It was more kinds of weird than she could count, Faith thought, to be the one the little Scooby gang turned to. Five years ago, she would have killed for this. Did, even.
She'd wanted to be the shining hero everybody looked up to, the one everybody counted on. She'd gotten a taste of that last year, when the others had staged their impromptu coup and tossed Buffy out of her own home. Faith hadn't wanted it quite so much by then, but there'd still been a mean little part of her that had gloated over Buffy's friends choosing her over the other Slayer. Finally.
'Course, the outcome had proven once and for all why Buffy'd always been the Big Damn Hero and Faith the fuckup left to rot in a sleazy motel.
Or in a coma.
Or in a jail cell.
But hell, here she was leading an army of girls, again, the G-man and the Buffettes asking her opinion before every big decision, as if she actually knew what the fuck she was doing. Faith knew she was second choice gal, that they'd have preferred Buffy in a heartbeat, but shit was what it was. Buffy was… not an option.
Being the leader sucked ass.
The moment B was in her right mind, Faith was gonna be out of there, like she'd planned to be post-Sunnydale. Hell, she might even leave before then – hadn't the idea been that they would all be free to live however the fuck they wanted once they'd defeated the First and activated all those other girls?
Too bad evil hadn't paid attention. Nah, instead it had upped its game too. By the time Faith had stuck around long enough to help search for Buffy, and then stuck around longer yet because she felt bad walking out on them when they were all grieving (and, yeah, she'd shed a tear or two herself), there'd been one crisis after another that had required the leadership of an experienced Slayer, and Faith was as close to experienced as it was gonna get.
They hadn't been settled in their new digs long before Willow had fled to Rio on the pretext of solving some crisis, taking Kennedy with her, while Xander had raced off to Africa in search of junior Slayers. The kid had been consigned to boarding school somewhere a long train ride away, leaving Faith and Andrew to hold the fort with Giles and the handful of remaining newbies that had survived the collapse of the Hellmouth.
And then the call had come in from Angel, only a few days after the throw down over that psycho Dana chick. The Scoobies had come hurrying in from every corner of the globe, closing ranks to see to their own. Faith hadn't been sidelined, not one bit, but how could she not have been jealous over the excitement, the joy, the others had shown when they'd heard their fearless leader was to be returned to them once more?
Buffy came first. Always. Faith knew the score.
Jealous or not, she'd been shocked when they'd met the plane at the hangar and found Buffy sedated and bound. And caged. Giles had cautioned them not to get their hopes up. According to the Watcher, Angel had warned him he wasn't quite sure who or what he was sending to them.
Still. Faith hadn't expected this. Not from Angel, and sure as hell not from Andrew and Dawn.
Long story short, Buffy wasn't five by five, and after the initial excitement had worn off, Faith had become the de facto leader again. The Buffettes pretended otherwise, pretended Buffy was the Slayer-in-charge again, and Faith pretended it too. And then they came to her, one by one, on the sly, casually asking her what she thought they should do. It wasn't right. Hell, it was fucked up, was what it was.
Maybe if they gave Buffy free reign, and stopped this half-trusting her thing they had going on, things could go back to normal. Normal-ish. Case in point: the refusing to give B the skinny on what had happened with the locator spells. Sure, there was the small chance Buffy wasn't really Buffy (a six point three percent chance, Andrew had decreed). Caution was advisable. She got it. Faith also got the argument that they didn't want to upset Buffy any more than they had to. But keeping shit like that from her was uncool.
Faith had been the outsider, the untrusted one, all her life. She could see the hurt in the other Slayer's eyes, and knew just how crappy it felt. No matter how many times she might've wished she could trade places with Buffy in the past, now that it had happened? Nuh uh. Thanks, but she'd pass.
A couple days after Buffy had pulled her Houdini and gone vamp hunting, Faith decided enough was enough. She wanted out of this hellhole, stat, before she ended up taking one of the baby Slayers out with her own stake.
That meant getting Buffy back on her game.
"Yo," she said, trailing the other Slayer down the hallway after the morning planning session let out. "Wanna mix it up a bit?"
Buffy shrugged. "Thought I wasn't allowed to play with the other kids. Just in case my secret programming kicks in, or something."
"Yeah, well. I'm no kid, case you haven't noticed. And I can wipe the floor with you any day of the week, Blondie." Faith flashed her cockiest show-me-what-you've-got smile.
"Really," Buffy said, eyebrow shooting up and speculative glint in her eye. "That isn't the way I've heard it told."
Faith began to walk backwards, aiming for the gym. "Guess you'll be wanting to see which is the truth for yourself, then."
"Oh, I already know," Buffy said, following, then stopped, a hesitant look on her face. "You sure it's safe?"
