Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.
Author notes: This is actually based on a very vivid dream I had recently (the last chapter is, anyway). It will only be a few chapters long, probably only 2-3.
It wasn't the end of the world, in a literal sense. The majority of humans' daily lives remained unaffected, and most had not even so much as heard of the loss. It wasn't the literal end of the world…so far. But it was the end of Faith's world…and to her, there was little difference between the two.
If Faith had been asked to choose who would be the last standing of the Scooby gang of Sunnydale and the Fang gang of LA, she would never have selected herself to be among them. She'd had too many close calls, too many incidents of disregard for her own life, had less than other to keep her invested in a long-range survival. Even before becoming a Slayer, Faith had never expected to live past thirty; once she was called, her life expectancy dropped to lower than twenty. She had always envisioned herself going down in a furious battle of good versus evil, giving back as good as she got, though she hadn't always been sure which side of the battle she would be fighting for. But however hard she fought, at some point, she would fall, and Buffy, as usual, would take the lead.
She would never have named herself a final survivor, and she certainly wouldn't have named Giles. But here they stood, the last of the Scoobies, though Faith had never really been one of them in full…the last of the Fang Gang, though she had never been truly one of them either. The last of those who were aware of and battling the unseen evil of the world and those beyond it…the last with the true knowledge of what Sunnydale was, and the memories of how it had been.
Faith was the last of the Slayers, the only one left alive. And she would have given anything, gladly surrendered this survival, just to let Buffy take over the imaginary throne…to let Buffy take her place.
And though he never said so, would never imply it in any way, she suspected that Giles harbored an identical desire. That when he looked even briefly into her eyes, he saw not hers, but those of three dozen dying Slayers, bright with pain as they pleaded for comfort in the wake of their slowly approaching deaths. That when he saw her, he could not help but wonder why they alone…why Faith, of all the Slayers…was spared, while all others suffered, one by one.
Faith may have been spared her life, but she, unlike the others, continued to suffer. Each day was a struggle to survive, not because of direct physical threats, but because of the effort it often took simply to continue to breathe.
She was the last of the Slayers. But her survival did not seem to Faith an act of sparing, so much as a different type of condemnation.
Faith would never have thought it possible for the end of Slayers to be brought about by the hands of humans. But raw strength and power was not everything, and in the grand scheme of things, ultimately meant nothing in the face of paranoia, ignorance, and fear residing in humans with advanced technological skills and a calculating plan of actions against their chosen targets: slayers, witched, and all other beings of supernatural powers. Unfortunately, rather than targeting demons and soulless vampires, a goal that would better the world and lessen Faith's and the others' workload, the chosen targets had been the newly formed Watcher/Slayer headquarters…home of 35 slayers from varying origins, including Buffy, Faith, Kennedy, Vi, and Rona, 15 Watchers and Watchers in training, including Giles, Dawn, Willow, Xander, and others who worked with them closely, including Angel, Spike, and Illyria, the only survivors of LA's final battle.
It had been just over a year since Giles had used his somewhat illegally obtained funds from the former Watcher's Council to build a new and improved foundation based much more heavily upon the needs of the newly called Slayers and training new Watchers. Slayers could elect to board there or to come in for lessons and training as they would to school, and the majority elected to stay.
In a year's time, they had really been pulling together as a school, a team…and really, as an extended family of sorts. As co-head Slayer, along with Buffy, Faith had been beginning to enjoy her role as a teacher and tactical leader of the newer Slayers, finding it very ironic and amusing how they looked at her as a role model…but also kind of touching. Like she wanted to prove to them that she could be. She had just been starting to enjoy herself, to really feel at home, like she finally had a place and a purpose. Hell, she was even getting along with ANDREW most of the time…and for once in their entire very screwy history with each other, she and Buffy were becoming friends. No…not just friends, she and Buffy had finally managed to resolve, mature, and FORGIVE enough to become not just friends…family.
Of course, everyone had their issues and tensions, because nothing was ever perfect- and if it ever got to that point, Faith could be damn sure it was due to some spell of Willow's going wrong as they did every few months or so. But it was as close as Faith had ever experienced, and she had been happy. They all had been.
Until three young women, who they had figured out in retrospect were only posing as Slayers, came to check the place out and received a full tour, before each never returned again, all within a few days of each other…until each returned in the night, from what they were able to piece together, and set up the powerfully deadly bombs that had been set off to a massively destructive effect the following morning. Until their public statement of motive on the hijacked private Watcher station, proclaiming the righteousness of their actions, their "greater affiliation and unity" with others from "the four corners of the earth," and their intention to continue "if made necessary."
