Faith walked with her hands in her pockets through the back yards of the affluent neighborhood until she reached another quiet side street. Her spidey-sense was tingling and she knew that there were vampires lurking in the not-so-far cemetery just a block or two over. She didn't have time for slaying though, despite what she'd told Buffy. Her plan was to go to check out the situation with Lester Worth and make an impromptu decision on how to make it through this unscathed if that was at all possible.
The sad fact was, she knew she could out-live the assassins even though they were armed. Guns weren't anything new in her life and if she stayed hidden, they'd never find her. But turning her back on the mayor, a guy who had some kind of crazy hard-on for evil, she was sure that would end with her six feet under. It would be almost impossible to hide from a guy who practically owned the town.
She caught a small rock with the toe of her boot and kicked it along in front of her for nearly a mile. It was just the distraction she needed to keep her mind off of her imminent doom. When she finally reached the building she was looking for, she glanced up at it and took a deep breath.
God, she really did hang around with the Scoobies too much. Who ever thought that she'd be the kind of girl to break into a school?
Shaking her head, she walked around the building until she found an opened window and boosted herself up into the empty classroom. The halls were dark and still and she stayed as quiet as she could be as she crept along, hoping beyond hope that there was no night janitor on duty. The last thing she needed now was a confrontation.
She eventually found herself standing at the door to the library, hesitant to enter. This was the Scoobies' inner sanctum. It felt wrong going in there, especially since she'd hopped sides, but it was a different situation now, right? Buffy told her that they wanted to help her now.
Steeling herself, she took another deep breath and walked through the double doors.
The library seemed even darker than the rest of the school and the silence was almost deafening. Her enhanced vision aided her well, though, and she easily made her way to Giles' office where she turned on his computer. She sat down and relaxed while it booted up, then clicked on the web browser. She wasn't exactly sure what she was doing but she had pretty basic computer skills thanks to the mayor's secretary.
She managed to open a search engine and clumsily typed in the professor's name using just her index fingers. A slew of entries came up about research papers he'd contributed to and his work with the college. Nothing seemed out of the sort; he appeared to be just your every day run of the mill college professor who smiled for all of his pictures and who everyone liked. He did volunteer work for local charities and was on the Sunnydale Council for Youth Education Services. He even ran a few charity campaigns for impoverished peoples around the globe that he'd met during archaeological digs at dormant volcanoes.
"Great, I'm supposed to kill fucking Gandhi," she mumbled to herself.
She had no idea what made this guy a target for Mayor Wilkins but she knew it had to be something bad. Sexual harassment? Pedophilia? Embezzlement? Fraud?
Nope. None of that. An hour of searching and Faith had to conclude that the guy was squeaky clean. Practically a saint.
And then she stumbled across an article that piqued her curiosity. She clicked on the link and found a recent interview with the professor by a local historical society. They hinted at one of his latest archaeological finds – some kind of undiscovered species – and how he was going to present the data to the world in just a few short days.
There were lots of pieces missing in the puzzle, but if any of those pieces would interfere with whatever the mayor was planning, she was sure that was reason enough for the mayor to have him killed.
The only kink in the plan was that Professor Worth was a human and a pretty damned good one at that. There was no way she could kill him. Not by her own choice; not when he didn't deserve it. She'd only ever taken one human life and that had been an accident. There was no way she could do it on purpose, especially to a guy like this.
Especially now that Buffy finally had her back.
The sound of the double doors swinging open caught her attention and she quickly switched off the monitor to avoid being caught just as an overhead light in the library was turned on. She squatted down and peeked through the doorway to find Giles and Willow walking through the library and settling down at a table not too far from where she was hiding. They were talking – no, arguing – about some kind of magic and Willow's ability to use it, which gave Faith the perfect opportunity to slink out of the office and to the back of the stacks. She hid there for a few minutes, lost in her thoughts and barely paying attention to their conversation; she had bigger things on her mind.