"Isn't that half the fun?" When Buffy still hesitated, Faith said, "You and me, we were made for violence, and you haven't been getting your recommended daily allowance since you got here. Promise you'll feel a helluva lot better after."
"Well, when you put it that way…"
Flat on her back, sweat streaming down her face, Buffy gasped, "You're right. I do."
"Huh now?" Faith said, in between desperate lungfuls of breath.
"Sweet." She rolled to her hands and knees. "Cool new move, by the way. Didn't see that one coming. The lawyer teach you that?"
"That Lindsey guy."
Buffy scooted backwards, until she was resting against the wall. "I forget he was a lawyer. To me, he's a Watcher, you know? But yeah, Lindsey taught me that."
"Can't believe the dweeb in the suit that I met is the same guy we're talking about. Little Lindsey must've grown up while I was in the clink."
"You knew him?"
Faith moved to sit next to Buffy. "Knew? Not so much. He was part of a team that hired me to take out Angel." She chuckled. "The big guy took me out instead. Made me realize I could change, if I really wanted it. Showed me the light, and all that crap." You didn't much care for that, she left unsaid. Old resentments would mean nothing to the woman beside her.
Wrapping her arms around her bent legs, Buffy rested her chin on her knees. "You're a Slayer. You really believe vampires can be good?"
"Vampires? No. Angel? He's about as good as you can get. Well – with the soul. Without it…" She shuddered. "Long as you don't go knocking boots with him, the world is safe."
"Giles and the others don't seem to trust him. Now that he's head of an evil law firm."
"Same evil law firm your Lindsey used to work for." Faith drummed her fingers on her legs, trying to find the right words. "Angel… at worst, he's misguided. If he'd gone evil, we'd know. I've met Angelus. He'd be eating his way through the law firm, not running it. Angel's not that guy."
Buffy sighed. "It's just so… hard to believe. I don't remember him. Or any of this."
"I do, and trust me, it's still hard to believe. But Angel did right by me, even after all the shit I did to him and his. The vamp is a genuine good guy."
"Huh." Buffy was quiet for several moments, and then she said, "And Spike?"
Faith laughed. "That boy is wrapped so tight around your little pinky, he never had a chance. You said 'be good or else'. So he went good, and never looked back."
"I just don't get it," Buffy said glumly. "It shouldn't be possible. And hello, pressure? Who was this Buffy person, that she could do this? I don't think I'm her."
"I wouldn't say that, not after our little throw down we just had. Ain't nobody but you so determined to keep me in my place." She couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of her voice.
Buffy turned to look at her. "I can't decide if that's reassuring or not."
Faith shrugged, not sure herself. She stood to stretch, twisting her torso and pulling on her shoulder with the opposite arm. "You feel any of the old sparkage when you were with them in LA? Angel and Spike? Either of them?"
"What? No! I cannot say no enough."
"Really? Huh. Guess you won't mind if I go after Spike myself, then. I could use a good workout, know what I'm saying?"
Faith watched the other woman's reaction carefully, thinking this was the real test of her Buffy-ness. Amnesia or not, the girl was damn possessive of what she considered hers.
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "If that's what floats your boat, be my guest." She stood to stretch too, no hint of jealousy anywhere to be found.
Well, shit. Either Buffy'd finally found her poker face, or there was a pod person in their mix. Andrew's six point three had just jumped up a whole bunch of percents.
"I've got something," Buffy said the next morning, raising her hand.
Everybody turned to look at her, various degrees of surprise and approval on their faces. It was the first time she'd voluntarily participated in the morning briefings. Faith leaned back in her chair, trying not to grin. Buffy stepping up meant Faith was that much closer to freedom. Maybe yesterday had done some good after all.
Dawn, on another of her endless visits home now that Buffy had returned, turned to her sister. "What is it?"
Even without being able to see her face, Faith could tell how happy the kid was to see Buffy interacting. Poor thing had been through a rollercoaster of emotion after Sunnydale, and it hadn't gotten any better with Buffy's return. Buffy's amnesia, or whatever the hell it was, had been hard on all of them, but it was hardest on the kid.
At some point in the last few months, Faith had realized Dawn could've just as easily been her sister. Had she had her shit together back then, the monks might've chosen her to guard the Key. The realization had made her feel a little extra protective of Dawn – but only a little, mind you. Not like she was going to go all soft and sentimental over nothing more than a could've been.
Buffy, hesitant now that all eyes were on her, looked at Faith. Faith nodded back, trying to reassure her. Come on, B.
"We need to research some old French vampire, goes by the name of Roland."
"You met the Marquis?" Dawn squealed. "Oh my god, Giles won't let me go near him!"
"Wait… You know about this guy?"
