Summary: Faith: a doer, not a talker. Three days after Sunnydale Calling, one day after Five Conversations. 1. Basement tea dance. 1.5. Gone all Gandhi. 2. Down & dirty. 3. Gandhi all gone. Spoilers through "Storyteller," S7, then off into AU post-prison Faith. S4 Angel Faith never happened.
Author Notes: Thanks, as ever, to Herself. And thanks to Raincitygirl
for the provocative and inspiring questions about Dawn's feelings about
Faith wove her way through the pairs of potentials, trying to squelch the tension rising within her. "Push with this hand, pull with the other," she told one girl, whose hands were locked around another's forearm. "You want to keep her from moving her wrist, slashing you." She moved on. This kind of training made her restless -- more wound up, not less. The potentials were getting a workout, but Faith couldn't burn off her own energy. She had to pace along the ranks, sometimes pause to demonstrate a new technique, but she couldn't go full speed, couldn't use her full strength without hurting someone.
"Jeez, Amanda," a voice piped up. "Ease up a little, it's not a real fight."
Faith whirled, seeking out the tallest of the potentials, then making her way to her and her partner. "Let her go," she ordered Amanda, then: "You. What's your name?"
"Well, let me break something to you, Rona. This isn't a fuckin' tea dance. You're here to learn how to fight." The other pairs broke apart, and Faith began to move through them, addressing them all. "You pull your punches here because you don't want to leave a bruise on your partner, then guess what? What you've learned is how to pull your punches. And when the Big Bad comes to have your ass for brunch, you'll be shit out of luck, because what you haven't learned --" she seized the wrist of one of the girls, hard and swift, and had her dummy knife on the ground at her feet in a second -- "is how to fight. Amanda -- good work. Lead the others through the drills again. I'm through."
Taking the back porch steps in one stride, Faith slammed into the kitchen and thundered down the stairs. She took a moment to wrap her hands, then laid into the heavy bag. Nothing held back: grunts, punches, howls, kicks. All the jittery adrenaline of these last few days of too little sleep, too much fear and anger and grief. The punching bag became the manifestation of the First, the physical target she'd been denied that night at the hospital. In her mind it was Dev's form she pummeled and cursed. Wilkins she still had no heart to punch, and Marquita -- all Faith had for her were waves and waves of fresh grief. When at last Faith staggered back from the bag, her hair and body were wet from sweat, her face from mingled sweat and tears.
It was then that she caught sight of Dawn sitting at the top of the wooden stairs, arms hugged tight around herself.
Faith lifted the hem of her tee shirt to mop her face.
"Wow," Dawn said, barely audible. "I've never seen Buffy do that."
She smiled to soften her words. "I think the world will agree that I'm not Buffy." Her knees trembled; she dropped onto a pile of exercise mats and leaned back against the wall, gulping in air. "I needed that. I've been speeding on exhaustion, feeding my own sleeplessness. Maybe this'll help."
"Thanks." Dawn's long fingers twisted and pulled at one another. "For helping Xander. I wasn't supposed to know all this, but Spike and Buffy were talking, and, well, I heard everything."
"Harriet the Spy," Faith said, memories making the smile linger. It had been their special joke back then. Dawn's favorite kid's book had launched her on an ill-advised career of snooping around, spying, and listening in on B. and her friends, which she'd confessed to Faith. "So you never hung up the notebook, huh?"
She smiled too, ducked her head. "Guess not. But -- Faith -- It was so scary just hearing. How close he came."
"I know. I was scared too."
"Shit, Dawn, I'm scared more often than not. It can keep you alive. Especially these days." Faith half drained the water bottle she'd brought downstairs with her. Dawn still sat on the top step, watching her with huge eyes. "What?"
"Oh. Nothing." Then abruptly: "Do you know what 'existential' means?"
"Give me more than that. What's the context?"
Faith laughed. "It means thinking about yourself too much."
"Is thinking about yourself bad?"
"Nah. I just spent three whole years thinking about myself. Of course, that balanced out a couple of decades' worth of never thinking about myself at all. It's all relative. Who'd you hear that from -- Xander, I bet."
"I think what he means is thinking about yourself until you make yourself crazy." She chugged more of the water. "What I was doing, on the other hand, was thinking about myself till I made myself sane."
Dawn picked at the toe of her tennis shoe. Faith had to bite back a warning -- she'd been slapped across the room more than once for widening a hole in her canvas sneakers. Dawn's voice dropped again so she had to strain to hear. "Is it scary being crazy?"
