Road to Redemption (Series #2) – a Faith Series (takes the place of season 5 of BtVS)
EPISODE SIX: Find Your Way Back
"The Key is human," Glory told her line of trolls as she laid upon a fancy couch in the place she had been hanging out since her arrival in Sunnydale. She pulled off a piece of shattered glass from her blond, curly hair - remnants of her earlier activities at Rovello Drive.
"Why do you say that, Oh, Holiest?" Jinx asked, bowing slightly.
"Why?" She looked at them as if they were the crazy ones. "Because that dumb blond Slayer thought Dawn was the Key. Now why would she think that? Because she knows the Key is a person!" She giggled, throwing her head back.
The trolls stood then, glancing at one another, began to laugh along with her.
Glory stopped her giggling abruptly, forcing them to do the same. "Now we're getting closer to finding the Key. Those little monks were sneaky, hiding the energy within one of the Slayer's friends. Bravo. Of course, I could be totally wrong, but that's been a rare occasion, especially when it has to do with my Key!" She frowned. "I just don't know why Little Dawnie wasn't able to freaking figure that out."
"But, our lovely Glorificus, you have decimated the Slayer's mind! How can you find out which friend it is?" Dreg asked, confused.
"No, you moron, not THAT Slayer." She sat up, spreading her arms along the backside of the couch. "We've been honing in on the wrong one. Don't you get it? Why would those silly monks tell her the wrong thing? No, it's that slutty, biker-chick Slayer. She's the one who knows where my key is. God, why are there TWO vampire Slayers now?" She sighed melodramatically. "Such a pain in my ASS. I want to kill all her friends, but I'm afraid one of them might be what I'm looking for, which is why I let that friend of hers live. And if I am wrong, then all the more to have a fun massacre spree! So…" She gestured for them to step forward. "It's time to really get down and dirty in her laundry."
"You want us to rifle through her undergarments?"
"Can I do that?" Jinx volunteered, raising his hand.
Glory smacked his face, making him stumble. "No! That's not what I meant, you crusty mites! I meant, I want each of you to follow her friends around. Help me get a clue as to who I should kill and wait till later to kill. Meanwhile, I'll think of some other ways in case you all fail. Time's getting short."
"We will not fail you, Oh, Most Glorious Glorificus!" Jinx announced.
Willy's Place was hopping as always this time of night. The owner/bartender of the establishment sometimes scolded to himself about how he should've left Sunnydale a long time ago. It was such bad news here. In fact, there was a month or two where he had gone to get away from it all. But he just couldn't leave his bar to someone else.
Nor could he let someone else take HIS bribe money.
"What'll you have?" he asked the greenish demon who sat down.
"Right." He turned around to get the glass. "I haven't seen you around here, buddy. You new to this Hellmouth?"
The demon just sat there. "No talk. Drink."
Willy glanced over his shoulder, the glasses clinking until he set one under the beer dispenser. "Ah, a demon of my kind. Down to the point." He pulled down the tap, watching the liquid falling into the glass and foam. "I'm just askin' 'cause I can tell ya' some pointers about the place. It's almost like a survival suggestion, ya' know. You can't just roll into Sunnydale for fun, especially of your kind. Actually, I kinda just got back myself, but ain't no place like Sunnydale. Things are brewin' here, big time. You might wanna stay a few days before you go on your way. Enjoy the show." He turned around, placing the mug on the counter.
Instead of the demon looking back at him, a dark-haired girl was instead. Her large, red lips grinned at him, her cheeks dimpling, as she took the handle of the glass. The demon was lying unconscious on the floor. "Heya, Willy," the girl greeted him in the deep husky voice.
"Oh, God." He backed up a step, heat rising from fear more than arousal, although the girl could easily bring that on just by sitting there.
She twirled on the stool back and forth, almost playfully. "Don't look so scared. Ain't here to hurt you."
"C'mon, Slayer, you know last we met, you weren't exactly cuttin' me any slack." He gestured nervously with his hands.
Faith shrugged, downing half the beer. She put the mug down, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. He was referring to her recent arrival in Sunnydale and Anya had been after Xander. "Yeah, I know. Had a friend in trouble and I needed answers then. Desperate measures, desperate times or some shit." She looked back at the patrons who were smartly just trying to keep to themselves. "Place hasn't changed."
"You kiddin'? I had to get whole new bar stools and tables! What're you doin' back in here, Slayer? In fact, what're you doin' still in Sunnydale? Thought once the Mayor got blown and you woke up, you wouldn't be showin' your mug here again."
She looked back at him. "I did my time in the big house, now I'm out. And NOW I'm ready to cut to this chase." Talking about her continuing life revelations wasn't something she wanted to discuss with Willy, of all people. She leaned forward again, resting both arms against the counter. Her chest squeezed just a little tighter as she did so. "You know anything about a car full of guys with crossbows? They would've just rolled into town. Maybe you got your large ears to the ground and could tell me somethin'."
He scratched his cheek, trying to distract himself away from the Slayer's goods. "I got nothin'. Still trying to get myself situated, ya' know?"
But she continued to stare at him, waiting.
He blinked, trying not to falter under her gaze. "I don't, Slayer, I swear!"
"So why were you tellin' my friend on the floor here that you know things are brewin' in Sunny D?"
"Yeah. You did." She watched his eyes shift in nervousness. He was smart to be nervous. She finished up the rest of the beer. "It's the holidays, Willy. It's a time to give, so -."
The door opened then and Riley Finn stumbled slightly into the bar. He looked exhausted and his face was pale. He had one sleeve rolled up, a large bandage wrapped at the elbow.
Faith didn't say anything at the sight of the ex-soldier. She only observed as he stumbled to a stool at the far end of the bar, not even taking note of her there. Was he already drunk?
"Friend of the Slayer's... the other one," Willy corrected as he saw her looking at Riley.
Faith glanced over at him. "Yeah, I think I got that." She knitted her dark brows together. Xander had mentioned a conversation he had had with Riley. The guy was having big time problems with his relationship with Buffy, and from what Xander had said, it was mainly with her being on this strict Slayer regiment. Faith was a little surprised the guy was even slightly threatened by it all, considering Riley could hold his own in any fight.
Of course, there could be other factors she wasn't considering.
"I should attend to him," Willy said. "He's been getting kinda testy with me lately."
"Lately? When was the last time he was here?"
"Yesterday. Lookin' exactly like that – hell." He began to move towards him.
"Whoa. I didn't say we were done," Faith told him. "Do you know what's going on with Soldier Boy?" she asked, voice lowered.
"Got n-no clue."
"Why do I get the feeling you do?" It amazed her how many times this guy tried to lie to her face.
"Don't know where that feeling's comin' from, Slayer. Look, you wanna another beer or somethin'?"
"I'm underage. You can get arrested for servin' me. Though, that ain't the thing you should be worryin' about." Looking back at Riley, she made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "Okay, screw the whole crossbow crew for now – you need to tell me what's goin' on with him." She looked back at Willy.
"Why do you care?"
She frowned, leaning closer. "Why are you pissin' me off? You really wanna know what it's like to breathe through your asshole, don't you?"
Willy cringed. "No. Definitely NOT. The thought itself ain't pleasant." He wiped his sweaty hands on the bar rag. "It's a place a few blocks down. Run by some vamp."
"Place? What place is this?"
"Like a drug house only the euphoria the clients are feelin' are vamps sucking their blood – voluntarily."
"You're shittin' me." Not that she couldn't believe those kinds of places existed, but that kind of high was Riley's THING. She glanced back at him. He was sitting there, eyes closed. Had it gotten so bad between the two of them he was resorting to that?
"I shit you not." Willy nodded towards the bandage. "See?"
Faith frowned then moved over towards Riley, to Willy's relief. "Yo, Riley," she called to him.
Riley's eyes snapped open and he stared at Faith. "F-Faith. What're you doing here?" He sat up straight, pulling down his sleeve over his bandage as inconspicuously as possible.
Which wasn't at all.
"Getting' a drink, havin' a chat with my pal Willy over there. You? Looks like you ain't feelin' okay."
"I'm fine." His voice quickly became irritated.
"Not seein' B tonight?" She settled herself next to him.
Faith's eyes wandered to the counter top. She only took a split second to decide if she wanted to be upfront with Riley. "Xander told me about you and B, how it ain't quite roses and candy with the two of you."
Riley's face remained hard. "Hey, Willy. I need a mug!"
"Right at'cha!" the bartender called, setting up the tap.
Faith sat there, somewhat patiently.
"Xander should keep out of our business," Riley murmured.
"Yeah. He should… only, I know you and B are his friends, and Xander has a tendency to care about 'em. Might be a flaw." She shrugged. "C'mon, Soldier Boy, what's goin' on with you?"
"Out of everyone, Faith, sorry to say you'd be the last person I'd talk to about this…"
Faith gave a nod. "Alright, I'll give that to you. Just thought maybe you'd wanna talk is all. Can't blame a girl for tryin'…" Riley seemed like an easy going guy so seeing him like this, Faith knew something was eating him alive. She wasn't going to probe him, though. He was right; she'd be the last one he would ever want to talk relationships with. After all, the last time the two had spoken, she was wearing Buffy's body and had readily slept with him.
Of course, he would never know what that experience had done to her. It was part of what made her snap in the end.
She slipped off the chair, the moment with Willy to be saved for another time.
As she passed, she leaned into Riley's ear. "Only, next time you do the dealing thing with B, you might wanna leave the vamp whorehouse out of it."
Riley straightened up a little in surprise of her knowledge.
"I'll be back, Willy," Faith told the bartender as he gave Riley his drink.
Willy swallowed hard. "Hey, yeah, sure! Uh, no h-hard feelings this time, right?"
Without a word, Faith left.
Faith arrived at Xander's dorm ten minutes later, flopping down on the bed onto her back. There was a dull ache in her head. She stared up at the ceiling, wishing she didn't have so many thoughts and questions milling around in her mind. It just wasn't something she was used to, and having things like Dawn and Glory and a Key and monks just caused even more confusion. Add the little trolls and the crossbow boys… This was Buffy's thing, though. She wondered if she should even worry about it this much. Of course, she would do what she needed whenever she was told to do stuff.
As she lay there, she realized she had accidentally laid on something that crumpled under her shoulder. She sat up a second and pulled it out from under her, realizing it was an envelope addressed to both her and Xander. Realizing it had to come from someone who knew where she was, Faith ripped open the flap and pulled out a sheet of yellow construction paper. The smell of crayon filled her nostrils as she unfolded it.
The smile that formed on Faith's lips right then couldn't be ripped from her for the world. It was a crayon drawing of many colors of two stick figures, one was clearly Faith with a black cape to signify her superhero status and the other being Rachel with brown hair and her stuffed dinosaur. In large, unsteady letters it read:
I MISS YOU FAITH. LOVE, RACHEL
A real photograph fell out of the envelope and Faith easily snatched it from the air. It was a picture of Rachel, Hannah, Amber, and Paul posed in front of a building. On the back was a note in Hannah's handwriting that said: "In front of our new homeless shelter."
"Congrats," Faith whispered, staring at the picture again. Hannah must've been nice and settled in her knew job of running it. Everyone looked good. Everyone looked happy and for a moment, Faith relaxed in knowing this, lying back on the bed.
She closed her eyes a moment, letting the sound of her breathing subside the headache that had formed from before.
Her Slayer hearing picked up a slight sound she wasn't sure of that was disrupting her concentration. She opened her eyes, and realized it was the LIGHT blinking on his answering machine. She couldn't help but grin to herself. Sometimes, she just didn't know what she was capable of.
Faith sat up, staring at it a moment. Her hand went up to the leather strap necklace clasping the silver Chinese symbol for 'faith'. Xander should've been in by now; the message could've been him telling her where he was. Probably studying late. She hadn't been anything except distraction to his schoolwork, she was aware. But she wasn't ashamed.
She sat up and pressed play.
"Faith? I-It's Willow. God, I hope you get this… " The redhead sounded like she was trying not to sound frantically worried, and not doing such a good job. "Something's happened, with-with Buffy and X-Xander. We're at the hospital now. It's about midnight… you need to get here."
Before the message even ended, Faith was out the door.
Faith found Willow sitting outside in the lobby, looking very worried. "What happened?" Faith asked, heart racing. She had run full speed to the hospital, though that wasn't the reason for the accelerated heart rate.
