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Chapter 25: Dissonance

"God, hadn't we done enough? Hadn't we gone for it, time and time again? Hadn't we stared death right in the face and felt its cold fingers tightening its grip on the backs of our necks? What would satisfy them? Did we have to die before they'd say, 'Ok, that'll do, you can have the rest of the war off?'"

John Marsden - Darkness Be My Friend

Faith slammed her hand down on the alarm clock, effectively silencing its shrill noise and scattering broken pieces across the night table.

"Was it evil?" Buffy mumbled against Faith's neck.

"Yes," Faith replied, her voice rough from sleep.

"That's the fourth one you've broken since February."

"Side effect of disturbing my sleep."

Buffy lifted her head up at this, a sly smile spreading across her features. Catching Faiths eye, "What about when I disturb your sleep?"

"That's a welcome disturbance," Faith answered, lifting her head to kiss the blonde gently.

The buzz of a text message sent Faith's phone crawling across the night table, bumping into the remains of the clock as it went. Dropping her head back to the pillow, Faith groaned and blindly reached out her arm to grasp the small phone as Buffy rolled away from her and out of the bed. Flipping open the phone, Faith rolled her eyes and chuckled before snapping it shut and getting out of the bed to walk over to the dresser.

"What's funny?" Buffy asked through the slightly open bathroom door.

"Xander. He says thanks for not letting him get any sleep last night," Faith replied with a shake of her head.
"And Sandra?" Buffy prodded, the sound of the toilet flushing being covered by the faucet.

Pulling out a bra and panties, Faith began to dress, "Apparently the slayer in her crashed post-humpage and was out cold. T-shirt with or without jacket?"

Buffy popped her head out of the bathroom, brushing her teeth. Faith stood with her jeans on but unzipped, her black shirt decorated with slashes of white pulled halfway down. Faith smirked as she saw Buffy's eyes darken slightly upon seeing her appearance.

"Wif. It chilly," Buffy replied around the toothbrush.

Faith nodded and finished pulling down her shirt. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Faith pulled on her boots before making her way to the bathroom. Buffy exited as she entered, her hair pulled up into a simple bun, minimal make-up applied to her face. Watching the nude back of the smaller woman as she walked to the dresser, Faith shut the door to get ready.

Faith yawned before shifting suddenly as Kennedy shoved her feet off the edge of the last free chair in the kitchen. Her boots swung heavily down and Faith reacted quickly, shifting upwards in order to stop the swing and carefully placing her feet on the floor. It was the most action of the morning as of yet. Most of the slayers were quietly milling about, in their own zones, a range of drinks and foods in front of them.

Faith saw Willow perched on a high chair and frowned, thinking the normally twitchy witch had chosen a poor seat, knowing her; shell fall off the damn thing in minutes. The normally perky redhead had dark bags under her eyes, and a look about her of tired readiness. Boy, do the years drag us with this shit, tho could be 'cause she was getting it on when she coulda been sleepin'. As if knowing her thoughts, Kennedy elbowed her in the upper arm, and Faith flinched, her attention refocusing on the brunette.

"Don't scrutinize her, she doesn't need it," Kennedy mumbled quietly.

"Dude, if I know one thing about Red..."

"You don't." Ouch. Kennedy sighed, "Sorry, I don't mean to be a bitch."

"But you so obviously are, and considering the morning we have ahead of us, kinda don't wanna be fighting ya and the hairy big bads," Faith shot back quietly.

Kennedy nodded mutely, flicking her eyes away to glance at Willow and then down to the table top. Faith watched her before sighing and scratching her chin.

"Whats the sitch with Red?" Faith asked.

Kennedy glanced over at her in alarm before getting up and exiting into the back hall by the garage. Faith waited a moment before slowly rising and exiting behind her, her eyes catching Buffy's curious green ones on her way out. Shaking her head at the silent question in the blonde's eyes, Faith turned and went down the hall, following Kennedy into the bathroom.

"Ken, what's the deal?" Faith asked, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms after shutting the door.
Kennedy looked up from her seat on the sink top, "I asked her if she would be my partner this morning."

Faith swallowed, oh. Huh. Off of Faith's silence, Kennedy continued,"She didn't say anything back yet. She told me to wait til after today. Then she did some ramble about the Scoobies having a history of popping the question before the apocalypse."

