Riley fell from the portal, completed a neat shoulder roll and brought his weapon to bear on the only person in the room… a person who was either a child or a very small hostile. After what Riley had seen in his time fighting hostiles, he wasn't taking any chances.
"Hands up. Who are you and where is the rest of my troop?" he asked as he carefully inched closer to the wall so that he could have something solid at his back. The child/hostile stood staring with open mouth without even trying to answer.
"I got it. We just have to try again!" a girl's voice called. Riley turned his weapon toward the open doorway when a girl with long hair appeared, a red and gold tie around her neck as though she'd been digging through her father's dresser. She looked up from a bottle of green slime. "Oh," she said softly.
"Oh? That's all you're going to say? Oh? For Merlin's sake, Hermione, fix this," the other child/hostile hissed. The boy had stunning red hair and the girl brown and they didn't look anything alike; however, they both had the same ties and the style of clothing, which certainly suggested uniform even if the girl was wearing a skirt.
"Where am I?" Riley demanded, focusing on the girl since she at least seemed to be calm enough to answer.
"Ron, where did he come from?" Hermione asked, a confused expression on her face.
"The spell. It made him." The boy… Ron… sounded ready to hyperventilate.
"That's impossible," Hermione gave a sniff as she marched over to the pot that Riley now noticed.
"Put the bottle down and show me your hands," Riley ordered. He didn't want to shoot, but he would. This situation was clearly dangerous.
"Hermione!" Ron hissed. She hesitated, the bottle still in her hand.
"He can't be real. The potion simply doesn't work that way. This could be an illusion spell, or maybe he's a spirit attracted to the magical signature. Sometimes Basilisk scales are unpredictable around spirits."
"Don't," Riley warned darkly as she raised the green bottle over the black pot. Riley brought his weapon up, sighting down the barrel at the girl.
"Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley. To what foolishness can I attribute this latest example of your flagrant disregard for rules?" a voice demanded. Riley hadn't even heard anyone coming, so he nearly fired the weapon as he swung it toward the newest visitor to the room.
"Professor Snape," Ron just about squeaked. The girl just stood frozen, her face a perfect mask of horror for just a second before she started talking.
"We were just trying a potion from Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions. I noticed that Madame Pompadora's work was referenced in the study materials for the OWL's, so we thought we should—" her voice trailed off as the tall man with the long black hair raised one eyebrow. He reminded Riley of a particularly nasty sergeant he had once trained under.
"I see, Miss Granger, so you are questioning my curriculum?"
"No!" she just about yelped. "No, I would never—"
"Ten points from Gryffindor for impertinence." He looked at the two children, but they simply stared down at the stone floor. "Another ten for wandering the halls at night." Ron nodded. Hermione bit her lip. "Each," the man finished coldly. Both kids flinched. At this point, Riley couldn't help but believe these were children, children who had just been caught doing something they shouldn't have. Considering his own brushes with magic were limited to quacks and one old man who raised zombies that Riley's men had hacked to pieces, he couldn't say he was sorry someone had intervened, but that didn't solve his immediate problem.
"Where am I and where are my men?" Riley demanded with all the calm he could muster. The tall man turned and graced him with a singularly dismissive expression before he went to the pot.
"You may leave," he snapped. Riley knew the order was for the children, but he couldn't deny feeling an urge to obey. This guy sounded military.
"But Professor Snape," Hermione tried to argue, "Don't you want to know—"
"Twenty points from Gryffindor," Professor Snape spoke clearly and coldly, "for having the impertinence to assume you could ever brew a potion I would not recognize." Hermione gave Riley a quick glance before she put the bottle down on a heavy wood shelf and nearly fled from the room. Riley understood the urge, but he focused his weapon on Professor Snape and waited for an answer. Instead the man picked up a wooden spoon to stir the pot.
"Touch it and I will fire. Now, where am I and where are my men," Riley repeated with just a little less calm this time. The professor looked up with an almost bored expression.
"Be silent before I turn you into something less offensive," the Profession calmly stated, and Riley got a shiver down his back, the kind that had warned him the one time a gox'lix demon snuck up behind him and almost ate his liver. The professor put the spoon in the pot, and Riley pulled the trigger. Instead of the sharp bark of an automatic rifle, the weapon started disintegrating in his hands.
Riley dropped the gun quickly, not even watching as it turned to vapor, before he pulled his knife and moved in on the hostile. The professor waved a stick around and muttered something and the knife fell from Riley's senseless fingers before the professor suddenly started growing impossibly large.
Attempting to retreat, Riley tripped over his own feet and ended up on the stone floor looking up as the professor loomed over him, a giant.
"That is better. Now I do not have to put up with your incessant complaints as I figure out what Miss Granger has done this time." A hand reached down, and Riley scrambled to get on his feet, only he didn't seem to have any feet to get on. As the professor lifted him, Riley could see himself draped over the professor's hand. He'd been helpless before, that he understood. This, however, was the first time he'd ever been turned into a snake. A green one. Riley felt himself hyperventilating just as Professor Snape dropped him in a deep, black pocket.
"Stupid girl. I should have expected such impetuous foolishness from Gryffindor brats. Always rushing in without checking their sources. Muggle-born moron."
Riley slid from one corner of the deep pocket to the other as Professor Snape paced. The jerky motion made Riley want to throw up, but he wasn't sure he even could. The professor made another sudden turn, and Riley felt the instinctive need to reach out and catch himself, which just made his snake-body curl up behind him. Okay, this was bad. Riley had seen some seriously fucked up situations, but this… this went beyond anything he had ever imagined.
The motion suddenly changed, and from the brisk taps of shoes against stone, Riley was guessing they were striding down a hall, or Snape was striding, Riley was just sort of rolling from one side of the pocket to the other.
"Cribbages Wizarding Crackers," Snape said before he continued.
"Severus, how nice to see you," an older man's voice greeted him. Personally, Riley wouldn't ever describe seeing Professor Snape as 'nice.' The man was going to have a starring role in Riley's nightmares for a long time… at least assuming he lived a long time.
"Albus, this time they have gone too far."
"Oh dear. Lemon sherbet?"
"The Granger child invoked Moon magic."
"Yes, I had recognized the distinct signature. Was anyone hurt?" The voice that had reminded Riley of his senile great-uncle just seconds ago now took on a tone of authority.
"Had the room not been charmed rather ingeniously against violent acts, Granger, Weasley and myself might have all been gravely injured."
"I see. So, I take it that Miss Granger managed to complete the spell." This time, the voice sounded almost amused, and a long silence followed.
"Miss Granger managed to display her usual mixture of barely adequate competence and gross disregard for her actions. She chose a spell from Notta Bellaificus' Transformative Potions and Charms."
Riley suddenly found himself caught in a giant hand, although by now he had realized that he had shrunk rather than Snape growing enormous as he'd originally suspected. He found himself dangling in front of an old man whose glasses perched on the end of his nose and who looked like Santa Clause after an Atkin's diet.
"I do see," the old man repeated. "Albus Dumbledore, at your service. This is Severus Snape, the Potion Master here at… well, we shall not bother you with such unnecessarily details."
For a second, Riley could only hang limply in shock at a man who seemed to calmly introduce himself to a snake, but then Riley struggled and managed to get a loop of his body around Severus Snape's finger.
"He appears rather uncomfortable, perhaps you should return him to his own form," Dumbledore suggested mildly before he turned to a large desk and settled himself behind it.
"So he can have another chance to try killing all of us?"
"Really, Severus, if Miss Granger's spell has removed him from his own reality, I dare say he simply acted out of fear. But, of course, it is your choice."
Snape's choice… Snape's choice whether or not to give him back his own body? Riley cursed, but even he could hear the pointless hissing that came out of his mouth.
"While I cannot claim to speak parseltongue, that did sound remarkably unhappy," Dumbledore commented. Then he turned toward Riley. "But the difficulty is that Severus truly is the only person who can perform the spell to send you home. And before you worry, I have no doubt that Severus will return you to proper form before sending you back where you belong." This time Dumbledore looked up toward Snape with an expression that made the comment into a clear order. Riley could feel Snape's fingers tighten around him, and he struggled to breathe for a second before they loosened once more.
"Of course, Headmaster. I shall return this person just as soon as the moon returns to a position that would allow me to reverse the spell." Snape's voice came out smooth. "Perhaps now we can discuss Miss Granger's foolhardy forays into magic which she clearly does not understand."
"Yes, yes," Dumbledore agreed as he calmly steepled his hands in front of his face, and Riley knew a dismissal when he saw one. Snape, however, continued to push.
"This sort of careless magic…"
"We both know the children have been under quite a lot of stress lately."
"Much of which they brought on themselves." Snape was barely withholding a growl by this point.
"Some, perhaps, but much of this is so far out of their control that you cannot possibly believe they hold any culpability." Dumbledore stared at Snape, and Riley could feel the tension, the stress from forces he didn't understand flowing through the room. He wasn't sure which made him more uncomfortable: being helpless in Snape's hand or not understanding the obviously deep and dangerous waters that flowed around them with every word. Riley felt like he was back with Maggie Walsh again, with lies and deceptions and politics at every turn.
"I think Potter makes his own choices, much like his father. But I assure you that I do understand the prophecy with which we are all burdened."
Dumbledore nodded slowly, his eyes sliding away to study the desk with an absent-minded expression. "Our visitor really would be safer with you until we can return him," Dumbledore said before he picked up a paper with an oddly moving picture on the page.
"Yes, Headmaster," Snape said tightly before he turned to leave. "One day, Potter or his friends will use up that remarkable luck of theirs. When that day comes, I hope you are prepared to clean up the mess they will undoubtedly leave."
"Unfortunately, we shall both be pressed into service on that day, Severus," Dumbledore answered softly. Without another word, Snape turned and walked back out. This time, Riley had a view of stone corridors and old-fashioned paintings that were obviously some sort of television screens because many of the images were moving. Carved stone arches rose above them, and torches were set into the walls. Eventually, they descended one set of stairs after another, in one case the staircase slid slowly to one side as Snape stood still, waiting.
The whole time, Riley tried to determine the technology and possible sources for resources and potential threats, but the simple fact was that he was in way over his head. Maybe if he was still working with Buffy and Giles he could hope for some backup or rescue, but given his current assignment with a very non-magical special forces team, Riley knew that he had limited options besides trusting these two men to send him home.
Eventually they entered a windowless chamber with heavy gold drapes and Victorian furniture in dark colors. Books and rolls of browning paper lay in neat piles against one wall and bookcases lined every available bit of wall so that Riley couldn't even see the heavy gray stones that obviously made the castle.
"We'll just have to find a home for you, won't we?" Snape asked with enough sarcasm to make Riley flinch and hiss. Snape went to a shelf and pulled off a wicker cage. "This should work."
Riley wanted to fight, to sink his hopefully considerable and preferably poisonous fangs into the man just for the principle of it. Unfortunately, he couldn't afford to with his future in the man's hands. Riley had the impression Snape was not a patient or a forgiving man. Instead of fighting, he allowed himself to be maneuvered into the small cage door before Snape closed it and slipped a latch over the end. Riley watched without blinking as Snape walked over to a huge fireplace and cleared a space on the mantle.
"Hopefully the warmth will keep you sated and quiet. I do not appreciate being bothered in my own chambers," Snape announced. Then he said some word Riley didn't know and tapped the top of the cage with what Riley now realized was his wand. A green fabric rolled down over the bars of the cage and Riley was alone.
Riley didn't intend to go to sleep, but a knocking outside the cage woke him, or at least made him sluggishly aware. He was warm, and curled on himself; he couldn't imagine doing anything other than sleeping for the next year or so. Even the curled panic in his brain couldn't penetrate his lethargy.
"Mr. Malfoy," Snape said in a bored voice.
Riley uncurled a little; this voice didn't seem either terrified or angry, like the two children from last night, and yet it was clearly a boy's voice.
"May I come in?" the boy asked. There was a long silence, and Riley jerked as the cloth was ripped from the top of his cage. Snape stood there looking in on him, and Riley suddenly felt like a rat in a laboratory. He'd never liked the idea of Maggie Walsh locking up hostiles and experimenting; he would rather simply kill them. However, now, with this man looking in at him, Riley suddenly despised the idea of locking up sentient creatures in cages, no matter what the excuse. Snape turned away and now Riley could see a boy with yellow, slicked back hair standing in the middle of the old-fashioned room.
"What can I do for you Mr. Malfoy?" Snape asked before he turned and went to a table at the far end of the room. He tapped the table with his wand and a breakfast for one appeared. Riley felt bad for the blond boy left standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.
"I received an owl from my father this morning," he said as he took a step close to Snape. Funny, Riley would have been more concerned with backing away.
"Yes?" Snape asked as he picked up his teacup. "I am busy, so is there a point to this visit?"
The boy hesitated, but Snape looked up with an expression that clearly ordered him to either speak or get out. Malfoy straightened his back. "My father… and others would like to know why there was moon magic here last night."
Snape graced the boy with an expression so cold that Riley felt himself slide back away from it.
"I would expect willful blindness from Gryffindors. From you, Mr. Malfoy, I expect more. If you would wish to help mold this new world that approaches, you must use your mind. What are the two rules we have discussed before?" Snape put his teacup down and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Think through the benefits and dangers of every decision," Malfoy quickly stated.
"Observe everything. Information is power." Malfoy said the words as though they were a mantra, and Snape pursed his lips.
"Adequate," he nodded. "So apply these principles to your surroundings, Mr. Malfoy. You must learn to not just say the words but apply the ideas behind them."
Malfoy nodded and started looking around the room. Riley watched as the boy's gaze slid over books and old-fashioned furniture and finally rested on Riley himself.
"The snake. You didn't have it before," Malfoy offered.
"Excellent, Draco. Now, what do you know of moon magic, and do not try to convince me you are unaware of its potential. If you failed to look up that simple piece of information after receiving your father's owl, you are truly unworthy of being Slytherin."
Now that the boy was facing the cage, Riley could see the hard eyes and the blush that now made the pale face turn pink. "Moon magic makes a request without specifying the parameters of the outcome."
"An idiotic spell. Notta Bellaificus had dangerously muggle views on spell-casting, and her quaint belief in faith made her entire theory inappropriate and dangerous. The Ministry should cast an Incendio spell on the remaining copies." Snape looked like he had just bitten something particularly sour, but it wasn't as though Riley had seen a particularly pleasant expression on the man yet.
"So who cast it?" Malfoy asked. He turned to Snape who simply raised one eyebrow. That must have been answer enough because Malfoy turned back toward Riley with an equally sour expression. When Snape stood and started walking to the cage, Riley braced himself. Whatever was going on here, he was a pawn caught in the middle.
Snape opened the cage and pulled Riley out, setting him on the floor before tapping his wand and issuing a curt, "Finite Incantatem."
Immediately, Riley found himself crouched, knife in hand and muscles tensed for an attack. But with Snape standing, wand pointed ominously, Riley quickly changed his earlier plans. Leaving the knife on the floor, he slowly stood, showing his empty hands before he went to parade rest. Snape's wand didn't waver.
"Who are you?" Malfoy asked. For just a second, Riley considered giving name, rank, and serial number, but this was a child and whatever the situation was, he wasn't Riley's captor.
"Riley Finn, United States Army."
"A muggle?" Malfoy made the word sound disgusting.
"He's from another reality. I'm not sure if muggle is the correct term, but he certainly doesn't appear to have any magical qualities," Snape answered as he stepped closer. Riley held position, looking steadily at Snape. He had the feeling that he wouldn't get far running, and he'd be damned if he'd give Snape the pleasure of seeing that Riley was terrified.
"Do you have any magical powers?" Malfoy asked from behind Snape. Riley let his eyes drift to the boy.
"No." he answered truthfully.
"Whatever help Miss Granger hoped to find, she clearly failed," Snape turned his back on Riley. Even though Riley had an overwhelming urge to do something, anything, he stood with his hands clasped behind his back waiting for an opportunity that would actually benefit him.
"I suppose I must feed you, and Dumbledore would no doubt consider a live mouse tossed in your cage torture," Snape said with exaggerated weariness as he walked to the table and tapped it again. Eggs and waffles appeared. Riley hesitated just a second before he walked to the table and carefully sat across from the man who had turned him into a snake. A snake. Riley was still struggling with that. Picking up his knife and fork, he started eating. His stomach churned, but he wasn't turning down the offer of food, especially since he had no doubt that Snape had seriously considered putting a mouse in his cage.
"Are all muggles that stupid?" Malfoy asked. Riley glanced over and decided that child or not, this one went into the dislike-with-prejudice pile. "He could have poisoned that, you know." Malfoy looked down at the food.
Riley finished chewing before answering. "At this point, he could poison me without putting it in the food. So, I don't put myself at any more risk by eating. However, if I don't eat, I'm not going to last very long, am I?" he asked calmly. He didn't feel calm, but years of covert training had taught him to put on that disguise as easily as a shoe.
Malfoy narrowed his eyes and glared at him, but Riley returned to eating. When he did, he couldn't help noticing the almost amused expression on Snape's face.
"What are you going to do?" Malfoy asked. Riley ignored the question, assuming it was intended for Snape.
"Dumbledore has asked me to reverse the spell in two weeks when the moon is in proper alignment. Since keeping Mr. Finn here serves no purpose in or of itself, I shall do as the Headmaster asks." Snape looked at Malfoy, and Riley could feel the truths and manipulations sliding through the air like oil slipping into the water.
"I'll tell my father."
"Yes, do," Snape said in a bored voice. The boy turned to leave, but Riley concentrated on his food, and his body's conflicting desires to eat and to throw up. In silence, he finished first the waffles and then the eggs before drinking a glass of juice. He'd thought it was reconstituted orange juice with an odd color, but it turned out to be pumpkin. Disliking the flavor, he still forced himself to drink it all.
"It seems I shall have a guest for a while then," Snape offered between small bites of his own breakfast, which Riley couldn't even identify. It might have been hashed… something. He didn't answer as he waited for Snape to say something that would require an answer. The man hadn't even taken the weapons he had left, two grenades, a second knife, and a Colt handgun. Somehow, being armed made him feel even more helpless since the weapons obviously weren't a threat.
"What happened to my rifle?" Riley asked, despite firmly ordering himself to remain silent whenever possible.
Snape looked up. "There are charms in some rooms which will remove a dangerous object the moment someone attempts to use it. Sadly, many dangerous items are protected by countercharms. Your weapons clearly are not."
Ah. So he was as good as disarmed. Riley felt a sophomoric urge to pull a pin and throw a grenade just to see if it would work.
"I have talentless cretins to teach, so back in your cage with you." Before Riley could even stand, Snape pointed with his wand and without even an 'abracadabra,' Riley found himself curled on the chair, staring at the suddenly enormous table through eyes that refused to blink. Being carried back to his cage, Riley could only wonder at the political games he'd witnessed and hope that Snape wasn't sadistic enough to toss him back through the portal still in snake form. Right now, Riley just wasn't sure. With a tap, the green fabric was back and Riley was alone in the dim, green light that filtered in through the cloth.
"You ready?" Faith asked as she slung a worn leather bad over her shoulder and leaned against the wall of the kitchen.
"Just let me…" Willow's voice faded to nothing as she dug through an impressive pile of odd bits on the table.
"I don't have room for any more sage or pig's tongue in my bag, so you bring it, you carry it," Faith warned.
"Right. Not a problem. But we should have the ingredients for a basic protection charm just in case."
"Willow," Buffy said, her voice tight and high.
"Relax, B. We'll bring the boy home," Faith assured her. The older slayer turned to her with eyes that looked a good century older than her actual age.
"Just…. Keep yourselves safe," Buffy finally managed. She turned and walked out of the room, but Faith knew from experience she'd be back in under five minutes if Willow didn't stop sitting on her tea leaves.
"Move it, sister. We have a soldier-boy to rescue," Faith said. She needed to get this show on the road before Buffy's anxiety and depression started pulling on her.
"Moving. Right," Willow said with one last desperate look at the table with the ingredients she'd be abandoning. "Probably won't need amethyst," she muttered as she picked up a purple rock.
"Hey, the gent-in-distress isn't getting any younger. Let's move it," Faith tried again. This time Willow put down the rock resolutely and returned to the chalk runes drawn on the wood floor.
"Xander is going to be really cranky about this. I think I scratched the floor."
"He'll live. So, get with the mojo." Willow nodded and set her mouth in a resolute line.
Faith had braced herself for the light and the wave that passed through her body like the ripple from an exploding ra'malki demon. Her feet left the ground and she found herself flying backwards from the epicenter of Willow's spell. Her instincts told her to brace for the kitchen wall, but she kept flying back farther and farther until she crashed into a bookcase.
A dozen books fell down, one sharp corner catching her on the top of her head.
"Fuck!" she snarled as she grabbed a knife from her ankle strap and considered her surroundings. The place was decorated in old-lady weirdness: frilly furniture with wood trim that had fancy carvings that would make Xander start muttering about grain and chisel techniques. Faith put out a hand to push herself up and one of the books that had fallen grew teeth and snapped at her.
"Shit. We aren't in Kansas anymore, Toto," she said to no one in particular as she jerked her hand back. The book wiggled forward, snapping at her again, and Faith drove her knife into it, pinning it closed with the blade even though it still shivered disconcertingly.
"Riley, my boy, what have you gotten yourself into?" Faith asked quietly as she got up. Almost immediately she spotted the knife lying in the middle of the room near the fancy sofa. She walked over and picked up the standard issue Army knife. Okay, so Riley'd been here and someone disarmed him. "Willow?" Faith called. No one answered.
Slowly, she circled the room: books, books, more books, scrolls with the strangest ramblings she'd ever seen, an enormous fireplace, a heavy door into an equally strange bedroom with a giant four-poster bed with green drapes. Faith ended up standing in the middle of the main room looking around. Not only was there no Riley, there wasn't any Willow or door out either.
"Great," Faith complained to the universe at large as she threw herself down on the couch. One stack of scrolls lay within easy reach, so she snagged the top one and started reading some really weird shit about brewing some potion that would probably make Willow get hot and steamy underpants. Yep, this was definitely a Willow kinda place, and right now, Faith really wouldn't mind having some magical backup because this was definitely a magical place. A portrait of a horse-faced woman frowned at her. Faith stuck out her tongue and watched the portrait's eyes go wide.
Faith was bored enough to consider ripping down bookcases looking for a hidden passage before a rumbling noise drew her attention. Hiding the military knife in the back of her jeans, Faith shed her jacket and tried for the harmless look as a section of solid stone slowly opened, revealing a door on the other side.
"Oh. I…" A petite, blonde woman stood at the door, hands nervously going from her throat to her long black robes. "I didn't realize Professor Snape had company. He offered to loan me his copy of 'Accio to Wingardium Leviosa.'" Something changed then because the nervous flutters vanished under a cold look. Faith straightened a little and shrugged as if it didn't matter to her. A casual hand on one hip gave her quick access to the knife as the woman moved into the room, black robes billowing around her and hiding who the hell knew how many weapons.
"Grab away," Faith said with a casual gesture toward the bookshelves.
"Are you a relative of Professor Snape?" the woman asked, her gray eyes narrowing. Yeah, this bitch had moves, Faith could tell just by looking at her.
Faith moved forward, exaggerating the roll of her hips as she bent her head down and considered the woman through her lashes.
"The professor and I are… old friends," she settled on. The look of suspicion vanished under wide-eyed shock. Okay, so the professor wasn't normally the kind to hire a prostitute, well, Faith didn't plan on playing the normal prostitute.
She moved to the side, slinking with a sensuality that made every muscle ripple, and with her cut off top, she knew that this woman could see them all.
"The professor promised to come back just as soon as he could, so if you want to wait for him, I wouldn't mind the extra… company." Faith played the part up a little, letting the tip of her tongue appear between her slightly parted lips, the whole time slinking closer to that exit. "I'm Faith," she purred. "And you are…"
"Professor Sinistra, Astronomy." The woman started to slowly blush.
"Professor Sinistra, Astronomy. That's a lot to scream in the throes of passion," Faith gave a roll of her hips. The woman could obviously be embarrassed, so embarrassment was what she would aim for. By the time she was done, Professor Sinistra, Astronomy would be too humiliated to even mention this little meeting.
"Aurora," the blonde breathed.
"Aurora," Faith repeated with a smile as she moved closer. The nervous fluttering with the hands was back.
"I can borrow that book later. Tell Severus… tell him… I'll talk to him later." The woman turned and fled in a swirl of robes. She moved so fast that Faith was caught off guard for a precious half second. She dove for the closing door just a fraction of a section too late and the heavy door slid past her grasping fingers to settle in place with a definitive thunk.
"Well fuck," Faith cursed as she considered the seemingly blank wall. "Well, it opened once, it's gotta open again," she muttered as she started feeling around the edges of the rocks looking for some mechanism that would let her out of this room. This rescue was definitely right off the rails. Next time, she was ignoring Giles with all his logical reasons, and Buffy could just rescue her own ex-boy-toy.
The moment she heard the heavy roll of stone, Faith moved into position beside the door. Enough with playing nice, she wanted out of these rooms. She had a boy-toy to rescue and a witch to find. Besides, after reading some of the titles of the books on this Professor Snape's shelf, Faith sure as hell wasn't giving anyone a chance to hex her.
