Getting me in front of a computer at night is well nigh impossible these days as some LJ deadlines are slipping on me and email keeps going unanswered. I can thank work for that: three tight deadlines in four days result in 11-hour days (thanks to the hurry-up-and-wait from the clients).
End result? I owe ludditerobot feedback for his bubbling Tara/Xander story (me FLove, btw), a missed deadline for bookishwench's Feedback-a-thon which means I should send an email to her and the authors with abject apology and promises to get the FB there by this weekend. I won't even read feedback on my stories until I get this done.
Let's not mention that AlphaSmart sent me a defective Dana. A new one is on the way, but there was first a delay in shipping and now this. I expressed my deep unhappiness to TechSupport that they sent me a piece of equipment that not only won't charge, but also won't turn on even if it's plugged in. *growls* I won't have to pay for shipping the defective one back and I don't have to send it back until I get a new one. Although I'm not entirely sure how holding a defective Dana hostage puts me in the driver's seat.
At least it looks nice. The heft is light. And the screen is newspaper column-width sized. Look ma! A museum piece! Or an ashtray. Haven't decided which, really.
I'm so drained because of the hours I'm working that I'm pretty much reduced to sitting on the couch and re-watching Homicide: Life on the Street S3.
*smacks Bayliss/pets Bayliss*
Sadly, yes, I can see Xander sleeping with a death-obsessed artist and having sex in a coffin built for two. Funny how I missed that little similarity between the two characters the first time watching S3.
And still my Meldrick lurve keeps on growin'. Duuuuuude, how'd I miss this guy first time around? I mean, seriously, I was all about the Pembleton/Bayliss pair during the broadcast run. This time around, I'm adding Meldrick to my love-to-love-you-baby list.
In the meantime: I'm starting to upload Whisper and Living History to whiskyinmind's I Need A Parrot to help support the BtVS Writers' Guild Xander site. I feel bad that I didn't do it before, but last time I tried the interface I had a difficult time with it. *hangs head in shame* The revamped site is idiot-proof. I think. These brain-dead days I truly need it.
Then, on top of all this, I find out the reason why my very, very, very short snippet of Living History posted on Friday had no less than four typos (GGGRRAAAAWWWWLLLLLL!): the cleaned up version disappeared into the ether.
Hopefully, this part will be more typo-free.
The previous parts:
Up to Part 56 is here
Continued from here
It was a long, tense trek. Faith was torn between checking Robin every five seconds, keeping Willow from acting too fruit loops, scanning the darkness for a potential threat, and keeping an eye on Charlie behind her as he helped Robin over the rough spots.
Once they reached the stairs, Charlie set Robin down. A few quick words hammered out a plan: Willow could barely walk, which meant Faith had to carry her. She couldn’t be trusted alone, which meant Charlie had to go with to keep an eye on the witch while Faith went back to retrieve a waiting Robin.
After repeated ‘don’t moves’ and ‘yell if there’s troubles’ to Robin, they started up the stairs with Faith wearing Charlie’s headlamp and Willow slung over her shoulder in a classic fireman’s carry. Charlie did his best to keep up by going up the stairs on all fours.
Willow was practically deadweight as she giggled and mumbled something Faith tried desperately not to hear as they climbed the narrow stairs. She could sense Robin below, still grumbling that he swears he won’t move. She hoped nothing would hurt him before she could get back down to him.
Yeah, it was over between them, but hell, she still cared whether he lived or died. Maybe he had a point about Slayers and Watchers and maybe not. The point was he thought he was right and she had to live with it. Maybe it was kind of a sign of growth that as unhappy as she was about it, she wasn’t tempted to force him to change his mind or make him regret it. She just hoped that someday they’d be able to look each other in the eye without remembering that someone somewhere had royally screwed the pooch. She wondered which one of them would be thinking that they got a raw deal when they looked back on that fight in the kitchen.
She was still just selfish enough to hope that it wouldn’t be her.
“How are you doing?” Charlie whispered.
Faith didn’t look over her shoulder. “Are you sure Robin’ll be all right by himself down there?”
“Willow’s more likely to go wandering off than Robin,” Charlie reminded her. “Even if Robin got to his feet, he won’t get far.”
She knew that. She just hated that how she’d been backed into making decisions since she walked into the dark. Every single decision was either/or with very little and. All of it was based on who is less hurt than someone else and who could survive five fucking minutes without her watching their back. She wondered if there also wasn’t some subtle balancing act going on between who was less expendable than someone else, a subconscious weight that said Willow was less expendable than Dawn and Andrew. That Robin was more important to save than Xander. That she was more important than any of them because she’s the one hauling ass when she’s got nothing more than a few bruises to show for her pain.
But if she was dancing on the seesaw, she damn well knew that she wasn’t dancing alone. Xander could be here instead of her and he practically shoved her in this direction by being something resembling logical.
