A long weekend that's uber busy.
Doesn't help that I'm trying to organize Whisper so I can finally post it on the BFFA and I Need A Parrot. It would probably be faster if I just posted the parts already done, but I'm going over the whoooooole thing and doing some minor copy editing on spelling and grammar. While I don't have the desire to write the whole thing over, I think it shows (in spades) that it's the first BtVS fanfic I wrote.
Buffy and Willow don't "sound" 100% "on" to me. Probably because I started writing the story even before S7 spoilers started hitting the Internet, which explains why a restored Magic Box is actually in the story.
Anyway, you know the drill:
Up to part 60 is here.
Previous chapter is linked from here.
This part is a little something for people who wanted to know why Faith wasn't more action girl (yes! there was a point!). Plus, medically speaking, what Charlie says does make a weird sort of sense.
Part 61: It’s Always What You Don’t Know
Faith wrung the excess water out of her hair before glancing down at her clothes with a feeling bordering on despair. Everything on her back was ruined beyond salvaging. She knew there wasn’t enough Simple Green, Shout, Goo Gone, or detergent to get snake guts ’n blood out.
It was beyond stupid. Replacing the stuff wasn’t even an issue and no one was going to scream at her for wrecking her clothes in the line of duty, but years of her mother giving her shit for getting so much as grass stain on her jeans had become part of her DNA. Hell, even after the Boss gave her the apartment and the closet full of clothes, she still ended each night scrubbing shirts, underthings, and pants in the bathtub.
The Boss didn’t know, because if he did he would’ve told her not to worry about it. He probably wouldn’t understand why she felt she had to do it, especially since he was following through on the promise to take care of her.
She plucked uncomfortably at her shirt. About the only thing she could do was burn the motherfucker. She just wished she could stop feeling so goddamn guilty about it. It shouldn’t even rank on her guilt parade, yet it still did with a nagging that sounded suspiciously like mommy dearest’s voice.
Faith gave her face the once-over in the passenger-side mirror of elderly SUV and noticed that Charlie’s drugs had worked like a charm. There wasn’t even a hint of a bruise or scrape to prove that she’d been scrapping all night.
Not scrapping. Getting tossed around, abused, and then running away all night you mean.
“Fucking useless,” she declared.
“I certainly don’t think so.”
Faith spun around to come face-to-face with Giles. “Give me a heart attack why dontchya?”
“I apologize. I thought I’d let you know that Robin is on his way to the hospital with Tammi, where I suspect she will be spinning a tale of woe involving a mugging and fisticuffs.”
“He’ll be okay, right?”
Giles nodded. “I can almost guarantee Xander and I have gotten it at least as bad on more than one occasion. While I cannot speak for Xander, I believe all my brain cells are still functioning normally despite that.” He paused. “Although I’ve been known to, on occasion mind, have the urge to take an early morning constitutional wearing nothing more than a smile and a fig leaf.”
Faith exploded with laughter.
“I’m glad you’re amused,” Giles said dryly. “What you did this evening was not ‘fucking useless,’ as you put it. You showed quite a lot of courage.”
“Yeah, by running away with my tail tucked under my ass,” Faith said bitterly.
“Do you know what I saw?” Giles asked. “I saw a young woman put in impossible situations. I saw a young woman who, when faced with a series of unpleasant choices, put the safety of others above her own pride as a Slayer. I also saw a young woman who kept people focused and organized even though she would much rather be doing something else.”
Faith stared dumbfounded at Giles for a few moments. “Unh, Tweedy? You sure you’re talking about me?”
Giles waved a hand around. “Look around you. Because of you, Willow and Robin were delivered safely out of harm’s way. Because of you, we were all here and waiting when the others on your team reached the surface. As a result, we were able to organize a search party, which you led, to go and find Xander and Buffy. Finally, because of you, we will be leaving in a mere 20 minutes instead of scrambling around this godforsaken cemetery half the night.”
Faith felt gob smacked. She honestly had no idea what to say.
