See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer
That first time a person is confronted with the paranormal, they have a choice. Most reject the event completely; they find refuge in denial. For them, the crack in their staid, normal word, the fissure that momentarily yawned wide and showed them another reality was nothing more than a hallucination. A brief, unexplainable event that should be studiously ignored, in the hope that it will never trouble them again.
Others, however, experience the strange and unusual, and find themselves compelled to know more. The revulsion and dismay caused by a monstrous demon can have a curious effect on such individuals; they find themselves driven to search out such beings, to learn all they can so that the creatures that threaten their friends and families may be destroyed.
How much more powerful must be the fascination felt by such rare individuals, when their first glimpse of the world that lays beyond the mundane is not a demon, zombie, or other such wretched creature, but is instead the incomparible magnificience that is the Slayer.
--From the Journals of Rupert Giles
May 27, 1997
Alex woke slowly. The entire night had been a series of nightmares. Monsters prowling the streets, chasing him, tearing Kelly apart as he watched helplessly. Sometimes Faith was there, too, either fighting them or watching them. A couple of times it had been her chasing Alex or hurting Kelly, and those had been more frightening than the ones featuring the creatures.
From beside him on the sleeping bag, Kelly stirred, murmuring quietly.
He leaned down and kissed her gently.
"Good morning. Everything okay?"
She nodded her head against his chest, her eyes still closed.
"Mm hmm. Jus' sleepy."
He propped his head up on one hand, using the other to caress her hair.
"You promised Mrs. Gilman that you would go in today. Do you think you'll feel like it?"
Her breathing had deepened again, and she didn't answer. He lay there for a while, watching her, and the faintest barb of irritation stabbed at him. He did love her, he never doubted that, and he knew that she loved him; but…. Well, it would be easier on him if she would try showing it. Heroin addiction tended to cripple a person's sex drive, and last night Kelly had sleepily rebuffed him when he'd begun making love to her. It wasn't the first time that it had happened, but it was the first time he'd had to lie there beside her while just a room away another girl lay sleeping.
An incredibly gorgeous, impossibly sexy girl, who had kissed him with undeniable passion less than an hour earlier. He didn't want Faith; not at any level beyond the physical, anyway. Still, he was only human, and Kelly's passion for anything except her next fix had been absent for a long while.
Alex forced those thoughts away, staring at Kelly's sleeping face, using it like a talisman to ward off the image of Faith's eyes, her lush, sensual lips….
He sighed, reaching out to touch the slumbering girl's cheek, wondering what would happen to the two of them a week from now, a month from now. They were just barely surviving, despite the lucky breaks they had gotten. There were plenty of others who had to spend every night out on the street, sleeping in boxes and under bridges. Some of them had probably died last night, out there in the rain. Sooner or later, his and Kelly's turn would come up. As hard as he tried, there just didn't seem to be a way out.
The ringing of the phone made him jump, and he had to take a couple of breaths to compose himself before extricating himself from Kelly. It rang again, echoing loudly through the bare apartment. Wearing only his ragged underwear, he hurried into the kitchen and grabbed the receiver.
"Alex? Hey kid, listen. Mr. Hessler in thirty-seven just called me and said that his toilet's clogged up. Since you're right down the hall from him, do you think you could go take a look? It'd save me a drive over there."
He nodded, leaning against the wall and rubbing at his eyes.
"Sure thing; no problem."
"Great. Oh, and he said something about squirrels in the attic, or something; said they kept him up all night. If you get a chance, take a look around. I'll talk to you this afternoon about when we can paint the two vacant ones on the ground floor."
Alex nodded again, fighting back a yawn.
"Okay, right. Talk to you later."
After he hung up he padded back to their room, pausing only briefly to look at the closed door at the end of the hall. Faith had been very quiet last night, after her fight with… whatever those things had been. Despite his need to understand what had happened, some instinct had warned him not to press her about it. Not then, anyway. Not so soon after that kiss. What he'd seen in her eyes afterwards was what had put her in his nightmares.
Maybe today, in daylight, she would answer his questions. First though, he had a toilet to deal with. He went to go get dressed.
* * * * *
Someone was in her room.
