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Virtue of a Warrior

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Summary: Faith faces her greatest test; and she faces it alone. No Buffy to love/hate, no Mayor to take care of her, no vampires to slay. In a city awash with blood, Faith must finally face her greatest enemy: herself

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Dark > Faith-Centered(Past Donor)DreamSmithFR1856235,317295632,39328 Sep 0725 Oct 07Yes

Chapter Four

See Chapter One for Disclaimer


Their doom walks in the guise of a broken angel, lost and alone.
Her tattered wings drenched with blood, her tears shards of crystal falling through the darkness.
Beware, foolish man; believe not the lies told by her face, fair and lovely with the unknowing deceit of a child. The tragedy of her eyes has ended more lives than the blades of many a fearsome man….

--An unexplained verse, found etched on the foundations of an ancient church in Bremen, Germany


Alex saw the tall, dark-haired girl walk into the Eastern end of what everyone called 'the cave'. Even at this distance he could tell that there was something about her…. She held herself straight, and even her walk was sure and graceful. A few of the Asian newcomers moved like that; the ones who were death on two feet. It was a mark of how strongly she projected it that he noticed; it wasn't like he usually checked out strange girls like that. As he watched, she looked around for a few seconds, then drifted over and sat down by herself. He glanced out into the rain-filled night once again, watching for any sign of trouble; it was dangerous for him to be there, he just hadn't had a choice.

"So, we're going to hit a couple of those little houses over by the park tomorrow night. You in?"

He turned back to the three young men he'd come here to meet. All three were a couple of years older than he, and they had a lot more experience than he when it came to breaking and entering. He scowled at the thought. A person might have to bend the law a little to survive, sometimes, but he didn't like getting involved in stuff like this. Part of it was that he didn't want to get caught and go to jail, but it wasn't just that. There was also….

Kelly hugged him tighter, her head resting against his chest, and he looked down at her with a sigh. She was only sixteen, and she'd been on the streets for over three years when he'd met her back in the fall. She was beautiful, even pale and sick like she was now. He could feel the occasional tremors that passed through her thin frame, despite the two sweaters and the old army jacket she was wearing. Her eyes opened, and she looked up at him wordlessly. Alex felt the helpless, hopeless love flood through him yet again, and even though his doubts didn't go away, they eased. She needed him, she was depending on him, and he couldn't let her down. Looking up at the others, he nodded firmly.

"Yeah, I'm in."

The three young men-brothers, they had told him once, though they'd never told him their last name-smiled in approval. Ramon, the oldest, clapped Alex on the back.

"Good deal. We should make some decent money on these, and you're a dependable guy." He looked around at the others taking shelter in the vast, dim cavern formed by the overpasses. "Not like this other garbage."

Tomas, the youngest of the three, was playing with his leather jacket, adjusting it carefully so that everyone could catch a glimpse of the pistol he had tucked into the waistband of his jeans. He was proud of that gun, and he always made sure that it 'accidentally' showed just a little. He glanced up at Alex, and his eyes narrowed speculatively.

"You know, it would be so much easier if you would just get smart and help us with those apartments where you work." His brothers were suddenly intent on what he was saying, all three of them fixing the fourth young man with hopeful gazes. Tomas continued, trying to seem casual. "I'll bet we wouldn't even have to break in any doors. You could get us some keys, tell us when somebody wasn't home, all that shit. Then we could just walk in, load up, and walk back out."

Alex shook his head wearily. He'd heard all of this before.

"No. No way. I've got a good thing going there, I'm not going to screw it up."

The looks they gave him conveyed their irritation and disbelief, but they didn't push it. This time. Another round of tremors shook Kelly, and she gave a little moan. He stroked her hair, smoothing the light-brown strands back from her face.

"You feeling okay babe?"

She shook her head, the movement jerky and exaggerated.

"N-no. I'm… hurting. Please, can we go home, now?"

Alex nodded, the knot of helpless despair that had lived in his belly for months twisting a little tighter. He knew she wasn't up to going out when she was like this, but he couldn't leave her alone, either. He loved her, but he couldn't trust her not to do something that would get them thrown out.

"Yeah, we're done here. We'll try and find something to eat, then I'll take you home." He glanced up at the brothers as they turned to leave. "Where do we meet tomorrow?"

Ramon shared a look with the middle sibling, Caton, and then shrugged.

"How about here, ten o'clock."

"Fine."

The brothers headed off to do whatever it was they did when not robbing houses, while Alex led Kelly towards the Eastern mouth of the Cave. She'd shot up with the last of what she had late that morning, and now the first serious symptoms of withdrawal were showing. She needed more, and Alex wouldn't get paid for his part-time handyman work until the end of the week. Even the money he got for that would barely feed them; supporting her habit took more money that he could make by working around the apartment complex. That need naturally led to the brothers and their little breaking and entering enterprise. It was a stupid, dangerous thing to be doing, but he didn't have much of a choice.

The thought of what the next twenty-four hours would be like made him sick with dread. They had been there before; the screaming fits, the struggle to keep her from clawing herself bloody, the fear that if he turned his back for even a moment she would find some way to kill herself rather than face the agony that every additional moment brought. He would find a way to get her through. Without her, he would not have any purpose in his life.

Her habit made life harder for them than it would have been otherwise, but he'd known that when he'd first met her. It didn't matter. She had told him what her life had been like, back at home and then after she'd run away, and he understood why she needed to escape the pain the past brought her. He didn't hold it against her, and he would do all he could to help her make it through.

That's what love was all about.

* * * * *

Just like old times, Faith thought, looking around.

