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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(Past Donor)DreamSmithFR1856235,317305733,18628 Sep 0725 Oct 07Yes

Chapter Twelve

See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer

I knew; after that first patrol with Faith, I knew that there was something very wrong going on inside her.
I fight. I find the vampires, or the demons or whatever, and I slay them. Yes, sometimes I play with them just a little, and yes, sometimes I get caught up in the incredible rush of the Slaying experience. But I don't go out there looking to inflict torture.
Faith does.
Whatever happened to her before she came to Sunnydale, it damaged her in ways I can't really understand.
And as time goes by, she isn't getting any better.
If anything, she's getting worse.

--Buffy Summers



Everyone was staring at her; the four goons and Alex too. She smiled brightly, walking forward with a spring in her step. Even with the shades, the head thug was extremely cute. Plus he had that whole 'evil-yet-cool' thing going for him.

"Hey Alex, I've been looking for ya all over." She aimed her best sultry stare at the sexy bad guy. "Why don't you introduce me to your studly friend?"

The boy looked like he'd much rather sink through the floor and disappear. Clearing his throat, he nodded at the tall Asian beside him.

"This is Itai. He's-"

"I am a member of the Thousand Year Storm." The man reached up with one hand and slowly took off his sunglasses. The eyes that were revealed held frank appraisal. "You are Faith?" Her silent nod seemed to amuse him. Turning slightly, he spoke to both Alex and his followers. "You and this… girl, the two of you are the ones who assaulted and robbed our men?"

Faith couldn't help flashing him a grin.

"Yeah, that's us. What, did they tell you I was taller?"

Itai was regarding her again, more carefully this time.

"Yes, among other things."

She spread her hands in a gesture of helplessness.

"Hey, don't be too hard on your boys. It's not their fault I kicked the crap out of them. That's what I do every night. At least; when I don't have anything else to keep me… occupied." She let her eyes go from inviting to dangerous. It was a look that had made other men wet themselves as they ran away. "Those two jokers last night just picked the wrong time to piss me off."

Alex chose that moment to step in between them.

"Listen Faith. I think we can settle everything here without any more trouble. All they want is their property back, and then we're okay." He looked from one to the other, his expression desperately hopeful. "If you explain to them that you didn't mean to offend them or anything, this can end here." He didn't really believe that, she could tell just by listening to him. "Let's just stay calm, and talk this out." He gave her a meaningful stare when he said that part, and that was just so unfair. It was like he expected her to do something rash and stupid.

He was right, of course. She was going to do something rash and stupid; that was practically her middle name. It just hurt that he expected it of her. Besides, she didn't like talking things out; that was so… boring. She didn't want to fall back into that place where she was walking around but still nearly asleep. She wanted some action; she wanted to fight.

She needed to fight.

Granted, this was a little public, even for her. It was broad daylight now, and there were people inside all these apartments just a few yards away from where they were standing. People who would hear anything that went down, would come and gawk like the idiots that they were, maybe even bring their camcorders. Hell of a good way to end up on the evening news, huh Faith? She knew all that, but at the moment it all seemed distant and unimportant. This was a chance for her to do her thing, a way to feel awake and alive, even if it was just for a minute or two.

Chances like that never came often enough to satisfy her, and there was no way was she going to let this one slip away. Unfortunately, the Asian guy looked like he agreed with Alex.

"He is correct. If you return what you took from our people, this need go no farther. You-" He emphasized that part, and Alex winced. "-May well escape any repercussions for your actions. In fact, my superiors might well be interested in speaking to you concerning a future with us." He gave her a smile that made her reconsider beating him to a pulp. He really was good-looking.

There was the job offer, too. Maybe he was lying; if so then he was pretty good at it. On the other hand, he could be on the level. Only last night she'd mentioned to Alex the possibility of this happening, and now here it was. Once she showed this guy's boss what she could do, she'd be in; there was no doubt of that.

The only problem was, when she spent a moment and tried to seriously consider going to work for these guys, she felt ill. Literally; it was an actual, physical sensation of nausea that welled up inside her, and it took her by surprise.

Whoa. What's the big deal? I've done this before, and I loved it. Getting paid a lot of money to trash people, everyone being all respectful and afraid of me; it's a sweet gig. He's offering to give it all back to me, everything that Buffy took away. I can be someone important. I can… matter, again.

