liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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Water Hold Me Down, Part 46b

World-building is hard work. Annoyingly hard. Makes me want to do a riff on Dorothy's letter to Auntie Em:

Dear Rupert, AlternaFaith, and AlternaXander,

Hate you. Hate your world. Have taken Xander and left. I hope Wesley wins.

No love,

These alternative universe thingies are hard. And they take a lot of writing. And I apologize in advance for the information dump. The song that goes with this trio of parts will be in the next part.

All previous parts can be found here.

Continued from Part 46a



“Please do continue,” Giles said to Faith.

“Right. So the girls get their juice and we march off to the Hellmouth. We get down there and Caleb and all those guys are there, communing with the evil, I guess, so we bust up their party.” Faith paused to smile. “I killed Caleb good and hard for the shit he did to me and for murdering one of my girls. Best part of the whole deal.”

“Faith,” Giles sighed.

Faith nervously licked her lips. “Long story short, we were fighting, but we were losing, even though all the girls were juiced. Then the amulet around Angel’s neck started glowing and these beams of light shot everywhere. An earthquake started and I told everyone who could get out to get going. I tried to get Angel to come with, but he was starting to glow and then he started to burn. I mean, really burn. He was catching fire. He told me to go because this was it for him and he was ready to let go because he was just too tired to keep going. I stuck around as long as I could, but…well, he wouldn’t leave and…and…” Faith stuttered into silence and she looked down. Her jaw was working furiously and the cords in her neck stood out in sharp relief. Despite that, her troubled eyes were dry as a desert, leaving Giles to wonder if Faith was capable of tears.

“Myself and those who could escaped.” Giles picked up the slack to spare Faith from recounting her loss. “While we were fighting below, a number of Turok-Hans were able to get into position on the upper floors and we had to run the gauntlet in order to get out. A few more of the girls died in the mêlée along our escape route, so only three girls and myself got out of the high school alive. We commandeered a bus and held it for as long as we could, but when the tremors became too violent, we had to leave. Faith was forced to run after us, but she was able to catch up and cling to the outside as we fled.”

“We barely made it out past the town limits,” Faith quietly added. “Scary thing. The sky was clear blue that day; the sun was shining. You’d think nothing was wrong, except for the whole bit where the town was a big fucking crater and there was nothing left. You seen it?”

Xander startled at the unexpected question. “What?”

“You ever go back to take look-see at the nothing left?” Faith asked.

“Sunnydale’s the past,” Xander answered. His voice was rough. “Everything I cared about that was in that town died, got killed, or left a long time ago. The only people I had left in my life were already with me. No point in going back because of the morbid curiosity.”

Giles bit back the observation that he suspected that Xander’s reasons centered more on a guilty conscience. For a start, such an observation would surely start a new round of fighting. Secondly, he wasn’t entirely certain that such a statement was true.

Faith leaned forward and in an intense voice said, “Do yourself a favor. Don’t. Don’t go back. I’ve been once or twice since then and it’s ugly. It’s a big ol’ scar on the horizon. I hated that damn town and it creeps even me the fuck out to see nothing where the town used to be. I swear, hand to god, if you’re there after sundown, you can hear people screaming.”

“Could be kids sneaking up to the crater at night on a dare and yelling to hear the echo,” Xander said.

“Nah. Something about the quality of the screaming makes me think it ain’t no echo. Plus underneath there’s all these whispers, like people telling each other secrets that they can’t tell when the sun’s out. Can’t describe it, but it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand right up on end.” Faith hunched inward. “Then you get the feelin’ that all those screams and whispers want you to jump on in and join ’em. I read something once in National Geographic or one of those travel magazines that people leave behind on trains or in airports after they’re done with ’em that the Sunnydale crater is a famous spot for jumpers.”

“Jumpers?” Xander asked skeptically.

“Suicides,” Faith clarified.

“Superstitious twaddle,” Giles rumbled.

“You ever been?” Faith asked. “’Cause I’ve been there and know what? I believe it.”

“There is nothing there,” Giles said firmly. “We have of course investigated these reports that there is something evil still clinging to the area, but Sunnydale is no more dangerous than any other spot on earth. Furthermore, the statistics of injuries and deaths are no greater than the Grand Canyon.”

“Sunnydale was also a nice little town where nothing wig-worthy ever happened, so excuse me if I’m more inclined to believe Faith,” Xander said.

“We have used science and magic to make sure our conclusions are sound, and I can assure you with near certainty that whatever the past, that area is no longer a mystical flashpoint,” Giles insisted.

“Didn’t ask what your minions told you. I asked you if you had been there,” Faith said defensively.

“No,” Giles said. “And I certainly don’t need to go there to confirm the veracity of multiple reports on what used to be Sunnydale.”

