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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)DreamSmithFR1856235,317305733,18628 Sep 0725 Oct 07Yes

Chapter Fifty-One

See Chapter One for Disclaimer


All Faith is capable of is destruction.
Her life as a Slayer, my peace of mind, Willow and Tara, my relationship with Riley….
Anything that seems like it has some meaning, she has to wreck it.
And of course once she's smashed everything to bits, she takes off.
No, Faith never stays around to clean up her messes.
I don't think she even knows how.

--Buffy Summers


Scott found Alex in the same place he'd left him a few hours before; kneeling beside Kelly's bed, staring silently at the motionless girl, attempting to hold her this side of death with nothing but the strength of his will and the power of his love. Maybe he'd grown too cynical, but that sounded a little too much like wishful, fairy-tale thinking for Scott; he'd never believed that anything like that ever happened in the real world.

Then again, he had witnessed something tonight that had no place in what most people thought of as reality. What was one more miracle on top of what he'd already seen?

"Alex."

He spoke softly; reluctant to disturb that vigil, but determined to carry through on his promise to Faith. The kneeling man blinked, then slowly looked up. His face was haggard; he looked years older than he had just yesterday.

"Scott; you made it through." His voice was a rough whisper, so full of pain and despair that it was painful to hear. "Did the bitch kill enough of 'em for you?" His eyes went back to Kelly's face, which was so pale and still that Scott wondered if he had come too late. Shuffling his feet uncomfortably, he nodded, even though his friend was no longer looking at him.

"Yeah, she killed enough. All of them, actually." There was no response to that, other than a slight tensing of the other man's hands, where they rested on the edge of the bed. "Everybody on our side made it through too, even if they did get torn up some." Alex nodded in acknowledgement, reaching out now to gently clasp the unconscious girl's hand between both of his own. Scott took a deep breath, and then plunged ahead. "Faith made it through alive, too."

The other young man shrugged listlessly.

"Should I care?"

"No."

That single word, spoken in Faith's quiet voice brought Alex to his feet in a rush, though he swayed for a moment once he got there. Scott stepped back out of the way, looking from one to the other. The tall girl in the doorway was still covered in drying blood, and even less steady on her feet than Alex.

She had insisted that Scott drive her directly here from the scene of the battle, and he'd really had no choice but to agree. It was only when she briefly lapsed into unconsciousness that he had made a stop at a quickie-mart, dashing inside to get her something to drink. She had lost a critical amount of blood, and all he knew was that they gave you orange juice after you donated blood at the Red Cross. So orange juice it was; when she'd woken up, it had taken her less than a minute to drain the entire half-gallon container. Other than a semi-clean bit of cloth wrapped around her mutilated hand, that was the extent of the medical treatment he'd managed to force on her. She'd wanted to see Alex and Kelly, and she'd wanted to see them immediately.

The problem was, it looked like Alex was not particularly thrilled to see her.

"You here to cause some more damage?" He looked like he would have been snarling the words, but the grief that was overwhelming him kept his throat constricted and his voice low. "You're too late; she's practically dead already, and after she's gone, I won't much care if you kill me or not"

That seemed to hurt Faith in a way that mere weapons had not.

"Alex…." The pleading look on her face made Scott stare. He would never have imagined her capable of looking that young, or that helpless. "I'm not going to kill anyone else tonight; and I never want to hurt either of you ever again." She ignored his disbelieving stare, looking instead at where Kelly lay on the bed. "I'm here because I think I can help her."

Whatever control over himself Alex still had snapped then, and he flung himself at her. Scott had to move fast to catch his friend before he reached her; in her current condition, Alex might well have managed to hurt or even kill the girl.

"No! Alex, no!"

Scott was a bit surprised at the quick anger that flared within him, anger that was directed at the man he struggled with. He and the others had been out there tonight, fighting to end the threat that had made their lives a living hell. They had bled, and killed, to avenge people like Kelly; Faith had nearly died while obtaining that vengeance. They had done that, and all the while Alex had been here, safe, and now he would not even consider that Faith might be able to do something to help?

