So Far to Go
The woman moved through the alley, her path dimly illuminated by the glow of nearby streetlamps, the air thickened by steaming vents and fog. Had an onlooker been present, they may have seen this as a cliche foretelling of something. She could not see the end of the alley through it. Her eyes, belying her age, cut around at her surroundings, cautious and impatient. She was acutely aware of the girl's presence; waiting for the right time to appear. It was the age. No fear.
There were no footsteps, nor breathing, or movement; but there was a shadow breaking away from the thick darkness that engulfed the walls of the surrounding buildings, moving through the steam and haze. A face came into view, partially, beneath the few streetlamps and the prominent, striking features caught the woman's eye as they had before. The look of complete fearlessness; confidence with power and strength. She stood ready, firm, conscious of every single thing in the universe around her.
The full lips parted. "You're late." Dark hair framed her face, darkening her already murky eyes.
A ghost of a smile. "You're early."
"I'm punctual. It helps." She spoke in a bold, self-assured voice; she had done this, and probably much else, several times before. "What do you want?"
"I asked you to come because, as I'm sure you are aware," she gave the young woman a wanton look, speaking not as a superior but as a cheeky companion, "you hold a great deal of power within you. You're highly skilled. I know what you're capable of." She paused. "I want you." Her voice contained a matching confidence.
There was no impressed or surprised attitude offered, only a cocked eyebrow and an amused, dark grin. "Well I've heard that before. You have to sell me on it first." No fear. No apprehension.
"You've seen and done a great deal in your travels, as I'm sure was your intention. You certainly did away with more - unpleasant creatures, and experienced more dangerous situations than can be counted. I know that it's honed you into an even more supreme being than you were before." The light in her eyes flicked down to the necklace around the girl's neck for an undetectable moment in time. "I could use you."
"Sorry, I'm a one-man team." There seemed no break in her defenses; compliments and praise alone did not faze her, were nothing new.
The woman laughed deeply in her throat, barely opening her mouth. The sound might have unsettled any normal person; but this girl was very far from that. "My dear, I can offer you much more than you have been offered before. Believe me." The light in her eyes shone brighter.
"I seem to like what I have now pretty well. I chose it." She emphasized her words, staring hard and deeply at the woman.
"You're going to find that you will have many choices." She paused. "Can you always choose the best?" Her eyes seemed to bore right through the other woman, but still she did not so much as flinch.
"Is this all you wanted?" Cutting the meeting short.
A smile, somehow more unnerving than the laugh. "I will see you again."
And the girl was gone in an instant, without another word, the shine off her necklace the last thing the woman catching as it vanished from view.
Chapter One: Europe - August 2004
There was something odd about the fountain. She knew as she stared at it, its 20-foot perfectly sculpted stone arcs towering above her – though she couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was. She walked to the large, smooth, rounded edge that was cool to the touch and looked into the water. Where normally there might be pounds upon pounds of coins spread about on the bottom, there were hundreds of pieces of glass, all different shapes and sizes – enough so that one would almost think the actual bottom was completely covered. Glittering and glistening, they were littered all across and winking up at her as if they knew something she didn't, their light being bent and moved about by the ripples at the surface.
She had stumbled upon the architecture quite by accident - one moment she was moving with a very clear objective in her mind, fully aware of where she was heading, and then next: she was here. She still wasn't sure how it had happened. She had turned a corner thinking to find a particular building and found this.
She was mesmerized by the unique beauty of it. She had never seen anything like it; and yet, it may have seemed to any other ordinary person any other ordinary fountain. But it was drawing her in, captivating her. Her eyes flickered over the dancing lights created by the pieces; she couldn't look away. Something was stirring inside her, a feeling that spread outward from her core, buzzing about everywhere in her mind, every nerve and hair of her body. It was like a warm, soft electricity.
Maybe there was something she didn't know.
She gave a quick glance around - though had she really been looking, she would have noticed that even the few late-night venturers nearby were acting as if there was nothing there to be seen - then promptly heaved herself over the three-foot high stone boundary and into the cool depths.
She realized immediately that her instincts had been correct: her booted feet hit slick rock, and she was very much as dry as she had been a moment before. She took in her surroundings warily. She was in a type of cave, with dim unknown light sources bouncing off pools of bright blue water that could have been made up of crystals. The ripple reflections covered the walls, creating animated light that flowed all around her. Before her there was a small, quiet waterfall spouting from nowhere into a water pool directly in front of her, and she thought she could just detect a soft, barely audible melody, somewhere between a hum and singing. It came from no particular place, but it filled the cave. For whatever reason she felt extremely calm and at ease, as if she had just walked into a familiar place she had been longing for.
She began to walk toward the water pool, curious to see if it held anything.
At first she lazily thought that the flicker in the corner of her eye was a trick of the light and the waterfall combined; but when she saw it again, moving slightly, she looked up, alert.
She almost thought that the gold she saw was part of the waterfall, still; it was shining that much. But then she realized that it was connected to a face, and the face to a body, and the whole figure itself caused any calm and peacefulness within her to vanish abruptly, as if she had experienced an incredibly powerful and sudden heart attack; as if she had been swept through bodily and had the feelings removed physically from her, only to be replaced with an altogether different set.
She stumbled backward, eyes wide, her breath suddenly coming out short and fast and hard. She almost slipped on the wet rock but righted herself, flailing wildly, paying no attention to her own actions, her focus locked on the form across the water, just to the left of the waterfall.
The beauty of the sight itself, of the figure seemingly shining with the glow from the bouncing light and the perfectly aqua water falling beside her, caused her breathing to become more erratic as she could find nothing to say but "No…" while shaking her head slightly. She found her voice. "No, get me out of here." Louder. "Get me out! NOW!" She looked around, all above her, and repeated, "Now! Come on!" She couldn't find the reason in her distress and disbelief as to why it alarmed her so much; her heart was exploding within her chest. She couldn't stop herself from looking again across the water pool…
And then she was yanked up, everything momentarily blurred and swirled together, and she felt the solid cobblestone of the street beneath her. She would have landed on her feet had she not been in such a bewildered state. She looked up at the fountain, forcing her breathing to slow and steady, trying to regain composure. She sat there, having fallen backward upon her arrival, staring at the sculpture before her, her eyes clouded over.
She smiled at her, feeling the smallest bit of contentment. "That sure was somethin', huh?"
She wrapped her arms around her in a hug, the first she had ever received from her.
She touched her face.
There was a damp spot on her shirt, on the left side of her chest, the moisture running down. After a few moments, she scrambled up and ran.
That was Faith's most memorable experience while traveling.
Chapter Two: Cleveland, Ohio -
Bright rays of sunlight fell in brilliant shafts through the large windows of the home, letting its occupants know that morning had arrived. Everything in the newly finished house glinted from the yellow-orange glow of a new day. The sound of a tea kettle's shrill whistle was enough to wake those sleeping anywhere near the kitchen, at any rate.
"Every morning," Xander Harris grumbled as he shuffled into the room shortly after the high-pierced contrivance stopped, his hair giving him the resemblance of Robert Smith and his eyes half closed. "Do all British people make noisy tea at 8 in the morning?"
Giles consulted his watch. "It's actually 7:45." The watcher was still amused at the fact that no one in the house, save for him, could ever manage to wake up before the hour that most considered a perfectly decent time to stop sleeping.
"Great." The young man plopped down into a chair at the expansive wooden table and let his head fall to the surface with a thunk.
"You know for someone your age you sleep far too much," Giles said, placing a tea cup on a saucer. "Buffy's been awake for hours, it seems."
"Where is she?" he asked without lifting his head, his voice muffled and sleepy. He appeared to be on his way back to unconsciousness.
"Out for a walk, I suppose." He poured his tea.
