Chapter: 2: Whatever's Left
Author: Shona (aka Mara)
Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be. I'm just playing in this pretty big sandbox.
Characters/Pairing: This story focuses on Xander, but not from his POV. This chapter is very much Faith-centric.
Word count: 4,984 (Total = 10,080/10,000)
Beta Readers: Eternal thanks to engelsteorra and monkey_matt
The light was brilliant white as the walls started to collapse inwards. Clouds of dust rose as the masonry fell, but there was no noise. Everything was white - the dust, the walls, the sky - the brightness made everything seem to bleed together until it felt as if she was enveloped in a cloud of whiteness.
She was standing in the middle of what was left of the warehouse now, she didn't know how she had bridged the gap from where she had been to where she was now, but she knew it didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was here - now - and she could find him.
The silence was deafening and the light kept on getting brighter. Somewhere at the edge of hearing she thought she could hear whispering, but she couldn't pay attention to that, it didn't matter. She had to find him.
The pile of rubble in front of her was huge - much larger than she would have expected - and no matter how much debris she pulled from it, it never seemed to make a difference. The whispering grew louder and she thought she could hear laughter in there as well.
She looked around, trying to spot whoever it was so they could help her look, but there was no one. She didn't call out, there was no point, she didn't have time for this anyway; she had to get the rubble cleared. She had to find him.
Turning back to the mound, her eyes widened as she saw it had grown even larger. She couldn't do this, it was too much, she would never find him in this.
The light grew so bright that she had to squint against it but the details were lost in the glare. She opened her mouth to vent her frustration but before the scream could form she felt a breath on the back of her neck as someone whispered her name from right behind her.
She sat bolt upright, the hairs on the back of her neck still standing on end and the sheen of cold sweat covering her. Acting on instinct she jumped to her feet and scanned the dark room, looking for the hidden threat.
The pale moonlight streaming through the window painted a checkerboard pattern across the white bedspread and Faith's conscious mind caught up with her. It had been a dream; she was safe, in her room, alone.
Forcing herself to relax, she took a few deep breaths and shivered as the adrenaline drained away leaving her standing in the dark. She hugged her arms around herself and after a moment reached over to the dresser to pour a glass of water from the jug there. Her hands were shaking and she had to concentrate on not spilling it all over the floor.
She tried to push the dream out of her mind, she didn't want to think about it; it was just a dream after all. It didn't mean anything.
Shivering, she climbed back into the bed and sat with her back firmly against the carved oak headboard. Hugging her knees, she felt smaller than she ever had before in her life. The room seemed to stretch off into the distance and she shrank into herself, shivering and trying desperately not to cry.
She was stronger than this, god damn it! She was Faith.
She wouldn't let this beat her. She couldn't.
The session was already underway by the time Faith walked through the reinforced doors of the gym. Several of the girls looked up as she entered the room and a few smiled and waved to her but she just nodded to them and made her way slowly across to the bleachers at the side of the court, pointedly ignoring their sympathy.
So she wasn't up to strength yet, didn't mean she needed hugs and puppies. She lowered herself slowly onto the bench and kneaded the calf muscles on her left leg, trying to work out some of the stiffness there. From the corner of her eye she could see a blonde head turn in her direction and just as quickly turn away. She and Buffy had barely said a word to each other since the memorial. Not out of spite, or at least Faith didn't think that's what it was; it was just that neither of them knew how to talk to the other any more.
She looked up to see Dawn standing nearby. The girl was biting her lip looking nervous for some reason.
"Hey yourself." She said.
"Mind if I…?" Dawn gestured to the bench and Faith nodded her assent. Dawn hadn't spoken to her much since that day either. In fact, now she came to think of it, none of them had. Was that down to her? Had she been keeping everyone at arms-length?
"What's up?" She said, trying to keep her tone light and conversational.
"Nothing really." Dawn lapsed into silence and watched Faith massage her leg. "Does it still hurt much?"
She stifled the derisive laugh that threatened to bubble out and nodded instead. "Now and then. More often with the now to be honest." She shrugged a little, trying not to let how much it really was bothering her show. "Docs say it won't be for long but they can't say when for sure 'cause of the whole super-healing thing. I can deal for now."
"Oh." Dawn looked down and Faith frowned as the silence stretched out between them.
