Road to Redemption (Series #2) – a Faith Series (takes the place of season 5 of BtVS)
Disclaimer: I own nuttin or nobody mentioned in this episode; all the genius of Joss...
Author's note: This is a different take of season five in many respects so the time frame will also differ from the original season in which some events happen. Ya' know, in case you couldn't figure that out :D
EPISODE FIVE: Empty-Handed
"Mrs. S feelin' okay?" Faith asked as she and Xander Harris strolled through Sunnydale's only mall. The crowd was more abundant than usual as the Thanksgiving season was only a few days away.
Xander stopped in front of a store window, peering through the glass. "She's coming home today," he announced.
"They find anything wrong with her?"
He shook his head as he turned to his girlfriend. "No. Kinda stump-like for the doctors. They ran all these tests on her and couldn't find a thing. Meanwhile, she got all better and all they had given her was aspirin-like pills." He shrugged. "But hey, she's better and that's all that counts. It'll end Buffy's and Dawn's worries."
"B's been wound up tighter than usual," Faith murmured, even though she knew the real reason why. With all that was happening with Mrs. Summers, Buffy had barely had time to ponder the whole thing that went down with the monk and the strangely powerful blond woman.
But since then, all had been quiet – on the demon front, at least. Still, there was a feeling that the crumbled warehouse only slowed the demon woman down, not destroyed her.
"Think Anya would like that?" Xander asked, pointing to the jewelry box in the store.
"Beats the hell outta me," Faith answered. "Not real sure what you give someone comin' outta the hospital. I'm not really good with gifts anyway."
"I think she would." He led her into the store. "And yeah, Buffy's got a lot to unwind from. At least we're off from class for a few days. She can hang out with her mom and Dawn. I get to be the luckiest one, hangin' with the hottest chick around." He grinned widely at her.
Faith quirked up a brow. "Okay, how much you need?" she asked, her hand already reaching in her pocket.
"C'mon! I can't say something nice about how hot you are every once and awhile?"
"I know how hot I am, hon." She smirked. "I don't gotta be reminded."
"How stuck on yourself are you? You know, honestly, you're not all that."
Faith stared at him with a frown. "That a fact?"
Xander continued to smile then faltered when she wasn't smirking back. "Um, no… not at all."
A laugh escaped the Slayer's lips, giving his ribs a poke. "You always fall for that 'I'm gonna kick your ass' look – every time, X-Man, every time!"
"Do you KNOW how so not funny that look is? I have to factor in the fact you COULD kick my ass ten times over." He made an exasperated, drama king sigh and turned away from her to check out the jewelry box.
Faith snaked her finger through one of the back of his belt hoops, hauling him back easily. "Hey, come here."
He tried to keep walking but knew it was going to be futile. Turning around, he found her arms around him and her lips on his, kissing him deeply in the middle of the store.
"Hey!" cried the proprietor from behind the counter. "Don't go doing that in here!"
Xander slowly parted from her. "Always spoiling my fun," he murmured.
"We don't hafta stop. I know I don't wanna." She smiled, leaning in again when:
"Back off!" came an angry voice outside the store.
Xander and Faith glanced over in that direction, seeing some football high school jock shoving at an older man with graying hair. The man was wearing a ratty-looking, dirty suit and was seemingly trying to cling onto the jock.
"The light will come!" the man said loudly. "It will come. And when the land is grown, I think I will make a list." His speech was clear but painfully crazed. "Yeah… a list."
The jock shoved him into the store. "I said, leave me the hell alone!"
The man stumbled into a table, knocking down everything on the display. It all came down with a loud crash, making the storeowner wince.
"No!" the man said, keeping his balance and reaching for the jock again. "I must make sure it is all on the file!"
Xander frowned, not liking the look in the jock's eyes. "Hey!" he called moving away from Faith and stepping in between the kid and the man. "The guy's obviously sick, man. Maybe you should be the one to back off."
"What, he your father or something?" the jock sneered. "I can see the resemblance."
"Hey, don't go around throwing your left over anger from you not getting a date for the prom." He turned to the man who stood dazed but mumbling to himself about buttons to be pushed.
The jock went after Xander only to be shoved back out of the store by another hand. He stumbled back into the railing, staring back at Faith.
"You little bitch," he remarked.
"Chill out, dude." She really did not want to deal with a rude kid right now. "Call Momma to go pick your ass up and go home."
"Hey, you can't talk to my boyfriend like that," a young brunette girl said, annoyed. She hung off his arm with a disgusted expression on her face.
Faith was not fazed in the least. "Girlfriend, I just did. If he can't handle it, you might wanna find another boyfriend with bigger balls."
Xander winced slightly as he took the crazy man by his arm. She always had a way with words – occasionally, not a GOOD way. "You okay, sir?"
The man stood there as if in deep thought. "The music is being played. I tried to-to eat the ham…"
Faith came up behind them, obviously able to avoid any more confrontation. The jock definitely had lucked out. "He don't sound good," she commented.
A security guard entered the store. "Everything okay?"
Xander felt bad for turning the guy over to the cops. "I think he needs a doctor or something."
The cop lifted his brows. "Mr. Tamlin?" He blinked, confused. He put the pepper spray in his hand back in the holster and peered more closely at him. "Hey, it's me. It's Thomas."
"You know him?"
"He runs the watch store downstairs." Taking Mr. Tamlin from Xander, he carefully led him towards the store, calling for an ambulance through his radio strapped on his shoulder.
"Is he usually like this?" Xander asked when the call was finished.
"Not as of last night. Thanks, guys. I'll make sure he gets to the hospital."
"It's pretty," Anya said as she looked at the jewelry box settled in her lap. She was in a wheelchair, Xander pushing her from behind as he directed her down the walkway of Sunnydale Memorial Hospital. "It will look nice in my suitcase."
Xander and Willow Rosenberg glanced at each other, smirking.
"It's pretty enough to go anywhere," Tara Maclay threw in. Both she and Willow took time after class to go to the hospital with Xander and Faith to help check Anya out. The ex-demonness was finally able to recover fully and leave.
Faith was waiting by the car. As soon as she saw them, she threw down the cigarette she had been smoking and stomped it out with her foot.
"Excuse me," Xander called to her. "Since when did you start smoking?"
The Slayer almost felt embarrassed, though something like this never embarrassed her before. She shrugged. "When I was ten," she replied. "It's been awhile."
"Are you stressed out about something?" Willow asked.
"Is it lack of orgasms?" Anya questioned with all seriousness. "Because I thought I would lead to smoking when I lacked them."
"Hello!" Xander cried. "Can we NOT talk about that! And I so know it's not that!" He threw a mock glare to Faith, who just laughed.
"I like to have a cig every once and awhile," she admitted with a shrug. Truth be told, she did smoke when things were bubbling in her head. If she hadn't been so out of her mind when she had thought Xander dead, she'd be smoking a few packs an hour. And when Xander had left, she had started up again but only in secret. "If it's my health you're worryin' about, I can tell ya', it ain't gonna be my lungs that's gonna kill me."
Xander folded up each of the footrests for Anya, ignoring that statement. It pained him to even contemplate that. "You really didn't need to be in this wheelchair, Ahn," he told her.
"No. But they offered and I accepted," she replied, standing up and clutching the jewelry box. She settled into the passenger seat of Xander's car.
"Did you see those kinda psychotic people they were bringing in?" Willow asked to everyone. "They were bringing two in when we visited Mrs. Summers."
"Yeah. It seems more a-abundant lately," Tara added.
"There was one at the mall yesterday," replied Xander. "Was getting harassed by some not-so-Mr. Manners kid, too." He closed the door. "I'm gonna go take her back to her place," Xander told the witches and Slayer. "Anyone need a lift?"
"I think we're gonna hoof it," Willow said then suddenly grinned widely. "I've always wanted to say that. Tara and I were planning on kinda window shopping."
"I think I'm gonna join them," Faith said, nodding towards the couple. "Don't mind, do ya' X-Man?" Being in the car with Anya in the mix just didn't seem like a very comfortable position with any of the three to be involved.
"Not at all." He leaned in and kissed her. "I'll see you gals later!"
