New Beginnings, Old Enemies

Chapter Three

Faith pushed the covers of the bed from her body, her hand pressed against the scar that still lingered on her stomach. Beads of sweat ran in rivers down her temples, and the air rushed in and out of her lungs as she fought to breathe.

She hated these episodes. The reminders. The punch of guilt and remorse that caused her nightmares and that slicing pain that yanked her from her sleep. From her daydreams. From herself.

They happened without warning, and the pain was as real, as fierce and unforgiving as the exact moment Buffy had slid Faith’s own knife deep into her.

She felt it twist inside her every day. She clawed back tears when it happened, and bit back screams of pain. It wasn’t so bad when she was alone, at least she could hold her stomach and grit her teeth as the pain sliced her in two.

She had to hide it from Giles, however. From her therapist who thought she was mad enough as it was.

Faith knew it wasn’t real pain. Not physical. It was more than that. It went deeper, and came without warning. It came as a price for fucking up. As a way of reminding her that she deserved that feeling of cold steel entering her body, ripping at her flesh, and scraping at her guts.

She had asked for it, and she wasn’t going to grumble about it now. So whenever it hit her when Giles was around, Faith would stand tall, harden her stomach muscles and deal with the punishment handed to her. She didn’t dare feel sorry for herself. She deserved it, and more.

“Faith, I’ll be leaving for the Magic Box in 20 minutes,” Giles shouted up the stairs.

Faith swung her legs out from under the blankets and placed her feet on the hard wood floor. The cool wood felt good against her hot skin. She sighed and released the pressure on her stomach as the pain subsided.

She had been living with Giles, hidden away, for almost three weeks.

He’d kept her secret from the others, from Buffy. He’d bought his little magic shop with money he had saved, and had Faith train there during the day while Buffy was at college.

There had been a few near misses, but so far. . .Faith had not been discovered, and nobody had a clue that she was in Sunnydale, visiting her therapist daily, and being tutored every other day by a nice old man who had time and patience, and didn’t get angry with her when she didn’t understand something.

It wasn’t a bad life. It was better than prison for certain. But Faith wasn’t happy.

She didn’t think she could ever be happy. The tough little Boston girl in fact doubted that she had ever been truly happy before.

Faith had been ok. She’d lived life as fast and as dangerous as possible. She’d laughed a lot and ‘had fun’, but she wasn’t sure she knew what happiness was.

It certainly wasn’t spending every day waiting for pain, waiting for the next lesson, the next training session. The nights without dancing, without slaying, without the wind in her hair as she lashed out at whichever unlucky vamp or demon happened to cross her path.

She missed feeling free. She missed feeling strong and untouchable, and wild. She missed feeling Buffy.

“Don’t forget your appointment with Dr. Tan, Faith,” Giles reminded her, like he did every morning.

She never forgot. There was no way she was going to fuck up her end of the deal, no matter how much she hated going to see her therapist.

Luckily, Dr. Tan wasn’t a ruthless type who wanted to analyse her to death. She would just sit back and let Faith talk. And Faith had come to realise that she didn’t have to give too much away. She could placate the Dr with a few stories about her childhood. A few tales of how she daydreamed and fantasised, in order to dissuade the authorities that she was mad for having slipped up and mentioned vampires and demons during her confusing spell of detention.

She would tell Dr. Tan about how much she wanted to change. About how she wanted to stop wasting her life. . .and make something of herself.

Faith was sent away every day, with the good Dr feeling sure that Faith was on the path to recovery.

Faith felt sure herself that she was, despite the lingering self-loathing and despairing regret.

Slipping on her dark clothes and her boots, like armour for her soul, Faith readied herself for the day. She knew the routine by heart now, but she never complained. What had to be done, had to be done. She would eat her breakfast, she would brush her teeth, she would ride in Giles’ car to the therapist. After rambling her way through the session, she would hastily make her way the short distance to the Magic Box, waiting outside the back door for Giles to let her in, just in case a Scoob was there. Just in case Buffy had dropped by.

There she would train, and she would learn about being a slayer. Reading. Studying. Growing. If it was a tutor day, Giles would take her home for her lessons, and she would wait for him to get back later in the day. On the other days, she would stay at the Magic Box, hidden away, down the stairs and in the back room with the dust and the stifling scent of damp and rotting wood.

If Giles knew Buffy was due to come round, he would do a nifty spell that effectively hid her from Buffy. Like some kind of force field that meant Buffy wouldn’t sense her presence.

