Chapter 5: Gotta have a Little Faith
It didn't come out as a question, but a sigh of annoyance. The 'question' was already answered by the scene in front of him. Her purse, phone, sweater, all remained in her office, the door of which was wide open, and here, just past the first row of book stacks, was a collapsed study table, its legs splayed and split.
"We just replaced those," Robin noted, then cringed when he saw the grayish goo smeared over the cracked top of the table and across the rug beneath.
Past the mess, a student's ruined bag lay atop a scattered pile of books, and a fresh bloodstain the side of a half-dollar stood out on the dented cream wall behind it.
Dawn had put up a fight against their mystery monster, and Robin knew she could take care of herself, as any good Watcher could, but his brow furrowed at the other items. He'd hoped to keep these kids protected...He crouched down, carefully picking up a cell phone that was dripping the demon's excretions and currently vibrating with a new call. The screen lit up with the Sheriff's face, the smiling man in uniform easily recognizable, much to Robin's chagrin.
Of course. Of course this belonged to the Sheriff's kid. Stiles Stilinski had a talent for getting into trouble, just like Dawn. He really shouldn't have been surprised.
Robin felt the presence behind him before he heard it. He moved on instinct, twisting into his punch as he stood. A hand caught his fist before it could deliver a blow.
"Still putting the 'pal' in principal," Faith said, amusement in her dark eyes. She smirked at his trapped hand and released him. "And putting in those extra hours, too. School Board really gets their money's worth with you."
It was odd, suddenly seeing her here, in person. Despite the fact that they worked together and talked on the phone regularly, they were both traveling so often, chasing down the Big Bads who refused to come to them and checking on the girls scattered across the world, that he'd only seen her twice in the last year. Robin held back the urge to reach out and touch her. It wasn't that he was a very tactile person or that he was holding on to any lingering desires for the woman who'd swept him off his feet and onto the bed so many years ago. He just...he missed her. But, even if it was intended as a welcoming gesture, he was sure it wouldn't be appreciated. Faith had a problem with touchy-feely, and if he was reading her mood right, this wasn't exactly a social call.
"You're getting a little slow, old man."
"And you're getting a little loud," he said, huffing.
"I wasn't trying to be sneaky, unlike some people."
Robin raised a brow at the comment, catching the hardness in her voice. The playful tone had dissipated, and he wasn't sure why. Faith couldn't know he was here to try and help Marin, and even if she did...Oh, right. Dawn. The answer hit him like a ton of bricks. He had no idea how Dawn's decision to surprise him in Beacon Hills was linked to the slayer but he'd bet good money that the frown on Faith's face was due to the youngest Summers. He bit down the urge to ask her.
"You picked a hell of a time to show up," he said.
"Chemistry teacher was eaten. Dawn was on research duty while I disposed of the remains. Now she's missing." Robin didn't miss the way Faith flinched at the sound of the other woman's name.
"So, same old, same old, then?" Faith asked.
"Basically." Robin opened his mouth to continue but a ding from his pocket cut him off. He pulled out his phone. "And it looks like Dawn activated her SOS. Which means she's still alive."
Faith nodded once, her jaw tight. "Good. D and I need to have a little chat."
It had been a long road to Beacon Hills, but Faith barely remembered the journey. There were days she woke and thought she was living in a different world, one where she was still dancing on the edge of darkness, and then she'd recall that she was supposed to be one of the good guys now. But the universe never let her forget that she'd never quite fit in with them. 'Them' being her allies, the people she occasionally felt were close enough to call friends...the only people in the world who even knew or cared if she was alive or dead, and, damn, she thought, that's somehow crazier than me not waking up in a prison cell every morning.
Beacon Hills. When she passed the "welcome" sign, it felt like the Powers That Be were screwing her over again. Or maybe the Powers didn't need to bother when they had Dawn Summers to do that job for them.
Faith forced her fingers not to tighten on the wheel. Wouldn't be the first time she'd ripped out a steering column by driving angry.
"How'd you get here so quickly? Weren't you working on a job in Arizona when we were on the phone?" Robin asked.
She glanced over, eyeing the man in the passenger's seat, piddling on his phone, or, at least, that was what it would look like to someone who didn't know he was currently on a rescue mission. His tone was too forced, too casual. She knew he'd already put together the clues and was trying to work out the answer to the question he hadn't asked. Robin was treading too lightly; she must have had murder in her eyes.
Faith took a moment to concentrate on the road signs ahead and her breathing. She was pissed, but it wasn't really at any one person. No. Wrong. Faith Lehane was pissed at Faith Lehane, because she should have known this was going to happen eventually, nosy Summers or not. That stupid witch and her stupid fortune cookie message. Goddamn the universe.
