Author's Note: Hi folks! Just your friendly neighborhood Kairos here to let you know what to expect from this little experiment. Usually my ships are just whatever canon supports the most, but I couldn't shake the idea that Spike and Faith had real potential as a couple. We'll see where this goes, including the rating: I'd like to keep it within a T, but you know what these characters are like, and I'm letting them call the shots.
This installment is brought to you by my new Claddagh ring.
Two dozen lean young women turned around to look where their leader was looking, from where she stood over them on a low stone wall. Faith had apparently interrupted one of Buffy's notorious monologues, although, to be fair, this one sounded more like the assignment of basic directives than another ambiguous motivational speech. And the Slayer Queen was smiling, meeting Faith's eyes over the heads of her curious charges, paying no attention to her own obvious signs of fatigue. "You came."
Faith lifted her hands, feeling very conscious of the murmurs rising among the small army of Slayers. Some of them recognized her—Rona grinned broadly, and Vi even offered a little wave—but nobody was stupid enough to think this was a time for reunion. "Well, yeah," Faith replied. "The party scene in Cleveland is pretty much crap compared to this."
"Thank you." Buffy said the words in a voice no louder than it needed to be to carry over the space between them, but it did carry. Then she was back to business, regaining the attention of every one of the girls instantly. "Everyone pick a partner, fan out, get some ground covered. Remember our first priority is rescue, so look for casualties and don't engage in battle unless you're attacked first."
A hand shot into the air near the middle of the crowd, and the tall brunette girl who had raised it asked, "Even if it's a vampire?"
Buffy's reaction was unexpectedly vehement. "Especially if it's—I mean, yes. There could be a lot of innocents still lost here and don't think you're beyond mistaking one for a vampire. Anyone who picks a fight on her own answers to me, okay?"
The crowd's collective sound of assent was all she needed to send them on their way and jump down from the wall, Scythe in hand. She and Faith closed the distance between themselves, but kept their discussion to a minimum. "You on your own?" Buffy asked.
"Solo act," Faith agreed. "For now. Robin's gonna catch up by tomorrow. What about you?"
Buffy nodded once, understanding that her entourage of junior Slayers didn't mean she wasn't alone. "Xander and Giles are around but they're doing legwork stuff. This is all I've got for a cleanup crew."
"Plus one, for whatever it matters."
"It matters a lot. Thank you. Really."
Faith met her eyes and told her not to mention it, and they split up to get to work. It was a relief to part company, not because Buffy's repeated thanks lacked sincerity, but just the opposite. Buffy was a Slayer, Faith was a Slayer, yet somehow, Buffy felt the need to thank her, when both of them were there for the same reason. It was another subtle reminder of their assigned roles, the leader and the loner, the one who used her powers to fulfill a sacred duty and the one who used them to do favors for the heroes.
Granted, it hadn't exactly been easy to get from Cleveland to Los Angeles, considering her status as an escaped convict, and sure, it was nice to be thanked for putting the effort in. But Robin had done most of the work, stowing her away on a cross-country passenger train (she still wasn't sure how), and she wasn't losing anything in the process because she had nothing to lose in the first place, and why would anyone think she wouldn't want to join a rescue mission in LA? Angel was missing. That was reason enough to show up here.
It had been dark when Faith stepped off the train and it was still dark now, but she had been told beforehand that LA was still under a lot of magical influences and the unnaturally long night might stretch on for days. The city had kept its streetlamps on, though, so everywhere she went there was a ghostly yellow glow cast over everything. She walked fast, on the alert, trying to discern cries for help among the sounds made by the rescue team.
At least Buffy hadn't asked about Robin. She would sooner or later, though, and Faith wasn't looking forward to it. Are you still together? No? Oh, I'm sorry. Why not? All the usual questions, all of them asked with Buffy's characteristic friendly interest. A few years ago, Faith would have answered with laughter, mocking Buffy's use of the word 'together', insisting that there was only one reason she would spend that much time with a guy. Now, she knew she would just give a simple negative answer to the first question and try to evade the last one.
