RL intervened and I didn't manage to finish it this weekend. As you can tell, it will be finished in the next couple of days.
Don't forget to download the Ultimate Mary Sue Soundtrack. Music and reading make for a good time!
On with the story.
Dunh-dunh-DUNH! The plot thickens.
O noes! What evah shal hour heroez due?
Continued from Part 2.
Chapter 7: Admitting defeat…
Faith wasn’t entirely sure that Xander had slept from the time she left for patrol with Whyte and Louise until Saturday afternoon. Xander had taken up residence in the library and seemed not at all inclined to leave. Every time she or Andrew peeked in the piles of books were a little higher, the whiteboard a little more crowded with brainstorming ideas, and the number of crumpled pieces of paper around the wastebasket a little more numerous.
Sometime around 4 p.m., Xander emerged from the library looking defeated. He cast a woebegone look at Faith and Andrew, who were busy pretending not to care about what he’d been doing as they watched some random B-flick on the tube.
“I can’t find it,” he finally announced. “Whatever she is, I can’t find it.”
“Maybe there ain’t nothin’ to find,” Faith said shortly.
“Oh, there’s something to find all right,” Xander said certainly. “But either I’m not smart enough, or I don’t have enough information, or we don’t have the right books. Personally, I think it’s option A.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Faith saw Andrew give Xander a sympathetic look. She placed a hand on his knee to warn him to keep his mouth shut.
“Guess there’s only one thing I can do,” Xander said quietly.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Faith tried to keep her tone as bored as possible.
Xander said, “Get ready for my date.”
It took a few seconds for Xander’s statement to register, but when it did, Faith’s head shot up and she fixed Xander with a suspicious look.
“Whatever’s going on, there’s only one way to figure it out, and that’s going on that date,” Xander said firmly. “I suggest the two of you get ready because, I repeat, I’m not going without bodyguards.”
As Xander left, Faith and Andrew hi-fived each other and scrambled to get ready.
Chapter 8: A Flash of Sanity (and We Ain’t Talkin’ Xander)…
Xander insisted on parking the Council’s car in a parking garage near the Cleveland Clinic since, according to him, “At least one of us—probably me—is going to wind up here anyway, so I say we just make it easier on all of us by not piling up the parking tickets.”
While Xander’s fatalism irritated the living shit out of Faith, his reaction to her out outfit pushed her irritation up to “fucking annoyed,” aka DefCon 4, levels.
“What’s your problem,” she snapped as they began their nearly two-mile walk down Cedar Road.
Xander bit his bottom lip and worriedly chewed on it. “It’s just…unh…I’ve never seen you dress like this before.”
Faith looked down at her ensemble: a knee-length blue dungaree skirt, silk top that easily cost a week’s worth of groceries when the Mother House was filled to capacity, and genuine leather black pumps. “What’s wrong with what I‘m wearing?”
Xander stopped and glanced up and down the length of Faith’s body. “You’re aware that you’re wearing a bow to tie back your hair, right? A purple bow. With sparkles.”
“I think Faith looks very lovely,” Andrew gallantly said.
“Thank you, Andrew.” Faith gave Andrew a nod before turning on the reluctant groom—Oops! I meant guy going on a date!—and adding in a vaguely nasty tone, “Whatssamatter, Cylops. You don’t think I can be class? I got class comin’ out my ass.”
Xander held up his hands, “I’ve seen you look class, Faith, but, unh, you kinda have to admit that this is not exactly your style.”
“Well, I’m trying to make a good impression, aren’t I?”
“Who’s going on this date? Me or you?” Xander shot back.
“Well someone has to make up for the fact that you’ve got the personality of a spineless jellyfish,” Faith said with crossed arms.
“Not just insulting, but redundant,” Xander sniffed. “Jellyfish don’t have…”
“Now, now, now gentle beings,” Andrew wormed his way between the pair as they glared at each other. “The tension is riding high and I think we all need to step back, breathe deep, and realize that in order for this mission to succeed we must all sing from the same page and read from the same songbook. For if we are not in harmony, surely we shall be discordant to the lovely Inez’s ears.”