"We-we're not sure," Willow answered. "Uh, Giles got a call from Dawnie. She was crying and said she and Buffy were attacked, and Xander came to help…. But then he got attacked. We found him unconscious on the porch."
"Is he… where is he?" She was poised to move her feet in the direction.
"Room 217." Before Willow could stop her, the Slayer was already speeding down the hall.
Just as Faith reached the door, a doctor came out from the room nearly running into her. He held up his hands. "Whoa, Miss. Are you family?"
Faith frowned. "Close enough to be," she snapped. "That's my boyfriend in there." It felt weird saying that, but at the same time, there was no other way to put it. And there was no way this doctor wasn't going to let her see him right this second.
"Okay, well, right now, family members only…"
"Look, you fucking little - "
"Uh, she-she's with us," Willow interjected, finally catching up to Faith. She smiled at the doctor by way of 'please do this for now or it's not going to be pretty.'
The doctor gave Faith a look then stepped aside. "Well, okay, but only for half an hour at most."
Faith rushed in, slowing when she saw Xander lying in the bed. There were a few cuts on his face and a bandage on the side of his forehead. The heart monitor beeped steadily.
Willow frowned. "They said he bruised two ribs and got a few cuts. But he should be okay. Um, from the look of the scene it looked like… well, like he was thrown through the upstairs window. But he somehow landed on the porch."
"Thrown?" Faith gingerly stepped closer to the bed, resting her hands on the metal bars that ran alongside the bed. She stared at Xander's bruised face already feeling the anger start to bubble up in her.
"Yeah. Dawn couldn't quite tell us, she was so shaken. Xander's lucky that nothing really major was broken, falling off the roof like that." Willow came up beside Faith, and the two looked at the male lying silently in the bed. "He'll be okay." She heard a sudden metallic creak and realized Faith was crushing one of the bars in frustration and worry.
Faith let go, leaving the bar mangled. She crossed her arms instead. "What about B?" She looked away from Xander a moment. "How's she?" She saw the look cross Willow's face. "Red, what is it? She hurt worse than Xander?"
"I don't… you need to go see her," Willow said quietly.
Five minutes later, they had gone up another floor to the psychiatric ward. Faith glanced at Willow in question as they stepped off the elevator but it was soon answered when she found Giles in a room with Buffy. Buffy sat on the table, studying a jar of Q-tips.
"Faith," the ex-Watcher said, getting to his feet.
"Hey…" She looked at Buffy, who looked perfectly fine except for what was left of a bruise on her cheek. "B?"
But the other Slayer didn't look up. She kept turning the jar over and over again as if expecting a different result.
"What's… wrong with her?" Faith asked Willow and Giles.
"Um, well, we're not sure," Giles answered. "It's… it's as if her mind was meddled with."
"Oh! I know the writing has been checked by the inspectors!" Buffy suddenly said. She looked at Giles expectantly. "Will my raccoon be okay in the book?" She held up the jar for him to take.
He took it. "Yes, Buffy. Your, um, raccoon will be just fine." He gave her a quick, small smile and set the jar on the counter. His face fell into a look of sadness. "The doctors aren't sure what has happened. They saw no signs of brain damage."
"We think it might be magic," Willow piped in.
"Or something akin to it."
"That spell B was trying to do," Faith began. "Think that might've mind fucked her?"
"Mind fuck!" Buffy cried.
"Not possible," Giles answered. "The spell has not known to have side effects like this, if any. I think… I may know what it is though."
Willow raised her brows. "You do? What is it?" she asked.
"Glory," Giles answered, giving a pointed look to Faith.
"Glory? Who's Glory?"
Faith shook her head, not really wanting to hear this, not really wanting to face what this meant. What this meant was that Glory had come back to attack, and right in Buffy's own home. She could bet her life what the strange blond demon wanted: the Key. Buffy must've not told her. She managed to hold off since Dawn, though shaken, was okay.
And this was what Glory had done as "payment."
"Glory!" Buffy perked up, straightening her back. "The time will come! The time will go!" Then she suddenly calmed down.
"Buffy, what did you see? Was it Glory who did this to you?" Giles asked as if asking a 2-year-old.
Buffy tilted her head slightly, trying to soak in the Englishman. She grinned. "I like the grass at midnight."
Giles quickly gave up, knowing nothing was going to come out of her. "Dawn wasn't able to tell us exactly if it was her, and I didn't want to push her, but I see no other culprit – especially as of late."
"Uh, still on the subject of 'who's Glory'!" Willow said, raising her hand slightly.
Giles and Faith glanced at each other.
"I shall explain but not here," Giles told the witch.
Faith shook her head. It was hard to accept what was happening to Buffy, especially after their talk in the graveyard. "Fine, but… what now? If they can't find nothing wrong with B, what do we do?"
"The doctor just said to keep her overnight for more observation," Giles replied. Before Faith could protest, he held up his hand. "They've done as many tests as possible. There's no trace of anything physical done to her. But just in case, they would like to run a few more tests."
"Which led us to think maybe 'mystical,'" Willow added.
The dark Slayer looked at blond Slayer and pursed her lips together. Buffy was out of commission. Not even near the vicinity of commission. The only silver lining was that Buffy was still alive.
The doctor came back in with Buffy's chart in his hand. "Okay, her bed is ready." He looked up. "I'll have a talk with her mother as soon as we settle Buffy into her bed."
"Thank you, Dr. Moriarty," Giles said to him.
"Come on, Buffy," the doctor coaxed, taking her arm to help her down. "We're going to take you back to your room so you can rest."
"Mrs. Summers and Dawn are two floors up," Willow explained to Faith. "Mrs. Summers wasn't feeling too well again. Tara is with them." A thought struck her then but didn't want to say anything in front of the doctor.
Buffy stared at Giles, curiously, then back at the doctor. "No…" She shook her head. "No. The light isn't there yet! The light!" She threw her arm out, easily tossing the doctor aside like a rag doll.
He hit the counter and slumped to the ground, grimacing in pain.
"Whoa," Faith said, quickly grabbing Buffy by the arms and holding her there. "Hey, B, calm down."
Giles and Willow rushed to the doctor's side, assisting him back to his feet. "Are you okay?" Willow asked, handing him back his clipboard.
He nodded, though grimaced again, arching his back a bit. "She's pretty strong."
"We always said she was for her… um, height," Willow covered, lamely.
Giles cleared his throat. "I suppose this might be a bit more of a task than I thought." He looked at Buffy who smiled back at him, innocently. He reached out for her again. "Buffy, please, the doctor is here to help. Do you want to find the book for your raccoon?"
She nodded then slid off the table as Faith let her go. "I think I will ask the clown what the time of the speech is…" She let Giles lead her out of the door, the doctor staying close behind but on alert.
"Willow, Faith, I will meet you by Xander's room, assuming he'll be awake by then. I shall return with Tara so we all can discuss the current situation."
"Of course. Actually, you go ahead with Buffy, Giles. I can go get Tara." Willow bit her lip in pure concern as the trio left the room. "Poor Buffy," she murmured, sadly.
"Will Mrs. S and Dawn be okay takin' care of B?" Faith asked, assuming this wasn't going to be resolved by tomorrow. "B seems like she can go outta control at any time."
"I think I heard the doctor talk about pills to subdue her. Giles is worried it may take more than the daily dosage 'cause it's Buffy. The whole Slayer thing, ya' know? Well of course you know 'cause… you know."
But Faith was staring hard at some corner of the room. "We'll find a way outta this, Red," she said. "B's gotta come outta this. It's her game."
Willow glanced over at Faith. "I-I know we haven't had the best of pasts, and I'm gonna try to find a spell to return Buffy to us, of course, but… it's not like we don't have a Slayer still among us."
"This is so fuckin' outta my league," she muttered. "I don't even think I'm really involved in any of this shit."
"What sh… er, stuff?" Willow asked, confused.
Faith glanced back at the witch. "Uh, think Giles is gonna be the one to fill you guys in."
Willow accepted the answer for now. "Something's kinda weirder than weird," she commented on her earlier thought.
"What is it?"
"Well, Mrs. Summers was okay and all, but she didn't mention about hearing a fight in her room."
"She must've been knocked out good on the couch," Faith offered.
"Yeah, but… when the paramedics got there, Mrs. Summers was fast asleep in her bed in her ROOM."
That did strike Faith as weird. "You think Glory did something to B's mom, too?"
Willow could only lift her shoulders slightly then let them sag. "Why don't you hang out in Xander's room until Giles and Tara get here? The doctor said he would be in and out until all the good meds wear off. I bet he'd like for you to be the first one he sees."
Faith nodded and moved off to do just that.
Giles had left Buffy's room when she was finally sedated. His tweed jacket hung off his arm as sweat glistened on his forehead. She was being understandably difficult in getting her down on the bed, and some orderlies didn't come away unscathed.
As he came out of the elevator, he spotted Faith pacing in front of Xander's room. He frowned, seeing the stressed expression on her hardened face. "Faith," he called.
The Slayer looked up. "B okay?" she asked as he approached, pausing in her pacing.
"Yes. She'll be okay for the night. Are they not allowing any visitors to see him?" He nodded towards the closed door of Xander's room.
"Yeah, they are. Just… he's still asleep. I sat in there but I couldn't handle seein' him like that." She let out a bitter chuckle, throwing up her hands. "All the guts and blood and shit I can stomach easily, and I can't see Xander layin' there banged and bruised up."
Giles let out a similar bitter smile, which quickly went away. "Well, it's quite a different feeling." He glanced up and down the hall for any sign of the witches. "Did you learn anything at Willy's?" he asked.
"Nope." She wasn't really ready to tell them about Riley, not after the night Buffy had. "Was tryin' the nice approach but…" She shrugged. "I may swing by there later." It depended how the night panned out and the mood she was in when she left. "What're you gonna tell the others?" Faith asked.
Giles sighed, running a hand through his graying hair as he leaned against the wall. "The truth. I've looked at all the information you and Buffy had collected from the Dagon Sphere to the monk, who we've concluded was part of the Order of Dagon. With Glory making her move and on Buffy, there's no other conclusion to make except she knows Buffy has the Key. Maybe this was a way to-to try and get it out of her?"
"But they still don't know it's…"
"No. Otherwise, Buffy's mind wouldn't be the only thing missing tonight." He glanced down at his shoes as a nurse passed by, chart in hand. She went into Xander's room, closing the door behind her. Instinctively, the Englishman lowered his voice. "The clues about what the monk said, about telling you and Buffy…"
"Just Buffy, G-Man. I just happened to be overhearin' everything."
"Well, what the monk had mentioned for both of you to hear, a-about the Key being an innocent, even more so, a girl. And-and energy of it poured into her for protection."
Faith nodded. "Slayer's gotta protect it."
"Added with that and the vivid dream you had concerning a key and Dawn… there's much to explain to the others. Maybe we should have told the others earlier," Giles murmured.
"Yeah, I was thinkin' the same thing," she remarked, sharply.
"Well, it's time now…" He heard the elevators ding open and Tara and Willow emerged, looking solemn, which wasn't a usual wear on either of them.
They met up with Giles and Faith just as the nurse emerged from the room. "It looks like he's awake now," she told them with a smile. "He seems to be looking for someone named Faith?"
"That's me," Faith answered, pointing her thumb towards her chest.
"You can go on in." She opened the door for the Slayer.
Faith glanced back at them. "Give us a minute?"
"Of-of course," Tara said with a nod and assuring smile.
The door slowly shut behind them as Faith approached the bed. Xander was already looking at her, relief falling on his features.
"Boy, I ask for a sponge bath from a hot nurse and they send you?" he remarked.
"Oh, they sent her; I just beat her up in the hall before she could get here." She smiled, though it was strained slightly. Still amazed her how light he could be despite what it looked like he had been through. That's what made him one of the toughest people she knew.
"And you didn't steal her nurse outfit? Not the Faith that I know and love." He shook his head in mock shame then grimaced in pain as he coughed.
"Hey, take it easy on the fuckin' jokes," she practically scolded. She couldn't help the worry in her voice that always turned into anger when it was all said. But she softened. "How… how're you feelin'?"
