All parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 4C.
Part 4D: Something Resembling Professional
The next 24 hours was a whirlwind of activity.
Xander pretty much spent the time training Slayers and consulting with Bernie on the sly about the plan to land a one-two punch on the DiBenneditos. Part of that plan involved ways to ensure both Cheryl and Susan would be on Team Mob Hit. Cheryl’s day with Faith pretty much made her membership in Team Mob Hit a lock. In an effort to put Susan in the same position, she was conveniently excused from training so she could concentrate on hacking various databases in the hunt for more information that could help them.
Xander left unstated his personal mission to make Faith the unquestioned leader of Team Mob Hit, and his reasons for it. Instead, he constantly reinforced the idea that since Faith was the only one who knew where all the DiBennedito bodies were buried, figuratively speaking, it was understood she’d be leading that team.
Faith and Cheryl spent the time shadowing Frank DiBennedito and had decided that raid in the middle of the night on his home would be the best way to avoid being shot. Xander didn’t love the idea, especially since he felt a daytime raid to take out the Rwandan demons would be better for Team Cold Storage. However, a daytime raid wasn’t crucial, so he was willing to bend on that point.
Bernie spent a lot of time teleconferencing with people in London, mostly in hopes that they’d have better luck than Susan in tracking down information about Carna Security. Her big moment of excitement came when Giles unexpectedly joined in on one of the conferences to hear the latest from Chicago. She was so floored that Xander couldn’t help but grin over the idea that Giles could actually inspire that kind of nervous fluttering in anyone.
As for calling in reinforcements, it seemed like the holiday season had brought out the busy for everyone in Slayer world. Indiana had an infestation of Grimslaw demons in South Bend. Michigan was engaged in an all-hands hunt for a Thesulac demon causing holiday paranoia in Detroit. Iowa was having out-of-control vampire issues, thanks to a charismatic newcomer calling himself Hotspur who was organizing the local bloodsuckers into a surgical strike force. Kentucky and Missouri had Skilosh and Gnarl problems, respectively.
The most Bernie could get was a single Slayer from Wisconsin, which was looking for a prankster who was installing Irish fear demons all over the state. Bernie succeeded only because she did a lot of begging and pleading with the Madison house. Xander helped in the cause by pointing out that Irish fear demons were shorter than leprechauns, which meant that a Slayer only had to step on one to kill it. When he was questioned about it, Xander mentioned that the Scooby gang had a run in with one back in Sunnydale. He then thoughtfully told them to look the demon up and re-read the picture’s caption. He left out the part the where Giles had mistranslated the original German back in the day.
Their lone Slayer addition was slated for Team Mob Hit.
Andrew’s presence wasn’t nearly as annoying as Xander feared it would be. If anything, Andrew seamlessly wove his way around the various pools of activity. He ran errands to pick up last-minute items, took dictation on request, and forcefully reminded people to eat lunch or supper as appropriate. In fact, Andrew was so adept at taking care the million or so details that was part and parcel of running the everyday domestic side of a Council house that Xander suspected most people didn’t even notice what Andrew did with his day. As a guest of more Council houses than he cared to count, he not only noticed, he appreciated it more than he expected. If Andrew had been anyone other than Andrew, Xander might've been tempted to find a way to clone him and put one copy in every Council house he stayed in.
By the time they were winding down to get some rest in preparation for the big assaults, Xander was a little bit more comfortable with the plan. Andrew was given the made-up job of manning the home front and serving as the central point for taking and relaying messages in cases of emergency. The house’s medic was also to stay at home base so he’d be ready to make a run to whichever team had injured members that needed immediate attention. Team Mob Hit had four Slayers — the girl from Madison, Faith, Cheryl, and Susan — and seven Chicago Watchers armed to the teeth for a total of eleven. Team Cold Storage had four Slayers — LaTisha, Terri, Helen, and Kristin — two Watchers — Bernie and another Watcher named Harold Jameson — and himself for a total seven.
On the whole, Xander wished Team Cold Storage had a few more people on it. However, Team Cold Storage had more Slayers and chances were the Rwandan demons, unlike mobsters, didn’t have guns.