The damages wreaked by the bombs were devastating in and of themselves. Of the 42 people living in the Watcher/Slayer headquarters, 22 were killed outright in the explosion, and 7 were critically injured. Some, like Willow and Kennedy, were in close range of the planted bombs and died immediately; others, like Andrew and Vi, suffered longer, agonizing deaths, injured by falling walls or buried under rubble before help could arrive. The roof was blown off the building's walls, an entire wall collapsing in on itself- and as a result, both Angel and Spike, exposed to sunlight but trapped by the destruction around them from seeking shelter, had been killed as well.
The bombing, and the massive loss of lives and safe shelter, had been terrible and crushing enough on its own- more so because the identities and extent of all responsible could not be known, and the media and law actively avoided pursuing its culprits. But then the virus started, and the hell they were facing stepped it up to new levels of horror.
When it first began, about two days after the bombing, everyone thought it was a normal bug, intensified by grief and stress. It was only Xander and Rona, at first, and everyone assumed…everyone had been SURE…that it would run its course, like any other illness. That they would get better, and eventually, somehow, they would manage to get through the terrible aftermath of the deaths.
But Xander and Rona did not get better; in fact, with every passing day they suffered more, and soon everyone around them was falling ill as well. And within a week's time, everyone knew…the deaths had only just begun with the bombing.
The illness seemed slight at first- hardly more than a bad case of the flu. Chills, fever, runny eyes and nose, vomiting, headaches…but then the symptoms progressed so dramatically and with such intensity that the sick were in constant anguish, spasming in pain and delirium. By the end they were clawing at their own skin, while they still had the strength to do so, coughing up black bile mingled with blood, and bleeding from every orifice of their bodies. It was a slow, terrible, agonizing death, and nothing anyone did seemed to lessen their agony…nothing they could think of could provide a cure.
Within two weeks, eight more people were dead, and all others remaining of those who had not fled, in a likely vain attempt to outrun the infection, were ill…all, except for Faith and Giles. It had been Giles's estimate that something in their individual physiological makeups must cause them to be immune to the virus, and their continued health in the face of all others' suffering did not disprove him. Some might have called their immunity a blessing. For Faith and Giles, remaining physically well in the face of their dying peers was merely an alternate hell from the one the inflicted were enduring.
Over the three weeks it took for all the afflicted's suffering to finally come to an end, Giles shared with Faith, in a rare moment of rest, that he was nearly certain that the virus's origin was from the bombing. He believed that the bomb's interiors must have contained something similar to anthrax, designed to reproduce itself in oxygen and spread rapidly into the air to enter one's bloodstream. As with his estimation of Faith's and his own immunity, there was no evidence to disprove him, nor did Faith have any desire to. She didn't care what was making everyone so sick. All she cared about was finding a way to make it stop, and finding and killing whoever was responsible for their pain.
But by the end of nine days, neither was possible. No doctor seemed to have a clue what to do or how to help- and since every doctor that braved entering the still-dilapidated building fell ill as well, soon no others dared approach. With so many ill and needing tending to, Faith and Giles had very little time to so much as eat, sleep, or shower, let alone research any possible means of reversing the illness, or wasting time looking for those responsible, who would very likely have no means for a cure even if they tortured them to the point of death with Willow deceased and no other known people skilled in magic or witchcraft at their disposal, it was all Faith and Giles could do to run from bedside to bedside, trying in vain to keep the ill clean, comforted, and hydrated, to do all possible to ease their pain in their prolonged deaths.
In this time, Faith could barely eat, could not sleep for more than an hour or two at a time. She was so stressed and anxious that the smallest sound made her jump, and when she wasn't moving, her legs trembled with weariness, barely holding her up. Every time she closed her eyes, she still saw the torment on their faces, smelled the slowly rotting scent of their skin, mingled with the bitter odor of their blood. Her pulse remained unceasingly high, no matter how gently and calmly she spoke to the afflicted, and no matter how far from them she removed herself, their cries of anguish echoed in her ears. Looking at Giles, at the haggardness of his features, the darkness blanking his eyes, at the way the clothes he wore for days at a time sagged on his frame with the weight he had lost, wrinkled and stained, was like looking at a reflection of how she herself must appear, and Faith always shifted her eyes away. There was a constant pressure constricting her heart, tightening in her chest, but until the very end, Faith could not have release through tears.
Buffy was the last to become ill, and until the end of the second week she had been right there with Faith and Giles, helping them care for the others. For a time they had hoped she too was immune…but then she too had become ill. And as the others died all around them, one by one, day by day, eventually only Buffy remained. Buffy had died twice before…somehow, it seemed morbidly fitting that she would be the last to go now.