"Like I was thrown through an upstairs window, rolled off the roof, and got kicked into Buffy's front porch," Xander answered, his eyes closed. He flinched slightly as a flash of the image cut through his mind. Then he felt a strong hand cover his and he opened to find Faith had sat down in the chair next to him. "I guess the blond Mack truck of a girl got scared of me and ran off? Especially considering the me being alive thing."
"I dunno where the bitch went," Faith answered, Giles' guess of Glory being the culprit confirmed by Xander's statement. "What the fuck were you doin' trying to fight her anyway?"
"Hey, had I known she could toss me around with her pinky, I probably would've been better prepared!" he protested. Then he quieted down. "Well, probably not even then. Dawnie and Buffy were in trouble; I couldn't just…" He felt her fingers tighten gently around his hand.
"Are they okay?" he asked.
There was a knock at the door and Giles stuck his head in. "Hello?"
"G-Man," Xander called, smiling. "Come on in." He didn't want Faith to let go of his hand but regardless she did when she stood up as the others entered.
"Xander!" Willow cried, running to him and smiling. She wanted to hug him but knew the position he was in didn't allow for that. "Hi!" she said instead, grabbing his hand with both of hers.
"Oh! Look." She reached into her bag and pulled out a small bendable figurine of Snoopy doing the Snoopy dance. She held it out to him, happily. "To keep you company."
"The Snoopy!" He grinned. "Thanks, Will! Where'd you snag that?"
"In the gift shop downstairs. Me and Dawnie went down there to find stuff to give to… um, everyone here."
Xander's brows rose, prompting him to try to sit up. "Everyone? Who else? Is Buffy okay? Dawn?"
They all exchanged looks.
"Okay, obviously not in on the secret here," Xander said.
"Actually, I think we all should sit down," Giles suggested, gesturing for all the places that were available to do such. He saw Faith not even moving to do so and had taken her stance by looking out the window. "There's… there's much more that I need to tell you, and while this may not be the best place to do so, it's what we have at the moment…"
Dreg and Jinx hid behind a potted plant in the lobby of the hospital. Their robes stuck out slightly on the floor but other than that, they were pretty well hidden from any casual passer-by. They were told to check out this facility since the Wrong Slayer and one of her friends was injured. But they did not realize how big of a place this was and there were many people around.
"The Most Holy One said to keep to the shadows and not be caught," Dreg whispered, making the plant's leaves wiggle. "But we are to find either Dawn or one of the Slayer's friends…"
"I know the plan," Jinx snapped. "I was there when the Most Holy told it to us." He looked around. "But we cannot even know where to start."
An older couple came into the lobby, the male walking around rather wobbly while the woman tried to keep him straight. They were dressed in somewhat rumpled clothing, as if they just threw something on.
"Where's my son?" the man said, banging the palm of his hand once on the counter, prompting the woman to shush him. "Harris. Last name…"
Dreg and Jinx looked at each other then looked down at a crumpled sheet in their hand that Dawn had handed to them not too long ago. "The name is here…"
"I think I wanna throw up," Willow remarked, staring almost blankly at a place on Xander's bedside tray.
"I understand it's a lot to take in," Giles assured the shocked, quiet group. "But we felt it better if we didn't include everyone until we knew for sure what we were dealing with. Unfortunately, we still don't."
"What I'm not getting in all this is… well, you-know-who being the Key," Xander remarked, trying to let it soak in. They had agreed not to throw Dawn's name around if they could help it. "It can't be. I think about it, and I can remember stuff in my past with them in it. Like when Buff first got here… she was there. From the start…"
"Me, too," Willow replied, quietly.
"That's what, I suppose, the spell is to entail," Giles explained further. "To have us all know her as if she's always been there. Thus we'd feel even more compelled to protect her."
Xander looked at Faith, briefly, even with her back to him. He had noticed she was the quietest of them all throughout the ex-Watcher's explanation. It dawned on him that, all this time, she wasn't affected by this spell for whatever reason. He was going to bring it up but decided not to just yet. There was something so much bigger than memory tampering. "Poor Buffy…" he finished in a sad breath.
Giles adjusted his glasses, trying to not allow the sadness for his Slayer get to him right now.
Faith turned from the window suddenly, making them all look at her. But she wasn't looking back at them; she was staring at the closed door of the room.
Giles read the expression on Faith's face and walked up to the door, pulling it open quickly. "Dawn?" they heard him say.
"Uh, hi Mr. Giles," the youngest Summers greeted sheepishly as the others in the room exchanged somewhat fearful looks - fearful that she had heard their whole conversation. "I came to see how Xander was."
Giles glanced back at the group just as Tara stood up. The blond witch knew now wasn't the time. "Um, hey Dawnie," she said, meeting her at the door. "Xander's fine but he's just r-resting. How about we find something to eat?"
"Are you guys having a meeting or something?" Dawn asked, trying to peek in.
"Not r-really." She placed a gentle hand on Dawn's upper back, steering her away from the room. "Want some ice cream?"
"Yeah!" they heard her say without protest.
The ex-Watcher closed the door, letting out a small sigh of relief. After a moment, and a nod from Faith, Giles continued. "I did find something linked to Glory that has led me to believe she is the cause of Buffy's condition."
Faith gave him her full attention. Something new that she hadn't heard before. "What is it?"
"There's been an influx of patients in the psychiatric ward. It has been in the papers and the news. It began around the same time as when Buffy and Faith first mentioned Glory. I did some cross-referencing and found that Glory has been linked to some state of mentality. Sanity, possibly."
"Buffy's brain and her sanity were sucked right out of her?" Xander questioned, incredulously. "Is that what you're telling us here, Giles?"
"Something to that effect, yes. It's only theory, however. There's just not enough information on her that any of my books hold. I can't even pinpoint her origins or reasons for this power. The Dagon Sphere leads us to surmise she is 'That Which Cannot Be Named' and I'm beginning to believe she did not hold a name because she possibly is so old…"
"What, that she was named before there were words to write down?" Xander asked in pure exaggeration. Then he saw the agreement in Giles' face. "Oh."
Giles dipped his gaze a bit. "A very big possibility." He sat down, sighing. "The only other outside research I can think of…"
"What is it?" Willow prompted when the Englishman trailed in his words.
"Well, there is one other organization I have ties to that may have the answer to it all."
Faith saw the expression on his face and she shook her head, knowing exactly where he was going with this. "Hell, no, Giles."
"Faith, it's the only way."
"What?" Xander asked, looking between the two.
"The Council," Giles answered, flatly. He wasn't any happier than Faith was.
"The people who fired you? Who tried to kill Buffy and Faith? Wow, those are the people I know I want info from!"
Giles stood up, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I understand the hesitation in requesting their assistance. I need to tell them the severity of the situation and they'll HAVE to succumb to my request for further information."
There was a tense pause in the conversation. There was no way around it, not if they wanted information as quickly as possible. As much as they hated the Council and everything they currently stood for, it was their only hope and they agreed without saying another word about it.
"In the meantime, maybe we should ask around?" Willow suggested.
"I'll do that," Faith interjected. She was unconsciously rubbing her knuckles. "You and T should stick with B's family here in the hospital, especially if Glory's out there findin' the Key."
"Obviously, she didn't know or… well, there'd be missage," Xander replied.
"B wouldn't give anythin' up," Faith murmured.
"Then… Glory will probably be after you." He looked at Faith with concern in the realization. "You are the only other one she knows that knows. And since Buff's outta the pic…"
"Don't worry about me, X-Man. She comes my way, I got more fuel to my fire than she's seen." And that was an understatement to Faith at the moment.
Giles eyed Faith with concern and firmness. "Faith, please, don't try to engage in a fight with Glory, if it can be helped. You know how powerful she is. Until we find a weakness, there shall be no exacting revenge of any kind." He gave her a look to show he meant it.
Faith met his gaze and tensed her jaw. It was the exact opposite of what she was feeling at the moment. But she lowered her fist to show she was reluctantly agreeing.
"In the meantime, I shall make arrangements to talk with Mr. Travers and hopefully arrange something," Giles stated.
"You can't tell them who the Key is, though," Willow piped in. "I mean, not yet, right?"
"No. Of course not. I shall leave that as vague as possible. I would rather the true nature of the Key be kept out of the conversation."
"Tara and I can keep looking in books," Willow offered. "Maybe books in some of the other occult shops we know? Find stuff on Glory and - and maybe how to help Buffy."
Giles nodded. "Yes. Any bit will help."
"And I'll… just lay here," Xander muttered, slumping back on the bed.
The others looked at him then at each other.
"You need to do the healing thing," Willow said, taking his hand. "Maybe Tara and I can bring some books over and you can help look through them?"
Xander, though not as happy at the prospect, nodded and smiled slightly. "Sure, Will. As long as I'm helping."
Faith came up to the other side of his bed and sat down, her hand resting on his arm. "You guys go ahead. I'm gonna stick around here before I do any askin' around."
The others gave their good-byes then left the room.
As soon as they had left, Faith adjusted herself to lie beside Xander as much as she was able to do. She could see the hard expression on his face, knowing he wasn't happy. "Sorry you're findin' out about this now," she said.
Xander shrugged. "I guess you had to do what you had to do," he replied, not really looking at her. "I'm still not getting all of it, but…" He shifted slightly in the bed.
"Hey, c'mon, you know we had a reason. May not've been right, but we couldn't let the cat outta the bag just yet."
"I know. I just hate being Mr. Out-of-Loop guy."
"I know you do. I'm sorry. Wasn't my call, really." She nudged him. "Don't be so fucking pouty," she teased to break the tension.
Xander looked at her then smiled. "Hey, I'm the one in the hospital. I have rights to be pouty." He lay there a moment, the overload of information still going through his head. "I don't get it. These monks put some spell on us, to feel the protective thing towards the Key… why didn't they put it on you?"
It was Faith's turn to shrug. "Beats the hell outta me. I'm guessin' they saw my past and didn't think I'd be a candidate for protectin' anyone."
Xander nudged her with his elbow. "Hey, how come I don't get to talk about myself like that but you get to? Not fair. There must've been something else going on. I mean what if there's some deeper… gah…" He shivered as he felt her lips gently kissing his bruised cheek. It was a definite good kind of shiver.
"Did you say 'deeper'?" she purred in his ear. Faith was not ready to give into the severity of the situation they had just talked about. All she wanted was to be glad Xander was still alive and kicking and there was only one way she knew how. She grew more intense as she continued to kiss him, hearing his breath quicken with arousal.
That's when the door opened suddenly, making them break away from each other and both look up. Xander sat up slightly, seeing who was staring back at them. "D-Dad," he sputtered.
"What the hell happened to you?" Tony Harris asked his son. Mrs. Harris came up behind her husband, looking at her son with concern. "I told you fraternity pranks are the dumbest thing you can do! That's why I didn't want to send you off to that damn college!"
"Tony, keep your voice down," Mrs. Harris hissed, closing the door behind them to keep the yelling to a minimum.
"It had nothing to do with fraternities," Xander pointed out, feeling a headache forming. Of all times, this shouldn't have been the time for his parents – especially his father – to grow a heart. He noticed Faith had gotten off the bed and stood, watching his parents intensely, brows drawn together to form that wrinkle on her forehead.
"Right. Like jumping off a roof is something a sane person would do without it being a dare?" Mr. Harris glanced over at Faith. "And bringing over college girls, too. Sympathy card? Think this is some free ride? This is gonna cost me money, Alex."
Xander sighed in frustration, more embarrassed about how loud his father was being, than what was being said about him. He was used to that by now; it was practically normal conversation. "It's not like I planned to get hurt," he remarked, trying to get his dad out of there before anything was said to set Faith off.
And by the tick in her jaw, he was afraid it wouldn't take much.
"Are you being a smart-ass to me?" He drew nearer to the bed, and Xander could smell the alcohol on him.
"No. I'm just telling you that it has nothing to do with college pranks. I got everything taken care of, Dad. Don't worry about me… although, I see you have that down," he couldn't help but add.
"What did you say?"
"Tony," Mrs. Harris pleaded. "I knew we shouldn't have come down here. Let's just settle the paperwork."
"I want your son to repeat what he said," Mr. Harris growled.
"Back off," Faith finally demanded, narrowing her eyes at Mr. Harris. She had seen enough, and she knew that if she ever met up with Xander's dad, there'd be hell coming. She knew what it was like to have an "adult" figure beat you down, literally, and it was something she and Xander shared as part of their pasts.
