See Chapter One for Disclaimer One might be forgiven for asking a very straightforward question: How did she manage to change the world? She's just one girl, after all. How could a single person make that much of a difference?
And this is true. Faith, and Buffy for that matter, were, on the face of it, strictly 'small-time'. After all, what good are mere enhanced strength and speed, when measured against modern firearms, or ancient, powerful magicks? Mankind today has huge armies, warplanes, tanks, the power to obliterate whole cities in a flash of nuclear fire; set beside that, the Slayer seems little more than a quaint anachronism.
But remember; Lincoln was just a man. Alexander the Great was just a man. Martin Luther King, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, even Stalin and Hitler, evil though they undoubtedly were; all were single individuals who nevertheless reshaped the lives of countless millions. The power of the Slayer is more than just the physical gifts; it resides also in the will and determination of the woman who houses that power. Only a person of extraordinary emotional strength, someone possessed of a focused and dynamic personality, could endure the burden of being a Slayer.
It should come as no surprise that Faith has achieved so much, at least, not to those who have been lucky enough to know her. And as for those who once discounted her as nothing more than an accident, a mystical afterthought, or simply 'street trash'? Well, I believe it is safe to say that they have now realized their mistake.
--From the book 'A light amidst the Shadows'
By Marcus Durr
Published by Baen Books; 2007
Faith was standing in the shower, staring at the wall without really seeing it. The water spraying against her body was only lukewarm now; she idly wondered how long she'd been in there. Long enough to scrub the blood off, anyway. Seems like all I do, these days; kill some people, get their blood all over me, go clean it off, then do it all again.
She was at Scott's place. After the ride over in the red-haired girl's car, she'd been led upstairs and installed in this somewhat run-down apartment. Scott had gotten on the phone even before Faith hit the shower, trying to gather anyone who was still willing to confront the Yakuza invaders.
As for the Slayer, she had gone to try and get clean. Clean; yeah right. Maybe I shouldn't set unrealistic goals for myself.
Despite what Scott had said earlier, Faith wasn't so sure that going to kill a bunch of people tonight was a better path to sanity than the mountain retreat she'd been heading for this morning. Still, it wasn't like she was going into this fight because she wanted to; she was going to go and fight the Storm because of what they'd done to these people, and because of what had happened to Kelly. God, how two-faced is that? It's as much my fault as it is anyone else's. Alex was right; I made Kelly run out where they could find her. I killed as many of these people last night as those guys have in the last couple of days. How am I any better than they are?
The hiss of the shower didn't give her any answers, and Faith knew that it was important that she find one. Right now, everything had this weird feeling of inevitability, like it had been destiny that she would be here, now, about to go and meet her fate at the next setting of the sun. The reasons why didn't really seem to matter, to the fates or whoever it was pulling her strings, and she hated that feeling. Becoming a Slayer had been like that; something that had happened without any apparent reason, other than it was meant to be. She'd been thrust into this war, without anyone asking her, without any real desire to fight evil or to save the helpless victims she'd found herself struggling to protect. Most of the time, as a Slayer, she'd just been going through the motions. Oh, she'd loved the fighting, and the rush it gave her, but after she got to Sunnydale, it had gotten harder and harder to take her duties seriously. After all, most of the people she saved didn't even know she existed, and wouldn't have given a squat about her if they did. Maybe that was why, later, she'd grown to hate them so much. Maybe she'd gone to city hall and joined up with the Mayor, not just out of loneliness, or because she lacked purpose, but because she wanted to do something, anything, that she herself had chosen to do, instead of something that had been chosen for her. Now it was happening again, and she had the same impression of events just carrying her along.
"It's not going to be that way." She growled to herself. "Not this time."
No, it wouldn't be. Before the sun set, she was going to reach some decision. Either she would know exactly why she felt she had to do this, or she just wouldn't do it. It wasn't enough to do a thing because someone expected it of her, or because fate demanded it. Maybe that was all the reason Buffy needed, but Faith wanted more; she needed more.
She paused, considering that thought. Y'know, that might be a good place to start, right there. Maybe one of the things that've been messing me up is-
The water hitting her naked body had suddenly turned icy-cold, and she leapt out through the shower curtain and into the middle of the bathroom floor. Shuddering and gasping in reaction to the unexpected shock, she lost her train of thought. Leaning in to shut the water off, she shrugged it away.
"No big deal; I've got a few hours yet to think things through." Her murmur echoed oddly in the little room, sounding tired, even to her. It had been five days now since she'd woken up in that hospital bed, and she still hadn't managed any real sleep. Eight months of bed rest notwithstanding, she was definitely starting to feel it. Leaning against the sink, she started drying herself with the small towel she'd been given.