If you counted her coma downtime, it had been most of two years since she was last in a place like this. Nothing much seemed to have changed. There were the various homeless people, mostly elderly or mentally ill, the drunks and addicts, enjoying whatever drug-induced haze they happened to inhabit at that moment. There were even a few local toughs, gangers who used the place as a spot to hang out. They especially enjoyed seeing proof that there were people with even less power and fewer prospects than themselves.

She knew at least a few of them had noticed her, and eventually someone was going to come over and make a play for her. It was as inevitable as sunrise, and so was the way it would end. She smiled in anticipation for just a moment, then sighed as a bitter realization struck her.

Kira. Where was she now, at this moment? Was she in a place like this, huddled fearfully in a corner and hoping desperately that the predators wouldn't notice her? She was only six years old, too small and weak to survive the street unless someone took her in and protected her. Except, the sort of person who went looking for helpless children was seldom in it for the child's sake. There were worse monsters out there than vampires and demons, and Faith hadn't been able to keep her promise to the little girl, that she would be there to keep her safe.

When she had last seen Kira, the girl had been very sick. So sick that Faith wasn't even certain that she was still alive. Even if she were, how would the Slayer even begin to start looking for her? The kid could be anywhere. She could still be in Sunnydale, for that matter, though that was doubtful. One of the last things she'd told the little girl was to get as far away from the demon-infested town as possible, and with the cash card Faith had given her, it shouldn't have been a problem. That card, a gift from the Mayor, drew on a bank account with an ungodly amount of money in it. All Kira had to do was go to any ATM, punch in a number, and she could get all the cash she needed. Faith missed having that card, but she didn't regret giving it away. As a Slayer, she could handle anything that came at her. Kira was a child, alone in a big, scary world, and she needed all the help she could get.

Maybe she could trace the girl through the card? It was bound to leave some kind of trail that a computer geek could track…. Except the only such geek she knew was in a place Faith never intended to set foot again, guarded by the one person she never wanted to fight, ever again.

Perhaps it was for the best; if Faith was going to survive then she was going to have to do some nasty things. She didn't want Kira to have to see that. It would have been nice to have someone to talk to, though. Someone, anyone, to share this cold and lonely place. That was selfish of her, she knew. That didn't make it any less true.

Her old instincts were still intact; she looked up just as a pair of men walked in out of the rain and darkness out beyond the firelight. She had seen their kind a hundred times before, long before she saw her first vampire. These two were no less predators for being only human, and they preyed on the weak just like their demon counterparts.

Faith watched them from where she sat, out of boredom more than anything else. She really couldn't care less what they were up to.

Not my problem. What I need to worry about is how to get my next meal, and then where I want to go.

Sometimes you could get a free meal at a fast-food place. If you charmed one of the guys working there, they could slip you some food that somebody hadn't wanted. Sometimes the guy would want a little more, a 'favor for a favor', but hey, that wasn't anything she hadn't done before. It was no big deal.

'This is meaningless.'

Standing in the darkness, staring at Buffy's new boyfriend, feeling like the ground beneath her had turned to quicksand, dragging her further down even as she struggled harder and harder to escape. She'd thought to get a bit of revenge on miss holier-than-thou, to steal something from her and the Boy Scout. If Buffy believed in crap like 'true love' then Faith would show her the truth. She'd show them both. Except it hadn't happened like that. Without even being there, the other Slayer had beaten her again. The wholesome, straight-laced boy-toy had refused to do what she'd wanted, refused to let the encounter be as empty and hollow as all the others in her life had been. Instead, he'd made it seem… sacred. He'd treated her like something precious, like someone he cared about. Yet another one of Faith's truths blown to dust… another part of her made into a lie.

When she'd been dressing, staring at his sleeping form, she'd imagined that she could hear Buffy laughing at her.


She blinked, focusing her attention on the newcomers, needing something to distract her from those thoughts.

The pair looked around, scanning for something, or someone. After a few moments they seemed to find it, and they strode forward with nasty grins on their faces.

* * * * *

Alex and Kelly had stopped beside one of the fires to warm up. The rain was still really coming down hard, and he didn't want to take her out into it unless he had to. On the other hand, staying here was not a good thing, either. Nestled up against him, Kelly spoke.

"I can't wait 'till tomorrow night, Alex. I just can't."

He looked down at her; into the face he loved so much.

"You have to." He held her, closing his eyes and lowering his head until his forehead rested lightly against hers. Her face was cold and sweaty, and he felt a stronger shudder pass through her. A lot of that was probably in her mind; she'd gone longer than this without the heroin before, and with less of a reaction. It was just that the last time had been so bad…. He wasn't surprised that the mere thought of going through it again had her sweaty and shaking. Not for the first time he thought about taking her to the free clinic over on Mercer. They would help her; give her medicine to ease the withdrawal symptoms… but they would also grill her mercilessly about her past; her name, her parent's names, all of it. And before it was over, they would have tried to contact her parents, and when the results of that came through, they'd run her prints.

No, he couldn't take her there. She would rather stay with him and be free, than go back to them. He knew that because she had told him herself.

"We could try and find Jimmy." Kelly sounded doubtful; even she knew that she was grasping at straws. "He's an okay guy, he might be willing to give me enough to carry me through until tomorrow night."

Alex shook his head wearily.

"Nobody's seen Jimmy for weeks, you know that." He glanced at the others sharing the fire, but none of them seemed to be listening. Even so, he lowered his voice. "Not since he told the new people what to do with themselves." She nodded reluctantly, and he sighed. A few months ago a new organization had appeared out of nowhere. Rumor had it that the core of the gang was just a few individuals from overseas, refugees from some big government crackdown in Hong Kong or someplace like that. Wherever they were from, they had quickly taken control of every criminal activity in the area. They were methodical, and ruthless. If you had illegal business going on, they found you and offered you a place with them. You got their help in your deals, and protection from your enemies. They got a share of your take. If you didn't agree to join up with them, you disappeared.