Wait, what? "What?" Faith's thoughts mirrored her inner confusion.

Kennedy sighed, running a hand through her hair, "She told me to ask again later on. Afterwards."

"That doesn't seem entirely unreasonable," Faith murmured, the topic itself foreign territory for her, and she shifted slightly against the wall at it.

Kennedy chuckled mirthlessly, "Yeah, but it could just be her way of avoiding an answer. Of saying no. I just don't think that she should look at Buffy and Xander's histories as models to learn from."

"What models? What do you mean?" Faith asked, confused.

Kennedy waved her hand, "It doesn,t really matter now," it does if you don't know anything about it! Faith thought with frustration, "We're both just scatter-brained right now, and we can't afford to be."

Note to self, ask Buffy about pre-apoc question poppage, Faith thought before standing up straight, "Dude, just go back out there, confident, take her hand and bring her in here. Don't talk to her, ignore any questions. Kiss the living fuck out of her."

"That's your solution?" Kennedy asked, her eyebrows shooting up.

Faith grinned crookedly and shrugged, "Well yeah. Always works. Plus, you could always mention something about not worrying about you two and focusing on the Big Bads. Make it sound good. I dunno, whatever works."

Kennedy eyed Faith for a moment, "Has potential."

Faith nodded and grinned again, "Never known a time when it didn't. Now get with the sucking face." Faith slapped Kennedy on the thigh as she slid off of the counter and followed her out of the bathroom.

Walking past the dining room entrance as Kennedy walked into it, Faith saw Kennedy walk directly to Willow before passing the doorframe and losing sight of them. Sighing, Faith slipped into Andrew's study and shut the door as she heard Willow asking where Kennedy was taking her as they walked down the hall. Go get 'er Tiger. Faith chuckled and slumped onto the couch, throwing her boots over one arm and resting her head snugly on a pillow at the other end. Closing her eyes, Faith felt her body relaxing instantly, craving any extra ounce of sleep she could get. When she began adjusting to the silence of the room, the hushed sound of a couple of voices making their way through the cracked door between the two studies caught her attention. Furrowing her brow, Faith focused on the voices, and began to recognize the cadence of their speech. Swinging her feet down, Faith moved to the door, and heard the distinct voices of Buffy and Angel speaking quietly in the room.

"...and that's all we can bet on right now," Angel's voice murmured softly.

"Great, so we have a covered sunrise, but we don't know for how long. Can you make sure there are heavy fire blankets nearby that you'll be able to get back to if you need to get away during the battle?" Buffy asked back, her tone alert and not conveying any of the tiredness that Faith was still feeling.

"Yeah, lets run the whole length of the sunny cemetery with smoke billowing from us, how ironic to have fire blankets," Spike muttered.

"Do you have a better idea, Spike?" Angel asked coolly.

The scrape of a boot on the floor was all that was heard for a response.

"So we'll just make sure to bring the blankets from the basement before we leave. Willow already put a spell on the windows of the vehicle you'll be in to protect you from the sun once you're inside, so don't worry about that," Buffy continued, her tone now a mixture of frustration and business, "Was there anything else that we've forgotten?"

The room was silent a moment before Angel spoke, "No, I don't think so."

"Ok, then were good. Wheels up in 30 minutes." At that, Buffy exited the office, and Faith heard Spike grumble about needing a cigarette before he too left.

"Did you want something Faith?" Angel asked, his voice louder now after the two people had left him alone in Willow's study.

Faith sighed quietly and pulled the door open enough to move into the doorway and lean against the frame, "You caught me, big guy."

Angel regarded the dark slayer for a moment, and Faith felt a bit like he was studying her the way Angelus would study his victims, if only to grasp a better understanding of what was going through her mind at that moment. Faith knew all too well how capable Angel was at reading people- considering his years of sadistic practice- but she also knew he was not using it with anything other than good intentions. This vampire, the outcome of a young, drunken night of revelry-turned siring, a vampire constantly struggling with the inner battle of the weak man, the powerful demon, and the unrelenting soul, was perhaps the only being living and non who truly understood her. Angel understood the inner struggle, the guilt over past deeds, and the all-consuming and never-ending road to redemption, where they would never know if they would ever make it, but refused to give up anyway. That doesn't mean it ain't hard, Faith thought. Buffy would never fully understand Faith, Faith had learned it years ago, and knew it every day. That didn't mean that she refused to let her try. But Angel - he got her - and that was why she leaned on the door frame and let him study her in silence.

