No song to DL for this part, mostly because it was meant to be a short bumper, but the part after this was a little too long to fit the whole thing.
I'm going to be scarce most of the day, so I won't be able to get back to comments until much later. Apologies in advance.
Yes, this part and the next part is why I've been very scarce. After some thought, rewatching S2's 'When She Was Bad,' and some re-writing and editing, I'm happier with this section than I was.
If you keep track for these sorts of things, this section partially pays off what Xander found out about AlternaXander's early years in Zihuatanejo waaaaay back in Part 15. Took me a while to get here. Oh, dear god...have I been writing this story for almost a year? If nwhepcat decides to have another Birthday Fic Challenge this year, I think I'll just pledge to finish this story instead.
All previous parts can be found here.
Faith itched to get going. She had a lot to do, but she needed information to do it. In an earlier time, she would’ve taken off and not bothered waiting for Harris to show, but experience—Remember Caleb! shivered the memory—had tempered her tendency to dive headfirst into trouble. Stopping to get intel, even if it delayed her start, usually made things easier in the long run. If nothing else, it tended to eliminate her chances of ending up at the wrong end of a lunatic armed with a Bringer’s knife.
Sadly for her, Harris knew the dope in this town and he knew the location of this abandoned dance hall. All she knew was the general location and that she could probably find the building. What she remembered of the waterfront honky-tonk, however, gave her pause. There were several large buildings down there, any of which could be her target. She’d rather go straight to the right place rather than bang around the neighborhood on a search that could tip off the bad guys that she was on the hunt.
Besides, there were no guarantees that her vampires would even still be there. If they were smart, they had already cleared out. If that was the case, her best source for finding their hiding places was Harris.
Christ, I just hate the thought I’ve got to rely on him, Faith thought as she restlessly paced the living room. Got no choice, though. I don’t think he’ll shiv me since he seems to be okay with the idea of Haley getting herself some training. God knows whether he gives a shit one way or the other about those other three kids, but he’ll cooperate for Haley’s sake.
First on her list was to catch one of the vampires that escaped her stake and get the scoop on why they were targeting Harris. It was pretty damn clear that goal all along was to turn him. The thing that really mystified her was they kept trying to turn Junior right up until the last minute, despite the fact that their asses were being handed to them. Even if they had managed to trade blood, they’d still have to escape with Junior’s unrisen corpse. Given the way the battle was going by the time they took Junior down, the attempt would’ve almost certainly failed. The whole business just smacked of desperation on the part of the vampire gang. Nothing was worse than desperate vampires. They might make some tactical mistakes, but it also meant they were a hell of a lot more dangerous.
Long experience told her that she had several possible reasons for why they wanted to turn Harris, ranging from a takeover of the town to warfare with another vampire group. The only questionable factors were how many vampires or gangs of vampires were working together on this particular caper and the motivation for doing it.
Second on her list: find the bodies of those kids. Vampires, as a general rule, didn’t turn the tweener set, the key words being “as a general rule.” There were some sick fucks that had a taste for young flesh that’d be at their beck and call, or they might do it out of revenge against someone, or they might do it for some bullshit mystical goal. She’d seen all three reasons in her time as a slayer, so she couldn’t dismiss the possibility out of hand.
Whether or not those kids got turned might come down to motivation, too.
Either way she had to check for three corpses. The corpses may be walking and talking, or they may be permanently dead. The only way to know which way these yo-yos went with the kids was to find the murder scene.
As Faith tossed various options and guesses around in her head, she continued to pace the living room, mindful to stay very, very far away mommy dearest enthroned on the couch. Anya’s soft sniffles and general mournful attitude was not scoring her any sympathy points from Faith. If anything, it just pissed Faith off even more.
Faith’s attitude about Anya came down to this: It was one thing to oppose the whole Slayer gig and work to talk your kid out of it. She could respect that position. It’s something else entirely when you’re willing to lay down some grievous bodily damage and resort to kidnapping. Haley was the one with the target on her back, so it should’ve been Haley making the call to run or stay and fight.
Jesus, Harris is taking his time, she thought as she checked the clock. He’d been up there a little more than a half-hour.
“Perhaps we should fetch him,” Rupert said. “Time may be of the essence for us to find our vampires.”
“You’re staying put,” Faith said.
