I feel like crapola today. I'd been fighting something for the past couple of days that was stomach flu-ish. My big sign something's up involves a craving for cranberry juice.
Figures. It's a beautiful day out. Not that it matters because if I were feeling okay, I'd be at work. *bleh*
Apologies to people who've been waiting for more Living History, but I've been working on Ishmael Sings of the White Whale for the Faith-fic-a-thon. I have two or three parts left and they're kicking my ass in not a good way. If I didn't have a deadline, I'd let it sit for about a week and concentrate on Living History instead. But deadline looms on Satruday and since I stupidly agreed to work for Borders on Saturday *huff* I want to try to get it up Friday night. Otherwise, it'll be going up late Saturday night.
Still, this part's been done for awhile. It's just I'm still polishing up the part that's after this. So there'll probably be a little bit of a wait.
Quick last seen recap: When last we left our heroes...
- Magic-whammied Willow was causing mayhem and poised to give Faith and Xander a helping hand into the hearafter
- Catherine and Co. were trying to come up with a way to prevent the Grail from causing more problems
- Dawn and Andrew elected to stay with the marginally saner Catherine and Co.
- Charlie decided to catch up with Willow and Faith in a vain effort to prevent more information about the future from leaking into the wrong ears
- Buffy just hit on her brilliant idea to defeat the Dirt Monsters of Eerie Cemetery
Up to Chapter 55 can be found here
Continued from here
When Charlie stepped out of the narrow tunnel, the first thing he noticed was a low, guttural chanting underscored by an even lower growl that echoed through his bones. There were scattered lights from the headlamps, but they seemed to float frozen in mid-air, as if the wearers were standing very still.
He cautiously turned his head toward the scattered lights, letting the beam cut through the darkness. The jumbled image that met his eyes was difficult to comprehend. The noiseless tangle of Slayers mixed in with Robin looked like they were frozen in mid-throw. The overlap of arms, legs, and torsos didn’t make sense, especially since there was no sign that anyone was even moving through the air.
The only way to describe it was that they were just there.
The guttural chanting just kept going as if it’s owner didn’t even notice that Charlie standing in the cavern with a big ol’ bull’s eye on his head.
Despite the fact that his flesh was goosepimpling in terror, he kept scanning the area. This is an incredibly stupid time to pretend you are anything approaching brave, you idiot, his mind snippily told him. Logic managed to overrule the urge to run and get Ruda. The incessant chanting coupled with the low rumble in the darkness seemed to indicate that someone was in an awful lot of trouble. If whatever was out there planned to take a shot at him it would’ve done it by now.
Just when he was about to give up and get Ruda, his light settled on a scene that made his blood freeze. He saw Willow standing with hands poised. At a guess, she was the source of the chanting. Lying on the ground at her feet was…
Oh, futch! Alexander and Faith!
The kick in his gut told him that something had gone seriously wrong with Faith’s plan to evacuate Willow before even more big trouble rained down on their heads. He quickly snapped out of his paralysis and began running towards the witch, hoping like hada that Willow’s mind was trapped in the future and not aware of the present unfolding around her.
As he ran, he blindly punched a couple of quick keystrokes into his medical scanner, thanking all the gods of all the Colonies— including Catherine’s now-helpless Founders— that he’d kept a particular J’Nal-related treatment program in his scanner.
Luck was on his side since Willow didn’t seem to see him as she muttered her incantation. Faith’s breath began to desperately hitch as she labored to draw breath. The doctor registered that Alexander was not reacting at all, a very bad sign. He snapped the empty canister into his scanner and muttered, “Come on, come on, come on,” as the viscous blue liquid filled it. The scanner hadn’t even beeped completion when Charlie yanked it out and slammed the canister into the back of Willow’s neck.
Willow stumbled back a few feet before collapsing in a fit of giggles. The moment the witch fell, Faith was on her feet and breathing hard. “What? How? Who?” the Slayer demanded.
Behind him, Charlie could hear the sound of bodies falling to the ground as four girlish voices sent up protests and one male voice loudly groaned in pain.
“I just chemically shut down her ability to do magic using a mild sedative,” Charlie shortly explained as he kneeled next to the fallen Alexander. The other man immediately responded to the bright light shining in his face by blindly lashing out, catching Charlie in the temple. As the doctor fell back on his ass, Alexander began fighting to get upright. Faith intervened and forced the young man to lie back down on the ground.