Spring had to be one of the most enjoyable seasons available on earth. Every other tree was abloom with flowers of different colors, shades, and sizes; perennials littered the ground, sprouting up where grass was once again green and lush. Animals scampered about and birds were twittering madly away. Trees without flowers sported developing buds, making them standing testaments to the promise of life returning, and bringing the world out of the harsh coldness of winter. The days were longer, the nights shorter – always the best part for those who had the job of keeping it safe. The weather was ideal, the perfect temperature for anything one could wish to do, all variations of enjoyment. Everything just felt natural.
This was partly the reason Buffy Summers had been taking walks so frequently lately. She could take pleasure in the beauty and perfection around her to try and offset the inexplicable feeling inside of her that she couldn't grasp, and which certainly did not bring the peacefulness that nature did.
She had repeatedly attempted to put words to it; to try and comprehend it. Why did she feel so……
Empty? Devoid of something? Was that even what it was? The only thing she had ever felt before that was any kind of similar was when she was ripped from heaven and dragged back into the cruel bitterness of reality. She had felt then so many things within her that she could not explain, so many battling emotions and thoughts and fears. And now? Now she just didn't know how she felt. She was cut off, that much was certain. Like she couldn't relate to or find comfort in the people around her, the people who should bring her comfort and peace of mind. Not to mention her increasingly bizarre and irregular sleeping habits. She seemed to be in another plane of existence. She didn't blame herself for any of this; but she wasn't sure where the blame should go – what the underlying cause of this was, the heart of it. Whatever the reason was, something was incomplete, was disjointed. Fragmented. Or else she wouldn't feel this way.
She had to find something to fill herself with. To ease this bewilderment and discontent she found in every thought and bit of emotion that passed through her. What use could she be otherwise? No matter what anyone told her, she was very aware of the unspoken fact that she still had the biggest duty of any Slayer, and the last time she let her own personal issues interfere with that, there were consequences.
The scenery out here was magnificent. Better than anything she could have hoped for in Sunnydale. She had found one particular spot that had a view of what could've been the whole country, forests, rivers, mountains and all, that faded off into the horizon. It was such an image of contentment and beauty that she couldn't help but return to it every time she left the house; almost as if she was trying desperately to wrap even a little bit of herself in some of that splendor. Buffy was eternally grateful that they had been lucky enough to find a house within their spending limits while the market was busy going haywire that still gave them access to things such as this. She wasn't sure what she would do without it.
Faith had been on her own for over a year now, that much was certain. It was probably closer to two years. But who was counting? Time held little importance anymore. She was in the present, continually moving and acting. She lived by doing, by digging into everything she could get her hands into and ripping out the wrong; trying to redeem and liberate herself any way she could without suffocating. By filling herself with something; the only meaning she could find. She had always done - and felt - better on her own.
This particular night she had decided to take a stroll around her present city – somewhere in Spain, it might have been – and couldn't help but wander down an alley that was just beckoning her, the moonlight leading her way directly into it. These were by far the most fun. It was double her pleasure that she could faintly make out conversation that sounded meant only for those in particular that would be found in a dark alley late at night.
Itching with excitement, she took her time walking deeper into the mess of brick, steam vents, dumpsters and fire escapes, just knowing she would come across something eventually. She lived for this. The thrill. The way everything about it electrified her into something more than herself. She could feel it in every part of her.
The small cry of fear and subsequent harsh noise of a body being thrown into something let her know her senses were dead on yet again. She sped forward in a run, eager to find her new target, and came across the sight of what was most likely a demon, heavyset, heaving a young man against the brick wall of one of the surrounding buildings.
She sprang into action, jumping up high and whipping her foot into the side of his head, landing and throwing another kick out to swipe him off his feet. He turned to look up at her, a smirk of all things on his face, and she punched him square in the jaw. He responded by throwing his huge fist up into her chin, knocking her backwards with the sheer force of it, though she recovered quickly. He was back on his feet and stalking towards her; she spotted a fire escape to her left on the wall and leaped onto it in one swift move, swinging around and landing a flying kick to the back of his neck. He went tumbling to the ground as she landed on her feet. He moved to grab her legs but she quickly jumped out of the way, bringing her boots down hard onto his hands. He shouted in pain, withdrawing them immediately.
"You're too easy," she breathed, smiling and pulling her knife from the back of her pants. She gave him one last blow to the face, then in one swift move slit his throat. He faded away gurgling something she couldn't hear.
She turned to see if the young man was still there; it seemed he had been paralyzed in fear, clinging to the ladder of another nearby fire escape. He somewhat relaxed as she put her knife back.
"You okay?" she asked briskly, giving him a once-over.
"Yeah… I'm a little bruised up but I think…I think I'll be okay." He paused, fixing her with the look of awe she was now familiar with, having seen it on a nightly basis from all the others like him. It was something that had taken her a while to get used to, having only received punishment and wickedness her entire life and then having to live the one gift she was given in someone's shadow; and she wouldn't lie if asked if it made her finally feel good about herself, and about something she did. "Who are you?" Same question, too. People wanted to know who she was. No one had ever wanted to know who she was.
She smirked, none of her feelings showing through. "The best thing you'll ever know." With that, she turned and began to leave.
"Can I at least get your name?"
She stopped and looked back at him. Alone was better. Alone was easy. "I'm not big on making friends. Sorry."
He gave her an incredulous smile, laughing in disbelief. "So - so you just saved me from being maimed and you won't even take two minutes to talk to me?"
"'Fraid not," she said as she walked away. She had heard it all before. Alone worked. Alone was good.
"I could help you!" he called after her desperately.
"I bet you could," she said under her breath, without breaking stride or looking back again.
"I always did do best on my own."
Chapter Four: Europe - July 2005
Faith was of the mind that if you wanted to truly learn about an insane group of demons, rather than bury your head in a book or spend hours doing pointless research, you were better off digging right in and getting your hands dirty. In Faith's case, putting on an act, finding an 'in' and then taking them out when they least expected it, taking as much time as necessary. This method was much more stimulating, and taught her more than she could have ever learned from sitting in a library or in front of a computer. The forces of evil, for having such a reputation, were rather dim-witted. They'd take anyone in who didn't immediately try to kill them.
It was for this fact that she was flying down a dim alley after some sort of creature a few yards ahead of her – she wasn't sure what it was – with four members of said group following speedily along behind her. They weren't anything special; they couldn't be picked out of a crowd. They looked like any human. That was partly the reason she blended so easily. She raised her arm, locking onto the movements of the thing, and whipped her dagger forward through the air. It hit its mark.
It was a demon. Good. The last thing she needed was more on her conscience. She rolled it over, and as it groaned in pain she yanked the knife out and brutally slit its throat, a look of satisfaction felt in more than just her face.
"Nice throw," one of the brutes to the side of her commented.
"Easy," she replied, not looking at him. "Let's go find something else." The four she was with that night had picked this particular demon to kill – though it certainly wasn't their first since the sun had gone down – for reasons unknown to her. She was well aware that she had to agree with anything they chose or risk outing herself. So even though she hadn't been sure that it was anything that deserved a good killing when they pointed it out to her, she had little choice in the matter. Besides, a little demon hunting never did anyone any harm. It was a fun job.
It still wasn't exactly clear to her how the group picked their victims; if they had any specific that they followed or if they just went out randomly every night to kill things (it seemed more likely the latter). She had only been part of it for the last few weeks or so. Thankfully she had yet to be faced with the situation of killing a human. As far as she knew.
"There," she said, nodding her head toward a man walking down the street. Her stomach tingled with excitement, mingling with something else that gave her a boost of vivacity. "Him."
"Think he's a vampire maybe," grunted one of the savages.
"I don't care what he is," she breathed in a low voice that came from the back of her throat. She moved forward silently and quickly, the others following.