“You may need back-up,” Rupert replied.
“Unh-hunh. And if I get the head of the Council killed, that ain’t gonna look good on my résumé,” Faith bickered, relieved to have a target on which she could vent her pent-up frustration. “Besides, when was the last time you’ve been in the field?”
“That is hardly the point,” Rupert argued.
“I’m thinkin’ that’s exactly the point,” Faith said as she checked the clock again.
“That doesn’t negate the fact that you’re walking into unfamiliar territory alone and may be facing down more than the two vampires you drove off,” Rupert said.
“Like you know the lay of the land,” Faith muttered.
Rupert, as usual, continued to blithely ignore her objections. “It seems to me that you may need more than just yourself.”
“Agreed,” Harris’s voice cut in.
Faith jerked around and saw that the man himself was standing in the doorway. The sight of him actually gave her some pause. He was holding himself very straight and still. His skin was pale, which made his eyes seem darker by contrast. She got the sense that she was looking at a volcano just waiting for an excuse to explode.
She did not have time for this drama bullshit. Not caring that she might trigger his anger, she said, “Yo, I’m used to going solo, and I’m used to going solo in unfamiliar territory. I don’t need no fucking back-up.”
“That’s where you’d be very wrong,” Harris said evenly. “You’re not going to find anything without me showing you where it is.”
“You’re not going out there,” Anya said from the couch.
Harris fixed a non-expression on Anya and she went very still.
“If you’re proposing to go with Faith, I must say I concur with Anya’s protest,” Rupert said. He remained uncowed when Harris swung his empty gaze over to the Watcher. “First, it is readily apparent that the vampires were after you. You would be a walking target.”
“Or the perfect bait,” Harris responded with a cold grin.
Rupert ‘hrumphed’ his disagreement. “Furthermore, I would argue that your wife and daughter need you here more than they need you out there.”
“Haley’s asleep,” Harris shrugged. “Slayer or not, she’s had a rough few days and there’s been a lot of tears. She’s out cold. Besides, I told her that I had to help Faith, so she knows I’m leaving.”
“What?” Anya angrily asked at the same time Faith said, “The hell you will.”
Harris focused on Faith. “If you don’t agree, you’re getting nothing out of me.”
“Really. I ain’t afraid to ask for directions from the friendly locals. Don’t be shocked. That little talent comes with the tits,” Faith bristled. “I don’t actually need you. I was sticking around out of courtesy for the kid.”
Harris stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned against the doorframe. “This is a small town. People talk. What’s more? People talk to cops. If you start asking questions about the dance hall and then they find the bodies of three young kids there? People are gonna remember you. Take it from me; the bodies of three dead kids are going have tongues wagging and people looking for a scapegoat. The first person they’ll look for is someone from out of town who just happened to be looking for just that building. You go around asking questions? You just made yourself enemy number one.”
Faith’s muscles tensed. He was right and she knew it, especially since she’d seen that kind of deal go down just the way he said. Much as she didn’t need this kind of crap right now, the better part of valor would be to at least hear what he had to say before deciding she could ignore him. If nothing else, it might give her some insight on the way he was thinking. Normally, she wouldn’t give a big whoop on that score, but there was a sleeping Slayer upstairs that needed to be considered.
“What are you threatening?” Rupert asked suspiciously.
“Not threatening anything. Just saying it like it is. You of all people remember MOO. I don’t have to do anything, and you know it,” Harris answered in a tightly controlled tone.
“Just give Faith the information,” Anya said. “Stay out of this. We need you here.”
Harris swung his eyes back over to Anya and said in a flat voice. “Trust me, you don’t want me here. Not right now, you don’t.”
“You could be killed if you go out there,” Anya pleaded.
Harris’s expression got darker. “If I stay, I’ll kill you.”
The statement landed like a slap and the entire room plummeted into an eerie silence.
Well, looked like she at least got some insight into the source of Harris’s volcanic rage. Faith wasn’t one to condone domestic violence of any sort, given the joy of living with her low-rent version mommy dearest, so she had to give Harris props for knowing that the wife was probably safer if he got out of the house.
Fuck. Did I just lose the argument to keep him home? Faith wondered. Well, if she did, it was because she was just trying to spare Haley a battered mother. That, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to step in and protect Anya from getting the snot beaten out of her because she could see where Harris was coming from. But if he made any threatening moves in Anya’s direction, Faith knew she’d have to intervene before the first blow landed.