Xander sagged. “Don’t you start.”
Andrew shrugged and said sheepishly, “I’m just going by what Faith is saying. And you are being just a little paranoid.”
“You tell him, Andy,” Faith said.
“Whatever,” Xander glumly said as he turned away and continued down the street.
Faith shook her head and followed. She glanced down once more at her outfit and decided she was pleased with the effect. She could not figure out what Cyclops’s problem was.
Have you gone fucking nuts? the thought intruded.
Andrew realized that Faith had stopped and turned around.
No. Really. You’ve gone fucking nuts. Since when do you give a shit what someone like Inez-what’s-her-face thinks about you?
“Faith? Are you okay?” Andrew asked.
The question was enough to get Xander to stop and turn around.
Faith shook her head. “Stop it.”
“Stop what?” Andrew asked.
Xander began creeping forward until he was level with Andrew. “Faith?” he asked.
Wake up! Cyclops is on to something!
Faith looked at the Cyclops in question. “I don’t think you are.”
“Think I’m what?” Xander asked brusquely.
“Faith, your expression is very, very strange,” Andrew said. “Someone isn’t using the Imperious Curse on you, are they?”
“Andrew, for the millionth time, there is no such thing as the…”
“How do you know?”
“Willow. Remember, Willow? Our resident bad-ass witch?”
“Oh. Well. Has she ever even tried it?”
“One of the unforgivable curses from Harry Potter? Are you nuts? What if it worked? There’d be serious karma issues with that and I for one do not want to deal with a freaking Willow wondering when it’s coming back to bite her in the ass.”
“I rest my case.”
“Andrew! No! It does not rest your case. Your case is not resting. It’s restless, even.”
“Will you two shut up for five frigging seconds!” Faith shouted as she clutched her head.
Xander stepped forward. “Faith, are you okay?”
Think about this! Faith’s brain ramped up as the pounding in her temples increased. This chick wears lip-gloss for Christ’s sake! Since when do you get along with anyone who wears lip-gloss?
“Buffy used to wear lip gloss back in the day,” Faith protested quietly.
“What does Buffy and lip gloss have to do with anything?” Xander sounded worried.
Was that before or after you tried to kill her? Faith’s brain asked.
“I think you’ve got a point,” Faith muttered.
She felt a hand on the small of her back. “Faith, I think you better sit down somewhere because you don’t look so hot,” Xander said.
You bought a barrette with a sparkly purple bow on it so you could tie back your hair! Look at yourself!
Faith jerked away from Xander and looked down at her outfit with fresh eyes. Knee-length dungaree skirt made of blue denim. Over-priced silk blouse that showed no cleavage at all. Black pumps with ohmygodsensibleheels!
“I look like a Hilltop Steakhouse waitress!” Faith hollered.
“Hunh?” Xander and Andrew asked in unison.
Faith reached out, grabbed Xander’s by his upper arms, and yanked him forward. “Route 1! Saugus! Steakhouse! A tacky steakhouse! It’s got the biggest cactus you’ve ever seen in front of it! A cactus! In Saugus! With big-ass plastic cows on the front lawn! I helped steal one of those fucking ugly-ass fake cows! I nearly got busted for stealing one of those ugly-ass cows! I was 14 when I helped load this fiberglass piece of shit on my boyfriend’s truck! We were planning to sell it so we could buy a ton of weed and smoke ourselves stupid! Then we had to dump it by the side of the road because we got eyeballed by a Statie!”
“Faith! Bruises!” Xander’s voice vibrated with the back-and-forth shaking.
Faith let go and Xander stumbled back a step, but still managed to ask, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Look at me!” Faith shouted. “Do I ever dress like this? What am I doing?”
Next thing she knew she was engulfed in an all-over-body Xander-hug.
“Oh thank god you’re back!” The relief in Xander’s voice was palpable. “Thank god, thank god, thank god.”
“Unh, excuse me,” Andrew said. “What just happened?”
