I swear I will get back to the FB on this week's massive Fic!Spam. I will. But RL—gah!
I feel dain bread.
At least I have my Arrested Development DVDs from Netflix for tomorrow night. I need me some Bluth weirdness to get my head on straight. I only managed to catch episodes here and there when S1 was airing on FOX. Now I get to see 'em all. In order. Wheeeeee!
And so, it is with trembling trepidation that I put this part of Water out here.
So, as the Mother House in Our Cleveland feels the rush of optimism (sorta), Xander, well, he's been better.
This should put a bullet in any notions that I've gone all fluffy on you people. *heh*
And for the record, I think the LJ-tags are neat, but only for me since it helps me find things that I wouldn't necessarily throw into memories. Although, it's a true pain to go back and LJ-tag all my posts. I'm slowly starting to do it, but I can only tackle two to three months at a time before my eyes start to bleed. Plus, I'm hoping they lift that 100-tag limit. The limit is not helpful for me, and I've been around only a year-and-a-half. I can't imagine what the long-timers are going to do.
This is just my way of saying: "No way am I going to abandon memories." It's too convenient and at least puts the links to all my fic and really, really important stuff on one page.
All previous parts can be found here.
Seeing Xander and getting a peek at his situation had flipped a switch in the Mother House.
It seemed to Faith a lot of the baby Slayers were starting to relax, now that there was a good chance their overgrown teddy was coming home. Team Optimist was now actually optimistic about getting their Watcher back, as opposed to hoping really, really hard that he'd be back. Giles was so bouyed by this turn of events that he even agreed to catch a snooze and left research duty in Willow’s capable hands.
Willow, for her part, tore through Robin’s treasure trove with an energy that Faith dubbed ‘manic,’ although B kept assuring her that this was Willow in research mode.
Even so, Faith opted to keep Willow and her ‘helpers’ company, if only because she wanted to use her physical presence to remind the kidnappers that they were there to help and not screw around. To her surprise, the kidnappers were actually helping, although she suspected that their willingness to pitch in was more about avoiding a tour in a hell dimension in the very near future.
At the moment, B was off chasing some bright idea to help with the ‘Yvon smells’ situation, and the Slayer guard was stationed outside the library and ready to run in at even the hint of a yell from Willow. That left Faith feeling about as useful as a hangnail while she served as the Slayer guard in the library.
“I believe I found it!” Alistair loudly announced. The flab waved and wobbled around him, an indication he was either excited or pleased.
“Oh, thank heavens!” Willow slammed her book shut. “Let me see.”
Yvon took the book out of Alistair’s hands and lurched over to Willow. He tried to put the book gently on the table, but he still managed to leave behind a rotting finger.
“Ummm, unh, thanks,” Willow choked against the smell.
“’U’r ’elcum,” he acknowledged, an effort that popped two teeth out his mouth.
“Maybe you should just sit down. Take a load off before you drop any more weight,” Faith remarked from a far corner of the room where she sat as she scratched Jack behind the ears.
“Faith,” Willow said sweetly, “I could use some help over here.”
“I ain’t going near you without a gas mask. No offense, Yvon.”
Jack thumped his tail in agreement.
“’one ’akin’,” Yvon said.
Sam slithered across the room until he could coil next to Faith. “Ssssssimple sssssspell.”
“I don’t give a fuck about simple. It just better work, otherwise you all better start runnin’ for your lives,” Faith half-heartedly threatened. “You got yourself a house full of pissed off Slayers just waiting for this to go wrong.”
“It worksssssssss.” Sam’s tail reassuringly patted Faith’s arm.
“It should,” Willow agreed from her chair. Her eyes were watering with the effort not to gag while Yvon leaned over her shoulder and shed bits of skin. “It works on a tug-of-war principle, so—”
“Still don’t sound like a sure thing,” Faith argued. “You can always lose a tug-of-war.”
“Well, the idea is that since Xander is from here, the weight is on our side, so the pull back will be able to overcome him staying there.” Willow paused to cough. Yvon got the hint and finally moved away. “But the longer he’s there, the harder it’ll be to pull him back.”
“How long we got?” Faith asked.
“Six years, actually,” Willow said. “It’s a math thing. If we don’t get him back in six years, he basically has to call the other reality home.”
“Good to know there’s no pressure,” Faith remarked.
“Well, still sort of is. If he gets turned or killed on the other side before we can get to him, we can’t get him at all.”
