Road to Redemption - a Faith Series (between 4th and 5th season of "BtVS") By: Monet

Episode Ten: When the Stars Go Blue

Paul sat at his desk, pondering over the notebook Faith had left for him to look over before she had left to talk to Joe. She had mentioned how she'd been having dreams, weird ones. And he thought nothing of it, but she insisted he look over the notes she had written down.

Now he knew why she had stressed what she had written. This wasn't a dream of a normal 18-year-old, especially how so specific the dream was. She even wrote down words that were said within the reverie.

There was a knock at the door and Paul rolled his wheelchair towards it, opening it up. "Oh, Xander. Hello."

"Hey," he greeted the man with a small smile. His smile hadn't been up to par lately. "Is. Faith here?"

"Actually, no. She went to talk with someone who may be able to help pinpoint where we can find Mr. Rayne." He backed up allowing the boy in then closed the door. "Have a seat."

With hands in pockets, Xander obliged and sat down on the couch. "Thanks. Have you found anything else?"

"I've been able to sit here for quite sometime and figure things out, get more information from my contacts, and I think I've figured out what the mark of Merkriva is."

Xander looked over at him. "Oh? Hey, good stuff, then!" He stood up, joining the man at his desk. "Or. well, okay, maybe NOT good stuff."

"No. Not good stuff." He rustled through some papers, notes written all in the margins. "Immortality and power."

Xander stood there, scratching his head in confusion. "Um, things I don't have?"

"Well, yes, and things that Mr. Rayne will gain once the Ritual of Merkriva is accomplished." He turned to a page in his notebook. "Merkriva is a demon of power - magical power included. And it can only be given to one who has already dipped into the blackest of arts, which I'm assuming Mr. Rayne has."

"Yeah. Him and. this other friend of mine, Giles, the guy who I mentioned before? They were into that stuff when they were young. You'd never guess it looking at Giles." The last statement was more as an afterthought. "Anyway, so that pretty much nails that prerequisite, huh?"

"If he's as you told me, then more so. It acts as a sort of channeling device." He held up the notebook Faith had written in. "Faith gave me this before she left. She mentioned about a few dreams she's been having."

"Are any of them about me?" he asked half-joking and half-hoping. "Preferably me swimming in a pool full of money that's mine and her. well, I'll keep that part to myself."

"Yes, please do." He handed the notebook to Xander, smiling, knowing how the young man was trying to hide how much he did want the dream to be about him. Then that would prove Faith thought about him all the time. which Paul knew she did. "She insisted I study what she wrote down. By her writing, it seems the dreams were very vivid."

Xander stared at the scribble that passed for Faith's handwriting, growing slightly somber. He shook out of it a moment. "Oh, yeah, Slayer dreams usually are. And they're in the prophetic category, which is why Faith probably wigged about it. What's 'blow stair-yea'?"

Paul knitted his brows together as Xander presented it to him, pointing to the two words written a few times on the page. "These words."

"Bleu steorra?"

"Yeah, I said that, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did. if you were trying to say it wrong." He wheeled back over towards his desk. "It seems to be Middle English." He referred to another book, going back and forth between the two. He raised his brows. "Interesting."

"What's it mean?"

"Simply, 'blue stars.'"

"Blue stars? A symbol?"

"Possibly." He went back to Faith's description of her dream. "She saw a building and lightning. And it was raining blood. She gets a bit vague here. Uh, voices yelling 'rain' as in droplets but she thinks that it could also mean 'Rayne' as in Ethan. And she wrote down the words, Blood shall fall upon that day. The world will cry. I will live forever. Well, that does go along with the immortality aspect of Merkriva."

"And it couldn't be happier?" Xander frowned. "Anything else?"

"Yes, which I think is an important part; she claims there is a building involved. If you're right about the dreams being prophetic, then this could be the clue we were looking for: where to find Ethan. I'd need her to explain it a bit more." He checked his watch, furrowing his brows.

"How long has she been gone?" he asked, noting the look.

"Oh, I'm sure she'll be here soon."

"Paul."

"Um, about four hours now." Paul fully turned towards Xander. "She does go off somewhere at times, as you know."

"But for four hours? I have a bad feeling about this."

Paul opened his mouth as if to say something then nodded. "I do, too. She was supposed to report back to me if Joe had any information."

Xander stood up. "Where did she end up going? We need to go there."

Paul grabbed the books he had been studying, slipping the description of Faith's dream in between the pages after ripping it out of the notebook. "An apartment place on the east side of this area. It's where Joe lives."

"Then that's where we're going."

* * * *

They had knocked her out. One swift and HARD hit to the temple and she was out. The environment around her came back to her slowly through the darkness. She saw a fire in front of her, dimly blazing in a small pit in the middle of the room.

Room? What room?

She opened her eyes even more, realizing she couldn't move her hand to touch her head. She tried and heard rattling of chain links. Her eyes fully opened now, she realized her arms and legs were chained to the stone wall with VERY thick chains.

"Don't try," Ethan Rayne said from the shadows. "It's particularly made for Slayers. I've had the unfortunate luck of meeting one. I'm sure you know her. Buffy Summers? Yes, Ripper's little Slayer Slave. My, I knew he had a thing for young women."

"You know, you're fucking disgusting enough. Don't put any more mental pictures in my head." She tried the chains again, pulling at them until the cuffs began to dig into her wrists.

"Well, then." His silhouette moved about across the room, a swishing sound coming from him. It came from the robe he was donning. "I told you, my dear, those are Slayer-proof. I've been studying you, gathering enough information to realize your strengths and weaknesses. You are a strong little lass. Why do you think I let one of my little gang minions get you all ruffled by trying to burn down all you hold dear?"

Faith clenched her jaw in anger, pulling harder at the chains. They squeaked from strain but held on tightly. "Bastard!"

