“Ooooh,” Faith groaned, her head thumping like a night filled with Tequila Slammers. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to push forward, towards consciousness. Her eyes slowly opened, taking a second more to focus.
And then rage flared through her as she saw her treacherous sister. “Come here!” she screamed, spittle flying from her mouth as she strained to rip free of the restraints binding her wrists behind her, arms flexing furiously.
Tara looked towards her, eyes momentarily irritated then serene. “Aequus,” the witch snapped. Faith’s shoulders slumped as she relaxed, the witch wiping her forehead clear of sweat a second later. “Okay,” Tara looked towards the still unconscious Kennedy, “when you two were fighting-.”
”Call that a fight?” Faith snorted, her ire raising again. “More like a fuckin’ massac-.”
”Just listen!” the witch’s eyes flashed, Faith reluctantly silencing. “When you fought Kennedy, you ripped her shirt, and I saw a mystical sigil on her shoulder-.”
”A what now?” Faith queried only to shake her head when Tara’s eyes bored into her. “Jeez, just askin’!”
“Sorry, it’s hard to fight off.” Tara took a breath. “A sigil is a magic symbol created for a specific purpose. I recognise these as belonging to a Hass demon.”
Faith waited for her sister to continue. When she didn’t she took a breath. “And?”
“Sorry.” Tara winced. “Controlling the anger is hard, I can only manage it now I recognise what the demon is. A Hass demon feeds on and creates disharmony. Turning a simple domestic dispute into a murder, a disgruntled employee into an angry man with a machine gun, that sort of thing.”
”Nice,” Faith shook her head, “so that’s what’s infected the brat, made her crazier than normal?”
Tara shot her a steady glance. “It’s infected all of us, Faith.”
“Uh, uh,” Faith was less than convinced she could be infected, but decided to play along, “so what’s the sitch?”
Tara shot her a wan smile. ”I’ve got a spell going that’s protecting us from the demon, but it won’t last. We need a priest to actually kill the monster.”
“Priest huh?” Faith raised an eyebrow. “I’ll have to find my Catholic school-girl outfit-, aw crap” Faith’s eyes narrowed as a troubling thought occurred. “This demon’ll be infecting Xan too?” Tara nodded. “Ah crap, we better get moving ‘fore he does somethin’ even dumber than normal.”
Faith noticed she and Kennedy were just in their bras, their arms and legs tied with torn-off strips of their shirts. “Jesus, Tar,” she shook her head, “that was my favourite shirt, why couldn’t you have used the bed sheets for Christ’s sake?”
“Ooops,” Tara flushed. “I should have thought of that. Didn’t even enter my mind.”
“Yeah,” Faith stared suspiciously at her best friend. “I bet.”
Luther glanced behind him as they pulled up into the deserted and derelict warehouse they were meant to meet their employer in. “Is he still out?”
“Sleeping like a bludgeoned baby,” laughed Donny. “Don’t know why we didn’t kill him there and then.”
”The employer,” Luther’s lips pursed at the mention of the unsettling man they were working for, “wants it this way and he paid big for it.”
”Not big enough,” sobbed Greg.
Luther rubbed at his forehead. All the way over Greg had been moaning and groaning. Telling himself that at least after this job he’d never have to see Greg or the others again, he’d have the funds to buy himself a new, more sophisticated team, capable of doing better more high-paying jobs, Luther opened his van door. “Bring him out.”
He watched as Donny and Ernie picked the hog-cuffed youth up and dumped him on the dusty ground. “Battered but still alive, excellent.”
Luther’s heart skipped a beat as he heard their employer’s voice. Wondering how the man could manage to so ably sneak up on him, he turned and faced the man, noting his full-length leather trenchcoat over what looked to be a custom-made, pinstriped suit. “You never said how dangerous he was!” Luther blustered to cover his shock. “If you’d have said we’d have asked for more!”
”I trust,” Luther’s sudden chilling had nothing to do with the cold April winds and everything to do with his employer’s smile, “you’re not going to try and push the matter?”