Out on the court Buffy was leading the girls through some form of kata and Faith found the fluid movements almost hypnotic. She'd never been much for group participation but every fiber of her being itched to be out there with them. Glancing at Dawn she saw the younger girl was watching the display with a kind of longing on her face that was a disturbing mirror of her own.
"Ever wish it was you?" She asked quietly.
"Huh?" Dawn said, startled out of whatever thoughts had been on her mind. "Out there? I did. Once. Not so much now though, Xa… someone helped me see that I'm just as valid where I am." Dawn was still looking over at the girls on the court but Faith doubted they were what she was actually seeing. "I made the choice to be here, it was my choice to make and that means something."
"It does." Faith agreed.
"Oh! Not that you didn't get to chose or…" Dawn's eyes were wide as she looked at her and Faith found herself smiling as the younger girl tried to extricate herself from the potential insult.
"Relax," she said. "I know what you meant."
Dawn nodded and she marvelled a little at how quickly the girl had grown up, she'd sort of figured that Dawn would tagged along wherever B went but, looking at her now, Faith could see maturity shining through. Dawn was here, fighting this fight, because she wanted to.
Faith wished she could say the same about herself.
The pile of rubble is higher than ever but this time she will not give up, she can't. She tears into it, throws boulders and bricks in all directions, forces herself not to give in to the pain or to the fear. Forces herself on.
The whispers come again but this time she blocks it out, she stays focused, it's only a distraction, it's not real. It's not real.
The dust starts to clear despite her efforts to raise it again with her frenzied activity and she can see the colors start to bleed into the rubble again, and abruptly she's cleared the pile. She coughs the plaster dust out of her lungs and drags the last piece away.
A broken body lies in front of her.
She's too late. She's found him, but she's too late.
She sinks to her knees, tears running down her face making tracks in the dirt. She reaches forwards, needing to touch him, needing to prove he's real.
He turns his head to look at her with a glassy eye.
The white takes over as he speaks.
This time she knew it was a dream, but that didn't stop her shivering.
She didn't go back to the sessions in the gym after that. Seeing them all working together was too much of a reminder of how she didn't fit in any more, how she'd only let them down. So she avoided them and when everything just got too much - when the pain threatened to overwhelm her - she ran.
The doctors approved in some highly technical way with an explanation that had something to do with honeycombs that she'd tuned out of halfway through. She wasn't doing it to get her leg better or to keep her fitness levels up. She was doing it because she could.
When the warehouse had collapsed she'd been right in the thick of it. Her extra speed getting her there even before the sound wave struck. It hadn't done her any good, she hadn't been able to see him, never mind save him; and as she'd searched in vain - the same way she did every night in her dreams - she hadn't cared when the masonry had rained down on top of her. She didn't remember the roof joist crushing her leg; she hadn't seen the block that knocked her unconscious. She hadn't seen anything.
The next thing she knew, she was waking up in a hospital bed, being told that two weeks had passed and she was lucky to be alive. That she'd been in a coma for all that time. It was starting to become a habit. She could barely walk, could barely do anything for herself and since then everyone else had tried to dictate her actions, tried to stop her from doing anything, tried to stop her from thinking.
They couldn't stop her running.
So she ran, whenever she needed out, whenever she could. She ran with the sun beating down and the road stretching out before her leading into forever. She ran with the rain soaking through to her skin and the wind pinning her down to the road, closing her in. None of it mattered. She started slow, barely covering a mile on her first time out. She kept it quiet at first, didn't tell anyone what she was doing, didn't share the pain, kept it buried deep. Worked through it on her own, learned her own strengths and failings again. Found out who she was again.
Now though, now she swallowed the miles, not with a smile, not with pride; just because she could.
When she ran the roads were empty, mostly, and as her feet hit the blacktop with a hypnotic rhythm she counted off the beats in her head. For once in her life there was nothing to run from, the dark shadows were very firmly in her past and there was nothing looming behind her. Nothing was hunting her, no one was out to get her. So why did she find it impossible to turn around?
Gradually she became aware that the roads were even quieter than normal and as she slowed to a stop she brushed her arm over her forehead, wiping the sweat from her eyes. She rested her hands on her knees as she let her breathing come back under control and her heart rate slow to normal. As she finally straightened up she blinked as she realized how far she'd come.
Last time she'd been here… well, she hadn't run here that time, that was for sure. It was on the outskirts at the far side of town so he'd driven them both here in one of the Council's hastily bought - and crappy - minivans so that they'd be sharp and ready for whatever went down. Yeah, that worked out well.