"It makes all this -- having to train an army in your backyard, always waiting for the First to show up again -- look like chickenshit. When I was a little kid, my mom and her boyfriends might smack me around if I did something they didn't like, but they didn't really set any limits, you know? No don't do that, you'll get hurt. If I wanted to play in the street, great, as long as I left them alone to do what they wanted. But if some neighbor pulled me out of the street and marched me back home and gave them hell, that would get me a smacking. When you're a kid and you don't know anything, if nobody tells you what's not safe, how do you know what is safe? So that's what it felt like for me when -- when things were at their worst." Faith couldn't believe all this talk was coming out of her. That night she'd spent explaining herself to a sleeping Xander -- it seemed to have opened some flood gate. She tilted her head back against the wall, eyes closed, remembering. "It was like racing -- but with no brakes. I was flying, flying down this hill -- picture one of those long, steep ones in San Francisco, that's what it felt like -- and the speed was such a rush, like nothing I'd ever felt. But terrifying too, because I had no control, no way of slowing down, and by that time anyone who tried to step in and help just got hurt. Your sister, your mom, Angel, Xander --" She opened her eyes then and looked at Dawn. "The one thing I'm grateful for is how they all protected you. It's hard enough living with the shit I've done, but if I'd hurt you the way I did them --"
"Faith, stop." The strength in Dawn's voice brought her up short. "I think once you start worrying about how you'd live with stuff you didn't do -- well, maybe that's where existential horseshit comes in."
Faith laughed. "You pick things up fast." She remembered then -- stuff you didn't do -- and sucked in her breath. "Except -- Xander told me something on the way back to Sunnydale. It's still screwing with my head."
"Oh, yeah," Dawn said lightly. "About how Dawn's not really real."
Faith shook her head. "That's not what he said. And if you were any realer I'd have a couple of busted ribs from that hug you gave me when I came back. Which --" she turned her attention to her hands, picking at the tape. "It was a real kick. Having one person who was happy to see me. It's just strange thinking the stuff I remember doing with you --" Harriet the Spy, the shoplifting spree, sneaking her into an R-rated movie, playing Old Maid -- how could all that be gone, when it was so vivid?
"I know. It was weird for all of us. We've just had time to deal, and it's all new for you."
"So how did you deal?" Get this, Faith asking a sixteen-year-old for advice. Or a three-year-old, if you looked at how long she'd actually been here. Or hell, one of the eternals, what she supposedly actually was.
Dawn shrugged. "It still felt real. We had -- have -- feelings about all of it, memories we can't cross off as untrue. Some of the things they'd made us think happened actually changed our lives. None of us could go back. I mean, try pretending that Bill Clinton was never president, we were just screwed with to think he was, and all along it had been -- whoever that old guy was. It's too big. We finally decided to go on, same as always. Except, ha ha, not always. It's easy to forget about it, though, until something like this, where you just found out."
"It's wild to think that these monks Xander told me about made you so real to me. I'd never met you, was in the slam by the time you came here, right? Why bother with me?"
"I think they knew you'd be important. And here you are."
"Here I am. Though maybe 'here' should be upstairs in the kitchen." She sniffed at her shirt. "Or maybe in the shower, then in the kitchen." She rose and climbed the stairs, while Dawn sat motionless at the top, standing only when Faith had almost reached her.
"I missed you these four years," Dawn said. She drew Faith into a cautious
hug, careful not to overbalance the two of them on the wooden steps. "This
is real," she whispered, and she held her there for a long moment.
When they walked into the kitchen, Buffy was peering into the refrigerator. As Dawn and then Faith entered from the basement, she passed her sharp gaze over them.
Faith nodded at Buffy. "I was thinking spaghetti, since everything's running a little late. Dawn, would you get the water boiling in that huge pot? Get some of the tomatoes and saute them a bit in olive oil, we can throw them into that jarred crap with some basil and it won't be half bad. I should be down by the time you've got that going."
"Sure." She started for the cupboard. "Hey, Buffy, Janice asked me to this scavenger hunt she's having Saturday night from nine till midnight. Can I --"
"Are you out of your mind?" Buffy looked to be steeling herself for an argument, only to be thrown off guard when Dawn gathered her into a hug.
"Thanks. I love you, sis."
Faith grinned at Buffy's puzzlement and headed toward the front of the house. She was almost at the stairway when she heard a swift tread up the carpeted steps, followed by a low voice from the living room. "Why don't you go easy on him, Anya?" Xander.
"Why should I? And you've certainly enjoyed picking on him."
"Well, maybe I'm not feeling so cool with that right now."
"And what brought that about? Has the near-death thing made you go all Gandhi all of a sudden, or are you just mellow from the prospect of having a regular sex partner again?"
Jesus. Where exactly had he dug up this harpy? Faith took a step closer to the living room, revealing herself to Xander, but his flicker of expression told her not to break in here.