The only problem he had left to solve was who on Team Cold Storage would be the first to go into the Rwandan demon’s cage. The more he got to know the Slayers, the more convinced he was that any of them would demon bait. He supposed he could send in a Watcher first, but as Head Watcher Bernie was too important to risk and he didn’t know enough about Harold to make a call.
It was looking more and more that there was only one choice for the job, which meant that he had traded one problem for another.
“Harris!” Faith’s angry voice echoed through the house.
Wait. Did I think I had only one problem? Something tells me I got two, Xander thought as he steeled himself and turned around.
Faith stomped to a stop in front of him. “What the fuck is this shit?”
Xander feigned innocence. “What shit?”
Faith’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Why the hell am I messing with the godfather instead of smushing demons?”
“Unh, you’re the one who’s been doing the most work on the godfather angle and you have yet to get in on the demon-smushing training,” Xander pointed out in what he hoped was a reasonable voice.
Faith reached out, grabbed his wrist and dragged him into the closest bedroom.
Even though he knew that Faith probably wasn’t going to rip him apart, Xander panicked. “Faith! Wait a second! If you just listened—”
Faith let him go long enough to slam the door shut behind them. She then turned around, crossed her arms, and leaned against it. “What the fuck is going on?”
His one avenue of escape cut off, Xander tried to maneuver himself into a position where, if Faith tried to attack him, he’d be able to duck the assault and maybe get around her to the door. “I thought I just explained that,” he said.
Faith suddenly seemed to deflate as if all the anger had escaped in a rush from her body. “We’re just talkin’ here,” she said softly.
Xander figured that he probably was in the best position he was going to get for attack-avoiding, short of being on the other side of the bedroom door. “I’m talking. You’re yelling.”
“Because I’ve been stewing about it, and something finally set me off,” Faith admitted. “Seems to me LaTisha’s been hanging in Chicago the longest of all of them. She could lead my team as well as I could.”
“She still doesn’t know the layout of DiBennedito’s home as well as you who have been watching it for the past half-day,” Xander pointed out. “Besides, I desperately need a cool head on my team if something goes wrong, and they don’t get much cooler than her.”
Faith’s eyes narrowed. “What about Terri taking over for me? She’s been here almost as long as LaTisha.”
“Again with the not as familiar as you with DiBennedito’s home base. Not to mention she’s high scorer on your condom-squeezing exercise. I need her.”
Faith tilted her head and seemed to be thinking about that. “Fine. I gotta lead. How about trading Helen for Cheryl.”
“No,” Xander immediately said.
Faith nodded and pursed her lips. “Why not?”
“Because Cheryl shadowed DiBennedito with you,” Xander said. “Next to you, she probably knows the most about—”
“And she’s not exactly the brightest bulb, is she?” Faith interrupted as she studied him. “As for being the next big thing in the Miss Observant competition, let’s just say that if it’s true, she did a damn good job of hiding it out there. She’s just more proof that those ability tests are worth less than shit.”
Xander nervously grinned. “I can’t take Cheryl because she really hasn’t done a lot of your condom-grabbing training. I’m trying to minimize risk as much as possible, and right now Cheryl’s woefully undertrained for Team Cold Storage.”
Faith folded her arms and nodded her head. She began pacing in front of the door.
“Really, Cheryl’s better off on your team,” Xander insisted, even though Faith hadn’t said anything.
Faith stopped and slyly looked at him. “If I try to trade away Susan, you’re gonna give me the, ‘She ain’t been trainin’ like the other girls,’ aren’t ya?”
“Not Susan’s fault,” Xander quickly pointed out. “She was put on computer duty because she was the best one for that job.”
“It’s still true,” Xander insisted.
Faith stopped and leaned against the door. “So, Harris. Who’s gonna lead the charge against your Rwandan demons?”
“What?” Xander asked.
“You know,” Faith grinned at him. “Who’s going in first?”
“Unh, that hasn’t been decided yet,” Xander fumbled.