Xander stepped back, looking happier than Faith had seen him since this whole dating mess began. “Faith got her brain back.” He glommed onto her for another hug. “Thank god!”
“Yo! Cyclops! Cut it!” said Faith’s irritated muffled voice.
Xander let go and, if anything, his grin got wider. “Now that is the Faith we all know and fear.”
Faith’s headache began receding. “What the fuck’s been happening to me?”
“Unh, anyone confused?” Andrew asked.
“Not me.” Xander couldn’t stop grinning like an idiot. “You’re been acting weird ever since we first laid eyes on this Inez person. I mean at first I thought it was just you being stubborn, but as the week went on you just got weirder and weirder about it.”
Faith frowned at him. “Yeah. I know.” Her face scrunched. “I’m gonna strangle the bitch.”
“Anyone going to tell me what’s going on?” Andrew asked.
“I’m gonna so Slay her ass,” Faith said between her teeth.
“Whoa!” Xander grabbed Faith by the upper arm to prevent her from marching off to battle. “Before we go stomping into a very public Starbucks with stakes out...”
Faith’s eyes got wide. “I can’t believe this! I didn’t bring any weapons!”
“Well, I brought a stake and a spare, so no sweat,” Xander said.
“Really?” Andrew asked. “Where are they? Because I don’t see any suspicious bulges.”
Xander grinned, reached down, and pulled up a pants leg, revealing a stake tucked into the top of his Timberland boot. “It’s got a twin in my left boot,” he said.
“What about you, Andrew?” Faith snapped.
“I thought this was just…I didn’t think…well you didn’t bring any either,” Andrew said.
“Great. Two stakes between the three of us,” Faith growled. “Fuck it. Give Andrew the stake. Right about now, I figure I could do maximum damage with my bare hands.”
“Yeah, about that,” Xander said as he handed one of his stakes over to Andrew. “Before you began freaking of the lack of weaponage, I was about to say we should check and see if she’s human first.”
“I thought you said she was a demon,” Faith said.
“Correction. I said with my track record she was probably a demon,” Xander said. “All I can tell you for sure is her vibe’s off. That could mean demon. Could also mean she’s doing some sort of low-level spell.”
“You think this Inez cast a spell on Faith?” Andrew yelped.
Faith tapped her foot impatiently, but forced herself to calm down. “Why can’t you tell?”
“We’re still trying to figure out just how sensitive I am to magic these days and I haven’t been able to figure out the difference between vibing magic and vibing demon yet,” Xander shrugged helplessly. “What I can tell you is that a real generalized spell, like one of those trespassing wards Willow refreshes once a month on Mother House grounds, registers but doesn’t cause the big freak-out like a directed spell would. For all we know this woman could just be using a real generalized spell that boosts popularity or something.”
“Like giving her +d8 roll on her charisma points when she needs to win friends and influence enemies?” Andrew asked.
“Or like a jacket,” Xander said thoughtfully.
“Hunh?” Faith and Andrew asked in unison.
Xander hunched low and dropped his voice, forcing Andrew and Faith to lean in. “A little too long to explain right now, but keep on the lookout for anything like jewelry or a piece clothing that strikes you as, I dunno, out of place.”
“Hmmmm, interesting,” Andrew nodded. “Infuse an object with the spell, that way you only use the spell’s power when you need it without expending energy every time you use it.”
Xander raised a questioning eyebrow at Andrew.
Andrew cringed and, to Faith’s complete surprise, looked ashamed. “I might’ve seen something like that. Once. It, unh, it didn’t end well.”
Xander looked like Andrew had slapped him across the face. “Warren?” he asked quietly.
Andrew studied the tips of his shoes.
“Who?” Faith asked.
When Xander looked at her, Faith could see from his expression that he was engaged in a furious mental debate. “It’s not up to me to say,” he finally said.
Andrew’s head snapped up and his mouth fell open.
Xander glanced at Andrew, but his expression betrayed nothing. “Besides, I really don’t know anything anyway.”