When Giles and Willow headed off deeper into the library to fetch some books from a caged section, Faith took that as her chance to get out of there. She stealthily crept along the stacks and out the double doors, leaving them swinging quietly behind her.
Giles walked back to the main part of the library with a stack of books in his arms. The slight swaying of the double doors caught his attention and he stopped walking, focusing on them.
"Willow?" he called out quietly.
"Yeah-huh?" she replied, poking her head around a tall shelf off to the side.
Giles looked over at her and then back to the doors that were now still. He observed them carefully before shaking his head and giving her a tired smile.
"Never mind, dear."
Faith left the school and decided to take a different way back to the house they were staying at. She had a lot on her mind and didn't need to deal with Buffy questioning her and looking at her in that disapproving way that only Buffy could do. She was all too familiar with that look and just couldn't deal with it right then.
She tucked her hands in her pockets and walked with her head down, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Avoiding the main streets was pretty easy once you knew the lay of the land. Sunnydale was way smaller than Boston and Faith had it pretty much mapped out after her first two weeks there. The assassins were out there looking for her but they didn't know the town like she did or the nooks and crannies that provided the best hiding places.
Not that Faith was used to hiding, but she knew where she could stow away in a cinch if the need be.
As she thought more and more about her situation, she realized that there was no easy way out of it. If she didn't do what the mayor asked, he'd kill her. If she did what the mayor asked, the assassins would kill her. If Buffy found out that Faith had lied to her about where she was going tonight, Buffy would probably kill her, or at least do some serious maiming.
No matter what angle she looked at it from, it was a lose/lose situation. Her stomach sunk when she realized that she was probably going to have to do what she apparently did best: run like a coward.
She was so deep in her thoughts that she didn't realize where she'd walked into nor did she feel her spidey-sense going off letting her know that danger was at bay. Only when someone stepped into her path did she finally look up and realize where she was:
In the middle of a fucking cemetery – where she'd promised she wouldn't be – and surrounded by six of the mayor's vampire henchmen.
"Aren't you headed in the wrong direction?" the biggest of them asked. He was vamped out and standing directly in front of Faith, staring into her surprised eyes.
Faith realized herself quickly and sneered, looking more than a little bit pissed off.
"I'm gonna be generous here. You have exactly five seconds to get your wrinkly mug outta my face, which is exactly five more seconds than you deserve."
The vampire snarled but, knowing his place, backed up a few steps. The other vampires didn't move and watched Faith carefully, noting her every breath and movement. When she shot them all a glare, each vamp took another step back, giving her ample space and them more of a head start in case she went berserk.
"The boss gave you a job and he expects you to take care of it," the biggest vamp said.
"Yeah, well the boss is gonna have to be patient," Faith replied briefly.
"Cold feet isn't a valid excuse for not doing your j . . ." the vamps eyes went wide and he looked down, surprised. Faith had closed the distance between them and managed to stake him in just a split second. He disappeared into a cloud of dust, leaving his companions looking on in shock.
"Are we good here or does anyone else wanna tell me how to do my job?" Faith asked, her voice low.
The remaining vampires, instead of backing down, snarled loudly and closed in on Faith. The first kick to her back caught her by surprise and she grunted with pain. She spun on her heel and brought the stake down quickly enough to dust the vamp who had sucker-kicked her. She didn't have time to revel in her victory over him though because there were still four more vamps circling and around her.
"And then there were four," she said, trying to hide the pain in her voice. Her back was on fire and she was pretty sure that one of her kidneys was about to explode if it hadn't already.
"Pretty sure the boss is gonna love to hear about how you failed to follow his orders and about how you killed his men when confronted," one of the vamps taunted.
"Guess I'll just have to kill you all then, huh," Faith replied. Her senses prickled and she spun just in time to catch a fist that was aimed at her head. She twisted it in her hands and felt the bone break and puncture through the skin, sending blood pouring onto the grass below.
