Disclaimer: I myself am not, in fact, legitimate.
Setting: Follows this one after an indeterminate amount of time has passed. Probably a couple weeks.
Notes: It's kind of rough and I don't think it stands alone that well, but I kind of just wanted it done with. Gotta get going on my IWRY fic, after all. Anyway, crit is still welcome.
Faith knew from experience that the so-called Scooby Gang’s special brand of teamwork was never as cohesive as the front they put on. Sure, they all cared about each other, but between the ordeals that they’d been through together and the sheer force of each individual personality, their internal affairs took frequent beatings, which on any given day might or might not affect the fate of the world. It was understandable to a point-—you always fear losing the ones you love, and fear makes you do funny things—-but to Faith it was sometimes stupefying. One moment they would all be gathered together preparing to face the ultimate evil, and the next, one of them would be going batshit because another one kissed another one.
Angel and his teammates had a different style. None of them had gone to high school together and it showed. On the other hand, when the trust within that group suffered, it suffered big. The few of them that were even left alive now didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with each other.
Putting any combination of the two groups in a room together was almost bound to be explosive. Faith was intrigued.
Like the others, she had followed Angel’s invitation to join him here in his hotel room, which came as soon as everyone who was coming to Cleveland had arrived there. At least, she thought this was everyone. It was hard to define who counted as “one of us” at this point, anyway. The room wasn’t big, and they filled every chair and then some: Dawn was perched cross-legged on the bed (just one bed, and Faith could bet the theories about that were already in formation) and Angel and Spike were both leaning against the walls on opposite ends of the room. There was a lot of tension in the silence that loitered there with them, but everyone seemed so hypersensitive about it that there couldn’t be much chance of real hostility breaking out.
Angel didn’t attempt introductions or preamble before getting to the point. “This is the first and only meeting of...” He looked around at their wary faces, orphans of the Apocalypse. “...Us. Before we go our separate ways, I wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page and that the Hellmouth is in good hands. It’s not as active as Sunnydale’s was, but it’s also in a bigger city, so it needs a solid team of Slayers.”
“Right, and speaking of which,” cut in Spike, “seems like a Slayer should be making this speech, not her bloody flipside.” Faith wished she had brought a stopwatch to see how long Spike would let Angel speak before finding some kind of issue with it. She covered her mouth with her hand to hide a giggle.
Angel clearly didn’t see the humor. “Buffy’s taking care of business in Rome, if that’s what you’re trying to ask.”
Spike was instantly on the defensive. “I know.”
“She told me.”
“I’m sure she did. Anyway—-“
“She wouldn’t just leave without saying goodbye, you know.”
The calm exterior that Angel had maintained so far apparently wasn’t enough to keep him from rolling his eyes. “Oh come on. She would do exactly that. To you, anyway.”
“While for you it’s been nothing but a steady parade of goodbyes, I recall.”
Faith flicked out her hand from the chair she had taken next to Spike, tapping his hip. “Yo. Is the Buffy Triangle Olympics supposed to be a spectator sport?” Both vampires looked at her as if just remembering she was there, and she shrugged. “Just curious.”
Angel answered by regaining his authoritative composure. “You want to stay in the room, Spike, you can use this as a time to practice keeping your mouth shut for a few minutes. Now, Buffy isn’t going to stay stationed here. Inasmuch as there’s a Slayer in charge, it’s Faith.” He gave her a respectful nod, which she returned. “But she’s told me she isn’t interested in leadership on a large scale, so don’t look at her for the basic organization of Cleveland’s forces.”
“That’s me,” Dawn piped in.
Angel half-smiled, clearly still unused to seeing Dawn handling adult responsibilities. “Until it’s time for college,” he said.
“Duh.” She gave him a good-natured eye roll, and then an encouraging hand gesture. “Go ‘head, keep talking.”
He obeyed, after one more odd look in her direction. “Faith, is your house working out okay?”
“Sure is. Foundation on that hut is sturdy,” Faith replied, letting her tone convey how impressed she was.
Angel looked momentarily doubtful, probably wondering what she had done to test it, but then let it go and continued, “Got your ID yet?”