Anya was no slouch in the subtle facial readings department. She turned to find its target and gave Faith a frosty smile. "Oh look, it's the lovely missus. Why don't you come sit with us and chat awhile?"
"I'd love to, Anya, but to be honest, I stink. I'm gonna shower and then get back in the kitchen. You two have some quality time." She favored Anya with a sweet smile and headed upstairs.
Andrew was putting clean towels in the linen closet. He pulled out the third from the top and handed it to her. "This one's the thickest." He followed with a washcloth.
"What is the deal with that bitch?"
"Who? Oh, Anya? She's a little scary when you first meet her. All kind
of Janeway, only with the ex-demon thing happening. But once you get used
to her, she can be a real hoot."
Faith had started her rounds with Buffy, cruising the cemetery. This was the most boring part of patrol, as far as she was concerned. Head for a couple of fresh graves you've mapped out from reading the obituaries (just like the retirees who circle all the good garage sales in the classifieds), wait for the disoriented baby vamps to rise, then pop 'em before they know what hit 'em. Fish in a barrel.
Where the wicked good fun came in was later in the night, in the neighborhoods B. probably avoided even in the day. The nabes where Faith could rock and roll. Survivors hung out here, vamps who gave a good brawl. Sure, Buffy came with her at first -- she argued that it was crazy to get caught here without a backup -- but she was always ready to pack it in after they'd dusted a couple and it seemed that nothing else was shaking. Faith preferred to stay, to grab onto an alley and rattle it until something was shaking.
Since Faith's return, she and B. had discovered a new difference between them. Much to her surprise, she had learned something new about fighting during her incarceration. From, of all people, the prison librarian, a sweet but matter-of-fact check kiter named Stevie. She'd taken a self-defense course about three months after she'd really needed it, and the most important thing Stevie had learned was finding yourself on the ground wasn't necessarily defeat -- if you knew your attacker had just handed you a weapon. As far as strength went, a woman's lower body was a match for a man's upper body. You saw being taken down, if that's the way it was going to go, as an opportunity, and you made sure the rapist went down with you. You stretched yourself out low, on one side, setting your center of balance. Cocked your leg, then thrust and twisted -- coiled energy in explosive release. Kicked that fucker in the head, and kicked him until you knew you were safe.
This knowledge had changed Faith deep down, erasing one of her recurring nightmares. She'd tried to pass it on to Buffy, even spoken to her of teaching the potentials how to fight from the ground. Buffy had changed the subject. Watching her these nights, Faith knew B. could handle herself when taken down, but she made sure she came to her feet as soon as she could wrench free, bring the fight back to the level she was used to. Maybe it was too down and dirty for her.
Dirty fighting -- that's what Stevie's asshole boyfriend had called it when she was taking the class. Faith hadn't been aware that rape was a gentleman's sport overseen by the Marquis of Whosit's rules. You did what you had to, to survive. That went for human rapist scum, and as far as Faith was concerned, it went for vamps.
Faith turned the corner onto one of her more reliable side streets. A sudden gust kicked up, carrying the faint tinkle of wind chimes. Not a sound she expected to hear in a neighborhood like this. A sign of someone who cared, probably kept a neat home and cleaned up the crack vials and dogshit from around her stoop. Faith hoped to hell she kept herself indoors after dark.
There. A couple of vamps leaning on the fender of a beater Chevy. Faith adopted her swingy and clueless stride, just a drunk girl humming a song she'd been grooving to at the Bronze. "Oh, shit!" She took a sudden turn into an alley, bending to retch by a Dumpster.
God, they were easy. Fell for it every time.
The first one grabbed her by the arm and spun her toward him, and Faith used the momentum to drive her borrowed stake into his heart. The second was bigger, and enraged. Still out of arm's reach, he swung a fist and now she saw the thick chain he clutched. She had just enough time to turn, taking the blow on her shoulder blade. The breath rushed from her, and she staggered. The stake flew from numbed fingers, clattering across the alley. The vampire caught her by the arm and slammed her againt the Dumpster. Her head snapped back and hit its side with a hollow metallic clang, and her vision dimmed. She'd wanted a little sport, but maybe this time she'd miscalculated.
He seized her above the elbows and yanked her toward him; instead of trying to push away, she grabbed his grimy tee shirt, pulling herself closer still. He took a fistful of her hair and drew her head back, baring her neck to him. Not so much for playing with his food, then. She sagged, stretching her right leg back and then slingshotting it forward again, knee bent, driving it into his balls. Their howls rose up together, hers feeding the energy massing in her muscles. She pistoned her knee into him again and a third time, until he folded over his crotch and she had a clear shot at his head. She felt his nose crack beneath her knee just before he crashed to the pavement; he lumbered into her as he fell, taking her with him.
