Part 37 of a multipart story.
Summary: What if Faith came first? If she were the slayer before Buffy( if Buffy even became a slayer)? Just my take on what might have happened. AU, of course.
Pairings: Not sure yet. You might be surprised.
Rating: M( R )
Disclaimer: Characters depicted in this story, except for original characters created by the author, are the sole property of Mutant Enemy, Fox and Joss Whedon.
"Why can't I?" Cordelia complains, with that special tone reserved for teenagers trying to drive their parent's crazy.
Buffy, leaning over the banister on the second floor, watches with some amusement at the 'drama' unfolding below.
Cornell sighs, feeling the weight of the world, and his teenaged daughter's tantrum, on his shoulders.
"I've explained it to you a dozen times already, Cordelia. There are some bad people, people who would do anything, that have no scruples about attacking, perhaps even harming you, to get to me. My security people have identified more than one plot against us, and I simply can't have you running around out there alone, being a target. How do you think I'd feel if anything happened to you?"
"It's not like I want to go clubbing or anything. Geeze, I just want to go to the mall. It's got like security everywhere, and people and stuff. Who could get at me without being seen or something? That is so totally lame!"
"These people are experts, darling girl. They could snatch you and who knows what before anyone would even notice. Lots of people around just make it easier for them. No, I'm sorry, but I simply can't allow you to go."
"I can't go to school, I can't see my friends, and I can't go out anywhere! God, it's like I'm a prisoner in my own home!"
"It's just for a few more days. My people tell me they're close to wrapping up this threat, and then things can get back to normal again…"
"You keep saying that. It's been like over a week, and the only place I can go is the house or on the grounds. And even there, there's like rent a cops everywhere. This is so … so… Ahhhh" Cordelia throws her hands up in frustration.
"C'mon, honey. Be reasonable. It's not for much longer, and I'm only…"
"I know, I know. Keeping me safe. God, I'm not a child! I can take care of myself!"
"I'm sorry, Cordelia," Cornell's tone turns a little stern. "But I have to insist. It's not like you're deprived here. There's plenty to do to amuse you…"
"God, you just don't get it, do you?" Cordelia snaps back.
"That's enough, young lady."
"Oh, forget it. JUST FORGET IT!" Cordelia storms out.
Buffy is chuckling to herself, watching Cordelia's little snit. God, so good to see the 'princess' get it. Spoiled much? Does she even listen? So used to getting her own way, and boy is she pissed not getting it now… Uh oh, here comes Hurricane Cordelia now.
"What do you want?" Cordelia grumbles as she almost runs into Buffy at the top of the stairs.
"Gee, nothing Ms. Bitch," Buffy amuses herself goading the bear a little. "Just thought maybe you'd like to go swimming. My mom wanted me to ask… might be a good idea… so you can cool off a bit…"
"You were listening?"
"Well, duh!" Buffy chuckles.
"You're such a sneak!"
"And you're such a brat. God, it's not like you're stuck in some dark hole or something. Geeze, your dad is only trying to keep you safe…" she shakes her head. "Anyway, with your volume, who needs to sneak? I mean, geeze you two could be heard over half the house!"
"Yeah, like who cares, anyway?" Cordelia makes a noise, brushing past Buffy rudely. She really isn't used to the evil munchkin from hell being her sister, and doesn't particularly want try to be nice at the moment. She stomps on down the hall.
"Well, obviously you do," Buffy follows on her heels, "Acting like a big old baby cuz 'Daddykins' won't let you go outside and play!"
"Shut up, dad's mistake," Cordelia turns into her room, trying to ignore the Chihuahua on her heels.
"Shut up, yourself, butt brain," Buffy follows her in, not letting a little thing like privacy stop her. "Maybe for once you should think about someone else besides yourself, princess dumb-ass"
"Like who, you?" Cordelia turns and puts her hands on her hips. "Get outta my room, shorty. Ever hear of privacy?"
"Make me, Cordy," Buffy makes herself at home on Cordelia's bed.
"You little shit. I told you never to call me that," She makes for the bed. "Get off my bed, Lizzie"
"As I said, make me," Buffy grins, flipping her the finger.
Cordelia flips her back.
"Oooo, original!" Buffy sniggers. "Think that up all by yourself?"
"Screw you, Tinkerbelle," Cordelia turns her back on her. She starts to undress. "You're not worth it."
Buffy watches with some amusement, and a touch of lust, as Cordelia undresses to change into her swimsuit. Despite the name calling, she has to admit her half sister is pretty hot. And she can't forget that night she peeked in and watched as Faith and Cordelia had some really hot and heavy sex.
Cordelia, for her part, seems to be taking her anger out on her clothing. Impatiently, she starts tossing them every which way, not caring if they hit the bed, chair or floor.
"God, I just wanna get outta this place. I'm going crazy…" She laments, walking over to her closet. She opens the doors, and walks in.
Buffy gets up off the bed, following her again. "God give it a rest, would you? It's getting old, you know?"
"Well, what would you know?" Cordelia turns on her. "I mean, not like you have any restrictions!" She turns back towards her clothing. "You can come and go as you please…"
"Yeah, well, not like anyone knows I'm Cornell's daughter, so why bother?" Buffy can't keep the trace of bitterness out of her voice.
"Oh, oh, what's wrong, baby?" Cordelia smirks, noticing the tone. "Maybe my daddy doesn't love you. Maybe my daddy's ashamed of you?"
"Fuck off, Cordy!" Buffy snaps back. "It's just until he and mom get married, then it'll be different…"
"Uh, huh, sure…" Cordelia says, "Until they're married. Right."
"You think your mom's the first woman dad's brought around this house?"
"What're you saying?"
"Notice any other wives hanging around?"
"He said they were getting married…"
"Right," Cordelia looks smug. "Like I've never heard that before…" She chuckles softly.
"They ARE!" Buffy's lip trembles, just a little. Then her expression changes. "You're just pissed cuz you can't go see your girlfriend…"
Cordelia looks at her blankly. "What're you talking about, numb brains?"
"You're girlfriend, Tardo," Buffy replies. "You know, the one you're all gaga over?"
"Look, Buffy, maybe you're into the whole lesbo thing, but I'm straight, you know?"
What the hell? Is she whack?
"Look, Cor, pretty hard to close the closet door when you've blown them off their hinges, you know?"
"What're you babbling about, munchkin?"
"Oh, get real. Stop pretending, everyone knows. You and Faith…"
"Faith? Who's Faith?"
"Are you whack? Faith, you're girlfriend. Remember?"
"I don't know any Faith….wait, isn't that the skanky assistant to that creepy librarian at school?" Cordelia makes a face. "God, if I were gonna go Ellen, don't you think I'd pick better than that?" Cordelia shakes her head. "Listen, nut job, next time you're out? Maybe you'd like to drop by the doctor? Maybe he could suggest a good shrink for you."
Buffy looks at Cordelia like she's lost her mind. What's going on? What kind of game is she playing… she scrutinizes her, and realizes that Cordelia isn't kidding. Whoa… this is good… too good…
"Hey, I'm not the nut job here, Swiss cheese brains."
