Disclaimer: The Buffy setting belongs to Joss Whedon and various affiliated corporate entities, Faith belongs to Eliza Dushku and her magical leather pants... with which I have a certain undeniable obsession.
Author's Note: This one is a bit of an indulgence for me; it's been a while since I did anything with Faith, and I was missing my favorite girl. So I didn't trim out as much of the rambling in the second draft as I usually do, and there isn't a great deal of urgency to the story itself. This is mostly just an opportunity to spend some time with a character for which I have a great deal of fondness.
Author's Note II: For updates on what I'm working on now (or to give me comments and suggestions on what I should
be working on), check out my Patreon page Here
Many and profound thanks to my Patrons: Charles Jackson, David Helmink, Jeffrey Clemons, Alma, Ethan Barton, Michael Cronin, Marcel, Brandon Young, Andy Rowell.
And starring: Jessamyn Howe (^_^)
They are all wonderful, wise, and generous people.She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.
There was no point in trying to deny it; beauty got her every time.
Lying on her back in the middle of the lushly carpeted floor, Faith held the bow up against the backdrop of her apartment’s ceiling lights, turning it this way and that, admiring the way little reflected gleams ran up and down the graceful curves of polished wood. She’d only owned it a few hours, had only shot a handful of arrows with the thing (just to be sure she wasn't being sold a well-disguised piece of shit), but that was enough for her to know she loved the beautiful weapon.
Standing out there beyond the outskirts of town, wrapped in the the dimness of gathering twilight, she’d peered into the even dimmer interior of the man’s nondescript van and instantly known that this was to be her favorite new toy. From that moment she’d been willing to do whatever it took to make it her own. “This one,” Faith had said, turning and holding it up.
From where he leaned against the side of his van, the man smiled.
“You can’t afford that one, killer; pick something else.”
Feeling more than a little irritated, she’d tossed her hair back behind her shoulders and given him her best smoldering stare.
“I can afford quite a bit, asshole, and I want
Still with that wry twist to his lips, he moved to take it from her. Reluctantly, she had surrendered it.
“What we have here is a traditional recurve. It’s one-of-a-kind, hand-made by a crazy old loon who lives in a barn in Wales. That’s in England, Darlin.” He turned the bow over and over in his hands, slowly, almost reverently. “The riser is made from Black Rosewood, with Hawthorne inlays.” He indicated the thicker, central section, where the smooth curves were shaped to accommodate the shooter’s hand, and a small ledge provided a stable rest point for the arrow. “Five overlays here, done so perfectly that you’d swear the damned thing
grew this way. And the limbs are Tonkin Cane Bamboo, with four-ply overlays on the tips.” Faith had done some research, these last few weeks, and she knew that the tips, where the loops at either end of the bowstring snugged into grooves carved to hold them, were the most fragile part of any bow. The bowyer who’d made this particular piece of art had tried his very best to make something as tough as it was pretty. The nameless weapons dealer apparently agreed.
“This gorgeous beast pulls at almost a hundred pounds; you go looking at the stuff they sell at the sporting goods store and you’ll be lucky to find one that pulls at seventy.” Meaning that to pull the string back far enough to shoot an arrow required a hundred pounds of force; you’d have to hang the weight of Buffy’s entire body off of the thing to pull it.
Which, come to think of it, might be an interesting experiment to try if she ever had the chance. For the moment, however, his challenging look seemed to indicate that there was no need to talk price at all, since this was too big and manly an item for a ‘purty little lady’ like her to even use properly.
Faith held out her hand. His eyebrow raised a fraction, but he obliged her by handing the bow back.
“Arrow?” she prompted, and he leaned inside the van for a moment before coming up with three. Handing her one he took a step back and folded his arms, waiting.
Faith looked around, searching for something appropriate. The gravel road where they stood was utterly deserted; it was a mile back to the highway, and Sunnydale was another five miles beyond that. A broad field with waist-high grass and weeds ran back a good distance before reaching a dense stand of trees. Even though the sun had now fully set, enough light remained to clearly show the rusting barbwire fence that ran along the tree line, and the gnarled wooden posts that supported it. Faith chose one of those posts, nocked the arrow to the string, and pulled it smoothly back.