As a man dressed in black strode into the room, Faith leaped forward. He made a grunt as she hit him and knocked him to the stone floor, but instead of freezing the way Faith expected, his hand went for his robe even as he squirmed to the side. Unfortunately for him, he had nothing to compare to slayer strength or speed. He got his hand inside his robe, but not before Faith had Riley's knife pressed up against his throat, the tip against the stone while the sharp edge threatened to slit Snape's throat. He froze.
"Professor Snape, I presume," Faith said in an amused voice. The body under her tensed. "Okay, tall, dark, and dreary, let's talk," she said as she put pressure on the knife so that the blade made a small indent into the skin, just enough to hurt.
"Do I know you?"
"No, but Professor Aurora Sinistra sends her love. Or, not her love exactly, but she stopped by looking for you earlier, and I think I made her uncomfortable enough to leave without the book she was looking for."
"What do you want?" he asked darkly as his hand still slowly moved under his robes. Faith put her knee into the back of his arm, pinning it to the stone floor and making him hiss in pain.
"Let's get something clear. I really don't want to hurt anyone, but if it comes down to you or me, you're going to find yourself in a pool of your own blood," Faith warned. She hated killing. Oh, the fight was great, and slaying vampires was a joy... all the adrenaline and rush without having to watch someone slowly bleed out, their eyes demanding answers that Faith didn't have. But this guy, he wasn't going to vanish into dust, so Faith preferred to keep the violence to non-lethal levels. "You do believe that I'll kill you, right?" Faith bent down to look into the professor's face, her knee painfully grinding his arm into the floor and her hair brushing against the stone as she looked into his dark eyes. She kept the knife at his throat as she stared at him. He was flat against the floor, his one cheek pressed to the stones, but he still managed to pull off a fairly intimidating glare. But Faith wasn't intimidated easily.
"Yes, I rather think you would," the professor admitted slowly.
"Good." Faith smiled. "So here's the thing. I have something you want, and I think you have something I want, so I thought we could do a little horse trading."
"What would I possibly want from you?" The man's dark eyes studied Faith, and she slowly smiled, one predator to another.
"Your head still attached to your neck for one," Faith said with amusement.
The man hesitated, and Faith could almost see the calculations running through his head. Oh yeah, she wasn't turning her back on this one. "You have a valid point," he admitted.
"Hey, we're getting along already. I'm Faith. So, here's the deal. You give me back one tall, uptight soldier by the name of Riley, kinda cute, blond hair, all about his rules and regulations, and I'll give you back your head still attached to your body."
"Mr. Finn," Snape said calmly. Faith gave him credit for having stones; not everyone would keep cool with a knife to his neck.
"I knew you were too smart to piss me off. So, where is he?"
"Why would you look for him in my chambers?"
"Because a very scary-ass witch wrote a spell to bring us right to him. So no matter what weirdness happened to separate us, I figure one of us had to land where we were supposed to... and I came here. So, you give me Riley, and I'll just walk out of your life."
"And go where, exactly?" Snape asked. Faith could feel his body relax as he looked up at her.
"Don't worry about me. I always land on my feet. Now, Riley. Before I get cranky." Faith pressed the knife a little deeper and Snape broke eye contact, glancing toward the fireplace. "And if you're thinking about going for a weapon, I will make you the sorriest man in whatever weird-ass dimension this is."
"I assure you, I am not going for a weapon. Mr. Finn is above the fireplace."
Faith looked over. The fireplace was huge, large enough for a man to walk into, and it had a heavy mantle in dark wood, carved with leaves and curlicues and shit. Yeah, the room definitely did not give off the same creepy vibe as the man who lived in it.
"Okay, all I see is a covered cage and a few candle sticks, so start explaining."
"Mr. Finn is in the cage," Snape said in the same tone of voice Wesley had once used on her when she had given the wrong answer on one of his stupid demon pop quizzes. Faith pressed the knife a little deeper and Snape closed his mouth.
"Fuck. Why the hell can't I catch a simple mission? Go in, get the boy, get out. No, you had to do some shit like shrinking him, didn't you?" More than a little annoyed, she yanked Snape to his feet. He was so damn tall that she had to shift her knife to a spot between his shoulder blades, the point aimed at his heart.
"I could kill you just as quick from here, so don't try anything dumb," Faith advised him as she marched him across the room to the fireplace.
"I have no intention of getting killed over one of Miss Granger's foolish mistakes," Snape said archly. Faith had no idea who Granger was, but Snape sounded reasonably fond of his own skin, so hopefully he'd gotten the message. Without being told, Snape reached out and pulled a green cover off the cage.
Faith had been prepared to see a tiny Riley shaking a tiny fist. She wasn't prepared to see a small green snake curled on itself, its wedge-like nose pointed at her.
"What the fuck?" Faith pressed the knife a little deeper into Snape's back.
"It is a simple transformation spell," Snape hissed as he tried to move forward, away from the tip of the knife. Faith tightened her hand around his arm to keep him still. She was so convinced that he had instinctively moved away from the pain that she only noticed his hand going for his wand a moment too late.
"Petrificus Totalus," he hissed, his wand poking through the folds of his robe toward Faith. Faith rolled, yanking Snape to the floor before she sprang back up to her feet. Normally, slayer speed would be enough for her to reverse her stance and pin Snape to the ground like a bug, but she could feel her muscles strain, something heavy sliding across her skin like oil. By the time she turned, Snape had gotten to his knees, his wand pointed at her.
"Impedimenta!" Snape barked the word, and Faith threw the knife with every bit of strength she had in her arm. Even as it left her hand, Faith knew she'd made a bad throw. Before it landed, Faith felt Snape's magic slide over her, pulling at her like quicksand sucking her under the surface.
"Fuck." She threw herself forward, hands reaching for one last counter-attack before the darkness pulled her under. One hand caught at Snape's heavy robes, and she yanked him forward.
"Salvio hexia confundo." Snape shouted the words just as Faith's fist made a satisfying crunch against the professor's large nose. And then, the darkness pulled Faith under.
Riley didn't even have the option of closing his eyes to avoid seeing the fight that ended all too soon with Faith sprawled on the stone floor, Snape standing over her with his wand. Some distant part of Riley's mind circled in fear and wanted nothing more than to put his hands around Snape's neck and feel the bones snap. She had come for him. Damn it. And now she was going to die for him.
Snape pointed his own wand toward his face and with a curt "Episkey," the broken nose reset itself. "Tergeo," and even the blood that had splattered across his face vanished, leaving only a very cranky looking wizard standing there.
Faith twitched, her whole body shaking and an arm flopping out, and Snape stepped back away. Riley wished he could feel more than the distant, drowsy frustration he'd felt ever since hearing Faith's voice. He couldn't.
"Since she is clearly in no state to provide answers..." Snape turned to Riley's cage, reached in and dropped Riley to the floor so fast that Riley didn't have a chance to catch his breath before he landed, in human form, on the cold floor.
"What is she?" Snape demanded, wand ready. Riley slowly stood, looking toward Faith and then Snape. "If I were trying to harm her, I would not have used the Petrificus Totalus spell."
"Petrificus." Riley muttered the familiar word as he looked at Faith twitching on the ground. Straightening up, he glared at Snape. "It looks like you did more than petrify her."
"Obviously the incantation had an unusual effects. So, I'm going to repeat my question only once before I take more drastic action. What is she?"
Faith went into a series of small convulsions, her arms flopping against the stone hard enough that she was going to have some spectacular bruising. Riley clenched his teeth as he considered his options. Snape hadn't actually hurt him, although getting turned into a snake was on his list of experiences to avoid in the future. And if Riley could trust Snape's word and his own rusty memory of Latin, the man hadn't tried to hurt Faith.
"She's a vampire slayer. A girl born to fight demons."
"She's a magical creature?" Snape was so startled he let his wand hand drop. Riley considered the opportunity, but the odds were against him, especially since he didn't know how to help Faith. Snape brought the wand back up and pointed it at Riley as he narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "I don't know of any vampire slayers in this universe. Describe their attributes."
Riley hesitated only a second. "They're fast, and exceptionally strong, probably as strong as a vampire."
"Interesting." Snape turned toward Faith, watching her twitch for a second before going over and opening a cupboard. "Continue."
"They heal fast. I watched Buffy get her ribs broken, and the next day she was just a little sore. And it took a lot to break her ribs. If I'd taken the same hit from a demon, it would have crushed my chest."
"Anything else?" Snape was now totally ignoring Riley, pushing aside vials and bottles and knobby roots as he searched for something on the crowded shelf. He brought out a bottle of blue liquid followed by a small, rolled paper tied with a string.
"There's only supposed to be one at a time, but a spell activated a lot of them. Apparently some warlock or shaman or something put a demon's power into a girl a long time ago, and all the slayers still use that power."
Snape stopped, his hands pausing on a bottle of what looked suspiciously like mice feet. "How interesting Mr. Finn. From your reactions, I had assumed you were unaware of magic."
"I've fought magic users," Riley answered calmly. Part of him pointed out that he was an idiot for revealing anything to a potential enemy, but getting turned into a snake had an emasculating effect, and power, any little drop of power, felt good right now.
Snape looked at him with a raised eyebrow before he dropped a couple of the potential mice feet into the blue vial. "You continue to surprise me. I don't like surprises." Snape swirled the bottle and the liquid slowly turned white.
"She needs to drink this. Obviously, I have no interest in trying to fight her long enough to get the potion in her." Snape held out the bottle. "Half the bottle should suffice, and try not to get too much on my floor."
Riley looked at the bottle and then at Snape. Regulations did not cover any of this, not even the regulations he had helped write as part of his work fighting demons for the government. He knew how far to stand from a drosav and where to strike a vampire; he had no experience with potions and slightly sadistic professors. Okay, so he did have experience with sadistic professors, but it had been a long time since he'd had to play that game with Walsh. "What is it?" he finally asked.
"I do not have the time or inclination to try and explain such a complex potion to an imbecile. Either give her the potion or watch her die." Snape held the bottle a little closer, and this time Riley took it. The professor turned his back and headed for the table.
Riley sent up a quick prayer that he was making the right decision before he knelt next to Faith on the floor. She was breathing in quick pants and in all her flopping around, she had pulled her shirt up to reveal one breast. Riley quickly pulled the black fabric down, trying not to notice things that would make Sam murder him in his sleep when he got home. He put one hand under Faith's neck and let a little of the milky white fluid trickle into her mouth.
"Come on, just swallow," he encouraged her. A spasm sent her arms flopping, and Riley winced when one slammed into his shoulder with slayer-strength. "It's supposed to make you better, just try," he muttered as he poured a little more into her mouth. This time, a slow line of white drool appeared at the corner of her mouth.
"For Merlin's sake, just pour it in her."
"I'm not going to risk choking her," Riley said through clenched teeth. He was starting to develop some very unChristian ideas of where to shove Snape's wand.
"Given your description of her, I had rather thought that impossible." Snape's voice dripped with condescension, but Riley ignored him as he slowly allowed the fluid to trickle into Faith's open mouth. Her convulsions had stopped, but now she lay unmoving, her skin far too pale.
Riley watched as Faith's face lost the last of the pink from her cheeks. "If this kills her, I will make sure you follow her."
"You have neither the ability nor the intelligence to carry out that threat; however, the potion certainly will not kill her, not unless you've lied about her origins."
Riley didn't bother answering as he held the bottle up. "Did she drink enough?" Half the fluid was gone.
Riley expected Snape to check Faith or come take the bottle or maybe to just wave his wand and turn Riley back into a snake. Instead, he sat at the table and drank a cup of tea he must have summoned when Riley had been tending Faith. Turning away, Riley went to the couch and pulled the cushions off before he headed back to Faith's side and put one under her head and the other under her legs to improve circulation. Her breath slowed to a more regular pace and Riley sat next to her on the edge of a rug that defined the living room section of this... cave? dungeon? basement? He waited.
"Fuck." Faith softly slurred the word.
"No thanks, I'm married," Riley said, relief washing through him so that he had to smile. One eye cracked open
"Already did you anyway," she said, working her mouth as though it hurt. Riley didn't remember Snape getting in any hits, but her hand came up and poked at her jaw.
"What hit me?"
"You hit me," Snape commented from his seat at the table. He leaned forward with the tea cup in hand. "I wouldn't recommend you attempt that again."
"Seems like you're the one who didn't do what he was told. All you had to do was give me the boy-toy and I'd be out of here," Faith rolled to her side and got up with far more grace than humanly possible. Snape raised an eyebrow.
"Let us just say I don't appreciate being held at knife point," Snape commented. Faith stretched her neck one way and then the other, her body twisting in ways that made Riley look the other way and remind himself that he was a married man and he had no interest in cheating on Sam.
"Can't say I like being held at wand point," Faith shrugged. "But the deal is still good. You give me the boy, and I'm out of here."
"Yes, but you seem to have lost your leverage."
"What, you want to keep Riley? You have a thing for soldier-boys maybe? Keep him in that little cage until you feel that itch you can't quite scratch?" Faith rolled her hips and made it quite clear what kind of itch she meant. Riley physically backed away, disgust and fear battling for control before he ordered all those feelings away. They wouldn't help him, not now. He could panic later. Faith looked Snape up and down, clearly assessing him before she turned her back and ran a finger over the spines of the books on the nearest shelf.
Snape picked up the teacup. "I have no need of such... desperate measures," he sniffed. "However, there is still something you could offer in return for your freedom. You said--"
Snape's voice cut off in the middle of the sentence as Faith went from casually browsing book titles to an all-out attack. She was reaching for Snape before Riley even noticed the attack.
"Incarcerous!" Snape shouted as he stumbled backwards, knocking over his own chair. The tea cup went flying, and before he could even get his brain fully in gear, Riley instinctively leapt forward to back Faith's attack. From nowhere, ropes sang through the air, brushing by his arm as he reached for Snape.
"Petrificus Totalus," Snape called out just as Riley's hands brushed against his black robes. Already off balance, Riley found himself unable to control his body, and he crashed forward, hitting the ground with enough force to knock the wind out of him. And then he found himself lying stomach down, hands still reaching for Snape who calmly walked around Riley's frozen body.
Behind him, Riley could hear Faith cursing, and something shattered with a loud crash, so she wasn't totally out of the game, but Riley did suspect that they had lost this round. He forced himself to relax and not fight the spell that held him immobile. As horrifying as it was, he wished he was a snake; at least then the fear and anger would be pushed behind the lethargy that controlled his mind. Now, he could feel everything even as he was forced to lie helpless and wait for Snape to do something.
"So, let us have a discussion, Miss Faith," Snape said. The cursing went silent and Riley could only stare at the pattern of the rocks on the floor and wait.
Faith tested the ropes that bound her, just about growling her frustration when she found that they were the tightest she had ever encountered. Fuck. If he'd just been a little slower with the wand, she would have had him. Hell, any other weapon, and she so would have taken his scrawny ass to the ground, but the man was fast with a wand, she had to hand him that. Her attack had gotten her inches from him, but fighting the ropes left her, once again, near the wall of bookcases.
"You're pretty good with ropes," she said salaciously, arching her eyebrows as she curved her hip out. He raised is own eyebrows in obvious surprise.
"I have had occasion to use them."
"Have you?" With all other weapons gone, Faith fell back to the oldest and most successful of the weapons in her arsenal. "Mmm. I bet you have," she let just enough growl into her voice to tempt him. More men wanted to tame a wildcat than pet a pussy; Buffy never had understood that. If she had, she wouldn't have lost first Spike and then the Immortal. Faith narrowed her eyes and gave Snape her most wicked, dangerous smile.
"I believe we were discussing a trade," Snape commented as he waved his wand at Riley with a curt "Serpenta Mutalatis." The soldier went from being a frozen mannequin face down on the ground to a hissing snake curling and striking out at Snape's feet.
"Cool it, babe," Faith said, the snake's head swung toward her, his body curling tighter. "Play nice with the big, bad wizard."
Instead of calming the snake, the small green body curled lighter and the head weaved angrily from side to side.
"Wingardium Leviosa," Snape said in a bored voice and the snake rose into the air before moving toward the cage. "I would let the two of you get to spend some quality time together, but directly spelling a magical creature is never a good idea."
"Magical creature?" Faith asked, laughing. "Babe, I don't know what story soldier-boy fed you, but magic is not my thing."
"He said you were a vampire slayer." Once he dropped the green fabric back over the cage, Snape turned back toward her.
"Oh, that," Faith gave an awkward shrug while trying to wiggle out of one strand of rope. "So, do I take it that a soldier-boy in a cage isn't quite up your alley?" Faith took a step closer, her body language both inviting and dangerous: a tilt of a hip to expose the curve of her waist, feet planted in a classic attack pose.
"Nor are you," Snape said dryly.
Immediately Faith straightened up. "Look, whatever deal you're looking for, just spit it out. I could get insulted anywhere." The minute she challenged him, Snape actually seemed to relax, nodding slightly.
"Information for Mr. Finn's return."
"Information?" Faith asked slowly. No way would it be that simple.
She worked her fingers through a strand of the rope. The rope tightened itself around her the moment the loop cleared her fingers, and Faith had to consciously keep her expression neutral. Hey, it was five-by-five. Next time she would just keep applying slayer strength to the strand until she could push the whole coil up. She started again. Meanwhile, Snape paced.
"You said someone was in here. Describe her."
"Hey, let's lay down the terms first. You can't go rushing into the climax without the foreplay."
Snape stopped and considered her with the same look that old fart in Chicago used when she was eleven and would smoke on the front stoop.
"The terms are simple: you give me information on who came into my rooms, and I give you Mr. Finn."
"Now see, maybe it's just me being all suspicious, but that sounds a little less than simple. What information am I supposed to have? When do you plan to hand over Riley, and the really important one, will he have all his fingers and toes and other appendages attached in their correct places when I get him back? I hear his wife is a real kick-ass bitch, which I'm down for, but I don't plan to throw down with the woman because I forgot to have you reattach an important piece of equipment."
Snape stopped and studied Faith so hard that she stopped working the ropes, sure for a second that he was going to send another set her way and she was going to have to start over. Instead, he slowly smiled. "You would have made an excellent Slytherin," he commented with a nod. "I will return Mr. Finn to human form immediately; however, I would recommend that you stay in these quarters until I can return you to your own world in two weeks."
"Some bad shit going on out there, huh?" Faith asked. Snape's eyes narrowed.
"Your timing is awkward," he said slowly. This time Faith nodded. She'd seen the look on his face often enough to know it, the thin veneer of nonchalance over the pure desperation. For years, she'd seen that expression in her own eyes every morning in the mirror. Eventually, she'd just taken to putting on the make up without a mirror to avoid the expression. Hell, she always figured she'd be a step ahead of the typical minion if she ever got vamped considering all the experience she had avoiding mirrors.
"Riley gets turned into a real boy, within the hour, and he stays that way," Faith said firmly.
"I assure you, this is less," Snape paused, "stressful in his current form."
"Probably," Faith agreed, "but since I have the information, that's not your call."
"There are other ways to get the information," Snape threatened. Faith hesitated. She could see the honest threat in Snape's eyes, the need to do whatever it took.
"I think you've shown that your magic is a little less than reliable when it comes to me, and if you're going for torture... I've seen bigger and badder, so you aren't scaring me," Faith honestly answered.
"You have no idea what I am capable of." His voice grew soft.
"Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea. It's not like I haven't walked the shady side of the street before, but trust me, I've seen bigger and badder. Besides, we don't have to be on opposite sides here," Faith pointed out.
Snape gave an ugly laugh. "Oh yes, shall I untie you now so you can attempt to murder me again?"
"Okay, it might be my fault we got off to a bad start here," Faith admitted in her best conciliatory tone. Xander or Willow would have rolled their eyes at her and accused her of sounding more manipulative than conciliatory, but Snape just waited in silence. "I tend to be a take hostages first and ask questions later kind of girl, but I can smell shit going bad from a good distance, and you got that around here, don't you?"
Snape didn't answer, but his head tilted slightly. Nodding at Snape, Faith continued. "Whatever crap is going down, you're totally freaked out about someone being in here, maybe someone who shouldn't, maybe someone who might find something you don't want them to find." Now Snape was unnaturally still. "Something on the other side of that door scares you shitless."
"You have no idea what is on the other side of that door." Snape moved quickly, almost gliding into Faith's personal space so they stood nose to nose, even if Faith did have to tilt her head up to see him. "You have no idea how deadly this situation could become if certain parties became aware that you and your friend appeared here in response to an incantation requesting help."
"Unless you have something scarier than an all-powerful being who came way too fucking close to destroying our entire reality, you don't have shit to scare me." Faith didn't even blink.
"He should scare you. The boy they will dismiss; a muggle with no talents is clearly not a threat. But a new and unique magical creature? They will pull you apart cell by cell and use your parts in their potions."
Faith studied Snape, the twitch of an eyebrow, the stiff body held rigidly locked, the dark eyes that hid his emotion. Slowly, Faith nodded.
"You'd pull me apart. They find out about me, and you'll be the one ripping out my guts. You're the potions expert here, and unless I miss my guess, you're playing both sides of this fence."
Snape physically jerked as if slapped, but Faith ignored him. "It's five-by-five with me. We all do what we've got to do babe, but don't think I'd be that easy to take apart. So, here's the deal. I tell you everything, you turn Riley back into tall, blond, and easy-on-the-eyes, and we all try to stay quiet as church mice to avoid any of us being put into really messy situations," Faith offered.
For the first time, Faith realized that she had shocked the wizard into speechlessness. A clock heavily ticked in the silence. "What are you?" he eventually asked.
"I thought we covered this. Me slayer, you wizard."
"You couldn't know. Does your race practice legilimency?"
"Don't really know since I've never heard that one, but there are lots of words I've never heard before. But let's get one thing straight: I'm human."
"Legilimency, the ability to read another's thoughts," Snape said, totally ignoring the being human half of Faith's complaint.
"Nah. I've just seen that look too fucking much on myself. You think you're the first one to ride a little close to that edge? But here's the thing. If you were on the wrong side of the bad that's going on here, you'd be enjoying this a little more. So, your turn, cutie. Do we have a deal?"
"All the information, nothing withheld, and I will turn Mr. Finn back into a human and leave him such for two weeks until I can send you home," Snape summarized.
"Deal. I would shake on it, but you know," Faith smiled and gave a shrug that hid the last of her struggles.
"Yes, I can--" Faith twisted, throwing the loop of rope up and off as fast as slayer speed and strength allowed. The closing loop brushed the top of her head before falling behind her, but by then Faith had closed the small gap and grabbed Snape. Jerking him around, she got an arm around his throat before he could bring his wand halfway up.
"Drop it or you'll hear your own neck bones snap," Faith warned. Snape hesitated for just a second, but when Faith tightened her grip, his wand clattered to the floor as he flushed.
"How foolish of me to assume even that spell would work as intended."
"So, we have a deal?" Faith asked casually without letting go of his neck.
"Deal?" Snape sounded so cute when he was totally fucking confused. She just had to smile.
"Yep, I'll give you everything I know, you do right by Riley. Oh, I'm adding one other little piece," she said cheerfully.
"Oh?" The dark, suspicious tone just made Faith smile more.
"I promise to not try to break your neck, gut you, stab you, or shove your wand so far up your ass you cough up splinters, and you never point that fucking thing at me again. Deal?"
"You would have made an exceptional Slytherin."
Taking that as a promise of sorts, Faith released Snape, holding her hands up in a gesture of helplessness, but Snape's eyes still watched her warily as he retrieved his wand and tucked it under his robes.
"So, you wanted to know about my afternoon. After I stabbed that ankle-biting book of yours, I just sort of hung out and looked through your library until I heard that door start to open..." Faith told him the story, and Snape sank onto the grandmaish couch and listened, his elbows resting on his knees and his fingers steepled in front of his nose. But what Faith really noticed were his eyes, dark and focused and watching her every move as she paced the room.
Snape had long ago leaned back, his eyes blank. Faith finished her story and dropped onto the arm of the couch, draping one leg over as she propped an elbow on the back. "Uncomfortable as shit," she complained mildly.
"One is intended to sit on the cushion," Snape answered dryly without taking his focus on the far wall, a spot above the cage where Riley gave an occasional hiss from his cage.
"Whatever," Faith wiggled so that the wood arm wasn't poking her in any particularly sensitive spot, which left one boot braced on the cushion next to Snape. He glared at the boot in question for a second before sighing.
"You told Aurora I had brought a strumpet into my chambers. My reputation shall never recover." Strangely, Snape sounded suddenly tired and quiet and faintly Giles-like.
"Hey, I'm not just any strumpet. You have quality goods here, so it's not like you're slumming." Faith held her hands out and wiggled a little to show off her assets; however, Snape's expression didn't improve. "Not unless you have some reputation as a goody-goody, and babe, if that's the case, you simply have to work on the whole look. You kinda have the bad-boy thing going for you."
"Good? Hardly. However, I have always jealously guarded my privacy. I do not wish to invite others to become familiar, and Aurora is one in particular from whom I would wish to keep a certain distance."
"Ah," Faith said knowingly. Snape turned his full glare toward her.
"Give it a rest, babe. That look don't work on me. So, if you're playing the dangerous lone wolf, the question is why you would let her in your room when you had soldier-boy in the cage."
"The wrong people are already aware of the use of moon magic. I have shown him to one who was undoubtedly sent here by his betters, and I suspect that I shall have to show him to others before the two weeks is up. As long as we do not have to reveal your presence, that should not be a problem. And as for your question, I certainly did not give Aurora permission to enter my chambers."
"Shit," Faith said softly.
"Now you understand." Snape pushed his hair back from his face and a hardness settled into his face. "Something is underfoot, and obviously I have been excluded from certain plans."
