See Chapter One for Disclaimer
Sometimes I don't know what to think.
Prophecy, Fate, Destiny… all of that is a bunch of bullshit, y'know? Nobody 'foretold' anything involving me; if they had, then why didn't anybody stop it before it happened? Just goes to show how full of it all those mystical types are.
Then again…. Thing have happened to me that I can't explain. Good things, not just the lousy stuff. There've been moments when I could have lost my hold on life, when I could have well and truly been gone, with no way to find my way back. And somehow, when those moments have come, there have been people there at just the right time, in just the right place to pull me through.
Ms. Northam, when I was just another addict dyin' slow on the street.
Buffy, when Kakistos was all set to kill my ass.
The Boss, when there was no other place to turn, and nobody to care if I was even alive.
Some of those people didn't stick around for long afterwards, and some of them, like B….
Never mind that.
It's just that things happening like that can make you think that maybe…. Maybe there might be something cosmic out there after all, sort of connecting the dots and working on making everything make sense.
Or maybe not.
But it's kind of funny all the same, isn't it?
She'd been certain that she was hallucinating. The sound of Scott's voice, just when she needed so desperately for someone, anyone, to help her, was just too good to be true. Not that she deserved any help, after everything she'd done. Her job here was over; she'd done the best she could. Now all she wanted to do was get away. This wasn't one of Buffy's adventures, where after the Slaying was done the whole gang gathered 'round for cola and potato chips, and a celebratory video-fest. There were no happy endings in Faith's world; all she could hope for was an ending that she survived.
This chapter of her life was over, or at least it should have been. All the bad guys were lying dead on the ground, now it was time for Faith to disappear. Instead, there was this.
She was so tired. If Whistler would just go ahead and shoot her, at least that would let her rest. Nobody would expect her to keep struggling with yet another hole blown through her, would they?
The demon spoke, but it wasn't to her. That voice that sounded like Scott's came again in response, and something like surprise went through her. Hallucinations were all well and good, but when other people started speaking to them, something odd was happening. Faith raised her head with an effort, and opened her eyes.
Scott really was there, still toting the assault rifle he'd picked up during the fighting outside the Citadel. Her nightvision went buggy on her for a moment, and she was forced to squint as the dark street was briefly lost in a wash of glaring light. When she could see again, there were two figures poised a few steps away, seemingly uncertain about approaching any closer. When she saw their faces Faith dropped her head with a groan of despair.
"Faith? Are…." Alex's voice trailed off, which was understandable. He couldn't very well ask if she were okay; not when she was covered head to toe in her own blood.
"Careful, kid!" That was Whistler, speaking more sharply than she would have, with a gun pointed at her stomach. "Don't get too close, she's more dangerous than she looks."
Alex may have replied with a look; Faith didn't know since her own eyes were still firmly closed. Maybe if I ignore them, they'll go away.
No good; Kelly's voice came from very close indeed. Reluctantly, she opened her eyes and raised her head. The girl was kneeling there on the sidewalk, peering up under Faith's hair to see her face. When she saw that the ex-Slayer had opened her eyes she took a deep breath. Faith expected to see a lot of things on the girl's face; fear, disgust, even outright hate. The gods knew that she had certainly earned all those and more. What she didn't expect was the look of gratitude that she received. It was hesitant, and there was something like pity present there too, but the expression was unmistakable.
"Faith… you left before I could thank you. I'm sorry that me and Alex let you go-"
That was enough to do it. The last shred of strength Faith had just ran out of her in a rush, and she slid down the lamppost to sit down hard on the sidewalk. The impact jarred her more severe injuries, sending multiple shockwaves of dull pain rippling through her, but she ignored them. This encounter was more painful by far.
"Faith? Alex, she's really hurt bad, come and help me-"
"No!" She couldn't stand it, couldn't stand any of this. She used her good hand to shove the masses of matted hair back from her face, glaring at Kelly as best she could from her awkward seat on the ground. "Stop it! Just-" The girl looked worried, now. Worried for her, Faith. That was as bad as the gratitude had been. She'd craved that kind of look not so long ago. She'd wanted the recognition, the adoration of the victims she saved from death, and worse. It seemed like so little to ask from someone after she'd gone and risked her life for them and everything; just a little validation, a pat on the back to show that someone had noticed what she'd done.
….A little worship from the mortals, a recognition that a demigoddess had seen fit to dirty her hands with the business of saving their meaningless little lives. She saw that gratitude in Kelly's face now, that look that blended thanks with awe and wonder and a little dash of caring… and it repelled her.
"Just leave me alone; please." She whispered, and looked away.
