Nothing a kick in the face won’t improve.
His face, not hers.
Faith landed her foot in the vampire’s nose, hearing the satisfying snap of cartilege breaking.
He staggered back, swearing, cursing all women, Slayers especially, while reaching up to cover the gushing fluids running down his chin.
Nothing like a stake in the heart to give a girl a little pick me up.
His heart, not hers.
Faith leaped onto her prey, knocking him on his back. She straddled him, stake in hand, only to plunge it deep into his chest.
She smiled, watching his startled face turn to to dust. “Especially when that girl is the Slayer.”
“Only you’re not half the Slayer you could have been.”
The sharp, affected feminine voice harshed Faith’s attempted pick me up like nothing else could.
Death hadn’t changed that.
Faith swallowed and turned to face her former Watcher.
Dim light from nearby posts, relics from a time forgotten shone of the pale, loosely curling hair of the woman standing before her, illuminating a face which might have been Marilyn Monroe’s or Madonna’s. If Marilyn or Madonna was a tight ass that wore pale gray blazers and pants, covered by hooded black coats.
“Hallie.” Faith balled her hands into fists to keep them from trembling. “Don’t you have classier joints to haunt than a Sunnydale graveyard?”
“Faith.” Blue eyes fixed upon the Slayer, seeing fault. Death hadn't freed Hallie Stokes from the biggest stake ever rammed up her English channel. “Didn’t I tell you? That you’d better never stray since I’d never be far away?”
“Didn’t I tell you to listen to something, anything later than Olivia Newton-John?” Damn but that lump was going to melt into tears any minute. Hallie Stokes was so utterly stiff and proper. Any pop cultural references she made were dated. Faith never thought these things would ever make her cry. “You haven’t told me what you’re doing here, Hal.”
Kakistos had killed her, ripped her apart in front of Faith’s very eyes. There’d been no exchange of blood, or anything which could have brought Hallie back as a monster.
“Aren’t you going to apologize, Faith?” Hallie raised her eyebrow. “Pretend you’re a little bit sorry for doing nothing when a vampire killed me?” The dead Watcher crossed her arms.
The gesture reminded Faith of Buffy. A lot. She wouldn’t have thought the British chick and the California girl had anything in common, other than being blonde. And stuck up.
Come to think of it, Buffy and Hallie did have a lot in common.
“Where’s that smart mouth of yours now, Faith?” Hallie stood a step forward her shadow seeming to grow. “Don’t have a snappy comeback?”
“Why do you want me to say?” Faith shrugged and tried not to shiver. “I freaked. I screwed up. I ran. You’re dead. I’m alive.”
Stay alive. Blue eyes blazed in her memory, shining with the know of having been dead and how it sucked. First rule of slaying. Don’t die.
“And that’s all there is to it?” Hallie tossed her head and laughed. “Oh, why do I bother with you? Especially now.” She looked Faith up and down. “You never were one for sentiment any more than you were for true Slayer skills. To think Kendra died for your sake.”
“Here I thought you weren’t going to sing that tune.” Faith crossed her arms, fighting off a feeling of things being off.
OK, having your dead Watcher show up in a graveyard to scold you was off in all kinds of ways. There was more to it.
“You aren’t invited to the retreat.” The old man with the scowl stuck on his face had looked Faith up and down, just in the same way Hallie was now.
Not checking her out the way old pervs sometimes did. This dude hadn’t been eyeing her goods. He’d been looking for something he expected. Something which wasn’t there.
“Frankly your Slayer doesn’t show half of the potential Kendra did.” He frowned all the more. “Or Buffy Summers for that matter.” He turned his scowl on Hallie. “It reflects very poorly upon you as Watcher.”
Hallie hadn’t said anything. She kept her eyes lowered, but Faith saw a glint in her eyes, an angry glint she’d never seen before.
“Don’t let him spoil things for you.” Hallie locked her gaze with her Watcher. “You have a passion, Faith, an enthusiasm for your calling which neither Kendra nor Buffy possess.” She reached out to touch her Slayer’s cheek. “It belongs to you and you alone. You are incomparable. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“Incomparable.” Faith tried out the big, fancy word, let it roll over her tongue. “I looked it up. You know what it means?”