After they took off, Faith turned to the witches. "Uh, you guys don't mind, do you?"
Willow shook her head as they began their trek. "Not at all, Faith."
"Yeah, we'd love for you to join us," Tara added with a soft smile.
The three girls began their walk into the town of Sunnydale, California. It was nothing more than a bunch of local shops and some chained places. There was only one movie theater which usually worked. Everything looked exactly the same as Faith had left it from the last time.
Of course, now she wasn't running from the cops, which was a plus.
"You have the ingredients all bought for the sweet potato casserole, right, sweetie?" Tara asked, carefully searching through her purse.
"Yes," the redhead said with a nod. "I stuck them in Buffy's kitchen when I went to go visit them."
"Are you coming to Buffy's house this Thursday?" Tara asked Faith.
"What's this Thursday?"
"Thanksgiving," both witches answered.
Faith stared at them then looked forward with a shrug. "I don't think I was invited. I figured I'd just hang out with some movies or somethin'. I figged everyone's got stuff to do." Truth be told, she really hadn't thought about the holiday. It wasn't anything new; almost every holiday hadn't called for celebration throughout her life.
"Oh, no, Xander didn't say anything to you?" Willow said in a higher pitched voice. "I knew he'd forget."
"How do you know he forgot?"
"Faith, everyone's invited over to Buffy's house. We didn't think we were gonna go ahead and do it 'cause of Mrs. Summers, but now that she's all unsick and stuff, Buffy said this would be good for them to have everyone over. Meaning you, too!"
Faith wasn't fully convinced. "Don't you got some family stuff to do? Not sure about Xander, though."
"Xander? Um, hasn't he told you about his family traditions?"
She shook her head. "Not much in the childhood talk, me and him."
The redhead gave her that. "Well, the Harris tradition is not having any traditions. He used to come over to my place all the time for some turkey. But since we've met Buffy and Giles, they've been more accommodating."
"And your parents don't care you ain't spending time with them?"
"Um, my parents aren't even in town." She shrugged. "They left me some stuff to take over to Buffy's but…"
Faith couldn't help the slightly surprised expression on her face. She knew Xander didn't have a happy-go-lucky life, but she never really thought that Willow didn't either. "Huh. Well, if B and her mom don't mind me comin'…"
"They d-don't," Tara assured Faith. "Promise. You're one of us."
The dark Slayer snickered. "Let's not go that far, T." Then she paused still in slight awe than anyone would ever say something like that to her. She glanced at the two witches with a small smile. "But thanks for thinkin' so."
"Man, B," Faith said as the dust from the six or so vampires had settled into the night air. The two Slayers were out on routine patrol. "You wailed on those vamps of yours pretty good." She put away her stake in a place on her jacket that was still very accessible in case there were more of them.
Buffy let out a breath after scanning the cemetery once more. "Sorry. Guess with everything that's gone down, I'm Stressball Gal."
"It's cool everything's five by five with your mom," Faith threw in, sincerely.
Buffy also put away her stake, nodding. "Thanks. Kinda scary there for awhile."
"But they still can't figure out what happened?"
The blond Slayer shook her head. "Nope. I don't know if that's a good or a bad."
"Take it as a good." She sat down on a nearby tombstone, waiting to see where Buffy wanted to go from here. She was beginning to fall into the routine of letting Buffy lead the way. After all they had been through in their past, Faith felt like it was the very least she could do for the other Slayer. This was Sunnydale, not Los Angeles, and not around Paul and the others.
Buffy looked up at the sky then over at Faith. "I've been meaning to… um, talk to you about something," she began.
The tone was so serious Faith couldn't even guess what it was going to be about. But it was in her nature to do it anyway. "Hey, yo, B, I'm really sorry about that whole thing with Dawn. Thinkin' she was the one who kidnapped Xander and shit."
"Oh, no… that's okay. I mean, I don't get it, but…"
"Giles still hasn't figured it out yet, huh?"
"No. But that's not what I was gonna get to."
"God, that's so something I don't wanna even … okay, not gonna contemplate. Not gonna…" She paused, trying to gather herself together again. "Anyway, what I was gonna say is, that whole thing with Dracula."
"I know I told you all the funny parts with Xander and Giles and his women, but what I didn't tell you is what he actually said to me. It's got me thinking of the major kind."
"Sounds wicked serious."
Buffy shrugged. "Maybe. Or it could be just me being uptight me."
"Well, at least you admit that part of you, B." Faith smirked and was glad when Buffy looked over at her and returned the smirk.
"It was pretty wild, the whole thing with Dracula. I even had the thrall thing and everything."
"Hardly. Ever since then, I've been… I dunno, I've been feeling funny about things."
Faith tilted her head a bit, trying to read Buffy's expression and not really doing a good job. "How?"
Buffy looked at Faith. "The being a Slayer thing. He told me things about darkness, how my powers – OUR powers – are like derived from darkness. He told me that me and him weren't that different – kin or something really philosophical like that."
Faith shifted slightly on the tombstone, listening to Buffy. She was really intrigued about what the big vamp had to say about Slayers because of the legend he held and everything. She really didn't care what vampires in general thought about Slayers, as long as they knew to be afraid.
But it was even more interesting that what was said was getting to Buffy THIS much. It seemed like elementary to Faith. However, she and Buffy always had different paths of thinking. "You just figured that, B?"
"C'mon, Slayers are all about darkness and shit. Look at us." She indicated their immediate area. "It's night time. Best time of the day, right? Night brings that energy in ya' that you just don't really have when the sun's out. Tell me that ain't true."
"Uh, well, yeah, but that's because that's when we get the vamps."
"Right. Vamps live in darkness and we fight by it. Not much diff in the two – you fight to live. Simple Slayer rules. And, oh, yeah, the 'don't die' one you told me awhile back. We both got that covered."
"Well, technically, I didn't otherwise, you wouldn't be standing here all Slayer-like."
Faith chuckled. "Drac's got you all up and arms about this, huh? I've always known that about you, afraid to let loose, be what a Slayer is. And okay, so I learned my lesson about givin' into it, but I also learned about some of the stuff you're askin' about. Of course, I did have a hell of a lot of time in the slammer to think about it."
"All about finding a middle ground…"
"Yeah. Hey, looks like neither of us are quite there yet."
Buffy met with Faith's gaze before they both turned away, obviously still not comfortable with each other actually being on the same level. The blond Slayer shifted slightly, breaking away from the deep part of the conversation. "So, since you're gonna be around for awhile, maybe… you can, ya' know, help me with this newfound bucket o' questions?"
Faith raised her dark brows in surprise. Was Buffy actually asking her for help in something?
"Don't look so surprised," Buffy said, reading the other Slayer's expression easily. "When I first started asking Giles about all this, I wished I could talk to someone else who could understand it better. Say, oh, another Slayer? Since you're hanging around here for awhile and not, you know, working for evil and stuff, I figured I could take advantage of it."
A year or so ago, a remark like that would've thrown Faith in to a tizzle. But tonight, that moment, and every moment afterwards, all it did was make her laugh. "Okay, B. Gotta say, it's kinda weird you're askin' me for advice and answers and shit."
"Well, don't get used to it," Buffy remarked with a smile. "But… thanks." She glanced up at the clear night sky, enjoying the moment of carefreeness. "Do you ever think about the Slayers that came before you?"
Faith shook her head. "Other than you, nope. Not really, I mean. But I guess if I really wanted to know, my sitch lets me ask you. You knew the Slayer before me, right? Kendra?"
"Oh, yeah. That's her. She was like Little Miss Perfect Slayer." Buffy smiled slightly.
"More perfect than you?"
Buffy gave Faith a look. "Despite rumors, I'm not that perfect."
"So what killed her?"
"I… never told you?"
She shook her head.
"Drusilla. Spike's old flamey, killer vampire woman. I wasn't there at the time, and the others were… well, kinda unconscious."
"Damn." She shook her head.
"Honestly, just the way I knew Kendra, she's probably okay with the way she died: in battle, by the #1 enemy in our line of work. She was like that." Buffy glanced over at Faith. "Kinda like you are, I guess."
Faith snickered. "Dyin' in the line of duty ain't as glamorous as I used to think. But I'd do it." She paused, her voice a little softer than before. "It's interestin' when you got more at stake."
