liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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Water Hold Me Down (Part 32)

Yay! New part!

Every once in a while, I find a song that fits a part that I've written so well, that I can't believe it. This is just such a case. The band is fairly new (I think), and I actually bought it (of all places) Starbuck's. I heard it this song on the overhead and had to get the whole CD.

A sample of the lyrics:

What can I say
To leave your hands untied?
What can I say
To turn water into wine?
What can I say
To make you change your mind?

Really, it fits so well, it's frightening.

Plus, how much do I love that Xander gets to use his Babylon 5 love in a serious conversation?

All previous parts can be found here.

Continued from Part 31.

 

Giles stumbled as that other world faded from view. Technically, he’d been walking in place, but the illusion of movement and its sudden loss did nothing for his sense of equilibrium.

“That was easier the second time,” Willow said with false cheer. “Practice makes perfect.”

Giles didn’t answer and stared ahead. It was too much for him to absorb. So much information to glean from what was said—from what wasn’t said—that he could barely begin to make sense of it. He felt rudderless as he tried to get his initial impressions in order.

“Giles?” Willow tentatively asked. She sounded far away and a little frightened, as if he had again caught her reading forbidden books in the high school library.

I lack a common frame of reference. It was a startling realization since, in theory, he and that other Giles were the same man.

A stranger with his face.

Xander had been dealing with that very reality since he got there, and not just himself, but with everyone he knew. Giles suspected that the only reason Xander was managing to hold together was because he was in the midst of a crisis. It always amazed him that Xander usually soldiered through in a pinch, even when he was at his most irritatingly unfocused at other times.

Something tells me when the crisis is over, we’re going to have a very large problem on our hands, Giles thought. I cannot imagine he’ll walk away from this unscathed.

“Giles?” Willow touched his arm.

Giles startled, and turned to her with a smile. “I am picturing a scenario where we may cheerfully murder our guests in their beds.”

“Yeah,” Willow drew out the word. “Welcome to temptation world.”

“I’m quite alright, by the way,” Giles assured her. “I’m merely trying to recapture my bearings now that I’m not staring at a streetscape.”

Willow frowned at that. “You shouldn’t be all confuzzled and dizzy.”

“Would that be the case,” Giles remarked.

“Oh.” Willow packed a lot of understanding in that one sound.

Giles took a deep breath. He should focus on the things he could do something about. “We may have a larger problem than we thought.”

Willow tensed. “Xander?”

“What? Oh, no. In fact, Xander is the one who brought this to my attention,” Giles said. “I fear that when we closed the Hellmouth, we didn’t realize that we would suffer a backlash. Thank heavens Xander had done some research on his situation, otherwise we would have been caught completely unawares.”

Willow paled. “Backlash? I’m not going to be liking this news, am I?”

“We have time to prepare, but it requires immediate groundwork on my part before we talk in depth about it,” Giles reassured her as he rested a hand on her shoulder. He debated with himself, sifting and weighing his options about who would do best with the various tasks. The situation Xander discovered had to be addressed, but they couldn’t assume their work on the retrieval spell was complete.

He decided.

“I need you to remain focused on the spell to get Xander back and researching other alternatives,” Giles said. “You will be working with Faith on that task, since our guests fear crossing her.”

Willow nodded. “Soon as Faith is back from taking Jack walkies.”

Giles raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“You know,” Willow whispered. “A visit to the fire hydrant.”

“Yes, well, very good,” Giles harrumphed as Willow giggled. “Although it seems to me that she’s been gone quite awhile.”

“I think she’s trying to give Jack a break,” Willow said sympathetically. “I’ve been watching those fellas and I think Jack’s on the outs because he tattled on them. I’ve been kinda thinking that we should just let him go no matter how this turns out since he is trying to live up to his end of the bargain. Or is that she? Since, y’know, he’s a she.”

Giles suppressed a smile. Willow always did have a soft spot for the underdog, perhaps because she’d spent so much of her life as one of them. “Let us not assume things will go wrong,” Giles chided.

“I’m not, it’s just—” Willow winced. “I’m worried, Giles. I don’t trust his friends and we really need them to help cast the spell to get Xander back. If they decide to go trip-uppy on us, they could cause real problems. We can’t watch them 24/7, and since they know Jack’s not fully on their side any more, we lost our best spy.”

“I seem to recall a rather dire threat hanging over their heads if we don’t succeed,” Giles remarked.