"Ah, ah, now. No reason to throw names around." He tinkered what sounded like some sort of bowls and other mixing materials. "I didn't think you'd be at all useful. But I'll kill you if you insult me further. I rather do like being called Master, though, very soon everyone shall call me that." He paused on reflection of that situation. "You were once the evil assistant to the Mayor of Sunnydale? Yes, your reputation has preceded you. I thought when I first heard you had interfered with my first plans that possibly you and I could become a team. Guess I was wrong. Somehow, you regained that heart of yours." He clucked his tongue. "Shame, really. You would've been good. You've come such a long way, Faith."

"I don't fucking NEED your approval!"

"I'm only stating a fact, my dear. And besides, that's where you and I have something in common. I've come a long way myself, though I haven't earned myself a good place in society. From piddly spells that I truly did adore to something as large as this." He gestured out his arms. "This, which I absolutely love. Ripper would be extremely proud. Of course, that shall never happen, but I'd kill him either way. There was a day you would have killed old Ripper, too, isn't that right, Faith?"

Faith glared at him, not wanting to hear this. "Shut up! Say something that's useful to me or just shut your fucking trap!"

Ethan only chuckled. "You've got it all wrong, Faith. It's YOU who shall be useful to ME." He chuckled again then moved towards a door that suddenly appeared with a wave of his hand. "It'll be soon."

* * * *

"Okay, can I throw up now?" Xander asked as he made his way out of the apartment building through the back. Cop cars and everything else official had surrounded the place, investigating a murder that would probably just go unsolved.

But not for Xander and Paul.

Paul, Xander, and Brandon stood next to the van, pondering over the gruesome scene they just witnessed. The man in the wheelchair put his hand up to his chin and knitted his dark brows together. "Did anyone notice the message on the back of the door?"

"The 'you're next'?" Xander asked.

"Yes. They knew."

"Knew what? That Faith would be there?"

"Yes."

"So Joe warned them and then they killed him?"

Paul shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe Joe was going to confess to Faith and they dealt with him before he could?"

"Okay, but still not liking the whole 'you're next' portion of the murder scene. If that's for Faith, then they already got to her!"

"I know," Paul stated.

"So we're just gonna sit here? Who knows what Ethan has in store for her!"

"I know, Xander. I'm just trying to figure out where to start. As some consolation, we didn't find anything to make us believe they killed her." He shook his head. "Although, it only means they may have something more for her."

"Still not liking scenario!" Xander cried. He was really beginning to worry now, knowing Ethan could do most anything if it had to do with magic and causing chaos. But now it was something more because it included Faith in some way.

"Okay, we need to decipher this Merkriva ritual, find out what exactly it entails and where they would be performing it, most importantly WHEN." He began to roll towards the van.

"What do we do in the meantime?" Xander asked.

"Why don't you and Brandon see if you can find information about it? If Ethan has done something this rash and this open, it has to be soon. He's beginning to take desperate measures it seems. And it means he may get sloppy."

"Or just getting nearer to doing whatever he needs to do," Xander put in with heavy concern. He looked around wondering what Ethan wanted Faith for. Was it to just get her out of the way? As revenge? Or for something more?

* * * *

Xander and Brandon walked into Paul's house later on in the evening. They found the man hunched over his desk, reading furiously at the five or six books laid out on his small desk. He was so engrossed in it, he barely heard them come through until they were right behind him.

"Oh, you startled me," he said, closing his eyes a moment to calm down his heart rate.

"Sorry," Xander stated. He ran his hands through his ruffled hair. "No luck. Hardly. I mean, demons and people have heard things, but it's pretty much the same stuff we've heard. They know something is coming." He let out a frustrated sigh and flopped down on the couch. "Dammit."

"I think I may have narrowed some things down," Paul announced, turning his wheelchair around to face the room.

"That's good," Brandon said.

"Well, for our purposes, yes. But knowing what power this ritual will give Ethan, no, it's no good." He furrowed his brows. "It's kind of a complicated translation to attempt. In fact, I'm not sure if I translated it right just from these texts. The basics I can get. I wish I studied more ancient languages."

"You know, I could just call my friend back in Sunnydale," Xander said.

"Yes, we tried to call him before, but Faith said."

"I know she didn't want Giles involved. But it's FAITH who's in trouble here and right now, I could give a crap what she thinks." Xander stood up, sort of feeling good he got that off his chest.

Paul and Brandon exchanged looks, a little taken by Xander's words. Yet they could understand the frustration Xander was feeling - and had been feeling.

Xander was at the phone. "Giles knows all these different dead languages. And like I said, Giles and Ethan were pals way back when. He'll know what to do." He was getting tired of just sitting back and not using the resources he did have just because Faith told him she didn't want them involved.

"Maybe you should call your friend, Buffy, too," Brandon suggested.

Xander held the receiver, looking back at him. "I should. but calling Giles is bad enough." He returned back to the keypad. "Besides," he continued, quietly. "I want Faith to be the Slayer this time. I think she needs that." He cursed to himself when he got Giles' answering machine. The man was never there anymore. He could've sworn the ex-Watcher was more accessible when Xander was back in Sunnydale.

So he left the Englishman a message, telling him the situation and the discretion requested.

"Not home," Xander announced. "But I guess you got that." He sat back on the couch. "Well, what DO you have?"

"Blue stars. I kept searching and searching through various texts about the symbol of blue stars, like what was mentioned in Faith's dream. But I realized I was looking too deeply to find the answer." He turned around and grabbed an astronomy book. He held it up. "It wasn't a magical symbol, but a very natural, rare event in the atmosphere."

"Oh," Xander said, blinking.

"Basically, it has to do with the molecules in the air - it's all very complicated, but in the end, one night in about every three thousand years, the stars give out a tinted blue color. It's similar to the blood moon phenomenon."

Xander put out his hand. "And let me guess: out of ALL the years that equal up to three thousand, tomorrow night is the night."

"How'd you guess?"

Xander sighed, slumping down. "I've been through too many of those sitches."

"Well, nonetheless, the situation with the stars going blue is the only night that Ethan can perform the ritual of Merkriva." He grabbed another book and held up a marked page, showing them a drawing the same symbol that was tattooed into each of Relin's gangs. "This is going to give those with this symbol power. More power than I'd care to guess. And to make things worse, it'll make them slaves to the one that performed the ritual. One person can hold Merkriva's power. The rest are just mindless slaves."