"Going a little fast," Robin noted, not bothering to look up. He groaned at something on the phone. "Well, Andrew sent me another text. Looks like we're after a Minotaur." He read off Andy's comments on his and Dawn's findings, and it felt like business as usual. For a moment Faith felt in her element, mentally mapping out a strategy for the bull-headed student, but an off-subject thought kept circling in her mind, cutting through her concentration.
"Swell," Faith bit, interrupting Robin's thoughts on the beast. She took a hard right at his direction and soaked in the silence a moment longer. "You didn't tell me Dawn was here. You didn't mention her when we were on the phone," she finally said.
"I didn't realize it mattered." He huffed to himself, a habit of his that Faith had always hated. "This is just like you...Roll in here like you're going to set the world on fire, and you just assume I'm somehow working against you, that I'm not on your team. I've always been on your side, Faith. Why the hell you keep doubting that, I'll never know."
Faith schooled her expression, not wanting him to see what that reminder meant to her. It was so easy to forget sometimes. "Dawn...I think she's here with bad info."
"About a slayer."
Robin pushed himself up in his seat. "One we didn't find? How's that possible?"
Faith shook her head. "Not an active slayer. A potential. Dawn's here to groom a potential."
Robin shook his head. "But the slayer line is severed. We've had so many girls die, and not a one of them has been replaced. Willow went on that whole spirit journey to try and figure out the problem, remember? She said the PTB had cut off the slayer line when she activated the girls at the Battle of Sunnydale."
"Yeah, yeah, the 'slayers are no longer a renewable resource' spill. Well, you'll have to ask a Watcher if you want to know the how and why." Faith tried and failed to stop herself from continuing. "All I know is, the seers who used to tell the old Council about potentials, you know so they could steal 'em from their families and train 'em to be killers, those same seers who somehow managed to not even see Buffy coming... Apparently there was a blip on their radar a while back. A girl hit puberty or 'reached her potential power' or something. She...they think she'll be chosen, if the opportunity comes along."
Robin was quiet a moment. "Why didn't I know about this?"
"The Scoobies don't know." She rolled her eyes, knowing without having to turn and look that Robin's jaw had dropped. Not much happened in the WIC without the big dogs knowing. "The Man in the Mirror knows, like he seems to know everything. And apparently friggin' Dawn Summers knows. I know."
"Why you? Why would you know before the others?"
Faith didn't reply. Didn't say the seer had sought her out personally. Because it was just that, personal.
Robin reached out, his fingers on her knee. He squeezed gently. Faith almost wanted to tell him, but she couldn't work up the courage. Like he needed one more example of what a disaster she was, of how much she wasn't like Buffy Summers, like a Slayer should be. Being a coward was somehow the easier option, she reasoned.
"What aren't you telling me, Faith?" Robin asked, but he didn't sound like he expected an answer. After a moment's beat, he pointed at a car in front of them. "There's our monster."
"Right spot, and it has a Beacon Hills High sticker on its window. I think that's our guy. Speaking of which, I think I even know which student it could be. According to Mr. Harris' notes, he was meeting with a kid named - "
"Robin, I really don't need to know his name if you want me to kill him."
Faith eased back on the gas, falling back a few hundred yards to better stalk her prey. The sedan in front of her was already slowing down, though, making a turn into a storage unit rental lot. Faith ignored him, driving past to make a block.
"He's eaten human flesh," Robin stated, grimly. "As far as Andrew could tell, there's no stopping the transformation process after he feeds. You're right. You don't need to know his name."
It was late in the afternoon, the sky still bright enough to see by, but there weren't any cars parked at the storage units when Faith circled back. No witnesses, a plus for the good guys and the bad guys. The units were lined up like houseless garages, gravel alleys between each long line. The Minotaur must have parked somewhere in the back, hidden from view, which would mean Faith could park in the front, at the far corner from the main office building, equally hidden from him. She eased to a stop, her windows down as she listened. Nothing.
"Think he's rented a unit?"
Robin frowned. "To keep his prey in? You think he planned that far ahead?"
Faith shrugged and slipped out of the bucket seat of her old burnt-orange Charger. She reached behind her seat, and gently lifted the top of the false bench seat in the back. Damn if it didn't pay to have a mechanic who was in-the-know and willing to customize a classic. She pulled free a short-handled double-sided battle axe, its two crescent blades glistening in the sunlight. The corner of Robin's mouth was curved, as if he were fighting a smile.
"Subtle. I don't even want to know what you keep in the trunk, but I now see why you insisted we take your ride. Anything for me?" he asked.
