See Chapter One for Disclaimer I know, in my heart of hearts, the true source of the Slayer's power. Would you like me to tell you?
It lies in the dreams of mankind; in the collective will of all humanity. We know, you see. Every human being, no matter what sort of sophisticated, urbane drivel he or she may spout concerning their disdain for the supernatural, they know that the monsters are real. It's written in our genes, etched in our bone and sinew.
And we are afraid.
We crave comfort, our fear calls out for a protector to stand against those beings, ancient and hideous, which we cannot face. Thus the Slayer is born.
But the modern world has perils of it's own, dangers which are equally horrifying and unendurable, and unlike the old things which the Slayer is destined to battle, these things are plainly evident. Simply pick up a newspaper, or switch on the television and watch the news, and you will be shown the despicable deeds which man will commit against his fellow man.
It was inevitable that the unimaginable power of the collective human unconscious would call out for another champion, another being such as the Slayer, who could protect man from the most dangerous creature of all; himself.
Former member of the Watcher's Council
Exiled for Heresy
January 21, 2001
"Are you sure this is where you want me to drop you off?"
Scott sounded worried. Maybe he's afraid that I'm going to turn around and start running as soon as he's out of sight.
Faith thought as she stepped out of the car and onto the street. I guess he's smarter than he looks.
Out loud she said something different.
"Yeah, this is good. I need a little time to get ready; the walk'll give me a chance to meditate… an' stuff."
That was as good as anything to call what she would be doing, and it seemed to satisfy him.
"All right then. We're going to go in-" He checked his watch. "Exactly thirty-three minutes. Okay?"
"Fine." She closed the door and bent down a little to look at him through the open window. "I'll see you… after."
He smiled at her; he actually seemed to believe she could live through what was about to happen.
"I'll see you. And Faith?" He leaned over and looked up at her. "Thank you."
She stepped away from the car, trying to cover her discomfort by tossing her hair back over her shoulders.
"Yeah, well. No big deal." She looked away from him, studying the long shadows that lay on the street, the grimy buildings… anywhere but at the expression on his face. "It's just my job. Destroy evil, save the day, whatever."
From the corner of her eye she saw him nod, then he was pulling away and heading his old junk heap down the street. Faith stood there on the sidewalk for a few moments, then started walking.
The Storm's headquarters, what they called 'the citadel' was twelve blocks away. Taking her time, she could walk that in thirty minutes. She had that long to decide what she was going to do.
"It's not like I don't want to help these guys." She said. The sound of her own voice surprised her, a little, but there weren't many people around to hear. The sun was setting; the decent people were already safe in their homes, and the dangerous people were still getting ready for the night's action. Eleven and a half blocks ahead of her, a whole lot of dangerous people were getting ready for some action. That was the problem.
"If somebody's getting picked on, I'll help them. If it means fighting five or ten goons; that's no sweat."
This was going to be a hell of a lot more than five or ten goons. Faith was a survivor, she always had been. That mindset didn't get you in the habit of walking into a situation where you knew
you were going to die.
Walking down this street, into the last rays of the setting sun, reminded her of something. It took her a minute to pin it down, but eventually she realized what it was. Exactly two days ago, when she'd jumped off that train and gotten her first look at this town, she'd been thinking about her failed attempt at playing hero. Just two days; is that all it's been?
She sighed. It seemed like forever. Forty-eight hours, total, and I've already forgotten what I decided then. 'No more hero for me', wasn't that it? That's what screwed the whole 'fresh start' thing I had going for me, in Buffy's body. If I hadn't been so stupid, if I hadn't gotten caught up in trying to do what the perfect, golden Slayer would have done….
Faith snorted softly in disgust. Well, here I am again. I've got the same choice; I can either turn around now and split town, or I can keep walking down this street and into a fight that isn't any of my business. Last time I made a bad call, and it cost me Buffy's body. This time if I blow it, it's my life that I lose.
Looked at that way, in those simple terms, made her realize that she didn't especially want to die. Not that she had a lot of great stuff to live for, but even so, if the alternative was being dead, even a terrible life seemed worth living. So then. There's bad guys here.
She gave a mental shrug. Not my fault; I didn't bring 'em, why should I get wasted trying to get rid of them?