This was the first time she'd been back here since it had happened.
She walked over to the fence the demolition crew had apparently put up, pointedly ignoring the fact that she was limping again. It didn't seem as if much work had been done, the fence and a few 'Danger - Keep out' signs seemed to be it. There was definitely no one working there just now.
The piles of debris seemed incredibly familiar and Faith knew she shouldn't really be surprised at that, after all they were the same piles she'd been dug out of not even a month before, but something about it just seemed… too familiar. Spotting a small gap in the fence nearby - looked like some of the local kids had found a way in anyway - she squeezed through and brushed the dust from her sweats as she looked around. It was getting late in the day and the afternoon sun was casting a warm glow over the scene in stark contrast to the utter devastation all around.
There was nothing new here, no tracks of industrial vehicles, no site cabins, no porta-johns, nothing. It was like the town had thrown up the fence and left the place to rot. Like they'd just... abandoned it.
She picked her way carefully across to where the bulk of the debris lay - this was probably where the main building had been - and frowned as the overly keen feeling of familiarity washed over her again like some weird case of first-time déjà vu.
"Guess there's a glitch in the Matrix." She muttered and then flinched as her words bounced around the debris and echoed back to her.
But there was no one around to hear her and, apart from the slight echo of her own footsteps, the whole place seemed encased in an eerie silence. Something was definitely not right here. Her automatic reaction was to go on full alert, all of her senses sharpened and checking for danger; but there was nothing specific. Just a general feeling that something wasn't right.
She stopped as she reached the top of one of the larger piles of rubble and crouched down to get a closer look - the battle-ready part of her also aware that she was presenting a lower profile, making herself less of a target. It was hard to judge properly but it didn't look as if anything had been moved or disturbed for weeks, adding weight to the feeling she had that the place was being ignored. The owners probably couldn't spare the money to clear the site - or maybe they'd washed their hands of it long ago, after all it had been empty when they'd arranged for the meeting here weeks ago. She wondered idly what had happened to his contact, if the jumpy demon had been in the warehouse at the time or if he had been the one to spring the trap. She figured she'd probably never know; they'd used all their energy looking for bodies instead of clues. They'd found neither. They'd given up.
She didn't even know if the demon had a name.
Faith scooped up a handful of loose rubble and let it fall through her fingers as she stood again. There was nothing wrong here, she decided, it was just old ghosts haunting her. She tried to shake off the unease but it stayed with her as she made her way slowly - and, although she hated to admit it, a little painfully - back to the boundary fence. It was too soon for her to have come here, she decided, she hadn't planned on it and suddenly seeing it after a long run like this, when she wasn't at the top of her game just shook her. That's all it was.
She squinted against the suddenly bright sun as she scanned the fence for the tiny gap she'd squeezed through to get in. It was nowhere in sight, she must have gotten herself all turned around somehow. Faith turned back to look in the direction she'd just come and for a fleeting moment she could have sworn she saw the warehouse standing whole and undamaged against the glare. She blinked rapidly, no; it was just the piles of forgotten rumble. Must have been her imagination.
The light seemed to be getting brighter all the time, washing all the color away, leaving the scene bathed in white. Faith felt the blood drain from her face. Old ghosts they may be, but definitely not just in her imagination.
There was the warehouse, intact, and there - glancing over his shoulder up to the hill where a dark haired girl stood watching him - was Xander. Faith was frozen in place as the scene played out in front of her. It was happening again and there was nothing she could do… No, she was here, closer, she could call out - stop Xander from going inside. She tried to do just that but no sound came from her mouth. Silence smothered her like a shroud as she screamed without making a sound.
Instinctively she knew what she had to do and she was running before conscious decision could kick in, Xander was opening the door just as she reached it. She tried to tell him but the words were sucked into the black hole of silence that was surrounding her. Frustrated, she took the only option she could see and grabbed a hold of Xander's shoulders, physically throwing him back out, away from the warehouse.
The movement seemed to propel her backwards and she found herself standing on the other side of the door watching as Xander got back to his feet and turned to face her. He stared at her in shock for a moment before understanding seemed to dawn and he nodded sadly to her. He turned away as the debris began to fall around her and before the white faded to black, she saw him walk away.