"Funny, I'm usually pretty good at spotting a danger, but the woman came off as more twitchy than dangerous. The radar must be off," Faith shrugged.
"Not necessarily. Just because Aurora came in here does not mean that she did it of her own free will or that she even remembers."
"Oh, I'm pretty hard to forget," Faith said with a lusty look that made Snape raise an eyebrow, but he didn't respond. She sighed. It was going to be a long two weeks if they couldn't find Willow and hitch a ride home sooner. "You guys have some freaky shit around here, you know that, right?"
Snape closed his eyes for a second, and Faith could feel the fatigue, the stress that rolled from him like a fog. "You simply need to remain unobtrusive, so this has nothing to do with you. I shall go to someone who should be able to help."
"Unobtrusive," Faith nodded thoughtfully. They were so screwed. Her tone must have warned him because he suddenly shifted on the couch, focusing all his attention and one serious death-glare on her. "Chill, babe."
"Chill?" Both eyebrows went up.
"Chill, don't get your robes bunched up in your ass crack, calm down," Faith clarified. "But if you want unobtrusive, we have a problem."
"Why am I spectacularly unsurprised?"
Faith laughed at the dry humor. "Yeah, I don't do unobtrusive well. I'm not sure whether that's the slayer bits or just pure Faith, but I do tend to stand out from the crowd. However, you've got bigger worries than me."
"Yes, I do," Snape said, and the earlier humor had vanished. "If there is something I should know, say it now because I have work that needs to be done."
"The witch who sent me here, she makes me look like a regular wallflower when she gets going, and she's going to be trying to track us down."
"Wonderful." Snape sighed. "How long before she attempts to follow you?"
"Time out. You think I'd come to freaky central without backup? I do not have a death wish, not anymore, anyway. She came through with me, but we must have been separated during the spell because I landed here and she didn't."
"She attempted to enter Hogwarts?" Snape stood and faced Faith, his eyes narrowing.
"That was the plan." Faith calmly watched as Snape's eyes darkened.
Sliding down to the seat of the couch, Faith curled her legs under her Indian style and smiled up. "Oh, I'd call Red all sorts of things, but an idiot wouldn't even be on the list. Now manipulative? Yeah, I could go for that one."
"One cannot apparate onto school grounds."
"Whoa, this is a school? Shit. I don't remember school being this..." Faith hesitated. The books and the dungeon atmosphere were kinda cool, but the furniture, that was all old-lady freaky, and not a good kind of freaky.
"It is a magical school, and various protections prevent apparition."
"Babe, you have got to learn to use little words. We both know I can kick your ass, but I'm not even going to pretend to understand all the shit you say." Snape looked at her for a second, frowning.
"Apparate, to appear by magic. Disapparate, to--"
"Disappear. Got it. I suffer a lack of education, not intelligence, so play nice or I'll give you another demonstration of how well I can kick your ass," Faith warned. "And I hate to break it to you, but your protections aren't that good." Faith stood up so that she was right in Snape's personal space. He quickly backed off a step and then glared at her. Man was kinda cute when he got pissed. "I seem to have come through just fine."
"You are a magical creature. Wizarding magic does not prevent house elves from apparating and disapparting at will, so I am hardly surprised you came through."
"Wait. You mean Willow got bounced off some fucking shield?"
"Probably," Snape agreed. "The complexities of traveling realities and the power of the witch in question would certainly affect the results, and I have no way of evaluating either."
"Red? She's one scary ass witch. She channeled some sort of earth magic and activated every potential slayer on the planet. Hell, she even brought Buffy back from the dead."
Snape had been looking around the room, his eyes skimming the bookshelves, but now that sharp gaze locked on Faith. "Creating Inferi is powerful and dark magic."
"Yeah, Red sometimes goes pretty dark on us, but we've already talked about the big words, so don't make me repeat myself."
Snape blinked at her for a second before rolling his eyes. "Inferi, the walking dead, bodies reanimated by the will of a witch or wizard who controls them."
"Zombies? No, Buffy is not a zombie, and Willow is definitely not in control there. No, Willow brought Buffy back good as new. Something about how Buffy died made it possible to haul her ass right out of heaven all shiny and new. Still freaks me out because when I'm dead, I want to stay dead. One time on this merry-go-round is plenty for me."
"She brought someone back? And what is she likely to do now that you've been separated?"
"Oh, I figure she'll start by keeping her head down and playing it quiet. After a while, she'll get all panicky and babble at random strangers, but eventually, the girl's going to lose her mind and start making a whole lot of noise."
"Wonderful." Snape turned and headed for the fireplace, not even trying to hide the sour-milk expression on his face. "How long before this person makes herself conspicuous?"
"Who knows?" Faith shrugged and watched as Snape pulled Riley out of his cage and pointed his wand. Without a word, Riley was suddenly on the ground in human form, and from his expression, he was not a happy soldier.
"Faith," he said curtly.
"Thanks for the backup."
"For all the help I was," Riley said, clearly not happy with his own ineffectiveness.
"That was foolish. I would not suggest you try it again," Snape warned darkly, and Faith could smell the testosterone start to build.
"Backing Faith was my best chance, and considering that she did end up beating you, I would back her again."
"Whoa, hey, right now, we're all on the same side here, boys. Let's play nice."
Both men stared at each other, but Riley was the first to glance away, his body still tight and stiff and all soldierly, but at least he wouldn't push things. After hearing Buffy's stories, Faith suspected that it was an act because Riley wasn't the kind to just give up easy, but right now, she had priorities other than soothing male egos.
"I shall make some inquiries and endeavor to find where your witch has gone," Snape said, his own gaze still locked on Riley.
"We're going with you to get Willow," Riley said quietly, his gaze unfocused.
"No, you aren't."
Now Riley looked over at him.
"And if you argue, you can go back in your cage."
"No way, Riley's staying on two legs, or you and I are going to have another tussle," Faith warned.
"And if you try to talk to Willow alone, she will panic," Riley said calmly. Of course, Faith could see the way he had stiffened at the threat, so she was guessing he was feeling a whole lot more stress than he was showing.
"Define panic," Snape demanded.
"Willow and Xander, they back up the slayers, they aren't the front-line fighters. She's perfectly comfortable standing behind Faith, but being alone, she's going to be scared and overly emotional. I don't know how your magic works, but with Willow, the more emotional she gets, the more unpredictable her magic is. If someone confronts her and she feels trapped or thinks she's in danger, she could do anything from levitate rocks to make someone explode."
"She would kill?" Snape didn't looked surprised at that, just thoughtful.
Riley considered his answer for a moment. "I don't think that would be her first reaction, but she has killed in the past, and she regularly slays demons, so if she comes to think of you as evil or demonic, she is very capable of killing."
"I shall have to make sure Miss Granger knows how much I appreciate the complications she has brought into my life," Snape sighed. Faith had expected him to dismiss Riley's words for no reason other than the fact that Riley had said them. In her experience, guys just did that. Hell, get Angel, Spike, and Xander in the same room with three doors, and they'd starve before they'd all agree on one door to try, just on the principle of it. But Snape seemed to have accepted Riley's conclusion. "I need to speak with someone. I will return," Snape announced. He pulled something from a pocket and tossed it on the fireplace. The part that freaked Faith, though, was when he walked into the flames and vanished.
"And I thought I hated magic on our world," Riley agreed softly. "So, you're the rescue party?"
Faith looked at the man she had once tricked into bed and shrugged. He'd been good--a little conventional for her tastes, but good. "I figured I owed you one after, you know." Even now, Faith found it a little difficult to face the people she had so thoroughly screwed over.
"Thank you," Riley said. "The thought of having to rely on Professor Snape's word was not good for my digestion."
"Snape's okay. If all else fails, he'll get us home in two weeks."
"But hopefully Willow will get us home sooner."
"Yeah. I don't think I can put up with two weeks of this shit." Faith dropped onto the couch and looked around. "No TV."
"It's a lot more comfortable out here than in the cage," Riley pointed out. After that, there wasn't anything else to say and an awkward silence separated them. Riley walked the room studying the titles of the books that lined the wall. Faith sat and picked at a long, shallow scab on her leg. Oh yeah, this was so going to be a fun two weeks, just a non-stop party. Telling herself that she was earning bonus karma points for this good deed, Faith leaned back and started counting the circles carved into the stone ceiling.
"The news just continues to improve," Snape said as he stepped out of the fireplace, the flames flashing behind him for a second.
"Do I want to know?" Faith asked as she looked up from her foot. She had retrieved her knife from the biting book and was trimming her toenails with it. Snape looked at her with his eyebrows up.
"Probably not," he admitted without commenting on Faith's grooming habits.
"What is it?" Riley had been sitting at the dining room table with a book on dark magic, but now he came back to the living room area.
"Indulging in some light reading?" Snape asked as he looked over toward the table. Riley went still, his body going into that creepy military form with his hands tucked away at the small of his back. Faith always had an urge to sneak up behind him and handcuff him when he stood like that, but then any man in that military pose gave Faith that urge. Standing with your feet apart and your hands behind your back was just way too much temptation for a girl.
"When in enemy territory, it's always a good idea to know what you're facing," Riley said with that same almost-calm voice. Snape looked at him for a second before turning his back on him. Faith had to give Riley some credit, the boy didn't even flinch at the insult.
"Apparently your origins make it impossible to track your movement, so we shall have to try and find your witch before she panics."
"Willow is capable of doing a tracking spell. She would have brought the ingredients, so even if you can't trace us, being from the same reality, she may be able to," Riley interrupted. Snape didn't bother to look at the man, but he did look thoughtful.
"Will she attempt to trace you or Faith?" he asked Riley without giving him the courtesy of looking at him.
"Faith," Riley immediately answered. "She'll want to find Faith before she tries to track me down, especially if she feels threatened."
"Yeah, and the girl's going to start freaking soon."
"Then we shall have to leave Hogwarts so she can find you. We shall start in Hogsmead and slowly circle outside the school's protections."
"Five by five with me," Faith quickly agreed. Right now she'd agree to a quick walk through hell if it meant getting out of this room for a little bit. She stuck her knife back into its sheath and pulled her boot on. "I'm just not walking through fire," she warned Snape.
"I had been planning to use the door," Snape said, and Faith smiled at the man's dry humor.
"Yeah, with all the freaky-ass shit you got going on, I was afraid you'd want to flush yourself down the toilet or something."
Snape sniffed. "That is for those fools over at the Ministry of Magic. Quite distasteful."
"Shit. You're serious." Faith stared at Snape.
"I do not joke about the moronic behavior at the Ministry of Magic. Simply reporting their antics is amusement enough."
Faith pulled her jacket on and followed Snape to the door. "You will not be coming with us," Snape said as he turned and looked at Riley. The soldier was two steps behind them, and immediately his expression hardened. He glanced toward Faith.
"I thought we agreed to stay together," Faith said, carefully. Snape hadn't tried to put any distance between them, so she didn't expect an attack, but he'd clearly changed the plans.
"You commented on your desire to stay together; however, there is a certain reality we must deal with. In my world, those without magical powers are seen as..." Snape paused and graced Riley with a dismissive sneer.
"Got it," Faith said before Riley had a chance to say something stupid. The boy was doing a good job controlling the testosterone, but she couldn't see any man having the control to ignore that look. "So the non-magical sort aren't exactly welcome."
"Not in the places we are likely to go, and not with the people who may see us."
"What about Faith?" Riley asked with more control than Faith would have given him credit for.
"As she already introduced herself as a woman for hire, her presence is explainable. However, anyone who spends any time around her will notice that she has magical qualities, so we need an explanation other than her being a new form of magical creature. That would invite... experimentation," Snape said. Faith flinched from that idea. She was all for a good honest fight, but Snape was describing something a lot slimier than an honest fight.
"What's the story then because I don't think I can pass myself off as a house elf."
"Assuredly not," Snape agreed. "If cornered, we shall tell people that your grandmother was a succubus."
Faith started laughing. "Snape, I didn't know you'd noticed! You do know how to turn a girl's head with the sweet talk, don't you?"
"You know the species?"
"Hell yeah! Xander had one fixate on him not long after we lost Anya. She called him intoxicating, but she might have just been stoned from the smell of turpentine from his clothes. He took off for Africa not long after that."
"Faith, you should not be going anywhere with him alone," Riley said, interrupting the moment. Faith looked over at the soldier, understanding both men's positions. If Snape was walking the fence in this fight, he couldn't be seen pal-ing around with some normal human. But Riley, well that boy was all nobility and chivalry and, Faith was starting to suspect, a lot more shrewdness than she had given him credit for based on Buffy's stories.
"Chill, babe. We need to find Willow, and three people wandering the streets looks a lot more suspicious than a man and a woman out for a little stroll and some romance."
"Romance?" Snape asked, one eyebrow up again. Yeah, her and Snape were not the roses and love notes sort.
"How about the two of us out looking for a drink and a place to fuck like bunnies?" she amended herself. She got an almost-smile out of Snape. "But," she said to Riley, "as much as I wouldn't mind the idea of the three of us fucking like bunnies together, three is more conspicuous than two." Riley studied her, his face hiding his emotions.
"I'm married," Riley finally pointed out, "So, I'm going to have to say no to a threesome." For a second, Faith didn't catch his point and thought the boy had just slipped off the rails a bit, but then she watched him back off a step. "If Sam finds out you're talking about fucking with me, you're going to have one serious fight on your hands."
Faith nodded at the silent permission and the silent request to make sure he got back to Sam. "Five by five with me; Snape and me will have to do our fucking without you," she joked. She turned around to find Snape looking at her with an expression she couldn't quiet decipher. "So, we ready?"
"Yes," Snape agreed, shaking himself out of whatever strangeness had grabbed him before he pulled out his wand and tapped the door. It slid open with a heavy grinding of stone over stone.
"No wonder I couldn't get the damn thing open," Faith muttered as Snape closed it again behind them.
"And the source of my concern that Aurora could open it," Snape agreed in the empty passage outside his chambers before he sealed the door with a whispered word. "Your witch friend is in danger out there, but I would suggest we find her quickly rather than leave Mr. Finn to his own devices for long. With the world as it is, I should worry even about your ability to safely navigate the dangers."
Nodding, she followed Snape through a series of dark corridors past doors and suits of armor and paintings with people who watched with surprise and followed them from one picture frame to another.
Faith glanced around, controlling her curiosity even though a little part of her wanted to gawk and poke at the paintings and see just how real they were. "Nice place," she commented mildly, assuming that Snape would understand what she was really saying.
"I hope you don't mind a walk."
"Mind? Shit. I was ready to start climbing the shelves and swinging from the ceiling in there. Sitting still is not my thing, and after a couple of years of some serious sitting still, I'm even less fond of it."
"A couple of years?" Snape's glance didn't even try to hide the calculations and speculations as he stared at her.
"Yeah, prison's not good for someone who feels a need to fight or fuck or just run until I can feel every cell in my body. But sometimes I think having to sit still for a while made me look at my demons." A shadow flickered across the hill, and Faith glanced up to see brooms zip by, kids yelling as they darted up into the air until all five or six of them headed back down behind the hill again. "No fucking way. You have flying brooms!" Faith gave Snape's arm a slap, and he stumbled to the side in surprise before regaining his footing.
"Broomsticks, apparating, and floo powder or walking through the fireplace are the primary forms of transportation."
"Willow is going to shit herself over that. She has fits when people have those cardboard cutouts with a witch on a broomstick--calls it stereotyping and discrimination and some shit about domestic subjugation of women, but then she's a pain in the ass about Christmas and Jewishness and all that, too. Next time she gets her panties in a twist about broomsticks, though, I'm rubbing this in."
They walked as the path went winding around some hills and taking them over others. Faith noticed a forest in the distance, and something about it set off the slayer alarms at the back of her neck.
"What were you in prison for?" Snape asked casually as though commenting on the weather.
They walked in silence for a short time, Faith waiting for the inevitable follow-up questions which never came. "You're the first person I've told that to who didn't ask if I did it," Faith eventually commented.
"I assume you did."
"Yeah, but see, if you assume I did, you're supposed to either start trying to figure out what could drive me to that point or freaking out."
"Would you like me to scream in fear?" Snape's sneer made it clear just how likely he was to do that, and Faith laughed. "At least you have atoned for your past," Snape added in a far more serious tone.
"Atoned?" Faith almost choked on the word. "Babe, I don't know how you expect to atone for killing someone, but I don't figure I ever will."
"But you were released--"
"No, I had friends who needed me to save the world. They played a little fast and loose with the paperwork, and everyone who knew I was supposed to be in prison had a little magical help believing I had done my time and had earned the right to go back out into the world a reformed woman." Faith looked around at the hills, the castle, the shadows of the clouds sliding over the grass. "I try to live up to the second chance they gave me, but I avoid words like atone."
Funny, this conversation was getting way too personal. Yeah, she was happy enough to tell people she'd done her time in prison. Most people considered it part of the whole bad-girl image she had going on, but Faith wasn't usually big with sharing the details. The young slayers in Boston had a bet going about why Faith had been in with assault and battery leading drugs two to one.
"So, you ever spent any time in the big house?"
"I assume you mean prison."
"That'd be the house I meant."
Again, a comfortable silence fell over their conversations so that their footsteps on the path and the distant sounds of birds crying made the whole conversation about prison seem just a little weird.
"I often wonder if I am going to end up there eventually. If the wrong side wins, I shall probably be dead, but if the others win..."
"Riding the fence doesn't make you popular with anyone," Faith nodded.
"It can be rather limiting," Snape agreed. "And my own past would certainly justify a prison sentence."
"So," Faith said brightly, feeling a need to change the tone of this conversation. "What do your friends call you?"
Snape took several minutes to answer this time, and Faith listened to their footsteps against the path. "You're assuming I have any."
"Everyone has friends, even when they don't want them. So, when they're busy telling you things you don't want to hear and refusing to give up on you, what do they call you?"
"It can't be that bad," Faith laughed. "What, did you get some totally lame-ass name like Eugene or Eustace or some shit like that?"
"I doubt that anyone would believe that I invited a woman I hired to use my first name. Snape is sufficient."
"This is me. Like I said before, I'm quality goods. Besides, being on the front line when Xander had his little succubus problem, I know for a fact that men turn into marshmallows around those women. They wiggle one little finger, and a man will crawl over glass lick her boots." Faith teased Snape by getting head of him on the path and wiggling her own finger at him as she gave her hips an extra twist.
"But you are one-quarter succubus."
"Babe, let me promise you one thing. If we were in bed together, you would tell me anything I wanted to know, including your name." Faith stopped so that Snape would close the distance between them. When he paused too far away, Faith moved toward him, her hand reaching up to stroke his dark robes. They were cool and smooth, and under them, Faith could feel Snape's chest rise as he sucked in a breath.
"You are young enough to have been my student," Snape said coldly, but Faith could still hear the strained breathing.
"I've been out of school for a long time, babe, and you and I both know I'm as old as you are in any way that counts," Faith countered. "But right now, I'm just asking for a name."
Snape backed off a step, and Faith fisted his robe to prevent him from retreating any more. Faith could see the edge of panic, which was funny considering he'd been Mr. Cool when she'd threatened to break his neck.
"Severus," he offered, and Faith let go of his robes.
"Severus. Nice name," she said as she turned back toward the path. "So, can I pass as a succubus?"
"You'll do adequately," Severus said dryly. Faith laughed, and she realized that she hadn't laughed this much in a long time. She hadn't been thrilled with flinging herself into a new reality just to save Riley's ass, but this wasn't turning out so bad after all. Or at least it wouldn't be too bad as long as they could find Red before she went and blew someone up.
Riley was giving himself fodder for a million nightmares reading about boggarts and red caps and kappas and dementors along with the more familiar banshees and vampires. He just had to send up a quick prayer of thanks that this wasn't his world and he didn't have to fight these creatures.
The fireplace flared again, and Riley stood, expecting Snape and Faith to come through the fireplace together this time. Instead, an old man with glasses popped through and looked around curiously.
"Ah, my boy. There you are. It's nice to see you back on your feet again," he said cheerfully, and Riley felt a cold creeping up his back as he recognized him. Snape with that wand of his made Riley's skin crawl, but this was the man who gave Snape orders in that big office. Despite the cheerful and quite frankly slightly senile image the man projected, Riley didn't feel comfortable. He wanted to poke around the edges of this act and find whatever power would make Snape back off.
"Riley Finn, U.S. Army," Riley introduced himself.
"Yes, yes. I am sorry about Miss Granger's ill-advised spell. I'm sure it has inconvenienced you tremendously. I don't know if you remember me, but I am Professor Dumbledore."
Riley blinked as he tried to ignore a threat assessment nerve that jangled as Dumbledore wandered the room poking at the fallen books with his foot before sweeping around to pin Riley with a stare.
"I remember," Riley said slowly. "We met right after the spell."
"Moon magic," Dumbledore nodded. "Moon magic is something most witches and wizards would never attempt. Notta Bellaificus was a unique witch."
Riley watched impassively, even when Dumbledore looked over, that watery gaze inviting him to ask a question or demand some answer. Riley might have asked one of the dozen questions rattling around in his head if he had any idea how to categorize this man, but he'd run into Dumbledore's name twice in Snape's book, and both times, he had been described as the powerful wizard who had destroyed some dark beast. So Riley wasn't buying the harmless act Dumbledore wore like that cloak.
"She was muggle born. I vaguely remember her from when I was a boy, fascinating woman. She had a very strong belief in faith and God, and much of her magic incorporates that fascination for a higher power. Do you share that belief Mr. Finn?" Dumbledore looked at him as if the answer were no more important than the temperature outside, but if he were just looking for casual conversation, this was a strange place to start.
"Yes," Riley agreed carefully. Dumbledore nodded.
"I had thought you might." The toothed book on the floor snapped at Dumbledore's robes as he walked by, and the man made a little clucking sound before he bent over and carefully stroked the spine of the book. With a soft purr, the book fell silent, the teeth disappearing into simple pages before Dumbledore picked the book up and replaced it on the shelf.
"Forgive the question, but being raised in the wizarding world, I fear I am unversed in some of the less studied muggle customs. What does having this faith entail?"
"Excuse me?" Riley moved toward the living room, but Dumbledore had his back turned as he studied the books on the shelf.
"Faith in god, it's a concept one does not often encounter in the wizarding world."
"I don't plan on discussing my faith in God with you. That's rather personal," Riley said firmly. He thought Dumbledore might be angry, but he just turned around and nodded calmly as though he liked Riley's answer.
"Of course, forgive the curiosity of an old man. I imagine you are quite sick of being in here with all of Snape's dusty tomes." Dumbledore turned and gave him a smile. "Would you like a tour of the school?"
"A tour?" Riley repeated suspiciously.
"My boy, you are simply too suspicious," Dumbledore tisked mildly as he pulled out his wand. Riley froze, but all Dumbledore did was head for the door and tap it, making it swing open so Riley could see the corridor outside. Riley had no doubt that the tour had a purpose other than entertaining him, but information was information.
"It is a little stuffy in here," he agreed as he headed for the door.
"Quite so. Severus truly should consider windows." Dumbledore followed Riley out into the corridor where torches set into the wall illuminated the darkness. At the far end of the hall, Riley could see an arched window that showed nothing other than stars and the blue-black of night. "Severus is an amazing man in whom I have every confidence, but his taste in decorating is rather dismal."
Riley really couldn't disagree, but he didn't say that as they walked through various hallways where some of the portraits held pictures of sleeping people and others watched. After the pictures in the books he'd studied, Riley had a pretty good idea of how the magic worked, but he still had to pinch himself to quite believe in such an obvious and casual use of magic. "Faith and Snape have been gone a long time," Riley eventually offered once he realized that Dumbledore's idea of a tour was to silently walk the halls.
"Severus can certainly handle himself and based on his description of your friend, I suspect Faith is equally competent."
"But aren't you a little worried."
"Assuredly not. They shall be fine," Dumbledore announced, and Riley understood an order to drop a subject when he heard one. "I have spoken to Miss Granger about the thoughtlessness she has shown toward you, and she is sincerely apologetic. She had only hoped to help a friend."
"Help a friend? If she wanted answers for her calculus exam, I'm afraid it's been a few years since I've been in high school."
"Ah," Dumbledore said ambiguously. "Yes, well unfortunately the times are rather more desperate than that. And in desperate times, we all have our parts to play, do we not?"
Up to this point, Riley had concentrated on learning the route from Snape's quarters out into the castle. He'd been estimating distances and mentally mapping the various landmarks along the way like the stone gargoyle and the painting of the thin-faced man who had stuck his tongue out at them as they passed. But now Riley concentrated on just the old man.
"In desperate times, I think we all do things we wouldn't normally consider," he agreed, not really sure what he was agreeing to, but it was the truth.
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, even when it is children who must play their parts. I find that quite the most disagreeable part."
Riley thought about how he'd felt when he found out that Buffy had been called at fifteen, that the world had stolen her childhood and expected her to make the most unthinkable of sacrifices when she wasn't even old enough to understand what death really meant. She'd learned, but the price she had paid had made Riley want to pull her into his arms and hold her and give her back a moment where she didn't have to be the slayer. Of course, in the end he had lost her because she couldn't ever forget who she was or the burden she carried. And Riley had been left feeling like he never had Buffy at all.