For most people, that was an easy choice. For most, but not all. Kelly's old dealer had been one of the holdouts, refusing to become part of the new group. Predictably, Jimmy had gone missing, as had quite a few others.

The problem now was that most everyone was part of this group that they called 'Thousand Year Storm'. So the same people who would lend you money (at ten percent interest, per day) were also controlling the drug trade. So Alex couldn't get anything for Kelly until he paid back the money they owed from the last time. He doubted even his cut from tomorrow night would be enough to cover the four hundred dollars he owed them. He also worried that even the small-time thefts he was using to help ends meet would soon get the attention of the newcomers. The sensation of being caught in a slowly tightening trap was not a pleasant one. He kissed the top of Kelly's head.

"Come on. Let's go get you something to eat, then we'll think of something."

She nodded, looking up at him.

"I love you, Alex."

He smiled, and when he gave her a quick kiss to reassure her, she answered it almost desperately. Turning, he looked out to see if the rain had lessened, but his eyes caught on the pair of men walking towards them. He gave a start as he recognized them; they were the reason why he hadn't wanted to linger here. Now it was too late.

"Zack."

"Alex." The smaller of the two men, he was still bigger than Alex. His partner, Kurt, was huge. With his thick thighs and massive shoulders, he should have been playing professional football. Instead, he was Zack's sidekick and muscleman. "I'm glad we ran into you, man. I've got some fresh stuff here, and your little lady looks like she needs some." Pulling his hand from the pocket of his long coat, he dangled a small plastic packet. Kelly froze at the sight of the white powder inside, and involuntary tears began to run from the corners of her eyes, a symptom of her worsening withdrawal, but she said nothing. Alex shook his head firmly.

"Sorry. We can't afford any right now. I'll get back to you tomorrow night."

Keeping his arm around Kelly's shoulder, Alex tried to walk them both around the two men. Kurt extended one huge arm to block them, and Zack heaved a sigh that was heavy with mock regret.

"'Sorry'. Well, I'm sorry too." The packet had disappeared. His hands stuffed into his coat pockets, he eyed them both. "Your loan is past the four hundred mark you know. My boss is starting to wonder if you plan to pay us back."

Alex stared back, fighting to keep his voice level.

"Yeah, we'll pay you back. Tomorrow, like I said."

The man nodded agreeably.

"Sure. I guess you have some kind of score going down. What is it, another B and E with the brothers Grimm?" He gave a short laugh. "Man…. I thought you had more brains than that. Those idiots are strictly small-time. There's a reason why the 'Storm hasn't invited them in: they are going to get caught. If you stay with them, it won't be long until you're in prison. Then who's going to look after your girl?" He looked at Kelly, who had turned to hide her face against Alex's chest. "Hey there. I hear you used to turn tricks before you met your knight, here. If you want to start back up again, give me a call. I get a finder's fee for bringing someone in, and it would be safer for you than being on a corner somewhere."

"No!" Alex took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, and then went on in a more normal tone. "She doesn't do that anymore. She doesn't have to." She'd had to work the streets to support her habit, but that in turn had only given her more reason to hide from herself. The demons she'd been fleeing had multiplied with every abusive 'client' she'd had to endure. He had rescued her from that; there was no way he was going to let her go back. He wasn't sure how much more she could survive.

Zack shrugged.

"Okay then, it's your call. But I have to say, your stock is declining rapidly, and my employers can't afford to have even the little fish like you swim away without settling accounts first."

Alex started to speak, but the older man overrode him. "Yeah, yeah. I know. You're a man of your word; you'll pay us back when you can. I've heard it all before. And you know what? I believe you." He smiled at them, the expression failing to reach his eyes. "But at the same time, I think it wouldn't hurt to just give you a little… incentive. A reminder, to hurry things along, and to be extra careful when you're earning that money tomorrow." He turned away slightly, surveying the area. Alex followed his gaze. At the dealer's first appearance, those nearest the fire had moved away, eyes carefully averted. On the street you quickly learned not to interfere in other people's trouble. If you did, then that trouble tended to come looking for you next. Satisfied, the man glanced over his shoulder at his partner.

"Kurt."

Alex took a step back, pushing Kelly firmly behind him. The huge man strode forward, moving easily despite his size. He looked almost bored as he raised a massive hand.

"Don't worry kid." His voice was a smooth baritone, not the bass rumble one expected of a big man. "This is just a warning. I won't even break anything… 'cept accidentally."

Kelly screamed as the first blow landed, and then his world turned into pain.

* * * * *

FlickThunk

She was waiting, and it was something she'd never been very good at. Waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for her mother to shack up with another druggie asshole. Once she was twelve or so, it wasn't just her mom they screwed and then beat to within an inch of her life.

FlickThunk

Of course, the police were just so very helpful, too. They were more than happy to find the ungrateful child who kept running away from her oh-so-loving home, and return her to her mother. Five times she'd had to run away before she managed to escape for good. Maybe she would have made it the first time, or the second, if she'd taken the time to think it through a little better. Maybe, but that wasn't her style. Decide, then go, now, and take the rest as it comes, that was what she knew. When a ton of bricks was about to fall on your head, you didn't stop to plan, you moved, even if it meant jumping in front of an oncoming car.

Sure, the 'leap before you look' thing meant she'd landed in some shit a time or two, but hey, life was like that. If you lived through it, then you must have done something right.

