See Chapter Twenty-Six for Disclaimer Now that the desperate struggle to destroy Mayor Wilkins has reached its conclusion, I've found myself troubled by a strange thought. Why didn't Faith kill Buffy?
From both her and Angel's descriptions of the attack, the girl had ample opportunity to fire on her adversary, but when the moment came it was Angel, not Buffy, whom the arrow struck.
Faith had to know that her fellow Slayer was the most dangerous foe she would ultimately face. Had Buffy been similarly poisoned and incapacitated, then we would have been hard-pressed indeed to prevail against the combined power of Faith, the Mayor, and their assembled henchmen. Angel, however powerful he might be, remains a vampire, and realistically speaking has little chance of overcoming a Slayer who is intent on his destruction.
I wish I could ask the girl why she spared Buffy's life, but of course her comatose state makes that impossible. Whatever the reason, in the end that was why we prevailed.
And when I look in Buffy's eyes now, I am certain that she too knows this to be true.
--From the journal of Rupert Giles
June 7, 1999
She was empty, that was the only way to describe it. What was there for her to do now? Knowing that it could happen again, that she could lose it and go on another rampage, how could she live with that hanging over her?
Buffy. Even the thought of seeing the other girl made her made her cringe. She couldn't let Buffy see her like this; even now she had more pride than that. Besides, assuming the other girl didn't try and kill Faith on sight, there was probably nothing in the world more likely to send her off the deep end for good than one of her fellow Slayer's longwinded rants about duty and responsibility, and how she was just so very concerned and willing to help poor little Faith. She unclenched her teeth with an effort and glanced around the club. Despite the incredible amount of noise she must have made in the bathroom, no one out here had noticed.
Though with the volume they were getting out of their speakers, someone could probably land a plane inside the bathroom and no one out here would hear a thing.
Even with all of this running through her mind, even with her insides feeling like they'd been sliced to ribbons, she found herself regaining that sense of well-being she'd had earlier. In fact, the music was still resonating through her like she was a tuning fork, making it difficult not to jump up and dance right where she was. She closed her eyes, shutting out the strobing lights and the sight of the dancers out on the floor. Great. This isn't just alcohol; I'm on something, as if I weren't already screwed up enough.
That made her feel even more disgusted, and a moment ago she wouldn't have believed it was possible. Oh, it wasn't like she was some kind of prude who never indulged in a little chemical fun. She enjoyed the occasional drunken party as much as anybody else, and there were several drugs that made parties even more of a kick, in moderation. The only thing she had to be careful of was speed; for whatever reason, it made the already-supercharged Slayer metabolism go utterly berserk. Not that it could kill her, but in a hyperactive frenzy she could hurt someone without meaning to. Realizing what she was thinking, Faith gave a soft snort. Gee, I don't think I need to worry about hurting anyone by accident. Not when I'm killing 'em off wholesale, now.
Still resisting the drug-induced need to move with the music, she stared bleakly at the people who filled the club. Now what? I'm a grade A, certifiable nut job. I'm the total psycho-animal everybody always thought I was; how cute is that? Kind of a… whatdyacallit, self-fulfilling prophecy.
She wanted to leave; it wasn't safe for her to be around all these people. Shouldering her way through the crowd, hanging on to her temper with all the strength she could muster, she moved towards the front of the place. A winding set of narrow, concrete steps, and she was up at street level. It was quieter here, though the music still sounded loud and clear up through the stairway. It was dimmer too, and the darkness seemed to lean in on her. She could almost feel the violence lurking out there. It was waiting for her, and some part of Faith craved it. If she went out there now, she could find someone to fight, someone to kill. It scared her, how much she wanted to do it, to wash away the uncertainty and pain in a flood of adrenaline and blood.
"No. Oh god, no."
She hurried back down the steps and into the club once more. Standing in the entrance, she stopped short of pushing back into the packed mass of bodies. She was afraid to stay, but even more afraid to leave. For someone who'd always denied that she knew what fear was, she was sure getting more than her fair share now.