The scariest thing about all this was the fact that if she stuck around and stuck it out, she would be dancing between checks and balances her entire life. Didn’t matter what the personal relationships were between herself or anyone else. The fact is, the people back there with the Grail and the people dealing with the monsters were trusting her to not fuck up, even though a few of them knew just how badly she could fuck up without even trying.
Fuck. Maybe Robin does have a damn good point because she can’t help but wonder if, on that deep-down level that she can’t bear to look at, the journal and Catherine and Ruda and the –rah-sen bullshit and the screwed-up future hinted at in Willow’s laughter was maybe pushing her to make this decision instead of that decision.
When Faith finally reached the top, she told Charlie to halt for a second so she could get the lay of the land. Doing her best to hold Willow in one place with one hand, she took that final step up and poked her head over the lip of the sarcophagus. She was extremely grateful when she saw that the crypt was exactly the way she left it, including no surprise visitors. With any luck, B already had things under control and it’ll be easy breezing when she opened that door to the outside world.
Happy the coast was clear, the Slayer practically dragged the witch over the lip of the sarcophagus and turned to help Charlie, only to find that the doc was doing just fine without her.
“I’m so proud of you.”
Faith turned immediately back to Willow. Her voice sounded so…odd.
“Look at you,” Willow regarded her with watery eyes, “you’re such…when did you become an adult?” The redhead reached out a trembling hand and tenderly brushed aside a strand of Faith’s hair and tucked it behind her ear.
“Now, now, I’ve a right to be worried,” Willow continued, as a gentle finger slid down Faith’s cheek and came to rest under her chin. “You look so much like your grandmother when she was your age.” Willow giggled in a voice that hinted at the ghost of a much older woman. “Did I also mention you’ve got your grandfather’s personality?”
Faith took a step back. Willow didn’t seem threatening, but she’d just gotten a first class lesson in how this shit could turn on a dime.
“Your grandparents…” Willow closed her eyes as if she were fighting back tears. “They’d be proud of you.” She opened her eyes and gave her a sad smile. “You didn’t know your grandmother and you were so young when your grandfather passed, so I guess you’ll have to take my word on that.”
Faith froze, fascinated as Willow tilted her head and added, “I loved both of them you know. I loved them both so much and I just wish they were here to see you now.” Maybe it was the trick of the light or maybe it was the ghost of what will be shining through, but Willow seemed so much older than she was. “They’d be worried, but they’d be proud of you. I know that. But this is your time and I know you’ll be all right.”
Faith opened her mouth to speak, but Willow moved and gently laid a trembling hand on her right arm. “I have a surprise for you. Now. Close your eyes.”
“I don’t think that’s such a hot idea,” Faith protested in a whisper.
“Shush! I said close them.” Willow reached out and covered Faith’s eyes with the palm of her hand. “Now, hold out your hands.”
“I don’t beeeelieve this,” Faith muttered, her heart racing. Just the same, morbid curiosity forced her to do what Willow said. Robin was forgotten. The fact that Charlie was in the room was forgotten. Everyone working out the deal with the Grail, Xander and the Slayers waiting in the darkness below, Buffy and her people fighting outside, it all seemed unreal, like a story that was happening to someone else.
“Now, open your eyes.”
Faith did as she was told. She half-expected to see something and was disappointed when her open palms remained as empty as they were when she first held them out.
Charlie interrupted. “I don’t think…”
“Shush,” Faith hissed. She could feel a string tugging her forward and she was powerless to resist. Just a moment, one little moment and I’ll…
What? Depended on what waited at the other end of the string, she supposed.
Willow was rubbing her hands over the surface of something. “Your grandfather really did know his wood. I still can’t believe how beautiful these carvings are.”
Xander? Had to be. He was the only one she knew who was a freak about wood. He was all about the hardwood floors in the house, going on and on about rock maple and how they needed that high gloss finish so Slayers running riot through the rooms wouldn’t do too much damage.
“I always thought he missed his calling,” Willow continued. “He should’ve created things like this instead of…” Willow looked at her, a small hint of an old sorrow reflected in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I still…the fact he died alone so the others could get that cure out…I still feel guilty that I wasn’t there to at least…I know I shouldn’t but…”
Someday he’ll be some Slayer’s first. Goddamn Kennedy for putting that thought in her head. Goddamn Giles for making that possibility a possible reality.
Willow shook her head, brave smile back in place. “Open it,” she whispered.
Charlie shuffled nervously behind her, but didn’t say anything.
“Don’t wanna,” Faith whispered back.
Well, whoever she was supposed to be did open the box because Willow’s smile turned beatific. “Now that sword…” she laughed and shook her head. “Your grandmother marched right into that lair and won it from the keeper in a bet.” The Witch tapped her head knowingly with a finger. “Your grandmother liked to pretend she was Slay hard play hard, but when she set her mind to it she knew how to sneak through the back door when the front door was barred.”