“Just what I frigging needed to hear. Thanks a whole lot, Red,” Faith grumbled, “And here I was getting all optimistic for our chances.”
“Still not going to be easy, though,” Willow said as her eyes scanned the page. “We have to wait until the stars are in alignment to cast the spell, since, you know, that configuration is our best bet for spells that require the power of the Underworld, and this is an Underworld-ish situation where we are going to have to reach across dimensional barriers and retrieve someone otherwise lost to us. Lucky for us, the alignment we need is a week from today.”
“Underworld?” Faith asked. “Ain’t that dark magic shit you want to stay away from?”
“No,” Willow said absently as she continued scanning the page. “The spell itself is neutral, which makes it attractive and probably our best chance to pull this off. It’s dark magic if we used this spell to force someone into a new dimension. But since we’re trying to restore the proper balance by pulling someone out who doesn’t belong there, it’s basically balanced to the positive side, so no icky backlash for us.”
Faith’s eyes tracked to the Alistair. While she didn’t know all that much about magic and had zero interest in learning, she had picked up a little knowledge hanging around the Mother House. Going by Willow’s comment, she knew that the kidnappers had just fucked themselves even more than Anya did. If there wasn’t some form of amends in the offing from these yo-yos, they were seriously going to pay for the shit they pulled. Given the general non-reaction to Willow’s explanation, however, it appeared the dumbasses were too stupid to realize that.
She wondered if Giles or Willow would bother to set them straight. She kinda hoped they wouldn’t. Although she was half-tempted to cut Jack some slack and clue the dog in since he was the one that gave her the heads-up that the others were hiding something. Given the way the others were giving him a wide berth, she figured ol’ Jackie-girl was probably paying in spades for turning state’s evidence.
Willow suddenly groaned. “On second thought, maybe this spell is harder than it looks. We’re going to have to get some ingredients that won’t be that easy to find.”
“Can we get them?” Faith asked.
Willow thunked down the book. “I’ll call Lady Haversham. Maybe they’ve got the hard-to-get ingredients we need. They’d have to ship it express, and they’d probably have to bespell the boxes so customs won’t open them, but as options go, that’s as good as it’s going to get. Meantime, we probably should look for an alternative, just in case. Only good news is that at least none of what we need is black market stuff, otherwise we’d be pretty much out of luck.”
“I fail to see why,” Alistair sniffed. “Fearing to tread into the use of dark magic strikes me as far too limiting on the power that is available to those with the ability. Surely you’re not afraid to do what’s necessary to help your compatriot.”
Faith could not believe how quickly Willow was on her feet. Faith could swear she felt the room crackle around her and she half-wondered how much further Alistair could push Willow before the witch finally snapped on his ass. Alistair at least had the sense to look worried.
“That is not the point,” Willow said low and evenly. “If black market was the only way, you can bet that I’d do it. But it’s not the only option, so it will be avoided if I have anything to say about it.”
“But surely such a spell would be more powerful and would be more likely to bring success,” Alistair said.
Faith cringed. Christ, for someone who claims to be a fucking genius he’s really an idiot.
Willow’s voice dropped to a dangerous level. “In the kind of spell work we need to do, the dark magic wouldn’t affect just me. It could potentially affect Xander. That is not a chance I want to take, especially with his sensitivity to active spellcasting. As it is, there’s a chance he’ll be seriously hurting because of this and I do not, repeat, do not, want to add to the pain potential. Now, if it were just me? I’d risk. But I will not risk him.”
There was a moment of tense silence.
“Now,” Willow’s smile was tight. “You can help with this spell, or you can leave and get locked up in your comfy little room.”
Faith cracked her knuckles, just to remind Alistair of their earlier chat.
Alistair swallowed hard as he looked to his crew. “As you wish, my lady.”
“Good,” Willow said as she primly re-took her seat.
Faith went to Willow’s side with Jack padding behind her and peered at the book over the witch’s shoulder, not that she could make heads or tales of what was written on the pages. “So, how difficult are we really talking?” she quietly asked.
“No matter what, it’s going to be hard.” Willow sounded worried. Given how powerful she was, Faith figured Willow was a hell of a lot less sure that the spell would work than she let on. It didn’t help to know that if Willow said this spell was their best bet, it probably really was, short of looking in some pretty dark places for help.
“Seems Cyclops got sent away easy enough,” Faith glared at Alistair. “Plus, these mooks were pretty sure they could get him back after a quick look-see with a snap of the fingers.”