The effort involved was trivial; she had the strength to pull something like seven or eight times this much without any trouble. No, what she had to work at was finding the right headspace for this particular art. She’d learned how to shoot only weeks before, not long after that embarrassing bit of fumbling with the bow in the alley, in front of Buffy. Of course that had also been the same night as—
No, none of that mattered now. What mattered was being calm, and finding her focus. Rage and fury were what she lived for in a fist fight, sure, but this required her to go to a completely different place, and that had been the hardest part to learn.
She looked at the post, eighty yards away, elevated the bow slightly, and shot. The string thrummed as the arrow snapped through the air in a long, flat arc—and missed, passing over the top of the post by eighteen inches or so and vanishing into the woods.
Faith locked her teeth on the word she wanted to say, did her best to ignore the shit-eating grin on the man’s face, and simply held out her hand. He passed her the second arrow, and she put it to the string.
Getting pissed off wouldn’t help here; very much the opposite, actually. She pulled it back, adjusted her aim now that she knew how far the arrow would fly, and waited. Her breath moved in and out, and with each exhale she pictured a little more of her irritation, of her impatience and frustration, flowing out of her along with the air. The person who had taught her the bow possessed an amazing degree of skill with the things, along with some interesting philosophy to go along with it (He also happened to have an incredible ass, although dwelling on that right now wasn't going to help her concentration any). What mattered, according to him, was letting the shot happen when it was ready to happen, and never forcing it. When the arrow and the target knew it was time to meet, they would.
Like now. The string slipped over her fingertips, and Faith watched the arrow rise and fall through its brief arc, strike the post—and glance off to the side. She’d twitched on the release; just a fraction of an inch, enough to make the arrow strike too far to one side, and skip off the curved post instead of driving home. Technically a hit, though still not enough to satisfy her. She held out her hand for the last one, and he gave it over.
Relax, breathe, wait.
(Seriously, her teacher had a
great ass, and the way he’d stood so close, with his arms encircling her to show her the proper way to hold the bow… well, it had quickly led to things other than archery practice. He’d resisted at first, since she was much younger, and he was all honorable and shit, but once she’d proven that he had no real choice in the matter, he’d eventually gotten around to enjoying what she’d taught
him how to do….)
Blinking away those memories, Faith focused on the target again, found her center, tried to empty herself of everything except the awareness of the arrow and where it needed to go.
Relax, breathe, wait.
Wait… and when the time came, all she had to do was let go. Almost before she realized she’d shot, Faith saw the arrow strike the post dead-center, and an instant later heard the solid –THACK—of the impact. She started to smile, then caught herself. According to the Zen of archery or whatever, feeling good about a hit was as bad as getting mad about missing; both of them took you out of the zone where you needed to be. However, after a moment’s consideration she decided to forget about that bullshit, and flashed the dealer a grin of triumph. He spread his hands in reply, conceding the point.
“Not bad, killer,” he admitted. “You’re stronger than I would've thought, and you know your way around a bow, no doubt.” Taking a step closer put him within arm’s reach, and he moved to take it from her. “That still doesn’t mean you’ve got the cash, though. Let me show you something more in your price range—“
Faith took a step back, holding the bow back and out of reach.
“Y’know, I’m starting to get the feeling that you don’t want to do business with me or something.” Now that she’d shot with the weapon, there was no way she was giving it back. Reaching into the pocket of her denim jacket, she drew forth the large roll of bills she’d brought along. “Now, what say you quit screwing around and just tell me how much.”
With the air of an adult humoring a stubborn child, he considered her, and the possessive way she held the bow and finally gave her an answer.
She looked at him, her jaw tightening. Even though Faith was more or less rich these days, thanks to the generous patronage of Mayor Wilkins, she wasn’t
that rich. She’d brought a little over twelve hundred dollars with her, which was pretty much all she had at the moment. Yes, she could probably get the rest from the Mayor if she asked him nice, but not within the next few minutes, and that was all she had before the man in the van moved on.
Noting her hesitation, he nodded.
“Yep, that’s what I thought.” Turning away, he leaned in through the open side door of the van, looking for something. “It’s not that I’m tryin’ to insult you, kid,” he said. “It’s just that you’re new to the game. There’s no sense in you worrying about looks, when what you should be tryin’ for is results.”
