Disclaimer: I don't own... blah blah... Joss Whedon's a genius... blah blah...
Much love, as always, to Orange, for being her funny, smart and completely incredible self. Without her support, guidance, and faith, this story wouldn't be happening, it's as simple as that, folks.
Also, thanks to everyone who read, and hopefully, enjoyed the first chapter.
There comes a time in every man's life, when he finds himself in a situation where he can only ask himself 'dude, what the fuck?'
Such is my current situation.
I mean, I don't think I'm a terribly rash person. Well, other than that time I tried to get Cordelia to take me back, and ended up getting the entire female population of Sunnydale (except Cordelia) to fall in love with me/want to kill me. Oh, and that time I summoned up that Broadway tap-dance demon up to cheer everyone up... yeah, okay, so I am a rash person. But really, I think I may have outdone myself this time.
I mean what was this? One second, it's beginning to look like I'm going to scream at Faith, and storm out... the next we're making love?
No. Not 'making love,' not a bit. There was no love in what we did. Screwing. Really good screwing, if I do say so myself... but definitely screwing.
What bugs me, is that I don't know why it happened. I was more than a little drunk, sure, but I wasn't that wasted. So... was I just being a horny opportunist, or was I just plain lonely? I'm not one that looks for deep meaning in everything that happens, but... I feel empty, and, no sir, I don't like it.
Sleep has been hard to find, and staring at the stain on the ceiling for the last few hours hasn't provided any enlightenment, even though it does kinda look like Buddha if you squint real hard. I turn my head to take another look at my bedmate.
The sun's just starting to rise, and the tiny apartment bedroom is cast in a dim half-light. It's just bright enough for me to see the shape of Faith. Vampire Slayer, wanted fugitive, and the girl that I'd spent a good part of the previous night doing things with that were still illegal in some parts of the Bible Belt. She's curled in a little ball, (hogging most of the covers. I might add), keeping as much of a gap between me and her as the bed will allow. Part of me wants to be a bit insulted, but I shouldn't be... Faith's not really the kind of girl to be into post-sex cuddling. Hell, last time we did this, she kicked me out as soon as I'd caught my breath. Nothing personal, I'm sure.
She seems to be sound asleep, and when you look at her now, there's something just a bit... softer to her face. Normally, she's all 'I'm a badass, screw with me at the risk of your gonads." But I've heard it said that one sees a person's true face when they're sleeping. She's barely more than a girl... far too young to have to carry some of the things she's seen and done.
Her eyes pop open, and she fixes a steady look at me. "You know, that whole 'watching the girl while she sleeps bit' always was kinda cute. But, it's a thin line between cute and creepy. What side are we on, X-man?"
"And a good morning to you, Faith," I say. "Uh... did ya sleep well?"
She nods absently as she leans over the side of the bed, fumbling for her hastily-discarded jeans. When she finds them, she digs a battered half-empty pack of Camels out of the pocket.
"Ah, the breakfast of champions," I can't help but quip.
She gives me the finger as she lights up. "Kinda surprised you're still here," she says.
"Well, it's not like you're my boyfriend, or anything. I mean, last night was wicked fun and all, but you could've left if you wanted."
Now this was an uncomfortable early morning chat. "Well, uh, I didn't want to. Would you have felt better if I had?"
She shoots me a brief look that I can't quite place the meaning of. Then she shrugs. "Whatever, doesn't matter to me." She takes another drag on her cigarette, and glances over at the clock on the nightstand. "I'm supposed to meet Giles in two hours."
Not the most subtle change of subject ever, but that's Faith for you. I do vaguely remember her mentioning him calling her to Cleveland last night. "Yeah, and he didn't tell you why he wanted to meet you?"
She shook her head. "No, he just said it was a 'matter of great importance," she says with a bad fake Brit accent."So, I guess I'll find out soon enough."
The next few minutes pass in the sort of uncomfortable silence that only two naked people sitting in bed together next to each other can have.
"Faith," I say at last, "Last night was... I mean... I wasn't expecting things to-"
"Don't worry, I'm on the pill," she says casually as she slips out of bed.
"That's not really what I meant, you know" I say as I get up and start picking up my own clothes from the floor. "I mean... well, I don't know exactly what I mean. Maybe it's that old 'I still respect you in the morning' bit. I don't want you to think I was looking to take advantage of you, or anything like that."
"Look, " Faith says as she gets pulls on her panties and t-shirt, "I think you're putting too much into what happened. We were both consenting adults. We were both feelin' a bit wound up. It was a great way to blow off steam, that's all." She pauses and gives me a direct look. "Right?"
I nod mutely.
"Good. I got first call on the shower, then you can show the the way to the Slayer's hangout." She turns and heads down the hall to the bathroom, and a few moments later I hear the hiss of running water.