“S’okay. We’re cool. We’re good,” she urgently said as she kneeled over him. “Doc’s trying to fix you up right.”
“Whoh?” Alexander asked. By the way he was gasping for breath, Charlie could tell he was having a hard time breathing.
Alexander seemed disoriented until he focused on the worried woman holding him in place and cringed. Faith responded by immediately releasing him in a move so quick that Charlie thought sure she’d been burnt by fire.
“Just tryin’ to keep you from hurtin’ yourself more,” Faith said quietly as she got to her feet and stepped back for good measure.
Charlie turned his head to look for his medical scanner. He spotted it next to a headlamp, which must’ve come off Alexander’s head when whatever Willow did to him happened. He grabbed both, checked the headlamp, and sighed with relief when he saw it was still working. Just at that moment, the sound of running caught his attention. He turned and saw four grim-looking girls thundering over to his position with swords drawn. “It’s all right,” he called out. “Willow can’t do any harm right now.”
“Xander okay?” One of the girls asked.
“I need to do a scan…” Charlie began.
“Girls, let the doc work,” Faith interrupted. “Remember your orders. Vi, back to Robin. You guys, fan out. I’ve got this covered.” When the girls hesitated, Faith added for emphasis, “Go. I’ll make sure it’s all right.”
There was a grumbled protest, but Charlie saw one of the girls move to Robin’s side while the others took up positions by several tunnel openings. Terrific. Looked like he had another patient.
“Youh ahl righ’?” Alexander asked as he waved weakly at Faith through labored breaths.
“I, unh, I’m okay. Still got the Slayer mojo.” Faith sounded surprised he bothered to ask.
“Whiill? Ahl righ’?” Alexander managed to gasp out.
“Doc?” Faith asked. “Willow gonna be okay?”
“Yes.” Charlie began as he stumbled over to the Slayer and Alexander. “She’s temporarily shut down because the pharma is running interference, but we still have to get her out of here. What I did wasn’t exactly the safest thing for her, especially since I don’t have her medstats. I need to get her in the open so I can get a better look at her.”
“That doesn’t sound none too good,” Faith remarked.
“Both of you took quite a hit,” the doctor ignored her as quickly scanned both Faith and Alexander. “Looks like that high you were fighting is now busy helping your Slayer heeling toss off the effects of Willow’s spell.”
“Don’t mind sayin’ that I’m relieved to hear I won’t be going on a drug-induced rampage any time soon,” Faith rolled her shoulders. “How bad is he?”
“The others?” Alexander interrupted. He winced as he tried to take a deep breath. “Ohkay?”
“They’re good. Back to sentry duty like you told ’em,” Faith assured him. She gave Charlie a sidewise look. “He’s having a lotta trouble breathing, like he’s got asthma or something.”
“That’s because the systemic paralysis Willow initiated on both of you is taking longer to wear off on him since he lacks your Slayer physical resistance. He’ll be breathing normally in five or ten minutes,” Charlie said as he tapped the readout scanner. “It doesn’t help he’s got bruised ribs and more than a few pulled muscles in the thoracic region. But, here’s the good news, no broken bones and, best of all, no brain injury.”
Alexander coughed a laugh. “Who’d know the diff?”
“Stop it,” Faith snapped.
Alexander winced, clenched his teeth, and folded into fetal position as he fought to draw bigger gulps of air into his lungs. Faith grabbed Charlie and pulled him a little away. “He doesn’t look good, so what’s the real deal doc?” She held up a finger and in a warning tone added, “And don’t Nixon me.”
Nixon must mean lie, judging by her tone, Charlie guessed. “Bruises, contusions, internal soft-tissue trauma. Nothing I can’t handle, like I told you,” Charlie reassured her. “Good thing I gave him a treatment for his hand earlier. There were enough active metabolites from the pharma I gave him yesterday to act as a weak prophylactic.”
Faith was silent a moment before rendering a thoughtful, “Hunh?”
“If I hadn’t treated him for injuries to his hand, he’d be a lot worse off than he is now,” Charlie replied as he focused on the scanner and, with a few button pushes, recalled the stored program for Alexander.
“Doc? Are you saying he could be dead right now if not for you?” There was an odd, strangled tone to Faith’s voice as she asked the question.