She felt the adrenaline pumping through her, her heart beating an impossible and erratic rhythm, feeling it in her head and various other parts of her body, anticipation radiating from her core. Each time her feet hit the ground it seemed to multiply. She swiftly moved up behind the man, grabbed him and had him in the nearby alleyway before he could even react. The knife went in clean and smooth through his abdomen, once, twice, and then there was a stake in his chest and ashes at her feet.
She had known he was a vampire. She could tell from the moment she saw him, she sensed it. She used the knife just for kicks. He was a vampire. He was. There had been an unexpected extra burst of something this time, something deep down within her, something she couldn't identify; she had really wanted to kill, to kill someone. She knew that much. A tiny little piece of her buried far into the back of her subconscious momentarily entertained the thought that she might have killed him even if he hadn't been a vampire.
"I did a lot of bad things, B. Don't forget it."
She paused to clear her head. Maybe it was time she stopped being a fake wannabe of this group.
She was shaken from her spiraling thoughts by one of the demons. They had already found another target. This night was a full one.
This was definitely a human; there was no mistaking it. He was young, probably Faith's age, and entirely harmless looking. She could practically smell the innocence coming off of him. He had chosen the wrong night to be out taking a walk. Faith instantly felt a wave of familiar guilt and fear spreading thickly and rapidly through her like a toxin. Concoctions of her own internal strife began welling up inside of her as they advanced further in his direction.
"We got this one," one of the thugs growled to her gruffly, and they all walked past her toward the young man.
She slowed in her movements, uncertain of what to do. She felt as though she was walking through mud, and everything around her was playing out in slow motion. This time she knew. She knew he was an innocent, he was a human, and she couldn't just stand by and watch this happen. There was no excuse this time; there was no hiding behind a mistake or a wrong judgment made in fleeting seconds. But there was something in her – deeper, stronger, more primal, that kept her walking closer silently, betraying the man before he would ever know he was being betrayed. Her head swirled. She saw him, the image of his content figure seared into her mind, completely and blissfully unaware of what was to come – and when she blinked he was on the ground, stricken by something, a shout that died in his throat as the four villains mercilessly began to torment him. Faith stood, frozen, her powerful inner struggle rendering her incapable of action. She watched, paralyzed, as the life slowly drained out of him, as his efforts became weaker, slower… She watched the blood pooling into the cracks of the sidewalk, staining the cement, leaking underneath his attackers' shoes. He was gone before she could have made any vain attempt to save him, before she could have screamed to him how terribly and tragically sorry she was, and they kicked his limp body into a shadowed alley.
And then they laughed.
Cold, unfeeling, wicked laughter that filled her ears, her mind, rushing in and crushing down any part of her that may have begun to awaken after years of sleep. This, this horrific scene before her, brought home with astounding clarity the reason she had left this all behind her with a heavy, hard punch to her heart, stealing its way into her soul and bringing back up her sensibility and probity. Her morality. It was more than she could stand.
"I'm not a white hat yet."
They stalked off, waving for her to follow. Thankfully they had not taken the time in their sickening glee to look back at her, else they would have known right then and there the truth – and just how deep her hatred could go. She found herself now with the strength she should have had earlier to slowly move toward the young man in the alley, looking down at his inert body, into his lifeless eyes. What did he leave behind? Was there someone waiting for him that he was taken from, in a brief moment of inhuman cruelty he never saw coming? What would change in the world tomorrow because of his absence? The image of a man who wasn't supposed to die, slumped against a dumpster with a stake in his chest; eyes open and surprised, blood on her hands… She was hit so viciously, so powerfully, the pain and guilt and emotion so prevalent in her eyes that had anyone looked at her they would have thought the end of the world was coming.
"Faith… I forgive you."
Then she walked away.
She took on the silence of the night, blending with its darkness and shadows and making no sound as her booted feet moved elegantly and effortlessly across the rooftop. The moonlight glistened off her dark hair and eyes, so that she appeared unearthly; appeared as something you may not want to cross in the hours before and after midnight. She stopped dead at the very corner of the building where cement met sky, where any normal person would have gone flying off. She fastened her eyes below at the entrance to the building across the alley. Could there be a better rush?
"I love doing this," she breathed with a smirk before disappearing downward. Had anyone been watching, it would have appeared as though she had vanished out of existence in the blink of an eye.
Some were robed, some wore street clothes. They were all standing in a large space, an old amphitheater, the once magnificent but now dingy and forgotten chandelier hanging perilously above them. They were restless, waiting for something. As the vampire Slayer smoothly entered without a sound, clad in black, the only looks sent in her direction were those of craving. Her eyes glittered as she looked about, taking in her surroundings. She had been here before, several times, at gatherings such as this; all intentions focused solely on eventually dismantling them. She had lost count of how many times she had come; there seemed almost an urge within her to keep returning that she never paid much thought to.
Eventually the whispering and shuffling died down as a familiar man in a suit and tie appeared up on the stage. Her eyes locked onto him.
"Greetings." Though he was not talking loudly at all, his voice could be heard throughout the room. "As I'm sure you are all aware, tonight is a very special night. We have a guest." He smiled wickedly and everyone in the room snickered quietly, obviously excited. "But before we get to that, I must say a few words.
"We all know why we're here. We know there's something missing, something to fill in… Something we can't find anywhere else."
Faith zoned out. She did not care about nor want to hear what he had to say, especially this night. She was focused to the point of obsession, one solid plan firmly wrapped around the inside of her mind. These – things – around her were unworthy even to be breathing the air of this clogged city, if they breathed at all. Why did evil always band together in large, asinine, mindless groups? They couldn't hack it on their own? She inwardly scoffed. She was fairing just fine. But then again, they were scum without brains. Or hearts. Or souls. And they were stupid. They lacked what it took to be able to fend for themselves, to be strong enough on their own to overcome and succeed over anything. They were pathetic.
The crowd erupted, bringing Faith's attention back. She cut her eyes at the people – demons – around her, her face unreadable.
From nowhere at once there was a table being squeakily wheeled out into the crowd, cutting its way through to the center, right where she was standing. She backed out of the way inconspicuously. On the table, copiously strapped down, was a man who could have been the gentlest, most serene person in another life; but here he was morphed into something petrified and completely helpless, his agonizing eyes darting all across the sea of cheering and sneering faces surrounding him. All around her things were blurred, sounds were melding, and she could feel her blood pounding furiously.
And suddenly the man's eyes were locked onto Faith's; and she saw – she felt – all the fear, terror and animalistic desperation inside of him, and something stirred within her. She couldn't bring herself to look away, something was holding her there; and she knew immediately that her cover was blown. The blood stopped pounding, everything came back into sharp focus as if she had just landed harshly on her feet from a 100-foot fall; the spell was broken. Her breathing was coming out ragged.
"Help me!" he screamed at her, anguish and despair in his petrified voice. It sounded more horrible than the voracity and wickedness of the beings around her. She moved back quickly, in case anyone had caught that he was screaming at her. But they just laughed, a sound that cut through her even worse. "PLEASE!!"
Not again... Not again...
She couldn't take it. If she helped him he would die anyway, and so would she. There were too many in here to out herself right in front of them; even she was aware of that fact. She moved further back. The man in the suit emerged from the crowd, a look of immense pleasure on his face. The crowd was going wild.
"Our guest!" he shouted above the roaring den of voices, arms raised. His voice boomed. He held a very intricate, large blade in one of his hands. "My people! This sacrifice will ensure our success!" He looked down at the man, who was now in a terrified frenzy trying to escape, screaming even louder and more horrific than before, stabbing invisible wounds into Faith's ears.