Faith dug into her pocket. She had been mailed an Ohio driver’s license, which she had assumed would be forged until she saw the official documentation surrounding it. The name was fake, of course, but her picture on it was her actual face, and if the card was genuine enough to bestow legality, it was genuine enough for her. She grinned as she held it out and read the name, “Hope.” It didn’t bother her that Angel had chosen it without consulting her. For some reason the one he picked just struck her as funny.
Spike looked down at the card with interest. “Brilliant. So now you can get into the good clubs.” Then he pointed to the name and frowned. “I’m not obliged to call you that, am I?”
“Hell no,” she replied easily, then considered it and added, “Like you ever call people by their names anyway.”
Giles cleared his throat-—quietly, but somehow it was enough to capture the attention of the room. It had been a few weeks since Faith had last seen him, and she looked him over with a critical eye. Like herself and the others who had survived Sunnydale, a year later he still displayed signs of exhaustion, the mental kind that showed physically. He was leaning forward, elbows on his knees, and he was dressed in casual clothing, his glasses nowhere in sight. Faith felt for him, but she had to wonder why he was even there. For Dawn, probably. No way could the old man willingly leave his youngest in a room full of his former enemies.
“May we proceed with a bit less banter?” he asked, his eyes directed at Faith and Spike. Her first instinct was to tell him to shove it, but she’d had a lot of practice by now at not following her first instinct, so she shrugged and settled back in her chair, her hands folded around Hope’s driver’s license.
To her surprise, Spike didn’t say anything else either. He almost seemed to be following her lead, but if so, there was no way it was intentional. What a weird guy. Probably one of those subs who pretended to be a dom. Was that what Buffy had wanted from him?
“What?” he hissed, and Faith realized she’d been watching him as her mind wandered, and also that she had missed everything that Angel had just been saying. Something about Cleveland’s magical defenses. Whatever. That was Willow’s job, and the witch was listening attentively—-and actually taking notes, Faith noted with incredulity.
She shrugged one shoulder for Spike’s benefit and answered in a whisper. “Nothing. Hey, you wanna patrol with me after this?”
“You’re on. I think we should patrol at this great 21-and-over bar on East 4th St...”
Giles cleared his throat again, more insistently this time. “Spike, Faith, if you don’t mind?”
Spike looked cheerful. “Well, since you ask, Watcher, actually I—-“
“You’ve decided to stay in Cleveland.” Angel’s voice was sharp and direct. “Walk the beat, fight demons? Right?”
“That’s the plan, right.”
“Then you don’t need to stay for the rest of this. Go do your thing. Ask Faith if you need any directives, and for God’s sake don’t listen to anyone who says you have a destiny.”
The two glared at each other for a few beats, and then Spike gave everyone a flippant wave and walked out of the hotel room without a backwards glance. Faith hesitated, weighing the risks of losing points with the others here, and then decided it was all too complicated to bother, and caught Angel’s eye with a gesture. She pointed at the door that had just closed behind Spike. “It alright if I...?”
Angel sighed. “Yeah, you know everything you need to. But, Faith...”
She knew what he was thinking. Angel might have been a friend first, probably more for her than anyone else here, but there was always going to be a part of him that considered her his own special project. It was kind of sweet, in an annoying way, but if she was going to have to draw lines with him, now was as good a time as any to start. “Are you gonna tell me who’s bad news?” she asked as she stood up. “’Cause my bad news subscription’s been pilin’ up on my doorstep for a few years now.”
“Okay, okay. Just...never tell me.”
It wasn’t going to be difficult to comply with that. She didn’t foresee much time for hanging out with Angel anyway. The hotel room that she was leaving now would probably be vacated within days, and Angel had little holding him to Cleveland. If Faith had to make a guess about his next move, she would guess that he’d follow Buffy, but Buffy’s next destination was even more of a mystery to her. Would she want to stay with her sister? Join Xander and Andrew in the worldwide search for Slayers? Set up shop with Giles in London? Or had she grown attached to Rome, or a mysterious Immortal someone who lived there?