"Oh, really? Cuz you're really doing a good job of it…"
"Hey, guys, what's going on?"
Both girls turn, a little startled. Joyce Summers is standing at the entrance to the walk-in closet, wearing a tight one piece bathing suit.
Cordelia for a moment, forgets about the little tiff she's having with Buffy, and frankly stares at Joyce.
Despite getting used to weird things happening around Casa Chase, she's still a little awed by the change in Joyce. Joyce looks no older than 20, at most. Her body, already a swimmer's body, has lost any softness that age added, slimming down to a narrow waist and a nice set of flared hips. Her legs are long, and toned; not a trace of cellulite remains on her thighs. Her breasts are large, but firm, and seem to defy gravity, pushing up and out on the cups of her bathing suit. Her skin is smooth and tight, and her face looks fresh and young. Way too young to be Buffy's mom… . Finally her hair, which used to be cut to her shoulders, now hangs loose and wavy, almost reaching her breasts.
Maybe awe isn't the correct word for Cordelia's response to the 'new' Joyce. Perhaps it just a queasy sense of this is wrong, something is very wrong here. Joyce is Buffy's mom. EVEN if she had Buffy at Buffy's age(which she didn't; it was in college … or later…), she should/would be in her early to mid thirties; instead, she looks like she's barely older than Cordelia. It feels wrong to Cordelia, for some reason, though she can't consciously understand why.
Perhaps it's because in the short time they've known each other, they've developed an almost mother/ daughter-like bond between them. And her looking, and acting, like her chum just isn't working for Cordelia.
Whatever the case, Buffy is watching Cordelia's reaction with a smirk. Her being thrown off her game, confused? Is just a cherry on the sundae for Buffy.
"Is everything ok, dear?" Joyce asks, noticing Cordelia's stare. "Is something wrong with my suit?" She does a quick inspection of her bathing suit.
"Uh… no" Cordelia quickly averts her eyes.
"If you're done staring at my mom now…" Buffy snickers nervously, wondering what her crazy half sister is staring at, "Think we can get out of the closet now? I'd like to get some sun in before it goes down…"
"Are you sure you're ok, Cordelia?" Joyce asks, noticing Cordelia's state of dress. "We were going to go swimming this afternoon, right?" She looks at Buffy. "You did invite her, right?"
"Uh… yeah, sure…" Cordelia replies, suddenly not so sure anymore. About anything.
"Oh, just ignore her," Buffy rolls her eyes. "She's just miffed because her daddy won't let her go shopping…"
"Shut up, butt breath," Cordelia retorts, "you're just jealous…"
"Of you? Please, you're such a big loser…"
"Really, cuz I know my daddy loves me…"
"Girls, enough!" Joyce cuts in. "What's this about?"
"Nothing," Cordelia mutters.
"Nothing," Buffy echoes the time tested response to parental inquiry.
"Mmm… hmmm…" Joyce nods, not a bit fooled. "Ok, both of you, out of there and on the bed."
"Side by side, I want to see those rears on the bed now!" Joyce's tone is firm, her fists clenched tightly.
Both girls, feeling a little chill, follow orders, exiting the closet and sitting on the bed.
Joyce walks over, noticing that the girls have put the maximum space between themselves. She sighs.
"Ok, girls, I know that this is all been rough on up. But, it's been rough on everyone, including me and your father. Especially when you two are fighting like two spoiled little brats. It's not like I don't have enough to do around here…
Both snort, if for different reasons.
She takes in a breath. "Did I say something funny…" She cocks her head to the side, a slightly crooked grin on her face.
"No" Cordelia mumbles.
"Uh… no" Buffy mutters.
"As I was saying," Joyce continues, "you're both… stubborn… I understand that," Joyce looks from one to the other, "but right now, you have to consider what's best for the family. Am I making myself clear?"
She waits for a response. Not getting any, she repeats the question.
"Am I making myself clear?" She says softly, but her tone is anything but soft.
"Y-Yeah, mom," Buffy nods quickly.
"Yes, ma'am," Cordelia nods likewise.
"Good, so like good little girls, I want you both to apologize to each other…"
"Mrs. Summers… er… Joyce…"
Both girls look like they'd rather dine on glass.
"Fine. I'm sorry," Buffy says. That you're such a spoiled brat.
"Yeah, me too. I'm sorry," Cordelia says. That you're an asshole.
"That's better," Joyce smiles tightly. "Now, isn't that all better, then?" She looks from side to side. "Ok, what started this?"
"She's being such a brat. Just because her dad won't let her go shopping. Even though he's explained WHY he won't…"
"Get real. That's not it at all, but figures you'd get it wrong. First of all, I've been cooped up in this house forever…"
"It's hardly been more than a week," Joyce adds.
"Whatever, the point is, I'm stuck here, but she can go anywhere she wants. How fair is that?"
"Cordelia, I'm sure your father has explained about the threats…"
"Yeah, still, I'm still the prisoner…" Cordelia whines a little
"Cordelia, it isn't like that. You know your father is only trying to protect you…"
"Right. By taking away my car keys, and having the servants watch me like guards, and not letting me go to school or see my friends or even have friends in or anything…"
"Oh, boo hoo, poor princess."
"Buffy, that's enough…" Joyce glares at her.
"No, it's really not," Buffy replies, defiantly," She's a spoiled brat, used to getting anything she wants, and now that someone asks her to do one thing to … oh, keep her from getting hurt, she gets all bent out of shape. God, you stink…"
"You aren't exactly the model child either, daughter of mine," Joyce says, growing impatient with her. "You're out at all hours, and when I ask where you've been, you're grumpy and rude. You sass both me and your father back. You know, you're not too old to put over my knee, young lady…"
Joyce slaps her.
"Did I say something funny, Elizabeth Anne Summers?" Joyce says, glaring at her daughter.
Buffy rubs her cheek, looking at her mom strangely. Her insides feel like they're frozen.
"No," She says, looking down. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too, Mrs.. Joyce… I mean, I know I'm acting like a brat, but I'm just… I can't stand being cooped up…" Cordelia apologizes, a little more sincerely than her blonde sister.
"I know dear, I know. You're young, and your whole world revolves around your friends and your social life and the mall…" She grins a little. "But right now, family has to come first. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," Cordelia says, not sounding all that pleased.
"Maybe, however, Cornell has been a little too hard on you… maybe, no promises, but maybe I can talk to him. Convince him how life critical it is that a daughter have a shopping day out… what do you say to that?"
The light seems to switch on in Cordelia. She grins from ear to ear.
"Really? You mean it?"
Joyce nods. "No promises, but I'll do my best. Ok?" She adds a condition. "But you can't go alone. So, I'm going to have to go with. Is that ok?"
"Yeah, I guess that's ok…" Cordelia will take what she can get. Not sure what to do, or how to react, she sits there. "When?"
"As soon as possible. But it's not going to be today or tomorrow. I need some time to work on Cornell. But soon, I promise… so…?"
"Ok," Cordelia says, not jumping for joy, but deciding not to queer the deal, either. "Thank you."