FlickThunk

Speaking of running away…. She'd made the leap, and survived it. She was out of Sunnydale, and away from… never mind that. Now it might be time to spend at least a minute deciding where she was going. She still didn't know where she was headed with this little trip she had found herself on; farther west, maybe. It would be nice to see the Ocean again, and it had to be pretty close. She would keep going until she found herself standing on the beach and staring at the waves. After that she could just flip a coin and head right or left, north or south. Of course, she would need some money eventually; sooner than that in fact. A Slayer could probably starve to death in a week, and she'd made a good start on it already. She needed food, and a change of clothes would be welcome too.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to mug a few people. She'd done it before, she knew what to do. Once the rain stopped she'd go find a nightclub or restaurant, then hide in the parking lot till some rich people came out. Maybe she'd even score a nice set of wheels, though if she did that it would be necessary to kill her victims to slow down the stolen car report.

FlickTHUNK

Strangely, that thought didn't sit well with her, anymore. Funny, she didn't remember being such a wuss. Still... maybe she didn't really need a car after all. With some money in her pocket she could do the bus thing. There were always the trains, too.

A girl's scream cut into her thoughts, echoing strangely in the huge, empty space inside the series of overpasses. Faith glanced up, taking in the scene. The two tough-guys had been in a confrontation with a boy and girl, both in their teens. Now it looked like the boy was being given some kind of punishment, or lesson. It wasn't a fight; he had no chance against the huge man who was hitting him. About the only thing the kid could be thankful for was that the man wasn't trying to kill him. The punches were being delivered slowly, almost carefully. As his girlfriend shrieked uselessly for someone to help them, the guy sagged towards the ground, only to be grabbed by the front of his shirt. Holding him upright with one hand, the big goon delivered another short, powerful blow, this time to the kid's gut. Seeing that none of the onlookers were leaping to her aid, the girl launched herself at the big man, slapping and clawing at him like untrained girls tended to do.

Faith shook her head. That wasn't how you took somebody down. Now, if she'd been doing it, things would be over in about three…. But she wasn't doing it. It was none of her business, and she didn't care if some stupid kid got beat up here tonight. Why should she? It happened all the time.

FlickThunk

She tried to lose herself again in what she was doing. She'd found a few dozen rusty nails strewn around where she was sitting. They were about as long as one of her fingers, and came to fairly sharp points. About ten feet from where she sat was a small wood shipping crate, empty of course. To amuse herself, she had been flicking the nails at the crate. It took only the strength of one finger to launch them hard enough to stick into the wood. The trick was to have them strike point-first. Alternating between her right and left hands, she'd gone through about half her ammunition, and there was a small forest of spikes bristling from her target. Another sound, halfway between a shout of pain and a strangled cough, echoed around her, disturbing her concentration.

FlickTingtingting

Fuck. It had bounced off instead of sticking.

Faith stared at the ground in front of her, but her enhanced hearing brought her every detail of what was happening to the two kids.

"Leave him alone! We'll get you the damn money!"

That was the girl. Stupid bitch. They weren't doing it for any money; they were doing it to keep everyone afraid of them. That's how it worked. In fact, the girl was probably making it harder on her boyfriend than it would have been otherwise. If they backed off now, just because she was screaming, then people might think they were going soft.

"They're going to have to teach you some manners now, too." She muttered.

--Slap-

The girl's muffled shriek came as no surprise. At least it hadn't been a real punch; she'd looked like a little thing, not up to rough treatment. Faith picked up another nail, glancing up at her target again.

"Bastard! Leave her out of it! Kelly, stay down!"

No. She was not going to look. It had nothing to do with her. She was not a goddamned white hat. Not even close. She started to flick the nail at the crate, only to realize that she had bent it double in her fist without realizing it.

"Girlie, you are about to make me angry. One more word, one more move from you, and I am going to have to hurt you. Understand?"

Shit. Maybe it was just all the old memories that this place had been dragging back, but this was just too close to home.

Faith scooped up a handful of nails and then stood.

* * * * *

She stalked forward, all her senses alert and every muscle thrumming with readiness, though that wasn't really necessary. The vibes she got off of these two made it clear. These weren't demons, they weren't even vamps. Typical humans, so normal that she had to stifle a yawn. The only danger they presented was that she might get bored to death. The big one was holding the boy up by the front of his shirt, while at the same time keeping the sobbing girl pinned to the ground with one massive foot. The smaller man was just standing there trying to look cool. He wasn't doing a bad job of it, either, though his black leather duster was probably helping in that regard. She could respect a nice piece of leather apparel. The guy wearing it was a different matter entirely.

She'd gotten nearly within reach of him before he noticed her. One eyebrow raised, he turned to face her, looking her up and down. Seeing that she held no weapons, he smiled widely, teeth bright in his dark Latino face.

"Hey there pretty girl. What'cha doing in a place like this all by yourself?"

She came to a stop just a couple of feet away, and gave him a smile of her own.

"I got lost, and I was hoping you could give me directions." She indicated his partner and the kids with a nod of her head. "What's up with them? Were they picking on you and your boyfriend?"

His smile went away, replaced by a dark look. It was meant to intimidate, but she'd seen it done better. You hadn't seen scary until you'd stared into a pair of icy green eyes and heard a Slayer announce that you were about to die. The greasy-haired man finally found his voice again.

"Very funny. No, that's business, nothing you need to worry about." He eyed her again, up and down, obviously liking what he saw. "But, I could talk a different kind of business with you." The smile came back, oily and fake. "I bet you're a real looker when you're cleaned up. If you need a job, a place to stay, I can put you in touch with some people."

Faith glanced past him at the others, but things had come to a halt. The big man was watching his partner, and still holding the boy up. Holding him off of the ground, actually; with one hand. Faith quirked an eyebrow at that.

Hm. Steroids, the normal man's best friend.

She looked back to the supposed brains of the duo.

"No thanks. I'm fine where I am. I don't need handouts from the likes of you."

He gave a short laugh.