Xander's eyes widened a bit when Faith spoke up. "Uh, no it's okay," he told her, trying to reach out to her. But she was just out of touch.
Mr. Harris glared at Faith. "Excuse me? Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Someone who doesn't appreciate you talkin' to your son that way," she snapped back.
Xander's dad raised his brows in surprise. "How dare you talk to me that way! You don't have a right! This is between me and my son, so shut your goddamn mouth, little girl!"
"Hey! Don't talk to her like that!" Xander retorted, anger quickly rising in his tone. His dad had a way of talking down to females. Although his mother sadly took it, he knew Faith wasn't going to. And considering the night Faith has had, Xander really did not want to see what was coming next. He looked at his girlfriend, her hands already balled tightly into fists. "Faith, really, total coolness here. You can, uh, do what you were gonna do. You know that THING you were gonna do?"
"Not leavin'," Faith intoned, her eyes not veering away from Mr. Harris.
"This the girl you're seeing?" Mr. Harris asked. Then he laughed. "She's really pretty, Alex. Too pretty. How on earth could someone like her want someone like you, son?"
And that was all it took for Faith to finally react…
The two trolls were ducking behind trashcans and gurneys, drawing nearer to Xander's room. They had followed the couple to this floor without being seen, to their relief. They had learned by the conversation downstairs that the male and female humans were the boy's guardians.
They were trying to listen to the conversation, though right when the voices grew louder, another voice brought them out from it.
"Have you found anything out?" came the voice of Dawn as she ducked her head in.
Both trolls yelped in surprise.
"Shh!" she replied, smacking them across the heads.
"Oh, Second Most Holiest, we have just gotten here. Some people have entered his room," Dreg informed her. "We believe they are guardians of the boy. You say the Dark Slayer is more protective of this boy than any of - "
There was a cry of surprise from inside and a female scream then the door busted open, due to the body flying through it and hitting the other side of the wall. Nurses and orderlies alike jumped in fright at the sudden noise cutting into the quiet hallways.
Dawn backed away slowly, spotting the slumped form of an older man, groaning in pain and holding a hand up to his mouth. Before anyone could notice, she backed away and snuck back into the elevator.
Some people ran to the man's assistance as an older lady came out, running over to him. "Tony!"
Both trolls froze, afraid they were to be spotted even under the cover of the sheet. They almost peed in their robes when the Dark Slayer stood in the doorway, fists clenched and glaring at the older man. She did look menacing.
"She's near," Dreg squeaked. "She could crush us like a crumbled parchment."
"Shhh, then!" Jinx replied.
The Dark Slayer turned at the touch from behind surprised that the dark-haired boy had managed to get out bed. "What the hell…? Xander!" She reached over and supported him by loosely wrapping her arm around his waist.
"Do you see that?" Jinx whispered. "How she cares for him deeply, how protective of him she is?"
The boy grimaced in pain. "Dad, just go…"
"She even protects him against his own guardians," Dreg further observed.
"Tony, leave them alone!" the female guardian finally spoke up, pulling at her husband's arm when they got him to his feet. "It's late. You're tired."
"Mom, please, have the paperwork party and just take Dad home," Xander said, his voice strained as he leaned forward a little.
The Male Guardian and the Dark Slayer stared at each other without moving, even as blood dribbled down from his busted lip.
He shooed the nurses away, muttering he was fine, and moved down the hall.
Mrs. Harris looked at Faith then her son and followed after her husband.
Dreg and Jinx stood stock still, noticing that Dawn had slipped out during the commotion. They glanced at each other, agreeing on one thing: the boy had to be it. They needed another plan of attack to take the Key and bring them to their Most Holy One.
Faith nudged Xander back towards the bed. Some of the nurses had asked if things were okay.
Xander looked at the barely hanging off the hinges door and smiled. "As good as it could be."
Faith heard the nurses murmur to themselves in awe at the state of the door, but she ignored them when she heard them talk about getting maintenance to fix it. She noticed that the metal bars had been knocked down as she helped him back in the bed. "Your IV got torn," she said, noticing the bleeding atop his hand.
"Least of my pain right now," he said, adjusting himself on the bed. "Wow, that just all hurt." He let out a sigh. "Okay, I get that my dad's such an ass, but you shouldn't have done that, the whole hitting him right through a door. Usually, not a first impression of the good, although I'm sure you made an impression on him."
Faith glared at him. "Don't you think I know that?" she snapped, obviously slightly embarrassed by how it all panned out. Although, she was pretty much over it. "But he had that comin' to him." She had held back – a LOT. If a busted lip was all he got, it was barely a fraction of what she could've done. That thought always scared her a little. She pulled the metal bars back in place then ran her fingers across the part she had crushed earlier.
Xander sighed, nodding. "Yeah, I concur."
"Damn, Xander, I couldn't help it."
He finally settled where it didn't hurt as much. "I know. That'll teach him not to say stuff about me." He reached out and touched her hand. "Hey, no worries. It's not like he'll go and yell at you." He knew he was going to hear about it later. He would just have to deal with that bridge when he crossed it. "I think he was just surprised I had such a hot, powerful girlfriend. Actually, I think he was surprised I had a girlfriend…"
"They don't know about Cordelia or Anya?"
"Well, they knew about Anya, mostly. They know her voice. They don't care." He shrugged. "Why don't you go on ahead and deal with the bigger issue, huh? I think that just took a lot out of me. I'm suddenly pretty tired…" His eyes were suddenly starting to flutter with heavy lids.
Faith stood by his bed a moment then leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips. "Sleep," she whispered. Then she quietly left the room.
Willy grinned at the tip he just received from the vampire lady that had just left the bar to join the others for the night. "Still got the charm," he said, stuffing the green paper into his jacket pocket. Just as he turned, the door flew open, nearly flying off its hinges.
He turned and watched Faith come stalking in, her whole manner different from earlier. First of all, there was no playfulness behind her intense brown eyes. Secondly… well, the first one summed it all up. The sweat started already, his eyes shifting around. Some of the patrons slowly got up and slipped out. "Uh, Sl-Slayer! Heya again! Wow, twice in one night – to what do I-I owe this pleasure?"
"Cut the fucking small talk, Willy," she snapped, stalking up to the bar.
Oh, yeah, she was in a foul mood. The bartender swallowed, gingerly coming up to meet her at the counter. He never really knew what was better – the Slayer being playful and not really knowing where she was going with the conversation or her being outright ferocious and knowing exactly where you stood with her.
"Remember my earlier question? Well, I need a fucking answer, and now would be great if you know what's good for your teeth."
"Oh! Uh, a-about the guys in the car with-with the crossbows? Hey, ya' know, I told ya', I don't know nothing."
"You know something's goin' on," she intoned, her voice calm. Which scared the shit out of Willy even more. "You're gonna tell me what you know because I've had a fucking bad night." She grabbed a beer bottle someone had left behind. "And right now, I don't have any patience. You say anything along the lines of 'I don't know' or don't answer me at all, I'll - "
"Whoa, hey, okay!" Willy put his hands up when the beer bottle busted in her fist threateningly. He decided he liked the playful, vague Slayer better. He looked around then looked back at her, gesturing towards a door behind him, as he absently wiped the left over glass and beer. "Come on around back."
"'Cause this ain't a convo you want to have out here," he answered. He took one last look and went through the door into a back room.
Faith followed him in, scanning the place before she watched as he closed the door behind him and locked it. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously, taking the two long strides to get to him and snatched him by the front of his shirt. "You gonna try to play me just 'cause you got me alone?" She gripped his shirt tightly, her fist already cocked back.
"N-No!" he said with wide eyes, feeling himself lifted to his tippy-toes. He began to flail his legs in pure fear then found he couldn't find purchase for his feet anymore. "Look, I'll tell you what I know, but I gotta warn ya', it ain't much!"
"I'll let you know if it ain't much," she warned. She shoved him back as she let him go. "Talk."
Willy let out a sigh of relief, wiping his waterfall of sweat off his entire face. "Okay, I know a little about these guys you're speaking of." He pressed his bowling shirt with his hands as he spoke. "When I mean I 'know,' I mean I know they came into town recently. A couple of 'em paid me a visit a few weeks ago, with the crossbows in question, lookin' for the Slayer."
"And you told 'em…" Her eyes narrowed just a little more.
Willy was quick to put up his hands. "Before you get your leather pants in a wad, it wasn't you they were lookin' for."
"I wasn't thinkin' so, asshole. You told 'em where Buffy lives." She stepped closer to him, her anger still bubbling just below the surface. "Which is why they attacked her house, knew exactly where it was…" Or at least, sent their monster bitch to attack.
It was occurring to him where her conclusions were jumping into – and the outcome for him was dim. "N-No! I mean, yeah but I didn't tell 'em. C'mon, you know there were plenty of givers sitting just at the bar to write out - and even type out - the Slayer's address."
Faith gave him that. There were enough enemies of Buffy's to go a long way. And if they saw Buffy's current condition, they would have their own celebration. She tried to shake that thought before the anger became too blinding. "Is that it? Did they say why they were lookin' for her?"
"Uh, looked like they're on the hunt for somethin'. Probably her."
Faith stood there, arms crossed as he talked. "These guys, they had a weird sun symbol tattooed on their foreheads…"
"Right. Overheard it's like a sign of their allegiance." He lowered his voice with the next statement. "They're some kind of knights."
"Yeah. Ya' know, like during the Camelot era? Except without the-the metal gear."
"I ain't kiddn' you, Slayer. Promise."
Knights? What the hell were knights doing in Sunnydale? Okay, that could be easily answered in "It's the Hellmouth" but Faith clearly remembered them wanting Dawn. They must also be looking for the Key. Just what she needed, another piece of this already fucked up puzzle. "But you don't know why they're here. They didn't mention anythin' other than looking for B?"
"No. Promise. They also mentioned about havin' some pals in L.A. and somewhere in Europe, too. Was thinkin' maybe London or was it Iceland…? Coulda been Graceland…"
Faith was taking it all in, ignoring his mutterings, then looked at him again. "Would you recognize these fuckers if you saw 'em again?"
"Uh, they're kinda normal lookin'. Might be hard to - "
"But you'll try to recognize 'em, right?"
Although there was a connotation of a question at the end of her sentence, Willy knew it was a command. "Well, yeah, of course, Slayer!"
"What about these ugly-ass trolls? Heard anything about them?"
"I hadn't heard anything about that."
She stepped forward while he backed away. "You sure?"
"Swear it, Slayer! Swear it! I just heard folks saying they've seen them out and about, but that's it. I'll be sure to put my ear to the ground if I do! Just for you!"
"Bitch named Glory. Ring any bells?"
"Glory? She's that broad that rampaged through you and the other Slayer back at the warehouse. A couple of vampires came laughing in here to tell…" He saw the unhappy look on Faith's face from the mention of it. "Uh, I mean, well, you get what I mean. Don't know any more than you do. No one knows what the hell she's doin' here. She kinda keeps to herself…"
Faith studied him as he looked back at her, sweat continuing to stream down the sides of his head. He quickly wiped at it again, trying to smile. "Hope you're tellin' the truth, Willy. I want the info once it reaches you, got it? You know this is big 'cause there are a lotta players rollin' into town. But I know you'll have your big ears listenin' out for ONLY me." She reached out and grabbed his right ear tightly, an almost inaudible crunch of cartilage between her fingers. "If you wanna keep them attached to your head, that is."
He whimpered in pain.
"I find out you know something and you didn't tell me - "
"I know the-the consequences!" he cried, squirming.
"Good, though I doubt you really do." She let go, a humorless grin on her face. "See? We're on the same side here, Willy." She clapped him hard on the shoulder as he rubbed his ear. He faltered a little under the force. "We just gotta work together." She slapped him lightly on the cheek before opening the door and heading back out into the bar area.
Everyone looked up at her, including a few vampires off in the corner who seemed to have made it an even bigger chore to not make eye contact. She paused, stopping right in front of their table. She could see them all tense at her presence and she took her fist and pile-drove it, knuckles-first, right into the top. Two of the legs broke from the force and the table itself split in two.
The vampires slung themselves back in shock as splinters of wood went everywhere.
"What the hell, Slayer?" one cried, scrambling to his feet.