"Probably not a problem. With what I'm going to meet tonight, I'll probably get all the sleep I need, afterwards."
Sleep of the sort that nobody ever woke up from; still, rest was rest, she supposed. At least Scott had a blow-dryer, so she wouldn't have to get killed with curly, little-girl hair. That might just make things bearable.
* * * * *
When she walked out into the cluttered living room, she found a group of people she'd never seen before standing there, watching her. Feeling a little self-conscious, she directed a mildly serious glare at Scott.
"Thanks for the loan of the shower, but I'm going to need a change of clothes before things go down." Glancing down at the frayed sweatpants and old football jersey she was wearing, she shook her head in disgust. "I don't think this really delivers my usual badass impression, do you?"
Scott gave her a feeble grin, but the rest of those present looked a little less willing to relax. In fact, most of them either looked ready to run for the door at her first sudden move, or else they were trying to look all tough and unimpressed to cover up their fear. Faith held back the sigh that wanted to come. If these were the best he could come up with to help her, then things were even worse than she had thought.
Faith stayed in the doorway, not wanting to risk crowding anyone and starting a stampede for the exit.
She looked at the seven people who were looking back at her, then threw a questioning look at Scott. He cleared his throat, a bit uncertainly.
"Okay, this is everybody I could get hold of right now; I'm pretty sure there'll be a few more by tonight, though." He was having trouble meeting her eyes, and a moment later she found out why.
"We're not going in there with you." It was the redhead from before, the one who had driven out to pick them up at the hotel. One of two women in the group, she had a challenging, belligerent look to her. It was the sort of attitude that Faith usually enjoyed watching vanish under a little creative abuse, but right now it just made her feel tired. When she didn't respond, the girl went on. "If you're so tough, why don't you go out there and take care of them yourself? Don't you have super-powers or something?"
This brought low murmurs of agreement from the others, which in turn made Scott flush red with embarrassment. He looked at her with an apologetic expression.
"I'm sorry. They've seen too many people go down, trying to fight the Yaks."
Faith nodded fractionally, then spent a moment looking at each of the men and women gathered there. Now that someone had had the guts to actually speak to her, the rest of them looked a little more confident. The sort of confidence that being in a group gives you, anyway. Most of 'em are still scared silly of me; I wouldn't want them in a fight even if they were on my side. They'd break and run the first time somebody saw blood.
"Relax." Of course they didn't, but that wasn't her fault. "Yeah, I do have powers you don't, and I don't need any of you to do my fighting for me." Two or three of them, including the girl, looked suddenly indignant, and this time she did sigh. Typical. Act like you want them to do something and they don't want to. Tell them you don't need them, and they get all offended. Morons.
Scott was staring at her in awe.
"Can you really kill them all, by yourself?"
Faith found a confident smile somewhere and put it on her face for him to see.
"Sure. There's only going to be one or two hundred of them, right? Plus whatever big guns they have; vampires, magic… guys like this always have a little extra something." Yeah, sure, not a problem.
This was crazy. Acting cool in front of the nobodies was one thing, but going along with all of this…. Funny, as screwed-up as I am, I never really thought I was the suicidal type. That's what this is going to be, though. Ten or so, I can take; I did that last night, even if it wasn't easy, and I was in psycho-mode. Now, this is going to be ten or twenty TIMES as many, and these will know a lot more about what to expect from me. Plus, the boss-types will be there, and those'll be as tough as all the small fry put together, or worse.
Nope, it didn't look like there was a happy ending in store for this little tale. Faith knew she was a lot of things; cocky, maybe a little reckless…. Duh, I'm a LOT reckless. That doesn't mean that I'm stupid. I don't see any way in hell of me walking away from this one. So somebody tell me again why I'm walking into it?
The answer came unbidden; Kelly. The way she'd looked, the first time Faith saw her, that night under the highway. The way she'd looked, the last time she had seen the other girl, lying broken and sobbing in that room of horrors. Shame and anger flooded through her in twin torrents, and she stood a little straighter. Her gaze held them, and she felt the first flickers of renewed rage warming her.
"I don't need you to fight, but I do need your help. I might just be able to take these guys by myself, but I need to know a lot more about what they've got or they'll take me down before I do any damage. Plus…." She gave them a wolfish smile. "Once they figure out what's happening to them, I don't want any of them to get away." That made them look at her bit differently, and she felt the fear and hostility ease a little. Looking at Scott, she tried to adopt a calm, businesslike manner. "Okay then. Can you tell me anything about this place I'm going? What kind of building are they in?"