Faith made a ‘hunh’ face as she nodded. “So lemme get this straight. You worked out who’s gonna be on my team, you then put me in charge of the team without askin’ me, but you still don’t have a clue about who’s gonna do what on yours?”
“Bernie decided the teams’ makeup,” Xander quickly protested.
Faith wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “If it was totally Bernie’s call, I’d be demon-hunting. I know that for a fact.”
“Beg to differ, since Bernie was the one that assigned you to mobster-spotting duty. I had nothing to do with that,” Xander argued.
Faith took a deep breath through her nose and let it out through her mouth. “Still ain’t answered my question.”
Xander trampled down his rising annoyance, especially since getting into a fight with Faith while they were both shut up alone in a room would be the single stupidest thing he could do right now. “Which question?” Xander asked. “And before you answer that, this is Bernie’s show. Not mine. I’m just lending my working knowledge of Rwandan demons and that’s it.”
Faith half-grinned. “If Bernie were calling the shots, you’d already know who was going into that demon’s cage first.”
Xander open his mouth to protest.
Faith held up a finger. “Don’t play with me. I know the lady. You don’t.”
“It’s a tough decision,” Xander said through his teeth.
Any trace of amusement fled from Faith’s face. “I bet it is.”
Xander felt his shoulders slump. “What the hell do you want from me?”
Faith pushed herself off the door and stepped forward three steps. It took Xander everything he had to stay in place.
“A little truth, baby,” Faith said with an amused air. “Why don’t we start with that?”
Xander huffed a breath through his nose. “Fine. I advised Bernie on the teams’ makeup.”
“Go on,” Faith growled.
“But I swear that my advice was based entirely on what everyone has done over the past couple of days,” Xander insisted.
“And you were the one that helped make sure some of us got the jobs we did,” Faith evenly said. “Maybe not me, but definitely Cheryl. Possibly Susan, too. Girl’s gotta wonder why that is.”
Xander threw up his hands. “Wow. Your opinion of me has really skyrocketed. I’m an evil mastermind now? What happened to geek loser boy?”
Faith took a step back and blinked at him, like she hadn’t expected the retort. Xander hated to admit it, but it felt nice putting Faith on defensive. It was a stupid thing to do, but it didn’t feel any less nice for all that.
Faith’s expression suddenly hardened. “All right. If you wanna play like that.”
“This isn’t game and I’m not playing,” Xander said.
“Really?” Faith’s smile had an edge of spite in it. “I hafta wonder about that. ’Cause the name Emokillsus—”
Xander willed himself not to react.
“—really had me pissing my pants when I said it out loud,” Faith said. “Didn’t catch on when I read it, but sounding it out? Man, I never laughed so hard. A stupid name like that had me thinking that maybe the five black-star rating on these Emokillsus demons were overkill.”
“They deserve every black star in that rating,” Xander stiffly said.
“Emokillsus,” Faith said as if she was tasting the word. “Emo-killssss-usssss. You named it right?”
“Yes,” Xander said through clenched teeth.
“Emokillsus, Emokillsus, Emokillsus,” Faith sing-songed. She clicked her tongue, shook her head, and said with a grin. “You always were a funny guy, Harris. And here I thought you forgot what a joke was.”
“It’s not a joke,” Xander snapped.
Faith eyes widened with faux innocence. “It’s a joke to me,” she said sweetly.
Every neuron in his brain kicked into red alert. Last time Faith talked to him like that he nearly ended up an ex-Xander. He took a few steps back and raised his hands in a show of surrender. “Look, I think tempers are frayed and maybe we should go to our separate corners, hunh? You’re busy, I’m busy, and we’ve been hammering at each other a little too long. So, whaddya say?”
Faith’s expression seemed to melt into one that was troubled. She crossed her arms defensively. For whatever reason, she seemed to be looking at some point over his left shoulder instead of at him.
“Harris…Xander…look, I know you’re lyin’ through your teeth about me and Susan and Cheryl.” Faith’s tone was reasonable, in sharp contrast to the tone she had adopted thus far during the conversation. “See? Thing about the Council — or maybe I mean G — is that my record is wiped clean. On paper, I look like a Girl Scout. Hell, I look like a fucking Brownie, get me?”
