See Chapter One for Disclaimer They're terrified of her.
Hard to believe, but it's true. The same girl who sat alone in a tiny sty of a motel room all those months, ignored by everyone, is now the reason why all these ancient and mysterious beings are all but pissing themselves.
Or at least they would be, if they were physically capable of pissing themselves.
I'm not quite sure why; it has something to do with some ancient prophecies they've gathered from all over the world, set down over thousands of years by all these different people. Whatever it is, the high muckety-mucks are plenty upset.
Me, I've never put much stock in prophecy. I mean, no matter what the things seem to be telling you, in the end the reality of it is almost always something other than what you thought it meant. No matter what the big boys tell you, they really don't know any more than the rest of us.
Personally, I can't wait to see what this girl 'Faith' is going to do next. It might just be my visions finally kicking in, but I have this weird feeling that once she gets rolling, -nothing- is ever going to be the same again. Which is kinda cool.
But, uh…. Don't tell them I said that, okay?
Junior Agent for 'The Powers That Be' Well,
Whistler thought, guiding his car through the maze of nearly empty streets, any winning streak's gotta end, right?
Which was certainly true enough, but why had his picked now
to crap out on him?
Thirty-three champions recruited in the last decade, all successfully brought into the light; all leaving their troubled pasts behind in order to work towards sanity and stability for the world and it's inhabitants. There'd been a hundred others he'd succeeded with too, in the seventy years he had been at this. Sure, those victories had been interspersed with some failures, but they'd grown rarer as he'd improved at his job. Nobody was better at this than he was; nobody.
That still left the question; if he was so very good at turning troubled individuals into heroes, then why was there a building full of corpses less than five miles behind him?
"Because some people just can't go for more than a day without indulgin' their need for a friggin' massacre, that's why!"
His voice betrayed his anger and frustration; fortunately, there was no one there to hear except himself. BellDonna had gone ahead to set things in motion, leaving him alone on the drive over. A stoplight turned red, and he slowed the car to a stop, considering his options. All right. Enough with the pissing and moaning; what I need to do now is get my priorities straight.
Reporting to his superiors wasn't exactly the first thing on his 'to do' list. He'd argued hard for them to let him approach Faith by himself, with help except BellDonna, and no major backup. His reasoning had been that he didn't want to spook her; that if she ran again, it might take them a fatal amount of time to track her down. They had been almost certain that she would be here, in this place at this point in time. This was the only such point where the prophecies pinned it down that closely, and they couldn't afford to blow their one sure chance of finding her.
Now, though, with the girl completely insane, the danger of 'scaring her off' seemed a lot less likely.
No, what he needed now wasn't his bosses demanding to know why he'd managed to fail on what was undoubtedly his most important assignment to date. What he needed to do was call in some help on his own, which he had done. His spirit sidekick (though he'd never dare think that, were she around) he had to do was should at this very moment be rousting the bruisers he had on standby, and together they would capture the rogue Slayer, drug her up, and deliver her, just as he'd promised. If Faith didn't like it (and she certainly wouldn't), that was just too bad. He might not be able to force her to do her duty and fight the good fight, but he could sure as hell take her someplace where she couldn't wreck the world.
The stoplight turned green, and he accelerated smoothly.
Whistler had watched from a distance as she'd gone into the Yakuza headquarters. With his power of extended perception he had observed the confrontation there, and the early stages of the battle that had followed. Unfortunately, it hadn't taken long for his senses to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the violence the girl had unleashed there. His abilities made him more vulnerable than mere humans in some ways, and he had been forced to flee the area to escape the screams that had echoed in his mind as the gathered criminals had been ruthlessly slaughtered. By the time he'd managed to pull himself together and return, Faith and her friends were long gone. Their handiwork remained, though, and even the glimpses he'd seen had been enough to sicken him.
Faith had to be stopped. The best-case scenario was her voluntarily going to the retreat with him, but he would settle for wrapping her in chains and dumping her in the trunk for the duration of the journey. It would take a lot longer than the plane flight he'd originally arranged, but he doubted the airline would allow him to bring an unconscious girl along as carry-on luggage.
As he approached a cross street, it occurred to him that he was very close to the shop where she had been hanging out two days before. With all that happened it seemed unlikely that she would have gone back there after the bloodbath, but still….
"What the hell." He muttered to himself. "I've gotta start looking for her again sooner or later, and it's practically on my way." Whipping the car into the turn, he drove onwards.