Luther licked his lips and looked at his two companions. There were three of them and only one of him. But then, less than an hour ago it had been six to one, and their captive had managed to halve those odds before falling. Deciding to take what was on offer, he shook his head. “No,” he forced a note of confidence in his voice, “a deal’s a deal.”
“Very wise,” his contractor’s chuckle suggested he wasn’t fooled by Luther’s pretence of honour. The man’s face stiffened. “Lift him up and unfasten his arms and legs. It’s time we finished this.”
Luther began to turn towards his two companions to tell them to obey only to spin back, mouth dropping when their employer drew a gleaming broadsword. “What the hell is that?” he gasped, eyes flooding with shock as he reared back.
“A tradition of my people,” the mystery man chuckled as if he’d told a great joke that only he knew the punchline to. “As is this,” the contractor looked towards his men, “uncuff him, please. It’s time for his beheading.” The swordsman chuckled. “Another
tradition of my people.”
Luther resisted the urge to shudder at the crazy turn of events. He wanted to protest, to grab his men and flee this freak show. But for some reason he suspected getting paid would be the least of his problems. “You heard the man.”
* * *
Luke Kovak shivered as he made his way through the blustery Cleveland day, shivering slightly as he did so. Ever since fleeing the CIA he’d lived under the radar, taking menial jobs, living in flophouses, avoiding anything that could bring him to attention.
His heart skipped a beat as he heard muttered voices in a supposedly derelict warehouse. For some reason ignoring every instinct that told him not to get involved, he crept up the warehouse’s dusty wall and peeked in.
His eyes narrowed at the polished black van between him and the men. His curiosity growing, he glided over to the near side and pressed his ear to the van’s cool side. His jaw dropped at the talk of beheading. Before he knew it he was clambering on top of the van and sliding across the roof. Looking over the top, he pursed his lips, four men with the advantage of surprise to him. Tough but doable.
Before he knew it, he was launching himself through the air, his foot crashing into the back of the head of the nearest man, downing him, the supported captive likewise plunging to the ground. Luke landed in a crouch, the other man who’d been holding up the unconscious man charging him.
Luke leaned back at the waist, the man’s overhand right hammering the air where his face had been. His hands snapped up to grab the man’s beefy forearm and pull him into a kick to the gut that folded him like a cheap deck-chair.
Then he heard the swordsman yell. “In now!”
* * *
Xander groaned as he awoke, why did they have to shout? He just needed to res-.
His eyes shot open as he registered his situation. Burying the pain inside, he surged to his feet, grabbing the nearest man, the black man who’d led the initial assault, by his collar, he pulled him down and into a knee to the small of his back, the man’s spine shattering with a vomit-inducing crack.
However even as Xander threw the man away, more charged in, Xander gasping as he recognised their leader as Draco, the Immortal’s face red with rage. Xander started to pull his Desert Eagle out of the Always Pocket but his concentration was shattered by a thudding right to the jaw.
Stunned, Xander stumbled backwards, barely ducking beneath a follow-up left hook to kick his opponent square in the balls. The man began to double up and into a knee to the jaw, knocking him onto the floor, his foot crashing into the felled man’s belly.
And then the others were on him, pummelling him into his second bout of unconsciousness of the day.
“You’re lucky that Tara reckons this Hass demon was inflaming us,” Kennedy commented as they strode through the hotel’s lobby, the patrons and staff hurriedly parting before the trio, “otherwise I’d have kicked your ass.”
Faith cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah, sure that’s why you were gurgling like a fish out of water when I was chokin’ you out,” she taunted.
“You bitch!” Kennedy started towards her.
“Bring it bitch!” Faith laughed.
”Stop!” Tara stepped between them, blocking the potential’s advance. “It’s hard enough to block the Hass without you two bickering! Quiet!”