Xander cautiously nodded.
“So that means Bernie’s got no clue. Not about back in the SunnyD. Not about jail. She knows I had some trouble, but G’s managed to fluff up a pretty little story about how it was all a case of head-butting with Travers,” Faith said. “And Wes ain’t around no more to contradict that, not that I think he would if he was still alive. Wes had…changed. A lot. That guy you knew back in SunnyD was long gone. I kinda liked the new Wes, but….” her voice trailed off and she shrugged.
Faith cleared her throat. “Which is why Bernie didn’t think telling me was a bad idea when I asked why you guys kept on insisting that I take Susan and Cheryl for my team.”
“And you’re not stupid,” Xander said dully.
Faith shook her head. “Nope. I ain’t stupid,” she quietly echoed.
Xander looked away. “I really think you switching teams is a bad idea.”
“I think you being on the team you’re on is a really fucking bad idea,” Faith added.
Xander looked sharply at her.
“Face it, Xander,” Faith said. “Between the SunnyD; some of the fucked-up places you’ve been since; and that never-ending list of demons you’ve discovered, or found, or whateverthehell the PC term is the Council uses, if you and me walked by one of these Rwandan demons there’s a good bet that it’d go after you long before it so much as gave my ass a sniff.”
“Maybe,” Xander cautiously said. “Doesn’t explain why you were about to rip my head off.”
“’Cause you lied to me,” Faith said.
“Right. Because we know each other so well that we can just sit down and talk this out,” Xander said.
“Gotta point,” Faith admitted. “Doesn’t make my point any less good. If I was anyone else you would’ve at least said something to me and given me the opportunity to fight it out with you — and don’t even try to tell me that it ain’t true, ’cause you know it is. We’re supposed to be professionals here, and you didn’t treat me like one. This ain’t the SunnyD and we’re long past acting like we’re fighting on opposite sides. It shows a lack of respect.”
Of all the fucking nerve. She’s lecturing me about respect? “If you want the cards on the table? How’s this for some cards,” Xander said as he fought to keep his voice even. “The minute you found out why I didn’t want you on my team, you came after me with claws out, dragged me into a room, and then you start yelling. Color me crazy, but someone who had some shred of respect for me — and let’s be honest here Faith, you have zero respect for me — would have taken me aside and would have calmly, professionally, and politely let me have it. Respect? That goes two ways. Sounds to me like you want it, but you’re not willing to give it.”
“Since when have I disrespected you?” Faith angrily asked.
“Do you want a list?” Xander huffed. “Give me, oh, seven minutes. I’m sure I’ll be able to think of something. Maybe even a couple of somethings.”
Faith looked away. “I meant since you landed in Chicago.”
Xander mentally threw up his hands. While not exactly a shock, he still found her reaction a little disappointing. God knows why. She managed to apologize to everyone around him after she returned to Sunnydale, but completely missed him while she was making her rounds. No matter how many times he told himself not to expect an apology back when she was making amends, it still stung that he never got one. The fact she was still dancing around their shared unresolved issues was a pretty good indication that she didn’t think he deserved one. And why not? She had her record wiped clean by Giles and had a good rep among the people who mattered. Her time wearing the sackcloth and ashes was officially over, and she clearly had zero incentive to go back and tie up any loose ends.
“Fine,” Xander said in a tone that he knew meant the discussion was officially over as far as he was concerned. “You want a brand new reason why I’m on Team Cold Storage and you’re mobster mashing? Try this on for size. Amazingly enough, I’m considered the numero uno expert on demons — or at least pretty damn close — on the planet. You, also amazingly enough, are the second most experienced Slayer on the planet. Putting us both at risk is a pretty stupid idea, don’t you think?”
Faith’s expression registered shock.
“Oh, please,” Xander said as he looked to heaven. “I know that me being considered an expert in anything must come as a total shock to you, but—”
“Me? On the planet?” Faith interrupted.