Without taking his eyes off his wife, Harris said that same flat tone, “And if you ever, I mean ever, do what you did to Haley again, I will not be responsible for my actions.”
Christ, he means it, too. Faith began drifting so she’d end up between Harris and Anya. No point in taking any chances.
“None of that,” Rupert snapped at Harris.
“Are you threatening me?” Anya said angrily. “You know better! You know I’d never hurt our daughter like—”
“You did. I don’t care what the excuse was, but you did,” Harris quietly interrupted. “The one thing, Anya. The one thing I said ‘never’ on. You know why. I don’t have to explain why, because you know. So I don’t want to hear it. Not now, not ever.”
“Never’s a long time,” Anya shot back. “How dare you. How dare—after everything I’ve—”
“You hit Haley with a marble rolling pin,” Harris said flatly.
“What?” Rupert snapped. Faith paused in her drifting. Rupert hadn’t heard Haley’s whispered confession.
“She was already hurt,” Harris continued without taking his eyes off Anya. “Did you even think about what you were doing?”
Faith finally got into position to block Harris if things got physical. The tension in her muscles sang like a son of a bitch. She would’ve felt a hell of a lot better if Harris screamed at his wife or even started throwing things. The kind of fury he was keeping at bay was dangerous shit. Useful if you could direct it at something, but hella destructive if it festered.
“You ungrateful bastard,” Anya snapped. “I was trying to save her life!”
“And you may have made it difficult for anyone to gain her trust,” Rupert angrily said. “If her own mother can betray her—”
“What do you know about trust or betrayal?” Anya angrily interrupted.
“Rupes, back off,” Faith said quietly with a shake of her head. “Don’t make this any worse.”
Something finally seemed to break in Harris. Instead of the explosion Faith expected, Harris’s shoulders slumped and he ran a hand through his hair. “I should’ve listened to the wedding day visions,” he said.
Anya drew a sharp breath, the kind of breath someone makes when they’ve been stabbed in the gut.
Having heard Junior talk about those visions in the little come-to-Jesus meeting she and Rupes had with him back in the diner, Faith knew that Harris just landed a killing blow. He should just hand Anya the divorce papers right now and be done with it. Even though she wasn’t any kind of expert, near as Faith could tell this marriage was officially over. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. Faith had vampires to hunt and she was getting yanked right into the middle of drama. Some things never changed. Once a Scooby, always a Scooby. The only thing age and experience bought Harris was the ability to go for the throat instead of dancing around the issue.
You sure about the not-changing part? The thought tickled at the back of her mind. Can’t see Junior sinking to this level. Hell, can’t see Junior putting up with this shit at all if he was standing here. God knows whose side he’d take, but he would’ve been nipping this in the bud so fast it would’ve made heads spin and he’d’ve had Harris singing like a prison snitch in search of a deal from the DA.
Course, this begged the question why she didn’t step in and stop it before things got too far. She was supposed to be the no-bullshit zone and right now she was standing knee deep in the guano. Well, this was going to stop, starting right now.
“Harris, enough with crazy angry talk. I can sympathize with why you’re ready to break heads, believe me, I do. I also know how this works. You’ll feel different in the morning when you calm down,” Faith said.
The look Harris gave her telegraphed that he might not be as pissed in morning, but that he damn well wasn’t going to be sorry about a single thing he just said.
“’Sides, this is telling me that your head ain’t gonna be where it needs to be. You need to get out? Get a hotel room or go to the hospital and hang with Junior. You’re still not coming with me.”
Harris drew himself up. “Even if you find the dance hall, even if you find your vampires, you’ll never be sure you’ve got all of them.”
“That depends on the sweet story they tweet in my ear when I get my hands on ’em,” Faith said.
Harris’s eyes narrowed, like he was mentally debating something. Then he spoke. “That whole area is a tinderbox. A lot of those buildings date from the early 1900s and not all of them are up-to-code. Grandfathered rules for some of them, payoffs to the right people for others. Something as big as the dance hall goes up, it’ll take half that area out.”
“What are you saying?” Anya asked.
Harris ignored her like she didn’t exist.