Harsh, hurtful words were poised on his tongue, even as he roughly shoved his friend back. Faith had never even made a move to defend herself, had never removed that knife from the sheath at her side; she just waited, to see what Alex would say.

Scott didn't care; he had his own things to say, even though the saying of them might mean that they were never to be friends again… but one look at Alex's face made him bite those words back.

Alex wasn't angry; he was beaten, utterly and completely. He had never been a fighter, not in the sense of physical combat. Oh, he could hold his own if pressed; he wasn't one to roll over and let someone walk all over him, but that kind of thing wasn't in his blood. Ultimately, Alex was the type who tried to win through by simply outlasting whatever awful thing came down on him. If his life turned to garbage, then he simply grew more determined to endure it. Over the past few months, Kelly had become his anchor, his support when it came to dealing with his own problems, and his focus when he needed to forget about those problems in order to help her with her own.

He had spent the last several hours faced with the knowledge that all of that was about to be taken from him, and there was nothing at all he could do. He couldn't fight what was killing Kelly, and he couldn't outlast it. Alex hadn't been relaxing, here in this dark room; he had been suffering as much as any of them, probably more. The face that Scott was presented with was not streaked with tears; Alex was far past that point. Now, he was merely waiting for the axe to fall, for the agony of waiting to be over. From behind him, Scott heard Faith speak.

"I'm sorry, Alex. For everything I did, I am so…." There was no change in his face; it was empty, drained completely of any hope, any belief that something could be done. "Let me just try and help her; please?"

His eyes bleak, he stared at her.

"The only things you know are pain and death; that kind of help she doesn't need."

Even his voice was empty of life; it sounded like ashes and dry, brittle leaves. Scott felt something touch his shoulder then, and he obediently stepped aside, letting her move past.

"You're right." She stood before him, and Alex's eyes flickered over her, only now seeming to see the wounds that seemed to cover nearly every part of her body. "But I know how to fight too, and maybe that's all she needs; someone to show her how to fight what's happened to her."

His eyes seemed to bore into her.

"You think you can save her?"

Faith didn't look away.

"I don't know; maybe. All I know is that I have to try." This wasn't the same person Scott had first met just a day earlier. The tough-girl act was gone; what she showed now was honest, it was real. "I'm…." She swallowed painfully. "I'm already carrying around too much of this; I've hurt too many people, let them down when they were counting on me, screwed them over when they trusted me." Shadows flitted through her dark eyes, and her need filled her face. "Let me try and make it right, at least this once."

Alex wanted to believe, that was obvious. At the same time, he wanted to hold on to the hate, and resentment he felt for this girl. Scott knew how he felt, because he'd felt the same way, if less strongly. She'd proven herself to him tonight; proven it a dozen times over by accomplishing what he'd thought to be impossible. Now she meant to do the same for Alex. The haggard young man finally nodded, and stepped aside, clearing the path to where Kelly lay. Faith stepped forward, only to stop when he reached out to touch her arm.

"If you hurt her again…."

He didn't finish the threat; he didn't have to. She nodded mutely, and he took his hand away.

Scott and Alex watched as Faith sat down on the bed next to Kelly. Reaching out, she took the unconscious girl's hand in her own, her eyes on that pale face. A few seconds crawled by with no visible effect, then she released the hand. Scott glanced at his friend, and opened his mouth to say something reassuring, when the quiet sound of a blade pulling free of its sheath whispered through the room. The dark-haired girl held up that odd knife of hers, staring at it in the dimness with a strangely searching look on her face. A moment later her lips firmed, and she raised her maimed hand. The softly gleaming blade slid easily through the cloth wrapping her palm, and the scraps of rag fell away to reveal the savagely mutilated flesh beneath.

