Banner by SRoni
Just Can’t Kill the Beast
(the Green, Green, My Jealous Heart Remix)
Copyright June 2015
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
Faith felt like shit.
High in the sky, a three-quarter moon rode the waves of clouds like some fat, smirking surfer douche just begging for a swift set of knucks to the face. At ground level, though, the air was sticky and heavy, and Faith was feeling a bit sticky herself. And itchy, and dissatisfied, and pissed.
B was out of town with her mom and sis, on some oh-so-special mother-daughter expedition (that Faith, natch, wasn’t special enough to rate any details on). Fine, that left her the only Slayer in town, and solo patrol might mean no back ’n’ forth with B, but it also meant she wouldn’t be in the other girl’s shadow. This was a chance to range far and fast and hot, tear up this town and show everybody just what she could do.
’Cept it hadn’t worked out that way. Maybe evil didn’t like the humidity any better than she did, ’cause it was like everybody was staying close to home and buttoned up. Even the Bronze was vamp-free, and that was so rare as to be basically for the pure purpose of sticking it to Faith: that place always had bloodsuckers hanging around, either inside looking to cut the herd or loitering at strategic points within a few blocks, to watch the munchies go trickling in or straggling out.
Not tonight, though. Tonight, it was dead.
(There had been one possibility that genuinely never tempted her. No problem finding something to bust up or kill at Willy’s Place, no prob at all … but Willy’s was where hellscum went when they weren’t killing, when they just wanted to relax, and Faith’s own street experience told her how useful it was to have a joint where you could drop in when you needed to get some info or just check the rhythms of the natives. No, Willy’s was safe.)
(She had been tempted, though, to set fire to an abandoned warehouse or six, just to see what came scampering out.)
In the end, the best she’d been able to scare up had been weak beer indeed. Small group of lame-o cultists — wannabes, below the somber robes she could see several of them were wearing Nikes and Pumas — trying to work up some piss-ant poser ritual in one of the city parks. A park, for crissake! Faith went for them with a growl that was as much frustration as threat; human meant no killing, damn it, and they didn’t even have weapons to provide her any kind of excuse. She could smack the shit out of ’em, though, and hey!, broken bones healed. Eventually.
Yelping panic, they scattered like chickens, colliding with each other and falling down and basically nailing her first impression of them, she couldn’t even land any good hits because their flight was so stumbling and chaotic. Which was okay, much as she was aching to deliver some hard beatdown they didn’t really need more’n a good scare. She stopped trying to punch and switched to Slayer-powered slaps — nice sound effects for a few seconds there — and then one of the morons tripped and fell in front of her and she tripped over him. Staggering, she lurched through the triangle of smoldering braziers they’d set up, the smoke stung her eyes just enough that she didn’t spot the bag of supplies on the other side …
… and tripped over it, in turn. To go tumbling down a small embankment and fetch up just short of rolling into a little gurgling stream. (Way her luck was running tonight, it would’ve turned out to be sewer overflow.) By the time she’d gone scrambling back up the embankment, the cultists had disappeared as expected. She’d had to settle for hurling the braziers as far as she could in different directions, and then flinging the contents of the supply bag down into the little stream.
So here she was now. Still no death dealt out tonight — hell, not even any blood spilled! — and she’d got a rip in her pants from the roll down the bank, and whatever shit they’d been burning in the braziers was making her skin itch like a mother. Pathetic as the poser-cultists had been, the clash had been enough to get her blood up a bit, but with nothing even vaguely resembling a payoff. She was ready to spit nails and piss battery acid.
Nothing to kill or even to fight. Not in the mood for drinking or dancing or gettin’ jiggy with some clueless stud. And too early to just call it a night … plus, she was in no rush to get back to her current crappy motel and stare at those walls before trying to fall asleep.
Which was why she was where she was now.