"Well, then, give us a hug," Joyce holds out her arms.
Cordelia gets up, and gives Joyce a brief, perfunctory hug.
"Isn't that just so…" Buffy grumbles. "Again, she gets whatever she wants…."
"As for you, young lady…" Joyce turns, moving over to her daughter. "I think you should come along too…"
"Do I have to?"
"Does she have to?"
"Do you really want to go?" Joyce looks at Cordelia.
"Aw, mom…" Buffy starts to grumble.
"I think it's time we three had some family bonding time. Can't think of a better place to have it than shopping til we drop…" She gives Buffy a little smile. "And I'm thinking you could do with some new outfits…"
"Really?" Buffy looks pleased, then tries to cover. "Well, if I gotta…"
"Well, if I gotta…" Buffy shrugs.
Cordelia suddenly seems to come alive, as if struck by a new thought.
"Oh, my god! What am I gonna wear?" Cordelia suddenly bolts to her closet. "I don't have a thing to wear!"
Buffy looks into the closet, which would make most boutiques envious, and shakes her head.
"Cordelia, dear, we're only going shopping…" Joyce chides her.
"Only shopping?" Cordelia cries. "We're going to the mall! What if I see someone I know? I can't just look… god, what am I going to do? Everything is so … last month! I've got to figure this out. Retro is in. Maybe I can…"
She disappears into her closet, frantically going through her things.
"And she's off," Buffy laughs, watching her run around like a chicken with it's head cut off. "What a dork!"
"Buffy, that'll be enough. When you two are done dressing, meet me at the pool," Joyce says, walking towards the door. "And try not to get into any more fights along the way."
"Yes, ma'am," Buffy nods, still wary that Joyce might go off at any moment.
After Joyce is gone, Buffy turns her attention back to Cordelia. She watches with some amusement as Cordelia flits from outfit to outfit, pulling, inspecting and rejecting each in turn. Somehow, it reminds her of a lab rat running it's maze, looking for the reward or the way out.
God, just because someone might see her. How shallow…
Then she smiles. An evil little plan forms in her mind. And what if a certain someone were to see her? Wonder how that would go?
Suddenly, she thinks this little trip to the mall might be rather fun, after all…
Monday after lunch finds Faith standing by the double doors leading into the library. She lets out a nervous breath, prepping herself to go inside. She's early for the scheduled meeting, but she wants some time to talk to Giles. Try to work things out.
We gotta work together, and us being mad at each other isn't going to get it done. So, we gotta settle this… now… but fuck, why do I gotta be the adult here, anyway?
Shaking her head, she starts to step forward when she feels something go around her neck. She struggles, trying to reach behind her, but not able to grab at anything. Then something else is pressed into her face, something smelly, something making her dizzy…
Then it all goes black…
She wakes up a little later, in a darkened room. There's a gag in her mouth, and she's chained to something above her head. She can barely keep contact to the floor with her toes. She grunts, trying to pull whatever is holding her down, but she can't get the leverage to have any effect.
"Uuukkk.." She mutters into her mouth, trying again to pull her chains down.
Suddenly, a light snaps on.
"Oh, you're awake. Great," Buffy says, grinning at her. "Thought I might have to come over there and slap you awake, sleeping stupid."
"Mtthuucker….whn I gtt uuu thzz gaaa kill uuuu" Faith glares at her, struggling with the chains.
"You know what this is, right?" She holds up what looks like a pistol with a pronged barrel.
Faith stares at it, then nods curtly.
"Yeah you do. And you know I'll use it. So, I'm gonna come over there, and take out the gag. You try anything tricky, bitch, and I'll hit you with enough juice to make you flop like a flounder. Got it?"
Faith nods, curtly.
"Good, maybe you're not as dumb as you look…"
Buffy walks around Faith, keeping a wary eye on her. Reaching her back, she unties the gag, none too gently. She then quickly retreats back out of range of Faith's legs. She smirks, looking at the chained slayer with some amusement.
"Probably should just hog tied you, but kinda liking you looking like a piece of meat, hanging there…"
"Fuck off, bitch," Faith snarls at her, tugging at the chains again.
"Nuh, uh…" Buffy raises the Taser. "Don't make me use it."
Faith ceases her struggles, settling on glaring at her rival. "Fine, warped brains. What do you want then? Other than tying me up, you sick-o!"
"Me?" Buffy giggles, "Isn't that the pot calling the kettle chartreuse, huh? I mean, it's you gets her jollies by tying my sister up and fucking her…" Buffy's mouth twitches. "Oh yeah, I saw you that night when you were over at the mansion …" she runs her tongue over her lips. "Kinda tasty, gotta admit…"
"You fucking perv…"
"Nuh Uh… remember, I got the gun…" She shakes it in her hand at Faith. "Don't really want to do the electric boogaloo right now do ya? Didn't think so… anyway, I'm doing you a favor here, bitch, so listen up…"
"Oh yeah…" Faith rattles her chains. "Why don't I believe you? I remember, you're a pathological liar, for one…"
"SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP!" Buffy fires the Taser at Faith, hitting her in the chest.
Faith suddenly starts to convulse wildly in her chains. Buffy stands by, watching as she flops around like a fish out of water.
"That was only a low dose, dumb ass. Next time, I won't be so nice…" She comes over, and pulls out the darts while Faith is still shaking. "So stop being an ass and listen up…"
"F-F-F uuuck y-y-you…" Faith gets out, still finding muscle control difficult.
"Ok, whatever," Buffy shrugs, turning her back and heading for the door. "Guess you don't wanna hear about Cordelia then…"
"W-W-What? W-wait… w-what about C-C-C…. h-h-her?"
"Oh… now your interested, huh?" Buffy turns back, smirking.
"Y-Yessss" Faith manages to get herself under control. "What…?"
"Oh… just that she's ok, fine really, living the life of a princess. Back at Casa Chase…"
"There you go with that lying crap again…" Buffy raises the pistol.
"N-No, wait… "
"Why should I? I came here to tell you something, but you keep calling me a liar. I should just…"
"Begging? You're begging?" Buffy laughs. "I think I like it. Come on, puppy. Beg some more…"
"Please… please…" Faith says, humiliated but desperate. "Is she…is she…?"
"Ok? Duh, I just told you, wax brains. She's fine. She's living it large. Matter of fact…" Buffy's smile turns nasty. "She's doing really well without you. Doesn't even seem to remember you…"
"There you go again. God, why do I even bother?" Buffy shrugs. "Maybe I'm just a romantic at heart. Anyway, I just hate to see you crazy kids all apart and everything…" She cocks her head to the side. "So, tell ya what I'm gonna do. Tell you a little secret, ok?"
Faith glares at her.
"Oh, look at that face. So cute… the outraged lover. How sweet…" Buffy chuckles. Then her expression changes to a frown. "Listen, butthead, I'm doing you a favor here. Seems Cordelia is all itchy about staying in at the mansion. She got my mom to convince Daddy Chase to let her go on a little shopping trip to the mall. Tomorrow afternoon, matter of fact. Now, won't that be just swell? You get to go and maybe see your lady love? Maybe remind her of your existence or something? Anyway, me and mom will be with, but I'm pretty sure, clever girl that you are, you can figure away to get her alone…"
"How do I know you're not lying to me?"
