And remember, Feedback is the coin of the Realm
Act I: En Passant
“Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed, maybe they are just meant to run free until they find someone to run with them.”
She was bored, looking at the falling dust that was once an opponent. Wiping off any particles that may have clung to her with a forceful shrug, she glanced over her shoulder for any more stragglers before continuing her patrol. B and her lover were searching out a nest of demons on the other side of town, leaving her to handle the ‘Dale’s 101 graveyards solo. It wasn’t that she minded the duty, it was the way it was given to her that rankled. Once again, Jeeves gave her the table scraps that Queen Buffy deemed unworthy of her own precious self. As usual, she was the afterthought.
She did not mind the solitude that much; after the way she was raised, it could almost be considered a blessing. She used to enjoy any alone time she could find; she didn’t subscribe to the idea of safety in numbers, only feeling safe by herself. That was before she knew what she was missing, before she knew what she could have. Her thoughts wandered back to when she was first called as a Slayer, to her Watcher, Linda, the only woman she could call mom, if only in her thoughts.
She came to Sunnydale, hoping to find a little of what she had lost. She did find it, but it wasn’t for her, which made it far worse. It was like when she was a kid looking in windows at Christmas, knowing what she wanted, knowing she couldn’t have it. She knew the feeling well. In the beginning, she tried to fit in somewhat, but nothing really worked that wouldn’t have felt fake.
She wondered what would have happened if her and Linda had shown up together, or even during the summer. With no “perfect” Slayer around to compare her against constantly, would they have accepted her then? Now, it seems like her only purpose is to let B have a life, a future. B, Ms. S and Jeeves all look at her and see the one that could stay behind, that could let B escape, again.
Red looked at her like that too, only when she wasn’t looking down her nose at her first. She could feel Red just judging her all the time, finding her lacking something. *I swear, sometimes I just want…* she trailed off, not completing the thought as her Slayer sense flared briefly. She glanced around, opening her senses like Linda taught her, feeling no sign of any demons. Rolling her eyes, she headed east, toward her motel, still keeping her eyes open.
It wasn’t like the rest of the gang is any better to her. The wolf-boy, Cordy, even Dawnie, sometimes, when she wasn’t caught up in hero worship. The only two that didn’t were the Geek and Overbite, though Overbite tended to walk softly around her since she almost staked him. That sent a little thrill through her; was it wrong to enjoy fear sometimes? She didn’t think so. In the streets, that kind of power could be the only thing that kept you breathing.
The Geek was harder to read though. At first, he showed all the overblown lust typical of his gender. She laughed; his reaction to the nude-slaying story was almost priceless. To her surprise though, he seemed to have settled down somewhat. Not that the lust was gone, of course; she caught him checking her out often. She smirked. Still, he seemed to move into more of an appreciation of her than anything else. And he listened, which was a first for her. He was kinda cute, had a nice build under those horrible clothes. She had noticed that a while ago; licking her lips slightly, she wouldn’t mind giving him a tussle or two. She couldn’t risk it though, he was the relationship “forever-love” type, which wasn’t her speed. Or, maybe not his either, if that whole cheating thing was any indication.
Still, he was a sweet guy. Not to mention her most likely Secret Santa suspect. She smiled in memory. When she came home from Casa de Summers Christmas day after being “reBuffed” yet again, the last thing she was expecting was to find a gift on her bed. The perfectly carved set of stakes were nice, she could tell someone really put some time and effort into them. They even had grips that fitted her hands perfectly. But what really shocked her was the beautiful Xena statuette. Obviously a collector’s item, it was more a work of art than a toy. She didn’t think any one even knew she was a fan. She laughed, *Okay, I like watching women kick ass, sue me.*
She remembered talking about TV shows with the gang in the library once, one of the few times she felt a part of them. But she didn’t think anyone would’ve noticed or care enough to remember like this. And the signature on the card, “To a real warrior princess, from a friend,” really touched her, in the part of her where Linda still lived.
Eileen knew Fred was in trouble. She knew Sunnydale was dangerous after dark; why he decided to take the risk and go into the dark alley behind his diner just take the garbage out was anyone’s guess. Just because he owned the place, he always felt the need to do everything, even cooking. Maybe he figured he could get out and get back quick; obviously he wasn’t quick enough.
The raised voices caught her attention when she came to the kitchen to give him an order. She crept closer to the door, holding her cross in one hand and a frying pan in the other. Peeking out, she could see one of the…things… standing near Fred. She heard the fear in his voice, it made her even more nervous. Still, Fred was her friend; he stuck with her during the rough times when another boss might not have been as sensitive, or would’ve just got another waitress. She gripped the frying pan tighter.
