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Virtue of a Warrior

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Summary: Faith faces her greatest test; and she faces it alone. No Buffy to love/hate, no Mayor to take care of her, no vampires to slay. In a city awash with blood, Faith must finally face her greatest enemy: herself

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Dark > Faith-Centered(Current Donor)DreamSmithFR1856235,317305733,45328 Sep 0725 Oct 07Yes

Chapter Nine

Disclaimer: Faith was created by Joss and his happy dancing minions. Story and featured Original Characters are mine.

Book Two

Even in my dreams, she's always with me.
She fucks me, she kills me, she taunts me, she… holds me.
And I do the same to her.
No matter how far I run, I can't escape.
She's a bright, bitter part of my soul; now and forever.
I wonder if any part of me lives inside her?
Is Buffy as bright and good and pure as always?
Or is she feeling any wilder, any darker, nowadays?

Faith dreamed.

She was walking a tightrope, and it was a long, long way down. Below her the city streets were dark and silent, with only fleeting shadows at the edges of her vision offering proof that the vampires and demons were there, waiting for her to fall. The rope extended ahead of her for another few hundred feet before it ended at the still-broken window of her apartment. If she could only make it that far, then she would be safe.

That was easier said than done. In one hand she held her knife, the cruel double blade shimmering gold and scarlet in the darkness. With her other hand she gripped Alex's wrist, supporting him as he dangled over the killing drop. He said nothing, simply staring at her with trusting eyes as she moved slowly forward, step by step, along the narrow cable. The boy's weight should have unbalanced her and pulled her sideways off of the rope, but it didn't. The knife was unbelievably heavy for its size, and with it in one hand and Alex in the other she was able to maintain her equilibrium, if only barely. A damp wind began to blow, pushing at her with sharp, treacherous gusts, and she swayed slightly. If she fell now, with both of her hands full, then she would never be able to catch herself. But if she dropped either the knife or the boy now, she would lose her balance for certain. Besides, she wasn't sure she could bring herself to let either one of them go.

A faint vibration through the rope made her glance up from her feet.

Buffy was there, walking along the same rope, just a few yards in front of her. She was moving easily, almost carelessly, and Faith felt a familiar stab of bitter envy go through her at the sight of the other Slayer. Buffy wasn't struggling; her only burden was a group of strange round objects she juggled as she walked. At first Faith thought that they were oddly decorated balls of some kind, but looking closer she recognized them as miniature human heads. Willow, Xander, Giles, Joyce, Riley and a couple of others she couldn't name; all of them floated in a wide circle that Buffy kept in the air with almost no effort whatsoever. The loving expressions on those faces as they stared at the blonde girl made Faith look away.

Concentrating on her feet, she kept going, aware that Buffy was moving more quickly than she, steadily extending the distance between them. The elder Slayer was doing what she was best at; making sure Faith stayed in second place. Suddenly and without warning, pain shot through her. She looked up to find several deep cuts on either arm, but there was no sign of what had caused the injuries. Ahead of her, Buffy spun a slow pirouette, never glancing at the rope she walked upon. A shimmering plane of light appeared in her path, but she moved through it without harm, leaving a Buffy-shaped cutout though it. When Faith reached it a few moments later, she stepped through like she'd seen the other Slayer do, but it didn't part harmlessly before her as it had for the other girl. Instead, it cut her like shards of glass. Every part of her that touched the shimmering light received slices that began oozing bright red blood. Only the portion of her body that had passed through the Buffy-shaped hole escaped injury. Ahead of her, she saw more glittering barriers appear, one after the other. The older Slayer stepped through them almost carelessly, leaving openings the exact size and shape of her body. When Faith reached the next one, she tried to get through without touching any of those razor-sharp edges. She couldn't. She wasn't the same size as Buffy; and she wasn't the same shape, either. Even if she had been, she had to keep her arms extended to balance Alex and the knife. Her arms were cut again, and she bit her lip to keep from crying out. Her blood was flowing in small streams now, and her arms began to sag as her strength faded. More of the transparent barriers loomed before her; she didn't know how many more she could endure.

Buffy was still moving easily, walking backwards now along the tightrope, looking back at Faith with that smug, superior way she had.

"You're doing it wrong, Faith." She kept the circle of heads spinning through her hands as she passed through another barrier without a scratch. "See? Like that. Do it like I did."

Great, except Faith hadn't seen her do a thing. There had to be some trick to it, something the other girl wasn't telling her. Another barrier, and yet another set of wounds. Every one she passed through seemed to hurt her more deeply than the last. She felt her grip beginning to fail, and she looked down at Alex. Her blood was running down her arm and onto his face, but he just looked at her.

"You can do it; I trust you."