She took a deep breath, watching Itai the entire time.

Yeah, I can be someone again. Someone that's drowning in all the filth that human garbage like this can dream up. I'm already at a place where I can barely stand to look at myself in a mirror. I'm already… dirty. I can't do that anymore. Not and have anything of myself left. If I do this, then it won't be long before I just give in and off myself, or find somebody to do it for me. If there's even somebody out there besides B who could do it.

She knew her soul, if she even had one, was already stained beyond redemption. She didn't even know if she wanted to be redeemed; the idea of some wise and pure and holy moron like Angel or Giles being all noble and 'forgiving' her for her sins made her want to vomit. Despite that, she knew she was standing on the brink of a final step into the darkness. Doing what she had to do to survive was one thing; doing it because someone was paying her to do it was somehow worse. If she went any farther, even just that one step that this guy was offering, then she would lose even the tattered bits of self-respect she could still claim as her own.

She'd been standing there for a full minute, just staring at the guy, and he was beginning to get impatient.

"Come on girl. Get our property and come with me. You--" A significant look at Alex that made the young man grow even paler, though his face was admirably calm. "Someone will find you in a few hours, to finish up our business." Turning away as if the other had already ceased to exist, he gave Faith another smile, but this time it left her cold. "I can see in your eyes that you have the experience we need. All that remains is to gauge is your temperament, and your skills." He extended one hand towards her. "Come. We'll soon see if you have what it takes to be one of us."

There it was. She looked at the gorgeous, wicked-cool bad guy, and then at the scruffy, semi-homeless (and already taken) loser. They were both offering her a way to go. It was up to her to choose. What did she want to be?

Or maybe the question was, what was she willing to give up?

Faith tossed her hair back over her shoulders and looked the Asian in the eye.

"I think I'd rather hang out here for awhile, thanks."

Itai stared at her blankly for a long moment.

"Hang… here." He shook his head sadly. "I had hoped for better from you."

She nodded sagely.

"That's me, always failin' to meet those high ideals." She flashed him a wicked grin and bounced up and down on her toes eagerly. "You want to try and do something about it? You wanna try and force me?"

He stepped back slightly, watching her.

"No. The offer is withdrawn." He raised his hand and made a slight gesture. "Now I'll watch Julian hurt you very badly." One of the men behind him grinned and moved forward, scarred hands curling and uncurling.

Faith clapped her own hands once, then rubbed them together in anticipation.

"Hey, it's a start." Catching Alex's gaze she motioned with her head. "Get out of the way. This is all me." She glided forward to meet the first one.

* * * * *

Julian was a tall, dark-haired guy with broad shoulders and muscles on his muscles. He looked tough, and mean, and he moved like he meant business.

Faith stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jeans and sauntered forward with a bored look on her face. The man had been approaching her cautiously. His eyes flicked over her body, moving from her breasts to the knife that hung at her hip and then back to her breasts. She inhaled deeply, just to give him more reason to look. He came to a halt just in front of her, his fists still clenched but his stance relaxing slightly. Faith smiled inside.

Yeah, it's hard to be scared of the sexy babe with the great rack, isn't it? You guys are all the same, every last one of you.

Her hands still in her pockets she smiled up at him.

"How about it, Julian? You want to hurt me very badly, like your boss says?"

He gave her a slow leer, then shook his head.

"Girl, I think I'm only going to hurt you enough to teach you some manners, and then I'm gonna take you home with me." He reached out for her, and she smiled.

"Aww, that sounds so nice, but-" Her left leg came up and across, slamming his hands away from her. "-I'm thinking, no." She did a little hop to get the height she needed, then the front kick with the right leg sent her foot flashing up and into his chin, snapping his head back hard. He staggered back, and she ambled after him. Hooking his ankle with her foot, she sent him sprawling to the ground. He stared up at her, dazed, and she drove the sole of her boot down into his face, flattening his nose with a wet crunch. Writhing in pain and only semi-conscious, he was out of the game. Hands still in her pockets, she strolled around to the other side of him, looking up through the dark spill of her hair at the three men who still stood there, staring at her. She smiled at them.

"Well boys, Julian didn't show me a very good time. You'd better take him home." She put a foot under his unconscious body and used it to toss him ten feet closer to where they stood. He landed in a heap, a faint groan escaping his bloody lips.