Faith frowned at the persistent ringing and eventually opened her eyes to locate the source. She blinked a few times experimentally as her eyes tried to adjust to the dull light. Dusk. Not good.
She stood slowly, partly so she wouldn't draw attention to her actions should anyone be around and watching, and partly because the muscles in her leg had tightened up to the point where she doubted they would take her full weight. Luckily there was a wooden fence right behind her for support and it didn't look as though there was anyone around. So where was the ringing coming from?
When the obvious answer dawned on her she felt a little like an idiot. Flipping open the cell phone she checked the caller id and took a deep breath. Giles. She probably had some explaining to do.
Shaking off the last remaining vestiges of the dream - which hadn't felt like a dream at the time and still didn't - she lifted the ultra-light phone to her ear. She found it vaguely amusing that it seemed that, where he wasn't keen on spending a huge amount of money on transport, Giles was more than happy to have the top of the range in cell phones. Must be that whole British thing.
"Faith?" The relief in his voice was palpable and she felt guilt wash over her automatically. "Where are you? Are you hurt?"
"I'm… I'm fine, I'm out on a run, I'm just thinking about heading back actually." She couldn't explain even to herself quite why she was avoiding the truth. She was still acting on instinct even though lately her instincts had most definitely been on the fritz.
"Where are you?" He repeated in a more vehement tone.
"I'm fine, really. I'll be back soon."
"Faith, do you know what the time is? You haven't been answering your phone and you didn't see fit to tell anyone where you were going. It has in fact been over five hours since anyone last saw you and there are teams out looking for you as we speak. Tell me where you are and I'll send someone to get you."
She frowned again, "Giles. I said I'm fine, if you were worried about me then I'm sorry, but I don't need anyone to come get me. I'll be back soon. Call back your search teams."
"Huh?" She didn't understand what his problem was; it wasn't like she was that integral to the team right now anyway. "G, what's the big deal? I can look after myself you know, and it's not like…"
"Can you?" He interrupted. "Can you look after yourself right at this moment? There's a reason you're not back on the active duty roster, surely you understand we need to keep a closer eye on civilians until we get a clearer idea of the dynamics of this proto-Hellmouth?"
"Duty roster? Civilians?" She asked, "You sound like your talking about an army there, Giles."
"That's exactly what I am talking about. We are building an army here and we can't afford to have anyone go AWOL right now."
A cold sense of dread settled over her. "So you want me to be a good little soldier and follow orders then? Yessir!"
Giles sighed, "Faith, you're deliberately misunderstanding what I'm saying. This is a war, good versus evil and all the shades of gray in between. You of all people know this."
"What's that supposed to mean? 'Me of all people'?"
"Tell me where you are. We can continue this conversation when you get back here."
"Planning on staging a court martial or something? Surprised you don't have a tracker on me anyway."
"Stop being so childish, Faith. This is accomplishing nothing. The simple fact of the matter is that you have been out of contact for the majority of the day, and in case it has escaped your notice, the sun is down. It would be ill advised to allow you to return here without accompaniment. You could have been compromised."
Her jaw dropped at that, first he was calling her a child and now he was accusing her of being a vampire? She was seriously starting to think he'd lost his mind.
"Faith? Surely that possibility had occurred to you?"
She didn't know what to say, or how to react. Should she be understanding, should she be outraged? She found herself talking on automatic pilot and telling him where she was.
"Where… where you were injured?" His voice took on an almost concerned tone, further adding to her confusion.
"And where Xander died." Seemed she didn't have any control over what she was saying right now because she had no idea what prompted her to add that reminder. It was almost as if she was trying to hurt him.
"Yes. Well, if you can, sit tight, I'll have a team there in a few minutes."
She hung up without another word, her mind in turmoil.
He was treating her like just another soldier in his own private army but he didn't trust her. She could almost understand that mentality, but then… there were the little hints of caring in there. There were the conversations in his library, the time he'd asked her to forgive him. She had thought there was something there, something like respect building.
She just didn't understand what was going on, either with Giles or in her own head.
It was closer to half an hour before anyone showed up and when it turned out to be Buffy along with a wide-eyed kid who couldn't have been more than fourteen, Faith wondered if it wasn't some kind of olive branch from Giles. It wasn't exactly a crack team, even with Buffy there.