It wasn't the other girl's fault, not at all. It was all Faith. She had wanted that recognition, in one form or another, for so very long… but now she could see that she wasn't worthy to receive it. Just the fact that Kelly was here, looking at Faith, speaking to her, feeling whatever she was feeling towards her…. She couldn't help thinking that it dirtied the girl somehow. That some of Faith's corruption would rub off on Kelly if she stayed near too long. It's even worse than that.
She thought, fresh misery welling up within her. I've been in her mind. I saw a lot of what's hidden inside her, and that link had to go both ways. She's bound to have seen more of me than anyone should ever have to.
Off to the side, Scott was still covering Whistler with the rifle. The demon was playing it cool, standing casually with his hands in his pockets and watching Kelly with apparent concern.
"Hey girlie, I'd listen to her if I were you." His gaze went from one to the other, touching Scott and Alex briefly before returning to the kneeling girl. "Whatever she might look like, she's not sane. She's not even human, though I think you all know that by now."
Alex gave him a long look before stepping up behind Kelly. Looking over her shoulder, he studied Faith. She avoided his eyes, wishing that she'd managed to lose herself in the maze of city streets before any of them had managed to find her. She was filthy, and damaged, and disgusting. They shouldn't have to see her any more. There was nothing more she could do for them, except to go away.
"Yeah, we know she's not human." Even with her face turned away, she could still feel him looking at her. "We also know that doesn't matter."
Whistler lost his composure for just a second; a look of frustration and disbelief crossing his features.
He took a step toward Alex before a gesture from Scott's rifle brought him to a halt. "Listen-" He visibly swallowed whatever he'd been about to say, and then started again. "Does the 'insane' part mean anything to you?" His tone made it clear that he doubted they could grasp anything without it being spelled out for them. "Whatever beef you had with those Asians, you saw what she's like. She's already cracked once, and a bunch of people who had nothing to do with your little war got killed."
From his position Scott had been content to merely observe, but he spoke up now.
"That's more stuff that we already know. She did go crazy and kill some people… she also nearly died when she took on an army for us."
The demon snorted in derision.
"Oh, she forced herself to go and kill some more people! What a sacrifice for the poor little murderer!" His voice was full of mockery, and nobody present seemed to like it much.
"She did more than kill people." That was Kelly, sounding indignant; defensive. Faith couldn't figure out why that would be. Why were they arguing with him? She tried to rub at her eyes with her fingers, but blood-crusted cloth hit her face instead. She stared blankly at where the fingers of her right hand should have been, then dropped the hand away.
"What, did she get your cat down from a tree for you?" Whistler asked, the words oozing condescension.
"No. She healed me." There was a defiant tilt to Kelly's chin; a bold front to what was obviously still a fragile, uncertain girl. "I was hurt, and-" She hesitated a moment before going on. "-and sick. Faith helped me. She saved me."
Whistler gave her an appraising look.
"Yeah right. Listen; I'm sure that whatever fancy party trick she pulled was impressive as hell, and looked like some kind of miracle to you kids-" He smiled faintly, looking like he was amused by the depth of their stupidity. "-But just you wait. Nothing is ever as quick or easy as you hope it'll be. And in the end, I'll bet that whatever she did was really for her, and not because she's a Saint or anything."
The girl had no response to that, but Scott did.
"You know, all we're getting from you is what a world-class danger Faith is, and what world-class idiots we are. What I'd like to hear from you, mister-" He said that with the same inflection that Whistler used when he said 'kid'. "-Is who you are, and what you want with her."
The demon pointedly declined to answer the first question.
"I'm here to take her someplace where she won't be able to hurt anyone." He ignored them now, focusing exclusively on Faith. She looked back at him. She couldn't argue with anything he was saying; it was all true. The best she could hope for would be for all of them to get so caught up in their little debate that she could slip away without being seen. Not that she was even capable of standing up by herself, right now. "I've been watching you, these last couple of days. You people keep forgetting what this is." He pointed with one hand, the other was still in his jacket pocket. "This-" His eyes locked on hers he forgot himself again, and the disgust showed on his face for a moment. "This kills. That's all it does, all it's made to do." He finally looked away, turning his head to look at the others. "Whatever you've seen, whatever you think you know about her, none of you can possibly understand what she's really capable of."
Kelly half-turned to look up at him.
"I think I know what she's capable of." Her voice was soft, but it was dead certain, too. Alex reached down to touch her shoulder, but it was Faith that he was looking at.
"He says he's here to take you, but you haven't said if you want to go with him." He sounded like he didn't know himself which answer he was hoping to hear. "Do you?"
