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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(Current Donor)DreamSmithFR1856235,317305733,45028 Sep 0725 Oct 07Yes

Chapter Twenty-Five

See Chapter One for Disclaimer

A/N: Thanks for the merge, Joe


Speed is everything, y'know?
I mean, being super-strong is definitely a kick, and all the senses and stuff absolutely rock, but a Slayer only stays alive because of the speed.
If I'm fighting a vamp, I can dust him before he knows I even moved. If some idiot pulls a gun on me, I can take off his hand before he pulls the fucking trigger. If I have to dodge something, or get away from something, all I have to do is dig in and move.
That's most of the reason I'm still kicking, simple as that. Being able to move before the other person, or at least being able to hurry up and fix things when I've screwed up; that's the best part of being a Slayer.
Sure, I'm not faster than a bullet, but I don't have to be. All I have to be is faster than the guy holding the gun. And hey, you never know about that bullet thing, either.
'Cause baby, I'm getting better all the time.

--Faith



It had taken three tries before Faith had heard him shouting, which was hard to understand, given how sharp Alex had observed her hearing to be. Maybe it wasn't surprising; the glimpses he'd caught of her fight with what had to be the arsonists, had been brutal. She had to be a bit shaken by how awful it had been. He tried to convince himself that was the reason.

In any case, she moved to come and help him, and he sighed with relief. Kelly was too sick and weak to be of much use, and Scott's own wounds had him staggering. Still, both were doing their best; the battered young man was helping some others carry the wounded to a safe distance, and Kelly was trying to care for them as best she could, even if it were just holding their hand and trying to comfort the disoriented survivors.

Alex had turned his attention back to his current problem; how to reach a group of people trapped on the third and highest floor, when the first gunshot rang out. He whirled, eyes searching frantically through the darkness and smoke. Everything on the side away from the fire was hard to see; the glare from the flames was wrecking his nightvision. Even so, he caught a glimpse of Faith being spun to the ground, and he had just enough time to scream in useless denial before the gunfire began in earnest.

* * * * *

She'd just turned, just taken half-a step… and that was all that kept the bullet from punching in through one side of her chest and out through the other. Instead, it burned a fiery line of pain across her back, just below her shoulder blades, plucking at her hair as it went. Instinct was flinging her across and down before her conscious mind even realized exactly what had happened. She hit the ground and rolled, the grass brittle and hot, nearly aflame from the close proximity to the burning building. An instant later more gunfire came, and not just a round or two, either. At least one fully automatic weapon, a sub-machinegun or something larger, was being fired at her, along with several semi-automatics. She rolled again, frantically, and her own gun was in her hand, though she didn't recall pulling it from her belt.

It wouldn't do any good; she didn't know where they were, and there wasn't even time to look. There was a split-second when she nearly began firing blindly into the night, but she stopped herself. The only thing she could do, her only chance, was to find somewhere, anywhere to hide.

The problem was; there was nowhere to go; she was hideously, completely exposed. Whoever was shooting at her was some distance away; too far to charge them and go hand-to-hand, even if they didn't have that machine gun. A bullet went by her ear, so close that she felt it pass. There was only one path open, only one way to go. She rolled again, ending with a vault to her feet that flowed into a crouch, then a leap, upwards and back. There hadn't been any time to think things through; she just hoped she'd made the right choice… as she flew upwards, and then arched back down onto the second-floor balcony of the burning building, directly into a mass of flame.

Holding her breath was instinctive; throwing herself deeper into the heart of the fire was not. It was the only way, though. Searing heat enveloped her, but only for the briefest of instants, then there was a splintering crash, and she was falling into blessed coolness. Her explorations the previous night had shown her the layout of the building, and she had a good idea of where everything was; including the door to this apartment. Inside it was smoky and dim, but the fire had not yet reached here. Staggering to her feet, she made her way to the hallway, and then into a bedroom. There was a pair of windows here, and she wasted no time in throwing one open and poking her head out.

This side of the building showed little evidence of the fire, and the air was clean and fresh. Faith paused for a long moment, just breathing in and out. Her body was hurt in a dozen places, but a quick check showed that none of them were really serious. The broken fingers of her left hand hurt some, but they still worked, after a fashion. She knew from experience that fingers healed fast; by morning they'd be as good as new. The gunshot wound across her back was the worst of it, and it had barely even grazed her. The humiliation involved was much harder to bear.