"Bet Ethan didn't tell Relin and his goons that."

"Probably not. He probably promised them power, which they would get in essence. But only to do his bidding, if he even wants followers at all." He closed the book. "It's all about power. And Ethan can essentially become the most powerful being to exist. What I fear at the moment is as the night grows near, Relin and his friends will slowly gain more power. I'm afraid they may be able to break out of their holdings just so they can be with their 'master.'"

"Maybe Faith should've gotten Relin after all," Xander murmured.

"Even if she did, we'd have the others to worry about. I doubt it would've made much of a difference in that respect."

"So this is worse than bad, huh?" Xander shook his head. "What about Faith? What do they need her for?"

"I don't know," Paul said. "I don't know if they even need her at all. Possibly just grabbing her to get her out of the way."

"Why couldn't they just take me? It's not like anyone would care what happens," he muttered, sadly.

Paul frowned. "Now Xander."

Xander waved his hand dismissively. "I know. Sorry. Look, I'm just worried about Faith in a major way. And sitting here like this just. is of the non- fun, you know?"

"I'm just as worried about her as you. Now that we know when, it's time to find out where. Plus, I'm not sure if they have all they need for it. The ritual calls for some very elaborate items, and I haven't even translated all of it. It's actually the portion where I'm having the most trouble."

"Do we have a clue as to where? What about that building that Faith dreamed about? Anything familiar about it?"

Paul sighed. "The one downside to jotting down dreams in writing is the inability to see what they saw exactly. She did mention something about the building flashing in and out, although that could be because of the lightning." He tapped his chin in thought. "Still much to sort through."

"But without the time." Xander stood up. "No marks on the building?"

"None she spoke or wrote about." He studied her handwriting. "It's plain, she said, even though she feels like it is familiar."

"I can't. stay here. I'll be back later." Xander sighed and went out the door.

* * * *

Her arms were beginning to feel like jelly, the wound that had just healed from the knife beginning to burn again from the strain. Faith had been trying and trying to break out of the chains, but Ethan wasn't lying: they were made to hold a Slayer.

She was growing tired and hungry. Her perception of time was getting out of whacked due to being in the dark room. The fire continued to blaze as if it had an infinite amount of wood, and it seemed like forever since Ethan had left her there.

"Tell me, my dear," came Ethan's voice as the door opened and he walked in. "What made you believe in coming back on the road of good?"

Faith tensed and set her jaw tight. "What's it to you?"

He stood by the table with the many ingredients and clicked some more things around as he spoke. "It's nothing to me. I'm actually just making small talk." He glanced over his shoulder. "You were so deliciously bad, though. I knew Richard briefly, in fact helped him out one time. Ah, those were the days of candy bar spells. But the things you did for him. he was proud." He returned to what he was doing. "But you knew that, didn't you?"

She couldn't deny that. As weird and sick as it seemed now, back then, Mayor Wilkins was proud of her - and he had said so. And she liked that: to hear that someone was proud of her. She hadn't heard that in a long time. By then, it didn't matter who had said it.

"By your lack of words, I would say so. Regardless, he was a man of power. And he had you to accentuate that." The Cheshire Cat smile spread across Ethan's face as he turned around again. "But don't worry, I'm not looking to take up where he left off. You're far too gone even if I wanted to."

"What the fuck do you mean 'far too gone'?"

"Oh, dear, you really can't see it, hmm? You know, the typical road you types want to take. Have done bad - boo, hoo - and feel so guilty about it. You want to find a way back to being 'good.' A road to redemption, as trite as that sounds. Actually, it sounds rather boring."

He came up to her then, the smile never leaving his face. "You've practically made it. You've been a gnat in my ear for months now. And nothing can be as good-hearted as someone who intervenes too much with my plans. Are you happy? Happy that you've cleansed your aura a bit?" He placed a hand on her cheek. "I'm just sorry you can't keep it up."

Faith jerked her head away from his touch. "Son-of-a-bitch! Don't TOUCH me!"

"So full of good intentions." He chuckled. "Is that an insult?"

She stared at him as if not knowing how to answer. It was a new thing to answer to, to admit to. But she knew what she wanted to say. "No," she stated, simply.

"I didn't think so. Too bad you've made it this far only to make yourself eligible to be of use to me."

"What the fuck does that mean?" she asked as he walked away from her.

"You'll see, Warrior." He quirked a brow then went back out the door.

* * * *

Xander watched himself in the reflection as he stared down at the ocean below. He found himself at the docks near Paul's townhouse, the moonlight hitting the water just right. He was frustrated and angry and worried all at one person. The person he loved yet who was driving him insane.

He shook his head, not knowing how to feel. Yes, he was so very worried about her and was angry that he couldn't do anything to help find her. But he was also so frustrated and hurt by her, not knowing what he did to drive her away.

Or even worse, not knowing what to say to make her see her perception of what was right and wrong was. well, WRONG.

"Xander," called Brandon as he came up behind the boy.

Xander looked all the way up at the tall man. "What's up?"

"I think Paul found a lead that he wants you and me to check out."

Xander stood up. "Really? What is it.?"

* * * *

"Hey there, my bubsies," a tall, thin green horned man greeted them as they entered the bar/lounge place called Caritas. "Have a drink, or don't. but you can't come out of here without the fun."

Xander stared at the guy as Brandon scanned the room.

"This is it?" Xander asked.

"This is it," Brandon answered with a small smile.

"What is it?" the green-guy asked. He indicated the stage where one red- faced demon sang 'What a Feeling.' "Ooo, he's in for a world of hurt soon. Anyway, this is my little humble abode." He leaned back a little, looking at Xander carefully. "I don't know what it is about you, honey cakes, but you've got a strong vibe coming off of you."

Xander met with the green guy's red eyes. "Uh, I don't really swing that way, man. Not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just."

The green host laughed. "No, no, nothing like that. Look, it seems you're looking for something. Something powerful." He studied Xander carefully.