Wherever Faith was, she would be lying low. Even she had to know that the police would be whipped into a frenzy as soon as the contents of that building were discovered. Once he had her location, it would be a simple matter to bring in enough muscle to take her down; with the help of some minor spells, a potion or two… and a minor miracle. He grimaced, recalling the human head that he had found sitting on the front steps of the Yakuza stronghold. She'd left a message for any of that young guy's followers, and Whistler had read it as 'Here's your ex-boss, you guys'll be hearing from the new boss soon'. If the people of this town had thought they had it bad before, they couldn't imagine what the place would be like as the hunting grounds of a crazed Slayer.
Up ahead, the old woman's shop came into view. Turning off his headlights, the human-seeming demon pulled the car up in front of the place. Closing his eyes, he spread his perceptions, scanning the building with the ease brought about by centuries of practice.
There were four life-sources within, two males and two females… and all were utterly human. Whistler opened his eyes and sighed.
"Okay; maybe that would have been too easy."
Shaking his head in disgust, he threw the car into gear and pulled away. Well. That only left going to inform the others. They could spread out, search this end of town for likely hiding places, and hope that they found her before the police did. Picturing the girl's reaction to a couple of cops trying to arrest her made his demonic blood run cold, or at least colder. Not only would there be further loss of life, which would be regrettable, but that would make it tremendously more likely that some official would begin to suspect that something beyond the ordinary was taking place. If there was one thing that really would make Whistler's bosses go berserk, it would be videotape of something paranormal being shown on the evening news. In some ways, ignorance was a sort of shield for humankind. If they started getting curious, if some eager beaver stuck his head where it didn't belong, then things could get a whole lot worse than they already were.
Two blocks away from the shop he hung a right, which would get him back onto the main street. He was already busy rehearsing what he was going to say to Tommy the goon, the most argumentative of the enforcers he was going to have to call in to help. So preoccupied was he that he very nearly didn't see the figure walking slowly down the sidewalk. He had already driven past when the long, dark hair and backpack registered, and it was all he could do to keep from standing on the brakes. Instead, he drove on, turning right again at the next corner.
"No way am I that lucky."
Pulling the car over to the curb, he shut off the engine and sat motionless, watching the rear view mirror. A minute later, he saw the figure come into view, moving slowly, almost hesitantly, across the street.
It was her. He was sure of it. When she had disappeared behind the building on the far corner, he leaned back in his seat, staring sightlessly at the steering wheel. This was almost worse than not having a clue as to her whereabouts. He knew where she was, but it would take him twenty or thirty minutes to go get his guys and bring them back here, and by that time she would be long gone. The backpack meant that she was relocating, either to another neighborhood, or possibly to another town. He hadn't expected her to pick up and leave after going to all the trouble of knocking out her only rivals here, but he supposed that unpredictability was a trait shared by most of the criminally insane. Tapping his fingers nervously on the door handle, he tried to come up with a plan of action. He needed to know where she was going, he needed to stop her before she got there, and he doubted he could do that all by himself.
"Hell with it."
He got out of the car. If he lost her now he would be kicking himself over it for the next century. Better to follow her, and hope she went to ground somewhere close by so he could go round up the help he would need to take her down. If things got ugly, well, he did have a gun. It might even be enough to drive her off before she finished removing his arms and legs.
Tugging at his jacket, then adjusting his hat, Whistler hurried off in pursuit of the girl.
* * * * *
It wasn't easy, but Faith made it another block. She was so tired; so beaten-up, so bled-out, that every step felt like it was uphill, and the backpack she carried slung over one shoulder felt like it was full of bricks. No,
She thought, wearily. If it were only bricks then I wouldn't even notice. It feels like I'm carrying a car's engine block in there.
In fact, all she had in the pack were some clothes and a pair of sandals that Sylvia had given her yesterday. Or maybe that had been the day before yesterday; she was so exhausted that she was having trouble thinking clearly. She was pretty sure that this was Sunday (Well, Monday morning, now), and she hadn't had any sleep at all since waking up from the coma on Tuesday.
No sleep, unless you counted that nightmare-filled five minute nap, the first night at Alex and Kelly's, that is. She shifted the pack, trying to ease the ache of her shoulders, and was rewarded by both a stab of pain from the long cut under the strap, and a clank from inside the pack. Oh, yeah. I've also got my new toy in there; the sub machinegun, along with six or seven clips of ammunition.
She was also carrying the Katanna she had taken from Akamori, and it was a bit harder to transport inconspicuously. Since it was over three feet long, it wouldn't fit in the pack. She'd ended up tying the wooden sheath to one of the straps on her backpack, so that the handle was about even with the top of her head and most of the length lay along her back, underneath the pack itself. That worked well enough, especially since the whole thing had been wrapped in cloth to at least try and hide what it was.
