See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer It has proven extraordinarily difficult to locate the Heir of the Beta Slayer, Kendra, but we have finally made a breakthrough. The Council's agents, working closely with our most powerful sorcerers, have now narrowed the possible location of the Beta Heir to the greater Boston area. Given that point from which to begin, actually finding the girl should prove relatively easy. Of course, there is still the question of who to send. Given the decline of our organization over the last half-century, the range of possible Watcher candidates is not as wide as was once the case.
Because the Slayer is once again American, and therefore likely to be difficult, it is imperative that her Watcher be someone who can cope with such a person. Annabella Northam, a young woman of good lineage and remarkable empathy, should be able to bond with the girl. It is regrettable that we had no advance warning of the 'splitting' of the Slayer line, or else we would have had years in which to find and train the possible heirs into proper soldiers of the Council. As it is, we shall have to make do with what we find. At the very least, she can hardly be any less cooperative than the Summers girl.
Lord William Robert Hayden
Earl of Stapleford
Alex watched as Faith opened the door to the apartment. Or at least, as she tried to; he had locked it on his way out earlier. She looked over her shoulder.
"Can you open this? I wanna go grab some breakfast, and I need my coat."
He stood staring at her for a few seconds, stunned by how easily she had shifted from full-out combat fury to casual conversation. Looking at her now you would never guess that just a minute earlier she had been well on her way to beating four men to death. It was a bit of a struggle, but he eventually found his voice.
"I can't believe you. All this-" He pointed to the blood-spattered hallway, with the unconscious forms strewn randomly about. "-And now it's time to eat?"
She shrugged, flashing him a disarming smile.
"Yeah, well, what can I say? I'm a complex girl. Layers, facets, all that stuff." She rattled the doorknob again. "C'mon, I'm hungry."
He was no longer looking at her, his eyes were locked on the leader of the group that had come looking for the two of them. Itai Toshi was the single most lethal man he had ever had the misfortune of meeting, a man who in the past had single-handedly brutalized half a dozen gangers at once, and made it look easy. At the moment, Itai was on the floor, struggling to raise himself to his hands and knees… and failing. His two companions were unable to manage even that much, and the other one, the one Faith had stabbed in the leg and thrown down the stairs… well, god alone knew what kind of shape he was in.
"We should call the paramedics. Or maybe the police. I think-"
There was a metallic snap from behind him, and he whirled to see Faith entering through the now-open door. Hurrying after her, he grabbed at the knob. It was still locked, but when he twisted it the knob turned freely. Faith's voice floated back to him as she walked down the hall to her room.
"No cops, no nobody. Those guys will live, if that's all you're worried about."
With a final look out into the corridor, Alex pulled the door shut behind him.
He found her in their room, sitting on the sleeping bag and humming quietly to herself. When she saw him she smiled sleepily.
"Hi there." She held out her arms to him. "Want to come back to bed?"
It was instantly obvious to him that she was riding high. He was torn between being grateful to Faith for keeping her supplied, and the old, helpless anger that the girl he loved was so determined to hurt herself that way. Leaving Kelly where she was, he headed to Faith's room.
She was adjusting her new leather coat, frowning down at where she'd stuck the pistol down the front of her pants and muttering to herself.
"Too obvious… you could see it a hundred yards away." She slid it further to one side, then checked how the long coat hung. Sensing him standing there, she looked up. "You hungry? Since you put me up for the night, I'm buying."
He studied her for a few seconds. As far as he could tell, she wasn't acting. She was just as unconcerned as she seemed. That was disconcerting in ways he couldn't even begin to categorize.
"Faith. I'm sorry, but I can't help but be a little worried about the carnage in the hall outside. Plus, if those men do live, they now know exactly where to find us."
She shrugged, kneeling down beside her battered backpack.
"That's a good reason to get outta here for awhile, right?" Apparently satisfied with her packing, she zipped up the flap on the pack. "If there's another empty apartment in this place that you have the key to, I'd stash your gear there." She walked past him and into the hall, pausing to look in on Kelly. "You should probably put the zombie there too. Keep her out of the way until we see what they're gonna do next."
"Hey!" That from Kelly. Faith walked on, stepping into the bathroom just as the girl appeared in the doorway. "I heard that, you, you blood-crazed bitch!" She turned to Alex, her face flushed. "Tell her. I'm not a zombie." She sounded hurt and uncertain, and he went to her and took her in his arms.