Here. Looking at the house, Buffy’s house. Perfect little suburban home for the perfect little suburban Slayer. So, sure, B had thrown down against Kakistos without flinching, had scragged Lagos after the tusk-faced cocksucker had whomped on Faith and then walked away without bothering to kill her … hell, B had slugged it out toe-to-toe with Faith herself before that bitch Post had finally shown her real game. None of that mattered: however bad-ass bitchin’ the other Slayer might be now, she had still grown up mommy’s little girl and daddy’s little princess, had lived every day of her life with ruffles and bows and clean sheets and hugs and hot cocoa —
Faith’s life had been different. It had made her tough, hard, fearless, ready to face anything and willing to DO anything. Becoming a Slayer had been long-overdue payback for everything Faith had had to fight and endure and do without and just plain grit past … and it had been given to Buffy on top of her perfect cotton-candy life. The same life B still had.
In that house.
Go in, a little voice whispered inside her. You know you want to.
What the hell. Not like she had anything else going tonight.
She’d been inside before (that first visit, and then the time Joyce had made sure B invited her for Christmas), but never to B’s room, didn’t even know which one was hers. Didn’t really matter, though. Faith had never been much for formal breaking-and-entering, but getting into places she wasn’t supposed to be? piece’a cake. Up onto the roof was easy, only a few more seconds to find a window that could be eased open without leaving any tell-tale damage, and just like that she was inside. She stood in the dark interior for a few moments, letting her senses reach out and assess the nature of the house, open to the least suggestion of presence or movement or threat: not from any tiny fragment of fear or hesitation, but ’cause that was just what you did. Nothing came to her; she was alone here, as expected.
Her room, the same little voice prompted. Check out her room. Faith pushed it back. She intended to take her time here, make it count, and part of that meant saving the best for last.
She found the stairs, followed them down to the first floor. She’d start with the parts she’d already seen, look them over in her own good time, then work her way out from there. She left the lights off; she wasn’t worried about cops, she could get away easy if they showed up, or just tenderize some pork if she didn’t feel like running. The moonlight was enough, though, filtering through the windows, Slayer eyesight could manage with a lot less than that. ’Sides, this felt more … private. More secret. More of the satisfying awareness that she was somewhere people woulda wanted to keep her out of, only she’d never be bound by what they wanted.
Dining room, where Joyce had laid out a meal for her both times. Cooking like an actual somebody-who-knew-how-to-cook, not a booze-soaked skank who could barely manage microwave mac’n’cheese IF she could be bothered and IF she was sober enough to remember how to turn the dial and IF she hadn’t hocked the microwave for this week’s ration of bargain-basement gin. It had felt kinda nice, Faith coulda got used to something like that … but it had only been a two-time thing, and you didn’t want to let yourself get caught up in believing anybody would ever really care about you.
Living room, family room, whatever you wanted to call it. Old-timey ironwork hung above the triple-wide entryway, antique farm tools or whatever, the kind of stuff you saw with people who couldn’t afford a decorator but had enough money for a few extras and enough taste to make things look nice. Big, roomy couch with lots of big, soft cushions, just the right thing for family nights with movies and popcorn and mulled cider, or for parties with friends and pizza and who-knew-what-the-fuck-else … Faith had no idea, ’cause she’d never been invited for any of the secret Scooby celebrations, she was fine to have along if big evil needed killin’ but it wasn’t like any of them actually wanted her in their cozy little white-bread world —
You don’t belong. They’ll use you, let you hang around the edges, but you’ll never really be one of them.
Faith shook away the treacherous thoughts. Nothin’ new there, but it still stung. She could dust vamps and chop up demons and, hell, even wrestle alligators, but the ol’ green-eyed monster was one critter she’d never figured out how to slay.
Screw it, anyway. Tonight, this house belonged to her.
Laundry room. Most likely, B and Little D were always arguing over whose turn it was, didn’t want their frilly little undies washed together but didn’t want to do any of the actual work themselves. Downstairs bathroom, ’cause of course there’d be one. Little side room, looked like Joyce used it for an office, so she could take care of some of her gallery business at home.
You can bet she tells herself she works hard to make a good home for her girls. Maybe believes it. Doesn’t have the least idea what “hard” really means.
Sewing room … even smaller than the home office, but the woman had a friggin’ sewing room. Pantry off the kitchen for extra food; stuff bought on sale, maybe, and stocked ahead for later (an “economy” by people who never realized that spare cash to set up for the future meant they had more than they really needed). Couple’a downstairs closets: extra stuff, winter coats and rain boots, with Christmas decorations boxed on the shelves above. Had any one of ’em ever been hungry a day in their lives, or had to choke down cheap crap to keep from bein’ hungry, or known where a soup kitchen was except to donate a few canned goods or box dinners so they could feel good about themselves?
