Given my massive rant about Hell's Bells yesterday, people might be a little surprised to see that this section actually goes relatively lightly on the Scoobs as a whole.
Oh, a quick warning: This part does make reference to Whisper, which remains now and always my favorite child of all my fics. Faith isn't in it and (surprising given my S7 BtVS hate) it takes place right after Him.
There is an AU element in that the Magic Box was rebuilt (I started writing before S7 started airing, so I was Jossed just slightly, but it was minor enough that I didn't bother changing it). Spike fans might be interested in one of the few instances where I've actually written (or rather, attempted to write) Spike. It's one of those stories that a lot of people missed when it was first posted because I was new to Buffy fanfic, but thanks to some recent recs and awards (and it's won a surprising many of them over two years), people are finding it again. I always get a warm *squeeee* when I get FBed for it.
I have to admit, one of my favorite passages that I've ever written comes from Whisper, which you can find here in Snippet 4.
[I have to seriously thank othercat for recommending it...I want to rec something for the Rec Tree that mpoetess has, but I have no idea what to put forward because many of the stories are so good. I'm honored to be included. *hugs*]
However, you don't have to read Whisper to understand what's going on. All the information you need to know for the purposes of this story is included in this part.
Since Whisper makes use of Into the Woods as something of a template, I had to use this song for today's download. Plus, it fits the part.
“We five are the surviving members of Victims Unfairly Persecuted by Anyanka,” the Fat Man started by way of introduction. “VUPA for short.”
There was a distinctly uncomfortable rustle among the Slayers. Faith glanced around and she could see that none of them really knew what to make of the situation. To be brutally honest, she wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it herself. From what little she gathered, Anya in her demon form was destructive at best and a mass murderer at worst, yet Xander still got involved with her knowing what she was.
Jesus, Cyclops really did have a death wish. He had to have known that if he stepped out of line even once he was dead meat.
Fat Man began launching into his tale of woe. “All of us were cursed by Anyanka…”
“For hurting women,” Buffy harshly interrupted. Her arms were crossed and her body was ramrod straight. To Faith, it looked like Buffy was defensive about the fact that Anya was part of the in-crowd, despite the fact that certain people—not that I’m going to name names, nope, not me—ended up with a knife in the gut for a hell of a lot less.
Anya probably got a pass because she didn’t try to make time with Angel, Faith sourly thought. Betchya if she so much as remarked on Angel’s nice ass, Anya would’ve gotten her fucking head cut off.
“My lady, the criteria for joining our band was specifically that the women in our lives were not physically harmed and that we were unjustly persecuted by Anyanka. We would never harm women. We all simply adore them,” the Fat Man insisted.
“Sometimes two or three at the same time,” Buffy flatly stated.
“Buffy, if you would let the gentlemen talk,” Giles said with a long-suffering air.
Buffy made a face, but kept her mouth shut.
Fat Man bristled a little. “I admit to a single affair. One. I hardly think that justifies this.” He presented his bloated body as Exhibit A. “I do heartily admit that it was a momentary lapse of judgment getting involved with a patient…”
“A patient! That’s not ethical!” Dawn exploded.
Fat Man cringed. “As I said, a lapse in judgment. As her psychologist, I was wholly responsible for what happened. However, I did attempt to break it off and recommended she go to another psychologist. I was quite willing to accept the loss of my license for the wrong I caused.”
“But your wife got to you first,” Willow said sympathetically.
“Actually, no. It was the patient with whom I had the affair.”
“Oh,” Willow said.
Well, that does really suck for him, Faith had to admit to herself. He was ready to turn himself over to the law and take his lumps and he gets whacked Anyanka-style. Still, could be a bid for sympathy and since Faith had played that game a time or two, she decided someone needed to have brass balls before everyone jumped on the love train for these guys. “You got a name, sport?” she casually asked. “’Cause I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to check that story.”
“Naturally. There were some stories about my disappearance during 1982 that make mention of proceedings against me,” Fat Man easily agreed. “Check the local newspapers in San Antonio for Alistair Stewart von Stein the Third.”
