I block deftly, about to deliver a smartass comment followed by a nasty deep-set punch, when my legs are swept away from under me and I land hard on my ass instead. Damn, he's annoying. I look up and he's grinning down at me while slowly backing away, out of reach for any retaliatory moves. Damn, he's not only annoying but knows me too well.
"Faith, concentrate please."
I hear Giles' world-weary voice coming from behind me but ignore it, too engrossed in finding a way to kick the crap and then some out of his son.
His son, yeah. That blond, grinning, scrawny - but way cute - wannabe-Watcher currently besting me in one-on-one combat is Giles' son.
Don't know who was the most surprised, me or G-man. I'd left L.A. to catch a much-needed break from...well, Cordelia mainly, and somehow ended up in England. Once there, I decided to pay Giles a visit, slightly worried as to how he'd react. But I hadn't needed to bother. He was freaked out way before I got there. Turns out he had a one-night-stand years ago while he was still in college. In the 'Ripper' era. Turns out that it resulted in a child he didn't know about for twenty-five years. Turns out that the child grew up and came looking for him. Turns out- Fuck it!
He's just nailed me again and I'm starting to feel pissed. He's not as strong, not as fast, not as tough or has as much endurance as me - goes without sayin' really - but he's damn good nonetheless. He's got about three or four black belts in various kick-ass genres, but that's not why he's puttin' up such a good fight against me. It's because he reads me. It's like he knows where I'll attack before I even know it myself and he's takin' full advantage of it. I hate it. I don't hate him, although he pisses me off a lot - father like son and all - I only hate that he anticipates my every friggin' move. It's almost like fighting with B. Without the Slayer strength of course, or the frenzied pace.
Or the pain. Or the hatred.
Laken - yeah, that's his name, fuckin' queer, I know. Whatever his mum was on at the time I want some - doesn't look at me with hatred in his eyes. Not even when I do finally pull my act together, start concentrating, and throw him across the room or nail him against the wall; he's always got a kinda genuine laugh in his eyes. Like he's having a good time.
I don't see that look a lot in other people's eyes. Angel's, yeah, but he's hardly 'people'. Cordelia tolerates me because Angel has told her to, while Wes mainly ignores me and Fred and Gunn just hover around. And Connor... Don't get me started on that one. It doesn't suck, but it could be better. Of course any of their looks are better than the ones B shoots me. Or shot, as I haven't seen her for a while. Not since Sunnydale was sucked into the Hellmouth and we all went our merry ways after avoiding yet another world apocalypse. Last I heard she was in 'Frisco, would probably have chosen L.A. if I hadn't been there. But- aargh! All right, that's it! I'll have to kill him now.
That was my original Black Album Metallica t-shirt he just tore.
He's so graceful. I know it's a sentimental, trite and sappy thing to think, but he is. My Son. Laken Giles Sebastian. My very own flesh and blood.
The very same blood that is as of now oozing from his nose - courtesy Faith.
"Be so kind as not to hurt him too much, Faith."
I know it hurt him when I had to confess I had no recollection of his mother. He tried to hide it, but I could tell. I sought to explain that a lot of things were different back then; that I was going through a difficult time, drinking, smoking and inhaling too much, but it still hurt him. Heck, I don't blame him, I would have given anything to be able to tell him something, say something about her, me and our time together. But it would have been a lie.
"Retreat, Laken! Retreating's always good. No shame in that."
Time together. It was a one-night-stand. No more, no less. And he knows that. As much as he would like for it to have been, and mean, more, that's what it was and we're both clear on that. Iris. I didn't even remember her name before he told me. Wonder if I knew back then?
Iris, the mother of my child. My only child. My son. I didn't know. For twenty-five years I didn't know. And if she hadn't been dying, she wouldn't have told him and I still wouldn't know. Is it fair to hate the dead?
"No sharp objects, Faith! I'm not going to tell you again!"