"We were sent here by Paul - "

"Oh, Pauly!" The Host raised the glass he had been sipping from. "Only one Paul out there that I know." He tipped his glass a little. "So, he sent you two big boys here, huh? New customers! I should send some readers over to his bookstore for a nice 'thank you thank you' note." He grinned then finished off his red drink. "Don't worry, not blood. I'm blood-free these days, not that I was ever blood-full, if you boys know what I mean. My kind, not so much like that."

"Did I just enter the Copa Cabana?" Xander remarked, his eyes looking up at Brandon.

"Oh, if only we all could enter that place. Name's Lorne. Like I said, I'm the host of this place. Basically, you're here to sing."

"Sing? Um, no singing was mentioned," Xander said with a shiver in his voice. "Look, I don't sing, which is a good thing."

"Yeah, most people believe that. No, babushka, you want answers, don't you?" He gestured towards the stage. "Go to it."

"Huh?"

Brandon stepped back a little, as if scared. "Hey, dude, Paul only told me that we might find answers here. He never told me HOW. I was expecting to possibly smash in heads or something."

"Oh, no, Big Hulk, no need for that," Lorne told him, signaling the bartender. "And you're the lucky one; only this guy can do the deed if he expects to find what he's looking for." He nodded towards Xander.

"What? Me?" Xander's eyes widened as if he was staring into the mouth of hell - again. "Who, whoa, buddy, I don't even know the deal. What if I tell Brandon here to bash heads, then what would you do?"

Lorne shook his head. "No violence allowed here, Normal Joe. Why do you think all these demon-like demons aren't smashing chairs? I'm here to do a duty and all I ask is a little singing and a drink." He looked at the bartender. "Get these two gentlemen a round of madouris, Phil." He looked back at Xander, the grin still on his face. "It's all you, bro. I can read what you're looking for and to get the rest, you gotta do the Broadway way."

"I'm not getting this," Xander said. "I have to SING for you to tell me what I wanna know? Did I just fall into a musical or something?"

"Not yet." Lorne nodded just as the bartender gave Brandon his drink. "Go to it, honey cakes." He handed him his madouri sour.

"Singing? Sorry, Charlie, but no can do." Xander shook his head and didn't take the drink.

Lorne shook his head and sighed. "You've got something in you that's hard to fight against. I can help you out, bro. And I know who you're looking for is something mega important in every sense of the word; I can feel you'd do most anything - so the worst of it is singing, for now. Or am I wrong in all that? If I am, slap me and send me home; I'm losing my touch."

Xander stood rigid but didn't respond to it right away. Because the green guy wasn't wrong. Faith was in trouble and no matter what frustrations and hurt he was feeling against her, he still loved her with all his heart.and more. "Do I get to choose the song?"

Lorne nodded. "Any one you want. I prefer the 60's era, but if you like the recent influx of pop songs, I'm not here to deny you."

Brandon settled himself comfortably at the bar, a grin on his face. "You can do it, man." He lifted his glass in a small toast.

Xander took the drink out of Lorne's hands and downed it in one gulp. Boy, it was sour. He made a face. "Ack!"

"Not much of a drinker, are you?"

"I'm not of drinking age!" Xander said, coughing a little. He recovered and braced himself. "Okay. For Faith." He moved towards the stage just as one vampire finished his rendition of "I Write the Songs." After speaking with the demon in charge of the music, he took the stage and shakily grabbed the microphone.

Clearing his throat, he was glad the lights shining on him were blinding. "Hi," he said into the mic. "X-Xander Harris, I am. Um, and I have to sing so."

"Sing from the heart!" Lorne called from the back of the room. "Always sing from there!"

"That's not gonna help my non-singful voice," he mumbled.

The music started.

Oh oh I thought I'd see you smile When I walked in the door Thought those arms of yours would be open wide

"Ah, Joe Cocker," Lorne said, lifting up his glass to Xander's nervous beginnings. "Man of a million heartbreaks." He sipped at his drink.

The way they were before Why do you look at me Like I'm some stranger now? Why do you pull away When you used to hold me so tight?

Xander walked up and down the stage, his mind slowly wandering into the words of the song. He didn't notice the way the patrons were getting into it, despite the flat notes. He didn't even notice the flat notes.

Don't you love me anymore? Have your learned to live your life without me? Don't you love me, anymore? When did the fire go out? Where did the feeling go? Did it slip away when I wasn't there? Baby now I've come home I thought you'd want me babe I was so sure you'd ask me to to stay I thought you'd need this too Guess it didn't work out that way

And the song faded, and Xander was done. He looked out into the audience who were actually on their feet and cheering.

"Um, thank you," he said before returning the microphone back onto the stand.

He went back to Brandon, who continued to clap, and felt his face redden. "I'm usually never this embarrassed because of the being used to it," he announced, closing himself up with his arms over his chest.

"You did good, man," Brandon said, hitting him heavily on the back. "Felt the heart in there." He placed his large hand over his chest in melodrama.

Lorne, still leaning on the bar, had a seemingly proud expression. "Brought tears to these red eyes of mine." He wiped the bottom lids just as dramatically.

"So, why did I do all that again?" Xander asked, not really amused.

Lorne straightened himself up, down to business. "Five miles away from the warehouse that got the hot end of the stick a few weeks ago. That's where you want to go."

Xander's and Brandon's ears perked up. "That's where Faith is?" Xander asked.

"That's where you'll find the answers," Lorne answered. "I read people, kiddo, not really find things, and boy, oh, boy what a 'thing' you're looking for."

"I don't get; why are you not just telling me where Faith is?"

"Because where she is, I can't follow. No magical force truly can. But what I'm telling you is near enough to help. It's all I can do. Well, that and." He dipped his gaze down then placed a hand on Xander's shoulder. "To tell you that once you find who you're looking for, it's best if you don't stay."

"What?"