“Yeah, but that only works if they want vengeance less than they want to avoid a hell dimension,” Willow said. “Because, hello? Almost destroyed the world right here. So I know people can get really stupid when all they want is to get even. Faith told me that these guys want it so bad that they’ve pretty much convinced themselves that Xander’s guilty and that he had this coming. If they were women, D’Hoffryn’d be knocking on our door and asking to talk to them.”

“An incisive point.” This time Giles didn’t bother to hide his smile. “Are you certain we can’t do without them?”

“I’m looking really, really hard for another option,” Willow assured him. “But since they sent Xander away, we need their counterbalance to get him back. I’ll keep looking though.” She paused. “I’m thinking of asking Lady Haversham to send someone from the coven to help, just in case. I’ll need someone on my side if they decide to try sabotage. I don’t think they’ll try something right at the beginning, which is really where we need them working for us. I figure between me, someone to back me up, and momentum, we could still pull it off if they try something after we start the pull-back.”

“Not a terrible idea that, but ask if her ladyship would consent to personally attend to this situation,” Giles agreed.

Willow looked terrified at the thought of asking for that much. She still held Lady Haversham in awe, even though Willow was far more powerful than any single member of the Devon Coven, including its first-among-equals leader.

Giles sighed. “I need to discuss some things of great import with her that can only be discussed in person, so please make sure you tell her that as well. We have not been properly utilizing their resources, except to ask for help on occasion. As Robin is so fond of saying, we are experiencing a paradigm shift, so our decision-making body should be more inclusive in its membership.”

Willow giggled. “I always thought you took a nap during those speeches.”

“I’ve been known to nod off, from time to time,” Giles allowed. “Now, the drive to retrieve Xander must be left in yours and Faith’s capable hands. I need to address another pressing matter and will be in conference with Buffy for at least the next few hours.”

“Well, I know it’s not anything apocalypt-y or you’d be pulling the fire alarm and calling a house meeting,” Willow said. “What’s up?”

Giles winced. “I need to make some hard decisions, decisions Buffy will not be happy with. So I feel it best to explain the problem of the Hellmouth backlash to her, else I risk going through life without arms.”

Willow flipped back to worried. “That doesn’t sound good. Do you need to talk to Faith, too?”

“I’ll speak to Faith once you can spare her. It involves reaching out to what’s left of the Council.”

Willow opened her mouth and then shut it. She then patted Giles on the arm and said, “I’ll break out the earplugs.”

“Your show of support is heartwarming as always.”

“You can count on me,” Willow said. “But you’ll be counting on me while I’m staying far away. I’m only sorry you can’t count on me while I’m in South America.”

“And yet not a drop of worry over this state of affairs?” Giles asked.

Willow shrugged. “I know Xander’s been kind of dreading the day, which is why he’s gone all book-reading, homework-doing, and fight-training on the Watcher stuff. If he was like this in high school? He’d have gotten all As, or more like solid Bs, because As and Xander is not something I can picture. Not that I’m bitter about all those years of homework-helping because he said he didn’t get it, even though it probably turns out he didn’t even pay attention in class or do any of the reading because he was too busy staring at Cordelia’s breasts. Bitter? Nope. Not me.”

“Willow,” Giles sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“If it makes you feel any better, we all pretty much knew it was coming sooner or later, well, except Buffy. Maybe. And you, most definitely, it looks like. But I think even Faith knew it was coming, so she probably won’t be yelling as much as Buffy. God knows Robin went on and on about it enough. So if you’ve come around, it has to be for a pretty good reason. Besides,” here Willow smiled brightly, “Robin may be pushing for more Watchers, but even he had Council-shaped issues. I figure between you, Robin, and Buffy going all snarly on them, and me, Xander, and Faith organizing the hazing, and putting Andrew in charge of the welcome wagon, we’ll probably keep the riff-raff out.”

“Thank you,” Giles said. He meant it.

“Shoo. Go tell Buffy now. Because if you tell her later I won’t be so busy-beeish and I’ll get an earful of mad Slayer instead of mad Slayer who’s had time to calm down.”

He Giles suppressed a grin as he left the library. He walked into the living room and saw Buffy picking up after the detritus of everyday life. She was grumbling to herself about how people didn’t look at the chore schedule and that it wasn’t her turn to clean the living room.

Giles folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe. He watched as the sun glinted off her hair and she went about the business of the living. The change in her from the dead-eyed girl that inhabited Sunnydale in those last years to the vibrant young woman in the living room was breathtaking to consider.

Buffy looked up. “Giles?”

Giles smiled in response.

Buffy’s steps hesitated as she walked across the room, her arms full of clutter. “Are you okay? You don’t look so hot.”