“Sorry,” Faith muttered as she forced her temper under control and started through the hotel’s exit. ”Shit!” Faith screamed as the glass entrance exploded behind her. “Gunfire!” she dived sideways, bundling Tara to the ground and behind a gleaming red sedan, its windows exploding in showers of glass a half-second later.
”Shit!” Faith cursed as she looked up to see gunfire blazing out from around a tinted-windowed SUV. Faith looked around, eyes desperate. “Say,” she glanced towards a yellow mini parked just down the street, “can you throw that at them?”
“I’m blocking the Hass!” Tara snapped, face pale and stretched. “I don’t have the power to continue blocking the demon and flip over a car.”
“Kay,” Faith risked a glance up and then hurriedly pulled back when shots flew in her direction, “Jesus!” Faith looked over her shoulder and to the tight-faced witch. This situation was particularly crappy, especially considering their lack of weapons. They could wait for the police to turn up, but every second counted with Tara’s control. “See that fire hydrant just to the right of the suv?” Tara nodded. “Can you open it up while keeping a hold of the Hass?”
Tara nodded. “Just about.”
“Cool,” Faith tensed. This was a really stupid idea but their other options sucked. “On three. One, two, three!”
The moment she yelled three she was moving, leaping over the car’s sleek hood as the hydrant exploded, water fountaining three-stories up. The wind snapped her dark mane back as she raced across the road. “Shit!” she cursed as she saw two of the three gunmen beginning to turn towards her.
Ah to hell with it.
Faith leapt into the air, bounding over the back of the SUV, and coming down on the top of the central man of the trio. Not that he was complain’, her knee cracking his skull saw to that.
Faith landed in a crouch, the two men flanking her turning towards her. Faith threw herself forward and through a shop’s window as the two men’s guns came up, two streams of fire meant for her cutting through the duo. “Still think ya can take this, kid?” Faith rose from the derbies of the shop front, waved the shop manager away, and turned, a jaunty hand on her hip as she smirked across the road.
“I’m gonna kill you!” screamed Kennedy.
“Will you two stop!” Tara gasped. Faith started back across the road, conscious of the sound of approaching sirens. “Whose got the car keys?”
Faith stopped. “Aw crap.” Faith halted then continued on, picking up pace as she hurried towards the crowd. “Look, I used to run with a bunch of car-boosters-.”
”Oh you were a delinquent,” Kennedy cackled. “Big surprise!”
Faith almost started towards the baiting potential then clenched her fists and continued back to the car. “Come on!”
* * *
“A Church,” Faith slammed on the brakes, car screeching to a halt outside a dark-bricked gothic-styled structure. “I’ll go get us a priest.”
“How will you explain all this to the priest?” Tara queried.
”Explain what?” Faith queried as she opened the car door and then looked over her shoulder to a glaring Kennedy, the potential’s curses muffled by the sock she’d stuffed in her mouth. “And don’t you dare ungag or untie her hands,” Faith warned before slamming the door shut.
* * *
Father Callahan groaned, hard decades causing his joints to ache, desperate living causing his spirit to do the same. “Hey, padre?”
“Yes,” he turned at the bewitching voice. His eyes widened at the beguiling brunette stood wearing a pair of skin-tight leathers and matching jacket. If he was four decades younger she’d cause him a second thought or three about his priestly vows.
Well alright, two decades.
He forced a smile as he pushed away all unseemly desires. “How can I help you, child? Do you need confession or advice?”
“Not ‘xactly what I was lookin’ for.” The girl cocked her head to her one side, her gaze disconcertingly considering. “But let’s face it, ain’t got time to be fussy.” Father Callahan began to open his mouth to query the young woman’s confusing statement, but before he could utter a word she was on him, grabbing him by his shoulders and unceremonially flinging him over her shoulder. “You’ll have to do.”
“I am a man of God!” Callahan squealed. “Put me down.”
”Kinda what I’m countin’ on,” the brunette beauty laconically replied. “Don’t worry, I ain’t plannin’ to sacrifice ya to a pagan god or nothin’.”
