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Marked

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It was the damn spell that had done it.

Willow’s spell, the one that had activated every girl with the slightest bit of Slayer potential across the freaking globe. Sure, doing that had saved the world at the time—and say thank you—but that had been the short-term plan. B sure as hell hadn’t had much in mind for what to do after the world was full of super-powered chicks and no watchers left to guide them through this shit. And with the Watchers Council having been blown to matchbox-sized pieces, there wasn’t any sense or order to what was supposed to come next.

In many ways, Faith dug it. The tenuous relationship she’d had with the Watchers Council notwithstanding, it made perfect sense that the power be given to the ladies who were out there doing all the fighting. This governing by old white men bullshit was out, and with it, the puritanical nonsense that, while not responsible for her stint to the dark side, had definitely made things worse. With B calling the shots, the brave new slayer-filled world might be something she could be proud to be a part of. And hell, Faith was just happy for the chance to make something of herself. Even after the throw-down in Sunnydale, after risking her neck for the little sister slayers and the world itself, she was more than aware of how lopsided she was on the moral scorecard. Doubted seriously there was enough heavy lifting to do in the whole goddamned world to even it out again.

But fuck if she wouldn’t try. Which was why she was here, in fucking Beulah, North Dakota, scoping out the would-be monster hunter as he drunkenly belted out lyrics to the same songs he’d sung yesterday. Because he and his brother were apparently hot shit and the sort of allies Buffy and friends could use.

While G had been overseas, he’d done some digging on other secret organizations devoted to fighting the good fight, which had been one hell of a revelation to Faith—and B, she’d been happy to note—because, fuck, there were more of them? Where the hell had these assholes been this whole goddamned time? The First fucking Evil decided to make a play for the world, and the Men of Letters—another crew of stuffy old white dudes, Faith was more than willing to bet—had sat on their hands.

The American branch at least had an excuse, being that they’d more or less been wiped out. It was the less part that Faith was to explore. Freshly homeless and in need of a place to help begin training the several hundred—or thousand, they hadn’t gotten the official count—of super-strong chicks, Giles had found and tracked down a stronghold for the Men of Letters in Lebanon, Kansas. He’d shown up, intending to poke around and maybe buy the place if it was for sale, but had found it slightly more occupied than he’d expected.

Faith still wasn’t sure what all had gone down, though smart money was on the bet that Giles had been hit at least once, maybe knocked out. That still seemed to be his go-to move. Whatever the outcome, they’d learned that two Men of Letters guys were still active in the good ole US of A. Monster fighters who apparently had a reputation, though Faith had heard diddly squat about either of them. Sam, Dean, and Castiel—an actual motherfucking angel—made three. And though Sam Winchester had been interested enough to listen to Giles’s story about an army of women that needed a place to train if they chose to enter the fight, he’d been a bit preoccupied. Seemed his brother had up and disappeared on him, leaving nothing behind but a melodramatic note telling him not to look for him. Because yeah, that shit always worked.

Way Giles told it, he wasn’t even sure Sam Winchester had believed him about slayers. The guy was a dead fucking end until someone figured out how to solve a problem like Dean. And being that B had gotten a phone call from Los Angeles that her British honeypot was apparently back and in ghost-form, that lucky someone was Faith.

“If this is as important as Giles says it is, we need someone who can hold their own to make with the approach,” Buffy had told her. “The new girls are too volatile.”

“And I’m not?” Faith had retorted. She hadn’t been sure if she’d been asking B or herself that. Being around people while not chasing down her soulless would-be bestie or helping save the world was something she was still getting used to. Prison had forced her to keep a lid on her shit—socializing among the real world was something else entirely. And volatile was what had landed her ass behind bars in the first place.

“Well,” Buffy had replied, “maybe the right kind of volatile. Also, I know you can handle yourself. And others.”

Jury was still out on whether or not that had been a compliment.

The first step was done. Dean Winchester was very much alive, though about as far a cry from a demon hunter as Faith figured a guy could get. It was her third day at the Black Spur—which apparently made her a regular in the eye of the bartender, who shot over a pint of whatever was on tap the second she claimed her stool.

Ace detective she was not, but from where she sat, she figured that good ole Dean had gotten fed up with the hunter lifestyle and decided to cash his chips in before he got himself nice and dead. Seemed reasonable, at least, being that the guy didn’t have something like a sacred calling keeping him in the game. Granted, there was something just dangerous enough about him to peg him as the sort that preferred his hands on the dirty side.

This much she’d relayed to Giles last night.