"Next?"

Itai never looked away from her as he gestured his remaining two men forward. One was a wiry black man with a shaved head and a lot of tattoos showing, the other was a young Hispanic with a carefully trimmed goatee and a cocky grin. They separated as they came at her, forcing her to expose her back to one if she wanted to face the other. Faith took her hands out of her jeans and cracked her knuckles. These two might actually be interesting.

It quickly became clear that the Hispanic had gotten some training from somewhere. Shuffling forward, he suddenly whipped one foot around in a blurring kick that would have cost her some teeth, if it had connected. He had decent speed, but Faith wasn't impressed. Slapping the blow aside, she backed away, turning in time to stop the black man from driving a fist into her kidney. Using her open palms, she intercepted a quick series of punches, her hands absolutely immobile during the blocks, despite the force of the blows he delivered. She didn't have time to properly enjoy the amazement on his face. She was forced to duck another flashy kick from goatee-man, then reach up to catch the elbow that the bald man tried to hammer downwards into her exposed back. Spinning out from under him, she shoved the arm away as she came upright again.

The two men exchanged a concerned look, and Faith gave them a lazy smile, extending her arms up over her head in a slow stretch.

"Come on, you're not even trying! Can't you show a girl a good time?"

Their expressions were more determined this time as they moved forward.

"You think you're real hot stuff, don't you bitch?" This from the Hispanic.

Faith affected a hurt look.

"You don't think I'm hot stuff?" She sniffed pitifully. "Does that mean you don't want me anymore, baby?"

They came at her again, and she had to work a little harder this time. The black guy was mostly a boxer, fast and strong for his size. Goatee had some kind of Karate, and he mixed up his attacks a lot more, using kicks and punches both. She dodged and blocked, making a point of using her hands to stop a blow cold as often as possible. This kind of close-in melee had been kind of a specialty of hers, back in her Slaying days. A gang of vampires usually wasn't much for tight teamwork, but they would try and mob you, burying you with sheer numbers in order to bring you down. The long layoff had made her a little rusty, and she was really only thinking of this little scuffle as a way to get her moves back, not as anything particularly serious.

She thought of it that way right up until she deflected Goatee's latest flashy flying, spinning back-kick and whirled to catch the inevitable combination that his partner would be throwing at her middle-only to take a fist across her jaw that nearly knocked her flat. Faith cursed mentally as she staggered back; she'd let herself fall into a pattern with them, of strikes and counters, and they'd taken advantage of it. It was a stupid, beginner's mistake, and she'd done it anyway. Before she could regain her balance, the Hispanic martial artist delivered a vicious kick to the small of her back that sent white pain flashing up her spine. She was thrown to the ground, momentarily paralyzed.

Slayer or not, that had hurt!. The boxer gave a growl of satisfaction as he moved in, but she didn't wait for him. A wash of tingling replaced the numbness as her body recovered. Twisting around, she used her leg to sweep his feet out from under him, sending him crashing to the carpet. She then had to roll frantically away from the other one, who came very close to putting the sole of his shoe through her face, thereby avenging what she'd done to good ol' Julian. She snap-rolled to her feet just as the black man got to his. Rubbing at her jaw, where she could still feel that shot he'd landed, she felt the first stirring of anger begin to wind through her.

A punch to her face and a kick to her spine wasn't playing. If they wanted this to be serious, she would oblige them.

She moved forward, watching as they split to either side of her. Bracketed like that, she had to be careful or they would surprise her again. Focusing on the boxer, she smiled.

"You first, Skippy."

His reply was a series of jabs that kept her ducking and blocking. She would have to get in through his attacks before her shorter arms would even reach him, and the fact that his partner kept trying to blindside her didn't make it any easier. Spinning suddenly, she fired a kick of her own into the Hispanic. He partially blocked it, but the force of the blow sent him stumbling back. Continuing the spin without missing a beat she stepped backwards, catching the black guy just as he was stepping in and backhanding him hard across the face. He was rocked by the blow, halfway knocked down, but he came back upright, trying to blink it away.