“As we explained, dear girl, we used a key-and-lock spell,” Alistair said with a haughty air, proving once more that Anya probably went easy on the asshole. “The successful and relative ease of the retrieval spell for young Master Harris was dependent upon meeting the conditions set forth in the first spell. Ergo, we must find a spell strong enough to override those conditions.”
“Heard ya the first time,” Faith muttered.
Buffy interrupted by bursting into the library with a plastic shopping bag. “We got them, Yvon.”
“Sanks,” the zombie nodded, an action the caused the skin on his face to sickeningly slip and sag like a bad rubber mask.
“We cleaned out the auto parts store. I think they thought we were crazy, especially since we were sitting in the parking lot waiting for them to open. I think they think we have a fetish, which, yuck,” Buffy said as she gingerly approached Yvon. “I sure hope these air fresheners are going to work.”
“Wort’ a shot.”
“The things that fall under a Slayer’s duty,” Buffy gagged as she drew a dizzying array of cardboard shapes from the bag and began hanging them from various buttons, buckles, zippers, and rag ends on Yvon’s clothing.
Xander swam back to the waking world, feeling every deep muscle ache left over from the night before.
Ooooo, what did I do?
A decidedly naked female body plastered against his back stretched and let out a yawn.
His eyes flew open as the night before came flooding back. I didn’t. Please tell me I didn’t. He slowly rolled over and saw Faith feeling around the top of the nightstand next to the bed for her cigarettes.
“Morning?” he ventured.
“Gotta admit, you’ve definitely improved, although that could’ve been from the high of some mighty fine stake work,” Faith fished a cigarette out of the softpack of Camels. “You know? Not too sure I buy that you’re not screwing the other me. Second we got back you had me pinned against the wall and my pussy dripping.” Her face dissolved into a dimpled grin. “You sure do know how to make a girl scream, that’s all I’m sayin’.”
“Unh, hunh, ahhhh…” Xander stumbled as he pulled the covers up to his chin.
“Don’t bother, boytoy,” Xander tried not to react to the hated nickname that his Faith would never dare use anymore, “I saw it all last night.”
“Honest to god, Faith. You’ve got to believe me when I say that—oh man,” he scrubbed a hand through his hair. “This is not me. I swear this is not me. I don’t know this me at all.”
Faith sat up, a move that caused the blanket to fall away from her upper body revealing everything from the waist up, including the crisscross of scars he found so fascinating last night. Xander pulled the covers over his head in response and tried to wipe the memory of Faith moaning for more while he ran tongue and fingers over those scars. His traitorous dick had other ideas and it stirred awake.
He could hear a low throaty chuckle. “Shit. You are fucking telling the truth about you and that other Faith, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Yes I am,” he said fervently. “I don’t suppose you could put on a shirt?”
“Why? You’ve seen the girls. Hell, you were biting them last night.”
Okay. He couldn’t argue with that logic. Time for him to face reality. He pulled the covers from his head and as casually as possible sat up against the headboard while gathering as much of the covers as he could around his waist to hide the telltale hard on.
Faith took a drag on her cigarette and studied him through the smoke with amused eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“For what? I ain’t complaining,” she shrugged as she reached to tap the ashes of her cigarette into an ashtray. “Besides, looked to me you were just blowing off some steam. Pressure you’ve been under? It’s a wonder you weren’t sniffing after Anya.”
That earned him another throaty chuckle. “You banged her too? You have been busy.”
“Look, I swear, it just happened.”
“Like we just happened?”
“Yes. No. Yes. I don’t know,” Xander slumped. “I mean, I don’t just go out and get—I mean I don’t just fall into bed with—oh, wait—I mean—”
“You’re hurtin’ yourself there.”
“This isn’t me. I don’t do things like this,” Xander repeated weakly as he dropped his head in his hands. A sudden thought struck him and he started giggling.
“What’s so funny?” Faith demanded.
The irritated question just made the whole thing funnier.
He felt a calloused hand close around his bicep. “You gonna share the joke?” Faith’s voice had an angry edge to it.
Xander forced himself under control and managed to get out, “At least I’m consistent.”
“I don’t get you,” Faith said as she let go. She took another drag, which caused the end of the cigarette to glow hellfire red.
He could still feel the giggle trying to break through his crazily grinning mouth. “I’ve slept with exactly two women in my life,” he waved a vague approximation of a peace sign at her, “and I end up in another reality and who do I sleep with? The exact same two women.” He slid down into a deep slouch and started to chuckle. “Am I sad or what?”