"Of course you're not." From where he stood he could see Faith's reflection in the bathroom mirror as she stared at her face. With a look of sick fascination she raised a finger to touch a spot on her cheek where blood had spattered. For a second he almost thought he saw her hand trembling, but that was probably just his imagination. With abrupt, angry movements she pulled a cloth from her pack and used it to wipe away the evidence of the fight. Her eyes turned slightly, meeting his in the mirror, and her lips thinned.
"Get your stuff together. We need to get out of here."
She kicked the door shut, and a few seconds later he heard water running.
Kelly looked up at him, her eyes haunted.
"You're not going to leave me here, are you?"
He shook his head, holding her close to him.
"No. I'm never going to leave you."
She closed her eyes and sagged against him in relief.
"She scares me Alex. The things she does… what she said to me…."
He frowned even as he rocked her gently.
"What did she say?"
There was a long pause.
"Nothing. She just scares me. I think there's something wrong with her. She's not just mean, she's… twisted. She's sick."
Thinking back to what he'd seen in Faith's eyes, the look of ecstasy on her face as she raised the knife above the beaten man, preparing to drive it downwards, Alex couldn't argue.
"She is sick." He meant it differently than Kelly had, though he doubted she realized it. "But she's strong, too. Maybe strong enough to get the three of us through this alive." He looked down at her again, stroking her hair back from her face. "Try to stay away from her as much as you can. And for God's sake, don't get her angry." Four men outside could testify that it was not a good idea to get Faith angry. Though as he thought back, he realized that it hadn't been anger that he'd seen on her face, not at the beginning. Standing there, confronting those men, her expression had been one of eagerness, of anticipation.
Keeping one arm around Kelly, he turned to look at their meager possessions scattered around the room. "Okay then. Let's get this gathered up."
* * * * *
It took Faith a couple of minutes to get all the little blood spatters off, and then she had to go back and redo some of her make-up. It was a pain, but hey; you had to look good if you wanted people to take you seriously. Well, there was the other way to do that, but you couldn't always romp and stomp.
By the time she was putting her lipstick on, the split lip that Itai guy had given her had healed. There wasn't even any bruising, and she sighed. He'd been such a disappointment. For a minute there she'd really thought he was going to show her something…. Shaking her hair out, she studied the effect in the mirror. Good enough.
When she opened the door and went back out in the hall, Alex and Kelly were in the front room, their arms full with their stuff, waiting for her. Carrying only her one bag, she opened the door and looked out. No one was in sight; no cops, no neighbors, not even the goons she'd trashed. She stepped out, and the two of them followed.
"Hm. Either I'm losing my touch, or they had some friends around to help them out."
Alex tried futilely to fasten the door lock she'd snapped.
"I'm going to have to fix this, you know. How could you do that?"
She headed for the stairs.
"I think it should be pretty obvious by now that I do what I want, when I want. Relax. Stop worrying about the little stuff. Now where are we going?"
He grumbled a bit, but led the way downstairs. They made quick work of dumping the couple's belongings in another vacant apartment, though Faith was disappointed when Alex refused to leave the girl there, too.
"She comes with us. After we eat, she needs to go to her job. Then you and I can decide what to do."
He had a look of stubborn determination on his face when he said that, so she let it go. It wasn't worth arguing about anyway. Though she still couldn't figure out what he saw in the little half-starved, drugged-out loser girl.
A few minutes later they were walking. Faith had a yearning for donuts, and Alex said there was a shop on the way to where his girl worked.
Kelly working; hard to believe, but stranger things had happened. Along those lines, Alex finally got up the courage to ask her the question.
He was walking beside her, his arm around Kelly's shoulders. The girl was going to great lengths to keep him between Faith and herself. She avoided looking her way too, doing her best to pretend that the taller girl didn't exist. The Slayer smiled. Being on the receiving end of that routine was so familiar that it almost felt comforting.
She glanced at Alex.
Strolling along in the morning sunshine, Faith looked around at the buildings. The neighborhood didn't look any better by daylight. If anything, it looked even more tired and worn than it had the previous night.
The young man looked uncomfortable, but after a minimal amount of throat clearing he managed to forge ahead.
"Itai, that guy you fought… he said something about you not being human." His eyes slid towards her, then hastily away. "I thought at first that maybe you were just a really good fighter, but some of what I've seen you do…. It just doesn't seem, I don't know…."