Giles could see that Faith was not convinced, although she seemed unwilling to get sidetracked into yet another ugly disagreement, especially over something so minor in the grand scheme of the night’s overemotional events.

“So, where were we?” Faith asked rhetorically. “Me, Rupert, and three of my girls escaped alive. So, we won, sort of, but it was an old fashioned bloodbath to get it.”

“Sort of?” Xander asked. “The world’s still here, so I think it’s more like a victory at a high price.”

“A pyrrhic victory,” Giles admitted.

“Yeah, the evil twin mentioned something about other hellmouths getting feisty,” Xander mumbled.

“Not just other hellmouths, but every mystical spot on the planet,” Faith said. “Not sure about the principles involved, but from what I gather, the energy that bubbled up through Sunnydale Hellmouth didn’t just go away, it just got redirected.”

“What Faith is trying to say is that the Sunnydale Hellmouth was large enough to create a draw on a significant portion of this world’s native mystical energy, which meant none of the other hellmouths or areas of special concern were as powerful as they could have been,” Giles elaborated. “Once the Sunnydale Hellmouth was closed, all of that energy flowed to the earth’s other pressure points, so to speak.”

“How bad is this?” Xander asked.

“It gets worse,” Faith grimly answered.

“Worse? How can it get worse?” Xander asked.

“Vampires, demons, and other creatures have congregated around these areas, much in the same way that desert dwellers will congregate around an oasis,” Giles answered.

“This bit is important,” Faith stressed. “All these hotspots are all over the world all got a big population of bad things grooving to the evil vibe. Now, imagine you want to set up shop on top of one of these suckers. You gotta fight to not just get a spot, but hold on to it. The weaker you or your crew is, the further away you gotta set up shop, because the things living right on top of all the mystical shit? They’re the toughest of the tough.”

“Oh my god.” Xander looked sick.

“Now, you’re probably askin’ yourself, ‘So how come Sunnydale wasn’t a demons-only kinda place back when that Hellmouth was king?’” Faith continued.

“Still stuck on the demons are everywhere and they’re meaner than ever part, so, no, not really asking,” Xander said weakly.

“You will eventually. And since this ties in to L.A., Wolfram & Hart, and what happened in Malibu, I’ll answer it before you ask,” Faith nodded. “Back in the bad ol’ days when Sunnydale wasn’t a crater, it was too frickin’ hard to get there for most of the world’s baddies, so they all made do with what they had. Only the nasties that were really motivated or already in the area set up shop in the SunnyD. Since the real estate was so small, the number of people to eat too tiny, and the town too far away, a lot of demons didn’t think it was worth effort.”

“To carry on with Faith’s real estate theme, when the Sunnydale Hellmouth closed, demons and other assorted creatures discovered they no longer had far to travel if they wished to have access to that kind of power,” Giles said. “The best comparison we have in human history is the European rush to colonize the New World, Africa, and Asia and plant the flag for King and Country.”

“Or the California Gold Rush,” Xander weakly added.

“You get the picture,” Faith nodded. “So, it turned out, we really did need all those Slayers out there after all. If I hadn’t thought up sharing the juice, we would’ve been standing in shit creek without a roll of toilet paper. No matter what, the Sunnydale Hellmouth was over. It was gonna be either Ground Zero for hell on earth, like I said, or we had to shut it down permanently. The option to wrestle it back under control and return to status quo wasn’t even on the table, thanks to the First’s power grab.”

“Jesus,” Xander said quietly. He suddenly rubbed his face with his hands. “To think I missed it.”

“You didn’t want to get involved,” Faith snapped.

“Not that,” Xander bristled. “I practically tear newspapers apart every day looking for the weird. Okay, I’m Zihuatanejo-centric in what I’m looking for, but you’d think I’d figure out something more was going on in East Cupcake, Nowheresville, if I saw something that just didn’t fit.”

“You of all people know that everyone will force sense and rationality on anything that doesn’t seem quite right,” Giles mildly pointed out. “How many people rationalized the ascension at your graduation, even though everyone there saw the mayor turn into a towering demon? And that’s just one example of many that you’re already familiar with. I highly doubt that you would’ve picked up on anything, even if you had been looking beyond the borders of your town. Lord knows I’m very well aware of many of the true stories behind the headlines and I would be hard-pressed to find any evidence of the truth in what I read in the press.”

“Plus a lot of that shit can get disguised by your average everyday deal where people are being fuckheads or acting incredibly shitty to one another,” Faith said. “I’ve seen plenty examples of that, especially when you start talking about the real bad neighborhoods. I mean, hell, I live on top of the biggest surviving Hellmouth in Cleveland, but you wouldn’t know it if you got all your news from the Plain Dealer.

“Like the ‘gas explosion’ in Malibu.” Xander was a shade of green.

