Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.
Author notes: Takes place about a year or so post Chosen.
The news came in via Willow, over the intercom/computer screen setup they had recently installed in the Slayer headquarters. They had been in the middle of one of their bi-monthly meetings, Slayers, Watchers, and Slayers-in-training all, when Willow's face appeared suddenly on the screen, her eyes shadowed with sadness, her voice somber as she relayed the latest update relevant to them in their gathering.
Robin Wood was dead. He had been the head of Slayer Division Four for nearly the entire eighteen months since the fall of Sunnydale, and one of the several leading Watchers of the entire headquarters. He had gone on an individual mission in Africa for several months now, maintaining steady, if not frequent, contact.
But now here was Willow's voice, Willow's sorrowful gaze, proclaiming him to be gone, and as the news sank in, the room went still and silent with shock.
Heads bowed, shoulders slumped, eyes closed, and several of the younger Slayers' eyes shone with tears. Buffy was distantly aware of this as she drew in a sharp breath, her eyes casting to the side, stomach twisting with her partly angry, partly sad, not entirely stunned acceptance of the news. There had been so many deaths as of late that she could not seem to properly respond to each of them. It no longer seemed abnormal and surreal for others to die, but rather almost normal, almost an expected part of life.
But others were newer, others were younger and more impressionable and had not yet come face to face with their own mortality- and even lost the battle on occasion- as Buffy had, or at least not with the same frequency and intensity. So even as she spoke with Willow, gathering facts, arranging for the delivery of the body for a proper ceremony, Buffy was casting her eyes subtly about the room, checking on the others' reactions with some concern even as she herself struggled to process Willow's words.
As her eyes came to rest on Faith, sitting diagonally from her at the long conference table, Buffy stopped, her stomach sinking, eyes widening involuntarily as it occurred to her that Faith in particular must experience Robin's loss as a blow. The other half of the original Chosen Two had dated Robin for nearly a year after Sunnydale had become craterized- her first relationship that was in any way approaching serious, or at least lasting more than one or two nights, since Buffy had known her, at least, as far as she knew. There could have been something when Faith was in prison, she guessed, but if there was, Buffy didn't want to know about it, let alone gain unwanted mental images that would crop up at unexpected moments to torture her whenever they decided to.
Buffy and several others had been impressed and somewhat startled by that; after all, not only was Faith not someone they would have pegged as ever wanting any form of continuous, monogamous relationships, but a high school dropout with a high school principal? It sounded like a joke. Buffy hadn't been surprised when they broke up and started avoiding each other- only that it had lasted as long as it had.
Faith had been pretty close-mouthed about the reasons for their break up afterward, and as curious as Buffy was, she had reluctantly refrained from prying. It wasn't her business, and Faith would have likely clammed up anyway. But whatever had happened between them, Buffy knew they had cared for each other. So when her eyes came to rest on Faith, she subconsciously inhaled, uncertainty and sympathy both pressing against her chest. However Faith was going to respond, she must be in pain.
Faith was very still, barely seeming to breathe. Her hands on the table top were gripping each other so hard the knuckles were whitening, and her eyes darkened slowly, her skin paling. There was no expression on her face, and that quickly increased Buffy's worry. An emotional Faith could be scary, dangerous…but an emotional Faith who was trying to keep her emotion from emerging could result in severe consequences.
As Buffy faltered inwardly, wondering if she should say something, make a move towards her, Faith's eyes met hers, catching her watching her. Some faint color flooded her cheeks, a muscle in her jaw twitched, and without a word she got to her feet, shoving her chair back roughly and almost running out the door.
Several people jumped at her sudden, jerky movements, and they looked towards Faith's retreating back, then at Buffy, as if asking her what to do. Buffy stared after Faith's fast retreating form, her eyebrows drawing together with both concern and indecision. The truth was that she was unsure of which instinct of hers was the correct one to follow.
Faith's leaving so rapidly indicated that she wanted to be alone, and undoubtedly the woman would say as much if asked, in no uncertain terms. And it wasn't like Buffy was so skilled in the art of how to comfort her- or like anyone else was, for that matter. They were no longer enemies, by any sense of the word, she and Faith, nor did they even dislike each other. If anything, they'd come to an understanding as allies and co workers, maybe even a mutual cautious affection. But Buffy suspected they would never be able to be best friends, even if they had become like family in a way. There was too much tension always present to some level, even when nothing but friendly interactions occurred. Even with the passage of time there would always be a slight remaining unease between them that would never allow them to draw as close to each other as they might, to totally break down all walls and defenses.