Judging by the look on Andrew’s face, Faith figured that Andrew’s man-crush was climbing steadily up to worship.
“You know, now that I think about it, maybe we shouldn’t go,” Xander added absently.
“Oooooh, no. She messed with the noodle and she’s gotta pay,” Faith snarled.
“I’m with you temper-girl, but stop and think about this,” Xander said. “This is a date. She’s going to want to impress. Plus, I have witnesses. She’s gonna wanna lull you guys. Ten-to-one whatever she had going for her in Borders she’s gonna at least have it double tonight.”
“But we’re aware of what she’s doing now, so it shouldn’t be that hard to Jedi Mind Trick our way around that problem,” Andrew said.
“Yeah, whatever the hell he said,” Faith agreed.
“Guys, it’s not that easy,” Xander argued. “I’ve seen stuff like this before. Hell, I even pulled off something like this before. Okay, I didn’t actually cast the spell, but it was kinda my idea. And it was totally not my intention to make an entire town full of women fall in crazy love with me, accent on the crazy by the way, but trust me. Knowing is not enough when someone lays down the whammy.”
Faith blinked. “You know? The more I hear about the history, the more I wonder where you get off thinking you’re anything close to normal.”
“I’m perfectly normal,” Xander bristled.
“Cyclops, while I don’t know whatall the story is behind the crazy love thing you just mentioned, I can pretty much say that what you just said? Is so fucking far from normal you couldn’t see it with one of those astronomy telescopes that’s as big as a house.”
“I have to agree with Faith,” Andrew said.
“We’re getting off the subject,” Xander snapped.
“Right,” Andrew agreed. “But I think it’s possible because the properly disciplined human mind can…”
“You’re not a Jedi,” Xander said.
“You don’t have to be a Jedi,” Andrew argued. “Depends on the spell. It’s a possibility that knowing it’s in action is enough to counterjinx it.”
Faith allowed herself a growl of frustration and Xander and Andrew turned to her, as if waiting for her to break the tie.
“Okay, let’s back up a bit,” she finally said. “The spell didn’t affect you, so we know we’re good there.”
Xander looked distinctly uncomfortable, but Faith figured it was because he hated it whenever someone brought up that magic sensitivity of his. Tough shit. He needs to get over it because right now it’s the only surefire weapon we’ve got.
“Our ace in the hole,” Andrew nodded happily, echoing Faith thoughts.
Xander suddenly found the cement interesting. “We shouldn’t count on it,” he mumbled.
“Yeah, because she might be turning the charm up to 11 on a 10-amp scale of charm,” Faith agreed. “But, if I remember right, I didn’t start getting weird ideas until she began talking to us.”
“There is that,” Xander faintly agreed.
“Interaction with the target and then reel them in like a fish,” Andrew stated.
“’Cept it didn’t work on him,” Faith said.
Xander’s shoulders hunched.
“So we don’t talk to her!” Andrew announced.
Faith gave Andrew a whap upside the head, eliciting an “Ow!”
“No, dumbass,” Faith corrected. “We do a little recon.”
“Why do I suspect that I’m about to be volunteered as bait?” Xander sounded tired.
“That’s because you are the bait,” Faith grinned.
“Oh god,” Xander sighed.
“So, we send you in to our little Ms. Charisma, me and Andy hang out in front of the storefront and watch. You tell her that I stopped for a smoke before coming in, so it don’t look funny. Then me and Andy here check her out for any suspicious moves. She even twitches wrong, we’re on her ass.”
“You’re, what? Hoping you’ll spot something in 10 minutes?” Xander asked. “Besides, you quit smoking, so I know you don’t even have a pack on you to make it look good.”
“Ahh, got me there,” Faith deflated.
“Wait! Wait! Oooo! I’ve got something!” Andrew shouted. “How about you don’t say anything at all and we’re just two people hanging out in front of Starbucks talking! You could just say that, unh, the people you’re double-dating with are running late.”
“What if she recognizes Faith?” Xander asked.
Faith snorted. “Cyclops, right about now I don’t recognize me. Not a chance this whatever is gonna remember what I look like after seeing me in crowded bookstore only once.”