“Bingo,” Faith flicked a pointed red finger at him.

Xander picked up his nearly full glass and downed the contents. He made a nasty face as he swiped at his mouth.

“The real suck in all this is that we kinda knew this was coming when we shut down the Hellmouth,” Faith added. “But like I said, we were backed in a corner, otherwise, we would’ve been searching high and low for alternatives.”

“Not entirely correct,” Giles interrupted when he saw Xander’s eyes narrow. “We were aware that the energy that used to go to the Sunnydale Hellmouth would be redistributed. And we suspected that the demons fleeing Sunnydale would seek greener pastures. We did not expect supernatural creatures to begin congregating around the newly energized sites.”

“Figured it out soon enough,” Faith pointed out.

“Okay. Got it. The world’s a mess right now,” Xander said. “But you still haven’t connected this to Wolfram & Hart and Malibu and here.”

Faith picked up where she left off. “We didn’t have a whole lotta time to lick our wounds after we got outta the SunnyD, or what used to be the SunnyD. Rupert hightailed it back to Tweed Land to start pressing all those hiding Watchers back into service and start organizing the Council’s resources, or what was left of ’em anyway.

“One girl, Rona, she took one look around and was all, ‘Fuck this shit.’ She tendered her resignation right on the spot and hightailed it back to wherever she came from. I wanna say the Pacific Northwest somewhere. Didn’t save her in the end, though. About 3 years after that, she was doing the college student thing at NYU and got killed by some bad-ass vampire gang. They somehow found out she was not only a Slayer, but was in Sunnydale when the whole deal went down, so they got payback.” Faith hungrily licked her lips and added, “They didn’t get to enjoy the victory party. I made sure of that.

“Cho-Ahn, she bugged back to China to do her Slaying bit and make the fam proud. She’s now the big lead Slayer in China and from what I hear, she’s totally fierce. She married someone high up in the government there and he keeps her ops on the downlow and makes sure no official eyes see her.” Faith nodded like proud mother. “Yeah, that’s my girl right there.

“As for me, I was fugitive from the law, on account of the fact that Rupes here broke me out of prison, so I took off and went underground until the Council could find a way clean my slate. Amanda, she was this local Sunnydale girl, she took off with me,” Faith said.

“That was the Potential in Sunnydale you mentioned.” Xander turned his accusing eyes on Giles. “Why didn’t we know about this?”

“No point in tellin’ you, since B dyin’ didn’t call any new Slayers,” Faith interrupted. “I had to be the one to die.”

“How’s that possible?” Xander demanded.

Faith shrugged. “One new Slayer per customer, don’t matter how many times you die after the first time.”

“Close enough,” Giles said. “Once Buffy died at the hands of the Master, the Slayer line no longer ran through her. It ran first through Kendra, then Faith.”

“But—” Xander began.

“She was still a Slayer, but she was no longer the Slayer,” Giles said. “Good lord, Xander! Why do you think the Council never contacted us after Buffy died? And you can be rest assured, that if a new Slayer had been Called, they would’ve investigated why and would’ve very quickly discovered our ruse with the Buffybot. Travers was not a forgiving man, so you could be certain that he would’ve brought pressure to bear to make us pay. For a start, social services would have been called in and Dawn most likely would’ve been sent to her father—”

“She didn’t have a father since she wasn’t real,” Xander interrupted. “And still, not seeing how that would’ve been a bad thing.”

Giles sighed. “Yes, you advocated quite strongly for sending her to live with Mr. Summers.”

“Given all the crap she pulled after Buffy got resurrected, between the lying and the shoplifting, and given the fact she ended up dead, you can’t even begin to convince me that I was wrong,” Xander said.

“Dawn needed her true family around her, and I daresay she may have been the only thing keeping Buffy tethered to this earth,” Giles said. “I know you were never fond of her—”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Xander interrupted. “I liked Dawn okay. We just never connected. That’s a big difference from me not being ‘fond’ of her. And you still can’t tell me that I wasn’t looking at what was best for Dawn, as opposed to being selfish about keeping her around because taking care of her made everyone feel like they were doing something to keep a piece of Buffy alive.”

“Wonder what Watcher’s attitude is toward the little sis,” Faith said.

Xander snorted. “Can you say that he’s a member of the cult of Dawn?”

Now that is interesting, Giles thought. He filed the point away to ponder for another day. “Be that as it may, the short answer is, no, there was no new Slayer called, which meant the Council remained blissfully unaware that Buffy had died. As you know, I returned to London and I was planning to report it, if only because I feared they’d discover our secret sooner rather than later, but I was informed of Willow’s resurrection spell before I discussed with anyone why I was back. Had they known that Buffy had died before then—”

“They would’ve killed my ass so Kennedy could get the juice,” Faith interrupted.