"I wish children weren't a part of the fight," Riley admitted, "but--"
"But sometimes they must be. Sometimes we shall lose the fight without them," Dumbledore nodded. "And knowing that, it does behoove us to forgive them and perhaps make a few sacrifices for them." Dumbledore fell silent, but he had successfully made Riley wonder what was going on that the girl had summoned him. "Oh my. I have something which needs attending. I am sorry, but I don't have time to escort you back, but you'll be fine here, won't you?" Dumbledore rattled the words off as he backed away, his eyes already focusing somewhere else.
Riley opened his mouth to agree, but Dumbledore vanished. One moment he was in the hall backing up toward the coat of arms and the next he was simply gone. "Damn," Riley whispered as he realized he was effectively stranded unless he wanted to wander around the dim halls of a magical castle alone. Maybe it was years of growing up on horror films, or maybe it was reading that book of Snape's, but Riley really didn't feel like getting lost in some basement.
With a sigh, he headed for the railing that overlooked the giant maze of staircases. They had started in the dungeon, but he and Dumbledore had somehow ended up on a hall half-way up the tangled mass of stairwells, seemingly without climbing any stairs. Obviously Riley's mental map of the place had developed a few flaws because he had assumed they were still on the lower levels.
"Hello," a child's voice said from behind. Riley turned and nearly snorted in laughter at the girl with a hat that closely resembled a soggy pancake.
"Hi," he answered.
"We shouldn't be out here. Are you hunting the banded ceryneian frofentor too?" She looked at him with a wide-eyed wondering surprise that made Riley feel faintly guilty for not hunting them.
"No, I was just waiting for someone."
She nodded. "I find that if someone has asked me to wait and they don't show up for an hour, that often means they don't plan to come back for me," she suggested. Her hat rippled, the rim dipping down to nearly cover her eyes and she shoved at it until it curled back up again. Riley couldn't quite figure out what to say to that. "Would you like to hunt banded ceryneian frofentor with me?"
"Are you sure you should be hunting them alone?" Riley asked. He hadn't run into that particular species in Snape's book, but she didn't look substantial enough to take out a mosquito, wand or no wand. She just giggled though.
"If you can touch their tails, you get good luck. The house elves bring them in, but you can only catch them on nights with a quarter moon in years ruled by Sagittarius. My father wrote all about them in his paper, so I'm surprised more students aren't trying to find one tonight. But then again, it is against the rules to be out of the tower so late. You don't look like a student though, so if you want to come with me, I'm sure that's not against the rules."
"I think I better wait here," Riley said. "But if it's against the rules to be out, don't you think you should head back to your tower?"
The girl nodded. "I wonder if it would count if I brought back a banded ceryneian frofentor for you to touch. I know it's not the same as hunting one for yourself, but you've been so nice. I'm Luna," she said brightly, still nodding even thought she was completely rejecting Riley's suggestion.
"Nice to meet you, Luna. I'm Riley, and while that would be nice of you, I'm sure Professor Dumbledore will be back by then," Riley said as he started to wonder if the child has some problem a little more serious than the hat which had started to squirm again.
"Okay. Well, I'd better go before all the frofentor are gone." The girl went tripping down the stairs, her hat so large that once she reached the next landing, he could only see it as it bounced on her head. Riley blamed his amusement for the fact that he didn't hear anyone coming up behind him.
"Well, if it isn't a muggle," a nasally voice said. Riley turned to find the Malfoy boy looking at him, a wand already drawn and a couple of escapees from a juvenile correction facility flanking him on either side.
"Malfoy," Riley answered. Well, shit. This probably wasn't good.
"Where's Professor Snape?" Malfoy demanded. Riley might have been complimented at the implication that he had the power to do something to the professor, but Malfoy also stepped closer, clearly not seeing Riley as any sort of threat. It was infuriating to be dismissed so totally by a child... an obnoxious child.
"I have no idea." Riley answered truthfully. When in doubt, avoid lying. It just made things more complicated, especially when the enemy might be magically keeping tabs on you.
"Why are you out here?" Malfoy demanded, taking one more step closer so that Riley could have reached out and grab that wand hand before the brat could utter a word. But that would still leave Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb behind him. Riley couldn't take them all out, not without killing or maiming one or two, and he wasn't willing to do that.
"Aren't we supposed to be looking for--" one of the miniature thugs started.
"Shut up," Malfoy snapped without even turning to look at his companion. Riley watched with amusement as the larger boy just did as ordered. Riley remembered high school well enough to know that any scrawny little shit who got away with talking to people like that either fought dirty as hell or had access to the good drugs. Otherwise, the thugs tended to get cranky and beat the shit out of the scrawny little shits.
"So? Why are you out here?" Malfoy repeated.
Riley considered his answer for a second. "Dumbledore was giving me a tour, but he seems to have been called away. "Riley shrugged as he leaned back against the railing. The casual position let him get a hand near the knife he'd retrieved from Faith.
"Dumbledore?" Thug number two rumbled, sounding a little worried.
"Shut up," Malfoy repeated, but this time, he looked around nervously.
"I don't see him," Malfoy commented.
"Like I said, he got called away," Riley commented dryly. Malfoy turned to grace him with a vicious glare.
"Draco, we're supposed to be—"
"I said shut up," Draco snapped at idiot number two, turning his head to glare, and Riley itched to just reach out and pluck the wand from the child's hand. The frustrating thing is that he could. He could grab the wand, break it, and probably snap Draco's neck before anyone could say boo, but killing a child, even an obnoxious child, was not on his list of acceptable duties. So instead he leaned on the rail and watched the dynamics.
"If you're supposed to be doing something, shouldn't you get going?" he asked blandly. Draco turned and glared at him.
"I don't take orders from a Muggle."
"And as Professor Snape pointed out, I'm from another dimension, so I don't actually count as a Muggle," Riley countered. The two thugs just looked confused, but Draco was now focused all on him. On the stairs below, Riley could hear footsteps pounding down the stairs, and then they suddenly stopped. "You wouldn't want to fail on some task because you standing here harassing me, would you?" Riley taunted.
The two thugs looked concerned now, as though something he had said finally penetrated their skulls. Riley almost hoped those two were on drugs because if they were that stupid without any help from chemicals, they really were not destined for success.
"Draco, he's right. We should go check the stairs."
Riley watched calmly while Draco's lips thinned to a straight line. He looked from Riley to the stairs and back to Riley. "Something's going on," he finally proclaimed. Riley didn't comment, especially since he tended to agree. For Dumbledore to make comments about sacrifice and then leave in directly in the path of the little snot-nosed brat was entirely too much coincidence for Riley's taste, but he certainly wasn't going to kill Malfoy or his brain-impaired sidekicks. If that's what Dumbledore thought, if that's why he was asking about God--trying to figure out where Riley's morals lay--well, the man had made a serious error in judgment.
Draco held out his wand and hissed two terrifyingly familiar words: "Serpenta Mutalatis." Riley shrank down, his arms and legs pulled into his body so that he was again curled on the floor. This time he had a larger body, more brown than green.
Thug number one pulled his wand out. The idea of that idiot having a wand was scarier than Buffy behind the wheel of a car. "I hear something," he loudly whispered.
"Quick, hide," Malfoy ordered and Riley watched feet scramble, leaving him near the railing and slithering to get out of the way.
"Merlin's blood, the snake," Malfoy growled from some place off to the right, but Riley was using his larger body to make pretty good speed toward the stairs. Whatever Malfoy wanted to hide from, Riley was going to do his best to make a scene. Maybe he could trip someone or just scare them witless. If it ruined Malfoy's ambush, Riley was going to call it the maneuver a success. Of course, if he could do it without having someone cut his head off, it would be better, but he faced that danger every time he put his all-too human body up against a demon back home. The fear was a familiar battlefield companion.
Riley sent up a prayer that he could pull this off without getting himself killed. And short of that, he prayed that he wasn't doing something stupid and pointless. If he had to die, he was okay dying for something that made the world safer… made any world safer. But if Dumbledore had put him in the path of some high-school prank and he died for it, he would cheerfully haunt that man until the day Dumbledore dropped dead.
"Where is he?" Malfoy harshly whispered. "You idiots." Something thunked against the floor and then Riley could feel the vibrations of feet from below coming up the stairs.
"I think I hear them," one of the idiot thugs whispered pretty loudly if he didn't want to be heard. Riley reached the stairs and had a moment of panic as he slid face first down the step. He really hated being a snake. Above him, the landing had grown quiet, but Riley could feel the footstep from below reverberating through his stomach as he slid down step after step, each one giving him the same feeling of vertigo he'd had jumping out of a plane, only this time he didn't have a parachute. He could see to the bottom of the staircase, and his brain sent up an image of him sliding all the way to the bottom, which was impossibly far away, but Riley just kept moving.
When they got close, Riley curled himself and stuck his head as high in the air as he could. The sight of six feet hurrying up the stairs startled a hiss out of him, especially considering there weren't bodies attached to the feet, just feet.
"Shhh," a boy's voice urged, coming from where Riley might expect there to be a head if any of the feet in question had bodies.
"What?" a girl asked.
"Who's there?" the first voice whispered.
"What are you?" Riley mused to himself. Yeah, it would come out as a snake's hiss, but hopefully the feet with the disembodied voices wouldn't want to run into a snake. Personally, Riley would take his chances with a snake over random feet any day of the week.
"I'm a boy," the voice answered, and it took Riley several seconds to process that the voice had answered him. A head came poking out of thin air, wild brown hair that reminded Riley of Xander after taking a roll across a cemetery and round glasses that would have looked more appropriate on Riley's father than on this teenager.
"You don't have a body," Riley said. That wasn't part of his self-imposed mission, but right now, that was the information that seemed most significant.
"Who are you talking to?" a red headed boy stuck his head out of thin air, and Riley knew that face. "Oh, it's a snake."
"Well of course it's a snake, that's why he's talking in parseltongue. Really, Ron," came the exasperated tones of a girl.
"I knew that," Ron insisted seriously before pulling his head back in.
"We have bodies. We're hiding under an invisible cloak, the first teenager offered. We need to get up there, so if you'll excuse us," he said, and Riley was a little taken aback at a teenager who felt it necessary to be polite to a snake he found on the stairs. Strangely, that seemed more odd than a teenager who could talk to snakes in the first place.
"They're waiting for you up there," Riley quickly said when the feet went to hurry up the stairs.
"What? Hey, wait," the boy said, and all the feet stopped. There was rustling and shifting and then whatever made them invisible dropped down two inches and their feet vanished.
"Harry? What are you talking to the snake about?" the girl asked, and Riley realized they couldn't all understand him.
"The snake says someone is waiting for us up there."
"Merlin. If we get caught out again," Ron breathed.
"We aren't going to get caught. Do you know who's waiting up there?" the boy asked, and now Riley could hear how the question sounded more hissed than spoken. The kid didn't know he spoke English. For a brief second, Riley considered telling him the whole truth about being a human turned into a snake by that little snot-nosed Malfoy, but if he did that, he couldn't predict what these kids would do. Right now, Malfoy didn't know where he was, but Riley was willing to bet Dumbledore did. He'd ride this out Dumbledore's way and see what happened.
"Three boys," Riley said ambiguously. "Two stupid and one just rude," he clarified.
The boy under the invisible cloak went silent.
"Harry?" the girl asked.
"Draco, Crabbe and Goyle, they're up there."
"Gulping gargoyles," Ron muttered. "We can't go this way."
"They're going to be waiting for us no matter which way we go," Harry countered.
"I think I can come up with a distraction," the girl said, and from the tone she used, Riley was guessing that she was the dangerous one in this group. "I'll make that arrogant, greasy, rude little troll sorry he stepped foot outside the Slytherin dungeons tonight."
The three sets of feet reversed direction and headed back down the stairs. Mission accomplished, Riley slithered toward the corner and curled up. Hopefully no one would step on him and Dumbledore would show up soon because Riley was cold and cranky. He was used to being cold on his missions, but this was a different sort of feeling, this was a cold that sank into him and made his guts ache. This was a cold that made him want to close his eyes and not wake up, and that scared him more than snot-nosed, greasy little trolls. Riley just wished he could be around to see Malfoy get his.
Riley had no more than thought that when feet again rattled the stairs and made his body tense. A little yellow light bounced toward him, hovering over his head, and Riley considered it with an angry hiss.
"There you are. I should feed you to one of Hagrid's monsters for that." Malfoy grabbed Riley right behind the head. Riley thrashed, his snake body smacking into Malfoy but he couldn't bite or get any kind of leverage to wiggle free.
"Here." One of the thugs held out a black bag and Riley found himself stuffed inside, the string drawn closed before he could hiss a protest. Well great. Riley helplessly cursed as he felt himself pushed into something narrow and warm. He was guessing a pocket. Angling his head, he considered biting through as many layers of cloth as he could and hoping that this time he was a poisonous variety of serpent. Unfortunately, that would still leave him tied up in the bag. As long as there was hope, Riley was going to do what he had to in order to stay alive.
"Either that's the backside of the same freaky little town we saw before, or you have two freaky little towns around here," Faith commented as the leaning shack and the weird collection of houses appeared in the distance. Some had that weird fish-scale trim, some had thick timbers, and others looked like a five-year-old's attempt to draw a house... not quite square, not quite straight, and not quite the right number of windows. One didn't have any windows at all, and Faith figured the inside of that one must have been about as cheery as her old cell.
"Hogsmeade," Severus agreed, naming the same little freaky town from the beginning of their walking tour of the hills.
"Okay, I've seen a forest that gives me serious weird-ass vibes, a lake, fields, and more cows than I ever wanted to. I prefer my leather already made into pants, thank you very much. Problem is, I'm still not seeing my witch," Faith pointed out. Severus simply sighed. The longer they walked, the quieter he got.
"I've found no unusual magical signatures. Her spell may have failed."
"Babe, I'm here. I think that means it worked," Faith pointed out as she watched a woman sail overhead on a broomstick. A face looked down at them, and then she was gone. Oh yeah, Faith was so getting a picture of that. Next Halloween, she was going to hang it up and watch Willow have fits.
"Her spell may have failed to bring her across. As a magical creature you do not follow the same magical rules, as I believe I have explained before," Severus snapped, and that was not a good tone of voice.
"Babe?" Faith asked as she stopped in the middle of the path. When Severus didn't stop with her, she reached out and grabbed his arm. He didn't fight her, but he did look down at her hand on him as though she'd spontaneously started oozing slime. "What crawled up your ass and died?" she demanded.
Looking at her blankly for a moment, Severus eventually just shook his head. "Your language is colorful enough that I can only hope you aren't referencing any actual event."
Faith blinked. Okay, not quite the answer she was expecting. When Severus tried to just keep walking toward Hogsmeade, Faith tightened her hold on him. With a heavy sigh, he glared at her hand on his arm for a moment before finally offering an answer.
"In case it has escaped your notice, we have walked nearly seven miles and it is getting late."
This time, Faith let him go when he pulled his arm away. He started walking, and now Faith could see the stiff steps and the way his arms hung at his sides. Oh yeah, the boy was ready to be taken home and tucked into bed, but his bed was still quite a walk away. "You could have just said you needed a break," Faith shrugged, refusing to feel guilty. Okay, so she did feel guilty, but she refused to feel too guilty. Hell, she'd done things in her life that made this less than a blip on the radar screen, so the traces of guilt she was feeling confused the hell out of her.
"I was too busy being annoyed by your stamina," Severus admitted dryly.
"Oh babe, you haven't seen anything," Faith said as she got ahead of him and started walking backwards. "Grandmother succubus left me all kinds of stamina that's more interesting than just walking," Faith wiggled her eyebrows in an attempt to lighten the mood. "Let's find someplace in your freaky little town and sit down for a while," Faith suggested when Severus didn't even bother looking offended at her sexual advance. Taking advantage of his exhaustion, she slipped her arm though his and started walking beside him. "So, are you sure Willow isn't out there just keeping her witchly self quiet?"
"Your appearance coincided with a rather unusual magical disturbance. I spoke with a wizard whose judgment cannot be doubted, and any use of magic from your universe would result in a similar disturbance."
"So, no weird magic ripples, no witchy Willow," Faith concluded.
"Could she have simply refrained from using her magic this long?"
"Red?" Faith snorted. "Maybe if she was unconscious. Awake, she's going to fall back on her magic pretty quick. Of course, if someone grabbed her and took her supplies, she'd be pretty limited in which spells she could cast, so can your magic radar pick up the little stuff... floating pencils and weird shit like that?"
"She can't cast without supplies?" Severus asked, stopping for just long enough to make Faith break stride since she still held his arm.
Faith shrugged. "Fireballs are about as big as I've seen her go without waving crystals or powdered fly eyeballs or some shit like that. I don't think she's as good with magic ropes as you," Faith said with a wicked smile. Even tired, Severus managed to give her a glare in return this time.
"The rules of magic are obviously quite different in your world. Powdered fly eyeballs are a rather rare ingredient, but they are limited to use in potions, not spells," he said as they reached a crossroad. One beaten path led up through a rocky hill to the distant castle, and the other led to the town just a quick walk downhill. With a sigh, Severus turned toward the castle.
"No way, babe," Faith vetoed him as she physically pulled him toward the town.
"I absolutely do not--"
"...want to walk back to the castle without sitting down, resting and getting something to eat. And now that I've mentioned food, I'm thinking we get a lot to eat. All that succubus energy means I'm a growing girl with a healthy appetite. And since I don't have any money that works in this universe, I'll let you buy me enough food to feed an army," she offered as she pulled him down the path.
"We should get back to the castle and Mr. Finn."
"Riley's fine," Faith said as she continued to pull him toward the town. Hell, Riley was probably better than fine with them out of the way. Severus had a way of emasculating a man with a few sharp words, so Riley could do with a little privacy. Funny, the way Buffy had described her ex-boy-toy, Faith had expected someone closer to Xander, someone who had more heart than good sense, but Riley had surprised her more than once so far. Now Xander, he would have gotten himself turned into something slimy when he went on the counterattack against Severus' sarcasm.
"Considering that you crossed universes to come and get him, isn't that a rather cavalier attitude?" Severus asked.
"If I knew what that meant, maybe," she shrugged. "But soldier-boy is sharper than you give him credit for, and right now, I'm thinking I'm going to end up carrying you up that hill if we try to make it back to the castle. Babe, you really should have just said something."
"I hardly think that would be necessary."
"You're going to hurt like a son of a bitch tomorrow, and we don't need to make that any worse."
"Do the offspring of bitches normally hurt?" Severus asked in such a serious tone of voice that it took Faith a second to catch the slight smile that only reached one corner of Severus' mouth. And okay, he might be making fun of her, but Faith decided to just take it as the man's sense of humor.
"When I finish with them, they do," she laughed. "You should ask Riley. Rode the boy hard and put him up for the night still dripping sweat." The smile faded from Faith's face as she considered the possibility of Severus really asking Riley about that night. "Then again, you'd better not. Touchy subject," she admitted as she spotted a small group of men in long robes. When they came around the corner of a house, all three of them stopped dead in the middle of the stone road and stared at her. Faith gave them her best smile back and checked each one out in turn, studying their bodies as she threw a hip out toward them.
"If I have hired you, should you not be turning that charm on me?" Severus asked. "My reputation shall never recover," he sighed softly.
When Faith turned her smile on Severus, running one hand over his chest while holding his arm with her other hand, he rolled his eyes. "I don't want them to think you aren't getting your money's worth," Faith purred as she moved closer. As they passed the three men on the street, Faith could see their mouths hang open. Faith gave them a quick wink before turning her attention back to Severus.
"Maybe we should find somewhere private," she whispered as she pressed close.
"A dozen people have seen me with you already. Privacy as this point is..." Severus just sighed as he put an arm around Faith's waist and headed for a building. The sign above the door called it the Unlit Lantern, which seemed like a pretty strange thing to call a restaurant, but as long as Faith didn't have to kill the food before eating it and as long as Severus got to sit for a while, she'd deal.
"Privacy could be fun," Faith offered with a smile as Severus opened the door. She pulled away from him and checked out the room they'd come into. Three exits: one up the stairs, one into what would be a back kitchen from the smell, one door behind her. The two front windows were large enough that they should break easily, unless there was another spell. Faith filed that away and decided to ask Severus when they had a little more privacy. Right now, everyone in the room, from the old guy with the bulb nose to the young couple wearing matching red robes to the young man carrying food on a tray all stared at her. The server had even stopped in the middle of the room, his tray balanced on his hand as he stared. She smiled and lowered her head as she checked him out. Nice body. Of course, Severus might have an equally nice one, but Faith couldn't see with those robes. The serving boy... he had a nicely formed ass that his tight pants showed off. She winked.
"We should get a table," Severus said, his arm coming around her waist as he pulled her toward the back. Faith turned away from the serving boy and turned her charms on Severus.
"Or a room. Do they have rooms here?" she asked just loud enough that anyone who was really listening would hear. Faith guessed most of the people in the room had heard. A witch sitting at a table had a forkful of food halfway to her mouth.
"I thought you were hungry."
"Oh babe, I am," Faith said as she played her part, looking at Severus with all the hunger she could. Her body knew this dance, and Faith could feel the lust start to rise as he considered her with something that came close to fear in his eyes. "But then, I'm always hungry. It's one of my flaws," she whispered. They had reached the table Severus had been aiming for, a heavy oak thing sitting in the shadows of the corner, and Faith dropped into one of the chairs and draped her leg over the arm so she could lean toward Severus. When he tried to take the chair on the far side of the table, Faith held his hand and refused to let him move that far away. He sighed before sitting next to her.
The room slowly started moving again, the server heading for the young couple and the witch bringing her food to her mouth as Faith watched. She didn't particularly care that they watched her, but every time she met a gaze, the owner quickly looked away. Soon enough, no one would look at them, and Faith was left watching the big windows as people wandered by. The sun was getting low but still shone brightly so that it cast long shadows.
"Can I get you something?" the serving boy asked as he came up to them.
"Bacon and steak and mulled mead," Severus immediately ordered. "Faith?" he asked her.
Okay, no way was she ordering something only to find out they didn't know what hamburgers were or have them try to make it with ham or something even stranger that she just didn't want to think about. "Order something with a lot of protein for me," she asked Severus. He looked at her for a second in surprise. "Roast chicken and butterbeer," he finally told the server. The boy started to turn away. "Wait. Faith, how serious were you about needing more food than normal?" he asked.
"I can get by on one serving."
"And if you aren't getting by but really eating?" he asked.
"Usually three servings does it for me," Faith admitted. She didn't tell him that if she ate that much she'd have more energy than ever. Maybe she could talk him into working it off with her.
"Add a serving of shepherd's pie and steak and kidney pudding." The server looked at them for a second, and Severus gave the boy a withering glare that sent him backing up as fast as he could. Faith laughed.
"Careful with that weapon," she said as he laid her hand on his arm.
"The boy is a moron. We shall be lucky if we get one of the four dishes we ordered. Luckily all the food here is passable, so it should be edible no matter what the idiot brings us."
Faith smiled at the incredible display of bad temper. Oh yeah, Sev should have been tucked in bed already. He reminded Faith of a little boy who's parents had let him stay up so late that he got cranky.
"What?" Severus demanded as he frowned at her.
"You've known the kid two seconds and you're ready to declare him an idiot? I usually wait until I know someone at least five minutes," she shrugged.
"I was tortured with the task of teaching him potions for two years. I still have the scorch marks on the table," Severus said with a sour expression.
"You and teaching... I never would have guessed that. But then, I wasn't really much for school, so maybe I just have a narrow view of teachers." Faith stretched her back and tilted her chair using one boot on the leg of the table for leverage.
"At least you have the common sense most of my students lack." The server appeared with two drinks which he dropped on the table, sloshing some of the contents onto the dark wood before he retreated... fast. "Moron," Severus sighed with a resigned weariness.
"Boy just looks nervous as hell to me. Give him a little attention, steer him around a few curves, and he'll grow up fine," she disagreed. Severus gave her the sour expression now.
"Gryffindors do not grow up," Severus said seriously.
"Whoa, he's not human? Not human usually gives me the crawlies." Faith studied the boy again as he headed for the table with the witch who was finishing up.
"Not human?" Severus sounded confused.
"Gryffins? Never seen one, but I know I've heard of them."
"What? No," Severus said. "The clod was a Gryffindor, a member of the Gryffindor house at Hogwarts. They are, without exception, impetuous, self-important morons who lack both common sense and a health sense of reality." Severus sniffed as though the presence of a Gryffindor somehow offended him.
"Babe, you have to learn how to say what you're really feeling. This bottling up your emotions is so unhealthy," Faith teased as she tightened her hand on his arm. He raised an eyebrow at her.
"Gryffindor stupidity brought your Mr. Finn into our universe," he whispered, tilting his head so that his long hair hid his face from the other diners. "They thought to bring themselves assistance without ever considering the consequences of their actions on others, a common ailment among the Gryffindors."
Faith nodded as she watched the people. "Things start going bad, and sometimes you make dumb choices. Been there, done that," she said softly. This wasn't the time or the place, so she didn't say the rest of what she was thinking. They sat in comfortable silence, Faith rocking on the back two legs of her chair, until finally their food appeared.
"Hot damn, now that's food," Faith said happily as the server put huge plates of food down.
"The best is Hogsmeade," the server said with a smile at Faith. She winked.
"I hope so. I have to say I'm impressed with this place so far." She checked him out, and laughed when it made him blush bright red.
"I'm just grateful you managed to carry the food from the kitchen to the table without spilling. Truly, having seen your coordination under other circumstances, I doubted your ability to do even that much," Severus sniffed. Faith looked over in surprise as Severus just took a bite of steak and glared at the poor server. The boy backed away so fast that Faith was surprised he didn't trip over his own feet.