”Unhand me!” he wailed as the young woman stalked towards the entrance, carrying him as if he was a bag of feathers.
”Oh shut up,” the girl snarled. “Men are usually grateful when I’ve got my hands on them. Figures I’d have to pick the one priest in the world who isn’t a dirty old lech.”
“How dare you?” he gasped as the girl effortlessly carried him out of the shadowy church and into the day’s blazing sunlight.
”I’m Faith,” the girl brazenly replied. “I pretty much dare do anything.”
“Faith, you didn’t kidnap him!” a honey-blonde with kind eyes and wearing a pagan pendant rose out of the car.
”’Kay, if that’s what ya need to believe I didn’t,” the girl identified as ‘Faith’ equably agreed before opening the car’s rear door and dumped him beside a gagged and tied girl. “For god’s sake don’t remove her gag padre, she’s got a gutter-mouth. Tar, you’re on directions and explanation.”
“I demand you let me go!” Father Callahan blustered, vacillating between anger, terror, and bemusement at just what was happening to him.
”Strap yourself in, Padre,” Faith drawled, “ya’re in for quite a ride.”
Father Callahan gasped as the car tore away from the kerb, the force throwing him back in his seat. “You see Father,” at least the apparent, soft-eyed pagan seemed respectful, unlike the leather-clad, possibly satanic beauty, “the world is far far older than you imagine. And I regret to tell you, earth did not begin as an Eden as your bible says.” Callahan opened his mouth to protest but the pagan continued over him. “And creatures such as vampires and demons aren’t merely stuff of legend, they exist.”
“I know,” Callahan shuddered as memories crowded around him, “I helped fight a vampire infestation in Salem’s Lot over twenty years ago.”
“Wicked cool!” commented Faith. “Ya got some stones under your cassock. I knew there was a reason that I picked you!”
”Faith, take the turn to the right,” the pagan instructed, “Faith here is her generation’s Vampire Slayer-.”
“A Slayer?” Callahan squeaked as the car mounted and then dismounted a kerb.
“A Slayer is a young female human bestowed with mystical giving her superhuman senses, strength, speed, endurance, agility, and healing in the fight against forces of darkness,” the pagan patiently explained. “All these abilities are given to her so she can fight vampires, demons, necromancers, and the like.”
”The bitchin’ hotness is just natural,” Faith added. The gagged girl shouted something that was muffled by the sock stuffed in her mouth.
”Faith, can you concentrate on the driving please?” the pagan snapped. “Turn next left.”
”Tetchy much?” Faith snarked back before grabbing the wheel and pulling across two lanes of honking traffic, the car barely making the turn in front of an eighteen-wheeler.
“I’m Tara, a witch, Kennedy is a potential,” Tara continued, “and Faith’s boy-friend is possessed by a war god-.”
“A what!” Callahan spluttered.
“Hate to break it to ya,” Callahan groaned as the car left the road and shot over a humped-back bridge. “But yar god ain’t the only one, not even close. My boytoy’s sorta a whatsit-.”
”Avatar,” Tara helpfully added.
”Yeah,” Faith agreed, “for the general who led the armies that first beat the demons a few million years ago and him and all his followers ascended to godhood.”
“W…what do you want me for?” Callahan closed his eyes as the car two-wheeled it around a tight bend.
“We’ve been possessed by a demon that causes aggression, I’m holding it off, but we need to have the demon exorcised!” Tara explained. “Faith, next right!”
”Can’t you just kill it?” Callahan weakly queried, heart quailing at the thought of facing another monster of hell.
“Yeah, that was my first question,” Callahan gulped as he was flung first one way and then the other as Faith careered in and out of traffic, “but Tar says that the demon has to be exorcised before we kill it, otherwise the spell will stay on us forever.”
“Third house to the right, the detached one,” Tara snapped, the witch looking suddenly haggard. “I’ll have to stay in the car, if we go into together, the closeness to the demon will turn us on one another.”