Giles saw no point in contradicting Faith. She was most likely right.

“Anyways, back to Amanda,” Faith continued. “From what I gather, she may have been in the Slayer line, but there was a good shot she would’ve never been Called. Strictly a benchwarmer if things kept ticking along with the one-girl-in-all-the-world deal.”

“Why not?” Xander asked.

Giles nervously cleared his throat. “Again, Faith is being too definitive in her answer. Prior to activating all the Potentials in Sunnydale, it did not automatically follow that all Potentials would become Slayers. At any given time, there were numerous candidates to take on the mantle, some more likely than others.”

“All Potentials are created equal, but some Potentials are more equal than others,” Xander said.

Giles blinked. “Aptly put, although the allusion is a surprising one from you.”

“Haley had to read Animal Farm this year,” Xander shrugged, surprisingly not offended by the fact that Giles assumed he was illiterate. “You might say the idea kinda fits.”

“Indeed,” Giles nodded. “Amanda, while in the Slayer line, was not a likely candidate. Other factors do come into play, such as emotional intelligence, innate strength, a clear sense of moral direction, among others. That’s not to say that the Council had always guessed correctly in the past. For example, Buffy being Called took everyone by surprise. She was considered one of the least likely Potentials to inherit the Slayer power.”

“Funny how that works out,” Xander sarcastically said.

Giles raised his glass in a salute. “You do have me there.”

Faith snorted. “If B was voted most likely to lose out, hate to think where I fell on the list.”

“I wish I could tell you,” Giles shrugged. “But by the time you were Called, I already was working with Buffy, so I’m unaware what deliberations, if any, were made regarding her most likely successors. Furthermore, all those records were sealed in Council headquarters. I don’t have to tell you that they were all destroyed when the First blew up the building.”

“So I take it this Amanda wasn’t all that,” Xander said.

“She was just a kid,” Faith shrugged. “An immature kid at that. Not saying she’s a bad Slayer, but she’s got some serious temper issues that make me look like a pussycat. Plus, she ain’t much of a leader. Don’t got it in her. But she gets all tetchy if someone else steps on her toes.”

“Middle management type,” Xander nodded. “See? This is why I went into business for myself.”

Faith pondered that a moment. “Yeah. Good way to put it. She has a shiny title, on account of the fact that she’s got to have props for fighting in the SunnyD. But the Council’s surrounded her with real competent people up there in Canada who know how to manage her.” Faith shook her head. “I sometimes take a run up to Toronto, just to ‘visit’ and check things out when the gossip that hits my ear turns nasty about her. She’s so sweet to me that ice cream wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but I got her number real good. All just gossip, though. I ain’t seen nothin’ that calls for me whipping out strap-on and reaming her ass before sending her packing to London for a psych work up. All an act, though, since the turnover up there speaks for itself.”

“Jesus, Faith,” Xander scowled. “Can you get any more crass?”

“We are well aware there are issues—” Giles began.

“Excuse me,” Xander tried to interrupt.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Faith said bitterly. “Lots of people come through Cleveland, some to get the ol’ batteries recharged, some just on their way from Point A to Point B. Lots of Mandy’s little people, the ones who get shit on, hit the house. They’ve got lots to say. Some of it is the bitter talking, some of it personal issues they can’t see through, some of it is the same-old-same-old complaints you get anywhere, but there’s always some nuggets of pony in the steaming pile of horseshit. You just gotta figure out the difference between a turd and a horse. When I get me enough horse, I take a quick run up to Toronto and subtly put the fear of me in Amanda so she straightens up for a little bit.”

Giles studied Faith through half-lidded eyes. Young Xander certainly did have a way of getting of spotting the truth of things. Faith was very well informed about matters, more than Giles had believed possible. Had you asked him a week ago, he would’ve said that Faith was focused on Cleveland and whatever mission she was called upon to help with and left the heavy thinking to other people.

The disconcerting thing was that Young Xander had made the assumption that Faith knew everything she needed to know and more, and he assumed she acted on it. Even though Young Xander was completely ignorant about this world, his assumption was the correct one.

He’s the one who sees, Willow had said. Giles was beginning to wonder if there was something more to it, because observation alone should’ve told Young Xander to reach the opposite conclusion. At least Giles thought so. He had to admit that he may have been operating from a flawed starting point. This discussion was the longest period he and Faith had been in the same room since Sunnydale fell. For all the bumps and bruises and poisons lurking in the words spoken, he was starting to believe—no, starting to know—that he had quite possibly made an error in not pursuing more open lines of communication between himself and the world’s oldest, and yes, most competent Slayer.

After all, she was still alive and fighting, despite her residence on top of the Hellmouth and despite the fact she often was pulled into dangerous situations at a moment’s notice and with minimal information. She was still here while so many girls that came after her had died.