"Like you don't have a knife set in your glove compartment and a gun in your suitcase. Fine, feel free to dig in my toy box," Faith relented, "but this is going to be over quickly."
She didn't bother waiting for him. Her plan was fairly simple, no bells and whistles necessary, and it fell into action as soon as she spotted the dull blue of the sedan. The creature's labored breathing covered the sound of her boots crunching gravel, and it was familiar, those deep huffs, a bull ready to charge. But this bull seemed to mostly be struggling with getting his horned head out of his small car. Fabric in the interior ripped free as he stumbled out, immediately spotting Faith.
Demons really needed to lay off the Mad Scientist role. This guy looked little to nothing like Faith expected a Minotaur to look. His grayish flesh was glistening with goo instead of fur, an almost translucent quality to it, and his nose had spread wide and flattened, his neck too thick for his narrow shoulders. He blinked at her with too-human eyes that were spread far on either side of his skull. He looked pathetic, stuck somewhere between pimpled teenager and bald bull, and Faith would almost have taken pity on him if it wasn't for the blood crusted over his chin. This thing had already killed once today; it wouldn't survive to kill again. She heard a thud from the back of the car, the trunk, and re-focused on that easy plan of hers: take his friggin' head off.
"This would be a good time for a mad cow quip. But I'm not feeling the funny," Faith noted.
The Minotaur snorted and huffed loudly, a low cry leaving its mouth.
"Hungry," it growled, showing its teeth. "Mine!" Their jagged ridges weren't like anything she'd seen on a cow. The better to tear flesh with, she supposed.
Without another warning, it charged, kicking up gray chunks of gravel that pinged off the side of the sedan. Faith barely moved, taking a step to the side out of its way, and the Minotaur slid to a stop before ramming into the side of a storage unit. Faith kicked out, hitting it square in the chest and it stumbled back toward the car.
Faith sighed and twisted the handle of the axe in her hand so that it spun once, finding an easy hold against her palm. "Sorry, ugly. I don't have time for an action scene."
She faked right and spun to the left just as he moved to follow. Her axe sliced through the air in an arch and cleaved into his thick neck, the weight of the horns sending the lost head backward. It rolled across the length of the car, bouncing off the trunk. The body teetered and fell a second later.
Faith stepped around it and wrenched the trunk open, smiling down at the two captives inside. Dawn blinked several times, her eyes adjusting to the change in light, and, Faith imagined, the younger woman was probably hoping to make sure the slayer in front of her wasn't a hallucination.
"Hey, Brat. How's it hanging?"
Dawn pushed herself up onto her elbows, shoving the teenage boy beside her back down when he attempted to do the same. Faith gave him a quick once over. There was blood matted in his hair, but his gaze seemed steady, even if his expression said he was understandably confused. The slayer's attention went back to Dawn.
"Faith? What are...?" Dawn trailed off, frowning. Faith could see it in her eyes, the very moment when Dawn realized she wasn't going to be able to play this off as a misunderstanding. She knew she'd been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. "You going to give me a hand or what?"
Faith shook her head, amused despite herself. Dawn was still Dawn, still head-strong and determined her way was the right way. Who knew she was going to grow up to be a sassy, annoying version of Giles? Faith reached down, grabbing Dawn at the elbow before she toppled out on her own. Graceful as G-man, too, she thought.
Dawn opened her mouth to speak, but Faith cut her off.
"I think the question you were looking for is, 'What are you doing in Beacon Hills?' Oh, wait," Faith said, her smile tightening into a grimace, "that's my line, D. What the hell do you think you're doing in Beacon Hills?"
For a moment, Dawn looked as if she might panic, but she took a deep breath, standing a bit taller, eyes narrowed. "My job," she finally answered.
Faith felt the heat at her cheeks, but she held down her initial response, which included a long string of four lettered words, and pulled Dawn aside. The other woman glanced over her shoulder, sparing the kid in the trunk a glance as Robin arrived to help him out. Both guys made an almost identical expression of disgust when they nearly tripped over the wannabe-Minotaur's severed head. Robin nodded once her way, pulling the teenager back a few feet, to give them space, but they didn't disappear. Of course, Faith thought, she would get stuck with an audience, since Robin couldn't mind his own business, and, from the way the teenager beside him was craning his neck, neither could his students.
"What gives you the fucking right, Dawn?" Faith asked, her voice hushed to a spitting whisper. "And don't act like you don't know why I'm pissed at you. Don't treat me like an idiot. I know you know."
