Notes: Spoiler for episode 39 of Buffy. After the latest death, Faith deals in her own way.

Faith hadn't known it would happen, but she should have. She should have realized what Giles was trying to say as well as what he actually said, for he had made himself quite clear, had she only been really listening…he had been trying to give her a message that Faith had failed to receive, to even recognize. And the consequences of that were as severe as any other…this was one of her greatest mistakes in a lifetime's worth of failures and fuck-ups, maybe even the greatest.

She should have seen it…she should have understood. She should have heard it in the urgent way he called her name, insisting upon her full attention, her full focus. She should have heard it in the intensity of his voice as he asked her for the scythe in her hands, a scythe he had never even touched before to her knowledge, and certainly never demanded she surrender in the midst of a battle. A scythe that felt as if it had been made for Faith, but could only belong to her for a few moments, moments when it was not grasped in Buffy's hands. She should have seen it in the look in his eyes as they bore into hers, in the serious darkness of his gaze that was too resolved, too resolute… too finished. A look that was that of a goodbye. And she should have felt it in the firm weight of his hand clasping her shoulder, in the pressure of his squeezing just a little too long, a little too tightly, as if he were savoring that last moment of physical contact, the last chance of emotional connection. She should have known. Giles had told her as much as was possible without actually speaking the words aloud.

And Faith had not understood. She had turned to him with some disappointment, even with some resentment, for it had seemed to her that Giles's words, Giles's request, were a validation of what some part of her had always known and feared. It was Buffy he was concerned about, Buffy who was first and foremost in his mind, and it was Buffy, not Faith, who needed, deserved, owned, and would ultimately wield the Slayer scythe. Even now, after their estrangement and his and Faith's time together, working in a partnership of equals, even now, after all they'd been through together and the battles and experiences they had shared that Buffy had been no part of…even now, it was still Buffy who Giles thought of as the lead, the ultimate Slayer, the chief in command, his golden girl.

But she had been wrong. That had not been Giles's thoughts or intentions at all. It was Faith he had been trusting, and Buffy that he had not… he had given his life for Buffy, to provoke what he had known she could not be spurred towards without his sacrifice. But it was Faith who he had had confidence could stand alone…it was Faith he had entrusted with the authority to lead.

Xander had had a lot to report when he returned with a shattered, nearly catatonic Buffy in tow, almost carrying her stumbling weight. The loss of magic…the hysteria of Willow as she lost her connection to the demon snake lady whose name even now Faith could not remember…the destruction of the Master and the seed…the return of Angel to evil and then good again, presumably, with the seed's loss…but none of that registered to Faith, for all paled in comparison to Xander's last statement, spoken through lowered gaze, a shaking tone, and glistening eyes. Giles was dead. Among the dead Slayers of the battle, another fatality could be added…Giles was dead.

Faith heard Buffy's sobs as disconnected sounds in the distance, crackling like static in her ears. She saw Xander's hand reach out to her in slow motion, and jerked her head to the side, pulling back from his touch; she could handle no one now, no matter how well intended their gestures. With abrupt movements she fled the room, slamming the door behind her and locking it as she blindly entered her sleeping quarters.

Standing rigid in the center of the room, a slow tremor spread through her torso until she was visibly shaking, shivering from head to toe. Faith gritted her teeth, tensed her jaw, and knotted her fists at her sides in an effort to stem the emotion building steadily inside her. Shock, disbelief, and pain rose steadily in her chest, closing over her throat, heating her blood, burning behind her eyes…but most of all, in that moment, she felt rage…rage, and a sense of betrayal that temporarily overrode even guilt and pain.

She couldn't stop thinking of Giles, couldn't keep his face from standing firmly at center in her mind's eye. She saw the sheepish look in his eyes as he lowered his head, cleaning his glasses in response to one of her insinuative comments, and the murderous, protective stare of his gaze as he looked Rodin the dark sorcerer in his eyes and commanded him to burst. She saw the stunned hunching of his posture and the slight smile curving his lips as she stood before him in her green heiress dress, a smile that told him more than words that he found her not only attractive or sexy, but beautiful. She saw his gentle smile aimed her way, the crinkle near his eyes when he laughed, the set of his jaw as he fought at her side, eyes focused on the kill. She felt his light touch on her back, between her shoulder blades, on her forearm, saw a certain glint in his eyes that conveyed pride and respect without ever speaking it aloud…she heard him say to her that she was strong, that he trusted her. And though he never said it in words, Faith realized then as she stood motionless in the small locked room that Giles had loved her, in some way. Not like Buffy, not like any way that either could probably define…but he had loved her.

And she had given him the scythe. She had handed it over without question, without trying to stop him, when she could have prevented him from doing it, could have stopped it, could have saved him. She had handed over the scythe, and now Giles was dead.

Something shattered around Faith's heart, and without having any sort of conscious control over herself, she exploded. Seizing the bed behind her, she stripped it of its pillow and sheets and blanket, ripping them to the floor so viciously they tore. She flung the mattress as well, then seized the bed frame, breaking it into pieces in several violent snaps and throwing the parts against the wall so hard they broke through the other side. When this was not enough she overturned the dresser and kicked the lamp to the floor, reveling in the tinkle of breaking glass and crunching metal frames. She systematically destroyed everything in the room that she could lay her hands on, all without uttering a sound, letting the breaking items voice her pain.

When Faith finally brought her destructive frenzy to a halt, her head was throbbing steadily at the temples, her heart hammering hard in her chest, her chest heaving as she struggled to breathe evenly. She realized dully that there were tears trickling down her cheeks, wetting the sides of her hair and gathering at the base of her neck. She could still distinctly feel Giles's hand clasped on her shoulder, the sound of his voice as he told her to lead, and she slowly wiped her face, setting her jaw.

She had no idea where the others stood now, and frankly, she didn't care. She knew where she stood. She knew how she was needed.

Giles had wanted her to lead…well that was damn well what she was going to do, then. Faith wasn't going anywhere.