Faith crouched, her boots gripping the inch-wide ledge outside the window, holding herself in place with her hands pressed up against the overhanging eaves. Through the open window, she could hear footsteps on the bare hardwood floor. She didn't want to get caught coming in through the window, but it was practically full daylight now, and anyone looking up would see her hanging on the wall. Even now she caught a glimpse of someone below walking out to their car. She leaned slightly to her left, easing her head sideways until she could peek inside the room.
Alex was just a few feet away, looking down at her backpack. He was probably wondering if she'd left it behind, or planned to come back for it. It was also possible that he was wondering how she was planning on getting back into the apartment, being as how the front door was locked and she didn't have a key. He didn't even glance at the slightly open window behind him, since it was a fact that no one could have made it safely out through there. With a last confused look around the room, he walked out.
Moments later she was inside, shucking the coat and following him out into the hall.
It was the high point of her morning so far to see how high he jumped. Suppressing an evil grin, she walked past him and into the bathroom.
"I'm gonna shower, and then you can have your clothes back. Okay?"
He nodded uncertainly.
"Sure. Listen, I have to go do something a few doors down, but I'll be back soon."
He rubbed at eyes still slightly bleary from sleep and took a deep breath.
"Uh, a minute ago I… I was just looking in on you, to make sure you were okay, and I didn't see-"
"No problem, but later. I gotta shower."
She closed the door on his confused expression. Her own clothes were still hanging from the shower curtain rod, and they were near enough to being dry. She took them down and lay them out of the way, then stripped off the set that Alex had loaned her. A change of clothing was just one of the things she needed to locate in the course of the day. Stepping into the shower, she started composing a list in her head.
* * * * *
When she was finished in the bathroom, Alex still wasn't back. Faith took his clothes down the hall, intending to leave them in the bedroom where he and Kelly were camped. She stopped in the doorway when she found the girl sitting there, looking up at her.
Her voice was all soft and submissive, just the way Faith liked it. It was the calculation hiding way back in her eyes that made the Slayer give her a long look.
"Hey. Here." She tossed the clothes into Kelly's lap. The girl made no move to catch them, she barely seemed to notice them lying there. "I guess you guys hit a Laundromat every once in a while?" She reached into her hip pocket and pulled out her money. Tossing a bill on top of the clothes, she went on. "A buck oughtta cover washing 'em. Thanks for the loan."
Kelly looked down at the dollar bill for a moment, and then she licked her lips nervously.
"No problem. Hey, uh… speaking of a loan."
Faith crossed her arms under her breasts and waited. This was hardly a surprise or anything.
"Like I told you before, Alex is going to do a job tonight-he's done some stuff with those Latino brothers before-and he'll have plenty of money afterwards." She looked up at Faith for a moment, then glanced away as she rushed on. "All I'm saying is that I'll be able to pay you back, and I know you've got plenty, so it's not like you'll be going short or anything-"
The Slayer unfolded her arms and stepped forward.
"Let me stop you right there." Crouching down, she looked the other girl in the eye. "You're asking me for another hit of smack, right? I just want to be clear on this."
Kelly was having trouble meeting her gaze. Looking down at the clothes in her lap, she nodded wordlessly.
Faith pursed her lips in thought. It might not be fair to want to punish the girl for what she'd done in a dream, but the urge was too strong to resist. Besides, someone this vulnerable, this dependant on others, was just begging for someone to hurt her. Hey, I'm 'evil' and all that, right? This is the sorta thing I do.
"Y'know, I've been wondering about something." She watched the girl fidget for a moment. "Alex seems like a really nice guy. I mean, he might be into a little petty thieving and stuff, but on the whole he looks like he's trying for sainthood. And unless I'm wrong, the stealing is only something he does because he has to support you." She still didn't look up, and Faith gave a heavy sigh. "I'm not sure why he does it. Look at you. You might have been a looker once, but now you're getting all skinny and hagged-out. Looks like some of those track-marks might be getting infected, too." Kelly hastily covered her arms with the blanket, and the glance she gave the Slayer was sullen. That only made Faith smile. She couldn't help herself; she loved kicking people who were down. Especially when they deserved it. "And it's not like you care about him or anything, either. Here he is, in love with you so bad it hurts, and all along you're just using him so that you can afford to shoot up every-"
"No!" The girl's eyes were blazing, and for a second Faith thought she was going to leap at her, clawing and biting. "I do love him! I love him so much--!"
The Slayer nodded sagely.
"So much that you'll let him steal for you, and get beat up for you, and end up either dead or in jail for you?"
