See Chapter One for Disclaimer Quentin Travers is en route back to our headquarters now, but he has already relayed the pertinent details via phone: The Alpha Slayer has survived her rite of passage, and Rupert Giles has been fired for conduct unbecoming his assignment. As a consequence, now both Buffy Summers and the girl Faith are without a Watcher.
How does the man manage to complicate our lives so profoundly? All he had to do was prepare the girl for her testing; and by all accounts he managed that quite efficiently. It was during the final stages of the ordeal that he lost his objectivity and interfered. It now becomes necessary for me to fill two empty Watcher slots, and it was proving difficult to find even one of our young people with the training, ability and motivation to take on the task.
What is worse; now that Giles is no longer a formal part of our organization, I find it unlikely that he will go to any great lengths to keep the details of the testing from Faith. No doubt she will be difficult to manipulate into her own test, should she survive to see her eighteenth birthday.
Well, we shall deal with that problem if it arises. Given the girl's past performance, I feel the chances of that are somewhat remote.
Lord William Robert Hayden
Earl of Stapleford
First Seat of the Council
Jan 22, 1999
It was with a fair degree of trepidation that Taryuu entered Lord Akamori's office. Inside, he found the young man working at his desk, scanning the reports provided by his various subordinates. Behind him stood a pair of the bodyguards who constantly attended him; one a magician and one a heavily armed combat expert. Both watched the retainer as he approached his master, but it was not until he stood before the desk that the young man looked up.
"Ah, surprising to see you here so late, old friend." Akamori lifted a small cup of steaming tea and sipped from it. "I should be in bed myself, but these Teamsters…." He shook his head regretfully as he shuffled through the reports. "They are surprisingly reluctant to allow our merchandise to be shipped inside their vehicles. You and I will have to decide on a way to convince them otherwise."
Taryuu made a fractional bow of acknowledgement, then cleared his throat slightly before speaking.
"I bring word of tonight's activities." Akamori leaned back in his chair, and despite his shame at what he had to say, the older man made himself meet that gaze without flinching. "After the group of agitators was dealt with, I dispatched a group of men to the place where Itai fought the Spirit Warrior this morning. They set fire to the building in hopes of drawing her out, and waited for her to appear." He licked his lips as he paused, but his master waited for him to continue, his face empty of expression. "She did appear, drawn by one of the agitators we left as example for the others. She made no effort to avoid the trap, but-" There was no way to present it in favorable terms, short of lying, and that was something he would not do, even to preserve his own life. "The girl destroyed our soldiers. Of the fifteen I sent, only two returned."
Akamori's brows rose fractionally.
"She defeated fifteen men? Did she spare those who fell?"
Taryuu shook his head grimly.
"No, lord. I am told that she fought with great savagery, and killed any she could reach. There has also been word that she is even now hunting through the streets and killing anyone who seems to offer her the slightest threat." His concern forced him to continue. "It is possible that she is seeking us out, and intends to deal with us before we can attack her again."
The older man waited for the expected biting comments about his lack of competence, the punishment that would be ordered for letting matters deteriorate to this degree, but to his surprise his master uttered a bark of astonished laughter. Taryuu wasn't sure what to make of that.
Akamori waved a hand in reassurance even as he continued to chuckle.
"Ah, forgive me. I was not laughing at you, old friend." With a smile still playing about his mouth, the young man stood and walked to where his Katanna rested on a richly lacquered stand. "I was overcome for a moment by the image of a young girl, alone, stalking the streets in search of us. It's like something out of the old stories, isn't it?" He turned his head and gave the other man a strangely boyish grin. "Or perhaps from one of the Anime, what Americans would call 'cartoons', from when I was a boy. A lone warrior, seeking vengeance against the villains who have wronged her." With another soft chuckle, he stood admiring the ebony perfection of the ancient sword.
Taryuu frowned to himself; whatever irony his master might see here, this was not a matter to be taken lightly.
"I will take steps to prepare for our next attack upon the girl, lord. Perhaps with Dai and Itai working together-"
"No!" Akamori strode back across the room, stopping directly in front of the older man. "No, those two most certainly would kill her, and I've not yet even laid eyes upon this girl."