Not that Faith did that anyway. But with Buffy it was a definite no go. And if Buffy followed her now it would be more of the same. She'd be lucky to escape with all her limbs intact.
Buffy knew that following Faith would yield little in the way of positive results. She knew she should leave her alone, for at least a while, processing in her own way and time. She knew all this when she used logic, but another, equally strong urge inside her told her to follow Faith, to not let her go off alone…an urge Buffy usually disregarded, but could not seem to do so now. After several moments of remaining in her seat, indecisive, she too stood up abruptly and called hastily over her shoulder even as she made her way to the door.
"I'll be right back. I'll just…check on her…"
No one tried to stop her, though had she taken the time to look, she would have seen the resignation on everyone's faces and known they all thought she would get her ass kicked. Xander in particular looked apprehensive, Kennedy almost smirking even as her dark eyes remained troubled; Buffy didn't see or care, but simply hurried towards the building's front exit, calling Faith's name.
She caught sight of her as she reached the front door. Faith was fumbling for the doorknob, head lowered so that her hair obscured her face, and Buffy called her again, coming closer. "Faith! Faith, wait!"
Ignoring her, Faith opened the door, beginning to step outside, and Buffy moved to catch the door and come up alongside her, trying again.
"Faith…Faith, stop. I want to talk to you."
"Go away, Buffy," Faith ground out, jaw clinched, face focused straight ahead as she took big strides forward, her hands shoved deeply into her jacket pockets. Buffy followed, taking in a slightly frustrated breath, and caught up to her.
"Faith…come on, Faith. I-"
"I said go away," Faith repeated tersely, still not turning to acknowledge her. Slightly irritated now, but persistent, Buffy said her name again, this time grabbing her arm.
"Faith. Come on, listen-"
But Faith spun on her, eyes sparking, her face tensed and vivid with anger, aggression heavily marking her posture. She yanked her arm violently from Buffy's grasp, almost spitting out the words of her reply.
"BACK THE FUCK OFF OF ME, BUFFY!"
Without waiting to see Buffy's response, she started off again, almost running. For a couple of seconds Buffy didn't move, stunned by the vehemence of her reaction. Then as a coil of anger went through her, she took off after her, not only catching up with her, but surpassing and stopping in front of her. Faith tried to push past her to continue, but Buffy wouldn't let her, standing firmly, trying to force Faith to meet her eyes as her voice rose.
"No! No, Faith, you can't do that. You are NOT going to take this out on me, and you are NOT going to ignore me. Be pissed off all you want- at life, at what or whoever killed him, be pissed at Robin himself if you want, but don't you dare get pissed off at me. This has nothing to do with me. I'm trying to talk to you. I'm trying to help you."
"Yeah, HELP. Trying to HELP me, because you're so damn good at that, right, B?" Faith shot back, gesturing, and Buffy crossed her arms, her defenses immediately rising.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what I just said," Faith snapped, and she was looking directly at Buffy now, not trying to get around her, not trying to avoid her gaze, but fixing smoldering dark eyes directly on hers, anger radiating off her form without her needing to move. "Yeah, you are just SO helpful, B, that's all you do, isn't it? Help others, sacrifice for man, save the world every time you breathe, yeah, we all know all about the great and HELPFUL Buffy Summers. Don't try to give me the story about dying for the world-"
"I did die for the world!" Buffy blurted out in spite of her initial intentions not to rise to the other woman's bait, indignant, and Faith laughed with sarcasm rather than humor.
"Bullshit, B, you died for YOU, because you couldn't have lived with yourself if you let Dawn die. That was for you above all others, not the world, not your friends, not even Dawn, that was for you, Buffy!"
Don't answer that, Buffy told herself quickly, even as a hot retort rose to her lips that she was barely able to choke back in time. Don't answer…deep breath. She's trying to push you away, piss you off…don't let her. Don't give in.
"Faith, you are out of line," she said as evenly as possible, holding Faith's eyes with hers. "You have no right to attack me like that. I'm just concerned about you. I'm just trying to help-"
"No!" Faith almost yelled, and she was moving closer to her now, standing over her in a threatening manner, her face too close, invading Buffy's comfort zone. Her eyebrows drew down sharply over her nose as she continued, forceful, voice raised. "No, YOU have no right to do anything, YOU have no right to try to help with anything! You can't help with shit, you can't help anyone, just ask your sister, ask Spike, ask ANGEL! All the help of Buffy Summers does is fuck things up for the rest of us, so no fuckin' thank you!"
Without intending it, Buffy's hands shot out and she seized Faith's shoulders, gripping them hard enough to break the bones of the average person and probably to bruise even Faith. She gave her one rough shake, barely stopping herself from slapping her across the face, and hissed through her teeth at her, her face as close to Faith's as Faith's had been to hers, acutely aware of the fury fueling her blood.