Faith shook her head. Another barrier was coming.

"I can't. I tried before, and I couldn't. I'm not her. I never was good enough for this. I never deserved it."

The glittering shards sliced into her, so deeply this time that she thought she felt them scrape bone. Buffy shook her head in mock despair, but her eyes gleamed triumphantly.

"Wrong Faith! Do it like me!"

Her hands were numb, and her vision was getting dim. The last thing she saw was Buffy's smirking face.

"Faith? Did it ever occur to you that the reason why we all forgot you was because we wanted to?"

And then she fell-

--Landing in the back of a truck. The truck. Unlike the last time, she came down gently, almost floating to a landing. She lay there for a few seconds, staring upwards and watching the tops of the buildings passing by. A faint sound came to her over the roar of the truck's engine, a flicker of light from just a few feet away. She sat up quickly, aware that both Alex and her knife were gone, leaving her with just her clothes and her bare hands. Kelly was sitting in the front of the cargo area, smiling at Faith over the spoon she held. Despite the slight bouncing motion of the vehicle, she kept her lighter positioned beneath the spoon, watching closely as the white powder it held dissolved into a clear liquid.

"Hey there. Bad trip?"

The Slayer blinked, then nodded slowly.

"Kind of. I've had worse, though." The cuts were gone, the pain fading as the truck rumbled and bounced through Sunnydale's seedier side. She watched as the other girl put away the lighter and brought out a syringe, filling it with the drug she'd prepared. Faith gave the girl a pitying look. "I can't believe you're doing that to yourself. With all the crap you already have to deal with, why screw yourself up more?"

Kelly glanced up at her with a raised eyebrow.

"Well, look who's talking." She had a length of rubber tubing that she had started to tie around her upper arm, but she paused. Looking at the Slayer, she got a strange, knowing look in her eyes. "Tell you what. I'll trade you."

Faith stared at her blankly.

"What? Trade me what?"

The teenaged junkie gave her a sly grin.

"C'mon. I'll give you mine-" She handed Faith the ready syringe. "-And I'll take yours." Her other hand reached forward, blurring as it neared the Slayer's body. There was a wrenching, a sickening tearing sensation as the other girl pulled her hand back. In her fist she held something that blazed with golden light, and as Faith felt the darkness inside where that light had been, despair filled her. Something had been torn out of her, something so precious, so much a part of her that without it she was nothing and no one. Emptiness flooded through her, and the few bits of her that were left were not enough to survive within that terrible void. She needed something, anything to fill the hollow inside….

Gasping for breath, overcome by the sudden, hollow misery that was drowning her, she jammed the syringe into the inside of her elbow and thumbed the plunger down with all her might.

Kelly's laughter followed her into darkness.

* * * * *

Faith ran.

Through darkness that wasn't dark to her eyes, around the back of the apartment complex, vaulting the chain link fence that surrounded the parking lot there. Like a shadow she blurred across the asphalt, crossing to where the back stairs crouched in a small pool of dingy yellow light. Up the stairs, five and six at a time, her breathing low and controlled, and her hypersensitive ears alert for any sign that someone was near.

There was no one; it was still an hour until dawn, and this was her fifty-seventh lap of the building tonight. She was doing them in groups of ten, with a session of stretching and calisthenics in between. It was a barely adequate substitute for the full-scale gym setup she'd had access to as Mayor Wilkins's right-hand girl, but it would have to do.

She reached the top of the stairs, and the long, straight corridor that ran the length of the complex. She sprinted again, and the far end came closer in a nearly silent rush. This wasn't as fast as she could move, merely as fast as she could move with hardly a sound. She thought of it as flowing. When she exerted herself fully, it was an explosive movement, with every ounce of strength she had in her body being applied to force her feet against the ground and get her to where she needed to be. Flowing, on the other hand, was moving in harmony with the environment, with inertia, and momentum, and all those other things she would have learned about in school, if she'd been there. It could still be very fast, but the most useful aspect to it was that it didn't disturb anything around her. She could move through a littered alleyway without rattling a single piece of debris. She could walk across grass, or dirt, or sand without leaving a footprint.

She could run through and around an occupied apartment building at five in the morning, with none of the residents being aware of it. It was all about finding a rhythm to the movement, a sense of… flow. She couldn't explain it to someone who couldn't do it; it was just something she did… like now.

Slowing, she reached the far end of the corridor. Stairs on the left led downwards, the same stairs that she had used to carry Kelly up to the apartment a few hours ago. She ignored them, leaping over the railing instead. From the third and uppermost floor, it was roughly twenty-five feet to the ground. Arms extended, Faith executed a swan dive towards the small grassy area below.