"Babe, you've got issues," she sighed as she pulled the first dish close. Severus didn't even bother pretending to look repentant, and Faith just shrugged as she dug into the first meal. Heaven. She didn't care as much about talking or about Severus scaring the poor server after that. Yeah, she had an empty glass, but she couldn't exactly blame the boy for avoiding them. She was halfway through her last dish when Severus sat up straight.
Faith looked quickly toward the large window, but she couldn't see anything particularly sit-up worthy. A few people wandered the street in the quickly fading light.
"Sev?" she asked. He pulled some coins out of his robes and dropped them on the table.
"Wait here," he said. She raised her eyebrow at that, but he didn't notice because he had already disappeared through the door to the little wizard's room.
Putting down her fork, Faith crossed her arms and waited for Severus to come back out because she was not going to get ordered around like one of his minions, not that the man had minions. The way he talked to people, he wouldn't even be able to keep a dog for long, not without getting bitten. Of course, Faith could do some biting of her own, so he wasn't shaking her that easy. Pushing her plate away, she stood up and leaned against the table. The door to the little wizard's room came open, but some guy who wasn't Severus went brushing by her on his way to the front door. Whoa. Wait one second. Faith's eyebrows went up as she watched this new guy head for the street.
Pushing off from the table, Faith hurried after the stranger. His eyes were dark, but he had a small nose and mouth, too small for his face, which made Faith think of a rat for some reason. It wasn't a good look. At the corner, she slipped her arm around the man's as she fell in place next to him.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, his voice higher and definitely on the unmanly side.
"Following you, babe. Neat trick, but overall, I do like the old look better," Faith answered.
He blinked at her dumbly for a second and then started walking again, his expression still coming pretty close to Xander's dumbstruck look. "How could you know?" he eventually whispered as he led them down a new street.
"You're sore as hell. Just because you look different doesn't mean you walk different," she shrugged as she walked next to this new version of Severus. A few people turned to watch them walk, but they didn't attract nearly as many stares now. Damn. Faith had thought these people had an appreciation of some prime female flesh, but now it looked like they'd been staring at her being with Snape, not her. That was disappointing.
"So, who are we following?" she asked as she casually looked around at the people wandering by. They'd taken a turn into a bad neighborhood at some point. The stores looked pretty much the same, but the furtive looks from some and the thugs standing on street corners watching, that was all inner-city grit, even if the building still looked fairy taleish.
Severus glanced over toward her before answering. "Someone who died years ago."
"Vamp?" Faith whispered. She couldn't feel anything in particular setting off her slayer sense, but this whole town gave her a low-level creep, so maybe she'd missed it.
Severus didn't answer. He pulled them into the shadow of a doorway as he pressed into her, pushing her into the cool stone of the building.
"Hey babe, need something?" she asked as she gave her hips a shimmy and wrapped her arms around his neck. Her body tightened in expectation as his body touched hers.
He bent low as though kissing her neck and whispered in her ear. "You need to go back to the Unlit Lantern. If I don't come back in an hour, go to the castle and ask for Dumbledore." He started to pull away, and Faith reached up and caught him by the back of the neck, pulling him close.
"I don't take orders well," she breathed in his ear as she brought her leg up and rubbed it against his hip. Oh yeah, this was a terrible neighborhood because no one even blinked.
"This isn't a game," Severus hissed at her, his anger clear even in his whisper.
"I never thought it was," Faith said as she nipped his ear. "But I'm not leaving you to deal with this, so what are we following? Vampire? One of those inferi-zombies?"
Severus struggled for a second, but Faith easily held him. The boy definitely didn't remember his lesson from their little tussle earlier. After a couple of seconds, he stopped and sighed. "Someone is using a potion. It uses hair from someone to create an illusion. The woman who passed has been dead fifteen years, but I know who had access to her hair."
"So, we're following a big bad?" Faith asked, her mouth right against his ear.
Severus pulled back, and this time Faith let him escape. "Right now we aren't following anyone, and we shall lose her if we do not hurry."
He turned in a swirl of robes and headed down the darkening road. A few random sunbeams slid between the buildings, but the shadows dominated now, and there weren't many lights in this part of the town. Faith slipped her arm into Severus' again as she followed his lead. So they were following a female.
Faith considered the thickening crowds for potential suspects. A few older women with desperate expressions looked through the windows of shops. A girl just a year or two younger than Faith darted down the alley with a look on her face like she expected a father to come popping out of a door any second. Two women sat outside a gray building, chatting. And unlike most of the people around here who dressed like Puritans, these two were showing as much skin as Faith. They both stopped chatting long enough to give her a hard stare. Faith just winked at the working girls as they passed.
Faith could feel Severus stiffen beside her, and she spotted the woman. Immediately, Faith knew something was wrong. The woman looked old... way past Giles old and into Spike old, only without the immortality, but she moved without any of the caution or ache of an old woman. Looking around, the ancient bag checked out the street and then slipped through a door.
"I don't suppose vampire hearing would be one of your many talents," Severus whispered.
"Nope. If anything, I'm below normal in the listening department," she admitted. Severus looked around the street, his hand tightening on Faith's arm as his lips become a thin line.
"You need to go back," he said firmly.
"Not a chance."
Now he turned his coldest glare on her. "This is not a game, and you have no idea of who or what is at stake here. Go back."
Faith brought her hand up to cup Severus' cheek as she leaned in, a lover bending close to whisper nothings, only she had a whole lot of something to say about Severus' sudden burst of chivalry and testosterone. "You're my best chance of getting back to my own world if Willow's magic is wonky, so I'm not letting you out of my sight. And as for what we're facing, I've faced worse."
Emotions darted across Severus' face as Faith watched. He looked around desperately for a second. "I sincerely hope for your sake that you are exaggerating that claim or misunderstanding the danger in our current situation because I would not like to think of worse," he sighed. "If my identity is compromised, you will stay out of it," he said firmly.
"If I have to cut you loose to save my skin, I will," Faith said seriously. "I won't like it, and I'll do my best to try to get you out later, but I'm not into making the grand gestures."
Severus nodded, clearly relieved at her answer, and the boy had some serious issues if his happy place was knowing that someone would abandon him. "Ask for Professor Dumbledore at Hogwarts if something happens."
"You want a guy named Dumbledore to come to your rescue? I hope he's more competent than his name sounds. Then again, me being called Faith does rather disprove the theory that a person's name actually means anything."
For a long minute, Severus looked at her. "I doubt very much that Albus would rescue me," he finally admitted. "However, if my status with certain individuals has changed, as recent events implies, he should know."
Faith had all kinds of answers to that, like how a man who thought he'd been compromised shouldn't be walking in dark alleys without backup, but Severus had slipped his arm around her waist and was hurrying her toward the same door the other woman had vanished into. Oh yeah, nothing short of a sword at her neck was making her leave Severus because whatever was going on, he was just too willing to accept being thrown to the wolves. Maybe she was just a little sensitive considering the number of people who'd tossed her out with the garbage starting with her mother and going up through any number of council members, two watchers, and a manipulative little bitch from cellblock F.
Inside, Faith almost choked on the smell of sharp smoke and something disgustingly sweet that reminded her of marijuana, only marijuana had never smelled that nauseatingly strong. A tiny woman with a pinprick of a mouth painted red slid up to Severus.
"Can I offer you something, sir?" she asked. Faith's hand tightened around Severus' arm. Okay, this she knew. This was definitely a vamp. The small vampire looked at Faith through narrowed eyes.
"Only a place to sit and a drink. I brought my own entertainment," he said crisply. "Some place as private as I can get."
The vampire woman nodded and backed away, her head held awkwardly to the side as she slid backwards with an inhuman motion. "Wait here for a moment, please," she said with a freaky tilt to her body before she vanished behind one of the many curtains that lined the hallway.
In a few places, the blood-red drapes had been pushed back revealing archways and new passages. Faith shook her head at vamp-lady because that was just freaky. She wouldn't have passed for human even in Sunnydale what with the freaky body language, but maybe they didn't need to hide here. No one seemed to be banging down the door and offering to stake the owners of this little fun house. Faith could hear the clear sounds of oral sex—loud, enthusiastic oral sex. Yep, Severus had brought her to a suck house, and sadly, this wasn't even shaping up to be one of her worst dates. Heck, they could get captured and tortured and this date still wasn't hitting Faith's top ten list, and that really didn't say much about her love life lately. No wonder tall, dark, and spooky was making her body sit up and take notice.
Turning to Faith as though saying something, Severus opened his hand and whispered a few words. The dust in his hand transformed into an arrow that slowly rotated until it picked a direction. Severus closed his hand destroying the arrow before he headed in the direction the arrow had pointed. Okay, that was magic Faith could get behind. No mumbo jumbo or Giles trying to explain the significance of something—just an arrow and a nice, clear direction.
She unobtrusively checked out potential escape routes as Severus led them to a small niche with a tacky red velvet couch. Red curtains offered privacy, and Severus threw himself down, faking a carefree attitude so hard that it didn't exactly come off natural. Faith covered his awkward motions with her own sultry dance as she pulled the drapes shut again. When Faith continued her performance, a private lap dance that would have made Xander come in his pants, Severus raised an eyebrow, but Faith didn't pause as she slowly closed in, grinding and swaying as the words from the next cubical drifted in.
". . . didn't get it."
"Fool!" A slap followed the sound of an old and tremulous voice.
"There was a woman there. . . "
Ah, Faith placed the voice. The ever-flustered Aurora from Severus' chambers. The old woman laughed, a girlish giggle filled with madness that sent a cold shiver down Faith's back. She glanced at Severus, but his face was frozen into a mask of indifference, even as his hands now rested on her hips.
"This booth is not available," the vampire woman from earlier hissed as she pulled the curtains back. Faith continued her bump and grind act, backing up only enough to give Severus easy access to his wand as her body blocked his movements. Immediately, Snape's hand slipped inside his robes as he straightened up.
"We grew tired of waiting, perhaps you can show us to another booth," he said smoothly as he stood up. Faith turned slowly, keeping herself between Severus and the vamp woman, her own fingers itching for a stake. When she turned, she found the old woman with the insane laugh standing there, sharp eyes studying her, Faith simply checked her out with all the indifference and contempt a working girl could show to someone who was obviously too old and too poor to deserve her services. When those eyes darted toward Severus, Faith knew they had a problem. Vamp-girl did too because she up and vanished.
"Babe, I'm getting horny here, and you promised me action. A girl can only go so long without, and I'm definitely coming up to that point of not being willing to go without." Faith leered at Severus, catching her tongue between her teeth as she shimmied her body. Look at me you old bat, she thought to herself as she swayed to the music in her own memory.
The old bat in question did. She stared at Faith so hard that Severus' word from earlier floated to the top of her memory: legilimency. Oh yeah, see what you can't have, old bat, Faith concentrated on the new thought. The old bat would never be able to touch Faith's smooth skin. She'd never know the heaven that could be found between Faith's legs because she was old and disgusting. Filthy old bat. Faith let all her disgust gather as she looked at the ratted hair and the blotchy age spots that covered the rough face. Her nose looked like one of those cardboard cutout witches, huge and hooked. She just needed a hairy mole, and she'd be perfectly repulsive.
"Come on, babe," Faith said as she pulled on Severus' robe, urging him to follow the now-vanished vamp to a new booth.
The old woman stepped in their path, her eyes again going right past Faith to focus on Severus.
"Snape," she said, her old woman voice trembling, but then she gave a hyena laugh as she brought her hands up, wand ready.
Immediately, Severus had his own wand out and Faith slid to the side because no way was she getting between two wands. "Bellatrix," he answered with a calmness that was just a little too calm to be real.
Severus stood, his wand ready, and Faith's whole body tingled, that pre-fight adrenaline running through her, making her want to strike out. At moments like this, she became the fight, or at least she wanted to become the fight. That pure violence, the feeling of muscle and blood and victory, it offered to wash her clean of all other thoughts. But she'd learned a few things since Sunnydale, and one was how to hold back when every cell in her wanted to pound her fists into something.
"I never trusted you." The old woman had a weird simper to her voice that really just wanted to make Faith hit her all the more.
"About which I am entirely disinterested," Severus answered coldly.
"I'll tell Him." The old woman cackled, her voice capitalizing "him" even if Faith had no fucking idea who "him" might be. She was guessing it was going to be one more person she desperately wanted to hit. She glanced toward Severus, looking for any sign that this woman was on the ass-kicking list. He calmly stared ahead, his fingers tight on his wand.
"He knows what I do. You are in no position to judge me."
"Halfblood," she spat. Severus stiffened at the word. Okay, she was guessing that was an insult. Faith had a brief fantasy of showing this old bat what half her blood looked like.
"Sev?" Faith asked as two more wand-holders stepped up behind the old women. One was an enormous man, dark hair and a forehead that stuck out way too far for him to be all human. He seriously needed some plastic surgery. Damn. That boy would never get laid looking like and extra from a horror movie. And he moved like dumb muscle, his eyes focusing right on Severus and ignoring the rest of the room. The second man pinged a little stronger on Faith's radar. With his wand pointed straight at Severus, he studied the room, his watery gaze locking on Faith for long seconds as he took a sheltered position near the arch. With big and ugly in the way, it'd be hard to get to him in time to keep him from using his wand. Faith silently cursed. Glancing at Severus, she gave the man credit for having stones. He still had that same calm expression.
"Who is she?" bat-face demanded.
Okay, no way was Faith staying out of it now, not if she was going to get dissed. Prison had taught her one thing—you let people take cheap shots at you and you're going to be getting shot at all fucking day long. Of course that wasn't the only thing she'd learned. Prison had taught her a lot of shit, including the stupidity of trusting a sweet smile, but right now the not letting people get cheap shots in lesson seemed a little more important because no one in this room had a sweet smile or inspired trust.
"She has a name. She might even answer your questions if you ask *she* nicely," Faith said as she took a step closer. One lunge to break ugly's neck. She could probably grab bat-face before the first spell. The only worry was whether she'd get caught in Sev's crossfire or if the man knew to target the other goon. That worry kept Faith in place, her arms crossed over her chest as she considered the bat-faced woman with contempt.
"It's rude," the woman whined to Severus. He quirked an eyebrow in Faith's direction.
"Yes, I had noticed. I do not employ her for either her conversational skills or her manners. Her skills lie elsewhere. Now, what do you want?"
"You lying dead at my feet," she laughed, and then smiled wide and backed off a step. Faith nearly acted, but Severus' low chuckle stopped her. His world, his game.
"You've wanted that for a long time now, Bellatrix. You are no closer now than ever."
"Oh Snapey," she shook her head. "I'm not fooled you know. You never were one of us. You never quite fit in, too much like that father of yours. And now you're off with filthy muggles. He won't be pleased."
"Then He shall call me," Severus said calmly, and again, Faith could hear that capitalization.
That's when the smaller goon spoke up. "This is entirely too public. We can't afford to end up in The Daily Prophet, not now." Bat face glanced over at him. "If we get caught now, you'll end up back there," he warned. Faith had no idea where "there" was, but the old woman did. Her hand tightened on her wand until her knuckles went white, and her face grew even more cold. This bitch had some serious Drusilla-level mental issues because after a second, she laughed as if that was the funniest thing on the whole fucking planet.
"I would endure that place a thousand years for my lord," she said proudly, practically hissing the words as she glared at Severus.
"Clearly, you are a fool," Severus said, his words crisp. All three looked at him with shock. "You would make unnecessary sacrifices and deny Him his soldiers when he needed them most. Your fanaticism is of no use. Martyr yourself if you will, but I will have none of it," Severus calmly tucked his wand inside his cloak, reaching out a hand for Faith.
She quickly stepped close to him, staying a step ahead so she could react to a threat. None of the three moved. Ugly looked at the other two, confused. Bat-face looked ready to use that wand, her lips parted and Faith could practically feel her desire to rip and tear and hurt. Oh yeah, the bitch had issues. The third one, his wand still out, stepped forward.
"You're protecting that thing that came through from the Moon Magic spell. You have a mudblood in your room. You've warded your room from Slytherins and yet you give that stuffed up headmaster permission to enter. He's been seen coming and going."
Severus stopped, and Faith stopped with him, more than willing to crack a head or two if he so much as whispered the word. Instead, Severus looked calmly at the smaller man. "I am no more concerned about your opinion, Lente, than I am about Belletrix's."
"He wants to run off with his mudblood and warn Dumbledore that we have the one from the Moon Magic spell," Bellatrix said smugly.
Faith felt her heart lurch, but she just continued to glare at the woman without reacting. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Damn boy-toy couldn't even sit in a room without getting kidnapped again. What was it with Buffy's crew? They all got hit with some damn unlucky stick at birth or something. Or maybe it was just hanging with slayers too much because it wasn't like Faith's men had any better track records. Wood made it… what? Three months? Faith felt a twinge from that cold wound, but now was not the time to go crying over dead bodies. They just had to get boy-toy back before he was one more death she had to drag around with her.
Severus chuckled again, a cold laugh that might have made Faith believe the man was evil if she hadn't already seen him tear himself apart over the choices he'd made. "You are too easily threatened, Bellatrix. Our lord gave me no instructions regarding the muggle, and he poses no risk. But as long as it was not I who removed him from Hogwarts, my position at the school is safe enough. Enjoy your time with Mr. Finn. I find him remarkably unremarkable." Severus gave a small push, and Faith moved with him, giving the others a little leer in passing, but then the small one, Lente, was there in their path again.
"He comes to examine the muggle in the morning. Let's all go back to the house and discuss this then," the man suggested, but the wand in his hand, the wand pointed straight at Faith's stomach, didn't seem like a suggestion.
Faith glanced over her shoulder, waiting for the signal to act, and Severus' eyebrow twitched again. The hand touching her back shifted so that Severus gripped her arm and pulled her until Faith was behind him. Oh yeah, the boy might claim to be a bad ass, but scratch that surface and he had the whole chivalry thing going for him. Poser. Faith rolled her eyes and glared at bat-face since that's who was closest.
"Your threats are ridiculous. I am the only one here in a position to help our lord, so I am not afraid to face him."
"You should be. Harry Potter lives," bat-face snapped, the hand without the wand curling into a claw, and Severus used his height to look down at her in disgust.
"I do not presume to make plans without His knowledge. I do as I am told, as should you. Did He send you here, or are you pursuing some agenda of your own?"
Lente answered. "I don't know what's going on, but let's take this somewhere private," he insisted, his eyes darting toward the hallway, and Faith had to admit that she was hearing a whole lot less of the noisy oral sex, so they probably did have an audience—a very silent audience who was probably trying to not get cursed into a bloody pulp. Smart people… or vampires… or whatever the hell kind of weird shit was behind those curtains very silently and carefully not having sex right now.
"You have no authority over me," Severus sounded pretty fucking regal saying that as he took a step forward. Unfortunately, Lente wasn't backing off. Severus ended up standing at the tip of Lente's wand, his cloak catching on the end.
"Do you think we won't curse you?" bat-face demanded.
"Bellatrix, I always count on you to do something entirely idiotic, but Lente knows that I'm telling the truth. Our lord has use of me, so you would not dare harm me."
"I know He has use for you, but that may change when he finds you are hiding filth in your rooms," Lente's eyes darted back toward Faith. Oh, no fucking way was she taking that.
"Look babe, whatever your issue is, let's you and me handle it. I don't mind a little tussle, and I'll enjoy kicking the shit out of you," she offered as she stepped to Severus' side.
"Shut up," Severus offered as he shoved her back again.
"Don't even…" Faith stopped when Severus turned and gave her the sort of cold expression that Faith rarely saw on a human face. Sure, she'd seen that look on Angelus and even that one time when Willow fell off the back of the magic-wagon. But it still stopped her dead. She was looking at a man who didn't care about anything, and that just wasn't the Severus she knew. The man was as fucked up as old bat-face. Hell, get Drusilla here and they could have a regular crazy as bat-shit party. Her slayer sense gave a twinge as she faced a Severus Snape who suddenly looked like he could be the enemy. And then, in a flash, the coldness was gone, and something hot and desperate flashed in his expression before the calm returned.
"A thousand years, dirt like that has hunted us," Lente snarled, his wand shifting toward Faith. "They hunt us and burn us and the Ministry passes laws about how we're supposed to act, about how we're supposed to walk away if they hurt us… if they kill us. Tell me, Severus, what would that wonderful Ministry do if she tried to kill me right now and I cursed her? I'll tell you what they'd do. They'd send me straight to Azkaban. Cursing some muggle… no defense for that, is there? I didn't think Bellatrix was right, but you taking that whore to your bed, your quarters—that's not on His orders and you can't even claim Dumbledore ordered you to it."
"Your logic is as flawed as it always has been, Lente. I was too kind to you in school. You never should have passed potions with such an inadequate mind." Severus' words were soft, dangerous.
"Then explain this," Lente said.
"He can't. He's nothing but a dirty halfblood. He was never faithful to our cause. Curse him. Curse him," bat-face hissed.
Severus gave a snort of amusement. "Yes, she would have you perform the curse and endure His wrath. Bellatrix was always an expert in survival, or she would not be here today. When you face Him, the curse still on your wand, He will not be pleased…" Severus paused and crossed his arms to consider Lente with a small, cruel smile on his lips. "Or merciful."
That made Lente pause, and Faith twitched with the need to act. Now, when doubt would give her a fraction of a second, a hint of an edge, now was the best time. Her hand slid into her jeans after her knife, and Severus' hand found her wrist, holding her in a grip she could easily break, but it was enough to make Faith hesitate. Severus obviously wanted to play this some other way, but Faith wasn't good at plans. The only plan she'd ever liked was the one that said to jump in and fight until the other guy was dead and you weren't. Severus' fingers tightened on hers just a little. Sighing, Faith let her muscles relax, signaling that she would follow his lead. If she ended up dead, she was never letting him forget it.
"I have no reason to fear His visit. So, enough with fighting, let us go to this house of yours," Snape said, tilting his head toward the small man. Bat-face narrowed her eyes and exchanged suspicious looks with the other two. Of course, the big guy was too dumb-looking to actually have a suspicious expression, so he just came off looking constipated. They seriously needed to watch the interspecies breeding, Faith thought to herself as Bellatrix and Lente reached some sort of decision.
Bellatrix brought her wand up higher as Lente reached across and dug around in Severus' cloak fishing for his wand.
"You going to charge him for giving him a quick grope under the robes?" Faith asked with a smirk. Lente found the wand and jerked his hand back. Severus continued to just stand motionless, his arms crossed as he was disarmed.
"Shut up," Lente snapped.
"Small problem, babe, you aren't paying me. Now if Severus gave me something to keep my mouth too busy to talk, that'd be a different story," Faith said as she rubbed her hand up Severus's shoulder. If they were going to play this through, well, Faith could play with the best of them.
"Whore," bat-face said, her voice again the simper of a child.
"Babe, I have the goods to be worth selling," Faith said with a leer and a twist of her hips. Bat-face turned and stormed out of the suckhouse. Lente and ugly goon just stood and waited, wands still out, as Severus turned to follow her, his arm slipping around Faith's shoulders.
"You could attempt some decorum," Severus sighed softly.
"If I knew what that meant, I would probably tell you where to shove your decorum," Faith answered with a sugary cheerfulness that did not match the sinking feeling in her guts as they followed Bellatrix out into the dark night, two armed goons behind them.
"You probably would," Severus agreed, his voice sounding suddenly tired as they stepped off the stoop and headed down the street trailing after Bellatrix.
Back at the house, Bellatrix seemed to take charge again, and when the potions wore off and that old face sort of slid around, rubber features settling into something younger and infinitely crazier-looking, Faith wasn't exactly reassured. The crazy witch giggled like a girl, her eyes darting around the house, and that damn wand was always in her hand. This bitch had issues to go with her issues.
The house she'd led them to was a big old thing with tall windows, and Faith counted five goons on the way into a living room that would make Giles orgasm what with all the dusty books. Had even more of the damn grandmotherish furniture here and a yellowed chandelier hanging in the middle of the ceiling.
"Charge extra for group sessions," Faith quipped as she considered the various goons with a twist of her hips and an aggressive expression that just challenged them to make a play for her. The youngest one, with a sallow face and a bulbous nose, oh yeah, he was their weak link. He'd fall for her in a second… he was already getting hard for her. She watched his eyes grow wide as he physically twitched, caught between fleeing and jumping her. Thank god for boy hormones, they made men stupid.
"You're not performing for a group," Severus said shortly, his hand still on her elbow.
"You're the boss," Faith shrugged as she looked at Severus, hoping he caught her hint. He gave her a blank expression, but then he'd pretty much given everything a blank expression since losing his damn wand.
Bellatrix fixed her eyes on Severus now. "Weakness. Needing someone, paying them. It's weakness, Snape. I always knew you were weak." Belatrix laughed. "So weak. Our lord is going to see how you're endangering his plan, how you didn't bring the other to us. Your weakness will be the end of you, traitor," she sang.
"I have always known you to hold that opinion; however, it is not the opinion of the Dark Lord. And I rather value his good will above your own," Snape answered coldly. Faith might have thought he was unaffected by the goons, but she felt him tense when an older man with threads of silver in his hair came between them and the door out. Faith might not be as smart as Giles or Willow, but she sure as hell knew how to smell shit when she was up to her neck in it, and this qualified.
"One day, you'll make a mistake," Bellatrix warned in her little girl whine. "Your whore may be the mistake that gets you killed."