"What are you talking about, Faith? If you're so damn pissed off here, if you think you're such a victim, then why don't you come out with whatever it is you're thinking instead of hiding behind other people's names?"
She had told herself to stay calm, but that was out the window now as she and Faith glowered at each other, refusing to move, Faith refusing to react with pain, and Faith's voice was as rough as hers when she replied.
"What am I talking about? It's right there, B, you said it! You're just so damn concerned, you're so damn helpful, you're Little Miss Mother Teresa, aren't you? Help, help, help, that's all you want to do is help! But the first sign it's not gonna work out as good or as fast as you like, the first sign that we don't fall over ourselves with gratitude for you, and you're done, you're outta there, you stand there ready to hit us while we're down! Yeah, B, you're so helpful, thank you very fuckin' much for being so HELPFUL!"
Buffy was still standing close enough to her to be very much invading the other girl's comfort zone, though she didn't indicate as such; her hands were still gripping her shoulders, and she had an urge to deck her in the face, to throw her to the ground and just start hurting her…an action that had occurred between them in the past more times than she could remember. But as incensed as she was at Faith's words, she saw something flicker in her eyes, a brief revelation of her pain, and she was able to stop herself. Taking a deep breath, she took her time to respond, struggling to keep her voice even, and relaxed her hands on her shoulders.
"Faith…I know you're hurting. I know-"
"You don't know shit, B," Faith snapped, eyes flashing, and Buffy reacted before she could stop herself, her hands tightening on Faith's shoulders instinctively.
"Don't even start, Faith, you are not the first person on the planet to lose someone you cared about!"
"Oh, like YOU cared about Robin, like you ever gave a shit?" Faith challenged, and Buffy continued to defy her previous vows to herself to not rejoin her accusations.
"Of course I did! He was-"
"He was your cast-off, Buffy, he was your leftovers, the man too beneath you to fuck because he wasn't dead and panting at the scent of your blood! Don't give me that bullshit about how you lost him too- you never wanted him! You don't know shit about what it is to lose ANYONE, B, so don't try to give me your take when you don't know what the hell you're talking about!" Faith almost screamed, and her face was close enough to Buffy's to fleck spittle on her cheek.
For Buffy, this was the last straw. To hear Faith, of all people, talking to her like this…to hear her say that SHE of all people didn't know what it was to lose someone, that she was selfish, seeking recognition for her efforts rather than simply doing things because it was the right thing to do…well, any thoughts of calm self-control were shoved aside. Still gripping Faith, she abruptly spun them both down to the floor sharply. Caught off guard, Faith hit hard enough to knock her head on the floor and gasped, stunned. Buffy used the opportunity to straddle her, as much to unconsciously assert her dominance as a practical measure to keep her from getting up, and when Faith started to struggle, she decked her in the nose, taking some shamed but strong satisfaction when blood spurted.
"I lost everything, Faith," she hissed, almost into the other girl's ear, still holding her down, her face very close. Watching the blood flow steadily down Faith's chin and over her nose, making no effort to help staunch it or even allow Faith to, she continued. "I lost my home, my friends, my father, my chance at a higher education, a normal life or job, a chance to have a life about me and what I want instead of what the world needs. I lost my Watcher, Angel, Spike, Riley…I lost my mother, Faith. I lost my LIFE. Don't you dare stand there and tell me that I don't care what happened to Robin or that I don't understand what it is to lose someone. Don't even try to go there."
Buffy could feel Faith's chest heaving under hers, her heart pounding rapidly. Though Faith was not struggling to get off her anymore, her muscles were taut beneath Buffy, and she was clearly enraged. Her eyes were almost black as they burned into Buffy's, and she screamed back at her with an uncontrolled emotion that had not been present before with a rawness that froze Buffy in the face of her pain…a pain that only now was she unable to keep back any longer from plainly displaying itself in her expression.
"No, you don't know, Buffy Summers! It's not the same! That is not the same, none o f them is the same! They loved you, you always had that, you'll always have that, no matter how many times you lose them, you HAD them, they were YOURS, they were yours and they loved you, fuckin' loved you, and you knew it- KNEW IT! And you always had a million more people standing right there, ready to take over and love you too, you always had that, YOU HAVE ALWAYS HAD THAT! It doesn't matter how many you lose because you always still have a village left to be there in their place! Don't you tell me you fuckin' know, because you don't, you don't know! I don't have that, I never fuckin' had that! I lose everyone I ever loved, everyone who ever gave a damn about me, and no one pops up to take their place, no one is there to fuckin' HELP me, they're just gone, fuckin' gone! I lose them before they even die, they're gone before they're even GONE! Mom, Dad, Legs, Ronnie, Steve, Kenny, Diana, that stupid Post woman, Wilkins, Angel, even you guys, everyone who ever crosses my path, everyone I'm ever stupid enough to love, everyone! And now him, him too, fuckin' lost him, before he was even fuckin' dead I lost him just like the rest, just like always, and NO you don't get it, you do not understand!"
