See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer After she went over to the Mayor, Faith was all into this 'boo hoo, you never liked me, you always had your Buffy' self-pity mixed with murderous rage thing. And sure, there was that Buffyness there, which left less room for another Alpha-female. But that doesn't make it any less of a cop-out; Faith never tried to fit in, she never once gave an inch of ground. She wanted us to shape ourselves around her, and it just couldn't happen that way.
I think Faith was so used to being angry at the world that if we had welcomed her with open arms, she wouldn't have had a clue about what to do next.
Faith moved down the aisle, barely noticing the neat stacks of old vinyl records that were arranged neatly on the display tables. The pack slung over one shoulder was full to bursting with new clothes. Well, at least they were new to her. From behind her, she heard Sylvia's voice as she spoke to her granddaughter about organizing a set of china.
It was funny; for a minute there, she'd thought that the old woman was trying to be nice to her. The thing with the tea, and the sweet, grandmotherly act; being all generous and stuff, that had been well on it's way to working. But then the woman had blown it by showing Faith the catch. It was all just another try at buying her off. Yeah, right. "Come here girl, do what we want and we'll do you the favor of treating you like a real person. You should be grateful." Well, screw that.
There was a world of difference between helping Alex out a little and then moving on, and hanging around to fight a war for some people she barely knew and didn't even like. If they thought that was going to happen just because of some cheesy old clothes and a pat on the head, they'd come to the wrong Slayer. Speaking of Alex, where was he? This place wasn't so huge that she was lost or anything, but the twisty-turny aisles and the vast array of stuff in here were strangely distracting.
Rounding another turn, she found a nook with a pair of chairs and a small worktable. Kelly was seated there, peering intently at a pair of black dress-pants. Faith paused; watching as the girl carefully used a needle and thread to close a small tear in the fabric of one knee. The concentration required was obviously an effort for her, and the Slayer smirked as she walked forward.
"Wow, all that practice with needles finally came in handy for something, huh?"
Kelly flinched, peering up at Faith from beneath her messy mane of light brown hair.
"What do you want?"
"Me?" The tall girl smiled and shook her head. "Nothin'. Just being sociable. I'm the friendly type, everybody says so." She wandered over and perched one hip on the table, looking down at where Kelly sat. "And I couldn't help wondering how you're feeling. You doing okay there, Kel?"
The girl looked away, fumbling awkwardly with the pants she had been sewing.
"I'm fine. Thanks so much for asking."
Faith idly swung her dangling leg back and forth, then gave a theatrical sigh.
"You know, the thing about smack is that after you've been on it for awhile, the highs don't last as long anymore. You still go up, but then you come down pretty fast, and the only thing you have to look forward to is having the shakes starting again." She slid her pack to the floor, then leaned back on the table, propping herself up with both arms. Kelly was looking up at her with a dark expression.
"Do you just like to hear yourself talk, or was there a point to this?"
Faith smiled brightly back at her.
"Geez, touchy aren't ya? From what Alex said, you've been shooting up for a long time, a year at least. I'll bet it's not much fun anymore, is it? You're probably already feeling it. Not the sweats or the shakes, no, it's too early for that. But the… anticipation. You feel that, don't you? The suspense of knowing what's coming. You know it'll only be a few hours before you feel it again, that craving. And you know you'll do anything to make it go away, even if it's just for a little while. Anything."
That earned her a sullen glare.
"If you think I'm going to give Alex to you, you're crazy."
That was kind of funny, and she chuckled.
"Crazy. Gee, I've never heard anyone say that about me before." Tossing her hair back over her shoulder, she ran her fingers along the seam in her new, vintage jeans, where one of the leather inserts was joined to the denim. "I wonder if you'll be able to say that again in a few hours. Especially when you see how much he wants it. He's already looking at me, you know, when he thinks no one is watching."
Kelly looked as if someone had just punched her in the stomach, the poor little baby.
"That's not true. He loves me."
Faith pursed her lips and nodded sagely.
"Oh, yeah, and what a looker you are too. And then there's that awesome personality you've got going for you." She leaned over a bit and lowered her voice to a whisper. "At least I'll stay awake when he and I are doing it. From what I heard last night, your best trick is nodding off just as things are about to get interesting."
The girl was trembling with helpless rage, and Faith was having more fun than she'd thought it was possible to have without either fighting or screwing being involved.
"I don't understand why." Kelly's voice was plaintive, and the Slayer wondered if she were about to cry. "Why are you being so hateful to me?"
Faith reached out and ran a caressing hand along the girl's cheek, smirking when she pulled away from the touch.
"Because, you have something I want."
She looked confused at that, but then, it seemed like this girl was confused most of the time.
"Alex? Why him? There's other guys around, better looking, or with more money. Why does it have to be him?"
The Slayer straightened, then hopped down off of the table. She looked back over her shoulder at Kelly.
"It just does."
Picking up her pack, Faith headed off towards where she could now hear Alex talking quietly to that kid, Jason. Kelly, as usual, couldn't keep her mouth shut.
"What if I go tell him? I'll just tell him everything you've said, that'll take care of your chances with him."
The tall girl turned slowly, giving her a level stare.
"Sure, go ahead. But that means that he and I won't be going out and stealing stuff today. Which means no money in his pocket, and no way for him to buy you your medicine. Unless you want to trade me something for it instead…."
Kelly just sat there, looking small and beaten. Trapped. Tough. She did it to herself. I'm not gonna cry over it.
Still huddled in on herself, the girl spoke softly.
"You know an awful lot about being a junkie, don't you? The things you said…."
Faith shifted the strap of the pack on her shoulder.
"I know a lot of things."
Kelly was rubbing her fingers across the inside of her arm, where dozens of reddened marks were visible.