Faith had been through hell on countless occasions. But the day that Buffy died for a final time, breathing her last in her arms, was unquestionably the darkest moment of her lifetime.
"Why…why is it so dark?"
Beneath the thin sheets of her bed, Buffy twitched, her jaw grimacing involuntarily, and let out a pained moan as another harsh spasm rolled down the length of her spine. She was sweating heavily, but her face was almost drained of all color, her skin clammy to the touch. Faith wanted to wrap her in blankets to try to still her shaking, to keep her warm, but all the blankets were so badly stained they were beyond use, and they had had no opportunity to wash them…and try as she might to keep Buffy clean and comfortable, her illness had progressed to the point that it was impossible. All Faith could do was be there with her in her final moments, to make sure that her last living sister Slayer, the other half of the original Chosen Two, would not be alone in her suffering for a single moment of it.
Buffy Summers was dying…Faith had witnessed the signs enough by now to know when death wasn't far away. And the worst of it all, was there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop it. In the face of natural deaths, even ones caused by unnatural interference, she was entirely useless, entirely helpless.
And she had never hated herself for her inadequacy so much in her life.
"Dark," Buffy repeated fretfully, her voice hoarse, as another sharp spasm came over her, her breath coming in rattling, effortful gasps, her sunken chest rising and falling sharply.
Her once bright eyes were dull, glazed with feverish pain and confusion, and her hair hung in damp, limp tendrils around her sharply defined cheekbones, the dark roots greasy. Blood trickled out the corner of her eyes, one side of her nose, down the base of her neck from ear, and when she tried to take deep breaths, little flecks of blood spilled over her nearly white lips. Her pain was stark and terrible to see, and standing beside her in her bed, tightly gripping her hand in a hopeless effort to provide comfort and support, Faith had to force herself not to look away, not to run screaming from the room, beating and kicking down every remaining wall of the place in furious protest against the cruelty of what she was witnessing.
She didn't want Buffy to die. But she could hardly endure watching her suffer for any longer. Physically well she might be, but staying by her side, Faith felt like something deep inside her was dying too.
"It's…it's night time, is all," Faith told her softly as she stroked Buffy's sweaty hair back from her face with her free hand, then wiped her face carefully with the end of the sheet, trying to clean it of the blood still emerging, slow but steady, from each of her body's openings.
The room was actually brightly lit by several lamps, and it was the middle of the day, but there was no need to worry Buffy about her failing eyesight…not this close to the end.
"Don't worry, B…it's just night, that's all…"
"Have to…fight," Buffy rasped, more dark blood slipping past her lips, and she coughed, her entire body tensing and then shuddering with the pain this brought her, her weak grip on Faith's hand tightening briefly before growing limp again. "Things…out there…h-have to…"
"No you don't, I've got it covered," Faith reassured her as calmly as she could, even as her heart pounded wildly, her throat choking over so much it was hard to form words.
She found herself thinking distantly that at least one good thing existed about Buffy's failing vision…it meant she couldn't see the fear and emotion that Faith was certain must be starkly obvious in her eyes.
"You don't have to worry about anything," Faith continued in her effort to soothe, and she noticed that her hand was shaking as she kept combing her fingers through the tangles of Buffy's hair. She swallowed hard, briefly closing her eyes as she stilled her hand, fiercely forcing herself to regain control. "It's…it's all taken care of…you just try to rest, okay."
But Buffy didn't seem to hear her, or maybe she didn't understand. She coughed again, weaker this time, barely able to draw breath to do so, and as more blood dripped from lips, nose, and eyes, Faith gritted her teeth so harshly she heard them grinding as she carefully wiped the other woman's face again, not releasing her hand at the same time. Her stomach flipped sickeningly, and though it was illogical, she was furious at Giles. When the FUCK was he going to get back?
It had been less than an hour ago that he had left to get food, clean clothes, and sheets for Buffy, and the strongest painkillers he could find, anything that might help to ease her agony even slightly. With only Buffy left to care for, she and Giles had worked in shifts, attempting to give the other occasional respite to sleep, eat, or shower, but as neither could do so or felt like leaving Buffy's side, it hadn't been working out so well unless they outright left the building. Faith had been the one to insist Giles go; when he had left, Buffy had either been sleeping or unconscious, but not in immediate need of care of in intense pain, as far as they could tell. Giles had promised he would be back as quickly as possible, and Faith had assumed it was okay for him to go, that Buffy's death was probably still a day or two away.
But Buffy had awakened not ten minutes after Giles had left, vomiting black bile and crying tears of blood, and Faith had known immediately she had been mistaken. Buffy could die at any moment, and Giles would not be there. And she was the one who had told him to go.