Buffy nodded. She wanted to say something to that, but for some reason refrained. "I had Giles looking at different Slayers' history kinda of the recently. Seeing how-how they died, why they died."
Faith shrugged. "What's the point, B? You do what you gotta do, ya' know? Gotta find your own way to survive."
"Yeah, but don't you think by finding out how they died in the past, we can avoid making that mistake in our future?"
"You could – and it might work if you came up to the exact same sitch as they did." Faith shrugged, watching her feet sway back and forth. "You got any advice in case that Master dude that killed ya' ever came after me?"
Buffy shook her head, a small smile on her face. "Avoid his trance somehow. I get what you're saying, but I feel like I can learn something from the girls before us."
"If you find somethin', let me know." She glanced up at the sky. "Goin' back to that whole Drac thing? I don't know any deep history about Slayers or nothing, but…" She shrugged. "I mean we got a lot of the same stuff that vamps can do. The amped up strength, agility, that sixth sense minus the creepy, whispering kid. It's all amplified at night, just like vamps. Maybe whoever made us Slayers got the idea for the mold from vampires themselves."
Buffy sat there a moment, listening to Faith. "Wow. A few months in the Big House and you get all insightful."
"Well, when you got the shady-ass past I do just from bein' a Slayer, you kinda gotta look back and wonder what the hell it was all about." Of course, it went much, much deeper than that, from all the bad that happened. But before then, the feeling, the rush she got that coined her as 'irrational,' that was the part that she was digging into. She even questioned how the Chosen got chosen. "Betcha that's what he was getting' to, B. Vampires like to hunt; we do, too. Our results are just a lot better than theirs…"
"Makes a heck of a lot of sense, that's for sure." She stopped, her head whipping off to one side.
Faith tensed, her own alarms going off. She slowly slid off the tombstone, looking in the same direction as Buffy was.
Both fell easily into Slayer stealth modes, pulling out their stakes again as they moved towards the patch of bushes and smaller trees where the noise had come from. It rustled again then a small shadow flew out and ran the other way.
Faith sprinted first and tore after the little spy. And the culprit was little. But he was sure speedy. A long robe whipped out behind him as he raced over the grass. His slippered feet caught on the bottom of his robe and he tripped, tumbling forward.
A little caught off guard, Faith had to react and leap over his tumbling body, falling into a forward somersault and getting back to her feet. The little man continued to roll until he literally hit her legs, stopping his momentum.
He was catching his breath when he realized who was staring down at him. He winced, his crusty face trying not to show the fear.
Faith reached down, grabbing a handful of his robe and pulled him up. "What do we got here?" she intoned, setting him down on his feet but not letting him go.
Buffy joined them, also curious as to their little visitor. She made a face seeing how crusty the man's face was, almost troll-like, or what she imagined bridge trolls to look like. He had a long nose and he was balding on the top. "Who're you?"
"No one," the man-troll said.
"Funny how I don't believe you," Faith said. "You spyin' on us?"
She glanced at Buffy who shrugged. Then she pulled him to eye level, which was a good foot and a half off the ground for him. "Gonna ask again: were you spyin' on us?"
He wiggled, his feet swaying around frantically. "I will not answer!"
"You know, you're the size of a peanut. Wanna see how far I can throw your ass?" She actually tossed him up the air, prompting him to yell as he began the descent down.
"Faith," Buffy said, though she couldn't help but laugh a little.
The dark-haired Slayer easily caught him by the robe again before he touched the ground. "C'mon, B, maybe we can play football with him. You can go long…" She backed up slightly, ready to position his body like a large football.
"I would rather die by the hands of the Slayer than betray Her!"
Faith looked up at him. "Her? Her who?"
A car pulled up a few yards away and what looked like a crossbow peeked out of the window, aimed at one of the Slayers. A bolt few out, whizzing through the air.
Faith heard the release and turned in time to stop the bolt from hitting its target: which was Buffy. The distraction was enough for the little man to kick Faith in the face as hard as he could. It took her by surprise, making her drop him.
He lay on the ground as Buffy went to grab him when three more crossbows appeared from the other windows and more bolts began to fly through the air.
"Duck!" Faith cried, diving for the ground. Two bolts whizzed right above her head.
Buffy dove behind a grave. One bolt bounced off the granite.
The man-troll got to his feet and took off.
Faith looked back at the car from her lowered eye level and saw that the crossbows weren't there anymore, but the car didn't move. The figures inside were moving around frantically.
They were reloading.
The dark-haired Slayer popped to her feet and ran at the car, determined to beat on the bastards. One seemed to have reloaded and fired, but she easily avoided it, trying to be a hard moving target to hit. Two more came at her, which she did a few flips and somersaults to avoid them.
"GO!" one assailant cried and the driver obliged, gunning the car.
Faith kept running after it, even when it hit 40mph. The driver must've panicked more when seeing Faith still on their tail – and closing in. Afraid the Slayer was going to catch up, he pressed the gas all the way.
Faith slowed down, stopping fully as the taillights disappeared into the night. She was breathing heavily from the run, stomping her foot. "Fuck," she muttered.
Buffy caught up to her. "Lost them?"
"Yeah." She scanned the area for the little spy troll. "Damn, we lost everyone!"
"What was all THAT about?" she asked. "Little Troll Dude and Car full of Clowns with Crossbows? Not really our night… " Buffy sighed. "C'mon. Let's go tell Giles about this. Maybe it has something to do with what's going on with Dawn." Then she frowned. "Or worse, something else totally different."
Xander walked down the sidewalk on one of Sunnydale's streets, going over and over again in his head about what he was going to say. In his hand, he had a jewelry box with a necklace in it that he wanted to give to Faith. It was a nifty charm with the Chinese symbol for faith. He used up the rest of what he earned while working at Patrick's bar to buy it, but it was something he had been holding on for a few months.
He had just lost track of a good time to give it to her, and what he wanted to say when he did give it to her. Last time he had tried to give a piece of jewelry to a girl, she had broken up with him on Valentine's Day of all days. Maybe Thanksgiving was the charmer.
A noise caught his attention, making him glance over across the street to an abandoned building. A woman stumbled out from the shadows, barely able to walk properly. She looked almost drunk, but so pale. Still she managed to make it around the corner.
Xander didn't want to think about it more, knowing it was stupid already walking around at night. He started to walk again, making a mental note to let Giles know there was some suspicious goings on here, when another figure appeared from the shadows of the alley.
Buffy's boyfriend looked back and forth, slightly wobbly, and headed towards the car parked in front another building.
Xander stepped back into the shadow of a nook between stores, watching him curiously. He watched Riley stand in front of the driver's side, fumbling with his keys. It was as if the guy couldn't focus.
He knew Riley had been sparse with them recently. Riley had told Buffy that he was getting ready to head back to Iowa for the holiday. He was supposed to start packing today.
"Riley," Xander called just as the ex-soldier had the keys in the door. He stepped out of the shadows. "Hey, man."
"Xander…" Riley seemed to have forced more alertness in his expression, though his face was pale. "You shouldn't be out here."
"Funny, neither should you." He came closer to the other man.
Xander glanced over at the alley. "What's back there? Where'd you come from?"
Riley glanced back then over at Xander, irritation on his usually complacent face. "None of your business."
"Whoa, I get that. Only, when you say stuff like that, it becomes my business, Riley 'cause of the whole 'I'm your friend' thing. What's going on here?"
"Nothing's going on, Xander. Just please leave it."
"No, actually, no leaving it. Look, you've been Weirdo Man lately. I'd like to know the weirdness of you, man. Is it Buffy?"
Riley paused. "Nothing to do with her."
"Riiight. Now, let's try it again with a more convincing tone."
His lips formed a straight line as he made a fist, the muscles in his forearm coming to life. "How do you do it, Xander?" he suddenly said, upset.
Xander blinked, his mouth slightly open then he closed it. "Do what? Be overly sarcastic to the point of annoyance?"
"No… how… how do you get someone like Faith love you unconditionally?" Riley replied quietly.
