Title:Open For Business
Pairing:Connor & Faith
Rating/Warnings:Mild R for language only
Disclaimer:Not mine. We all know that.
A/N:Thanks & hugs to my wonderful beta desotohia873 !
Open For Business
The first they knew anything had even happened was when they saw it on the news. A houseful of Slayers – and the last time Faith had checked, that gig was supposed to come with a handy prophetic dream function – and the first clue they had that an honest-to-God apocalypse was going down in their old stomping ground was when they saw it on the fucking television. That was some seriously fucked-up shit, right there.
She'd been snagging some downtime between search-and-retrieve missions; just hanging out with Xander and flicking through the reality shows. Finally getting bored with makeovers and DIY, she'd switched to CNN and suddenly found herself staring at some familiar landmarks.
"Did you see that?" she said, struggling up into a sitting position and dislodging the bowl of nachos from Xander's lap. "That's the Hyperion."
"Hey, I was eating those," he said forlornly, staring at the pile of crumbs spilling out of the overturned bowl onto the floor.
"Forget the chips, Xan, look at this. It's LA. That's the hotel, the one where Angel used to live. And that's – that's – "
She broke off, staring at the screen. Xander finally looked up, and a long hissing breath escaped his lips. "And that is a fucking shitload of demons," he said, as the voiceover got increasingly high-pitched and hysterical. "Fuck. This is bad news we're looking at here, Faith."
She didn't answer. She was already up and running for the door.
Flights to LA were grounded while the authorities scrambled to get a handle on what was going on, but she managed to persuade Giles to make a deal with a local sorcerer. The contents of a couple of the Council's Swiss bank accounts and the promise of her firstborn bought her teleportation across the Atlantic.
"Call me as soon as you have any information at all," he said. "Oh, and Faith? Be careful."
"I always am," she said, and was gone before he could dispute it.
She arrived – landed, materialised, whatever – off balance and fell, hitting the ground hard. She lay where she was for a second, dazed and disoriented, her ears ringing and her breath coming hard.
Then Slayer instinct kicked in and she hauled herself to her feet, dropping automatically into a fighting stance. Jesus Christ, Faith, you could have been toast, there.
She whirled around, covering all the angles – and found nothing. No fists, axes or spiny tentacles shot out at her from any direction. The alley she stood in was awash with rain and other fluids she didn't really want to try and identify, but other than that it was silent and empty.
She straightened up slowly. Had they screwed up the location, or had the action moved on somewhere else? It certainly looked like the same alley they'd showed on the news report, but she couldn't make out any sounds of fighting anywhere near. Damn. For whatever reason, she was definitely not in the right place.
She set off at a run, jogging through empty, debris-strewn streets. The Wolfram & Hart building afforded her no clues. It was – well, actually, it wasn't. No more snazzy high-rise office, just a smoking hole in the ground. The rest of the area didn't look in much better shape; all she saw were ruined buildings and overturned cars. After almost an hour of mostly fruitless searching, she finally managed to find a stray vamp who'd actually seen the fight, and got a garbled account that wasn't much more informative than the shit they'd been pumping out of the television and radio. The only useful thing she was able to get out of him was that somehow, the demons had just gone. One minute there was a full-scale battle in progress and the next – there wasn't.
It didn't make any sense. She didn't know why this particular demon army had descended on downtown LA, but she did know demons in general – and they didn't usually back off once they'd got themselves into a winning position.
She staked the vamp on general principle and then froze as his dissipating dust revealed a figure on the other side of the street, watching her.
She switched the stake to her left hand, pulled out the knife tucked into her boot and hefted that in her right. She moved forward cautiously, all senses alert. They weren't screaming vampire at her, but it always paid to be careful. LA wasn't usually short of the purely human kind of menace, either.
She got a better look at the guy as she drew closer, and she tightened her grip on the knife. He looked young – barely out of his teens by the look of it – but also somehow old, as well. There was something about the eyes that said this kid had seen a lot more than anyone had a right to, at that age. If he'd been a girl, she'd have thought she was looking at a Slayer.
He stared at her face and something in his expression changed; the wariness lost just a little of its edge.