Fuck this. Faith headed upstairs.
Still taking her time, still checking out the lesser spaces while she worked her way up to the big prize. Hall closets: more clothes, overflow and spare seasonal gear. Linen closet, more bedsheets and blankets and pillowcases and comforters than Faith had ever seen outside a department store. Another little bathroom, and then the main one, the big kahuna: five feet of mirror-covered shelves, enough hair products to … well, you’d need a few extra ingredients from the kitchen, but Faith could make bombs with this shit! Extra-wide tub with sliding doors for the shower, loofah, at least three mesh body-scrub sponges, French milled soap in little plastic dishes, then the hair stuff again: moisturizers, volumizers, conditioners, brighteners, straighteners, smootheners, whatever-the-fuck-ers … Not a bottle of Suave in sight, ’cause princesses need quality products.
This close, Faith could tell by smell which one was which. She started with Little D’s, just a quick glance before she closed the door again. Just impressions, her eyes had sorta slid over the interior: some posters (boy bands or Rainbow Brite or crap like that, what could you expect from a twelve-year-old?), a twin bed overflowing with clutter, and other non-kid stuff more or less crammed in there … bet Dawn loved being crowded in with junk her mother couldn’t figure out where else to put! Truth was, there really wasn’t anything interesting there, ’cause Faith had no beef with Little D. Oh, sure, the girl was just as My-Little-Pony pampered as her sister had ever been, but Dawn … well, it was like Dawn didn’t take it for granted that she was entitled, she just grabbed whatever she could ’cause it was there. Plus, the kid had enough sense to see that the new Slayer was cool personified, without that extra dash of hero-worship that would have made her look uncool. Give her some time, Faith could teach the squirt a few things: how to do the ol’ five-finger discount for selected treats, maybe, or how to get guys interested and how to keep ’em on the hook without ever having to deliver if she didn’t feel like it …
Lots of luck with that. They’d never let her spend time with a “bad influence” like you.
Joyce’s room, and Faith paused for a moment before opening the door and stepping inside. The first thing she noticed was that the bed was a double; so, did Slayer Mom like to sprawl a bit, or was she still holding onto hopes that she might have somebody join her there someday? The room itself was neat, not OCD-perfect but the easy, lived-in orderlinesss of a naturally tidy person. In the closet, everything was sorted, coordinated, all suitable for a PTA meeting or a business lunch or tea with the ladies … okay, there was a black feathered wrap-thing that hinted at a wilder side, but Faith figured that one was for relaxing at home. Normally she would have felt scorn for the whole middle-class mind-set, but Joyce actually had a kind of quiet style to her that just snuck up on you; might look (and be) phony on somebody else, but for her it was right. Like her perfume: she never used near as much as B — just a touch, just a hint — but it hit that dead-on balance of taste and class and Joyce.
The room was like the woman: together. Someone who would keep all the balls in the air, all the plates spinning, make a nice comfortable home for two daughters and no fuss about it.
The kind of mother YOU don’t deserve. That’s what they all think, anyway.
Faith shook her head with a silent snarl. Okay. Time to face the beast.
Inside, it was every bit as bad as she had expected. Every surface was ruffled or lacy or pink — okay, even with her night vision the moonlight wasn’t enough for her to make out subtle shades like that, but it was the kind of stuff that should be pink. Dressing table, carved all cute and delicate, with cosmetics lined up like a crowd of admirers. Closet stuffed with whatever was trendy and expensive and useless, the fad of the moment transmuted to instant drab the moment something newer came along. The bed wasn’t much bigger’n Little D’s, but it was perfect, of course it would be perfect, nothing but the best for the golden one, the Chosen one, and Faith felt a sudden wild temptation to peel out of her pants and jill one off right in the middle of that perfect bedspread.
Do it. Show her. She never got any action in that bed, not with limp-soul Angel. You can do her one better, hit her right where she lives.