"Of course you don't, you're doing great. If you like living like this." His gesture took in the dank cavern, with the smoky fires and the filthy, hopeless inhabitants. "Where are you going to sleep tonight? There are people here who would do very bad things to a pretty young thing, if they found her asleep and alone." He took a step closer, his voice going all earnest and persuasive. "I know a place where they would take good care of you. Keep you warm and dry, with new clothes and plenty to eat. You even get paid, for some real easy work."

The gleam in his eye as he spoke, the way he looked her up and down, his gaze lingering on her breasts and her crotch, left her no doubt as to the 'work' he was offering her. She felt revulsion flare in her gut, felt it grow stronger as she realized that for one moment she had actually considered it.

No.

No way. She was the strong one now; the user, never the used. There would never again be a time when she was so beaten down that she had to degrade herself like that to survive. A shithole like this was where she had come from, not what she was headed towards. Death would be a welcome alternative. She had opened her mouth to tell him so, had actually started to raise a fist to smash his smiling face, but the words caught in her throat. He had reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny cellophane bag.

A tiny bag full of white powder.

Oh. Fuck.

"And if you don't want money, they can pay you another way." He grinned as he saw her reaction. She imagined her eyes were showing the hunger she was feeling. "Looks like you've seen this before. Here, how about a freebie, just to show you I'm serious about the offer." He reached down and took hold of her fist, gently prying open fingers that could crush stone. They were suddenly weak, and she felt a cold sweat on her face as he pressed the packet into her hand, and then folded her fingers over it. "If you don't have a rig, I can loan you one. Clean needle too, I promise." She imagined that he smiled at her again, but she wasn't looking at him. Her eyes were locked on that little plastic bag of powder in her hand.

Two years ago she had been on the street, finally away from her mother but not really free of her. She couldn't escape from what had happened to her, what had been done to her, over and over again. Her mother had let it happen. After a while she hadn't even cared, so long as the bastards gave her a fix before they started in on Faith.

She'd carried the memory of that with her when she ran away, and it had kept cutting at her insides, no matter how much alcohol she'd poured down her throat. So finally she'd given in and shot up with heroin for the first time. She'd been warned by a guy who had shared the abandoned building where she lived.

"Kid," He had said to her when she asked where she could get some. "Don't try that stuff. Not even one time."

"Why?" She'd asked, suspicious of anyone who offered her advice for free.

"Because," He had answered, a pained look on his face. "It feels too good to just do once. And once you start, you would rather die than try and stop."

Of course she hadn't listened; if only she had. Because he was right; it was incredible. Faster than alcohol, and ten times, a hundred times better. When she was on it, nothing could touch her. Of course, it cost a lot more than the cheap booze she'd been using up until then, so she had to go farther to get the money she needed… a lot farther.

Then her Watcher had found her. She had only been shooting up for around two months at that point, still just a baby compared to most of the other junkies she had met. It still hadn't been easy to quit. Faith and the older woman had fought over her drug use, she had actually tried to run away once, rather than go cold turkey solely on the word of this British woman and her crazy talk of 'Slayers' and vampires and all the rest. It had sounded like this woman was on something even stronger than Faith was using. She might never have stopped shooting up, either. Except that one day something had changed. Out of nowhere she felt a rush that had nothing to do with drugs. Something passed into her; it changed her so profoundly that she wasn't able to make her body move right for nearly a day.

She had become a Slayer.

Something about the change helped free her of her addiction, too. Her body grew incredibly resistant to any drug or poison, and her super-fast healing had carried her through the withdrawal with no more discomfort than a bout of the flu. She'd been incredibly lucky to get off as easily as she had, and she knew it. But now, looking at that powder, all she could remember was how good it had felt, how comforting it had been to not remember. She was carrying around a lot more baggage now than just her childhood. She'd spent months doing things that would make any sane person scream, and it had only made her laugh. Then came the coma, and what seemed like a lifetime of nightmares had followed, interspaced with brief periods of waking during which she'd met Kira, fought a team of Watchers and been defeated by them, fought her way back from the edge of death and been taken down by them again. More nightmares had followed, and then she'd waked again, and escaped for good… only to be beaten yet again, this time by her sister Slayer, and even more completely than before. Buffy had broken something inside her, and Faith was still trying to figure out how badly she'd been hurt this time. The damage didn't show, it wasn't as simple as a knife to the gut, but it was there, and it hurt. It hurt a lot, and the little packet she held could make it all go away.

All she had to do was surrender everything she was, everything that was still left to her.

"Fuck you."

It was a moment or two before she even realized that she had spoken the words. The dealer seemed to be surprised by it too.

"Hey, girl. Just give it a try. I guarantee that you won't be-"

"Did you not hear me? Should I say it louder? Get the fuck away from me, and tell Hulk over there to let go of those two while you're at it."

Her confusion and despair had turned to anger in a split-second, as any emotion she felt had a tendency to do. She wasn't holding the packet anymore; her hands were at her sides with the small objects between her fingers.

"Last chance, asshole. Run like hell, right now, or feel some serious pain."

His expression was one of amazement. He must not be used to someone like her saying things like that, at least not to him.

"Listen, chica. You don't threaten me. Little gutter bitches don't get away with threatening me." He turned and spoke to his sidekick. "Yo, Kurt." The big man glanced up. He'd finally put the kid down, and was using a white handkerchief to wipe at his bloody knuckles. The boy was battered, and looked a bit broken around the edges, but seemed basically intact. He was sitting on the ground, clutching at his middle as his girl held onto him and sobbed helplessly. The enforcer looked at his partner questioningly, making a gesture at the couple, but the dealer shook his head. "Forget that shit, man. Come here and carry this little slut. She's coming with us." He turned back to face Faith, a smug grin on his face. "You had a chance to come along quiet. Now you get dragged kicking and screaming. I hope you like working on your back, 'cause that's just what a whore like you d-"

FlickTunk

Hm. They made a slightly different sound when they stuck in bone. He looked down at the rusty nail that stuck out of his dress slacks at knee height, and then gave her a blank look. The movement had been too small and quick for him to see, and the pain hadn't registered yet.

