Author's Notes: First off, this is my my maiden foray into the world of Buffy, as well as first-person writing. So, this threatens to suck mightily. Please forgive me if it does. And of course, I own nothing in the Buffyverse, it all belongs to Joss and the loonies at Mutant Enemy. But if they want to give me Faith, that'd be awfully nice of them.

Setting: Post Season 7, maybe a few months after "Chosen."

Rating: T. Actually, call it a hard T. We've got some bad language, violence, and sexual content, though nothing that I think goes beyond what we saw on the show. PG-13, or whatever.

Dedication: I would like to dedicate this story to the girl they call Orange, for not only is she the Queen of all that is cool and metal, but she's also the best friend a person could ask for. Gracias, mi mejor amiga.

The bleached-blonde girl sitting across the tiny, wobbly table from me takes another sip of her vodka tonic and smiles at me. "So, Nick, how long have you been in Cleveland?"

"Going on three months," I reply, reminding myself to take a drink of my beer before it got too warm. "Just got transferred here from another division in my company when they shut down a branch in California. And now that I'm a little settled, I thought I'd get out and about, make a few friends and see the sights. Cleveland's not a bad town, really. At least, I finally found a decent bar." I hope that last part didn't sound too much like a lie; the truth was, the establishment we were drinking in, known as 'Pauley's Place,' well... calling it a dive would be an insult to some very nice dives I've frequented. But this is business, not pleasure.

She nods. "It's okay, I come here a lot to unwind and meet some friends, myself," she says as she toys with her straw, "You'd think it'd be hard to get lonely in a place like this, but, hey, I guess that's life in the big city."

I smile in a manner I try to make look sympathetic. "I'm a small town boy, myself, so it's all a bit much for me, really. So, Terri, are you meeting any friends here tonight?"

Terri (earlier, she had made a point of informing me it was spelled with an 'i') grins a little too broadly. "I dunno, do you think you count as a friend yet?"

"Hey, you've bought me..." I make a show of counting empty glasses, "...four beers. One more and I'll start thinking of proposing."

She laughs. "We'll see, Nick."

Over the next hour or so we make more idle chatter, and knock back a few more heavily watered-down drinks. I'm beginning to think that I've miscalculated and she's not in the mood, or that I've somehow spooked her, and start to consider looking for easy exits from the situation. Then she reaches reaches across the table and touches my hand with hers, feather-soft.

"Hey," she says softly, "Where's your place at?"

"Over on the east side, in Collinwood,"

"That's way too far to drive, given all you've had to drink," she notes. "Tell you what, why don't you come back to my place for a while? I'm only a couple blocks away. Besides, I'm getting tired of this place, and I think I'd like to have some company tonight." As if what she's implying isn't clear enough, she leans over just a bit as she says it, giving me a prime view down the front of her extremely low-cut blouse.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

My grin threatens to split my head two as I signal the waitress for the check. "Lead the way, Terri."

A few minutes later, Terri and I are walking down an alleyway that looks like the sort of place where the rats grow about the size of the ones in The Princess Bride. She has an arm slung loosely around my waist, every so often leaning against me and grinding one or another soft portion of her anatomy into me. Subtle, she ain't but hey, I guess it works for her.

She pauses, giggling. "I think I had a few too many. I feel kinda... goofy."

I look over at her. She's smiling like your average air headed bar-bimbo, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Really? Good thing I'm along to keep you safe."

"Ah, my white knight," she says with a titter.

I fight down a scowl. Did she really have to use those particular words?

Suddenly, she turns and places both both hands on my shoulders and presses my back against the filthy wall behind me. She leans in close to me, and I feel my heart start pounding as her booze-scented breath tickles at my face and neck. "Mmmm, I really like you, Nick." As she says it, she nonchalantly slips one of her legs between mine. If I wanted to run, it would be too late now. I was trapped, which is exactly what I'd been counting on.

"Obviously," I murmur as I get ready from what I know is coming.

"Yes, that's why I'm actually a bit sorry about this," she says. As I watch, her baby-blue eyes turn stop-light yellow, and her face reshapes itself into something resembling a cross between a lizard and one of those creepy-ass hairless cats. She sighs theatrically, "I was actually considering maybe turning you, keeping you around to have some fun with. But, I just don't think I'm ready for that sort of commitment yet. Ah well, at least I can promise you this will only hurt for a second." She leans in close, preparing to bite me.