Step carefully old boy. He looked down at Faith and deliberately said, “I didn’t say that. Like I said, when the spell wears off he’ll be able to get to his feet, but he’ll be feeling it. I can give him a healing factor boost to help him shake off the effects of the spell along with an adrenal boost to get him on his feet faster. But there’s a trade-off.”
Faith slowly blinked and said, “So, you’re gonna give him something that’ll get him on his feet all Slayer-like, but he’s gotta pay?”
“Not exactly right, but close enough for practicalities,” Charlie nodded, pleased that Faith got the gist. “The thing is, the boost to his system will help him in the short run, but when he crashes he’s going to crash hard.”
“Within the next eight or nine standard hours.”
Faith shook her head. “You know, any other day but today? I’d say no problem, but…”
“Ooooooh, I’m hearing you all on frequencies there,” Charlie agreed.
“Run it by Xander. If he can live with it, we’ll live with it,” Faith said. “Once you’ve got him squared you better check on Robin.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Not 100 percent sure,” Faith shuffled uncomfortably. “Things went batshit before I had a chance to ask.”
“Right. Faith, Alexander will be fine. I promise. And if I can do anything for Robin, I will.”
“Yeah, do what you can,” Faith said absently as her worried gaze wandered until it settled on the Willow-shaped giggling mound.
Charlie reached out and grabbed her hand in a comforting move. Given the Slayer’s startled reaction, it probably wasn’t the best thing he could’ve done, but he held on just the same. “Don’t blame her. She didn’t know what she was doing.”
“I’m not,” Faith slowly replied, a shadow of something crossing her face. “But at some point, ‘not in my right mind’ ain’t really an excuse for shit like this.” She looked over at Alexander, who seemed to be finally be catching his breath, but the labored breathing made it clear that it wasn’t easy for the man. “What just fucking kills me is he knew. He fucking knew she could tear him into bloody pieces just by thinking it was a damn fine idea and there’d be shit-all he could do about it. I just don’t understand why he even bothers even trying when he knows…” She gave her head a hard shake and pulled her hand away. “Forget it. Ain’t nothin’.”
Given what Catherine had told him about Faith’s on attempt on Alexander’s life, Charlie knew that this was big deal to Faith no matter how hard she tried to shake it off. He also knew better than to even pretend to understand what she was talking about.
“Well, I seem to recall that history records that Alexander has quite the habit of stepping in front of bullets,” he said casually. “Some people will try anything to keep people they care about safe and sane.”
“Yeah, well, some people have more heart than brains, I guess,” Faith’s voice was testing and prodding in that not-terribly-subtle way most Slayers had. Charlie suspected she was trying to tease more information out of him.
Charlie turned away, forcing himself to focus on his first patient. “I’m a little worried about balancing this. Too little and it’ll do no good. Too much and he’ll be useless.”
“Right. I’ll motor out of your way.” There was a pause. “What about Willow?”
“Temporarily declawed, like I said. And I do mean temporary. When we get to the surface, I’ll administer a slightly stronger sedative that’ll keep her mystical defenses in check and send her off to dreamland.”
“I’ll stick with Willow. Make sure she doesn’t go wandering off.” With that pronouncement, Faith’s feet trudged across the gravelly soil until she reached the witch, who was now sitting as if she were meditating and making “oooooooom” sounds.
“Alexander?” Charlie asked as he kneeled next to the fallen man.
Alexander once again struggled to sit upright. Although he was still breathing as if he were winded, he seemed to be finally getting some oxygen into his system. “Not used to bein’ cahll tha’.”
“I’m going to give you some medication to ease the breathing,” Charlie placed a supporting hand on his shoulder, “and a boost of adrenalin. Just a warning that when the boost wears off, you’re going to drop like a rock.”
“Long?” Charlie interrupted. When he got a nod in response, he added, “Hopefully, it’ll hold you eight standard ours. I can’t guarantee longer than that. And you’ll still be feeling your injuries even until then, so…”
Charlie made short work of creating the necessary mix and forcing the filled pellet underneath the skin. “Better?” he asked.
“Good enough,” Alexander winced as he started to get to his feet. He didn’t say no when Charlie offered him an assisting hand.
“How’s the breathing?” Charlie asked as he handed the taller man the headlamp.