He nodded once, reaching out to pull a sheet of paper in front of him. With a pencil, he started to sketch an outline. Faith walked over and stood across the table from him, watching as he finished drawing a rough rectangle, then started adding details.
"I've never been inside, but I've seen it from the street, and I've talked to a couple of people who've been in there. It's three stories, but the top floor is only around a third the size of the first two. There's some wide, shallow steps leading up to the front doors, here… and there's smaller, fire-exit-type doors here, and here." The others had slowly gathered around the table as he drew, and Faith almost smiled as they stood nearly shoulder to shoulder with her, staring down at the drawing.
"What about windows?" She asked. One of the young men who hadn't yet spoken leaned in to tap several spots on the paper.
"There's a lot of them on the first floor, but they're all made so narrow that nobody but a little kid could get through them. The whole building's made out of concrete, too."
"That's true. Otherwise we would have tried to burn it down, somehow."
The second woman scowled down at the sketch, then up at Faith.
"All those doors except for the front ones are steel, too. Heavier than normal fire doors, and they only open from inside." She looked away from Faith, shifting uncomfortably. "It's a fortress. I don't see how you're going to sneak in."
The Slayer shrugged unconcernedly.
"I'm not going to sneak in. I'm going to walk up and say hi, and then go in the front door." Ignoring the looks that earned her, she stared at the outline. She could get in, but how was she going to live long enough to take down even half of the small army she was likely to find waiting for her? She and Scott had brought back a carload of guns from the hotel, but even though she knew how to use one, it still wasn't her best weapon.They'll have guns too; a lot of them.
Then there was the problem of what would happen if by some miracle she actually started winning against the impossible odds she would face, in there. There would be a mob of heavily armed bad guys, running out of the building and scattering. If the bosses got away in the confusion, she might never be able to track them all down. Damn it, I'm not a general. I suck at this kind of thing.
On the advice of another of his fellows, Scott added another few details to the map, but it might as well have been Chinese for all the good it did Faith. Buffy could do it, if she were here; she's great at this stuff.
Well yeah, obviously, since her side had won the battle against the Mayor despite everything he'd had going for him. She winced at the thought, but that didn't change facts. Drop me in the middle of a fight and I know what to do. I think that's what they call 'tactics'. But the before part, the big plan, that's strategy, and that's a whole 'nother thing.
She looked up at Scott, only to see him looking expectantly at her; waiting for her to come up with something brilliant. She looked back down at the map.
"Hm. Well…." She glanced up at him again, trying to act casual. "Looks pretty tough. If you were going to do this, what would you do?" He regarded her for a few long seconds, blinked a couple of times, and then gave a slight nod.
"Okay. Um…." He put both elbows on the table and considered the design. "I guess…. For one thing, I can't see them all meeting you outside. If you just show up, they're going to take you in. So at least they'll all be in there with you. Assuming that, then they're sort of bottling themselves up, aren't they?" Faith nodded; she could see that.
"Yeah. If there's only a few ways into the place, then there's only a few ways out, too."
"Right. So maybe if we could come up with some way to… I don't know, lock them in there with you," He grinned. "Then you could take all the time you need, because they wouldn't be able to get away."
She smiled back, ignoring the queasy feeling in her gut. Yeah. Two hundred of them, plus bosses, locked in what's really a fairly small building, and they're the ones in big trouble. What the hell am I thinking?
The red-haired girl had been frowning at the paper, and now she leaned in to point at a blank spot in one corner, well outside the building outline.
"There's something else we could do, too." She looked up at Scott, doing her best to ignore Faith. That was okay with her, so long as the girl had anything that might help the Slayer get through this alive. "I'm pretty sure that there's a telephone pole right here; and right down the block there should be a…."
The details of the plan took an hour or so to come together, but come together it did. In the end, Scott's friends had a more active role than many of them would have liked, but it still left Faith inside, alone, with an entire criminal organization that wanted nothing more than to see her dead. When the others left to begin gathering the items they would need for tonight, she was left with only Scott, and some very dark thoughts. Since she and dark thoughts already had way too much history going on, she looked for something else to ask Sylvia's grandson about.
"You know, I'm probably going to meet every one of these goons tonight, so maybe you'd better tell me about this girl with the magic guns. You said before that she stood there and ignored a hundred bullets, but before he… before he went down, Jason hurt her?"
He gave her a steady look before nodding.
"Yeah. He was only a kid, but nobody else even scratched that woman. Nobody else there managed to touch her, but at least Jason managed to draw some blood before she-" He stopped and glanced away, his jaw clenched tight. Faith understood that; she was carrying guilt from that one too. Maybe she could make the boy's death mean something; maybe what he'd done would help her live through the night.
"Okay, Scott; tell me how he did it."
* * * * *