Holy crap, Xander thought. This was taking him slightly from left field. "Um, I… I don't see where you're going with this," Xander said. "Unless you want to start dating Faith, which, we may have to have a throw down with - "
"No," he cut in. He looked over at Xander. "I want to feel that from Buffy. And… and I don't."
"Oh, man," Xander murmured, really unsure about how to handle this conversation. "Riley, Buffy loves you. Unconditionally."
"Do you know that for sure? Huh? Because I don't see how you could."
"Okay, maybe I don't." It occurred to him just then the use of words Riley first used. Someone like Faith. "Does this have something to do with-with Buffy being the Slayer?"
"No. Yes… partly." He shook his head. "I just… I can't read her lately, Xander. I can't GET her lately. She didn't… I didn't even know something had happened to her mom until last night."
"She's going through some stuff. Gotta give her some room to breathe."
Riley looked over at him. "And when did you know about this?"
"I was there."
"You were with Buffy."
"You and Faith?"
"And Dawn. Me and Dawn were in trouble, Riley. It's not like Buffy took us along for our own rescue party."
Riley shook his head. "But I should've been there. I should've known about everything, not a few days later. She's been on this Slayer kick… She told me it was nothing, that I was imagining things. But I know I'm not. She doesn't love me, Xander. I can't be the Superman she needs for me to be."
"Hey, wait. Who said Buffy needed some Superman? Riley, you and me are in the same boat here. I get where you're coming from; it's tough, I know. But that's just the way it is. Buffy's gonna be the strong one between the two of you; she's always BEEN that way. That's not only the Slayer in her, but the Buffy in her. Faith's the same way, and it's part of the reason I love Faith so much."
Riley shook his head. "I thought me and you were in the same boat, but now I know we're not." He opened the door. "I'll talk to you later, Xander."
"Talk to Buffy, Riley. Not me."
Riley looked at Xander, a sort of fire going through his eyes then it extinguished. He slipped behind the wheel and left.
"Giles, we need to talk," Buffy said as she and Faith entered the closed Magic Box. The bell rang as the door shut behind the Slayers.
The ex-Watcher appeared from the back room in full research mode. "Hmmm?"
"Have you found anything on that fancy-ass rave toy I found the other night?" Faith asked. They all agreed to keep the attack from the blond woman on the down low until they could figure out everything about Dawn.
"Um, yes, actually." He laid the book down on the counter.
"What's up?" Buffy asked, coming up to the same counter.
"It's not much. Not yet, at least. It's called a Dagon Sphere."
Faith's expression didn't shift at the news. "Huh. Fun. That it?"
"Well, for now, yes. Its history dates back many centuries, which is why it has taken me longer than I anticipated."
"Does it have to do with Dawn?" Buffy asked, worry now in her voice. "Or this Key thing?" She was still trying to separate the two.
"I haven't found the connection as of yet. So far, its function is to repel…" He looked down at the book, running his finger over the sentence. "'That Which Cannot Be Named.'"
"Talk about fucking useless information," Faith muttered. "Can't even name the thing it's supposed to repel?"
"Maybe it's too old to name," Giles threw in.
"Well, that doesn't sound… healthy," Buffy remarked. "Oh, does it have to do with that blond girl Faith and I fought? Maybe the monk was trying to repel her."
"Lotta good that piece of shit did," Faith murmured. "She came through like a fucking Mack truck! She acted like B and me weren't even there."
"I don't know about you, Faith, but I kinda don't like reliving the times where my ass got all the way kicked." She sat down, blowing the bangs out of her eyes.
"You are onto something," Giles said, knitting his brows together. "If this was found at the warehouse and the mysterious monk was captured by this, um, mysterious woman…"
"I sense a lot of mystery here."
"It's only logical that this woman is 'That Which Cannot Be Named.'"
"She's so anti-Madonna and Prince in the one name fame, huh?" Buffy leaned back in the chair. "So, if this monk is telling us about Dawn being this Key and that I gotta protect her, then it stands to reason that Super Chick is what I have to protect Dawn from?"
Faith grimaced at that idea. Two Slayers couldn't put a dent in that demon woman; it's no wonder Dawn needed protection. "Whatever this Key does, it's gotta be big time."
"I know. That's what's scaring me. Ugh, I still can't believe that Dawn's - "
"Dawn's what?" came Xander's voice as he entered the Magic Box.
Buffy and Faith exchanged glances before the blond Slayer replied, "Dawn's not passing, um, Phys Ed."
"She always did wish she could have your Slayer flexibility," Xander said with a raise of his brows. He stood there a moment, looking among the two Slayers and Watcher, who looked back at him almost guiltily. "Did I interrupt anything here?"
"B and I got attacked during patrol a few minutes ago," Faith answered.
"You did?" Giles repeated.
"Oh, yeah, um, we did," Buffy covered. "Little troll guy and some car of guys with crossbows."
"Sounds like a party of death. You girls look still one piece-y; I'm taking they didn't hurt either of you." He stood beside Faith, giving her a light kiss on her temple. "Mmm, love that graveyard dirt smell."
Buffy pulled her arm up to her nose, sniffing the sleeve of her jacket. "Oh, GOD. That's what I smell like?"
"Go away," Faith teased, giving him a push. "They actually got away. All of 'em. Pretty sure they'll be stupid and try to attack again."
"Well, patrol is over," Giles piped in. "I think you all should just go and relax."
Buffy glanced at the backroom. "Mind if I do some training, Giles?"
"I honestly never ever thought I'd hear you say that in my lifetime," the ex-Watcher teased. He just smiled at the mock glare he received from Buffy.
"Not gonna see Riley tonight?" Xander asked before Faith began to pull him towards the door.
"He said he was busy packing. I'll give him a call later on." She was already at the door to the training room.
Xander frowned slightly.
Buffy popped her head back out. "You guys are all coming to my house for Turkey Day, right?" She looked at every one of them.
"Oh!" Xander smacked his forehead. "Uh… Faith, hope you don't mind going - "
"Got it covered, X-Man," the dark-haired Slayer answered. "Red gave me the news." She glanced over at her fellow Slayer. "We'll be there, B." She gave her boyfriend another look. "C'mon, Mr. Newsflash Guy."
"Did you say something about 'flashing', 'cause I can accommodate?"
Giles closed his eyes, hoping the bad, icky talk would go away before it got worse.
"See, Dawnster, Slayers aren't good at EVERYTHING," Xander said as Faith frowned from losing at the Game of Life.
Dawn grinned. "I see that."
"Yo, you guys wanna not rub it in? Game's not over yet." Ever since they pieced Dawn being this important Key, Faith had definitely relaxed into just going with Dawn's flow. The girl had accepted Faith being there so it was even more important that Faith accept Dawn like all the others had, even if the others didn't have a choice.
"Faith, you've already got a card that says you've gained like 200 pounds and you've lost your job," Xander continued, pointing to the cards in front of her. "Can't make payments on that Jag you bought."
"This doesn't fucking - "
"Ahem," Xander coughed, nodding towards the kid in the room.
"Uh, I mean, this doesn't make any sense. How can I not have a job and still buy a Jag?"
"I didn't think logic worked at this game," Tara piped in, sitting on the couch slightly behind Willow.
"Sure it does," Xander added, gesturing toward the wheel. "There's always a wheel just waiting to be spun to tell your fate in the Game of Life." He grabbed the dice and threw it.
Dawn glanced up at the stairs. "Um, I should check up on mom."
"Everything okay, Dawnie?" Willow asked, worried.
"Yeah." She stood up. "But, you know, I get the worries more often than before. I'll be back." She went up the stairs.
"Yeah! Who's the man now?" Xander said with a pump of his fist in the air as his plastic car moved to the spot that said 'you just got a million dollar deal.'
"You're havin' too much fun with this, Xand," Faith remarked, propping her elbow up. Her knee was shaking in restlessness. Patrolling time was drawing near, and Faith wasn't really one to sit still and play board games for a long period of time. She glanced up at the clock.
"If you gotta go, just go," Xander said, counting his money. He grinned over at her. "Just gimmie your money, honey."
Faith lifted a brow, eyeing him. "Oh, so what, I'm just your ho now?"
"Yeah, leave the money on the dresser, sweet thang."