“What’s everyone else’s story?” Kennedy asked.
“My decomposing friend, Yvon LeFarrow,” here Alistair gave the zombie a nod, “was cursed because his wife felt he was too cold and uncaring to her needs. May I mention the actual wish, my dear man?”
Yvon nodded, which caused the flesh on his face to wobble and sag in a sickening manner.
“His wife believed him to be as lifeless as a corpse in the boudoir. Rather than blaming simple loss of spark, she erroneously assumed it was because he was having an affair and wished for the world to see how lifeless he was. Did I get that right, my dear fellow?”
Yvon again nodded, which resulted in his nose falling off.
“No worries, dear chap,” Alistair said—Faith could see he was one of those people who liked to put on blueblood airs—as he patted the zombie’s arm. “I’m certain you’ll have your nose back in three days or so.”
“Wait. It’ll grow back?” Rona asked from the peanut gallery.
“Yvon is much older than he looks.” Alistair said. “He was cursed in 1843. Even complete dismemberment can’t kill him. Obviously the parts that break away do grow back. Show them your hand.”
Yvon unwrapped the hand that had fallen off in the scuffle and showed everyone his stump. There was a murmur of shock and sounds of gagging as everyone registered the five pink buds that would probably turn into fingers growing out of the ruined flesh.
“Jesus,” Faith breathed. This was some pretty creepy shit.
“The rat is Joey ‘Nickles’ Pellicani,” Alistair moved on while Yvon clumsily attempted to re-wrap his hand. “Admittedly, he was a made man, and admittedly he turned state’s evidence against the Rhode Island mob. His wife made a wish because his testimony sent her father and two brothers to jail.”
“I think her wish was pretty fucking obvious,” Faith remarked. “Teach you to fuck with the Patriarca mafia. Jesus. Be glad Anyanka cursed your ass first and you’re a rat. ’Cause I’m telling you, if she didn’t getchya, they would’ve and you’d be hosting a party for the worms.”
“That is hardly the point,” Alistair sniffed.
“I’m thinkin’ it sort of is,” Faith shrugged. “Only reason he’s still breathing is ’cause he’s a rat. Not so much a curse as a lucky break the way I see it.”
The rat gave her a glare.
“Our snake with the human face is Sam Smythe. Con man,” Alistair said.
“Oh, look! An actual bad guy,” Buffy sneered.
“Buffy,” Willow said quietly as she elbowed her friend in the ribs.
Faith chanced a glance around the room. B was being even more of a skeptic about the whole thing than she was, which was pretty impressive since she had heard a lot of but-I’m-innocent-yer-honor stories while in prison. She could pick up the fact there was a little bullshit mixed with the truth in what the anti-Anyanka group was saying. As for the others, she was definitely seeing more than a little sympathy on the rapt faces of the Slayers. She hoped it would occur to the others that they were hearing only one side of the story.
Still, even if there was only a thimbleful of truth to what their kidnappers were saying, they did sort of get a raw deal. There were a lot of ways to get revenge on someone who did you wrong, but this kind of shit seemed a little over-the-top.
“While it is true that my colleague Sam is hardly what you’d call a pillar of the community, he was at best a grifter by his own admission. Furthermore, women weren’t his only victims in his schemes,” Alistair allowed.
“Guess he crossed the wrong woman, hunh?” Kennedy asked.
“To say the least,” Alistair agreed. “And last, but certainly not least, I present Jack Washington.”
Here the dog let out a bark. The dog was still one ugly-ass mutt, but at least now he was a clean ugly-ass mutt with a flea collar.
“Jack was what I believe young people today call a ‘playa,’” Alistair said.
Jack hung his head and let out a small whine.
“Although, in fairness to my colleague, he never made it a secret to any of his conquests,” Alistair continued. “You might say one disappointed lady thought she could change him and, when she failed to do so, she got her revenge.”
