See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer
The calling of a second Slayer is of course a grand occurrence. My investigations into the matter show that while exceedingly rare, this is mention of such a thing happening at least once before. Up until now we had dismissed the relevant records as a faulty notation of the dates involved, but this time there can be no doubt; Buffy Summers is no longer the only active Slayer. According to Rupert Giles, the girl Kendra was mentored by one of our erstwhile colleagues in Africa; a fellow scholar who can perhaps be forgiven for not bringing the matter to the Council's attention earlier.
It is, however, not my intention to allow the next in this new, Beta lineage (separate now from the 'Alpha' line which will continue in normal fashion upon the Summers' girl's death) to exist outside of the Council's control. Sorcerous inquiries have revealed that Kendra's heir is likely to manifest somewhere in the eastern portion of the United States.
Agents of the Council will of course be dispatched immediately to begin the search. We will find this one before she is called, and ready her for her duties.
With two Slayers doing our bidding, the Watcher's Council will yet regain its former level of prestige and influence.
--Lord William Robert Hayden
Earl of Stapleford
First Seat of the Council
Nov. 21, 1997
Alex walked down the hallway, but his thoughts were not on where he was, or the minor battle he'd just won against a clogged plumbing system. As seemed to be happening more and more often, he was thinking about Faith.
This morning, in the light of day and in the face of the normal, mundane tasks he had performed a hundred times before, the unbelievable events of last night had begun to seem, well, unbelievable. He had begun to think that maybe what he had seen last night had been a trick of the light, or his imagination running away with him. It was a fact that he'd been beaten up last night, and some of those blows had been to his head. Maybe he had been hallucinating everything except the girl fighting a couple of big, nasty men.
That was what he had been thinking, and he had almost begun to believe it too, until one little thing had come to his attention.
This morning, Faith's cut was gone.
Despite the way the fight was trying to blur in his mind, the aftermath was quite clear. She'd kissed him, then let him go, and they had both returned to the apartment to find Kelly waiting. As he was unpacking the food he'd brought back for her, he had gotten a good look at Faith. The blood that he had noticed on her face earlier had been coming from a deep cut near her left temple. Despite her casual dismissal of the wound, Alex had managed a momentary inspection of it, and had seen just how serious it was. There was little doubt that it would scar, and the image of it had stayed with him long after the girl retreated to the empty bedroom.
A short while ago, right after she had somehow appeared out of nowhere (he still couldn't figure out where she had been hiding, or why) he had gotten another look at her, and the cut was just… gone. It wasn't scabbed over, or concealed with make-up; the smear of blood down the side of her face had dried and flaked away almost completely, but it still pointed to where the wound had been less than six hours before. Now, aside from what might have been a faint pink area of skin, there was nothing to show that she had ever been hurt. For some reason that drove home to him more strongly than anything else the strange world he had suddenly been thrust into.
He hoped that she would be willing to explain a few things today. He hoped that he would be able to handle what she told him.
"Alex." He whirled, facing back down the open-air corridor that ran the length of the third floor. At the far end were the stairs that led up from the front parking area. Four men were just stepping off onto the dull red carpet that lined the hallway. They were all formidable-looking, but it was the tall Asian man in front, the one who had called out, that made the boy's insides clench tight. The man smiled. "We need to talk. Got a minute?"
Itai Toshi was clearly of mixed blood. Japanese, Korean, even a dash of something from the West was represented in his features. Alex fell firmly into the camp of 'I really don't care what he is, so long as he's not anywhere near me', but in the Asian community, purity of race was a serious issue. The word on the street was that Itai had had to learn how to fight practically as soon as he leaned how to walk. When he showed up a few months ago as one of Thousand Year Storm's enforcers, he had wasted no time in establishing a reputation as a coldly vicious fighter. It was also well known that he was an efficient killer. No one wanted to see Itai; all too often, he was the last person you ever saw.
Alex stood frozen as the men approached. Itai was slightly taller than average, which made him quite tall indeed for an Asian, though he had the slim build typical of his race. The other three were local recruits, his handpicked good squad, every one of them hard-eyed and dangerous-looking. The enforcer came to a halt in front of Alex, a friendly smile on his face. The other three hung back slightly, spread out so that there was no way past them. Of course, there was another set of stairs a short distance behind where Alex stood, but somehow he had the feeling that if he turned his back and made a run for it then he wouldn't live long enough to reach them.
