Standard Disclaimer: Joss owns Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lk Hamiltom owns the Anita Blake series. I am neither of them and will earn nothing from this.
"Come here right now, Nicholas! I'm not joking!" Faith commanded to the two year old who thought it was funny to run away from her when it was time to go home. "Your father is going to spank your butt..." Finally the playful imp strayed close enough for her to dive out and snatch his shirt collar before he could retreat again. "You think you're funny don't you?" she asked the cackling child who clearly did think something was funny. Keeping a firm hold of the monster, she gathered their stuff and walked out of the park. "I'm buying you a leash, you're getting too heavy to carry all the time," she told the boy as they walked the four blocks to their destination, a two story apartment building on the east side of St.Louis.
She made it up to the second floor hallway before the squirming child had to be set down. Grabbing his hand and continuing on, she took a set of keys out of her pocket as they came to the apartment door.
"Mama..Mama," the little boy said as he tugged on her pants leg and pointed down the hall where one of their neighbors was walking with her little Pomeranian.
"Hello, Mrs.Pringle. How are you doing?" Faith asked the older woman.
"As good as can be, young lady, as good as can be," the woman asked. "How is your husband's new job?" She always stopped by to let Nicky play with her dog, or at least try to play with him. Custard didn't really like children and would rarely allow himself to be handled, but the look little Nicky got in his big dark blue eyes when he stared at her pet was worth the price of admission.
"He likes it so far, the hours are long but the pay and benefits are good so I think everything will be fine."
"That's good, Dear," her neighbor answered. "It's not always easy but when you get to my age, you'll miss these times. The two of you both work for it and before you know it, life just has a way of getting easier." She patted the boy on his head and turned to make her way back towards her apartment.
"Mrs.Pringle, Can I clean your apartment this week?" Faith asked with hopefulness as the extra money would really be useful now.
"Sure, Sweetie, come by Wednesday again. Bye bye, Nicky."
"Bye...bye," the little boy answered and waved at the doggie as he walked away.
Faith unlocked the door and pulled her son inside and set her bag on the table. As she went back to shut the door, she noticed the young woman that lived in the next apartment helping a tall dark haired man carry a large box to Mrs. Pringles open doorway.
We need a new tv, she thought as she locked the door and went to find out what mischief her son had gotten into. If there was silence, that meant he was in trouble. She spotted him pulling the fern out of it's pot again and was just about to grab him and paddle his butt when a shotgun blast sounded out. All of the blood drained from her face as she snatched Nicky up and ran for the bathroom as more shots were fired. She practically dove into the bathtub and smothered him underneath her as her heart raced.
She knew the sounds of gunfire. She'd been living on the streets since her mom died. The second time that she had to fight off a would-be rapist at the homeless shelter, she decided to just leave Boston altogether. She made it as far as St. Louis before deciding that it was too dangerous to stay on the road with all of the perverts out there.
She thought that she could hear movement next door but was just too scared to move, Nicky found the unusual behavior to be hilarious and he laughed and squirmed in her embrace.
She remembered the man that tried to kidnap her right from the street corner. He had been a customer once and she'd gotten the creepy vibe from him so she wouldn't get back in his car the next time he came. Her boyfriend Julio...pimp Faith, call him what he was...she thought to herself. Her pimp Julio just happened to walk out of the bar as the creep had gotten out of his car to grab her and they fought each other for a few moments before they both pulled guns and she hit the concrete and screamed as the sounds roared out all around her. When she raised her head, they were both gushing blood. Julio was dead, she just knew he was gone. She was frozen as she watched the other guy take a few rough breaths and then die also. At the sound of the sirens, she took off. She ran and ran and kept going until she couldn't run anymore, and she thanked God everyday that she had picked that bus stop bench to collapse on.
She could hear the sirens and she thought someone might have knocked on her door but she couldn't bring herself to get out of the tub. Nicky struggled and whined for awhile but the heat of them being pressed together helped make him drowsy and he fell asleep awhile ago.
She had been crying and when she felt a hand on her shoulder, she opened her eyes to see a young man standing by the bench. She had seen him out on the street a few times but had never talked to him before. He handed her a few napkins and sat down on the bench by her feet.
"You've got blood on your face," he said quietly. "I'll call an ambulance or the cops if you need me too."
"No, I'm okay," she answered, as she dabbed at the spots that she could see in her reflection on the back glass panel of the bus stop.
"We know some of the same people," he said as he turned to her,"I know your name is Faith, mine is Nate. I've got an offer for you."
"What are you talking about?" Faith responded, starting to get nervous about where this might be going. "What kind of offer?"
"Nothing like that!" he said quickly, noticing her reaction. "My best friend died last week, she was killed by a customer. I've been trying to find the nerve to get out." He took a bunch of deep breaths and stood quickly, reaching out his hand, he continued, "If you'll come with me, Faith, we'll do it together. With you to help me, I know I can get clean, and I promise you, I swear to you that I won't let anyone ever hurt you. We can do this, Faith, we'll get jobs. We'll look out for each other, we'll be a team. You can trust me, Faith, I promise you...just take my hand."
"Faith...Sweetheart..Faith, open your eyes," he said with tenderness as he tried not to cry himself after finding her like this.
"It's Nathaniel, sweetie, it's me, Faith," he said as he gently moved the hair out of her swollen eyes. "It's alright, baby. I know what happened, everybody's okay. You kept him safe; look he's sleeping."
"Nathaniel?" she whispered as her tears began to slow.
"Just take my hand, baby, just take my hand."