Buffy didn’t come around too often, however. She was busy catching up at college. She was busy with Riley, and with slaying.

After straightening her hair out, Faith made her way downstairs to be greeted by a bowl of healthy looking brown stuff that Giles liked to call cereal. She held in her sighs. Her sadness. Her desire to ask for the hundredth time. . .the question of when she would be allowed to slay again.

The answer was always. . .“soon.”

Soon wasn’t close enough.

“I hope you got a good night’s sleep, Faith. We have a lot to do today,” Giles said, as he bustled around the apartment, gathering up bits and pieces to take with him to the magic shop. “I want to make sure you’ve grasped the finer points of the Culma Ver,” he continued.

Faith had had just about enough of the Culma Ver. It was a training practice much like Tai Chi. . .only with swords. Though without the fulfilling feeling of sliding the sword into something squishy and demony. She didn’t quite see the point in the exercise, but felt a sense of calm after spending hours controlling her body, her mind, and the sharp blades that swayed dangerously close to her.

“Sure,” she mumbled around a mouthful of brown mush. Not mentioning the slayer dream that had woken her during the night.

She was used to Buffy stabbing her in her dreams. Not that they were particularly violent. They weren’t. They weren’t informative, and they certainly weren’t very nice either, but they were strangely comforting.

She didn’t have a clue if Buffy shared her dreams. If Buffy was actually there with her in them. They tended to talk in riddles between each other, and the ending was always the same.

Faith would be left with her own knife jutting out from her stomach, and as she looked into Buffy’s eyes. . .all she would see within them was hate, and beyond that. . .emptiness.

Giles looked sadly towards Faith as she sat in silence, her bowl before her forgotten as she became lost in her thoughts. He could only imagine what she was thinking. Only suppose that her mind was in some dark place that she was fighting to stay out of. The shadows beneath her eyes told him more than Faith did herself.

He wanted to reach out and touch her, to rest his hand on her shoulder, to show that he was there for her. That he was there to support her.

But Giles didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. He wasn’t comfortable with fatherly gestures, and he was pretty sure that Faith wasn’t used to being touched without it meaning something else. Without it being a prelude to something.

Faith was used to being taken advantage of. He could tell that much. It didn’t take a genius to see why she failed to interpret friendliness, or a helping hand, as just that. . .with no strings attached.

He wanted to kick himself for missing it before. He wished so much that he had just opened his eyes when she had first arrived in Sunnydale, a scared and lost child, in need of refuge and understanding.

They had all failed to see her for who she really was. They had failed her, and she had paid the price for that.

“I think tonight we’ll take you on patrol, Faith. I’ll make sure we’ll be well away from Buffy, and I’ll stay with you,” Giles said, nodding to himself at his sudden decision.

Faith looked up at the former watcher, not quite believing her ears. “Slay?” she said slowly, blinking in the sunlight that filtered through the blinds.

“Yes, Faith. We’ll take you slaying, but not for too long. We don’t want you to get…”

The rest of Giles’ words were lost, as Faith grinned and felt just a little shred of hope and light emerge within herself. She knew. . .if she could slay, she could mend, because slaying was an integral part of who she was. It made her feel good about herself, it made her feel strong, and right.

Of course, there was a shadow now, over the light. A mistake made whilst slaying lay as a thick black cloak over some of the goodness in what she did. It was draped over her calling, no matter how much Giles repeated to her that mistakes had happened before. That she wasn’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last slayer to have had such an unfortunate accident.

He tried to reassure her everyday that the good she did would far outweigh her mistakes. That learning to control herself, her actions, her instinct to kill. . .would make her a better slayer. A better person.

She believed it would one day, but she also knew it would never completely erase the shadow and the blight over her soul.

* * *

Having spent the day repeating the same actions. The same instances. . .Faith readied herself for the night’s slaying. It had been all she could think about all day. She’d done her best not to wear herself out during her training. She had steadied her mind, and her body. Now she just wanted to get at some vamps.

She missed the smell of dust. The feel of power. The heat of battle.

Waiting, pacing, in Giles’s apartment, Faith couldn’t help the butterflies that tumbled around in her stomach. It was a mix of excitement and trepidation. It was a mix of fear and regret, and solid, hard hate. For herself, as much as for the things she hunted.

Her butterflies were halted however, when the phone rang out loud into the quiet room.