One…thing… had its back to her. Before she could talk herself out of it, she rushed forward, aiming at his head but catching him in the shoulder. He screamed, glowing eyes blazing, before back-handing her to the ground. Fred tried to surge to her aid, but another…thing punched him in the gut, knocking him crashing into the tin garbage cans. She looked around, hoping someone heard the racket. But, there was only silence. She grabbed her cross again, baring it fearfully. The…things laughed as she crawled to the still-gasping Fred. She prayed for a miracle.
She got one.
The sounds of a struggle combined with her Slayer sense going crazy broke her reverie. She ran toward the noise, coming out of the graveyard onto the street. She could see a small pack of vampires toying with a couple in an alley behind the diner. The man held a frying pan while the woman held a cross, trying to keep the pack at bay. There were two vamps standing away from the action, laughing, enjoying the show. She charged in quickly, shocking both the pack and their victims. Whipping one of her new stakes out, she dusted one before he even turned around. Facing his friend, she fired a spin kick, shattering his jaw, dropping him. She pounced, staking him in one motion before whirling to face the rest. One of them, the leader it seemed, started to clap slowly.
“Why, if it ain’t the SLA-YER,” he paused. “Or rather, the other one.”
Faith bristled for a moment. “Won’t matter in the end, fang face, you’re still dust.”
“Oh please,” he laughed. “Even if you were the RE-AL slayer, we still got you outnumbered.” He looked over her shoulder briefly. Concerned, she looked back, seeing another dozen seem to appear from the woodwork, surrounding her, bringing the total to roughly 20. Faith’s eyes widened. ‘We never see numbers like this anymore on patrol,’ she thought. She shook her head briefly. *Worry about that later, Faith, if there’s a later.*
“Boys,” he smirked, “take care of the interruption, please.” He turned back to playing with the couple, practically dismissing her.
Banter over, she gritted her teeth and launched herself at the nearest vamp, slamming him into the wall. Dusting him, she turned quickly, keeping her back near the wall to prevent anyone from getting behind her. One on her left lunged for her, she quickly side-kicked him in the gut, and tossed him into the group on her right, knocking them down. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a punch coming at her head from the left. Ducking, she lunged forward, driving her knee into his ribs, breaking them, doubling him over, allowing her to stake him in the back. Two more rushed her head-on in tandem, she greeted each with one vicious spin kick. Before she could finish either one, though, another caught her flush with a jab from her right, where the knocked-down group had gotten up again. She blocked his hook and followed with her own, dropping him with a haymaker. She turned to see the duo had gotten up again.
“DAMMIT!” She barely had any time to dust any of them before she got attacked again. It was frustrating as all Hell, plus she wasn’t alone in this, either. She could still hear the couple being forced to struggle for that bastard’s enjoyment. Her opponents circled her slow, dragging it out in silence. She cursed under her breath. 3-to-1, she could handle, even 5-to-1, possibly. Forever-to-1? She exhaled deeply. She really wished she had some help. *Might as well wish for a vamp-killing Uzi while I’m at it.* She glanced around once more, racking her brain for a solution, if not to effectively kill all of them, at least for the couple to escape. She came up empty.
*Well, if I’m gonna go,* she narrowed her eyes. *I’m going my way. See you soon, Mom.*
Suddenly yelling a Xena-like battle-cry that tore through the quiet, she charged, slamming her fists into the nearest vamp, who was too surprised to react. She dusted him, but before she could turn, she was slammed back against the wall, hitting the back of her head hard while making her drop her stake. Dazed, she grappled with him on instinct, before kneeing him in the groin. As he groaned, she smashed her elbow into his face twice, stunning him as she fumbled for her backup stake, dusting him, but making the mistake of leaving the weapon inside him. Muttering a curse, she turned into a hard right cross, staggering her against the wall. She reacted blindly, throwing a wild haymaker toward the vamp that somehow connected. Another nailed her stomach with a kick, driving the air from her, bending her over. She caught his follow-up kick, and lifted as she straightened, flipping him hard onto his back. She stumbled back into the wall.
*Can’t go down,* she repeated to herself. *If I go down, its over.* They circled her again, looking like the sharks she’d seen on National Geographic. She could feel the blood trickling down her neck. *Head wounds are always the worst.* She looked longingly at her weapon, kicked across the alley in the struggle. She was psyching herself to make a go for it, when two growling screams from the back of the pack, followed quickly by the distinctive sound of dusting vamps made everyone turn in shock. Despite the pain she was in, Faith smiled, things looking better already.
The calvary had arrived.
Moving through the clouds of dust, Xander struck, snapping his heavy steel-toed boot to the knee of the nearest vamp while thrusting his stake underhand into the vamp’s heart. He knew he had to work fast, Faith looked like she was having a hard time and there were two potential hostages to worry about too.
