One of the more annoying side-effects of unscheduled mass teleportation into the middle of a battle was that a variety of questions, which would have been imperative in other circumstances, had to go unanswered until the life-and-death matters had been resolved. Questions like: Where are we? When are we? Whose idea was this? Why are there thirty-foot robots attacking a small band of adventurers in stupid costumes? And…
“Which side are we on?” Faith demanded, poking Buffy in the arm in an effort to prod her into taking up her usual leadership role.
It worked. “When the choice is between giant killer robots and anything else, my general policy is that we’re not on the giant killer robot side.” Buffy hefted her Scythe. “Not really sure how much good we can do, but…”
“Let’s split up, yo. ‘Nuff heavy metal to go around.”
“Right.” Buffy pointed to one of the robots, which was picking someone up off of a rooftop and holding it at eye level. “That one’s mine.”
Before they could run off in opposite directions and, Faith expected, die screaming or plastered to the sole of a giant metal foot, the robot closest to them got a whole lot closer. It was staggering, they saw, tripped up by the sudden onslaught of a man throwing another man at its face. Why that should be a sensible move, Faith didn’t know, but the guy up top there was apparently doing okay. There seemed to be blades involved.
Buffy and Faith darted for a spot that afforded them some better cover and a different viewpoint. “Check it out!” Faith yelled as she vaulted over a half-demolished wall. “That chick is flying!”
“A witch? Where’s Willow? Oh! Okay, they found each other, it’s cool.” Buffy kept moving as she spoke, squinting up at the cloudy sky, where a redhead and a white-hair-head were hovering in conversation. “Find the fighters! Ask them how we can help!”
Faith was a step ahead of her; she had located a part of the battle taking place at ground level and was working out how to get there without trampling being part of it. These guys knew their stuff, if they were all still alive. And some of those stupid costumes were actually kind of sexy. The boots on that witch must have…well, she could ask later.
A blue demon appeared in a cloud of smoke right in front of them, gave them a bewildered look, and vanished again. Buffy gagged a little—Faith did too, that stench was pretty funky—and said, “Who are these people?”
“Dunno.” Faith zeroed in on a man in a brown coat who had just performed an acrobatic back flip, with the aid of a metal staff he was holding, that all but made her mouth water. She pointed. “That one’s mine.”
After that it was a while before she saw Buffy again. The costumed heroes didn’t stop to chat, but as soon as she joined them they recognized her as a comrade and fought alongside her as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She was just starting to have some real fun when the robot picked her up from the ground and held her, immobilized, in its giant fist.
”Target acquired,” it said, its tinny voice coming from speakers near its unmoving mouth. ”Scanning…target is humanoid. Anomalies found in DNA. X-factor strain unconfirmed. Further testing required.”
“Let go a me!” Faith shouted furiously, struggling without regard for whether her situation would improve if the thing obeyed and dropped her from this height. “I’m not a freakin’ Exacto strain!”
Its grip didn’t slacken, and she was starting to wonder if the empty yellow lights that served as its eyes were going to be the last thing she saw before she found out exactly what “further testing” meant. Then there was a flash and a boom and suddenly one of those empty yellow lights was out, shattered by the end of a metal staff. A brown coat whirled above her as the hand loosened and jerked erratically, and then there was an arm around her waist and a rooftop beneath her, and she—they—made the jump.
Faith rolled with the momentum, then sat up and checked herself for broken bones while her rescuer was doing the same. He got to his feet first and offered her a hand, extending it palm-up as he bowed over his knee as if they were at a ball. She eyed it skeptically and then grabbed his wrist and hauled herself up. “Thanks,” she said, finally looking straight at his face. “Whoa. How much sleep deprivation does it take to get your eyes to do that?”
He grinned, white teeth gleaming in stark contrast to his black eyes, and spoke in an outlandish accent that Faith registered as vaguely Southern. “You like to stay up late, cherie?”
“I’m a vampire Slayer. Can’t hunt those by daylight.”
He scratched his head with a gloved hand. “Vam-py-uh? You ain’t a mutant?”
Faith felt fairly certain that nobody had ever asked her if she was a mutant before. She didn’t feel like a mutant. She was pretty sure she didn’t look like a mutant. “What do you mean?” she replied. “Like, Ninja Turtles?”
The horrible sound of screeching metal cut off his answer, and they both looked down from the rooftop at the battle, which hadn’t slowed down since they departed from it. “Not the time fo’ chit-chat,” said the black-eyed man. He slid a toe under his staff and flipped it up into his hands.
“You goin’ back into that?” asked Faith.
“Dey not gonna blow up demselves.” He gave her another one of those devilish grins and reached into a pocket inside his coat. “But Gambit don’ evuh lay eyes on such a fine woman an’ leave her lonesome. I come back fo’ you, c’est vrai.” With a flourish he handed her a card, which she dubiously took from his fingers and examined, wondering if he was part of some demon-killing agency, like Angel’s.
It was a card from a standard poker deck. Specifically, the king of hearts. “Oh, come on!” Faith just had time to rip it in half and grab a handful of leather coat before he jumped back onto one of the robots. “Sorry, ‘Gambit.’ If you and me are playing card games I’m gonna be checking your sleeves first.” She pushed him away from the ledge, incidentally getting some satisfying contact with the muscles of his chest at the same time. “Maybe the rest of your clothes too. But I’m not sitting here on my ass while you blow stuff up. C’est vrai.”
He looked her over, his expression unreadable, and she wondered if he would really try to hold her back a second time. She could make the jump from here to the robots as easily as he could, but if he was trying to protect her instead of working beside her, it would make fighting a lot harder for both of them. She scowled. Standoffs were never her favorite thing.
All of a sudden, Gambit hefted his staff in one hand and then tossed it lightly over to her. Surprised and pleased, she twirled it around herself in a deft pattern, but then realized that she couldn’t accept this offer, generous as it was. “That leaves you unarmed,” she told him.
His response was to reach once again into his coat, this time withdrawing enough poker cards to fan out in an elegant wave in front of him. “De king ain’t de only powah in de deck,” he said. “Dere’s plenty oh dat in Gambit’s sleeves.”