Word Count 1,240 words
A/N: Post-Chosen: Faith's newest challenge takes her just a bit out of her comfort zone. Written for still_grrr prompt #064
“Help! Somebody help me!”
Faith dipped one hand into her leather coat’s pocket for a stake, while she rolled both eyes. “You gotta be kidding me.” Could there possible be a more clichéd call for help?
Just the same, she took off down the apartment complex sidewalk, toward the sound of a young child’s screams. I’m so going to kill something. This was slayer territory, just blocks from where they’d established a “school” in an abandoned Cleveland motel. Every beastie in town knew it, and they stayed away.
“Please, somebody help!”
The last sliver of sun vanished behind lines of old brick apartment buildings, making it the perfect time for vamps to start picking off the weak and weak minded who hadn’t been paying attention to the time. She darted around the corner, then skidded to a halt at the base of an elderly maple tree that defied all odds by growing between the street and the sidewalk.
A young blonde girl, maybe six or seven, stood at the base of the tree, scrubbing tears from her eyes as she watched her leather-clad savior approach. “What’s the matter, kid?” Faith demanded, senses alert and stake at ready as she scoped out the neighborhood. “Boogie man out to get you?”
With a sniffle, the girl pointed – straight into the air. Faith took a defensive step backward and turned her attention upward. After a moment she made out two green eyes, unmoving and centered right on her.
“Princess ran up the tree,” the girl sobbed.
“You gotta be kidding me.”
“Mommy will be mad if she finds out I took her outside. Can you help me, please?” The kid drew the last word out, making it screech in the slayer’s ears.
“You –“ Faith looked up. It was a cat. Worse – it was a kitten. A kitten up a tree. “Well, the fire department –“ No, the fire department didn’t really do that kind of thing anymore … and even if they did, that would lead to the kid’s angry mom getting involved.
The girl sniffed again.
“Oh boy.” Okay, first priority: Check for witnesses. Faith glanced around, her sharp senses on the lookout for any way this story could get back to anyone she knew. Especially Buffy. The kid looked a bit like Buffy, and acted like her too – whiny and needy.
“Okay, kid –“ She was still holding the stake. Drawing a heavy sigh, Faith looked around for a place to lay it, then held it out to the girl instead. Maybe it would be like a teddy bear, only hard, and wood. And not stuffed. “Look, hold onto this for me, will ya? Don’t let anything happened to it.”
The girl took the stake, giving it a dubious look. “What is it?”
“Um … It’s for camping. To hold the tents down.”
“Camping?” the girl repeated, eyes wide. The nearest campground must be ten miles from here, and a million miles from a city kid’s imagination.
“Yeah, I’m a Girl Scout.” Maybe for now, but once the little furry rat hit the ground and she disappeared around the corner her merit badge days were over. “Just – be careful with it.”
With a quick jump, Faith grabbed the lowest branch and levered herself up. She’d climbed trees a few times before, back in Boston. In her neighborhood there hadn’t been a playground, but a few scraggly trees had taken its place -- until she got older and survival replaced fun as a priority.
Without slayer strength she still might have been able to make the climb, but leather pants weren’t made for this kind of activity. As she clambered to the next level she heard a rip, and realized to her horror that it was in the worst place possible.
“Your pants is ripped,” the girl called. “Your underwear is black colored!”
“Heh.” Trying to maintain some dignity, Faith maneuvered herself around to keep the tree’s trunk between the girl and her trunk. “It’s, um, to match the pants.”
There it was, right at eye level – a little gray piece of long haired fluff, staring at her with panicked eyes. “Hey there, little fuzzball. Just come here to big sis Faith .“ She reached out her hand –
-- And withdrew it quickly, as blood seeped from a little line of kitten claw marks. Trying to stay quiet, Faith whispered, “You little piece of –“
“Well, hello there, little girl.”
Faith froze. The masculine voice from the sidewalk below gave her chills, and when she twisted around she could tell why. A man stood on the sidewalk, clad in a black suit and tie, giving the kid a hungry look. He’d made a fair attempt at brushing the dirt from his clothing, but Faith could smell the fresh earth from twenty feet up.
“What are you doing out here alone?” The man followed the kid’s gaze upward and Faith withdrew her head, hiding behind the tree trunk.
“My kitty’s up in the tree.”
“Well, that’s too bad. I think I can get your kitty for you; I like kitties. But first – I’m hungry.”
The girl screamed.
Faith reached for her stake, but of course the stake was in the hands of someone with no strength or talent to use it. On impulse she reached out and grabbed the kitten, which in an instant became an angry, snarling ball of teeth and claws. That suited her purposes just fine.
The man, now vamp faced, looked up just as said snarling ball of teeth and claws landed on his face.
Faith jumped, snagging a dead branch halfway down. It caused a snap that made the vamp look up again just as it managed to fling the kitten away. “What the hell –“
She slammed the branch into the vamp’s chest, hit the ground, and rolled, coming to her feet by the kid’s side. “Hell’s your final destination, asshole.” But the vampire had already dusted. “It sucks when they don’t stick around to catch the good lines.”
The girl stared up at her, eyes wide.
“Um, you shouldn’t use ass – that word that I called him. It’s not a good word.”
“Was that the boogieman?”
“Yeah, kind of.” Kneeling down, Faith took the little girl’s hand. She didn’t usually
worry much about people’s mental health, as long as they were still breathing when she got the job done, but she hated the thought of the kid getting nightmares over this. She had a little experience with nightmares herself. “But see, you’re safe during the day, and you’re safe inside your house, and you’re safe if you stay with big groups of people, okay?”
The girl sniffed, then nodded. “Are you a hero?”
“Am I –“ Faith stared at her, and felt something stir that she couldn’t quite identify. “Yeah. Today I am.”
“Thanks!” The kid threw her little arms around Faith and hugged her fiercely.
“Sure, you’re welcome.” Okay, so it was a cool feeling. Kinda … rewarding. She gentle pushed the girl away, then stood. “Well, let’s get you back inside, okay?”
“Okay. But where’s Princess?”
Looking around, Faith saw no sign of the little furball, but after a moment she heard a plaintive meow. “Where –“
“There she is!” the girl shrieked excitedly, pointing. And there she was, two little green eyes glowing from among the spring leaves – twenty feet in the air.
“You gotta be kidding me.”