Giles cleared his throat. "We are aware the Marquis is in the area. He is neutral, so far as we can tell, from what limited surveillance we have done."
"Hold on," Buffy said. "Powerful old vampire, and all you've done is surveil him?"
"The Council has kept a careful eye on him for years. The Marquis has been known to help us on occasion –"
"And kill on occasion. But you knew that already, didn't you?"
Giles removed his glasses, wincing at the censure in his Slayer's tone. "Yes, we are aware of the occasional death, but the Council has always deemed Roland a low priority. With but one girl in the world, they chose to focus on the more dangerous threats."
Buffy stared at him, flabbergasted. "Guess what? More than one girl now. Whole bunches of girls."
Faith shifted uneasily in her chair, wondering how this was going to play out. She'd been the one to decide the Marquis wasn't a priority, so long as he kept his fangs to himself. Live and let live, as far as she was concerned.
"I'm still not sure going after the Marquis would be the best use of our time," Giles said.
"He's a vampire! Evil, hello? Or is this not what we do now?"
"Did he do something, Buffy?" Willow said. "Because of course we'll go after him if we need to. It's just…" She shrugged. "It's not always black and white. We've lived in the grey zone… always."
Dawn leaned forward. "Think about Spike. He was evil, but you didn't think it was right to kill him once he stopped killing."
"I guess I'll just have to take your word on that. But, hey, let's talk about the key word there – stopped. This Roland hasn't stopped, he admits it himself."
"If he's killing," Faith spoke up, "We'll take him out. You and me. What happened to get him on your radar?"
Buffy frowned. "Nothing. I just – I met him. We talked." She blushed, and stared at the table. "He was actually – charming."
"Well, all right, B! You got yourself another admirer, didn't you?" Faith slapped Buffy on the shoulder. "Tell you what, go hang with him for a couple of days. He'll be fighting on our side in no time."
If looks could kill, Faith would be a smoldering pile of ash. Totally worth it, though. She stood, and gestured at the door. "Come on, let's go ask around. Check up on this Roland." When Buffy only glared, she said, "Anyone tell you 'bout the time you and I took on Kakistos? Now that was a fight. Promise to tell you all about it if you come with."
At a nod from Giles, Buffy sighed and stood. Outside, she said, "I'm only going with you because it gets me out of this place for awhile."
"Don't worry. If we don't find anything to kill, I'll let you try to kick my ass again later.'
Faith grinned and set off for the closest demon pub. "Hey. I was gonna tell you this wicked cool story about two hot chicks with superpowers. So shut up and listen."
Buffy fell in beside her, scowling.
The reports were coming in fast and furious from the other side of the world. An apocalypse. Maybe the apocalypse.
And Angel was the cause of it.
"Motherfucker," Faith spat, trying to make sense of it all. From what she'd heard, this one was already a hundred times worse than the last apocalypse to end all apocalypses, the one that had flattened good old SunnyD, and that didn't bode well. At all. A sea of tense, expectant faces stared at her, and she closed her eyes against the sight. Buffy was supposed to be the one in charge, not her. She couldn't make decisions like this; hadn't that already been proven?
But Buffy was nowhere to be found.
"How many Slayers we got in the area?"
"Nine who can be there within a few hours," Xander said, looking at his list. "Fifteen if we can get choppers in. We'd have to find a way to pay for them, though…"
Giles blanched, but said, "I'll take care of it."
Faith turned to Willow. "How many can you handle teleporting in?"
"On my own? Maybe two. Any more, I'll be comatose for the next week. If the coven helps, we could get a portal going and send through as many as we can round up."
"Get the coven on the phone, see what they can make happen."
Andrew raised his hand. "What should I do?"
Faith closed her eyes. Why the fuck are you asking me, squirt? Do I look like I know? "Help round up all the girls. Make sure everybody is up to date on what's going on, and is ready to move ASAP."
Giles' large hand clasped her shoulder. "You're doing fine, Faith."
"Am I? Am I really? Because all I can think is 'what would Buffy do?', and I'm pretty sure she'd be –"
"Doing everything she can, the same as you."
"And why isn't she? She should be here. Not me."
"Buffy is… not herself, these days. And you are managing quite well in her stead. She would be proud." Giles cleared his throat. "As am I."
Dammit, now she had something in her eye. She turned away to rub it out.
"He's right, you know," Buffy said, once the others had left. Faith whirled to find Buffy standing in a shadowy corner. "For what it's worth… far as I can tell, you're doing fine."
"How the fuck d'you get there? No, never mind. Just thank god you're here. Willow's seeing about getting a portal opened." Faith ran a hand through her hair. "If she can't, I want you to be the other one she teleports in with me."