She came back with the other hand, slapping him again. Still with the open hand and not a fist, but as hard as she could manage. He staggered back, raising his arms in an attempt to defend himself, but she brushed them aside and hit him a third time, the loud -Crack- of her palm against his face echoing in the corridor like a gunshot. He let out something close to a scream, tears of pain streaming from his eyes, and she grinned savagely.

"Damn, I'll bet that stings, huh?"

She would have given him another twenty or thirty of the same, but his partner had recovered and was on her again. She managed to reach that conclusion when his foot smashed into the back of her head and sent her forward into the wall. With a snarl she whirled to face him, tossing her head to get her tangled hair away from her face. He was wearing a smug look, obviously feeling proud of himself, and that was his second mistake. She forgot about what technique she had and simply hurled herself at him. He landed a hit to her midsection, but she accepted that since it let her get close enough to get her hands on him. Grabbing him by the throat she whirled them both around and then threw him across the hall as hard as she could. He flew through the air, his body turned head-lowermost when it struck the far wall. The impact shook the hallway, and he fell headfirst to the carpet and lay still. His buddy looked down at the fallen man, then back at her, terror showing in his rapidly swelling face.

The pain from the blows they'd landed on her was fading quickly, but along with the fear in the man's eyes it was enough to set her off. Her chest heaved as her breath came faster, and inside her the savage darkness that she had banished to the outskirts of her mind came surging back. She struggled against it, as she always struggled, but by this point it was merely from force of habit. Most of the time she might be able to pull off a convincing imitation of a normal person, but all it took was a little violence and all the barriers fell, allowing her wilder, darker self to pull free. As rough as she'd been on these men to this point, it was nothing compared to what lay in store for them now. Deep inside, some tiny part of Faith recoiled as she got a fresh look at the tainted, toxic thing she'd slowly transformed herself into. Piece by piece the weak, vulnerable Faith had become this. It was disgusting, she was disgusting… but it was all she had known how to do, the only way she'd known to cope with what her life had brought her. It was too late now to be anything else. A giggle escaped her as she swayed towards him, already picturing what she could do to make his dying last as long as possible. It had been so long since she'd really had a chance to watch someone go slowly. A giddy feeling filled her, mingled with a sense of loathing at what she'd become. Not that that would stop her, of course. She would never stop. She… couldn't stop.

"Enough." It took a moment for that to penetrate, and she turned her head to stare curiously at the man who had spoken. Itai was looking at her with a new respect. "You're not just a girl, are you? No human being your size could be so strong."

She faced him fully, the other man forgotten.

"Did you have something to say to me?"

She didn't want to talk, didn't want to think. She wanted to feel, and if the only way she could do that now was hurt somebody else, then hey, that was the way it had to be.

Thanks mom. Thanks boss. Wouldn't you both be proud if you could see your little Faith now.

The man watched her carefully.

"Only that I've reconsidered. My superiors truly would be most interested in someone like you. The matter of the drugs and the rest is of no importance. I promise you, someone as… special as yourself will be treated with the utmost respect. If there is anything you would ask for, anything at all, it would be considered. Please, take some time to consider the matter."

She shook her head violently.

"No! I told you already-" She felt her lips pull back in a snarl. "What are you trying to do to-" It had been hard enough to say no before, when she'd been calm and cool. Now, with all the sickness inside her running loose, it was hard to remember her reasons for turning him down. She'd wanted to do the right thing, as much of it as she could do, anyway. Maybe that way she could hold on to herself at least a little longer. Now, though, with her blood up and the thought of all she was turning down being pushed into her face yet again…. So what if they wanted her to do the dirty work? Would they want her to kill for them? No problem. She was good at it, she liked it. If it sometimes gave her nightmares so bad that she hardly slept, well, that was what Jim Bean and sleeping pills were for, right? Maybe she should at least go talk to these people, hear what they had to say. She could still say no if she didn't like the deal.

Except it would be a great deal; it always was.

Off to one side, crouched where she'd pushed him, Alex was still watching her. Those eyes on her, judging her, trusting her…. Without even knowing why she did it, she held to her choice.

"Ahhh!" Faith threw herself at Itai. She needed to smash that pretty, tempting face, she wanted to destroy him before he said any more. She reached for him-

--Only to receive a precise, powerful blow just below her sternum. She reeled backwards, gasping, as she straightened. The move had been fluid, and very, very fast.