Faith rubbed her knuckles, eyeing them. "I had to let off some steam. Figure you guys could provide it. At least your table did. I see you laughin' about mine and B's asses gettin' kicked ever again…" She flipped a piece of broken wood on the floor into her hand which prompted them to back away. "Don't think I don't remember vamps' stupid mugs when I see 'em." She had remembered them clearly from when they had met up with Glory; they were a part of Harmony's silly gang of vampires that managed to get away.
"Al-Alright," the first one said in fear.
With that, Faith tossed the piece of wood away and walked out the door.
The vampires let out a sigh of relief then glared over at Willy.
"Shit, Willy! Didn't we tell you NEVER get WOODEN tables again?"
"Aw, pipe down… they came cheap."
Faith pushed Xander down the long hallway of the psychiatric ward. She had spent the night at the hospital, getting in a good two hours of shuteye soon after the sun had risen. She had just sat there quietly, watching Xander sleep and to her dismay, letting her thoughts just soak through before she dozed off.
Once Xander was fed and washed up – to his embarrassment ("It's not nearly as sexy this way!" he had declared) – he had found the courage to get into a wheelchair and be taken to see Buffy. He sat there in nervous anticipation of what he was about to see. But he really felt like he needed to see his best friend.
"You doin' okay?" Faith asked as they drew nearer.
"Kinda sortta no. Not really ready to see Buffy like this."
She only nodded, even though he couldn't see her. It was hard for her to see Buffy in this condition and she could see how hard it had been for Giles and Willow. But with Xander… Xander always took his relationships to heart – much deeper than he let on – and he was especially sensitive to Buffy just because he has always known her as the strong, brave Slayer. To hear Faith and Willow talk about how Buffy was now… it was breaking his heart just listening to them.
"Ya' know, though, a guy could get used to this being pushed around to get to places," he commented to cut into the uncomfortable anticipation.
"I bet. Too bad you ain't gonna be that guy," she remarked with a grin just as they pulled up to the door.
Xander looked up at the seemingly looming door, taking a deep breath. It was suddenly pushed open as an orderly was coming out with a tray of empty pill cups. "Whoa, hey," he said. "Sorry about that, dude." He held it open. "Need help?" he asked Faith as she pushed him through.
"I got it, doc," Faith replied. She gave him a smirk with a small wink.
The young orderly grinned, obviously falling quickly for her flirtations. "What can I help you guys with?"
"Lookin' for Buffy Summers."
"Oh, yeah." He pointed to the last bed on the left side of the large room. "Right over there."
"How's she doing?" Xander asked. "I mean, with the relatively speaking, of course." He could only see her feet from his vantage point.
"Anyone ever tell her how freakishly strong she is?" the orderly commented as he led them towards the bed, pill tray still in hand. When he pulled the curtain back, he revealed to them the small Slayer laying sedated on the bed. Her wrists and ankles were bound at least twice but the leather straps still looked as if they were ready to snap off. "Took about seven doctors and orderlies to hold her down."
Xander swallowed back the lump in his throat at the sight. "It usually takes a whole lot more," he murmured. "Man, Buff…" He reached out and touched her bare arm.
The orderly's face softened and he stepped away politely to go about his business.
"Glory did a number on her," Faith replied, quietly.
"She could've done worse," Xander countered as he held Buffy's hand in his. "At least, there's a chance to get her back to being the Buffster, right? Will said she was working on it." He didn't need any reassurance from Faith, however, when it came to Willow doing everything she could. "I just feel bad for little Dawnie."
"Yeah. The kid's gotta be hurtin'."
They stood/sat there for a few minutes when another visitor came up behind them. They turned their heads seeing Riley standing there looking bedraggled as he has been as of late.
"Willow left a message," he replied quietly. "Told me… well, she didn't tell me much." He stepped up gingerly to the opposite side of the bed.
"You just now got the note?" Faith asked, not able to keep the coolness out of her tone.
"I was out," Riley said. His face was pale but he looked worriedly at Buffy, placing his large hand against her soft cheek.
"Demon woman got to her," Faith stated, watching them. "Giles thinks she sucked the sanity right outta her." She glanced around at the other patients. "Looks like she ain't the only one."
Xander realized the murmurings around them from those not quite as sedated as others. "Giles was right," he commented. "The loonies are out here in force." Some stared up at the ceiling, murmuring about light and raccoons.
"Who do I need to hurt?" Riley suddenly muttered, staring at Buffy with a quiet anger now.
"Why? Looks like you got what you wanted," Xander replied, his eyes staring intently at Buffy. His face was expressionless.
Faith glanced over at the ex-soldier, not surprised to see the look on his face. He might've been surprised at Xander's sharp remark, but Faith wasn't. She knew how Xander felt about seeing his friends hurt; didn't matter if it was Riley or some killer demon, Xander was going to stand up for them.
It was why she wanted to hit Xander so badly when they first ran into each other in Los Angeles. He was running his mouth to her, knowing perfectly well how much she could break him, but still didn't stop him. It was also one of the reasons she fell in love with him.
Riley's attention was caught instantly, his face cold. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Xander's brown eyes met squarely with Riley's, his own quiet anger creeping into his features. "You wanted Buffy to be less of who she is just so you can feel like you have the balls of the relationship," he answered. "So you can be the big, bad man." He glanced back at the blond Slayer. "Wish granted."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Riley snapped.
"I don't? C'mon, don't tell me you just didn't break up with her the other night."
"Huh?" Faith asked in shock. She looked back at Riley.
Riley glanced away. "She told you?"
"She didn't have to," Xander remarked. "I know Buffy. I know how she was before…" He trailed a moment. "Before this. She was Angry Gal, wanting to make me and Willow believe it was this whole thing with her mom. But it was pretty obvious something else was pulling at her. Then I just thought about our little convo we had, Riley. So I went to go talk to her that night…"
Faith realized then that was the reason Xander happen to be passing by Buffy's house when Glory attacked. Her jaw tensed, slightly.
"What gets me is what you were doing to fill in the 'needs' you weren't getting from Buffy," Xander continued.
"It's not what you think," Riley interjected.
"No, it's worse," Faith interrupted. "Gettin' your jinks in vamps sucking your blood." She crossed her arms, sizing him up.
"Getting what by what?" Xander asked, brows raised.
It was Faith's turn to get the glare from Riley who just looked back at her in utter surrender. His secret was out.
"Got word that there's these 'whore' houses where chumps like this guy pay to get their needs."
Xander's jaw slacked slightly. It was a little hard to swallow but there was no reason that Faith would be making things up. "What? So what you're saying is that since Buffy wasn't showing you the lovin', you were substituting it with fanged creatures of the night which, by the way, is ironic considering the job your ex serves?"
Riley pressed his lips together before standing full height, crossing his arms. "They made me feel things I wasn't able to feel with Buffy."
"And that makes it OKAY?" Xander couldn't keep the anger out of his voice any longer. He liked Riley a lot, and thought that the both of them could even become better pals now that Xander had a Slayer as a girlfriend; he really didn't expect that kind of behavior from the ex-Initiative. He thought with Buffy being a demon hunter by birthright that would bring her and Riley even closer.
It appeared now that Xander was very wrong, and what's worse, Buffy was the dumpee. The blond Slayer barely had time to cope with the breakup when she was attacked. "Look, maybe Buffy wasn't giving you what you needed out of this relationship, and honestly, really none of my business, but she doesn't deserve that behind her back! Did you even give her the decency to tell her what was going on?"
Riley met with Xander's cold glare. "How was I supposed to tell her?"
"How about telling her what was going on in that head of yours?"
"I wouldn't be able to make her understand, and you know that."
"I DON'T know that. And heck, you don't even know that! Give Buffy a chance at least."
Buffy suddenly stirred in her bed. Her eyes looked over at Riley, round and lost.
Riley looked over at the incapacitated Slayer, his face softening. "Buffy?"
Hope entered the ex-soldier's expression at the gesture. "Do you know me, Buffy?" He reached over and brushed strands of blond hair away from her forehead.
"When will the light come back to me?" she asked, innocently. She struggled a bit under the leather straps.
"Light?" Xander murmured, glancing over at Faith.
Faith frowned, shaking her head. "She's… that's how she is now," she explained quietly.
"I think I have to check all the charts," Buffy continued. She was still very drugged, and they were pretty sure she wasn't supposed to wake up this soon. "They need to be verified, I think. But when the horses return, when will the picture be taken?" She turned to look at Xander as if he had the answers.
Xander felt the lump form in his throat as her green eyes looked back at him. They were so lost. It was more difficult than he could imagine, seeing Buffy babbling on incoherently and helplessly. He took her hand, giving it a squeeze. "Hey, Buff, you'll check the charts soon, okay? We'll make sure of it."
Buffy smiled as if, just for a moment, she recognized Xander. "I like the spiral circles."
The doctor for the ward came by with a chart in his hand. "Well, I can't believe Miss Summers is already awake," he said, slightly perplexed. "It's time for her lunch." He looked at the three there. "Would any of you like the help feed her? It seems it helps calm her if she has a familiar face there."
"I will," Riley volunteered with a raise of his hand.
"Great. Let me get the food and I'll show you what to do." The doctor smiled before departing.
Xander leaned back in his wheelchair. "Looks like Riley's got this under control," he said, still very coolly. "Let's let him enjoy these next few moments. Don't intend for this to last much longer. Will's gonna make sure of that."
Riley could only look at Xander, wordlessly.
"Let's get outta here," Xander muttered.
"You got it," Faith replied, the both of them giving Buffy one last look before leaving the psychiatric ward.
Within the next few days, Giles got on a plane back to England to discuss things with the Watcher's Council in person – per Mr. Quentin Travers. The ex-Watcher assured Faith and the others that he would keep the Key's identity as vague as possible. He didn't want it to seem, however, like he was hiding anything from the Council for fear they would refuse to help.
"Th-They'd do that?" Tara had asked before he left. "But I thought they were all for world save-age and all the good stuff."
"You'd think," Giles had answered.
Mrs. Summers was held in the hospital for about a day for more observations. It perplexed the doctors that nothing was showing up, only slight signs of exhaustion. And she ended up feeling better.
Willow worried a lot about Dawn and how withdrawn the young girl had become since the attack. She stayed clear away from Buffy, even when they prompted her to go see her sister. But Dawn was stubborn and refused. She stayed close to her mom, however. She even slept at the hospital instead of in her own bed.
Willow and Tara were both preparing for the Summers' arrival at their home when the doorbell rang. Willow ran to open it up and grinned when she saw Xander up and about with Faith by his side.
"Look who's up!" Willow beamed, giving Xander a tight hug. "Oh! Sorry…" She felt him wince under her embrace.
"Ribs still on the tender side," Xander replied. "Well, they're tenderer than when I went into the hospital thanks to Faith here." He grinned over at the Slayer who lifted a brow.
"Fuck you, X-Man. You liked it."
"Only a little."
"Oh, do I NOT want to hear this," Willow replied, ushering them inside as quickly as possible as a way to end the conversation as soon as possible. "Did you bring the picture?" she asked.
"Yep." Xander pulled a photograph from his back pocket. It was a little wrinkled. "Here they are."
Willow beamed at the faces that smiled back at her. "Awwww… Rachel is a cutie-patootie! And this is her mother?" She pointed to Hannah.
Faith nodded. "Yep."
"Pretty! And Paul's cute, too. It's like one big, happy family."
"Let's not take it that far, Red." Faith wanted to sound nonchalant even if it was closer to the truth than it was further from it.
"Too bad Brandon's not in the picture," Xander began. "Of course, he probably wouldn't FIT into it, the big lug."
"He's a pushover," Faith said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Have we heard from Giles yet?"
Willow shook her head as she showed Tara the picture as she came into the room. "Nope. Hope he can get the Council to give him more information. We're just running out here."
"When's Mrs. S and Dawn gettin' here?" It made Faith nervous not to have Dawn in her sights, and she wasn't sure how Buffy was going to react in a new, even if familiar, environment.
"Riley said they were just checking them out of the hospital," Willow stated. Her voice didn't hold as much cheer as it usually did, especially after finding out Riley's behind-the-Buffy activities. "They should be here in half an hour or so."
"Gotta say, Will," Xander said, admiring the Christmas decorations strewn all over the living room. "For a Jewish Gal, you know how to do it up Christmas-style." He smiled, knowing Willow and Tara took the extra step to make it feel more like the holidays for the Summers as possible.