Kelly didn't seem to have an answer for that. Staring at the floor she mumbled.
"I love him, more than anything."
Faith smiled again. That was just too good an opening to let pass.
"I have to say; it sure didn't sound that way last night." The junkie's eyes met hers in shock, but the Slayer just gave her a lazy grin. Tell you what; I'll give you a chance to prove how much you love him."
The other girl's confusion was plain, but she said it anyway.
"I'll make you a deal." Faith dug into the pocket of the coat she held. Coming up with a cellophane packet, she reached out and placed it in the girl's hand. "Here you go. One of these now, but-" She raised a hand to stop Kelly from gushing out her thanks. "But… that will be the last one. No way, no how, are you going to get any more of that from me. Even if Alex walks in here with a truckload of money." She watched as the other girl's face turned crestfallen, then she leaned a little closer. "That will be the last one, unless…."
Kelly was licking her lips again, even as she clutched the little packet tightly in her hand.
Faith made a show of looking nonchalant.
"Well, if you were willing to make me a loan of your own, just let me borrow something, then I'd be sooo grateful." It was all she could manage not to break out laughing at the eager expression on the girl's face. She really was so pathetic.
"Sure, yeah, I could do that. I'd loan you anything you need, for as long as you need."
She was practically babbling now. Faith nodded at her.
"Okay then. Next time you need something to get you through, all you need to do is say the word. And let me have sex with Alex."
It took a few seconds for that to penetrate.
Faith nodded, a blandly pleasant expression on her face.
"Sure. Not to keep or anything; every once in a while I just need a little 'thang' to rock my world, to help me relax. I'll even try not to bruise him too bad before I give him back to you."
Kelly was shaking her head, her eyes wide with disbelief.
"I-I can't believe you. You want to screw Alex, and pay me with this?"
The Slayer affected a thoughtful look for a few moments, then nodded.
"Yep, that's about it. But I might be selling him short. How about this-Five of these for the first time, since that'll be the hardest one for you, then four for the next one, three for the one after that, blah, blah, blah." She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "After the first couple of times the novelty usually wears off anyway. I doubt we'll get past five."
The girl looked stricken.
"You won't do any 'times'!" She clutched the blanket around herself, pulling back as far as she could from where Faith crouched. "He would never sleep with you anyway. So none of this matters at all."
Faith shrugged elaborately.
"Don't be so sure. I had a little taste of him last night, and I think he's got a lot of pent-up energy just waiting to get loose, and I usually get what I want, one way or another. Besides, what makes you think he would get a say?" She locked her eyes on the addict's, holding her gaze. "And it would be best if you didn't say anything to him about it. This is between you and me. I promise that I won't do a thing unless you say it's okay first. That makes it your call, and whatever happens is your fault. Don't blame me, and don't you dare blame him." She reached out and lightly poked the girl in the chest with one iron-hard finger. "This is completely, absolutely, totally… about you."
She stood up. Kelly looked like she'd been beaten with a club, and unshed tears shone in her eyes.
"You unbelievable bitch." She sounded like she was about to cry, too. The poor baby. "Why are you doing this to me? Do you hate me that much?"
Faith looked down at her for a few seconds, then shook her head.
"No. I don't hate you; I don't even know you." She thought about it for a moment longer.Because I like hurting people, and you're just so easy to hurt? Maybe that's part of it. Because I can't stand to see anyone around me being happy when I'm not? Just a little.
That wasn't the whole reason though, and the smile she came up with this time was tinged with the sadness she felt.
"I suppose I want to know the answer to something." She turned to leave.
"What? What do you want to know?"
The pleading in the girl's voice brought Faith up short, and she looked back.
"Alex says he loves you; you say you love Alex." She looked at the girl sitting there, huddled in the ragged blanket and looking so small and helpless; so weak. Her lips twisted with disgust, but she went on. "Him I mostly believe, but you're going to have to prove it to me. You, Kelly, are going to have to show me."
The girl's face was filled with dread, like she knew the answer already. Looking like she was speaking against her will, she asked.
"What do I have to show?"
Faith reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a packet.
"Which one you love more; Alex-" She held up the little bag of white powder. "-Or this. 'Cause I'd really like to know if this 'love' crap I'm always hearing about is actually for real, somewhere." She walked out of the room, leaving the girl to think about that.
* * * * *