Barely twenty minutes later we’re walking into an apartment in a less decrepit area of the city. Fancy enough to have air conditioning. Summers doesn’t get lost even once, which is impressive as she’s obviously not local. The Brit and Barbie-slayer don’t bother with greeting each other, and neither of them so much as looks at me.
“Willow called. She wanted to talk through that wretched thing,” he waves angrily at the laptop, “But all it seems to be capable of is that rebarbative bleeping.”
Summers sits down in front of the computer and starts tapping away with her index fingers. I shove my hands into my pockets and rock on the balls of my feet for a moment.
“You ain’t big with the tech then, Jeeves?” I grin.
“Whatever,” I mutter, then wander off to explore. The place is full of half-unpacked boxes and piles of books and papers, and the reasonably fresh smell of some old guy, a smoker who was clueless to the existence of soap, hangs in the air. It’s obvious that they only just moved in. Seems like they moved over here just to find little old me. How cute.
Something over near Summers makes a weird electronic noise.
“You’re bleepin’,” I tell her.
“It’s Willow, I’ve got her on a video link. Hey Will,” she chirps, waving manically at the computer screen.
Moving behind her, I see a skinny red-head on the screen, waving back just as enthusiastically. She stops when she sees me.
“You must be Faith,” she burbles quietly. “Hi.”
“Hey,” I reply as I lean on the back of Summers’ chair. I’m barely inches away from her and she squirms uncomfortably, stirring up her scent. A fancy shampoo, Sure deodorant, flowery perfume. And underneath it all the unique scent of power, the slayer-scent that almost made me choke when I first met her, now becoming more human, more bearable, and somehow intoxicatingly female.
“What’s the 411, Red?” I ask, seeing as Buffy seems to have forgotten about the existence of language.
“The who-ey now?”
“What have you got for us,” Buffy clarifies.
“Ah,” she smiles, and grabs a pile of paper. “So Giles was able to give me a basic description from what the clans told him, which I was able to put through the police database, ‘cause if she’s been killing, maybe they’re looking for her too. They had a whole case file of crimes that could be wolfy, but no suspects that fit who we’re looking for. So, I checked the FBI, and bingo! They think she’s some big force in the crime world, or a terrorist, or possibly an illegal experiment gone wrong. Anyway, they’re looking for her too, so keep an eye out for Initiative-y guys. The spell’s still going flooey, so I can’t give you a locate, but I did manage to pull a name. You’re looking for Layla.”
“No last name, no place we might find her, just Layla?”
“That’s it so far. Sorry Buffy.”
Red’s face looks like that of a puppy that’s just been stepped on.
“Don’t pull out your misery guts yet,” I tell her. “There’s this demon guy I know, works a downtown club, talks up a mate of his that goes by the name o’ Layla. Mebbe he’d know somethin’.”
British invasion clears his throat. “I hope that’s not an admission of conspiring with demons …”
“Nah, it’s strictly for reasons of poker.”
Summers makes a weird noise, like the bastard child of a giggle and disgusted groan, with a snort for an uncle. Giles and I both stare at her, but she just shakes her head in dismissal. Even Willow looks confused through the laptop screen.
“Maybe, um, you should follow up on that,” Buffy suggests without looking at any of us.
“Can’t. Dude won’t be up for another eight hours. I need to crash though; your couch is free, right G?”
He waves me away, clearly glad to be rid of me. His couch is comfy, almost springy, and I settle in immediately. Mr Tweed, staying true to form, hits the books, carrying several into a different room. Man, that guy really has a stick up his ass about something. Summers keeps up her little girl-chat, not even bothering to lower her voice. Not like I’m trying to sleep or anything.
“Did you manage to find anything else? More generally wolf-related?”
I hear what sounds like Red shuffling paper. “Nothing reliable. I mean there’s a lot of were-wolf stuff online, I mean a lot, but it’s impossible to tell the genuine facts from myth and stuff people make up. Plus, there are a lot of different breeds, so I doubt she’ll be anything like Oz.”
“Managed to find him yet? The inside scoop would be really helpful round about now.”
“’Fraid not. As far as I know he keeps moving, and I didn’t really stay in contact after …”
“I know, Will. It’s okay. How’s everyone at home doing?”
“We’re great. Dawnie and Tara are downstairs getting lunch ready. I should probably go before Dawn tries one of her food experiments, and we end up eating peanut-butter and tuna sandwiches.”
“Sounds disgusting. Say hi from me?”
“Will do. Everything alright over there?”
“Annoying house guest, but we’ll cope. I’ll call when we’ve finished with Faith’s demon friend.”
Summers shuts the laptop lid, then leans on it and sighs. She looks tired.
As I hear her go out the room, presumably to find Giles, I stretch and roll over. It feels like I’ve barely fallen asleep when the sound of a kettle boiling wakes me up. I never understood tea; why can’t the English drink coffee like normal people?
I walk over to the window and curl up on the low, wide ledge, pulling out my lighter and a packet of cigarettes. As quietly as possible I unlatch the window and push it open, thrilling in the feel of the cool evening air on my bare skin. It’s weird, and I never bothered to find out why, but a nicotine high always feels somehow more intense when you’re out in the cold. Maybe they put some kind of chemical in them, to make you feel better about having to stand in doorways and freeze if you need a smoke. Wouldn’t put anything past a tobacco company; they put stuff in these things that would make a bomb-maker blush. After two clicks my lighter comes to life, and I take a long deep drag, feeling the nicotine seep into my blood. I rest my elbow on the open window and look out at the city, stretching out across the horizon. The wind feels different here, loses that sharp edge of the wild, as if it came straight from the concrete.
Summers wanders back into the room. When she sees me and my cloud of smoke, she folds her arms and gives me a scornful glower.