Doing her best to avoid any close contact (as impossible as that was, in a place like this), she made her way to a corner that was less densely populated than most. Finding a tiny table with two chairs tucked into the shadows, she dropped into a seat and breathed a sigh of relief. Here at least she could stay for a while; she was so tired all of a sudden. It probably shouldn't come as any surprise; she'd had all of ten or fifteen minutes of sleep since she'd woken up from that coma. Even so, sleep just didn't hold the same attraction it once did; if she'd had nightmares before, she couldn't even imagine what kind of show she'd get the next time she closed her eyes.
Someone stepped up next to her, and there was a faint sound as her drink was set on the table next to her elbow. Huh? Oh, that guy from before, the one who went to get me a drink. Damn, I'd forgotten all about him.
Drawing herself up out of her slouch, she looked up at the guy even as she reached for the glass.
"Listen, sorry about ditching you earlier, but I really don't feel like--?"
This wasn't the guy she'd seen earlier. This man was older, though she couldn't say exactly how old. He was on the short side, with a small build and narrow features. For some reason he was wearing a funky hat that looked like it was a modern take on something more old-fashioned. All in all, this was not a very impressive-looking person. He was giving her a steady, knowing look, which made her glance away. She'd had all the insight into herself that she could stand. Picking up the drink, she contemplated it warily.
"I'm not sure if I should drink this; you might have spiked it with something."
From the corner of her eye she saw him smile slightly.
"Don't worry kid. The last thing I wanna do is add more chemicals to what you're already circulating." He reached up and adjusted his hat, watching as she took a cautious sip. Even with an enhanced sense of taste she couldn't detect anything in there besides rum and coke. He gestured to the empty chair across the table from her. "Mind if I sit down."
That made him grin, and he pulled out the chair anyway, spinning it around and straddling it, crossing his arms across the raised back. She gave him a sullen glare, which he ignored.
"Looks to me like you're feeling better. Y'know, calmer." He turned his head, studying the dancers for a few moments. "When you bought that E off of that guy earlier, I was afraid it might set you off again. Guess it mellowed you out a little instead. Lucky for these people, huh?"
She was staring at him in confusion now. Who was this guy, and why had he been watching her? He said she'd bought some E? Ecstasy was something she'd done a few times before, and it caused the sort of effects she was feeling; happiness, some minor vision and hearing effects, as well as a general sort of easy-going calm. Which left her wondering if he was a narc. He sure didn't look like a cop, though there was a sort of East-coast snideness about him. If she'd met him in Boston she might have been able to see him as a cop; one of the detective-types, but he looked nothing like the California sort she'd seen. He was looking at her again, with those too-knowing eyes, and she had to look away.
"Lucky?" She mumbled. Or, at least it would have been mumbling, if she hadn't been trying to talk over the hundred-decibel sound system.
He nodded, that hat gleaming softly in the strobing lights. She could almost have sworn that the thing was made of leather. This guy really looked to be trying for the 'tacky weasel' look.
"Yeah, lucky." He was watching her closely; that smug, knowing smile still on his face, and it was really getting annoying. "I mean, I would hate to see what the place would look like, if a Slayer went off on a killing binge, in here."
* * * * *
Whistler suppressed a grin at the way the girl reacted to that one. It was good that he'd caught her when she was confused and off-balance; that would make his job here easier. He knew he had to be careful, though. Those Watcher goons had blown it more than once with this girl, with the 'high and mighty' act.
Faith got over her startlement enough to take a drink from her glass, but the expected question didn't come. Instead she just slumped back down in her seat and stared at the table, her face half-hidden in the wild tangles of her dark hair.
"Well? Aren't you going to ask me who I am, and how I know about you?"
She shook her head slightly, and he had to lean forward to catch her low reply over the thundering music.
"I can feel what you are. You're a demon. And I guess you work for those Japanese crooks."