Xander looked back and forth between Andrew and Faith. “Okay. Worth a shot.”
Faith felt her spirits lift. There was a plan. There was a demon, okay, possibly a demon. And, best of all, the promise of some quality violence in the name of payback. Life, she reflected, did not get any better than this.
They reached the fake-looking Tudor-style building housing the Starbucks at Cedar and Fairmont in no time at all. Faith and Andrew stayed out of sight until Xander walked through the door before taking up position in front of the large picture windows.
Then it happened.
Faith took a look at her quarry.
And wondered what the hell she was thinking.
After all, Inez Morningstar was very clearly the most perfect woman that was ever born.
Chapter 9: Rimmer sez: “Charmita!”
“This isn’t the plan. What are you doing?” Andrew asked as Faith reached to open the door.
“Ensuring Cyclops’s happiness, whether he wants it or not,” Faith said.
“But the plan!”
Faith entered Starbucks and looked down to give her ensemble a final check. She really didn’t understand why she was so upset about the outfit. Every once in a while it’s good to break out of the mold, healthy even. She really shouldn’t let Cyclops dictate her character like that.
“Oh, no. They saw us,” Andrew moaned behind her.
Faith looked up and saw that Cyclops was watching her with a growing look of horror. His date, the fabulous Inez, looking smashing in a basic little black skirt and vermilion silk top, was turning to look at her. When Inez saw Faith and Andrew, her smile spread across her face like a glorious sunrise as her musical voice said, “I’m so glad that they were able to join us so quickly.”
“I’m shocked they got here this fast,” Xander numbly said.
Faith moved forward, reminding herself to keep her head up, her shoulders back, and to walk gracefully because she had to be class for Cyclops’s sake. Plus, she really, really needed to make a good impression on Inez because she knew she couldn’t go on if she didn’t win Inez over as a friend.
By the time Faith reached the standing couple with a confused Andrew in tow, Xander was wilting in the most insane show of despair Faith had ever seen.
“You must be Faith. I’ve heard so much about you.” Inez reached out and grasped Faith’s hand in a warm welcome.
Faith couldn’t seem to wipe the smile off her face. “You have? I’m really glad. All of it good I hope. Unless you want the bad stuff to be true, because I can be bad.”
Inez’s laugher wrapped Faith’s heart in a baby blue fuzzy blanket.
Xander groaned, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Inez smiled a confused smile up into Xander’s face.
“Kidding,” Xander said weakly as his worried eyes swung to Faith. “My cousin’s been known to, unh, sometimes pile it on a little thick. She thinks she’s a bit of a, unh, wicked pisser.”
“That’s wickid pissah, and it ain’t polite to say shit like that in front of a lady,” Faith snapped. She cringed and smiled what she hoped was an apologetic smile. “Sorry about the swearing.”
Inez giggled in silver bell tones. “I think the phrase is positively charming. I haven’t heard that since I left Massachusetts. It’s good to hear a piece of home in Cleveland.”
“So we practically grew up neighbors?” Faith’s smile got wider. She couldn’t believe she was so close to meeting Inez before now and never did. Had she known, she would’ve never left the East Coast.
“What’s going on?”
Faith startled. Christ. She was so focused on charming the panties of Inez that she totally forgot about Andrew.
She turned to see Andrew’s gaze pinging between Inez, herself, and Xander.
“Oh, yeah. This is my date,” Faith kept her voice bored because she did not want Inez to think she’d ever do a dweeb like Andy.
Inez leaned in with a broad grin. “He is cute, isn’t he?”
Faith couldn’t help but grin back. This chick was way too polite, but that was okay. World could use a little more polite.
Andrew blinked at her like he wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking at. “Is that hair for real?” he asked.
Xander barked a laugh before slapping his hand over his mouth.
“I mean, not that it’s not attractive or anything but the dye job’s a little obvious,” Andrew said. “Plus, I think you’re wearing contacts because eyes that color isn’t found in nature.”