Her own wariness didn't lift in the slightest. "Who wants to know?" she called out, not going any further. Let him show his hand first; it seemed like he was holding all the aces.
"It's okay," he said, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. "It's Connor."
She checked him over, and saw no obvious weapons. She took another step closer. "Yeah? And who the fuck are you?"
He looked confused for a second, then ran a hand through floppy brown hair in a quick, irritated gesture. "Shit. You don't remember. No, of course you don't."
"Don't remember what?" She moved her hand slightly, allowing the blade to flash in the moonlight. Nothing overtly aggressive, just a reminder that although he might not be armed, she was. She was armed, dangerous and getting steadily more pissed by the minute. "Start talking to me, Junior."
He gave her a sudden smile that was both open and seemingly genuine, taking her by surprise. "You called me that last time, too."
"Last time? What last time? Okay, kid - hear that twanging noise? That is the sound of my last nerve, fraying. Now tell me what you know, and tell it straight."
He nodded, taking a deep breath. "Okay, okay, take it easy. My name is Connor Reilly. I'm Angel's son. We know each other, but you don't remember me. We met when you were here before, but after you left – well, things kinda went to hell. Angel fixed it. He made a deal with Wolfram & Hart to get me a new life – a whole new personal history. In return, he got saddled with the job at Evil Incorporated and everyone who knew me had their memories wiped. That's why you don't know who I am. But I'm a good guy, I promise. We're on the same side."
Faith blinked. "Okay, gotta admit that was straighter than I was expecting."
Fuck, what was it with people messing with her memories lately? First Buffy had a sister, now Angel had a son? Didn't anyone just have families the old fashioned way anymore?
She looked at the knife in her hand for a long moment, then sheathed it. She didn't like this, not one bit. But she didn't have many options. "Well, Connor Reilly, if you really do know me then you should know that I'm not by nature the most trusting of people. But the clock is ticking and I need answers. And since you're the only one who seems to have any, it looks like I'm going to have to break the habit of a lifetime and take you at your word."
"You can trust me. I'm not going to hurt you."
She snorted. "Damn straight you're not."
That earned her a grin. "You haven't changed."
She held up her hand. "Can you just stop that? It's freaking me out."
"Sorry," he said, although he didn't look it.
"Yeah, well, I just don't like people having the advantage of me, is all. Okay, look – I want to hear this story – the full story – but we need to get off the streets. You got a base, a safe house?"
He nodded. "Yes. We can go to the Hyperion, I've been – "
"The hotel? Angel's hotel?"
"Yeah. You remember that?"
"Of course I remember that. I remember most things with more clarity than I like, kid."
"Connor. And I can explain. Really."
Faith sighed. "Okay. I don't like it, but okay. Let's go."
She followed him through streets lit only by burning cars. If anything was still out there, it left them alone.
The Hyperion had been abandoned a good while ago, it looked like; everything was empty and broken. Full of ghosts, she thought, and shivered.
She shook herself, practically vibrating with restrained energy. It didn't sit well with her, just hanging around getting spooked; she wanted to fight something. Kill something.
Connor was watching her with a still, unreadable expression. "What?" she said, getting antsier by the minute. If he didn't lay off the staring, he was going to get some first hand experience of just how badly she needed to burn off some energy. She wasn't far off not caring what she fought. He'd do, in a pinch.
"So - what do you remember?" he asked.
She stalked around the room, trying to shake out some of the tension in her body. "This is the Hyperion Hotel, one-time HQ of Angel Investigations. When the lights went out in LA, Wes broke me out of jail. We mixed it up with The Beast – and Angelus – and put them down. Then Willow re-ensouled Angel, and we went home-sweet-home-ing to Sunnydale and another apocalypse. What happened to the others after that we never really knew, except that they somehow decided that working for Wolfram & Hart was a good idea. Gave Giles a heart attack, I can tell you." She gave him a searching look. "I remember Cordy, Charlie Gunn, and that sweet kid Fred. You, I'd swear I never saw before in my life."
"Yeah, well, until very recently I would have said the same thing about you. But then I thought my father was a dentist called Laurence, that I'd never been further than Ontario and vampires were something that belonged in horror films."
She shook her head. "How can you be Angel's son? How can a vampire even have a son?"