"God, would you get over it?" Buffy shakes her head. "Frankly, you don't know. You're just gonna have to trust me…"
"Yeah, well, ok, whatever. No skin off my ass," Buffy shrugs her shoulders, "But hey, maybe I know what it's like. Losing someone you really, really love. Or… maybe I'm lying. You don't know. But the only way you'll find out is to show up, now isn't it?" Buffy turns to walk away again. "Up to you. Oh, one thing," She stops. "Don't tell you're buddies about our little chat, 'k? Cuz, you showing up? Well, Daddy Chase might think that's just an unhappy coincidence. But if you show up with your gang trailing after, make some stupid 'rescue' attempt? He's gonna know something's up. And you know how cranky he can get…" She looks over her shoulder at Faith. "You know what he almost did to you. And he wanted you to live. Imagine what he'd do to your friends? He doesn't care if they live or not…" she waggles her fingers at Faith. "Buh-bye now."
"You just gonna leave me here?"
"Oh, right. I'm gonna come over there and let you loose, so you can go Rodney King on my ass, huh?" Buffy laughs. "Don't worry, genius, you'll figure it out…" She smirks. "But I'm a sport…"
She reaches in her pocket, and holds up a key. "Here's the key… I'll leave it for ya right here…" She puts it on a shelf close to the door.
"Bye now…" She leaves, cutting off the light.
"Fuck!" Faith growls, pulling on the chains. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
Getting angry, she pulls herself up on the chains, trying to get to the ceiling hook to get free. She can't quite manage it, however, and drops down. She feels a slight tug on the chains as she drops. An idea comes to her, and she starts lifting and dropping herself like dead weight. Over, and over, and over… finally, there's a snap, then a cracking sound, and without warning, she's dumped on the bare floor, butt first.
The chains are loose, however, and after awkwardly brushing herself off, she feels her way towards the door . Finding the light switch, she turns it on. It takes a few minutes, but she finally finds the key, loosening the cuffs on her wrists.
She stands a moment, rubbing her wrists, getting the blood back in them.
"Bitch," She mutters, as she opens the door and exits.
These are the first words that greet Faith when she enters the library. She stops and nods.
"I know. I'm sorry. I got hung up…" She looks around the room. "Where is everybody?"
"They're out looking for you. When you didn't show up on time, we grew concerned," Giles walks over to Faith. "Are you quite all right? Did anything happen?"
Faith hesitates for a half beat before answering. "No, I'm fine. I had some personal business that wouldn't wait…"
"Personal business?" Giles looks a little surprised. "This couldn't have waited until after the meeting?"
"That's the 'it couldn't wait' part of it, Giles," She shakes her head, and looks at the clock. "I'm not that late…"
"Nearly an hour, Faith," Giles sighs. "I still can't believe you put something personal before this meeting. You understand how important this meeting is, yes?"
"Yeah, I got it, Giles. I told you, it was … unavoidable, ok? I'm sorry I'm late, but let it go…" Faith sits down. "Me being late by an hour isn't exactly the end of the world…"
"Not the…" Giles doesn't understand her attitude. "Not the end of the world? Am I correct in what I just heard?"
"My god, do you plan on being fashionably late for the apocalypse too?" Giles returns, somewhat sarcastically. "That could very well mean the end of the world. Don't you realize that the world, our lives, everyone's lives is at stake here? What could be more important than that, pray tell me!?"
"Only every day, Giles," Faith shoots back, "and oh, remember? My life is at stake more than anyone's, according to the prophecy. So I get it's serious, ok? What else do you want me to say?"
"Not say, Faith, do. When we have a meeting like this, I expect you to be on time, and to rearrange your personal life around it, not the other way around!" Giles leans on the table, facing her. "We're part of a team, and everyone has to be on board and be part of that team!"
"Really? Cuz, I was feeling kind of left out there all by myself, " Faith retorts, " kinda like last Thursday, you know? You remember that meeting I wasn't invited to?" She leans in a little, also, "or those decisions you made that affected the 'team' that hey, I didn't get a say in? Like sending Cordelia back in, and maybe getting her killed…"
"We don't know if …"
"Yeah, and we probably won't, 'til we go in. But that's not the point, is it? The point is you're treating me like a child here, Giles, keeping me out of the loop when that could cost me, or others, their life. And that just stinks, you know?" Faith shakes her head. "Dammit, we've done this, again and again, and nothing changes. Does it? Is it going to change, Giles? Are we going to actually stop fighting and start trusting each other? Are you ever going to believe I can do this job, if you let me? I just gotta know now, ok? Before I get myself killed…"
"You have to trust me, Faith. Sometimes, I can't make you privy to every bit of information I get. I need to be able to do my job and trust that you'll follow my directions…"
"And you have to trust me, Giles, when I'm out there, doing my thing. I'm the one on the line, ultimately, I'm the one at the front. So I need you to trust me back. And I'm not getting that from you…"
"Dammit, because sometimes, Faith you don't show good judgment Faith. You're impulsive, and temperamental, and you plunge in before you think. How can I keep you from getting killed if you're always running straight into the fire?!!!"
"You can't, Giles. That's where the trust comes in, Giles," Faith says softly. "That I know what I'm doing… and I'll haul my ass out alive… and if I don't… no one can save me…." She reaches out covers Giles' hand with her own. "I'm not her, Giles. I'm not your daughter, and you can't save her by over protecting me…"
"This has nothing to do with my daughter…" Giles stiffens, and pulls back. "This is about …"
"This is about redemption, Giles. Trying to redeem yourself by protecting me, when neither you, nor anyone, could protect her…them… from him…"
Giles seems to freeze in place for a moment. In that moment, Faith sees all the pain well up in his face. Then he forcibly moves himself, and stands up straight.
"We'll discuss this further, later. Right now, I … I need to get… a book from the shelves." He starts for the stairs.
Faith scrambles out of her seat, and going around the table, cuts him off at the bottom step. She stands there, looking at him.
"Giles, please, look at me…" She grips his arms firmly, but gently, and looks him dead straight in the eye. "I need you Giles. I'll always need you. Not to fight me, but to fight with me, for me. You and me, we can do this, if you just believe in me as the slayer, Giles. If you just trust I'll get the job done."
Giles looks at her for a moment, then looks away, head inclined downwards.
"If you'll excuse me," He says quietly, "I really do need to retrieve a book from the shelves."
Faith lets go of his arms, and backs to the side rail, letting him pass. He starts up the stairs, then stops.
"I never believe otherwise," Giles says in a quiet tone. "I'm very proud of you."
He turns and continues up the stairs.
"There you are!"
Angel enters the library, and walks over to Faith. "Where've you been? We've been looking everywhere for you."
"She was delayed," Giles calls out from the top of the stairs. "Unavoidable. Are the others on their way, Angel?"
"Yeah, they should be here pretty soon."
"Good, then we can get the meeting started. I'll be down as soon as I retrieve a book from the shelves."
