See Chapter One for DisclaimerAh, the now-legendary knife.
It should have been destroyed-or at least hidden away-long before Faith rose from her coma to torment us all once more. I pleaded with Buffy many times to relinquish it into my keeping, but she would have none of it.
Of course, she used it that once, during the summer after graduation, but other than that I never saw her wield it. I believe now that she brooded on that evil weapon often during those months. Perhaps she thought of it as a talisman against the possibility of Faith ever again posing a threat. Certainly it had served well enough against the girl before. Whatever Buffy's reasons, once Faith awoke the thing soon found its way back to its rightful owner.
And gods! What a bloody path it has hewn these last few years.
Better by far if it had been destroyed, assuming that it even can be destroyed. The Mayor never spoke of where he obtained it, but I have my suspicions.
There was, after all, a being renowned for his ability to craft magical weapons of surpassing beauty and power active in Sunnydale around that time….
From the journal of Rupert Giles
December 30, 2003
Afterwards she stood barefoot and dripping on the chilly tile floor, using what seemed to be the one towel the couple owned. It was still damp from its last use, but she wasn't complaining. Her need to stay as clean as possible was still in place. If anything, it was stronger now than it had been before; probably a result of the months spent in a smelly hospital bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. Or maybe she'd just spent too much time around the Mayor, and his germ-phobia had rubbed off on her. She was drying her hair as best she could when there was a tentative knock at the door.
"Come in, it's open."
Okay, so it was childish of her, wanting to make people blush. It was harmless, basically, especially compared to the others things she liked to do for fun. She'd been expecting Alex, but it was Kelly who entered, carrying a bundle of clothing. After one startled look at Faith's naked form, she turned away.
"Sorry! I brought you some of Alex's things to wear, but I thought you'd be… wearing something. Which doesn't make much sense, I guess."
The girl did seem to be blushing slightly, but she was also half-laughing, and her voice had a warm, relaxed sound to it. Obviously, she was feeling much better, now; much, much better.
"Not a problem." Faith continued to towel her hair, watching the girl's back.
Carefully not looking at the naked Slayer, Kelly started to set the bundle down on the edge of the sink, but it was too narrow to hold them, and they nearly tumbled into the basin. She half-turned and made as if to put them on the closed lid of the toilet, but that was where Faith had placed the carefully folded leather coat. Nice-guy Alex or no, there was no fucking way she was going to let the heroin or the cash out of her sight. Her sheathed knife sat atop the coat, the dark, metallic curves of its fittings gleaming softly. Kelly stood staring at the weapon, the clothes she held apparently forgotten.
Faith sighed, using one arm to hold the towel against her body, covering herself from breasts to thigh. "Could you maybe give those to me?"
The girl peeked at her from the corner of her eye first, then turned and held the clothes out to the Slayer with a smile.
"Here you go."
Faith took them, looking at her curiously. Now that there was some animation in her face, the girl was fairly pretty. Her cheekbones were too pronounced, and her chin too slight, but she had big brown eyes and a button nose that was almost too cute. Kelly looked back at her, using one hand to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, the movement languid and slow.
"I wanted to tell you thanks. For fixing me up." She rubbed at her arm, seemingly unaware that she did so. The long sleeves of her shirt hid the needle tracks that were undoubtedly there, and it hung loosely on her too-thin body. Faith edged back a little, filled with disgust as the girl went on. "Don't worry, we'll pay you back. Alex has this thing tomorrow night and we'll have plenty of-"
"Forget it." She didn't want to hear any more. An addict's promises were meaningless; anything the girl said would be conveniently forgotten as soon as the next round of cravings hit. She didn't know how Kelly could stand it; being that weak, that out of control. Turning slightly away, she concentrated on getting dressed. Tossing the towel into the corner, she draped the shirt over one shoulder and began pulling on the jeans. They were long enough, but the men's cut affected the fit and they were definitely snug in the hips. It was a good thing she was underweight from her coma, otherwise she'd never have gotten them on. They buttoned easily enough; there was actually a lot of slack around the waistband, but there wasn't any danger of them slipping down, even though she didn't have a belt.