Giles reached out a hand, squeezed her shoulder, and gave her a pleased smile. “Sometimes being the one who gets left behind to clean up the mess and bind the wounds is the hardest position of all. You get to shoulder the heavy burden, but you don’t get any glory for it. Trust me on this, I know. I just wanted you to know that I saw and I give you a great deal of credit for doing what you did. You showed real courage and leadership.” He dropped his hand to his side as his smile disappeared. “I only wish I could take credit for teaching you that.”
Faith felt like her brain was about to cave in, so she dealt the only way she could: by focusing on something else. “I, unh, better go round up the others.” Faith backed away.
Giles let out a sigh. “Of course. I best make arrangements to prepare the bed of Xander’s battered pick-up truck for Catherine’s people. Also, I best find a tarp for the minivan’s seats for those of you with befouled clothes. Xander will be driving the lot of you, since he’s one of the two licensed drivers still capable of taking the wheel.”
“Unh, you’re gonna have to find at least one more since Robin’s down for the count. We need a driver for the truck or the SUV,” Faith pointed out.
“I’ll be driving Catherine and her people in the truck. I suppose I’ll have to trust Dawn not to attract the attention of the police while driving the SUV.”
“Dawn’s not the problem.”
“Yes. That blasted spell on the Grail.” Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. “I imagine getting home will be quite the adventure. I’m hoping that since Catherine will be outside and not on the passenger seat next to me I’ll somewhat shielded, but I’m not counting on that to be the case.”
“Maybe you better have Charlie and J’Nal go in Dawn’s group because they gotta…”
“Prepare for Willow’s healing spell, yes, I know,” Giles said. “Agreed, then. I best find Dawn and let her know.”
“Yeah, she’ll be thrilled to finally use that learner’s permit of hers.” Faith said. As Giles was about to turn away, she added, “Ummm, sorry. About the clothes. I know that buying all new stuff for all of us isn’t going to be…”
A look of incredulity crossed Giles’s face. “Good lord, Faith. Don’t worry about it. I daresay it’s not the first time a Slayer has destroyed her clothes in the midst of a fight and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last.”
Faith could feel the grin on her face. “Thanks.”
With a quick nod, Giles moved off, once more leaving Faith at loose ends. As she glanced around, she could see that if she waded in and started barking orders she’d only get in the way. Considering the size of their group, the other Slayers were managing to keep organized just fine without her.
Buffy and the girls who had hacked their way through the snake to get Buffy and Xander out and helped them through the bloody mess to freedom were finishing their hurried clean up. Like her, their clothes marked them as members of the Lizzie Borden sisterhood, but at least the excess gunk on their skin and in their hair was washed off. Andrea was helping Vi wrap up her gash, but judging by the way Vi was grinning, the wound was probably already starting to heal. Other girls were completing the boring task of loading the weapons—both whole and broken—in the ancient minivan. Catherine stood apart from the crowd as she miserably guarded her Grail while Ruda, Tikri, and J’Nal kept everyone a safe distance away.
At some point she finally spotted Xander standing still and alone in the rush and hurry of Slayers on the mission of a quick evacuation. Like her, his clothes were a complete loss, but at least his face didn’t look like a blood-covered mask. Her Boston blood trained her to be somewhat resistant to cold, but even she felt the night chill thanks to her soaked clothes and hair. She figured with his California blood that he must be absolutely freezing.
She followed his glance and saw that he was watching Kennedy hold Willow tight while Charlie fussed over the unconscious witch. Too soon her eyes were drawn back to him and she realized that he looked something like a toy that had been tossed aside because its owner had found something a little shinier.
Faith screwed up her courage and approached. She was almost on top of him when she realized that she was on his blind side. “Hey, you okay?” she called out in warning.
He startled and turned. When he saw who it was, he gave her a tired smile. “Don’t you mean oogie?”
“You know, what Cath—I mean, what our future friends say instead of okay.”
“You hear oogie? I hear ooky, you know, like, ummm, Adams Family ooky.”
Tired smile turned into full-on grin. “Wow. Pop culture reference. You’re getting assimilated. Resistance is futile.”