”Five by five,” Callahan was jammed against his seat belt as the Slayer screeched to a halt, leaping from the car seemingly before it had even stopped. Before he had chance to catch his breath the door beside him was reaching in to grab his shoulder and casually lift him out of the car. ”Tire-iron will have to do,” the Slayer muttered as she reached into the trunk and yanked out the aforementioned object. “Ya got yar cross?” Father Callahan nodded. “Five by five, but stay behind me until we’re in the house, got me?”
Callahan nodded again. “Damn, find yar voice Padre, I need ya to yell out some stuff to this fuckin’ demon for Christ’s sake!”
“Please,” he mumbled, sweat beading down his forehead and heart pounding. “Stop swearing.”
”There ya go!” Faith buffeted him with a slap to the shoulder. “Ya’ve found ‘em again! Come on!”
Father Callahan turned to the nondescript although large house and squared his shoulders. “Very well.” It seemed duty found you even if you hid from it.
* * *
“Ready?” Faith asked as they drew level with the house’s front door. The priest nodded, lined face haggard with worry and eyes darting everywhere. “Hey relax,” Faith winked, “you’re with the heavy hitters this time, padre, you concentrate on exorcising the demon, I’ll deal with any human guards, ya got me?” Without waiting for a reply, Faith kicked in the door and charged in, the priest in probably reluctant pursuit.
The hallway was a bland beige, Faith speeded up as a door crashed open to her left, foot swinging up in a thrust kick to the belly while her elbow smashed into the wanna-be tough guy’s head, sending him flying into the far room. And then she was in an equally bland lounge dominated by a greyish blob thing, the room’s other occupants two square-bodied thugs who wasted no time in charging her.
”In the name of Christ our saviour,” out of the corner of her eye, Faith saw the preacher approaching the demon, cross held before him, “I renounce your powers! You have no claim on this dimension demon! Though I walk with temptation,” Faith wondered if that meant her, “I will be unsullied, your spells have no strength here!”
The priest went on, but Faith was too busy blocking a left on her arm, and swinging the tire-iron at one of her assailants, the man grimacing as he blocked her attack on his hip. Faith grunted when the second man grabbed and yanked on her hair. “Pullin’ hair? What are ya?” The man squealed, face greying as she swung her tire iron up and into his elbow, bone shattering. “A girl?” The moment the man released his grip on her hair, the other tried to take her down with a waist tackle, but a knee to the chest sent him wheezing to the ground, a follow-up side elbow to the face of the man with the broken arm sending him flying over the sofa to crash motionless on the floor.
“Faith! The -.” The padre’s voice trailed off when her tire-iron flew through the air and impaled the demon’s solitary eye, the blob deflating like a puncture balloon to lie on the ground, a greyish puddle.
“There it’s dead.” Faith grinned as she looked at the shocked priest. “Come on padre.”
The moment she walked out of the house Kennedy was out of the car and charging towards her, eyes blazing. “A sock in my mouth!” Kennedy screamed. “You stuffed a sock in my mouth!”
“Hey,” Faith winked at the half-pint, “coulda been my panties! Whoa!” Faith jumped to the side and grabbed the padre as his legs seemed to fold under him. “Shit! He’s fainted!”
“From the strain of fighting the demon or the image of Kennedy with your panties in her mouth?” Tara asked, an impish glint in her sis’ eyes.
“Guess we’ll never know, lucky I didn’t mention I ain’t wearin’ any,” Faith winked back before sobering. “Centre us on Xan,” she ordered. “If I know boy-toy he’ll be in trouble right about now.”
“Oh good lord,” Callahan groaned as he awoke, his body weak and head thumping, he was back in the car, would this nightmare ever end. And if it did would it end in a fiery wreck?
“Hey padre,” the insanely cheerful Slayer greeted from her seat behind the wheel, “glad to have ya back in the land of the livin’.”
“For however long that lasts.” Callahan began muttering a hail Mary. Might as well get his introduction to St. Peter ready….