Faith blinked a couple of times, trying to recall when exactly that attempt at concealment had taken place. It had to have been after she opened her eyes to find Alex and Scott both kneeling over her as she lay on the bed. There had been something like panic in both of their faces, though Alex's expression had quickly gone blank when he saw that she was awake and looking up at him. When she started to get up Scott had tried to hold her down in the bed, and in her drained state he would have managed it, even if his friend weren't trying to help. Fortunately, both of the young men had been diverted when Kelly stirred, opened her eyes, and began to emit soft little sobs. Alex looked like he couldn't believe what he was seeing, and the way he knelt beside the girl and whispered her name over and over had made Faith look away, feeling empty and cold. It wasn't like she still had any harsh feelings for either of them, or that she had been expecting a flood of hugs and kisses as thanks for what she'd done. Maybe it was just that the loneliness was harder to ignore, when somebody else's happy ending was playing out just a couple of feet away.
She couldn't remember how, but she had managed to get up out of the bed and out of that room. The next thing she recalled was being downstairs in the little kitchen behind the shop, drinking glass after glass of water. She had fresh blood all over her, and even though the wounds were once again closed, she felt like she was stretched as thin as a thread. Listening to her body's needs, she had dumped the entire contents of a saltshaker into the water glass, ran in some more water, and then drained it one last time.
The layers of dried and still-damp blood and gore that covered her body were disgusting, but she couldn't exactly ask to use the shower before she left. If the police showed up, having a bathroom liberally splattered with crimson would be a little hard to explain away as a shaving accident.
"-She was there, inside with me. She saved me, Alex!" Faith had raised her head and stared blankly at the ceiling, unconsciously touching her fingers to her ear. The deafness caused by the gunshot had finally cleared completely, and she could clearly hear Kelly speaking, in the bedroom upstairs. "I was dying, I wanted to die, but she told me everything would be okay if I came back."
Alex didn't sound quite so forgiving.
"Kelly, she was the one who got you hurt in the first place. That was her, and the things she told you, that made you run away, right?"
"Well… yeah, in a way." She sounded disoriented, confused and uncertain. Faith knew the feeling; she was feeling dizzy just from the effort of standing there. Forcing her hearing back into normal human ranges, she directed a silent thought upwards. Yeah, Kel, that was me, both times. I knocked you down when I saw how easy it would be, and I kicked you while you were down. I suppose that makes it kind of stupid for me to expect anything when I help you back up, huh? Alex… thanks for trusting me one last time. Take care of your girl.
There was a mostly-clean rag lying on the counter beside the sink. Wrapping it tightly around the ugly remains of her right hand, she had turned towards the door.
Scott and Sylvia had both been standing there. Both had spoken, but the dizziness had increased, and Faith hadn't been able to understand them; the words were distant and garbled, like voices on a radio whose batteries had nearly died. She had mumbled something in return, she wasn't even sure what, and then she'd shoved past them. They managed to stop her long enough for the old woman to get her into an old jacket of faded denim that was only a little too big for her, and for Scott to hand her the battered backpack she'd carried when she first arrived in town. He had given her the cloth-wrapped sword too, she now recalled, and he'd shown her the gun and ammunition in the pack. Afraid that if she didn't leave quickly she would lose consciousness and collapse right there on the floor, she had pushed through the door and out into the night.
Now she was here; walking down a street and hoping that her sense of direction hadn't failed her. The train tracks she had ridden into town should be in this general area, and once she found them it would just be a matter of following them until she found the local train yard. She could hop a train and be gone by sunup, off to wherever it would take her. Faith needed to leave; now, tonight, before she could do anything to screw up what good she'd managed to accomplish. Staying around would only drag Alex and Kelly and Scott into whatever backlash came from her battle with the Storm.
The police were a big part of that, yeah, but there were worse things than the cops. Somewhere in Sunnydale, somebody in the Scooby gang would get up today and read a newspaper headline, or catch a story on the television newscast. They would gasp in horror, come to the obvious conclusion, and then they would call Buffy. Faith could picture her blonde sister going into her room, putting on her slaying clothes, tying back her hair, and picking up a bag of weapons. Less than a minute after that, she would be out the door and on her way.
There was no doubt whatsoever in Faith's mind; Buffy would be coming for her.
Even if she had been in any condition to fight the Slayer, Faith didn't want to be around when the other girl got into town. She wasn't afraid, exactly (well, only a little, but that just proved she wasn't completely stupid); it was simply that she didn't want to fight Buffy any more. She didn't need to fight Buffy, any more. She knew what she wanted to fight; all she had to do was go and find it again.