Willow and Tara glanced at each other. "I don't think this is a conversation we should be sitting in," the redheaded witch murmured.
Tara just giggled.
Faith couldn't keep a straight face and laughed, slapping her fake money in front of Xander. "That's how good the sex was, baby. Fake bucks." She kissed him as she stood up.
Xander grinned at the two witches as Faith left. "Our relationship is based on something of the strange, huh?"
"Disturbing, more like," Willow replied.
"She is so much sweeter than I remember… well, initially," Tara couldn't help but say.
"Initially, Faith was a totally different person," Xander stated. "Even when she first came here. I think… I think this is the person she's meant to be. Rough around the edges but not so much in the heart, ya' know? You should see her back in L.A."
"Yeah, Giles told us that there's a Scooby-like group back there," Willow said. "Giles said he kinda liked her adult-friend."
"Paul. Yeah, he's really cool. You'd think he should be British."
"A-And there's a little girl, too?" Tara asked, curiously.
"Rachel. She's the daughter of Hannah, who's this really Tara-like woman. Sweet as all out." He winked at the blond witch who just blushed at the compliment. "Faith's definitely taken a liking to Rachel. You'd think there wasn't a tough bone in Faith's hot body if you saw her with Rachel."
"Mommy-like? Faith?" Willow blinked.
"Okay, more like big sister-like. Let's not attach 'mommy' to Faith just yet, Will. I mean, that would mean - "
A bolt from a crossbow shattered the window behind Willow and Tara.
"Whoa!" Xander cried, automatically ducking to the ground.
The witches fell forward from the couch for lower ground, their hands over their heads. The bolt had embedded itself into the fluffy chair.
"W-what's happening?" Tara cried as another crossbow bolt flew over their heads.
Dawn came rushing down the stairs. "What was THAT?"
"Dawnie! Get back upstairs!" Willow called to the young Summers girl.
Another bolt went through the house, making Dawn scream.
Faith was a few blocks away when she saw a familiar car tearing down the street. She watched it whiz by her, catching the license plate before it turned onto Revello. "Holy fuck," she muttered, realizing it was the car that had attacked her and Buffy. She took off into a sprint back towards the house.
Even with Slayer speed, by the time she arrived there, chaos had already ensued. There was a barely seeable force field around the front of the house and the bolts kept bouncing off of it.
Annoyed, Faith snuck up behind the car, ducking low. She crept to the driver's side as the passenger side was the one facing the house. Just as she thought, all the riders were busy trying to figure out how to get past the force field, talking amongst themselves.
"… she's in there," one man said. "We're so close yet we cannot break through the witches' force field."
"We must find a way in. The spell is causing her protection when it should not be. If we do not hurry, Glory will intervene. She is too powerful for us to stop."
"Look in the Book of the Evans. That should have a spell to break the witch's concentration."
Faith stood up, drawing back her fist and smashing through the driver's window. She grabbed the driver before he knew what was happening and pulled back. His body landed on the pavement and she punched him once as she kneeled onto one knee.
His cap flew off and she saw the mark on his forehead.
She thrust her fist up as one other rider stuck his head out the back window to see what was happening, jabbing him right under the chin. His head snapped back, hitting it against the top of the rolled down window.
The driver's door began to open and Faith slammed it right back, knocking the front passenger back into the car.
The last passenger managed to make it out of the other side and went around the car, aiming the crossbow at Faith.
"Leave us!" he ordered.
Faith looked up, seeing the metal arrow pointed right back at her. "Someone could get hurt that way," she said, slowly standing up. She noticed he was dressed in street clothes, though he wore sunglasses and a cap.
"You're protecting her," he said, aiming the crossbow higher.
Dawn. They were talking about her. "Got to."
"You'll destroy the world."
"Not my intentions. What do you want from her?"
"I won't answer anything from you, Slayer."
"Too bad." Faith dove forward, just under the trajectory of the bolt. She knocked his legs out from under him. Surprisingly, he didn't let go of the crossbow even after he had missed, and slammed the butt of it into her cheek as they hit the pavement.
The car started then as the others recovered and had pulled the semi-conscious colleague back into the car.
Faith was seeing stars when he hit her again, knocking her away.
He quickly got up and dove into the open car just as the car burned rubber and took off.
"Fuck!" she cried, struggling to get out the blackness that threatened to overtake her. Hands were suddenly supporting her, making her turn and wince from the movement.
"It's me," Xander said. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Dude got one up on me."
"Well, he knew to run before you got one up on him." Xander stared down the street. "Who the heck were they? Those were the same guys that attacked you and Buffy earlier, weren't they?"
"Yeah." She looked at him once her head cleared. "You're bleedin'…" Her hand went over to his arm, part of his sleeve torn and blood soaked into it.
"Oh, yeah. One of those things grazed my arm before Willow put up the shield." He glanced down at it as her fingers lightly touched the material. "No big."
"Stupid fuckers," Faith muttered, angrily.
"That's the Game of Life. I remember less flying fatales last time I played." He took her hand when he saw the fire begin in her eyes. He knew she was being protective of him and seeing him hurt was pissing her off, even if it was just a skin break practically. "Hey, let's get back inside."
She nodded, taking a deep breath. "Everyone inside okay?"
"Yeah. Well, Will's kinda drained from the spell, but Tara's taking care of her."
"They were after Dawn," Faith mumbled in thought as they walked back.
Faith realized she had said something she really didn't mean to. They didn't know Dawn was the Key. "Uh, I don't know. I just heard them talkin' about her."
"That's not gonna bode well with the Buffster."
"No, it ain't…"
"You can't make it?" Xander asked as Anya continued to pack her suitcase.
The two stood in her apartment, now almost void of furniture or anything resembling that someone lived there.
"No, I can't," she answered. "I do love Thanksgiving. The sacrifice of the winged bird that can't fly reminds me of my times when sacrifice was mainly for goats." She placed another piece of clothing into the container. "But I want to be gone that morning."
He sighed, sitting down on a stray box. "You wanna get outta here really fast, don't you?"
"Not fast enough."
"Look, Ahn, I'm sorry…"
"Xander." She looked over at him. "I thought this painful talk is what we did in the hospital?"
"I know, but I can't help but want to keep saying 'sorry.'"
"You don't need to anymore, Xander. I think we've healthily dealt with our issues, me almost killing you and you stabbing me." She paused. "Besides, I… I know what Faith means to you. And I have come to terms that you like sex with her better than with me."
"That's not really what I meant, although the sex probably does play a large part. She's a Slayer; she probably is able to bend in ways I can only imagine in my normal, human form."
"That's not the point, though, right?"
"No." She glanced over at him. "I am willing to move on, Xander. Will you let me?"
Xander stared at her a moment then smiled softly. "Yes."
"Good. So no more apologizing."
"Where did you decide to go?"
"Right now, I want to try my hands in Las Vegas. I haven't been there since the eighties when Wayne Newton had so many woman exacting revenge on him."
Xander chuckled. "I'm gonna miss you, Ahn."
She just turned and gave him a genuine smile. "Thank you."
"Glory?" Giles asked as he pulled the vegetable dishes out of the oven.
"That's the name the fuckers used. Ring any bells, G?" Faith asked as she sat on one of the high stools in the ex-Watcher's flat.
"Yes, actually it does." He placed the hot dish on a potholder. "I've found some information on the brethren of the monk you found.
"You're good," Buffy commented as she stood restlessly in the foyer. "Considering we gave you nothing to work from other than 'monk.'"
"Let's just say I've grown accustomed to your vagueness, Buffy." He removed the oven mitts. "Actually, I cross-referenced everything we DO have, which is the Dagon Sphere. There was only one brethren that was connected with the object, surprisingly enough the Order of Dagon, protectors of the key. Which leads me to this name Glory. There was reference to a Glorificus in one of the texts."
"Sounds like a nickname gone bad to me." Buffy's face fell a little. "Protectors of the Key, huh? So… it's true. What the monk said. If he's part of this Order, he knew what he was talking about."
Giles nodded solemnly. "I'm afraid so. This spell they used, for it did mention they used powerful magicks, to affect our memories does make sense. It's quite hard to grasp still."