Glancing up, she saw that Kelly was looking at her stuff on the toilet again. Probably drooling at the thought of all that smack just lying there, waiting for her. Fat chance of that. One freebie to a customer, that was the rule, right? If the girl wanted more, then she would have to give Faith a damn good reason to be generous.
The shirt she'd been given proved to be a plain black tee shirt. Not the cutting edge of fashion, but it was clean and dry. After giving her hair a final pat, she tossed the towel over the shower curtain rod and began pulling the shirt on over her head.
"I know it would be a freaking miracle, but you wouldn't happen to have a blow-dryer, would you?" Faith's voice was muffled by the shirt as she tried to find the armholes. "If I just let my hair dry like this, it's going to be all curly and shit, and I really hate the way that makes me look like I'm twelve years-" She got her arms through and pulled it down over her head, pulling the hair in question out from under the collar and out of her eyes at the same time. She looked at Kelly, and felt a jolt of adrenaline race through her.
The girl had picked up Faith's knife and drawn it from its sheath. Seeing that blade in someone else's hands made the Slayer's breath catch, and she felt her palms grow damp with sweat.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
She did her best to keep her voice calm and level, but she couldn't take her eyes off of that knife. Her knife. She knew it was hers, but that hadn't stopped it from nearly killing her when Buffy had put it through her stomach. Faith could feel an echo of that pain now, a sharp ache in her gut where the knife had been thrust home. She recalled all too clearly how the cold steel had felt as it slid into her, parting skin and muscle effortlessly, the wickedly curved barbs of the upper blade ripping at her flesh, the double points grating against the bone of her spine.
Her knife, yes, but a weapon didn't care who held it, or who got hurt. It just did what it was made to do.
Kelly raised the knife up in front of her face, gazing at it wonderingly.
It was. In the light from the bare bulb in the ceiling the blade almost seemed to be stained scarlet, as if a faint sheen of Faith's blood still clung to the metal.
The Slayer blinked in disbelief. It wasn't her imagination; the blade really was red, a blurring shifting of color up and down the length of the weapon. Her whole body tingled as she realized that something was happening, something beyond a junkie messing with her property. That knife held power. The Mayor had told her that, and he'd also told her that it was up to her to awaken it, to learn how to use it. The thing was, with all the shit that had been going on at the time, she'd never had the chance to figure it out. Not before she'd screwed up and lost it that night at the high school.
She'd never even had a chance to kill someone with it.
Later, when Buffy had used it on her, that power had at least partly manifested. Faith had been given ample chance to study the effects of its use, though not from the end of it that she would have preferred, and there had been something going on there beyond the physical injury. The weapon had done something to her, somehow torn away a part of her, and that injury more than the other was what had nearly finished her, even after the doctors had done their best to repair the damage to her body. That was what had made her recovery so difficult. Well, that and the brain damage. She had healed them both eventually, but it hadn't been easy. Since discovering the weapon in Buffy's room roughly twelve hours ago, she hadn't had a chance to even look at it, much less try and figure out how to work the damned thing. It looked like Kelly was experiencing an unfortunate case of beginner's luck.
"How about you do me a favor and put that down?" Shit. Big bad Faith was scared of kids, now? She knew she could take the girl in half a second, and there was almost no chance that Kelly would even see her coming until it was all over. But… it was the knife. That knife. Another sharp lance of remembered pain went through her middle, and she licked her lips nervously. "Hey. You listening to me?"
The girl turned her head to look at the Slayer, and her eyes weren't dreamy and peaceful now. They held a look of fear.
"Faith? I'm cold."
Despite her watchfulness, what happened next took her by surprise. The girl gave no warning at all, no change of expression, no tensing of muscles. Between one instant and the next the knife was darting forward, driving for Faith's gut. Instinct took over, and she caught the girl's wrist with one hand, halting the wicked points just inches from her belly.