Easy to say, but not so easy to make herself believe. The uncomfortable truth was, she'd made things here worse. And the hardest part to deal with is that I got to know a couple of the people who're involved in this, people that'll suffer because of what I do, or don't do. That's never happened before.
She'd killed people in the past, but she'd never had to face their friends or family afterwards. Despite the faces she sometimes saw in her dreams, there had never been a victim that she'd known personally, that had any real hold on her emotions. She suddenly wondered if that was why she'd never hunted down any of the lame Scoobies, back in Sunnydale. Is that it? Did I know that I'd never be able to face Buffy, after I killed one of them? Did I know that it would be nearly as hard to face myself, after I killed someone who wasn't a stranger?
Of course, there had been Angel, at the end, but that was after all the pain and jealousy had built to a point where she just didn't care, anymore. There'd even been the excuse that it would 'distract' Buffy from interfering with the Ascension, but that had never been the real reason; not for Faith. Okay, enough about that. Here and now, think about here and now.
Only ten blocks to go. She still had time to decide. What's it gonna be, Faith? A dead hero, or a living survivor?
She had that weird feeling again; the one where it felt like her path was fated, like destiny was pushing her forward and she was just along for the ride. Well, nobody pushed her; not fate, not anybody. She stopped, standing there on the sidewalk and watching the last bit of the sun vanish behind the distant buildings. I'm not heartless; not a psycho robot with no feelings. I feel plenty bad about all of this. I'm sorry Kelly got… hurt. I'm sorry that Alex got all disappointed in me, that I didn't live up to… whatever he thought I was. I'm really sorry that I went crazy and killed those people, last night.
Her mental voice faltered, and she closed her eyes, trying to forget that part. It hurt more than she'd thought it would, to remember that she'd done that. Even if the details of it were blanks spots in her memory, it had happened. With an effort, she managed to push it away. Don't think about it, wall it off and get on with your life.
That was what she'd always done before, but those barriers had taken a beating, these last few days since she'd awoken, and this time it didn't quite take hold. The shadows, the regrets that lurked at the edges of her mind, stirred restlessly, creeping closer.
She opened her eyes; she tried to turn and start walking. The exact direction didn't matter, so long as it was away from this place, and what it was doing to her… but she couldn't make herself take that first step. Faith stood there, in the gathering darkness, and struggled with herself. Come on, either turn around and leave or keep going forward and get it over with!
A long minute passed, and she still couldn't make herself move. She wanted to live, but she also wanted to do what she'd promised Scott and the others. The only thing was, she needed to know why
. Whatever she was going to do, she had to know the reason. It wasn't enough to do something because it was expected of her, or because it was the smart way to go. There had to be more than that.
"Jeez, kid. Do you not understand the scheduling situation I'm dealing with here?" Turning her head, Faith watched Whistler stride towards her. "I seem to recall you saying that you'd be ready 'in the morning'. Now, I know we didn't specify which morning in particular, but I sort of assumed it was the one that was about to happen, y'know?" He came to a halt a few feet away, adjusting his hat as he studied her. Knowing eyes flicked from her, to the direction she'd been walking, and then back. "Going somewhere?"
* * * * *
Damn, but it had taken him forever to track her down! All day long, he'd been searching for her, but without a good idea of her general location, he'd been forced to criss-cross half the city in his car.And right after I'd told BellDonna to go inform the big bosses that I'd bagged her, too. Crap, I thought I was going to go crazy, listening to her yap at me all day about how much trouble we were both in for unless we found her. At least I was able to look; none of those spirit types are any good at tracking down real-world things or people.
He'd been able to search, but it hadn't been easy. His extra senses could pick up a Slayer a fair distance away, but a couple of hundred yards wasn't much when you were talking about an urban sprawl the size of this one. To make matters worse, he hadn't been able to find her anywhere he'd looked. Eventually he'd decided that she must have changed locations while he was searching, unknowingly moving in behind him, where he'd already tried. So he'd had to start all over again. Only now, on the brink of total disaster, had he finally caught up with her. It was too bad that BellDonna had gone off to try and stall the Powers; he would have liked to have even a little invisible support right about now.
"Going somewhere?" He asked, trying to seem casual about it. Not that he didn't know where she was headed. Even though this wasn't his town, word had spread fast to those who knew how to listen. The girl in front of him was on her way to a blood bath, and if the outcome was uncertain, the effect it would have upon the future of this world was not.
