See Chapter One for Disclaimer Evil facing evil; the savage child and the shadowed storm.
The price for victory shall be measured in the blood of the innocent;
Fire and madness hunting hand in hand….
--A fragment of the the mad ramblings spoken by Lord Karash Al-Ajiid
As he lay dying, 1311 AD
Despite the bleak grayness that seemed to fill Faith's head, her body was alive and well, and it chose that moment to send the Slayer a very clear message.
She was hungry.
During the twenty-four hours or so between her waking and the body-switch thing she'd been too busy trying to find her bearings to bother with eating. She hadn't really felt hungry anyway; between watching the video message from Mayor Wilkins and learning that Buffy and the gang were still happily doing their do-gooder thing… well, neither had done anything to improve her appetite. Now, however, it was obvious that whatever it was Buffy had done in the twelve hours or so that she'd been in charge of Faith's body, it apparently hadn't included a good meal; she was starving. Up ahead she spotted a well-lit street corner with a twenty-four hour mini-mart. Just the thought of getting some junk food into her stomach lifted her spirits a little. Her mouth already watering, she headed that way at a brisk walk. Halfway there a sudden thought struck her, and she groaned. A quick check of her pockets confirmed it; the other Slayer had not seen fit to leave any cash in Faith's pockets, and the money that she had lifted from Joyce's purse was still where she'd put it; in the clothes the Buffy body had been wearing. Shit.
Her stomach growled fiercely and she surprised herself by stumbling. Faith frowned. She didn't just feel hungry; she felt a little dizzy. It seemed like the coma had taken more out of her than she'd first thought. A day and a half with no refueling would be rough on any Slayer, but she was fresh off of several months of being fed through a tube, and her reserves were running critically low. Oh well, it won't be the first time I've had to do a little shoplifting to feed myself.
Reaching the entrance of the convenience store, she pushed through the doors and walked inside. An older woman was sitting behind the cash register, her weary face and drab blonde hair giving her a hopeless sort of look, despite the polite smile of greeting she gave Faith. The girl gave her a nod in return, her eyes flicking over the 'help wanted' sign beside the register. She snorted softly in derision before turning to wander down one of the short aisles. Yeah, like I could stand working in a place like this. Ten minutes of that and I'd be crazy for real.
Small, she needed something small, but with some calories to fuel her Slayer metabolism. A handful of candy bars would have been ideal, but they were all sitting on the counter right beside the blonde woman. A fairly large guy was stocking the glass-doored refrigerated compartments with cans of soda; he glanced at her, and then gave her a longer, more appreciative look. Even dirty, her outfit showed off her body nicely. The snug dark jeans hugged hips that were rounded despite the weight she'd lost during the coma, and the black top showed her cleavage and left her midriff bare. Ordinarily Faith would have liked the attention, but now the Slayer gave him a withering look; she most definitely was not in the mood for those kinds of games, not tonight. She turned down the next aisle.
Chips, bread, deli-meat…. Ah. Faith smiled with delight. Fruit pies. Those had been her favorite, back in elementary school, when the apple filling had been the closest she ever got to a healthy food group, but she hadn't had one in years. She picked up two, turning slightly and glancing up. Neither employee had a clear line of sight to where she was standing, but she could see the woman watching her in one of those curved mirrors that hung from the ceiling. Not a problem. She turned back to the rack, replacing the two apple pies in favor of two cherry ones. Except only one apple pie actually made it back to the rack. Presto-chango, the Slayer is quicker than the eye. In a move that was so flicker-fast as to be nearly invisible, she had one tucked up the sleeve of her jacket. She pretended to ponder the pies she held for a moment, and then put them back. Flicker again; and again only one made it to the shelf. She was about to go for a third one, but looking towards the front of the store, she saw the woman motion to the stock-guy. Great; there was no way she could have seen the moves, but it looked like she was a suspicious bitch. Time to go.
Faith strolled down the main aisle and past the lady behind the counter, but the young man was there, blocking the door.
"Miss. I'm going to have to ask you to empty your pockets."
She stared up at him. He had a foot in height, and around a hundred pounds on her. It made her sigh sadly.
"Don't mess with me right now, 'kay?" Glancing over her shoulder at the woman, she held open one side of her jacket; not the side that hid the knife sheath, of course. "I don't feel like buying anything; I just want to be on my way."
The older woman shook her head.
"No, you've got something. I know your kind, girl. Just hand whatever it is to Wade there." She gave Faith a faint smile. "I'll have the cops come by and they'll just have a little talk with you. You probably won't even have to go with them to the station."
The Slayer felt her eyes narrow. Shit. Again.