Ducking his head a little, he shrugged.
"Yes, that's a pretty good word to describe it. And then there was last night. Those things in the alley. That was all real, wasn't it?"
Kelly had raised her head to look at him, confusion filling her narrow, pretty face.
"Last night? What things?"
Faith ignored her.
"It's all as real as real can be. Though those things were odd." She grinned at the expression on his face. "Duh; of course they were odd. I mean that it's odd to see something that big and nasty in a place like this. Usually you only see the smaller, quieter stuff unless there's some real bad mojo close by." Her smile faded. "And the thing about me not being human-" She raised a hand to push her hair back from her face. "-That's real too. I'm not." She turned her head to look at the two of them, waiting.
Alex was studying the sidewalk in front of him as he walked, looking deep in thought. Kelly was peering past him, open fear on her face as she watched Faith. From the look of her, she expected the Slayer to sprout scales and horns any second.
This from Alex. Nothing else, just that, and she blinked. Usually there was more of a reaction.
"I tell you that I'm not a human being, and you say 'okay'?" She shook her head in disbelief. "Are you dipping into whatshername's happy candy, Alex?"
He shot her a warning look, tightening his arm around Kelly's shoulder.
"No. I admit that it's all weird and confusing. But I've seen it for myself, and there's no use in getting upset, or trying to convince myself it isn't so." A pause as they joined a group of people waiting to cross at the corner. There was a fair amount of traffic this morning, Faith noted. People walking around, shops open for business. Everything looked so mundane and normal here that she had to suppress a shudder. The normal, everyday world; the one she had no place in. Then there was the freaksome world of monsters and magic, and last night had certainly proved that there was some of that action to be had here. There won't be nearly as much happening as in Sunnydale, though; no hellmouth here.
She looked at Alex, startled, realizing that the light had changed and they were now alone on the curb. She led the way across the street.
"Ah, I didn't mean to say that out loud, but yeah, there's this thing called a Hellmouth, not too far from here. I guess those things from last night were just passing through, on their way there. It sort of draws them; monsters and stuff."
He nodded, then pointed right. At the far end of the block was the promised donut shop, and they headed that way.
"I guess that's why I've never seen anything like that before." He grimaced at the memory. "If those… creatures lived here full-time, somebody would have found out pretty quick."
Faith shifted the strap of her carry sack, her hand automatically brushing her hip to make sure her knife was in place under the coat.
"Yeah, you'd think so, but you never know. People can ignore a lot, even when it's right in their face."
Kelly was still snuggled under Alex's arm, but she screwed up her nose like she smelled something foul.
"So, the reason you're so strong…. Was your mother raped by one of these monsters, or what?"
The boy shook her lightly, bending down to give her some sort of look that Faith couldn't see. It didn't matter, the barb didn't upset her. There had been a lot worse thrown her way, over the years.
"No, nothing like that." She did another scan of her surroundings; a long-established habit of hers. "It's supposed to be some kind of destiny thing. 'One girl, called forth to fight the monsters and save mankind.'" She raised an arm and flexed it in the classic bicep pose for a moment. "A year and a half ago, I changed, got this power. Somebody found me right before it happened, told me I was the Slayer." Funny, how that rang false. It was hard to even think of herself like that anymore. A Slayer. A hero. She hadn't been one for quite a while, if she had ever been one at all. Last night, when she had heard those things in the alley, she'd realized again that she really didn't care much about what happened to the victims. It wasn't like she knew them or anything. None of it really seemed to involve her, anyway. She felt like she was just drifting, or maybe sinking was a better description. Sinking, unconnected to anything, or anyone. Going down for the last time in a big, black ocean of-
"The Hellmouth is where the monsters are? And the Slayer fights the monsters?"
Alex had finished giving his girl the reproachful glare, or whatever it had been. She nodded in response to his comment, and he gave her a puzzled frown.
"Then, if you're the Slayer, then why aren't you there?"
Faith gave him a weary smile. Why, he asked.
"Because they already have one."
No place, no purpose, either for good or evil. Nothing. Even the rage that was so much a part of who she was felt… empty, somehow. She wondered if she would just fade away to nothing, like that Marcy chick that Willow had told her about once. She could almost imagine that it was already happening….
They had reached the donut shop, and the smells from inside set her mouth watering. The simple, basic sensation of hunger let her focus on the here and now, and she was grateful. Pulling open the door, she waved them inside.
* * * * *