Taryuu blinked in confusion.
"Surely that is of little concern next to the danger she poses. My lord, she defeated your men before a large crowd, talk of it will be spreading with every moment she remains alive." He bowed slightly, in apology for speaking so frankly, but it had to be said. "If she is not dealt with soon, her very presence in the city will greatly undermine your authority. We must deal with her, publicly and permanently."
The young man folded his arms across his chest and bowed his head in thought for a moment before speaking.
"What you say is true, so far as it goes." He glanced up at Taryuu. "I don't doubt your wisdom, but there is more here, now, than merely ending a threat. This girl has challenged us, challenged me, with her actions, though perhaps unknowingly. It does us little good now if she is killed in some dark corner of the city; her exploits thus far would still linger to haunt us." The lord of the Thousand Year Storm turned and regarded his sword, resting silently across the room. "She must be seen to be less than she is said to be by the ignorant commoners. We must break her, before we kill her." The avid light in his eyes caused a twisting sensation inside Taryuu's belly. His young master had intended to break his father, back in Japan, but his plans had gone awry in the worst possible manner. Now another threat had arisen, and he seemed obsessed with it in much the same way. Still, it was not a servant's place to order the master, only to obey.
"What would you have me do?"
Akamori gave a slight start, as if he had been lost in visions only he could see.
"Ah. It seems that striking directly at the girl gains us nothing but dead men. So I think we should strike instead at a more vulnerable target. If this Faith is ruled by her passions as much as you say, then it may be possible to lead her along a path we choose…."
As he listened to the details that followed, Taryuu could only pray that this would not end as so many of the old stories did; with the unlikely hero destroying those who sought to slay her.
Then again, this was the real world; in his experience, actual heroes were very rare indeed.
* * * * *
Alex tried to push it away, but it kept coming back. He normally wasn't one for violent urges or destructive emotions… he'd even heard that some people even thought of him as something of a saint.
That wasn't so; not today, anyway. A slow, burning anger was coiling its way through him, and as it fed on the feelings of outrage and betrayal inside, it only grew stronger.
"You look tired."
Alex came back to himself with a start, blinking owlishly against the light of the rising sun as he looked up. Scott stood there, hands in his pockets, looking down at him where he sat on the step in front of Sylvia's shop.
"Yeah, a little." He admitted, trying to keep a civil tone. Sylvia's grandson didn't deserve his venom; not after what the other man had already been through. "It was kind of a rough night. Besides," He gazed pointedly at the many small cuts and bruises visible on the other man's face and arms. "I'm not the one who should be in the hospital. You feeling okay?"
Scott shrugged noncommittally, leaning one shoulder against the wall and looking off down the street.
"More or less. The hospital isn't really an option anyway, what with all the cops and reporters going crazy this morning."
Alex rubbed at his eyes, trying prod his tired brain into action. It had been a long night, with only a few minutes spent dozing here and there. Why would the police and reporters be…?
"Oh yeah; all those dead men at the fire."
Scott nodded grimly.
"Yeah, all of those, and a lot more besides." Seeing his friend's confusion he widened his eyes. "You didn't hear?"
"Hear what?" Alex asked sharply, losing the battle to keep the irritation out of his voice. He'd had enough on his hands; he hadn't had time to stay abreast of the local happenings. The girl he loved most in all the world was going through hell inside the building at his back, and a certain someone apparently had more than a little to do with it. Scott paused, eyeing him for a moment before speaking.
"Well…. There were some killings, last night. A bunch of people got cut to pieces; and not just the ones we saw at your apartments." Scott looked away, refusing to meet his eyes. "Somebody tore a swath through the whole east side, starting not long after dark and going right on through till almost morning. The radio says it's eighteen dead, but they're still finding bodies. Or parts of them." He swallowed heavily before continuing. "Anybody caught outside last night was fair game; most of them were the kind of tough-guys you'd expect to be roaming around, but some of them were just people minding their own business."