They'd tricked her! The goons she'd been fighting down there had only been bait for the trap they'd set, and she'd fallen right into it. Of course those guys kept looking behind them; they had been expecting help from the others they'd known were out there. She was lucky the snipers had been unwilling to fire while any of their bait boys had still been alive, and even luckier that one of the gunmen had fired just a second in advance of the rest.

The question now was; what did she do? Running away was a real option now; even a Slayer didn't charge a half-dozen guns unless she had a death wish. If she were in among them it would be a different story, but she doubted that she'd survive long enough to get there. No question; the smart play was to run away and find them later for the payback session.

There was only one problem with that plan; they had made her look like a fool. She was a Slayer, and they'd taken her totally by surprise, they'd mauled her, and then they'd made her run away. If she let them get away with that, if she let them beat her like that….

She drew back her fist, about to punch the wall in frustration, but she remembered her sore fingers just in time. Buffy might be able to make her run away; nothing else on the planet ever would. The nobodies in this town just thought they could walk all over her; push her around, make her do whatever they wanted….

Make her feel stupid, and pathetic and weak and alone….

No, no more. No way.

She would hurt them; show them just how strong she was. They thought that what they'd done to her so far had hurt her? She'd been hurt lots worse than this; this was nothing.

They were nothing, and she'd prove it.

This time, she'd leave the goons alive long enough to have some fun with them. She was going to be leaving after this, and she wanted to remember tonight for a long, long time. Her hands trembling with eagerness, she pulled herself up into the window, then leapt to the ground below.

* * * * *

Faith was alive.

Alex had been certain that the first shot had killed her, but she hadn't fallen. Instead, she had blurred across and down, hugging the ground even as she dodged frantically. In those brief instants he'd been certain of her death yet again. There had been nowhere at all for her to hide, no way to escape the hail of bullets pouring out of the darkness. She had amazed him yet again, launching herself into the air like she'd had springs in place of legs, and then vanishing into the flames that now engulfed the front of the building.

The gunfire had stopped abruptly, as if the would-be killers were as surprised as everyone else that they prey had escaped. Onlookers had either scattered, or sought cover when the shooting had begun, and even now everyone was staying as low as possible. Sirens in the distance meant that official help was finally coming. Maybe the gunmen, seeing that their target had either escaped or burned, would also choose to leave.

He hoped so. There had been enough death tonight already.

She was alive; she had to be. He'd seen something, when she had recovered from the initial surprise of the attack. Gun in hand, she'd been about to start shooting randomly, to buy herself a few second's reprieve; she hadn't done it. There was no doubt in Alex's mind why, either. He couldn't wait to talk to her about it, after all this was over.

* * * * *

This was a lot like what hell must be like; the roaring flames, the screams of terror and pain… she'd had dreams like this. Stalking forward in the flickering shadows, Faith searched for any sign of her quarry. There were lots of candidates; before the gunfire had spooked everyone, a large crowd had gathered. No doubt they'd enjoyed the show she'd put on, fighting with the goons earlier. Now they were either hugging the ground or hiding behind cars. Every few seconds someone would jump up and make a run for the street, staying all hunched over just in case the shooting started again. It didn't; the loudest sounds came from the fire itself, though she could hear sirens approaching now. That was bad, it meant she had to hurry. Skirting the far right side of the parking lot, she scanned the area. There had to be several of them, to put that many bullets in the air at once. This side of the parking lot faced several small buildings, housing a video store, a laundry mat, some place that sold insurance….

There; in the darkness between the structures. It was too small to be an alley; it was more nearly a slot, just a couple yards wide. Her nightvision showed her three men lurking there, and at least one of them was holding a gun. It seemed like there should have been more, to have unleashed the storm of gunfire she's been subjected to, but she supposed the others had already taken off. It wasn't important in any case. The important thing was that they hadn't seen her yet.

Faith slipped away, and once out of their line of sight she broke into a run. Circling around the front side of the video store, she found the other end of that narrow alley. Already anticipating what was about to take place, she entered at full speed.

They hadn't moved in the few seconds it had taken her to circle around; three men backlit by the fire and probably thinking that she'd committed suicide by leaping into the flames. She blurred forward, her boots nearly silent, but the rearmost one must have sensed something. He turned, and his eyes went wide as he saw her hurtling closer, but there was no time for him to do anything before she got there.