He sighed. "It's a long story."
She sat down again on the dusty couch. "I haven't got anywhere else to be. Start talking."
He did as he was told. When he finished, Faith let out a long, slow breath. "No shit. That's one freaky-ass story, but I gotta say it does explain a few things. Finally."
She stood on one leg and caught the other foot in her hand, trying to stretch out her thigh muscles. She felt overstrung, taught like piano wire.
"Okay. I'm not necessarily swallowing that whole, but it's better than any other explanation I got. So what do you know about what went down here last night, Connor? What's with the great disappearing demon hit and run? What the hell has Angel gotten himself into this time?"
He came and perched on the arm of the chair. "Have you ever heard of the Circle of the Black Thorn?"
She shook her head. "No. What's that?"
"Not so much a 'what' as a 'who.' Bad guys, the real cream of the crop."
"And Angel tangled with them?"
"He killed them."
"Well, hey. Not shedding any tears over that news."
"No. Me neither. Seems like the Senior Partners weren't so happy about it, though."
"The Senior Partners? They sound like they should be pretty high on the bad guy scale too."
"As high as it gets."
She nodded slowly. "I think I'm starting to see the picture forming here. Angel breaks these guys' favourite toys, they don't take it too kindly. Ergo, hordes of ravening demons wreaking mayhem all over his ass. Am I close?"
"Okay, so far, so standardly apocalyptic. That, I get. So where are they now? Where'd they all go?"
Connor turned to face her with eyes so momentarily empty she almost flinched. Almost reached for a stake. Monster's eyes.
"They were sent to kill Angel. They're not going to stop until he's dead."
"Well, yeah. exactly. So where – " she broke off as the words suddenly made their sense felt. "Oh. Oh, shit."
He lowered those terrible eyes, and she was glad. "Yeah."
Too late. Her hand formed a fist of its own accord and she brought it down hard on her thigh. "Fuck," she said quietly. "Angel."
Connor said nothing.
She reached out and grabbed his wrist. "You said you tried to kill him, once. You wanted him dead."
He stared at her hand, but didn't move it. "Yes. But not at the end. And not like this."
She let him go, the anger draining from her. She hadn't expected this. She'd expected to fight, she'd half-expected to die. No way had she expected it to be all over before she even got there. That wasn't the way it was supposed to end.
She looked at Connor, searching for some trace of recognition. When she really concentrated, there was almost something – something that slipped and slid in her mind, and reminded her of the dead time she'd spent in the coma. There'd been people – nurses, doctors - who'd existed just outside the edges of her consciousness, never quite coming close enough for her to really believe they were real. Was Connor real? Was he truly Angel's son? It didn't sound possible, let alone likely – but then that summed up a lot of her own life, so who knew? Maybe he was telling the truth.
She found that she wanted to believe it. Wanted something to hold on to, something to anchor her in this suddenly upside-down world.
"So, what do we do now?"
He looked back at her, and now those eyes were blazing with something she couldn't identify.
"Angel started a war," he said. "Now it's up to us to fight it."
They said that a thousand mile journey began with a single step. This one began with cleaning up some rooms to be fit for sleeping in, and breaking into a local convenience store for food and supplies.
"Does the hotel still belong to Angel?" she asked. "After things got changed?"
Connor shrugged. "I don't know."
She paused. "So should we even be there?"
He gave her a small smile, and threw her a flashlight. "Bag that, it'll come in handy if the power fails again. You know, I don't think anyone's going to come after us for trespassing. If there are any cops left in this town, they've got bigger problems to worry about."
"Yeah, okay. You got a point there."
She ransacked a few shelves, tipping cans and packets into her rucksack. "So, what do you, you know, do? Now that you're not a – a – well, a whatever you were before."
"A fucked-up freak?" He shrugged. "I think that's still there. I think that was always there. But, to answer your question, I'm in college. Stanford. I mean, I was. I guess things are different now."
"I guess they are. You hooked up?"
"Yeah, I got a girl. Tracey. She doesn't know about any of this stuff. I know I should tell her, but – well, I haven't figured out exactly how, yet." He loaded batteries and toilet rolls into his own bag. What about you?"