She stared at him blankly, wondering why he was even bothering to ask. Were they here to 'rescue' her? Didn't they understand that she was the threat in this little scene, not the victim? Alex looked at her expectantly, and Kelly turned to add the weight of her gaze to his. Faced with both of them, she had to say something.
"I…." Truth. It had to be truth; there had been too many lies and games played with these two already. "If I go with him, then I'll die." Which wasn't to say that it wouldn't be a kind of justice, just that; well, even after everything that had happened, she still didn't really want to die yet.
Scott grinned, though it was more like an expression that just happened to pull his lips back from his teeth.
"Well, then. I guess one more body won't be too much for the cops to handle." He looked ready to do it, and Faith saw Whistler turn to face the young man. That movement just happened to bring his body around so that the hand in his jacket pocket was pointed directly at Scott.
"Don't!" She wasn't sure which one of them she meant it for; probably both of them. She didn't want anyone to die because of her, and if Scott pulled that trigger, the demon would probably live long enough to shoot back. They both looked at her, and she pulled herself up so that she was at least sitting mostly straight. "Listen, I'm-" I'm a bitch, and a coward, and I can't bear to face any of you after what I've done here.
"I'm through, here. I mean-" Trying for the assurance, the attitude that it seemed like a world-class badass should have. "My work here is done. If you can just keep an eye on this guy for an hour or so, to keep him from following me, I'd appreciate it." Now if I can just stand up without falling over and ruining my exit.
Scott still had the gun trained on Whistler, but he was looking at her.
"Uh, I can do that, sure." He shot a glance at Alex, then looked back to her. "Are you sure you can manage by yourself?"
She nodded, then gathered her feet under her.
"Sure, no problem." She stood with only a little more trouble than she'd feared, but tried to hide it by staying bent over for a few seconds, dusting off her filthy, blood-encrusted jeans. When she felt she could manage it, she straightened up. "I'll have an easier time dodging the cops if I'm by myself; you guys don't have to show me out of town or anything."
Needless to say; they'd be glad to see her go. Yeah, time for Faith to hit the road again. Me against the world; kind of like old times.
Alone, afraid of what she was, of what might happen if her newfound resolve decided to waver at the wrong moment. Sure, this was her favorite thing in the whole world. A shiver went through her, and it had nothing to do with the temperature, or how much blood she'd lost.
Whistler looked like he was going to completely lose it. She supposed that seeing his captive just walk away after he'd gone to great lengths to explain to her his plan for making sure she didn't escape must have been really embarrassing for him. Alex and Kelly were standing there, arm in arm, sharing a look that she couldn't identify. Rather than waste time standing there, she limped over to where the demon stood. She dragged her backpack from where it lay at his feet, setting it at her own. Making sure that she stood between him and Scott, she reached out and grasped his wrist. He met her eyes, and they both knew that she wasn't strong enough just then to force his hand out of the jacket. What she could do was delay any move he made long enough for Scott to cut them both down, unless he just fired through the jacket itself… and the only person he could hit like that was Faith herself. They stood like that for a small eternity before he relented and allowed his hand, and the pistol he held, to be pulled into view. Scott's eyes went wide when she handed him the weapon, but she turned away again without comment. Her pack came up on her shoulder with a gasp of pain she couldn't quite hold inside.
Whistler was close enough to speak to her without the others being able to overhear, and he leaned in a bit more before he whispered.
"Don't do this. I swear, if you come voluntarily, they'll go easy on you." He grabbed hold of her wrist to keep her from turning her back on that offer. "I'm serious, Faith! Anything you want, they'll get for you. It's important that you not leave here unless it's with me. It might be the most important thing in the world!" There was something in his eyes, a deep, abiding dread that made her hesitate… but only for a moment.
"No deal. I'm outta here. Say hi to your bosses for me." Looking at Scott, she gave him a hopeful look. "If I could have an hour's head start on this guy, I'd owe you one."
He shook his head.
"Two hours, minimum. And Faith-" He had that look, and he didn't owe it to her any more than Kelly did. Ducking her head, she moved away before he could finish.
She'd meant to get away without having to speak to Alex and Kelly again either, but they were standing there right in front of her. She had a sad little smile on her face, but it looked like he was still working hard just to get to a neutral expression. Despite that, it was Alex who spoke.
"Where are you going to go now?"
She glanced away, giving a careless shrug.
"Not sure. Besides-" She inclined her head towards the watching demon. "It's probably better that none of you know. For all I know, he can read your minds."
"Oh." He looked at her for several seconds, and she shifted uneasily. He seemed to be waiting for something, and she didn't know what it was. "Okay then," She finally ventured. "Guess I'm gone. Goodbye."