It wasn’t fair. Faith was supposed to be THE Slayer, the one girl in all the world. Instead she was … she was the spare, the understudy for this SoCal bowl of fluffy granola. B had the friends, B had the sister, B had the mother and the Watcher and the life, the little bitch had even been a cheerleader! Faith hated cheerleaders, and she hated bubbly plastic bimbos with their arsenal of stylish shoes and their look-down-their-noses-at-you cliques and their whining about the kinds of problems they faced. What did they know from problems? So B’s old man was an absentee father; boo-fuckin’-hoo, at least she knew what he looked like! Everything else was rose petals and soy lattes and which guy would she let take her to prom … Not fair, none if it was fair, it was all bullshit!
She stepped forward, red rage misting in front of her eyes, and her foot bumped against something poking out from under the bed. Stooping, she took hold and yanked it out. Gym bag of some kind, and when she pulled back the zipper the bag opened to reveal an array of slay-tools: stakes, holy water, daggers, strings of garlic bulbs, a short-handled double-bladed battle axe. She pulled out the axe, turning it in her hands, feeling its heft and watching the play of moonlight on the sharp edges.
Yes! Chop the bed to fuckin’ splinters! Trash the whole goddamn room, show her what’s what!
Didn’t matter how far she traveled, didn’t matter what she did, bad shit just kept following, raining down on her without end. Well, enough. Enough. This was where she drew the line. Faith reached back in the bag for the biggest bottle of holy water, shoved it into her back pocket. On top of the chest of drawers, by the window, was a scented candle, and next to it one of those flex-neck BIC candle lighters, and Faith grabbed that, too —
That’s the ticket! Burn the whole fuckin’ house down, let the golden girl try livin’ on the streets!
— as well as a can of hair spray from the dressing table. Then she was out of the bedroom and down the stairs, and pushed through the sliding glass patio doors to the back porch, and the yard behind it, screened off from the neighbors by privacy hedges. Looked around, this’d be easier if … yes, a tree beside the back gate, and Faith reached it in three quick strides. Chunk!ed the blade of the axe into the rough bark, and left it stuck there. Held down the button on the hair spray can, emptying it in swirling loops to form a cloud of acrid mist around her; then she flipped off the cap of the holy water bottle, and with one hand she emptied the contents into her face and hair, while with the other she sparked a flame from the candle lighter.
The fog of hair spray ignited at the same moment the holy water hit her skin, and simultaneous with the whoosh! of flaming chemicals was a scream, hard and loud but so high as to be barely at the edge of even Slayer hearing. Faith had closed her eyes and held her breath, but she nearly gasped out a curse, it felt like her skin was being ripped off! She reached up blindly, hands curled to claw, and her hooked fingers sunk into something at once spongy and slimy and gritty, the bitch was trying to sink back into her but Faith tore it out, using the pain as a spur. It was like wrestling a cloud of nettles or a bag of scorpions but she wouldn’t let go, and the thing’s solidity increased as she forced it farther away from herself. She tried to grab for the axe, but missed, and the thing in her grip surged closer, and with a snarl of defiance Faith threw herself against the tree, squashing her foe between the trunk and her own body.
That hurt the thing, she could tell, so Faith did it again, and a third time, and with every impact the other one got more solid and easier to hold. She could make out a shape now, and strangling might not work if the bitch didn’t actually breathe, but Faith used her clutch on the thing’s throat to slam its head repeatedly against the tree. “Did you think I wouldn’t know?” she gasped, on fire with hate, every other word punctuated by a smash that would have pulped a human skull long ago. “Do you think I’m fuckin’ stupid?” It was making a different noise now, lower and almost guttural, but instinct told her that this, too, was pain. “All those years —” smash “— all those voices —” smash “— did you think I couldn’t tell if one of ’em wasn’t mine?!”
The thing was still struggling, but feebly: gnarled shape, like it was made of mud and string wrapped around a plumbing-pipe sculpture, sorta reminded her of the airplane gremlin in that Twilight Zone movie with John Lithgow. Didn’t matter, she had the fucker now. By this time her vision was clear enough for her to make out where the axe was sunk into the tree; she pulled it out, still holding her enemy in place, and drove the axe into the body in front of her.
Over, and over, and over, until finally the axe blade broke.