Extending her right arm, she clotheslined him across the throat; hurling him violently to the ground and bringing her to a quick halt in convenient striking distance of the other two. They whirled to face her, the one with the gun extending that arm towards her as he instinctively took aim. She stepped into him, grabbing that hand and trapping his arm against her side. With a vicious smile she shook her head reprovingly.

"To tell you the truth, I'm getting a little tired of guns. But you know what they say--" Half-turning, she raised his hand, aiming the weapon at his friend. The other man was barely five feet away, clawing for his own pistol as Faith forced her finger past her captive's hand and pulled the trigger repeatedly. The sound of the shots were strangely flat, trapped between the two concrete walls. "Guns don't kill people; I do."

She put five shots into him before he collapsed; despite her captive's struggles she held the gun steady on her target. When she tugged his arm around and took aim at the first one she'd taken down, he fought even harder. This one was on his hands and knees, struggling to breathe. Obviously she hadn't crushed his trachea as she'd intended, but the expression on his face when he looked up and saw her aiming his friend's gun at his face was priceless.

"Please-"

--The girl at the Bronze, the night Faith had been Buffy. She'd been on her knees too, recovering from the vamp attack. She'd looked at Faith with almost exactly the same look, that combination of terror and realization, the awareness that her life had hung in the balance, and only a stranger's choice had allowed that life to continue. It had shaken Faith to her foundations, the feeling that moment had brought back to the surface after so being buried for so long-

His face vanished in a welter of red blood and white chips of bone as the gun hammered over and over. He collapsed, and she emptied the weapon into his body, her own face a stiff mask.

That's two more dead. Murdered. A long, shuddering breath, as she looked down at the motionless men. I'm not her; I'll never be her. This is what I am, there's no use in hiding from it anymore. The man behind her was making a futile attempt to free himself from her hold. With a sudden burst of fury she ripped the gun from his shaking hand, shoving him hard up against the rough wall.

"Look at this! Look what you made me do!" She screamed it into his face, so close that she had to move her head slightly to shift her gaze from one of his eyes to the other. "You think I want to do this?! Do you think this is what I came here for?!" He gaped at her in terror, unable to answer. Raising the empty gun, she pressed the flat side of it against his forehead, hard enough to hurt. "Did you think this made you tough enough to take me? Did you?" He tried to shake his head in response, but she rapped him firmly with the gun. "Don't move; I didn't say you could move." He froze in place, and she tilted her head as she looked at him, trying to understand his place in all this. It was hard to think, hard to string thoughts together coherently. She began thumping his forehead with the gun, slowly, over and over, in time with her words.

"You're trying to kill me, but you're not trying hard enough." Thump Thump Thump. "You think you can get to me through these people, but you're wrong." Thump Thump Thump Thump. "I'm not who you think I am, I'm not the girl you were expecting." Thump Thump Thump. He was blinking in pain each time the steel of the gun connected with his forehead, but she held him pinned, unable to move. "Everybody here thinks you people are the bad guys. That thing with the nails through their arms and legs… you think that's bad?" She gave him a slow, mocking smile. "Baby, I've seen things that make that look like a slap on the wrist. I've done things that would make people beg for what you did, just to keep me away from them." She dropped the gun, grabbing him by the front of his coat and hurling him against the other side of the narrow space. He rebounded off of the wall, and she shoved him back again, harder. He started struggling, not so much trying to hit her as to keep her away.

It didn't matter. His defiance threw the floodgates open, and fury washed through her. It didn't seem to matter how often she gave it release, her stores of anger seemed inexhaustible. In fact, the more often she let it out, the stronger it seemed to become, eroding a little more of her each time it poured through and out of her. A dark, shadowy sea that surrounded the ever-shrinking island of her self.

Bracing herself in the middle of the narrow alleyway, she hurled him from one side to the other, slowly battering him to death against the dull concrete walls.

* * * * *

"Oh god…."

Alex had heard the gunshots, and he had moved cautiously to investigate. Standing at the mouth of the alley, he stared in horror as Faith held the man off the ground by his jacket and slammed him back and forth, over and over. The captive's form soon went limp, but that only seemed to make her more agitated. Screaming wordlessly, she increased the tempo, hammering the body against the walls with ever-greater savagery, until finally she whirled and threw the limp form up and onto the roof of the laundry mat.