She couldn't afford to hang around for the little 'talk' with the cops. After he'd died, the Mayor's protection had gone away; Faith was wanted for 'questioning' in Sunnydale, and the local police might have her description. It was a sure thing that they had her prints, and if they decided to arrest her and then ran a search…. She glared at the woman behind the counter. Only a really uptight hag would make this big a deal about something so small. It wasn't like she was trying to run out the door with a case of beer or anything….
Turning back to the man blocking her exit, she let the fruit pies slide down her sleeve and into her hand. Tossing them to him, she moved to sidle past.
"There you go, big guy. Enjoy 'em, but I'm leaving."
She was just pushing the glass door open when a large hand dropped onto her shoulder, fingers clamping tight.
"Hold it. You're going to have to wait until-"
Breaking his arm wasn't something she decided to do; it just happened. The instant he touched her, the emptiness that had filled her since the encounter in the church fell away. Something inside her awoke, if only a little, and it uncoiled with the speed of a striking snake. Her body moved without conscious direction, doing what it had done so many times before. She turned, and the wet, double snap sounded even before she realized that her hand had darted up to strike. The tattered backpack hanging from her shoulder hampered her movement slightly, or he would have had it worse. As it was, she was already flowing forward and into a follow-up strike when her mind caught up with her body. Her cocked knuckles came to an abrupt halt just inches from his sternum.
Looking into his eyes, watching them fill with pain and shock, she felt a ripple of something like shock pass through her. It was so easy; so very easy to kill. She could do them, the man and the woman both, in the space of a few heartbeats; then she could have all the food she could carry. They were nothing to her; less than nothing, and she was so hungry….
Two lives gone, so that she could taste apple fruit pies again.
A year ago she would have done it. Hell, a day ago she would have done it. Now… she wasn't sure. The scene in the church should have cured her of this hesitation; she'd tried to do the right thing then and look what it had gotten her. No one had stopped to ask why she'd been there; no one had bothered to wonder why Faith, psychotic superbitch, had been fighting to save innocent lives. Solid proof if ever there was any that no good deed went unpunished. That memory twisted something inside her and a rush of sweet, hot hatred flooded though every muscle and sinew, pushing out the uneasy feeling. She took a step forward, already picturing how ol' Wade would look with his head twisted around backwards. As she lifted her hands toward his throat, a flicker in her peripheral vision warned her, and she turned to see the woman behind the register crouching down, reaching for something under the counter.
She could reach the woman before she brought up whatever that was behind the counter, but it would take real effort; more than she really felt like expending. Regaining control of herself, she backpedaled quickly through the doors and out into the night. An easy jog took her away from the corner, and then on a winding course through the streets, quickly losing any pursuit. A few blocks later she slowed to a walk.
Well. So much for good-girl Faith. She'd been about to murder that guy. Why? She looked down at her feet as she walked, trying to keep her mind off of her empty belly. Because it would have felt good.
She thought. I've been stuck in a losing streak for too long; I want to win again.
Fighting those two, killing them, would have been easy. Even with the gun the woman had pulled, Faith could have taken them both with no problem. Nothing at all like the fights with Buffy, which she always seemed to lose.There's a word for people like you, Faith. Loser.
The other girl's voice whispered in her mind and she half-cringed. Hunching her shoulders she turned a corner, choosing her direction at random. This was a really shitty part of town. Or maybe it was just a shitty town in general; it was hard to say.
Anyway… was it so wrong to want to be a winner? To want to matter, to be important and have people be afraid of her? She'd had that, with Mayor Wilkins. Everybody in town who knew what was what had been scared to death of her; and man, it had felt sweet. All the killing she'd done, all the pain she'd inflicted, it had fed something inside her, something she'd only seen hints of back when she'd been a Slayer. It would have been nice to say that it was something foreign, some, oh, demon essence or something; a spirit-thingie that could be zapped with a spell and sent off to some pocket hell, never to bother her again. Yeah, that would have been nice, but it also would have been bullshit. It was just her, her own dark nature that got off on doing that stuff. It wasn't like that was all there was to her, though. She still liked puppies, and dancing, and screwing; she didn't even have to kill the person afterwards to have a good time. There was all kinds of good stuff inside her; courage and, and bravery and that loyalty garbage that Willow-the-bitch had thrown in her face that night at city hall. It wasn't that Faith didn't have all of that; it was just that things kept happening, people kept making things so hard…. It was usually easier to just say 'fuck it' and then go kill something, or someone.
It was so easy.
Only it kept leading her into dead ends. Like now. No food, no money, no clothes.
Nothing. Just herself, and this street.
She came to another corner, and she stopped. The street she had been following ended against an old burned-out building, leaving her a choice of left or right. She stood there for what seemed like a long time, wondering which way she should go… and if it really made any difference.
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