There was silence for a minute after that. It wasn't too hard to guess who was responsible for the flood of dead bodies. After what they'd seen last night, at the fire, it was brutally clear. Faith was not only instant death in a pair of tight jeans; and at some point during that incredible fight he'd witnessed between her and the arsonists, she'd gone terrifyingly and utterly insane. The strange thing is, I can forgive her that. Those men were trying to kill her. The ones afterwards… I don't know, but I could probably forgive her for those, too.
Alex thought. It's not somebody's fault, if they're crazy. Even when she was threatening to rape me, or kill me, I could see something in her eyes… a look of despair, or fear, maybe.
Whatever it was he had seen there, it did not excuse what he'd learned later. It didn't even come close.
A pair of police cars, lights flashing but sirens silent drove past the shop, with a television news van close behind. The two of them watched as the vehicles turned at the next intersection.
"You really shouldn't be out here, man." Scott sounded tired too, Alex noted. "Neither should I, really. There were a whole lot of witnesses last night, who saw you and Faith together. So far nobody who knows you is saying anything, but sooner or later they'll track you down, even here. Maybe you should find somewhere else to crash for awhile."
He had a point, but Alex didn't think he had the energy to keep fighting the inevitable for much longer. His life, what there was of it, was spiraling out of control, and there was a curious sense of finality hanging over everything. Whatever was meant to happen was going to happen, and he was too tired to struggle against it anymore. He'd made too many wrong choices, had his trust, his hope, betrayed by one person too many.
He heaved a sigh at the dark turn of thought. The anger flared anew, but it was pointless to dwell on it; there was no outlet for his feelings, no target for the outrage he felt. At least he could do something about being out in plain view. With a weary groan, he levered himself to his feet and headed around the corner of the building. He didn't want to go inside. He had been in there all night; he needed a little more time to himself before he went back. With Scott trailing along behind him, he headed towards the small, narrow courtyard formed by the rear accesses of the buildings that made up the block.
"Alex… how's Kelly doing?"
He shot a glance back over his shoulder at that, but the look of concern on Scott's face was genuine. He had, in fact, known the girl for longer than Alex had. He had a right to know.
"She's… she's not good." The stresses of the last few days, the forced withdrawal from the drug… they had both taken their toll. It was the other thing, however, that still surprised him with its ability to make his blood boil. Moments after the confrontation with Faith in the alley, Kelly had collapsed. Together he and Scott had carried her back to the car. Alex had driven her back to Sylvia's, while Scott had remained at the scene of the fire, to see if he could learn anything about the Storm by observing the cops with the two or three of the arsonists who'd survived.
Alex also had the distinct feeling that the other man had been hoping Faith would return, and agree to help him with his fight against the Japanese criminals.
At Sylvia's, he and the old woman had put Kelly into a bed and tended her through the night. Alex had seen her go through withdrawal before, but this was worse than anything he'd ever experienced. She had been wracked with hot and cold sweats, suffered through bouts of hot and cold sweats, and a seemingly endless cycle of vomiting and diarrhea. It had been all they could manage to keep her hydrated, and all the while she had cried piteously for him to let her die.
In one of the brief lulls, she'd started speaking, and at first he hadn't understood what she was talking about."It's my fault. I'm selfish, and weak." The hoarse whisper had barely the strength to make it past her cracked, chapped lips, but Alex had leaned forward to catch the words.
"What? Don't talk like that, Kelly."
The girl had shaken her head, disoriented but determined to speak.
"I'm weak, and I'm ugly. I'm bad." Tears streaming from her eyes ran across her cheeks and dropped to further stain the sweat-soaked pillow. "I don't deserve you. I hurt you every time you see me."
Stunned, he could only stroke her face and try and put his caring in his words.
"That's not true. You're the most beautiful, wonderful girl I've ever known." Something about what she'd said tugged at his memory. Similar words, spoken in a bitter, husky voice. With a dawning realization, he looked down at Kelly's pale, drawn face. "Who told you these things?" He shook her, trying to penetrate the confusion he could see in her gaze. "Kelly, did Faith tell you that?"
She fumbled weakly for his hand, squeezed it with all her remaining strength.
"I already knew, inside. I just didn't know… that I knew, until she told me." She shuddered from a chill, and her eyes began to wander. "I should leave. I'm dragging you down. You would be someplace better… if it weren't for me."