* * *
“Finally Mr. Harris it is time,” Draco smirked down at the pummelled youth, blood leaking from his mouth and cuts above his left eye and from both his nostrils, his clothes torn, and eyes glassy. The youth didn’t have anything to say, couldn’t even manage a glare. Draco drew his sword and looked towards the other man, likewise held by three of his men. “Good Samaritans rarely have a happy ending.” He stepped forward as he raised his sword.
Draco spun around as a car crashed through the back of the warehouse, corrugated steel flying everywhere as the vehicle skidded to a halt. Draco’s heart dropped as he saw the Slayer, the Witch, and the potential climbing out of the car. Clearly the Hass demon’s spell had been broken. “Kill them!” he screamed at his eight remaining men. “Bury those bitches.” He watched as his men charged into battle.
”You know I don’t like people calling my girls bitches.” Draco’s stomach hollowed as he turned to find Harris standing, battered yet defiant, a broad sword in his hand. Then the boy smiled a smile colder than ice. “Shall we dance?”
* * *
Faith leapt into the air, taking the first two men to reach her down with a leaping spin kick to the face, jaws breaking and blood flying as the two men fell. Another, a burly black with knuckledusters charged her, Faith ducking an overhand right, but catching a left hook to her ribs.
”Not nice,” she grunted as the man followed that up with a backhand to the side of her face, blood spewing from the wound as she grabbed the man’s wrist, leaned back and threw him over her and headfirst into her car’s hood. She barely straightened in time to drop into a crouch beneath a spin-kick before surging up, hooking an arm around her assailant’s leg, blocking an attempted back-fist on her other forearm, and surging up, dumping the man on his head.
Seeing the two men she’d kicked to the ground struggling to their feet, she grabbed them by their heads and drove them together, their skulls making a satisfying crack as they collided, the two men falling back to the ground.
Sensing a man behind her she darted back, full mane swinging as she drove her head back into the man’s mouth, wincing slightly as the back of her head hit teeth before reaching up, grabbing the man’s arm that he had been about to wrap around her neck, bending forward and flinging her would-be attacker to the ground by her feet, a simple stomp to the head putting him out of action.
And that was the end of the fight, Tara, Ken, and the mystery man having taken care of the other four men.
Except… Faith’s heart skipped a beat, where the hell was Xander?
* * *
Draco paled then leapt at him, sword flashing down. Xander swung his own blade up to meet the immortal’s, almost screaming with pain as the blades’ collision reverberated through his battered limbs.
Draco smirked at his pained reaction, before pulling back and slashing at his throat, Xander leaping back out of the attack. “This will be easier than I thought,” Draco commented as he advanced, stalking Xander like a jungle cat hunting an antelope.
”Don’t bet on that,” Xander bluffed as he twisted out of the way of a lunge, his own retaliatory back-handed slash slithered away from.
”Such bluster, how typically American.” Draco came in fast with a slash at Xander’s knees that he knew he didn’t have the strength to leap over so scurried back instead and then darted back in before Draco could pull his blade back, leading with a sword thrust that Draco just managed to bat away.
Sweat beaded on Xander’s forehead as the immortal forced him out of the warehouse with a relentless flurry of slashes, lunges, and thrusts, into the day’s unforgiving sunlight.
He knew he couldn’t keep this up, even if he was completely healthy facing Draco was a hell of a threat, but in his weakened condition, he had two chances, slim and none, and slim was packing his cases and getting ready to mosey on out of town.
Xander leaned away a lunge, sword coming up to block when Draco’s lunge turned to a back-handed slash. Xander twisted with the strike and towards his adversary, heel slamming into the immortal’s gut. Draco staggered back, then lunged at him even as he tried to press his brief advantage.
Xander grunted as the immortal collided with him, their swords locked overhead. Then pain exploded in his head when his rival rammed his head into his face, bruised forehead splitting like a bloody dam. Xander stumbled backwards, his already impaired vision further blurred by the blood leaking into his eyes.