She was shaking now, glaring up at Buffy so hard that her eyes were slits, and her heart was pounding so loudly and rapidly Buffy could feel it through her clothes. A thin trickle of blood continued to leak through her nose, and as Buffy observed this, staring down at her, she was suddenly wracked with guilt and pity, with a sudden sobering calm that extinguished her previous ire.
What Faith was saying was not entirely true. Buffy wasn't even sure who half the people were that had made the list Faith had rattled off so rapidly, and she certainly didn't know the story behind them. Buffy did know and understand loss and pain, of course; it had become a large part of her life and identity. But Faith was correct in a way…because, Buffy realized slowly, she couldn't understand what Faith's pain and Faith's loss was to Faith herself. Only Faith could do that, and it was likely that even she could not understand it.
As Buffy looked down at Faith, this new realization dawning slowly, she felt her sympathy and pity that had sparked earlier grow until she bit her lip, almost unable to look straight into the depth of hurting she saw in Faith's eyes. She thought about rolling off of her, helping her to her feet, but then thought that Faith might run. If she continued to pin her, to talk to her as she was now, maybe she could get her to really hear.
She remained sitting on top of Faith, but she softened her voice, and her squeezing of Faith's shoulders was gentle affection now rather than a way to hurt and subdue.
"Faith," she started softly, and Faith bristled, as though sensing this change in her attitude and feeling considerably more threatened by it.
"No! Don't even…back the hell off, B!"
"Faith," Buffy insisted, her voice rising slightly, looking directly into her eyes so that she couldn't turn her face away. She was very aware of the other woman's proximity, of the warm, taut flesh beneath her, of Faith's breasts occasionally brushing hers, with particular harsh breaths, but she struggled to ignore it, to remain totally focused. "Faith…there are people here for you now, if you let them be. " I'm here, if you'll let me be. That's what I was trying to do…that's what I'm trying to do now."
"Stop it," Faith ground out, her words harsh, but even as she started to try to sit up, to push Buffy away, Buffy saw a shift in her expression that she couldn't yet decipher. "Get off me."
"No," Buffy said simply, and she tightened her hold on Faith, not to hurt her or even to show her dominance now, but simply to keep her in place, to keep her in front of her, to keep her looking her in the eyes. She was acting on instinct, on the feeling that if she could make Faith unable to stop looking at her, to run away from her touch and presence, somehow she could help…somehow she could force her to eventually accept it from her.
"Go away," Faith repeated, her words noticeably terse now, body tensing further, heart rate speeding faster, and when Buffy denied her again the same quiet but unyielding turn, she began to scream, suddenly thrashing against Buffy's hold.
"Go away, get off me, go away, get off me, get off me!"
It took most of Buffy's strength and all of her determination to hold Faith down, and to prevent herself from being hit, kicked, or bitten badly enough to make her let go. By the time Faith finally gave up and let herself fall back limply against the floor, both were panting, sweating, hair hanging in their faces and over each other's shoulders, and blood from Faith's noise spattered on their arms, chests, faces, and neck. As limply as Faith held herself, Buffy didn't release her, wary that she was merely faking her out and would let go the minute Buffy loosed her grasp on her.
For a long while neither spoke. When Faith's voice came, it was small, soft, and so choked with emotion that Buffy's throat ached at the sound of it.
Buffy looked down at her, swallowing against the constriction in her throat, taking in the wrinkle in Faith's brow, the dampness standing in her eyes, feeling her tremble beneath her. She looked at her with a love that she had never truly known before towards her, never truly felt for her as she responded. The love she had for her friends, for her family, for her sister. She looked at her and hoped her face said everything words did not.
For several moments Faith looked back at her, and all was still. And then her chest heaved under Buffy's with a shuddering sigh, and the first tears, held so fiercely in check, spilled out. As sobs soon joined and she gave into the emotion she had shoved back, her body trembling in jerky shivers beneath Buffy's, Buffy bit her lip, slowly softening her grasp on her to become a gentle touch rather than a restraint.
She might not understand, but she could be there. And that, she suspected, was what Faith really needed…maybe what she had needed from the start.