Faith could feel her own eyes rolling in disbelief at that one. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t. He was still a playa. While that shit wouldn’t bother her if she were looking for a little playmate after a righteous Slay, there were plenty of women in the world who’ve been burned by playas.
“So, our once-virile Jack is now a dog,” Alistair paused for effect. “A female dog. Who has given birth to a litter of puppies. Twice.”
“Guess he was made Anya’s bitch, hunh?” Rona asked. She looked around and saw that everyone was now looking at her. “Unh, didn’t mean to actually say that out loud. Ignore me.”
“I am certain we all sympathize with your plight.” Giles’s voice was practically dripping with sarcasm, a good indication he wasn’t completely buying it either. “That does not erase the fact that you targeted an innocent man as part of your revenge scheme.”
“Which is why we promised not to hurt Young Master Harris since he is not responsible for our condition,” Alistair protested. “And I would hardly say that his hands are completely clean. He almost certainly knew what she was and he almost married her.”
Faith gave her head a hard shake. She couldn’t have heard that right. Married? Almost? What the fuck?
Buffy kicked back with a sarcastic smile. “You expect us to believe that you’ve been after her for that long?”
Jesus Christ, am I the only one in the room who doesn’t know this? Faith asked as she looked around. A few of the Slayers looked like the news wasn’t a surprise, most looked shocked. Put her down on the shocked side because she knew Xander and Anya were screwing before and after she made her not-so-triumphant return back to the SunnyD.
“As a matter of fact, we played quite the role in making sure the marriage didn’t happen,” Alistair said proudly.
Buffy was showing all her teeth in a not-very-nice smile. “Now I know you’re lying. You had nothing to do with that.”
“True, Stuart Burns was not one of ours,” Alistair allowed.
“Who?” Willow asked.
“Stuart Burns. Another one of Anyanka’s former victims,” Alistair explained. “She turned him into a demon and sent him to a hell dimension for good measure. He was set free by one of Anyanka’s colleagues and they both approached us for help on a little spell that would make Young Master Harris rethink his decision.”
“Dolly,” Willow whispered.
“Really, they were the ones who gave us the idea to do more than ban together for support,” Alistair said. “When we heard she had survived the wedding, we decided to take up the cause. We even hired hit demons, Joey’s idea of course, and they were supposed to deliver a message that D’Hoffryn wanted her dead so it would demoralize her and make the kill easier. However, they kept mysteriously dying before they could complete their mission.”
Buffy launched herself at the kidnappers with claws out. Faith immediately sprung forward and managed to get in between Buffy and her targets. She could hear the kidnappers scrambling and lurching away as fast as they could while she wrestled the growling Buffy to a standstill.
“B! Cool your jets! B!” Faith desperately said as she struggled against the blonde Slayer.
“Buffy! That’s enough!” Giles hollered.
The fight seemed to leach right out of Buffy, but Faith could feel that the other Slayer was still tense. Everyone else was frozen in place, like they couldn’t believe their own eyes.
“If you cannot remain calm, I suggest you leave,” Giles said evenly.
Buffy yanked herself out of Faith’s embrace, shot the Watcher a glare, and stomped out of the room.
“I’ll get it,” Dawn and Willow said in unison as they moved to follow her.
“Hold up a sec,” Faith interrupted. “I’m thinking I should.”
“But…” Dawn began a protest.
“No dice,” Faith said. “You two? Mega emotionally invested. Me? Not so much. Plus, you two are brainiacs and we still gotta question these mooks on how to get Cyclops back. Me? Not a brainiac. So aside from smart-ass comments, I got nothing to contribute.”
“Agreed,” Giles nodded. “Faith, if you would?”
Faith strode out of the room and made a beeline right for the training room. At a guess, B was taking her anger out on the helpless punching bag.
Her first guess was the right one, although instead of beating things up, Buffy was sitting against a wall staring straight ahead. Faith had no idea where to begin, but truth to tell she was actually kind of curious about what exactly went down. Whatever it was, it had to be pretty wicked for B to lose control the way she did.