"You bitch!" the vamp howled. He kicked out and caught her on the knee, sending her stumbling backwards. The sickening crunch her knee made didn't stop Faith who lunged forward toward him in a rage. He gasped when she easily overpowered him and pushed her stake against his chest.
He exploded into a shower of dust and Faith tilted her head to side, cracking her sore neck. The three remaining vampires looked from where he had been standing up to Faith who was waiting in a defensive stance with her weight off of her injured knee. A female vamp jumped at her next, waving a small silver blade back and forth. Faith reached out to knock the blade away but the vamp saw it coming and sliced into Faith's forearm before dodging back out of her grasp.
Faith looked down and saw blood seeping out of the fresh cut in her leather jacket. "Alright, now I'm pissed," she grunted.
Instead of waiting for the next attack on her, she leaped forward and grabbed the nearest vamp by his shirt. She pulled him forward and then lifted him enough so that she could toss him to the ground and wind him. He lay there, stunned, and she brought the stake down hard into his chest. Unfortunately for her, she didn't pull it back in time and it disappeared as the vamp turned into dust.
Struggling back to her feet, she pulled her favorite silver knife from inside her jacket and faced the last two vamps, smiling coldly. The male vamp charged her but she ducked and stuck her shoulder into his abdomen, flipping him easily over her shoulder. He landed hard on the ground with a loud thud and lay there, dazed.
"Sorry bud, but one of ya has to live," she said.
The female vampire suddenly looked scared as she started stepping backwards. "Why does he get to live?"
Faith flew at her, dealing blow after blow to her chest while avoiding each swipe of the panicking vamp's knife. Only when the vamp's back was to a tree did Faith relent and look her in the eye.
"Because he didn't ruin my jacket, bitch."
Quicker than the vamp could react, Faith used all of her power to slice the blade through the air. She caught the female vamp under her chin and cut her head clean off in one swipe, sending a shower of dust down to the grass.
The sole remaining vampire was struggling to get to his feet when Faith turned around. She pocketed her knife and began to slowly limp over to him.
"This is how this is gonna work," Faith began as she got closer. "You're gonna get a second chance. It's not because I like ya. It's not because you're lucky. It's because you're the last vamp standing – or trying to stand – and I need a messenger. You gonna play nice, or do I shoot the messenger?"
The vamp nodded enthusiastically, his eyes wide with fear. "I'll be the messenger."
"Good boy," Faith said with a mocking smile. "You tell the mayor that jobs like this take time if I wanna avoid being tossed in jail. Tell him to gimme a couple days."
"I will. I'll tell him just like that," the vamp said nervously.
"And tell him thanks for the exercise but if he keeps sendin' his boys after me, he ain't gonna have no boys left." She winked at him and then hobbled off through the graveyard, hoping she'd make it home before her knee gave out for good.
Faith made it across the yard and through the back door of the house with very little energy left to spare. Her knee was so swollen that her jeans were pulled taut and looked like they were about to split on either side of her knee. There was a good chance that the tightness of the material was the only thing stopping her leg from giving every time she put the smallest bit of weight on it.
She rested against the countertop for a few minutes to catch her breath and tossed some cold water onto her face and hands from the kitchen sink. She cupped her hands and gulped some water from them and that was when she remembered the slice on her forearm. Between her back pain and knee pain, she'd been easily able to forget about the stinging cut.
Gingerly pulling the jacket from her body, she tossed it up on the counter and looked down at the angry red wound. Slayer healing was working on it already but it still looked like it could use a few stitches. Her and hospitals were unmixy things though so she gritted her teeth and ran her arm under the stream of cold water. She sucked in a deep breath through her teeth and clenched her eyes shut tightly as the water flowed inside and around the cut. So long as it was clean, she could deal with the time it would take to heal.
Finally opening her eyes after a few minutes, she turned the faucet off and wiped her wet arm off on her shirt. She grabbed her jacket from the counter and spun around to see Buffy standing there looking . . . not pissed. Worried?