That said something right there. How he missed the import of that before, he’ll never know. It was time to start rectifying it, and there was no time like the present.

Giles held out a slim, trembling olive branch. “Your ability to synthesize information and your sense of duty is impressive. I was unaware that you were keeping an eye on the Toronto situation.”

Xander’s eyes snapped to him, and Giles could see the other man had sensed that something had shifted. It was written in the expression on his face. This simple moment inspired yet another frightening thought: What if there was a Young Xander lurking inside Xander? What if Xander actually could see, too? What if Xander was not entirely wrong about everything?

Faith’s forehead had scrunched in confusion, like she wasn’t sure if Giles was taking the piss or was being genuine.

In that moment, Giles felt the world shift ever so slightly. Not over the edge, exactly, but closer to it. He resisted the urge to turn around, partially out of some foolish notion that Young Xander just might be behind him winding up for that one big push that would make the difference. If he knew what was at the bottom of the cliff, he’d be far less concerned about it.

Giles cleared his throat. “I feel better knowing that you are also keeping your eye on the Toronto situation.”

“Not that I care, but I gotta ask,” Xander said. “If this Amanda is so incompetent, and you’ve got so many Slayers running around, why hasn’t she been replaced?”

Faith kept her eyes on Giles as she answered. “Ain’t that simple. Amanda’s not incompetent, she’s just delusions of being better than she is. Plus, she’s a big ol’ war hero, complete with imaginary medals, so it’s like her word against a bunch of little people. Power’s the get outta jail free card, and she’s got it and they don’t. Plus, Amanda knows how to play to the people higher on the food chain, so she’s got a few people buffaloed.”

“Not everyone,” Giles disagreed.

Faith raised an eyebrow.

“You may be interested to know, that there were not that many difficulties early on,” Giles explained to Xander. “However, the situation has deteriorated over time, enough that several people ‘higher on the food chain’ as Faith puts it, are getting concerned. We’ve been watching her, but she hasn’t done anything that merits removal.” He turned to Faith, and once more held out the olive branch. “Perhaps we should discuss this situation more in depth, you and I, at a later date.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Faith said skeptically, like she didn’t quite believe Giles would stick to his promise.

“Now that we’re done ironing out personnel issues that’s got nothing to do with me, how about my questions?” Xander prompted with irritation.

Faith startled, like she had forgotten Xander was there. “Right. Sorry. Got sidetracked.”

“What else is new?” Xander grumbled.

“So, that’s the rundown on what we all did for summer vacation,” Faith continued. “Me and Amanda were traveling the good ol’ U.S. of A., keeping under the radar, kicking demon ass, and checking out any new Slayer the Council thought to tell us about. Cho-Ahn, back in China, also kicking demon ass and checking out any new Slayer the Council told her about. Rona, on the out-of-here list. Rupes back in England doing Watcher things.”

“Great. I’ve got a bunch of dots; big, black dots, by the way. Still no lines connecting them,” Xander groused.

“Considering all the shit we just dumped in your lap, you’re way too eager to hear the rest,” Faith commented.

“Not really,” Xander countered. “But I’m more of a rip-the-Band-Aid-off kind of guy. You’re using the slow method.”

Giles resisted the urge to show his irritation. “It was necessary to explain this to you so you’ll better understand what happened. Furthermore, considering your daughter is a Slayer, this information is vital. You need to understand what she’s facing.”

“No,” Xander said slowly. “More likely you want to scare me into signing over custody to the Council.”

“I resent the implication that we are trying to strong-arm you into—” Giles hotly began.

“Yo!” Faith interrupted. She turned to Xander. “You should know right here and right now that I ain’t a fan of the Council. I consider them a necessary evil, mostly ’cause the real evil is a hell of a lot worse. Plus, I’m glossing over just how chaotic the situation was before the Council was up and running. There was a lot of long days, longer nights, and no chance to just stop for 10 friggin’ seconds to catch your breath. Think about this. We knew bad things were gonna happen, and we had four people covering the entire freakin’ planet.”

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

“What I’m sayin’ is, I have no love for the Council, but I ain’t ever seen the Council kidnap a kid from fit parents. Arm twisting, sure. Plenty of that. Putting the fear of evil in a girl’s heart? That, too.” Faith leaned forward. “But you got one thing in the arsenal that all those parents don’t got: you know how it is. Maybe I think you’re pretty clueless on some things, but you know enough that scare tactics ain’t gonna work on you.”

Xander slowly blinked at her. “Spoken like someone who doesn’t have kids.”

Faith actually looked away at that.

“And spoken like someone whose daughter isn’t a Slayer,” Xander added quietly. “So don’t tell me scare tactics won’t work, because, yeah, I do know how it is.”