Buffy had changed too, she reminded herself. She wasn't so innocent anymore, and she might even understand Faith's actions, the choices that had led her away from Robin. But there were some things about Buffy that would never change—here she was coming to the rescue, as always, and damned if Faith didn't know exactly who she wanted to find here—and she had no comprehension of how it felt to watch yourself turning into someone completely different.
Picking up some guy in a club and taking him home for a quick lay wasn't new. Feeling guilty about it later was. Losing the affection of a much better man in the process, that was very new.
Robin didn't even seem shocked by the incident, and to Faith's surprise, that was what really hurt about it. He was up front with her, as he always had been: "People make mistakes, Faith, and they turn into habits, and they're hard to shake. I'm not asking you to be the girl next door for me. But if we're going to have something, it's going to be exclusive, and if you don't think you're up for that, you need to say so."
And she had said so, of course. It was nothing but the path of least resistance. Being exclusive with a guy didn't scare her, but knowing for sure that she, Bad Slayer Extraordinaire, could settle down, that was the kind of earthquake that she didn't think her terrain needed right then. It was easier when she could remain in her own game, when nobody had any expectations of her.
She hadn't known that the path of least resistance was going to feel so much like loss.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Buffy's voice, just a block away, shouting, "Angel!" Faith's heart quickened and she set off in that direction at a run.
By the time she got there, Buffy was kneeling beside a prone form and touching his face with trembling fingers. Faith skidded to a halt. She saw twisted limbs and large red puddles, and his eyes were closed. Of course, it was good news that he wasn't a pile of dust, but this wasn't Angel as she had been hoping to see him. "I'll call the girls," she said to Buffy, "have them bring a stretcher, get him out of here."
Buffy shook her head, her hair shining like metal in the lamplight. "No, I know what to do. Slayer's blood. It can heal him…"
It wasn't Faith's place to say that she was a Slayer too, that she would have given her blood to save him, hell, she had already done it. Did Buffy know that? So much had gone unsaid about what had happened in both of their lives since the days when Faith had chosen to be Buffy's kill instead of Angel's cure.
Buffy had managed to get Angel's head cradled in her lap. Now she reached for the Scythe with her left hand, and before Faith could raise any further protest, she cut herself on the inside of her right wrist and held the dripping wound against the vampire's mouth. The Scythe clattered to the ground and the Slayer wrapped her other arm around Angel's chest, her lips spilling words that sounded both soothing and frightened. "Shhh, baby, you're gonna be okay, just drink. Come on. God, what does it take to get you to stop fighting?"
The question was valid, Faith saw—even in his unconscious state, Angel had somehow recognized an inherent danger in what he was doing, and was attempting to jerk his head away from Buffy's ministrations. It made Faith's insides clench: maybe Angel's sleeping soul knew best. "Shit, B, maybe you shouldn't…"
"I'll be okay." Buffy looked up to meet her eyes. "Trust me, I can—" She broke off and sucked in a deep breath through her teeth. Angel had apparently succumbed to his own hunger and was clinging to her arm with his mouth and both hands. "I'll be okay," Buffy repeated. "Other people need your help, Faith. Please, I can handle this. Ohhh, Angel."
The last word was spoken in a whisper, and Faith took the hint and walked away. Sure, other people needed help, but she knew what was really going on there. Buffy was sharing a personal moment with her long-lost love, and everyone else was dismissed.
She kept within shouting distance of the other Slayers on search around her, but didn't attempt to pair up with any of them. They knew she wasn't a real part of their group, and that she was an independent hunter. It was the closest thing to respect she was likely to get from them, and in a way she appreciated that, especially since it also signified that nobody thought she needed to be watched in case she had betrayal in mind.
Nobody else was in sight when she heard a loud groan from a pile of wreckage. She dashed over to it as a pale hand emerged, groping aimlessly at the air. Faith lifted a board away from the hand, then another, then moved a few concrete blocks until she saw an arm, then a torso. The face was still hidden, but given the victim's miraculous ability to still be moving and groaning after being buried under this much rubble, there weren't too many candidates for who it could be.
