I'm at war with the world
'Cause I ain't never gonna sell my soul
I've already made up my mind
No matter what, I can't be bought or sold
"Awake and Alive" Skillet
The wolf’s howl is long and lonely in the cold winter night. Faith crouches on the rooftop, staring down at the streets. They’ve been hunting a demon gang for a week now, just her and Oz on the road, but the moon is full and she’s hunting on her own, at least on two legs. He controls his shifts now, but he likes to stretch beneath the full moon, a silver gray shadow in its light, four legs fast as a cloud across the face of the moon.
She doesn’t know what the politics are like here regarding wolves, but there’s a wolf sanctuary not too far away, and Oz has no qualms about shifting. He’s a big boy – big bad wolf, and she slides on red leather trousers sometimes just to watch his tongue loll out – and he can take care of himself. Anything he can’t handle, Faith sure as hell can.
He sings for her in the distance, and when he does, Faith tips her face to the moon and smiles.
Faith patrols the whole night through, and stakes two vampires, but there’s no sign of the demon pack or their motorcycles. Just before dawn, she heads to this diner they found first thing when they hit town. They haven’t eaten anywhere else, and since this’ll be their last meal, she doesn’t see any reason to change things up now.
Oz joins her eventually, his heavy winter coat dirty with leaves and twigs and mud. It looks like he was hiking, maybe took a tumble in the snow, but she knows really he buried it, preferring his own fur coat. She runs her hand down his arm, the deep plum of her nail polish dark like bruises against his pale skin, and pretends she’s tucking her fingers into the fur at his throat.
He orders triple the food he normally eats, shifting takes it out of him, but still doesn’t touch how much she’s scarfing down. While she waits for her fourth plate of biscuits and gravy, she calls Slayer Central. (The others might call it home base, but Faith’s never really had a home, and she’s not all that interested in settling one now.)
The girl who answers is way too chipper for so early, even though early in Colorado means afternoon in England. She’s not sure of the girl’s name – Cassie, maybe? – but she recognizes those broad Scottish vowels.
(It's Emily, turns out, but there are a lot of new Slayers and Faith stays in the USA.)
Sure enough, Emily has an update for her. Word came in overnight, some biker gang showed up in California, little tourist town south of San Francisco. No one’s sure whether it’s a human gang or their demons, but with no other leads, Faith’s willing to take the risk. They’ve got a hard drive ahead of them through ice and snow.
Faith takes first shift behind the wheel, and Oz curls up in the passenger seat, head against the window, feet tucked under him. She turns the heat on high – his soft sigh is thanks enough – the radio on low and cracks open a fresh Mountain Dew.
The road spools out before them, sharp rises and falls, and the call of California at the end of it all.
Oz is driving when they pull into Santa Carla. Faith’s been awake for awhile, feet up on the dash, and a couple hours back, Oz reached over and pulled her hand into his lap. Now their hands rest on his thigh, his fingers laced through hers, his thumb lightly stroking the outside of her hand.
He’s a wolf, but he’s mine, Faith thinks, and tips her head toward the window. She’s not hiding her feelings, not from him, but she’s got no use for beaming at him giddily.
(The first time they had sex, she flopped onto her side of the bed after, still breathing hard, her hair sticking to the sweat on the back of her neck, and laughed hard. “You can hump my leg any day, doggie,” and Oz bared his teeth in a wolf grin.)
By the time they check into a cheap little hotel, load up with weapons, and head down to the famous Boardwalk, it’s early evening and the sun is setting into the water. Faith breathes the salty air in deep. Oz does the same thing, but he’s getting more from it than she ever does. One of the few ways being a werewolf is better than being a Slayer.
Maybe the only way.
Faith stretches her arms overhead, causing her shirt to ride up. She’s wearing a heavy leather coat over it, but the movement still reveals her stomach. A long scar bisects it, thanks to a particularly big vampire pack three years ago, and the silver scar of it stands out against her skin. The blow almost killed her. That’s the only way she really scars anymore, the big wounds that leave their mark as long as she survives.
The Boardwalk is pretty, in a tourist-friendly sort of way. She’d like to see it in the summer, when it’s warm enough for a bikini. Splashing in the surfing, playing midway games with Oz, maybe even checking out the carousel, it all sounds like a nice little vacation.
Even with the new Counsel, Slayers don’t exactly get vacation days.
Not everything is open this time of year, but enough is that they can blend in. They grab a couple hot dogs each and split a funnel cake and Oz watches with lazy eyes as Faith licks powdered sugar off her fingers.
It’s near eight when Oz jerks his head up, tilting it north. A few minutes later, Faith can hear it, too, the roar of motorcycles. She frowns. At this distance, it’s hard to tell how many, but they’re loud enough it’s either a big group or there are some serious engines and pipes on a few.
Oz bumps his knee against hers, and they wait.
Loud as it is, Faith’s not expecting the big group that pulls up at the edge of the parking lot. Even at this distance, she can see the wild shine in their eyes, the predator hidden behind a human face. She hops off the bench and dusts off her ass; really, she’s checking some of her stakes and considering the odds.
Oz is good and she’s even better, but there’s got to be at least ten vampires, and she’s not sure how many more might be elsewhere. They need to do some reconnaissance, and she needs to call in backup. Faith shoves her hands in her pockets and saunters away, all casual like, Oz following at her heels like a well trained pup.
Once they’re back in their hotel room, Faith hangs a couple crosses over the windows and doors, makes sure stakes and crossbow are within reach, and flops onto the big bed. “We’re gonna need help,” she says.
Oz nods, frowning a little. “Wasn’t there a small group of hunters around here?” She shrugs, because that’s kinda his thing. He’s not exactly her Watcher, but he’s the closest thing she wants, and he’s good at keeping all the facts straight.
Two minutes on his laptop, and Oz was right. What’s more, he’s got names and a phone number for them.
“The Frogs, Edgar and Alan. Older Frogs have retired, but their sons took over the family business.” He calls, but there’s no answer, just a machine. He leaves a simple messaging, asking them to call him back. Then he does a little more research. “Older Frogs have a local comic book shop.”
Faith yawns. “We don’t hear back, we’ll swing by in the morning. I’ll check in then, too. I think one of the Slayers went solo up in Portland. Maybe she can come down.”
“There’s always Los Angeles.”
Faith bites her lower lip, but after a second, gives in. There’s still some bad blood there – what part of End of the World did Angel think meant he shouldn’t call in backup – but mostly she’s over it. Not much can be done about it now.
She hops off the bed. “I’m gonna patrol.”
Oz reaches for her, and she lets him grab her arm. He lifts her hand, kisses her knuckles. “Be careful,” he says. “There’s a lot of them.”
It goes against everything inside, but she knows she needs backup. Getting herself killed won’t stop them. “I’ll stay clear,” she says. “Maybe I can pick one or two off.”
Oz sighs and grabs his coat. “Maybe we can.”
Faith beams at him. “I’ll buy dinner and beer.”
It’s a promise of food and drink – it’s a promise of sex, Faith always hungry and horny after she slays – but it’s more than that. It’s a promise, as close as she’ll get, that they’ll both make it back alive and well.
Because Faith may not want a home base, but each hotel room becomes a home.