“You did say you’d leave the decision up to Haley,” Giles said. “Should I take this as you saying that you’ll encourage her to get training?”

Xander’s look was unreadable, which was as close to a ‘yes’ as Giles thought he was ever going to get.

“Fact is, this more pertains to you, and not so much the kid,” Faith said. “Comes down to that little plan I alluded to, but you’re clueless about. You’ll be shitting watery green by the time I’m done spelling it all out.”

“Just get it over with,” Xander said through clenched teeth.

“This next little bit may not sound important, but it’s the root of all evil between the Council and Wolfram & Hart,” Faith said. “I was still on the lam, so I only heard about it after the fact. By then, it was too late to shit about it. Not that I could do anything at all. I never made it right with Wes before I skipped outta California, so there was no chance in hell he’d listen to me after this thing happened.”

“Perhaps I should take this,” Giles smoothly intervened.

“Go,” Faith nodded.

“We were made aware of a Slayer in L.A. by the name of Dana,” Giles began.

“You wanna talk a Potential so far down on the list that she couldn’t even see the first in line to get the Slayer juice, let’s talk Dana,” Faith said.

“Indeed,” Giles agreed. “Dana was in a mental institution in L.A. A cursory look into her situation told us that she was nearly catatonic, under heavy sedation, and securely locked up , as she was a danger to herself and others even before she was Called.”

“Something tells me that this doesn’t end well,” Xander interjected.

“What gave it away? The fact I said this caused big problems just a few minutes ago?” Faith nastily asked.

“Faith, if you would, please,” Giles said, cutting off Xander’s unspoken retort. “As it appeared Dana was secured and not in any immediate danger, the decision was reached to focus on the Slayers who were in dire straits. She was placed on a watch list, but nothing was done about her situation.”

“Fatal mistake,” Faith said.

“However, shortly after she came to our attention, she escaped, killing several people in the process,” Giles said. “We were scrambling to get a team on the ground when I was contacted by Wesley Wyndham-Price. You recall him, of course?”

Xander nodded.

“As it turns out, he was now in charge of the L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart,” Giles said.

“Evilest fucking law firm on the planet,” Faith said.

“You mean more evil than normal?” Xander asked.

“These dudes were bad news. Real bad,” Faith said. “They’d been after Angel and his crew from day one. Even hired me to off him almost the second I stepped off the bus in L.A. after escaping B.”

“Didn’t work out, I take it,” Xander dryly remarked.

Faith shrugged. “Managed to do a little damage first, including a round of torture with Wes. Felt I deserved a little payback for him snitching on me, so he paid good and hard.” She shook her head with a wince. “Should’ve gone that extra step. Wouldn’t be in this mess now if I did. But no, gotta play first instead of just going for the kill. Played long enough for Angel to rescue his ass.”

“You had no way of knowing how it would turn out,” Giles said.

“Notice you’re not exactly shying away from I-should’ve-killed-him-Faith,” Xander said.

Now it was Giles’s turn to reach for the bottle and pour himself another drink. He knew the proper response to Faith’s sentiments and as a Watcher he was honor-bound to voice them. The words remained stuck in his chest, however. The world would’ve been much better off if Wesley died when he was nothing more than a disgraced Watcher.

The silence stretched to the edge of comfortable as Giles lifted the glass to his lips. Faith finally put a merciful end to it.

“Wolfram & Hart ain’t just this average law firm with skeezy clients,” Faith explained. “They deal mostly with the heavy mystical crap. They’re the law firm Satan hires when he needs a crack legal team. They specialize in the kind of contracts you gotta sign in blood and the person you’re negotiating with may or may not be human. They’ve got these Senior Partners, but no one’s ever seen ’em. Wes is the public face for these guys and he sure does earn his sweet pay.”

“So they’re the anti-Council,” Xander said.

“If you mean they are systematically recruiting Slayers, no,” Giles said. “However, if you mean that they are an organizing force for malevolent forces who would prefer a weaker Council and fewer Slayers opposing their plans, then yes.”

“Not saying they don’t got a few Slayers on the payroll, ’cause they sure as hell do,” Faith said. “Fought a few of those bitches, so I know. Though I think it’s kinda weird that they don’t have more, considering that Wes is an ex-Watcher an’ all. You’d think he’d be pretty eager to build his own Slayer army.”

Xander frowned. “I guess I can see that.”

Giles pondered a moment, wondering if he should share sensitive information in the presence of Xander. In the end, his decision came down to the fact that whatever else he believed about Xander, the man did know how to be discrete. “According to our spies, the reason why they do not actively recruit Slayers or have more in their ranks is because Wes doesn’t trust Slayers. He has as many as he deems are necessary, but no more. And those he does allow in are carefully screened, so much so that we’ve been unable to get one of our Slayers within 20 paces of the front door. The Slayers that are there are kept carefully away from the real power centers. They are nothing more than hired muscle. Well-compensated hired muscle, to be sure, but nothing more than that.”