"It's - she's not going to let you. If we all survive, which for all our sakes, I hope you get there in time, who you're looking for is not going to let herself show her love for you. You're just going to get hurt more, and I think. you know what you have to do." There was a deeper meaning in his words, and a deeper sadness. "Sorry, Xander. Either way, you're going to lose her. Of course, if whatever is going to shoot us into high hell succeeds, I'll see you in the yonder."

"But that's not fair," Xander told him, almost angrily. "All of what you just said!"

"And life became fair when?" Lorne gave his shoulder one last squeeze. "Look, sweetcakes, believe me when I say it's gonna be for the best. You're not going to want to do it, and who would with a hottie like her? But it's not your fault."

"No, I can't hear that. I love her -"

"That doesn't matter. Trust me in that." He shrugged, signaling Phil again. "Another drink?"

* * * *

"Did you find out where it is?" Paul asked, rolling towards them as they entered the townhome. He noticed Xander's unhappy face. "Wasn't good, was it?"

"It's in the Holden district," Brandon answered. "Only a few miles from where Hannah's old warehouse used to be."

"Then he did tell you where it was. I wasn't sure if he would be able to."

"I had to sing," Xander mumbled, giving Paul a look. "There was no mention of the singing factor."

"Um, well, I thought you'd figure it out when you saw the stage." He rolled his wheelchair back and turned around. "Was there anything else he told you?"

Brandon looked over at Xander, who met his dark eyes with his own. Then Xander shook his head. "That's all we needed, right?"

Paul accepted that without further explanation. "I know what they need Faith for," he said, quietly.

"What is it?" Xander asked, straightening up.

He turned around. "Her life."

* * * *

"Do you know what this entire escapade is for?" Ethan asked as he came up to her once again, crushing something in a bowl.

"At this point, I could give a shit," Faith muttered, meeting with his eyes with pure anger. She suddenly jerked forward at him.

Ethan actually flinched and jumped back, nearly dropping the bowl. When he saw the satisfaction in her eyes, he smiled. "You're a little bitch, do you know that?"

She actually smiled back, realizing how the chains were the only things he used as courage around her. He was still scared shitless of her. "I've been told that a few times."

"You won't be laughing much soon enough." He began his crushing again. "See, this ritual will give me what I've been striving for. It took years of doing nasty black magic, which I spent my formidable years with the good Ripper himself. But I've gained enough of it that this can be accomplished. Immortality and power. I've gotten what I need for the immortality part - the blood and life of a few vampires and demons. It is the power portion I was having a bugger of a time gaining."

He went back to the table and poured something in the mixture, still talking. "I thought that with the last demon, we had it. But still, it didn't work correctly. It's a shame actually. He was pretty powerful." He mixed it a few more times and turned back toward her. "No, I wasn't thinking outside the bloody box. Demons were put on this earth to cause chaos, for the most part. They are powerful, yes. But something else was put on this earth to protect people from the chaos."

Faith's features didn't shift, even as she realized what he was getting at. She kept it hardened, unflinching.

"The Warrior of the People," he stated with a raise of his brows. "What a lovely title Slayers have in many books. And here I thought I may need to go back to Sunnydale to retrieve one." He chuckled. "My, how life's foils can be of use to you later." He approached her, dipping his index and middle fingers into the concoction. He suddenly stopped, looking up and around. "Hmmm, some other force is using powerful magic at the moment. Eh, oh well. It can' t touch us in here - not yet, that is." He looked directly at her again, that grin on his face. "Now, hold still," he stated, putting down the bowl next to him and grabbing her throat, slamming her head against the wall. "You need to look good for the ritual."

* * * *

Within half an hour, the men pulled up to the building where they thought Lorne had pointed them out to. Xander got out of the van, glancing around. "I thought you said the building was really tall."

Brandon helped Paul into his wheelchair. "He's right, Boss. Looks like the tallest building here is about two-stories."

"But this is what the Host said, correct?" Paul asked, also scanning the area. The air was slightly thicker here, he realized. "Maybe he didn't find Faith."

"What?" Xander glanced at him. "Well, what the hell was all that singing and embarrassing for?!"

"For something," Paul said. "I know him - he didn't tell you this location for nothing." There were two places in front of them that were occupied: a bar named Bulldogs and a convenience store. "Why don't you look in the bar, Xander, while Brandon and I look in the store?"

Xander nodded, a determined look in his eyes then went towards the bar.

The scent of smoke and beer quickly entered Xander's nostrils, but being a bartender himself, Xander barely noticed. He glanced around as he entered the establishment, a few early customers drinking at tables.

Xander, although not a stranger to entering a musky bar for information, just wasn't used to doing it without a Slayer at hand. or cash. He quickly checked his pockets as he approached the bar.

"What'll it be, pal?" asked the man behind the counter. The nametag read Dave the Bulldog.

Sitting on the stool, he pulled out a few 20's. "Information," he answered.

Dave paused. "Really? On what?"

"Guy named Ethan Rayne. I was told that you'd know something about him."

"Hate to break it to ya', but you got the wrong information. I'm running a clean bar here."

Xander stared at the guy, eyes narrowing. "Why doesn't the 'I believe you' sign not really coming into view?" He held up $40. "My source was pretty clear," he lied. "And if this is what it's going to take, then take it."

Dave snatched it out of Xander's hand. "Thanks, kid. Now go."

Xander still held his hand out as if the money was still in it. "Okay, that didn't work." And he was out $40. "Look, guy, someone's in trouble and if you have ANY information on where Ethan Rayne is, you just don't know how much that would mean to me."

"And I'm not paid to care how much it means," Dave spat. "Go somewhere else, kid." He didn't expect the hand reaching out at him to snatch at his collar. He was pulled up on the bar.

Usually patient, usually the non-violent type unless in defense, Xander had had enough of being that when someone he loved was in danger of being Ethan's next victim. He punched Dave in the nose, hearing a crack. "I kind of like being right here," he sneered. "Now I know who I talked - more like SANG - to isn't wrong. Someone around here knows things, and maybe you can help a guy out and tell me who."

Dave was busy holding his nose to answer right away. "I've only heard of the guy! A couple of his cronies hang out here sometimes. But I don't harass them! I told you, I'm a bartender, not a prodder!"