"Nice morning, isn't it?" Itai said. His smile was still in place, but it never reached his eyes.
Alex shrugged carefully, keeping his movements slow. There might still be a way to get out of this alive and in one piece, if he kept his wits about him. He was excruciatingly aware that Kelly was in the apartment just two doors down from where he stood. No matter what happened, he vowed to himself that he wouldn't reveal where she was. If things went badly, he would just have to trust Faith to take care of her.
"It's okay, yeah." He finally answered, trying to make his voice sound natural. "I just came over to do some work. Unstopping toilets, stuff like that."
"Fascinating." Itai looked anything but fascinated, running a casual hand back through his stylishly cut hair. The distinct reddish tint to it was the most obvious proof of his mixed heritage, but as he stepped a little closer Alex got a good look at his eyes, too. They weren't quite as slanted as an Asian's should be, and they were dark green instead of brown. They also held all the warmth of a blizzard. "Listen, Alex. We've never actually spoken, but I've heard good things about you. They say you've got a good head on your shoulders, that you know how to take care of your debts." All of this in an eminently reasonable, even friendly tone. "Hearing this makes me curious-" Itai reached out and grabbed him by the jaw, holding him with a painfully strong grip. "-as to why you're all of a sudden very anxious to die." The man's teeth were showing again, but this time it was not possible to mistake it for a smile. "Why is that, Alex?"
He tried to speak, but with the lower part of his face squeezed together it didn't come out very clear.. Itai took his hand away, wiping it off on the front of Alex's shirt as the boy composed himself and tried again.
"I didn't do anything to Zack except talk. I told him that I would have what I owed him by tonight. That's all."
The other man regarded him, his face impassive.
"I see. 'That's all'. And I'm supposed to believe that Zack and his partner Kurt decided to beat the hell out of each other?" He shook his head slowly, his eyes never leaving Alex's. "We have lots of people who are saying they saw you and some woman take them on. There's also the little matter of the drugs and cash that they were carrying, which this woman was seen taking." The friendly, pleasant smile was back, but it failed to diminish the aura of violence the man radiated even while standing perfectly still. "Unlike your debt, that theft is a matter which we cannot overlook, even temporarily. If we fail to redress this affront, the public will think we've gone soft, that we're not to be respected. We can't let the public think that about us. Do you understand, Alex?"
Oh, he understood all right. They were going to kill Faith for what she'd done to their dealer. The comment about 'going soft' was almost funny. The various criminals who had run things in the past had been a tough bunch, but these newcomers brought it to a whole new level. They didn't hesitate to kill anybody, for even the smallest perceived threat or transgression. The parts of the city that they controlled were gripped with a fear that was entirely new, even to those who had lived in the shadows here all their lives.
The man gave him a level look.
"This friend of yours, this woman, has seriously underestimated our resolve in this matter. According to the witnesses, she was the one who initiated the attack, and she is the one that we are going to use as an example. You, on the other hand…." A condescending smile crossed his face. "You're young, and we are prepared to make allowances for it, if you cooperate. If you return the merchandise and the money to me right now, and if you tell us where to find this friend of yours, then you get to live. Now, I'm not denying that you'll be in a world of pain before we're finished, but that's the price you pay for being stupid. If, on the other hand, you decide to be even more stupid, and jerk me around for even a second, no one will ever find your body. Oh, and that pretty girlfriend of yours will have to go back to her old job, working for us this time, as a way of paying off what you owe." The man reached into his pocket and withdrew a pair of expensive sunglasses, wiping them with deliberate concentration, as if none of this were particularly important to him one way or the other. "So, Alex. What's it going to be?"
He was at a loss. He couldn't turn Faith over to them, and he didn't have the money, or the drugs. Once again he felt himself struggling against the trap his life had somehow become. There really wasn't any way out.