"Yeah, I got a girl too. Luckily for me she's a Slayer, so I didn't have to do the whole 'sit down honey, I have something to tell you' bit." She threw the bulging rucksack over her shoulder. "C'mon then, Junior. Places to go, demons to kill. Let's saddle up."
"Hey, less of that." He tapped his head. "Inside here, I've lived two lifetimes. So on that basis, I'm thirty-six. Older than you."
She shrugged. "Fair enough. I can do respect for my elders if I have to." She ran ahead of him to the door, and held it open. "C'mon then, Grandpa. Age before beauty."
"Uh – you know, I think maybe I preferred Junior."
She rolled her eyes. "You boys. You're so fickle."
They hauled their booty back to the hotel – which seemed suddenly, subtly, different. Beside her, Connor tensed.
Faith shot him a look. "You getting that too, huh?"
"Yeah. I just don't know what I'm getting." He put his bag down on the floor, and took a deep breath. His nostrils flared.
"Someone's here," he said.
Faith set down her own burden, eyeing the room warily. "You can smell that?"
"Okay. Gross, but useful. So – are we talking human someone, or demon someone?"
He frowned. "I'm not sure. Mostly human."
"Mostly human? What the hell kind of beast is mostly human?"
"A werewolf," said a female voice.
The both swung around to face the staircase, and watched a pretty blonde girl in a tan leather jacket walk slowly down towards them. The jacket was ripped and stained with something that looked like blood.
Faith pulled the knife back out of her boot. "Pleased to meet you, werewolf," she said. "This is tipped with silver, by the way. We believe in being prepared, where I'm from." She tossed the knife from hand to hand. "Not necessarily being threatening, you understand. Just making sure we're all on the same page."
The girl stared at her. "Are you – no, you're not Buffy."
Faith stared back, frowning. "No, I'm not Buffy." She lowered the knife, but didn't put it away. "If we're doing introductions, how about you go first?"
The girl considered this, then shrugged. "Okay. I'm Nina Ash."
Faith looked at Connor, who was nodding slowly. "You know her?"
"Yes. No. I mean, we've never met. But I know who she is." He looked up at Nina. "You're his girlfriend, aren't you? The art student. He told me about you."
Nina regarded him warily. "And you are…?"
She looked blank.
"Angel's son," he added.
Her mouth opened slightly, and she walked down another step. "Angel's son? Angel had a son?"
"Right there with ya," said Faith. "Don't freak out too much, though. Seems like it was a big secret to most people."
Connor gave her a small smile. "Even to me."
Nina ran a hand through her hair, leaving it sticking up in odd directions. "Seems like there's a hell of a lot I didn't know about Angel." She swept her eyes around the lobby. "Starting with where the fuck he is."
Faith looked away. Connor didn't.
"He's dead, isn't he?" asked Nina. When neither of them responded she sank down onto the bottom step, her head in her hands. "Oh God," she said. "I should never have gone. I should have stayed here, I should have found some way to help, I –"
Connor cut her off. "If you'd done that, you'd be dead too." He picked up the bags they'd dropped on the floor and began to take the cans and bottles out. "They didn't make it," he said, his voice softening. "Any of them. I'm sorry."
She looked up at him with stricken eyes. "They're all dead? All of them? Wesley, Gunn -"
"But – Wolfram & Hart – "
"Is gone. The building was destroyed. There's nothing left."
She hugged herself. "Shit. Shit. I need – I'm a werewolf, I need somewhere to – I need to be contained."
"There's a cage downstairs, here. Or at least, there always used to be. If it's still there, you'll be okay in that. It held Angelus, it'll hold you."
He walked away. Faith picked up one of the bags and dropped it on the step beside Nina. "I'm Faith, by the way. Welcome to our little gang. Very exclusive club, bring your own weapons."
Nina gave her a weak smile and hooked her hands into claws. "Kinda comes with the job description."
Faith indicated the bag. "If you want to get started, you can help put some of this stuff away. Or go get some more – we liberated this lot from the store down the block."
Nina nodded slowly, then climbed to her feet and looked around the lobby. She looked a little dazed.
Faith pursed her lips. The girl looked about ready to die on her feet, and that was definitely blood on her jacket – and on the shirt underneath. "Hey," she said. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
Nina looked down at herself. "Oh," she said. "Yeah. It was – I had a hard time getting through LA. Someone shot at me."