Another hostile charged at him. Xander greeted him with a quick left-handed finger-strike to the eye, followed by a right-handed stake-thrust, dusting him. That brought him more into the center of the alley, where a vamp grabbed him from behind in a fierce bear-hug, trapping his arms to his side. He struggled, his weapon still in hand, but the grip was too strong. He growled in frustration.
Faith took advantage of the distraction, diving for her stake, grasping it and rising in a forward roll. She attacked, already feeling cocky, dusting one quickly before working toward the humans. The lead vamp stepped back around the edge, letting his minions step forward. Faith side-kicked the first in the sternum, putting all the frustration of tonight in it, lifting him clean off the floor before he landed hard. She reversed her stance, landing a perfect back-spin kick to the other, dropping him. She dusted them both, clearing her path to the couple, her first real good look at them, a man and woman in their mid-to-late forties, dressed in dirty aprons. They stared back at her with eyes wide. She winked and smiled.
“Sorry for the delay, we’ll get you out of here in a few.” She turned back to the battle, one vamp moving toward her, she jabbed twice with her left before nailing him with short right hook, spinning him around. She dusted him, searching for more targets, before hearing a low growl. Looking up, she could see that her unknown ally seemed to be in trouble. She started to move to help, before stopping suddenly, her eyes widening.
He looked forward, seeing two hostiles charging. He leaned forward before jumping, using the vamp for leverage, smashing his heels directly into the incoming vampires. Still trapped in his arms, he twisted slightly in mid-air, landing just off-center of the vamp’s grip. Using the momentum from falling, he smashed a left-handed hammer-blow into the vamp’s groin, turning his hand to grab him hard. The vampire howled, loosening his grip on Xander enough for him to slip down and away.
One of the vampires he kicked had gotten back up angrily, about to swing a wild haymaker at Xander’s head. Xander slid quickly behind the still-groaning vamp, leaning away, causing the punch to strike the vampire flush, knocking him down and out. He gaped at his fallen friend, taking his eye off Xander for a second, who used the distraction to send a one-knuckle strike to his throat, crushing his windpipe. The vampire recoiled in agony before Xander dusted both him and the prone vamp decisively.
The third one, seeing his mates go down, rushed forward, arms reaching for Xander’s throat. Xander leaned and twisted left, letting the arms pass before countering, his cupped left hand striking against the vamp’s eardrum, stunning him. Not finished, he trapped the vamp’s right arm and pulled, smashing the vamp’s falling face directly into his rising knee. He exchanged his pivot foot, before executing a perfect single-leg sweep takedown, spinning and following the vamp’s fall down to stake him upon landing in one easy motion.
Faith almost gaped. Mystery guy had some serious moves working for him. She thought it might have been Angel at first, but this guy lacked Overbite’s vampiric grace. Instead, every move was executed with simple brutal efficiency. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a vamp trying to get the drop on her. *Identify later, fight now.* She turned, smashing her right elbow into his eye, following with a left hook to the jaw into a right round kick, dropping him easy. She staked him right-handed and moved to the next, the one who caught her with that sucker punch earlier. She smiled wickedly.
He lunged forward, leading left. She ducked his jab and fired a short left hook to the ribs followed by a knee to the gut, driving him to the wall. She followed with a nasty right uppercut that snapped his head back, loosening his teeth. She hopped in the air, scissoring her legs before snapping a powerful front kick that knocked him cold. Satisfied, she staked him and turned, scanning for more targets.
To her surprise, the only one left was the leader, trapped toward the rear of the alley, who seemed positively shocked at how quickly things turned. She could see him looking toward the opening, hoping for assistance, but she knew the only one there was her ally, not his. She grinned, sashaying slowly to him, as he backed away nervously. She was going to enjoy this. He feinted a kick and threw a right cross. She blocked it easily and decked him with a hard right, sending him staggering into the alley wall. He spit blood before rushing forward, hoping to surprise her. She caught him, twisted and lifted him high before body-slamming him hard into the pavement. Going with the flow, she jumped high before crashing down with a vicious knee drop into his chest, cracking his sternum. He groaned weakly beneath her. She grinned cheekily, still kneeling on his chest, fighting the urge to pin him for a 3-count.
“Like I said before, fang face,” she paused, leaning into his face, savoring the moment. “Either way, you’re dust.” She slammed her stake into his chest, punctuating her statement. Rising, she looked up. Her ally was consoling the victims, and seemed to be doing a nice job, if the small smile on the woman’s face was any indication. She still could not see his face well, though; he was turned slightly away from her direction. Walking up, she decided to introduce herself.
“Thanks for the save, stud,” she started. “I would’ve been a goner for sure.”
“No problem, Faith,” a familiar yet VERY unexpected voice said chuckling. “All a part of the service.”
Faith felt her jaw hit the floor.