Something touched Alex's arm, and he jumped before looking down and seeing Kelly there, staring with wide eyes at the scene before them. He slipped his arm around her shoulders, then looked back to see Faith watching them with her dark eyes full of hate. She turned away, towards the far end of the alley, and from just beyond where she stood there was a flash, and the sound of a gunshot.

* * * * *

The sight of Alex and that pathetic waste Kelly, standing there arm in arm while she did their dirty work nearly sent Faith at them in a killing frenzy. With a supreme effort she turned away, intent on gaining some distance in case she did lose control of herself completely. She'd taken two steps when her eyes finally focused on the figure standing in the mouth of the alley. Ten yards away, gun aimed at the center of her chest, he must have been one of the 'extra' ones she'd wondered about earlier; it looked like he hadn't gone home after all.

There were several things she could do here; but all of them required at least a fraction of a second… which she didn't have.

Even as she recognized the danger, the trigger was being pulled.

Even as her hand blurred towards the hilt of her knife, the hammer was falling.

Even as the blade cleared the sheath, the gun fired.

Please, no.

Death didn't especially scare her; in fact of late she'd been strangely attracted to the idea… but not like this. Not at the hands of some nothing in an alley.

Through some trick of her enhanced vision she actually caught a glimpse of the bullet as it flew straight and true towards her chest, but there wasn't a damned thing she could do. No way could she move her body out of the way; physics wouldn't allow it, not even for a Slayer. All she had time for was that single flicker of thought.

Please no.

A wash of heat flashed through the knife in her hand, and a ripple of dim yellow light flared before her for a brief instant. Then the bullet hit her, tearing into her just under her right breast. Faith grunted with the impact, and clapped her empty hand to the wound. The man at the end of the alley stood there, looking at her, and she stood there, looking back.

Several seconds passed.

Faith blinked as she realized that it didn't really hurt that badly. Yeah, there was pain, and her hand was sticky with blood… but not a lot of blood. In fact, she could feel some kind of lump under her hand, just beneath the skin of her belly. His face stark and pale; the man raised his gun and fired again. She'd had only a moment to wonder what had happened, and surprise had kept her rooted to the spot when she should have been moving. Still, she thought she knew what to do.

No.

She tried to be firmer this time, holding the knife before her like a talisman.

Like a shield.

It was, too, in a way. She felt power thrum through the weapon, even though it hadn't ceased in its efforts to either slip from her grasp or freeze her hand off, and a hazy plane of shimmering gold materialized in the air before her. Not quite as wide as her outstretched arms, it was five-sided, and translucent enough for her to see through it easily. When the first bullet struck it, there was a ripple from the point of impact, and the bullet came right on through.

Not straight through, though; it was deflected slightly, and missed her head by at least six inches. It was slowed down a lot, too; if she'd tried she might have been able to catch it as it went by. Three more bullets hit the barrier and came through, one of them striking her in the thigh. It stung, but this one didn't even go through her jeans.

Pretty much by accident, she'd found the thing's prime power, and she had to admit it was sweet.

No wonder the boss thought I'd like it. God, I love that man.

However, it wasn't without limits. She'd suspected that the enhanced sharpness power was a drain on whatever energy reserves the weapon possessed. With the shield there was no doubt. She could feel the pull the shield exerted, and as a result the knife was pulling even harder at her life force, trying to replace that lost energy. This was strictly a short-duration effect. With that in mind, she leapt forward. The barrier moved with her, hanging out in front of her just close enough for her to touch with her fingertips, if she were so inclined. He got off two more shots before she reached him, and her concentration must have faltered because one of the bullets came through hard and true, and just clipped her on the shoulder. Warm wetness spread from there, and the fury that engulfed her anew completely wrecked any chance for control of the knife.

Not that there was any need for that, now that she was within arm's reach of him.

* * * * *

Kelly had shrieked in his ear as something whipped past them, but Alex was staring at the glowing shape that hung in the air between Faith and the gunman. It rippled as if underwater, blurry and indistinct even in the dimness of the alley, and when she lunged forward, it faded quickly from view. He had just seen magic; actual, visible magic. It was real… and it didn't matter. Faith was what mattered. Somehow she was still standing, even though some of those bullets had to have hit her. It was too dark in there for his eyes to make out exactly what was happening now, but the absence of any more gunfire was a strong indication that she had reached her foe and disarmed him.