What he caught of her tone could have set a new record for apathy, and this time he did grin.
"Wrong, kid. I don't work for that crowd, or those creepy old English guys who keep coming after you. Though it's true my people are definitely interested in what the Slayers are up to." She still didn't look at him, and he gave a small sigh. Non-combative was all well and good, but this girl looked to be really in a bad way. Which was probably a very good thing, when you thought about it, but he needed her to pay attention to what he had to say. "Hey, am I talking to myself, here? I thought you were the feisty one, and it was Summers who took all the brooding lessons from Angel."
She shrugged slightly from where she sat.
"Not feelin' feisty right now. Come back tomorrow and maybe I'll feel like kicking your ass for you, if that's what you want."
Whistler went serious in a hurry at that. Leaning forward, he planted his elbows on the table and eyed her intently.
"I'm not sure I can wait that long to talk to you. See, I've been doing this for a while now, and I've seen a lot of people like you. Maybe they weren't big, bad 'rogue Slayers', but they were people who were burned out, or full of hate for who they were, what they were." If anything, she pulled further into herself at that. "I'm worried that if I take off now, you're going to skip town, or maybe even go and do something permanently fatal to yourself." He reached up and tipped his hat back from his face just a bit. "That'll make it kind of hard for us to have our little discussion, you know?"
She picked up her glass again, but only to play with. Still not meeting his eyes, she shook her head slightly.
"That's crazy. I'm not going to off myself over this stuff."
He nodded sagely at that.
"Oh, no; of course not. And I guess everybody goes to clubs to scream at themselves in the mirror, and then beat the crap out of a defenseless bathroom, huh?" That got a reaction out of her. Her head snapped around, and fury flickered briefly in those dark eyes.
"What the hell? You were spying on me?"
He smiled at that.
"Yeah. Don't worry, though. If you'd actually been in there to do some female-type business, I woulda closed my eyes. I'm a gentleman you know." She eyed him for a moment, and then took another drink from her glass. "Anyway, Faith, the vibe I'm getting off of you is that you don't feel like playing the game anymore. Like, you just got your fifth foul, and instead of going to sit on the bench, you just want to grab your stuff and leave."
The girl gave a low groan and pressed a hand to her forehead.
"Oh, come on. You going all basketball on me now?"
"I've been know to catch a game, sure; they've got great beer and dogs at the Garden." He was still being serious, here. This was important. "The thing is, I'm worried about you. To be honest, I think the only thing that's kept you from trying anything is that you're afraid."
"I'm not afraid of anything." She said, but it seemed to be more from habit than anything else. Her voice was rough, and so full of hopelessness that he half-expected to see tears running down her face. Or at least he would have, if it hadn't been this particular girl.
"I think you are afraid; not of doing it, but of not doing it right." She didn't answer, and he pressed on, his voice low and intent. "It must suck, being a Slayer who wants to die. I mean, how do you kill yourself? Jumping off a building is probably not something you want to try again, and slitting your wrists?" He gave a brief, harsh laugh. "That super-fast healing would have you good as new before you even got sleepy. Same thing with shooting yourself in the head. Even normal human beings can live though that, if they're not careful. Usually end up as a vegetable, though. And I'll bet that's what really, really scares you; that you'll end up back in that hospital bed, back in those dreams, with her. Not just for months this time, but for years. Decades."
Faith pulled herself upright in her chair, and turned to look at him straight on.
"H-how could you know about that?" She was shaken; her face filled with confusion, and a deep, primal terror. He turned his hands palm up and shrugged.
"I work with somebody who specializes in finding out stuff like that; deep research things I mean. And the people I work for; hey, they can find out just about anything, about anybody. How do you think I knew to look for you here, in this town?"
Despite herself, the girl looked to be at least a little interested in what was going on. Finally. Schooling her face into a mask of indifference, she started with the questions he'd been expecting at the beginning.