The stupid thing about a lot of vamps is that they get too used to being stronger than the poor saps they prey on. if Terri was anything close to smart, she'd have immobilized my hands. Just because I'm weaker than than she is doesn't mean I'm helpless.

A quick flick of my right wrist, and the stake I'd had up my jacket sleeve drops into my palm. As hard as I can, I thrust the stake into her heart. Terri takes a step back and looks at me. The surprise on her face is almost makes me laugh aloud. Hey, in this line of work, you take humor where you find it.

"I guess this means you won't be calling me tomorrow," I say with mock-regret, just before she explodes into ash.

I brush the dust off of me as I lean over to retrieve the stake from the pile that had been Terri a few moments before. And suddenly, the left side of my face explodes with searing pain, as something that felt like a medium-sized cinderblock hits my blind side.

I real back from the impact, landing face-first in a pile of trash that smelled like it had been left in the narrow alley sometime around the last time the Indians won a pennant. I roll over in time to see three vampires in full game-face, looming over me. One's skinny, one chunky, one medium build. I mentally dub them Larry, Curly, and Moe, respectively. Like I said, humor is where you find it.

"Hi, fellas," I say. "I'm really hoping you're not jealous boyfriends, or anything like that."

"Hardly," Moe of-the-medium-build answers. "We just thought we'd let her do all the work, and take a meal for ourselves. But, I guess you can't trust a woman to do a man's job, eh?" He grins, and closes in on me, his flunkies close behind.

So, I'm thinking I'm pretty much screwed, seeing as I have no way to retreat, and I won't get to the spare stake in my jacket pocket before the Three Stooges make me the blue-plate special. So, I mentally pray, hoping that God, Allah, Odin, or whatever else might be up there will make the sun come up a few hours early, or something.

As I begin to resign myself to drained, I hear a faint woosh! sound, and a sharp, pointy piece of wood suddenly erupts from Moe's chest, slightly to the left of his sternum. He gasps, and dusts. As his pals spin around to see what happened, I see a distinctly female shape standing about ten yards back up the alley, still with an arm cocked from where she presumably threw her stake. It's dark, so I don't really recognize her, from appearance, but when she speaks, I know right away that things are about to get... complicated.

"Yo, X-man," the New-England accented voice drawls, "Am I interrupting some sort of male-bonding deal here?"

Of all the Slayers that could have saved my hide, it just had to be Faith.

Larry the skinny vamp growls and rushes towards Faith, followed closely by Curly. Since they've stopped paying attention to me, I take a chance, and jump up, fumbling for the stake in my pocket. I manage to get a hold of it, and sink the stake into Curly's back. Unfortunately, my aim sucks, and I miss the heart. Instead of dusting him, I just pissed him off. He whirls on me, and hits me with a backhanded blow that felt like it should have snapped my neck like toothpick. I don't even have time to think of creative ways to curse my clumsiness as I slip into unconsciousness.

"Xander? Wake up, c'mon!"

I feel my head being shook from side to side, and I claw my way back to consciousness. My ears are ringing like bells, but I can still hear Faith's voice.

"Xander, wake up so we can get moving before we have to fight every vamp in Cleveland, okay?"

I groan, and manage to pull myself together. "Faith, maybe it's not such a good idea to bobble my head around right after I took a sledgehammer punch to the temple, eh?"

"Oh, yeah, right." She stops, and looks around. "What the hell were you doing down here alone, Xander? This place is vamp central."

I struggle to my feet, brushing gray dust off myself. Looks like Faith got the other two stooges, not that I should have doubted. "Just... following up a lead, no big deal. Any problem with the other two vamps?"

She stands up next to me, slipping a stake back under the light denim jacket she wore. "Nah, strictly amateur hour, those two." She seems to almost... sniff the air a moment. Then she looks down. "You're bleeding. Right arm."

I look down, and indeed, blood's running down my hand from a three inch gash on the back of my wrist. "Must have cut it on something when I got dumped in the trash. It's no big, I'll take care of it when I get back to the ranch." I make to leave, but a vice-like grip on my arm stops me.