"Ah, Faith isn't here right now. She… has your stuff, but this wasn't anything we planned. I had never even met her until last night." He hated himself for babbling like this; he sounded like such a lame little street kid. The thing was, you didn't survive situations like this by being brave and telling the big, dangerous men to go stuff themselves. He had to play it smart, look harmless, and hope for a miracle. "I don't think she really meant anything by taking your property. She's new in town, and Zack and Wade just ah…."Oh, man. How do I describe what happened? "Sorry, your guys just rubbed her the wrong way, so she wiped the floor with them? Sorry, Itai, but I don't dare ask her to give back your stuff; she's got a hair-trigger temper and I don't think it's healthy to try and make her do something she doesn't feel like doing?"
"I just mean to say, she doesn't know anything about what's going on. It might be best to talk to her before you try… doing anything else."
Itai donned his sunglasses, then regarded Alex for several long moments.
"Well. I appreciate the tip, but I would still like to meet this Faith. Maybe I could fill her in on the details of the situation." He leaned in just a little, and in that same calm, reasonable voice asked. "Where is she, Alex?"
From out of nowhere came an unexpected reply.
"Hey dude, she's right here. What's up?"
* * * * *
Faith had been idly walking around the apartment, killing time until Alex came back from whatever he'd gone off to do. She was hungry again, of course, and there was literally nothing to eat in the whole place. A systematic search of every cabinet and drawer had turned up nothing much except dust and junk. With absolutely nothing else to do, she soon wandered back to the room where her stuff was sitting.
Seeing how little she had in the way of actual stuff was depressing. Folding herself down onto the floor, she ran through the inventory.
A worn shoulder bag with several sets of Buffy's clothes, all of them too small for her.
A denim jacket, still damp from being rained on.
A leather jacket stolen from the street dealer, with a couple of dozen packets of heroin in the pockets.
A small pistol, semi-automatic, with a full clip holding seven rounds, and a wad of cash totaling less than a hundred bucks; also stolen from the dealer.
And finally, one wicked, magical knife, with which she already shared a colorful history. Given the events of last night, she'd been very interested in learning more about the weapon. When she touched the hilt now, it was still warm, almost as if it still held the life force it had taken from the creatures she'd killed with it.
She'd been debating the wisdom of unsheathing it again when voices reached her ears. A Slayer didn't walk around with all of her senses in hyper-mode; that would be too distracting to tolerate for very long. She did, however, tend to pick up sounds and voices that she was unconsciously listening for. When she heard a stranger's voice outside say 'Alex', she was on her feet and moving towards the front door in an instant. When she reached it Faith put her eye to the peephole and peered out, her hearing cranked up to maximum sensitivity. The scene outside with the thugs facing Alex was easy enough to figure out, as was the young man's likely course of action. He would try and protect Kelly, and probably even her. He was a brave, noble kind of guy, this Alex. Gee. And here she'd thought every living example of that particular species of moron had migrated to Sunnydale.
A bare second later she was moving. A glance into the bedroom showed Kelly busy cooking up her morning spoonful, so she wouldn't be getting in the way. Darting into her room, Faith moved to the window. Only when she reached to open it did she realize that the sheathed knife was still in her hand. Clipping it onto the waistband of her jeans, she slammed the window open. A thought occurred to her, and she looked back at her belongings in the floor. The pistol lay there, and she debated for only a moment before leaning down and retrieving it. Tucking it into the back of her jeans (after double-checking that the safety was on), she climbed out through the window. It was a little over twenty feet to the ground from here, and even though the surface below was an asphalt parking lot that wasn't what kept her from jumping. Going around the building and up the stairs was the long way around. She knew a faster way.
Rather than jump down, she reached up and out. The overhang of the roof eave was right there, just over her head. Clamping down with her fingers until the material creaked in protest, she lunged upwards, her body hanging in empty space for an instant before she pulled herself up and around in a single smooth motion, landing easily atop the roof.
It was all very simple, if you were a Slayer. From there it took only seconds to reach the side of the building she wanted. Another small vault past the edge of the roof dropped her onto the top landing of the stairs, a few yards behind Alex, just as the head tough-guy finished asking where he could find Faith.
So she answered him.
"Hey dude, she's right here. What's up?"
* * * * *