“And you’re avoiding the question.”
Xander looked away. “The ankle’s almost as good as new, so Charlie’s drugs are still working. Don’t ask me to run marathons. Well, not that I could run a marathon before. Or ever will. I’ll leave that to people who are actually crazy.”
“Who needs a marathon when you’ve got monsters?” Faith grinned.
“How’s Robin?” Xander asked.
“Already on his way to the hospital. Tammi’s going with so she can spin some sob story about getting mugged,” Faith answered. “Since she’s got bruises too, they’ll probably buy that crap.”
“Good. That’s good.” He shuffled on his feet a little more, eyes once more locked on Willow and Kennedy. When he spoke again, his voice sounded hesitant, “Faith?”
“Thank you. For Willow.”
Faith shrugged, feigning an air of nonchalance to cover her surprise. “What the gig’s about right?”
Xander turned to face her. “Thank you anyway,” he insisted.
Charlie finished whatever he was doing with Willow and jogged over to them. “If you’re interested, we still have four standard hours to get you to a bed, so you’re safe.”
“No. We’re not safe,” Xander said. “No one’s safe until we get home and lock the door behind us.”
The doctor grinned a relieved grin. “Point taken. Still, we’re a little closer safety.” He nodded his head down at Xander’s feet. “How’s the ankle?”
“I went from ‘I think it’s broken’ to ‘I can walk with a slight limp.’ We should just call you Miracle Max and get it over with,” Xander said with a little more cheer than was really necessary. “You need the girls to line up with their ouchies here? Or do you want to wait until we get back to the house?”
Charlie’s grin disappeared. “I can’t.”
“Why not?” Faith asked.
“I’m going to be using a lot for Willow,” he tapped his scanner meaningfully, “plus, no one here is injured beyond what Slayer healing—or human healing in the case of Giles—can handle. I’ve got a limited supply of pharmaceuticals and I need to be more conservative, especially if it turns out we can’t get home.”
“What are you talking about?” Faith asked.
“In case they screwed the timeline, remember?” Xander reminded her.
“Look, I promise that if we’re still here in 30 or so standard years, I’ll break this out to help relieve the symptoms for any of the Slayers who get the shimmy-shakes, but beyond that I think…”
“Shimmy-shakes?” Xander sharply interrupted.
“Polgar Syndrome?” Charlie prompted.
Xander shook his head.
Light dawned on Charlie’s face. “Oh, that’s right. You probably know it by another name, don’t you?”
Xander nonchalantly shrugged. “Why am I shocked if that’s the case? Oh, wait. I’m so not. Describe the symptoms and I’ll be able to tell you what we call it.”
Faith’s eyes snapped to Xander because she had no idea what Charlie was talking about. Xander obviously did, if she could judge by the expression on his face.
“Hmmmm,” Charlie rubbed his chin in thought. “Okay, I won’t bother describing the genetic markers for it since you probably don’t have the technology to detect it and probably wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. So, I’ll describe the end-stage symptoms.”
Xander nodded. “Probably right there. Lay it on me.”
“It’s when a Slayer starts exhibiting signs of nerve damage,” Charlie explained. “You know, they start shaking so hard that they can barely hold anything, let alone a weapon. They eventually develop trouble swallowing and speaking. Eventually, the nerves misfire so rapidly that every muscle in the body simply fails, including the heart.”
Xander considered that a moment before cautiously saying, “Sort of like Parkinson’s Disease.”
“Is that Slayer-specific?” Charlie asked.
This time Xander was firm in his reply. “Yes.”
That’s when Faith knew that Xander was playing the doc. He had no more fucking clue than she did.
“Hold up. My Watcher told me that it was a rare condition. It was, like, one in a million Slayers got it,” she said.
Xander’s head whipped around to look at her. He managed to cover up his surprised reaction by ladling on another lie. “Giles said that every Slayer will get it if they live long enough. He could point to something like three Slayers that got it.”