Alex winced at the image of what 'disarming' someone might mean, for Faith. He couldn't help himself, he had see what was going on. He stepped forward cautiously, and Kelly stayed with him, clinging tightly to him and shivering uncontrollably. The sounds of a struggle came more clearly as they approached the far end of the alley, but it was only when the first of the fire engines rolled slowly down the street beyond that he was able to see. Two figures were backlit by the flashing red lights on the vehicle as it passed.

Faith threw the man away from her, and when he struck the wall and bounced back towards her she blurred into a spin kick that connected with his chest and hurled him into the wall again. He bounced back again, only to meet her boot as it came around once more. She was pivoting on one foot, her other leg arcing up and around to meet him each time he rebounded from the concrete; it very much resembled something he'd once seen a figure skater do. Alex watched in disbelief as she connected for a third time, then a fourth, a fifth; there seemed to be no limit on how long she could sustain the attack. The man was beyond knowing what was happening to him; only the upward force she was imparting with each strike was keeping him upright

He had to put a stop to this.

"Faith, stop." Taking another step forward, he extended a hand, then hesitated. If he reached into that spinning blur he could get his head taken off. From this range he could see that the man's face was receiving every other blow, and was now little more than a mass of bloody meat. If he wasn't dead yet, he soon would be. "Faith, enough!"

With startling abruptness, the girl halted her attack, standing upright and looking at him through the wild tangles of black hair that partially obscured her face.

"Enough?" She sounded confused, though when the man began to sag down along the wall her hand snapped out to pin him in place, all the while staring at Alex. "What are you talking about?"

Taking a deep breath, he tried to speak slowly and calmly.

"He's done; you beat him. He can't hurt you any more." He was aware of Kelly pressed up against him, rigid with terror. Looking at Faith's eyes gleaming at him from the darkness, he had a bit of the same feeling himself. He tried to force it away, to project reassurance. "You don't have to kill him."

She raised the knife she held in her hand, and Alex was very suddenly aware of how close to her he was standing. It wasn't an attack, though. She simply gestured with it, indicating the man she still held upright against the wall.

"As long as he's still alive he can hurt me. The same way all of you hurt me." She sounded perfectly calm, even serene, but Alex could see the track of a single tear running down her cheek. "You wanna know why?" She asked matter-of-factly.

He nodded slowly.

"Because you exist!"

On the heels of the scream she made a single, invisibly fast movement, and blood spattered Alex's face. Faith's victim, no longer held in place, fell to the ground. The gaping wound across his throat pumped gouts of blood as he lay there, and the girl regarded the corpse with a satisfied smile.

"There. Now he can't hurt me."

Alex found himself wishing there was some way he could get Kelly the hell out of there. Faith was well and truly on the brink of losing it completely; assuming she hadn't already.

"Faith, I think you need to calm down. Come with us, back to Sylvia's. We can talk-"

He lost his train of thought, along with his ability to speak, when she took a step towards him. Mercifully she put the knife away.

"I don't need to calm down, I feel great." She looked like someone ready for the grave; scorched, torn and bloodied. That made the avid, hungry expression on her face all the more chilling. "I don't want to talk, either. I want to do this."

Quicker than he could see, she had him in her grasp, yanking him forward, away from Kelly. He couldn't prevent the reflex that made him try and pull away, but he held him easily. She leaned close, her tongue flicking lightly across his face. His stomach twisted slightly as he realized she was licking away droplets of the dead man's blood, where they had spattered him. With a malicious smile, she found his mouth with her own, kissing him roughly, forcing her way between his lips even as she shoved him up against the wall. It went on for what seemed like a long time, but it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. When she pulled away slightly, he forced himself to keep his composure. Looking her in the eye, he spoke in a flat, steady voice.

"Don't ever do that again."

She blinked in surprise.

"Or…?"

He held her eyes, not looking away for an instant.

"Or I'll leave."

That seemed to amuse her.

"Ooooh, scary." She ran her fingers along the side of his face, and he winced as he felt the blood that covered her hands. "C'mon Alex, what would it hurt? It's just a little roll, and you can't tell me you don't want it." Her expression turned scornful. "Forget about that little wreck of a girlfriend you drag around. I'm prettier than she is; I'm stronger than she is. Hell, I'm even smarter than she is, and that's not something I can say about too many people."