"What do you think you'll do after this, Faith?" Angel finally asked, his face giving no clue as to whether he was satisfied with what he saw when looking at the brunette.

Faith was taken aback by the question, but recovered quickly, remaining nonchalant, "Dunno, really. Vacation? Somewhere without a Hellmouth, preferably."

The corners of Angel's mouth twitched upwards for a moment before he became serious again, and asked, "I mean, are you going to stay here? Or do you think you need to keep on your own?"

Faith sighed, knowing the true, unspoken questions, Are you ready for all that staying entails? Work with a team? Can you stay with solidarity? With loyalty? Follow rules? Love her and not hurt her?

"I'm not perfect, yunno?" Faith began, uncrossing her arms and shoving them in her pants pockets with a visible sense of discomfort, "But Ill try."

Angel nodded, that's all anyone can ever ask from people like them.



Faith shut the garage door leading to the rest of the house, the garage was lit up, the big doors open, the vehicles all moved out to the driveway in a single file. The entire group of Slayers and brave humans were fanned out in the garage, with Buffy, Willow and Giles in the front. A good number of the woman had on skin-tight black outfits, various personal items attached to make them their own, a button here, an armband there.

"If you plan on panicking, do it now, the bathroom is right through that door," Buffy informed the group, her eyes flicking around, "We'll be arriving in cars; Angel and Spike are already there with the Coven."

"Faith will take point, Kennedy will take the rear," Giles continued, "There is to be as much silence as possible once we enter the woods, as the large number of people we have will possibly already make too much noise. To help lessen that possibility, once further in the woods, fan out with your pair next to you."

"What? No further power-point plan?" Rona piped up.

Buffy shot a look her way, and Faith got the feeling this was not the first time Rona attempted to lighten the mood before an apocalypse attempt.

"We don't know what could happen once we get in there, Rona, so no; you'll just have to get along without a guidebook."

Some nervous chuckles broke out then, and Giles decided to step in before anything else started up, "If you need to use the rest rooms, use them now, we'll be leaving in five minutes."

Faith moved away from the door quickly as a rush of four girls came toward it, all vying for the bathroom right inside. Chuckling and shaking her head, Faith moved out into the driveway, immediately walking towards her bike.

"Mind if I hitch a ride with you?" a voice asked behind her, and Faith felt the smirk appear on her face as she turned around to look at the blonde.

"Not a prob, but ya gotta wear the helmet, for safety ya know," Faith replied, pulling an orange helmet out of the backpack she had left on the seat overnight.

Buffy took the helmet and gave it a sour look, "I get the bitch helmet?"

Faith shrugged, "You're heads smaller than mine, B. Deal."

"But I'll look like a traffic cone," Buffy complained, then, "and a round one at that."

Faith grabbed her black helmet from the bag, letting it drop to the ground as she did so. Turning the helmet to face the right way, Faith pulled it on; the visor pushed up, and only then looked at the pouting blonde.

"Wear it, or ride with the groupies, B. Pouting ain't gonna work on this one." Faiths voice was muffled slightly, but stern. Buffy sighed as she pulled the orange helmet on in silence.

Kick starting the bike, Faith felt Buffy climb on, her small arms snaking around the brunettes waist, her small breasts pressing against Faiths back as she leaned against her. Waiting in silence, Faith began to walk forward on the bike when Kennedy honked her horn. Revving it slightly, Faith felt Buffy tighten her grip, and accelerated slowly down the curving driveway. At the end of the drive, Faith stopped and turned her head to the side, "You ready?"

"Uh huh!" The nervous voice floated back and Faith held in a chuckle that she knew the blonde would feel.
Flicking a switch on the underside of her helmet, allowing for conversation to be enabled between her and the rest of the vehicles, Faith heard Dawn and Xander arguing over which CD to listen to.

"Oh for Christs sake! Put in Rob Zombie and make everyone happy!" Faith heard Kennedy holler through the radio.

"Or unhappy," Andrew grumbled.

"Guys!" Faith's voice cut in," Definitely not the time for music fights. Stow it for later. We're going."

"Aye Cap'n! Hear be monsters!" Xander shot over the radio, and Faith smirked before turning her bike down the road and accelerating. Here we go.