"Don't force me to fight you." He was still calm and composed, even as he slowly removed his jacket and set it aside. "I would much rather discuss important matters. It is likely you would be given a place equal to mine, even at the beginning. After that of course, your standing would depend upon your-"

Her lungs were working again, and she lunged at him. This time she went in swinging, and he backed away. He was like a ghost, fading away from each blow, moving just enough for her fists to miss him by an inch or less. She kept driving forward, trying to force him back against a wall, to trap him, but the long corridor gave him a lot of room to back up. He was playing with her, the same way she'd been playing with his men earlier. That wasn't fair, it wasn't supposed to work like that, and she screamed with frustration as she attacked.

She wasn't fully recovered from those months of lying motionless, and now it showed. This guy, Itai, was a big part of the problem too. He wasn't just good; he was Jackie Chan meets Jet Li, death-on-two-feet good, and like most Slayers, she'd never bothered to learn the finer points of hand to hand. It was enough to be faster than the other guy, and to know that when you hit something, it stayed down.

She fell back on that strategy now, throwing a fist at his face with all her strength. It missed him cleanly as he moved, leaving her extended and off-balance--and then he was gripping her arm firmly, twisting it in an odd move that locked it straight and sent a sudden lance of pain through her. Without her realizing how he'd done it she found herself forced forward and down onto her knees. He was behind her now, holding her wrist and elbow in such a way that the slightest movement hurt her; a lot.

"Your physical abilities are simply amazing. Your training, however, has obviously been rudimentary. Who was your sensei?"

She gritted her teeth against the pain.

"A British Librarian. When he bothered. And later a gutless wonder who was afraid to come within ten yards of me."

She heard the smile in his voice.

"I'm afraid it shows. Now, if you refuse to come willingly, I will have to render you unconscious. You will not enjoy the experience, I assure you."

No way was this happening. She'd never lost like this. He was making it look easy, making her seem like a helpless child. She would not let anyone do that to her. She put one foot under her, gasping as he increased the pressure on her arm in warning. Ignoring that, she drove to her feet. A popping sound reached her ears in instant before a wave of white-hot agony crashed up her arm and into her brain.

So what? It's only pain. I've been learning how to deal with that for a long, long time.

She supposed that he hadn't believed it possible for someone to stay standing, let alone keep fighting after you'd just dislocated their elbow. That was the only reason she could think of to explain why he wasn't ready when her good arm came around. He still got his hands up, and he would have managed to stop it if there had been only human strength behind it. She wasn't human though, and her forearm got through his hands and still clotheslined him across the throat hard enough to spin him halfway around in mid-air before he hit the floor. He lay there for a few seconds, struggling to get back to his feet, but she couldn't follow through. Her head felt light, and her knees weak as she fell back against the wall. Clutching her elbow with her good hand, she felt the misalignment of the joint. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, and she ignored the sweat that rolled down her face as she positioned her hand carefully. When she was fairly sure things were lined up correctly, she gritted her teeth and squeezed.

A strangled scream got past her lips as it popped back into place, and when she opened her eyes she found that she was sitting against the wall, her arm cradled tight against her body. Itai was back on his feet, though he was swaying slightly. As the pain began to fade, Faith pushed herself up against the wall until she stood facing him.

"Wow, my Kung-Fu stinks, but I got one through anyway, huh?" She pushed away from the wall and stood ready. "Want me to snatch a pebble from your hand now, grasshopper?"

He glared at her, obviously not amused.

"I can do far worse than the arm. You will scream again before I am through."

His voice was rough from the rough treatment she'd give his throat, and that made her smile.

"Y'think so? I've never been much of a screamer, but if you think you've got what it takes, then hey. Go for it."

He came at her again, and she moved to meet him. The strikes came at her fast and hard, and she was hampered in her defense by the need to keep her blocks tight to her body. If she gave him an arm to grab she doubted that she'd be getting it back in one piece. The few attacks she was able to launch against him either expended themselves on empty air, or at most just grazed him. He had an economy of motion that was incredible; another time and place she would have liked to just sit and watch him. She could learn things from somebody like this. Being on the receiving end of things sort of dimmed her appreciation of the artistry, though.