Faith looked at him uncertainly, unconsciously brushing her hand across the hilt of the knife that hung at her hip. Aside from that… thing, the girl seemed to be unarmed. Certainly she couldn't be hiding much in the way of weaponry under her usual outfit of snug jeans and more-than-snug top. She was all cleaned up, too-she was even made up-with her hair blow-dried straight, brushed out and shining softly even in the dimness of the street. Maybe she's just on her way to a party.
He mused, hopefully. Though what he'd heard about her made it entirely possible that she thought a nice little massacre was a good way to unwind.
"I'm just…." She looked away, then back. "I'm just taking a walk. Thinkin' about some things."
He stuffed his hands in his pockets, nodding agreeably. Can't afford to spook her, not now.
According to the prophecies he'd been reading, and what BellDonna had been able to foresee, this was it; his last chance to get her off the path his bosses were messing their pants over. Earlier would have been better, but apparently fate had other ideas. This, though; this was a place where the path split. There were multiple branches here, things could be changed from their most likely course. He had to make her leave this place, now, or the cost would be unimaginable.
"Okay, tell me; what kind of things are you thinking about?"
She gave him a wary look.
"I don't think you really want to know."
On the contrary, he was very interested in what she was thinking.
The tall, dark-haired girl turned a slow circle, her eyes scanning the buildings and rooftops around them. Only when she'd completed her survey did she purse her full lips thoughtfully and look down to study her scuffed boots.
"Well… stuff like… vengeance."
Whistler tried not to cringe visibly, but inside was another story.
He thought, eyeing her in the near darkness. This surely has 'apocalypse' written all over it.
"What, did someone you know get killed?"
Faith shook her head, still not meeting his eyes.
"No, but she got hurt. Bad."
There was guilt there, he noted. She felt responsible for what had happened. At another time and place, he would have said that was a good thing, but right now it was pushing her in the wrong direction. He tried again to reason with her.
"Some girl got hurt, and you want to deliver some return hurt to whoever did it to her, right?"
"Yeah. No. I'm not sure. I mean, I want to, but at the same time…."
She paced a few steps away, then turned back, her fists clenched in frustration. The girl obviously wanted to hit something, and Whistler took a cautious step back.
"Listen to me. If your friend isn't dead, then it isn't worth getting killed over."
That brought Faith's head up, her dark eyes blazing with sudden fury.
"Hey, you don't know what they did to her! If you'd been there to see-"
He raised his empty hands and tried to placate her.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I've been around long enough to know that there's worse things than getting killed clean." She calmed a bit at that; no doubt she'd seem a lot of situations like that, despite her youth. "But I've also been around long enough to know that revenge don't make the bad thing that happened go away." He had to convince her, and this was his last chance. With five hundred years of experience guiding him, he gave it his best shot. "What's done is done. This girl lived through it; I want you to live through it too." He saw the uncertainty flash across her pale face, just for an instant before it was hidden, but it was there. She didn't want to die, didn't really want to go down in a blaze of bloody glory. He risked taking the few steps to bring him face to face with her, and lowered his voice. "Come on, Faith. Bad things happened here. Don't make things any worse than they already are. Deal with it and move on."
She was balanced on the edge; he could see that. Struggling visibly between the escape he was offering and the dark violence that was all she'd known for so long, she glanced down the street.
"Maybe I can do that; move on. But what about her?" She asked, softly, and he wasn't sure she was even speaking to him. "It won't be that easy to get past it, not when she lived through it."
Whistler waited until she looked at him, then spoke with all the conviction he could muster.
"So it won't be easy. Either she'll manage, or she won't. It's up to her." He spread his hands to offset the harshness of his words. "Thing is, you're not a head-shrinker; you're a Slayer." He had to remind her that she wasn't human, wasn't a part of whatever soap-opera situation that was going on here. "This girl has people here to take care of her, I'll bet. You, on the other hand, have some people waiting to start taking care of you, and a job that needs doing."
Faith looked at him distractedly, still half-lost in her own thoughts.
"Yeah… that place in the mountains you were talking about. The backwoods monster-hunting thing."
He nodded encouragingly.
"That's right. Now, despite your inconsiderate demolition of my carefully laid travel plans, we can still get there in time for lunch tomorrow. But we have to leave now." Reaching out, he carefully took hold of her elbow. "Come on. Let's go see your new home, Slayer."