“Firebugging’s not a bad idea, especially if there’s evidence that bad shit went down that needs to get covered up,” Faith conceded. “But I ain’t doing that until after I get my guys.”
“I should point out that if there are more vampires in residence on this waterfront settlement, they will surely smell the smoke and flee the area unharmed,” Rupert pointed out.
“One, you’re assuming there’s more. There might not be,” Harris countered. “Two, if there are more down there, the fire will scatter and confuse them. If there are more, they’ll have to regroup and come up with a new plan. If nothing else, it’ll make most of them think long and hard about attacking the house again. It buys us time.”
“For what?” Anya sullenly asked from the couch.
Harris again ignored her.
“Indeed, for what?” Rupert echoed.
“For Haley to decide on her future and for us to make plans to leave town,” Harris said.
“What?” Anya exploded.
Harris finally looked at her. “Seems to me that just yesterday you were willing to leave with just the clothes on your back and our daughter.”
Anya winced and settled back into the couch. Her head was down and her hair fell in her face as she picked at the edge of her blanket. Faith almost felt sorry for her.
“Still ain’t hearing a convincing argument on why you gotta be there,” Faith said. “I’d be willing to escort you to Junior’s motel room where you’d be nice and safe from temptation and from vampires, but I don’t got a convincing argument to bring you with me.”
“I’ve burned down a section of this town before,” Harris said. “Some old warehouses along the waterfront not far from the summer enclave.”
“That was you?” Anya asked.
Faith wasn’t sure if her ears were deceiving her, but Anya sounded afraid.
Harris didn’t even look at Anya. “A collection of bad guys—assorted demons and vampires—had moved into those buildings. They had some kind of live and let live deal with each other and they pretty much saw the town as an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was the only way to stop the killing.”
Faith exchanged glances with Rupert. If Harris was telling the truth, it explained how he got yanked back into the vampire hunting game. If things had gotten that bad, he was probably trying make sure it didn’t get that bad again. Doing it alone was hella stupid, but then again, he had made it perfectly clear what he thought of Rupes and herself once upon a time. He probably didn’t even try to find help. The realization made Faith want to take a swing at Harris. Where the hell where you when we needed you, asshole? Hunh? We tell you the world’s gonna end and you come after us with a crowbar and tell us to fuck off because it ain’t your job no more. Threaten your property values, and you’re out there laying it all on the line. That’s a classic case of not-in-my-backyard if I ever heard one.
“If they found out you did—if—” Anya sounded positively wrecked by the revelation. Clearly, this had not come out before. She finally exploded, “They’d stick a needle in your arm!”
Faith’s head snapped back to Harris. Looked like his firebugging back in the day didn’t go off as smoothly as he’d have them believe.
As for Harris, a haunted shadow seemed to have taken up residence on his face. “They have to catch me first. If they haven’t caught me after almost 7 years, they’re not going to. Unless someone talks.”
“Certainly no one in this room will breathe a word,” Rupert said.
Faith visually took the temperature of the room. A glance at Rupert told her that he seemed sincere in making that promise. Anya’s pale face told Faith that she might be hating on Harris right now, but that she wasn’t inclined to go running to the cops about this, either. The shadow on Harris’s face told her that people died. “How many?” she finally asked.
“What?” Harris asked.
“How many humans get caught in the crossfire?” Faith asked.
After a pause, Harris admitted. “Four. All the other remains were demon, but too burned up to give the coroner the wig. They just assumed those remains belonged to people, too.”
“I didn’t know the people were there,” Harris immediately volunteered.
“Would it have changed anything?” Rupert asked suspiciously.
Harris stared at Rupert like he couldn’t believe the question was even asked. Faith was a little surprised when Harris didn’t protest that he would’ve backed down.
“I don’t know,” Harris finally admitted. “It was bad in town before that, much better after. Knowing what I know now? I just don’t know. I don’t like to think about it.”
Points for honesty, Faith thought. “Tell the story later. Just tell me why I should take you with.”
“You need accelerants,” Harris said. “The whole idea is to get in and out before you’re seen. So going out and buying enough gas to burn one building to the ground is going to get noticed. Then you have to haul it around. If you stash it in the car, go out staking, and then go back to get it, it’s too much moving around and that just increases your chances of being seen. This is a small town, remember? Something in-your-face like three dead kids and a big fire is going to have people searching their memories”
“And you just happen to have enough gas lying around?” Faith challenged.