"I tell myself that at times. But just this once, prodding is the best thing. This feels kind of good, actually. Punching you, threatening you like this." He nodded. "Yeah, I kind of like this."

"Leave him alone!" another guy protested, jumping out of his seat. He was BIG, like Brandon big, and he was coming up to Xander with a deadly look in his eyes. "Dave's a good guy. Like he said, he doesn't know anything, dude."

Xander was too wrapped up in his tough guy act to care. "Types like these know more than they let on, Muscle Head. And by the way, this is a business that's none of yours, okay?"

The guy growled and swung a HUGE fist at Xander' face.

Xander's eyes widened and he quickly ducked, feeling the air above him sweep through. He tugged Dave down with him. "Maybe that was a wrong thing to say." He backed up a little as the guy continued to lumber toward him.

"Fight! Fight!" some patrons chanted, banging on the table.

Xander dropped Dave and grabbed the nearest stool, swinging it at the big guy. The guy just swatted it right out of Xander's hand. Xander watched it fly over the bar. He dropped to the ground, grabbing the guy's ankle. "You know what they say, the bigger they are." Then he jerked back, pulling his foot right out from under him. ". the louder the noise they make when they hit the floor."

BANG!

Xander smiled, getting to his feet as the patrons cheered him on. "A bar fight I might be actually winning." Faith would be proud, he thought. His smile began to fade, causing distraction enough for another patron to tackle Xander to the ground.

Things began to go a little out of control as Xander fended off the guy.

"My bar!" Dave cried. "Look what you did, you piss ant!"

Xander managed to kick his assailant off of him. "Hey, I was sent here!" he cried, getting to his feet, dusting himself off. "It's not MY fault that you're holding back!"

"Holding WHAT back?" Dave asked, ducking as a chair flew over his head.

"Information - about Ethan Rayne!"

"I don't know who the guy is!"

"But this gentleman might," came Paul's voice as he entered the bar with Brandon and another man in Brandon's clutches. "Oh, my. Xander, what have you done?"

"Uh." Xander backed away until he was side by side with Paul. "You asked me to ask around, and this erupted." He indicated the brawl.

Dave glanced over at the new members of his establishment. He only recognized the man that wasn't Brandon or Paul. "Nick?"

The guy grumbled something as he tried to get away.

"Nick? Who's Nick?" Xander asked, looking at the dark-brown haired guy.

"Joe's friend," Brandon answered. "Found him next door at the convenience store, buying a pack of cigarettes. Don't you know those things are bad for ya'?" he asked, giving Nick a shake. "This was the dude we've been looking for all along, the guy Joe was trying to protect."

"And died doing so," Paul finished. "So now then, we're going to find out if Joe's death was worth anything." He looked pointedly at Nick.

* * * *

Xander paced around anxiously outside the backroom of Paul's bookstore. Nick was being very tight-lipped about what he knew, and Paul thought it best that Xander's impatient screams weren't helping. But he couldn't help it. They were so near to finding out exactly what they needed to know, who wouldn't be edgy?

His legs were getting tired, and he out a frustrated sigh and went to grab for the knob when Paul stuck his head out.

"Did you find?"

"After much prodding, and a truth spell, we finally got it out of him," he said, wiping his forehead. "Come on in."

When Xander entered the back room, he saw Brandon standing against the back door, a satisfied grin on his face.

Nick wasn't looking too good. His left eye was swollen, his lip busted, and there was a thin line of perspiration on his face.

"Maybe we should've done the truth spell straight away," Paul said, seeing what Xander was seeing.

"I didn't mind," Brandon said with a grin. "It was fun to see what the kid could tolerate. Better me than." He trailed, realizing what he was going to say. "Yeah."

Xander caught it but didn't react to it. "So, what did we find?"

"Do you have a thing with the girl?" Nick asked, drowsily.

Xander glared at him. "Do we really need to get into it right now?"

"No, sir. It's just. I was at the club."

"Club?"

Nick tried to lift his head higher, but was having trouble in doing so. "Yeah. Was meeting Joe there. Joe's dead. But he was there that night. or really early morning. And he was with that girl, the one Mr. Rayne wanted us to keep an eye out for. They danced. They kissed a few times."

"Shut up," Xander warned.

"Then they went into the back room. Disappeared somewhere. I never saw them come out because I had to leave. I was scared shitless of that girl." He laughed, drunkenly. "Bet she got it out of Joe by getting into his pants. It's the only way the guy will talk."

BAM!

Nick felt the end of Xander's fist, nearly knocking him unconscious. "I'm only telling the truth! It's not like I can help it."

"Xander," Paul said, placing a hand on Xander's tensed arm. "Don't listen to him."

Brandon grabbed a dirty rag and gagged Nick right away. "Yeah, man. Faith's not like that. It's not like she'd jump into any random dude's pants."

Xander crossed his arms and closed his eyes, not answering.

"Right?" Brandon looked at Xander.

"Where do we go?" Xander asked, jumping out of the conversation as quickly as possible.

* * * *

"What's going on?!" cried Officer Rutkowski as cops at the L.A. precinct began to run through the main section of the building.

"The prisoners we just caught!" one cried as he ran by. "They've gone fucking insane!"

Rutkowski watched as the back wall that stood between the main part of the precinct and the holding chambers blasted apart, throwing him five feet back. He landed heavily onto three other cops, splinters of wood still flittering through the air.

The ten or so gang members that were arrested a few weeks ago stood there, growling like animals. The tattoos that they all had in common were glowing a blood red, their eyes matching. The veins in their arms throbbed as they stepped through their damage.

Relin was in the lead. It was impossible; the kid had been in the prison's care unit trying to heal from the injuries he had when they arrested him atop the roof.

One cop dove for the leader of the gang, only to be CAUGHT by Relin's one arm by the front of his shirt. He was held in the air, failing his arms around.

Relin tossed the cop up in the air, smacking him into the ceiling with ease the gang leader could only DREAM of. Of course, his manner showed not one shred of intellect or conniving aire that gave him his reputation. It was all power, all hunger.