Just blowin' off steam, I tell myself.
Since neither of us had a car of their own, we took a bus to the old industrial district that the Slayers have made their current base in. The journey is pretty much free of any real talk between Faith and myself. Truth is I wouldn't have known what to talk about with her anyway.
After a three block walk from the last bus stop, we arrive at the new Slayer Central, a seemingly deserted old brick warehouse.
"This is a dump," Faith notes with her usual tact.
"Yep," I agree. "Bought the property with money siphoned off the old Watcher's Council reserves. Giles and Buffy picked the place because all the neighboring buildings seem to be deserted, so there's less likely to be many questions as to why a bunch of young women are going in and out at odd hours. People would think they were running a brothel, or something. There's still a watch at the window, just in case. Someone will be coming out to greet us shortly, I'm sure."
No sooner do I finish the sentence, than Rona comes out of the unmarked steel door. She's blinking her eyes in the bright morning sun, and looks pretty tired. I'd guess she had patrol the previous night. "Hey Xander. None of the girls saw you come in last night." She looked over at Faith. "Faith," she said curtly, as she gives me a rather suspicious look.
"'Sup, Ro." The atmosphere between the two Slayers is less than warm. Rona's always been a bit standoffish, and Faith's not exactly the poster girl for cuddliness herself.
Shit, I really should have worked on my excuses a bit more before I got here. "Oh, I went out, and had a few too many. I just got a room, instead of bugging you guys to pick me up, or something. Last thing a Slayer needs is to be lugging a tipsy Xander around. Ran into Faith on the bus ride in. Small world, huh?" Yeah, I'm sure she'll buy that one.
"Right," Rona says. Clearly, she didn't buy it, but I don't think she'll put me on the spot for it, at least not right now. Instead, she turns her attention to Faith "What brings you here?"
"Giles wants to pow-wow about something," she says as she lights up a smoke. "Don't ask me what, he wasn't too clear."
"I'll have to check it with him, just to be sure." Rona says. But before she can turn to the door and go back in, it opens, and Dawn pops out. She see me and smiles in that cutely innocent way that only she can manage. "Xan! Missed ya last night, could have used a hand."
"Yeah, two of the newbies got into an argument, and one of them managed to throw a hairbrush through one of the walls of the sleeping area," she says with a smirk.
"Great, so you only love me for my home repair skills." I reply with a sigh.
She giggles a bit, then pauses as she notices Faith. "Oh, I didn't know you were bringing company. Hiya," she says with an awkward little wave. Dawn seemed to be unsure how to act around Faith. Of course, it had to be hard to reconcile all the horror stories she'd heard from Buffy and Willow with the kick-ass hero girl she'd seen during the stuff with the First.
If anything, Faith seems just as weirded out by Dawn, simply nodding out a return greeting. I decide not to wonder... the ins and outs of female interaction are far too complex for my feeble male brain.
"Yeah, ran into her on the way here," I say again. Doesn't sound any more believable the second time. I should think about hiring someone to write better lies for me...
Dawn turns back to me. "Lucky co-incidence you showing up when you did, I was just coming outside to call you on my cellphone." She smirks. "Willow's warding-spell-thingies are a little too good... no cell service inside the building."
"What'cha need from me?" I ask.
"Actually, Giles wants to see you, and he asked me to see if I could get a hold of you. Don't ask me what for, he seems a bit distracted lately."
I nod "He's got a lot goin' down, with Will digging up new recruits and Buff out of town. I'm doing my best to stay out of the way. Anyway, Faith's here to visit G-man anyway, so looks like things worked out good."
Dawn nods. "I'll take you guys to him." She opens the door to the warehouse, and I enter, with Faith close behind.
The doorway leads to a large entry area, without any decoration on it's rather hastily-hung walls. "Your work, I assume?" Faith says. "Very... homey."
"Hey, take it easy, I'm a carpenter, not a decorator." I turn to Dawn. "If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say Mr. Tweed is in his study."
"Your guess is right," she says with a nod as she leads us through the door. The next area is a large open space that we'd converted into a training area. At this point all we had were a couple of heavy bags, some padded martial arts training gear, but I also notice a couple of new additions:a few half-full weapons racks with assorted swords and axes, some real, some rubber practice versions.
"I see we got some new stuff. Surplus from the Watchers?"
Dawn nods. "Got them just after you left yesterday, one of Giles' old connections." She looks at me strangely. "That reminds me, where were you last night?"
"Oh, I just had to get out for a while," I say nonchalantly as I can. "Too must estrogen in here, I was starting get a bit strange. Had to make some time for man-stuff, before I started considering doing weird girl-things... exfoliating, using conditioner, that kind of business."
