Title: The Ride Of Valkyries

Author: Jane McCartney

Disclaimer: Can I have Xander, Joss? Oh, I can't? [sighs]. OK... Spike? Wishful thinking, huh? Can I have Wesley then? No again?! What's your child trauma, pal?!

Rating: PG13

Feedback: Are you kidding me? Hell yes!

E-mail: janemccartney@bol.com.br

Distribution: Tell me first and I'll nod an OK.

Acknowledgments: Theo, for helping me - again! I don't know what I'd do without him, but certainly I wouldn't be here right now. And for everyone who sends me reviews, a big lip smack! Love ya!

Warnings: There are some references to drug abuse in this story.

Author's note: This is a piece that can not only stand alone, but can also serve as the sequel for one of my fics, 'A Faithless Rhapsody'. Enjoy the ride, and don't forget to tell me what you think of this! Flames (gulp) or not (yay!) are welcome!

Summary: Futurefic. Alex confronts his hatred for his father, and the remaining Scoobies confront their fear of Alex's way of confronting his hatred for his father.

Amelia and Buffitude, I've sent your old reviews again, with me reposting this fic - I hope you won't mind, but if you do, I'll take it out, just let me know!

***

A sigh. Painful images and recollections were passing freely through the woman's mind at that moment; images of a lost teenager, her own past and a blood-curdling fear for the future ahead.

And, of course, the long-absent shadow of a certain young man from her past, a frequent face in her deepest and most forgotten dreams; a distant, but somehow-so-alive ghost she couldn't erase from her mind - even if she'd wanted to.

The place was a long, drawn-out hall with white walls, plus several brown- colored wooden doors - a perfect scenario for some creepy old horror movie.

In a distant corner, a petite middle-aged nurse was pushing a little hospital-like rolling-car; dressed in salmon-colored clothing, she had an equal mix of gray and brown-haired locks of short hair.

And as she moved along, the trolley could be seen to contain plastic cups of clear water and numerous medications on the top of it.

Not far away, the brunette woman stopped in front of one of those countless doors, standing there silently for a few brief seconds before knocking.

When no reply or sign of acknowledgment was made, she decided to carefully and slowly open the door, stepping inside the baby-blue painted room and looking at the boy sitting on the edge of the bed.

The teenager had longish locks of deep dark hair falling clumsily around his face, and a slender but well-constructed frame that was typical of youth. His handsome features were formed into a boyish expression, and he had a pair of puppy dog-like eyes that could shine with a soft and amazingly captivating brown color.

One could say, the teenager was an almost-perfect mirror image of what his father had been before him, in his own childhood.

But, instead of a genuine and charming Xander-ish grin, there was a sad smile of contemplation and unspoken fear illuminating this boy's face, and his once warm and innocent eyes were now a bleary bloodshot-red, his expression tired and drained and his body trembling regularly.

If in fright, anger or a normal reaction of his body from the drug abstinence, no one could actually tell with any accuracy and precision.

"Hey kiddo," the woman greeted him with a small smile.

Alex Harris looked up, a lost glance glued to his almost totally indifferent face. "Hi," the dark-haired boy managed to smile an equally dwarfish grin.

A knock on the door.

The two of them turned back to the orifice in time to see the middle-aged nurse popping her head inside the room, a genuine smile on her lips and a plastic cup with water in one hand, plus two little blue pills in the other.

"It's time for your medications, young Alex," Nurse Martin stated in a slightly singsong tune.

The 36-year-old brunette mouthed an instant 'thanks' to the nurse, as if saying she'd take care of this.

With a snort of slight annoyance and almost reproval, the middle-aged nurse practically slapped the cup and pills into the younger woman's hands.

"Visiting hours are over in ten minutes, I'll be coming back soon to check up on him," Nurse Martin grunted hostilely, a fake smile plastered onto her wrinkled face.

There was a loud thump of the door being closed, and soon the two were once again alone in the blue room.

"What's she got stuck up her ass today?" the brunette woman groaned mockingly, and Alex finally grinned one of his original, authentic grins.

"And let me say a world of eww for that thought," he joked as a rebuttal, his face suddenly twisting into a funny expression of disgust. "Thank you very much, Aunt Fay?" he added with light sarcasm.

Faith grinned. It was good to see Alex smiling again.

"What's so funny?" the teenager questioned her suspiciously.