Xander faced her, somewhat enjoying her shocked reaction. He knew one of the gang would find out about his solo act sooner or later, even though he normally hunted in the part of town Buffy usually forgot about. He just hoped it wasn’t going to be Buffy or Willow. He really did not want to be preached at, basically called “useless;” he got enough of that at home. If he were being honest with himself, though, he could not have picked a better scenario than what happened and with whom. He turned back to the victims.
“Eileen, Fred, everything’s okay now.” He tried to project reassurance into his voice. “Feel free to head back inside to keep making those great burgers of yours.” He smiled easily. “Just try not to have to take the trash out at night anymore, okay?”
Fred laughed ruefully. “Yeah, son, that’s the last time I make that mistake.” He exhaled deeply. “You two just saved our lives. Is there anything we can do to repay you.”
Xander flashed a bright smile. It was always nice to be appreciated. “Thanks for the offer, sir, but” gesturing to he and Faith, “that’s what we do.” He looked at Faith who had stopped impersonating a fish long enough to nod in agreement.
Fred shook his head again. “Tell you two kids what. I own this diner and from now on, you both can eat here anytime for free. How’s that grab you?” Xander grinned, imagining the future meals.
“You don’t know what you’ve just done, sir.” Faith interjected. She turned to Xander and smirked. “This guy could shut you down and still have room for dessert.”
Xander could hear Fred and Eileen laugh as he gave Faith a mock glare. She just grinned defiantly back at him.
“Be that as it may, kids.” Fred said getting himself under control. “I still owe you, and the offer still stands.” He looked at them both expectantly.
“Well, many thanks to you both, good sir and madam,” Xander said with a bad British accent. “We will rah-ther have to accept your kind offer, if that is right-o with you, Lady Faith?” He bowed deeply with an overly-melodramatic flair.
He could see Faith rolling her eyes at his antics with a smile as both Fred and Eileen laughed. It was a carefree smile, one she didn’t show often. He decided he would like to see it more.
“Five-by-five,” she said, nodding her approval. “But can we take a raincheck on it, because we kinda got to motor.” Xander looked at her curiously, but she said nothing else.
Fred clapped his hands and smiled. “No problem, Faith . . . and Xander was it?” Xander nodded. “Anytime you are in the area, just ask for either of us. We are always here.” Eileen smiled in agreement. Xander noticed she had not said much, probably still in shock a little bit.
“Well, have a good night you two, and thanks again.” Fred and Eileen turned to go back into the diner.
“Like he said, all a part of the service.” Faith responded. Xander smiled at them, waving his good-bye. When the door closed, he could see Faith turn toward him. By unspoken mutual consent, they started walking out of the alley side-by-side.
Faith looked at Xander again. She could see why she was so surprised. Dressed in all black, including his t-shirt, military fatigues pants and long duster, he looked like a total different person than the Geek she thought she knew. His manner was even different. The way he moved. The jokes aside, she could sense a cold steel lurking beneath his surface that she had never noticed before. That no one probably noticed before, come to think of it, she thought. Or else they wouldn’t treat him like a wimp. Yet, he kept that same light-hearted nature. It was like looking at a happy-go-lucky predator, as disjointed as the thought seemed.
“So, stud, how long you’ve been keeping secrets.” She asked. She was really curious, coming up the way she did, reading people was a survival skill, one Linda encouraged. It was the first time in a long time she’d been so wrong.
He stopped, causing her to do so as well. He stared at her for a long moment, locking eyes with her before seeming to come to a decision. He started walking again
“I’ll tell you what, Faith.” He began smoothly. “I have a line on a fair-sized vamp meeting at a nest on the East side.” He turned to face her again. “You meet me here tomorrow night, we can shoot over there, take them out, and come back here for dinner.” He smirked. “I’ll answer any question you got, deal?”
She cocked her head slightly, watching him watch her. It didn’t feel like a pick-up line, not that she’d have minded if it was. It felt more like an olive branch, like he was asking for her trust by offering his own. Not too many people gave her something without wanting something in return. He didn’t strike her as the user-type, especially with the Christmas gift thing. She never spoke of it, and neither did he, not once using that as a possible invitation. No, from what she could see, he was opening himself up as a friend. She never really had a genuine one of those, only acquaintances to be kept at a distance. She smiled, extending her hand.
“Deal.” They shook, but instead of releasing his hand, she pulled him close.
“By the way, thanks loads for that Christmas gift,” she whispered in his ear, placing a feather light kiss on his cheek before releasing him. She watched his face flush crimson, like she knew it would, and his jaw drop, putting her up one on the scoreboard. She flashed him a bright smile.
Xander watched her spin and walk away. Finally regaining control, he chuckled.
“You are more than welcome, Faith,” he said, knowing she could still hear him. She raised her hand briefly in acknowledgement while continuing on her way. He could only shake his head, laughing, as he walked toward home.
Tomorrow might be an interesting day.