When she got close enough, Giles reached out and pulled her in for what, to another girl, would be a bone-crushing hug.

“Giles?” Buffy’s muffled voice asked.

***

Faith broke out of her paralysis and jumped out of her seat to chase after Junior. Letting him roam around loose was a huge mistake in her mind, and she wasn’t about to let him out of her sight.

She told herself that it wasn’t because she wanted to know what Caleb said to him. It was all about keeping him from causing problems.

She almost believed the lie she told herself, but not quite.

She didn’t buy that Caleb said nothing when he poked Junior’s eye out any more than she bought that he was a random snatch-and-grab in the heat of battle. All those people in that other world wanted him back too much to let her believe that Junior got nabbed just because he was convenient. Caleb didn’t strike her as someone who did things at random. The First was maybe all about the chaos, but Caleb was all about the discipline. Caleb did shit for a reason or because his boss told him to, not because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Given the fact that Junior seemed pretty determined to shake her and Rupes when he was in the diner, she expected that he’d be running away at top speed when she popped outside. So she was more than a little surprised that he was standing on the sidewalk not even a yard from the front door. He was staring up at the clear blue sky like he’d never seen it before. The expression on his face—

A Slayer had passed through the Cleveland house a few years back, some ex-nun who figured God called her to be a Slayer because she wasn’t doing enough good just wearing a habit and teaching grammar school. She had this expression that used to drive Faith wild because it never made any sense to her.

You look like God bent down and kissed you on the forehead.

Looking at the expression on Junior’s face, she finally understood what exactly that meant.

Rupes strode past her and she almost reached out to stop the Watcher. Interrupting whatever was going on with Junior struck her as a bad move. There was no telling what Junior could and would do in this state.

“Who the bloody hell do you think—” Rupert began.

“The world isn’t going to end. Not today, and not because of me. Your seers lied to you,” Junior interrupted as if he was dead certain he was right. His gaze switched to Rupert. “Or maybe you only heard what you wanted to hear.”

Rupes grabbed Junior by the arm and dragged him to a nearby alley. He looked positively livid, while Junior seemed to have slipped into that vaguely amused attitude that worried Faith because she couldn’t read what it meant. She tagged along, knowing she was about to witness yet another clash between Rupert and Junior.

“Now I’ve had quite enough,” Rupert snapped as he let Junior go. “The absolute lack of discipline is appalling. Between yourself and lord knows who that was in the diner with us—”

“You mean Giles?” Junior asked as he leaned back against a brick wall with arms crossed.

Rupert sputtered. “The simple fact is the threads of fate have unraveled in this world. And you have the nerve to tell me that this concern amounts to nothing. That is nothing less than a slap in the face to all of us who must protect this sorry old world—”

“Why is this a sorry old world?” Junior seemed legitimately curious.

“Stop trying to change the subject,” Rupert snapped. “I know all the facts about the chaos your mere presence has caused and you do not. So do not presume to tell me what poses a danger to this world and what does not. Furthermore—”

Faith’s eyes were glued to Junior while Rupert ranted. Junior just stood there and said nothing. He was listening to what Rupert was saying all right, but the way he studied Rupert didn’t make Faith feel at all comfortable. Junior was looking at Rupert, and yet he wasn’t. He wasn’t looking through Rupert, and yet he was. It was like he was looking at some point between the surface and whatever was behind it.

Someone looking at her was fine and good. Someone looking through her she could handle, even if she didn’t like it. But that in-between look on Junior’s face was not one she wanted turned on her anytime soon.

“—and in a public place no less,” Rupert continued. “I cannot imagine—”

“You’re afraid of me,” Junior interrupted quietly.

Rupert drew himself up to his full height. “I hardly think so.”

“You are. You’re afraid of me,” Junior said. He sounded like he was even more surprised than Rupert.

“I fear what your actions may lead us to,” Rupert admitted.

“No. That’s not it.” Junior shook his head, still looking at Rupert in that in-between way. “You’re not afraid that. You’re not even afraid of what I represent. You’re afraid of me.”

“You do have quite the ego,” Rupert said. “I’ve faced down more horrors than you can imagine. You are not frightening to me in the least.”

“What did they say about me?” Junior suddenly asked. “Your seers. What did they say I was doing?”

“I’m certainly not going to get into—” Rupert began.

“Look, you say that wrecking things to the point of possible world-endage,” Junior interrupted. “And Giles is right. You should at least tell me what I’m doing so I can stop doing it.”

“He’s got a point there, Rupes,” Faith said.