"Oh, I have already made many mistakes," Severus answered calmly. "And I can assure you that I shall make more. But more importantly, I can name the many mistakes you have made over the years. Your devotion to our lord does not excuse some of the errors in judgment you have made."
"I don't answer to a halfblood," the witch just about screeched, and Faith found herself tensed for battle--only Severus' fingers tightening on her arm kept her in place. And then that ridiculous smile was back and she sing-songed her words. "Our lord is coming. He's coming here. He's going to know what you have done!" Bellatrix's happy expression creeped Faith out more than all the threats in the world. This bitch was seriously off her trolley. The elevator wasn't even making it past the basement. Hell, she was so nuts that Spikey would be panting after her.
"And when he arrives, he shall find that you have interrupted his plans for nothing," Snape warned.
"We'll see," she smiled insanely. "He'll come, and he'll be able to see into your perfidious heart, half-blood, and then we'll see. Escort Professor Snape and his friend to a room for the night," she said, her emphasis on professor certainly suggesting she had her nose out of joint about something related to the school, but no one had given Faith the decoder ring for crazy girl's head. And now crazy girl was backing up, rubbing her hands in glee. "Our lord is joining us tomorrow!" she almost sang in her joy. Faith glanced at Severus, watching to see how he would play this. Severus stood looking at the crazy bitch for a second before he tilted his head her direction.
"Then I shall retire for a night with Faith. I shall look forward to morning when you will be sorry that you started this insanity," he offered coldly before he rested his hand on Faith's back and guided her toward the two thugs guarding the door.
"We'll see!" the woman said, her childish voice giving Faith an urge to bitch-slap her into taking the whole kidnapping seriously. But instead, she followed Severus' lead and trailed after some neckless thug up the stairs and into a room that was an odd cross between haunted house creepy and old-lady weird. These people seriously needed a makeover show or two in their world or possibly just a good bulldozer. Without a word to either thug, Severus slammed the door so that he and Faith were finally alone in the room.
For a moment, Severus stood, his hand flat against the wood of the door as he just stared at it. Knowing just how he was feeling, Faith just backed up to the bed and sat on the hideous vomit-green bedspread. It took Severus several minutes of just staring at the door before he finally curled his hand into a fist and pushed away from the door to look around. Yep, Faith knew that feeling of being so fucking trapped you couldn't even breathe, of being so fucking caught between throwing yourself against the bars and sinking into a corner and crying that you couldn't even moved.
Been there too fucking much both before and during her prison days. That was the feeling that just about got Xander dead with her hands around his throat because she'd wanted to break down and cry and confess everything and have him hold her and forgive her, and she knew he would. But at the same time, she wanted to blame him and all his fucking friends because they had homes and knew where their next meal was coming from and none of them was ever there when she was alone and fifteen and waking up screaming from nightmares where she wallowed in death. Caught between crying and screaming, she'd just tried to kill him. Faith pulled her legs up under her Indian style and scratched her leg as she watched Severus silently work through his own demons, and not the kind with claws.
He pulled green curtains back and tugged at a window that didn't move. He poked furniture and peered behind a huge cabinet-looking thing. He paced. Pulling out the knife no one had bothered taking from her, Faith cleaned under her nails and waited. She'd gotten good at that.
Finally, Severus pulled out a small bottle and sprinkled the red dust into the air, watching it carefully as it drifted to the floor and joined all the other dust down there. He muttered something, circling the new dirt and watching it carefully on the floor. Faith just picked and catalogued potential weapons: a forgotten fireplace poker, the rope ties on the curtains, a chair that looked fragile enough to smash.
Then again, if these people were afraid of conventional weapons, they would have taken her knife. Those wands were just pissing her off because a knife or a fireplace poker weren't going to match up. Then again, a good throw, and she could probably launch either through someone's throat before he had a chance to fire off some curse. She wondered how many of them she could get before some wand caught up to her. Severus threw more red dust in the air, muttering words that made it sparkle.
Severus had taken her out the first two times they'd tussled, but then those loses had taught Faith something about taking these people out. Close quarters, killing strikes, target the voice and no hesitation—she could probably take three to four before one got her. Problem was, it would only take one hit from a wand to take her out, and her and Severus really didn't know each other well enough to fight in close quarters without accidently taking each other out in the crossfire. She resigned herself to following Severus' play on this one, which meant bluffing their way through. Faith just really hoped that bluff didn't mean throwing Riley to the wolves. All this talk about 'him' wasn't improving her digestion.
"No one is listening or watching," Severus finally announced. With a sigh, he stood up and looked at Faith, his expression unreadable. The man could teach Angel a thing or two about having a poker face.
"Well, this is interesting." Faith stretched her legs out and leaned forward on the bed.
"That would depend on one's definition of interesting." Faith couldn't help smiling at Severus' dry humor.
"Oh babe, I find most any reason to get locked in a room with you interesting."
"I assure you, we do not have an audience here, so you may cease your antics." Severus looked just so damn lost, Faith couldn't resist.
Faith laughed. "You're assuming it's an act."
"I'm assuming that I'm at least fifteen years older than you." Severus sighed and leaned against the tall, carved bedpost as he poked the dusty green bedspread with obvious disgust.
"You know what they say about assuming: it makes an ass of you and me," Faith pointed out as she stood and stretched her back. All that tension with no fight wasn't good for a growing slayer.
"You are an endless fount of irreverent sayings; however, I am not interested in continuing this conversation."
"That's funny because you're looking mighty interested to me." Faith reached out and cupped Severus' crotch with her hand, and he reeled back until he stood near the end of the bed looking vaguely panicked. Oh yeah, boy was hard. Faith had known he would be because he'd been watching her stretch, but damn she hated how those robes hid everything.
"What do you think you're doing?" Severus demanded, and all of the calm and the cool indifference had vanished under a shocked expression.
"Just double checking. With all those robes, it's hard to be sure, but that was interest, Sev."
"And if you hadn't found me hard?" he demanded, but Faith could see the amusement just threatening to make him lose that dour expression he wore. She wondered if his attitude was as fake as her sexual aggression. Fact was that she hadn't spread her legs for anyone since Wood, and she was guessing Severus didn't actually eat babies, no matter how mean he tried to look.
"This is me," she said with a smile and a shrug. "The only man who ever didn't get hard around me was Andrew, and trust me, women don't do it for him. One of these days Spike is going to figure out that Andrew has a fairy-sized crush on him and break all the boy's bones, but aside from Andrew, all the guys like what they see."
"I can imagine how interesting that must make your dinner parties." And there was the Severus she knew, all hard-edged humor and that flat voice of his delivering a stinging insult. Of course, Faith wasn't exactly insulted. Giles had learned that asking her to dinner with any stuffed shirt who needed impressing was doomed to failure. Yeah, Buffy with her blonde shit was a whole lot more dinner-party appropriate than Faith.
"Oh babe, you have no idea. So, is that one of your fantasies, doing it on the dinner table, maybe with all your little friends watching?" Faith gave a twist of her hips and tilted her head.
Severus sighed and considered her with a raised eyebrow. "I assure you, I have no interest in having anyone watch."
"Ah. So you'd prefer it if we just did it right here? That can be arranged rather easily." Faith slid closer.
"I'd prefer we not engage in sexual activity at all," he answered quickly, backing up a step, and again, that glum mask slipped. Faith smiled as she caught a glimpse of the need and the pure panic below.
"You're lying to yourself, Sev." Faith moved in on him, expecting another round of objections and retreat. Instead he stood still as her palm rested against his chest.
He sighed heavily. "It's a skill I have honed over years of practice," he admitted softly.
"Oh, babe. You're just all tied up in there, aren't you? Would it help if you were all tied up out here? 'Cause I have to say, the thought of you squirming helplessly under me, that could work," Faith teased. The softening she'd seen in Severus' expression hardened, and once more she faced that perfected mask.
"I think I've had quite enough of feeling helpless already, thank you."
Faith backed off a step as the temperature in the room dropped a few degrees. "Hey, five by five with me," Faith quickly said, feeling her advantage slip away from her. "You want to work it the other way? Mmmm. I don't normally take the passenger seat, I prefer to guide a guy 'round the curves, but for you I could make an exception." Faith slowly stalked forward again, pressing in when she saw that subtle amusement return to his face.
"You are really quite annoyingly persistent," he sighed, but he didn't give any hint that he was giving in. The man had to be hard, but he just wasn't responding the way a hot-blooded male should, and Faith knew Sev had some hot blood under all that dour. Problem was, she didn't have time to play the game, especially when he wasn't playing with her. She crossed her arms and considered the stubborn SOB.
"You haven't seen anything. See, there's this little thing called breathing. I'm fond of it. And if we spend the night and come out looking like nuns... I don't think I'm going to keep breathing. Although, I have to say, with that robe, you definitely look more nunlike than I do," she offered as she looked him up and down.
"Do I even want to know what a nun is?" Severus asked, but the question didn't have the undertone of humor… it had something closer to distress.
"Probably not," she shrugged. "But the point here is that I figure I can get a little hot and sweaty action with someone who's easy on the eyes and save my own neck, so it's a two for one as far as I'm concerned."
"I hardly think—"
"That they'll kill me? Sev, think about it. This guy who's coming, he likes you, or at least he doesn't hate you which I get the feeling is as touchy feely as this lot gets. But me? Oh, that crazy chick would just love to check out my insides."
"I have no doubt she would—"
"And you said this lot can read minds, so I'm thinking you want to keep the lies as close to the truth as you can." Faith slid closer and put her hand back on his chest.
"That's a safe assumption. You show a clearer understanding of legilimency than Mr. Potter ever managed, but I would never allow—"
Faith held up her hand, brushing her fingers against Severus' lips to silence him. "Stop right there, Sev. Don't go making promises you can't keep. Better yet, don't go making promises you *shouldn't* keep. This shit is big, and you're right in the middle of it, aren't you?"
"I put myself in the middle of it with my foolishness. I was an idiot, an idiot far too afraid to take a stand when it would have mattered."
"Sev." Faith stopped. She knew how he felt, and he had to find his own way out of the guilt choking him to death. "Been there, bought a whole fucking wardrobe of t-shirts," Faith she settled for saying. From the look Severus gave her, he had no clue what she was talking about, but he was smart, he'd get the gist of it. "But you can't afford to make a stupid move now, so if that cow wants to use my guts for Christmas decorations, you're going to let her."
Severus' hands had been moving: smoothing his robes and checking his emply wand pocket and generally twitching. Now they stopped. "You cannot mean..."
"Babe, you know I mean it.
"Mr. Finn would gut me." Neither of them mentioned that Riley had less of a chance of getting out of this than Faith.
"Mr. Finn wouldn't have a chance against you, and he knows it," Faith countered. "And you need to give the boy some credit. He knows the score, and he knows about acceptable losses."
"Perhaps then I am the one to whom you ascribe too much credit." Severus stiffened, his hand grabbing the post of the bed so hard that his knuckles turned white.
I love how you get all your fancy words going when you get your panties in a wad," Faith said with a small smile. "But you know it's the truth. So, since I don't really want to see if divine justice really exists, at least not until I've earned back a few karma points, it seems like bumping uglies is a pretty good idea to me. Not that I think a guy's uglies are all that ugly. Like right now, I'm wondering if you're circumcised. A man who's not is just so much more… sensitive."
I think we should--" Severus stopped.
"We should," Faith agreed.
"I didn't mean."
"Oh, I know what you meant. Just forget them and this weird hang-up you have over our ages and look at me. What do you see when you look at me?" For a few seconds, Severus looked everywhere except her, and Faith finally resorted to reaching up and cupping his cheek with both hands, drawing his eyes to her.
"What do you see?" she repeated softly.
He took a deep breath. "Someone who very well may be part succubus."
"I think that means you like me," Faith said with a smile.
"More than I should, I suspect. I hope you're not planning on checking again," he said with an arched eyebrow that almost could have been a smile.
"I thought I'd make a more thorough examination this time. I always did like playing doctor."
Severus' expression slipped again, the fear sliding through a crack in that smug arrogance he wore around him. "I don't know if I can."
"Oh, babe, you can."
"To save your life?"
Shaking her head, Faith let her hands slide down to his shoulders. Severus was strong… a weak man would have panicked by now. He would have sold her out or gotten himself killed, and from the sounds of it, he'd played this game a long time. But this was a different sort of strength than most men she bedded. There weren't the heavily muscled arms and wide shoulders. He wasn't eager and fighting to press her back into a wall. But his calmness even in the middle of this bullshit attracted her. "Sev, don't think about anything outside this room. This is just you and me, and you can because you feel this between us. I know you do, so just... just let this happen," she asked.
Faith stepped even closer, pressing her body to his and watching the panic growing in Snape's eyes. Bringing her hand up, she rested just one palm against the side of his face. Slowly she used just her thumb to stroke his face, wondering if that mask of his would slide off as he reached orgasm. From the widening of his eyes and the sudden gasp of breath, Faith was guessing that whatever lovers he had in his past, there hadn't been a lot of tenderness there. But then, tender didn't describe most of her sexual encounters either.
She pushed up onto her toes. When she slipped her hand around to the back of his neck, strong hands found her hips, steadying her. Faith opened her mouth just a little and then Severus' lips were on hers. He kissed her hungrily, mouths and bodies pressing together, and for a second, Faith waited to get tossed on the bed. Instead, after that first frantic moment, Severus slowed, his desperation turning to tenderness as he kissed her lips and then her cheek and then his mouth was on her ear, whispering words she couldn't hear or understand.
Faith tangled her fingers in his hair and arched her back at the soft touches.
"I don't--" Severus said, his hands pausing on her body.
"Shhh. Just, just let it happen, okay, Sev?" Faith whispered as she leaned into him, her hands working his robe. "Just let this happen."
Severus shivered and made a sound that Faith couldn't even begin to interpret, something desperate and pained. And then his fingers found her bare stomach, ghosting over her skin reverently and Faith was the one shivering. Slowly, they sank onto the bed, and Faith took her own advice... she just let it happen.
Faith woke in a tangle of limbs, her body instantly going on alert as footsteps approached the door. She reached out to wake Severus, and his eyes were already open.
"I hear them," he said. "I never should have fallen asleep," he muttered under his breath as he reached for his pants. The disgusted expression on his face bothered Faith more than she really wanted it to.
"As long as it's the falling asleep you're regretting because there wasn't anything else worthy of regret last night. Damn, you stick up the ass types are all the same—seriously fucking hot when you let go," Faith pointed out as she shimmied into her jeans and tucked her knife into the waist. Severus gave her a strange look as he hurriedly pulled on his shirt, but she had no idea if he was surprised by the compliment or just confused by the stick comment. Either way, confused was better than disgusted.
The door came open as Snape buttoned the last buttons on his shirt, but Faith didn't even try to hide herself as she slid off the bed, her girls in their naked glory. And damn it, Faith had seen enough Playboys her stepfather left laying around and had seen enough naked women in that prison jail to know that her girls were glorious. The man at the door was the older one with streaks of gray in his hair, and Faith smiled at him all slow and honeyed.
"Big, forceful man, charging in a girl's room without knocking. You forceful in everything you do?" she asked as she moved a step toward him. His indifferent expression twisted as he glanced at her and then found the floor uniquely interesting. Yeah, her girls were glorious, and all men were the same.
"Bellatrix says that He is arriving soon." The man swallowed so hard his Adam's apple bobbed.
"Then she shall have our company when He does. I have no interest in spending any additional time with her," Severus offered coldly.
"Snape," the man cleared his throat, glanced toward Faith who twitched her body a little for his benefit, and then he focused firmly on Severus. "I don't hold any hard feelings about—" He stopped and Severus gave him the coldest look Faith had ever seen one person give another.
"I couldn't care less about your feelings." Severus grabbed his cloak from the chair and swung in around his shoulders in a grand gesture before he started buttoning it.
Wordlessly, the man started backing up, hesitating only when he accidentally glanced at Faith, still half naked and watching him with an amused smile. Then he fled.
"Men. Considering that your cocks make you stupid as hell, it's surprising that you guys manage to run the world," she laughed softly after the door slammed shut.
Severus looked at her with that blank expression she hated. "Not that I have any problem with men or their cocks. The world would be a boring place without them," she said as she slid closer to him. "God knows prison would have been a lot more fun with a few willing, talented cocks in there." Instead of the smoldering heat she expected, Severus' face cracked into pain and then quickly turned hateful.
"I'm glad you had some enjoyment out of a spectacularly mediocre encounter," he snapped. Faith flinched back a step.
"Damn. Who pissed on your Wheaties this morning?"
"And keep your mouth shut. Your idiotic comments will certainly make them suspicious about your origins." Severus turned his back to finish buttoning his robe, and Faith grabbed her bra and shirt. No fucking way. No way had he not enjoyed that. She'd seen that mask of his fall and all the passion and heat and raw need in his face as he come and touched her like she was some sort of precious gift. No fucking way.
Severus moved toward the door, and Faith yanked down her shirt and intercepted him. "Not happening, babe. You either tell me what the hell is going on, or you aren't leaving this room," she warned. No way was she going to try to bluff when he was acting like Buffy on PMS.
"Or what?" Faith demanded as she crossed her arms.
"This is neither the time nor the place for some adolescent temper tantrum," he said, his face cold and almost gleeful in its delivery of insults.
"Oh babe, what are you thinking? You can throw those insults all you want, but I'm not one of your students and you aren't even close to intimidating me," she pointed out as she stepped forward. Reaching up, she poked his shoulder with a finger. "You enjoyed last night." Poke. "I enjoyed last night." Poke. "We'll get through this shit together if you don't lose your fucking mind." Hard poke.
"And if we don't!?" Severus demanded as he poked her back, or shoved her rather, and she allowed herself to get shoved back until she was in front of the door, all the time watching his fury that ran just under the surface of Severus' skin.
"So that's what eating you," she said softly as she realized the truth.
"Nothing is currently attempting to eat me, but if we make the Dark Lord angry, we could both find ourselves food for his pet," Severus snapped.
Severus didn't answer, he tried pushing past her, but he obviously hadn't learned that pushing a slayer really wasn't something most people can do unless the slayer felt like getting pushed. She didn't budge from the door. "You need to move," he said when he gave up on physically shoving her out of his way.
"Babe, you aren't responsible for me or for whatever the hell this shit is that's going down," Faith said softly.
"Yes, I truly am," he said slowly and clearly, his face blank. "I gave in to the evil. I fed it. But this is neither the time not the place for this discussion. This is dangerous."
"And you going out there with your head not screwed on straight, you think that's safe? You do your sparkly dust thing if you need to but we're having this out right now before we go down those steps."
"Or what?" Severus demanded.
Faith considered him. "I wasn't kidding Sev. I like you, maybe more than I should because the men I like have this funny way of ending up dead. But I take care of myself first. If I think you can't handle this, I'll fight my own way out. I'll try to clear the path for you, but I'm not taking responsibility for you, and I sure as hell don't expect you to take responsibility for me."
Severus looked at her, his face blank, but at least that was better than the sadistic SOB who'd been looking at her a second ago. Damn, the man might try to come off like Angel, all broody and silent, but he was a regular storm of emotion under all that. Then again, Faith had always suspected that Angel had a lot more going on under that brood than he ever let anyone see.
"Allowing someone to die, someone you care about… it's not that easy." Severus' voice was tight, every word clipped.
Faith thought about Robin, about his face when he was pinned to that picnic table, a yellow claw through his gut, about running the other direction where three idiot kids out sneaking cigarettes were huddled as they screamed. She thought about the sound of her name gurgling through Robin's lips. "No, it isn't," she admitted softly as she dropped her own masks and let him see her—not the slayer or the whore, but her. Sometimes she caught a glimpse of her true face in a mirror when she wasn't careful. Old. Tired.
Severus reached up and rested a hand on her shoulder, the coldness gone and only the worry left in his face. "I don't know if—"
"You take care of your shit, and you trust me to take care of mine. I've walked this fence before, babe, and I'm a whole lot older and trickier than you give me credit for. Besides," she said as she cleared her throat and threw a wiggled back into her hips, "that was one hell of a ride last night. Not many men can show me new curves, and babe, you did. I'm definitely looking for a repeat performance," Faith said with a smirk. Walking over to the bed, she sat and pulled her boots on.
"You are clearly a dangerous woman. Your ability to impair my judgment makes me wonder if you do not have more succubus blood than human," Severus sighed.
"I take it that means you enjoyed last night?" Faith asked with a smile. "Sometimes a girl needs a little reassuring, especially after getting called average."
"I assure you, you are not average," Severus admitted as he waited for her near the door. "To echo your comment, I do believe I like you more than I should."
"Aw, Sev," Faith said as she took his arm. "You do say the sweetest things to a girl."
Severus gave her a withering look. Faith laughed.
"I thought we might explore, find something for that ravenous appetite of yours," he commented mildly, but somehow, Faith thought he was probably more interested in a certain snake or an exit. It's what Faith wanted to find. However, when they opened the door, the gray-haired man was coming down the hall towards them.
"Snape, He's here," the man said, his voice reverent. Faith could feel Severus' arm stiffen, but he simply tilted in head toward the other man and then hurried past, all but dragging Faith down the stairs.
Back in the living room, a cloaked figure stood near the fireplace, and Faith's skin tingled so bad she thought some of it might just fucking fall off. This was bad. This was world ending bad, even it this wasn't technically her world. Faith watched as the hooded figure slowly turned, his face in shadow, but there was definitely something not so human in there.
"My lord," Bellatrix appeared from another doorway, half bowing, while still twisting her body in a way that just screamed that she wanted to go on her knees and suck the man's dick. Yeah, lots of class there. Faith snorted. For a fraction of a second, Severus looked at her with something close to panic and then he turned to the shadowed figure and bowed low.
"My lord," Severus said respectfully. Reaching over, he yanked at Faith's arm, and she let him pull her into a bow that she stood from as soon as she could. Severus looked at her with wide eyes that verged on either desperate or furious, she couldn't tell which. She focused more on the shadowy figure that now angled his body some to face her fully.
"That is what Snape takes up with now. Some muggle or mudblood trash. She has no respect, and yet he is with her when he should be doing your work," Bellatrix said in that annoying little-girl voice that made Faith feel all homicidal. "You're wandering around with this creature and you aren't doing anything about Harry Potter," she said as she turned an angry gaze at Severus.
"I do not take instruction from you." Severus only gave Bellatrix a quick glance out of the side of his eyes as he focused all his attention on the Him in question. Faith studied the man, or the man-like thing because he was definitely on her demonic radar.
"You don't take instructions well at all. You're supposed to be—"
"I am well aware of my current mission, a mission with which you are interfering," Severus snapped as he finally turned toward her for one hot second. "But to point out the faults of my lord's followers is certainly not my intention," Severus quickly added, bending his head at the weird dude. Oh, this was a manipulator. Faith watched as he allowed his followers to rip into each other, probably waiting to see who drew blood first so he could throw his weight behind the winner. Oh yeah, Faith knew him. The head tilted toward her, and Faith quickly settled her thoughts on just how much she hated Severus' cloak. Hid that fine ass of his.
"Then why are you wandering around with this?" Bellatrix screeched.
"This? THIS!? Sister, you'd better back off attitude," Faith warned as she took a step forward, focusing on just how much she hated this interfering bitch. Severus gave her a look that might have wilted a lesser woman, and Faith completely ignored him.
"Are you so fond of muggles and mudbloods that you would ignore our lord's orders to cavort with this thing?"
"Try talking to me, bitch. I'm standing right here."
"Muggles?" Severus sniffed, making his disgust more than clear even as he reached out and pulled Faith back to his side. He had a seriously Wesley expression—the kind from back before he grew balls and tended to sniff at things. Severus just pulled it off with a lot more style. "I assure you Bellatrix, Faith is not a muggle, and I do wonder whether your own time in Azkaban could have so addled your brain that you can no longer use your own magic."
"How dare you..." the woman moved forward, her shoulders crouched as though she was about to leap at either Faith or Severus.
"She isn't human," the silent boogy-man said, his voice sounding all hissy and weird. Oh yeah, so not human himself.
Severus stepped between Faith and the big bad. "No, my lord," Severus agreed.
Faith watched as Bellatrix's eyes narrowed.
"You like what you see?" Faith taunted her. She wiggled her hips and even licked her lips in her best stripper imitation. "Maybe you want a little sample?" she purred. "Well unless you're prepared to do some groveling for calling me an 'it,' you can just fuck yourself." Faith dropped the sexy act and crossed her arms as she glared. The whole room just froze, and Faith could see Severus' fingers twitching as he focused on the big bad. Faith took the opportunity to consider whether she could get away with catching a quick grope of his ass. His body was blocking the view so the big bad wouldn't even see. Big bad definitely chuckled, breaking the cold silence.
"What is she?" Bellatrix finally demanded as she looked from Faith to Severus.
"A highly sought after individual," Severus said in that oh so prissy Wesley-voice he had.
"Only the best for you, babe." Faith took a step forward and leaned into Severus' tall frame, allowing her hand to stroke his robed arm.
"She's a magical creature," Bellatrix said carefully. Big bad really was not one for talking, Faith noticed, but then she focused on the feel of Severus going all stiff under her hands. Boy was playing hard to get. Faith slipped her hand around to his chest. If anyone wanted to go fishing in her head, she'd give him something so see. She let herself sink into the feeling of Severus planting kisses up her thigh, his strong hands holding her open as he slowly and gently moved in on his target. Damn. He was good.