"You got shot? Fuck, why didn't you say something?" Faith scrambled to her feet. "Connor! You got medical supplies here?"
Nina put a hand on her arm. "It's okay. It was last night, I was – " She stopped. "It's different when I'm like that. I don't break easy. If it's not silver, it doesn't even slow me down."
She opened her jacket and lifted the shirt, showed Faith a line of lightly tanned skin with just a faint red blotch to spoil its smoothness. "See? Barely a scratch."
Faith sat down again. "Well, I guess that's kinda useful."
Nina gave a brittle-sounding laugh. "Oh, yeah. Life as a monster has its upsides."
"I knew a werewolf, once. Name of Oz."
"Yeah. He was cool."
Nina smoothed her shirt back down. "What happened to him?"
"I don't know. I like to think he's off in Tibet or somewhere, living happily ever after."
Nina gave her a weak smile. "Yeah. I think I'd like to think that too."
"Look, why don't you just sit here for a bit. Get yourself together." Faith picked up the back again. "I'll sort this out."
Nina shook her head. "It's okay. I can do it. I need – I need to keep moving."
Faith let her take the rucksack out of her hand. She understood that need.
When they'd raided all the shops within a two-block radius, and made the hotel as secure as they could, she called Giles.
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. Then: "I'm – sorry to hear that, Faith," he said. His voice was steady but she thought she could detect a note of genuine sadness. He was unlikely to shed any tears of his own for Angel, and she could understand that, but he knew what it would mean to her. And not just her.
"Will you – will you tell Buffy? I don't think I can face –"
"Yes, yes of course. I'll call her now. Faith – are you all right?"
She swallowed hard, one hand trying to massage away the deep ache at the back of her throat. "Yeah, I'm – I'm okay. I'm dealing."
"Good. Just don't – try not to push yourself too hard. When are you coming back?"
She closed her eyes. "I'm not."
"Faith – "
"I can't, Giles. I need to be here. I need to do something. For him."
His tone was gentle, and it just made the ache in her throat fiercer. "I understand. What can I do?"
"Get me everything you can on these Senior Partners," she said. "Strengths, weaknesses, the whole story."
"Faith, don't do this. The Senior Partners – they're not something you can fight. They're not even something we really understand."
"That's not what I want to hear, Giles."
"I know, and I'm sorry. But I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to get you killed."
She shook her head. "I don't care what they are, I'm going to kick their ass. Find me a way." She hung up without waiting for a response.
Nina watched her, head resting on one knee. "What did he say? That didn't sound good."
Faith slammed her fist down on the counter. "It wasn't. He said we're screwed. That you can't fight the Senior Partners."
"Will he help? Anyway?"
Faith looked at the phone. "I don't know. He and Angel were never the best of friends. Giles, he – well, I guess you could say he had Angelus issues. I don't think he ever quite got over them. He might just decide this isn't the Council's fight. We might be doing this on our own"
"But what exactly is that, Faith? What are we actually trying to do, here?"
Faith looked at her, suddenly feeling helpless. "Honestly? I have no fucking clue."
Connor walked over, a mug of hot coffee in each hand. He set them down on the counter. "I know what we're not doing, and that's what matters. We're not giving up. Not now, not ever."
Nina stood up and grabbed one of the mugs, cradling it in her hands. "But what if Mr Giles is right? What if they can't be beaten? I mean, Angel tried to take them on, and –" she stopped, her voice breaking. "What can we do?" she finally finished.
Connor stared at both of them for a long moment. "He probably is right," he said eventually. "I don't think we can beat them, not in that sense. But we have to fight, anyway. I think that's the point. I think that's what Angel realised, in the end. That it's all about the fight. We know we can't win, but that doesn't mean we're not going to try."
Nina opened her mouth, but was cut off as the phone on the desk began to ring. They all stared blankly at it for a moment, then Faith leant over and picked it up.
She listened for a while, looking from Connor to Nina. Then she nodded.
"Yes," she said finally, her voice firm and confident, "you do have the right number for Angel Investigations. And yes, we are still open for business. How can we help you?"