"Okay then, if it isn't the Watchers, then who are these people you work for?"
He grimaced, scratching at his chin as he tried to frame an answer.
"That's kind of tough to explain. 'The Powers That Be' is what most people call 'em, but that doesn't really get it across. I guess you could call them 'Guardian Entities', or whatever. Spirits, most of them, but there's other types in there too. Even non-evil-aligned demons like me."
She was looking awfully wary and distrustful now. It looked like something she had a lot of practice with.
"Uh huh. And what do these things want with me?"
He put on his most trustworthy look.
"They want to help you."
It was like a steel wall slammed up inside her; her face hardened, and her eyes could have frozen a mortal in his seat.
"Thanks, but no thanks."
She was up out of her chair and headed for the door, and he had to hustle to catch up with her.
"Okay, I know you've heard that line before, but-"
"You're damned right I've heard it before!" She was pushing her way through the crowd, hard enough to knock a couple of people down. One of the club's bouncers took a couple of steps towards her, but Whistler was able to wave him off, indicating that they were leaving anyway. Fortunately for him, the guy accepted that. "I've heard it from my watcher, from Buffy, from her watcher, from Angel!" They reached the open area in the front of the club, and she whirled to face him. "None of them ever meant it, none of them!"
He stood there, looking at her. They were of a height, and that made it easier to meet her eyes straight on. He picked his words carefully.
"From what I hear, most of them did mean it. They just didn't have a clue about how.
We do know how, Faith."
She stared at him, stark disbelief plain in every line of her body.
"Okay Freud, amaze me. How exactly are you gonna help me?"
He glanced around at the crowd, winced slightly as the music renewed its assault on his ears, and gestured towards the entry.
"Let's go outside." She suddenly looked nervous, and he almost burst out laughing at the idea of a Slayer being afraid of going out at night. Of course, it wasn't the monsters or muggers that scared her, and he knew it. "C'mon, it'll be okay." He almost offered her his hand, but he caught it in time and turned the movement into a straightening of his jacket instead. That vulnerable expression had thrown him off for a second; nearly made him forget her hair-trigger temper and the probably violent response to anything that could possibly be taken as condescension. This girl was a tricky subject, no doubt about that. Of course, that was why he'd been the one the Powers sent. Nobody else could recruit the tough ones like Whistler could. The added danger that this was probably the subject of the prophecies only made it more critical that this come off without a hitch.
Faith had finally worked up the nerve to accompany him up the steps and outside, and a few moments later they were out on the darkened street. He pretended not to notice the way her hands shook as she stuffed them into the pockets of her stolen jeans, or the way she'd unconsciously stroked the hilt of her knife, never realizing what she was doing. Despite the late hour, there were still people coming and going around the underground club. Keeping it casual, Whistler began strolling down the sidewalk, away from the activity. When Faith stayed with him, he nodded to himself in satisfaction. Time to make the pitch.
"Okay, there's a lot of things that led to you being where you are, but there's one that's really easy to spot."
"I'm a vicious, murdering bitch?"
"Well, besides that." She shot him a dark look, but he went on. "See, people don't know how to act around the supernatural. I suppose a few might, like that Giles guy, or the little witch with the red hair, but even with them it took awhile before they were comfortable with it." He glanced around, and waved a hand at the streets around them. "All these people, here or anywhere, they're not going to know how to deal with a Slayer. You looking like a normal person is just going to make it harder on them. I mean, if you were to vamp out and get all wrinkly and disgusting, then at least they don't have any trouble accepting that you're not one of them, right? But you guys surprise people. They just get used to treating you like any other girl, and then you go and throw somebody through a wall, or survive a fight with ten or twenty demons, and all of a sudden their definition of you gets all twisted around in their head." He glanced at her, to see if she was following along with all of this. "That's how come they say they'll be your friend, but always end up pulling away, just when you think everything is going great."
Faith shrugged, watching her feet instead of the street around her.