An unplanned shiver. "Nothing, really. A stupid joke B told me this morning, and a terrible one at that. Really, it's no fun, and no big," Faith rambled, obviously not convincing enough to fool the adolescent.

With a cocked eyebrow of incredulity, Alex demanded with a smart-ass look, "So, how was it?"

The relatively old Slayer frowned flimsily - she was evidently fighting a lost battle here. "What?"

"The joke, Aunt Fay! The stupid, non-existent joke," the teen clarified with a wild grin.

Faith sighed. Tough audience.

"OK, Mr. Smartass, time for your pills. The faster it's over with the better, c'mon," she casually handed the two little blue capsules and water to him, trying her best to make the scene less embarrassing than what Alex always seem to actually find it.

And so suddenly and abruptly, in the space of a blink of an eye, Alex's eyes were absolutely blank again. With a distinctly artificial brightness, and devoid of any trace of his childlike smile and joking around.

In another words, like his eyes always were now, for most hours of the day.

"Oh man, do I really have to?" Alex grunted stubbornly. "These goddamn pills always get me all weak, and I can't do nothing for the freaking rest of the day! Can't I just skip it, just for today?" he sent her his best puppy-dog kind of look, the same one which every female member of the Scoobies used to melt at the first sign of seeing.

It was like his lucky charm, infallible weapon, and ace up his sleeve.

And Faith had to breathe real deep not to fall for his little trick.

Man, but it was a damn huge effort she was making here.

"Nice try," the brunette put on a Resolve Face. "But the answer's no, kiddo. You gotta get better, and these things are gonna help you so you can get out of here that much sooner."

"I'm never getting out of here," the dark-haired youth murmured, his opaque eyes having lost hints of confused and opposite feelings - such as rage, chagrin and an innocent, childlike fear.

The fragile fear of a boy who'd only wanted his father's care and love, but never gotten it though.

Faith sighed, sitting at his side on the bed. "Aw, crap, don't think like that Al! Listen, you're gonna be out of here before you know it, OK? Just... you've gotta be strong."

The brunette woman started to stroke his head, playing with his dark hair in a gentle and amicable way, just like an older sister would.

Or rather, that wild and semi-crazy aunt of your typical non-ordinary American family; the weird-ass group that you talk about with the girl you've got a crush on, or the boys in class you had a fight with earlier while you're waiting for a nice visit into the principal's office.

"And if I can't? I'm sure I'm gonna screw up somehow," Alex confessed in a low voice. "That seems to be my specialty, after all," he chuckled bitingly.

Faith instantly felt her heart stopping dead in its tracks, a suddenly cold freezing sensation rendering her incapable of any movement, physical or mental. She was overcome by past memories.

What the hell, but if this wasn't like seeing Xander Harris in the flesh all over again, Faith didn't know what it was.

The same way of passing a nervous hand through the hair, the need to feel guilty, the hidden but obviously still-present warmth in those exact same soft brown eyes...

The way he walked and talked, the same will to help, the same instinct to put himself down, even forcefully take all the blame...

For God's sake, even the boy's favorite shirt was a typical '90s one, with a messy and undecipherable mix of every goddamn color possible to exist in the whole world, and he loved 'Speedos' too...

Granted there were some differences. Alex didn't smile very often anymore, and his closet had only had black or dark-colored clothes for ages now. As the same teenager who looked so much like his father to her eyes, had overdosed twice on cocaine in less than 16 years of life.

Alex, Xander, Alexander - a lost teenager, an absent father and a unique blood. Ties that still bound so strongly that its result could be just as superb as disastrous - in a dangerous tango of rage, love, confusion and draw-out emptiness.

Faith stopped and gazed at the scared dark-haired teenager, a soft smile on her lips. "Remember who you're talking to? My middle name's actually Screwup, ya know?"

"Yeah, right..." the boy snorted in half-amusement.

"C'mon, Big Al, what's up? I mean, something's up in that empty old thing you teenagers today call a brain, I can see it," she tried to sound casual.

Alex smiled at her, one of his genuine, true smiles. But, as if on cue, it quickly faded away to be replaced by a haunted and thin smirk instead.

"You don't know how it hurts," he insisted, sending a frightened and lost glance through the clinic's windows with bars.

Faith looked down for a brief second, sighed and looked up at his eyes again, and spoke with a haunted but stronger voice this time. "Actually, I do," she stated simply.