Looking over her shoulder he could see Kelly standing forlornly, arms wrapped around her thin, shaking body. Faith was right on all counts… and it didn't matter. "Yeah, you're right about all of that. But I love her."

Bitterness twisted the Slayer's lips, and her eyes hardened.

"Oh, right. You can love her; a weak, pathetic piece of street trash, but you can't love me."

Alex felt a startling realization. Was that what this was about? At the core of all this madness, was that ultimately all Faith needed to hear? That was something he could give her, and truthfully.

"Actually, I think I do love you." She stared at him in shock, and so did Kelly. He hurried on, trying to explain. "I fell in love with you a few minutes after I met you. You tried to shrug it off, but you did an incredibly brave, generous thing when you saved us. In some weird way, you care what happens to us, and I feel the same way about you. Why else do you think I'm handling all this insanity as well as I am?"

"Well, okay then." She leaned into him again, lips parted, but he pulled back.

"No." He shook his head, frustration filling him as he tried to find a way to make her understand what he meant. "I mean, I do… but not like that. As a friend."

Faith bared her teeth, but it wasn't a smile. Alex found himself shoved back into the wall with enough force to make his spine creak.

"Oh, a friend." Her breath was coming faster, and she tossed her hair back again as she stared at him with glassy eyes. "Wow, Alex. There just isn't anything I can say to let you know how much that means to me." Her hands were gripping his shoulders hard enough to bruise, and when she gave him a little shake he knew just how helpless her last victim had felt. "So since I can't tell you, I think I'll show you. Wanna know how I'm going to do that?" It was a rhetorical question, but he answered her anyway.

"Please, don't do anything you'll regret. You don't want to hurt me."

She shook him again, and his head snapped back and forth, nearly causing him to bite into his tongue.

"Oh, but I do want to hurt you. So I think I'm going to drag you somewhere and have my way with you, and then I'm going to rip out your insides with my bare hands." Her face was so close that she was whispering it to him. "Does that tell you how much I treasure our friendship, Alex?"

That was it then. She was all the way gone, and she was going to kill him. Nothing he could say was going to change her mind. All he could hope for was that Kelly would be smart enough to stay quiet and out of the way, so that Faith wouldn't do anything to her as well.

Of course, it was at that very moment that a small fist smacked the Slayer hard on the shoulder.

* * * * *

It didn't actually hurt, even though that was the shoulder the bullet had carved a groove through a short time earlier. No, it was utter surprise that made Faith's mouth hang open just a bit as she turned to face her assailant.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" The Slayer demanded, staring down at Kelly.

The scrawny little girl raised her chin and met Faith's glare with a combination of fear and determination.

"I think you forgot something." Her voice was thin, and uncertain, but she stood her ground as the taller girl stood there, still holding Alex, and tried to figure out what she was talking about.

Several long seconds crawled by, and Faith still didn't get it. Her mind was so fuzzy; everything had been so twisted around by the events of the last little while….

"Alright, so tell me. What did I forget?"

Kelly licked her lips nervously, rubbing her hands up and down her arms in a habitual gesture.

"You told me that you would only take Alex if I agreed first. You said that you would pay me… if I did."

Faith stared at her in shock, then burst out laughing. She couldn't help it; she threw back her head and laughed until fresh tears streamed from her eyes. Proof at last; the addict didn't care if her one true love bought it, so long as she had enough smack to make it through the night. Digging into the deep pocket of her coat, she found a handful of the tiny plastic packets. With a sneer of contempt, she threw them into Kelly's face.

"There. Now get out of here before I give you something else I owe you."

The girl gave her and Alex a last look, then knelt and began gathering up the little baggies of white powder. Faith turned back to look at the young man, delighting in his pale, bloodless face.

"Aw… don't take it so hard. We both know that love is a load of crap, right? So it shouldn't be a shock to see your girl sell you out for some H." He didn't answer her, which was a little disappointing.

She was formulating a taunt, hoping to get some kind of reaction, when someone prodded her shoulder again. With a snarl of fury she whirled, and found Kelly still standing there.

"What?!"

With studied deliberation, the girl reached out and took hold of Faith's hand. Forcing it open (and with the tenderness of the broken fingers there it actually was possible for Kelly to force that hand open), she placed the white packets there, one by one. Then she folded the hand closed again.

Looking up at Faith, she said in a low voice. "No deal. Leave him alone."