Buffy was polite but a little standoffish and Faith willingly let the kid call shotgun, the ride back promised to be awkward enough without having to make polite conversation. Of course, she'd forgotten that, while she had a lot of good qualities, Buffy's driving wasn't one of them. As they pulled away in second gear with the tires squealing in protest Faith bit back the automatic sarcastic remark and instead turned her head to one side and watched the site of the warehouse disappear into the distance. She rested her head against the glass of the window and tried to ignore the memory that wouldn't fade from her thoughts. It had just been a dream, or maybe a daydream, or something. It hadn't been real anyway. Telling herself that didn't help though. In her mind's eye it was all she could see. Xander, walking away and not looking back.
She was more than a little surprised when she got back to Slayer Central not to find Giles waiting for her. In fact, no one seemed to be all that keen to talk to her after Buffy and the kid - who finally introduced herself as Cassie after a little coaxing on Faith's part - had left her in the front hall without a word. Apparently she'd passed some kind of 'not a vampire' test which was just fine with her. When she considered it she realised that there were probably all sorts of warning spells and wards placed around the building just in case, after all, Red was the uber-Wicca these days and it seemed like there was very little she couldn't do when it came to the crunch. Well, so long as no one tried to actually talk to her about anything that was actually going on in the here and now.
Willow seemed to have disengaged with reality to a certain extent and Faith knew that the people closest to her were a little concerned about it. She had offered to help but had her offer politely refused. She'd understood at the time, after all she and Willow had never been all that close but tonight, as she walked the corridors alone, it seemed like just one more thing separating her from the rest of the group.
She shook her head, she was being ridiculous, she knew that. The only person keeping her separate from the group was her - and maybe that was for the best.
Faith paused outside the door of Giles' library, wondering if she should knock on the door to see if he was around. Wondering if she would be welcomed even if he was.
There was no light bleeding out from under the door even thought it really wasn't that late. She checked her watch, just after eleven. It was later than she had realised. Time had never really gotten away from like this before and she found herself yawning almost in a reflex action.
Something was definitely not quite right, she shouldn't be this tired, how had she lost so many hours? The weariness washed over her and she found herself concentrating incredibly hard on simply standing up.
She was too tired to seek Giles out tonight, too exhausted to speak to him; she needed to sleep.
Turning away from the door she kept her hand on the wall for support as she headed along the corridor to the stairs. She didn't see the shaft of light suddenly shine out from under the door as someone inside clicked on a lamp.
Faith didn't know quite how she made it to her room, she had no memory of undressing or of getting into bed, all she remembered was seeing everyone standing around her bed. Looking at her but not seeing her.
They were talking to each other, but when she tried to speak, tried to ask them what was going on, they ignored her completely. She tried to stand, tried to move, but she was frozen where she was. Powerless.
A light began to glow, brighter every moment. Blinding white light.
She blinked against it, trying to clear her vision but the light was unforgiving. She closed her eyes against the glare and when she opened them again she was standing on the remains of the warehouse. At the top of the pile of rubble she had seen first-hand that afternoon. Only…
There was no fence around the devastation, nothing to shut it away from the rest of Cleveland's industrial sector, but Cleveland's industrial sector wasn't there to notice.
Green fields stretched away on all sides and, off in the far distance, Faith could see snow-capped hills circling the scene. She frowned, this was definitely not right. There were supposed to be more warehouses, roads, even traffic. Not fields and what sounded oddly like sheep off in the distance.
The sound of an explosion spun her around and she saw the walls begin to collapse again. She ran forward, abruptly aware that there were people all around her, watching her.
"Giles!" She called out, "Help me! We can get to him in time - we can save Xander!"
The Watcher turned away as if he hadn't even heard her and she ran towards him, trying to get his attention and failing. She turned to see the others - Buffy, Willow, Dawn, even Angel and his group - all standing watching her with a vaguely disinterested expression on their faces.
"Help me!" She cried out, "Please! We can stop this - he doesn't have to die!" She didn't care how desperate she sounded, she just knew she needed to get help. And she knew none of them would help her.
She spun back in time to see the final collapse and knew it was too late, she was too late.
"I can't save you." She said quietly. "I'm sorry."
"Ever think that maybe it's not me that needs saving?" She didn't flinch at the response, part of her had been expecting it.
"No one will help me find you." She said sadly.
"No, they won't." She looked up to see Xander standing beside her, but he looked different. He was standing taller, straighter. "Maybe it's because there's no me to find." He smiled down at her and the light blinded her once again.