What with her eyes being focused on the face of a girl who wasn't there, Faith didn't notice the wall of the building sneaking up on her until it suddenly bumped into her shoulder. She stumbled and nearly fell, reaching out without thinking to steady herself. Her maimed hand touched the rough masonry, and she gasped as a jolt of searing agony ran up her arm and into her brain. It took a long minute for the pain to subside, and it left her knees weak and trembling. Looking at the long street stretching off into the night, Faith had to fight back the urge to simply slide down the wall and let herself slip into unconsciousness. She could barely walk; barely support the weight of the pack on her shoulder. Right now, at this minute, she wasn't even as strong as a human being. She needed rest, food, and time to recover, but there was nowhere here for her to go. She was vulnerable, and with no one to watch over her, she couldn't afford to sleep on the street.
She was alone, just like always. Until she reached that train yard and shut herself into a moving train, it wasn't safe for her to close her eyes. Too many people were after her, too many enemies were just waiting for their chance, and nowhere in all the world was there a person who cared if some girl named Faith lived through the night. With a groan of effort, she shoved herself away from the wall and started walking again. Being friendless and alone was nothing new. She could deal; you survived what you had to survive, that was just the way things were.
The voice came from behind her. Faith's reflexes got the better of her, spinning her around… and nearly sending her sprawling to the ground. The world got strange on her for a few seconds, the input from her eyes refusing to resolve itself into anything she could understand until she had shaken her head and blinked a few times.
Whistler, the demon with the New York accent. He tilted his head back a little, his eyes raking over her torn and bloody clothes; the wounds only partly hidden by the too-large jacket, the wrapped hilt of the sword jutting up from behind one shoulder. She stared at him blankly; unable to understand why he was there.
"What are you--?" Her voice was a rough whisper, cracking so badly that even she could barely understand what she'd said. She swallowed and tried again. "Are you following me again?"
He gave a shrug, but didn't seem especially embarrassed.
"Yep. At first I didn't want you to see me, but when I saw how much trouble you were having I changed my mind."
Faith couldn't help glancing behind her, wondering if there were anyone else out there licking their chops at the sight of the torn-up ex-Slayer staggering down the street. When she turned back to Whistler she caught sight of his expression, and for just a second he wore the strangest little grin for just a second. An instant later it was gone, transformed so quickly into a look of concern that she wondered if she had imagined it.
"You feelin' okay there?" One hand reached up and adjusted the tilt of his hat, but his eyes never left her. "I have to say; you're looking a little the worse for wear."
Satisfaction practically oozed from the smug little bastard. She pulled herself up as straight as she could and tried for a cocky smile.
"I'm fine; five by five." So what if that line was getting a little old; sometimes you had to go with the classics. "And if you think I look bad, you should see the other guy."
He grimaced, and for a second she thought he was going to be sick or something.
"As a matter of fact, I have seen the other guy." He gave her a reproachful look, the kind of disgusted look you give the gunk stuck to the bottom of your shoe. "Is that something you're proud of, little girl? Does that… obscenity go into the record books as a job well done?"
She didn't have to stand and listen to that riff again. She had a train to catch. Turning her back on him, she started off down the sidewalk. She hadn't gone far before he caught up with her. Walking alongside, but just out of arm's reach, he matched her stride for stride. Faith tried to ignore him, but from the corner of her eye she could see that he was staring at her, studying her. She was aware of how slowly she was moving, the way she limped, favoring her more severely wounded right leg. Her right arm was held tight against the place where Akamori had thrust the sword into her, just below her sternum. That position also helped keep her half-hand from brushing against anything by accident, as had happened a minute earlier. No wonder he felt safe enough to show himself; she looked nothing like the proud, confident fighter that she had once been. She was battered, torn and bloodied; virtually crippled.
She tried her best to straighten, to walk normally, pretending that her slow pace were just a leisurely stroll, and not the best speed she could manage. When she turned her head to give him a frosty stare, he only smiled.
"So… where you heading?" He edged a little closer, looking ready to give her a hand if she were to trip and fall. She would rather have fallen off another building than accept help from him.
"Nowhere that's any of your business." She tried to sound tough and cocky, like the old Faith. "Now why don't you get the hell away from me, before I treat you like any other demon."
He didn't look scared; he looked amused.
"Oooh, see me shakin' over here." He made a show of peering off ahead of her, to where the street stretched off into the night. "Lemme take a guess about your destination. Could it possibly be a picturesque little town named… Sunnydale?" Despite herself Faith twitched. If there was one place she never planned on going again, that was it. Mistaking her reaction for a confirmation of his guess, Whistler nodded sagely. "I knew it. No sooner do you get your jollies by killing a bunch of civilians than you start hankering for a little revenge. I suppose I shouldn't have expected any better, but still…."
Faith gave up on trying to out walk him and turned what she hoped was a blistering stare on the little demon man.
"You're wrong, okay? Every single thing you just said was wrong; not that I care what
you think about me or anything-"
He broke in, his eyes intent.
"You mean to say that you're not going to try and kill the Slayer."