Alex made a quiet sound, and even Faith herself looked a little unsettled at the sight. All four of her fingers were gone, sliced away along with half of her hand itself. Only the thumb remained, looking weirdly out of place on something barely recognizable as a human extremity. The wound still glistened wetly, but it didn't bleed. Scott swallowed uneasily at the bizarre sight; fresh proof of her strange abilities. As he watched she brought the tip of the knife to what was left of her hand, and they stared in disbelief as she drew the steel across her palm, leaving a narrow trail of fresh blood in its wake. A moment later she leaned over and moved the knife towards Kelly's open hand, and Alex took a step forward.

"Faith…."

The blade froze in place, and her eyes flicked up to meet his.

"I know it's hard, but you have to trust me."

He hesitated, clearly uncertain, but finally he nodded. She looked back down at what she was doing, and awkwardly used her half-hand to hold the girl's fingers spread as she used the knife. A single, shallow cut brought blood welling up, but Kelly gave no sign that she was aware of anything happening. Faith laid the knife in the girl's palm, the flat side of the blade pressed against the still bleeding cut. Putting her maimed hand atop the blade, she used her good hand to fold Kelly's fingers closed, and then held them there.

Her eyes closed, and her head slowly lowered, until her long, blood-matted hair hung just over the other girl's face. For a long minute there was nothing but the sound of her steady breathing; and then, in the dimness, the knife began to shimmer a soft red-gold.

* * * * *

Faith was rushing forward, falling downward, streaking through a tunnel of scarlet light. She had touched the other girl's mind once before, but that had been a clumsy, tentative thing; hurling thoughts and emotions like they were weapons, meaning only to hurt. This time would have to be different; this time she would heal instead of harm, and for that, she had to go inside. Her knife was the key; a link between Kelly and herself, a mystical transformer, tuning her power to the proper frequency (if that wasn't too scientific a term for what it was actually doing). It was also a battery , providing a reserve of energy to bolster Faith's fading strength. It was as much a tool as it was a weapon, this knife of hers.

The crimson tunnel ended, and she was there. She did not see anything, exactly; this wasn't that sort of place, but there was an unmistakable awareness that she was no longer within her own body. Her first impression was that it was small. As battered and weakened as Faith's own body was at the moment, it was still so much more than this little thing. Her body was imbued with a bottomless sense of power, of limitless potentials waiting to be unlocked. It was connected to vast, mysterious forces that she did not understand, but that she could nevertheless feel, every second of every day. It had been so long since she had become what she was that she had nearly forgotten what it was like to be merely human; but now, inside Kelly, she remembered all too clearly. Weak, fragile, limited; this body she was in had such sharply defined boundaries…. Even lying here motionless she could feel how awful it would be to have to live this way again after having become something so much greater. It humbled her, a little, to realize that everyone around her managed to get by with nothing more than this to carry them through.

Her musings might have gone on for a while longer, but as she spread her perceptions wider she quickly became aware that this body was balancing precariously near the brink of death. That caught her attention in a hurry, and she experienced a brief moment of panic. Opening her knife's reservoir wide, she flooded Kelly's body with energy. For a brief moment, the failing systems around her were jolted into a higher level of activity; heartbeat, breathing, a hundred other processes necessary to sustain life surged forward… and then slowed once more. It wasn't working; the girl's human body didn't know what to do with the strength Faith was feeding into it, it wasn't able to process something so different from what it knew. Regaining her composure, she halted the energy flow and considered the situation. She knew something of how a body worked; quite a bit about it, actually. If she had to, maybe she could solve things by going the long way around….