Somewhere, either inside her brain or inside her very bones, the thing that made her a Slayer told her body what to do. She hit the ground hands-first, and her spine arched, rolling her shoulders and back across the ground, transforming downward momentum into horizontal momentum. With barely any hint of impact at all, she was flung up off the ground and launched forward across the sidewalk. She nearly fumbled it when she came back down, but with just a tiny wobble her feet were under her and she was off again.

Flow, not brute force. Though of course she could have just jumped off and landed flat on her feet from such a low starting point. That was what she had done, each of the previous laps. Despite the even pace of her breathing, something like a sigh of relief escaped her. Doing it the flashy way was risky, unless you were in perfect physical condition, and she wasn't. It was a fairly stupid thing to have done, but she needed to push herself if she wanted to regain her former levels.

Besides, after the fight with the gangly humanoid things, she had energy to burn. She ran, hurdling plastic and metal garbage cans every few paces, then rounding the building again. Ahead of her loomed the fence. This was fifty-eight.

* * * * *

It had been too long since she'd had the chance to work out. All that laying around, months of inactivity…. It was no wonder that she hadn't done very well in the couple of serious fights she'd had since waking up. Starting now she was back in training; or at least as much training as she could manage, under the circumstances.

Faith shook her head, trying to get her hair out of her eyes, but it didn't work very well. Taking a deep breath, she slowly bent her arm at the elbow, letting her face sink towards the gritty surface beneath her. When she was looking at the rain-damp shingles from less than two inches away, she held herself there.

She was perched on the highest point of the building's roof, where she'd been doing her exercises in between the sets of running. She turned her head slightly, glancing around, but there wasn't much to see. Her coat folded and sitting a few feet away, with the sheathed knife and gun lying atop that. The mostly-lower buildings of the neighborhood, looking like huge crouching beasts, the few lights doing nothing to make the area seem any less oppressive. Everything looked kind of strange at the moment, of course, being as how she was looking at it upside down.

Faith felt a trembling begin in her forearm and bicep, and she glared at the offending arm as if it had betrayed her. Ten minutes spent supporting her weight in a one-armed handstand, sixty or seventy super-slow push-ups like she was doing now, and her arm was tired? That was pathetic. Moving carefully, she straightened her arm, driving her body slowly upwards. The arm trembled, and she felt the aching muscles waver, but they did what they were supposed to. Holding her balance easily, she shifted to the other arm and began another series.

She really, really missed the gym equipment back in her old apartment. The compact, heavy-duty and state-of-the-art setup had let her work out in private, any time she wanted. With that, somewhere to run, and a steady supply of demons and people to kick the crap out of, her conditioning had been easy to maintain. She wondered how much it would cost to replace the lost equipment; a lot, probably. Undoubtedly more that she could expect to have anytime soon. Even a set of free-weights was more than she could even begin to afford, right now. Exercising like this, with just her own body weight to work against, took practically forever.

Better get used to making do. In a lot of ways.

The simple truth was, she'd be doing well to feed herself unless she found a way to put some more money in her pocket. A place of her own to stay would be nice, too. How to do that was still a mystery. Join up with the gang, these 'Thousand Year Storm' people? She wasn't sure if she wanted that. Maybe, if they made her a good offer and agreed to leave Alex and Kelly alone… maybe.

Her other arm was tired now too. Putting both hands on the surface of the roof, she extended her legs to either side and slowly rotated her body until she was head uppermost again. Still holding herself up with her hands, she stayed like that, legs extended out to the sides, parallel to the roof but not touching it. Most female gymnasts her age would already be thinking about retirement, but she hadn't even reached her prime. Her seventeenth birthday had come and gone while she was in the coma. If there had been presents, they were gone by the time she woke up.

She abruptly released the pose, plopping down on her bottom and shaking out her weary arms.

Enough of that.

She was tired, more so than just the workout could account for. It was happening again; with nothing to stimulate her, she was running down again. The urge to go inside and lay down was overpowering.

Screw that. I wouldn't be able to sleep, and there's no television. All I need to do is find a fight. Or a good lay.

That immediately brought her thoughts around to Alex, and the events of last night.

Even before she had managed to fall asleep she'd been troubled by what had happened. By what had almost happened. After the fight with the creatures, she'd been wound up and ready to party, just like old times.

What she had done to Alex had been just like old times, too. She'd felt the need in her, burning hot as a flame. The monsters had died too easily; she'd only killed them, she hadn't had a chance to hurt them. So she turned on Alex. He was cute enough to appeal to her anyway, and the way he had stared at her with those big, dark eyes… it made her shudder again just thinking about it. So she'd kissed him, and when he had tried to break away she hadn't let him do it. Not until she was ready, anyway. And after that…. After that… she'd made herself stop.