Giles turns, and walks into the stacks.
* * *
Xander looks at the table, then at his cards, then at Willow.
"Darn it!" He frowns, staring at his cards again. "That's not fair. You cheated!" He throws his cards on the table.
"Are you calling me a cheater, Alexander Lav…?"
"Willow! You promised!" He tries to cover her mouth. "Not in public…"
"Get over it, Xander," Faith, at the other side of the table, hand locked with Angel in what looks like a death match arm wrestle, grins. "We all know your middle name."
Xander looks horrified. He looks at Willow accusingly. "You told them?"
Willow looks guilty. "Well, it might've slipped…"
"I think it's a cool middle name," Faith soothes him. "Very manly…" She turns to Angel. "Speaking of which, what's wrong, big guy? Didn't get your O positive or something today? Cuz, you're not really trying too hard…" She presses down, causing Angel's arm to move backwards just a bit from center.
"What's wrong with you, slayer? Losing it" Angel chuckles, then forces Faith's arm back, and slightly the other way. "Thought you could whip my… how do you say it?… sorry ass from here to Cleveland…"
From another table, at the other side of the room, Agatha looks up. Her expression is a mixture of amusement and annoyance, with a dash of bemusement thrown in. Sort of like any parent watching children. She shakes her head, sighs, and returns to her reading.
"Well, c'mon, pay up, Xander. You lost!" Willow grins at him.
"Not fair… you…"
"I didn't cheat. I don't need to cheat when playing with you," Willow giggles.
Sighing, looking well put upon, Xander leans over, and engages in a warm lip lock with Willow.
"Awwww…" Angel and Faith mock the two lovebirds.
"Aren't they just too cute?" Faith says, barely able to keep from laughing.
"I don't get it, "Angel says, shaking his head. "They do that after every hand, no matter who loses…"
"No, you don't get it," Willow says, as the kiss ends. "If I lose, like that ever happens….
"Hey!" Xander protests.
"… I have to kiss Xander. If Xander loses," Willow goes on, blithely, "like always, then he has to kiss me. See?"
Faith chuckles, while Angel manages to look slightly disgusted.
"C'mon, dead boy," Faith taunts Angel, knowing he hates nickname, "put some muscle into it. How's it going to go over with your vamp buddies that you were beat by a girl?"
"You know, Faithy," Angel shoots back, "If I weren't liberated, I might take that the wrong way…" He suddenly puts on the pressure, bending Faith's arm back.
Faith concentrates, and manages to bring the hands to center. Then she pulls the dirtiest trick in the book. She kicks Angel under the table.
"OW!" Angel breaks, and Faith pins his arm. "You kicked me!"
"Alls fair in love and arm wrestling, big guy…"
Giles comes down the stair, holding a rather large book under his arm. He walks over to Agatha's table.
"I found that copy of Chilton's Demonology you wanted…" He looks around. "Where's Balthair? Hasn't he returned yet?"
At that moment, the lights flicker, then begin to flash. A sudden wind comes out of nowhere, blowing loose paper and riffling the open book pages on the various tables. The doors to the library burst open, and what looks to be a cross between a storm cloud, with lightening, and a mini hurricane appears just inside the door.
The storm ends, and Balthair is standing there,
"The drama queen returns," Agatha mutters, disgustedly.
Xander and Willow, whose cards have been blown every which way, look a bit taken aback. Angel looks at Balthair, an eyebrow raised.
"Gotta admit. The guy knows how to make an entrance," He chuckles, shaking his head.
Faith just settles into her chair, arms crossed.
Balthair makes his way to the meeting table, and stops, staring at Willow and Xander. He glares at them, his yellowish eyes glowing while he frowns menacingly.
"What are these whelps doing here?"
He crosses over to the table and sits, adjusting his robes majestically.
"Faith, I think you need to tell your little friends to go home now. We have business to discuss…" She stands up, and crosses to the table, standing behind Willow. "Faith?" she asks mildly.
"Well… ummm…" Faith feels some unease looking at Agatha. Somehow, her quiet tone makes he feel queasy, while Balthair's imperiousness only makes her laugh. She feels like a kid with a chocolate smear on her face and her hand wedged in the cookie jar. "Well…"
"These 'whelps', as you call them, belong here…" Giles comes up to stand beside Agatha. "They're part of this team…"
"Children?" Balthair looks appalled. "Have you gone mad, Rupert Giles? This is serious business! There is no place at this table for the them."
"Rupert, surely you see that …" Agatha shakes her head, "children have no place here? I'm sure their helpful, in their way, especially knowing your aversion to computers and modern technology, but we're discussing strategy now, and they have no place being here…" She turns to Willow and Xander. "I'm sure you understand…"
"Er, no, actually, I don't," Willow says, starting to wind up a little. "This is our town, after all, and if we …" She rises to face off with Agatha.
"Willow, I'll handle this, if you please…" Giles exerts a gentle pressure on her shoulder, holding her down.
"This is the apocalypse, Rupert Giles, if you've forgotten," Balthair says with some asperity. "this is hardly the place for toddlers…"
"Oh, brother," Angel groans, looking at Faith. "Where do they get these guys?"
Faith looks perturbed, but doesn't reply. She just shrugs.
"Be quiet, Balthair," Agatha snaps at the Mage, obviously losing her patience. She turns back Giles. "Balthair is somewhat of an arse, Rupert, but he has a point. While I would hardly call the young man and woman 'toddlers', they are civilians, Rupert. And as such, they can get themselves hurt, and possibly…"
"That will be enough, Agatha," Rupert cuts her off. "These, 'children', as you call them, are hardly civilians. I've fought with them, many times, and they are hardly babes in the woods. Yes, they can be impulsive, at times…" his hand squeezes Willow's shoulder. Which causes Willow to blush a bit. "… but on the whole, they keep steady in battle and work efficiently. I've seen them fight, and they're good, very good. Faith has been training them, and I might mention… this one …" He squeezes Willow's shoulder again. "Is particularly good with a crossbow. After all, After all, she did manage to help bring down a 400 year old vampire formerly known as Darla …"
"That is impressive, I admit, Rupert, but that might've simply been a …"
"Fluke? I hardly think so, since between them, using a variety of means, they managed to take out nearly 2 dozen vampires…"
"Tell them about Jessie, Giles," Faith puts in. "Tell them how they…"
"Why don't you tell me about it, Faith," Agatha turns, gazing at Faith.
Faith feels a sense of unease under Agatha's gaze. Her stomach turns over.
"Please, Faith. You were there, and I wasn't. You would do better…" Giles encourages her.
"Okay, fine, I will," Faith stands up, facing Agatha. "Not long after I got here, their friend Jessie was murdered by vampires, and turned…"
Willow and Xander get grim looks on their faces; this is not an easy memory for them.
"His turned self accosted them at the local club they have here, and even though I told them to back off, and that I would handle it…"
Blushes from the pair.
"… they came along anyway. Frankly…" she smiles at Xander with some warmth. "I don't think a dozen Slayers could've stopped them."