Another fist blasted her head back, and then the hardened edges of his hands were hammering into her, over and over. Strangely, it suddenly stopped bothering her. The darkness that had washed over her was whispering that she was going to beat him in the end, and what she would do to him then was going to be truly awful. She deserved the beating he was giving her, she even welcomed it. If he did enough damage to her before he went down, maybe that would balance the scales a little. Maybe it would even keep some of the nightmares away.

He drove her back, all the way down the hall to where this had all started. As she came even with the fallen man (Julian was his name, right?) she saw her chance. Bouncing suddenly forward, moving straight at him, she tucked her arms close to her body and body-blocked him. Anticipating the head-butt, he slid to the side and grabbed hold of her, preparing to throw her across his hip and to the ground. Which would have worked fine, except-she was already moving, uncoiling and brushing his hands aside, grabbing him instead. Her hands were like steel clamps, holding him at the shoulders. He blurred instantly into a counter of his own, something gymnastic that would have ended with him behind her and ready to inflict some serious harm.

Too late. She had already pivoted, dragging him around with his feet barely touching the floor, and driving him face-first into the wall. He somehow got his arms and legs up in front of him, managing to dissipate the force a bit, absorbing the impact with all the sinewy muscle in his body. It still hurt him, slowed him down for just a moment…. So she pulled him back a step and threw him into the wall again, harder this time. Badly battered now, he was still able to take advantage of their nearness and fire an elbow repeatedly into her ribs, jackhammer-fast. Once, twice, and a third time even as she smashed him into the unyielding plaster yet again.

He had managed to hurt her, and that was good. Evil people should be hurt. She hurt him, he hurt her back. They both got what they deserved.

She spun him so that he faced her again. His handsome face was definitely the worse for wear, bloody and battered. The sight made her tremble, and she reached out with hesitant fingers to trace the puffiness along one cheekbone.

"Ohh, I think it's getting to be that time, don't you?" It was going to be terrible, what she did to him, and at the same time oh-so wonderful. She could already imagine how much blood there would be; enough for her to bathe herself in it. He looked to be strong, she could hope that he would stay awake until the very end. "C'mon lover," She whispered, her lips brushing his ear. "Give me something to remember you by."

He tried to oblige, coming alive again and throwing powerful, twisting punches even as he swayed unsteadily on his feet. She accepted them, only bothering to block the ones that would have crushed her throat, or torn out her eyes. After a few of those her lips were bloody, even though he hadn't achieved anything in the way of real damage. She delivered a right cross that rocked him back on his heels, turned away from him, and then snapped a fist back into his face. She continued the turn, ending facing him again just in time to catch him by the front of his shirt as he began to fall. With a sigh of disappointment she pulled him close, looking deeply into his eyes. They were hazy with pain, but there still wasn't much fear there. She growled, grabbing him by the shirt and the waistband of his trousers. With an explosive movement she jerked him off his feet and up over her head, slamming him hard into the ceiling of the corridor. If she'd been taller, or at full strength, she could have made him hit even harder, maybe have broken a few dozen bones in the process. Using the rebound provided by the ceiling, she hurled him down onto the floor. He bounced once and then lay there, barely breathing. Despite everything, his eyes were still open, looking up at her.

A little ways down the hallway, an apartment door opened, and a plump Hispanic woman leaned out. Taking in the scene before her, her eyes went wide.

"What is happening out here?" She looked from Faith's bloody face to the man lying there, broken and helpless at her feet. "I could be calling a nine one-one." It wasn't clear if that was a threat, or an offer of assistance. Faith shook her head and bared her teeth in what might have been a smile.

"Nah, we're just having a little lover's quarrel here." She looked down at Itai and prodded him with a toe. "Aren't we, honey?" He made no sound, though he began struggling weakly, making some effort to rise. She planted one foot on his chest, pinning him down even as she reassured the nice lady. "See? Boy, this'll teach him to call when he's going to be late getting home, huh?"

The lady looked doubtful, but Faith really didn't care one way or the other. The Mayor would take care of any trouble with the cops for her. He always-

It hit her again, that sense of loss that still snuck up on her sometimes. He was gone. She was all alone, with no one to help her, no one to talk to…. No one would even know or care when she finally bought it, and she didn't want to feel this, feel, yes, but not this, so she took out the knife, ignoring the way the icy force inside it stung and bit at her hand, and she stared down at Itai, noting that yes, he did look frightened now, and she licked her lips in anticipation of where the first cut would go and then-

"Look out!"