She shook her head wearily; she was too tired for this, too tired for any of it. All she wanted to do was sleep but she couldn't, not until she was somewhere safe… if there even were such a place for someone like her.
"No, I'm not going to kill her. I'm not going anywhere near her, ever again."
"How come?" His voice grew taunting. "You scared? You know that once she finds out what you've been doing around here, she's going to find you, and pound you into a bloody little stain, right?"
Faith leaned back against the crumbling brick of an old auto garage, trying to hide the fact that she needed the support to keep from swaying with exhaustion.
"I'm not going to Sunnydale because there's nothing there for me now; there never was, really."
Whistler put his hands in his jacket pockets, still eyeing her far too intently for her comfort.
"Maybe you should think about going back. If you were to talk to her, or that Giles guy, surrender yourself to them, then maybe they'd be willing to work out some kind of parole for you; they could even keep the Watcher's council off your back." He very obviously looked all around, as if expecting a squad of tweed-suited ninja to spring out at that very moment. "You've gotta know that those Brits are going to be looking for you; they don't take kindly to Slayers running off and racking up triple-digit body counts in American cities. That kind of thing might blow their cover in a bad way."
Faith shifted the strap of the pack a bit on her shoulder. It would be nice to set it down for a minute, but the effort it would take to get it back up and onto her back might be beyond her.
"'Surrender myself'? For what?" She stared at him in amazement. "You think I should be sorry
about what I did here? That I've added more weight to my 'burden of guilt' or something?" She shook her head, having trouble believing that someone could be so far out there. "The people I… hurt-" Even now it was hard; hard to face what she'd done during those lost hours. "-the ones I killed when I went crazy last night, those I'm sorry about, but not the rest. Hell-" She took her arm away from her chest wound long enough to gesture angrily back towards where she'd come from. "Those yakuza are my apology for the others! I killed them so that this place would be safe for people to live in again!" She winced slightly; shouting sent sharp little stabs of pain all the way through the lower part of her chest, where she'd been impaled. In a much quieter voice she went on. "You think Buffy wouldn't like what I did here, and you're not wrong about that part. That doesn't mean that I should get on my hands and knees and crawl all the way back to Sunnydale, just so I can beg her and her little gang to forgive me. I don't need them to understand me, or to approve of what I do. What they think doesn't matter, except to them."
Whistler gave her a sad look.
"Faith… the fact that you think that just proves how much of a sick chick you really are. You are seriously out of hand, and somebody has to make sure you don't hurt anybody else. If it's not Buffy then it has to be me, and the folks I work for."
She closed her eyes for a moment. If there were a way to just walk away from him… but there wasn't. If she tried then he would just follow her again. Forcing her eyes open, she tried to spell it out as plainly as she could.
"When I first got here, I didn't know what to do. I was running; not because I was running away from something, or towards something, but because that's what I've always done. The things that happened in this place showed me a lot about what I am. The people here showed me a lot, too." Her voice cracked; she was terribly thirsty. Her body needed more fluid if it was going to replace all that blood she'd lost. With some difficulty she managed to swallow, then went on. "I've done some bad things, yeah. Everybody knows that, looks like. I was crazy then. I might still be, a little; but I know what I'm doing, now."
Whistler was staring at her like she had two heads and three arms.
"You know what you're doing?"
Faith nodded, and then wished that she hadn't; it made the world seem to spin slowly counterclockwise.
"Yeah, I do… and that's enough. You don't get it, and it doesn't matter because nobody else decides what I do to redeem myself; what I have to do to make things right. Not Buffy, not the Council, not the police… and for damn sure not you. This is me, this is my calling, my life, and the only one I have to answer to is me." She pushed away from the wall, doing her best to look confident and strong. "Now that we're all clear on that, I'm going to get out of here. I've got places to go." Walking slowly, she made it only a few steps before the demon called out from behind her.
"That's a nice little spiel you've got there, Faith. Real strong on the 'empowerment of self' philosophy. The thing is, it's not you I have to worry about; it's the people you're going to hurt if you keep on going like this."
She was focusing on walking, placing one foot in front of the other, over and over.
"Notice how I'm leaving, dude." She tossed back over her shoulder. "We're through talking." Just leave me alone; I'm too tired to think straight. Maybe if I can just turn a corner and get out of sight he'll stop bugging me.
Behind her, she heard a faint rustle.
"Okay then, we're through talking." Great, finally.
She thought with relief. Now if I could only sleep, without any nightmares, the world would be perfect.
From behind her Faith heard a metallic click, and she froze in place. It was not quite the same sound that had grown far too familiar over the last few days; this wasn't the slide of a semi-automatic pistol being pulled back… but it was close. Whistler's voice was grim.
"No more talking; but you're not going to breeze out of here, either. You're coming with me, up to the Retreat."