“According to our seers, you are not tied into the web that binds all living things in this reality,” Rupert said.

“Obviously,” Junior agreed.

Rupert huffed his irritation at the interruption and Junior mimed zipping his lip in response.

“Since your arrival, this world’s mystical energies have been knocked off balance,” Rupert continued. “Your stumbling around Zihuataneo has so thoroughly altered this reality’s established patterns that we cannot even begin to guess at what new patterns shall emerge. Prophecy can no longer be relied upon. The fates of thousands of people, possibly millions, have unalterably changed.”

Junior blinked. “That’s it?”

“Isn’t that quite enough?” Rupert asked.

Junior looked confused. “So how is this bad?”

“You cannot be serious when you ask that question,” Rupert said. “Things are careening out of control. Fate is not what it should be. Things that were meant to happen are now not going to happen. Things that were never meant to happen now will. No one knows what the future holds and we cannot predict what will come next.”

Rupes might as well have explained it in another language, because Faith could see that Junior just didn’t get it.

Junior’s face scrunched with concentration. “But you haven’t told me why all this fate-twisting and thread-breaking is even a little bad, let alone world-ending bad.”

“You cannot possibly be this thick,” Rupert stated.

“Okay, let me see if I get this straight. I’ll even use little words because, hey, I’m all about the little words,” Junior said. “So, basically, what we have is this: A stranger strolls into town—that would be me—and he does a bunch of stuff that affects people who live in town. As a result, the people who live in that town now start doing different things than they’d normally do because this new guy is around. Because they’re doing different things, all those changes radiate out and affect other people, who then affect other people, and then affect more people, and so on. Am I right?”

“That is the nut of it.” Rupert seemed mollified.

“Unh, that doesn’t exactly sound like the world’s ending to me,” Faith said. “Hell, it sounds pretty much like life.”

“It causes chaos,” Rupert said irritably. “And chaos is what we wish to avoid.”

That’s when Faith saw that Rupert wasn’t getting what Junior was saying.

“But it happens all the time,” Junior said, confusion clearly evident in his voice. “Hell, it’s happened to me several times. I’m not saying it’s always good, but it’s not always bad either. And last I checked, it’s never lead directly to an apocalypse, at least when it wasn’t a big bad bent on world destroy-age.”

“Yes, well, you didn’t exactly stroll into town, did you?” Rupert said. “You’re not even supposed to be here.”

Junior waved his hand dismissively. “Okay, wacky weirdness that only happens to me aside, it’s still the exact same situation.”

“I hardly think—” Rupert began.

“Do you know how many apocalypses I’ve survived?” Junior asked.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Rupert asked. “We are talking about—”

“An apocalypse you say is coming,” Junior interrupted. “C’mon. Think about this. Apocalypses have rules.”

“They do?” Faith sarcastically asked. “Last I checked the only rule of an apocalypse is that there are no rules.”

Junior grinned at her. “Well, that’s one. Until there are rules, that is.”

“Hunh?” Faith asked.

“Oh, I cannot wait to hear this,” Rupert said with arms crossed.

Junior sardonically grinned. “Rule one, the sky always gets weird when an apocalypse is coming. Now, I don’t know about you, but that sky looks bright blue and pretty normal to me.”

“Not always,” Rupert pointed out. “The day Sunnydale fell, the sky was a perfect shade of blue.”

“True. Which we can file under, ‘this is true, unless it isn’t.’ Do you follow?” Junior asked.

Faith snorted as Rupert muttered, “Of all the insane twaddle.”

“Rule two,” Junior continued as if his audience wasn’t disagreeing with him. “The ground shakes during an apocalypse. Since I’ve been here, not even a little tremor, despite the fact it’s southern California. And since I’m supposed to be the center of badness, you’d think I’d feel the familiar rock ’n roll at least once, right?”

“Again, I must point out that not every apocalypse is announced by an earthquake,” Rupert said.

“Usually, though,” Faith disagreed. “Although Rupes is right, it don’t happen always. I remember this one time—”

“Exactly,” Junior interrupted with a grin. He seemed to think they were following his train of thought, when it was pretty clear neither her nor Rupes were. “It’s always true, unless it isn’t.”

“Are you finished?” Rupert demanded.

“But here’s one thing that’s always true, and I’ve never seen it not be true. Not once. Not in any apocalypse I’ve been in,” Junior said. “Maybe it’s not always true, but it’s the one thing that I can count on in ‘Xander’s Guide to the Apocalypse for Beginners and Dummies.’”