"Gee, and here I was thinking it was my kind and loving personality that did it."
He couldn't exactly argue with that, but he tried to go easy on her. She didn't need anyone else tearing her down, she was doing too good a job all by herself.
"I'm not saying that's not a factor, but the main part of it is that people don't want to know how weird the world really is. Why do you think Sunnydale isn't empty? I mean, why hasn't everybody figured out what a lousy place that is and left already?"
She looked up at that, a sad smile quirking one side of her mouth.
"Because Mayor Wilkins had a lot of practice at spinning things so that nobody could prove anything. He had people around to shut up anybody who figured things out and tried to warn everybody, too." She looked torn between fond memories and painful ones, so he carried on with his speech.
"Uh, yeah, that too. But mainly because people just do not want to know. With you there, in their face, they have a tough time ignoring the weird stuff, so they either try and forget you're around, or they get hostile. Then you get hostile right back, am I right?"
She was frowning now.
"I don't know. Maybe. Most of what I've done has been stuff I chose to do; nobody twisted my arm." She gave a bitter laugh. "Buffy doesn't have any trouble being a Slayer and being around people; guess that shoots down your little theory."
Whistler gave her a hard look.
"You think she has it easy? No way. Easier than you, maybe, but that kid has gone through a lot of stuff too. And she works hard at fitting in with the normal crowd; she's willing to play things their way, so that she can have at least a bit of a normal life. I don't think you've ever tried that, have you?" She didn't answer. "All right then; the first thing we have to do, is get you away from here."
The headlights of a passing car illuminated her pale face as she gave him a sidelong look.
"Away from where?"
He pointed down at the sidewalk under their feet, then at the city around him.
"Here; all of this. This is the worst possible place for you to be, you know that? Staying here, with everything that's going on, is just asking for trouble. The plain truth is that you were made to fight. You can't help it, and there's nothing wrong with that. But you're in the wrong place. The only thing to fight here are human beings, and Slayers were never supposed to lay a hand on a human being."
Faith stopped walking, and when he turned to face her he found himself taking an involuntary step back. Her hands were clenched into fists, and trembling with barely contained fury. Her face was even paler than it had been, and her dark eyes seemed to suck up what little light there was on the silent street.
"I'm not some kind of wind up killer; I can control myself if I want to." The half-snarled words made him very much aware that she could kill him with no trouble at all. That knowledge didn't stop him from tossing off a comeback, though.
"Tell that to the bathroom." She held herself there, rigid and shaking, and he had to shake his head. "Listen, I can see that you've already figured some of this stuff out. That's why I waited till tonight to talk to you. If you weren't ready to hear this, you would already have blown me off or killed me, right?" She just stared at him, hostility coming off her in waves. "I'll take that as a 'yes'. Thing is, even if you want to change, and you try to be all friendly and peaceful -which is hard to picture with you, I have to say-it won't work. This place is practically the blood and death capitol of the west coast, if we don't count Sunnydale. It would be like having an alcoholic working as a bartender; sooner or later you're going to lose it."
The anger of a moment earlier seemed to run out of the girl, leaving her with nothing but a dull curiosity.
"Then what do I do?"
He took an unobtrusive breath, and then let it out. So far, so good.
"Here's the deal: You come work for us, doing the Slayer thing of fighting monsters, killing demons -evil ones, not me-the stuff you were called for in the first place."
She didn't exactly look thrilled at the prospect.
"Been there, done that. You going to spring for a motel room in whatever hellhole I get sent to, or do I have to do some hooking on the side to get enough money to feed myself?"
"No." He said, his voice firm. "You've got it all wrong, kid. I told you, we're not those Watcher guys. Also, you're not going to be in any kind of hellhole. Now, I know you're a city girl, but have you ever heard of Wyoming? Montana? Places like that?" Faith nodded uncertainly. "Well, that's where you'll be going. There's a place up there all ready for you. It used to be a little wilderness resort, but it closed down a few years ago; not enough people wanted to go that far into the boonies just to hike and hunt. You'll like it there; your own apartment, lots and lots of space… peace and quiet all over the place."