"Not a full blooded one," Faith answered Bellatrix's unasked question as she turned her attention to driving Severus mad. He twitched under her hands but stood still. "But grandmother did teach me a trick or two, and she was one lady who knew some tricks. She could probably even teach you to look like less of a whore." Faith blinked innocently at Bellatrix. Witch turned red.
"You--" the insane woman grabbed for her wand, but Severus had already pushed Faith behind his own body.
"Bellatrix! She is my employee," Severus snapped.
"She is an unschooled co--"
"Enough," the big bad said, his voice little more than a rasped whisper, but the whole room fell silent. He tipped his head and the cloak slipped just enough for Faith to see the slitted eyes of a snake, his features slick and inhuman as he stepped forward. Severus didn't move, but his fingers tightened on Faith's arm as he tilted his head down. Faith refused to look away as she considered the big bad. His face wasn't anything to write home again, but she had to admit that he had that pull of power. She'd long ago admitted to herself that power did it for her, and he had it. Not the controlled strength of Severus, but something wilder and infinitely more dangerous. Five years ago, she so would have been pulled into sharp gaze.
Big bad stopped a foot in front of Severus, and the man was perfectly still, but Faith just calmly watched, her hands still absentmindedly teasing a non-responsive Severus as she waited. Whatever else he was, big bad was a man, and there wasn't a man alive who didn't want some piece of her… well, except Andrew who just did not count.
"A succubus? I can see nothing appealing in her." Bellatrix cast a particularly nasty look toward Faith.
"I would hardly expect you to," Severus pointed out dryly. "But if you would like, I have heard that Settsa has hired a rather interesting incubus you may find more to your taste."
Bellatrix slid closer, her body angled toward the big bad, and Faith could see the aching need in her to touch him, even if she stopped short of doing it. "My lord, you shouldn't trust them. They don't serve you as I do, and this trash—"
Faith didn't wait for her to finish that sentence, she'd been called trash enough for one day, and there was no way this bitch was going to stop without a lesson. So she provided one. Faith snapped out her fist and slammed it into Bellatrix's nose. The witch staggered back, blood splattering across her face and dotting those pushed up breasts she was using to try and get the big bad's attention.
Bellatrix grabbed for her wand, and Severus' hand went to his own empty pocket before he froze. Faith wasn't surprised when the big bad held up a gloved hand.
Bellatrix stopped, her mouth still open, probably with the worst curse she could think ready to come off, and a drop of blood gathered on her upper lip and then grew until it dropped over the edge and rolled into her mouth.
"So, you're the head honcho? You have the whole snake thing going on for you, don't you?" Faith ran her tongue along the inside of her lower lip, imitating that gesture of Spike's that made Faith understand why Buffy had fucked him. Bellatrix almost spluttered and Faith was fairly sure Severus was going to have a heart attack at any moment.
"You are quite impertinent," big bad chuckled as he turned away and wandered back to the fireplace. "Bellatrix, leave her be. I find the succubus interesting."
"It's part of my charm. It's no fun to tame a woman if there's nothing there to tame," Faith said with a wicked smile.
"Oh yes, I can see why my Snape would be interested in you." Snake dude leaned forward, his eyes studying her, and Faith just threw out a hip and studied him right back. Not even the amusement in his eyes hid the evil back there. Faith was standing on the edge of death, and she wasn't so naive as to not know it. But, a girl played the hand she had. Raising her chin and considering him with a steady gaze, she shrugged.
"Oh babe, all men are interested in me. Now you seem to have some power around here. Maybe you know how to tame a girl up right. If you're good enough, you might even teach me to stop telling your whore here that she dresses like a cheap tramp." Faith thought on that while Bellatrix spluttered. "Maybe," she amended herself.
"I think not, my dear," he said with a softness that made her blood run cold. Here was evil. "You are Severus' toy. I really was worried about our dear potions master. He never seemed to move on after the loss of his mudblood, but obviously, he has found new interests, and I will not deny him your company." A waved a hand and immediately Severus was there at her elbow, pulling her back out of the way.
"Five by five with me," Faith agreed as she let Severus pull her away, his hand slightly shaking and his expression absolutely blank even though Faith could feel the panic running just under his skin. "Severus is man enough to keep me happy." Faith reinforced her words with a quick grope of Severus' ass. He grabbed her hand and had an expression like he might just drop dead of shock right then and there. Big bad laughed, but then his voice grew dark.
"Understand this succubus... so, as long as you remain an entertaining toy for our Snape, you have my permission to continue breathing. Displease him or me, and you will die.
Faith gave Severus a hip wiggle before answering. "No problem. Pleasing men is what I do."
"Bellatrix, my faithful one," he said, turning to the witch, "you must never again come to me with stories of Snape unless you can hand me proof that my servant has been unfaithful. This one has thoughts of nothing but sex, and Severus' habit of trying to defend his whores is already well-known."
"My lord," Bellatrix simpered, nearly bending to the floor. "He is half--"
"Enough," Big bad boomed, his voice echoing unnaturally, and even Faith jumped. Only Severus stood silent and unmoving. "But Severus, in playing with one toy, you have misplaced another." He waved his hand and a servant came scurrying in with a snake in a cage. Faith shoved down a flare of worry, rubbing against Severus absentmindedly as the servant pulled out the snake and put it on the floor. It wasn't the same sort of snake as Riley, so maybe they weren't screwed. Faith forced her thoughts away from Buffy's boy toy and back to just how good last night had felt. She didn't usually get slow and tender, and last night… that had scratched an itch she didn't even know she had.
Big bad pointed his wand, issued a curt command, and Riley crouched in the middle of the room, one hand braced on the carpet. Oh fuck.
Hours in Snape's library had given him a better understanding of his situation than he really wanted. Off to the side, Faith stood, winding herself around Snape, but her hand hovered near her jeans where she had a knife waiting. Riley just hoped that she had a chance to get out if he inadvertently betrayed her to Voldemort. Damn it, wanting to be a snake again was just wrong, but Riley couldn't avoid the feeling as he tried to clear his mind of everything but one pure feeling. Hate became the center. Riley focused on that as hard as he could. Hate and loathing. This thing in front of him… this Voldemort wasn't actually human. It should be killed. He hated it.
Voldemort slid forward, his walk a rolling gait that made the hairs on Riley's arms stand up, and he flinched back before ordering himself to parade rest.
"This is what they expect to save them?" Voldemort hissed, and the snake-like features made Riley grimace even as he ordered himself to stand firm. Whatever they were going to do, they'd do even quicker and even worse if he ran. Hatred. He hated them having this power. He hated how disgusting this thing was.
Normally Riley pushed thoughts like this aside, he had a job, and he did it. Finding pleasure in killing the things he faced just turned you into one of them, but right now he sank into that dark contempt and revulsion until all he could see was that ugly face in front of him and all he could feel was his skin crawling as it came closer. He'd faced death any number of times, and he could feel death slip into the room with them now.
"My lord, the moronic mudblood who summoned this one used Moon Magic and Mr. Finn is completely irrelevant or I would have brought him to you."
Riley heard Snape, but he ignored him. Who knows what side that slimy wizard was on, but Riley knew that the thing in front of him was evil, so that's what he gave all his attention to. Voldemort and hate. Hate of things that weren't human. Hate for things that hurt and killed and maimed. Hate, pure and thick filling his thoughts. Maybe even a little hate for himself that when he needed some emotional shelter it was hate and not love or faith or beauty that offered the protection described in Snape's book. Riley figured he could worry about the state of his own soul later.
"Finn?" Voldemort asked, snake eyes peering at Riley.
"Riley Finn, Captain, United States Army, serial number Oscar 1-7-2-9er-3-9er-1-Zero." Riley focused on the hate, but just saying the words cracked open the door to fear. He clenched his jaw and tried to focus everything on his disgust and not the insidious thought that their wands could kill him before he had a chance to even strike out. He knew what this one had done, and right now, Riley dearly wished he didn't. He cursed every second spent reading Snape's library.
Voldemort came forward, his demonic head peering at Riley closely, and Riley could taste the sour of fear in his mouth.
"A brain disabled with fear," he announced. "Bellatrix, my dear, perhaps you would enjoy softening his mind for us."
Riley glanced in the direction Voldemort had looked, his eyes moving without his permission because he really didn't want to see what was coming next. Glancing over he spotted a woman, and his first thought was vampire. She had that cold expression, and tiny drops of blood had settled between her pushed up breasts. Riley really did feel fear then. The feel of a vampire biting, the loss of control and the heat and the raw need... he remembered that. He fought against his desire for it every time he put a stake through a vampire's heart. He couldn't just stand still while some vampire bit him, not again.
Bellatrix flashed him an evil smile and pulled out her wand, but Riley could only feel something that came close to relief as he saw the weapon. Death or injury was infinitely better than addiction and the loss of control he'd suffered in the suck houses. His relief didn't last long.
"Crucio!" she shrieked as she jabbed her wand toward him like a dueler's sword. Riley's legs gave out and he crashed to the ground screaming as fire burned from inside his skin. He could distantly hear voices, but he didn't care. His chest pounded, too small for a heart that struggled with each beat. Riley arched his back and struggled to breathe through the agony.
Slowly the burning eased just enough to leave Riley panting on the floor, grabbing at his own arms expecting to find raw, bloody stumps. He was whole. Desperate to push away the pain that still scraped down his nerves, he rubbed, but every touch was new agony and new fire.
"Crucio!" she called out again, the joyous glee registering just before Riley erupted in fire again. Riley lost himself to the pattern of burning pain that slowed only to erupt again and again. Dimly, he registered the damp warmth in his pants, the distant smell of urine, but it didn't bother him. He tried to pretend that it was training, this was just one of those classes he'd hated where they'd learned to endure and just survive. He imagined that it was an instructor behind a switch and not that psychotic woman with her wand. When that failed, Riley lost himself simply in the idea that it couldn't last forever. His body had to fail eventually.
When the waves of fire and pain and the spasms that locked his muscles finally passed, Voldemort was there crouched next to him on the floor, cold hands on his face, and Riley tried. He really tried to scramble backwards, but he could only twitch his leg and pray for death before the return of that torture. So all he could do was throw his mind into the fear that threatened to devour him and hope that Voldemort couldn't see past that.
"Are you a threat?" Voldemort asked, his voice grating against Riley's raw nerves. Again he tried to scramble back and managed nothing more than a pathetic twinge. Voldemort stood. "He is irrelevant."
"Yes, my lord," Snape quickly agreed, and Riley had never before in his life been quite so happy to be irrelevant. "Dumbledore ordered me to return him to his own world when the moon was in the correct position."
Riley let his eyes close, not even caring what happened right now as long as no one tried to move him, or asked him to move himself. Every muscle, every joint, every cell ached.
"A waste of resources."
"Yes, my lord," Snape agreed. "Should I dispose of him instead?"
Riley almost wished he had the energy to panic, but he could only lie on the floor, his pants wet from his own urine and feel a calm blankness in his mind as he waited for the answer to that question.
"Do as Dumbledore has ordered," Voldemort answered after a pause that could have been two seconds or twenty minutes, Riley really wasn't tracking time all that well. "It is not yet time for you to show your true colors, my loyal servant.
"Yes my lord. I shall return him to his cage in my chambers and ensure that he has no chance to wander again."
The spell returning Riley to snake form didn't even make Riley twitch this time. He lay with his belly against the warm carpet, and he still hurt. The ache was different, but he still could only watch his own tail hang limply as Snape picked him up in the middle, leaving both ends dangling.
"You boys have a thing for snakes, don't you?" Faith asked as she pressed forward, her hand under Riley's head, holding it up as she studied him. She had a casual expression, but Riley thought that maybe there was a little concern there as her face came close. "Not that I'm surprised after seeing what Severus has hidden under his robes," she added with a sly look toward Snape. "Are all you Slytherins built that well?"
"Careful, girl," Voldemort warned.
"Have to give Sev something to punish me for later," Faith said with a wink in Voldemort's direction, and Riley could see the surprised expression on Snape's face. Voldemort… who knows what he was thinking because his demonic features just stared back at Faith unblinking.
"Whore." Bellatrix barely whispered the word, and Riley felt himself fall, panic flooding his mind until he realized Snape still had him by the middle, and then he got to watch, upside down, as Faith delivered a beautiful kick right to her stomach. Bellatrix flew backwards, her wand spinning through the air and tumbling to the ground as her back hit the couch arm with a resounding thud before she crashed to the floor.
"Faith!" Snape gasped, and Voldemort stepped forward.
"Cruc--!" Voldemort started.
"Whoa there, babe!" Faith held both hands up toward Voldemort in a gesture of surrender, her hips swinging as she stepped toward him. "I got no problem with being a whore or having someone like you call me one because I'm damn good at it. You won't ever find a whore who knows her business as well as I do, not unless you can find yourself a full-blood succubus willing to trade. But the way the bitch says the word, well, she's asking for it. And I've been nice about giving her warning."
"My lord," Snape hurried forward, the motion making Riley seasick as he helplessly swung, too sore to even control the movement. "My lord, I apologize. She is… young… foolish. I would not have brought her into your presence or the presence of the others if not for Bellatrix's insistence. It is in her nature to be impetuous."
For a long minute, the room was still. Bellatrix sat on the floor, her eyes going from Faith to Voldemort and back, two guards next to the wall standing with wide eyes, Snape's hand slowly tightening around Riley until the lingering ache flared into a brilliant pain again.
Then Voldemort chuckled, his voice low and disturbing.
"She is your pet, Snape, but remember what happens when you let your pets wander too far from the fold. If her impertinence outlasts your usefulness or my patience, you will learn your lesson again. Keep her leashed."
Riley breathed as Snape loosened his hold. Grabbing Faith, he pulled her back. When Faith held her ground for just a moment, Riley prayed like he never had before. He knew Faith had made some bad choices, but this was not the time for another. And then she was moving, letting Snape pull her away as she turned that slow, sensual gaze on him and seemed to dismiss the rest of the room. Riley knew it was an act. Buffy with her dumb blonde act had been a variation on the same strategy, so maybe slayers were hard-wired for camouflage, maybe that's why so many of them seemed so physically tiny until you found yourself on the wrong end of a fist.
Snape retreated to the door, and one of the goons held out a wand. Snape snatched it and shoved it under his cloak while Faith gave the guard a look that would have brought him trailing after her with his tongue hanging out in lust if she wasn't already with Snape. Riley wondered if it wasn't possible that slayers were related to succubus. In Faith's case, it would explain a lot.
"My lord," Snape said as he turned back to Voldemort again. "What other service would you require?"
"Nothing, my servant. Bellatrix and I must discuss matters. You and your new toy may leave. Inform me when the muggle returns to his world or if you dispose of him."
"Yes, my lord," Snape bowed again, and this time, he yanked Faith into a quick bow as well. And then they were moving, hurrying out into the sunshine where people dressed like refugees from a variety of Renaissance festivals and Halloween parties hurried from one place to another. A woman with a broom bumped into them, and Snape all but growled at her.
"Chill, babe," Faith whispered roughly.
"Chill?" Snape demanded quietly, looking around quickly before he walked even faster, practically dragging her with one hand and swinging Riley in his other. Riley didn't know if a snake could throw up or not, but he was pretty close to finding out. And as soon as he knew, Snape was going to know.
"Chill," Faith repeated firmly.
"If that word means what I believe it means, I have absolutely no intention of being chill," Snape snapped.
"Whoa there, we're all out, the bitch just lost a peg or two in the pecking order, and I think you're set up pretty good here. Some chilling is definitely in order," Faith said as she got ahead of him and planted a hand in his chest to stop him. A wizard in a red robe frowned at them and then detoured around on his way to wherever wizards go in the morning… off to buy eye of newt or something. Riley just really didn't want to think about it.
Snape stared at her for several seconds. "You." He stopped. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?" he asked softly, but Riley could feel the man's hand tighten again. Faith glanced down and frowned.
"Probably about as dangerous as it is every time you go in there," she said calmly. "Now why don't you give me the boy toy?" she asked as she held out her hands. Snape just stared at her. "Babe, I did not just risk my neck to have you squish his guts out. So hand over the snake before I get cranky."
Snape shoved Riley forward so fast that Riley was almost certain that snakes could throw up and he barely managed to avoid providing Faith with the very messy evidence. "Is he going to be okay?" Faith asked. Riley could feel fingers carefully arranging his body into a small coil that fit in her hand.
"He should be," Snape said softly, and then he seemed to shake himself into motion. "We need to return to Hogwarts immediately.
"Problem?" Faith asked.
"Possibly. I have to wonder how Mr. Finn came to be there and how exactly he managed to avoid betraying us.
"Riley? He's a little too starched, but he wouldn't ever betray us, and what he just did in there, I think he proved that," Faith said hotly. Riley might have enjoyed the compliment if he didn't feel so miserable.
"He hid his thoughts. That should have been impossible. Something is certainly not as it would appear, but this is not the place for that conversation." Snape took Faith's elbow again, this time looking a little more like he was walking with her instead of dragging her. They still got some strange looks as they walked down the street, but that might have had something to do with Faith gently stroking him. Then again, maybe not, Riley thought to himself as they passed a teenage girl carrying an owl in a cage. The bird looked at him hungrily, and Riley wished that God had given snakes eyelids. Right now he just really wanted to close his eyes and go to sleep and pray that he woke up next to Sam in the morning.
"Ah, there you are," an old man said amiably as they came through the fire.
"Damn. I said I wasn't doing that walking through fire shit," Faith complained as she struggled to brush the ash off with one hand and shelter Riley with the other. Boy was not moving enough, and after watching him get tortured for what must have been damn near an hour, she wasn't entirely sure he still had all his parts in the right place, not that she could check with him being a snake.
"Caramel?" the old man asked, smiling as he held out a dish. Severus came through the fire behind her.
"How did your meeting go?" the old man asked. Faith felt her hackles rise. How the hell did this guy know they'd been in a meeting, and why the hell was he asking about it? Faith slipped to the side and eyed places to stash Riley if she needed both hands free.
Severus gave the man a look to wilt steel. "Other than Faith nearly getting herself killed in some idiotic attempt to avenge Mr. Finn's injuries, it went well, Albus. I assume you have something to do with Mr. Finn having left my chambers."
"Me?" the old man asked, and then he chuckled. After listening to Voldemort with his freakish good humor, the chuckling was not making Faith feel any more charitable or any less likely to kick the old guy's ass. "I might have recruited Mr. Finn for some help gathering some intelligence," the old man said.
Gold flashed, and Faith slipped Riley onto a shelf as a freakishly big golden bird came in through a window and settled on a perch behind the large desk. The man in one of the portraits on the wall frowned at her.
"I am being rude," the old man suddenly said as he turned to Faith, and every slayer sense went off. Of course, this whole fucking world tended to set her slayer sense off, but she could smell the power on this one about as clear as she could smell it on Voldemort. "Albus Dumbledore, headmaster here at Hogwarts." He held his hand out and Faith ignored it.
"The one who wouldn't have come to Severus' rescue?" she asked. Albus blinked, and Severus got an expression that was almost amused.
"Yes, you are quite as direct as Severus led me to believe. I fear we both have responsibilities we must put ahead of personal safety," he answered. Faith stared at him for a second, but he didn't try to apologize or excuse the fact that he totally would have thrown Severus under the bus. Albus didn't even pull back his hand. He just stood with it extended and a perfectly pleasant expression on his face.
"I can respect that," Faith finally answered as she took his hand. "Don't like it."
"I assure you, no one in this room likes what this situation sometimes forces us to do," Albus said softly. "How is Mr. Finn?"
"Other than getting tortured by snakeface and that whore-shaped bitch of his until he pissed his pants and couldn't move?" Faith asked as she reached back to the shelf and carefully picked up the small green snake.
"Voldemort? That was unexpected."
Faith eyed the old man suspiciously. Somehow, she didn't think he would have done anything different if he had known who would get Riley. Putting Riley carefully on the floor, she stepped back while Severus returned him to human form.
"Hey, Ri," Faith said as she crouched down next to him. Riley's pants really stunk now, and he was curled on his side with his eyes closed. "You alive?"
"If I hurt this much after I'm dead, I'll know I definitely didn't go to church enough," Riley answered roughly. Faith felt like slapping the boy's arm and congratulating him for getting through, humor and all, but watching him unfold and struggle painfully up like an old man, Faith got the feeling one push would send Riley crashing to the floor.
"I've made a bit of a mess," Riley said with an embarrassed half smile.
"Nevermind, my boy. Perfectly natural." Dumbledore waved his wand and offered a brisk, "Tergeo." Riley's clothes were instantly clean. Soldier-boy still moved like an arthritic old man, though. Faith held out her arm, and he took it, leaning heavily as she helped him to a chair.
"You put a spell on him to protect his thoughts," Severus said, his arms crossed as he watched Albus. Faith just sat on the arm of Riley's chair and watched the men.
"He withstood Voldemort's legilimency?"
"Unless the dark lord had some reason for allowing an unknown magical creature to escape his grasp, yes," Severus answered. Kinda freaked Faith out, the way Sev kept calling snakeface his lord. Seriously freaky. But it wasn't like Faith didn't have her own freak past going for her, she just didn't tend to call it a lord anymore.
"Unexpected." Dumbledore wandered back to his desk, setting the bowl on the edge before going over and petting the golden bird. "I had used a small spell to reinforce his mental barriers, but as I did not want my interference known, I didn't use anything strong enough to actually block Voldemort."
"Your book," Riley said, his voice still gravelly, but after all the screaming he had done, Faith was surprised he could talk at all.
"My book?" Severus asked, that eyebrow going up.
"It said you could block mindreading by focusing on an emotion and not an actual thought."
Dumbledore sat forward and smiled. "Quite impressive. That is a difficult way to block your mind, but you have certainly shown a certain resilience I never expected."
Riley looked slowly over. "You left me there on purpose."
"Those boys you were watching—"
"Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle," Riley said quickly, and that was definitely a disgusted expression.
Dumbledore nodded. "They have been increasingly involved, perhaps in some side plot of Mr. Malfoy's father. I had hoped they would say things in front of you they would not say in front of others."
"You mean, the way they're bringing curses in?" Riley asked. Severus stiffened at that.
"Are they?" Dumbledore asked mildly. Riley narrowed his eyes, so Faith was guessing soldier-boy had picked up on the vibes this old guy was sending out. "I have a favor to ask," Dumbledore said slowly.
Faith stiffened them. "Seems like Riley has already given at the office, so if you're looking for someone to do more, I'd suggest you do the job your own damn self," she told the old man. The portrait of the weasel-faced man on the wall offered a curt "well really" and vanished from his frame.
"I quite understand your reluctance, and I certainly will not ask any more of Mr. Finn as long as he is a guest, but the memory you're carrying could be quite valuable, and I was wondering if you would be willing to share it." Dumbledore stood and came around his desk, wand in hand.
"I'll tell you want I can remember," Riley said slowly and suspiciously, and considering how the last question and answer session went, Faith didn't blame him.
"No, that won't be necessary," Dumbledore offered as he raised his wand. Faith stood, hand already half way to her knife.
Severus stepped forward. "If Mr. Finn is willing, all he would need to do is think of the memory, and Albus can draw the memory from him like a thread. I have shared my own memories this way and it is entirely painless," he quickly explained
"Pull it out?" Faith demanded. She glanced down and Riley looked a little pale.
"I assure you that sharing a single memory is not dangerous, and it would allow us to directly see and hear what those three might be up to. Afterwards, you may choose to either leave the memory here or you may have it back. I would recommend retrieving your memory," Severus said as he glanced over at Albus.
"Of course, of course," the cagey, old man said absentmindedly.
"Faith, you got my back?" Riley asked quietly.
"You know I do, babe," Faith agreed as she carefully sat on the arm of his chair again, propping her foot on the seat of the chair where it pressed into Riley's leg and glaring at the two men. "I don't think they're pulling a fast one, but if they are, I'm pretty sure I can take them both and beat some sense into them." Faith was disappointed when Albus only looked amused. At least Severus had the manners to look a little shocked.
"I wouldn't dream of it, my dear," Albus said as he reached up and tapped Riley's head with his wand. When he pulled away, he drew a long silver thread with him, backing up and heading for the corner where he and Severus hunched up like a couple of teenagers hunching over a joint.
"You okay?" Faith asked quietly in the relative privacy of their end of the office. Damn bird was watching them, but the men were clearly fascinated by whatever they had pulled out of Riley's brain. Faith reached over and let her hand rest on Riley's shoulder. Boy was still looking awfully pale.
"Brutally raw and really wishing someone was kind enough to hit me over the head until I passed out," Riley said, giving her the most pathetic smile she'd ever seen.
"Damn, you need to take lessons on the humor under fire thing because that ain't even funny."
"I'll sign up for some tutoring with Xander," Riley nodded. "I hurt. I appreciate you kicking Bellatrix for me though," Riley offered after a second.
"No sweat." Faith leaned her head on her palm and watched the two wizards lean over whatever the hell they were leaning over. Okay, so she was watching Severus' ass more than anything else, but after last night, she was entitled.
"It was stupid," Riley said softly, interrupting the quiet that had fallen on the room. Faith tilted her head to look down at Riley. "Getting a hit in for me, it was stupid," he clarified.
Faith shrugged. "Probably, but I stood there and watched her turn you inside out. I wasn't walking out of that house without getting at least one hit in. Might have set the fucking house on fire out of frustration if I'd tried." Faith thought about that a second. "Still might go back and set the fucking house on fire."