“You callin’ us dummies?” Faith asked as Rupert bristled.

Junior answered with an even wider grin. “Whenever there’s an apocalypse is coming, people disappear from ground zero. They may not know what’s going on, but they know something’s going on and they hide or at least stay away from the epicenter of badness. And according to you, I am the epicenter of badness right now.”

Faith exchanged a glance with Rupes.

“I dare you to tell me that you’ve seen rubberneckers checking out an apocalypse,” Junior said.

Faith couldn’t, because in her experience people always disappeared just like Junior said.

“This may also be a case of ‘it’s true, unless it’s not,’” Rupert triumphantly said. “As you pointed out, there’s always instances where things do not unfold according to your rules.”

“But for all three rules to be broken in one go?” Junior asked. “Unh-unh. Not going to happen. Besides, I still haven’t heard you tell me it’s happened in your experience.”

“It has not, true,” Rupert began, “But—”

“Look at the people out there,” Junior waved a hand at the alley entrance. “They’re still there. They’re shopping, or working, or doing whatever. They’re not worried about anything, well, beyond whatever they’re normally worried about. They’re not putting their lives on hold until the apocalypse blows over. They’re not running or hiding. They’re just living their lives and that’s it.”

“It may happen tomorrow,” Rupert stubbornly pointed out.

“It won’t,” Junior said certainly. “Because it’s not their world that’s coming to an end. It’s yours.”

“Same thing,” Rupert insisted.

“So you’re the world now?” Junior asked. “Now who’s got the ego?”

“I think you’re missing Rupes’s point,” Faith said. “We go down, sooner or later everyone else does, too.”

“Okay, time to try something else,” Junior said to himself.

“What are you planning to do?” Rupert tensed.

Junior let out a breath. “All the people on your Council. They’re all Watchers right? I mean, they all come from the right bloodline. They’ve got the papers and everything, right?”

“Naturally,” Rupert said warily.

“Do you have any Slayers on the Council?” Junior asked.

“Why on earth would Slayers be on—” Rupert began.

“Why not?” Junior asked. “There’s a lot of them around. You’d think the Council would want Slayers advising them on Slayers, right?”

“Ain’t our job,” Faith stated. “Ain’t interested in having the job.”

“Because Slayers only Slay?” Junior asked. “Yeah. Sure. Right. It’s not true and you know it. Besides, you might not be interested, but you’d think someone would be. And what about witches? Do you have any witches on the Council?”

“Our Wiccan allies have their own role to play. We all have our role to play,” Rupert said.

“So, a place for everyone and everyone in their place,” Junior nodded. “So, no on witches and Slayers and people without the right family as Council members. The Council is Watchers-only. No wonder why you look like Travers.”

“Quentin Travers was a fool,” Rupert bristled. “How dare you suggest that I am anything like him.”

“But the Council today looks exactly like it did yesterday,” Junior pointed out. “And as long as it looks just the same tomorrow, you’re fine with that.”

“The Watchers are the backbone,” Rupert stated. “Without the Council, all of the activated Slayers would’ve been on their own and that would’ve resulted in catastrophe. For heaven’s sake, we had demons on the move and redistribution of dark energy to prepare for.”

“I gotta go with Rupes here,” Faith agreed. “Things were a friggin’ mess before he started reaching out to the Watcher families who survived the First’s attack in London. At least now we got the people to go out and find the Slayers and train ’em up. I’m not a big fan of the recruiters, but at least they’re better than nothin’, which is what we had at the beginning.”

Junior clenched his fists. “But don’t you see? The Council looks just like it did when there was only one or two Slayers in the whole wide world, even though you’ve got thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of Slayers running around right now. I just can’t believe you don’t see a problem with that.”

“What does this have to with the price of tea in China?” Faith irritably asked.

“Precisely,” Rupert agreed. “You haven’t explained yourself very well.”

Junior looked to heaven. “Why can’t I be just a little smarter? C’mon, just a little. A few more I.Q. points would be good right now.”

“I do believe you’re trying to justify yourself,” Rupert said. “You are beginning from a flawed proposition, whatever that proposition may be.”

Junior suddenly looked right at Faith with that exact same in-between look that he first shot at Rupert. Something in Faith’s gut clenched as she realized that wasn’t a case of looking at or looking through. This was a case of looking in.

She suddenly felt more naked than she was back at the motel room when she was screwing his brains out.

“Faith? I want you to answer a question for me,” Junior said.

“What question?” Faith asked suspiciously.

Junior held up his hands. “It’s nothing bad. It’s just a question.”