Faith concentrated, reaching out with one wisp of her being, a slender, shining filament of golden light. Touching one particular portion of the body's nervous system, she fed a tiny trickle of force into it, filtering it first through herself in order to transform it into something the body could recognize and use. Hesitantly, that one aspect of the girl's physical being grew stronger, more stable. Of course, that put more strain on the other portions that were still flickering dangerously near extinction, so she immediately had to reach out and reinforce them as well. Faith stretched out in a dozen directions, then a hundred more, touching upon each of the myriad branchings and complex processes that kept a living being functioning. Kelly's body had already been weakened by years of borderline malnutrition and drug abuse. The withdrawal, and later the injuries caused by the rape, had left her in a fairly bad way, physically. Yet despite that, there didn't seem to be enough damage to cause this coma state….

Ignoring that puzzle for the moment, Faith concentrated on bringing things back into some kind of balance. It was hard; every minute system she coaxed upwards into a semblance of normal activity seemed to disrupt three others. She kept trying, working patiently, ignoring the frustration that threatened to fray her concentration. Faith had no way of knowing how long any of this was taking, and it didn't matter anyway. Time had no meaning here. There was only the purpose which had brought her. She had done something terrible to this girl, now it was time to try and set things right.

* * * * *

Alex straightened slightly where he sat on the floor with his back against the wall. When Faith had first started… whatever it was she was doing, ten or fifteen minutes had passed with no visible activity. The faint shimmering of the knife had been the only indication that anything was happening at all. After that, the red-gold light coming from the weapon had begun to glow more brightly, growing stronger, then fading at irregular intervals, casting odd shadows through the small room. That had now gone on for well over an hour with Kelly showing no sign of improvement.

He rubbed wearily at his eyes, then glanced over at the others. Scott stood with his arms folded, never looking away from the motionless girls. Beside him, seated on the room's only chair, Sylvia sat. The old woman had seemingly taken these strange events in stride, but when she turned and looked at Alex, he could see the strain in her face. Despite that, she gave him a reassuring smile.

A gasp went through the quiet room, and his eyes jerked back towards the bed. He suddenly found himself leaning over Faith and Kelly, though he didn't recall getting up, or crossing the intervening distance. His eyes narrowed against the light coming from the knife still gripped between their hands, he stared intently down at Kelly's face. Was it only his imagination, or did her features seem more relaxed, less drawn? Her chest was rising and falling with her breathing now; visibly stronger than it had been. Reaching out with a trembling hand, he touched her cheek. Her skin was warm now, not clammy and cold. A grin was trying to split his face in two, and he went down on one knee so he could get a look at Faith's face.

The dark-haired girl hadn't moved an inch since starting this; she still sat leaning over Kelly, her eyes closed and her face stiff and mask-like, nearly hidden by the blood-matted hair falling forward past her shoulders. Peering up into that face, Alex felt a moment's shock. If Kelly showed definite signs of improvement, Faith was just the opposite. Her skin was pale and waxy, with beads of perspiration seeming to cover every inch of her. She didn't seem to be breathing, and there were dark circles beneath her tightly shut eyes that he hadn't noticed before. He was unable to keep his eyes from tracking across the many cuts, bruises and abrasions visible on her, and the stab of guilt that went through him at the sight faintly surprised him.

She shouldn't be doing this now. He thought to himself. She should be in a hospital; they should both be in a hospital. It wasn't possible, of course. Even if she hadn't been wanted by the police for whatever she had done in that Sunnydale place, the hospital was required to report gunshot wounds… and Faith was sporting at least two of those.

Besides, it was good that she was suffering a little. What had happened to Kelly was her fault, after all, Faith should have to pay somehow for the pain the other girl had felt. Alex told himself that, but it wasn't easy to make himself believe it. His bitterness towards Faith didn't feel nearly as immediate, now. Not with Kelly breathing easier and looking as if she would open her eyes at any moment. He felt his heart lighten as he watched her, waiting.

Everything was going to be all right, he could feel it. The light from the knife grew and waned in a steady rhythm now, pulsing like the slow beating of a heart.