She let him turn her around, and he let go the breath he'd been holding. She took one step with him, then another, and he felt a smug smile tugging at his mouth as he reached up to adjust his hat-when her arm was suddenly pulled from his grasp. He turned, only to find her looking back over her shoulder, in the direction she'd been staring when he'd found her. He reached out again for her arm.
"Hey kid; the car's this way."
Effortlessly she pulled her arm away. When she turned her head to face him, the grim, set expression on her young face made him go cold.
* * * * *
The small, dark man got the strangest look on his face when she said that; not just surprise, but a look of dawning horror, like she'd just put her knife in his belly and twisted it.
"W-what?" He tried to pull himself together, but his wildly staring eyes sort of ruined the effect. "What are you talking about?"
She faced him squarely, eye to eye.
"I'm not leaving here. At least, not until I do what I have to do." He was sputtering now, which looked pretty foolish, but she actually owed him one. She'd been on the verge of taking off, until he showed up. Listening to him talk had made her think; had shaken some things loose in her head. Some of them were still rolling around up there, like pieces of a puzzle that still didn't quite fit, but she was close to putting it all together. She could feel it.
Whistler had finally gotten a hold of himself, and he spoke to her slowly and calmly.
"Okay, what, exactly, do you have to do?"
He was still going to try and talk her out of it, she realized. Odd that some minor demon she'd never known existed before last night was so interested in her. Still, she didn't see how it could hurt to explain it to him. Maybe it would even help her understand it better. She thought it over for a few seconds, choosing her words carefully.
"I promised the people here that I would take care of these Yakuza."
He grimaced, eyeing her like she'd said something offensive.
"By 'Take care of', you mean kill?"
She shrugged, refusing to feel embarrassed by his attitude towards her.
He shook his head wearily, working the 'I'm older and wiser than you, and this is wrong' angle for all it was worth.
"Faith, how many times do I have to say it? Slayers don't kill human beings."
She looked down, dropping her hand to the hilt of her knife. Even sheathed, the sharp cold coming from it bit at her palm.
"Not even second-rate Slayers like me?" She murmured.
"No, not even-" He caught himself, but it was just a little late. Glancing up, she watched as he tried to cover it. "Hey, you're not a second-rate Slayer."
She snorted softly, letting go of the knife before she lost all feeling in her hand.
"Try and sound more convincing, next time you say that."
It was sort of funny, watching him struggle to regain control of the conversation. After a moment, he was ready to give it another go, though his aggravation with her was starting to show.
"Okay, try and tone down the attitude, will ya? All I'm saying is, leave the human problems to the humans."
She stared at him thoughtfully. That's weird. The Mayor said the same sort of thing to me all the time. 'You're not one of them, Faith. People like you and me are as far above the rest of humanity as the birds are above a bunch of worms. Don't concern yourself with what they think of you; they don't matter. They never did and they never will.'
She'd believed him, too. It was easy to believe things like that, when you were so much more than anyone around you. It was easy, until you actually met some of those 'lesser beings', and discovered that what they thought and felt really did matter. They mattered because what they felt was exactly what she herself felt. How can I believe that I don't have any connection to these people, when Kelly and I are practically the same person?
That realization was still rolling around inside her; it still had the power to unsettle her, every time she paused to consider it. I was exactly where she was, when the Slayer power came to me. I got all this, and she got someone who really cares about her. I wonder which one of us got the better deal?
Whistler was still waiting for her to respond, so she decided to hit him with the big question.
"You don't really give a shit about anything that's happening here, do you?" She watched him carefully, but he had himself under control now, and his face didn't give anything away. "You're supposed to be one of the good guys, but all you care about is getting me away from here. Why?"
She could tell that this made him uncomfortable; there was something about the way he stood that suggested that he'd much rather be a few steps further away from her. He stood his ground, though.
"Faith, it's not a question of my not caring about what's going on with these people." He put his hand on his coat pocket, as if to reassure himself that something was still in there. "The thing is, when you've lived as long as I have, you get to where you can see the bigger picture. And the bigger picture here, the thing that you're not seeing, is that you're more important than what happens to these people, in this place."
She chewed at her lower lip, wondering about that.