"Oh, Willow," Tara called as she approached the front door. "I'm going to check on the spell's binding outside - "
Faith suddenly nudged Tara out of the way right before she pulled open the door. The two trolls standing at the stoop jumped in surprise, unable to get away before Faith grabbed each of the fronts of their robes and threw them inside.
They slid on the foyer's hardwood floor until they hit the wall, rattling the pictures above them.
The other Scoobies blinked in surprise, staring at the crusty figures as they tried to gather their wits about them.
"Whoa," Xander finally said as Faith made her move. He watched as she grabbed both their necks and lifted them to right above her eye level, letting them hang there as they struggled to break her grip.
"What the FUCK are you doin' here?" she snarled, giving their necks a squeeze.
"We shall not break the vow we serve her Highness!" the one on her left announced.
Faith's arm visibly tensed, her forearm muscles flexing as she gripped his neck harder. "How about I break your fucking neck? Maybe that'll make you think twice about that vow." The troll began making gurgling noises, his feet swinging around in desperation for air.
"Do not hurt him!" the second one on her right grip pleaded.
"It's too late for that." She glared at the second one. "I can do the same to you, if ya' want."
"No! Do it to him! Do it to him!" His voice raised an octave higher in fear.
"Good to know the loyalty they have for each other," Xander muttered. "Hey, troll bums, how about you give the goods before BOTH your heads get popped off?"
"Find some rope, Red," Faith intoned, her eyes never leaving the trolls. She had spotted these guys as she and Xander had gotten out of the car. They weren't very good at keeping hidden – at least not around the house. She wondered just how long they had been spying on them and how much information they already had. She had the sudden urge to find out.
"I saw some on the back porch," Xander announced, already heading towards the kitchen to fetch it, leaving the Slayer and two witches to stare down the trolls.
"They are as gross as you and Buffy described," Willow commented, tilting her head as if to study them further.
"Why were you spyin' on us?" Faith asked, her arms not letting up one bit.
"We… weren't," the one choking the most squeaked - and very unconvincingly.
"You're here because of Glory, aren't you?" Willow questioned the troll. "You're one of her little, nasty minions?"
There was a sudden crash from the kitchen, making the three girls swerve their heads towards the noise.
"We're here to make sure the Key comes with us," the second troll intoned with a victorious grin.
"Xander!" Willow cried before Faith was able to say the same name. She took off towards the commotion to aid her best friend, prompting Tara to follow after.
"Wait!" But Faith's warning was too late. She glanced back at the trolls, wanting to ask what was out there. But another loud noise made her re-think it and she smashed the two trolls' heads together, knocking them out. She dropped them then sprinted towards the kitchen where a large snake-like creature was trying to clamp its jaws into Xander. The demon looked everything like a snake except for the almost human arms that came out of its sides.
Xander had a shovel wedged between the jaws, temporarily stopping the bite. He kicked it in the abdomen area, making it stumble back.
Tara and Willow were fighting off more trolls that had come in from the backdoor where the creature had entered through, smacking them with various pots and pans. They were doing a fairly good job, too.
Faith surveyed the scene for only a moment before deciding on the snake as her first plan of confrontation. Only, as soon as she took one step, five more trolls emerged from two cabinets and from the dining room, attacking Faith. Two jumped on her back, attempting to bring her down as the others whacked her with some sort of sticks.
"Fuck! Ouch!" she growled, a stick hitting her in the cheek. She kicked a troll away from her, sending him skittering down the linoleum floor. She reached behind her, feeling her way until she was able to grip a chunk of robe. She quickly flung her arm forward, sending the second troll flying literally through the air and into the dining room. The dining room wall was the only thing that stopped his trajectory.
As the trolls distracted the Slayer, as planned, two more snake-like creatures entered into the scene, their tongues slithering out of their lips as they both spotted the witches.
"What the fuck?" Faith muttered, slamming one of the trolls into the counter with her knee. Her arms were trying to get a good grip on the remaining one still managing to hold onto her back.
"Oh, shoot!" Xander murmured just as his snake attacker whapped the shovel away and wrapped its body around Xander and began to take him away.
"Xander!" she cried but was soon drowned out at the sound of the pots that was once in Willow's and Tara's hands clattering to the ground. Their attackers had done the same thing, enveloping both girls within their bodies and beginning to move towards the door.
The trolls who had been attacking the witches just stood there, watching in anticipation.
Soon, all three snakes had slithered out through the back door.
Faith's jaw clenched as she watched her friends and boyfriend disappear from her sight. She brought her fist down onto the top of one of last troll's head, sending him unconscious. With both hands free, she finally grasped the troll on her back, jerking him off her neck and holding him above her head. He squirmed in fear and soon found the floor hurtling towards his face as she body-slammed him.
Now free from her distraction, she grabbed the shovel that had fallen out of Xander's snake's mouth. She twirled it once before slamming it against the back of the three of the trolls' heads. They all three crumpled under the force but she jumped over them and ran out the back door where the three snakes and their captives had escaped.
The snakes were moving fast – and in different directions.
"NO!" she shouted, suddenly unsure of what to do even as she ran.
"Save Willow and Tara!" came Xander's voice as his snake slithered faster away.
"Fucking 'course he'd say that," Faith muttered, really not wanting to take her eyes off of Xander. But she knew if she went after him, he'd give her hell if anything happened to either witch. So she pumped her legs faster and faster, catching up to the snake holding Tara.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Willow still struggling out of hers. But for some reason, her snake was keeping close, not veering off too far like Xander's had been. It suited Faith just fine, and would make it easier to deal with Willow's snake as soon as she fucked up Tara's.
Tara squirmed hard with the muscular body of the large snake, trying not to look it in the face. Its attention was drawn towards somewhere off in the distance. The witch tried to think of a spell to make it release her but fear was overtaking her thoughts.
It suddenly hissed, making her look up. It was looking directly at her, its red-slitted pupils staring at her intensely. It didn't move, however, only kept slithering into the unknown destination while staring at her. Suddenly, its long, red tongue whipped out and slashed her cheek, bringing it back in with her blood on its taste buds. Tara winced and whimpered at the sting, when it hissed loudly and angrily.
Her eyes widened as it opened its jaws, its fangs protruding long and sharp and it bore down towards her.
A split-second before its fangs would puncture her face, its head whipped harshly to the side, making it drop Tara instantly. She soon realized a flying shovel had been the culprit, knocking it nearly off balance.
Faith came sprinting by until she was up to the snake then unleashed a powerful roundhouse kick that sent it to the ground. She punched it twice in the maw, hearing a loud crack that she hoped was its jaw. She grabbed the shovel lying beside her foot and brought it up, flat metal part down, and stabbing it in the eye and whatever else was in the way.
Green gook sprouted up, partially covering Faith, and it lay still.
A scream made her look up, seeing Willow still being taken away.
"Willow!" Tara cried, getting to her feet and beginning to follow it clumsily. She cried out again when she saw the snake also hiss angrily and begin to attack the redhead. "No!"
Faith got to her feet and began running after the witch when she felt a shift in the air, almost as if electricity filled the space even though it was a clear, blue day. The hairs on her arms rose and she realized as she glanced over that it was Tara. There was a look of fear that brought determination Faith had never seen on the blond witch before. But most of all, electricity was building from her hands.
"Ignis!" Tara cried, her hands thrusting forward.
The snake suddenly burst into flames, starting from its tail and working its way around. It cried out in a high-pitched hiss and let go of Willow who tumbled to the ground before it was fully engulfed.
Willow backed away on her hands and feet, watching it disintegrate into ashes.
"Willow!" Tara called, kneeling down beside the shocked redhead, breathing heavily from the run. "Are-are you o-okay?"
Willow nodded then gave her girlfriend a shaky smile and doubly shaky thumbs-up. "Uh… yep!" They had matching scars from the snake's tongue lash on their cheeks. She was soon enveloped within Tara's arms. As she hugged back, she asked, "Where did you learn that?"
"I've… uh, been pr-practicing," Tara replied, almost shyly as she pulled away.
"Where's Xander?" She suddenly craned her neck in concern.
Tara turned around and didn't see Faith in sight. "Looks like help's already on the way…"
Jinx lowered the binoculars as he hid behind some nearby underbrush. "It wasn't either witch," he told Dreg. "The serpents say so."
"Told you," Dreg replied, grabbing them back and peering through them. "The boy was the one who was protected the most by the Slayer."
"Her Holy Highness needed to be sure."
"Well, we'll be sure very soon…"
Xander pushed with all he had against the scaly arms of his captor. "In the words of old Indy, 'why did it hafta be snakes?'" He grimaced, pushing harder but it held tight. Something dug into his leg as he was constricted and he realized it was his set of car keys. He wedged his arm within the coil, his hand groping around until he found his own pocket. His fingers finally enclosed around the metal objects and he pulled it out just as a stinging tongue lapped his cheek. "Hey! Ouch!" He glared at the snake. "Never on the first date!"
The snake hissed angrily, tasting Xander's blood and not liking what it had found… or rather what it HADN'T found.
"N-No means 'no'!" Xander stammered, seeing the shift in the monster's face. It leaned in for the kill when he brought his hand, armored with the keys, into the snake's eye. He had found the largest key and made sure the sharper end was pointing out between his fist.
Green gook sprouted out as it grasped at its injury and its hold slackened enough for Xander to fall through.
He landed once before losing his footing and rolling down a slight hill. His body hit a rock, irritating his healing ribs. "Man, my bones can't take much more of this." He slowly got to his feet, his eyes widening when the snake was already springing at him, one-eyed. He fell back over the rock just as a Faith-shaped figure came flying literally into the scene, tackling the snake from the side like an expert linebacker.
Snake and Slayer rolled twice before Faith forced them to land so she was on top. She had its upper body between her legs as she rained punch upon punch onto its face. She was much rougher on it than Tara's for the fact it had attacked Xander personally and she was sick of fighting these things already. Not only were her fists working but her thighs were as well, squeezing its body as hard as she could.
The snake hissed in pain from all directions, finally letting its tongue lash out as defense. Faith pulled up her forearm in time to protect her face, wincing in pain as it burned her skin. But she twisted her wrist to snatch the tongue. She jerked her arm back, ripping the appendage right out of the demon's mouth. "Like that, motherfucker?" she sneered, tossing it away.
She unleashed an uppercut right under its jaw that proved to be the final blow as something snapped and disconnected. The monster lay just as still as the one before him, green ooze coming from its mouth and its injured eye.
Faith stared at it as she slowly slipped off its body, breathing hard from the fight. She wiped more of the green stuff from her face, trying to ignore the burning on her arm, before she spotted Xander trying to get to his feet again. She rushed over to him, helping him up. "You okay?"
He winced as he moved. "Yeah. Just not on my list of 'things to do after leaving the hospital.'" He straightened without much pain and let out a breath of relief. "Are you okay?" He reached out and touched her burn that looked pretty bad.
"Yeah. The fucker laid a good one on me… well, before I ripped something sensitive outta his throat." She grinned at that thought of bringing it that much pain. It faded slightly when she saw the cut on his cheek, her hand going up to it.
He automatically leaned away. "Still stings."
She glanced in the general direction of where she had left Willow and Tara. "C'mon, we need to get back to Red and Tara."
Jinx and Dreg were thoroughly confused now. After the last of the snakes were defeated, the two trolls glanced at each other with mirroring expressions.
"Did you see that?" Jinx asked Dreg. "The snake attacked the boy! It's not supposed to attack the Key!"
"Was it working?"
"Do you want to doubt her Highness' ways?"
"Then it concludes that none of them is the Key…. Not even the boy." He bit his lip. "But the way she protected him… It was nothing short of conclusive."
Dreg made a face. "It must be that human emotion – love. We must return to the Most Holy Glorificus with the news." He paused, shooting his fellow troll a small smile. "It's your turn to tell her about our failure."
"You're okay!" Willow called when Xander and Faith had found them. "Oh, look, matching stinging cuts!" She pointed to her own one her cheek.
"Fun… sorry I missed out on that," Faith murmured, her eyes scanning around for any more trolls and snakes alike. It was almost like an ambush at Buffy's house. She had thought the trolls were there to spy on the Key, but Dawn wasn't there. So why did they attack?