Faith considered the man, and the fact that he had his back to her. She could, of course, kill him here and now, dump the body in the woods, put the van at the bottom of the river, and go home with the bow and her money. There was nothing stopping her from doing it, either, except for the fact that it would make things a lot more difficult for her the next time she needed to find someone to sell her this kind of gear. The people she’d talked to while trying to make this connection knew she was meeting with the dealer tonight; if he was never seen again then they, and everyone else in their line of work within five hundred miles, would know who’d done the deed. She planned to be around for a long time, and though she was young, she wasn't an idiot. Pissing off the local underworld over something like this wasn’t the smartest way to start a career on the dark side, even for a sexy and superpowered badgirl such as herself.
“Here you go.” He had finally located whatever it was he’d been looking for, and now the dealer showed her what it was. Another bow, this one a modern compound. High-tech fiberglass, ultra-light alloys and carbon-fiber, with rotating cam-action wheels at the ends of the limbs and an intricate string arrangement that wound over and around in a cats-cradle of cable, this bow was more a machine than a piece of art. The central block was studded with bolted-on sights, stabilizers, recoil suppressors; there was even an attached rack that securely held four arrows ready on the bow itself, handier than carrying a quiver. When Faith made no move to take it, he hefted the weapon in his hand, turning it so she could see it from the other side. “I know it looks awkward to use; trust me, it’s not. What isn’t carbon-composites is aluminum and titanium; bleeding-edge tech, right off the assembly line. She’ll shoot smoother than that antique you’ve got there; and the pull adjusts from eighty to a hundred and twenty pounds, so she’ll reach farther and hit harder, too.” He paused, and seemed to be waiting for her to go ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’, so she tried to find something profound with which to answer.
“It’s butt-ugly.” Not so profound, though very true.
The comment surprised the man into an abrupt laugh.
“Yeah, no points here for beauty, I’ll grant you. Still, looks aren’t what it’s all about.” He took a moment to look her slowly up and down. Even though it had to be getting too dark by now for him to see her very well, they both knew what she looked like. And he had a point; Wilkins wouldn’t have kept her around this long if all she was good at was filling out a pair of leather pants. Still, as long as the job got done, why
not look good, if you could? “This one’s a helluva lot cheaper than the classy bit you’re holding there, and it’ll give better performance in every single way.”
Faith didn’t care about the numbers or technology; she was all about feel, and instinct, and the bow she was holding fit her hand like it had been made for her.
“I still want this one,” she stated, then took a breath, held it for just an instant, and then she asked the question: “If I don’t have the money, what else will you take for it?”
Of course that prompted him to give her a raised eyebrow, and make another, more careful survey of her assets, from eyes to feet and back up again, lingering on a few things along the way. She gritted her teeth, royally pissed at how everyone just assumed she was some kind of nympho whore. Yes, she did love sex, and yes, she took it whenever and wherever she wanted. That did
not mean that any sleaze could have her just for the asking. There was no way she was going to let this asshole nail her up against the side of his van, even if it
did mean she’d be left with no choice except to kill him to get her new toy. What she’d really been aiming for was maybe trading him some of her knives, or her motorcycle; or maybe he had some use for the internal organs of a certain red-haired wannabe witch….
“Well,” he said, distracting Faith from her thoughts. “Hot as you are, I really prefer women with a little more meat on their bones—“ here he used the compound bow he held to gesture to her lean hips, and she opened her mouth for a hot retort. “—So unless you’re willing to go so far as to kill a few people with whom I’m currently having a very serious disagreement....” He made a casting-away gesture and finished with a grim smile. “So, I guess we’ll just have to conclude our business here and go our separate ways. Sorry.”
She closed her mouth, thought about what he’d just said, then opened it again.
“How many people are we talking about?” she quietly asked. “The ones you want killed.” He looked at her sharply, apparently not sure if she were joking or serious.
“You're really interested in that kind of trade?”
Faith touched the bow she held, pulled the string back just an inch or so, then let it go to listen to the little *thrumm* it made. The thing was so damned
beautiful, and killing was the easiest thing in the world. She nodded, then realized he might not have seen her; it was getting that dark, now.
“Tell me,” she said, her voice firm.
What followed after that was just haggling; she didn’t want to seem too cheap or easy, after all. He initially wanted her to do five, she tried for two, and they eventually settled on four… and half the money in her pocket. For that, though, he threw in two dozen arrows, a quiver to hold them, and the ugly-ass compound bow to boot. She didn’t really want it, even if it did make sense to have a spare, yet in the end she’d carted them both home in a carefully-wrapped bundle tied on the back of her bike.