“Figured you had someone watching them,” Faith nodded. “Good to know. And that’s mighty interesting information there.”

“You have spies?” Xander asked. “You mean you know these guys are trying to make the world worse, and all you’re doing is spying on them?”

“Betchya they’ve got spies in Council HQ, too,” Faith said.

“We know who some of them are, of course,” Giles said to Faith. “Others we don’t.”

“And you’re not doing something about these spies, why?” Xander asked.

“We most certainly are. We’re using them to feed false information to Wolfram & Hart. Nothing too outlandish, just enough to perhaps throw them off when it truly matters,” Giles said as he sipped his drink.

“Any come through Cleveland lately?” Faith asked as she cracked her knuckles.

“That we know of? No. Given the nature of the Cleveland safehouse and its location on top of the Hellmouth, and given the number of sensitive missions we’ve sent you on, we steer those spies we know about away from you.”

Faith seemed taken aback. “Thanks. One less thing I gotta worry about.”

Giles was equally taken aback that Faith seemed sincere in her thanks.

“This is insane,” Xander said. “You’re spying on them, you know what they are, you know where they are, and you know who’s in charge. Why haven’t you wiped them out?”

Faith raised an eyebrow. “Ain’t that simple, Harris.”

“Sounds simple to me,” Xander said with crossed arms.

“They have branches all over the world,” Giles pointed out.

“So?” Xander asked. “You’ve got Slayers all over the world.”

“And destroying them will leave a power vacuum,” Giles said. “While I cannot call them anything but evil, they are also a force for order. Demon clans that would have once fought it out and killed anything or anyone in their path in the course of such a battle now turn to Wolfram & Hart to settle matters.”

“Great. Demon clans can bury the hatchet to make them even more efficient at killing people instead of each other,” Xander remarked. “How is this a good idea again?”

“Because, stupid, if Wolfram & Hart goes away, everyone and their in-bred sister is gonna be gunning for top dog,” Faith said. “Then when someone wins the top slot, everyone’s gonna wanna recount because they think they’d do a better job. So, that means more fighting. Then we can lather, rinse, repeat. By the time it’s over, you would have a genuine apocalypse ’cause these things don’t give a shit about bringing out the big guns. Hell, a nuclear wasteland might remind them of home.”

“Wolfram & Hart cemented their dominance a little under a thousand years ago, but that was preceded by at least a thousand years of battling to achieve that dominance,” Giles said.

“So what you’re saying is that we’re actually better off with these guys running around being evil,” Xander said. “That’s just sick.”

“Also the truth,” Faith said. “Not pretty, but there it is.”

“The best we can hope for is to hobble Wolfram & Hart, but not so much that they lose credibility,” Giles said. “Thankfully, they view the Council in much the same way. It is to their benefit that the Council exists, even if they would like us to be weaker, since the last time the Council was destroyed the end result was chaos.”

“And multiple Slayers,” Faith added. “I think they’re a little afraid of people on our side topping that one.”

“Great, so while you’re being all cold war, the rest of us are freezing. Thanks. Thanks soooo much,” Xander sarcastically said.

“I don’t hear you sprouting off any big ideas,” Faith said.

“Not that you’d listen to me if I had any,” Xander grumbled.

“If we are done talking politics, I should say that this state of affairs was not always so,” Giles said. “When Wesley first contacted me, his ultimate plan was to change Wolfram & Hart from within. He had hoped to tame the beast and get it working as a force for good. I warned him against it, of course, pointing out that he would more likely be changed than to affect change. I even offered him a place on the Council itself, since, say what you will, Wesley was fully trained and we desperately needed fully trained Watchers.”

“Well, that was one way to make sure he wasn’t gonna quit and sign up with you,” Faith winced.

“He was not receptive to my cautioning him, no,” Giles allowed. “As to how he got into that position in the first place, it remains a great mystery. He claimed that Wolfram & Hart had offered Angel, himself, and their people positions of authority and even promised to let Angel’s people run the L.A. branch’s operations as they saw fit. They decided to take it, in hope of reforming the firm. Although, as it turns out, Angel may have used that as a ruse.”

“The amulet he came sportin’ turned out to be from the Wolfram & Hart vaults,” Faith interrupted. “So he probably made a bad deal to help us out when he heard what was going down in the SunnyD.”

“Pure speculation,” Giles commented. “But it does seem to be the case. Wesley did share that Angel had apparently stolen the amulet from Wolfram & Hart and then departed without a word to anyone to come to Sunnydale, but when I pressed him for details, he refused to speak further on that matter.”