The Slayer looked down at what she held in her hand, then threw it carelessly away.

"Were you going to try and make me?"

Kelly clenched her fists at her sides and glared, a sight guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of no one.

"So, you were lying? You promised that you would only take him if I said yes!"

A smile crossed Faith's lips, but it was sickly and faint.

"I don't need permission from someone like you, runt. Now, get out of my sight, or-"

"You keep saying things like that!" Kelly stood straighter, shouting right up into the taller girl's face. "'Someone like me'? You stupid, stuck-up bitch! You're the same as me, exactly the same!" Faith's eyes narrowed and she reached out to grab the other girl's throat, but Kelly shoved the reaching arm aside. "Over and over you've slammed me because I'm an addict. You made fun of me behind my back, and told Alex I was weak because I couldn't stop using." Her eyes were blazing as she pointed a quivering finger at Faith. "You're as much an addict as I am! How many times have you gotten into fights in the night and a day since we met you? How many people have you sent to the hospital, huh?"

Faith shook her head, angry and confused at this unexpected attack.

"What are you talking about? I did that for you; I've been protecting you. If I hadn't-"

"Wrong!" Kelly took a step back, nearly tripping and falling as she did. She was bone white, sodden with sweat, and trembling from more than anger. Withdrawal had her nearly our on her feet, but she still pressed forward. "You did it for yourself. You wanted to hurt those men, you needed to hurt them. If they hadn't come to you, I'll bet you would have gone looking for someone; because you-can't-quit!"

Faith shook her head again in denial.

No, it's not like that. I'm like to fight, yeah. I might go looking for some excitement, sometimes, but I'm not like her. I don't get all freaky if I don't get my 'fix'.

Except… the way the world turned all gray and cold, when she'd gone a while without some action. Sleeping away day after day, waiting for something new to wander into Sunnydale, the eagerness she'd felt when the word came that they were going hunting. The warm glow that filled her after she'd taken down her prey, the joy of the kill….

"No, that's not true." She spoke to herself, but Kelly pounced on her words.

"It is true! You're worse than I ever was! At least I don't hurt anyone else; you poison everybody around you! All your groaning about having to fight to protect us, laying on the guilt trip 'cause you don't want to have to do it anymore. But that sure doesn't slow you down when things get started, huh?"

Now it was Faith who took a step back. Alex had slipped out of her grasp, and moved a cautious pace away, but she hardly noticed.

"I'm a Slayer, I have to fight, to protect people from the monsters." It sounded weak and uncertain, even to her ears.

"You're a bigger monster than anything I've seen you fight!" Overcome by her anger, Kelly actually leapt forward and began flailing at Faith with her little fists. The taller girl could have destroyed her with one blow, but she just stood there, numb as she tried to absorb the latest shock to her already battered and bruised psyche. "Why don't you just leave!? We don't want you here! Leave us alone, go back to wherever you came from!"

Alex, looking all worried and stuff, reached out and pulled his girl away.

"Kelly, don't! He spoke urgently, his eyes watching Faith warily. "Don't fight her, there's no way you can win."

Standing there, with a thousand conflicting thoughts and emotions raging inside her, Faith had to disagree.

"Wrong." She whispered. The Slayer looked at the two of them, holding each other tight, facing down the terrifying monster, and she knew it was true. "She's already won. Both of you have." Alex's face softened, and he opened his mouth to spew some more of his sentimental garbage. Faith knew that if he did, she would lose the fragile control she still had. She was already losing it, just looking at them… another few seconds, and she would kill them both, just so she wouldn't have to look at those faces any more.

Turning, she lurched into a stumbling run, out of the alley, across the street. Faster and faster she ran, not caring where she went so long as it was away. As the blood and darkness inside her broke free and raged unchecked, she uttered a long, despairing scream.

For the first time in her life, Faith went utterly and completely insane.

* * * * *

The softly glowing spirit turned horrified eyes to meet his own.

"Gods of blood and darkness!"