"Yeah. It is. But it's not gonna make me love her like a sister any less."
"I wouldn't think otherwise, Buffy."
Faith glanced between the two, unable to relate. Maybe she did have it easier, being left out of the spell loop. "We gonna tell the others about this?"
"I don't think so," Buffy said. "Not yet, at least. Especially not to Dawnie. She'd freak and the others they might act weird around her. The less people know, the safer everyone is. If this Glorificus person is after the Key, I don't want any of them in the way."
Faith nodded, though she wasn't sure that not telling the others would necessarily make them safe. "What about her? What kinda demon is she?"
Giles took his glasses off and wiped them. "I don't know. It was just that – a reference and nothing more."
"You think that crossbow boy band is working for Glory?"
"Possibly. It isn't rare for a powerful demon to have minions."
"But the dudes sounded like they were afraid of the bitch," Faith threw in. "They were afraid she was gonna come and they couldn't stop her."
"You mentioned a symbol?
"Uh, yeah – one of the dude's foreheads. Kinda too intricate to draw but it was circle-shaped with things comin' outta the middle. Looked kinda like a sun but I think the left and right rays were longer… Shit, it was too fast…"
"It's something to go on," Buffy assured Faith. "Well, let's just make the best of it."
Giles had his coat on, giving Buffy one dish and Faith the other. Both Slayers looked over at him, confused when they saw he wasn't carrying anything. "I'm driving," he said, opening the door for them. "Come on now."
"… then my mom had to call an ambulance and that and the fire department came to my house to get Xander's head unstuck from the railing," Willow said, making everyone giggle with one of her many childhood adventures with Xander.
Xander shook his head. "No, see, I thought it would be of the cool if there was THAT much commotion at Willow's house. Willow thought it was cool."
"Not so much," the redhead answered.
Dawn laughed more. "Why did you really stick your head through the railing?" she asked.
Xander leaned back in his chair. "Oh, you know…"
"He wanted to take a peek at my dad's Playboys when he was sitting in his favorite chair," Willow answered.
That prompted even more laughter.
Faith watched the people around her as she sat next to Xander, the large spread of food out before her. This was something that almost seemed surreal; to be surrounded by people who didn't mind you there, enjoying the night called Thanksgiving. Granted, she never thought she would be sharing a major holiday with Buffy and her friends, but then again, she never thought she'd find a man for her. She glanced over at Xander, seeing the slight embarrassed expression. Her hand slid behind his neck, rubbing it. "All a part of grown' up, ain't it?"
Mrs. Summers shook her head with a grin as she stood up, beginning to collect the plates.
"Please, let me, Joyce," Giles offered. "Enjoy yourself."
"I'm afraid I'm enjoying myself too much, Mr. Giles. Here, let's both clear the table for the kids." And they began to do so, clearing it for dessert. "I can't believe the turkey is almost done. It was one of the biggest ones in the store. And the ham disappeared quickly!"
"That's because Buffy's a pig," Dawn remarked, sticking her finger in the remnants of the mashed potatoes.
"Ha ha," Buffy said, smacking Dawn's hand to not do that. "And, hello, second Slayer at the table." She gestured towards Faith. "If anyone can out eat me, it's Faith."
"Gotta agree with ya' there, B," Faith said, leaning back in her chair with pride. "Can't let Mrs. S's food go to waste."
"Thank you, Faith," Joyce replied. "We're all really glad you could come over and join us."
Faith felt all eyes on her and she shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Uh, yeah, thanks for the invite."
"Who's up for the Game of Life?" Xander piped up.
"Is it safe?" Joyce asked, referring to the broken panes in her living room.
"Don't worry, we'll just have Buffy and Faith sit out and watch the perimeter," Xander said as Dawn bounced up in excitement to play again. "It's not like either of them are good at the game or anything."
Both Slayers stared at him as the witches giggled in amusement.
"I think I may bust from the fullness and laughing combination," Willow said, her hand over her stomach.
"I'm thinkin' of bustin' Xander's ass," Faith replied, getting up from her chair and throwing her cloth napkin on the table.
"I'm thinking the same thing," Buffy added also getting to her feet.
Xander shot up from his chair, backing away and waving his hands in front of him. "Man, you Slayers can never accept defeat! I'm being of the totally honest. Suck it up. GAH!" He rushed out of the dining room.
Joyce laughed while Giles just shook his head as Buffy and Faith dashed after him. "Why is it embarrassing for me to be telling them all not to run in the house?" he asked. They heard Dawn scream in laughter from the other room, Xander crying mercy.
"It's hard to believe they're all over the age of five," Joyce commented. She led the ex-Watcher into the kitchen for the cleaning up process.
Faith laughed hard as Buffy and Willow were trying to grab at Xander to pull his underwear up as high as possible. He crawled on the floor, Buffy holding him back by one of his ankles.
"Don't!" he cried, clawing uselessly at the hardwood floor. "Will, c'mon!
"I could do this the easy way and just use a spell," Willow warned.
"You know a spell to remove underwear?" Xander asked, glancing over his shoulder.
"Kinky," Faith remarked.
"Wait, why are you helping them, anyway?" Xander asked the redhead. "You and Tara are-are excellent players!"
Willow blinked. "Yeah, we are." She shrugged. "You're the only guy here, Xand. It's only fair."
Xander let out another yelp, making Dawn giggle some more.
"Alright, alright!" Faith announced, holding up her hands as she stood up. She made her way towards the shuffle. "I think X-Man's learned his lesson."
"Yes. Very much so," Xander said, nodding.
Buffy frowned, clearly disappointed. She let his ankle go. "Aw, no more harassing Xander?"
Faith helped him to his feet. "Hey, if he wants to make fun of us for not playin' a board game good, he's got his rights."
"Thank you," Xander said, dusting himself off.
Faith reached into his pants and jerked upwards, taking his boxers with her. She pulled so hard she actually lifted him off the ground. "Gotcha!"
Joyce winced when she heard Xander's not-so-manly scream from the living room. She smiled over at Giles, who seemed more pained than amused. She could hear Dawn laughing amongst the other giggles from the girls. "I'm so glad all of you could come," she said, gathering the silverware. "Holidays have been kind of hard on Dawn since Hank and I divorced."
Giles glanced over at Buffy's mother, frowning slightly. He couldn't even imagine how all of this Key mess would affect Joyce. He broke out of those thoughts and smiled, gently. "I can imagine. As dysfunctional as we all seem to be, this feels like the right place to be during this time of the year."
Joyce returned his comment with a grateful smile before shifting the dirty forks. "Dawn is having such a good time, and that's how it should…" She suddenly paused, wavering a little on her feet. "Oh, dear…"
"Joyce?" The Englishman ran over to her, supporting her by taking her arm and putting his other hand against her back. "What's wrong?"
"I-I think … I need to lay down. Dizzy."
"Yes, of course. Can you make it to the couch?"
She nodded, closing her eyes in pain. But as soon as she took a step, she stumbled.
"I should call an ambulance," he said, worried.
"No. I think I just jumped into the 'not sick' fray too hard," she tried to joke. She leaned on him for support.
"Buffy," Giles called, not able to keep it as calm as he wanted.
Buffy rushed into the kitchen. "What is…? Oh, God." She went to her mother's other side.
"I'm okay. I think it was too much turkey," Joyce assured her daughter.
But both Giles and Buffy looked at each other, unsure.
Xander and Faith walked under the cool air of the night, heading back to his dorm room. They were stuffed with Thanksgiving goodness and pretty tired. There was concern, of course, to Mrs. Summers' condition when they all had left. She didn't look too well.
"Did you enjoy that?" Xander asked her. To his surprise, she looked at him and slipped her hand into his. Yeah, she wasn't one to care about PDA, but walking hand-in-hand wasn't exactly something they had done in the past. It was too light for the kind of contact they usually enjoyed.
"Yeah. It was cool," she answered. "Never really had Thanksgivin' before – especially like that."
"You'd think you'd celebrate it even heavier, Plymouth Rock being so close to Boston and all."
She snickered. "You'd think. Damn but Mrs. S can cook." She rubbed her perfectly flat but full stomach. "Good thing she had a turkey and a ham to boot. Otherwise, you and the others'd be fighting me and B to satisfy the hunger."