She stared down the length of the long, empty street ahead of her. Nobody was there; no one would see whatever happened to her here, or care if they did. She was utterly alone.
"I told you; I don't want to go." Her voice sounded surprisingly calm, considering. Her body had found one last bit of adrenaline, and her heart beat faster, but it didn't help sharpen her focus. She was still having trouble thinking clearly; all she could manage at that moment was to berate herself mentally. To have this happen, for this little nothing to get her in this position after all she'd faced and survived already… it was just so very pathetic. She was glad the Mayor wasn't here to see her screw up yet again.
"What you want isn't under discussion anymore. Turn around; slowly."
He sounded kind of tense. That might end up being a good thing, providing her an opportunity to try something; or it could end up getting her killed, if she twitched and he accidentally blew her away. When she turned to face him, Faith had a nearly uncontrollable impulse to giggle. With his hat, small stature and weasel-like face, he could have stepped right out of a gangster movie from the thirties. The small revolver he was pointing at her completed the image, and she squinted at him doubtfully.
"A six-shooter?" It was almost an insult, having someone threaten her with something so lame. "You don't have anything… bigger?"
Whistler stood his ground, keeping the snub-nosed weapon aimed right at her stomach.
"This is big enough." He looked her up and down again, and cocked an eyebrow at her. "In fact, right now I think a BB gun could take you down."
That was an exaggeration, but not much of one. Any more damage would very likely be enough to kill her; she wasn't even completely certain that she was going to survive what had already happened to her. As for getting the gun away from him….
He was over ten feet away, and moving with any kind of speed was utterly beyond her. The submachine gun was in her backpack; which meant that it might as well be back in Sunnydale for all the good it was going to do her. The Katanna on her back was a little better. She might be able to get close enough to take his hand (and the gun) off with it, provided that he didn't shoot her three or four times as she drew it and stumbled forward. Her knife was at her right hip, which meant that she would have to reach cross-body to draw it with her good hand; slow, slow, slow. She couldn't even use it to shield against his bullets; after healing Kelly, the weapon was completely drained, temporarily empty… just like Faith herself.
At a loss for a workable plan, she settled for a little shrug.
"Okay, now what?"
He gestured minutely with the gun.
"Now you drop that backpack, and step away." The only thing she could have done with the pack was throw it at him, and she probably couldn't have put enough muscle into it to matter, so she complied. Backing up a single pace, she waited. He scowled at her, his hand visibly tensing on the pistol's grip. "Cute. Back up some more. But before you do-" A nod at her hip. "Why don't you pull out that knife, slowly, and put it down on the pack."Crap, I was hoping….
She didn't know what she'd been hoping, just that there was always a path through something like this, if you looked close enough, if you tried hard enough. This time, though, she couldn't see one. Reaching across with her left hand, she slid her fingers over the rough-textured hilt of the knife. A quiet snap released the strap that served to hold the weapon in the sheath-and very nearly got her shot. She was watching his eyes, and at the sound of the fastener detaching he flinched and came within a hair's breadth of pulling the trigger; he was that nervous. After a momentary pause to let him calm down a bit, she slid the blade free.
Obviously, her best chance was to throw it at him, and under different circumstances she would have went for it. Ordinarily she would have been confident of hitting him in the throat at five times this range or more. On a good day she could have done that, dodged the one or two bullets he would manage to squeeze off at her before he started to die, and been brushing the dust off her jeans by now. Ordinarily… but not right now. Dying was okay, if it meant something, but this would be such a stupid way to die; killed by a Brooklyn Demon on a street corner in Nowhere, USA, just when she had found something to give her a purpose. She dropped the knife and backed away.
Whistler nodded approvingly as he stepped forward.
"Good. I knew you were a bright kid, when somebody laid out some simple choices for you." She didn't rise to that bait, contenting herself with waiting for what came next. He crouched next to the pack, and while still keeping a wary eye on her; he opened the flap, and then used one of the filthy, bloody tops inside to protect his hand as he picked up her knife. Gingerly, he deposited it inside, then resecured the flap. Standing up, he swung the pack onto his own shoulder. "All right. My car is a few blocks back that way." He jerked his head to indicate the direction, but his eyes never left her, and neither did the barrel of the gun. "Let's get going."
Wearily she moved past him, and he followed after.
* * * * *
Whistler tried to stay cool and calm, but it wasn't easy. To have had things fall so completely apart, to have all but given up any hope of pulling this job out of the toilet, and then he just happens to drive right past the girl! Not only that, but it turns out that she's been so mangled during her killing spree that he can bring her in alone. If I didn't already know that fate was real, this would have convinced me.