"Funny; here I was thinking that you wanted me to see it the other way around; where my duty as a Slayer was the most important thing." She brushed her hair back from her face, giving him a penetrating look. "I'd have thought that one of the things you would want me to learn was that people matter more than anything."
He shifted uneasily, fiddling with his hat.
"It is, they do. But-"
"Well, if they matter so much, why do you want me to run off and leave them to die?"
He looked pained, at that.
"It's not a question of running away. It's more of a thing where-"
"Bullshit!" She snapped. Jabbing a finger at him, she overrode his protests. "You want me to run off and leave them. You don't care that these guys nearly killed a girl this morning, in the most horrible way I can think of. You don't care that it's my fault it happened." He was giving her a look full of disappointment and sadness, but she was past caring what he thought. "All you want to do is get me to this place, way out in the woods, so I can spend all my time killing monsters for you. Well, I've got some news for you; there's plenty of evil right here that needs fighting, and in case you forgot, that's what I'm supposed to do."
"Slayers don't kill-"
She cut him off again.
"No problem; if Slayers don't do this, then I'm not a Slayer anymore."
As soon as she said it, something loosened inside her, some tension eased, and she blinked in surprise. Whistler, however, wasn't pleased.
"Hey, now." He looked stunned, and it took him a few seconds to continue. "That's not for you to decide."
She shook her head, waving her hand in an attempt to shut him up. This was important; this was what she'd been trying to figure out all along.
"Wrong." She spoke slowly, still in the process of working it out. "You're wrong. It's all up to me to decide." Not because it's my sacred duty, not because some English asshole in a suit tells me to, not because people expect me to; but because I know the people who'll die if I don't. I'm going to do this because I want to do it, and because there's no one else who can.
She met his eyes, and repeated it, just to make things clear.
He obviously didn't know what to do, but he wasn't giving up yet.
"Kid, you have to know that you're not thinking straight. Remember last night? You totally lost it, went on a murder spree, remember that?"
She winced, but refused to look away.
"I know it happened, yeah."
"Okay then, trust me when I say that now, this minute, you're not quite right in the head. If you come with me, we've got some people who can help you. They can straighten you out, they can fix what's messed-up in that thick skull of yours." He paused, giving her a forbidding look. "But if you do this, then it'll be too late. If you go and try to kill all these people, then you'll be gone for good. You'll be crazy, for the rest of your life, and before you die you'll take a whole lot of people with you."
Faith folded her arms. She didn't have a lot more time to screw around with this guy.
"As long as it's the scumbags that I take with me, then it'll be worth it."
He gave her a look like you'd give a small, not particularly bright child.
"You really think that once you get a taste of blood, that you'll be able to control yourself? It won't work that way, kid, and you know it! You're hanging on by a thread, and now you want to jump into this crap again? I thought you were smarter than this." He leaned forward, his face just inches from her own. "If you do this, then you'll just be a freakin' animal!"
He wasn't totally wrong; that fear was somewhere in the back of her mind, gnawing at her. Right now, though, it was buried under the anger that surged up inside her.
"No, that's not going to happen." She hoped it wouldn't, anyway. "But that's all that you think I am, isn't it? An animal. You don't think this restful place of yours will cure me, you just want to keep me somewhere out of the way, so I don't hurt anything but the monsters." She knew she sounded bitter, but she didn't care. It was kind of sad, actually, how eager she'd been to believe that somebody was willing to give her another chance. "You're just like the rest of 'em, thinking I'm nothing but a psycho with some powers." Psycho, slut, murderer. Oh, and don't forget; 'moron'.
She shook her head violently, shoving that thought away. "I'm more than that. I can be a lot more than just that, if I want to be." She did want to be more, she wanted it so badly that it hurt, and the first step on that road was right in front of her, waiting for her to take it. "There's someone here, a guy, who thought there was more to me than just killing. He believed I could be a hero, and there's some other people here who still believe it. They need someone who's willing to fight for them. They need me, now; tonight." Looking at the man standing there, she put all of her belief into her words. "I'm not going to run out on them."
Whistler seemed to sag as she watched, and when he answered there was a note of despair in his voice.
"So to prove to everybody how good and pure you are, you're going to go and dismember a bunch of people--people, Faith-with brothers and sisters and moms and dads. You're going to use what you've been given to wipe these human beings out?"