Still, what the FUCK was taking him so long, what the FUCK was he doing? Couldn't he just SENSE something was wrong, couldn't he just come BACK already, couldn't he HELP, didn't he want to BE there before Buffy was gone, before there was nothing else that could be done?
"X-Xander," Buffy sputtered, her eyes blinking rapidly, her body twisting back and forth on the bed, as though in effort to squeeze her pain out of her through movement, or perhaps her nerves were beginning to deteriorate and react with involuntary movements. Faith had no idea, and didn't care much beyond that it was obvious that the woman was in pain. "he can't…he-he'll trip…d-dark…Willow, make her…m-make a light…so…"
"Shh," Faith replied, squeezing her hand gently, every muscle held so tensely a dull ache began to settle over her entire form. "I'll tell her…he, he'll be okay…I'll…"
She was going to fucking kill Giles for leaving Buffy like this. If he didn't walk through the door in three seconds, she was going to break his nose and possibly much more sensitive parts of his anatomy. If he didn't-
"Sp-spike…" Buffy gasped, the word difficult for her to form, her face turned slightly towards Faith's, but unseeing; she seemed totally unaware of who she was addressing as she tried to make herself understood, her chest rising and falling sharply. "D-don't let…hurt…Sp-spike…An-angel…Angel…I…they…"
"Okay," Faith tried, talking over her, her fingers once more gently attempting to comb through Buffy's hair. A large handful came out in her hand, clinging to Faith's fingers, and she suppressed a shudder, wiping her hand quickly on her pants before resuming her touching. God, she hated, fucking HATED how Buffy's eyes looked not at her, but through her, not seeing her at all…"Okay, no one will hurt them, Buffy, I swear. And they won't hurt anyone else either, okay? It's okay. It's okay…"
But it wasn't okay. It was so far from okay that Faith couldn't even begin to imagine what okay must look or feel like anymore, and the very hollow untruth of her words made her want to scream.
"Help…them…help…Angel…sword…and I'm not…cookies…I n-need…he…"
"I'll…help him…he has a sword, it's okay," Faith managed, but she heard the strain in her tone now as she wiped Buffy's face again, hating the terrible contrast of dark blood against ashen, sickly flesh. "I'll…I'll get you some cookies soon, okay? Whatever you want. You just hang on, and I'll get you…whatever you want…"
She didn't have a clue what Buffy was trying to say, if there was actual coherent meaning behind any of it, or if she was just babbling or hallucinating. Most had, in the end, if they were strong enough to be able to speak at all. For Buffy to have held on for this long, to be able to continue forming understandable words even in the face of her approaching death and present suffering, was amazing, a testament to her unusual strength, even when compared to other Slayers.
And it was absolute torture for Faith, every bit as it must be for Buffy, to watch her, the first of her sister Slayers, the last as well, to come closer with every struggling breath to joining the others.
"Giles," Buffy was whispering now, so softly and slurred that Faith leaned closer unconsciously, squeezing her hand harder as Buffy shuddered, her voice rising into a harsh cry. "Giles, Giles, GILES…"
"He's coming, he'll be back soon," Faith said hurriedly, her pulse speeding still faster, the anger heating her veins burning that much hotter at Buffy's call. Where the hell was he, where WAS he, she fucking wanted him and he wasn't HERE!
A tiny part of her, a part that Faith refused to openly acknowledge and hated with fierce disgust, nevertheless twisted in bitter unvoiced jealousy as well…because it was she, Faith, who was by Buffy's side, who had been there all along and would remain there until the very end. And yet still, it was not she who was wanted, no matter what she did, in the end. Still, she was not even a thought in Buffy's mind, at her deepest level of subconscious. If Faith had ever admitted this to herself on a conscious level, though…if she had ever dared to speak it out loud…she would hate herself so much for it she would want to kill herself.
As it was, it was a pretty close call.
"Giles is coming, I promise," she tried again, but Buffy was moving on now, her eyes suddenly widening with panic as she feebly tried and was unable to sit up. As Faith put her hand on her shoulder, not wanting her to bring herself more pain, Buffy shrugged weakly, trying to push her away as her voice rose louder than ever, shrill with fear.
"DAWN! DAWN! Dawn- Dawn- Dawn-"
She started to cough hard, choking, blood spilling in long strands from her mouth, dripping from her nose and eyes. Faith slipped an arm around her shoulders, trying to support her trembling form, to keep her upright to lessen her choking, her stomach twisting horribly as Buffy half sobbed through tapering coughs.