"Well, you could've just hung out with Giles," she says. "He's a guy."
"No, Giles is English, Dawnie. That's like the diet version of masculinity. His idea of a wild night is an extra cup of tea before bedtime."
She laughs, but I can't help but think that she's not totally convinced. Damn, why am I so paranoid? I mean, It's Dawn, so I should be safe.
She nods at a door at the far end of the room. "We'd better hurry, Giles seemed a bit anxious to talk to you earlier."
We follow her, and she knocks on the door. "Hey Giles? You must be psychic, all of a sudden. Xan showed up as soon as I went outside. Oh, and he brought Faith with him."
"Truly? Please show them in, Dawn." I hear the ex-Watcher's voice from inside.
She opens the door, and takes us into what used to be a small storeroom, that had been pressed into service as an office/storage space for assorted funky old magic books, scrolls, etc. It was drab, musty, boring... and that suited Giles just fine, I imagine. Giles himself was seated behind a small desk, cluttered with all sorts of documents scrawled with what might have even been writing.
"Ah, good to see you Xander. Faith, I hope things have been well?" he asks mildly.
"Fair to middlin' Giles," she replies as she takes a seat one of a couple of rickety chairs in front of the desk. "But I'm guessing this wasn't a social call?"
"Yes, you're quite right." He looks at me. "You may as well take a seat as well, Xander. The matter I wished to see you about is related to why I called Faith here." Dawn catches his eye, as she turns for the door. "Please stay, Dawn. I think I'd like to have you here for this, as well."
"Okay... " she says rather uneasily and leans against one of the bookcases on the wall.
Giles pulls off his glasses, and polishes them absently with a handkerchief. It's an old nervous habit of his, and that puts me on my guard. This ain't gonna be good.
He clears his throat, and starts talking. "Well, you see... I don't know how much you've heard, Faith, but since the awakening of the potential Slayers across the world, we've been primarily concerned with finding these newly-empowered Slayers, and-"
"Recruiting them?" Faith guessed.
"...Yes, to an extent," Giles said. "Some aren't willing or able to join us, but we do let them know about the sorts of dangers they'll be exposed to now that they have this power. The forces of darkness have long made targets of the Slayers, so at least this way, they'll be aware of what sorts of things may seek them out, in time."
Dawn shrugs. "Since we kinda forced this on them, it's only fair we give the girls a heads-up that their normal lives went bye-bye for good."
"Quite right," Giles says. "So far, the only person we have that has been able to locate the new Slayers with any kind of accuracy is Willow. It seems natural, since it was her power in part that roused their own abilities.
"The usual method of recruiting is that Willow, Kennedy, and their team search out the young ladies that have been empowered and, provided that they are either eighteen years of age, or legally emancipated, they are sent back to us for training, if that is what they wish."
"Eighteen? Seems like a switch from how it used to be," Faith notes.
"Yes, well..." Giles chews on his bottom lip a moment, seeming to grow even more uncomfortable. "We, meaning Buffy and myself, have come to the conclusion that the Watcher's council... miscalculated, in indoctrinating the girls so young, and without the knowledge of the families, in most cases. Now, with the younger girls, we are sure to let the parents know what their daughters may end up facing and the nature of their abilities, of course, but recruitment is entirely voluntary. I think... Buffy wishes that no girl should miss out on their childhood, the way that she and yourself did."
"Great, kinder, gentler Watchers?" Faith quips with an eye roll.
"Something like that, I suppose."
"Okay, makes sense so far, I guess, but what's this got to do with me?" Faith asks.
Giles reaches into a drawer in his desk and pulls out a large manila file. "In the last few months, we've noticed an alarming pattern of disappearances amongst new recruits."
This catches my interest. "I hadn't heard anything about this," I say.
Dawn cocks an eyebrow at me, "You haven't been around as much," she says.
"Sorry... but still... seems like every once in a while a couple of girls might change their minds... can't really blame them, I mean."
"Yes," Giles agrees, "But not at this rate. Out of the last twenty prospectives Willow's search team has sent back, fourteen have not made it to Cleveland. One has to suspect outside interference at this point."
Dawn looks at him sharply. "That many? Giles, why haven't you said anything."
"I didn't want to alarm the girls," he says, but something bugs me about the way he trails off.
"...And?" I prod him.
Giles sighs. "The only people who have known the identities have been within the Slayers, either here or in Willow or Andrew's field teams. And-"
"Wait," Faith cuts him off. "Andrew's leading a team of Slayers?" She says in an astonished tone.
"Yes," Giles says. "In Europe. A very safe part of Europe, I might add. Easiest way to get him out from underfoot around here was to send him to the continent to recruit those with magical abilities."
I can't help but sigh. "I admit I kind of miss him. It was nice having someone lower on the food chain than me."