"PLEASE HELP ME! I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME! PLEASE!!" The suited man raised the blade high as the crowd shouted and cheered him on, working themselves into a tumult. Faith locked eyes with the pleading man once more, and then slipped quickly out of sight. "PLEASE!!"
Ten figures in the back of the crowd went missing in about fourteen seconds as Faith moved stealthily and swiftly, rage burning inside of her. She could hardly keep up with herself. Breathe, stab, step, breathe, slit, step… Twenty seconds later ten more were gone. It wasn't until someone happened to look over and catch one falling, their remains melting into nothing, that anyone noticed.
There was a loud shout. "HEY!" Everyone turned to the origin of the voice. "Someone in here is a rat!" Even as he spoke more were dropping from sight, though now the cacophony had given way to dead silence – save for the whimpers coming from the middle of the mass – and one of them fell sickly hard onto the concrete floor before disappearing. All the bodies in the room turned toward the sound, and as Faith slunk away, a hand reached out and stopped her abruptly.
"Found you," said the woman amusedly, a hood over her head. Faith quickly snapped her arm and had her dead on the floor, but it was impossible she could go unnoticed now. All eyes were on her. It was not nearly so daunting, however, now that she had taken care of over half the crowd.
She smirked, though no one saw in the dim light. "Easy."
They all descended upon her at once. She was knocking three out at a time, throwing, stabbing, kicking, anything she could do to lessen the amount coming at her. Nothing could hurt her; no blows or throws to any part of her even registered. Her energy was unstoppable and unmatchable. The exhilaration was practically pouring from her, and nothing could bring her down.
Two came running at her. She jumped up, kicking both hard in the face and coming down with her knife to slice them through. They fell, disintegrating into the air. The numbers were dwindling. Some she had only roughed up and were coming back for more. She continued, feeling somewhat displaced fury building in her core, not entirely sure where it was coming from. She despised this group of disgusting vermin, but the white-hot anger that was blurring her vision was seeping from somewhere else.
And then there was real, palpable white-hot heat scorching her stomach… A familiar pain... She was falling, looking up at a horrified face plastered against the night sky... No, she was in an abandoned building surrounded by monsters. She looked down in disbelief. Where there once was a bleeding wound, there was now a matching one, new and raw. She had been stabbed in the same fucking spot. A darkened image of a rooftop and painful eyes flashed before her, and her heart clenched violently. She looked up at the hooded figure pulling the sword back, her blood glistening metallic on the blade.
She made a quick decision and bolted. There was no way she could take them all now, and she had to get away. Fast.
She made her way as quickly as she could manage in the direction of the healer she knew was somewhere in the city. She could hear the group of them behind her, chasing her, shouting, threatening, as she turned as many corners and went down as many alleys as she could to try and lose them, all the while the pain in her abdomen steadily and painfully growing.
"I can't be that person."
She flinched on the inside as well as the outside. She could feel blood running down and seeping into the rest of her clothing, staining her hand as she kept it firmly pressed against her wound. It's gonna take more than that to kill me, she thought fiercely, looking around and gathering her bearings. She was close. She grit her teeth and kept her focus as well as she could on identifying where she was going, how much blood she was losing, if she was still being followed – and tried with everything she had left to ignore the intense pain coursing through her body, and the rest of her.
"Things could be different for us now."
This had to be the place – she remembered being told of the blinking sign nearby. She nearly dragged herself to the door, banging on it desperately. Her head began to spin as she faintly heard someone on the other side.
She touched her arm. "You know it means a lot, right?"
She collapsed into darkness.
Chapter Five: Somewhere - July 2005
If Buffy Summers had hired the most expensive landscapers in the country to toil for an entire year they could not have even touched the incredible and impossible beauty that constituted the sun-drenched, lavish garden she was currently walking through. She was certain she had never seen such an array of colors in one place in her entire life; and she definitely did not think there were that many different types of flowers, of bushes. The garden was massive; she couldn't see where any of the abundant amounts of flora and greenery and perfectly cut stone walkways ended. This place gave the term "awe-inspiring" a totally new definition. She momentarily wondered if she was being offered a glimpse of heaven. It was breathtaking.
She silently seemed to glide along the pathway she was currently on, winding through endless sunflowers and dahlias and orchids, some of which appeared to touch the sky, which was the purest shade of blue. For some unknown reason she almost felt the urge to cry, which confused her, but the thought did not stay.
A brilliantly red butterfly floated by her, flapping its magnificent little wings in earnest, and she watched as it fluttered in circles before perching on some type of flower she had never seen before, down near the ground. She crouched down, intrigued more than she may have been in reality, wherever that was - she didn't even know where this was.
The butterfly, now holding all of Buffy's attention, moved its wings subtly, holding its position for moments that seemed to elongate into forever, or nothing – Buffy felt there really was no time here – and then took off, so fast she nearly snapped her neck in her haste to follow where it went. It had disappeared so quickly that she almost wondered, just for a split second, if it had even been there at all. Still crouching, she looked back down at the plant it had occupied.
A very real, very cold mix of dread and alarm washed over her – in a way that seemed completely unnecessary – as she gasped quietly, startled.
A vivid drop of deep crimson blood on one of the leaves, standing out crisply against the lively green. As she stared fixated at the spot, it began to roll toward the edge of the leaf, agonizingly slow, eventually falling off the side and splashing down to the stone below – but somehow, there was more. A very thin, but very much there stream of blood, as if something was bleeding onto the plant.
And so naturally she looked up – and jumped backwards in shock, her voice strangled in her throat.
The dark-haired woman was completely out of place in the garden, this Garden of Eden, this sanctuary that Buffy had found. It was hers. Why was she here? Buffy had barely gotten a taste and it was already ruined. She felt something growing inside her. And then something else struck her as she actually looked at the figure before her.
Her heart was hammering so hard she felt that any minute she might really see it rip a hole through her shirt and squish down onto the stone.
She was hunched over, almost like an animal, both arms wrapped around her middle and clutching it as if she would break in half if she let go. She contrasted violently with the brightness and color around her, appearing almost as something pulled straight from a horror movie. Buffy saw the blood, the darkest she had ever seen, spilling over between her arms and any other cracks it could, seeping effortlessly and rapidly out from the woman's stomach – as if she were being drained, as if all the blood inside her body was flowing out of her, taking her life force with it. It was almost horrific, the way Buffy could not even see her face or her eyes, just the dark hair that covered it; could only hear the frightening sounds she was making that she had never heard before. The blood was quietly gushing, spattering onto the stone walkway and slowly spreading in her direction. Buffy's eyes were wide, fixed on the spot; she couldn't even blink, let alone so much as try to move away. She was paralyzed, gripped by fear and bewilderment at this sudden tragic corruption of her perfect world. Something inside her seized.
Buffy breathed raggedly as she clutched the sheets around her, sitting in what could have easily been a kiddie-size swimming pool of her own sweat. She didn't appreciate cryptic weird dreams; they always started out nice and peacefully and then wham! Big scary something that she was supposed to interpret and deal with, all the while being scared out of her mind and confused to no end. Why did she have to be in 50 percent of them, anyway? Dreams were difficult enough to deal with in Buffy's world without extra complication.
And after that she certainly wasn't going back to sleep.
She walked through the cemetery, distracted and on complete auto-pilot; the only thing she registered was that it was damn hot out, especially for it being three in the morning. It was doing nothing for her current state of mind or body. After tossing around for what seemed like hours and then laying stone still hoping that maybe sleep would just hit her while she was unaware, she had realized there was no way she was falling back into dreamland. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing, considering what seemed to always await her there.
She wondered why she seemed incapable of having nice, fluffy dreams that meant absolutely nothing, that were just psychological waste formatted by the brain to fit some kind of absurd storyline until you woke up, like the experts said. Instead it was like some big cosmic comedian letting her know she could never have the nice normality that other 25-year-olds had the pleasure of experiencing, all the while laughing in her face.