FlickTunk FlickTunk FlickTunk

The nails would probably only penetrate a half-inch or so into flesh, so she went for places where there was bone close to the skin. The other kneecap, the back of his hand… his forehead. He screamed, toppling backwards and clutching at his face. The nail came free easily; it hadn't even come close to driving all the way through to his brain.

Man, what a crybaby.

Faith saw the bigger one lunge forward as his partner went down, and she pivoted smoothly to face him. Human or not, it was still a fight, and she realized how much she needed to cut loose on someone right now.

Oh yeah. This is what I've been itching for.

Kurt pulled up just short of her, his eyes flicking over her, probably looking for whatever she'd used to drop his partner. Faith gave him a friendly smile and showed him her empty hands. With a puzzled frown, the big man reached out, clearly intending to grab her by the hair. She hated it when people did that, so she reached up and broke one of his fingers. With a startled yelp he pulled back his hand, staring at her like she'd suddenly grown horns.

"What's the matter, Kurt? Hurt yourself did'ja?"

From where he lay off to the side, his partner was screaming.

"GoddamnJesusChrist!" With trembling hands he pulled at the nail lodged in his right kneecap. "Shit! C'mon man! Look what she did to me." It didn't even look like he was bleeding much from the wounds, except for the one in his forehead. Obviously the flicked-nail attack wasn't the way to win most fights.

Works great for starting them, though. She mused, turning her attention back to the man looming over her.

The huge goon clenched his good hand into a fist and drove it her with all his strength behind it. Bringing up both of her hands, Faith caught his forearm in the fork of her own crossed wrists, driving his entire arm upwards so that the blow passed over her head. An instant later she shifted her hands, grabbing onto his wrist and using it as additional support as one of her feet left the ground. Three quick snap kicks, fired off in less than a second, left him with two broken ribs (one on each side), and an inescapable need to bend forward because of the blow to his belly. She could have hit him in the groin just as easily, but that would have ended the fight. She didn't want that; she was just getting warmed up.

Bounding past him, she trotted out into the center of the vast space. With the funky echoes, the dim firelight, and the onlookers scattered all around, it was almost like she was a gladiator in the middle of some old-time coliseum.

Cool. 'Faith the Barbarian', or maybe 'Faith: Warrior Princess'. I like the sound of that.

The couple that ol' Kurt had been beating up on were just a few yards off to the side, staring at her with wide eyes. She ignored them. This was about her, not them. It wasn't a rescue or anything; she didn't do that. She was just having some fun. Speaking of which….

With a roar, the big man charged at her again, still moving well despite the damage he had sustained. She felt like a matador as she danced forward to meet him, flowing easily around his clumsy swings, smiling at him as she savored the delicious sensation of power. When she was fighting, none of the shit in her life mattered. When she fought, she was someone, she counted for something. Here was the proof; this big, bad man, feared by every one of the people watching, was as helpless as a baby. He was nothing, she owned him, and she could do anything to him that she pleased. She proved it to him, catching a flailing arm and breaking it neatly. Shifting her hands to his upper arm, she broke it again. He didn't shout this time, he shrieked. She let go and glided around him, so swift and sure that he seemed to be moving in slow motion. Her hands and feet punished him mercilessly, battering his face until it was torn and bloody. She drove her fists into his side, then his back, cracking ribs one by one. When he swung at her with his other arm she wasn't really sure if it was an attack, or if he was just trying to gain enough room to run away from her.

She broke it anyway.

Twice.

His eyes were wide with panic now, and he was nearly out on his feet from the pain and shock. A weaker man would have gone down long before this, but Kurt was tough. Tough for a human, anyway. He did try to run now, and she let him take a few strides, pacing him effortlessly, before she unleashed a flying, spinning kick that ended with the bones in his left hip being pulverized. He crashed to the ground, unable to even catch himself. He lay there in a heap, moaning helplessly, and the ecstasy that filled her was dark, and sweet, and powerful. Doing this was what she loved more than anything, this blotted out all the times when she had been weak and helpless, unable to fight back. Now she was the one who would hurt them, not the one who was hurt. Never again a victim. Doing it like this, in front of so many people was new, and a little strange, but it only made it better. She liked being the center of attention; she loved it when people looked at her. She looked around now, shaking her hair back from her face, halfway expecting them to start cheering her victory and wondering for a moment if they would be giving the 'thumbs down' gesture that meant they wanted her to finish him off.

They weren't. Most of them weren't looking at her at all, and the ones who were didn't look worshipful or awed like she'd unconsciously been hoping for. They seemed mainly afraid, and a bit ill, or disgusted, or revolted, and the huge, echoing place was eerily quiet. The pleasure that had filled her a few seconds earlier suddenly soured, and she glared at them.

"What? What's your problem?" She prodded the fallen man with her toe, evoking a louder moan from him. "This guy pushed you around, right? Well, he won't do it anymore." She couldn't figure it out. A couple looked happy about what she had done, but most of them were looking at her like she was the threat. Even the two kids crouched nearby were staring at her fearfully, and this was the guy who'd been beating them up!

"Bitch!"

Gee, no one ever called her anything nice. She turned to look at where the dealer lay, propped up on one hand and glaring at her. Blood was still streaming from the spot in the center of his forehead where the nail had momentarily lodged. His eyes were crazy with hate, and in his free hand he held a gun.