The second Faith hit the bottom stair, Buffy held up a hand and said, “Don’t start.”
“Not sayin’ nothin’,” Faith said as she pulled up some floor space next to Buffy.
“Son of a bitch,” Buffy said quietly. “Son. Of. A. Bitch.”
“You’re sounding a little too much like me there, B,” Faith said. “Sure we didn’t swap bodies again? Because I’m telling you, jumping at someone like you did is more my style than yours. Not the smartest thing you’ve done, especially since they got the keys to Xander’s prison. So, what’s the deal?”
“Xander left Anya at the altar,” Buffy said.
“Figured with the ‘almost married’ part,” Faith said. “Gotta admit that I’m surprised.”
“That Xander left Anya at the altar? Yeah. We were kind of surprised, too.”
“Unh, actually, I’m surprised that Xander wasn’t breathing through his asshole by the time Anya was through with him. Plus, they were going all hot-and-heavy just before Sunnydale exploded and Anya didn’t strike me as the forgive-and-forget type.”
Buffy was quiet for a while. “There was this vengeance demon. Dolly. She said she was the one responsible for the marriage not happening.”
“Another vengeance demon targeting Anya, hunh? What was she? Jealous?”
Buffy shook herself. “What? Oh. No. Xander was her client.”
Faith mentally chewed on that a bit. “What is it with him and vengeance demons?”
“I think you mean demons of any kind, but, yeah, he does know how to attract them, doesn’t he?” Buffy hiccupped a chuckle. “Dolly’s a long story. A real long story. The short version is that she looked over kids who, unh, didn’t have such a great home life.”
Faith was a little surprised that Buffy was even willing to say that much. Faith had her suspicions about the deal with Xander’s parents based on his reaction when he got caught in the knockdown fight between her and Robin. She was strangely not comforted to know she guessed right. “So let me guess. Dumbass, who knew what a vengeance demon was, made a wish.”
“Made the wish loooong before he knew what demons were, like when he was six,” Buffy said.
Faith simply didn’t know what to say to that.
“Typical Xander, though. Didn’t wish them dead or for new parents. Oh, no. Because that would be simple. And Xander? I swear to god he never does anything the easy way. He’s got to make it harder than it needs to be.” Buffy said bitterly.
“So what did he wish?”
“To not be his parents.”
“That’s a real good wish, B,” Faith said quietly.
Buffy frowned a bit like she didn’t even hear Faith before saying with venom, “She lied to me. She lied. She said she was responsible for showing Xander the future. She never mentioned getting help. Right to my face. She lied.”
“Back up. How did you find all this out?” Faith asked.
“Looooong story, like I said,” Buffy answered. “Let’s just say things got pretty hairy for awhile and there was an actual body count before it was over, but Dolly wasn’t responsible. For the body count, I mean. But she was involved up to her wrinkly-faced eyebrows. She spilled after we managed to fix things.”
Faith waited for Buffy to say more. She wasn’t disappointed.
“She admitted to breaking one of Anya’s victims out of a hell dimension and setting him loose on the wedding. She claimed that she gave this guy something that would plant a vision of the future in Xander’s head where he became his father anyway. Not that I believe it could ever happen, because, you know, it’s Xander. I’m pretty sure those visions were fake.”
“Wait. Dolly was working for Xander and she sabotaged the wedding?” Faith asked.
“Said he wasn’t ready to get married because he hadn’t earned his wish yet,” Buffy said sourly.
“Did he ever earn it?” Faith asked.
“Yeah,” Buffy said quietly. “He finally did and he did it by himself. Go Xander.”
“Still managed to cause a lot of damage in the meantime it sounds like,” Faith remarked.
“You have no idea,” Buffy agreed. “It’s just unfair. Dolly caused this entire mess. None of those guys up there would’ve even thought of doing this if she and this guy hadn’t approached them for that spell. If she were here right now, I’d…” Buffy left the thought hang.
“Sounds like you didn’t now the score until after the fact,” Faith said.