Yellow eyes invaded her line of vision and she tore herself away from her reverie to concentrate on the snarling demon in front of her, glad to have something else to focus on. He was a particularly ugly one, and she relished punching his face into a pulp as she pushed him backwards with her lunges. Something white-hot was building in her core, and she attributed it to the adrenaline kick. She unleashed her frustrations and confusion onto the creature, finding herself attacking him with more fury than a normal person may have thought necessary, had a bystander been watching. At least she could say one thing; when she needed to get something out, she could go actually beat up a body rather than a punching bag. It was much more satisfying.
She whipped her arm back, making contact with his face and knocking him sideways, then grabbed his leg and flipped him over. He quickly rolled away, behind a large tombstone; as she stalked toward him, a sword suddenly came ferociously swinging out and practically beheaded her. She jumped back, looking for something to fight with, but there was nothing she could find in the five seconds before she had to duck and roll to avoid becoming mincemeat. She came up behind him, giving a few good punches to his head, and tried to grab the weapon from him. His grip was strong, and he knocked her away.
"Seriously, what could you be doing at this time of the morning?" she asked him, moving quickly out of the way of another sword swipe. "Doesn't – anyone – sleep – any – more?" She accentuated her words with harsh blows to his face and abdomen, her expression twisted into an angry mask.
She almost missed seeing his sword flying straight for her stomach, and in what felt like slow motion she stepped out of the way at the very last second, the gleaming blade tearing the fabric of her shirt.
She looked down at the rip, then back up at him. "I liked this shirt." She then proceeded to shove him backwards so brutally that he fell, hard, onto his back; in the second as he was dropping she yanked the sword from his hand, and without a second's hesitation mercilessly drove it down through his chest. He promptly evaporated.
She blew some hair out of her eyes and admired her trophy, shrugging.
"Always handy to have a sword."
She briefly and unconsciously touched her stomach, and then walked away.
Chapter Six: Europe - September 2005
Faith could feel the wind coming up over the side of the building on her back, reminding her that she was a steadily moving object that was traversing closer and closer to the edge, over which there was only gravity to pull her down through space. She shoved the large, thick demon back with all her might, throwing him a few yards and giving him a solid kick in the jaw; but he was right back up and coming at her again, and she had to swiftly duck to avoid the sword that came flying at her head. Once closer to the gravel, she swung her leg out to knock him over, and he fell with a hard thud. He was back up before she could make any other move, and she was again reduced to dodging and avoiding his wild swings.
After what felt like the hundredth time of ducking down, she sprang up suddenly and used all her force to throw him backwards in one thrust from both her hands, sending him flying. As he got up and she advanced on him, she could immediately see that he was not happy. A horrible grimace marred his face as he stood tall and came toward her, and before she could react he had hefted his giant fist up underneath her chin, and she was sailling back towards the edge again. She hit the ground hard, feeling pain radiate through her back, and she grit her teeth and popped swiftly up, swinging viciously at his face.
"You – mother – fucker – " She was once more being pushed back in the heat of the fight, and more than slightly annoyed.
Her anger spilling over, her face contorted in rage and she began pummeling him with anything she could; fists, feet, an iron pipe that she wrenched out of something - she didn't care what - and her attacker was momentarily stunned. But it wasn't enough.
She felt him grab her forcibly, and the next thing she knew her feet were no longer in contact with anything; she could see the tops of buildings and fire escapes flying swiftly up as she went down, everything in her view blurred as she rushed toward the ground. A doubly healed over scar on her midsection began burning with something she had never felt before. God damn these fucking roofs.
They were sitting atop the hill that nestled itself around the Hollywood sign.
"Sometimes I wish I could fly. Go wherever I wanted, you know? No one could catch me. I'd be free." I wish I could fly away from all the shit we put inside us.
Falling is faster than flying.
The first thing she registered was that she was alive. Okay so far. Not like this hadn't happened before. She could deal… Though she really was growing exceedingly tired of rooftops. After clearing the haziness from her mind, she blinked her eyes a few times and brought herself back to reality. She took in her surroundings warily, sliding up to a sitting position on the dark couch beneath her.
She was in an apartment, sparsely filled but decently-sized from what she could see. Her only light source was a few scattered lamps; outside the window she could see that it was still nighttime, so she hadn't been unconscious for long. She stretched out her limbs, checking herself for any serious wounds, but there were none besides those from the battle on the roof, and they were already healing. Fucking Grohlds were relentless. She hated demons. She took a deep breath, then pushed off the blanket that had been over her. At least whoever took her in didn't take off her clothes to 'make her more comfortable' or any bullshit like that.
She slowly stood, looking around, the Slayer in her fully expecting someone to jump out from the shadows and try to kill her again. She figured she would never be able to relax. But this was life. Maybe some nice humbly old woman had decided it was her night to be a good samaritan. Faith was fully aware of herself. Whoever had picked her up definitely had the better chance of being on the male spectrum.
She walked leisurely around the living room, looking out the large windows to try and get a feel of where she might be. But she didn't know this city that well, and so she saw just what she expected to see. She was near some more buildings and dumpsters. Ah well. As long as she was in here she might as well take the opportunity to explore.
She fiddled with some little round thing on the table in front of her, then checked out the TV. It was a massive flat screen. There were a few pictures hanging on the walls that she couldn't make out, and the furniture was all very dark, much of it what appeared to be leather. Most of the things in the room looked new, or at least nice. There were a few bookshelves along the furthest wall, some with weird statues on the top. She couldn't make out any of the titles.
"You're up," a surprised - and yes, distinctly male - voice said from across the room, behind her. She spun around.
A casually dressed young man had appeared from somewhere else in the apartment with a washcloth in his hand. If Faith had guessed his age she would put him close to hers. He had a sort of lopsided smile as he spoke. "You feeling better?"
"Yeah…" She made it a rule – as she should – to be hesitant of anyone, whether they had scales or not. Especially if they took her in for no reason. That was the way the world - her world - worked. "Five by five."
He gave a small, amused laugh. "Interesting lingo. Can I use it some time?"
Her tone and face were casual, but her eyes were covertly looking him over and paying close attention as he moved and spoke for anything that might be amiss or awry. "Sorry, I got dibs."
"All right, so…" He put the washcloth down on the table. "How do you like the place?" He gestured around with his hands.
She shrugged. "Well I don't know, haven't really gotten to see much of it yet. Just woke up." She gave a grin that didn't go past her mouth.
"You sure you're okay? No bloody battle wounds that I overlooked or anything?" He sounded genuinely concerned for her well-being; almost completely non-creepy. If Faith had met him under other circumstances, she might have even written him off as a gentle dork.
"Yeah, I'm cool. Don't worry about it." She paused, remembering she still had no idea who this man was, or how exactly she came to be in his apartment. "So who are you?"
"Oh, right," he said, seeming to have forgotten normal people introduced themselves. "I'm Dean." He smiled. "You don't - have to tell me your name, if you don't want to, I mean I get the whole keep-your-identity-a-secret-fight-evil thing." Faith was briefly reminded of Superman.
Her posture noticeably stiffened and she gave him a piercing look, crossing her arms. "And why would you say that?" The less he knew, the better; and she had no idea how much he knew already.
His face and voice quickly revealed how intimidated he suddenly was. "Well - I mean, I saw you up on the roof when I was walking outside - well, I heard you, fighting and everything, and I wanted to know what was going on, but I was too caught up in waiting to see if I could catch a glimpse of anything to go up to the roof. So – I waited - I don't really know for what - and then - when you fell, I saw what you were fighting and… I caught you." He paused. "Or at least tried to. We both ended up kind of smushed on the ground." He laughed lightly. "The thing looked down at us for a few seconds and then disappeared."