"That's my point, exactly," Agatha says, quietly. "They might go off without thinking, and get themselves hurt, or worse…"
"What is this discussion all about, anyway?" Balthair, his eyes glowing angrily, stands. "They're not to be here, and they should go, now!" He raises his arms.
"That will be enough, Balthair…" Agatha makes a subtle gesture, and suddenly Balthair is thrown up against a bookshelf, his arms pinned. He glowers at Agatha, muttering.
Xander, and Willow in particular, look at the older woman with almost saucer sized eyes.
"Can I get a word in here, or are you guys gonna fight?" Faith says, rather disgusted.
"I'm sorry, Faith," Agatha says. "Some of us don't know how to hold their tempers."
"Frankly, a lot of us supposed adults need to grow up," Giles says simply, looking at both Agatha and Balthair. "To put it succinctly, Willow and Xander had to do something that was extremely difficult. As Faith tells it, they had to dust a lifelong friend, after he became a vampire. Rather cleverly, I might add… using a wooden spoon as a stake. Is that correct, Faith?"
Faith nods, sitting down.
"Then later, when Willow was in danger. Xander protected her, holding off two vampires until Faith could eliminate them. And this, Agatha, was before they had any formal training…"
"Indeed…" She looks more closely at the pair. Especially Willow. "Come here, child…" She holds out her hands to Willow.
Willow, looking a bit scared, turns to Giles. Giles nods. She gets up, and goes over to Agatha. It's clear she's rather scared of her.
"No need to fear… Willow, is it?"
"Here, give me your hands…" She extends her own.
Willow looks back at Xander, then Giles, who nods. She reaches out, taking Agatha's outstretched hands.
Agatha gently squeezes them, and a look of surprise comes over her face. She looks at Willow carefully.
"Are you an adept, child?"
"Do you practice the arts?"
"You mean like painting and stuff? No…"
"I mean Wicca, dear… the magic arts…"
"Er.. no…" She looks at Agatha strangely.
"Really? How … strange…" She lets go of Willow's hand. She looks at Xander. "Come here, young man…" She gestures for him to come to her.
Xander has a "do I have to look" on his face, but stands and walks over to Agatha.
"Please?" She holds out a hand.
He puts out his hand, looking as if he'll lose it.
Agatha takes his hand, and shuts her eyes for a moment. She smiles warmly.
"You are very brave, aren't you? And you'd never let anyone you really care about get hurt, would you Xavier?"
"Yes, Xander. Alexander. Indeed, he was quite the warrior, and I suspect you have a similar soul…" She lets of his hand, not soon enough for Xander. "Perhaps I've misjudged them."
"I believe you have, Agatha," Giles says, brusquely. "And it might be nice if you would take my judgment in these matters a bit more seriously. I've done this before…"
"This is madness!" Balthair, from his place by the bookshelves, calls out. "Are we so desperate we're using children now? Doesn't anyone recall what happened the last time children were used to fight a war? The Children's Crusade? That was a disaster…"
"Balthair," Giles says, his temper rising. "I appreciate your contributions. But frankly, if you're going to continue acting like this, I'd rather you left."
"That would be a little hard, considering." He says, a little sarcastically.
Agatha doesn't look at him, she just waves vaguely in his direction. Balthair shakes his arms, free of her enchantment.
He looks around at the group, who, with the exception of Agatha, are all staring at him. He makes a rude gesture, and returns to the table.
"Very well. If you all wish to be foolish, that's your choice. Be it far from me to stop you…" he looks at Giles. "But their blood is on your hands, Rupert Giles."
"Agatha?" Giles turns to her.
"I defer to your Judgment, Rupert," Agatha goes and sits next to Balthair.
Xander and Willow stand there, looking a little lost.
"So, what does that mean?" Xander asks, finally.
"Well, if you two team members would sit down, we can begin this meeting," Giles says, showing a rare smile.
"YES!" Willow and Xander give each other a high five, and return to their seats.
"Does this mean we can finally get started?" Angel asks from the other side of the table, looking annoyed. "or is there a second act to this drama?"
"I hardly think we need any comments from the vampire," Balthair grouses.
"Yes." Giles says, succinctly. "As Angel pointed out, we're rather on a schedule here. Time is running out and we have a lot to do …"
"I'm sorry, not getting that?" Faith pipes up.
"The prophecy, Faith."
"Oh yeah, we wouldn't want to miss that…" Faith frowns.
"Prophecy?" Willow looks at Giles.
"It's not about that, Faith. It's more a way we can judge how and when Cornell will strike. All signs indicate sooner than later. The other part… is vague…" Angel seems upset with the subject.
"Vague? Other part? What prophecy?" Xander, along with Willow, is confused.
"This has more to do with Cornell, or the thing that's calling itself Cornell," Angel says, trying to steer the subject in another direction. "He's especially anxious now to get this done. So he can transfer his link…"
"All the records, everything we can find on him indicates his grip is weakening. He can't keep it going much longer…" Giles nods, agreeing. "Soon would be better to strike, before he can change it…"
"What's going on? Would someone slow down a little? Link? Transfer? Prophecy? Whaaat?" Willow looks around, noticing that Xander and Faith seem equally confused. "Can someone please give us a clue here?"
"It's not important right now. What's more important …" Giles turns to Agatha. "did you bring them?"
Agatha nods. She reaches into her purse, and pulls out a collection of what look to be crudely made necklaces.
"It seems it was a good thing I made a few extra," She smiles as she hands one to everyone, including Willow and Xander. "I need you to put these on, please…"
Faith holds the necklace, looking at it suspiciously. "What is this?"
The necklace itself is a piece of leather, crudely tied in back to hold it together. Along the loop is what looks like a small scroll, in parchment, tied at each end to keep it in place.
"I don't think Tiffany's got anything to worry about," Faith cracks, still looking at her charm.
"Faith, please, just put it on," Agatha says in a firm tone.
"Ok, ok… geeze" Faith puts it on, grumbling a little. She says, almost inaudibly, "more voodoo stuff…"
"It's not voodoo," Agatha says, as if Faith said it loudly. She sounds slightly offended. "It's a thousand year old Celtic spell, a reveal spell, designed to protect…"
"Sorry, my mistake," Faith says, slightly sarcastically. Just as she puts it on, something happens. The scroll flashes, startling her. "What the fuck!" She pushes her chair back.
Almost everyone, except Balthair, looks a little startled. He just smiles enigmatically.
"Relax, it's ok. That's supposed to happen," Agatha looks at Balthair, giving him a hard stare. "If some of us could practice some manners, I was going to warn you about that…" Agatha turns to the others. "The spell is now active."
"What is this thingie supposed to do?" Angel asks, looking at it suspiciously.
"It's a protection spell. Actually, a reveal spell that acts as protection against illusions. It won't completely stop it, but It'll help against Cornell's power…"
"Yeah? That would be sweet…" Faith says. "tired of that asshole pounding my butt into the ground…"
"That's the point, Faith. He doesn't actually do that…" Giles says quietly, fingering the leather around his neck.
"Uhhh… excuse me. I was there. I know when my ass is getting pounded."