Faith blinked a few times, returning to the present where she still lay on her back in the floor, looking up at the bow. The dealer had her number, and would call at some point in the next week or two with the names and addresses of his acquaintances. The ones she would go kill. A frown flickered across her face, to be quickly chased away by a look of studied unconcern.
“Worth it,” she announced to the large, high-ceilinged room. “Completely and totally worth it.” The Slayer smiled at the bow she held, then brought it to her lips and gave it a little smooch. “’Cause you’re so goddamn sexy!” With a laugh she snapped to her feet with an effortless, whipcord movement, walked over to the couch, and gently lay her new toy on the cushions. The imprint of her lips was clearly marked in dark crimson lipstick, but she decided to leave it for now. Maybe I can even get that put on there, permanent,
she thought to herself as she went to the fridge to get a drink. That would be sweet.
She found a cold two-liter of Pepsi, and chugged half of it in the space of a few seconds. A bit of searching through the ruins of yesterdays pizza delivery boxes yielded three still-edible slices, and she brought those with her as she walked out of the kitchen and back to the carpeted area. The clock on the far wall said three forty-three in the morning, and she was wide-awake. Okay, so is he gonna call me or what?
she wondered, as she seated herself in front of the massive television and, since her hands were occupied with cola and pizza, stretched out her foot and used an exquisitely-pedicured toe to switch it on. The Mayor had spoken to her the day before, something about going on a hunting trip and needing her help. When she’d pressed him for details about the what, the when and the where, he had gone all vague, and she’d ended up getting nothing from him except instructions to be waiting for his call ‘early’ the following day. Faith sighed, staring blankly at some surreal music video for a minute or two as she chewed her way through the stale pizza, then craned her head to look again at the clock.
Three forty-nine A.M. How early is ‘early’? When you’re as old as he’s supposed to be, maybe gettin’ up at the crack of noon is an accomplishment.
With a loud sigh she finished up her snack, drained the last of the cola, plopped the bottle atop the box, and let herself fall back to lay sprawled once more. I spend more time in the floor than on the couches and chairs,
she mused, raising her head and shoulders up just long enough to pull her hair out from beneath her and fan it out on the carpet before settling back down. Not that I have a problem with furniture, it’s just that it’s handier as a place to pile my stuff.
Turning her head to one side let her see the new bow resting there on the big couch, lipstick print and all, she couldn’t keep from drumming her heels against the thick carpet for a moment in giddy excitement. It was hers; hers
, and it wasn’t some battered, dusty, ugly piece of shit that a British librarian kept locked up in a book cage. This was unique, and beautiful, and deadly, and best of all, it was hers
. She couldn’t wait to use it for real. Actually, if Wilkins didn’t call her pretty soon she might just go out before sunrise and find something or someone to shoot a few times for practice.
Tilting her head back as far as it would go let her check again, though it took her a couple of seconds to decipher the clock from the upside-down perspective.
Three minutes ‘till four.
She folded her hands on her bare midriff, feeling the flat abdominal muscles there quiver a bit as the stomach underneath worked at turning the pizza into usable Slayer fuel. A minute or two later she changed her mind and sprawled spread-eagle, with arms and legs splayed wide in the white expanse of the deep, soft carpeting. Call, call, call,
she chanted mentally. Of course
she couldn’t just go out and try the bow on a roving demon or random pedestrian; what if he tried to call her while she was out? Well, duh, I guess then he’ll try the cell phone; you know, the one he gave me?
Not only did it help him find her when she was out and about, it also made life much tougher for Buffy and her little lapdogs if they ever tried to use the Mayor’s phone records to trace Faith’s location. Since she only called him from her cell, and he only called her from his, the physical whereabouts of her apartment remained untraceable... unless Willow was up to pulling some serious FBI-level shit with phone towers or whatever. Not that I’m too worried about any of them showing up here; Buffy’s the only one who could take me, and she’s already had her chance.
Faith touched the spot beneath her jaw where the blade of the blonde Slayer’s scalpel had rested like a bit of icy fire. She didn’t do it; she couldn’t kill me. Stupid bitch.