"Shoot them! Shoot them!" one officer cried, already whipping his gun from the holster.

More guns followed, Rutkowski remaining on the ground as shots began to ring out.

But each gang member had some sort of mystical shield that shimmered with each bullet that tried to penetrate it. They continued to walk forward, like a herd of super-powered elephants through a china shop.

Relin smashed oak desks with one fist. Others grabbed the guns out of the cops' hands and crushed them like aluminum, then smacked them across the room like ragdolls.

Rutkowski knew this was worse than bad. Although the gang had been rambunctious and rowdy while in the cells, they had calmed down eventually. But this was something totally different. Somehow, he knew that they shouldn't let these guys go any further out of here. He pulled out his radio and called for backup.

* * * *

Thunder rumbled in the distance as Paul's white van pulled up to a building on Crenshaw. It was eerily quiet in the area, no people in sight.

They exited the van, all three men armed with something easily carried around. Brandon held the biggest weapon: a large axe that no one could even lift without using two hands, except Brandon - and Faith.

"So Ethan's somewhere in this building?" Xander asked, looking straight up. It wasn't a tall building, not even a building that was pretty or drew attention. It was just a random, rundown building.

"That's all that Nick told us," Paul said. He frowned. "I'm pretty sure it isn't handicap friendly."

Xander was already searching through the window. "I see elevators," he said.

"I just hope they're working," Paul said as he guided his electric wheelchair forward. Brandon had to lift him up the front stairs as they all entered the building.

The lobby was dusty, but Paul guided his flashlight around, spotting indications that something had been through here very recently. It led directly to the elevator.

"If we use it, they may be able to hear that it is in use," Paul whispered.

Xander frowned, trying to figure out how to proceed with this. "Do you think that Ethan's on the top floor to do this?"

"That's my guess," Paul answered. "But it's not 100%."

"And what is?" Xander remarked with a sigh. "So what's the plan? You stay down here while me and Brandon check the floors? There are only." He read the lights on the elevator, realizing that each of the two elevators had the #13 floor lit. "Or we could just guess."

"Of course," Paul said.

"Evil's lucky number," Brandon mumbled.

"But I thought buildings don't usually HAVE a 13th floor?" Xander asked.

Paul and Brandon glanced at each other, the same realization on their faces.

Paul nodded towards the stairs. "Brandon, do you think you can?"

Brandon slipped on the strap that came with the ax, wearing the object on his back. He nodded. "Of course, Boss." He bent down and picked up Paul into his large arms, pushing the wheelchair back with his foot so that it sat in the shadows, unseen to the casual observer.

They went into the stairwell, and began their trek quietly as possible up the stairs. Each time there was a door to each floor, they peered through the window. But each floor was abandoned.

They kept going, reaching the 12th floor, the air about them thick and almost electrified. Xander took a breath, leading the other two up the first set of stairs and then the second one, preparing his bat-like weapon as they reached the 13th floor.

Only, the sign next to the door read: 14th.

Xander blinked. "Okay." He glanced back at them. "Is this it?"

Paul scratched his head. "Um, it may be. Although it says '14,' it technically is the 13th floor."

Xander grabbed the handle of the door and slowly pulled it open. He glanced left and right. He motioned them to follow when he saw the coast was clear. After a moment of roaming through the floor, however, they found it abandoned.

They gathered at the stairwell entrance, perplexed.

"Wild floor chase?" Xander quipped, trying to mask the frustration that was beginning to build again.

Paul shook his head, knowing the Host at Caritas hadn't been wrong before. He hadn't been direct, but never wrong. "I don't get it. Faith's dream; she said she saw a building."

"A blinking one," Brandon mused along with them.

"So we just stand out there and look for a building that blinks," Xander said mockingly as if that was the answer to it all.

Paul thought hard, trying to go about Faith's dream from a different perspective. "Maybe it wasn't lightning that was causing it to blink," he said. "Maybe it was the fact that it's there but it's not."

"Okay, you just made an already vague dream just the more vaguer. We're in the building! It's here. I can touch the floor and the walls."

Paul glanced at the door of the stairwell. "Maybe it's not the building, per se, but the floor." He pointed to the number displayed beside the door. "It says 14th. Maybe we're truly on the 14th floor."

"So where's the 13th?"

"Halfway there," Paul answered, signaling for them to go back towards the 12th. Before they turned to go down the second flight, Paul stopped them. "Hold on. Please take me towards that wall."

Brandon carried him over to it. "What's up, Boss?"

Paul slowly reached out towards the plain, gray colored wall. But his hand didn't stop - it went beyond it. "A hidden portal."

"To the 13th floor!" Xander said with a grin.

Brandon stared at the wall. "Never ceases to amaze me what you guys discover," he said.

Xander slowly stepped through, glancing both ways. There were actual elevator doors off to the left. Somehow they reached this floor. All seemed quiet as it was on all the other floors. The only difference was it didn't LOOK abandoned like the others. There wasn't dust and cobwebs around the rooms. The air seemed thicker, making it just a little bit harder to breathe.

He motioned for them to follow and they crept down the hall.

"How come this quietness isn't comforting?" Xander whispered.

Paul's eyes were alert, looking behind them past Brandon's large arms that continued to hold him. Nothing behind them as was nothing ahead of them. "I seriously don't know what we're expecting," he whispered back to Xander.

Xander put up his hand as he pressed himself against the wall.

Brandon did the same, though couldn't do that good a job with Paul still in his arms.

"Someone's coming," Xander whispered as footsteps could be heard.

A door opened right next to where Xander stood and a horned creature holding a staff emerged. It yawned.

Brandon and Xander exchanged looks, wondering if the creature was going to notice them.

Then Xander decided on making this go faster. He went up behind the creature as it lumbered down the opposite direction, oblivious to them. It was no taller than Paul when he was in his wheelchair.

The creature turned around and Xander slammed his fist into its crusty face. It stumbled back, giving him a chance to snatch the staff out of its hand and pointed the pointy end towards its face as it landed roughly on its back.