“I’m not sure if you do even if you did look it up.” Hallie raised her chin with every bit of snottiness she’d ever shown. “Go ahead, Faith. Dazzle me with your knowledge.”
“It means I’m not Kendra or Buffy. I’m me. Nor should I try to be anyone else.” Faith advanced on her dead Watcher. “I’m not some proper Slayer who ends up dead in a vampire’s lair or a Sunnydale library. I’m not going to jump when some old fart tells me to, because you know what?” Faith forced a smile on her lips and snarled through them. “Those old farts are really good at telling me how to get killed.”
“I know you’re not.” Hallie uncrossed her arms. “I had faith in you, the girl those old farts dismissed as trailer trash.” The former Watcher let out a sharp laugh, like the caw of a crow, pecking at garbage. “I tried so hard, Faith. I tried to shape you into something beautiful and powerful, a real Slayer who’d show everyone how to claw their way from the gutter to greatness. A woman who’d truly lived, not some Guacamole Queen who could add her sacred calling to her other cheap trophies.”
“Maybe you tried too hard. Maybe you’re too hard on us.” Faith glanced down at her own hands. “B isn’t so bad, once you get to know her. Neither am I.”
“Please,” Hallie raised a hand to rake it through one of her pale strands of hair. “You betray me, allow Gwendolyn Post to fill your head with vainglorious nonsense and say you’re not so bad. Buffy Summers nearly kills you, the closest thing she has to a sister for one of the undead.” She yanked her hand loose. “And you say you’re not so bad.”
“Fine, I’m stupid! B can be, too, when it comes to her boyfriend!” Faith looked up and met her Watcher’s eyes. “We’re human, Hal, I admit it. It doesn’t mean we can’t do the job.”
“You can’t.” Hallie Stokes curled her full lower lip in scorn. “I was wrong. I see it now. You’re both damaged goods in your way, you and Buffy. Better to clear you out.”
“Well, that’s not your choice, Hal! Nor is it mine or Buffy’s!” Faith glared at the other woman. “We got chosen, remember? Like it or not, we are Slayers! There’s nothing you can do to stop or control that!”
“That’s telling her, dearie.”
Another woman’s voice, British and much less highbrow than Hallie’s interrupted.
Faith stared at the woman whose dark hair was pulled partially on top of her head, falling in loose strands down her neck, dressed in long, red skirts, and a bodice Faith itched to try out herself.
Only the woman’s face shifted into the demon bumpiness sported by all vampires. She seized Hallie in her arms…
…only to have Hallie vanish.
“You’re not real.” The vampire waved her fingers in a mocking wave at the toothy mouth lingering in the air where Hallie Stokes had been. “Or you’re really bad. Nighty night.”
The vampire turned, her full red gown swirling around her legs. She smiled, allowing her face to shift back to normal.
Faith had seen those haunting, blue eyes, so easy to get lost in. Kendra had lost herself in them…her last mistake.
“Drusilla.” Faith looked away from the vampire she’d seen in a dream, swaying from side to side, trying to draw her into a dance she might never wake from. “I should be staking you, but I’d hate to dust that awesome bodice.”
“Do you like it?” Drusilla lowered her head in an almost flirtatious way. Definitely checking Faith out and not finding anything missing. “You’re right, you know. It doesn’t matter who you are. Not once you’ve been chosen.” She lifted a finger and tapped it against her red lips. “Remember that.”
Faith blinked. Was a vamp actually giving her a pep talk?
“This is too weird.” Faith brought up the stake in her hand, but she didn’t make a move to attack the other woman. “Someone shove a soul in you, like Angel?”
“No soul, no mind. Ruff!” The vampire grinned, raised her arms, and backed away. “I’m just like you. A girl who was once chosen. More than once.”
Faith lowered the stake, at a complete loss for words.
She watched the vampire lower her hands, swaying through the tombstones. Dru wandered away, chanting, “Run and catch, run and catch, the lamb is in the blackberry patch…”
The Slayer let her go.