She broke out of her reverie, turning curiously to see who had shouted. It was Alex, and he was struggling with the black boxer, the one she'd slapped silly earlier. The man had a pistol in his hands, aimed more or less in her direction, though the younger man's frantic efforts were keeping him from actually getting a good chance for a shot.

She had a gun of her own, still tucked into the back of her jeans, but that was only for long distance use; it hadn't even occurred to her to use it up until now. No matter; whenever it was possible, she preferred more personal means.

The black man took a hand off of the gun and used it to hammer Alex repeatedly across the shoulders, driving him slowly towards the ground. The boy dragged the hand with the gun in it down with him, never surrendering his death grip on the man's arm. They both looked up when Faith landed in front of them, having covered the twenty feet that had separated her from the pair in a single leap. She clouted the man across the face with her fist, simultaneously driving her knife into his thigh, just above the knee. He screamed as she twisted the weapon, using the backward-facing barbs on the blade to hook the flesh of his leg. With a single yank she pulled that leg out from under him, twisting the weapon again to release the hold. He dropped to the floor, clutching at the wound, trying to staunch the flow of bright blood.

She dropped to one knee beside him, fist hammering into his stomach, hard. He convulsed around the blow, still trying to raise the gun. She struck him again, harder this time and in the chest, and ribs cracked audibly. He coughed violently, strings of blood flying up from his mouth, and Alex managed to wrench the gun from his feebly waving hand. Snarling with rage, Faith hit him again, harder still, hard enough to rupture organs in his belly. Someone tried to grab at her from the side, but she straight-armed him away without a glance. The black man had lost consciousness, and she cursed her lack of control. Now he would be no fun at all. With a powerful shove she sent him sliding across the floor and over the top of the steps. He vanished from view, the trail of blood he left behind barely visible on the dull red carpet.

Rising to her feet, Faith turned back towards Itai. The knife in her hand wanted to feed, and she wanted to see what it could do to a human being. She walked slowly back to him, noting absently that the Hispanic woman's door was closed again. If she or anyone else were aware of what was happening (and how could they not be?) then they'd decided not to get involved. Smart of them.

Lowering herself beside the man, she raised the knife.

Sharp.

Trailing the weapon along the floor, she watched as the worn carpet parted before that edge. The concrete below it, however, received only the barest of scratches. Faith frowned, lifting it and giving it another look. The blade glittered, even under its coating of fresh blood, but only the continuing, irritating bites of ice along her palm hinted that it was anything more than a piece of dead metal. She narrowed her eyes in concentration.

Come on, work. I saw you go through ceramic tile like it was butter. Do it again. Get Sharp for me.

Her arm was beginning to go numb from the constant assault, and she gritted her teeth.

No! Do what I say! Her fury twisted through her, strong and fierce; buttressed by the hate she held for everything and everyone that had ever hurt her, or lied to her, or made her hope that things might be better than they always had been-- She hammered the blade downwards again.

Sharp, Dammit!

The blade drove its entire length into solid concrete, as easily as if it were only flesh. She gaped at the sight for a moment, then laughed with delight. She could barely feel her right hand anymore, so she let go and reached across with her left to pull it free. The nips and bites of the weapon against her palm had an almost… surly feel to them now, like a dog that had done a trick for its master, but wasn't at all happy about it. That didn't matter to her. She had made it obey her. The first step in controlling it completely, now she could believe that the rest would come. Smiling fondly at the weapon she held, she turned her attention once again to the defenseless enforcer who lay before her.

"Lookie here, bad man. See my pretty toy?"

His eyes were open, but she wasn't sure he was registering anything. That made her frown with displeasure. He had to be aware of what she was doing to him, he had to feel every ounce of the pain, otherwise, what was the point?

Her hand flashed across, and the more-than-razor-sharp blade just nipped through the flesh of his shoulder on the way past. Blood began to flow, and the dagger warmed slightly in her hand as it got a taste of his life. His eyes widened, and she smiled softly. "Oh, that got your attention. Let's make sure you're awake." Another flash, and strands of his hair floated away, followed by a trickle of scarlet flowing down his forehead. The sight of all that blood made her sigh, and she pulled him up and into a sitting position. Holding him there with her free hand, she leaned into him, so close that her breasts were brushing his chest. Showing a last burst of defiance, he actually managed a weak attack. His hand flashed across, stiffened fingers aimed at her eyes, but she slapped it away with no effort at all, leaning forward to deliver a sharp head-butt to his face. Stunned, he sagged back to end lying again, his eyes closed.