Goddamn he’s good. If they were conning for shits and giggles, this little game would be a beautiful thing to behold. She looked Xander straight in the eye and threw in her own lie. “Wes told me that there was a difference of opinion on that and that I shouldn’t believe anyone who said it was inevitable. I mean, he could point to something like four Slayers that lived to the same age and never got it.”
Xander nodded slowly. “I guess we’ll find out in another 20 or 25 years,” she noticed that Xander picked numbers under Charlie’s 30, “it’s just that I wish we had time to research that point before Willow cast the spell, but…well…I don’t have to tell you what Sunnydale was like at the end, right?”
“Shit. I didn’t even know you guys were looking at that.” Faith shrugged through the building tension in her chest. “I could’ve put your minds at ease.”
“Or irritated Giles. Your pick.” Xander’s eyebrows comically crunched before he turned back to a fidgeting Charlie. “Oooops. Sorry.”
“No problem,” Charlie said. “I better get to Catherine and…”
Xander reached out and grabbed Charlie’s arm. “Hey, I know you can’t tell us anything future-y, but, ummm, see? It’s just that if you could answer this much, I would be really grateful.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice. “I have to be honest. I’ve been losing a lot of sleep over this, you know? The guilt,” he shook his head, “I mean you tell yourself that you’re doing it to save the world, but at the same time you know, or you think you know, that every Slayer’s got this ticking time bomb inside them and that they’re going to die a really awful death and…” Xander let out a shuddering breath.
Give the man a fucking Oscar, Faith grimly thought.
Charlie blinked owlishly at Xander, whose face was radiating something akin to guilty sadness. Faith knew that Charlie didn’t stand a fucking chance when Xander broke out the violins.
Charlie leaned forward and dropped his own voice low. “It’s not rare, but it’s not common. Something like one in 1,500 Slayers develop it. We don’t know why it happens or what causes it, even in my time. It’s not heredity. We’ve got entire lines of related Slayers where one will develop it, but no others. But we do know it’s something genetic. The only thing we can do is run tests to look for the genetic markers that only show up in activated Slayers. The disease symptoms begin manifesting approximately 30 standard years after they become Slayers.”
Xander gasped. Faith knew he wasn’t faking this time. She tried her best to keep her expression neutral, but she really wasn’t sure how successful she actually was.
Charlie gave them both pitying looks. “I know this doesn’t make either one of you feel better, but developing the disease is not a foregone conclusion. Most Slayers never get it.”
“Assuming they live that long.” Faith’s lips felt numb as she said it.
Charlie leaned in and grabbed her arm, dropping his voice to a whisper. “You will live long enough and you won’t get it. You’re safe.” He suddenly let go and practically ran into the crowd of busy Slayers.
“Oh, god,” Xander prayed.
Faith looked up at him. “We didn’t know. We had no fucking clue. So stop…”
“How many people here do you think’ll get it?” he interrupted.
Faith looked around her. “He said one in something like one in every 1,500, right? So no way to know that either.”
“We have to tell Giles. We have to tell Giles as in yesterday,” Xander said.
“We gotta wait.”
Xander turned his whole body around to give her an incredulous look.
“I think he pretty much told us all he could tell us,” Faith kept her voice low, forcing Xander to lean down so he could hear her better. “Besides, if they can’t do shit-all about this shimmy-shakes even with all their geek technology, I really don’t see how us getting even more information is going to help us right here and right now.”
“Maybe Willow or Giles…” Xander began.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Faith said, “but think about this for a sec. We tattle. Giles jumps all over his ass. He clams up for good not just about this, but everything. We’ll never be able to pull the shit we just pulled on him or any of his buds ever again because he’ll just assume we’re lying. If they’re actually stuck here? That’ll spell trouble in the long run.”
“If they’re stuck here, this’ll come out anyway,” Xander pointed out.
“Let’s deal if it comes to that.”
Xander hesitated a moment before giving her a slight nod. As he straightened up, he looked around him. “You know what this means, right?”
“That we just sentenced a whole lotta girls to death who might’ve never had to deal with this shit if they didn’t become Slayers?” Faith responded quietly. “Yeah, I think I got that part even before we found out about the shimmy-shakes.”