Whistler couldn't argue with the sentiment. It had been quite a show the girl had put on for them just now. They'd been waiting for something, some sign that the girl was ready to listen to what he had to say. She was so hardened, so defensive, that under normal circumstances she would never even give him a chance to lay it out for her. He needed to wait until the time was right, until something had knocked a hole the barriers she'd spent so long building. Tonight he'd gotten that something. BellDonna had known that something was coming; she'd described the approaching encounter as 'a place where the fate threads are snarled like a basket full of string that the kittens have been at all week long'. She'd known that something dire was about to take place, but there had been no way to predict just what that would be. Whistler didn't blame her; who could have known that Faith would go straight from 'violence girl' to 'everybody dies' mode in one short hop. It also hadn't been in the game plan for her to go completely round the bend afterwards, and run off screaming into the night, but that's just what had happened.

The demon took a last look around at the scene of slaughter that she'd left behind. Fire engines were disgorging their crews to fight the flames that were now roaring up into the night sky, while the first policemen to arrive were staring with amazement at the rent and twisted bodies that lay scattered around the area. Turning his back on all that, Whistler jogged away, in the direction Faith had been heading when he'd lost sight of her. BellDonna followed, hanging in the air just above and behind him, her glow muted in an effort to be less visible in the darkness. When he'd rounded the corner of the nearest building he paused for a moment, closing his eyes and casting his perceptions wide. Nothing, nothing, noth-there. He opened his eyes and hurried down the alley at his best speed; not that he was any kind of world-class sprinter or anything. The spirit stayed with him, though she was looking a bit uneasy.

"Whistler, what are you doing?" Her beautiful, ghostly face was marred by tension, and she glanced around as if expecting an ambush any moment. "You're chasing her? You don't plan on trying to subdue her yourself, do you?"

Despite the exertion of running, he managed a rueful snort.

"No thanks; I may be crazy, but I ain't stupid."

He wasn't exactly a slouch when it came to fighting, but after what he'd seen tonight…. Well, he knew that it would be more than his life was worth, getting within arm's reach of that girl.

She was good, this 'rogue Slayer'. She was better than good, even if she was a crazy as a Psychlo-Demon with its horn missing. Strong as hell, for one thing. Even as Slayers went, she was fast on her feet, knew how to adapt in combat, and was apparently fearless; no wonder she'd given even the wunderkind Summers girl so much trouble. Besides that though, she had more guts and stubbornness than anybody her age should be carrying around. If only there weren't all that fury and bloodlust in the mix. That turned what would otherwise have been a powerful force for good into one of the most dangerous loose cannons in history. He thought about what he'd seen her do to her opponents just now, and he did his best to run faster.

This town didn't deserve what that girl could do to it.

"Well, then. What are you going to do when you catch her?" BellDonna asked. Whistler didn't answer immediately; he had been forced to stop in order to concentrate, trying to get another fix on the crazed Slayer. His range for seeing and hearing things clearly was just fifty yards or so, but if he was familiar with someone he could usually sense their presence at several times that distance.

There she was, high above street level now and moving fast. From that direction he could just hear faint screams of agony… and it didn't sound like Faith's voice doing the screaming. The demon gave his companion a grim look.

"All we can do right now is try and keep up with her. Maybe you can distract her or something; she can't kill you; you're not flesh and blood like me."

He headed off in the direction from which he'd felt the girl, hoping all the while that her own brand of enhanced senses didn't pick him up; if she caught a whiff of demon from him, they'd probably be cleaning him off the street with a squeegee come morning. From behind him, he heard BellDonna muttering softly to herself.

"'She can't kill you', he says. 'You're not flesh and blood'." She came up even with him as he found a fire escape and began to scale it as fast as his arms and legs would move. "You saw that knife, right?" She gave a delicate shiver, which did things to her shapely, glowing form that he would have found fascinating under different circumstances. "I sure saw it. I have to say; I don't like that knife at all. I don't want to find out the hard way if it can hurt me or not."

He tuned her out, concentrating on the climb, and on what he was going to do now. It was obvious that if he wanted to wait around for Faith to be a receptive mood, he'd still be waiting as she put the world to the torch. There would never be a good time to approach her with what he had to say, so he was just going to have to go ahead and confront her. Once she calmed down… if she calmed down, he would make his pitch. Until then, the important thing was not to lose track of her.

If the worst happened, if it turned out that she was permanently whacko, then it would be time to dust off his other set of orders from the high muckety-mucks. He hoped it wouldn't come to that, but sometimes your hands got dirty, even when you were fighting the good fight. Pulling himself onto the rooftop, he took his bearings and sprinted off to the left; a still-muttering spirit drifting over his head like a faintly luminous balloon.

* * * * *

....End Book Two....

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