"No, actually you weren't, Faith," Angel says, "He was just making you think you were…"
"What Angel is saying, is that Cornell, or the demon acting as Cornell, has the power to alter your perceptions of reality." Giles pauses for a moment. "through our research, we've discovered exactly what kind of demon Cornell is…"
"Yeah, you told me. Some kind of Old Guy, right?"
"Old Ones," Agatha corrects.
"Whatever. They've been around like forever…"
"No, not exactly. Cornell is a, well, he's a construct by the old ones. During the great demon wars, when the Old Ones were fighting for control of this dimension, they created a number of 'special' demons for their wars. Hellhounds, Chaos Demons and others all came out of their experimentations. But Cornell, or the type of demon he is, was a unique one. Very powerful, though not as powerful as an Old one, and very … disturbing… He is what is known as Mens Effrego… Mind Breaker."
"It is," Giles affirms. "A Mind Breaker demon has the ability to alter an enemy, or enemies, perception of reality. He can't actually change reality, but he can make it seem different to those he effects. Along with that, he has some small ability to manipulate matter, and can use his mental capabilities to deflect or throw things. But essentially, his power is in the illusion of changing reality…"
"What're you saying? He can't actually do the things he does?"
"Something like that," Angel puts in. "He just makes you think he's doing it."
"Yes, exactly. His powers work on the same receptors in the brains that certain chemical hallucinogens work on. Except where they are unpredictable, he's able to control the effects…"
"Well, fuck me dead!" Faith exclaims. "You mean he never… he was just fucking with my head?"
"Yeah, you could say that…"
"Consider, Faith. Did he actually ever touch you? Did you ever see him actually grab you?"
"I thought… I mean… shit, I don't know…"
"Every time he attacked you, did you notice he had someone there to do the dirty work?"
"Yeah, like when that psycho bitch was attacking me… right after, and then Spike… SHIT!" Faith shudders, remembering everything that happened to her. "That bastard nearly killed me, and fucking never even touched me!"
"The mind can do powerful things. Fortunately, he didn't want you dead, or you probably would be," Giles says, grimly. "Point is, the time mentioned in the prophecy is drawing closer, and now… especially with his hold on reality weakening, he's growing desperate. He needs to finish this little business quickly…"
"Sweet," Faith says ironically.
"Actually, it works to our favor, somewhat. He's making mistakes, not thinking things through. That's where his real power has been… watching and waiting… but now he has to reconnect to this reality, in another form, and that's affecting his ability to plan…"
"I still don't understand," Willow interrupts, "What's the deal with linking to this reality. And what does that have to do with this prophecy you keep talking about?"
"Cornell, or the thing that controls the physical side of Cornell, can't exist in this reality without being linked to something within this reality. A form of some kind. He is linked currently to the body of Cornell Chase, and has been for nearly the last 200 years…"
"Excuse me? I've seen the guy, he doesn't look no two hundred years old," Faith says.
"He's probably developed a means to regenerate the host over all this time, but like anything else, it has its limits. And I believe, the limit's been reached. I don't think this body can take another regeneration, so he has to develop another host…"
"He doesn't have a body?"
"No… this thing, this mind breaker, is an energy entity. Kind of like a ghost, or wraith…"
"Well, that's great. How do I kill a ghost?"
"I think…" Giles looks at Agatha. She nods. "I believe your dream revealed that…"
"Dream… you told him about my dream?" Faith looks at her narrowly.
"I did… and that's part of the spell I cast on you… I think you all need to see this…" She holds out her hands to Xander and Balthair. "If you'd join hands…"
"What're we doing? Having a séance?" Angel jokes, taking Faith's hand.
"No, but we're going to reinforce our energies with Faith's…" She turns to Faith. "I need you to close your eyes, and as much as you can, think about your dream. Concentrate on it, bring up as much detail as you can…"
"I don't remember that much…"
"That's ok, just concentrate."
Faith complies, closing her eyes. Her brow furrows, and she lowers her chin to her chest.
Suddenly, the lights in the room dim, as if on their own accord, and a bright dot of light appears in the center of the circle. It grows and expands, finally turning into what appears to be a bright window. Inside, the picture is fuzzy at first. Then it sharpens, and the dream Faith had, up to and including Cornell's death, plays out in front of them.
"Whoa… cool," Willow says, as the dream fades away. "Scary, but cool…"
"Did you see it, Balthair? Do you have it?"
Balthair nods. "Your description was accurate. I have it here…" He pulls something out of his robe.
It was a long, flat object, wrapped in soft tanned leather. He unties the leather string, and opens it.
Inside is an ornate, intricately carved dagger. However, it is unusual in a few respects.
First of all, it had longer than normal blade, that split in the center to form two parallel blades. The blades are joined in the middle by a short cross piece, in which are carved intricate runes
Secondly, there is an unusually bright stone in the pommel. It seemed to almost pulse light. It was carved in a teardrop shape.
Lastly are the colors of the blades themselves. They are a dull crimson, almost blood color.
The handle of the knife is onyx, with an intricate platinum colored overlays.
"Whoa," Faith almost drools over the knife. "nice blade"
"Go ahead, Faith, pick it up," Agatha gently urges her.
Faith doesn't need much encouragement. She reaches over, and grasping the handle, lifts it. She almost immediately drops it.
"Shit! That thing pulsed at me. It's fucking alive!" Faith backs off a step, staring at the knife.
Neither Agatha nor Balthair can resist a chuckle.
"That's the power of the bloodstone," Balthair says, quietly. "That pulse you feel is it surging into your body. It's normal."
"Fuck normal. I've never felt anything like that handling a blade before." She looks at it warily, as if expecting it to jump off the table at her.
"That's no ordinary weapon, Faith," Giles says, putting an arm on her shoulder. "That is a bloodstone dagger. It has the power needed to disrupt the Mind Breaker Demon. Disconnect its hold on our reality."
"You mean, kill it, don't ya Giles?" Faith stares at the dagger.
"No. You can't kill it. It's pure energy. You can't destroy energy, only change it. This will disrupt its flow on its host, and cause it to disperse, seeking the nearest portal out of this reality. Otherwise, it will disperse into nothingness…"
"Yeah, like I said, kill it," Faith says grimly. She continues to stare at the knife, torn whether she wants to pick it up or not.
"Go ahead, Faith, take it," Balthair says.
"C'mon, Faith, pick it up," Angel says jocularly. He grabs the handle and then yells, pulling his hand back. It's steaming.
"What the fuck?" He waves his hand, looking at the blister on his palm.
"It's been blessed by Alcatian Monks," Balthair smirks. "Just to keep your kind from touching it…"
"My kind…" Angel glares at Balthair. He's throwing his own daggers out of his eyes. Then he grins a slow, but tight grin. "Could've told me"
Faith reaches over, and picks up the dagger. Again she feels the pulsing in her palm. She holds onto though, and feels the pulsing go up her arm.
Suddenly, the dagger feels weightless in her hand. It feels as if her hand was made for the grip. She waves it around, and it feels like a natural extension of her body.
"This is wicked," She grins, getting to like the feeling. "I like it!"