Willow reached into what Faith assumed was the box, grasped something with two hands, and lifted it, stumbling under the nonexistent weight. “Beautiful, isn’t it,” Willow said as she gazed with awe up at the invisible sword in her hand. “Take it.”
Faith just stood there, palms still outstretched because she didn’t know how to grab swords she can’t see.
Willow stepped away, since whoever she was talking to had taken the sword, and linked her hands behind her back. “I can see you feel the power.” She chuckled indulgently. “No, your grandmother never did wield it. I asked her once why and she told me that it wasn’t hers.” Willow tilted her head. “I suppose it did belong to the keeper she won it from, but she was very clear that the sword was not for her but for you.”
Faith swallowed hard.
Charlie groaned. “Faith, please…”
“Shush!” Willow waved. “I can’t answer. It’s a story I can’t tell. Let an old witch keep her secrets, hmmm?” There was a twinkle in her eye. “I can tell you that she said someone told her it wasn’t hers and that I’d know whose it was when the time came.”
Faith could feel the cold shivers crawl up her back. Oh, yeah. She knew who told her the sword wasn’t hers, and it wasn’t no sword keeper either.
Willow mimed taking the sword into her hands and laying it in the box. “Funny how I only just now figured out what Faith meant,” the redhead muttered. Her head came up. There was a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous smile gracing her lips. “Now your grandmother…end of the day she turned out to be a real hero. Only one of us that got public acknowledgement for being a hero.”
And there it was: proof positive that some day she was going to have a last battle.
Willow chuckled. “Your grandmother never did do things by halves. Running into that mess the way she did…saved some people against all odds but still…”
“Oh futch,” Charlie breathed. “Faith, please…”
Willow’s face got serious. “I miss her. I miss him. More than ever these days but…” She gave Faith a sad smile. “I’ll see them both soon enough and I’ll tell them all about you.”
Faith opened her mouth, although she wasn’t entirely sure what she could possibly say.
“Now, now,” Willow engulfed her in a hug, “allow me to be misty, eh?” She drew back and studied Faith’s face. “You’re a good girl, Kayleigh. You come from good people who were brave and strong and you are so much like both of them. You’ll get this bastard. Wait and see.” Willow exploded in laughter. “I can too swear like a…”
The witch suddenly jerked away and began yelling, “Andrew! How many times have I told you not to leave the ancient-y books on the floor? Do you know how much they cost? See? The pages are all ripped because Buffy stepped on it!”
Faith could only stand there like a mook as Willow talked to someone named Johanna about teaching Andrew a lesson about respect for property. She could still feel the weight of an invisible box holding a not-yet-existing weapon in her outstretched palms.
“Are you okay?” Charlie asked her.
Now there’s the question of the hour. Scratch that: it’s the goddamn question of the fucking century.
“Faith?” Charlie prompted.
Live fast, kick ass, and don’t leave skid marks when you go. A motto that— and Faith had to admit this— served her maybe not too well, all things considered. Lacking anything better to live by, well, it was at least a philosophy she could hang her hat on.
Right here and right now in this crypt, holding this gift in the palms of her waiting hands, with tomorrow lurking on the other side of that crypt door, living for the moment wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.
It was never going to be enough again.
“Lanoire-rah?” Charlie’s voice sounded small and distant.
And if it wasn’t enough for her, it wasn’t enough for anyone else, was it? The future belonged to everyone, didn’t it? And what you did right here and right now could give the future to someone or take it away.
And once you take someone’s future away, how the hell do you give it back?
She felt a small touch on her shoulder. “Lanoire-rah-sen?”
“I’m fine.” She dropped her hands, clenching them into fists so hard that the nails bit into the palm of her hands.
“I was worried,” Charlie voice flooded with relief. “You went away for moment.”
“Just a moment,” Faith echoed. “Kayleigh. One of mine?”
“I can’t tell you that,” Charlie said quickly, but his guilty face gave her the answer she suspected.
“Will you be all right? With her?” Faith nodded in Willow’s direction. The witch was miming something, as if she were picking things up and putting them on a shelf.
“No danger. You best get Robin,” Charlie assured her.
Faith lightly leapt on to the edge of the crypt to prepare for another descent, but Charlie’s voice halted her for a moment.
“I’m sorry, you know,” the doctor looked genuinely sad, “it’s not all bad. What Willow said…you’ve just heard the worst bits about…well, you know.”
Faith looked down at the palms of her hands and for a moment she could almost see that lovingly created wooden box and that thing-of-beauty weapon. She wanted to laugh so long and so hard and never, ever stop.
Somewhen, somehow, and against all odds someone, maybe even more than one someone, was going to love her just because. That was worth everything she had just to have that much.
It was a selfish thought, true. But damn, it did feel some kind of good.
“Doc, if that’s the worst the future has to offer then bring it on.” She flashed the doctor a wicked grin and leapt away before Charlie could say anything more.
Crazy as it may sound to people who weren’t Faith, she could only think as she bounded down the stairs, Hey! Check me out, ma! Top of the fucking world!