He's tall, handsome, I think, and he looks like me and it's not just selfish wishful thinking. Even Faith has commented on it, saying we have the same exasperated smile and superior air that just gets her itching to hit something or someone. But she said it with a grin, thankfully. I've been a father for less than two months and am already trying to make up for more than two decades of absence and neglect. Just glad it doesn't involve protecting him against a pissed-off Slayer. My body has barely healed from my last outing to the now extinct Sunnydale.
Not that Faith would hurt him, more than she already does when they're training that is; she likes him even if he drives her nuts by being so well prepared, always one step ahead of the game. I'm proud of him. I don't really know him, but I can appreciate a good fight so I'm proud of him. Actually I'm afraid where that may lead. If I start loving him, it'll be like with Buffy all over again and I don't know if I can handle that. Again.
"Let him go now, Faith, training's over and you know his leg's not supposed to bend that way."
So, here I am, going to England. And not because I want to. Angel sent me. Apparently he's in contact with Giles - seems like they talk a whole lot more than Giles and I do, but I'm not gonna be upset about that - and apparently hell's breaking loose over there. Makes a change. Or not. Guess since Sunnydale went to hell in a hand- basket, all the evil forces had to find another location to feast. Guess England's as good a place as the next one. I don't mind really, it's been almost a year since I last battled truly great evil and a girl has needs. God, that sounded gross, but it's true. I do need the action, I do need the fight to feel alive and appreciated, I need the adrenaline rush and the-umm-free drinks. Gotta love first class!
Is it just me, or does a gin & tonic taste better the closer you get to London? We're almost there now, circling the airport, waiting for permission to descend, and I can almost make myself believe that I can feel her. Of course I know she's there. Angel and then Giles told me that much. Why she's there, however, I can't fathom; perhaps she instinctively knew I'd be going and decided to get there first to screw with my mind? Okay, I know I'm being paranoid. You would be, too, if you'd had Faith happening to you. Hey, that rhymed!
It's not that I really hate her anymore. Not after she helped me out with that pesky First Evil problem. She really came through for me there, I admit it. I just never wanted to see her ever again. Didn't think it was too much to hope for. Guess the other kind of fate hasn't been paying attention.
I've convinced myself it'll be all right. Giles will be there and I'm extremely anxious to see him again. Even though he's not my Watcher any more, or has been for a long time, he's still the one I turn to and depend on when the going gets tough. And it pretty much always does. I know he wants me to manage on my own, but I also know that he'll never be able to back off or walk out of my life completely. We've been trough too much together for that to happen. And I doubt anyone of us would allow it to happen either way. But why she has to be there...?
We left things on a pretty well footing. She apologized, she kicked evildoer ass and she went back to L.A. I listened, didn't punch her, much, and forgave. More or less.
I can appreciate someone working for forgiveness and redemption as much as the next one - I'd hardly be in contact with Angel if I couldn't - but there's just something about Faith that irks me. Always has. I guess it just gets a little too close to home occasionally.
Not that I'd ever admit to anything of the sort. They probably all know anyway. I turn to look at Willow in the seat next to me, she's fast asleep. Xander, on the other hand, is busy flagging down a stewardess to get one more free drink before landing. He grins at me and I smile back. They insisted they come with me, saying they missed Giles as much as I do - which is true - but mainly because I know they want to look out for me and watch my back. They always have, even if I haven't always appreciated it or at times even resented them for it. They've had so many opportunities to say 'screw you' and leave, but they never have. Not without quickly coming back afterwards anyway. They must know I need them. Perhaps it's time I tell them more often.
We're descending now; I can see the runway approaching fast and feel the downward surge in my gut. And then I feel something else.
I can't believe Giles sent her to pick us up.