Stopping at the cemetery, Faith killed the ignition, knocked the kickstand down, and got off the bike after Buffy hopped off. Pulling her head free from the helmet, Faith looked over at Buffy, who was fixing her hair slightly, the orange helmet placed on the back of the bike.

"Think you could've gotten us here any faster? Jeez Faith," Buffy commented.

Faith shrugged and put her helmet down, "If they cant keep up, their loss. Besides, kinda wanted a minute alone with ya."

Buffy turned towards her, her face drawn, "Faith..."

"I know, its just, if something happens..." Faith stopped long enough to wave off Buffy's attempt at cutting in, "If something happens...Christ, I don't even know. Sentimental ain't my style."

Buffy chuckled nervously, "It's fine," then, her tone serious, "I know what you mean though," reaching out to touch Faith's face, Buffy murmured softly, "I love you."

As the train of vehicles turned the corner and rumbled towards them, Faith moved her cheek in Buffy's hand, "I love you."

Buffy nodded silently and dropped her hand, moving towards the cars, Faith following a moment later. As the group shut doors and handed out weaponry from the back of the SUV, Faith watched as the young slayers nervously picked their weapons. Seeing Jack looking undecided, Faith placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Pick what you think you can handle. Nothing more."

Nodding with wide eyes, Jack went over to the weapons and picked a six inch knife, attaching the sheath to a thigh strap while Buffy grouped the others together. Faith had a broad sword strapped to her back, and a secondary, four inch knife in a boot holster. The smaller one was a just-in-case weapon, as Faith really hoped she wouldn't have to get that up close and personal to the Kartuk.

"Everyone ready?" Buffy asked, getting a quiet chorus of affirmations. Nodding, Buffy looked to Faith and Giles, "Let's move out."

Walking through the cemetery was strange, as there were no vampires to be seen- as if they knew.

Suddenly, Faith's slayer senses went on red alert when a vampire decided to crawl out of his grave, so totally the worst timing ever, dude, Faith thought, watching with a smirk as Buffy cleanly knelt down and staked him before her was even fully free from the earth, her deviation from walking beside Faith barely even slowing her down. Faith could hear Xander and Dawn murmuring a game of "I Spy" behind her, and cast a sidelong glance at Buffy, who was smirking and shaking her head, only the Scoobs would play "I Spy" on the brink of a battle. As they approached the edges of the forest, Faith saw shadows moving just within it, only to see Angel, Spike, T'wanii, and the Coven waiting for them as they got closer.

Converging together as a large group, everyone moved forward into the woods in silence, the night silent except for the sound of their movement. Once the cemetery could no longer be seen from view, Buffy halted and glanced back at Willow, who nodded and swallowed nervously before squeezing Kennedy's hand gently and moved out of the group, the Coven, Andrew, and Giles following. Dawn placed a hand on Buffy's shoulder, a nervous look in her eyes before dropping her arm and following Xander and Sandra to catch up with the group. Angel and Spike moved away in the opposite direction, both glancing back at Buffy and Faith. Faith caught Angel's glance and nodded imperceptibly, smirking at the glimmer of a smile appearing briefly on his face. Finally, Faith watched as Vi and Rona led Britt, Jess, and Tonya off to the left, shadowing Angel and Spike, leaving Faith, Buffy, Kennedy, Trey, T'wanii, and Jack behind.

Moving further into the woods, Faith felt her connection with Buffy humming, as if the slayer within the short blonde was already anticipating the coming battle. The sound of murmuring reached her ears first, and Faith turned to look at Buffy silently to check that she too could hear it. Nodding in response, Buffy turned to move forward again, gesturing for Kennedy and Jack to move around to her left, while Trey and T'wanii silently moved off to the right. As they began to move, Kennedy stepped on a twig, snapping it with her boot, causing a vine to fly up and make a loud thwack against a nearby tree. Kennedy glanced guiltily at Buffy, who only had time to sigh before a loud roar sounded close by, and Jack cried out as something slammed into her, sending her into a tree trunk. And we thought this attack would start with finesse, Faith thought, as her Slayer senses told her to duck.