"Remind me to never want to see a snake – EVER," Xander piped in. He noticed the bleeding had nearly stopped and he hoped there were no after effects from it. "So what's the what with that? How come we all get matching, unnecessary, but equally as painful tattoos on our cheeks?"
"Th-They did the same thing," Tara stated. "All our snakes. They took us away and-and well... tasted us." Her own hand covered her mark. "Only, you got green stuff all over you." She looked at Xander.
"I gave it a little poke in the eye is all." He held up his keys that were covered in the same goo. "So yours gave you a very non-puppy-licking-on-your-face greeting then tried to bite your head off, too? It's nice to know it's an equal opportunity biter."
"They must've not liked what they tasted." Willow stared off at the grass then up to Xander's keys now enclosed in his fist. "They were trying to figure out who's the Key…"
"What, sweetie?" Tara asked.
"It must've been some test. Oh, God… they know the Key's human. They must! And-and they thought one of us was it."
"Which is why they didn't send snake boys on me," Faith concluded. They had been spying on them for awhile now, knowing that someone close to Faith was the Key. And Willow was right: they knew the Key WAS in human form. Now they've eliminated a majority of the group. "Fuck. Look, we better get back and clean up the mess we left behind before B gets home."
They began walking back the distance the snakes had covered. However, when they got closer, a high pitched noise rang out into the air.
Tara and Willow looked at each other in surprise and concern. "The alarm!" Willow cried.
"Alarm? What alarm?" Xander asked, confused. "Oh, man, don't tell me their house is on fire 'cause that would be the last thing Buffy and Dawn need!"
The witches quicken their pace. "No," Willow continued. "Tara and I put an a-a alarm system within a spell. Like an early warning incantation. Tara managed to match Glory's ethereal signature when we first got to the house."
"You can do that?" Faith asked Tara.
"Um, sortta?" Tara replied, shy again at her abilities being put under the spotlight. "I-I figured if we can incorporate her signature she left behind when she a-attacked Buffy and Xander, the alarm will be more accurate and we'll know right away if she's within a few yards of the house."
"So in other words," Xander began. "She's within a few yards of the house…"
"I've said it a few times in the last hour, I'll say it again – 'FUCK!'" Faith broke into a run, easily getting ahead of the other three and headed towards the house. She had to know with the trolls swarming in like a bunch of locusts, Glory couldn't be too far behind.
She came up to the backyard, about to walk further in when she spotted a small figure standing just inside the non-doored back door.
And she was talking to one of the remaining trolls, her face scrunched up in annoyance as she covered her ears.
"What the…?" What was Dawn doing talking to one of Glory's minions? Faith knitted her brows in confusion and concentrated on what the hell was going on. She didn't see Buffy, Mrs. Summers, or Riley anywhere.
The other three finally caught up to the Slayer, breathing fast from the run.
"What's Dawn doing?" Xander asked between gasps. His eyes widened at the scene. "She's - !"
"Shhh!" Faith said, shooting Xander a look. She looked over at Willow and Tara who stared on in awe at what was happening. "I don't see Glory nowhere," she whispered. "I think you're spell's not workin' right."
"Might be," Tara murmured. "Or…" She looked at all of them, her eyes slightly tinged yellow around the edges of her pupils. "… she's the one who did set it off."
"Honey?" Willow called to Tara. "What's happening? Do you see something?"
"I can see it. Her aura," Tara whispered, staring back at Dawn. "I put myself under a similar trance Buffy did… tirer la couture. Willow told me about it in the hospital. Dawnie… her-her aura is black and dark. And… unworldly. N-Not exactly 'magical'; it's more 'ethereal.' - Glory-like." She failed to mention the dark cloud around them as well. It slightly differed from the aura around Dawn but still shared enough similarities.
Xander stared at the little girl that was Buffy's sister. "No. No, that's Dawnie Summers. Buffy's sister! And the Key…"
"And talkin' to a troll…" Faith finished, realizing things weren't as they seem. "You sayin' Dawn's with Glory?"
"Wait, Dawn is Glory? And Glory is Dawn?"
"No," Willow amended, hitting Xander in the arm. "It just means that… that…" Realization hit her expression, and her face fell in sadness. "That Dawn has been working with Glory. Tara, are you sure?"
Tara stared at the house and whispered, "Cesen" making the alarm stop. "I don't want to b-be right."
"Well, I'll know for sure." Faith emerged from the bushes and headed straight for the kitchen, the others lagging behind in hesitation at what was about to happen. She could see the troll spotting her from the corner of his eye and he began to back away.
Shock passed through Dawn's face a moment then she tried to regain her composure. "Faith, what's this troll doing in our house?" she asked, pointing to it.
"Cut the bullshit 'Dawn'," Faith stated, crossing the threshold. The kitchen was cleared from the rest of the trolls. "What the FUCK are you doin'? You sent those bastard snakes after us, didn't you?"
"What? Snakes?" Dawn looked confused. "Are you crazy? Again?"
"Where's Buffy and Mrs. S?"
For a moment, the youngest Summers was at a loss for words. "I… was at Marcy's house," she answered. "And it's really none of your business!"
The troll was already at the foyer. "Bye, your Second Holiness!" Then sprinted away, fearing the Slayer so much, he didn't know the words that escaped his lips.
"I know for a fact he wasn't talkin' to ME," Faith intoned, crossing her arms. "These trolls use that term only talkin' about Glory." She reached out and grabbed Dawn by the arms, holding her in place. "Who ARE you?" she demanded, fiercely. "And why have you been playin' all of us this whole time?"
Dawn's face fell into a pure look of fear, struggling to break out of Faith's hold. "Ouch! You're hurting me! You've gone insane! I knew they shouldn't have let you out of jail! I'm gonna tell the police and-and they'll be right out here!"
Faith narrowed her eyes, lifting Dawn off her feet and slamming her against the nearest wall. "You just try it, small fry. Gonna use your hocus pocus you've been usin' on all of us? Get us to believe you're B's sister, when all along I knew somethin' was up with you?"
Dawn continuing to resist against Faith and her eyes widened when she saw Tara, Willow, and Xander entering the kitchen. "Guys! Help me! Faith's going Azkaban!" But to her horror, none of them made a move. "What-what is it? Why aren't you helping? She's-she's accusing me of sending three snakes or something to attack! Isn't that crazy? Willow? Tara? X-Xander?"
But the three of them continued to stare back at her then they looked away, almost ashamed.
"Faith never mentioned how many snakes were sent," Xander pointed out, the only one who hadn't taken his eyes off Dawn. She was Buffy's sister, the one who has had a crush on him for as long as they had known her. "I don't get it; why would you do this, Dawn?"
Dawn's and the troll's slip up was fairly severe and she wasn't sure if she could recuperate after months of the façade. "Xander, why do you believe her? I just guessed on the-the number of snakes! And who cares if I was right on it? You can't let this happen!"
"You're the one who let this all happen," Faith sneered, tightening her grip. "So now's the time to spill… What do you fucking want with the Key?"
"I don't WANT the Key!"
"Bullshit! Did you do that to Buffy? Huh? Sucked her mind right out of her?"
"Leave me ALONE!"
"Or was that your boss' doing? You just sit back like a little bitch and let her do all the work? How'd you do it? How'd you make us believe you were B's little sister?"
"Faith…" Xander began, still trying to grasp the reality of Dawn, which made this much harder to watch. His mind was still clouded with whatever spell Dawn had used on them.
But Faith only lifted the young girl higher, almost until her arms were fully extended. "Don't know how, but that didn't work on me. I knew you weren't who you said you were. Didn't know why, but now I'm realizin' it. Realizin' that you're nothing more than some non-trolly minion, but some minion of Glory's all the same!"
Dawn was getting angrier, her legs beginning to thrash around almost violently in desperation. "Shut up, you stupid little WHORE!" she snapped.
The three behind Faith were in shock at the words that came out of Dawn's mouth and they could see the relentless anger in the sudden unfamiliar eyes of Dawn Summers.
"You don't know what you're talking about! You have NO idea who you're dealing with, and who I am! And you haven't even SCRAPED the surface of Glory's power!"
"We've handled demons before," Faith stated, her voice low and dangerous. "Glory's nothin' different. We'll find a way."
Dawn stared at Faith then a cold smile suddenly spread across her face and she began laughing. "You REALLY don't know what you're dealing with. And now that it's wide open, don't expect any mercy." With that, she shut her eyes and a black aura suddenly appeared around her, spreading onto Faith's arms and going down towards her body.
Faith watched it happen but couldn't seem to let go. She felt herself growing weaker, the prodigious strength draining away and arms not able to hold up even the slip of a girl. They shook in struggle.
Xander acted and grabbed Faith's shoulders, jerking her back and forcing her to let go of Dawn.
Dawn dropped to the ground just as Xander regained both their balance, though Faith was now barely able to stand. "Wowza. That was power. Figured you'd have it since something like that should've killed you. This'll last me for awhile." She took a step forward. "Okay, so we were wrong. Just because Slut Slayer protected you guys like crazy, especially YOU - " She looked at Xander. " - none of you were the Key. So it just means you're just gonna have to hand us the REAL Key and this'll all end quickly."
The three looked at her, feeling as if a curtain hadn't exactly lifted but had been turned into something they could slightly see through, even if still only vaguely. The hold Dawn had over their memories seemed to have faded a bit and it was up to their will and brains to sort things out. There were still wisps of memories and the emotions that clung to them.
"We don't have the Key," Xander said slowly as he supported Faith totally. Whatever Dawn had done, it had wiped out Faith.
"Bull!" Dawn snapped.
"I know you look it, but this isn't the playground in third grade. We don't have it. Go tell Glory that."
"We don't believe you. All the signs point to her!" She thrust an accusing finger at Faith. "And SHE knows where it is. Now give it to me or I'll kill one of you!"
Just then, the front door burst open and Riley came into the house. "Dawn! Willow! Tara!" he called, roaming through the house, his heavy footsteps pounding through the hardwood floor.
Dawn turned around just as Riley entered through the doorway into the kitchen. "What's going on here?" he asked then his eyes scanned the people before him. Confusion quickly took over the ex-soldiers face.
"Riley, get away from her!" Xander warned, shifting Faith's weight.
"Riley, they're scaring me," Dawn said, her little girl voice returning.
"Don't listen to her," Willow intoned. "She's not who we think she is."
"No! No!" came Buffy's voice from where she stood with Joyce in the dining room. She looked frightened, her eyes wide at Dawn. "No! Not time! Not time! No darkness! The night can't come yet!"
"Shhh!" Joyce tried to sooth her daughter down while also trying to grasp what was happening now. Even she could feel the veil of Dawn's spell beginning to lift and she knew right then that Dawn wasn't her daughter. That she never was.
Dawn made a face, her back to a corner, then dashed away from Riley, shoving Tara and Willow aside and rushing through the backdoor.
"How're you feeling?" Xander asked when Faith's eyes fluttered open. He had a cool wash cloth against her forehead.
Faith squinted against the artificial light from the bedside lamp as she tried to raise her head. She felt his hand against her shoulder and gently pushing her back onto the bed. "Wh-where am I?"
"Guest bedroom," he said. "In Buffy's house. You got us a little scared there. Well, okay, I was the hysterical one, but still…"
"Dawn. Is she…?"
"Gone. We haven't heard from her in a day which is a rather excellent thing. Oh, man, that was Giles-speak, wasn't it?"
"A day?" Faith pushed herself up, ignoring the massive burst of pain that shot through her head then. She couldn't have heard him correctly. "What the fuck? How long was I out?"
"Only a day and a half," he answered, trying to sound nonchalant as he put the washcloth back in the bowl filled with cool water.
"Faith, maybe you shouldn't move too much." He was sitting alongside the bed, staring at her in concern.
She swatted his hand way when he attempted to hold her back down. "No. Shit, that little bitch knocked me out! Everyone okay?"
"Yeah." He stood up, his eyes carefully watching her as she got to her feet. She almost stumbled but caught herself before he could make a move to support her.
"Buffy? Mrs. S?" She moved her body around, feeling like she hadn't moved in days. She glanced out the window, seeing the darkness and still trying to comprehend it was nearly two days later from what she remembered.
"All's good. They're all downstairs. Giles, too."
"Giles is back?"
"Yep. Just got here."
With that, the two of them headed downstairs where they found Giles sitting in the living room, mulling over something. Willow and Tara were sitting there quietly just as Joyce came in with a tray of cookies and coffee.