We're all jetlagged and antsy, especially Buffy. I'm glad we didn't have problems getting through customs or I think someone would have gotten hurt. Good thing Buffy left her arsenal back in San Francisco, certain items are difficult to explain. Like the double- headed battleaxe she's been favouring lately. We left Kennedy and Dawn in charge of the slaying back home. Dawn was excited whereas Kennedy wasn't too happy about having to stay behind, but I made sure to make up for it the night before we left. She may not be a happy camper, but she's not an unsatisfied one. I grin to myself, then turn to say something to Buffy, but she's frozen mid-step, staring directly ahead of her.
Oh God, here we go...
I turn to look in the same direction as Buffy and I see Faith, casually leaning against the wall. The expression on her face is the usual devil-may-care, but her eyes give her away. I could have seen the apprehension from miles away.
She looks good. I notice she can still pull off wearing leather pants. As we approach, she moves away from the wall, absentmindedly crossing and uncrossing her arms as if unsure what to do with them. That's the problem with wearing pants that tight, no pockets to speak of when you need them. She smiles hesitantly, looking at Xander and at me, all the while shooting not-so furtive glances at Buffy.
"Bloody brilliant, mate!" Xander exclaims in the god-awful British accent he's been torturing Buffy and me with since the news of our journey. "Free drinks galore!" He takes a step forward and puts out his hand, Faith smiles gratefully and shakes it vigorously. I follow suit and receive a smile as well. Then we all turn to Buffy.
She blinks quickly as if suddenly returning from wherever place her mind just took her and shakes her head lightly, putting on a small smile.
And with that I guess the heartfelt greetings are over for now, because in an unspoken agreement we simultaneously begin to sidle toward the exit, Faith leading the way and us following closely behind. Buffy's still looking thoughtful.
Well, I guess that went okay. No insults or punches exchanged. That must count as a success. Of course if looks could kill...Nah, I'll be fair. It really wasn't that bad, she merely looked as if she'd found somethin' mildly unpleasant in her drink and that's probably one of the better looks I've received from her in a long time. In a very long time. And she did smile. Or was that a muscle spasm?
We're driving in Giles' rather nifty sports car, Red's in the front with me and B and Xander are cooped up in the back. No words are spoken, but the tension is palpable. I can see the white of Red's knuckles where she's gripping onto the side handle.
All right, so I haven't quite gotten the whole driving-on-the-left- side part down yet, but there's really no need to mutter protection spells like that. It's kinda insulting actually. I catch B's eyes in the rear-view mirror. Oh yeah, that was totally a smile I just got. Tiny, but still a-
"Faith! Eyes on the road! Eyes on the road!" Red shrieks, hiding her own eyes behind her hands.
"Sorry," I grin bashfully, making a large swerve to avoid the truck ahead. "Don't worry, Will, everything's under control."
"Uh-huh," She only says, her eyes remaining hidden.
I risk a glance back at B, but she's looking out of the window now, seemingly lost in thought. I sigh inwardly.
I'm already waiting in the driveway when they pull up at the curb. And no, I didn't have some supernatural premonition telling me they were getting close, I simply heard Faith turn the corner on screeching tyres.
Why do you think I wasn't in the airport to greet them? Exactly. I have a son now, life's dear to me. Speaking of Laken, he's coming up behind me, peering curiously over my shoulder. I can tell he's excited about their arrival.
He already knows about me, about the others and the things we've done. Couldn't really hide the fact that Faith was something else when she suddenly turned up on my doorstep, and I didn't want to lie to him either. Besides, he's got the gene; that pesky little Watcher gene that automatically makes him a target and puts him in danger from anyone who's opposed to the Slayer and Watcher arrangement. That's actually a rather large quantity of the undead - and occasionally living - population of the world. That's why I'm having him stay here with me for a while; I want him to be aware of all the repercussions this new life can bring with it. At first he outright refused, claiming university responsibilities, independence, being able to take care of himself and what not, but I know the main reason is that he hasn't decided yet what to make of me. Whether he resents me or is happy to have found a father. To be honest, I haven't quite decided what to make of him either.