"What did you see?" she asked evasively, probing for just how much information he might have. She still didn't know who he was; all she had was a name. She didn't want any repercusions because some kid saw a scary monster and saved what he probably thought was some kind of damsel, in his own way. And, if he couldn't be trusted, she didn't want him knowing anything about her.
"Um… Well it definitely didn't look like any human I've ever seen. And when you were fighting it didn't sound like one either. But I couldn't really tell exactly what it was. You were kind of high up."
Her tone evidenced her obvious doubt and suspicion. "...And you still managed to catch me?"
Uneasiness crossed his features momentarily and then disappeared. He grinned timidly. "Well - I did mention that we both got slammed into the ground. I just kind of...broke your fall with my body."
She waited a long moment before answering, unsure of whether to believe him or not. Sure, there were people who would readily accept that there were superhumans and demons and vampires in the world, that magic was real, and that it was all hiding in plain sight right under everyone's nose - but she just didn't think she was that lucky to have found one of those people. You didn't just stumble across them every day. "And it didn't freak you out? Seeing something like that up on the roof in the middle of the city at night?" More of a dry statement than a question.
"Well…research is kind of what I do. You know, supernatural stuff. Been doing it for years. I got really caught up in it after watching a buddy of mine, um….have some bad luck with a demon." He paused for a few seconds. "I've seen a lot of things - though I'm guessing not as much as you."
She cocked an eyebrow. "You'd guess right." Maybe he was telling the truth. How would she know? Though he certainly was not shocked or stunned by the events that had apparently taken place, and that counted for something. Obviously there was some reason he wasn't treating her like some strange sort of supergod or running away frightened for his life.
"Also... I've seen you before, so, you know, I knew you were taking care of the thing, but...you probably don't remember me."
Faith looked hard at his face, scrutinizing him, trying to bring to memory where she could have crossed paths with him before. Had she really? There was something in his eyes that was playing tricks with her.
"I think that with all the research I've done, and what I have access to, I could help you," he continued.
I could help you. Her mind flashed back to a dark alley, rescuing a young man from a demon, refusing his help when he called after her. She had written him off, like she had with so many others – but now? The guy did save her life, after all - though she knew she would've survived the fall. He couldn't be that bad. Maybe he could be useful. Like a big walking encyclopedia of information. She was briefly reminded of Buffy Summers and the people she had who had always taken care of researching and finding, while she did the dirty work. It worked for her. It could work for Faith. She liked getting her hands dirty; someone else could take the time to sit in front of a computer or a book or hunt down some scrap of parchment that was 1,000 years old and important to saving the world. And maybe this was a sign, having met him again. He seemed like a nice enough kid; like the kind that grows on you after a while. And, if it came to it - if he wasn't as useful as he claimed to be or he was some freak evil thing, she could always toss him back out - or get rid of him.
If she wanted to be truthful with herself - which she rarely did - she was getting kind of tired of being alone.
I always did do best on my own…most of the time.
Chapter Seven: Somewhere in the West - May 2003
What do we do now?
Driving away from that pit of ruins after staring at it for what felt like an eternity seemed like a plausible solution. There was nothing left for them there; only an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, finality and the knowledge that this was only another beginning.
Somehow the school bus was oddly comforting; it served as a small reminder of the town – home to some – and of one of the few somewhat normal things they had experienced. Buffy almost felt like she might never get rid of it, should she come to stay in one place.
They had been driving for hours. While the warm sunlight beat down on the yellow vehicle, the feeling inside was quite mixed.
There were the ones who were noticeably shut off, as if someone had flipped a switch and had the life taken right from them. Xander, staring out the window at nothing, blinking robotically every few seconds. A few of the girls, who were either copies of him or huddled, not moving or talking much or still nursing wounds.
There were those who were trying to go on as though nothing had happened – or something had happened that they would never be ready to deal with.
"I could really go for a milkshake right now," Andrew said, looking out the window.
"No way, soda totally trumps milkshake," said one of the girls who wasn't bleeding or broken in the seat behind him.
"Um, b-lah," he said, turning to look at her. "So not. You obviously have no knowledge of what goodness a milkshake can bring. Ow." He had been pelted with something.
"I could use some goodness right now," Faith half muttered, half sighed in her seat as she turned from the pathetic conversation to look out at the passing scenery without actually seeing it.
Faith was in a category all her own.
Mostly because there was a proverbial swirling vortex within her, one that she couldn't turn off or escape or shut out. Worse than the Hellmouth as it caved in upon itself, worse than seeing Buffy bleeding on the ground; because it was inside her, and she couldn't get rid of it.
As bushes and desert flew by outside, she thought about what was next. What had happened; what could happen in the future. Was she prepared? Sure, she was a Slayer – along with thousands of others now – and she was physically strong, but what about the rest of her? She had been in a prison cell barely a month ago, for things that still hadn't left her mind three years later. Things that never would. And she had planned on staying there, until Angel in all his glory decided to let his worser half come out to play, and Wesley came to her for another mission to save the world; it vaguely reminded her of when she was called upon in her dingy motel room any time she was thought to be useful. At least when she was on the other side she was getting more attention. But hey, she was a big girl, she could handle it – so what if Buffy had only looked at or spoken to her when it was necessary since she had come back? She had been gone for three years; out of sight and out of mind. And she had hurt Buffy. A lot. More than anyone else. At least now she wasn't just "the other Slayer" living in big B's shadow, though; now she was one of the originals, one who went through it all by herself just like Buffy – not like all the newbies who had been called.
What if she hadn't left? Would it have mattered? If she hadn't just jumped when Wesley asked her to, if she had stayed on her clear-cut path back to redemption – or whatever the hell she could call it? Would it have altered the way things had gone; would it have changed anything? Had she made any difference, or was she just there for back-up, a safety net that was never really actually needed? When was the last time she had felt needed? The only instance she could think of was the small amount of time after Willow had spoken those words, those words she could've killed again to hear… "Buffy needs you." And she had selfishly, stupidly thought that Buffy had needed her, that Buffy couldn't have done it without her. That maybe Buffy needed her for all different types of reasons.
She could remember the look on her face, standing on the porch of her house all alone, with that tear on her cheek. When she finally turned around and looked at her, told her to take the lead – one of the things Faith had been wanting deep inside almost since the first moment she met her. And she had done nothing. She had just walked back inside. She could have done so much more. It was probably one of the most powerful moments the two of them had ever shared, and it had been…wasted. That was the only word that fit.
And then when the First broke her down, saw straight through her – because she had never been that difficult to figure out. At least on the surface; at least to anyone who really didn't care. Robin had been her release, and he offered her something she had never seen before. But he wasn't what she wanted. He could never be.
"I think everyone could," said a familiar voice – and the last one she had been expecting – from directly beside her.
"Huh?" Confused brown eyes met deep green.
"Use some goodness."
Faith momentarily closed her eyes and shook her head, clearing it of her thoughts that were too much for her anyway. "Oh. Right." She paused, regaining her composure. "So what's up, B? I'm sure there are a lot more interesting people on this bus than me." She gave a small smile that didn't reach her eyes.
Buffy looked towards the ceiling. "Well, there are, but I've talked to all of them already. We've been on the road for so long that I literally cannot feel my butt anymore."
Faith laughed, looking away. "Yeah, the scenery kinda looks like someone threw water onto a painting at this point."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"So, uh…… Spike's…?" It was the first thing Faith could think of to say that wouldn't end badly.
Buffy looked down at the floor, the look in her eyes changing and filling with something different. "Gone." She looked back up at Faith. "He saved the world."
"We saved the world," Faith said. "He played a big part." Her eyes lowered. "Don't think I could've ever done that."