Even as that fact registered, she was on the ground and rolling frantically. He was too far away for her to reach before he fired off a couple of rounds, so she needed something…. Her knife was under her jacket, just an instant away from a quick throw-

--The spider climbing up the wall, and some nearly forgotten instinct is driving her to throw her knife. The blade impales the creature, nailing it to the wall. It dies, but she's forced to leave the beautiful weapon behind, for Buffy to use later. For Buffy to use on her, the icy steel sliding deep inside Faith's belly as those terrible green eyes stare into her own--

No. Never again.

Her reaching hand found an empty whiskey bottle lying on the ground and she came upright as he was still trying to draw a bead on her. Her left arm snapped across with flicker-swift speed, and she let the momentum the movement imparted carry her across and down into another shoulder roll, just in case. There was no need. Once she would have had trouble hitting a target like that, under circumstances like these. She had sucked at thrown weapons in the beginning, despite her Slayer powers; which was why she had trained ruthlessly, after going to work for the Mayor. Hours a day, every day, spent hitting targets at a distance, with everything from stones to pencils to bricks and knives. That effort paid off now, with the bottle flying straight and true, to shatter explosively against the dealer's already abused forehead. He was blown backwards, losing the gun and sprawling on the filthy concrete; motionless. She crouched low to the ground and waited, not sure if he was faking it, but seconds passed and there was no sign of further movement.

After a moment, Faith stood. It was over now, and she could almost feel the energy running out of her. For a minute, for a few precious moments there, she had been fully alive again. Now it was gone, and it was like all of the color had run out of the world. Looking around at the spectators, she saw that most were leaving, slipping off either into the rainy darkness outside or deeper into the cavernous space. Good, she had changed her mind; she didn't want them staring at her, after all. They were cowardly, lame-ass losers, all of them. What did they know about anything, anyway? Kurt, the big guy, moaned weakly, drawing her to stand over him. He was lying on his back, staring upwards with pain-glazed eyes. He was no threat to her, but she'd learned never to leave a living enemy behind her. All too often they got up when you weren't looking and bit you in the ass. She raised her foot, ready to crush his throat under her heel….

When unexpectedly she found herself meeting the eyes of the guy and his girlfriend. The girl was around Faith's age, the boy a bit older. Her face held only fear, and need; Faith knew an addict when she saw one. His eyes, though, his were weighing her, judging her, and the Slayer felt a queasy uncertainty pass through her as she wondered what he saw when he looked at her. She knew what others saw when they looked. Oh yeah, she'd found out firsthand.

'Maybe we could do it again sometime soon? Some night when I'm not being held hostage by a raving psychotic.'

Yeah, great. Thanks, 'mom'. Thanks for understanding what I was trying to say.


She lowered her foot, turning away from the pair. This one was just muscle, it was the dealer that might have something useful on him. She stepped lightly through the trash and debris that littered the area, keeping an eye out for anyone who might think to take a shot at her when her back was turned. No one seemed tempted. In fact, the area was now nearly deserted. The smaller man was lying on his side, a puddle of blood spreading around his head. Despite that, he was still breathing. Ignoring the mess the shattering glass of the bottle had made of his face, she went through his pockets. There was some cash, thought not nearly as much as she had been hoping for. That made sense, in a way. If he had started his rounds at sunset, then he hadn't had time to do much selling before he came here. By the same token, that left him with a lot of product stashed in his longcoat's many pockets. She looked at a handful of the tiny packets for what seemed like a long time before replacing them, and then stripping the coat off of him. She wasn't going to use any of it, that would be stupid. If she could sell it, though, then it meant enough money to see her well on her way. Besides, she really liked the coat.

The pistol turned out to be a cheap little automatic of a type she'd never seen before, but she took it anyway. Guns could be handy, and unlike some other Slayers she had no problem with using them. Her bow would have been nice to have, but it was lost, along with the rest of her life back in Sunnydale. Those things were not very easy to hide, anyway, even under a coat as big as this one, whereas the pistol fit into a pocket with room to spare. She went back to check the big guy, just in case, and saw that the boy had managed to make it to his feet. The girl had to help steady him, but he didn't seem too badly hurt. Which only confirmed that the whole thing had been some kind of warning, or at most a slap on the wrist. She kept an eye on them as she checked Kurt's pockets.

"You've only made it worse for us, you know."

Faith looked at the girl in surprise. If she had been expecting one of them to say something, it wouldn't have been the junkie. The Slayer resumed her search.

"I didn't make it anything for you. Not on purpose anyway." Ten bucks and some condoms. Whew-boy, ol' Kurt sure knew how to party. "I took down a couple of morons who were disturbing me with their racket, and you two happened to be here. That's all."

The boy gave his girlfriend a look, and then turned to face Faith.

"Thanks anyway. But…. That's not how they'll tell it." He nodded to where a couple of spectators still watched, from a safe distance. "They think you helped us, and the men that these two work for, well, they'll be coming after us. All three of us." He winced, touching his swollen lip. Apparently it hurt him to talk, but he continued, speaking slowly. "Don't get me wrong, if not for you, it might have been worse for me. Or he might have really started in on Kelly, since she was crazy enough to keep fighting him." He used his arm around her shoulders to shake her, but gently.

Faith really wasn't interested in any of that, and she certainly wasn't worried about whatever reprisal might be on the way.

"Okay then, they blame me, for beating up their guys, and they blame you, for masterminding the whole thing." She gave an elaborate shrug. "So what? You really think these big bosses are that scary?"

That got her a sober look from both of them, but it was the boy who nodded soberly.

"Yeah. I think they're that scary."

Huh. Well, what did these kids know? Hadn't they seen what she just did to these first two? What did she have to be afraid of? In fact, she found herself hoping that more of these goons would come after her. Just two hadn't been enough of a challenge; they had only sharpened her appetite. She wouldn't go easy on the next ones, either. She would finish them properly; show them why they should never, ever even think about fucking with her. The nobodies in Sunnydale had known to be afraid of her; she could teach these the same lesson.