However, where the Watcher/Slayer issue is concerned, he seems pretty unperturbed by it all, but then again, he's only had Faith's war stories to relate to. He has still to experience it for real himself. I desperately hope it'll never come to that, but my instinct and experience tell me otherwise. Life's never that simple.
The car doors are practically thrown open and I see Willow and Xander scramble out in a great hurry. Both of them a considerably paler complexion than when I saw them last. I hear Laken snicker beside me. He had the pleasure of first introducing Faith to driving on the left. That's why he wasn't in the airport either.
"G-man!" Xander exclaims, stumbling towards me and throwing his arms around me in an exaggerated hug. "I've never been so happy to see anyone in my life! Please tell me the nightmare's over."
"The nightmare's over, Xander," I oblige with a smile as I pat his back, looking past him at Buffy who's making her way towards me, a huge smile spreading on her face. By God, I've missed her!
"Save some for the rest of us." She quips good-naturedly, pulling Xander away from me so she can take his place in my arms. I'm near tears as I hold her. Must be turning into a sentimental old sod these days.
Dinner's great, although not much is actually being eaten. We're all too busy being jetlagged or catching up to have time to eat. Drinking, however, is another matter. Isn't it always?
It was tense at first, but the tension quickly got mixed up with shock and curiosity when Giles casually mentioned that the blond, blue-eyed hunk standing next to him was his son. Could have knocked me over with a feather and I think Buffy forgot to breathe for a few minutes. Xander was - and is - just ecstatic about the revelation, delighting in the extra testosterone that has been injected into our little group. I swear, he's looking at Laken the way he used to look at Buffy. And Cordelia. And Faith. And Anya, but let's not go there.
Giles had Laken tell the story and I couldn't help but watch him as Laken related the events of the past few months, seeing the myriad of emotions crossing his face. Regret, sadness, joy and... love? Wonder if Buffy noticed it, too, but she must have. Would've taken a blind man not to.
However, I think they'll be all right. I was anxious at first - knowing how Buffy handles any kind of competition, emotionally or otherwise - but I could see the look on her face soften when he told us about his mother. Iris was her name. She died from cancer three months ago and he's spent the better part of the last year nursing her at home. At least Joyce went quickly. I shudder slightly and see Buffy do the same.
It wasn't until she was at death's door that she finally relented and told her son about his father. She always refused to talk about it before and Laken had gradually resigned himself to the fact that he would never know. Whether it was guilt or a last minute effort to have no unresolved issues between them, Laken didn't know, but she had told him and he was glad about that. I can tell Giles is glad about it, too.
It's almost too much. No, fuck that, it _is_ too much! First Faith, then Laken. I don't know how to handle all of this. Preferably I'd get up and flee the house in search of the nearest cemetery, stake in one hand, Jack Daniels in the other, but I can't do that to Giles. I turn a little and can tell Faith feels the same way, but for different reasons altogether. She's just bored out of her mind, eyes distant, the drink in her hand halfway forgotten.
In only lasts a few seconds, though, then she snaps back to reality and looks straight at me. She could feel me watching her. Our eyes lock for a moment and it is as if a silent exchange is passing between us because she suddenly stands up.
"Think it's time for a little slaying, G-man. As gripping as this reunion is, it ain't going keep the vamps from gettin' down and dirty tonight." She turns to me and looks at me pointedly. "Wanna come, B?"
I'm already out of my seat, sending apologetic smiles all around as I breeze past them and out of the house.
"Do be careful!" Giles barely has time to shout before the front door slams shut behind us.
We've walked in a relatively comfortable silence for a few minutes when Buffy says almost inaudibly, "Thanks."
I smile to myself. "No problem, B." I don't have to ask what she's referring to, I'm surprised any of the others didn't notice by the amount of squirming she was doing in her chair. Can't blame her really, it was overwhelming. First me and then the whole deal with Laken. Woulda blown me outta the water, too, if I'd been her. But I'm not and never have been, except, of course, for the time when- whoa, wrong line of thought, stoppin' right here.