This was turning out to be a really crappy day.
Xander ducked another sword swing then grimaced. “Screw it, there’s a time to be noble.” He reared up, gun in hand. “This ain’t it, just call me Indiana Jones.” Draco’s eyes began to widen in shock, then Xander pulled the trigger as the immortal dived for the water.
”Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!” Draco screamed as the bullet impacted, ripping through his forearm, blood blossoming from the wound as his severed hand fell to the ground.
Xander grimaced as he heard the telltale splash of the immortal hitting water. “Oh no,” he muttered as he began staggering towards the water, “you are not getting away from me.”
“Freeze! Police!” Xander groaned at the sound of a police officer behind him. “Drop the weapon and put your hands behind your head, and then turn slowly to face us.”
Xander sighed as he let the gun drop and obeyed the policemen’s instructions, turning to face two fresh-faced kids who looked like they were barely out of the academy. “I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I said I could explain?”
“Get on your knees!” barked the younger of the two, perhaps five years his elder.
“Hey boys!” Xander hid a grin as his girl-friend strolled up behind the two police officers. “Wanna see somethin’ cool?”
Xander’s eyes widened when his girl opened her leather jacket to reveal she was naked underneath. “Holy shit!” the cop who’d turned to face Faith gasped, his gun drooping enough to give Faith chance to leap forward and hook-kick him to the ground. The other cop began to swing from him and towards Faith only for the mystery man who’d tried to help him earlier slide over the patrol car’s hood and grab him in a choke hold that also secured his gun, the policeman sliding to the ground scant seconds later.
”That was,” Xander smirked, “unconventional.”
“Yeah,” Faith smirked, “even my hooters are deadly weapons.” Xander began to grin, then staggered as the last of his strength left him. “Shit!” In a second Faith was by his side. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”
Luke Kovak blinked as Tara finished her explanation about just who they were. The roadside café seemed a ridiculously mundane place to be having such a conversation in, a talk about mystical warriors, demons, vampires, prophecies, and magic.
Xander stared at him, the avatar’s dark eyes disconcertingly probing. “I was wondering,” Xander licked his lips before glancing at Tara. After a second the witch nodded. Xander turned back to him, cheeks flushing in embarrassment, “I was wondering, you’re obviously down on your luck, but you can also handle yourself-.”
”You’ve got some wicked cool moves,” Faith agreed, her eyes an unsettling twin to her lover’s.
”So I was wondering if you’d be interested in working for The Brotherhood.” Xander raised a hand as he opened his mouth to reply. “You’d have the resources of my arms, electronics surveillance, and research departments behind you, in addition to the pick of any state or country that hasn’t already been taken that you want to command as your own, as well as details of all of that area’s demon hunters, white-arts mages, and the interest off an hundred and fifty million dollar trust fund at your disposal.”
”I have people after me,” Luke admitted after a momentary pause. The mind-reeling offer was mouth-wateringly tempting, but if wasn’t really practical, not with the sort of people he had chasing him.
“What sorta people?” Faith queried.
”Bad ones,” he evaded.
”Ya might wanna clarify that,” Faith pressed. “We’re pretty bad people ourselves.”
The seconds ticked away as Luke struggled to decide what to do. Finally he nodded. “Okay, about five years ago I worked,” that fudged around the area nicely, “for a government agency doing black ops work. I was ordered to kill one of my team, and fled.”
”Right,” Xander looked towards Tara. “He reads alright?”
The soft-spoken witch’s answering smile filled him with reassuring warmth. “He’s fine.”
Xander stared at him for a long moment before nodding. “You saved my life,” he said. “The choice is yours, we can fix you up with a false identity, whatever you need.”
Luke took a breath. He’d run for so long, he wasn’t entirely sure he could stop, but there had to come a point where a man turned and faced his fears. “Are the Carolinas free?”
Xander grinned before looking towards Tara. “What potential assets do we have in the Carolinas?”