"You little shit!" She had been just that close to having it happen again. She pulled the girl's arm out to the side, using her other hand to grab Kelly by the throat and slam her against the wall. She twisted and fought, trying to get free, but Faith held her easily. The Slayer breathed deeply, evenly, forcing herself to stay calm while eyeing the knife the girl still held. Kelly was straining to reach her with the weapon, and Faith resisted the urge to slam the girl's head against the wall a few times.
If not for the involvement of the knife, she would have done just that, and more. However, it was obvious that Kelly wasn't in her right mind; even now she looked confused and scared, unsure of why she was trying so hard to kill the taller girl. It would be pointless to punish her for something she couldn't control.
"Kel. Kelly." She shook the skinny girl, hard enough for her brownish-blonde hair to whip around her face. "You still in there?"
She stopped struggling, her brown eyes wide and uncertain.
"C-cold. I'm cold."
Her teeth were chattering now, and she was shivering. She really was cold, too. Faith could feel the skin growing clammy where she held the girl. Trying to watch both her face and the hand with the knife, the Slayer chewed at her lip for a moment. Well, there's one way to make her let go of it.
Holding the hand with the weapon well out to one side, Faith began to gradually apply pressure to the girl's wrist. Long moments passed, and she started to wonder if bones would snap before the kid let go. Her ears picked up the sound of someone coming down the hall just as the girl let out a gasp and opened her hand. The knife fell, striking the floor point-first-and driving half of its length through the ceramic tiles there. Faith pulled the girl away from the wall, pivoted her, and shoved her gently towards the door. Kelly's eyes were suddenly normal again. That is, they were confused, and a little vague around the edges, but not full of fear. Alex appeared behind her just as the Slayer stepped forward and began swinging the door closed-incidentally hiding the weapon still lodged in the floor behind her.
"Hey, thanks Kel." Looking past the puzzled girl she smiled at Alex. "And thanks for the loan. They fit fine. Just give me another five or ten minutes and I'll be set." The girl stared at her blankly for a moment, rubbing at her hand and wrist, then leaned against her boyfriend's shoulder. The boy looked back and forth between them, plainly wondering what had happened. Neither of them said anything, they just stepped far enough back for her to close the door, which she did. Then she turned and leaned back against it, staring at the knife. She tried pressing both palms against her forehead really hard for a minute while she stared, but it didn't help her think of anything brilliant. All she could do was wonder if Kelly even knew what had happened, and if she would say anything to Alex about it if she did. There was no way to know the answer to that until it happened, so she combed her hair back from her face with her fingers and stepped forward. Crouching down, she studied the knife. The ceramic floor tile wasn't cracked, it had parted around the blade like cheese.
"Fuck." She breathed softly. "That's pretty god-damned sharp."
If the thing had done this when Buffy had used it, they would have had to stitch the upper and lower halves of Faith's body back together before they buried her. Reaching out, she prodded the hilt with a tentative finger. A vicious little zap, like a static charge on steroids, leapt up her arm. She flinched back a bit, then glared at the weapon. She poked it again, and it bit her again. This time she didn't flinch.
"Mine." It came out as a growl, and she wrapped her hand around the metal and bone of the handle, squeezing with all her might. A series of shocks and stings traveled up the length of her arm, but she didn't let go. After a few seconds it faded somewhat, and with a wrench she pulled it free of the floor and stood. Whatever power the blade held, it was awake. Now it was just a matter of mastering it. Faith stared at the object, admiring its wicked beauty. The constant stinging in her palm slowly faded, replaced by a wash of coolness that flowed slowly up her arm. She smiled as she turned it before her eyes, watching the light gleam from the smooth curves. A tingling began in her fingertips, and the coolness spread through her chest and down towards her legs. Without really thinking about what she was doing, she found herself running the flat of the blade along her forearm. First the outside of her arm, then the inside, stroking her skin with the smooth metal. Wherever it touched her, her flesh was chilled, though strangely the knife itself seemed to be growing warm. The scarlet sheen had returned, faint at first but growing steadily brighter. The hand that held it was nearly numb, now, but that didn't matter.