“Long after the fact and long after it would’ve done any good,” Buffy said sadly. “Hunh. I just realized. The demon Xander and I fought at his wedding. He had a name. Stuart. Didn’t know that.”
“So what happened to him?” Faith asked.
Buffy’s eyes squinted as if what she was about to say would hurt. “Xander killed him.”
“Good for him,” Faith said.
Xander was shocked and relieved that Anya didn’t ask or even hint anything about other Xander’s ‘workshop.’ In fact, she was in a chirpy mood because the party went off without a hitch and because he didn’t have to be evicted from the spare room because someone was too trashed to get behind the wheel.
Some part of him also wondered if Anya was in a good mood because she really thought he’d find something in the university library that would help make him gone before the end of the day.
Given the way this nightmare was going, he somewhat doubted he’d be that lucky.
When they pulled into the parking lot, Anya handed him a ‘user card’ that would give him free and complete access to university’s full facilities.
“What’s this?” Xander asked.
“Oh, that’s right. You probably never heard of the program. This is something that started a few years ago because of the state budget crisis,” Anya said. “If you’re a small business, you can make an annual membership donation to your local University of California branch.”
“Which gives you free reign to use whatever you want on this campus. I guess my twin does a lot of research here, hunh?” Xander casually asked.
“I think Xander’s only had to resort to using the library here once or twice, but usually he finds what he needs locally or online,” Anya said.
Well, so much for him researching on local big bads, Xander thought. “Not to be dense or anything, but why would you need access to the university library when you don’t use it?”
“It’s not just for the library. Wouldn’t be worth the investment if it was just that.” There was an unspoken ‘dumbass’ at the end of the statement. “We also get adult education seminars at a discount, which I’ve used to learn new accounting software or beef up my business and networking skills. Plus, it’s an investment in Haley’s future. Anything we donate over the annual minimum donation based on our business income is invested in a tuition trust fund for Haley. Once she’s accepted into any public or private university in the state, the money is applied to tuition. The fund is getting double prime compounded interest, so when it’s all said and done, we’ll be getting more out of it than we’re actually paying in. We just had to get in on the ground floor when it was offered.”
“You’re a financial genius, Anya,” Xander said.
“And don’t you forget it, buster,” she playfully swatted him. “Now, shoo. I am a very busy woman today. Make sure to meet me out here around 4:30, okay? I don’t want to make security page you because that would be embarrassing.”
On that note, she pointed him in the direction of the library, watched him get out, and drove away.
As he headed up the path to the library, Xander felt a dry, prickly itch all over his skin, no doubt brought on by stress. Anya and other him would probably be pissed if he again came up empty-handed on the research front and he suspected that empty-handed was how he was going to end his day. He was so in over his head that he didn’t know where to begin. For one thing, he didn’t know what was going on or how he ended up here. Without a big X saying ‘you are here,’ or at least Giles telling him where to start, he had no idea what to look for. Even if the library had the books he needed, he could spin his wheels for days and not even get close.
Hold on! Wait a second! Why are you all panic-y? Chances are Giles and the guys are already on the case to save your ass and help’s already on the way. Okay, not loving the whole Xansel in distress mindset with that thought, but it still was something positive to hang on to. Even if he was trapped in a nightmare or hallucinating, Willow was probably cooking up an antidote right at this very moment and all he needed to do was keep it together long enough to be rescued.
Or stay alive long enough for someone to rescue you, his brain cheerily volunteered.
Xander froze. He actually hadn’t thought of that. If something went really, really wrong, say, if he hallucinated a bunch of vampires attacking him, would he die in the real world? “Awww, hell. Just what I need to worry about,” he grumbled as he kicked at an invisible rock. He remembered having the ‘if you dream you’re falling and you hit the ground before you wake up will you die’ debate with Willow during one all-night research session during high school, but they’d never actually settled the issue.
“Fences, crosses, stakes, arrows, and at least one vampire that I know about,” Xander said softly. “Something tells me I better take a closer look at good ol’ Zihuatanejo and see what I can find out.”