He grinned at the thought, and then forced himself to pull back. He was far older than any human being, and you didn't live that long by getting careless. Like now, for instance. After walking only a block back towards his car, Faith was slowing down. He supposed that it was possible that she was really as close to collapsing as she seemed, but all the stumbling and staggering might also be a trick to make him lower his guard. Whether it was real or an act, her slow pace had caused the distance between them to decrease to just a couple of yards, and he quickly moved to widen the gap once more. Wounded or not, she was far too dangerous at close quarters. If she so much as sneezed in his direction he was fully prepared to kneecap her just to be on the safe side. The Powers that Be would be willing to overlook something like that, so long as they had the girl safely in hand. Just ahead of him, Faith reached the curb, and stood staring at the empty street in front of her. Whistler stopped well short of her, his pistol trained on her back.
"C'mon, c'mon!" He said, irritation and impatience driving him to snap at her. "We're not lookin' at rush hour traffic or anything; move already!"
Faith half-turned to look back at him, and he was startled at the vagueness in her dark eyes. She looked like she was sleepwalking, or so drugged up that her body was on autopilot while her mind wandered off somewhere on its own. He gestured towards the street with his gun, and her gaze dropped to the weapon. She gave a visible start as if seeing the pistol caused a mental connection to be made, and then she turned away and limped slowly forward across the empty street. Whistler followed after her, still alert for any tricks.
"You're going to kill me, huh?"
Her voice drifted back to him, low and slurred so that the words were difficult to understand, and it took him a moment to get it. Looking at the back of her head, he couldn't see what her expression looked like, but she sounded resigned.
"No, I'm not. I told you, we're going up to a nice ranch." A car approached, driving down the opposite side of the street. He stuffed the pistol into his jacket pocket; still keeping it aimed at the girl. The car passed, and he relaxed just a fraction. Faith hadn't even looked up to watch it go by, she was looking down, apparently needing to watch her feet as she trudged along. Parts of the dark mane that hung forward over her shoulders were matted with dried blood, and he felt his stomach churn with disgust. Damn, every inch of her is covered in the stuff. What did she do, roll in their guts after she sliced those guys up?
"So, a road trip?" The girl didn't sound like she really cared about the answers; more like was trying to distract herself from something. Even so, the next question came out just a little too
casual. "All the way up to Montana or wherever is going to take a while. You going to drive and keep a gun on me at the same time?"
Just as he'd thought; despite the injured and helpless act she was pulling, the little psycho was still looking for a way out. He shook his head, not caring that she couldn't see the gesture.
"No, just until we get to my car. I've got some chains ready, and in just your size. And before you start thinkin' that you can try and break them when I'm not looking, we're also going to give you some of that stuff the Watchers came up with. You know, that elixir that knocks down a Slayer's power for a while."
Although, now that he thought about it, he wasn't sure how he was going to get the stuff into her. It had to be injected, and he sure didn't want to be that close to her before it took effect. Could he maybe get her to inject herself? She probably knew how, given her history, but he doubted that she would go so far as to-
Faith had stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk, and his hand tensed on the gun as she turned around. Her face, what he could see of it past the tangled mess of her hair, was so pale that it showed clearly even in the dim light of the scattered streetlights.
"I thought you said you weren't going to kill me." Her voice was absolutely flat, and her eyes were empty, staring through him more than at him.
For some reason he couldn't put a name to, Whistler backed up another pace, his hand tight on the pistol he held.
"That's right; I'm not. Not unless you keep trying to stare me down like that, anyway." He added.
She blinked, and then turned her head so that her filthy hair hid her battered face.
"But you're going to put that stuff into me? Tonight; now?"
He eyed her carefully. If she'd been sleepwalking before, the look he had glimpsed on her face before she looked away was that of someone who had awakened to find something far worse than a nightmare waiting for them in the real world.
"Yeah." This reaction wasn't what he'd expected. The girl ran into hurricanes of gunfire without blinking, but was all wide-eyed and shaking over losing her…. Of course. "Okay, I get it." The sight of the proud, in-your-face killer standing all slumped and despairing at the thought of what was going to happen to her made him feel better than he had all week. She was actually trembling! "Not looking forward to being one of the little people again, even for a little while, are ya?"
Faith tottered a few steps off to the side until she reached a lamppost to lean against. Pressing her cloth-wrapped hand to her chest just below her breasts, she stared at the empty street.
"If you put that stuff into me now, when I'm this ripped up, then I'll die." Whistler frowned, thinking back over what he'd been told when they had given him the vial of liquid.
"You don't know what you're talking about."
Muscle relaxants. Adrenal suppressants. All-natural ingredients that the Council of Watchers had worked out centuries ago, as a way to keep the occasional wild child Slayer in line, and later as part of some sadistic 'test', whose purpose nobody in Whistler's organization could figure out. Nobody had said anything about it being dangerous, even to a wounded girl. Besides, most of that blood on her was from her victims anyway.