"Getting crushed by a hungry Slayer isn't worth the attempt." He glanced out into the street then back over at her. "I don't know what real Thanksgiving was until I was allowed over at Willow's house. Usually, the holidays mean yelling, screaming, and lots of alcohol. It still does since, you know, Will's Jewish, so Christmas is kinda the sleeping bag day."
Faith raised her brow. "You… sleep in a sleeping bag at Christmas?"
He nodded. "Yep. Right outside in the yard. Beats hearing Dad yelling at Mom. Plus, I don't get hit as much when I'm not in the house." His look was forlorn and sad.
She couldn't help the bubbling anger inside of her whenever he mentioned his home life. She had never met Mr. Harris, and didn't plan on it – especially when the urge to pound Xander's dad into the ground was too strong. It amazed her how brave Xander could be facing up to demons and monsters, but his father sure had a spell on him. She had a feeling it was the psychological abuse that hurt him more than any physical.
"I never had me a good Christmas. Think the last time was when I was five or somethin'," she answered. "Hell, Mom gave her boy toys more shit than she did to me."
"So, how'd you deal with Christmas when you were in Boston?"
She shrugged. "Found my kicks elsewhere. Had friends in low places, just causin' havoc."
"Do you miss those days?"
"Nah. It was a good old time then. Got better days ahead." She gave his hand a squeeze.
That prompted a large smile on his lips. He stopped, pulling her to a rest as well.
"What's goin' on?" she asked, her eyes automatically scanning the area. They were almost on campus.
His free hand reached into his jacket pocket and produced the jewelry box. Sweat was starting to cover his palm as he handed it to her. "Uh, Happy Thanksgiving."
She stared at the box a moment then took it. "I know I said I didn't have much by way of Thanksgivin' but… I didn't get that presents were part of the whole thing."
"They aren't. Not usually. Mostly just turkey and then sleep. But… I've been meaning to give that to you."
Letting go of his hand, she opened the top revealing the thin black leather necklace with the silver Chinese symbol charm. "Shit, Xander. This is … it's beautiful." She pulled it out, letting it hang from her fingers.
"It's faith, um, the symbol. That's what it stands for, I mean. I was going for the double meaning. You know, your name and… well, the faith I have in you. In us." He realized she was looking directly at him, her intense brown eyes giving all its attention to him. He swallowed, hard. "Because… um, when you-you came back here, I-I knew that no matter what, I was gonna get you to stay with me, somehow. I love you THAT much, and I've never felt anything less since I went to Los Angeles. And I'm so grateful that-that my car broke down, and even that I was mugged that day. I hope you know that." He held up his hand before she could respond. "Wait, I'm-I'm gonna forget if I get sidetracked." He clenched one hand in the other. "And I still don't get what you see in me that's making you wanna stay with me, but I can't even express enough how lucky I am that you do see that we belong together, that I can't live without us being apart for whatever reason, and right now, I can't imagine my life from here on out without you, so that's what the gift is for." He took a deep breath with a finalizing nod. "And okay, so maybe I just let my true cheeseball self out there in the open for ridicule and possible second thoughts - "
His sentence was cut short by Faith's lips planted heavily on his. Her arms snaked around his neck, and she pulled him close to her. His arms wrapped around her, and they kissed right there for a good long while.
She pulled back, a smile on her lips. "Can you put it on for me?" She held the necklace up.
Xander nodded, taking it from her as she turned around, pulling up her long, brown hair. He put it round her neck and attempted to latch the back. "So, does this mean you understood my speech and I'm not a cheeseball?"
When he was done, she turned around. "Hell, yeah, you're a cheeseball. But what's not to love about that, stud?" She kissed him again. "Love you, too, X-Man. Hope you understand that." And it was true to the core of her soul. No one had ever given her something like this, not a gift that meant anything other than its face value. Except for the one X-Men comic book he had given her when he was about to leave to move into another place because she couldn't handle knowing she loved him.
But that comic had unfortunately gone down in flames with her apartment.
So this was even more meaningful to her, that she was given another chance to receive something from this man.
"I think I read between the lines." He leaned back a slightly, letting the light from the street lamp hit the silver of the charm. "Looks nice against that chest of yours."
"And I'm sure you're lookin' real close to make sure it looks good."
"I have rights, ya' know…" He leaned in to kiss her there when his eyes caught the fanged vampire coming up behind her. His eyes widened, twirling her away to put him between the vampire and the Slayer. He managed to block the swing the vampire took and clocked the vampire across the cheek.
He stumbled to the side from the hit.
"Oh, crap," Xander muttered, patting his jacket and realizing he had forgotten to pack a stake. He was so wrapped up in the necklace… "Whoa!" He felt himself get jerked back just as the vampire recovered.
"My turn," Faith sneered, laying an uppercut into the vampire's chin. She watched as he flew up a few feet and landed right on his back. She pulled out a stake and went in for the kill. He growled and pounded both feet into her stomach, making her propel back.
Xander caught her with his body, steadying them both.
The vampire was on the run, realizing he had to in order to live.
Faith cocked back her arm and threw the stake like a javelin, hitting the vampire's heart through his back. He cried out before disappearing into dust.
They both stood there breathing heavily.
"He almost got away," Faith muttered.
"It's a good thing you have excellent aim," he replied.
Faith turned around, her adrenaline pumping as it always did after a fight. Adding the sweet gesture of the necklace, which surprisingly turned her on even more, and she was ready to pop. She jumped up, wrapping her legs around his waist and melded her body into his.
Xander stumbled from the sudden weight around him but easily steadied them both. He kept going off balance from her movements, however, as she kissed him harder and deeper. He backpedaled until his back touched the wall behind them. "Hm, Faith… we're almost at my, mmm, dorm…"
"Then. Take. Us. There," she said between kisses and not letting up. "And hurry…"
"You sure you wanna do this?" Willow asked Buffy when Xander entered the Magic Box a few days later.
"Yes, Will. My mind hasn't done the changing thing since the last time you asked two seconds ago." The blond Slayer was looking at a list and pulling some objects off some of the shelves.
"Buffy," Giles began. "You understand that it's possible that nothing supernatural is wrong with your mother."
"I know," Buffy snapped, in a pissy mood as it was. "But I can't rule it out! This is Sunnydale, and the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with her last time. Now she's laid up in bed sick again."
"What's the what?" Xander asked, slowing his steps.
Willow turned to look at her best friend, worry in the wrinkles of her forehead. "Mrs. Summers is all sick again."
"Oh, man. Did you call the doctor?"
"Yes," Buffy answered, quietly but firmly. "He just said for her to rest… but I can't just not do anything while my mom's suffering."
"Is it nothing she ate?" Xander offered.
"No. She hasn't eaten since Thanksgiving, practically." Buffy found what she was looking for and threw it in her bag.
"So, are you making her a healing spell or something?"
"No…" She turned towards the others, glancing briefly at Giles. "I think… maybe something's making my mom sick. Something I can't see."
"There have been cases with curses and hexes that do cause illness," Giles said.
"We mentioned a spell that can see the curse or hex," Willow added. "Buffy wants to try it."
Xander raised his brows. His friend seemed really into doing it, whatever it entailed. Then again, he knew Buffy usually was stubborn when it came to natural sickness; she needed something to fight. He wondered, however, if it had to do with something more. "You think something's after you by getting through your mom?"
Buffy nodded. "Yes."
"Who? Is there a big bad?"
"I… I don't know yet. I'd think every demon out there will wanna try and get to me, and I plan on letting them know this is the exact WRONG way to do it. It's just pissing me off." She threw in another thing into her bag.
"I have to. Willow says I need total concentration in order for it to work on me, meaning alone time." She zipped up her bag. "I can do this. I have to."
"It's really not that dangerous," Willow assured them all. "Buffy should be okay. But…"
"But what?" Buffy asked, turning to the redhead.
"… I just… Just don't be too surprised if you don't see anything, okay?"
Buffy didn't say anything. She shook her head and went towards the door. "If I don't, this'll just make this already crappy day crappier…."
"Buff, what happened?" Xander asked, unable to let go of the fact there was something more than met the eye. "Did something else happen?"