* * *
Once there was no doubt that her adversary was dead, Faith stripped naked on the back porch, and used water from the garden hose to wash the thing’s guts off her. She wasn’t gonna track demon goo into Joyce’s house, and this was the easiest way to see to that. Didn’t look like the bitch was gonna dissolve — demons were thoughtless about stuff like that — so Faith dried herself with the patio curtains, enough that she wouldn’t drip too bad, and hunted through the kitchen till she found a roll of garbage bags. Back out by the tree, the remaining blade on the axe allowed her to chop her mutilated foe into small enough bits for her to bag up. She left the bags on the back porch; she’d drop ’em in a dumpster someplace once she left.
Her skin still stung, and when she turned on the light in the interior bathroom downstairs, the mirror showed what looked like a wicked rash. So, the wannabe cultists had packed more juice than she’d thought, probably more than they knew themselves, and managed most of a summoning, and she’d picked up a passenger when she went through the smoke. It was starting to come back to her now: Lund succubus, she’d seen a pic in the book Giles was holding while he argued about taxonomy with Wussley, and Faith hardly ever paid attention to shit like that but she’d noticed this time ’cause it was something Di had once told her about, back when … back before Kakistos.
Lund succubus … named wrong, that was what Di had said, it wasn’t really a succubus like the red panda wasn’t really a panda, it just got called that and by the time they knew better it was easier to add an asterisk than to try and make a new name stick. Real succubus wouldn’t have been much of a problem for her (Faith had tried girl-girl a few times, but it wasn’t exactly a favorite), but a Lund coulda been serious bad news if she’d let it get its hooks in any deeper. ’Least, that was how it seemed from what she could remember. And she didn’t remember how you were supposed to break a possession — hadn’t even known it was a Lund that had hold of her till afterward — it was just using fire and holy water at once had seemed like a solid idea at the time.
Over with now, so fuck it. Faith gathered her fouled clothes in another garbage bag, and carried them into the laundry room so she could start a load. Double up on the enzyme detergent, but nothing special past that, if Joyce could deal with the kind of mess B regularly brought home, then this shouldn’t be too much for her washing machine to handle.
In the kitchen, still naked, Faith drank half a carton of orange juice from the fridge. Then she went upstairs and took a long, long shower, using the most straightforward shampoo she could find until she was fairly sure there was nothing obscene gunking up her hair.
She didn’t feel bad anymore. The low-in-the-belly frustration from earlier in the evening was gone now … which made sense, killing something would definitely cure the no-kill blues. In fact, it had felt pretty good to let out some of the crap that had been piling up on her, especially letting it out on some fuckhead that’d thought it could use her as a puppet. No, she didn’t feel bad, but she was tired. She didn’t want to wear wet clothes back to the motel —
(Whoops, the wash cycle would be done by now. Faith went downstairs, transferred her stuff to the dryer, and started it on High Heat.)
— and she didn’t feel like waiting up while they dried. Back up the stairs, still naked but clean and dry now and (physically, at least) feeling not too shabby.
She’d leave in the morning. For now, well, the suck-bitch had been totally full of shit but it had been right about one thing: there was use to be got out of B’s bed.
She pulled the covers back, still not bothering with a light, and slid in between the cool sheets. Prob’ly never tell B about this (just enjoy knowing she’d been there, same way she liked remembering taking Xander for a spin even if she’d learned it wasn’t a good idea to mention it), but it felt pretty fuckin’ great to live her piece of the good life for just one night.
Did B know — really, truly know — just how good she had it? If she did, it didn’t stop her from complaining. Faith could hate her for that, if she let herself, but tonight she was just gonna enjoy.
She faded quick, squirming to get set and snug and comfortable, and felt something press into her cheek as she changed position. She tried to push it away, then took hold and held it up when her fuzzy brain formed the hint of a question. Oh … cute. Totally frickin’ ridiculous, but cute. B … B really did have it all, but she just had no clue …
And she was asleep.
The moon was low now, and it shone directly through the bedroom window, brightly illuminating where Faith the Vampire Slayer, sleek as a jungle cat and a hundred times deadlier, slept cool and clean and momentarily content in her sister Slayer’s bed. In slumber she looked deceptively innocent, even angelic, her hair a damp, dark cloud on the pillow, and folded into the crook of her arm was a pink plush stuffed pig.