Xander shook his head with frustration. “Hello? You knew this. Remember you bragging how you were the most experienced Slayer in the Western Hemisphere? That was the reason you gave for coming here.”
“But that…I mean…I was just talking trash.” Faith looked panicked.
That’s when Xander really looked at her and realized that she was about five seconds away from passing out. “Unh, Faith? Breathe. It’s okay, just breathe,” he said.
Faith waved him off. Her expression wavered between bravado and absolute terror. “Well, shit. I figured, y’know, you were the big cheese on the demon end. You’re like this big-shot field scout now. Besides, how many new demons have you discovered since the SunnyD? What is it? Thirty? Thirty-two? It’s not exactly a shock G sends you in when there’s a case they can’t crack. You’re like, I dunno, Sherlock Holmes for the Council.”
The number of demons he’d discovered was more like 35. The number was higher if the record included co-discovers or finding demons that were already on record as existing but were thought to be extinct or were way outside of their usual range. Just the same, Xander was still stunned by Faith’s statement. It was almost like she’d been keeping track of him, or at least had checked out his recent history before she hopped on a plane to Chicago. Either way, he was well and truly boggled that she made even a little effort, let alone the effort she had obviously made.
“But me? Maaaaan. I just never…I guess I never thought about it that way.” Faith let out a breath as she pushed her hair back from her face. This time when she looked at him, she was actually looking at him, instead of somewhere slightly to his left. Her grin was a little on the weak side. “I know you’re right, but if I’m that high on the ladder the Council’s in deep shit.”
“Welcome to my world,” Xander mumbled.
Faith shook her head. “Be honest. That whole can’t-risk-both-of-us thing. That wasn’t your real reason for making sure we were on different teams.”
Since Faith had him dead-to-rights, he might as well be honest. “No. But believe it or not, it really is because I didn’t want to take a chance that it’d go after you and really for no other reason. Believe me, I know you can kick demon ass and if it was some other kind of demon, I’d definitely want you on Team Cold Storage. I’d even trade places with you.”
Faith frowned at him. “Still could.”
“I’ve actually fought these demons before, you haven’t,” Xander pointed out.
“Okay. You got me there. Fair enough.” She pointed a finger at him and added, “But you watch your back and you stay the hell away from that thing’s tentacles. If you get hurt, I’m gonna hafta be the one who tells G and that is not a conversation I want to have. You hear me?”
This conversation was really messing with his sense of reality. In the course of one conversation, Faith had gone from wanting to rip his head off to telling him to be careful. The world had truly gone crazy while he’d been hopping from continent to continent.
“Staying alive is something I’m actually good at,” Xander said.
“Going by your file? Not surprised.” Faith hooked her thumbs on her pockets with a grin.
“So we’re good?” Xander asked.
Faith nodded. “Next time play me straight, and we are.”
Right. So not going to be a ‘next time,’ Xander thought.
“I’ll keep the thing with Cheryl and Susan mum. No point in pissing them off,” Faith said.
“Thanks.” He meant it.
Faith turned to go, but hesitated with her hand on the doorknob. She looked over her shoulder at him. “About that Rwandan demon name. Sorry about that. I noticed that whenever anyone said the actual name you’d kinda wince, or freeze, or something. I was twisting the knife there and I knew it.”
Xander blinked at her. Once more he had no idea what to make of the apology. She kept apologizing for what, in his mind, were pretty minor things. Although it begged the question on why she’d even bother to notice his reaction.
Mistaking his silence for something else entirely, Faith shrugged. “I don’t think anyone noticed it besides me. Can’t figure out why, since I thought it was pretty obvious, right on down to the fact you keep callin’ ’em Rwandan demons instead that other name. So, yeah. Sorry about that. I was pissed. Sometimes I go for the kill when I get like that. Well, you know, right?”
Xander was now officially confused. Was she apologizing for just now? Or was she apologizing for what happened in Sunnydale?
“I better go,” Faith uncomfortably said as she turned the doorknob.
“That’s because it was a joke.”
Faith’s head whipped around to look at him.