After a few moments of staring, she placed the razor-sharp edge against her wrist. How easily would it cut through her flesh, she wondered. How bright and beautiful would her blood look as it ran in warm streams down the blade and hilt. The hunger, the terrible hunger grew within her. It had been so long since…. Her arm was tensed, ready to make the slashing cut, when she realized what she was about to do.
Sanity came rushing back in an icy flood, and in response a hundred invisible needles of ice stabbed into her hand and arm. She gritted her teeth, slowly taking the edge away from her skin. No marks were visible on the arm that held the knife, no actual damage was being inflicted, but it felt like her flesh was being whipped with barbed wire and shards of ice. A feeling of frustrated hunger brushed across her mind, and it was with surprise that she realized that the artifact she held was in some way alive. Not intelligent, at least she didn't think so. But in some way it was… aware.
She managed to get the weapon back into its sheath without dropping it or cutting herself. As soon as it slid home, the torture it was inflicting on her stopped, instantly, like someone had thrown a switch. The warmth that had been radiating from it faded, and she set it down atop the coat. Rubbing her icy hands together to try and warm them, she eyed the now quiet weapon warily. It had been doing to her what it had done to Kelly; somehow it could suck the heat right out of your body, when you were holding it.
A way of feeding, maybe.Great; one more thing in my life that's out to get me. My own damn knife thinks I'm lunch.
The numbness in her fingers was fading, replaced by a prickling as sensation returned. Flexing her hand to make sure no harm had been done, she turned away with a sigh. She would wrestle with that problem later. Right now she just wanted to go eat. Digging Buffy's hairbrush out of her bag, she began pulling it through her damp hair. A minute of that, and the curly mass was as tame as it was going to get. Using her hand, she wiped away the condensation on the mirror. Her face was clean now, but without cosmetics she looked too young. Too… vulnerable. She dug into the small case she had packed back when she was in Buffy's body. Some of those colors were all wrong for her now, of course, but there was no way she was going to show the world a defenseless face. She was naturally pale, but at least some foundation and finish made her look cool and polished, instead of ghost-like. Eyeliner and shadow to hide the lost, hopeless look that sometimes crept into her eyes when she least expected it. Some dark lipstick to bring up the sex to intimidation level, and she was ready.
Her mask in place, she picked up the long coat, along with the sheathed knife. Dangerous or not, she wanted the weapon where she could keep an eye on it. Turning her back on the image in the mirror, she went looking for Alex.
* * * * *
Once Faith was through in the bathroom, Alex took his own turn. It took him only five minutes or so to clean up; through he wished that there were some ice in the apartment to put on his aching face. Looking at himself in the mirror, he could see the swelling along one side of his jaw, and some puffiness around his eyes.
He shook his head grimly as he considered the probable results of Faith's interference with the criminal enforcers. They had been out to deliver a gentle warning, and she had nearly killed them. The next time they showed up, it wouldn't be friendly. He only hoped that they gave him a chance to explain before it got ugly.
* * * * *
Well, what do you know; she didn't kill them.
Whistler was watching Faith; he'd been watching her since she first entered the apartment. One of his most useful abilities was his power of far sight. He could 'look in' on anything within about fifty yards, and see and hear everything just as clearly as if he were standing there. Only magical wards, and certain psychic powers could keep him out, and Faith had neither. He'd watched as she walked in with the girl in her arms, and he'd looked on as her expression twisted briefly into a mask of rage and hate. The two kids she was with seemed to push quite a few of her buttons, and Whistler was filing away her responses for possible use later. For the moment, the important thing was that she'd changed her mind about killing the two of them. He'd actually seen the moment when she had decided not to do it, and it had given him his first real hope that he could bring this one through successfully.
In fact, he was so optimistic about things, that he was considering trying a little something tonight. BellDonna wasn't back yet; even spirits needed some time to travel the paths to where his employers spent most of their time, but this was too good an opportunity to waste. Faith and the boy were heading out, and that meant that he might be able to throw a little something in her path, to see just what she was made of. It would take a while to arrange; he would have to get in touch with a couple of entities he knew who owed him a favor, but with a little luck….
He watched them leave, and he made careful note of the route they chose.
* * * * *