The witch’s fingers flew over her laptop’s keyboard, eyes squinting slightly as she peered at the screen. “In North Carolina, Raleigh has a team of eight demon hunters, Charlotte has two teams of six, and Greensboro has a team of six. In South Carolina, Carolina has a team of nine demon hunters, Greenville has two teams of six, and Charleston has a team of seven.”
Luke licked at his increasingly dry lips. “I’ll take it,” he decided.
* * *
“Um, thank ya for helping me slay that demon, it really took some guts for ya to do that,” Faith half-laughed, “not that I exactly gave ya a choice.”
Father Callahan looked at the leather-clad beauty as she accompanied him up the path leading to his church. In contrast to her previous brashness she now appeared nervous, something he guessed was uncharacteristic for her. “No you didn’t,” he softly replied, “nevertheless I was glad to help. And thank you for your efforts in protecting us all.”
“It’s nothin’ special,” a rare blush rose in the brunette’s high cheeks.
”On the contrary,” he corrected, “it’s very special indeed. I should know the rare courage it takes to stand against the beasts of darkness, once left me drained. And yet, you do it daily. On behalf of everybody, thank you.”
The Slayer stopped as they reached the steps leading up the church and turned to him, the uncomfortable shuffling suggesting she was unused to receiving praise. “Hope ya didn’t miss too much here today.”
Callahan chuckled. ”A couple of missed services is I dare say unimportant next to aiding intrepid heroes.”
The Slayer’s full lips parted in a sudden smirk. “Yeah, plus let’s face it, waaaaaaaaaaay more exciting.”
* * *
“Okay,” Xander waited until he’d closed the door of their newly booked into hotel room, apparently Faith, Tara, and Kennedy had caused too much of a disturbance at the last one to go back there, “after the last twenty-four hours we need to talk.”
It was unsurprisingly Faith who broke the long silence that followed Xander’s words. “Look,” Faith stared around the room, “me and the brat don’t get on, ain’t no denyin’ that, but I’d never deliberately put her in danger. She’s part of the gang and one thing the streets taught me, is ya have yar gang-members’ back. ‘Sides,” Faith looked towards Tara, “ya might have lousy taste in chicks, but ya love her, I ain’t never gonna do nothin’ that might hurt ya.”
”We’re in this together,” Kennedy added, her dark eyes likewise fixed on the witch. “I have to do my part and if that means going undercover sometimes, I have to do it. You can’t wrap me in cotton wool.”
“I…I know, but I love you so much,” Tara sniffled as she wiped at her eyes. “I can’t lose you.”
”I’m not going anywhere, you’ll never get rid of me Witchy,” Kennedy promised.
“Yeah,” Faith added. “We’re a team, together we’re fuckin’ unstoppable.” Suddenly the three girls were in a group hug.
Xander cleared his throat after a second. “Would this be a good time to turn some sexy music on low and get some baby lotion, whipped cream, and a video camera?” Xander laughed as he danced out of the way of angrily flung cushions. “What? Something I said!”
* * *
“Aaaaaaaaaaaah!” Draco screamed as he used the blow-torch he’d found in the second-hand car garage he’d broken into to cauterise his severed wrist. The stench of burning flesh filled the dirty garage, Draco almost dropped the torch as the world swayed around him. Putting the torch down for a second, he wiped the sweat pouring down his forehead away with the back of his still attached hand and took a rattling breath before lifting up the torch and re-applying its flame to his severed limb. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
Three times he’d died thanks to Harris’ attack. Twice from drowning during his swim in the harbour and then once after he’d made dry land from blood-loss.
“That bastard,” he whispered as he took another rest, eyes this time fixed on his maimed limb. Before this injury he’d been after the Mithras Quartet strictly for the money and the kudos of taking them down, but now it was different. Draco hissed, pain blazing through his wrist, his entire body aching from the shock. Now, it was personal and Harris was going to die in the most painful possible manner.