They all looked up at the sound of footsteps.
"Faith!" Willow beamed, relief overcoming her face at the sight of the Slayer up and about. "You're awake!"
"Thank God," Joyce commented as Faith joined them. "We were all very worried about you."
"Some more than others," Willow commented, pointedly.
"I already told her I was the most hysterical, thank you," Xander answered. "We knew it was kinda what Dawn was doing to her mom…er, uh, I mean Mrs. Summers so we didn't think a doctor and a hospital would help. Then we were all afraid you'd go all coma again."
"Yeah. Been there, done that. Thanks." Faith was trying to take everything in and her eyes finally rested upon Giles. "Welcome back," she told him.
Giles nodded. "Same to you."
"I'd like to ask ya' how the homeland was, but I wanna know what those SOBs told you." Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a figure perched atop the chair in her sushi pajamas, mumbling to herself as she stared at something in her hands.
It still pained Faith to know Buffy was in the room, yet not able to be the one to ask Giles what the sitch was. This was supposed to be Buffy's deal, and for that, she paid a price. A price paid in vain since Dawn was never the target to begin with. "How's Buffy doin'?"
Joyce glanced over at her daughter, sadly. "Good. I mean, as good as can be expected. That picture's only thing that's been keeping her attention."
"Tara and I have been trying to find a spell to-to help Buffy," Willow clarified but by the tone of her voice, it wasn't successful as of yet.
Giles adjusted his glasses. "Everyone filled me in on this new revelation. About Dawn."
"Fuckin' wild," Faith muttered. "She's out of the closet now, Giles. You gotta tell me what we're dealin' with because the goddamn ball's rollin' now."
"I know." He sighed and glanced down at his coffee cup. "They're working on it, delving into their books of lore and such. I'm almost positive they'll find something that we could not."
"So why with the long face, Giles?" Xander asked, reading the ex-Watcher's expression easily.
"That wasn't the hard part," Giles answered. "Having them research Glory and her origins. The hard part will be getting them to give us the results."
"What?" Willow asked in surprise. She looked at everyone who mirrored her expression then back at the Englishman. "Are you saying once they have the goodies they won't give up the goodies?"
"Well, that doesn't seem right," Joyce offered. "Why?"
Giles glanced over at Faith.
"Me," the dark Slayer answered. "It's because of me."
Giles nodded, looking away.
"Whoa, whoa, wait. You're telling us that because Faith's large and in charge, they won't tell us what they find?" Xander asked, incredulously.
"Well, they will, but only on certain conditions," Giles explained.
"Fuck the conditions!" Faith snapped, suddenly very irritated at these turn of events. Of all the times to hold her past against her… "The conditions are loud and clear – something big and bad's gonna happen if we don't figure out how to put this bitch into the ground!"
"I know, Faith. But I had to agree if we were going to make any progress. I'm sure I don't have to tell you their reasons for this decision."
Faith turned away in anger, putting her fist into her palm instead of any piece of furniture that might've gotten in the way. "Fuck!" she muttered, reaching the railing of the stairs and standing there to calm herself down.
Xander glanced over at her worriedly then back at Giles. "So, what does… I mean, does she have to do something?"
The Englishman removed his glasses. "They weren't very forthcoming on the specifics. The only thing I do know is that they shall make a trip of their own. Here."
"Here? As in Sunnydale here?" When he nodded, Xander slumped back into his seat. "Oh, joy."
They were all silent for a moment, Buffy rocking back and forth on the chair, just staring at the picture in her hands.
"Is this gonna be worth it?" Faith suddenly asked, turning to look at Giles.
"I'm not sure what you're asking," he replied, slipping his glasses back on.
"I don't get what Glory's wantin'," she answered, returning to the group. "Look what's happenin' here: B's out of commission. Dawn ain't the Key, never was. Everything we thought we knew ain't worth shit right now."
"I don't get it," Xander announced as he stared at nothing in particular. "Dawn's not the Dawn we knew and we come to find, she's with Glory? Since when did we become the model for the next M. Night Shamalyan movie?"
"Yeah, it's like we started all over again," Willow answered. "Big, laughing Square One. We thought Dawn was the Key and Glory thought one of us was the Key…. It's like a really bad, bad game of telephone. It's all too confusing."
"Let's look at the facts then," Giles said, his mind beginning to process all that had changed while he was gone. "Both Buffy and Faith had said this monk told them about the Key, how it was an innocent in all this, a human. But more specifically, a girl."
"Okay, hopefully they thought I was key-like 'cause they didn't know the key was all girl-like," Xander said, insulted and embarrassed.
"It's because Faith protected us all," Tara answered, remembering what Dawn had said. "E-Especially Xander."
"That makes sense," Xander replied. "Much better than thinking I'm a girl, I mean."
"But we knew the monk's words." Giles pondered. "Which is why we thought it was Dawn. But it wasn't." Then something seemed to fall into place right then. He looked at Faith who looked back at the Watcher. "Dear Lord. Not only did we follow the wrong girl as being the Key, but all this time, we weren't following the right girl as the Slayer."
"What?" Faith asked.
"It all is coming together. The monk mentioned the Key being put in the protection of the Slayer. Yet Buffy thought Dawn was the Key. So why would Glory damage Buffy like that if she thought Buffy knew who the Key was? It would ruin the only source of answers for her. That is, unless they realized Buffy never was the Slayer the monks were referring to from the start."
"Not following, G-Man," Xander remarked.
"Oh!" Willow piped in. "You mean, FAITH is the Slayer! I mean, like, in the sense of the word. Not that Buffy isn't…" She looked apologetically at Joyce who just smiled, taking no offense.
Giles nodded at Willow. "But she was pushed out of the lineage when she died by the hands of the Master, yes." It was his turn to give Joyce an apologetic look at the mention of Buffy's death. "I began to wonder how it affected the lineage when Kendra came about, and I don't know why I didn't think of this."
"What the fuck is everyone talkin' about?" Faith asked, irritated again.
"Faith, you are technically the active Slayer. Always have been. God forbid it, but if something were to happen to Buffy." He lowered his voice, knowing the other Slayer wasn't too far away. "No new Slayer would be called. The lineage runs through YOU as it did with Kendra. That's why Toth's target was Faith, and it was no mistake of his that he had attacked her."
"And the monks… they really meant for the Key to be protected by me?"
"But that's crazy. I mean, what connections do I have? It's not makin' sense, I've been a loner since fucking forever. I don't got any sibs. Plus, up till now, there ain't nobody worth anything in my life that I'd protect much less a young innocent girl."
"Light!" Buffy suddenly cried, jumping up on the chair and pointing. "It's to be verified! To be verified! The Light!"
"Buffy, honey," Joyce said, drawing nearer to her daughter. "Buffy, please, it's okay."
"Careful Mrs. S," Faith warned, getting to her feet and moving towards the commotion. Everyone was getting to their feet, ready to assist in any way. This had been the most active they had seen Buffy in days. "Let me get her to calm down." She slowly walked up to the other Slayer, holding out her hands. "Hey, B, what's it we're lookin' at here?"
"The light… I must check the charts…" She moved as if she were going to leave the chair but Faith pushed her back.
"Not today, B. You can check 'em another time, okay?" She saw the fist coming at her face and she caught it in time. She had a feeling Buffy still had those Slayer instincts and relfexes in her somewhere which made her a pretty dangerous crazy person.
"I need to go! I need to fly!" Buffy continued to struggle against Faith. If it were anyone else, Buffy would have won and been out the door.
"I don't wanna get rough with you," Faith warned. "Don't make me." She held Buffy down until finally the other Slayer stopped struggling. The picture had fallen and she noticed the blond looking at it longingly.
Xander was at Faith's side, picking it up for her. It was a little crumpled and he watched as Buffy reached out for it.
"The light…" The sight of the picture seemed to calm the blond Slayer again, allowing Faith to release her carefully. Buffy took it from Xander and stared at it. She began poking at something again. "Time... Time…" She sat back down and returned to being serene.
"What's that a picture of?" Giles asked anyone in the room curiously. He was very interested on why she had taken a liking to the object.
"Oh, it's of Faith's friends back in Los Angeles," Willow answered.
Faith observed Buffy's movements, the blond Slayer running her finger over the little girl's face who smiled brightly in the picture.
"Light," Buffy whispered. "Light."
And Faith's eyes widened in realization. "Holy, FUCK."
"What is it?" Giles asked.
"Rachel?" Giles questioned then raised his brows. "Oh, the young girl in the picture? What… oh, dear…"
"Holy crap," Xander chimed in, looking at Buffy then back at Faith. "You don't think… I mean, it can't be. She's been – she's just a small girl and it's not like she's your sister or anything."
"It never said anything about being related," Giles commented. "We just assumed. Dear Lord, it's possible she is the girl the monk spoke of. It makes sense."
"But you didn't meet her until a few months ago."
"None of that matters, Xander. The monks were hiding the Key in human form. Fusing the energy into her blood… somehow, they made it so that they were sure Faith would meet Hannah, and thus, help find Rachel. They may have been taking a chance that a bond would form."
"We thought that the monks put all these false memories of Dawn into our heads," Willow began. "But they didn't. They didn't have to. The Key has nothing to do with us. It was Dawn all along who had put the memories in our heads."
"Why?" Joyce asked, standing on the other side of Buffy. She soothed her daughter's back. "Why would Dawn do that to us? Oh, my, it's still so hard to think of Dawn as not my own. But the memories are fading."
"A-a form of protection, possibly. Or a form of spying," Giles offered. "Or both. We all thought Buffy was the Protector, they may have thought the same at first."
"So why didn't it work on Faith?" Willow glanced at Faith.
"I don't know. Maybe… a strong force blocked the magic done? A barrier of some kind?" Giles paused a moment, the pieces somewhat coming together. "There is still much I don't understand."
"It doesn't matter," Faith declared, her mind and adrenaline working. "B's seein' something we don't see in that picture, and if all that's true, I gotta get back to L.A. They're in deep demon shit. Those bitches don't know what we just figured out, and I wanna be one step ahead."
Buffy just kept petting Rachel's face on the picture.
Faith's determination grew tenfold and her place in this fight brought her to the forefront of it. From everything that was said in the past five minutes, she was nowhere else but the forefront. "You get those fucking Council guys on the phone; tell 'em we don't have time for them have their damn thumbs up their asses. If they wanna reach me, get them Paul's number." She was already moving towards the door.
"Wait, what's our plan?" Giles asked.
"You stay here in SunnyD, make sure everything's safe. T and Red got the magic to hold them off, but if something leads them my way, gimmie a heads up."
Willow and Tara looked at each other. "One of us should go with her," Tara whispered to the redhead. "They're going to n-need us on both ends, i-in case."
Willow nodded. "I-I'll stay here," she murmured with hesitation.
"Sweetie, no, not with Glory still here!"
"You need to be in Los Angeles, honey. You're the more powerful out of the two of us and you need to be one of the last lines of defense."
As the two of them talked, Faith glanced over at Xander who stared out at the wall. She came back to him, putting her hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "You comin', right, X-Man?"
He shook out of his thoughts and looked up at her. "As long as you need me," he replied.
"Don't be a dumbass. You know I always do." She smiled, the first time in a long time, as he stood up, always the trooper. She knew she couldn't fight this uphill battle without him. She kissed him on the shoulder as he leaned in on her, giving her a light kiss on the top of the head.
He sniffed her hair. "First, why don't you take a shower? Snake stink? Not a good look for you."
She poked him in the stomach. "You're not smellin' too good yourself. We don't have time to get GQ. We'll worry about that when we get back to L.A."
Tara and Willow gave each other a kiss and a hug, closing in on their good-byes. They both stood and Tara was the one who stepped towards Xander and Faith.
"Take care of her," Willow called to them, trying to smile.
After quick, last minute discussions, the trio headed out to Xander's car, planning to make their stops at both Tara's and Xander's dorms to pick up clothes. Faith was getting anxious to get back to Los Angeles, especially with more on the line than she could ever fathom. It was still dawning on her the part she was playing in all this.
As Giles had said, she was THE Slayer.
No matter how much she tried to hide herself from the world, she now knew what Buffy meant when she had said their destiny couldn't be escaped.
And now more than ever did Faith truly know what that meant.