"So," I start hesitantly, searching for something to say to bridge the suddenly mounting tension between us. "How ya been?"
Out of the corner of my eye I see her shrug, "Oh, you know...slaying and stuff."
That's not what I wanted to hear. I know she's been slaying because that's what we do, what I wanted to know is how she has been. How she's been feeling and thinking and everything in between since we last saw each other. But I don't say that. I just say, "Cool." And we continue walking.
"This is usually a good place." I say a few minutes later, as we pause in front of the gothic looking gate that marks the entrance into Chesterfield Cemetery. "Lots of newbies runnin' around."
She only nods and I can feel her silence starting to really bug me as we swiftly climb the fence, taking out our stakes the moment our feet hit the soft, moist grass. I can't decide whether it's my presence or the news about Laken that's affecting her so much. Probably a combination.
Suffice to say, I pity any vampire we run into tonight.
And I'm dead on. I barely get to see any action at all as B practically shoves me away every time, throwing herself at whatever comes our way. I don't really mind that much, I had a good night's slaying yesterday and I've always liked to watch B kick the crap out of the undead. Better than late night wrestling on TV in my opinion. At first I stay on my toes, though, ready to jump in should it become necessary, but after a while I relax against a headstone, reaching into my leather jacket to fish out a cigarette.
"Smoking's bad for you, Faith." B whirls past me, snatching the cigarette from my lips before I can even light it and tosses it away.
"Oh man! That was my last one!" I complain, but only half-heartedly as I can't help but grin.
"Good." B says with emphasis, staking the poor vamp below her and leaping to her feet. She turns to me and is about say something when she's tackled from behind by another vampire.
"It's mind bogglin' really," I say, hoisting myself up to sit on the headstone as B proceeds to leisurely pummel her latest attacker, "that after watching you stake five of 'em already, there's always that last sucker who thinks they can take you despite all evidence of the contrary."
"Tell me about it!" Buffy gasps as she's thrown against the side of a crypt. She practically bounces off of it, her entire body connecting with the vampire's chest and bringing him down with her.
Struggling, struggling and...puff! No more vamp. It's too easy really.
B gets up, wiping vamp dust and grass from her jacket and jeans. She's all flushed and sweaty. She looks hot. I say so before I can stop myself.
To my surprise she just grins at me, looking genuinely pleased. "Thanks-look out! Behind you!"
I've already ducked, feeling the whoosh of air from the punch that went straight over my head. I sigh and reluctantly slide down the headstone, guess I'll have to work a bit tonight after all.
Laken's awesome. He gets my jokes! And he laughs at them! Really, he does! Most of them at least. He can get all Gilesy and look at me like he's dissecting something strange under a microscope, but most of the time it's like having found a long lost brother. A better looking, smarter, British-accent-speaking long lost brother, but still. I love Buffy, Will, Dawn and all, but sometimes the pms-vibes get just a little too high.
I've been entertaining him with Slayer stories since the two actual Slayers left to patrol and he appears to have been listening. Willow was on the phone with Kennedy and then went to bed shortly afterwards and Giles hovered for a while in the background before going to bed as well. So now he's all mine.
Ew. Not like that.
But it's fun. I've never really had another guy to hang out with like this. Oz and I did a little, but then that became all awkward and even after he and Will got back together, we never really picked up the thread before he left. And since then there's really only been undead guys to hang around and bond with, and even I haven't been that desperate. I prefer company with a heartbeat. And yes, I'm including Riley in this.
"So... witches, werewolves, demons, vampires, Slayers and near-death experiences have pretty much been part of your life for close to a decade?"
I nod importantly as Laken continues to study me, speaking slowly, "Fascinating."I smile modestly and begin telling him about the time I single-handedly stopped a gang of zombies from blowing up Sunnydale High. It's such a great story.