Buffy shook her head. "Better pick somebody else. I'm –"
"I need you, B. Memories or not, you're still our best chance."
"I'm not going. The vampire started this. Let him sort it out."
Faith could only stare. "What the hell are you saying?"
Buffy shrugged. "I kill vampires. Not help them. I'm not going."
"You can't leave Angel to this!"
"Why not? He started it. Even Giles doesn't want to help –"
"Yeah, you're right, he doesn't want to help Angel. No surprise there. But he is helping. Because there are innocents involved, and whatever Angel did or didn't do, we have to help them."
Stone-faced, Buffy didn't reply. Her continued refusal, even after months of the Scoobies setting her straight about her past, was a testament to the number Lindsey had done on her. What must have it been like for Angel, she wondered, to have had Buffy turned against him like this?
And Spike? At least Angel, despite his love for her, had built a life of his own. Spike's whole world had been Buffy, and Buffy hated him just as much as she hated Angel. The vamp had to have been devastated.
Brainwashed or not, this wasn't right. "Buffy…"
"You've got plenty of Slayers. I'm not needed."
Seriously pissed now, Faith said, "Dammit, yes, you are needed. You are the one to lead this. You may not remember it, but you're the Big Damn Hero, the one who does the right thing, no matter your personal feelings, and saves the day."
Faith would've denied the hell out of it, but she'd always, always looked up to Buffy. Buffy, who was always in the right, and always had the moral high ground. Something was majorly wrong when she was the one having to preach to Buffy.
"You're so damn good, and righteous, it makes me sick." She shoved her finger at the other Slayer, hitting her repeatedly in the chest. "And that's still in there, no matter what Lindsey did to fuck with your head. This isn't about you, or your feelings for Angel. This about saving the world. So get off your pity party, and saddle up."
Somewhere during her tirade, Xander had sidled into the room. When Buffy made to object again, with her fists, he caught her arm. She rounded on him, but he stood his ground.
Softly, as if soothing a wild animal, he said, "She's right. Whoever you are, I've watched you enough to know you're a good person. You want to do what's right. And if you're our Buff, which I'm pretty sure you are, you'd never forgive us when you got your memories back if we let you out of fighting the good fight."
Buffy slumped, eyes fixed on the ground, and Xander softened his grip and spoke more quietly yet. "You loved Angel more than life itself, but you killed him to save the world. Now you think he's evil, or at best untrustworthy. Any other day I'd say Hallelujah, finally. Me too. But the Buffy I know? Would do the right thing no matter how she felt about Angel. You always do."
Reaching up to wipe away the tears sliding down her cheeks, he said, "I'm not going to tell you that you have to do this or I won't love you anymore. I'll always love you, no matter what, Buffy. Always." He tugged her, and she went into his arms. Xander rested his head on hers. "But I know you'll regret it if you don't go. 'Cause you know it's what's right."
And there it was, Faith thought, as Buffy straightened and nodded. Xander had managed what she couldn't. She wasn't jealous – just relieved somebody had gotten through. Like she'd said, being in the position of having to preach to Buffy? Give her a dormitory full of hormonal girls to manage instead.
Xander took Buffy's hand, murmuring to her, and Buffy nodded again. Whatever the man was saying, it was working.
Faith had heard Xander had saved the world once. The puppyish boy she'd known had grown into a man. A damn fine one at that, she noted, giving him an appraising once over. Hey, apocalypse or not, she was a red-blooded woman who'd had waaaay too much female company these last few months. She'd have to be dead not to look, and she sure as hell wasn't dead yet.
Faith drummed her fingers against her leg, waiting for the coven witches to finish mojo-ing up a portal.
Twenty-odd people stood against the wall to her left, weapons gripped in sweaty hands, ready to move on her say so. On the other side of her, Buffy and Dawn stood with their arms around each other, occasionally saying something inconsequential, but mostly remaining awkward and silent.
From her vantage, Faith could see both their faces. Their goodbyes were a painful thing to witness: Buffy trying too hard to play the role of older, loving sister, Dawn trying just as hard to believe it was real, and both of them unwilling to say what could be a final goodbye – again – without the pretense of an effort.
She wasn't surprised to see Buffy's expression turn to relief when the portal popped into existence, far quicker than the coven had predicted.
"Gotta jet," Faith said, grabbing Buffy's arm and tugging her to the portal so they'd be the first through.
"But Dawn –"
Faith pretended she couldn't feel the kid's big eyes fixed on their backs, drinking in every last moment of her sister before they disappeared, or the way the tension in Buffy's muscles receded with every step they took towards the portal and away from Dawn. There was no time for feeling bad about shit like that. No time for feeling, period.
They had a war to win. The mission was what mattered now.