“Thinkin’ that note he left for little brother mighta been the end of it,” she’d said right before stuffing a warrior-sized piece of pizza in her mouth. And damn, she’d been out of the big house for a few months now, but tell that to her tastebuds. Food had never tasted so good in her life. “He just up and decided to go to Disneyland. Sam ever think of that?”

“I don’t think relaying as much would be in our favor,” Giles had replied. “See what else you can find out.”

“How close you want me to get to this guy? ’Cause from where I’m sittin’, I can get wicked close.”

Though she knew Giles wasn’t the tweed-stuffed virgin she’d once pegged him to be, she would have sworn she could hear him blushing through the phone. “I would never ask you to compromise yourself in that way.”

Faith had snorted outright. “If you’re gonna be compromised, that’s the best way. Think this guy might be fun to ride, and fuck knows I haven’t had a good one since Robin and I split.”

There had been some stuttering at that, followed by what she was sure had been a glasses polish.

“Just be careful,” he’d said. “I’ve done some inquiring and this man is… Well, word has it he has a temper.”

Faith had pulled the phone back to study it before pressing it against her ear again. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“I know, I know, but still, watch yourself. The things I’ve heard about him indicate he is not…well, the typical sort of hunter. He’s been to Hell, apparently, and was quite a skilled torturer down there before his resurrection. And that’s just one accolade on his resume.” There had been a pause. “Honestly, I’m a bit flummoxed as to how our paths haven’t crossed. Seems he and his brother were rather nomadic prior to discovering their Men of Letters lineage, abiding by rumor and research to hunt down demons and other such creatures across the country. With all the demonic activity we had in Sunnydale, they almost certainly would have had to have heard of us before.”

“Maybe they knew B was there and that shit was taken care of.”

“I highly doubt it. When we spoke, the younger Mr. Winchester didn’t seem to have the first clue what a slayer was, beyond the myth. Though he had heard of Buffy, he blatantly refused to believe she was a real person. At any rate, from what I’ve heard of Dean Winchester, he isn’t to be underestimated. So do be careful.” Another pause. “And try not to kill him, if at all possible. I rather think that might close the door on a potential partnership with the American Men of Letters.”

Faith hadn’t said anything back, just grunted before disconnecting the call. She wasn’t sure if that try not to kill him bit had been something he’d added just for her sake or if he would have told Buffy the same, were she here instead.

Probably not. Buffy wasn’t the one with impulse control issues. Except when it came to certain vamps, apparently.

Hell, Faith had already been toying with the idea of throwing the guy a fuck based on the fact that he looked like he’d be good for it. Talking to Giles had increased the urge tenfold, just because she knew he wouldn’t approve.

Not for the first time since she’d arrived, Dean looked at her directly and held her gaze as he belted out more drunken lyrics. His expression didn’t change but it also didn’t need to. She knew what he was thinking.

“Hello, lovely.”

Faith pressed her eyes closed. “Hit on me and I bust your nose on the bar,” she said. “And I ain’t lyin’. Ralph, will you tell this asshole?”

Ralph, the bartender, looked up from the drink he was mixing and offered a short laugh. “Crazy bitch broke Pauly’s face the other day. I’d steer clear.”

Faith curled her lip. “Anyone ever tell you it ain’t wise to call crazy bitches names?”

“Didn’t say the face was one that didn’t need to be broke, now did I?” Ralph retorted. “Seems I remember letting you drink on the house the rest of the night.”

Well, there was that. Turned out that Ralph and Pauly had some bad blood between them, and seeing the guy get his face smashed into the counter by a woman had been, in Ralph’s words, “The highlight of my fucking year.”

“Yes, I caught that little show myself,” said the man beside her, and this time, Faith heard it. The accent. When she turned, she found herself face-to-face with the British guy who seemed to have nominated himself Dean Winchester’s shadow. He flashed her a smile—a not unpleasant smile, though one anyone would be an idiot to trust—and looked her up and down. “Seems you’re quite the admirer. This is, what, three days in a row? Four?”

Faith arched an eyebrow. “You’d have to be here to know, wouldn’t you? That make you the president of the fan club? You who I see about getting my membership card?”

“This isn’t the sort of place that attracts creatures such as yourself,” the man replied. “It’s enough to make a man wonder.”

“Well, if what you’re wondering is why you haven’t gotten laid, might rethink that creatures line.” She snickered and tipped back the fresh drink Ralph had slid her way. “Unless they breed ’em different in North Dakota.”