She moves away from the table, swishing the knife to and fro, almost feeling the air as it hisses over the surface of the blade. She gets so wrapped up in playing with it, she doesn't even realize when the knife cuts through the top of the banister post, causing the balled end to go flying.
Her eyebrows shoot up in amazement. "Wow! I didn't even feel it touch that!"
"Yes, if you could be a little more careful with that…" Giles says, coming over and inspecting the damage to the banister. "I don't know how I'm going to explain that to Flutie in the morning…"
"Sorry, Giles," Faith says sheepishly, offering the knife to Giles. "Wanna swing or two?"
Giles looks almost mortified. He puts up his hand, and takes a step back.
"No, please. That thing is dangerous… and if handled incorrectly, can have serious consequences. You are to only use it on Cornell, and only when you need to. Understand?"
"Geeze, Giles, It's just a knife…" Faith catches his look, and grimaces. "Ok, ok, geeze…". She returns the knife to the table, slipping it back into the leather pouch. "Don't you guys ever have any fun or anything?"
"I hardly think this is a laughing matter, Faith. The whole world hangs in the balance. Even with the blade, defeating Cornell is hardly going to be fun," Giles says, somewhat stiffly.
"No shit. I've been there, done that, have the t-shirt, Giles. Still, considering all and the prophecy, you'd think you'd lighten up a little bit…"
"What prophecy?" Willow asks. "You guys keep talking about it, but we … Xander and me… don't have a clue. What's it about?"
"It's no big, Will," Faith tries to deflect the question, not wanting to go there, "Something in the Pegasus Chronicles…"
"Pergamum Codex" Agatha corrects her.
"Yeah, that. Anyway, it's no big deal."
"Really?" Willow sounds suspicious, "cuz everyone is sounding like it's a big deal."
"Well, it's not. So let's move on…"
"No. We're part of this. We have a right to know everything!"
"Willow, I assure you," Giles interjects, "if it were important to your role in this…"
"No, I want some answers here. This might affect us too!"
"Will. Let it go," Faith's voice takes on a harsh tone.
"The girl is right," Agatha breaks in, "Too many things kept from others around here…"
For some strange reason, Faith feels Agatha's gaze fall on her. What the hell?
Agatha turns to Willow. "This is the prophecy from the Codex: "At that time, towards the ends of days, there will come a Warrior," Agatha recites from memory," the one who is chosen. She will fight hard against the tide of darkness that rises up, but in the end, she will be no more."
"Wait a minute. The one who is chosen…warrior…" She looks at Faith. "She will be no more… hold on, is that saying what I think it's saying?"
There's a silence around the table. Faith looks particularly tight lipped.
"Is it? Is it saying…"
"Yeah, it is. Ok, you happy now Will? Get your answer? Now let's drop it. It's no big deal…"
"No big deal. NO BIG DEAL?" Willow looks at her as if she can't believe what she's hearing. "How do you figure that? It's a very big deal. A huge deal. This prophecy thingie says…"
"I know what it says, Willow. Ok? Drop it!" Faith's voice has a harsh desperation to it.
"No, I won't drop it. This is important. You can't just …"
"I DON"T WANT TO BE REMINDED OF IT, OK? IS THAT OK WITH YOU?" Faith explodes at her. "SHUT UP!"
Willow snaps her jaw shut, cutting off any reply. She goes red in the face, and seems to shrink in her chair.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I just…" Her lip starts to tremble. Tears threaten at the corner of her eyes. "I just don't want you to die…"
"I'm sorry, too," Faith says, coming over to her. "I don't wanna die either, Red," She says softly, kneeling by her, voice choked with emotion. "These things aren't always right. Maybe it won't come down that way…" She smiles, trying to cheer Willow up. "That's how I'm looking at it, ok? Let's just not…"
Willow shakes her head, unable to speak. She turns and buries her face in Xander's chest.
Faith gets up, looking angrily at Agatha. "Nice, real nice. Did you really have to just blurt it out like that? Couldn't you have used some kinda like tact? Isn't that you British guys are known for, or something?"
"She wanted the truth, Faith, and I felt she deserved to know it. Too many secrets being kept around here," Agatha says quietly.
Again, Faith gets the feeling that Agatha is speaking directly at her, about her. It gives her the creepy crawlies.
"Know what? I've had enough of your truth and consequences for tonight…" She turns to Giles. "Are we done here?"
"You need to tell her, Giles," Angel speaks up at the end of the table.
"Tell me? What?"
"I don't see the point of it. If we move quickly, he won't have time to complete the preparations…"
"She has a right to know…" Angel says, firmly. "If you don't tell her, I will."
"Tell me WHAT?" Faith says, her patience near its breaking point.
"I don't see how it will help …"
"Rupert," Agatha says, "she has to know."
"Know what? Will everyone stop fucking around and just tell me?"
"Giles, tell her," Angel repeats.
Giles sighs, and removing his glasses, he cleans them. "We went through Merrick's effects after he was… he died," Giles begins quietly. "Evidently, he's been working for Cornell for longer than we suspected. He kept notes, and a journal. In there he details the murder of Buffy's boyfriend…"
"Son of a bitch!"
"… and how he made it look like Angel was involved…"
"Well, that explains a lot. But what does this have to do with…"
"I'm coming to that. Besides being Buffy's 'Watcher' Cornell used him to keep an eye on you, and Cordelia. Evidently he wanted to… keep you distracted, as he brought his plans for the Hellmouth to fruition…"
"What're you saying, Giles?" Faith suddenly not liking where this is going.
"Evidently Cornell used his powers to 'encourage' this relationship between you and Cordelia…"
Faith's face pales. "No… way. I don't … you're …" Her head starts to feel as if it's going to explode. "You're wrong!"
"Faith…" He approaches her.
"No, stand back. You're crazy. I know you're crazy… she loves me! I know it. I could feel it!"
"Faith, let me explain," Giles adds quickly, "that's just it. It went further than he, Cornell, planned. He never expected Cordelia to actually fall in love with you..."
Faith feels her body shaking. "Then… you're not… saying she doesn't love me…" She again sounds almost desperate.
"No. I know she loves you," Giles says softly. "She wouldn't have gone back in if it weren't for her feelings about you…"
Faith shuts her eyes, letting out a shuddering breath.
"But there's more, Faith. Cornell never meant for her to get as close to you as she did. He had plans for Cordelia. And her feelings for you have thrown a monkey wrench in those plans…"
"What do you mean?" Faith suddenly gets a cold chill in her heart. "What plans?"
Giles hesitates for a moment, thinking of how to proceed.
"You remember how we said earlier that Cornell had to find a new host to link to, so he could remain in this reality…?"
Faith nods, uncertain where he's going with this.
"We thought may he was looking around for a new host for his … conversion, but we came across some papers in Merrick's effects that spell out a plan of succession…"
"He needs an adult body to inhabit. He can't remain linked with an immature personality. So, he's had to wait until his 'successor' was ready. Until she was an adult…"
Faith's guts turn to ice.
"She?" She whispers, softly.
"Cordelia becomes 18 on Wednesday, Faith. We figure that's when he plans to take up in his new host."
To be continued