Soon after that she'd fallen into unconsciousness, and he'd stumbled outside, into the stillness of dawn. Even now, he still couldn't believe it. That Faith could lose control of herself and explode into violence, yes. That she could run wild and in a haze of madness kill innocent people, yes. For whatever reason, the notion of her preying on Kelly like that, of the haunted, tormented Slayer being so petty and… mean; somehow that seemed to be a crime far worse than any of the others.
Maybe it was because the others were acts of rage, and passion, and those traits were so much a part of what Faith was that they seemed almost natural for her. This, though… this calculated attempt to undermine Kelly's emotional foundations….
What made Faith's act of betrayal even worse was that he'd almost done her one better. Even though he loved Kelly, had committed himself to caring for her, protecting her; he'd felt himself slipping. One day with Faith, just twenty-four hours of her in his life, and he had caught himself fantasizing about being with her instead of the girl he loved. Whatever his life was like, Alex thought of himself as a decent person; a fair and honest human being. None of that seemed to matter when Faith was near. The memory of her face, the sight of her body, even just the awareness that she was in the room seemed to turn off a switch in his brain. Ever since what had happened yesterday at lunch, when she'd kissed him, all he wanted to do was taste her lips again, get her someplace private and get her out of those tight pants so he could see what was underneath….
A lance of disgust went through him, and he shuddered with revulsion. As much as he hated her for what she'd done, he hated himself just as much. Kelly didn't deserve to be hurt, but it sure seemed like everyone was lining up to do the honors. If only Faith had never come here. She was some kind of walking poison, not the hero he'd thought her to be. He had been wrong about her from the very beginning, wrong to give her the chances he had; but there wasn't anything to be done about it. He had to look forward now, not back. There had to be some way he and Kelly could get through the mess he'd gotten them into.
Behind the shop, with the looming brick and mortar mass of the building blocking the sun's rays, it was still dim and quiet. The rear entrances of seven or eight different businesses opened out into the little space, which was half alley and half courtyard. Rusty metal fire escapes, some adorned with potted plants, hung on the walls, dim and indistinct in the half-light of early morning.
Alex looked at the door that led into the little ground-floor kitchen in the rear of Sylvia's shop. Even though he knew it was impossible, he imagined that he could hear Kelly's anguished sobs from where he stood. Scott stood uncomfortably, hands in his pockets.
"You think the police will find her?" He asked. Alex's lips thinned, as if he'd tasted something sour.
"I don't know." I don't care, either. I hope I never see that toxic bitch again.
The other man wasn't willing to let the subject drop so easily.
"C'mon, you saw her last night. If she can get her head on straight, she can turn this whole thing around! Those guys must be pissing their pants at the thought of her by now!"
Alex gave his friend a withering stare.
"We're better off without her, Scott. She's as bad as the people you're fighting."
The other man met his eyes for a few moments, then looked away.
"I guess you're right." He said softly. "It sure would have been nice to have her on our side, though." Reaching out with one foot, he prodded an empty soda can that lay on the ground. "I wonder where she is."
"She's right here." The two of them both gave a start at the sound of the low voice from overhead. Craning his head to look upwards, Alex couldn't help but gape as the shadowy figure sitting cross-legged on the fire escape's second landing suddenly resolved itself into a familiar form.
Faith stood up, then hopped easily over the railing, dropping to land lightly in front of them. One hand pushed the dark hair back from her face, and she glanced up at him for only an instant before her gaze slid away. She seemed sane enough, if more uncertain than he'd ever seen her. For what seemed like a long time they stood there, close enough to touch, and Alex fought with a sudden, intense need to attack, to pound his fists into that pale face over and over until it was obliterated from his sight, from his memory….
* * * * *
Now that she'd shown herself, Faith wasn't sure what to do. The other guy, the one from last night, was looking at her with shining eyes and an expression that was just brimming with sudden hope. Alex, though, she couldn't tell what he was thinking. From the tense way he was standing and the closed, hard set of his face, he was less than happy to see her. Not that I can blame him. After what he saw last night, after what I said to him….