Hearing an object just clear her head, Faith spun in her crouch and narrowed her eyes on a Kartuk, who was crouched as well, his red eyes glowing at her. Just before launching herself towards him, her ears barely registering the sounds of a small scuffle to her right, Faith was knocked to the ground by a magical blow. Shaking her head as she stood back up, Faith's gaze swept around her, letting the slayer connection within her search for Buffy. Upon finding her helping Jack up, Faith turned to look for any of the Kartuk.
"Where are they?" Kennedy asked, grunting as she stood up from the patch of mud she had landed in.
"They must have retreated to the inner circle. That was the Covens barrier spell. This is our chance, c'mon," Buffy stated, moving forward, "We didn't even get a chance to get into position and they've already been able to retreat to fight with more condensed numbers."

Jogging, Faith caught up with the others, Trey and T'wanii and Kennedy and Jack splitting away quickly as they came nearer to the well-lit clearing, the chanting ever louder. Basically all of the younger slayers had requested the armored outfit, and Faith had to hand it to Jack to be ballsy enough to not wear it despite all the other girls insisting on it. Kennedy was wearing a paintball type body armor hugging her torso, the only older slayer to be wearing some form of protective armor. It was strange what the generational difference could do to the Slayer line. Faith's musings on protection and Slayer gear ended when she approached the edge of the clearing, her connection with Buffy tingling with anticipation. Hearing the sounds of the slayers from the other flank breaking into the clearing with hollers and yells, the Kartuk began roaring, and Faith burst out in unison with Buffy.

Her hand reaching behind her, Faith unsheathed the broad sword which she had strapped to her back, her eyes glancing over to Buffy who held the ever useful scythe. Her eyes alighting on a nearby shaman, Faith started toward him, only to be yanked back by Buffy as a Kartuk barreled by, his horns ripping her jacket as she moved backwards, Fuck, and this was brand new, too, Faith narrowed her eyes.

"He totally just got a one-way ticket to hell," Faith growled, hefting the sword up.

As the demon kicked back one of its feet, kicking up dirt, Faith swung the sword around in her hand, bringing it up fully vertical near her body, feeling Buffy nearby her. The demon grunted and rushed them, diving at the last moment, bypassing Faith's arcing blade, his skull slamming into Faith's shin. Dropping to one knee, Faith grunted and slammed her fist into the demon's neck, making it squeal as it rolled away and out of Buffy's range as she attempted to swing at him.

Getting up, Faith spun quickly, hearing footfalls behind her, and cried out as she was body slammed by another Kartuk. Falling to the ground, Faith's sword clattered and flipped in the dusty earth, settling too far out of her reach. Hearing Buffy kick the other Kartuk, Faith rolled onto her back and flipped herself up, quickly finding the second Kartuk which was tag-teaming her and Buffy. The sounds of girls yelling, demons grunting, chanting, and fighting created a familiar cacophony of which Faith had only ever experienced from the averted apocalypse days. Sensing a Kartuk nearing her, Faith spun and landed a solid kick to his shoulder, sending the small demon stumbling to her left, allowing for her to get in a left hook to his jaw, bypassing the horns as she did so. A third demon, sent flying from the other group of slayers, hit the ground and rolled into Faith, sending her off-balance which was enough for her Kartuk to move toward her, and the Kartuk Buffy was fighting to drop out of the scuffle and make a run for Faith. Spinning out of the recovered and charging Kartuks' paths, Faith heard them collide with a howl of pain. Still not fully balanced, Faith could feel Buffy coming to her aid, and finally grasped the handle of the dropped broad sword.

"Faith!" Buffy yelled as she ran to get to her, Faith sensing too late that the thrown Kartuk was coming at her.

Why does this always happen to me? Faith thought, wincing as she leaned her body into the barreling demon, his small, hefty frame knocking her to the ground. A last second head tuck, kept Faith from slamming her head onto the ground, but sacrificed her ability see exactly what happened to the Kartuk that hit her. Shoving the weight off of her, Faith rolled again, her sword lost a second time, only to yell out in fury as she felt a horn gouge its way into her side. Ripping the short knife blade from her boot, Faith spun her bleeding torso and slammed the blade into the demon's throat to the hilt, wrenching to the right, almost completely decapitating the beast. Collapsing to her knees with the dead weight, Faith pulled the blade free and jammed it into the ground, slowly pulling the horned head from her body.