"In any case," Giles continues, "Given the fact that these identities have been a closely watched secret inside our group, I can't help but... suspect that one of our own may be working for whoever's been doing this."
"That would explain all the secrecy, like the vague messages you've given Faith to come here," I say.
"Exactly, Xander," Giles says. "The reason I brought Faith here was to ask her if she would perhaps look into this matter herself. She will, of course, be compensated, since she's not officially a member of our organization."
"I dunno, Giles," Faith says, "I'm not Sherlock Holmes, or whatever."
"You have good instincts, Faith, and your he senior-most Slayer alive, save Buffy," Giles replies. "And keep in mind, any threat to us may be a threat to you, eventually."
She says nothing for a second, then smiles. "I guess it'll all come down to how much you'll pay me, I suppose."
Giles reaches into another drawer and pulls out a normal postage-sized envelope, which has a rather large bulge in it. He slides it across the table, "That's a down payment," he says. "In addition, Willow has already begun to take steps to clear your criminal record, so you may live without fear of prosecution."
Her eyes widen a bit as she picks up the envelope, and takes a look inside. "Okay... I'm in... for now."
"That's all I ask," Giles says with a smile.
"Alright," Dawn asks, "What about me and Xander?"
"Dawn, I want you to keep an eye on things around the Slayers. They seem to know you, and trust you, you may hear a few things that you weren't meant to. As for Xander, he'll be accompanying Faith on her trip."
I feel like I just took a brick to the head. "Trip? I'm going somewhere?"
"Yes, Faith will be going out to investigate the disappearances, and you'll be her assistance, if you like to call it that."
Faith's starting to look a little leery at this point. "Wait, Giles, I work alone."
"I think I'm going to have to insist, Faith. I don't want you operating alone this time."
I glare at Giles. "What's to say I'll play along?"
"Xander, you're the most trustworthy person I have here, and... I don't think you'd turn down a chance to see Willow, would you?"
"You're going to be meeting up with her, as part of this. I believe she's currently in Pennsylvania." Giles smiles. "Do you think you could be ready to leave tomorrow?"
We talk a bit more, but the important stuff is out of the way, for now. Giles promises to get in touch with Willow and get the details ironed out. I can't help but be a bit excited... Willow's always been my best friend, and being away from her for this long doesn't feel... right for some reason. Seeing her again will be terrific.
The growling of Dawn's stomach loudly says it's lunchtime, so we all rise and prepare to make for the kitchen. I straggle behind the girls as they file out, and Giles' hand on my shoulder stops me.
"One moment, if you would, Xander, I have something to discuss," he says. As he looks at me, he produces a small black leather box, slightly larger than a cigarette case. "I want you to take this with you, please."
I look at him as I flip open the lid. Resting on soft foam inside is a small glass hypodermic needle, filled with a clear liquid.
"Giles, I don't get it, what is this?"
"That, Xander, is the Cruciamentum drug," he says simply. "You remember it?"
I do, and it's not a happy memory. "Wait, this stuff takes a Slayer's strength away. You gave it to Buffy on her eighteenth birthday, for that stupid test-thing the watchers gave the Slayers." I feel myself growing angry. "Why are you giving me this?"
"A precaution, Xander." he looks at me very seriously. Man, I hate that look.
"What do you mean?"
"The scenario I delineated earlier was accurate, as far as it went. There is the distinct chance that a Slayer here is the a traitor." he pauses. "But there is one possibility I deliberately left out. That Faith has betrayed us."
"You want me to dope up Faith with this?" I ask, hardly believing. "No way, Giles, that's bullshit!"
"Xander, I don't know that she's the one, but... she's been less than trustworthy at times in the past. You of all people know this."
Thanks for digging that nugget up, Giles. "She's not the traitor, I just... got a feeling." I close the box with an loud snap! "I ain't gonna need this." I say angrily.
"Keep it anyway, think of it as 'insurance,'" he says calmly.
I turn and walk out, pocketing the black box.
"I hope your feelings are right in this matter, Xander," I hear Giles say.
Good question, G-man...
So, there it is. Just so you know, at this point, it looks like the story will be staying first person, at least, for a while. But, it's not just going to be Xander's POV. Be looking for a new viewpoint, maybe as soon as next chapter...
Music for my muses: Queens of the Stone Age: Era Vulgaris, Light This City: Facing The Thousand, Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts: Beneath the Country Underdog, Cream: Disraeli Gears, Massive Attack: Mezzanine.
(See, Lamb, I'm into more that just Death Metal,! That's a Hard Rock record, an Alt-Country record, a classic Acid Rock record, a dark Ambient Dub record, AAAAND a Death Metal record with a female vocalist, no less! HAH!)
Thanks for reading, as always.
20 July 2007