If Faith had been in a position to choose for herself, she thought she might go home to Boston. Maybe that was all Buffy wanted, too. Roots and independence and a chance for some reflection.
Of course, Buffy had the sense to know that Slayers didn’t get those things.
Spike heard Faith behind him before he’d gotten far from the hotel’s rear exit, and he paused to wait when she called out. “This is a dangerous part of town,” she said when she caught up and was walking beside him. “You shouldn’t be out on your own after dark.”
He cracked a grin. “You fancy escorting me somewhere safe, then?”
“Tonight I’m just gonna do a loop and go home. I got a letter I wanna get written.”
It took a moment for him to find a response to that. Usually it was easier to tell if she was joking. “Sorry, pet, ears failed me. I thought you just said you wanted to write a letter.”
She rolled her eyes. “Welcome to America. Even high school dropouts are literate.”
Spike was almost tempted to explain the education system he had come from, just to show how little high school had to do with literacy, but the way Faith had learned to write didn’t interest him as much as what she was doing with it. “Who’s the lucky recipient?” he asked.
“Girl I knew in prison. She’s kinda shy, you know, doesn’t put up much of a fight, so there was always some hag who wanted to pick on her.” Faith crossed her arms across her chest as she walked and looked straight ahead, resigned to the truth of her story. “While I was there I made sure they left her alone, but for this last year I’ve been worried, you know? Now I got myself a name and address, so I just need to figure out how to let her know who I am without gettin’ caught at screening.”
It was an unexpected kind of puzzle, and Spike found himself wanting to be the one to solve it. “Some secret code in the return address, then? D’you think ‘five by five’ is just too obvious?”
Faith raised an eyebrow, smiling sardonically. “I never said that to her.”
“Really?” Now that he thought about it, though, Spike wasn’t sure she had even said it to him. He’d just heard that she liked to say it.
“Really. I think I’ll just pretend like I’m some random goodwill person and throw in some references to talks we used to have. Gretchen’s pretty smart. She’ll get it.”
After a few moments of walking silently through the dark, quiet area where Faith had been leading them, Spike got bored and revived the conversation. “So what was Gretchen in for?”
“Arson,” Faith replied casually. “Can’t remember how many counts.”
“Well,” said Spike, “sounds like there was a lass needed a mate.”
Faith’s snort of laughter echoed against the walls of the narrow alley. “Yeah. She did. She mighta been under some kinda spell when she set the fires, though, ‘cause she could never really explain why she did it.”
“If I had a pound for every bloody time that happened to me..." Spike muttered. He shoved his hands into his pockets. Faith didn’t make a reply, and he glanced over to see that she was giving him another one of those amused looks. “For pity’s sake, Slayer, what?”
“So were you under a spell tonight when you were airing your withdrawal symptoms in front of everyone, or was that a conscious choice?”
“What withdrawal symptoms?” Spike didn’t like where this was going.
“Yeah, play dumb. ‘Cause you’ve never been hooked on B, right?”
He should have known she would start this sooner or later. “I could go to her if I wanted to. She’s busy. What’s the hurly burly?”
Faith took a pack of cigarettes from her jacket pocket, prompting Spike to pat down his latest leather duster to find his own. “Just sayin’,” she said. “I know you talked to her back in LA, and it looks like that changed something between you. Can’t blame me for wondering what it was.”
“That so? Well, can I still ignore you, then?”
She stopped walking, but just to get a steady flame out of her lighter. She even gestured at him, without looking up, to make him wait for her. He should have just ignored her, nosy little shrew. What had happened between him and Buffy in LA was his own business. He halted one step in front of Faith and stayed there, scowling at her.
If she noticed, she showed no sign of it. As soon as she had stashed her lighter, her eyes fixed on something way down the alley across the street. “Oh shit.” Quickly she took one long drag from the cigarette, then removed it from her lips and gave it a regretful look before dropping it to the ground. “Timing always sucks. You coming?” she added as she grabbed a stake from inside her jacket.
She was already sprinting toward the vampire by the time Spike spotted it. He sighed and followed. At least he hadn’t lit his own fag yet.
In other news, I posted another contest. Enter! It's easy, and hey, if you're the only one, you win by default.