“Feels like my lungs are loosening up. Thanks,” Alexander nodded. He fixed the light’s band around his head and winced at the movement. “Man, you weren’t kidding about the ouchiness, were you? I feel like I’ve gone three rounds with a Mack truck and that the truck won.”
“Take it easy for a little bit before you…” Charlie’s instructions were interrupted by a screeching roar.
Alexander looked worriedly around, light from his headlamp bouncing off the glittering walls. “I hope that’s the sound of a pissed off snake and not the sound of snake that just escaped.”
“I better check on Robin.”
“What about Willow?” Alexander demanded.
“I don’t have time…look, consult with Faith. I have to check Robin first. Willow will be as fine as she can be until we get her aboveground.”
Alexander frowned before he gave Charlie a curt nod. As Alexander made his way over to Faith and Willow, Charlie headed for Robin. He tried to ignore the echoing soundtrack of something lowly growling its displeasure in the darkness beyond the scattered headlamps. Even so, whatever it was in the tunnels sounded big and dangerous. The end result was that Charlie felt relief when he reached Robin, if only because there was a Slayer stationed right next to him. As he kneeled down to take a closer look at his new patient, relief immediately turned to worry. Charlie didn’t like the lump topped by the wound or the way the man seemed out of it. The Slayer— I think Faith called her…Vi? Wait, wait, not Violet! Is it?— was doing her best to offer comfort as she kneeled next to Robin, but it was clear that she wasn’t sure what she could do.
“Will he be okay?” the girl said.
“Violet, right?” Charlie asked tentatively. When the girl nodded, he swallowed hard and tried to forget everything he knew about the girl. “Well, let me scan and find out.”
One quick look at the readouts was enough to elicit a groan from Charlie. Worry had know notched up to I can’t futching believe my futching luck. Then again, the way things had been going since they landed in 2003, he really should just learn to relax when fate decided to take another schlitzer on his head.
“That isn’t a happy sound,” Violet remarked.
“That’s because it isn’t,” Charlie said. “He’s got a very serious concussion.”
“We could’ve told you that,” Violet said.
“Told you what?” Faith breathed over his shoulder.
“Yike!” Charlie squeaked. He didn’t even sense Faith coming up behind him. Just then another furious growl echoed in the darkness.
“That must be the snake,” Violet said casually. “Guys! See anything?”
A chorus of “nos” did nothing to set Charlie’s mind at ease.
“I can’t help Robin,” Charlie explained as he did his best to refocus on the immediate problem.
“What? Why not? Just stick some dope in him like you did me and Xander,” Faith demanded.
“Faith, even in my time period the brain is still considered a very delicate instrument,” Charlie patiently explained. “Robin has a serious concussion. That translates to brain injury. I could try something, but that might lead to greater problems.”
“But…” Faith began.
“Listen to me,” Charlie interrupted impatiently. “He’s not a Slayer and he doesn’t have a Slayer’s unique chemistry. I can’t just ‘shoot him full of dope,’ whatever the hada ‘dope’ is, to boost something he doesn’t have to take care of an injury that’s tricky to treat under the best of circumstance.”
“But Xander ain’t a Slayer and…” Faith insisted.
“Alexander did not have any brain injuries. All his problems were straightforward cuts, scrapes, bruises, and temporary paralysis, even when the cause was mystical. That’s a whole different conversation,” Charlie was practically shouting his frustration. “Not only that, I already had a stored medical program for Alexander. I don’t for Robin. I don’t even want to try dealing with the concussion because nothing short of bed rest, fluids, and observation is going to help.”
“Short supply around here,” Alexander’s voice said.
Charlie looked up at the interruption and saw that Alexander had joined the knot around Robin. Willow was standing next to him jabbering in a foreign tongue that included an awful lot of clicks of the tongue.
“Faith?” Alexander said quietly. “Maybe we should just try to get Robin out of here.”
Faith frowned at the man for a moment before directing a last question at Charlie. “You sure you can’t do anything?”
“If he were a Slayer, I’d do for him what I did for you.” Charlie shrugged his relief. Alexander’s suggestion to evacuate Robin seemed to have calmed the elder Slayer down. “Hada, even if I had a stored medical program I might, just might, give it a shot just to see if I could at least get him on his feet.”
“In short, two strikes against you already, so let’s not go for a third,” Alexander winced.
“Hunh?” Charlie asked.