* * * * *

Extended to her very limit, her being stretched in a thousand directions and only a hair's breadth away from tearing asunder from the incredible strain, Faith tried to decide what to do next. She had managed to force Kelly's body into a semblance of normalcy, but it had quickly become obvious that there was still a problem. She had things in balance, but whenever Faith let go of an aspect of the body's systems and tried to back away, things would immediately begin to deteriorate again, and she would have to reestablish her link. Over and over again she had tried to disengage and let it continue on its own, and every time the body had quickly begun to fail.

Faith wanted to scream, but she had no voice here. She wanted to lash out, to vent her anger and frustration, but she had already hurt this girl too deeply; she couldn't do it again. That left the question of what to do. All she had achieved so far was a stalemate; the girl was alive, but not actually getting better. She was performing a kind of mystical CPR, but the underlying damage was still there, crippling the body. The need for the drug was too strong, the disruptions from the withdrawal were too much for Kelly to endure. Beyond that, though, was the real cause of all of this. Faith scanned the body again, reading the ebb and flow of the life energy with a practiced eye. She knew now why the girl was dying, and it wasn't because of what was happening in her body.

Kelly was dying because she wanted to die.

The injuries and partial starvation weren't enough to cause a coma, much less kill her. The withdrawal was painful, yes, excruciatingly so… but heroin withdrawal couldn't kill you. What all of those factors combined could do was weaken the body to a point where the person's will to live became a critical part of survival. If the girl had wanted to live, she would have. Since the body seemed determined to die no matter what Faith did… well, that pointed to something else. The problem was that she couldn't stay here forever to keep things running, and even if she could, it was the energy from her knife that was allowing her to sustain Kelly; once that was gone, the girl would soon follow. Hanging there in that place that wasn't really a place, she thought it through… and came to a decision.

Faith carefully double-checked that she had everything held firmly in place and functioning smoothly, and then she split herself. The bulk of her focus and concentration stayed with the workings of the body, but part of her consciousness drifted away, still a part of that effort but at a remove that allowed her to consider her surroundings anew. Looking without sight, feeling without touch, she perceived only the physical workings of Kelly's body. That wasn't where the real problem lay; she had to go deeper. With an effort that made her once more aware of just how weary she was, Faith moved. Not up, or down, or sideways; but further in.

A moment later, the world around her shifted. There was sight here, of a sort. Darkness roiled around her, shot through with ragged streaks of sickly yellow and green. They were emotions, Faith realized. She could feel the despair that made up the darkness, she could taste the bitterness and self-loathing here like they were vomit at the back of her throat. Those emotions pressed in on her, beating at the borders of her self, trying to crush her as they were crushing Kelly herself. Then, out of the darkness, she heard a voice speak.

"Weak. I'm weak, and I'm ugly." Faith spun around; though she didn't have a body to actually move, she did have a locus of awareness, a floating point where she existed. She tried to penetrate the darkness that filled this place, but her special senses didn't exist here. "He cares for me but I really don't care about him." The words echoed through the writhing shadows, resonating through her being. "I hurt him every time he sees me." Faith knew those words, and she knew that voice, because they were both her own. These were the thoughts she had planted in Kelly's mind yesterday in Sylvia's shop. Consumed with jealousy and bitterness towards Alex, she'd wanted revenge on him, and on the girl he had chosen above Faith herself. Pure spite had made her do it. That, and a need to hurt anyone who had more than she did.

This was the result.

Gathering her concentration-

--Hard, it was so hard to do when she was already doing a thousand things at once, working for every beat of the girl's heart, every breath she took, the endless patterns and rhythms of the human body and she was having to do it all, aided only by the energy from her knife, which was mostly expended, now-

--Faith called out.

"Kelly?"

It wasn't sound, any more than what she had heard a moment earlier had been sound. Despite that, it was her voice, the projection of who she was, and it traveled outwards into the mind around her. At once she felt a shift in her surroundings. The tenor of the emotions shifted, with a slender thread of amber curiosity showing through the curtains of despair.

"What?" Uncertainty was a dim purple wash, and a faint prickle along Faith's perceptions. "Was that…?"