She walked around them; not fast, but keeping the limping to a minimum. She'd made maybe five steps when he continued.
"See, the reason why I was asking was… Kelly and I have sort of decided that we're coming along." What with her recently damaged ear and everything, Faith was certain that she must have misunderstood that. When she turned around and gave the two of them a disbelieving stare, they just hit her with two versions of a very determined look. "I suppose we can go ahead and get going, though." He continued blithely, ignoring her stunned look. "You can tell us where we're headed when you're ready." They can't be serious.
She watched as Alex clapped Scott on the shoulder, and Kelly gave him a little hug, all the while being careful not to get between him and Whistler. The demon looked as shocked as Faith herself. When she finally found her voice, her first words were less than diplomatic.
"What, are you two stupid?" That got her another double look, but she plowed onwards. "Listen, the weasel-demon there is right; I'm too dangerous for human beings to be around. I've killed people by accident before, way before I started killing them on purpose. I need to be by myself, or I might hurt-" She couldn't finish that sentence, and she didn't even know why until Alex walked right up to her. Softly, so the others wouldn't hear, he spoke.
"Faith… everybody can be dangerous, not just you. Who do you think did most of the killing in this town before you got here?" He raised an eyebrow, but she didn't answer. He answered for her. "Us. Human beings, anyway. You being able to kill doesn't make you less than human; it won't make us treat you as less than human." He gave her an intense look. "Fighting, killing, is part of what a human is. Fighting because you want to is wrong; killing because you like it, or because it makes things easier, that's wrong. What you did tonight, with Scott; that wasn't wrong at all. That was defending someone's home, protecting someone's family. Your killing the Yakuza will save the lives of people who couldn't fight for themselves."
She was feeling dizzy and strange again, like what blood she had was all draining away from her head.
"But I'm crazy, sometimes. You don't put a crazy person around normal people, or somebody gets hurt." She wanted to grab him, shake him and make him understand… but she didn't trust herself not to hurt him. That was why she had to-
"Wrong." He spoke to her like you would speak to a child. "That's wrong, Faith. If someone needs help, you don't ignore them. If someone is lonely you don't shut them out. And if someone is having trouble keeping a hold of their humanity, you don't let them wander off to be alone." Kelly was there too, and she managed to overcome her timidity enough to reach out and touch the taller girl's face with her fingers.
"We know, Faith." Her eyes held just a hint of fear, but the rest of what her eyes held overwhelmed it. "Do you think we could live like we do, and not know at least a little of what you're feeling?" Well, yeah, but-
"But what I did, to you, to both of you." She hated this! She hated feeling like this; she'd told Whistler that she wasn't going to go crawling to Buffy and apologize for what she'd done back in Sunnydale, and here she was all but crying over these two. What she'd done to this pair was nothing compared to what the Slayer had suffered at Faith's hands. So why did it seem so much more important that she make things right with them? I figured that out already. It's because they're what they are; they're the ones I'm supposed to protect, and instead I hurt them. Buffy is another hunter, a rival, maybe a partner, if things had worked out differently. These two I should have died to keep safe, and instead….
She tried to find words, but they seemed not to matter. Alex was taking the pack from her, while Kelly tried to guide her towards the car across the street.
"Wherever you were headed, we can drive at least partway." He gestured back at where Scott stood. "He's loaning it to us for the night. I'll call him later from a payphone and let him know where to find it."
As weak as she was, as confused as she felt, Faith still managed to stand firm against the girl's tugging. Looking them both in the eye, she managed to speak past the lump in her throat.
"Are you sure; are both of you sure you want to do this?"
Everything she'd said and done to the two of them flashed through her mind. The taunts, the teasing and nastiness, the bitterness and jealousy. What she had done to Kelly, planting the doubts and fears within her, had been nothing short of mental rape. Given the chance she would have given Alex a taste of the real thing. What she'd done had gone past being a bitch; it had been evil. Given all that, how could they possibly-
"It's okay." Kelly smiled again, though it looked like it cost her. "I saw you, inside you, when you were inside me." Faith couldn't help cringing at that, but the other girl just shook her head. "No, it's okay. Most of what I saw didn't make any sense, and it's all blurry now anyway. But I felt it, I felt what you feel inside, and I think I understand you now, a little." She gave an embarrassed little shrug. "Not everything that happened while you were here was your fault, and the things that were-" She glanced at Alex, and though his face was stony he nodded.