No, for someone she'd been about to kill, he was showing considerable courage by not running for his life. Shame filled her, and she wondered why she'd thought it important to come here and say goodbye. Before she could turn and leave, the young man before her finally spoke.
"Faith." Alex's voice sounded thick, as if he found it difficult to even say her name without choking on it. "How long have you been here?"
Unable to look him in the eye, she studied the back steps leading to Sylvia's shop.
"A couple of hours. I…." I got tired of wandering around town, waiting for sunup. I never thought I'd miss having vampires around, to take out my frustrations on. All there are here are people; and going from all the cops I saw, I've already done enough damage to the human population in these parts.
She shrugged uneasily.
"I wanted to see if you and Kelly were all right."
A short bark of laughter escaped his lips, and the harsh bitterness of it surprised her into looking him in the face. His lips were pulled back from his teeth in a rictus grin, but his eyes practically shouted his fury at her.
"Oh, we're both fine,
thank you so much for asking. Believe me, Kelly is doing great, and it's all because of you."
Faith stared at him in confusion. What the hell is he talking about?
She knew for a fact that Kelly was not doing fine; from her perch on the fire escape she'd been able to hear the other girl's cries all too clearly. So much so that she'd finally had to force down the sensitivity of her hearing just so she wouldn't have to listen anymore. Maybe… maybe he means the way she stood up to me, last night?
That thought prompted an internal wince; it hurt, even now, to recall how the addict had beaten her, by standing her ground that way.
At that moment, the other man standing there cleared his throat.
"Ah, Alex, I think I'm going to go check on her." His friend nodded shortly, and Scott turned to enter the building; not, however, without giving Faith a long look. She'd seen that exact look before, on the faces of people who were afraid of her, who felt repelled by her, but who knew they needed her help despite the way they felt. Willow and Xander had looked at her that way, and she hadn't cared. Giles and Wesley had looked at her that way, and it had bothered her. Despite her fellow Slayer's best efforts, even Buffy had looked at her that way… and it had ripped Faith's heart in two. Seeing it here, again, sent a shock through her that nearly made her sway where she stood. He only wants to use me; he doesn't care who I am or what I do, so long as he gets what he wants. Stupid bastard, I should kill you just for looking at me like that. You think I'm here to fight for you? I can do anything I want to do, and you can't even dream of stopping-
"Faith, why are you really here?"
She blinked, turning back to Alex. It was frightening; how she'd nearly lost it right then and there. The little weaselly guy was right, this wasn't the place for her.
"I guess I came to say goodbye." Hard as it was, she forced herself to meet his eyes. "I met someone… last night. I guess he found me, actually. He, uh…." What was with Alex? If looks could kill, she'd be on the ground screaming her guts out. "He knows a place where I can go, off in the woods or somewhere. Kind of get away from people for awhile."
The man nodded fractionally, his face still stony.
"That's probably a good thing, considering."
She stood there, feeling more helpless than she could ever remember feeling. The frustration tried to turn to anger, but she forced it back, with an effort that left her shaking.
"I wanted to-" She swallowed heavily, and her tongue felt thick and clumsy in her mouth. "-Say I was sorry, too. For last night; for everything." That was hard, but she'd had hours, sitting on that fire escape to think about it. She had been a bitch to Alex, to both of them. Make that 'an incredible bitch'.
She thought. Everything that's happened to me for the last year and a half, I took out on them. That was wrong.
Now, having said the words to him, she actually felt a little better. Not great, not by a long shot, but better. At least, she did until the look on Alex's face registered.
"I can't believe you." He took a step towards her, and if it had been someone else she would have thought he was about to take a swing at her. "You think 'sorry' even begins-" He broke off, half turning away, as if he couldn't stand to look at her for another instant. She stood there, dumbfounded. I apologized. Isn't this where he's supposed to say 'It's okay, Faith, I understand.'? I mean, if you say you're sorry, don't they forgive you? Especially when I'm making it easy on him by leaving and everything. It isn't like he'll have to be around me anymore.
Bitter disappointment welled up inside of her, but she tried her best to hide it. A moment later, Alex turned back to face her, and he seemed to have himself under control again, too.