"No." Then she was out the door.
Concentration really was a must in this spell. Especially pronouncing it: tirer la couture – "pull back the curtain." Willow and Giles both had known about it and although they doubted her skill for concentration, Buffy had the capability. The only difference was she was going to apply it.
Making sure her mom was asleep and that Dawn was tucked away in the house somewhere, Buffy had spread the correct ingredients and lit the appropriate amount of candles in her room.
She wasn't even sure how long she sat there, still as stone. Minutes. Hours. It all felt the same.
Soon, she felt the spell. She wasn't sure HOW, she just did. She opened her eyes suddenly, and the way the room looked confirmed it.
"Impressive," she murmured. Her voice sounded like she had cotton stuck in her ears.
Buffy wandered around the house as the spell overtook her sight. It was surreal, in the strictest sense. Everything looked like it was underwater, waving around before her. She thought for a moment she was going to be a little sick, but she held together, mainly from determination.
She turned the corner, heading towards her mother's bedroom. Something flashed slightly from Dawn's room, making her peer inside. The room flashed from Dawn's room to an old storage room.
For a moment, Buffy's mind slipped back to a time when Dawn wasn't instilled in it – and she realized in mind and even in heart: Dawn really wasn't her sister. Pictures kept flashing between the three of them to just Buffy and her mother.
She continued to walk down the hall and approached her mother's bedroom door. She quietly pushed it open, revealing Joyce lying in bed peacefully – except for the fact that there was a large black cloud covering her.
Buffy knew it. She KNEW something was making her mother sick, and the hidden proof was right there in plain, unveiled sight.
Her eyes wandered towards the tail end of this cloud, her mind soaking everything in. She had to know exactly what was happening in order to tell Giles or Willow to get rid of this hex or curse or whatever was causing this.
The tail seemed to lead into the bathroom. But before Buffy could take another step, a small figure came out of the bathroom, carrying a glass of water.
The cloud was coming from her - coming from Dawn.
Dawn looked like the little sister Buffy had in her mind, but there was a dark aura coming from her that Buffy could see. The cloud seemed to be an extension of the aura, stretching over upon Joyce.
"Dawn," Buffy intoned, an anger coming from her. DAWN was the one causing this?
The confusion was forgotten for a moment as anger fully took over. "Get away from her!" Buffy ordered. The demand snapped Buffy out of the spell's stupor and everything went back to normal.
Dawn looked up. "Buffy? What are you - ?"
"I said, get away!" Buffy went after Dawn, grabbing the girl by the arms and throwing her across the room, into the dresser. The glass broke, water splashing everywhere. "What the HELL are you doing to my mother!?"
Dawn grimaced, rubbing her arm. "Are you crazy!?" she cried, looking at Buffy in horror. Then her face fell into a calm, cool expression as she got to her feet. "If you're not, you will be soon."
Before Buffy could understand what was going on, Glory also emerged from the bathroom behind Buffy, grabbing the Slayer and throwing her across the room. "Surprise!"
Buffy slammed hard into the wall, making an indention into the plaster. Darkness threatened to overtake her. She groggily turned around, unable to grasp the situation further. She should tell Dawn to run. Dawn was the Key… Glory was after this Key. But she looked over at "her sister" and realized nothing was as it seemed.
Glory stood over the Slayer, arms crossed in an annoyed fashion. "Okay, Slayer – yeah, I know who you are! You have my Key. I know you do! So spill!"
Buffy clenched her jaw and leaned on her hands, shooting her legs up. Her feet rammed into Glory's chin.
The demoness stumbled back, barely able to keep her balance. "You little…" She was met with a small fist packing a very powerful punch. Glory was able to stop the second one. "Where's my Key?"
"I don't HAVE it!" Buffy spat, kicking the other girl in the stomach.
Glory made an "oof!" sound but that was all it caused. She punched the Slayer, propelling her into the wall again. "Wrong answer! You gotta answer it right to get the prize!"
Buffy tried to shake her head clear, struggling to get back to her feet. She looked at Dawn. "How-how could you w-work with her?"
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Oh, please… Get over it, Slayer."
"You-you were the Key…" Buffy murmured, dazed.
The young girl's brows rose. "You thought I was…?" She looked up at Glory. "She DOESN'T know."
Glory frowned. "What? No! This is totally ridiculous! I mean, really. This can't be a waste of time!" Walking over to the Slayer, she jabbed her once before she dug her fingers deep into Buffy's brain, her powers taking over.
Buffy screamed, desperately trying to pry herself away from Glory. But it was fruitless. The brain sucking temporarily numbed any Slayer strength she had left.
Glory finished and let Buffy fall over to the ground. "Wow, that was totally heavy," she said blinking as if in a buzz.
Dawn looked at Buffy as the Slayer got on her hands and knees, struggling to get up. Then she heard the Slayer say, "The dirt is inside my carpet. Yes, I-I think I will have the paper bag."
Glory stared at the Slayer before stomping her foot into the floor, causing it to cave in. "This isn't the right freakin' PERSON!" She smashed the nightstand into pieces.
"Stop that," Dawn snapped. "Her mother's not gonna be out as long as I wanted. Stupid Slayer interrupted me before I could grab more of her life force."
"What good HAVE you been, sis? I mean, really. You've been here for DAYS and you still can't find my freakin' KEY!?"
"YOUR Key? This is OUR Key! And no. This stupid Slayer has been sneaking stuff since you showed your face." She sighed. "I told you to give me more time! But you had to barge in and make a huge deal! And it's not like your little troll minions have been any good!
"Hey, leave Dreg out of this! He's doing his stupid best because he knows I'll crush him and his pals if he doesn't. Anyway, those darn little monks were pissing me off. I couldn't NOT follow them. We're SO close to the Key! And now, they've led me on a wild, freakin', goose chase." She pulled at her hair in frustration. "Argh!"
"No… I don't think so. Maybe they were confused, too." She looked at Buffy, who continued to study the carpet. "All this time, Buffy thought I was the Key. She really didn't know. It's not that this isn't the right person; it's not the right SLAYER."
The bedroom door opened and Xander stood there, shock falling on his face at the scene before him. He had come by to check on Buffy, worry overtaking him for his best friend. That's when he had heard a noise that made him check inside. "Wh-what's going on?" He looked over at Glory. "Who are you?"
Dawn glanced over at her partner-in-crime then quickly screamed, pointing a shaking finger at the blond girl. "She-she hurt Buffy! And my-my mom!"
Xander narrowed his eyes then rushed at Glory, barely even noticing Buffy still studying the carpet carefully. He unleashed a right hook, only to be swatted across the room by Glory's arm. He hit the wall, rattling the pictures. He shook his head and looked at the seemingly innocent blond girl. "Okay…" He got up, wanting to get Dawn out of there. He came up to the stranger, ducking the shot she took. He came back up with an uppercut to her chin that seemed to have rocked his arm more than her face.
He cringed, shaking out his hand. He may have cracked a few knuckles. "Where'd you come from? Krypton?" he murmured. He backed up, seeing the nearest chair and grabbing it. He swung it at the girl's face, only to hear the shattering of the wood.
"God, don't you EVER give UP!?" Glory grabbed him by his shirt and held him aloft. "We're done here." Then she threw him against the window, shattering the glass and sending him flying onto the roof.
He rolled twice before landing on the front yard below.
"Xander!" Dawn cried.
Glory rolled her eyes as Dawn shrugged. "WE'RE not done," she told her. "The Key's not here. We'll talk later." And with that, she jumped out the window, easily landing next to the still struggling Xander. She laughed then kicked him right through the porch railing.
Dawn watched Glory take off at light speed then looked back at Buffy. She giggled to herself despite the disappointment of finding out they were on a wild goose chase all this time.
"So you weren't the one to go to," she said to the crazed Slayer.
Buffy looked up, tilting her head and blinking innocently. "Not there. Not real."
"Don't worry, Big Sis. Now that we know you're not the Slayer to go to, and you never were, we've just narrowed it down to the only other one that fits that mold." She patted Buffy's head like a puppy. "Time to make the frantic phone call to Giles."
She giggled to herself before reaching for the phone…