She'd knocked him unconscious, damn it to hell.

"Did you do that on purpose?" She whispered to him wonderingly. "You really are smart, aren't you?"

He looked so different now, with the ruin of his face slack and still. So strong and sure just a couple of minutes earlier, and now so… vulnerable. She crawled over him until she was looking straight down at him, her hair brushing the blood trickling from the facial cuts. She sent the knife trailing along his stomach, then up to his chest, slicing through his clothes like they were air and leaving only the thinnest trail of red where its tip passed over him. It was drinking at his life in the tiniest of sips, and she laughed at the sensation that came to her from the weapon. It was like an eager pet tugging at her hand, trying to reach the treat she held just out of reach. It really wanted him, and if she hadn't wanted him for herself then she might have given him to it.

Still, that didn't mean it couldn't have another taste or two. Raising the weapon, she let her eyes roam over him. The slight twinge from her elbow made the choice for her, and she smiled in anticipation. It was only fair, after all. Her muscles tensed, and she was ready to drive the blade down-

--When someone touched her on her shoulder. Instantly her hand flashed up and back to grab hold of whoever it was, and she looked up to see Alex standing there. Whatever was in her eyes at that moment made him flinch back, and that was enough to bring her to her feet.

"I told you to stay out of the way!" She held him by the wrist, shaking it angrily to emphasize her words. He winced, but his eyes stayed on hers.

"Don't."

Too many things were going through her, too many distractions were pulling at her. The fact that he'd gotten close enough to touch her without being noticed was proof of that.

"'Don't' what?"

"Don't kill him."

The absurdity of that made her grin.

"Oh, sure thing, Gandhi. Absolutely. Now get away from me."

She was still holding him, but he used his free hand to grab at her hand.

"What good will it do to kill him? They'll come after you either way, if you kill him or if you let him live. So why kill him?"

She couldn't figure out what the hell he was talking about. She was going to kill him because that's what she did, it was what she was made to do, what she wanted to do. There was even a reason, though she certainly didn't need one.

"If I kill him, then he won't be one of the ones who come after me. Reason enough."

"No, it's not." He was meeting her eyes without cringing now, staring at her like he was trying to make her sane through sheer force of will. "He won't be coming back after you, not after you beat him like this."

That provoked an incredulous laugh, the sound thin and strained as it fought its way up through the things swirling around inside her.

"Wow, you don't know much about people like this. That's why he'll come back. Just like I would." All this talking was making her irritable, stealing away the high she'd been riding. The sense of fevered euphoria was fading. She needed to do him now, while it felt right. She'd have to skip the preliminaries, though that sent a wave of bitter disappointment through her. Disappointment, but also a feeling of… relief.

No, this was right, she was right when she said that he had to die. She turned back to where he lay, only to be held back by Alex's grip on her arm. Relative strength levels aside, he outweighed her slightly, and that helped him hold her back. At least, it did until she regained her grip on his wrist and began to apply pressure. He grimaced, and tried to pry her fingers away, but that didn't work. She kept increasing the strength of her grip until his bones were in real danger of being crushed. He slowly sagged to his knees, and she nodded in satisfaction. Hanging like that, he opened his mouth to beg her to let go.

"Don't kill him." He whispered.

She looked down at his straining face, trying to understand how he could think to tell her what she should or shouldn't do. This… kid, didn't know anything about… he was wrong about… she could kill him just as easily, and she should, too. Except-

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….

Her other hand tightened on the hilt of the knife, even as she stared down at Alex, hanging from her grip on his wrist. A chill washed through her at the memory of the dream, and she felt the sickness inside her begin to recede in earnest. A startled laugh burst from her, and she eased the pressure on him even as she pulled him to his feet.

"So, you're gonna help me keep my balance on this tightrope, huh?" He rubbed at his wrist, looking uncertain. She shook her head sadly, patting him on the cheek as she walked away. "All I can say is, Good Luck."

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