"If you're leaving then you probably want your backpack." At her look of surprise he gave a small shrug. "You dropped it, last night at the… fire." He had probably been about to say something like 'massacre', but had caught himself at the last second. Still, it was nice of him to offer.
"Yeah, that would be great. Thanks."
"Wait here." He said. Climbing the three steps to the shop's back door, he reached for the handle-
Scott burst through the door, nearly knocking Alex off of the steps.
"Alex!" He grabbed the other man to steady him, then took a deep breath. "She's gone; Kelly, I mean."
Faith couldn't see it from where she was standing, but she imagined that Alex's expression wasn't a happy one.
"What? What are you talking about?" He backed away until he was standing on level ground again, but Scott stayed where he was. Raking his hands back through his short hair, he shot Faith a quick glance, then looked back to his friend.
"I went up to see her, and Rebecca said that she was sleeping, the last time she'd looked in on her. But when I took a look for myself, she wasn't in there."
Alex was shaking his head in denial.
"No, you just missed her. She's in the bathroom, or…." He looked up suddenly. "The shop, did you look in the shop?"
Scott spread his hands helplessly.
"I looked in there and yelled for her. Would she be hiding?"
For some reason Alex turned and gave Faith another one of those murderous stares.
"I'm not sure what she would be doing, or thinking, right now."
Without another word, he charged inside the building, with his friend close behind. Faith stood there, listening now as they ran through the large structure, calling out every few seconds. The sounds of doors slamming came to her clearly, along with the pounding of feet on stair treads. She almost started inside, but then she heard Sylvia's voice. The thought of facing someone else just then was more than she could bear. Okay, I'm done here.
She stuffed her hands in her pockets, giving the brick building a final long look. I don't need the pack; if they're going to give me a place to live, they can afford some new clothes, too.
Wherever Kelly had wandered off to, she would probably be all right. This was her town, after all. She'd been surviving here long before Faith had shown up. It was time to go. Head lowered, she walked around the corner and along the long side of the shop, towards the street. She supposed Whistler would be able to find her as long as she wasn't hiding, but for lack of any other destination she decided to head back to the club where they'd parted ways. At least that had the benefit of not being here. Reaching the sidewalk, she turned left and headed off.
"Hold it!" Faith stopped short, craning her head to look behind her. Alex and Scott were running after her. Well, at least Alex is running.
She thought. His friend is doing his best, but it's still a kind of limp-hop sort of trot.
Alex drew up as he reached her, his face flushed and damp with perspiration.
"She's not anywhere in the building."
Faith frowned, and answered in slow, puzzled tones.
"Alright…. Well, I hope she'll be okay." When the young man just stared at her, she went on. "I guess you should go look for her."
He nodded at that, with a determined expression that she didn't like at all.
"Yeah, we're going to look for her. All of us are going to look."
She felt her eyes widen.
"Listen, I really can't hang around that long. I'm supposed to be meeting somebody this morning. He's my ride to-"
Alex leaned in close to her, a mad intensity in his eyes.
"I don't care what else you had planned." He all but snarled the last word. "She's out on the street somewhere, alone, because of you. And you are going to help us find her, or I will kill you."
Faith couldn't believe any of what she was seeing, much less what she was hearing.
"Because of me?"
"Yeah." Scott was watching with a sort of sick fascination; obviously he thought his friend was about to get killed for speaking to her that way. Ordinarily he would have been right, too. Alex, however, seemed not to care. "She left because she was weak and ugly and worthless." He reached out and put his fist on her chest, just above her breasts. "Because she was dragging me down, because she was a burden, instead of someone strong, who could pull their own weight." He spoke louder and louder, nearly shouting the last as he stood nose to nose with her. "Does any of that sound familiar, Slayer?"
It did, and Faith thought that she might vomit at any moment. Oh… shit. I'd forgotten all about that; about what I did to her….
Scott looked deeply confused, but he didn't speak. Alex stood there, trembling with a fury which she finally understood. She couldn't blame him, either.
"Okay." She spoke softly, looking off to the side. If she'd felt shame before, it was nothing compared to what she felt now. "Where should we start?"
* * * * *