“You know those things will kill you? And they make you stink.”
I drop my stub out the window. “Time to go.”
The beat from the club threads under the ground and up through my feet, making my body buzz long before we reach the door. I glance over at Buffy; she’s trying to hide it, but she’s still feeling the same exhilarating rush. I grin. If there was ever the perfect excuse to unscrew Summers’ tightly wound ass, this is it.
“We gotta blend in to get close to this guy,” I say, as casually as I can, “So follow me, and do exactly what I do.”
She raises one eyebrow slightly, but doesn’t protest. Inside, the club is filling fast, and the familiar smell of sweaty drunk bodies packed into an enclosed space hangs on the air, as if liquid. Nobody even looks at us as we walk in. In a place like this, no-one cares until you begin to dance.
I pull her towards the floor and begin to move, hands above my head and snaking through my hair, body writhing slowly. Her face moulds into a familiar scowl of disapproval, but the little half-smile that sneaks across her face betrays her. As she walks slowly towards me her smile spreads and she begins to echo my dance. Gone are the slightly jerky movements from our earlier fight. Now, she feels more like a Slayer: strong; fluid; irresistible. She dances near me, and in a similarly free and sensual way, but she’s not dancing with me. She’s not dancing with the guys that are drawn to her. She’s just being free and feral and I don’t even have to look at her to feel the vibes she’s giving off. Somebody slides up behind me, but tonight I’m not interested. I move away from them, and closer to Summers, holding the length of my body barely inches from hers. Her pulse beats through me as if it was my own, and her cheeks flush at the feel of my blood pounding through her veins. Then, over her shoulder, I see a dark figure disappearing through a door in the depths of the club. I gently brush Summers’ shoulder and nod towards the door. Instantly, she snaps out of her reverie and reverts to her stiff business-like self, pulling away from me. No-more-fun Buffy has returned.
Barbie-slayer follows me as I stride into the back room, swinging my hips like I think I’m king of the world, just to irritate her. As I burst through the door I yell, “Pok-er in the rear!” and am rewarded by her barely contained groan of frustration.
Pitch-colored hands slam a box onto the table in the middle of the room. Deep crimson eyes stare across at us, full of malice. Wings flex in anticipation of the pounce, of holding victims to torture.
A voice that sounds like metal being ripped apart growls, “You know no-one ever finds that funny.”
I shrug whilst Summers sidles up to me, asking in the worst stage whisper I have ever heard, “What is that?”
“Malebranche demon. Goes by the name o’ Greg.”
Greg offers Buffy a shallow, mocking bow.
“You better not have kittens in that box,” she warns.
Greg laughs, a noise more likely to be emitted a furnace than a person.
“Nah, that’s small time stuff. Want to see tonight’s stake?” he offers, raising the lid of the box slightly.
“That ain’t what we’re here for, Greg. We’re lookin’ for Layla.”
“She’s not been here in a while. We heard the Slayer’s after her, and that’s never good for business.” He looks back at Summers. “You never introduced yourself.”
“This is Hannah,” I jump in, throwing one arm over her shoulder. “She’s wi’ me.”
“Human?” He scrunches his face in disdain as I nod. “Suit yourself.”
It suits me very well, feeling Buffy stiffen under my arm. Watching her being that uncomfortable, whilst trying her hardest to look like she’s not, is high up on my list of funniest things ever seen. Probably on par with watching a chimera trying to chase its own tail.
“Why are you looking for Layla?” he asks, pushing the box onto a shelf, “That’s trouble even a werewolf wouldn’t go searching for, no?”
“Just heard she could help us wi’ summat, is all. You know how to find her?”
“If you go out the back door, I believe you’ll find a vampire who answers to the name of Danny. Often wears a red bandana. He’ll know how to find her.”
We exchange nods as I lead Summers out to the back alley. Buffy shuffles out sideways, keeping one mistrustful eye on Greg until the door shuts behind her.
“Your turn to shine, Slayer,” I grin at her.
She starts walking down the alley, as if she was out shopping for yet another of those floaty tops she always seems to be wearing. I’m about to go after her, warn her to be careful, to maybe look around her, when a vamp jumps out from behind a bin. Instead of being floored, Buffy steps forward, grabbing the back of his shirt and throwing him across the alley.
Damn can she move when she wants to.
Standing over him, she demands, “Layla. Where is she?”
Instead of answering, the vamp jumps up into Buffy, knocking her over, and runs towards me. His mistake. One punch and he collapses on the floor again. It seems Layla likes to work with wimpy vamps. I pick him up and slam him against a wall, smashing his face in with my other fist.
“Faith!” Summers screams as she pulls me back. “What the … good goddess … the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“You’re beating him into a pulp! We need him to talk!”
“Yeah, I know, and this is how it’s done. You might wanna go cuddle teddies and run crèches, but this here is how it’s done. I’m stronger than him, I beat on him, I get what I want.”
I have to stop talking because the unhelpful vamp has tried to make a run for it. Grabbing his shirt I slam him against the wall, and lift my hand to sock him across the face. Summers catches my wrist, stopping me again.
“So this is how you live your life?” she asks softly, and there’s a touch of pity in those shimmering green orbs that makes me spit out my answer just a little bit harder.
“Yeah, it is. An’ I love it.”
Without a word Summers disappears back into the club, the metal door clanging loudly behind her. As I resume pounding the vamp into a dust burger, I know she’s running as far away from the screams as she can. I can’t blame her, but I know she’ll never run far or fast enough. Because she’s part of it, a part of this. Though she doesn’t look it, she belongs in this world as much as the vamp and I do. It’s inside her just like it’s inside us.
And you can’t run away from the screams inside your own mind.