She resisted the urge look at the clock, resisted the urge to grab her phone, her jacket and her weapons and run down the stairs and out into the streets. Richard Wilkins was a kick-ass boss, ancient sorcerer or not, and when he called she wanted to be here, where he expected her to be, ready to do whatever he needed done. The outstretched fingers of her right hand touched something sharp amidst the softness of the carpet, and she turned her head that way to see what it was. The razor edges of a silvery steel arrowhead gleamed at her from amidst all the white. Shit, that one must have rolled off
. Arranged in the fan shape she’d placed them in when she got back with her new goodies, the two dozen arrows (minus the one in the floor) occupied the smaller couch against the right hand wall. She would definitely have to do something with all the sharp, pointy objects currently littering the floor and furniture, or else poor Camilla might get hurt. Although Faith wasn’t clear on the details, she gathered that the small family was of Italian or possibly Spanish descent, and had been in the Mayor’s employ for over a century. Camilla was the youngest daughter, maybe twenty years old, and she’d been assigned the task of cleaning the apartment twice a week.
Which was a good thing; left to her own devices, Faith would quickly have the place looking like a complete disaster. And the carpet wouldn’t smell so nice anymore, either. Less like apples and cinnamon, or whatever that stuff she uses to clean it is supposed to be, and more like beer and pizza.
The arrows were laid out carefully on the couch, the quiver designed to hold them was at the other end, and, leaning in the corner behind the table and lamp, was the compound bow. Faith scowled, surprised by how much distaste she had for the thing. Wow, I’d already half-forgotten that I brought that back.
The lumpy, ugly form looked at home in that corner; forlorn, neglected… she could already picture it with a thick layer of dust and cobwebs… although that would only happen if she gave Camilla instructions to let it happen. Is it just that the thing is so ugly? Or that it kinda looks like the one I tried to use that night in the alley? Or could there be some bad mojo there, like a curse or something? I could ask the boss to check it out, I guess….
Faith shook her head at the idea; there wasn’t any use in bothering him with every piddling little thing that she got curious about. It’s just the ugly,
she decided. I’ve lived surrounded by ugly for so long, grew up that way, first at home, then on the streets, then here in that shitty hole-in-the-wall motel room. And when I wasn't living in it, I was fighting it; monsters and demons and vamps, all of them filthy and nasty and....
She gave an involuntary shudder, and tried to shove those memories back where they belonged. I guess I’m a little bit allergic to it now. I don’t want to go back to that, ever.
The clean, spacious apartment, the simple but expensive clothes that she wore, and the knowledge that more of the same filled her closets to bursting, even the faint perfume of the expensive shampoo she used now, it all combined to soothe her back to calm. She was able to look at the black, machine-like bow, and feel nothing but a little smug disdain. I could use you, if I wanted to; I just don’t
need to use you. I can do better than ugly, now. I won’t ever have to put up with ugly, ever again.
She turned her head to the other side and considered instead the beautiful wooden recurve, resting her eyes on its graceful curves, and was content.
It was then that the phone rang.
Faith was up and across the room before it could ring a second time.
The voice that came back was instantly recognizable, even if she hadn’t already known it would be him.
“Faith. Are you still up for that little expedition we talked about?”
It wasn’t like she was going to say ‘no’ to him. Still, it was cool that he asked instead of just giving her orders.
“Absolutely; where do you need me?”
She could all but see his warm, fatherly smile of approval.
“My car can be there in ten minutes; is that enough time for you to get ready?”
Faith nodded, out of habit.
“No problem; I’m almost set, here. It would
sort of help me if I knew where we were going, and what I should be gettin’ geared up to do
He ‘tsk-tsked’ back at her, and she realized he was enjoying her curiosity too much to end the game now.
“It’s a surprise
, Faith. An adventure. Don’t worry, it won’t be anything we can’t handle.” Finally, though, he did relent just a bit. “I suppose it would be a good idea to dress for hiking. Good shoes, sturdy clothes; oh, and make sure you wear a jacket and your gloves, it’s going to be chilly until the sun comes up.”
Since he wasn’t in the room it was safe enough for her to roll her eyes at that, even as she obediently said “Sure thing. See ya soon.”
And then he’d hung up, and she was left with the clock suddenly moving too fast, instead of too slowly, as she hurried to change clothes, gather up an assortment of knives, her favorite short sword, a pistol with extra mags, and of course, the new bow and its accessories.
Whatever the morning had in store, she knew without a doubt that it wouldn’t be drab and boring. ‘An adventure’, he’d said? Cool. I'm up for that.
Faith was out the door with a whole minute to spare.
* * * * *