Buffy shrugged, looking ahead at nothing. "Well, he's been alive for like 250 years, and probably wasn't that nostalgic about most of it."
Another discomforted pause, and then slumping down and putting her foot up on the seat in front of them Faith said, "So, you think I'm still wanted or has the law forgotten about me by now?"
"I don't know. I'm sure Sunnydale made bigger news than you."
"That's okay, I'm fine not bein' wanted. Sorta used to it, actually." She mentally slapped herself. She had to learn how to reel in the bitterness.
But she didn't get the reaction she had been expecting. "Well, you never know. Things could change." Buffy, still looking ahead, smiled, and it was genuine.
Chapter Eight: Europe - May 2006
She could recall one particular night, months ago, Dean at her side walking through the moonlit part of a cemetery and relishing that for once there were no ghouls or goblins of the night seeking her out; one of the rare times they had had a conversation about her.
After the usual mindless banter and chatter, Dean had mustered up the courage to ask the question she was sure anyone would be curious to have answered; "So what was your life like before you left?" The only thing Faith had really let him know up to that point was that she had left and gone out on her own; she wasn't much for letting everyone know about her past, had she even been able to. "I mean, did you have friends, did you go to school, did you do stuff in the daytime?" He laughed.
By that time he had grown on her enough that she didn't resent him for bringing up questions or being interested in her life before. She was mysterious, after all - that was the way she liked it. But she had grown as close as she was willing to get to him, and let some things slide should she be in just the right mood.
She looked up at the dark sky, her eyes shifting amongst the stars. "It's a little complicated."
"Oh come on, you can't just leave me hangin' like that! Were you a troublemaker? A saint?" She couldn't stop herself from laughing at the word. "Did you have a boyfriend? Did you go to jail?"
Her face clouded over, and her eyes darkened. Dean immediately realized he had said the wrong thing, and stopped bouncing around to look at her.
"Oh, Faith I'm sorry, I'm an idiot sometimes, don't listen to anything I say. How about unicorns? I like unicorns. Yeah, when I was a kid I always wanted one so I could ride around and spear people with the point, but mine would be black, not pink like those prissy princess ones, and I'd name it Lightning Bolt, and it would - "
"D," she interrupted him. "It's okay." There was a long pause – so long, in fact, that Dean was about to say something - but then she spoke. "I didn't really fit in with the group I hung out with where I came from. They…were already a group when I came on the scene. School wasn't my thing. And to answer your stereotypes, I was a troublemaker. In the bad way." She paused again. "The way that got me locked up."
"Oh…" he breathed, unsure of what to say. His voice was quiet and hesitant; almost fearful. "Is that why you left?"
Her face became unreadable, though there was strong sentiment in her eyes that couldn‘t be lost on anyone who looked. She took a while before answering, gathering her thoughts and forcing most of her emotion back.
"There were a lot of factors. Basically, I just wanted to go it alone for a while. Sorta redeem myself, in a way that I couldn't do behind bars. I did a lot of bad things."
"There's nothing I can get from this place." Except away from it. "I'm gonna try my luck in the big bad world for a while."
"That's all?" he asked, pushing.
"You did what you were brought to do, that's it, you're done. What more use do you have?"
"Yeah. That's it." Her eyes were no longer even focused; she was just walking, just moving to do something. She had dredged up an entire wreckage of things she never wanted to think about again; and her mind couldn't stop itself from remembering when she had stumbled upon something she couldn't forget.
You promised you wouldn't lie to me.
Faith was sitting by herself at the bar, staring into the glass in her hand, seeing but not seeing the welcoming amber liquid contained in the small clear walls. If she looked hard enough she could actually see pictures inside of it, though how that was possible she didn't know since it wasn't moving.
The stool beside her suddenly found itself occupied, though she paid absolutely no attention. Ten people so far had approached her that night and she had fallen into such a world of her own that she essentially did not even notice them anymore.
The stool beside her was talking. She didn't care. She was actually starting to imagine that it was the drink on the counter before her that was talking to her, which made it much more enjoyable to pay attention to.
But the stool ruined it by saying her name.
She looked up, her eyes cutting into the extremely aged man she saw before her. He had to be at least seventy. His hair was bleach white, as were his beard and moustache. His eyes were startlingly young, however. He did not look evil nor did he give her the vibes she usually got from any sort of scum. He had a very kind look in his round face, one she was not used to seeing.
"Who are you and what do you want?" she asked him bluntly, the fact that he knew her name slipping quickly from her mind in her slightly inebriated state.
He smiled sincerely. "I want to give you something."
"Hey, thanks pal, but I don't swing that way. You're a bit on the antique side, if you haven't noticed."
He laughed. "Always with the jokes. Tell me Faith, when was the last time you were serious with anyone?"
She got more defensive, her forehead creasing in the beginnings of anger. "Look, I don't know what you're playing at - "
"You have nothing to worry about, Faith. I'm not going to eat your soul, or rip out your heart, or kill your loved ones." He paused, looking away briefly as though thinking. "Well, that option may be void." Something raced through her eyes. "I am here simply to offer you help." She opened her mouth to say something, but he continued talking. "No, not like the kind of help Dean gives you. Though his research is commendable. This is something quite different, quite…deeper. I assure you that it is something only I can give you."
She still felt very uncertain, and it showed in her face. She unconsciously moved further from him. "And then when you do rip out my heart you can look back on this and laugh."
He gave another chuckle. "I could never rip out your heart, my dear, I doubt anyone could. It is far too strong."
It took her a moment to answer, her face unreadable. She found her voice, though it was faltering. She wasn't sure how to respond, and her current state did not help any. "Yeah, well, I'm not impressed by your little mind-reading tricks."
"I don't expect you to be. But just so you know, I'm not reading your mind. I can see all that I need to."
"Right." She turned to him. "Can you see what I'm going to do next?"
"Yes, I can." His eyes were still dancing with amusement. "Though I'm sure it's not what you're thinking."
She stared back down at her glass, unsure of what to do or how she even felt. So she said nothing. She didn't know why this man was here - the real reason - or why he was talking to her; and she didn't understand why, even though she wanted to resent him, she couldn't. She had been having a lovely time with her glass of solace until he had come along.
"You have immense strength within you, Faith. And not just the kind the Powers imbued you with. You have the power to change things. To do what's right. If it helps, I didn't choose you myself. You have to be the one who sees this. Because you are the one who made the decision to do this, and you are the one who can make the decision to go back." She looked at him, emotion swirling in her eyes so great even he was momentarily stunned. He pulled something from nowhere. "You can take it, and use it if you wish. I will leave it with you. If you choose to take this opportunity, then eat this and you will see as I see. You'll know what to do." He slid a bag of what looked like marijuana over to her, though she knew it was something else. He took another item again from out of nowhere. "This is for you as well. It will keep you safe always as long as you wear it." It was a necklace, made from something she couldn't identify. It was beautiful.
"Good luck to you, Faith." He downed his shot and was gone.
Chapter Nine: Europe - May 2006
Small starbursts had been spinning around the upper perimeter of the room, where wall met ceiling, for some time now; one suddenly came zinging down near her face, quickly arcing back up again and exploding into a firework that gave off a faint glowing outline of a face.
Faith shook her head, and the firework disappeared; only the firework. She didn't like that firework. Actually, she didn't like any of the fireworks. They all ended with that face.
She decided to test the window, which seemed coated on the trim with what appeared to be purple gelatin of some sort that moved along at its own pace, in a big rectangle around the glass. It sparkled here and there, and when she touched it – though she was actually a good six feet away – it felt cold and similar to jam. She tried to swipe some onto the wall, but only got a hazy color burn that faded quickly like the light spots the sun leaves on your eyes.