Dropping the demon's body next to her, Faith glanced up and saw Buffy swing the scythe in a full arc, neatly decapitating one of the two Kartuk attacking her. Wincing, Faith grabbed her knife and sheathed it, standing slowly and grabbing the broad sword yet again. Seeing the third Kartuk charge Buffy from behind, sending her tumbling in the dust, Faith lumbered forward to stand near the blonde as Kartuk turned to make another pass. As it picked up speed, Faith moved quickly in front of Buffy while she began to stand and crouched with the blade sticking straight towards the demon. It was too late for it to slow down or move out of the pathway of the deadly weapon, and the blade slid through the beast easily, sticking out the other side from his momentum.

"Faith, are you okay?" Buffy asked, her hand on Faith's shoulder.

Faith pulled the blade free and stood to look at her lighter counterpart, always a yin and yang with us, isn't it?

"I've had worse," Faith replied, causing Buffy to look curiously at her.

Faith knelt on the ground, covered head to toe in blood. Demon, human - mostly her own - mixed together, making her sticky as Faith wrenched her axe free from the demon in front of her, wincing at the barbs stinging in her back that the vampire shamans had thrown at her.

Standing shakily, Faith turned to glance back at the small army she had with her, most of them dead on the ground, ripped to shreds from the demons they came ill prepared to fight. Maybe this was one apocalypse she couldn't stop.

"You are not strong enough, Slayer," the head shaman jeered.

"Strong enough to kill you, you ol' snaggle-tooth," Faith replied, grunting as she pulled a grenade free from her belt and threw it towards him, running forward as she did so.

The shamans rose in unison, preparing to flee, only to be held to their spots, Faith silently thanking the gods that her one magick user wasn't dead yet. Dropping behind a boulder, Faith felt the explosion, rocks and dirt showering her, mixing with her uncountable open wounds. Too many blades, claws and teeth had gotten to her. All she had to do was get to the top of this one hill, and stop the ritual.

Sometimes even little things seem too difficult.

Grunting, Faith stood up, feeling woozy from so much blood loss. Moving around the boulder, Faith gripped her axe better and sprinted to the crest of the hill, finding five of the vampire shamans, including the head one awaiting her arrival, well shit, Faith thought, changing her stance to better prepare herself for the assault.

"You're dead Slayer," the head shaman growled.

"Not before I take you with me," Faith replied, "But I gotta hand it to ya for trying an apocalypse. Most vamps don't think so long term."

"We are beyond vampires, we are Forever," the shaman declared.

Faith swung her axe into the first attacking shaman, beheading him. As the group stopped to watch him dust, the inverted scream of his death settling over them, Faith looked at the group, "Still seem pretty killable to me."

Seeing Rona's body flying back into the brush brought Faith back to the present, and she refocused herself, turning to take in the battle.

It was chaos, to put it simply. The Slayers were fighting their best in pairs, Vi going to attend Rona, Kennedy dragging an injured Aggie further from the battle, the roar of a Hellmouth beast as Angel severed one of its limbs with a sword, T'wanii's war cry as he pulled a Kartuk demon's head free from its body with his bare hands, the sound of the shaman's chanting, and the ever-increasing sound of the Coven's chanting in the woods nearby, accompanied by a rustling that meant that Sandra and the Scoobies were fighting to protect the focused women. Concentrating, Faith hefted her sword and followed Buffy as she pursued the next nearest Kartuk.

Severing the arm from a charging Kartuk, Faith spun, crouching and ducking out a leg as she did so, disconnecting the next charging demon from his ankles and feet. The blur of movement, her slayer senses guiding what she did, Faith was one with her calling, feeling the harmonious connection with her sister slayer, as the blonde used Faith's bent back to roll over and kick a Kartuk in the jaw, sending him sprawling into another demon, who was quickly dispensed with by Britt. Moving to the next demon, Faith heard the scream of one of the girls, and her attention faltered.

"Man down!" A voice yelled, the cacophony of the battle stripping of her from being able to place who spoke.

Her focus momentarily broken, a Kartuk barreled into her, knocking her over yet again. Groaning, Faith rolled, only to feel a surge of emotion through her connection, and watched as Buffy arced the scythe over Faith's head, decapitating the Kartuk, protecting her from being run over by the demon's second run.

"C'mon, we need to gather around the wounded," Buffy told her, pulling her up with her free arm.