He lifted a hand, as if to touch her, then let it drop.
"A sane person wouldn't do that." A sudden gleam in his eye, and then he added. "Your girl Buffy wouldn't do that."
That took her aback, but only for a moment.
"I'm not sane; ask anybody back in Sunnydale and they'll tell you." As for the other part… that was just another lie that she'd been telling herself. It was time to let that one go, too. "And I'm not Buffy, either." In that other body, she'd repeated it over and over again. I'm Buffy.
She'd needed to be someone else, anyone else would have been okay, so long as she didn't have to endure her own life anymore. That chance had been taken away; so she would have to change herself into someone she could live with. Starting now. "I'm not her." That inner tension eased a little more, giving her the strength to finish saying it. "I never was Buffy, no matter how much I wanted to be, and it's time I stopped trying." She stood straight, and took a deep breath. "I'm me. I'm Faith." No more pretending, no more hiding. "That'll have to be enough."
She started walking, back towards the Citadel. She had a long way to go, and not much time left before the others began their part of the plan. Beside her, Whistler had to trot to keep up with her longer legs.
"Please kid, I'm begging you; don't do this. What you're doing here; it'll have consequences. Not just for you, but for every other Slayer that could ever be."
She kept her eyes straight ahead.
"That's not my problem anymore."
"It is your problem! You're the Slayer."
She shook her head, turning her head enough to give him a withering stare.
"No, I'm not. There's only one Slayer, and she's in Sunnydale." Faith started thinking about how the next little while was going to go. Getting the job done right was going to be tricky…. "Don't call me that anymore; it just screws with my head, and I don't need that."
He slowed to a stop, falling behind as she kept walking. He sounded a little lost, like she'd hurt his feelings or something.
"Well, if you're not a Slayer, then what are you?"
She smiled a little, at that. It was the most important thing he'd said all night.
"That's what I'm about to find out." Raising one hand, she gave a little wave over her shoulder, never looking back and never slowing down. "See you later. Or not."
* * * * *
Scott sat nervously behind the wheel of the car, waiting. His unease was due, in small part, to the fact that this wasn't actually his car. This one had been stolen a few hours before, from the other side of town. The little band that had gathered in response to his call had several members with very useful skills, and they had put those skills to work, gathering what was needed for tonight's operation. This was going to be dangerous for all of them, but if it worked, then it would be worth it.
He glanced down at the gun that rested in the passenger seat. It was one of a handful that he'd brought with him from the hotel, after Faith had made certain that their former owners would never have need of them again. The submachine gun gleamed darkly in the faint light from the dashboard dials; a silent promise of violence. He took a deep breath and looked away, choosing instead to stare out through the windshield. He was parked just four blocks away from the Citadel; the center of the Yakuza Clan's power in this city. It was as close as he dared come; there were doubtless lookouts of some sort watching the area around the building itself.
He checked his watch again, for what seemed like the hundredth time. Eleven minutes to go. Anxiously, he turned his head and scanned the street behind him. Where was she? Scott had no way of communicating with the people he had spread out on the adjoining streets; when it was time, they were going to execute the plan he'd laid out for them. If Faith wasn't where she was supposed to be when they did so, then even more of his friends were going to die. The faint thread of uncertainty that had been gnawing at him grew slightly stronger.
"She's not coming." He whispered to himself.
Alex had tried to warn him, had gone on at some length about how foolish it was to put so much trust in a crazy woman. Scott hadn't listened; he hadn't allowed himself to listen. When you're drowning, even a straw looks like a good thing to grasp at. He checked his watch again; ten minutes to go. Maybe there was still time to reach the others, warn them not to go through with it. He could at least save some of them…. Reaching down, he put his hand on the gearshift, ready to drive the stolen car over to where the nearest of the others was waiting, next street over.
A movement on the street across from him caught at the corner of his eye, and he turned his head to look. She walked past, a tall, dark-haired girl with a killer body and a face to match. She never slowed, but she turned a slow pirouette, walking backwards long enough to flash him a smile before swinging back around to face her destination.
Scott's hands trembled as he rested them on the steering wheel.
It was going to happen. The outcome was a long way from being decided, but at the very least, the Thousand Year Storm was going to face the one person who might be able to stop them. He checked his watch again.
Nine minutes to go.
* * * * *
....End Book Three....