(the Pang of Memory Remix)
Copyright March 2008
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
This story is a remix (done for Remix Redux)
of "Do and Talk and Do", by Lee Greene (redwinevinegar).
She spotted him coming up the street, and knew while he was still little more than a moving silhouette that she had found her mark. She'd been here almost an hour, scoping the situation and watching for the right opportunity. Once, long ago, it would have nearly killed her to hold back, to stand still for so long, to let action be forestalled by the necessity of circumstances. Not here, not now. Faith had learned patience during her self-imposed downtime — that was the first thing you learned, or you didn't survive — but that wasn't all of it. Wasn't even the half.
She had also learned not to kid herself, and the truth here was that, much as she needed to do this, part of her feared what she would find when she reached her goal.
The street was a tunnel of dusk. Nobody had wasted lights on this section of town, at least not for this time of night, so that the individual headed her way could be seen only vaguely backlit by reflected light bleeding down from the sky. Later, or earlier, there might be men working graveyard shifts. Or maybe not; demon nightclubs tended to be set up either in the middle of the urban crush, trusting to learned habits of not noticing anything that might be too disturbing, or in out-of-the-way spots that just didn't attract much notice in the first place. Given the locale, the establishment she had been watching would seem to be the latter.
Faith shook out a cigarette and lit it with a stainless-steel Zippo. (Hizzonner would've clucked disapprovingly at the sight of her smoking, but she'd got used to the nicotine buzz during two years in stir, and it wasn't like the things were gonna kill her any faster than her current lifestyle.) The approaching target would spot the flame, but that still worked for her. Let him know someone was there, let him weigh her up as he drew near. Didn't want to spook him, not before he'd given her the service she needed.
She could see him better now as he drew closer, and every moment further confirmed her first judgment. She couldn't have said how she knew, she just knew. She always knew. Some Slayers had it stronger than others (supposedly the most sensitive could feel a vampire's presence even before seeing him), but Faith hadn't run across any yet who were better than her at recognizing one when he popped up. B came close, but she always claimed — maybe even believed — that her own 'vamp-dar' was based on a keen eye for dated fashion. Maybe that was true, maybe not. Not, in Faith's case, but even so she almost always knew a bloodsucker when she saw one.
The specimen moving in her direction? Good sense in clothes, or maybe just lucky, he wore an outfit (jeans and a high school letter jacket) that could have come from any decade clear back to the Sixties. The Johnny Galecki hair style wasn't a giveaway, either, plenty of living guys went for the emo look. He didn't walk with the exaggerated strut you saw in lots of newbie vamps, along with some that had been around longer without gaining any brains. He could easily have been exactly what he appeared to be: a seventeen-year-old kid, the type who'd got his letter on the track team because he wasn't beefy enough for football, out on the town looking for something different and exciting.
He wasn't, though.
Faith was nowhere near done with the cigarette, but she snapped it away and stepped from the alleyway and out into the street. "Hey, sport," she called. "Help a girl out here?"
She'd given him enough advance notice that he didn't check at the sight of her; he took a few more steps, then stopped just far enough away to have time (probably) to react to a sudden charge. His eyes measured her, calm and unhurried, and his voice was just as steady. "Help you with what?"
Older than he looked, count on it. The assurance was real and unforced, out of sync with the sensitive adolescent features. Plus, she was starting to get the sense of a good mind behind the unthreatening facade. "Getting in," she said, and hooked a thumb back toward the door she'd been watching while she monitored the street. "I don't know the password, or even if there is one, and there's a guy I need to see. If I could go on in with you, well, I'd be really grateful."
That prompted the rise of an eyebrow. "How grateful, exactly?"
Genuine amusement there, and still that measuring gaze. "Let's put it this way," Faith told him, with the knowing grin she'd mastered by age twelve. "Anything you can take, you're welcome to have."
(It was all show, habit. Inside she was numbness and turmoil, playing sex games the last thing that interested her. She could do it, though, she could do it in her sleep, and in the here-and-now it was the right tool for the job.)
He studied her for a few more seconds, and then his smile was quick and bright. "Hard to beat an offer like that," he said. "Sure, come on."