His hair, when it appeared, wasn't blond; it was soot-grey, like the rest of him, covered in thick chalky dust that coated his skin and clothing and stuck to his many wounds. There was no mistaking those cheekbones, though, and just seconds after she had cleared everything off of his body, his pale blue eyes fluttered open.
"Hey, William," Faith murmured. "You're looking pretty bloody, did you know that?"
Spike seemed to hear her, but couldn't focus on her face. "Buffy," he wheezed.
Faith laughed bitterly. "Sorry, pal. How 'bout the next best thing?" She shifted him into a position slightly more upright, but he moaned as he moved and she realized how deeply he had been cut, especially across his middle. Trying to carry him out of here now would only cause more damage.
"The bad girl," said Spike with a note of surprise in his weak voice. "Faith."
"Second guess. Not bad." She kept her tone light, not knowing if she could fool him into staying calm but willing to try. "Look, something's been chomping on you, but it's alright, okay? Buffy taught me a trick." She reached for her knife and found it missing, the sheath evidently pulled from her belt during the struggle to unearth Spike. Shit. Looking for it here would be pointless. She scanned the debris for something else sharp to use instead. A piece of broken glass would do the trick…
A broken growl rumbled out of Spike's throat. "What's your game now, Slayer?"
"Putting the repairs on your sorry ass," she snapped back at him, frustrated. There was nothing in reach that could break her skin. "I don't have time for this. You're gonna have to bite me."
"Not a chance," he retorted, but his own face had betrayed him, morphing into its true vampiric form, and Faith saw her chance.
"Shut up and use your goddamn fangs," she ordered as she swung a leg over his hips and straddled him. "And the phrase is 'over my dead body,' by the way."
He was too weak to resist her in any meaningful way, so it was the work of a moment to bend over his dead body, take his head in her hands, and line it up to her neck. She had to open his jaws manually and then close them again, as if she were fastening a clamp onto her own skin, and she even held him there, one hand on his crown and one under his chin, so he couldn't pull away as Angel had tried to. Fortunately, it only took one accidentally swallowed mouthful for his bloodlust to kick in, and she moved her hands to brace herself against the ground as he started to suck in earnest.
It felt different from the time that Angelus had bitten her. It hurt less, and her position allowed her to feel that she was the one in control—which was helpful, since she couldn't count on him to retain enough sense to know when to stop. Ever since she had heard that some people got off on being bitten, she had wanted to give it a try, but this was the first time her Slayer instincts had allowed a vampire other than Angel to get this close to her.
She couldn't deny it was a rush. Spike's desperation and her own self-imposed vulnerability were fueling a kind of heat between them that she hadn't really anticipated. When she began to feel the need to make it continue, though, she took it as a warning and pried him off her neck. She was just barely beginning to feel faint, so it seemed like the right time to stop.
"Oh God," said Spike as she lifted herself off of him. His eyes were a vivid blaze of color in his ashen face, his mouth, red with her blood, even more so. "What did you do. What did. What did you make me do?"
Instead of answering, she pulled the remains of his coat away from him and lifted up his shirt. The skin beneath it was crisscrossed with taut pink scars, as if he had spent weeks healing from the injuries that had been oozing fresh blood just minutes ago. Cautiously she ran her hands over his arms and legs, looking for broken bones, and found no severe harm of any kind. A tentative smile found its way to her lips, and she allowed herself to sit back against the heap of rubble and rest. She just needed a few minutes, and Spike was out of immediate danger.
He wasn't quiet about it, though. "You're bleeding," he informed her indignantly.
"No shit." She touched her neck with her fingertips and inspected them. The bite was closing up easily without needing a bandage; nothing to worry about.
"No brain," he corrected her as he wobbled himself into a sitting position. "You gave me your blood. You don't understand what this means."
Faith closed her eyes. No matter what she did, how she tried, who she made her token sacrifices for, the response was always the same. She opened her eyes again and flicked them over to Spike in a challenging stare. "So what?" she demanded.
He blinked. After a long pause, he blinked again, then scrubbed a hand over his sooty face, which did little more than rearrange the smears. "So nothing," he said at last. "Where in bloody hell are we and are there any cold beers that survived the Apocalypse?"