"What happened to you?" Buffy asked quietly.
Faith shrugged, trying to play it off, but the slight lift of her shoulders sent a wave of pain down her back and she hissed. "Was just walkin around. Lost track of where I was, ended up in a cemetery. Mayor sent a few of his boys to find me. They're history, but they got in a few licks before their untimely demise."
"A few?" Buffy asked doubtfully.
"Six," Faith replied, preparing herself for some kind of tirade. It never came though.
Buffy took a deep breath and approached Faith, then took hold of her wrist so that she could inspect her forearm. "Where else are you hurt?"
"Knee. Back. Ego."
Buffy glanced up at her and Faith smiled apologetically but Buffy didn't smile back. Instead she walked behind Faith and lifted up her shirt, checking out her back. There was a huge dark bruise on her middle back in the shape of a boot. She shook her head sadly.
"Well, now we know for sure that the mayor is no longer on Team Faith." She lowered Faith's shirt and moved around to face her. "And that's why we have to stick together, Faith. No patrolling, no wandering. We hide out like we're supposed to and where you go, I go. It's not because I'm trying to control you. It's because I'm trying to keep the both of us safe so we can survive the whole series of craptastic events that I saw in the vision."
"I know, B," Faith said, lowering her gaze.
"So can we just call a truce again," Buffy asked, trying to look into Faith's eyes. Faith sensed that and looked up to Buffy's pleading face. "We've both screwed up, we both drive each other crazy. There's no denying that. But we're on the same team and it's time the both of us start acting that way. So, truce? For real this time?"
Faith took in a deep breath through her nose and looked into Buffy's eyes for longer than she ever had before. She knew Buffy was being sincere. She knew Buffy genuinely wanted to help her.
Which was all the more reason why she had to make sure that Buffy didn't get hurt in all of this.
She mustered up a weak smile and nodded her head despite her inner turmoil.
"Alright, B. Truce. Whatever it takes to keep ya safe."
"And you too," Buffy quickly cut in. "We're trying to keep you safe too."
"Yeah," Faith replied. She tore her gaze away from Buffy's and looked down, hoping Buffy wouldn't see the hesitation in her eyes. Apparently it worked because Buffy smiled satisfactorily and nodded.
"Good. Since we have all of that settled, let's get you upstairs and into the Jacuzzi tub. I snuck out and got some first aid supplies from a neighbor's house."
"You borrowed stuff from a neighbor?"
"No, I stole stuff from a neighbor. Maybe a couple of blankets and pillows too. It's their fault that they don't have a security system and that their dog-door is big enough for a wily girl my size to climb through," Buffy said easily. She ducked under Faith's arm and braced it over her shoulder so that she could help her hobble along and take some weight off of her knee.
Faith looked shocked. "You did actual breaking and entering?" At Buffy's nod, she continued. "And you didn't wait for me? I'm wounded, B."
"For the record, I'm blaming your influence if anyone asks," Buffy teased.
"I wasn't even here!"
"No, you were out slaying when you were supposed to be hiding."
That one made Faith shut up. She thought it over for a few seconds and shrugged. "Alright, fine. One stupid decision for another. We're even."
"Great. Now let's get you up these stairs and into a nice tub full of Epsom salts. We need you back in top physical condition before our next move. Giles said we should stay here for one more night before we move again, so you have about a day and a half to get better, give or take."
"Geez, talk about pressuring a girl." Suddenly Faith grinned. "Actually, I don't mind pressure from you. Especially if you wanna apply it with your fingers or your tong . . ."
"Don't make me drown you in the bathtub," Buffy interrupted, trying to hide her amusement.
"How you gonna do that? Gonna get in there with me, let me see how long I can hold my breath?" She wiggled her eyebrows playfully, ignoring the pain in her knee and back as they climbed the stairs.
"Faith," Buffy warned, still trying to hide her smile.
"I know, I know. Truce."
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