When he didn’t get an answer he turned his head to see Faith regarding him with confusion.
“You and me just the once. Anya, my Anya, I was with for three years? Four? Three for sure, the fourth was a little confused.”
“Until she left,” Faith said. Judging by the look on the Slayer’s face, Xander could easily guess that she was quickly adding up the snippets she knew about him in her head and had realized there were some holes that needed filling.
He wrestled with himself a moment, but after almost a week of living a cloud of lies he needed to be honest with someone, so he took a chance. “Until she died.”
Faith looked away at that. She didn’t expect that answer. Or maybe she didn’t expect him to tell the truth. He wasn’t sure.
“See, we were going to get married and just when we were about to I ran,” the words came tumbling out, “So I don’t have to tell you that it was over. But that last year we were in Sunnydale with Buffy and Willow and….and you, I don’t know. I thought we were…I mean we sort of…it’s hard to explain.”
Faith took a drag on her cigarette, but the embers seemed dimmer now. She let out a stream of thoughtful smoke before she said, “So, what was the thing that made you choose different?”
He closed his eyes and admitted, “A choice. That’s it. We, I mean me and other me, we both got attacked by the same demon, we both had the same visions of this horrible future where…well, it was a nightmare that ended with me killing Anya by swinging a frying pan at her head. Both of us figured out the visions were fake. He decided he was ready to get married. I decided I wasn’t. End of story.”
Faith slowly nodded and took another drag. “So, this demon. You kill him?”
“In both realities.” Xander could feel every muscle tense, waiting for the condemnation he so richly deserved.
“Good. He may have got his revenge against you, but he didn’t live to enjoy it,” Faith said firmly as she stubbed out the cigarette.
“Me?” Then Xander realized what she meant. “No, no. It wasn’t revenge against me. It was revenge against Anya. Which I didn’t even know until I ended up here because someone forgot to send me the memo that it wasn’t just another random demon attack.”
Faith’s head snapped around and she pinned Xander to the mattress with a disbelieving stare. “Anya? That chick sure knows how to pile up the enemies.” She suddenly shook her head and Xander could see anger bubbling under the surface. “Fucking idiot.”
“Hey!” Xander protested.
“Not you,” Faith reached over and yanked another cigarette out of the pack, but didn’t light it. “Him. Other you. Whoever the fuck he is. Jesus.”
“Now you’ve lost me.”
She seemed to regard him with a certain respect. “You were fucking dead on, weren’t you? Sooner or later someone’s gonna come looking for her and she’s making like Suzie Q. Homemaker and Soccer Mom of the Year.”
“Well, yeah,” Xander was now really confused. “I mean, I suppose I can see where he might think that the wedding day attack was the last of the revenge attempts against Anya, but these guys on my side obviously were looking for my Anya to get their payback. So I figure that something like that has to be going on over here and it’s a matter of time.”
“Just curious, but could Anya do magic?” The casual way in which Faith asked made the hairs prickle on the back of his neck.
“Yes. Nothing big, but she did manage to hold off a pissed-off Willow in her bad-ass witch phase until the Giles-shaped cavalry arrived. ”
“She’s cloakin’,” Faith was angry again. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. That explains everything.”
“We got ourselves a little gadget. Lights up when it gets near an honest-to-god Slayer. That goddamn thing was cold as a stone when I first laid eyes on the kid. Shit. If I didn’t see what she could do with my own eyes when I was 007ing ya, I’d have called you a liar.”
“Oh god,” Xander felt his stomach sink. “Anya would’ve never been found. Haley never would have been found. What I did was all for nothing.”
“Don’t,” Faith snapped. “You said yourself her husband was a dumbass looking to get killed. You did them a big ass favor cause sooner or later it was going to come down around their ears and you know it.”
Xander couldn’t hear her over the roar in his ears as he buried his face in his hands. “What am I doing? I don’t do this. I don’t just go randomly ruining people’s lives. I’ve never forced anyone to turn over their daughter to us because she was a Slayer. Hell, I argued against it when other people brought it up. I don’t just fuck women just because I feel like it. This isn’t what I do.”
The mattress dipped slightly and the covers moved around him until he felt Faith’s pointed chin resting on his right shoulder.
“That’s ’cause you’re the bad Slayer,” she breathed in his ear.
He dropped his hands as he startled away from her and fixed her with a horrified look.
Her immobile face caused her painfully understanding eyes to stand out. “You gotta be the bad Slayer ’cause from where you’re standing, he’s the good Slayer.”