Faith turned her head slightly, still not looking at him, but raising her voice so that it was easier to hear her.
"You know what's in that shit, right?" Her eyes came up to meet his now, and they held nothing but desolation. "That's not a drug; it's poison. You can't 'take away' the power inside me, not while I'm alive. The only way to affect it is to do something to me that's so bad it takes everything the power has to keep it from killing me. That's what the Council's little brew is; a bunch of magical poisons that draws all of a Slayer's power into fighting them."
Whistler took the gun out of his jacket pocket; he'd hate to put a hole through the leather if he had to shoot her.
"I suppose your boss; the guy with the snake fixation, told you that?" She didn't answer, she just looked away again. A spasm of coughing bent her forward for a moment, and he shook his head sadly. The girl's attempts to seem all weak and helpless weren't going to get him to relax his guard for even a second. "Don't you worry about what's in it. All you need to know is that once we get you powered down, you'll stay that way until the folks at the retreat say different. And they're not going to say different until everybody's sure that you're not going to go crazy again." He paused to consider that. "I suppose that means you'll have a few gray hairs before you do any more slaying, but that's a lot better than us just getting rid of you, like those Watchers would have."
Faith straightened, wiping at her lips with her good hand. He frowned at the glimpse he caught of the blood smeared there, but she only wiped it on her filthy jeans.
"If you're going to poison me when we get to your car, then I think I'll skip the walk." She stayed where she was, leaning heavily against the lamppost, but her eyes held him. Empty of everything except pain and fatigue, they still had a power that was all but tangible. "Come on. If you want to kill me so bad, then go ahead and shoot me right here." Her whispered words were filled with utter weariness, and utter finality. "Even if that crap doesn't kill me, I don't want to live like that; some kind of freaking zombie."
He scowled at her.
"You think I won't do it? Think again. I know exactly what you are, and what you're capable of. If I have to knock you out and carry you the rest of the way, I will."
Whatever remained of her strength seemed to have run out of her, and she sagged against the post, her head lowered so far that her chin was resting on her chest. For a second he thought she might have somehow passed out in a standing position; but then she murmured "I said go ahead and do it."
Another car was approaching, and with a low snarl he stuffed the pistol into his jacket again. This girl's calling is obviously to give me an ulcer.
She was the one covered in her victim's blood, and she was trying to make him
out to be the bad guy. Well, it wasn't going to work. He'd give her one more chance to walk the rest of the way under her own power, and if she chose not to then he would have to club her down. He would have liked to avoid it, but sometimes you just plain ran out of options. She might be a tough customer, but he'd realized that she really was hurt pretty seriously. He was a fair fighter himself, and he was fairly certain he could handle her at this particular moment. Now; once this car went past….
It didn't go past; it pulled to a stop right across the street from them. Whistler turned his head to look just as the driver's side door opened and some kid stuck his head up to look at them across the roof of the car.
"Hey, lady! Is that guy bothering you?"
Faith didn't respond, Whistler wasn't sure she even heard the guy. As for himself, this was a complication he didn't need at all.
"She's fine, pal. Just had a little too much to drink is all." Ideally, he should have stepped over to her and grasped her around the shoulders to show that he would help her get home safely. That would have looked good-and it might well have earned him a knife in the ribs if she had another weapon concealed under that overlarge jacket she was wearing. He settled for a casual wave and his best harmless smile. "I'll take care of her, no problem. Thanks for askin'."
The kid-and it was a kid, probably not more than eighteen or twenty-nodded affably, made to get back in the car… and then straightened up and brought a bulky rifle into view. Whistler froze in place. Demon he might be, and tougher than the average human being, but he recognized an AK-47 when he saw one. The kid braced the weapon across the roof of his car, holding the point of aim right at Whistler's chest.
"I think I'll let the lady answer for herself, if you don't mind." He said, eyes hostile as he stared at the demon. There was nothing much to be said in reply to that, so he stood and tried to look harmless as two more people got out of the car. Both of them were even younger than the first one, though life had apparently gotten an early start on wearing them down around the edges. All three of them started across the street, the older one walking with the rifle still trained on him. There were bloodstains on his clothing too; obviously he was one of the Rambo-wannabee types who had run amok earlier in the night.
This looked bad; either they were here to kill Faith, or they wanted to 'rescue' her from him. Neither possibility appealed to him. At least he still had the pistol in his pocket; he decided to wait and see what developed. Maybe he could even talk his way through this. He doubted it, but he hadn't come here to spill human blood. He watched the three step onto the sidewalk, and Faith raised her head to look at them. Her eyes went wide, and the expression on her face….
* * * * *