Riley laughed, or started to before it turned into a grimace of pain. "Your soft spots are showing, Faith." Riley might have said more, but Albus and Severus finished, and Albus brought the shining memory back to Riley, tapping it back into place.
"Quite helpful. Yes, quite helpful," Albus muttered.
"Maybe you could helpfully fix the pain he's in now. Some aspirin would be nice," Faith pointed out.
"I'm fine," Riley quickly said.
"Babe, how did you put it? Brutally raw?"
"I remember that feeling," Severus said, his voice tight. Faith looked up at him, and Severus gave her only the smallest of shrugs. "The effects are difficult to treat, but I do have potions in my chambers which can reduce the pain and allow you to sleep off the effects."
"Without side effects?" Riley demanded.
"Yes. I've used the potion on myself. The dark lord's mood is rarely that good."
"That's fucked up," Faith snorted. "I mean, when I went dark side, at least I got the whole princess and precious treatment. Don't see much reason for following evil if it hurts."
The room got quiet, but Severus nodded as he seemed to gather his thoughts. "Following hurt less than not following… at least it seemed so in my youth," he admitted. "However, right now, I suggest we use the floo—the fireplace—to get Riley down to my chambers where I have the potions to counteract some of the effects of the curse."
"Ah, before I forget," Albus said, stepping forward. "Your Willow managed to make contact. For some reason, her spell is only able to transport object with an inherent magical nature. She sent this." He held out an amulet, yellow with a single tiny leaf caught inside. "We communicated through… well, no need for magical details, but her general message is that she thinks this might provide Mr. Finn transportation back to your universe and it will definitely allow for communication. Faith, she can retrieve you at any time since you are a magical creature. I told her you were in a situation where being immediately retrieved might prove awkward. She seemed to believe that implied a sexual liaison."
Faith laughed, glancing over at Severus who was turning a nice shade of red. "Can't imagine why Red would assume that," Faith shrugged as she slipped her arm under Riley's to help him to his feet.
"I do regret that my actions resulting in such severe consequences for you, my boy," Albus offered as Riley grunted in pain.
Riley looked over at him. "But you're not sorry that you did it."
Albus seemed to think about that for a second, but Faith could already see in the answer in his expression. Finally he offered, "Given what we have discovered and the good we can do with it, no, I am not."
Riley tightened his arm around Faith's shoulder, and she could feel him leaning struggling to stop his forward movement, so she shifted her own weight so Riley could face Albus. "Does this have something to do with children fighting battles?"
Albus nodded. "It does."
"What you got from me. Will it keep even one of them out of a battle?"
Dumbledore thought on that a little longer, and then he sighed. "I greatly doubt that either of us can protect them from the coming war, but what you have revealed… this is one battle that Severus and I can quietly fight, so it's one less battle for the children."
"Then it's worth it." Riley angled back toward the fireplace where Severus stood next to the flames.
"Fucking boy scout," Faith snorted derisively.
"Says the woman who kicked Bellatrix for me. You could get your own badge for that, I think," he teased. Faith gave him a dirty look. She might not be willing to admit it, but Sam was a lucky girl. Buffy had obviously missed something pretty big when it came to Riley because the man she described wasn't anything like the soldier Faith had gotten to know. He wasn't her thing since she really preferred the tall dark and obsessing over a tortured past, but she could see where some girl looking for mom and apple pie could strike it rich with Ri. Then again, maybe Buffy wasn't as much about mom and apple pie as she liked to make people think.
"Even without knowing what a boy scout is, from the tone, I am given to agreeing with Faith. You both have remarkably self-destructive streaks and very little common sense," Severus declared archly as he tossed the powder into the fireplace. "It's remarkable you haven't gotten yourselves killed."
Faith caught one look at the amused look on Dumbledore's face before she crossed her fingers and stepped into the fire.
"Are you sure you're okay-okay and not just saying-okay or not-okay-but-not-willing-to-trust-my-magic-okay?" Willow asked, her ghostly image sitting in the middle of the floor in Severus' living room. "Because Riley... not looking so okay," she finished as she glanced toward the couch. Riley looked even more green after drinking the potion, but he did say he felt better.
"I'm fine now," Riley insisted. "Feeling good." He started to turn, like he was going to push himself up, but he gave up when his hand slipped off the edge of the couch. Faith thought he might be drooling too.
"Oh yeah, because you're a big old being truthful about yourself when in pain guy," Willow said sarcastically, crossing her arms as she gave Riley the astral projected form of the resolve face. "Anyone who looks like that is not with the fine."
"And I had thought your language atrocious," Severus sighed as he picked up his tea cup and put on a pained expression. Perched on the arm of his chair, Faith gave his leg a quick kick. Severus simply rolled his eyes.
"We're five by five. Had some shit go down, but short of more world-ending badness, it looks like two weeks of vacation. I'm looking forward to some down time," Faith said as she let her eyes linger on Severus. He didn't look at her, but his eyebrow twitched.
"Oh. OH. OH! Okay, I get it. But wouldn't it be less with the weird if I bring Riley home?" Willow asked.
"No!" all three answered, even if Riley's was a little slurred. After Willow's stumbled responses to Severus' very direct magical questions, even Faith had gotten the impression that Willow wasn't entirely sure the damn amulet would actually work.
"I assure you, given my own abilities, the counter-potion will be both effective and safe once the moon is in position," Severus said, "neither of which you seem to be able to guarantee. Your willingness to perform magic in the absence of either information or precedent is remarkably... Gryffindor."
"Way too Giles with the insults," Willow said softly with a small frown. "And hey, I got Faith into Hogwarts! My magic worked where you thought it wouldn't, so I'm saying go team Gryffindor, unless that's some terrible monster that you're metaphorically comparing me to because I'm generally not ever in favor of the monsters."
Severus' expression was something like when Buffy got oversized spider guts splattered across her new suede jacket. Faith was guessing that Red could see it, too because the witch blushed.
"Were you a student of mine, I have no doubt you should set a new record for the speed at which you would fail my class. Doing the improbable is hardly remarkable. Doing it consistently without anyone dying is quite a different task, one which you seem entirely inadequate to perform."
Faith had to bite her cheek to keep from laughing at the way Willow's face just sort of collapsed or the smugly raised eyebrow and disgust on Severus' face. Faith coughed to cover the laugh that tried to slip out. "Red, it's fine. We'll just hang here and be home in a couple of weeks."
"Just let my commander know?" Riley asked blearily from the couch. He'd asked the same question about four times now, but Faith was starting to thing the boy was either brain damaged or drunk. His didn't even come open this time. She was voting for drunk, especially since Severus didn't seem particularly worried or surprised and it was his potion Riley had taken.
"Commander, check," Willow offered cheerfully.
"We gotta go, Red," Faith said quickly before Willow could go into another round of babble, or even worse, another round of trying to compare magic with Severus.
"Oh," she said, still chewing her lip in that way that said she was worried.
"Red, there isn't anything here worse that what we have back home. Shit happens, and it's a slayer's job to be in the middle of the shit." Faith glanced over toward the couch. "Soldier's job, too. We're five by five, and I'll give you a call if something goes all to hell." Faith touched the necklace around her neck. And then, without warning, she used the cut off words. "Bye bye."
Red's ghostly image flickered out, her mouth still open as she tried to say one more thing. Faith slipped the necklace off. If she was wearing it, she would have to ignore it when it warmed as Willow tried to reestablish the connection. This way she could honestly say she hadn't known Willow was trying to get through. She tossed the thing at the small table next to the couch where it clattered to a stop.
"She is remarkably..." Severus thought about that a second, "annoying."
"Yep," Faith agreed. "She's also one of the most powerful witches in the universe if not the most powerful."
"Truly a terrifying thought."
Faith picked at her thumbnail and waited for Severus to say something that actually mattered. Boy wasn't one for talking. Then again, she was usually more about doing than talking herself.
"I do regret that Albus' machinations placed your friend in such an untenable situation," Severus finally offered in the silence.
"If I had any idea what that meant, I'd probably tell you it's all five by five. Shit happens babe, and we've both been fighting our own wars long enough to know that. He's a big boy, so he gets that, too. Your Albus, though, he's a little..." This time it was Faith searching for the right word. It wasn't easy to describe the man. He looked like Father Time with that long beard and his grandfather talk, but the power coiled just under the surface left every hair on her body standing up straight.
"Intimidating?" Severus offered.
"I wouldn't call him intimidated exactly," Faith said slowly. Severus looked up at her with a rather disbelieving expression. "He gives me the itch to either get out of the room or kill him," Faith explained.
"Which is a rather normal reaction to feeling intimidated," Severus pointed out. "Then again, I suspect you may not be that acquainted with the feeling, so perhaps you don't recognize it."
Faith frowned as she looked down at Severus, at the suddenly tight and closed expression on his face. "Oh babe," she sighed. "I know all about feeling intimidated. Fuck. I learned that lesson about when I learned to walk. Even after I found out I was a slayer... that feeling never went away. I just learned to kill whatever made me feel uncomfortable."
Severus tilted his head and looked up at her. "You discovered you were a slayer? You weren't born that way?"
Faith shrugged. "I guess I was born a potential slayer, but it used to be that a girl only got her power and strength when the last girl died. I spend my childhood hanging out on cold steps in front of the house debating between freezing to death or facing my mother and her latest man. I suppose that's why it was so easy to go sliding into the dark. Evil was a lot more familiar than the whole saving the world shit. Hurting people made me forget how much I hurt, and when I slid over that edge into killing them..." Faith gave up on picking her thumbnail when the corner started to bleed. Severus reached over and took her hand in his.
"Episkey," he whispered, and the raw corner of skin healed.
"Handy," Faith admitted without trying to pull her hand back.
"Unfortunately, other wounds do not heal as easily," Severus said sounding tired.
"Babe, the world never made any promises about being fair."
"No, it did not," Severus agreed. "If the world were fair, I suspect we both should have earned early and painful deaths."
Faith snorted and shoved Severus with her shoulder. "This is supposed to be the part where you give me the pep talk about redemption and making better choices."
Severus gave a sniff of his own that came close to being a snort. "Faith, I am not a good man. I don't have any truths to offer on redemption."
Faith laughed. "So we're just two idiots trying to find our way in the dark?" Faith asked.
"Following others, like Albus, and hoping that his brand of manipulation can undo the manipulations of others." Severus stopped and stared at the fire for a long time. "He's a good man, but not perfect man. I sometimes wonder if I would notice if he slid over that edge again."
"Again?" Faith leaned back against the chair as she nodded. Yeah, that made sense. After all, Willow and Angel set off her slayer sense when Buffy and that new witch of theirs never did. "He's another idiot trying to find his way in the dark. You'd think the universe would be able to find heroes with less chance of turning into big bads, wouldn't you?"
"Being near power does tend to corrupt one. I chose a master out of fear, and I followed that master to places that... I didn't even know who I'd become."
"Fuck, yeah. I remember what that's like. The one I followed ended up turning into a snake, too. Willow insists snakes aren't evil, but I'm not so sure."
"What happened to your snake?" Severus asked, his grip tightening around Faith's hand. Looking down, Faith could see the desperate hope warring with the grim belief that his fight was somehow doomed. Or maybe Severus was just convinced he was doomed. There were days Faith still felt that fear crawling under her skin.
"Xander and Buffy blew him up. I missed that fight, which is probably good because I would have been fighting on the wrong side that time. But you gotta get over that shit. You fuck up and then you move on," Faith shrugged.
"It's not that easy." Severus finally let her hand go and stood up as he walked to his bookshelf and stared at it. Faith got up and followed him, but she didn't know the right words. She was usually on the other end of the pep talk. These dark moods would settle, and she'd call Angel and get his whole redemption and self-respect speech. Somehow, she didn't think she could pull it off, so she went with her strength--brutal honesty.
"Sure it is. Oh, the others, they try to make it all complicated and shit. Had this therapist in prison who liked talking about embracing my inner id or some crap like that, but it's just about moving on." Severus didn't even turn or twitch, but Faith knew exactly what he was thinking. "Babe, you aren't evil. You aren't anything like evil, and I should know. Evil is pretty. Evil makes all these bad-ass promises that sound as good as a bag full of Halloween candy. Evil walks in, pulls up a comfortable chair and invites you to just sit back. You aren't evil, Sev. Yeah, you're fucked up, but welcome to the club."
Ignoring the pained whisper, Faith went with her other strength and moved close, running her hands up his arms as she pressed herself to his back. While he didn't move away, he didn't respond either. She let her arms circle him so she could hold him tight.
"I would have let him kill Riley. I would have let him kill you." Severus' words were simple and factual. Little lead word-balls that simply dropped out without emotion, but Faith knew that Severus wasn't nearly as unemotional as he seemed.
"You can't convince me that you're evil, babe. You hate yourself too much to be evil. Riley and I both understand. I forgive you, and I know Riley will too once he stops being stoned on whatever you put in that potion, but you have to forgive yourself at some point."
"The point where I could forgive myself passed years ago." Severus finally moved. Faith had clapped her hands around Severus' stomach, and he rested his own hands on top of hers. "But I will fight until I can't fight any more or until Albus does something for which I truly can't forgive him. And sadly, nearly getting Mr. Finn killed in order to spy on three idiots with no more self-preservation or intelligence than a common Gryffindor does not rise to the level of unforgivable."
"Nope, it doesn't," Faith agreed. "Babe, you need to learn to just flow around the curves without ripping yourself up on the turn."
Severus sighed. "Some days I truly do wish you spoke English. Is your entire universe full of individuals incapable of speaking words which make sense?"
"See, now you're just being stubborn. You know what I'm talking about, babe." Faith let her hands wander south, exploring the curves that his damn robe hid all too well. He wasn't hard, but he was getting there. Faith let her hands rest over his cock, and Severus just continued to let his hands rest on hers.
"Just ignore the debilitating guilt and enjoy the moment?" Severus asked.
"See, I knew you got it." Faith let Severus pull her hands apart. Her palms slid over his hips as he turned to face her.
"There is no conceivable reason for doing this now," he pointed out.
"There's the best reason, babe. If you want to wallow in the guilt, I'm not going to say anything, but give yourself a time out. The universe won't fall apart if you take a few hours to remind yourself that there are still good things worth fighting and dying for."
When Severus' hands came to rest on her hips, just brushing the bare skin of her midriff, Faith could feel her body tighten in response. "I know what I fight for, and my happiness is not a goal I seek."
"Then remind me why I'm fighting," Faith asked, pressing forward. "There hasn't been anyone since Robin. I watched him die. I chose to save some kids and I chose to let him die. I saw him choke on his own blood trying to win this war, and I'm so damn alone now. Remind me why I'm fighting, Severus."
Standing so close that she had to tilt her head back, Faith swallowed, waiting for an answer. For one second, Severus just looked down at her with that blank expression that hid every thought. Slowly his hand came up and strong fingers stroked Faith's cheek. Her whole body broke out in goose bumps at the gentle caress.
"Two idiots trying to find their way in the dark?" Severus asked. Faith didn't answer. She reached up and let her palm rest against his chest as his hands ran over her shoulders and down her arms, following the shiver she could feel through her body. "Oh, Faith." Severus shook his head as though sad, but when he leaned in to kiss her, Faith could feel the passion and raw need just as strong as last night. And when strong arms pulled her close, she surrendered all her pain and guilt and allowed herself to just enjoy the moment.
"I appreciate you taking time for this potion when you've been so busy lately," Riley said as he checked to make sure all his weapons were attached. Severus didn't answer, but Faith could have sworn he almost smiled. She sat on the desk behind him where she had a nice view every time he bent over, but right now he was standing to the side of a large black cauldron, and she was pretty sure he was watching her. She stretched, making sure her top rode up as she did.
"Student essays?" Albus asked with a smile. Severus made a disgusted sound without looking up from the ingredients he was mixing. Faith scratched her bare stomach, and the hand stirring the pot hesitated for just the briefest moment.
"I was a TA as part of a cover story once. I remember being buried under college papers, but some of those scrolls of his are just indecipherable," Riley said as he finished checking his weapons and leaned against one of the desks.
"Quite so. I do remember the years I spend grading scrolls." Dumbledore nodded with an amused expression. "And even if you were more versed in magical theory, I fear you'd find that their essays make no more sense. Students have only a passing acquaintance with logic, although Severus does enjoy pointing out their logical lapses more than most."
That got Severus talking. "If I must waste hours in the forced misery of reading their drivel, the least they deserve in return is five minutes of misery as they read their marks," he sniffed. "And this potion is entirely idiotic. Who suggests asking the higher power for divine intervention as one of the steps for brewing?"
"I think I'll handle the praying end of the spell," Riley said quickly.
Faith laughed. "I think the Big Cheese probably likes you better than the rest of us, anyway." Faith held up a hand as Riley got that concerned look on his face. "Boy, if you say one word on redemption and forgiveness, you're going to be praying through a headache that lasts until you and Sam are sending the last little Finn off to college, got it?"
"Fine." Riley clipped the word off short, but Faith just waited for the rest. "We all make mistakes. I got addicted to getting bitten by vampires, you know. Forgiveness is called forgiveness because it doesn't have to be earned."
Severus sighed as he stood up and crossed the room to a storage cabinet. "Mr. Finn," he said in a disappointed tone of voice. "Here I thought you could qualify for Ravenclaw with your ability to calmly think through situations that would have disabled others, but you must go and ruin my good opinion with this mystical claptrap."
"Now Severus," Albus interrupted. "It is true that the spell allowed us to circumvent some rather nasty problems using information discovered by Riley. I had never thought the senior Malfoy so petty."
"We would have discovered the plot when those two morons who follow Draco made some mistake or when young Weasley stepped into some trap left for Mr. Potter. Luck, both good and bad, follows that group like a cloud that's been charmed over someone's head."
"So, you aren't going to believe that God might have approved of a small intervention here?" Riley asked. Severus pulled out a large knife and started thinly slicing something that looked like hairy garlic.
"I rather think you have Miss Granger's idiocy to thank for your time as a snake and that visit to the dark lord."
Riley jumped right in there. "And a chance to read up on some magical enemies that might or might not exist in my own world. After all, we do have vampires and banshees, so if our world does have some quintaped or pogrebin, forewarned is forearmed."
"Spoken like a potential Ravenclaw," Severus said before dropping the new ingredient into the pot. Smoke started rising, and he backed away.
"Is it supposed to do that?" Faith asked.
"Must I defend my potions skills to you?" Severus asked as he crossed his arms and gave her a withering look. It might have been more effective if he weren't standing so close that his robes brushed against her knees.
"Oh babe, you don't need to defend any of your skills. You got the mad skills going in all sorts of ways," Faith said as she checked out his body, lustfully taking a long look before giving him a wink. He rolled his eyes. However, when he turned to face the others, his hip rested against her knee.
"I do believe I shall miss you, Faith," Dumbledore offered with a chuckle. "Severus is almost human with you around."
"And Faith is a lot less..." Riley paused.
"Psychotic?" Faith asked, making a wild guess about what the others might have told the soldier, especially since he had probably gotten most of his stories from years ago before she did her time in prison. These days, she was guessing the Scoobies were more likely to just call her sluttish or foul-mouthed or dangerous.
Riley looked at her. "I was going to say stressed," he pointed out. "Xander and I sometimes talk, and he said that since Wood died, you've been stressed."
"Oh." Faith scratched her stomach again, and Severus gave her an amused look.
"Shut up," she told him even though he hadn't said anything. He just looked more amused.
"So, without the spell, Faith would still be stressed and Snape would still be inhumanly mean." Riley had a perfectly calm tone, but he still somehow managed to imply that Severus' transformation into a human hadn't been nearly as successful. Severus turned to Riley and raised an eyebrow but didn't actually insult him back. Dumbledore laughed.
"As much as I enjoy being insulted by someone who is relying on my potion to send them back across a rip in reality, it appears to be time for you to leave," Severus pointed out as the smoke turned a soft yellow before fading away. "I hope you included some destination in your prayer because this spell has no way for me to fine tune where exactly I'm sending you."
Riley shook his head. "That's not the way belief works, Snape. You just pray for the right thing to happen and then understand that you probably won't even recognize the right thing when it shows up. Wherever I land, I land."
"Idiotic system. Notta Bellaificus' work truly should be burned to keep other idiots from trying this," Severus muttered angrily.
"Thanks, Snape. It's been a pleasure serving with you," Riley offered his hand and for a second Snape just looked at it. Slowly he held his own hand out and Riley shook it solemnly. "And if nothing else, I got a chance to see life from the perspective of a snake and an owl. I plan to avoid snakes for the rest of my life, but flying was one of the great joys I'll always remember, so in the end, I think this was all worth it."
Riley stepped back and offered Dumbledore his hand.
"One of the advantages of being old is knowing what people will do before they do it, but you have surprised me. Had you any inherent magical abilities I would be quite insistent about recruiting you, my boy."
"I have my own war to fight. Good luck in yours," Riley offered. "So, how do we do this?"
"Numen!" Snape announced, and Riley was simply gone.
"Numen?" Dumbledore asked, turning a confused look to Severus.
"I had pointed out that this is a ludicrous spell," Severus defended himself with a sour expression. Faith noticed that at some point his hand had landed on her leg.
"Well, I supposed it's time for me then," Faith said. Severus didn't answer, but she took some comfort in the way his fingers tightened on her knee. She'd have some bruises there.
"You are certainly very welcome to stay," Dumbledore said as he stepped forward. "Your presence is already easily explained."
"And my absence won't even make a ripple," Faith pointed out. She looked at Severus to see if he was going to rescue her from this conversation, but he was staring at the cauldron as if he could find the meaning of life in it. Faith turned to Dumbledore and had the same conversation she'd had with Severus a day earlier. "I don't belong in this world and sooner or later, I'm going to do something to out myself. I don't want to find out what Voldemort could do with slayer parts, especially considering that I'm fond of all my parts exactly where they are." She didn't mention her fear that Voldemort would expect his potions master to be the one experimenting with slayer parts.
Severus' hand on her knee jerked a little and then he carefully loosened his fingers. He was a remarkably gentle man, so she was guessing he had just figured out how hard he was holding her.
"The danger is considerable, both to you and to others if your blood is as powerful as you suggest," Dumbledore admitted softly.
"Hey, we all have our battles to fight, but this isn't where I need to fight mine, and you two have your own demons to slay."
"One demon, certainly," Dumbledore admitted after a long silence. "Is this some variation on Riley's belief?"
"Nah." Faith jumped off the table and let her hand rest for just a second on Severus' arm before she moved next to the cauldron. "People who fuck up have to try and clean up their own messes, not someone else's. It screws with your head if you don't," she shrugged.
"You're a wise woman," Dumbledore offered her.
"Yeah, just don't go telling people because that is one reputation I don't want to live up to." Faith moved forward and gave the old man a kiss on the cheek. "You should find yourself another nice old man and find some happiness of your own," she told him. His eyebrows rose.
"I'm afraid the nice old man I would choose is neither nice nor available," he said, shaking his head a bit. "You and Mr. Finn both, always managing to catch me quite unaware."
"It's part of my charm," Faith shrugged as she turned back toward Severus. She pulled a small green amulet out of her pocket. Severus glanced down at it before looking at her with a confused expression. "If you ever need help…."
"You think I would rely on Ms. Rosenberg's unstable and untested attempt to cross the realities?" Severus sniffed.
"No, but I think it works pretty good if you want to contact her, and she'll always know how to reach me. And if you ever finish with your battles here…." Faith stopped and shook her head in disgust at herself. "Yeah, I know it's no good living in a future that might not ever happen, but you hang on to this anyway," she said as she reached out and slipped the amulet into Severus' pocket, catching a quick grope before pulling her hand back out.
"Faith," Severus said, reaching out for the hand that had just groped him. He didn't say anything else, and Faith could slowly see his mask slip back in place as he let go of her hand.
"Hey, five by five. I figure I'll probably end up back in Willow's kitchen. I can torture her with stories of broom riding, hooked-nosed ugly old witches for the next five years. And I got to kick Bellatrix. You just make sure she ends up dead for me because that is one crazy bitch."
"Believe me, she shall be one I will personally delight in seeing dead," Severus agreed. "Be safe."
Faith opened her mouth, but before she could say any more, he gave a curt "Numen!"
"See ya around," she found herself saying to Willow's white kitchen cabinets.
"See who around?" a voice asked from around the corner. Willow stuck her head into the kitchen. "Faith! Faith, you're back! Why didn't you tell me you were coming back tonight?!"
"I'm coming back tonight," Faith said sarcastically with a shrug. Willow gave her a frown for a half second before smiling and yelling to the rest of the house. "Faith's back! Buffy! Faith's here." Two weeks of quiet and Faith had gotten used to it. Willow caught her by the arm and started dragging her into the living room. "Faith's back!"
Faith could hear the pounding of footsteps on stairs. Vacation was over and it was time to get back to reality. Glancing over at Willow and the matching green amulet lying against her skin, Faith could only hope. Severus knew where she was, and maybe one day he'd touch that amulet and call. Maybe he'd finally do enough to feel like he'd made up for his past or have his cover so blown that he couldn't do any good there or maybe he'd just kill his snake. Maybe the day would come that he would touch that amulet and either tell her she could safely go back or ask for safe harbor in her world. Maybe.
And then Buffy and Kennedy were there, and Andrew making inappropriate science fiction comments until Kennedy slapped him upside the back of the head, and Faith focused on putting all that hope into a safe corner of her mind as she got back to the business of living her own life.
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