"Ah!" the creature cried.

"Shut up!" Xander hissed as Brandon came up behind him. He had let Paul down onto the floor.

"Wh-what do you want?"

"Faith, where is she?" Xander asked, the staff coming closer to the demon's eye.

"Who?"

"Faith. uh, the Slayer!"

"Oh!" The demon looked around nervously as if expecting someone to come. "I- I don't know."

Brandon reached down and snatched the small demon in his large hands, lifting the under 4'5 demon to his 6'5 height. "The guy asked you a question and he's expecting an answer," he boomed.

The demon pointed down the opposite direction. "The-the gray door. But you- you're too late."

He dropped the demon and glanced behind them. "Guess she's down that way."

Xander took the staff and swung it around, smacking the demon in the head and knocking it out. The staff landed on top of him as he let it fall. "Then so are we." He turned and walked just as Brandon lifted Paul into his arms.

They moved a bit more quickly towards the said door. They came up to it, seeing the same carving as the tattoos each of Relin's gang members have.

Xander was still lingering on the 'too late' part of what the demon had told them. He stepped up to the door, briefly glancing back at Brandon and Paul. Paul had produced a crossbow.

"We've got your back, man," Brandon claimed.

Xander slowly pushed open the door, which was surprisingly unlocked. He peeked his head into the room, the scent of different spell ingredients filling his nostrils. The room was very dim, except for the fire that still burned in the middle. The air was even thicker in here. Shadows danced around the walls.

He stepped inside, his eyes continuing to scan the area. Then he saw her, chained to the wall, hanging limply by her arms.

"Faith!" he cried, rushing across the room. It was obvious there was no one else in here.

Brandon soon stepped inside the room, looking around, as did Paul.

"God," Xander whispered, seeing the marks on her face. "What the hell happened?" But Faith was in no state to answer him, even though she was the only one who could. He messed with the chains but they were locked up tight. He could see them a little bent and stretched at the source, making him realize she had been trying to break out but not able to. Meant he wasn't going to be able to. "Keys! Do you see any keys anywhere?" He moved towards the table, looking around desperately.

"Here!" Brandon called near a small table.

Xander ran over to it, picking up the key ring with three different large black keys. He went back and quickly began to test each one, praying that one of them was it. If not, he really didn't know what to do.

Paul, in the meantime, was gathering the parchments and the notes that Ethan had left behind. "He must've been in a hurry," he murmured, looking over some notes.

Xander let out a sigh as he got all the shackles off of the Slayer. She fell limply into his arms and he caught her, dropping the keys. He cradled her. "Faith? Wake up. You-you're safe now." He walked over towards Paul and Brandon. "Something's wrong with her. She's not waking up!" He knelt down, laying part of her body on the stone floor. "C'mon, Faith," Xander urged, slightly slapping her face as she lay motionless in his arms. "You're NOT gonna do this." Her face was marked with weird symbols. He tried to wipe some of it off as if it would be the key to waking her.

Paul glanced down on Faith then looked over the notes. "The spell he placed on her is powerful. As I read in my own books about the spell, he needed to detain her in order to retrieve her blood. The Blood of a Warrior."

"There are tons of warriors around here! Why her?"

"Because he needed the power. And Faith has proved more than once that she has the power - more than your average warrior in Los Angeles. He must've tried other means of obtaining this type of power but wasn't able to. He's gone into the building somewhere. I don't know where he's gone to and why he just left her here."

"Who cares!?" Xander snapped. "Faith's not waking up!" He looked back down at her face, brushing her hair away from her face. "You're NOT going to call another Slayer, do you hear me?" She was breathing, but it didn't mean much according to what Paul had told him about the ritual. "What the hell's wrong with her?"

Paul got a closer look at the Slayer as Brandon knelt down next to them. The bookshop keeper studied her, trying to remember what was said in the book he had read. "She's mostly dead," he answered, simply.

"MOSTLY dead? We need to do something!" Xander gave her a shake, not wanting to relive what he had to do with Buffy so many years ago. He felt the need to do CPR to her as if that would make her breathe better, harder. It worked with Buffy.

But this wasn't Buffy. This was so much more to Xander.

Paul put a hand on Xander's shoulder, giving it a restraining squeeze. "There's nothing we can physically do."

"Mostly dead is too close to dead, Paul." Xander met Paul's eyes, glaring. "Don't tell me that there's nothing we can do. I've been hearing that too much for the past 24 hours."

"We need to take her back to the bookstore," Paul said. "You've seen the movie 'The Princess Bride' haven't you?"

Xander lifted a brow, surprised that question was even asked. Before he could answer, however, he thought about his answer. "Uh, that's a girlie movie. Of course, I haven't." But his eyes easily gave him away as he quickly glanced away. "And what does a movie in the 80's have to do with Faith?"

"You remember the hero in that movie had his life sucked out of him. His cohorts described him as 'mostly dead.'"

"So we have to find Billy Crystal and ask him to make some sort of huge horse pill for her to swallow?"

"For someone who hasn't watched the movie, you do know quite a bit of detail."

"Nevermind," Xander said with a wave of his hand as he got to his feet. His face fell a little, looking at Faith. "Just tell me what you need me to do to get OUR hero back."

"I have something that will help her, but we need to take her back to the bookstore to perform it."

"So let's do it!" He noticed the look on Paul's face. "What is it?"

"We do need to get Faith to my bookstore. But." He glanced over at the table with the objects Ethan used in the ritual.

"You don't want to leave here."

"We just don't know what move Ethan will make. If he succeeds, the world may not - "

"Then I'll stay! I'll keep an eye on him until-until you get back. Just please, Paul."

"I'll stay with the dude," Brandon said.

Paul looked between the two, knowing the longer they argued about it, the more time Ethan would have to fulfill the ritual, and the less time everyone else had. He gave them both a hesitant nod. "Let's bring Faith back into the van," he told Brandon. "Xander, please be careful."

He just didn't know what he was going to tell Faith once she woke up.

If she ever would.

- END -