What had the old man said this was for? To let her see something? Er…. Something to do, wasn't that it? Important? Or…maybe not. She couldn't remember. She hoped it didn't have anything to do with those fireworks.
She grinned, looking toward the door as someone entered the room.
"Hey, D," she said, turning her attention back to whatever it was she was now wrapped up in. "I think I took acid or somethin', man. You wouldn't believe - "
But at that particular moment her head snapped back as her entire body seized, her eyes slamming shut. She shook violently, erratically, every part of her jerking and jolting.
Dean rushed to her side, having not the slightest idea what was happening. "Faith?" No response. Her head was twitching slightly, her breathing short and hard. "Faith?" he tried again.
After another several prolonged moments, when he had made up his mind to begin shaking her vigorously, her eyes snapped open and she flew back up to a sitting position so fast he fell off the side of the bed.
Her breathing was harsh and erratic. She held a hand to her chest, where her heart was. Dean looked up at her, still on the floor, unsure of whether or not he should speak. He made up his mind.
She didn't answer him, instead bolting up and heading to the bathroom; but as she left and he caught a look at her profile, he could swear her eyes were shining.
Buffy's fist was hanging perilously in the air two inches from the young girl's surprised face.
"You have to remember your weak spots. Always be aware of every part of your body and everything around it." Buffy lowered her fist. She was sparring with one of the Slayers who had just moved in a few weeks ago, and who still needed a lot of training. "You might have five different bad guys coming at you all at once. You have to be prepared for anything."
"Five at once?" the girl squeaked, clearly daunted by the idea.
Buffy nodded. "Five at once."
Buffy turned to see Dawn at the top of the stairs. "Willow's back."
"Keep practicing those moves I showed you, okay?" After the girl nodded, Buffy turned and followed after her sister.
The witch was sitting at the kitchen table, looking more or less like herself but more like she knew something that wouldn't spell a fairytale for anyone. Buffy sat down next to her.
"So? How was Europe? Did you see the Eiffel Tower?" God, did she love story time.
Her friend perked up somewhat. "Yep. It's just as fantastic as it looks in all the pictures. And – and I saw the Louvre, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and… Well basically all the tourist-y things, and a bunch of different cities." Then her face changed, falling from cheerful to conflicted. And uh…" She opened her mouth slightly to say something, then paused for a long moment. She seemed to change her mind and held it back, opting for something else. Buffy noticed all of this but said nothing. "Uh, then I met this psychic guy, might've been a witch too, and he told me some stuff that's – not so fun."
"Does it directly involve us? Because I much prefer pawning this stuff off onto one of the other groups we have." Over a year ago they had branched off into several mini-organizations across the country, to handle the influx of new Slayers and to broaden their reach.
Willow seemed hesitant, usually a bad sign. "Well, he said that, basically, your life is in danger…" She remembered something else. "Oh, and that you should be expecting a great change."
"Oh," Buffy said, her voice dripping with bitter sarcasm. "Great, what's new? I always love a little side of impending death with dinner." She paused. "Did he tell you anything else?"
"He said something about The Influence, or something like that, if I remember right."
Buffy sighed. She couldn't even catch a break when she was one of thousands. After so many years of barely escaping death, almost nothing surprised her anymore. She got a far-off look in her eyes as she stared out the window. "All right. Find out what you can. Let me know." She absentmindedly stood and gave her friend a hug. "Dinner in half an hour?"
"I sure hope so, I could eat a walrus. Not – that I ever would."
Buffy smiled, a rather fake smile if Willow had looked close enough. "I'll be there." She left the room, leaving the other woman uncertain. She moved through the house quietly, making sure no one saw or heard her. As she reached the back door, she slipped out unnoticed and headed off into the darkness.
Dean had walked in on the Slayer throwing clothes and other items into a bag very hurriedly, a look on her face that he couldn't quite place. He had never seen her this way before.
"I have to go. I have to get back to…" she shook her head slightly, as if she had forgotten what she was saying, or stopped herself. She seemed incredibly flustered.
"…Cleveland?" he supplied.
She glanced at him, distracted. "…Yeah."
"Why? Just all of a sudden out of nowhere? What's going on?" There was a tinge of annoyance in his voice that she heard immediately.
She cut her eyes at him. "Nothing, D. It's my own business, okay?" She threw the last of her belongings into the bag and slung it over her shoulder, turning to face him.
"Well, but… But what about me?" He sounded almost indignant.
"You'll be fine. Don't worry. I taught you how to handle yourself."
"Well, yeah, but… I mean, without you…" He paused, seeming to search for words. "Why did you say you suddenly have to go back, again?" He squinted his eyes at her in what looked a great deal like suspicion.
Her words were rushed. "I just have to, all right? Look, I'm sorry, I know this seems really strange to you, but just believe me when I tell you that I have to go. This is just who I am. You should know that by now. It's been a blast, really. Don't get into too much trouble, all right?" She hit him on the arm and headed toward the door.
There was a loud crackling sound that filled the room, catching the attention of both of them very quickly. A horned, gray and very ugly demon was standing in the middle of the room. He was wearing some sort of strange and brightly colored suit, and he had a white beard so pointed it could have been considered a weapon that reached his chest. Faith, at this point, had gone into battle mode and dropped her bag, ready to fight.
"You," he pointed at Dean, "are an ingrate. I never should've gone through all this hassle. Things are just so much easier when you do them yourself." And with that, he lifted his palm up, facing the young man, and a bright red light emanated shortly from it. Dean promptly vanished, screaming, into the air. There was no evidence of where he had just stood.
Faith stared in shock, still poised, but unsure whether to feel anger at Dean's death or anger at him for hiding something from her. The confusion from the demon's words set in, and she felt blank.
"As for you," he said, turning to her with an almost jovial expression on his wizened face, "I have a little surprise for you. You remember back, the first time you met Dean when you ‘saved his life,' and dutifully refused his offer to help you and whatnot?" She tightened her fists, tensing up. "Well that was actually aplan plotted out by yours truly – and him – to get ‘in' with you and make you hopefully trust him, though as you recall it didn't work out so well." He sounded as if he was excitedly explaining how something worked to a child. But she could sense the underlying fury. "So, then we waited around until you fell off a roof, which gave us the perfect setup to knock you out and make you think Dean saved you. Once we were in, we bided our time, waiting for the perfect moment to harness your powers and energy." He threw up his arms exaggeratedly. "However, since you've gone and thrown a wrench into everything by suddenly deciding you want to leave and go back home, I have had to step in, get rid of the idiot, and take care of it all now by myself." His smile was sardonic and bitter.
Faith, for her part, was more stunned than she had been in a very long while, trying so desperately not to let all the things this demon had just told her seep in, at least not now; or what the word "home" had prompted inside of her. Now she had a job to do. Kill him. She needed to focus on that. For her own sanity. "And how do you plan on doing that?" she asked, her eyes narrowed in hate.
"Well, you see, first I'm going to stun you, and then the plan was always that I would take you to – " He never finished the sentence, as Faith had pulled a large blade from the back of her pants and shoved it forcefully through the side of his skull before he had a chance.
She looked down at his crumpled body, uninterested in what he had been about to say. She had bigger things to worry about. "Nice try." He melted away into the carpet, leaving a stench. The blade remained, and she picked it up, wiping it on the bed and putting it back.
She didn't want to dwell on anything that had just occurred in the last five minutes; how somehow the one person she had somewhat managed to befriend and share lives with, out of all the other people in Europe, in all the time she had been there, even for a what small amount of time they had been working together, had been betraying her all along. It was the story of her life. What shit decisions she always seemed to make.
She knew she had been better off on her own.
She shook it off, quite literally. "Bastard," she muttered, before picking up her bag and hurrying from the room at an even faster pace than before.
Meanwhile, far away, a young woman left a dark area extremely unsatisfied.