Dawn flinched, as if the words were a slap to the face. "I found out about her a few years ago. Totally by accident, Faith. I wasn't prying. I was looking into some of the old Council paperwork. There wasn't much left, but I found records - Goddess, did those guys like records. I was hoping to find some resources we hadn't tapped into, and some of their information on the hunter families was interesting...when I saw your name, I didn't even know what I was looking at. I mean, the date on that stuff, it was from before you were a slayer and..." Dawn hesitated, a frown on her face. "I'm sorry, Faith. Did you know? About the Council's part in the adoption?"
Faith rolled her eyes. "When the hell did those guys not play a part in our screwed-up lives? I didn't. Not back then. I was a stupid kid, and I didn't know the right questions to ask... I found out later, after they'd all died in an explosion, which is probably a good thing. I think I might have killed them for putting her with hunters." Faith processed the comment, and couldn't take it back. There was a good chance she might have actually followed through on the threat if they were still around.
"Does...?" Dawn shot Robin a side-ways glance and lowered her voice even more. "Does anyone else know about Allison?"
Faith snorted, her eyes stinging at the thought. "No...Hell no. I was...Jesus, Dawn, I was barely...I was fourteen, and an idiot. All I was told was that she was going to some rich people who couldn't have kids. Back then, I thought 'evil' meant assholes who drank too much. I didn't know demons existed, and I guess, after I did find out, I just always assumed that the baby was somewhere far from that stuff. Far from me. Not living with goddamn hunters. But when I found out..."
"There was nothing you could do," Dawn agreed. She bit her bottom lip, as if considering her next words carefully. "I think the Man in the Mirror knew I'd found out. He's the one who told me about the seer. Faith, there's something you might not know about the seer. The coven didn't just point out a potential slayer, one of their elders had a vision."
Faith let go of Dawn's arm, her hand dropping like a dead weight at her side. She found herself staring at her shoes instead of the other woman. She'd just noticed the sun was beginning to set, casting a pink shade over them. It hadn't even been a full day since Xander had called and off-handedly asked if she knew anything about a town called Beacon Hills. Less than a day since she'd realized that Dawn was in on this, and that any plans to stay out of Allison Argent's destiny were shot to shit.
"I already know, Dawn. And I don't believe in that prophetic shit. It never works out like you think it will, so what's the point in it. And even if I did take it seriously, you sending a couple extra slayers to watch my six wouldn't do me any good, now would it? That was subtle, by the way."
"Faith, it's not set in stone. I'm just here to help. Protecting you and helping her, those go hand-in-hand and －"
"No, you're right, her future isn't written, and neither is mine!" Faith snapped, loudly. "Because she's never going to be what I am, get me? So you have no reason to be in this town, Watcher."
Dawn reached out, gently squeezing Faith's shoulder, but she kept quiet, neither relenting or fighting the statement. Faith lost some of her steam, feeling exhausted. She'd spent too many nights up, having this argument with herself, unable to stand the idea of this girl's fate being out of her hands.
A cough interrupted the pair. Robin was trying to catch their attention, his cell phone out and his gaze moving between them and the screen. "Actually, she might have a reason to be in this town, after all. If the two of you are finished, I just got a tip about a fight that's going down tonight. Anyone want to help break up a werewolf brawl?"
"You 'got a tip'?" Faith asked.
She raised a brow when the teenager beside him groaned, eyes toward the heavens. "You've got to be kidding me." He groaned. "I told him to wait..."
Robin also raised a brow at the comment. "Something you'd like to share, Mr. Stilinski?" His phone chirped with another text message. After reading it, his expression soured. "Perhaps about your best friend, Scott McCall, meeting a nefarious Alpha werewolf at an abandoned mall?"
The teen opened and closed his mouth. "I...no. No way. This whole afternoon could have been some sort of elaborate scheme to prove you're not evil so that I trust you enough to give up information on Scott. Not happening, buddy. I've been suspicious of your cookie-cutter good looks and 'I put the 'pal' in principal' smile since day one."
"In his defense, it's only, like, day five," Dawn commented, when Faith chuckled at the kid's comment, an echo of her own.
Robin rolled his eyes. "Why does everyone always think I'm evil?"
"You give off a vibe," Dawn noted. "Stiles, listen, you've cracked your skull at the library and been kidnapped by a demon hybrid harboring homoerotic fantasies about you. Happens to the best of us. So, I'll excuse you for not immediately jumping on the idea of going with us to rescue your bestie from a pack of werewolves who are most likely planning an actual trap for him."
"What's a 'Stiles'?" Faith muttered.
"I'm a Stiles!" the teen snapped. He stared at the two women, a dubious expression on his face, before he finally sighed. "I need a ride anyway. Are we still even in Beacon Hills? Frickin' Greenberg..."