She exchanged looks with Rupes again. Like her, she could see that Rupert was wondering why the hell they were still having this conversation to nowhere.

Except her gut told her this conversation was going somewhere, she just didn’t know where yet.

“Fine,” Faith said. “Let’s hear it.”

Junior took a deep breath and asked, “What do you want?”

“Hunh?” Faith asked.

“What. Do. You. Want,” Junior repeated. “It can be anything. Anything at all.”

“Right now?” Faith asked.

“Sure,” Junior shrugged.

“I want this conversation over, that’s what I want. You’re annoying the shit out of me,” Faith stated.

“Fair enough,” Junior said. “Then what?”

“‘Then what’ what?” Faith asked.

“This is ridiculous,” Rupert said.

“What next?” Junior pushed. “What do you want after this conversation is over?”

“To kick your ass for annoying me,” Faith said.

“Then what?” Junior asked.

Faith threw up her hands. “I want to kick your ass a second time. Then I want to fucking kill Harris and his wife. Then drag Haley’s ass to the Council to get her good and trained. Then I go back to Cleveland. Then, I plan to get drunk and get laid, not necessarily in that order. Happy?”

“And then what?” Junior quietly asked.

“What the fuck is this?” Faith demanded. “I keep answering you and you keep asking that fucking question.”

“What do you want for tomorrow?” Junior asked. “Or the day after that? Or a year from now? Or five years from now? What do you want? For you. Just for you.”

“Hello!” Faith shouted. “Slayer! I just want to get through the fucking day in one piece. There are days I can’t even manage that! What’s this five years from now? I just want to make it to tomorrow!”

Junior snapped his fingers and pointed at her while he looked at Rupert. “And there it is! Do you see it? It’s right there. It’s staring you right in the face.”

“Hey, you talk to me!” Faith yelled.

Junior turned to her, his face was lit up like a light bulb had gone off over his head. “How long have you been a Slayer? Fifteen, 16 years?”

“Seventeen,” Faith snarled.

Junior bounced on the balls of his feet. “Seventeen years, hunh? Don’t you think that’s a long time to not have a future?”

Faith opened her mouth to protest. Hell, she wanted to protest. She knew she had good arguments against what he just said. Problem was, she had never quite seen it that way before, which meant that none of her usual arguments really fit.

Because no matter which way she looked at, 17 years was a pretty long time to be doing the same-old-same-old and being unhappy that she was doing it.

“What are you blibbering on about?” Rupert asked.

“Let him talk,” Faith said quietly.

Rupert whirled on her, as if he suddenly realized that he’d lost his natural ally.

Rupert didn’t see, but Faith could. She could see where Junior was going all too well. It was the difference, maybe the key difference, between his world and hers. That was why Rupert was going to lose this fight and it was why he should lose. And once Rupert saw it too, nothing was going to be what it was.

And god help her, she couldn’t see that as a bad thing.

Junior held up a finger. He was shaking all over, like he knew he was close to breaking through. “Take the Harrises, right? The evil twin and Anya. They ran, right? You said yourself that you only think of them as people who ran. Except they’re still running. They haven’t stopped running since they left Sunnydale.”

“Yes, I suppose I can see that,” Rupert frowned.

“Thing is, they’ve been so busy running from, that they’ve forgotten how to run to,” Junior said.

Faith could feel her head nodding. She knew there was a difference.

“Running is still running,” Rupert said stubbornly.

Looks to me like you know the difference, too, but you just don’t want to admit it, Faith thought.

“But when you’re running from, you’re so busy looking over your shoulder that you usually run right into a brick wall,” Junior said. “Trust me. Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it. Running to is always better. You’ve got a better chance of surviving and you’ll probably be able to fix things when you stop. But the thing about running from is that you never know when to stop running and when you do, the problem’s still there waiting to bite you in the ass.”

Rupes was staring at Junior now. The war of arguments against what Junior just said were all raging across his face, but Faith knew that not one of them was going to make it to his tongue because he knew that Junior was right.

“Don’t you see?” Junior slumped like he was exhausted. “They’re running from the past. You’re hiding in the past. Faith, well, at least she’s not stuck in the past, but she can’t seem to get beyond right now. And you’re telling me that I messed up the future? I don’t know if you noticed, but you didn’t even have a future to lose.”

“Of all the—” Rupert angrily shook his head. “Are you serious? I have never heard a more self-serving justification for doing harm than I’ve heard just this moment.”