"I don't count?" Faith grumbled as they jogged over to the group of girls who were forming a wide semi-circle around several fallen comrades.

Another yell of pain stopped her, and Faith turned, seeing T'wanii fall, Trey still struggling to get up from being knocked over as her demon pair collapsed to the ground from two Kartuk demons double teaming him. Not even thinking, Faith left the group and sprinted, the adrenaline making her forget of her own injury at the moment.

Won't get there in time, Faith thought, seeing far too much ground between her and Trey as the demons began charging her stumbling and injured form. Letting out a guttural yell, Faith lifted her sword and threw it as hard as she could toward the demons, forcing her body to jump to get closer. Landing without seeing what damage her weapon had done, Faith rolled, feeling herself slam into a solid being. Yanking her knife from her boot, Faith righted herself to her knees, one foot on the ground for pivoting, and spun enough to catch the demon she had barreled into as he righted himself next to her. Grabbing him by his stringy black hair, Faith yanked him towards her and buried her knife into his neck to the hilt. Dropping the body to the ground, Faith stood, her hand and the knife coated in the blackish blood.

Breathing heavily, Faith turned and saw Trey, her eyes wide, staring at her, the other Kartuk feet from her, the sword she had thrown wiggling as the demon twitched from the blade going through its torso. Standing over the demon, Faith shoved the sword deeper and then wrenched it free.

"You good?" Faith asked Trey, pulling her up from the ground.

Trey nodded quickly, "T'wanii..."

Faith nodded and turned toward the fallen comrade, feeling Buffy's worry over them being too far away from the protection of the larger group seeping through their connection. Ignoring the feeling for the moment, Faith knelt by T'wanii, watching as his chest rose and fell in shallow breaths.

"We can't risk bringing him over there now, so we gotta protect him here, ya got me?" Faith looked at Trey, who nodded solemnly.

Raising her sword, Faith eyed her surroundings, shifting slightly as she took in the Kartuk regrouping, their numbers dwindling, but still effective against them. It was then that the shaman all faltered slightly, and Faith knew that the Coven had broken their protection spell. Almost instantly, Faith saw a curved knife arc beautifully into the group, slamming into the chest of what looked like the most prestigious of them. Seeing Vi and Rona guarding the injured, Faith watched as Buffy led the others into a direct assault on the shamans.

"Go, I'll protect him. The Kartuk are gonna wanna protect their magick men more than come after our wounded," Trey told her, and Faith didn't wait a moment longer before bursting forward in a flat out run toward the shaman, and Buffy, Faith thought, her mind on the one single person in the middle of the fray.

It didn't take much, a stab here, and elbow there, for Faith to get to her blonde counterpart. Slamming her sword into the chest of a Kartuk which was about to attack Buffy from behind, Faith moved in and pushed her back against the other Slayer, providing a circular arc of attack between the two of them, oh the damage we can do together. Slicing another shaman down, Faith heard Sandra yell from the woods for back up, causing Buffy to yell to Kennedy and Aggie to go. Catching a glimpse of the women running for the woods, Faith stabbed a Kartuk, throwing a punch to another demon over the blade as she began to pull it free. Faith felt Buffy fall behind her, and saw a gash from claws running down her side into her thigh when she turned to aid her. C'mon B, we can do this, Faith thought, grunting as she pulled the blonde back up, only to receive a kick to her side, knocking her down onto one knee. Looking up, Faith chanced a glance around her.

The Kartuk were scrambling to fight, but their numbers were quickly dwindling as the shaman lost their power and their lives; Trey was gathering the fallen together as best she could, a slain Kartuk near her feet as she helped what looked like Britt limp over to T'wanii. The Coven's chanting was loud enough to make it through the sounds of battle, and even the Hellmouth seemed to be gasping its last breath as Spike and Angel repeatedly stabbed and attacked a multi-limbed beast who had been locked from re-entry into the now-closed Hellmouth. Above her, Faith watched, entranced, as Buffy swung her scythe - because Faith could see now, that while it was for all Slayers, she was really the Slayer to wield it - the arc of the weapon beheading three demons converging on the two of them, and landing finally in the chest of the last shaman, and Faith couldn't remember the last time she had seen anything so beautiful.