A widened and curious pair of weary brown eyes stared back at the brunette Slayer. "What are you talkin' about?" Alex asked quietly.

"Some... past issues," Faith explained carefully. Even after so many years, the topic seemed to not have softened at all to her, not enough to be easily put into words.

"Long time ago, I thought I could blame every person in the whole goddamn world who was happy, just 'cause I wasn't. I made some bad choices when I was your age. Hell, I made mistakes, pal, and believe me - they were unbelievably stupid ones. And it wasn't a pretty sight when I crashed, Alex. At all. Trust me," the brunette stated softly.

Choosing not to push any further an obviously difficult subject to this woman he considered a kind of wild big sister, Alex shoved away his desire to ask for details. "How'd you get out of the hole you dug for yourself, then?"

A sigh. "I didn't," Faith uttered simply. "Not really, anyway. I hit rock bottom, and I realized some things... you just can't erase 'em. Doesn't matter how hard you're willing to make up for your past."

A suddenly cold chill of fear ran down Alex's spine.

"But you're not me," the Slayer quickly amended. "Like, I was weak, and I didn't know Rack. You still have choices, Alex; you can still turn it around here. You've got me and B, plus you've got all the others, and what I want right now is to just make sure you understand that," she hinted ruefully.

Xander's son looked up; he had pleading eyes, hurt eyes, conflicted eyes.

A haunting mirror of her own past reflection, Faith thought tiredly.

"We love you," she declared, squeezing gingerly the teen's hands onto hers. "And we'll always be here for you, get it? Always. But still, we can't help you if you don't let us. Crap, I know how it feels to believe you need to be punished. I know how it feels to think you're alone, even when you aren't."

Faith smirked. "I'm a lucky bastard, Alex, and that's the truth. I found redemption, 'cause I had people believing in me. Why, I didn't know then. I totally screwed up with them, but they still kept betting on me."

"They did?"

"Yep. Look, you're nothing like me, comprende? You're a good guy. You're compassionate and brave. Maybe you're a little confused right now, but so what? Everybody gets messed up some time," Faith paused suddenly, looking tenderly at the teenager. "Your father would be so proud of you, Al. He really would, ya know?"

Alex quickly diverted his glance from hers, "But he's not here now, is he?" the teen provoked her, a distinct hint of irony dripping in his sore voice. "He's never been here," the boy then muttered, his gaze still down and his hands shaking slightly.

A fleeting hush. "Don't be too hard on yourself, kiddo. Or your father," Faith replied pointedly.

A longer silence this time. Alex started to viciously drum his fingers on the wooden surface of the sole desk in the room. The brunette Slayer tried futilely to put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but the teen shoved it away a little too violently.

"Why do you hate him?" Faith eventually asked softly.

As if he had been caught by surprise from the sudden question, Alex slowly turned his widened glance back to the brunette's expressionless one. "He didn't think of her," the young man confessed in a small voice.

"He didn't think she could be hurt, he just... he just went out and did it. Left to be some freaking White Knight, without even considering that she... that she might not be able to handle things without him. He... he killed her, when he died that day. So how am I supposed to not hate him?" the last words were barely a sob.

Alex's eyes, silently and unknowingly pleading for the return of his innocence, stabbed Faith with that haunted request for help.

"You're talking about your mother?" the Slayer asked carefully, but the question sounded mostly rhetorical to both their ears.

Alex nodded in silence. "He should have thought about her. He should have known that something might go wrong," he said quietly.

"You've never talked about this before," Faith replied vaguely, her mind racing. "I didn't know you felt like this."

"I hate him," the teenager whispered with a new and hearty sob, seemingly ignoring the Slayer's previous words.

Faith sighed. "Then don't," the woman said, a surprisingly harsh yet gentle tone in her voice. "Look, Xander Harris was one the greatest guys I ever knew. He was brave, honest, courageous, and he had the biggest heart of any human guy that ever walked the earth. That's what all his love was about."

At Alex's lost expression, the brunette continued, "I wasn't there at the time, but I learned what happened from the people who was. I know that Boy Toy-"

"Who?"

"Sorry, uh, your dad wouldn't have just stood around and watched his best friend destroy herself. And yeah, all right, maybe I tried to hate Red too - but that'd be just hypocritical, coming from me. She was just as lost as I was, once."