He was slow and stupid now, and she squirmed from beneath him. Faith rolled onto one hip and into position, delivering one powerful kick, probably unnecessary. The vamp sprawled onto his back on the cement, arms stretched out, ready and waiting for the stake that scattered him to dust.
Faith grabbed for a stack of wooden flats and pulled herself to her feet, taking inventory of various pains. Nothing broken, she thought, but she'd feel it in the morning. More than enough sport for one night. As she limped out of the alleyway, she heard again the high, clear notes from the wind chime above.
Sometimes the small things, like now, proved to be the sweetest.
Climbing the stairs, Faith was surprised to see a spear of light slanting across the hall carpet. One of the potentials, no doubt, had left the bathroom and forgotten to flip the switch. Buffy was after them all the time about this kind of crap, the wasted money. It had made her grin to think how much like Joyce Buffy sounded. Faith approached the half-opened door, reaching for the light switch, when she stopped short.
Xander was sitting on the edge of the tub in boxers and a tee shirt, one leg stretched out parallel to the floor, his foot braced against the sink cabinet. He'd removed the bandage and was peering intently at the knife wound, his fingers carefully probing the area around it.
"You're up late," she said.
He roused himself, turning toward her. From the way he moved, she guessed he'd been sitting there for a while.
She took a step inside, leaning to look at his thigh. "I'd say it's healing pretty well."
"Then you would be wrong." His voice like a slap.
"Yeah?" she said, neutrally as possible. "Then why don't you tell me how it is."
His dark eyes fastened on her, but didn't take her in -- the filth and bruises, none of it. "Something's not right."
"Got that. Waiting for more." And she waited. "An emergency-room something, or doctor's-office-in-the-morning something?"
"I -- Fuck. I dunno."
"You in pain?"
"Not exactly." Ah. Must be why he was so angry with her.
Faith washed the grime from her hands and dried them, then put a hand to the flesh near the cut. "Doesn't feel inflamed."
He smacked it away. "Forget it, then. I must be wrong, it's just my leg."
Jesus, she was too tired for this. "Xander, I'll do whatever you need, just --"
He grazed her thigh with two fingers, there and gone. "Do you still get horny after the slaying?"
Christ in a sidecar. "Are you in a position to do anything about it?"
His eyes sparked with aggression. "Any position you want."
"What the fuck happened to Gandhi?" Anya, in fact, should get a load of this new, improved Xander.
He blinked, gave his head a shake. "I fell asleep before the end, but Willow said he got shot."
The absurdity of this exchange yanked a laugh from her, which completed his transformation back to some Xander she recognized.
"Sorry. Sorry. My head's been in a really weird place tonight." He touched her hand. "Maybe some kind of rebound from the pain meds. I can't sleep at all."
Her fingers twitched with the desire to push them through his hair, but she held back. "Probably means it's time to stop sleeping during the day. Or start doing something to get yourself tired."
Xander's mouth quirked up in a grin. "Any ideas?"
His hand brushed her thigh again, and she hated the electric tingle that buzzed straight to her crotch. "Screw you!"
"I second that motion. The floor is now open for discussion."
She'd let him have the floor, all right. She got him flipped onto the tile, somehow managing without hurting his leg. "You've developed a taste for the hostility fuck, Xander? Let's go, then."
"Wait." He stretched out his arm, trying to reach the door, slap it shut. "Let me--"
Faith seized his wrists, pinned them to the floor. "I like it just where it is."
He squirmed free of her grasp, batted at the door until it clicked shut. Where the wrestling match left off and the coupling began wasn't easy to tell. She met Xander's aggression with her own, and since he didn't slow his pace even when he cursed or yelped from a jolt of pain, she held nothing back either. Sounds were amplified by the small tiled space: harsh rasp of breath, their mingled grunts, the soft slap of flesh on flesh, sharp knock of a knee or elbow making contact with wall or floor.
But it changed for her in a flash. She understood that this, ragged and animal, signified his return to life -- and that the aggression was where he poured his own anger and fear at watching the life bleed out of him with every heartbeat. Faith let this knowledge course through her body, moved from flinging his hostility back at him to absorbing it, dispelling it. At last they both collapsed against each other, limbs tangled, gasping.
She turned her head toward him. The gaze that met hers was fully Xander's, aware, troubled. This time she did let herself touch his hair.
"Not hostility," he said. "Never that."
She wasn't sure she believed him. Hostility could ride on so many other emotions, even love. Faith decided it didn't matter. "I know," she told him. "I know."
What she knew was this: sometimes you had to get down and dirty to fight the demons.
Slowly they came to their feet, got their clothes back in order, and
then she and Xander limped together down the hallway to bed.