“Look, I’m not going to say that I didn’t hurt people, because I did and I’ll try to help fix that,” Junior admitted. “But you still haven’t told me how messing up things that haven’t happened yet—and may have never happened, by the way—is necessarily bad or wrong.”

“Fate is important,” Rupert said. “Prophecy is—”

“—Overrated,” Junior interrupted.

“According to you,” Rupert bristled.

“Yeah, but you taught me that,” Junior said.

Faith watched Rupert’s mouth snap shut.

“Okay, maybe you didn’t tell me in so many words, but back in Sunnydale, it seemed like we were always fighting some prophecy or another that the world was coming to an end.” Junior spread his arms. “And you were the one who did most of the research to make sure it didn’t happen. And it hasn’t happened yet. So see? Prophecy is overrated.”

Junior stepped toward Rupert with that in-between look back on his face. “Last time you believed in prophecy, you tried to stop a 16-year-old Slayer from going to fight the Master because prophecy said she was going to die and she knocked you out. That happened here, right?”

“Buffy still died when she faced the Master, just as prophecy predicted,” Rupert shakily pointed out.

“Died twice, actually,” Junior easily agreed. “Funny thing, though.” He tapped his temple. “She’s still here. According to prophecy, she shouldn’t be, but she is. She’s not always happy about it, but mostly she is. Now. And do you know what she’s doing right now?”

Rupert seemed entranced as he shook his head.

“She’s collecting college course catalogs. She’s looking through them. She’s thinking about maybe getting a teaching degree because it’ll help with making sure all the new Slayers get a good education. She’s helping to create a new Council. She’s planning for the future because she knows she got a future.” Here Junior looked at Faith. “And she’s not the only Slayer who knows she’s got a future.”

Faith swallowed. What the hell could she say to that?

All the fight was gone out of Rupert. Faith knew why. The fact that somewhere B was alive and happy and making a life for herself meant too much to him. He wanted it to be true, and if he accepted that much, it meant he’d have to accept Junior’s whole ball of wax.

Junior tentatively stepped closer, and said, “And that’s why you’re afraid of me. When all those seers started freaking out that I was messing up fate and breaking threads and throwing prophecy out of whack, it was a big ol’ reminder that the future was still there. I don’t care if you hate me for it. I don’t care if you die hating me for it. The point is you now have to start worrying about the future, which says to me that, by definition, you’ve now got a future to lose.”

Rupert just stared at him, like he couldn’t believe what Junior had said.

Junior shook his head as he turned away and started heading for the alley entrance.

“You can’t possibly believe for one second that you created our future.” Rupert finally found his voice. “That is nothing short of hubris.”

Junior turned around and his eyebrows crunched low. “Ummmm, I’m going to assume that hubris isn’t served with pita bread and rice pilaf.”

“Are you making a joke?” Rupert snapped.

Faith bit her lip to keep from laughing. She could see that Junior really didn’t know what hubris meant. Well, she didn’t know what it meant either, but it was still funny. Although part of it could be because she was a little relieved that Junior really didn’t know everything.

“Whatever on the hubris, whatever that is,” Junior said wearily. “I’m just saying that what happened made you see that the future is always coming, whether you want it to or not, whether you’re ready for it or not.”

Rupert grimaced. “But how are you so bloody certain that the future we’re now stuck with is better than the one you just tore apart?”

Junior shrugged. “I can tell you that it’s different, and that the fact it’s different is not necessarily this big bad thing you think it is. Besides, it’s your world and it’s your future. Seems to me that if you want it to be better, you’ll make it better. What I do or don’t do isn’t going to change that.”

He turned and left the alley without so much as a glance back at them.

“What was that?” Faith asked.

Rupert stared at the alley entrance and said nothing. Junior was out of sight, but she could see people walking by the opening, completely unaware of what just happened not more than a few yards away. As far as all those people knew, today was just like yesterday and tomorrow will be just like today.

As for her, Faith wasn’t so sure. It was both frightening and exhilarating to know that Junior had made his point.

“Rupert,” Faith nudged him with an elbow. “Do you realize that he steamrolled right over us and we couldn’t even stop him?”

“Perhaps we didn’t want to stop him,” Rupert said.

“Yeah, we did let him do that, didn’t we?” Faith agreed. “And you know? I’m thinking that this apocalypse thing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Rupert looked at her like she had lost her mind.

“Don’t know if you noticed, but I think the world just ended,” Faith looked around with a grin. “And whaddya know. We’re still here. So I guess an apocalypse is an apocalypse, until the day comes when it ain’t.”

“The one who sees,” Rupert said quietly.

“Hunh?” Faith asked.