"She- she's okay," Faith said shakily, now sitting on the edge of the bed with Buffy, her arm tight around her heaving shoulders as Buffy gasped for breath, a terrible wet rattling sounding deep in her chest. She found herself rocking them unconsciously, as though Buffy were a young child in need of simple comfort. "She's…Buffy, she's okay…"
She tried not to think of the way Dawn had looked at her as she died, the way she had scrabbled at her own face and arms, begging to be made real…and she too had called for Buffy. She was still pushing this aside, or trying the best she could to do so, when Buffy spoke again, her voice hoarse, barely more than a whisper.
"Dawn…Dawn…" she struggled for breath, her head drooping forward, as though suddenly too heavy for her to hold. And then she whispered in a voice so young and wistful that Faith froze, her eyes suddenly burning with the emotion searing through her.
Until that moment, Faith had been able to focus on her anger at Giles, at the specific actions that she was doing. Wiping Buffy's face, pushing back her hair, keeping her upright, answering her words…it had all kept her somewhat controlled, somewhat able to get through this, second by agonizing second. But when Buffy called for her deceased mother in the voice of a frightened child, shivering hard under the circle of Faith's arm, it was all she could do not to break down into tears.
She closed her eyes, gritting her teeth fiercely, and breathed in, not responding to Buffy's words as she willed the threatening tears away. Even so she could hear Buffy still whispering, her voice progressively choked as more blood came up, and in that moment, Faith made a decision, even as something inside her hurt so badly that she truly did feel as if some vital part of her was breaking.
"I'm…I'm right here, Buffy…honey," she said, and though her voice shook at first, she hurriedly firmed it, forcing herself to sound calm, soothing, sweet…wracking her brain for what Joyce Summers might have done, what Joyce Summers might have said. "I'm right here…baby. Mom…Mommy's right here."
Buffy turned her head towards her slowly, brow furrowed, lips parted as she reached a shaking hand towards Faith's face, missing entirely and bumping her fingers into her forehead, then across the side of her hair. Though her eyes were turned towards her, Faith knew she couldn't see…and for the second time, she was glad.
"I'm right here, honey," Faith repeated, closing her eyes, unable the stand the hope, the NEED strongly crossing the other woman's features, her near disbelief at receiving what she thought was her mother's presence and comfort. "I'm right here…Mom…Mommy's right here. I…won't leave, I'm right here."
"It…hurts," Buffy gasped, as another prolonged shudder rolled through her, and she doubled over in spite of Faith's protective arm, bloody tears slowly trickling down her cheeks. "M-Mom…it…hurts…"
"I…I know it does, baby," Faith almost whispered, eyes tightly shut, using every bit of concentration remaining in her just to keep herself from beginning to cry, scream, or shut down completely from all outside stimulation. "I know…I'm sorry."
But at Buffy's next words, uneven and jagged in tone as she forced them out through full body shuddering, Faith could no longer entirely keep a rein on her emotions.
"M-mom…I don't…I d-don't want to die.. again…"
Before she could stop them, scalding tears were bursting forth from Faith's eyes and a choked sob escaped her lips. She couldn't answer; no words would emerge even within her thoughts. She sat unmoving, arm clamped rigidly around Buffy's hunched shoulders, and felt tears continue to run silently into the sides of her hair as Buffy spoke again, seeking further reassurances.
"I'm here," Faith choked out, hearing the tears in her voice and biting down on the inside of her cheeks until she tasted blood. "I'm right here, honey. I'm right here."
After this, Buffy did not speak again. She began to shake once more, so hard she could not sit up, could not catch her breath, her blood flowing heavier and more steadily from every opening in her face. Desperate to try to support her, to provide her as much comfort as possible, Faith pulled her into her lap and held her arms tight around her, heedless of the blood spattering her arms, the blood soaking into her jeans through Buffy's nightgown where her bony form touched Faith's legs. She wrapped Buffy tight in her arms, trying to stop her shaking, trying to let her know that she was still there, that she wasn't letting go…that she would never let go, as long as she had a choice in the matter. She held her, as Buffy's shaking slowed, then stopped, and as Buffy went limp against her, gradually Faith's silent streaming tears stopped, and her eyes opened, hot, dry, and blank.
It was to this that Giles returned to, less than ten minutes after Buffy had drawn her final breath. Almost ten minutes later, Faith remained motionless on the bed, Buffy's still, bloodstained form held stiffly in her arms. As his eyes met hers, his emotion choking off any words that may have come, she slowly turned her face away, refusing to acknowledge his presence.
She was the last of the Slayers. But to Faith, it felt like the last of all humans walking the face of the earth.
To be continued