Faith picked up the receiver, only just realising it was probably not the smart thing to do when it was too late. She wasn’t meant to go answering phones willy nilly. It could be Buffy on the other end.

As she held her breath, however, Faith could clearly make out the haughty English accent of Giles on the other end. She placed the receiver to her ear.

“Faith…I can hear you breathing, there’s no point in pretending you’re not there,” he said with a slight chuckle to his voice. “I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to go slaying tonight, Faith. Something has come up here with Buffy. I need to stay and find out more about the Garak demon that’s on the loose.”

Faith didn’t answer. She felt her heart hit her feet, but held in her disappointment.

“Soon though, Faith. I promise,” Giles assured. “There are steaks in the refrigerator, and pop. I’ll be back later, Faith. Oh, and don’t answer the telephone.”

Faith didn’t have chance to reply before he hung up and got on with whatever it was he was doing. She could have sworn Buffy was on an independent kick when it came to slaying. . .but obviously Giles was still needed in some capacity.

She was jealous. She wanted to slay. She needed to slay, but her needs were inconsequential it seemed. Faith couldn’t complain, as it was all part of the package. All part of redemption. She would do as she was told, and she would like it.

Kicking her heavy boots off and hanging her jacket back up on the hook, the slayer did her best to ease her muscles and her brain out of potential slay mode. It wouldn’t be easy, but there was nothing she could do about it. At least Giles had a TV to comfort her. A few hours of lame films and she’d be ready to trudge to her bed again, to wait for the nightly dreams that tore at her soul.

A few hours slipped by, yet Faith couldn’t settle. Giles wasn’t back and she was getting ever more edgy.

She was sure he should be back by now.

Pacing wasn’t helping. Attempting to control her body and her mind through the exercises Giles had taught her was just getting her more worked up. Faith had to know what was going on. She had to get out. She had to make sure Giles was ok.

Sweeping her hand through her lush hair, Faith made a decision. She grabbed her jacket and pushed her feet into her boots. Making sure she had a nice sharp stake in her inside pocket, she left the apartment and hit the side streets of Sunnydale.

The fresh night air was like elixir for her lungs. Breathing it in deep and keeping to the shadows, she headed for the Magic Box.

It didn’t take long to get there, her strong legs carrying her swiftly through the trash strewn alleys and dank crevices of the town. She knocked on the back door, hoping Buffy wasn’t there. Nobody answered, and she could hear nothing from inside with her ear to the wood of the door.

“Shit,” she muttered to herself.

Slowly, Faith moved around to the front of the building. She crouched low, looking through the thick glass of the shop window. No lights were on, and nobody was home. There was no sign of demon or vampire presence. No sign of anybody.

She would have to look further afield.

Slinking out of sight through the trash once again, Faith headed towards the nearest cemetery. It was as good a place to start as any.

She didn’t get far in her search, however. A strong tugging feeling pulled her short as she passed a squalid looking building to her left. She could hear music thumping through the walls. Dance music oozing out of the cracks in the old building that looked far from in use, but was apparently teeming with life. Low-life to be more exact.

She could see people stumbling in and out from her vantage point. They were drunk. They were desperate. They were probably made up of at least a hand full of vamps, given the tingles currently running rampant up and down her spine.

The feeling was strong, and it was jerking her forwards, towards the club doormen guarding the large, dirty doors.

Faith didn’t really want to enter, but she didn’t feel like she had a choice. If her feeling was right and there were vamps in there, she knew she should really lay in wait for them leaving with their prey. But standing around outside didn’t seem to be an option for her right now. Something was leading her in, and she was powerless to stop it.

The dark, smoky atmosphere peppered with strobing lights and bodies swaying and grinding to the music used to be a haven for her. Not here, but places like it. Places like it everywhere she had run to.

It was no haven now. Just a reminder of how lost she had been. Just an example of her lowest points.

Faith’s dark eyes scanned the tightly packed room, and the bar to the right. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for. Wasn’t even sure why she had talked her way past the bouncer. She wasn’t sure. . .until her gaze rested on a figure in amongst the crowd.

A girl dancing. Her eyes closed, as her hips swayed and her hands covered her own body, bathed in the blue light from above her. She was lost to the music. To the smoke and the drink, and the men that leered and pressed close to her.

Faith’s heart ceased to beat. Every muscle fired up and her pupils flared to take in the sight.

It was Buffy, and Buffy had spotted her.



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