A growing curiosity seemed to slowly replace the teen's anger. This time, Alex didn't object when Faith's gentle arms fell comfortingly on his shoulder.

The Slayer told him, "I don't think he could have ever lived with himself, knowing he had let Willow down when she'd needed him the most. He couldn't have been a good father, with that kinda weight on his shoulders. 'Cause that's just the exact opposite kind of person Xander really was."

"I don't see how this is doing me any good here," the dark-haired teen stubbornly snorted, each and every word full of bitterness.

"It's not like he knew he was gonna die, kiddo. No one really understood how powerful and lost Red had gotten back then. But B's told me how much Xander loved your mother. Her little quirks, her smile..."

Faith snorted. "Your Aunt Buffy's told me how your old man almost threw it all away, when some demon asshole faked a bad future on the cards for him and your mom. But he believed in their love," Faith said in almost a whisper, a distant smile playing on her lips. "Demon Guy was trounced, and they ended up getting married."

"But with no happily ever after," Alex mumbled grimly, with a slightly sniffly voice. His fists closed tight, anger again forcefully making its painful way into his body, heart and soul.

Faith, on the other hand, didn't hear him. She seemed like a person caught up in a trance, as painful memories from the long-distant past forcefully caught in her throat. "That was a month before..." she sighed, letting the sentence trail off. "Anyway, he didn't know she was pregnant. Anya was planning to tell him that night..."

As if in an unstated understanding, an oddly comforting and unexpected serenity fell over the room one more time.

And just then, the noisy and annoying footsteps of Nurse Martin approaching the room echoed loudly, almost making both Faith and Alex jump for their sudden intrusion.

"He's looking down on us right now, Al, I'm sure of it," the brunette Slayer said, standing up. "So, let's not give him too much grief - 'cause he's just one guy, ya know?" she teased lightly, a warmth in her dark orbs managing to elicit a rare true smile from Alex.

"Whaddaya think, should I use my Slayer powers on her? The old witch seems pretty much evil to me," Faith grunted casually, already standing in front of the door.

Alex's grin grew wilder and the teen said, "It won't be me who'll say anything, Aunt Fay."

"Yeah, it's an idea with potential," she grinned evilly. "But don't tell B, all right? She's a real spoilsport," Faith teased him lightly one more time, before finally stepping out of the room.

After the brunette Slayer's departure, Alex could hear muffled voices in the hall. Probably Faith making a scene with Nurse Martin, he deduced with a grin.

Yep, that was his Aunt Fay all right, Slayer of boringness. Always in for some fun.

The dark-haired teenager paced the room and ultimately let his body clumsily fall onto the bed, rubbing his temple in a vicious manner.

Drugs. The bittersweet world of instant relief, and subsequent chaos.

Punishment. Disappointment. Pain.

Alex could feel his body desperately crying out for just one shot, just one. And then another, and one more after that. Never enough, always more.

The damned blue pills Faith had made him take just as soon as she'd arrived were a help, but not a solution. Alex constantly felt like crying, but never in front of anyone else. He couldn't let himself go that far.

And so, as a sacred ritual, the tears floated freely down his scared face when he was alone.

Alex wept for his mother. Alex wept for the disappointment he was to the people he loved the most. And, above all things, Alex wept for the father he'd never gotten the chance to know.

And the tears kept falling. Flaming, burning, bringing a familiar pain to his heart.

As if they were filling an eternal hole in it with its fiery and biting flame of sorrow.

The boy then did what he always did, at the end of every day ever since Aunt Dawn had first brought it to him.

He carefully leaned down to the floor, and took out an old suitcase from under the bed. Rubbing the dust away from its surface with the palm of his hands and a burst of air from his lips, Alex opened it very cautiously.

And there it was.

A picture. A mirror, most would say. Lost between a measureless ocean of old but never forgotten memories, there it was. His father's photograph.

And the damned tears found a new way to hurt him, as if he was being flayed alive.

"I hate you," the teen whispered in an undecipherable sob, as he finally stretched out upon the bed. "You should have been here for me, and Mom... you should have..."

And sweet oblivion finally overtook him.

Alex Harris found brief solace in the land of dreams of a non-existent past, where he and his father were playing basketball, or simply hanging around. His mother then coming out of the back door of their house, and yelling at them to come in for dinner.

Living a normal life. That was the most precious gift, offered up by his unconscious mind.

***

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