For some reason the two kids were looking at her strangely, and she rubbed at her cheek self-consciously.

"What? Did I get something on me?"

"Ah, no. Well." He looked at her again, and then shrugged. "Thanks. And be careful." The kid turned, and with some help from his girl he began to hobble away. Faith looked after them, trying to figure out what was going on here. She didn't care what happened to them, it had just been an excuse to cut loose, to vent some rage. However…. She didn't know anyone here, and she had some junk she needed to sell. These two were locals, they would likely know where she needed to go to unload the stuff she'd taken off of the dealer.

It had taken a while, but she finally felt herself getting back on her mental feet. These two kids would know a safe place to spend the night; even though she wasn't really feeling it, she had been awake ever since coming out of the coma. That was around three full days now, and a nap would be welcome. After questioning the two of them about the local buyers, she would be on her way out of town with her pockets full of cash.

Of course, she'd have to kill this guy and his girl to cover her tracks, but that was nothing she hadn't done lots of times before.

"Hey!" They paused and looked back at her, and she gave them her best pissed-off look. "Damn. Here I go to all the trouble of saving your lives, and then you run off to get killed all over again." She raised an eyebrow. "At least let me walk you home, so I know you made it there safe. Okay?"

The girl blinked; she seemed to be having trouble concentrating.

"You'll walk us home…?"

Faith gave them her brightest smile.

"Sure. And if any more bad guys show their faces, I'll kick their asses for you. Hard." She didn't have any trouble looking them in the eye as she said all of that; proof, maybe, that she was getting better at the lying thing. Not that she wouldn't gladly fight anyone who gave her half an excuse. There was nothing she liked better than to feel bones break under her hands, to see blood flow….

Faith grinned as she slung the pack over her shoulder and caught up with them.

"I'm Faith, by the way. And I might have a little favor to ask later. That okay with you?" The boy nodded cautious agreement; his girlfriend seemed pretty much out of it. "Beauty. Let's go." Together, they headed out into the night. It wasn't raining as hard now as it had been earlier, but was still pretty nasty out. The two kids were both so unsteady on their feet that they had to cling to each other just to stay upright. Though they tried their best, neither one was in good enough shape to help the other. Before they'd gone a block it was the Slayer who was lending them both a shoulder to lean on.

* * * * *

The man watched the three of them go, then shook his head ruefully. His demonic powers had led him here, to the rogue Slayer, and he'd arrived in time to see the girl destroy the two thugs. That had been educational, but it was what she'd just done that had really given him a glimpse of what she was.

"Jeez. This one's a real piece of work." Turning his head slightly, he gave his companion a bleak look. "She's going to kill those two, isn't she?"

From where her ghostly form floated in the air beside him, BellDonna shrugged helplessly.

"That may be, or it may not. The threads of fate are a mass of ever-shifting tangles around that one."

He nodded his understanding, looking after the departing Faith, then back to the beautiful apparition. BellDonna was an old friend; they'd worked together before, usually when their superiors felt that a situation of dire proportions was in the offing. This certainly qualified as one of those situations, and the success of his mission here took priority over anything else, even innocent bystanders, but still-

"I'm going to go say hi."

BellDonna's shimmering form flared brighter with surprise.

"Now? Already?" Her 'voice' was a telepathic projection, but it still conveyed her disbelief quite clearly. She knew that his usual method was to wait, to watch a target and learn their habits before making his move.

"Yeah, right now."

Before that she-bitch gets them back to their place and guts them. And here I was thinking that she couldn't be as bad as they said.

"Whistler. You can't do that."

He whirled on her, his face set.

"Why not?"

The look in her eyes told him, even before she spoke in reply. She looked like a human in many ways, but she had never been a human being. BellDonna was a spirit entity, and her most useful gift was the ability to see the weave of fate. Each passing moment brought events out of a complex array of might-be's, and into the solidity of what was. Her predictions were not foolproof in the best of times, but he knew better than to ignore her advice. Her eyes, normally pools of deep blue, had turned dark.

"If you go to her now, if your presence gives her cause to believe that she is being pursued, or even watched…."

He waited, but she just stared of into space. At the weave that she could see and he couldn't.

"Then what?" He asked impatiently. There were limits to how far away he could sense Faith's location. If he delayed here for much longer, he might lose her.

"Then she will certainly kill both of the children." The spirit's gaze came back into focus, and she looked at him with concern. "And she will very likely kill you also."

Well.

Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he lowered his head in thought.

"You're sure about that?"

Her long, golden hair rippled in his peripheral vision as she shook her head.

"No, you know better than that. Nothing is certain, until it is. However, it is very probable that any action you take at this moment will make things worse. If you wait, then there is only a one in three likelihood that Faith will kill them before sunrise."

He considered that for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.

"Okay then. I'll wait. But I'm going to keep an eye on things all the same."

"Of course."

Whistler spent a moment peering down the incline, to where one of the two human thugs was showing faint signs of life. The other was lying very, very still.

"Do me a favor, will you? Go and tell the big guys that we've found her, but tell 'em that I think I might need some muscle to back me up if things go wrong. I know some local talent that I can use, but they might want to think about calling in somebody else if I don't make it. They'll know who I mean."

BellDonna nodded her understanding as she drifted away.

"All right. Be careful until I return."

He was still looking at the fallen men. She'd destroyed them both, for fun, and it had been plain that she was barely even trying.

"You can bet your phantom ass I'll be careful."

With a look of irritation at his crude choice of words, she faded from view. Whistler left too, in a more conventional manner. Demon he might be, but he was still a creature of flesh and blood. He walked away, out into the rain after the departing teens.

No one had seen him arrive, and no one saw him go.

* * * * *
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