“Better. I have turpentine, lots and lots of it,” Harris said. “Just as good as gasoline if you Molotov it. Plus, it’s so common that there’s no trail back to anyone here.”
“You hope,” Anya interjected.
Faith hated the fact that Harris was making some damn fine points, even if she didn’t trust his state of mind. He wanted in because he wanted revenge, pure and simple. It could mean he’d make some stupid-ass mistakes. Then again, it could mean he’d be thinking clear as a bell and be a machine out there.
She had to admit, though, that the picture he painted of torching that dance hall, especially if she had three genuine vampire-bitten unrisen corpses that needed to be disposed of, sure was a pretty one. His little plan sounded more like Junior’s speed, so maybe they weren’t as different as anyone wanted to believe.
Nah. Harris was still an ass who looked out only for him and his. Junior was a straight-up pro who’d be wading in no matter what. Just because they thought alike on some things didn’t make ’em at all equal.
“Fine. You’re the pack mule, got me? You carry the turpentine and anything else we need to make a good burn. I do the fighting, you stay the fuck out of my way and let me do my thing,” Faith said. “Otherwise, no deal. I’ll take my chances.”
“Deal,” Harris quickly agreed.
Rupert raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“Xander!” Anya shouted. She attempted to get up from the couch and sunk back into the cushions with a moan. The effect of her concussion was still severe enough that she wasn’t capable of physically interfering.
“I’ll gather everything. Where’s your car? My van’s a little too familiar around town,” Harris said.
“I can get to it,” Faith said.
“I’ll drive you to it. We can leave the van there and we’ll take your car. If anyone asks, I’ll just say you were wigged, we drove to get it, and you didn’t want to be alone in the car,” Harris said. “I don’t think they’ll ask, but if they do, we’ve got a cover.”
Faith frowned, more out of surprise that he thought of that than anything else. “It’ll work.”
“You’re not serious,” Rupert deadpanned.
The anger in Harris’s face re-kindled as he looked at Rupert.
“As a heart attack,” Faith said. “It’s a reasonable plan. I’ll take it.”
“Xander, please,” Anya pleaded.
“Everything I need is in the basement or the workshop. I’ll meet you in five,” Harris snapped a nod.
“I really think—” Rupert began as Harris disappeared.
“Can it, Rupes,” Faith cut him off. “Maybe it’s a good idea, maybe it ain’t. But maybe it’ll give the kid a little peace of mind that her daddy went out and killed a few assholes for her.” She couldn’t resist fixing Anya with a grin. “God knows she needs to believe someone’d go slay a few dragons for her right now.”
“You bitch,” Anya gritted through her teeth.
Faith bit back the laugh as she headed for the hall. She didn’t have to wait too long for Harris to show up, huffing and puffing under the weight of a huge duffle bag.
“Several cans of turpentine, bottles, rags, and a fireplace lighter. There’s no noise because I cushioned everything,” he explained as he adjusted the duffle bag slung across his back. “Ready?”
Rupert had finally left the living room and joined them as they got ready to leave. “This is foolhardy,” he complained. “You’re too emotionally invested to see what’s in front of your nose, just like in Sunnydale. Your judgment can’t be trusted on this.”
“My judgment has always been fine,” Harris snapped back as retrieved his car keys from his coat pocket. “You just couldn’t be bothered to listen.”
“There was evidence then—” Rupert began.
“And there’s evidence now,” Harris interrupted. “Difference is, this time you see the same evidence I do.”
“Did it ever occur to you that you might’ve been wrong then?” Rupert asked. “Young Xander tells a very different story of his time in Sunnydale. One you should hear. Xander, near as I can gather, your doppelganger’s parents are still alive”
“He mentioned their presence several times in the narrative he imparted to myself and Faith,” Rupert said. “And he did not at all speak of them with anything resembling fondness.”
Harris frowned at Rupert like the Watcher was speaking another language.
“We don’t have fucking time for this,” Faith interjected. “Let’s vamoose already.”
Harris snapped out of it. “Keep Haley safe,” he said to Rupert. “And make sure she doesn’t leave the house.”
“The same goes for your wife, I presume,” Rupert added.
“Anya? Right now? I really don’t care what she does, just so long as she stays the hell away from Haley,” Harris said.