Faith didn't miss that, as they started toward the club, he kept a good tactical position relative to her … which meant he was almost certainly aware that she was doing the same. "Got a name?" she asked him.
"Sure," he said. "Why?"
"Gotta call you something," she returned with a shrug. "Doesn't have to be your real name, just gimme a tag."
"Calvin," he told her without seeming to stop and think about it. "You?"
She flashed him another grin. "Hope."
"Right. Well, Hope, this'll go smoother if we look comfortable together."
Games again. Didn't have to be real, long as it was convincing. Faith gave him a convincing laugh and molded herself to him, sliding one hand between the buttons of his shirt to rest on his bare chest. At the first movement he had tensed, for resistance or withdrawal, but then allowed the unwarned familiarity. "This comfy enough?" she asked him.
'Calvin' looked to her, their faces inches apart; she was as tall as he was, and only slightly more slender. "Should do the job," he said.
There was no sign above the door of the club, nothing to identify it, you either knew about the place or you didn't. The demon bouncer wasn't much over six feet tall, and didn't look especially tough; unless he had some hidden buddies, he wouldn't have given Faith much trouble if she had decided to just wade through him. She wasn't the same person she'd once been, though. Hard lessons had taught her not only how to wait, but when and why to do so. She had needed to get inside with as little fuss as possible, being as she wasn't as likely to get the favor she wanted if she tore up the place on the way in. Slayer vibes might have triggered an aggressive response from the doorman/ bouncer if she had tried to go in unescorted. With one thing and another, what Giles would have called a delicate situation.
She didn't do delicate. Sneaky, though? sneaky she could handle.
"Don't laugh," Calvin warned her as they neared the door, then called, "Hey, Dork. How's it hanging?"
No explosion of wrath, or even a sullen glare; the bouncer just made a ponderous nod, and in a wheezy tenor he replied, "Leftmost high and tight. Centermost ripe for delivery. You volunteering?"
Calvin shook his head amiably. "I don't have much use for my innards, but I'd still rather keep 'em, thanks. And I suspect your grublets wouldn't care for the taste, anyhow." To Faith he said, "Sure you're up for this, baby? It's not too late to back out, and I know where we can score some O."
"Since when did I ever back out of anything?" Faith challenged. "C'mon, you said this place was the real deal. I wanna see."
Calvin gave the bouncer a 'what can a guy do?' shrug, and the demon shifted to let them pass. Once inside the door, Faith stepped away from her escort, regarding him doubtfully. "You weren't just screwing around? The guy's name is actually Dork?"
"Only the first syllable," Calvin said. "Most of what comes after is subsonic. He's okay with the abbreviation, as long as nobody laughs." He smiled, looked around the interior, back at Faith. "So, does it live up to your expectations?"
Much like the Bronze back in Sunnydale, this place had been set up in a converted warehouse. That was the extent of the resemblance. The lighting was lower, the smells were sharper, there was no band, and (big surprise) the clientele were almost completely nonhuman. Faith had seen demon hangouts here and there across the country. Most followed either the pattern at Willy's — mainly vampires, with a smattering of other types in ones or twos — or a reversal with vampires in the minority but still comprising the largest single group. This joint had very few vamps, at least in the first sweeping inspection Faith gave it, and the other demons seemed to have sorted themselves out by species or clan group.
"Didn't have any expectations," she said by way of reply. "Like I told you, I just needed to get inside. Now that I'm in —" The next words would have been Scram if you wanta keep on un-breathing, but she stopped. At a raised platform near the far wall, a heavily-muscled crane (beak, feathers, scaled legs and tearing claws) was trading blows with a wide, squat conglomeration of ropy tendons and gelatinous tissue-clusters. The crane was landing three strikes for every one it took, but there was no clear sense of which combatant was taking the more damage. The throng surrounding the platform seethed with a rumble and bark of cheers, protests, or announcement of changing odds, and Faith saw money, tokens, and the occasional yowling kitten passed from one bettor to another. "Gladiators?" she asked Calvin. "I thought that kind of thing was mostly for human crowds."
