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The Jackal Effect

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Keep track of your belongings. Never let anything precious out of your sight. It's something that got drummed into her head almost before she could walk. Anything you don't keep hold of is gone forever.

Not that she had much to keep hold of - how was it that crazy fake Watcher bitch put it? Spartan. That was her life, Spartan. Nothing to lose and, for the longest time, nothing worth holding onto.

These days it was more convenience that kept her possessions light - jeans, a few shirts, a handful of stakes and good boots. Anything else she needed she could usually get with a wink or by partaking in a little five-finger-discount. Not that she would do that of course, or at least, not so far as the Council were concerned. Old habits were hard to break after all, and there were far worse things on her conscience.

No, Faith was definitely not a material girl, so when the latest information packet from the Council arrived containing - of all things - an auction house catalogue marked "you might find this interesting"; she had to wonder what the hell they were smoking in the dusty corridors of the Mother House. Bored already, she flicked through pages and pages of crappy furniture and ludicrous jewellery with suggested prices high enough to reaffirm her opinion that anyone buying these things had more money than sense, then she got to the back. To the 'special event' section. Weaponry.

Now this was more like it.

Faith sat up straight and began to pay attention to what she was looking at. Standard medieval European swords and battle-axes; decent enough in their way and good for non-Slayers because usually the business end was going on a good distance from their bodies. Faith, on the other hand, preferred things up close and personal. That attitude tended to get her into trouble more often than she liked, but part of her felt like she owed it to those she fought - to look them in the eyes as they died. As she killed them. It was like… respect. In a way.

She flicked past some showy Oriental weaponry that, if the prices were anything to go by, was pretty popular. Katanas and Tantos allegedly from Japan, even though she was pretty sure none of them had come from anywhere more exotic than the Pittsburgh area. One page left: Miscellany. A ten-dollar word only auction houses and librarians used.

She stopped breathing.

The weight of the perfectly balanced blade, the dark gleam of the oiled metal, the smell of it… all came rushing back as she looked at impossible picture in the catalogue.

It's a thing of beauty boss.

~@~@~@~@~

He feels a little awkward and, truth be told, a little lonely walking into the rooms without voices in his ear telling him how to stand, who to approach, what to say, how to do his job. Hell, sometimes it's like they forget he had a pretty damn successful career before he even heard of any of them. Eliot's fine on his own. More than fine. He's on top of his game.

He doesn't need back up.

This is what he's good at; he's not just the muscle, not just the 'hitter'. He's a retrieval specialist. He finds things others don’t want found and he gets them where he's paid to take them.

And okay, so maybe he does feel a little awkward pretending to be someone he's not, and yeah so the technology still makes his head ache from time to time, and it would be so much easier just to smash-and-grab without all this planning, but dammit, this is what he does and he's good at it.

He's fine on his own.

He doesn't need them.

He might allow himself to acknowledge that, okay, so maybe he might miss them. But he doesn’t need them.

He's fine on his own.

He's fine.

~@~@~@~@~

Faith shifts uncomfortably in the seat that probably cost more than three months rent on the shitty apartment she's leased even with its view of the Charles River (visible only a good day, if she squints and uses her imagination) and wonders if anyone else feels as out of place as she does right now.

Almost on cue she sees a guy walk in who pretty much fits that description. He's looking round in a weird mix of someone who's not used to used being in this kinda place, but on the other hand is all too familiar with it. It's not this strange dichotomy that catches her eye though. It's his stance. This guy's a soldier, one way or the other. Even with the non-regulation hair. He moves from the open doorway quickly to make sure his six isn't exposed and scans the room, no doubt compiling a list of threats and available exits. He's poised, light on his feet, keeping his centre of gravity low enough that she's pretty sure even she would have trouble taking him down. Well, at least with her first hit anyway.

She tracks her eyes over him, his stance, his muscled arms, his obvious situational awareness, and she thinks maybe this is one guy who could actually take a Slayer in a fight. Not a fully trained Slayer, of course, but a noob? Absolutely.

Another thing she's known since forever but forgotten all too often is that when you're watching someone, you in turn are being watched. His eyes meet hers with a guarded look and she glances away, a blush forming on her cheeks. Caught. Dammit.

And since when did she blush?!

Knowing she'll regret it, she glances back to check his reaction. The bastard's smirking. At her.

Faith fights against the urge to spring forward and wipe that smirk off his face. Instead she stands slowly, walks to the end of the row and arches her back against the ridiculous pillar there, she tosses her hair back over her shoulder, and stretches her arms high above her head in an exaggerated yawn. If he's gonna watch her, she might as well give him something to watch.

She's quick to hide her own smirk as he heads in her direction, but she's more than a little surprised (and perhaps just a little disappointed) when he stops halfway between her and the door, out of her sightline. And doesn't that just set all the rest of the alarm bells ringing in her head? He's seen her - not just seen her, he's checked her out pretty damn thoroughly - and there's no way she can get the jump on him if anything kicks off. Or at least, not without a little supernatural help…

~@~@~@~@~

Eliot notices her the moment he enters the room. How could he not? Even If he wasn't on the job there's something about her that demands attention. But, despite what certain irritating keyboard monkeys might think, he doesn't let himself get distracted by women, even when they're as hot as this one is. Well, not often. Not lately anyway. Okay, so maybe occasionally it's been an issue. But not today…

He catches himself heading towards her and checks his step, stopping six feet from her and steps back to keep her in front of him - not that he's checking out the view or anything, she just happens to be in the direction he's looking while he cases the rooms.

And okay, so maybe he does look over at her more often than he probably should, but there's definitely something about her that's set off an alert in his head. And it is in his head, despite what other parts of his anatomy might have to say on the matter.

It's around twenty minutes later, when he's catalogued the security arrangements and come to the conclusion that a smash and grab later that night actually is going to be the best plan, that she makes her move.

~@~@~@~@~

He's still watching her. Faith can feel it every time he looks in her direction and for some reason it's making her antsy. She's been on edge ever since that damn catalogue appeared with the weight of the past buried away on page sixty-seven. Like it doesn't matter. Like it's nothing.

She's not even sure why she's here. Maybe it should be left in the past, but it's calling to her.

Maybe the only way to leave it in the past is to face it. Pick up that knife again and, this time, put it down and leave it there.

Even so she's starting to think this whole thing is a huge mistake. The blade's not precious to her, anything but. It's the symbol of everything she's been fighting against all these years; every wrong she's ever done; every mistake she's ever made.

Every innocent she's ever killed.

And yet… it's almost like it has some kind of power over her still.

The skin on the back of her neck feels like it's crawling and she doesn't think it's just down to him watching her. But… she's not sure, and damn if that isn’t the most frustrating thing ever.

She's just about decided enough is enough and it's time to get the hell out of here when suddenly she knows she can't leave.

It's like a tunnel vision descending over her. Nothing else matters except that dark blade resting in some absurd display box. Don't they understand they can't chain it down like that? Can't they hear it crying out? Demanding to be free to wreak havoc? To fulfil its purpose?

She twitches, part of her wants to push her way across the room and grab it. She can almost see herself doing it. And then she feels a hand on her arm trying to pull her back. She whirls, a snarl on her lips.

It's him.