The man didn’t so much as huff, and for the first time since she’d noticed him, Faith noticed something else. Something that ought to have been wicked obvious, but for some reason hadn’t been. Maybe she’d been a bit too focused on her target—or maybe she was just used to demons looking the part. Either way, she knew it now, and not a moment too late, neither.

The guy wasn’t human.

And suddenly this entire situation with Dean became a whole helluva lot more interesting. A monster hunter throwing back with a demon? The only people who did that kind of shit and got away with it were, well, Buffy and friends. And everyone back at Camp Angel, but those were what the kids would call special circumstances on account of the vamps in question being of the soul-possessing variety. Whoever this guy was, Faith didn’t figure he had any such clause.

The man leaned in closer, his voice a velvety caress but not the sort that left a girl with warm fuzzies. More like kind of velvet someone might wrap around a particularly sharp blade.

“I know you’re not one of mine,” he murmured. “Not an angel parading around in a meat-suit, either. I’d say human, and that is probably as close to the mark as I can get. However, you aren’t precisely human, are you, darling?”

Well that was enough to wipe the grin off her face, and for the first time since the night she’d hunted down Angelus to disastrous results, Faith felt something that might have been unease slide down her spine. And hell if that didn’t piss her off.

“Sorry,” she replied, forcing a smile she didn’t feel. “Don’t kiss and tell on the first date.”

That might have been a dumb thing to say. No, scratch that—it had been a fucking stupid thing to say, ’cause now the creep would know something was up. Normal girls doing little more than whiling away the days in shitty-ass bars didn’t play coy when someone asked if they were human. They got indignant and threw drinks into creeps’ faces.

Faith couldn’t let him see that she’d caught her own error—she had to play it like there hadn’t been an error at all. And thankfully, this was one trick she was more than familiar with. So when he perked his eyebrows at her, undoubtedly waiting for her to panic and overcorrect, she pulled on the scowl that had kept the other inmates from getting all up in her shit and stared back at him.

Just try to scare me, motherfucker. Just try it.

He definitely expected her to blink first, she saw. This was a guy who had little tolerance for his authority being questioned. Some upper-class demon, then. Deal just kept getting better.

When she failed to give him the easy victory, the man let out a little sigh, then drew nearer so she could feel his breath caressing her ear. “Whatever your game is, I urge you to reconsider. You are in well over your head,” he said, his voice a low purr.

“Nah, all’s five-by-five from where I’m sittin’,” Faith replied before throwing back another drink.

“Allow me to elaborate. You see, my friend has certain needs that must be met on a regular basis.”

She barked a laugh. “Go fuckin’ figure.”

“These are not carnal needs,” the man continued. “In fact, things can get rather bloody. The longer he abstains, the messier the situation is likely to become. I have been all too happy to provide means for him to satisfy his darker urges, and trust me when I say he does not discriminate. If it comes down to it, it won’t matter that you’re a pretty girl. He will take your head today and have forgotten you by tomorrow. Is that any clearer?”

This time, Faith managed to kill her smirk. If the little toady had aimed to freak her shit out, he had missed the mark by a fuck-ton.

So there was something going on with Dean Winchester beyond just wanderlust. Not that she didn’t understand the need to cause some pain—if she sat still too long, her slayer genes got all restless. This had been a bitch to contend with in prison, but she’d managed. Mostly. There had been the odd scuffle here and there that she hadn’t done as much to prevent as she could have. Newbies who wanted to make a name for themselves by taking down the baddest bitch in the joint and didn’t pay attention to the warnings given by other inmates. For the most part, she’d played the perfect penitent, kept her head down and her knuckles clean. But every now and then the craving would hit—the need to unleash and let someone have it. The sort of need that couldn’t be ignored or wished away, the sort that demanded absolute surrender.

If Dean Winchester had a similar sort of need, odds were good that there was something otherworldly at play. His British friend, with his talk of humans and meat-suits, had all but confirmed it.

Seemed she had a reason to get up close to Dean after all.

“Do me a solid,” Faith said, shoving off her barstool, and throwing a wad of cash on the counter. “Tell your friend I’ve reconsidered and a ride might do me good.”

The guy’s brow furrowed, irritation sparking behind his eyes. “Did you not hear me? I just said—”

“Was sittin’ right here the whole time. I know what you said, and to that, a big fat who cares.” She paused, then tossed him a smirk. “I’ll trust he can find me just fine on his own.”

Faith brushed past him without another word, though she did make a point to bump his shoulder with hers hard enough that he stumbled.

It was just a matter of time, she figured, before Dean got the message. And until then, there was a foosball table with her name all over it.