“I’m not a Slayer,” he protested.
“Same thing,” her voice was quiet as she leaned forward. She was completely free of the covers now and had somehow shed the unlit cigarette, yet the sight of her naked, scarred torso wasn’t erotic so much as it was sad. “Here’s how I see it: you’re from someplace that’s not so great. Maybe you’re dealing with a lot of leftover shit from the SunnyD. Maybe you’re still trying to find your feet. Whatever. And you land in this little slice of heaven, complete with the white picket fences, the minivans, the nice houses, the chichi shops, and it’s all shit you’ll never have.”
“I like where I’m from.” Off Faith’s raised eyebrow, he amended. “Not loving Cleveland, but things are okay-ish. I’m not saying life is bump free but—”
“You can’t tell me that when you took one look at that house it didn’t occur to you to ask, ‘Why him? Why not me?’”
“Maybe,” Xander grudgingly admitted.
“So, you land in this nice town with its nice people and you find out that there’s someone almost like you. Except because of just plain bad luck, he got all the good shit you think you should have like the family who gives a shit, the woman who should be married to you, the cool kid, the good life.”
“It was built on lies, Faith,” Xander pointed out.
A small, secret smile graced Faith’s face. “Exactly. You see all this nice shit. He’s got it all, everything you thought you wanted and more. And what does he do? Stupid shit. The kind of stupid shit where he can lose it all in a heartbeat. Like you said, if he’s lucky he only dies.” She tilted her head and almost teasingly said, “I’m willing to bet you screwed his wife after you found out that he was offing vampires.”
The breath caught in Xander’s chest.
She nodded slightly. “Oh, yeah. He’s got it all, but he’s lyin’ to everyone, isn’t he? Doin’ exactly what he wants. Putting everyone in danger. And no one sees shit because they want to believe he’s this good guy, a better guy than you anyway. Even if you said he was screwing up, you know no one would believe you because you’re the stranger. You’re the scary one. You’re the one who just doesn’t fit in the happy picture. So you figure you’ll show him. You shit in his nest by screwing his wife just so you know you took something from him that he can’t ever get back.”
“Then you find out that she’s lyin’ about their daughter,” Faith interrupted. She held up a hand to stop him when he again opened his mouth to protest, “Now I’m not sayin’ your first thought was to wreck his life and rub his face in it. I can read people and in my gut I know you thought you were doing the right thing when you decided to call Rupes in. All that shit that you can see and you figure it’s all going to go real bad real quick if you don’t do something.”
She paused, but when Xander’s voice stubbornly refused to work, she said, “But don’t tell me that some part of you ain’t happy it’s all gone wrong for him. Now he’s no better than you. No. Worse. He’s worse than you. ’Cause you know the score. You know how it is. He is what he is, his wife is what she is, and his daughter is what she is. But him? He won’t accept it. But you do. So no matter what bad shit you do, you know you’re still better than he is.”
“Are we talking about me? Or are we talking about you?” He wanted to sound angry, but the questions came out dull and defeated.
Faith looked down while she picked at the bedspread. “I’m just sayin’ I know exactly where you’re coming from. You and he are more alike than different, but you want to prove that you’re not him and you aren’t wrong. So that might make you do things, shady things, that you probably wouldn’t normally do.”
“I’m not bad,” he said quietly as he looked away. “I swear I’m not.”
He looked back at her to see that uncharacteristic sympathy in her eyes again.
“But you’re going to have to accept that to him, to all of them, you’re the bad guy and that’s never going to change until their dying day,” Faith said. “So I say you just do what you think is right and, as long as you don’t cross the line, let everyone else think whatever the fuck they want.”
“It’s not like that for you on my side, you know,” Xander said.
Faith’s expression shifted to disbelieving.
“You might say you’re, ‘Faith, we’ve had our problems, but she’s one of the good guys now.’ To all of us.”
A smile fought to break free, lighting up Faith’s face with something resembling hope.
Xander reached out and pushed a strand of hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I just thought you should know.”
Faith’s hand came up and she captured his wrist. He could feel her other hand wrapping loosely around his dick. He wanted to push her away, but the gentle sliding motion she had going outvoted sanity.
Her smile turned wicked and she growled in a throaty way that went straight to his groin, “What say you get to be bad a little more and we can start reforming your ass when we leave the room?”
When she topped that offer with a squeeze around his balls, he wasn’t about to say no.
Continued in Part 31