“Willow called him the one who sees,” Rupert explained.

“Sees what?” Faith asked.

Rupert’s face was a mask of worry. “‘Here he sees what is, but in the elsewhere he dreams.’ That’s what Willow said.”

“What does that mean?” Faith asked.

Rupert took a deep breath before admitting, “I’m not entirely sure, but I do believe we just got a taste.”

“C’mon, let’s go catch up,” Faith said. “I don’t think we want him running around without one of us looking over his shoulder.”

“Assuming he didn’t up and disappear,” Rupert grumbled.

“You really think he’s ditched us?” Faith asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No,” Rupert admitted. “I don’t know why, but no.”

As they left the alley, Faith easily spotted Junior. He was across the street and watching people with this huge-ass smile on his face. A smile like that pretty much announced that its owner knew that whatever happened, it’d turn out all right.

For second, Faith found herself believing it.

She turned to say something to Rupert when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Her head whipped around just in time to see Harris tackling Junior on his blind side. She jumped to get across the street.

While she dodged cars on the busy street, Junior managed to twist out Harris’s grip and, in one smooth tai-chi-like move, turned and used Harris’s own momentum against him. By the time Faith’s boots hit Junior’s side of the street, Harris was on the ground on his back. Junior’s left hand was locked around Harris’s throat and his right was balled into a fist just above Harris’s face.

“What happened?” Faith exploded as she registered Rupert finally arriving behind her.

Junior looked up. Faith noticed that he was pale and his expression is shocked.

“I didn’t mean—” he began. “I don’t know how I—”

Harris took advantage of Junior’s momentary distraction and tossed a wild punch at Junior’s face that connected. Junior fell back on his ass as Harris roared to his feet.

Rupert jumped forward before Harris could finish his attack and got between the older man and the younger one. Against all reason, Junior remained down and stared up at Harris with wide-eyed horror.

“Sorry, sorry,” Rupert announced as he turned around with raised hands. “Family squabble. The situation is under control.”

Faith looked around and realized that the scuffle had attracted a tiny crowd. Some of the richly coiffed women whispered behind their hands to one another, which caused the sunlight to flash off the bling adorning their fingers. A few stray men hung behind them, nodding sagely. At what, Faith didn’t know. All she knew was that they had a situation. Multiple witnesses had now seen Harris and Junior together. This could not be good.

“Where is she!” Harris shouted at the top of his lungs.

Rupert attempted to take control by mumbling something to Harris about calming down.

“No, no,” Harris kept interrupting. “No excuses. Where is she?”

Faith glared at the gathering crowd. “Yo! You heard the man. Get a move on. Otherwise, some special agents from the FBI are gonna be knockin’ on your door to discuss how you didn’t just see this.”

The crowd quickly melted away and Faith smiled a grim smile. The ruse always worked for the over-curious. No doubt the gossip tree was going to be shaking within the hour, regardless of her empty threat

Harris and Rupert were in a tense argument. Rupert had his hands up and it looked like Harris was trying to get past Rupert. Faith was pretty sure she heard “liar” and “kidnapper” tossed around a few times.

Against all reason, Junior was still sitting on his ass and staring up at Rupert and Harris.

Faith scooted past the fighting pair to check on Junior. “Yo! What happened? You okay? You didn’t break your ass in that fall, did ya?”

“I didn’t mean to,” Junior said. His right cheek was red, although Faith couldn’t tell if the point of contact was going to cross the line into a bruise. Depended on how much power Harris threw in that punch.

“Didn’t mean to what?” Faith asked.

“I just…I reacted. I didn’t—I suck at hand-to-hand, so how did I—”

“Get up, before he gets past Rupes and tries to kick the shit out of you,” Faith interrupted. As she gave Junior a hand to up, she attempted to wrap her head around the fact that Junior was more surprised by how he reacted than with the attack itself.

“C’mon. We need to get both of you out of the sun,” Faith said as she tugged on Junior’s arm.

Junior startled a bit, like he was still lost in that mental fog that took over after Harris threw him off. He recovered and gave her a curt nod, before following her over to flank Rupert.

“Hate to be a spoilsport,” Junior said. “But the two of us can’t stand on the same street corner.”

Harris turned his furious eyes to Junior. “Fuck you. Haley’s missing.”

“Missing?” Junior yelped.

“So I got to thinking who has the power and pull to make a Slayer disappear,” Harris snarled. “You’re going to tell me where my daughter is right now, or you’ll see just how much damage I can do to the Council.”

 

 

Continued in Part 33

 

 

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