"Nope." Calvin shook his head. "Just part of the ambiance. Two to five fights a night, volunteers looking to prove something or settle a score or gain status, some of 'em just bored and itching for action." He grinned at her. "You could step up yourself. I'd get good odds on you, unless somebody decided there must be more to you than shows on the surface."
She had already been aware of the subtle deference he had been showing her, just as he must have picked up on the absence of fear from her. So, here it was. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
He regarded her with a lifted eyebrow and a tilted smile. "Nothing in particular. Just, all of a sudden there's stories of … extraordinary young women, popping up all over the place. Real spoilsports, most of them, but some have their own ideas about the best way to live their new lives." He lounged back against a carpeted pillar. "If you were one of those special ladies, then, which kind would you be? The kind that wants to infiltrate one of the bad places, scope it out and write up a target assessment? Or the kind hoping to make connections so she can set herself up as, I don't know, an independent enforcer?"
"Oh, I'm independent, all right," Faith told him levelly. "Nobody's ever accused me of bein' a team player. But there's only one connection I'm lookin' to find." She shifted to put herself closer to him, watching him register the potential threat and wonder how ready she might be to carry it out. "You might know about him. Green guy, horns, red eyes. Dresses like the Joker, talks like Liberace. Used to have a place of his own, classier than this from what I hear. I mean, sure, karaoke, but still classy. Called himself Lorne, or maybe the Host, that was a while ago. Sound familiar?"
"Lorne, yes." Calvin nodded, still unruffled. "He's here most nights, another of the featured attractions. Very picky about which clients he'll accept, but honestly, I think a little exclusivity just makes him more popular." Another of those easy smiles. "I would imagine he'll be willing to grant you a session. Would you like an introduction?"
Faith shook her head. "Just take me to where he is, okay? He'll see me or he won't, I don't really picture you swayin' his decision either way."
"Oh, I'm happy to help however I can." Calvin uncoiled himself from the pillar. "But if you want to preserve your self-reliance, far be it from me to interfere. See that little alcove back there?" He pointed. "Go there, draw the curtain, knock — politely — on the door. From that point, it's up to him." Chuckle. "Although, with the impression you make, I expect he'll want to learn more."
"Stay," Faith ordered, and turned to head in the direction indicated. She really wasn't worried about him trying an attack, a place like this was where hellscum came when they weren't hunting, besides which he had already demonstrated an uncommon degree of caution, perceptiveness, and good judgment. It was a shame to let him go — this was exactly the kind of rare smart one you didn't want to let get a start on building his own little empire — but that wasn't what she had come for. She was here now, and the answers were close (if any were to be found), and she just couldn't wait any longer.
She entered the alcove, drew the curtain, and knocked, brisk but not loud.
There were noises from the other side of the door: a sigh, something being set down — on a table, probably — and less distinct sounds that might have been footsteps on carpet. It occurred to her that this wasn't a good position for her; the curtain kept her from seeing out, but anyone outside would know pretty much where she was, easiest thing in the world to thrust through the light cloth with a sword or arm-spike or whatever …
Bottom line, she just didn't care. She waited, and the speakeasy panel in the door was drawn back, and her eyes met a pair with scarlet irises. "Hey, green guy," she said. "Been awhile."
She couldn't see much of him through the panel, but those eyes didn't blink or look away, nor did he seem especially surprised. "I'm not in the hero biz anymore," he said to her. "And I don't have any news about Angel. I did my part and then I left, that was the deal. Anything that came after, you know as much as I do."
More, maybe; she'd seen some reports, heard some rumors, and it wasn't much but Lorne had the look of someone who didn't want to know, once he'd made the choice to opt out. "It's not about that," she told him. "This is personal, strictly me. I need to find out something, about myself, and right now you're the best person for me to ask."
"Nice to be popular," he murmured. Then the panel slid shut, and a moment later the door opened. "Come on inside, then. This may not take very long — because I'm serious, sugar dumpling, I have NO further interest in playing a supporting role in Major Destiny — but you might as well be comfortable while we sort it out."