Standing back up, Faith was suddenly aware of the silence around them, the heavy breathing of the Slayers the only sound breaking it. Looking around, Faith watched as Vi pulled her axe from the last Kartuk. Faith turned to look at Buffy, catching the glimpse of dark eyes, knowing the post-slayage desires were already unfurling within her. Faith herself could feel a need for food, not to mention a good fuck.

"C'mon, lets go check on who's hurt, Willow says its over," Buffy stated, moving toward Trey.

"How...?" Faith began, only to shake her head, not wanting to fully understand the red-haired witch's powers of communication.

Faith saw Angel and Spike melt into the woods, as the first streaks of dawn made pink fingers in the sky over their heads. Moving toward the growing group of Slayers, Faith watched the Coven and the other Scoobies emerge from the brush, Kennedy helping a limping Willow, and Sandra carrying Dawn, who Faith could see was conscious, but injured in a way she couldn't immediately perceive. Xander and Giles followed, helping a limping and bloody Andrew walk between them with Aggie beside the trio.

Turning to look at the girls, Faith saw the tear-streaked faces of Jack and Vi before taking in the whole scene. Tonya lay cradled in Rona's arms looking as if she were asleep, but Faith knew better than to think that. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Faith shifted her gaze to a still breathing T'wanii, who lay next to Trey, who was kneeling to close Jess's eyes. God, she was only 15, Faith thought.

"Irene," Buffy turned to the leader of the Coven, her face solemn as she addressed the elder woman, "do you and the Coven have enough energy to move the injured and deceased?"

Irene closed her eyes momentarily, "We can will stretchers to be brought, but not even grouped together do we have enough energy for that. I am sorry."

Buffy nodded, "Thank you, whatever you can do will be enough."

Faith sighed and slumped to the ground, suddenly finding her legs too tired to hold her up anymore.

"Faith? Are you okay?" Buffy asked, leaning over her.

"Five by, B. Just a lil' tired from the blood loss," Faith answered, feeling a slight wave of dizziness overcome her, "But hey- apocalypse averted."

A grim smile appeared on the blonde's face before she sat down next to the rogue slayer, "It's finally over."

"Whoot," Xander chimed in, as he collapsed into a sitting position near them, his tone lacking the usual mirth and sarcasm.

"What now, Buffy?" Vi asked, as she stood from Britt, her shirt torn to help slow the blood flow from the gash in her neck.

Buffy closed her eyes, and Faith watched the weariness at being in charge begin to take its hold on the older slayer.

"Motorbate. Let's get the severely wounded, or unable to walk onto the stretchers and back to the first load of vehicles. Sandra take the lead," Faith began, her voice getting louder as she began to take charge, knowing that Buffy needed a rest.

Sandra nodded, yanking Xander to come with her as she moved to the recently summoned stretchers.
"Next group are the rest of the injured who need medical attention. The last group will be the healthiest of the group, who will bring in Tonya and Jess," Faith finished, her gaze falling on the two bodies.

As the group began to move and mobilize, Faith turned to look at Buffy, a look of respect coming from the blonde's eyes.

"What?" Faith asked, feeling slightly surprised at the look the woman was giving her.

"You're a leader, Faith," Buffy commented quietly, a small smile appearing on her tired face, "When did that happen?"

Faith shrugged, "Who knows, B. Just don't go ruining my slacker image, 'k?"

Buffy smirked, but didn't reply, and turned to look at the group, "What do you wanna do now?"

It took a moment before Faith realized Buffy was talking to her, "A blood transfusion is topping my list, but as soon as that's done, well..." Faith trailed off, smirking when Buffy glanced back at her, an eyebrow arched.
"R&R?" Buffy filled in.

"More like H&H, B. Think you can handle it?" Faith asked, grinning.

"Think you can?" Buffy replied, a mischievous smile spreading across her face.

"I don't wanna interrupt the extreme case of innuendos and sexual comments you two are starting in on, but guys?" Dawn interjected, seated nearby on the ground, "Kinda not the place to be doing it."

Buffy glanced from Dawn to Faith before nodding and standing, Faith following soon after. Looking back at the carnage behind the group, Faith thought, its over. Finally.

"I so totally want a vacation from Hellmouths," Kennedy commented, lifting a stretcher with a groaning Andrew on it, Giles grabbing the other end.

"Amen sister," Rona stated, lifting a fist up into the air from where she stood, grabbing a stretcher with Vi.

Amen to that. Faith thought.




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