"You got a death wish or something, Xander? You're bleeding, half drunk judging from the smell of you, and in the middle of a vampire block party. You, Buffy and the others live on the other side of town. You wouldn't make it ten blocks." She sighs and runs her hand through her dark brown locks. "My place is closer, you might as well come on back with me and wait for daylight."

A small part of me cries out in dread at the thought of going anywhere alone with Faith. There are still a few issues there, even after all these years. But, I try to be polite. "You don't have to do that, Faith I-"

"'Fraid I got to insist, boytoy. Buff and Red don't know I'm back in town, but they'll find out, and they'll be mucho pissed if I let you get sucked dry. So you can follow me, or I'll knock you cold and carry you."

Faith's the kind of person that wouldn't say something like that idly, so I don't have much choice. "Alright, lead the way."

Faith's place turned out to be a ratty two room apartment not four blocks away. As she let me in, I noted the still-packed duffel bag sitting over in the corner. "Did you just get here, or are you planning on leaving?" I ask as I sit at the small table in what passed for a kitchen.

"Just got in town yesterday," Faith replies as she rummages around in the bag a sec, and came back with a small white plastic box with a red cross on the lid. "Take off your jacket and shirt."

I mock frown, to cover my nervousness around her. "What, no foreplay?"

"Cute, X-man. But I'm tired of you bleeding on my kitchen table, and I don't think you can sew left handed." She sits next to me and takes out a sterile needle and sutures from the first aid kit.

"Hey, you really know what you're doing with that?" I ask, a bit worried.

"Oh sure, you learn all kinds of stuff in the joint," she says as she opens a bottle of antiseptic. "Remind me to show you how to kill someone with a newspaper sometime. Now, lose the shirt. I got to check you for cracked ribs, too."

I'm not totally reassured, but I go along. It's a good policy to go along when dealing with someone who can break you over their knee without even trying. "I think I'd know if I had a cracked rib," I mutter as I strip down to my undershirt. "I've had a few."

"Yeah, maybe, but you're also half lit, and you might not notice them," she remarks as she pokes at my sides. "No broken ribs that I can tell," she says as she takes a look at my face. "You've got a nice shiner coming in right around your..." She trails off and sort of half-points at her left eye.

"Patch? Socket?" Looks like me being a cyclops even freaks Ms. Badass-of-the-Year out.

"Yeah... let's get to work on that cut." She pulls my arm closer to her, and begins cleaning the gash with gauze and antiseptic. "You sure picked a bad place to go out for drinks. But then, judging from what you did with the blonde bloodsucker, I almost think you were looking for that kind of action. That's two things that are fishy."

"How so?" I ask.

"One: you leaving a bar with a woman"

"That's not funny."

She continues. "Two: you seemed to know that she was a vamp from the start. You were way too ready for her when she went gameface. What's the story with that?"

"Just, you know, routine slay-stuff," I say, hoping she'd drop the matter.

Naturally, she doesn't. "I think I'm gonna have to sound the bullshit alarm on that one, X-man. Buffy wouldn't let you go out vamp-hunting without at least one Slayer to back you up," she says as she finishes cleaning, and grabs the needle and suture. "Now, what's really going on?"

I look nervously at the needle. "No anesthetic?"

"Well we could take you to a hospital, but that would lead to questions, right? From B and the other Scoobies? And I'm guessing that this little escapade of yours is off the books, right?" she smiles in a way that makes my throat go a little dry. "Now, I might just have some lidocaine in the kit, if I get the answers I'm looking for..."

Damn, I was caught. "Okay, I was doing this on my own. We got some intel about that particular blonde vampire preying on men at that bar. So, I decided to do something about it. Scoped out the place with a portable infra-red viewer, and when I saw the girl room-temperature, I knew that was her. So I made a move."

"By yourself? Xander, that's stupid. Why not just get the Slayers on the case?"

"Slayers have better things to do. Besides, I'm kinda... not in on the slay-age as much these days."

"They kicked you out?" She sounded surprised.