If she'd had a face here, it would have been flushed with shame. If she'd had a throat, then she would have swallowed heavily as she struggled with her guilt. As it was, all she could do was answer.

"It's me; it's Faith."

The sea of emotions swirling around her grew still; the colors fading until everything around her was flat and leaden. The apathy and hopelessness that began to numb Faith's being was almost worse than what had come before. At least the despair and self-loathing had involved a little energy.

"Faith?" There was nothing but emptiness in that silent voice. Despondency flickered through the grayness before it was absorbed into that featureless veil. "Go away."

The grayness was draining her already meager strength, sapping her will to continue. Faith fought back the fog that was trying to slip inside her mind.

"I can leave you alone, sure. But first I need to help you."

There was no response, other than the suspicion that glittered briefly, like lurid fireflies through the grayness, and a sense of dull disbelief that felt like a weight pressing down on her. Faith hung there, wondering now how she was supposed to carry through on her words. She had no experience doing this, she didn't know the first thing about fixing someone's mind. Even if she did, did she even have the right to try? If Kelly really wanted to go, should Faith try and stop her?

"I'm so pathetic, so weak. I'm worthless. Nobody loves me, nobody ever has, no one ever will."

The words echoed around Faith; her words again, her voice. This was part of her answer. If the girl had made the decision of her own accord, then Faith would have been obliged to stand aside. The reality of this situation though, was that she had been pushed onto the ledge where she now stood. Faith had put her there, and now she had to pull her back.

"I'm alone, and I deserve it. Why should Alex love me? What is there about me that someone could love?"

Reaching out, Faith captured those words, those thoughts, and held them in hands made of will alone. They twisted in her grip like vipers, their touch burned like vitriol… and the knowledge that they had come from inside her own mind sickened her.

"I should leave, now, before I do any more damage. Alex is a good person, why stay and hurt--?"

She closed her hands, crushing the poisoned thoughts to nothingness. Looking outwards, she exerted her will once more.

--Tired; so very, very tired now, and every beat of Kelly's heart was a struggle, every inhalation was a battle, and the knife was very nearly empty-

The endless sea of apathy receded, though only slightly. It was enough, however, to show Faith some of the damage she'd caused. The terrain of Kelly's mind, the landscape of a soul… and there were vast, ragged holes that shouldn't have been; eaten away by the doubts she had placed there. The one certainty Kelly had clung to despite everything was the belief that Alex loved her. When Faith had undermined that, everything else had begun to dissolve like sandcastles in a hurricane.

"He doesn't love me." That voice was Kelly's; the poison had spread, now it was a part of her. "I don't deserve him."

Faith stared into those ragged voids that had once held what self-worth the girl had managed to cling to through her years on the street. She couldn't make them whole; she doubted that anyone could have managed that. All she could do was try and bridge the worst of the psychic wounds, create a framework around which Kelly's mind could heal itself. She was also afraid; afraid that she might accidentally put some part of herself inside that vulnerable soul, some new bit of madness that would spread and consume the girl.

In the end, she had no choice but to try. There was no other way, and time was short now. Carefully, delicately, she spun a thread of gold across the gaping hole.

"He does love you, Kelly. I know, because he told me so when I tried to take him away from you."

A flicker of surprise brightened the mental landscape, but the grayness swallowed it. Undaunted, she laid another line of light across the first.

"You're not weak, Kelly, not at all. I've been where you've been, I've seen what you've seen." She paused a moment, then went on. "I've done what you've done; all of it. I know what it's like. And I know that if you're weak, it kills you fast, and if you're strong, it kills you slow." Pure gold, nothing of Faith's darkness, only the certainty of what she knew. Truth, respect, admiration. "You're strong, Kelly. Years in this place, and you are still alive. That's longer than I would have lasted." A web of strands across the gap in the girl's soul, woven from Faith's very essence. It seemed a pitifully frail thing, when measured against the dark. She touched the framework, channeled more of her strength into it, reinforcing it with her conviction. "Alex loves you. He never stopped loving you no matter what you did, no matter how hard I tried to make him. Come back, Kelly. Your leaving is the only thing you could do that he would never forgive." The strands blazed brightly now, and she backed slowly away. That was all she knew how to do, all she could think of to try. If that didn't work….