"What you did before, to Kelly; that's something I'm going to have trouble forgetting about." He looked away, then heaved a deep sigh. "But a lot of what I felt towards you, after I found out about it; it was coming from somewhere else, from how you made me feel. You didn't deserve what I said to you, or the way I forced you to do something you didn't want to do. For that I'm sorry."
Kelly looked back to Faith, her expression earnest. "What's he's trying to say is, we both forgive you." She put her hand on the taller girl's arm, and even though her palm rested on a deep cut, Faith didn't pull away. "Now you need to forgive us, and yourself, too. Come on-" She tugged at the arm she held, urging the battered girl towards the car. "I'm tired of this town. I want to see where you take us."
She still didn't really believe it; maybe because it would hurt too badly if it all turned out to be some kind of trick or joke. It always hurt more when people left you if you had first let them inside…. But if I don't give this a chance, then I'll be alone again. I don't want that.
Maybe this wouldn't be like the last time. She and Buffy were too much alike, they fought for dominance every moment they were together. It was inevitable that the sparks they struck off each other would lead to someone getting burned. Buffy's friends had been just that; Buffy friends. There was no room for anyone else in their world. Alex and Kelly, though; if they really could forget what she'd done to them, or at least forgive her, then maybe they could be what she'd never really had.
Friends. Not a copycat version of Buffy's 'Scooby Gang'; unlike the Slayer's circle Alex and Kelly were smart enough to know that they weren't cut out for fighting. No, if they were just there, it would be enough to change Faith's entire life. She didn't need anyone to help her fight, all she wanted was someone to talk with her, to care about her. Someone who knew who she was, and what she did, and stayed with her anyway.
Looking at the two of them, she saw a pair of people who seemed willing to do just that. Not alone.
She thought wonderingly.
"Okay…." Faith trailed off for a moment, a bit overwhelmed by the idea. They were both watching her expectantly, arm in arm. She nodded at them, humbled by what they offered, and in that instant she promised herself that she would never give either of them cause to regret this choice. "Okay." She repeated softly. Moving slowly, she walked to the car and opened the passenger side door. With Kelly's help she eased down inside, and they put her pack in on her lap. She caught a glimpse of ragged backpacks and several small bundles piled in one side of the back seat; it looked like they'd packed their stuff in a hurry. She smiled faintly; things might be rough for a while, but that would change soon enough. There were lots of evil bastards out there who needed to be dealt with. Some of them would be rich, and after she took them out, she could help herself to any ill-gotten loot they might have laying around. Any helpless victims looking for Faith's help would be welcome to pay too, if they could afford it. Not that she wouldn't help anyone she could, even if they couldn't pay, but she would have to keep an eye on that bottom line, too.
After all, she had a family to support, now.
* * * * *
Whistler was back to not believing any of this was really happening.
"Here you go, now watch your head." That from the junkie girl, helping Faith into the car parked on the other side of the street. She was hovering over the rogue Slayer like an overprotective aunt. "Everything okay? Oh god! Your hand!"
He watched Faith reach clumsily cross-body to take the pack Kelly handed to her, pausing a moment to check inside and make sure that her knife was still tucked inside.
"Hey, don't worry about it." Her voice changed as she made a horrible attempt at an English accent. "It's merely a flesh wound." Both the guy and the girl stared at her blankly, and she shrugged, leaning back into her seat with a weary sigh. "Never mind. Anyway, it'll be fine in a few weeks."
The girl closed the door and walked around the front of the car as the guy opened the driver's side door.
"'Fine'? You mean--?"
With Faith's door closed, only Whistler's demon-sharp hearing caught her reply.
"They'll grow back? Yeah. At least I hope so." She raised the cloth-wrapped hand and peered at it. "They did last time, so I don't see why not." She yawned widely. "Damn I'm tired. Five days now…."
Kelly got into the back seat, and Alex settled in behind the wheel.
"Last time?" He asked incredulously, closing the door and starting the engine.
"Yeah. See, there was this big daddy vamp outta Missouri that kept alligators as pets, and he had me wrasslin' with this one. The thing must have been twelve feet long, and those things have hides like armor, y'know? So I ended up reaching my hand right down inside his-"
The car pulled away, leaving Whistler standing there with the rifle-toting kid. Rambo junior motioned with the barrel of the gun towards a nearby alleyway.
"All right, mister. What say we head in there and make ourselves comfortable." He checked the sky, as if looking for signs of dawn. "I think we'll wait till daybreak, just to be on the safe side, and that's going to be awhile."
The demon looked back down the street, but the car had vanished. He sighed, and did as he was told. All he could do now was wait until he was released, and then try and find the girl's trail. Maybe he could even recruit some help. He'd heard that one of his old protégés was operating fairly near here.
* * * * *