“Andew!” Faith snapped.
“I just wanted to try something new,” Inez said with a cheerful wave of her hand. “You’re right. I probably should go for the blonde highlights next time. As for the eyes, they really are this color.”
Andrew glanced at Xander before looking back at Inez. “Unh-hunh.”
A shadow of sadness crossed Inez’s face. “I got it from my mother’s side of the family and…they’re from Innsmouth.”
“Lovecraft’s Innsmouth?” Andrew yelped.
“Lovecraft was a liar,” Inez said angrily.
Xander’s attention laser-focused on Inez as his eyes narrowed in a threatening manner that Faith didn’t like one bit.
Inez buried her face in her hands. Her voice shook with aching sadness that tore Faith’s conscience apart. “That’s why I don’t…people always assume that…we’re good people and there are no such thing as monsters. You seemed like nice…nice people and I…I thought you wouldn’t hold the fact that my mother’s family was from Innsmouth against me.”
Faith immediately drew Inez into a hug and she gave Andrew a glare. “You better apologize, Andy.”
Andrew gave Xander a questioning look.
Faith moved her glare to Xander to make it clear that he better back her on this or else.
Xander rolled his eyes and shrugged. “Safer for all of us, I think,” he said.
“Okay,” Andrew nodded. “Inez, I’m sorry that I brought up Lovecraft because there’s obviously psychological trauma involved and I didn’t mean to…what I mean is…just sorry.”
Faith stepped back and said, “Now shake on it.”
Inez sniffed miserably.
“Okay,” Andrew said with a sigh as he held out his hand. “I promise. No more Lovecraft.”
Inez grasped Andrew’s hand with a sad sniff.
A gentle smile slowly spread across Andrew’s face before he brought her hand up to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “Obviously, you’re just as wonderful as you appear.”
“Thank you,” Inez murmured softly.
Andrew couldn’t take his eyes off her or let go of her hand. Faith resisted the urge to stomp on Andrew’s foot because Inez belonged to Cyclops and not to him.
“Andrew?” Xander asked uncertainly.
“You’re a lucky man, Xander,” Andrew beamed at him. “You’re on a date with the perfect woman.”
Xander’s shoulders slumped. “Oh, no.”
“So, tell me all about yourself, Inez,” Andrew said dreamily.
“Riiiight. And on that note, why don’t I get the coffees,” Xander said quietly.
Inez placed a hand on Xander’s forearm and smiled up into his face. Xander gave a jolt and stared down at the point of contact.
“Unh…” he began.
“Make mine a decaf. I get jumpy if I drink caffeine this late in the day,” Inez said. Amazing how she could make a simple request like that sound like a night in paradise.
“You know, make that a me, too,” Andrew said.
“You hate coffee,” Xander said.
“Me, three,” Faith said sweetly.
“And you hate decaf,” Xander said. “You always say it tastes like piss.”
“Xander, how can you say such crude words in front of such a delicate flower?” Andrew asked with horror.
“Oh that’s all right.” Inez was gazing lovingly up at Xander. “Just means he’s a diamond in the rough. I have a weakness for diamonds in the rough.”
Wow. Cyclops is such a lock, Faith thought happily. If only he’d shed the ’tude he’d get himself a happily ever after.
Xander carefully removed Inez’s hand. “Right. Three decafs, one double mocha, extra, extra, extra large latte for me with a quintuple shot espresso and five times the sugar.”
“Won’t you be hyper?” Inez asked with a worried frown.
Awww, she’s already worried about his health, Faith sighed.
“Somebody better be,” Xander muttered. In a louder voice he added, “Nobody touch anything while I’m gone.”
“But how will we sit,” Inez giggled like a tinkling dinner bell.
“I guess furniture’s okay,” Xander backed away. “Good chance the table will stay neutral about, unh, everything.”
As Inez watched Xander walk up to the counter with a dreamy smile on her face, Faith remarked. “Is it me, or has Cyclops gone weird on us?”
“Very weird,” Andrew echoed.
“I just adore weird,” Inez said breathlessly.