"You were one, weren't you? You were… hooked."
"Yeah. For a while."
It wasn't something she enjoyed remembering, though she'd done a lot of that since arriving in this town. It was bringing back all kinds of things, none of them pleasant. The girl was looking at her with a sort of horrified fascination.
That brought a surprised, bitter little laugh.
"Nobody just quits. It's not that easy."
The Slayer faced the girl, pack over one shoulder and hand on hip. A classic tough-girl pose.
"It was for me."
Kelly looked away, nicely intimidated.
"I could never do that." She said, the note of helplessness in her voice.
Faith shook her head in mock sadness.
"No, you couldn't. You wanna know why?" The girl looked up at her again. "Because you're not as strong as I am. That's why I'm gonna get what I want."
She flashed Kelly a wicked smile and turned away. Time to get to work.
* * * * *
The kid just wouldn't stop following them.
"I'll bet you're on your way to take out some more of 'em, huh?
He wouldn't shut up, either.
"I wanna see you do it. It'll be so cool!" The kid, Jason, was trotting along beside her, staring at her expectantly. "Could you do something for me now?"
"Besides walk? Like what?"
He shrugged, pushing his shaggy hair back out of his eyes.
"I dunno. How about… let me punch you in the stomach."
"Go ahead, but you won't like it when I hit you back."
He scowled in frustration.
"No! It's to show your muscle control! It wouldn't hurt you."
"No, but it would hurt you. Do it and you die."
She couldn't figure out what his deal was. Why was he bugging her like this? She shot a look at Alex, but he didn't seem to be paying attention. He was worried, she supposed. Worried about what they were about to do, if they could ever lose the monkey that had latched onto them.
"Well then…. How about putting your fist through a board! A big thick one."
"Why? Did it say something mean about me when I wasn't looking? How about you do it?"
Only part of her attention was on what she was saying, the rest was on their surroundings. She needed the right sort of area, or at least the right arrangement of target and sight lines.
"You're a black-belt, right? In Karate? I'll bet you have more than one. Aikido too? That's what Segal uses. And the one Bruce Lee invented, but I can't remember the name of it."
He would not shut up. Gathering her patience, she answered him.
"Nope, not my thing. I don't know any of that stuff."
"Okay, what style do you use?" Style?
"Hit the other guy first. Real hard. Try not to get hit back." Or get stabbed, or shot, or burned. Crushed, buried, and run over were also bad. "If he's still moving after the first time, keep hitting him until he stops. Leave before the cops show up. End of lesson."
Jason didn't seem to know how to take that, but it didn't stop him from staying right beside her as they crossed the next street. She finally had to stop and look him in the eye.
"Listen. I really appreciate this whole 'fan boy' thing you've got going, and I'd love to hang out with you for awhile and talk about how cool I am, but I've got stuff to do." He just stood there, bouncing on his toes and grinning at her. "So are you gonna leave, or do you want me to break your legs and leave you at a bus stop?"
The threat seemed to slide right off him.
"Okay, I can take a hint." Not true, so as Faith could see. "You and Alex are gonna work on your plan, right? For taking out the Storm."
Faith gritted her teeth.
"How many times do I have to tell you people? I am not going to-"
"Hey, you don't have to tell me, I'm just sayin'." The kid made a show of looking around. The street corner was pretty heavily trafficked by pedestrians at the moment. There were maybe fifty people within earshot, if they'd really cared to listen in. Not surprisingly, Jason went right on talking, if somewhat more quietly. "I know you're a hero-type and everything, but if you want to hook up with the rest of the people who're looking to take those guys down, I can help. I mean, I'll have to go and check with 'em, make sure it's cool to bring you, but I know they'll wanna meet you." He flashed that grin again, all but dancing with barely-suppressed excitement. "Man, will they want to meet you! It's like fate, or destiny or something!"
Faith felt a sudden chill ripple through her.No, it's not fate. It's me, jumping off a train and looking for something to eat. It wasn't destiny that got me into this; it was stupidity and bad luck. Nobody's controlling me. No watchers, no demons, no fate. Just me.
Oblivious to what she was feeling, Jason was rattling on.
"These are the guys who've been wanting to get the Storm outta here pretty much since day one. Or at least ever since they started wasting people right and left." He grew suddenly serious. "Meet me back at Sylvia's at four, and I'll take you to meet 'em. Okay?" Without waiting for an answer, he turned and began trotting away. Faith opened her mouth to shout after him, to tell him not to bother. Before she could utter a sound, he whirled to face her again. "This is so killer! You're gonna take 'em all down for us, Faith." He made a fist and thumped it into his chest in some kind of salute, then gave her a wave. "It's going to happen, and I can't wait to see it!" He headed off down the street at a trot, and moments later he had vanished from view.
Faith felt a little disoriented. It was like she was being dragged along by events she had no control over, and she wasn't enjoying the feeling. She looked sidelong at Alex, but that was no help. He stood there, waiting for her to continue on, his expression bland.
"You know anything about these people he's talking about?"
The boy shook his head slowly.
"Not much more than he said. Some folks around here want to push the Japanese back out. Even most of the Japanese people who live around here want them out; they say they had enough of them back home, they don't want to have to deal with them here too." Looking around at the passersby he grimaced. "It's not a good idea to be talking about this out here. Did you really want to meet them?"
She couldn't tell if he sounded hopeful or just curious, and it didn't matter either way. She was not going to fight a war here.
"Nope. Just need to know the lay of the land, so I can keep my distance from the idiots." She pointed down the street, where the business district seemed to be thinning out a bit. "Down there looks kind of good. Let's go see if we can make some money."
When she started off in that direction, he followed without comment.
* * * * *