“How does this tie in to your crazy Slayer?” Xander asked.

Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You must understand, as soon as I heard of Dana’s unfortunate escape, I began organizing the handful of Slayers we had found thus far and a Watcher to go to L.A. Before the task was complete, Wesley’s people had already captured her and she was under the control of Wolfram & Hart.”

“The evil law firm,” Xander repeated slowly.

“I was insistent that he turn Dana over to our care, but Wesley would not hear of it. Given the sorry state of the Council, he believed that Wolfram & Hart had better facilities to see to her needs,” Giles said.

“That would be Wes, right there,” Faith snorted. “Mr. Know-It-All-And-Fuck-You-For-Saying-Otherwise.”

“The conversation did not end on a happy note, to say the least,” Giles agreed. “I sent the team anyway. I did not trust Dana to remain safe so long as she remained in the clutches of Wolfram & Hart, and I was not put at all at ease by Wesley’s assurances that he could help the poor girl.”

“Got that right,” Faith interrupted. “He couldn’t deal with me back in the day. Now, maybe I ain’t the sanest Slayer that ever Slayed, but I’m not batshit insane.”

“Matter of debate,” Xander grumbled.

Faith scrunched her face. “You get that shot for free, Harris. Make another, I’m removing your teeth.”

“The fine point of difference, is that Faith was at least aware of a reality beyond her herself,” Giles said.

“Stop it. My head’s swelling with the praise over here,” Faith grumbled.

“Dana lived in her own world where she truly believed it was kill or be killed,” Giles continued.

“Been there,” Faith said.

“Not to this extreme,” Giles said.

Faith raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

“Right. Wes thinks he can help, but I can see where this is going,” Xander interrupted. “You were right. Wes was wrong. You rubbed it in. Wes decided to stick it to you. The rest of us get screwed because you two can’t work it out. End of story.”

“How like you to compare a tragic situation to a brawl among children,” Giles snapped.

“You mean it wasn’t?” Xander retorted. “If the result didn’t suck so much, I could find the funny in this really easy.”

“If you must know, it turns out that Wolfram & Hart’s facilities were not able to contain Dana,” Giles said. “Our people had only just walked through the door in an attempt to negotiate with Wes when Dana escaped without any outside help.”

“This is where it gets ugly,” Faith said.

“We searched for 3 days, as did Wesley’s people. Unfortunately, they often worked at cross-purposes since both sides blamed the other for the situation,” Giles said. “She finally turned up, and, as can be expected, bloodshed quickly followed.”

Faith leaned forward. “From what I hear, Wes woke up one morning to find his boyfriend’s head in his bed and pieces of his body scattered all over the reception area.”

“It was a woman, and we are uncertain whether Wesley and she were involved,” Giles sighed.

“C’mon, Rupes. The guy’s name was Fred. Or is that Frank? Anyway, one of those names beginning with F. Definitely not a chick’s name,” Faith said.

“I believe it was a nickname,” Giles said dryly.

“Whatever. Don’t matter,” Faith waved a hand. “Either way, from what I hear, Dana nailed someone close to him and Wes went right off the deep end.”

Giles tiredly rubbed his hands over his face. “The result was Wesley doubled his efforts to find her. Rumor has it that he killed the girl himself, although we cannot confirm that to be the case. He then had her body dumped in the sewers. She was identified by authorities only by her dental records.”

Xander started to turn green again. “Hate rats,” he muttered.

“Our people were also targeted. The Watcher was killed as was one of the Slayers. Their heads were sent to me with message that stopped just short of a declaration of war. The rest barely made it out of L.A. alive,” Giles said. “The Council and Wolfram & Hart have been dancing around each other ever since.”

“So what are they doing, exactly?” Xander asked. “I’m guessing Malibu comes into this.”

“The list of the shit Wolfram & Hart has pulled could circle the planet a few times,” Faith said. “Let’s just say whenever Wes can manage it, he makes life as difficult as he can as much as he can and leave it at that. Plus, he’s all about consolidating power. He ain’t just the head of the L.A. branch now. He’s the head of the whole pie. The big cheese. The top of the pyramid. He answers only to these Senior Partners and everyone else answers to him.”

“He also is bent on consolidating power outside of the confines of Wolfram & Hart,” Giles said. “That often means convincing parties who’d rather not get involved with either Wolfram & Hart or the Council to take sides.”

“If they choose wrong…” Faith mimed a knife slitting across her throat. “And that, Harris, is where Malibu happens and your troubles start.”

“I’m guessing that ‘your’ isn’t a general, ‘your,’ is it?” Now that the moment of truth had arrived, Xander seemed much more hesitant about getting to the bottom of his situation.

That is perhaps the first good sense I’ve seen out of him in years, Giles thought.

Faith nastily smirked. “You would be guessing right.”



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