It hadn't been easy, and in the old days she wouldn't have even tried, but she had let him go, and without another word they had returned to the apartment where Kelly was waiting. Alex had all but run to her, holding her tight and kissing her with an intensity that left the girl gasping. It almost looked like he was trying to erase the taste of Faith's mouth, replacing it with his girlfriend's. His one true love. It was kind of cute, in a sickening way. When he started to feed the take-out to her a bite at a time, coaxing the little junkie to eat, Faith had gone and shut herself into the empty bedroom. There was only her carry sack for a pillow and the leather coat for a cover, but she'd made do with less in the past.

Thoughts of Alex and that kiss kept her awake and staring at the ceiling for a long time. She doubted that he understood what would have happened if she'd been of a mind to continue. Not that she would have killed him, that was really pretty rare, unless she was feeling particularly angry or frustrated. No, not killed, but not left unmarked, either. The need to dominate everyone around her was deeply ingrained. If someone acted like they knew the score, if they didn't challenge her, then everything was fine. Alex, though… even though he sort of knew what her deal was, and despite what he had seen her do; sometimes he seemed to forget. That stare outside the alley, telling her, (telling her!) that she should go help the poor victim, that had been a mistake on his part. If someone got in her face and gave her attitude, then she couldn't be held responsible for the damages.

He was lucky she liked him, a little. He was lucky that some of being Buffy was still rattling around inside her head, blunting the instant rage that the wrong look or words could trigger in her. It was probably just the aftereffects of the body switching that had led to the dreams, too. She hoped that was all it was.

The dream had woken her after what her internal clock told her was a bare ten minutes of sleep. What was up with the whole 'Faith and Buffy on a high wire' thing, anyway? Was it supposed to mean something? The only thing that occurred to her was that the two of them might be joining a circus at some point, and that seemed mighty unlikely at this stage in the game.

Faith sighed. After months of constant nightmares where the other Slayer had killed her over and over again, she'd been hoping for a change. Well, at least a knife hadn't been directly involved, this time. The thing with Kelly in the truck, though…. Faith shook her head, dismissing it.

Only a dream. People have crazy dreams all the time; that doesn't mean that they're crazy. A little voice in the back of her mind chose that moment to whisper: No, it's getting your fun by torturing and killing people that makes you crazy.

Stop. Stop it. Her entire body was wracked by a sudden fit of trembling, despite the fact that she wasn't cold or anything. Wrapping her arms around herself, she huddled there, staring at the horizon. The first pale hint of day was just visible there. I'm not crazy, not even close. Anybody who's done the things I've done, seen what I've seen…. That would mess with anyone's head. But I can deal. All I have to do is shove it away, back into the shadows. None of this can touch me, none of it can do jack to me, unless I let it. I've just gotta make sure and keep it away.

Deep inside her, the uncertainty, the pain and the fear, all of it was still there. She could feel them, lurking at the edges of her mind, where she had pushed them. That didn't matter; she would survive. She always had.

The roof was no longer visible in the blues and grays of her nightvision. Instead it was lit by a wan yellow glow. She sat up straight, shocked to see that dawn was now well-advanced. The upper rim of the sun was peeking over the distant rooftops. She rubbed her eyes irritably and looked away. How long had she sat there just then, blind to the world around her? That never happened, she was more careful than that. With an easy motion, Faith stood. Despite the exertions of the last couple of hours, there was little soreness in her muscles.

See? The bod's as good as ever, or it will be with a little more work. I'm coming back from the coma fast.

Defying the lethargy that was dragging at her, she did a quick tumbling run along the ridgeline of the roof; a couple of slow walkovers moving into quicker somersaults and ending with a high, twisting leap that took her a full six feet above the roof, and made the ground and the sky trade places three times before she came back down-off target. Her feet shot out from under her, the loose grit surface of the shingles offering poor traction. She caught herself with her hands, preventing a slide that would have sent her hurtling into empty space before she smashed down on to somebody's parked car. The acute embarrassment was lessened only slightly by the knowledge that no one had seen her flub.

Okay, so I'm not all the way back. Probably more like sixty percent of full speed. She stood up again, rubbing her stinging palms against her pants legs. That's still better than I was yesterday, and tomorrow I'll be even better. I need to get all the way back; I need to be ready for….

She paused for a moment, staring down at the ground below.

What did she need to be ready for? Aside from the little diversion she'd found with Alex and Kelly, what was there for her to do?

The sun was half-visible now, and she stood there for a minute longer, watching it rise.

Dawn, and another wonderful day in her life was just beginning.

"Yeah, right."

She whispered a bad word, flipped off the morning in general and the sun in particular, and went to gather up her stuff.

* * * * *
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