"Not really, I still... help out with things, sorta. But I don't think they're so anxious to have a one-eyed former construction worker getting in their way. So, I'm taking initiative." I could feel myself scowling. "I get the sense they're putting me out to pasture. They won't say it, cause of..." I point to my eyepatch.

"Yeah, guilt has a way of making people... polite," she says in a strange tone. Faith reaches into the first aid kit and pulls out a syringe. "But seriously, I really doubt that B's gonna give you the boot. You've been with her since the start of all this. And besides, Red would give her hell if she tried to cut you loose, right?"

"It's... things are weird around the Slayers right now. Wills and Kennedy are somewhere in South America right now, and Buffy... I dunno, we don't talk like we used to. And she's always busy with... something lately." I shrug. "She hasn't even been in town for more than a day at a time for the last month."

Frowning, Faith leans in close to my arm, "Yeah, well, I guess you earned the numb-y stuff then," she says as she gives me the injection, close to cut.

I wince at the jab. "You learned this in prison, too? You probably have to be a doctor to get a hold of stuff like this, right?" I ask as I take a quick glance down the front of her shirt. Hey, I'm a guy, what do you want?

"Sutures, yes, the anesthesia stuff, no," she replies, "That's something Wood taught me. He's got a hook-up with some doctor. That's how I got the kit."

"Ah," I say as we wait for the numbing to set in. "That reminds me, where is Wood? You two were pretty tight when we split up after Sunnydale took the plunge."

She shrugs. "Yeah, well, we aren't anymore. He couldn't decide if he wanted to be my foster dad or my boyfriend, so it was time to call it quits. I ain't no one's pet project."

Her tone clearly tells me that further probing her about this would result in her probing sensitive parts of my anatomy with a stake, so, I sit silent for a few moments as she got up and rummaged around in the fridge. When she returns, she has a bottle of Stella Artois in each hand. She casually flicks the caps off with her thumbs, and offers me a bottle. "You're half drunk already, so you may as well finish the job."

"Thanks," I reply, and take a healthy gulp. "I think I'm pretty well numb, you can go ahead and start stitching."

She nods and sits close, readying her needle and suture. "Try not to squirm too much," she says as she begins her work. I pointedly turn away, and concentrate on savoring my beer, rather than needle and thread sliding through the flesh of my arm.

After a few minutes that feel like hours, she pulls the sutures taut, and snips off the tail end. I look down at her work. It wasn't hospital-quality, but I figure I shouldn't end up with too much of a scar. "Thanks," I say as I look over at where my shirt lies on the table, it's sleeve bearing a large bloodstain. "I don't suppose you do laundry too?"

"Don't push your luck," she says as she polishes off her beer and goes to the fridge for a second.

"Hey Faith," I ask, "what are you doing back in Cleveland, anyhow? I mean, even though you and Wood are kaput, you seemed pretty determined to make your own way after the Sunnydale business. I thought you were through with the Slayers."

"I was," she says as she returns to the table with two more beers. "But, Giles called me, said he needed my help with something, and would pay me from the funds the Slayers have scrounged up from the old Watcher's Council. And since I'm still technically a fugitive from the law, it's not like I can go out and get a job, or anything." she sighs, and half-drains her beer in one pull. "So, here I is." She looks at me rather critically. "Not freaking you out too much I hope."

"Why would you freak me out?"

"Well, c'mon, I did kinda-sorta try to kill you, and stuff."

I shrug, inwardly wincing at the memory of steely little fingers squeezing my trachea shut. No need to dig that up now, I'm enjoying my beer buzz too much. "That doesn't exactly put you on a short list. Besides, you took my virginity too. Guess that evens out, or something."

She half-smiles, and finishes the rest of her beer. "Yeah, Anya never thanked me for breakin' you in."

Now that was a name I didn't need to hear. Hearing someone bring her up... does things to me, lately. I grit my teeth, and nurse my beer in silence

A few seconds pass, one of those pregnant pauses that writers are always talking about. I'm not sure what's showing on my face, but Faith can clearly tell that she's hit a nerve. Most people would let the matter drop. Most people aren't Faith.

"Is that what the business tonight is all about?" She asks. "Don't tell me you're going all Charles Bronson Death Wish on us. I mean, even you have to be smarter than that!"

"Can it, Faith," I snap back. "It's none of your goddamn business."