“Baseball,” Violet clarified as if it should mean something.
Charlie decided now was not the time to get distracted by asking for a clarification. “I’ll be in the evacuation party. That’s why I was out here to begin with. Someone needs to watch Willow very carefully.”
“And better you than someone from the past,” Faith nodded.
“What? Why?” Violet asked. Robin let out a low moan, which distracted Vi just enough so she could shush him and grab his hand.
Willow started giggling. “Stop it! Stop it! I’m trying to concentrate…oh don’t flash your tongue stud at me, you little hussy minx…”
Alexander gave Willow a worried glance. “Count me in on not wanting to hear any more.”
“Amen,” Faith agreed. “Well, Willow needs to get out of here anyway, so what’s one more injured person? You’re going to have your hands full, even with the doc’s help.”
“I’m going to have my hands full?” Alexander’s eyebrows shot up. “I. Don’t. Think. So.”
“Last I checked I was in better shape than you,” Faith shot back. “You should move your ass out of here before you get hurt even more. Plus, you got, what? Eight hours before you pitch headfirst into the ground? You need outta here more than I do.”
Charlie saw Alexander’s face darken dangerously and braced himself for a full-on Catherine-like snit. Instead, what came out of his mouth was far calmer than what Catherine would even bother with.
“I’m not a Slayer, Faith.”
“Which is exactly my point,” Faith argued back.
“Unh-oh,” Violet said under her breath.
“That’s right. That is the point,” Alexander agreed. “Look around. Something’s gone wrong. People are injured, seriously injured, and there was nothing about that in Assface’s little black book. That means we can’t assume anything.”
Light seemed to dawn on Faith’s face. “Like we can’t assume there ain’t another trap just waiting to get us. Shit.” She looked around the cavern with a grimace. “Yeah, there is definitely a more-than-you-can-chew situation with the Grail and Willow, so much as I hate the fucking idea you got a point…”
Alexander relaxed. “Glad you see it my way.”
“So, we send one of the newbies out with Willow and Robin and tell…” Faith looked at Violet, “her how the Grail’s makin’ her talk shit. No one can make heads or tails of it.”
“Nice catch,” Violet commented. “Did you know your nose twitches when you lie?”
“Vi…” Alexander shook his head. “Actually, sending one of the other Slayers— someone not named Vi,” Alexander fixed Violet with a look, “and who hasn’t heard this conversation is a good idea.”
“Of course it…it is?” Faith seemed taken by surprise.
“It is,” Alexander confirmed.
“Excuse me, Violet,” Charlie said as he got up. He hooked his arm gently behind Faith’s and Alexander’s backs, and pulled them away from Violet and Robin. Once he was what he hoped was far enough away from Violet to prevent her from hearing what he hoped she wouldn’t, he said, “Much as I don’t want to agree on a Slayer guard because of…well…I won’t get into the very long list of reasons why involving too much information about the future getting out, I have to go along with it because I have to think of Willow’s and Robin’s safety first and me alone isn’t enough to protect them if something goes wrong. But, Faith, I’m afraid you’re the best choice.”
“Why?” the Slayer demanded. “I think I should stay right here.”
“Frankly, both you and Alexander are the only logical choices to help me with Willow. You are at least aware of some possible…unh…events,” Charlie said in an urgent low voice. When both Alexander and Faith continued to look doubtful, Charlie quickly added, “Do you really want certain information about the two of you to get out?”
Faith and Alexander exchanged glances. That one movement told Charlie that he just won the argument.
“Fine,” Faith said. “I’m in. I don’t fucking like it, but I’m in.”
Alexander glanced at Willow over Faith’s shoulder as he said, “Just promise me you’ll be careful.”
“Unlike before? Yeah, well, I didn’t do so hot back there,” Faith kicked the granular soil.
“You did the best anyone could, hell, probably better than me,” Alexander said. He didn’t notice the surprised look on Faith’s face as he continued. “If I were in your shoes, I would’ve panicked. You at least got her out of there and had a plan to deal.” He took a breath, gave Faith a tight smile, and added, “I know you’ll be fine. Just…I dunno…do what you’ve been doing, I guess.”
“Let’s just hope a spanner doesn’t come along and make it even harder than it’s already been,” Charlie said. “Don’t forget, we still have to get you out of here within the next eight standard hours.”