"I hate you, Faith."

Well, at least it was a sign of life from the girl, and nothing she hadn't heard before.

"I know you do. I don't blame you."

The grayness trembled, shot through with streaks of black despair, and the dark violet of longing.

"I want to die."

She hung there, suspended within another's mind, within their soul. She felt what Kelly felt, she could not help but feel it.

"I know. I can't stop you, if that's what you decide to do."

Silence. For a timeless time there was only silence-

--Nothing left in the knife, and her presence in the other girl began to grow tenuous. With no other option remaining, Faith drew on the only resource she had left; the power that resided within her own body. Using the golden force inside her, she held the link open, struggled to keep the other girl alive-

Silence from Kelly, and then….

"I'm afraid to go back. It hurts too much."

Faith drew in on herself, trying to continue her support of the body while conserving as much of her strength as she could.

"Everything hurts, except dying. You've got to play through it if you want to stay in the game."

Kelly's feelings of helplessness and inadequacy were broad swaths of dull orange across her soul.

"Easy for you to say. You kicked heroin like it was nothing. I can't do that, I can't face trying again. I'd…I think I'd rather die here."

Faith shifted uneasily.

"About that…. I might not have-" She stopped herself, then started again. "I might have lied to you, a little, about how I quit." Uncertainty glimmered in shades of pink all around her, and she continued. "I had… help. Something happened to me, changed me, and after that, the junk just didn't have much of a hold on me anymore." The mental landscape around her shifted slightly, but she was looking inwards now. "Basically, I cheated. It wasn't me being strong, or tough; it wasn't anything I did. Something happened, and it could have happened to anybody. It was just dumb luck that it was me. I'm nothing special."

Nothing at all, just a Boston girl who got handed something wonderful, and proceeded to turn it into garbage, just like everything else she'd ever touched. She'd thought to heal Kelly? To bring her back from the edge? What a joke. She couldn't heal anybody, she didn't even know how her own body did most of what it did. It just seemed to know, instinctively, how to recover from any trauma, any wound. She'd learned how to guide the process, a little, but it was still mostly a question of her power doing what came naturally. The heroin had only been the first thing it had had to cure her of. Even then, she'd tried to go back, she'd shot up a couple of times after becoming a Slayer. It hadn't done her any good. After it beat a poison, the power seemed to remember it, and the next time it was able to fight off the effects even faster.

Wait.

Poison. Heroin. She didn't know how to heal someone, but her body… her power knew how to handle heroin withdrawal. It remembered; and her power was flowing into Kelly's body even now, sustaining Faith as she floated there.

--Deathly tired, so much so that her own body was showing the effects of the drain. So many injuries to heal, her regeneration was barely making any headway at all with so many of her resources tied up in just keeping her alive with all the damage-

"Guess what, Kel? You are going back. Don't worry, though; everything'll be okay when you get there."

The other girl spent a moment trying to process that.

"What? What do you mean?"

Faith gathered herself, hoping she had enough left to pull off one last trick.

"I told you that I cheated. Well; I'm going to show you how."

Dropping back a level, she found herself in the realm of the physical, with Kelly's body filling her perceptions. Faith's projected essence was already there, of course, prodding things along, keeping the girl alive from moment to moment. She had been sustaining Kelly up until this point, but now something more was needed. Quickly, before she had a chance to reconsider, Faith opened the connecting channel wide. Her entire being flooded into the body, in a fashion very similar to what had happened when she and Buffy had switched places. This time was different, however, in that she confined herself to the physical plane, walling herself away from Kelly's mind. There would be no switching of personalities here; even this sharing would be temporary. Indeed, there seemed to be some kind of resistance that she had not experienced with Buffy, a sort of rejection that would make it impossible to remain for very long at all.