Her natural cynicism wasn't long in recovering, and she narrowed her eyes.
"But there's things to slay, right?"
"Yeah. You know those Bigfoot sightings you see in the Enquirer? Well, some of those are Sasquatch, which are basically peaceful, but some are Wendigo, which most definitely ain't. Wendigo eat human flesh."
He smiled grimly.
"Oh is right. Up there you'll also find Trolls like you fought here last night, Corpselights, Dzoo-noo-qua, Shadowhounds, feral Drakes… lots of stuff that you usually don't find in the settled areas. There are places up there that nobody goes. The Indians knew where to stay away from, and even then it got some of them. White men don't always listen to their instinct, and there are a lot of people who go missing every year. You could help with that, channel your hostility to where it belongs. Plus, you would be a long way from places like this, where there's just too much temptation to slip back into your old habits."
"Um." Faith walked a few paces away, then turned and walked back, deep in thought. "You know, you're making this sound like a vacation or something, but it also kind of seems like a Slayer's work camp. The sort of place where you get the prisoners to do useful work for you, without having to pay 'em." She stopped right in front of him, and her gaze was searching. "If I go up there, and decide I don't like it, if I want to leave… you gonna try and stop me?"
"Absolutely not." He lied, careful not to make his voice too earnest. This girl could probably smell bullshit a mile away, and not because of any special senses being a Slayer gave her. "You'll like it, though. There's a few people who run the place, and they'll give you everything you want or need; cook for you, clean up for you," Mix up your special herbal Prozac for you….
He thought. "-all for you. We know how to treat a Slayer right."
She was thinking it over, and he found himself praying to whatever gods might be listening that she agreed. It wasn't that he'd lied a lot; there really was a need for someone to keep the supernatural beastie population under control up there, and the place where she'd be staying was just as he described. He had only neglected to mention the team of Shamans who would be working with her to help her control her bloodthirsty urges. With some empathic therapy and some herbal medication, they anticipated a good chance of actually rehabilitating the girl. However, if she proved to be beyond help, then they would have no choice but to keep her prisoner there for the rest of her life.
His employers weren't bastards like the Watcher's council; they weren't going to kill her just to get another Slayer, but they couldn't let her run around loose, either. Not with her murderous urges, and certainly not with those prophecies seeming to hinge on her.
"So what do you say?" Yes, say yes, please. I don't want to have to send in the goon squad to try and capture you. Half of them would probably die trying, and some of those guys owe me money.
Faith looked at him, then back over her shoulder at the dark street and the grimy buildings that flanked it. She took a deep breath of the acrid, polluted air, then sighed.
"I guess… what can it hurt. I'll go and give it a look." Yes! Who's the man?! Me, that's who!
He nodded slightly, showing her a faintly pleased look.
"That's good. You made the right call." He turned and headed off down the street. "C'mon, my car's a few blocks over. We can leave right now."
"No." He drew up short, turning to give her a frown. She had her arms folded across her chest and her head bowed, looking at the sidewalk. "I need to…. Give me until tomorrow morning. I have to tell some people goodbye and stuff. Explain…." She trailed off uncertainly, and he cursed mentally in frustration. Still, this was no time to rub her the wrong way. Not when she'd already agreed.
"Okay. But promise me you won't get involved in any more of the crap that's flying around here." He tried to be firm, but still not provoke her. "Leave the human stuff to the humans, okay?"
"Sure. I'll see you tomorrow."
He watched her walk away, then checked his watch. Three-forty am. He'd send BellDonna to go report to their superiors, and then track her again. As soon as she said her goodbyes, he'd have her in the car and on the way to the airport.
Unless fate was seriously screwing with him, it looked like he'd actually averted the disaster the girl had been all set to unknowingly unleash.
* * * * *