"Probably not," she says. "But still, seems awful stupid to me. You made it out of," she pauses and counts with her fingers, "Like, four or five apocalypses that I know about, and you're going to throw it away over some dead chick's memory? You made it out, she didn't. It happens. Now you move on."

"Faith, I'm not interested in the sermon," I say. I've told myself this same crap she's spouting dozens of times. "I'm just living my life, the way I want. Ahn's death hit me hard, yes. But that's all behind me now." I don't even sound sincere to myself.

"First off, a one-eyed man trying to go toe to toe with vamps is no way to live a life, just make it shorter. Second, you're never going to live any kind of life dragging Anya around behind you."

I'm quickly losing my temper. Why won't she just shut up? "Faith, I don't expect you to understand what any of this is like. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll just grab my shit and leave." I stand up and reach for my jacket on the table, but a Slayer-strong grip on my arm stops me. Yeah, I know Faith's supposed to be walkin' the straight and narrow way these days, but I still can't help but sweat a little when she lays hands on me like that. Her boring her eyes into me like drills ain't helping, either.

"Listen," she says. "You say you're over Anya? Fine. Prove it."

I'm about to ask what she's talking about when she moves in close to me, and kisses me. And by kiss, I don't mean a 'butterfly wings brushing across your lips' kinda deal.' This is the kind of thing that steals your breath and buckles your knees. Before I can get my head straight, her tongue is demanding entrance to my mouth. I don't fight back, because, you know, that would be futile. But I don't return her kiss. And no, I haven't suddenly discovered that I'm gay.

It's just that... I can't even describe what's happening in my head, in this moment. Images and words all flashing together, like watching four TV's at the same time with the volume cranked up. It's a thousand different things all happening in my skull at once, but the one thing that keeps repeating in all of it is... Anya. Her face, her voice, all the sweet/funny/completely insane things she'd say. The way she smelled, felt, tasted... they're all still up there.

I can't be this weak, can I?

She pulls away, and looks at me. Her expression is somewhere between smug and sad, if that's even possible. "Yeah, see, that's kinda what I thought." She shakes her head, and turns to go to what I presume is her bedroom. "You can crash out here on the couch, till daylight-"

"Faith, wait," I try to interject

She's pointedly paying no mind. "There's some burgers in the fridge, couple more beers if you feel like getting more twisted than you already-"

"Faith!" The shout finally gets her attention.

"What, Xander?" She turns and walks right up to me, almost chest to chest. "What can you possibly say?"

"I..." Great, I've been reduced to croaking out vowel sounds.

"Look, I get it, sorry if I pissed you off, but my point's made. You're not over her. S'not my prob, anyway." She tries to turn around, but my hand finds its way to her shoulder, stopping her.

I don't know where the impulse comes from, but I lean in and kiss her. I can't match what she did to me a moment before, but after a few seconds, she starts to return the kiss, leaning in and putting her arms around me. She pulls us closer together, and as she slips her hands under my shirt, I feel her nails rake across my back.

Things are starting to blur for me, I dunno if it's a little bit of anger, alcohol, or just being that damn horny. Faith drags her mouth down the side of my neck, scraping her teeth on my skin, and I can't stifle a moan. Faith pulls away from nipping at my neck, and suddenly tugs me down to the bed. Yeah, I don't know when we got into the bedroom, either. She says nothing as she attacks my mouth with hers again, kissing me with what feels like bruising force. Finally, she sits up on the bed, and gives me an almost challenging look, as her hands move down to the hem of her tank-top to pull it over her head. The room is dim, but it's just enough to show me glimpses of soft, pale skin over hard muscles.

"Well, let's see if you picked up any new tricks since last time," she says, before moving in on me again.

To Be Continued...

Music for my muses during the writing of this fic: Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd, A Line of Deathless Kings- My Dying Bride, Fear, Emptiness, Despair-Napalm Death, Remission- Mastodon, Last Fair Deal Gone Down- Katatonia, 13th Step- A Perfect Circle, and Era Vulgaris- The Queens of the Stone Age. The title of this piece is taken from a song on that record.

Well, hope you enjoyed my first attempt at this universe, and hope to see you next update!


The Doctor

17 June 2007