Weird. Maybe because she and Kelly weren't both Slayers? Did the two participants in a body switch have to be compatible, like organ donors?

It didn't matter; she would be able to stay long enough. Moving swiftly, she aligned the energies of her spirit with the corresponding points within Kelly. It wasn't her body, but she could make the power that was a part of her believe that it was, long enough for the bulk of the withdrawal to run its course. When everything was in sync, she brought all the power she had left to bear on the process, speeding it along as much as she dared.

--Emptied of Faith's essence, bereft of the power that had sustained it, her body sagged forward. Her forehead came to rest upon Kelly's cheek even as blood began to stream from wounds that had seemed on their way to healing only moments before-

Faith watched the last of the heroin in Kelly's system as it was broken down into harmless compounds and absorbed. The tissues that had adapted to the presence of the drug, that craved it even now, were adjusted to something approximating their normal state. All through the girl's nervous system, up through her spinal cord and deep inside her brain, neural cells were altered slightly. The areas targeted by the drug were restored. The damaged done by years of addiction could not be completely erased; but what would have been a long, agonizing process was drastically reduced, both in duration and intensity.

Faith could feel, dimly, the warnings from her own body, but she ignored them. What she was doing here was more important, perhaps even the most important thing she had done since arriving in this city, and she was not going to leave it half-finished.

So many battles won, but she'd lost every war.

"Not this time." She whispered to herself. "This time, I'm going to win the one that matters."

Holding nothing back, she poured her life force into Kelly's body, willing it to heal, to live.

* * * * *

Alex had been gently caressing Kelly's hair, waiting for her eyes to open, when Sylvia gave a strangled cry. Looking up in alarm, he saw Faith slowly fold forward, to lay half-atop the comatose girl. Alarmed, he grabbed hold of her, intending to pull her away, and his hands touched fresh, warm blood. Her wounds had reopened, trickles of dark red running from every cut and puncture that had earlier seemed little more than scratches. Unsure of what was happening, he tried to roll her over, onto her back, but even though she was limp, her hands still gripped Kelly's with incredible strength. Scott moved forward to help him, even as Sylvia fumbled for something to use as bandages.

The knife, still clutched in their hands, began to glow more brightly. The light it cast shifted in color, losing its scarlet tint little by little until it shone a rich, pure gold. Even the blood that was now flowing from her mutilated hand to coat the blade could not mute that radiance. Scott applied pressure to the deep cut along her side, trying to staunch the flow there, while Alex tugged futilely at her hands. She wasn't breathing, her body was so much dead weight, but she wouldn't let go of the knife. In panic and fury, he slapped her; hard. Scott gaped at him, but he paid the other man no attention, drawing back his hand and slapping her again.

"Wake up!" Again, hard enough to hurt his hand. "Stop it, Faith! Stop it!"

Not like this! If she died in one of her precious fights then fine, if she hurt Kelly then he would kill her himself, but he refused to allow her to do this. He wouldn't be able to bear it if she proved him so completely wrong; if she managed to kill herself while trying to help the girl he loved more than his own life. That would leave him owing her a debt beyond measure, with no possible means of repaying her.

"Faith!"

She lay there, motionless, and he frantically tried to help Scott and Sylvia as they pressed wads of cloth against her wounds to try and keep her from bleeding herself empty. The glimpse he caught of her face stayed with him as he worked. She looked so beautiful as she lay there; for the first time since the moment he'd met her, her features were relaxed, she looked to be finally at peace.

A moment later he had to close his eyes and look away, to keep from being blinded by the ever-increasing glare from the knife she and Kelly still held. Blazing like a captive star, the weapon grew swiftly brighter, and still brighter, until the room itself was lost in a wash of golden light.

* * * * *
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