Xander took a deep breath. Why he was telling Faith of all people, he had no idea. Maybe because it had been an awful secret he’d been carrying for too long on his own. “I, unh, didn’t mean for it to be permanent. The name I mean.”
Faith let go of the door handle, turned around, crossed her arms, leaned against the door, and just watched him.
Xander hunched his shoulders. “See? I’d spent weeks, I mean weeks, watching people around me get killed. These demons would actually float right by me to go after someone else. Couldn’t figure out why. It was like my inner demon magnet became demon repellent. After we figured out the thing with the halogens and saved a few people, I figured out why.”
“Your memories weren’t bad enough for ’em,” Faith said in voice tinged with surprise.
“Believe me, I’ll take my memories over the ones I heard. You want pure horror? Try living through the equivalent of all of the Irish people in Chicago deciding that the world would be a better place if they wiped out all the Polish people in Chicago and then followed through. Then, for good measure, they also decide to kill their fellow Irish who think killing all the Polish people is wrong.” Xander shoved his hands in his pockets. “And I got to hear all of it.”
Faith went pale. “It’d be like wiping out town the size of the SunnyD,” she said.
“A million people, more or less, is more like wiping out most of Phoenix,” Xander said as he looked down and kicked the carpet.
“That does not make me feel better,” Faith said.
“I heard more nightmares than I really want to count,” Xander continued. “These nightmares were…let’s just say the choice was push it aside and deal later so you could concentrate on the demons; or let it get to you, which would have you curled up in a corner rocking back and forth.”
“So why name it—” Faith began.
“Once we figured out how to kill them — which I figured out totally accident by the way,” Xander interrupted. “I got frustrated enough that I charged one and accidentally wound up inside it when it attacked my driver. I caught the little physical part inside by accident too, if you can believe it. For whatever reason, it seems like the only thing that kills them is squeezing them with your bare hands. Believe me, we tried a lot of other ways, like raking through the demons with a wire net. Anyway, once we knew how to kill them, I had to go write up a report and—”
“Everything hit you all at once,” Faith finished.
Xander nodded. “I was supposed to be typing away using my two-fingered method, and I just couldn’t. I mean, demons on a rampage are one thing, but this was people doing this to other people. You read about stuff like this. In history. God, my best friend is Jewish. But nothing prepares you for dealing with something like this. I mean nothing.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Faith numbly said.
Xander shook his head. “Anyway, I spent most of the night pacing and really wanting to get drunk, except I knew it wouldn’t help. Never does, really. Meanwhile, I’m getting pinged by Giles’s administrative assistant — not Andrew because he was already in Rome with Buffy — every half-hour. This guy puts the anal in anal-retentive. Anyway, the deal was that the Council was researching. They figured I stumbled over a demon that was rare or thought extinct or something. They just needed a placeholder name until they got the real one. After hours of repeated pinging, I got sick of it and just…the email was nasty. And I typed the name. And then I sent it off.”
“And when it turned out that the Council had never seen one of these things before, your name stuck,” Faith said.
He nodded. “I honestly thought that Giles would read that name and that I’d get a snippy email from him the next day telling me to grow up or get a life or that I needed to be serious or something. But no email. No nothing.” Xander kicked at the carpet. “Guess he didn’t read it aloud. So, yeah, it was a stupid, insensitive, crappy joke all because some administrative assistant pissed me off.”
“Lesson learned, hunh?” Faith sympathetically asked.
Xander lifted his head to look at Faith. To his surprise, she looked as sympathetic as she sounded. “Never thought I’d have to apply it even one more time, let alone over and over again,” he cautiously said. “So, yeah. I’m more careful now with the naming thing.”
Faith nodded. “From now on, Rwandan demons it is. From me, anyway.”
“Thanks,” Xander softly said.
Faith uncomfortably fidgeted. “I better get back. I’ve got some planning to do with my girls.”
“’Kay,” Xander said. “I better get back, too.”
She opened the door and normal, blustery Faith was back in full force. “We’ll get ’em. Between you and me? They’re not gonna know what hit ’em.”