Chapter 19: Life goes on, again, some more
A/N: See chapter one for disclaimers and warnings.
Well now. Thanks so very much for all the encouragement and commentary along the way. If I didn’t reply to each review it was only because it seemed silly to do so when “Aw shucks,” was all there was to say but I assure you each kind word was eagerly received. I’m glad so many of you enjoyed the fic and hope it serves as some small return for the hours of entertainment I’ve found on this site.
Speaking of which, thanks also to jinni, jrabbit et al for such a well-organized and easy-to-use archive.
Chapter 19: Life goes on, again, some more.
“Willow, really,” Giles said, “must we always arrive in Xander’s bedroom?”
“Oh, pfff,” Willow answered, “what are you worried about? You’ve already got your glasses off. You can’t see a thing.”
“Yes, well, sometimes one’s imagination only makes it worse. Do whatever minor evil it is you must to the poor boy, I shall await his cries of distress and outrage in the office.”
Xander was on his back, one arm flung out, mouth wide open. Willow held her palm out and a small green cricket appeared and she crept forward.
And leaped back with a squeak as Faith’s head popped out from under the covers.
“Hey, Red,” she said, grinning, “watchya doin‘?”
“Faith,” Willow said neutrally.
“Have a heart, Red, let the poor guy sleep. He had a hard night, and he is only human. He needs his rest.”
“Yes. Well. I’ll leave you to it, then. I mean…. Never mind.” Willow scurried toward the door, Faith called out,
“Hey, Red,” and Willow looked back and Faith dropped the blankets down and up to flash the high beams and cackled wildly as the witch rolled her eyes and turned away and shut the bedroom door behind her.
“Oh for Goddess’ sake,” Willow said, “it’s the hellmouth, he couldn’t find a nice demoness to shack up with?” She glared at Giles, “And if you say it serves me right you’ll start finding really horrible things at the bottom of your teacup.”
Carla stood nervously in the polished hallway, she checked the name on the card Faith had given her, checked the name on the door. This was the place. She hadn’t expected something quite so… fancy.
She sort of wished she hadn’t brought Marissa with her ’cause then she could have chickened out and maybe come back later.
She was glad she’d brought Marissa with her, ‘cause now she couldn’t chicken out. She pushed the door open and went in with Marissa close on her heels.
She’d had to almost half-carry the heavily doped Marissa across town back to the apartment. They’d rode up the elevator then Carla had left her in the hall and knocked on the door, pushed in when a wide-eyed Jimmy opened it,
“Hey Babe,” he’d said, “where you been? I was getting worried.”
“Oh, I’ve hanging out down at the slayer house, Jimmy, with my new pal Faith the freaking Vampire Slayer, Jimmy.”
“Hey, babe, I made the deal for both of us, two months blood and two passes each, babe, that’s top dollar.”
“Yeah, I know,” Carla said softly, “I know, but you could have at least told me.”
“I was afraid you’d freak out.”
“I’m sorry babe, I really am.”
“Me too. It was just…. really scary. Got you a souvenir though.”
When the dust had settled she went back out and brought Marissa in, set her on a chair in the kitchen and nuked a couple bags and fed her, watching her eyes beginning to grow focused, her movements grow more sure.
They took turns in the shower then sat cross-legged on the bed while Carla filled Marissa in on the whole vampire thing and the living sitch.
“So this is your place,” Marissa marveled.
“Yeah,” Carla said, “I got it in the divorce.”
They’d slept for awhile, woke up, helped each other with their makeup, fed from the fridge that was beginning to look a little empty. This was gonna be better, Carla thought, gonna be fun. Hanging out with Marissa, scoping guys. Jimmy had been cool but she wasn’t really ready for just one guy yet. But they had to get organized, pay the rent.
She took out the card Faith had given her after she had first identified the Master’s mansion,
“After you dust the bastard that sold you,“ Faith had said, “check this place out. Could work for you. I’m gonna check on you, I wanna hear good things.”
Faith was like the big sister Carla never had. Scary, mean, psycho might-kill-you-any-minute-for-not-breathing big sister, but still, no one else, who didn’t want to fuck her, had ever showed even this much interest.
So here she was all nervous in the way-fancy office of DoNoHarm, Inc. and this nasty receptionist was looking down her nose, saying,
“Oh, you want to see HARMONY, do you? And why would Ms. Kendall want to see you?”
“All I know is Faith said to give you this and ask to see Harmony, so here,” Carla said, thrusting the tattered card across the desk. The snotty woman took it, read the back and her eyes widened and suddenly things were happening, the receptionist spoke quietly into the phone and a busty blonde woman with a bright smile that seemed just a little mad burst from the back room and gathered the two girls in, took them down the hall to a plush office,
“You must be Carla and this is…?”
“My friend Marissa, it’s okay if she’s here too, right?”
“Oh, yes, the more the merrier. Now, what did Faith tell you?”
“Just to come here and give you that card.”
“Okay, here’s the bad news. We take ten percent of anything you make. No exceptions, not even for friends of Faith. The good news, we find you the jobs. We give you some basic training at no charge. We have all kind of education plans, loans, we help you get into school. Online, or a lot of our people go to night classes at Cleveland State. We want you to do better because the better you do, the better we do, and we all do better together. You’re wondering what the catch is. Ask me what the catch is…”
“Uh….” Carla said, “what’s the catch?”
“We test you for human blood. Once a month and sometimes at random. You test positive once, if it’s borderline you get a chance to convince us that you just forgot and had a pint of O-pos at Willy’s, but you better be damn convincing. Fail a second time and you’re dusted on the spot. Skip your test and we send your info to the slayers and they hunt you down. Now, to make this easier we do have a wide selection of certified human-free animal bloods at very reasonable prices available here at the office. We do deliver but you’ll probably want to move up the salary ladder a bit before you want to pay for that. Understood?”
“Okay then, we’ve got some boring aptitude tests and paperwork to take care of and then you’ll be on your way. In a day or two we’ll get back to you with some job offers, and you’ll be a couple of kicky undead girls, making it in the big city.”
On the way out the snotty receptionist practically kissed their asses all the way to the door. It was nice to have…. friends … in high places. Carla was in a bit of daze when they were finally back in the hall, clutching thick folders of educational options and free samples of otter, buffalo and emu blood. But her mind was still working. She was a little meh on the whole working concept. On the other hand, she had to admit, it got boring just hanging out in the apartment all day. So she’d go along for awhile, make some cash, learn the system, cause there had to be a way to beat it. This would be fine for now, great even, but someday…
Someday she was gonna have another kill, ‘cause she knew, knew in her bones, that there was nothing else like it.
They snatched a few hours sleep and then met in the hotel coffee shop for a late breakfast. It was the first time the foursome had been alone together for… quite some time. They sat silent, sipping their coffee and staring into the ‘tween spaces.
It had been a very long night. There were horrors in that basement that the CSU guys were speculating went back years, and in some cases, generations. Captain Maddux was expecting to close a lot of old files. She had looked at them hard a few times as they told their stories but said nothing.
Stabler broke the ice, “So, Liv,” he said, “you want to tell us what really happened.”
“Don’t think you’d believe me.”
“Oh, we might,” Munch said. “Xander took us on a little tour of Cleveland nightlife. You tell me Poppin’ Fresh has a house in the Hamptons, I’m ready to believe it.”
So she told them. Up until the point where Harris, well, his second, killed the perp in cold blood. She hesitated. But she looked up, could see in their eyes it was too late to leave it there, they were her partners. She told them, saw Munch and Fin react with initial anger, then sit back and digest, she felt Stabler’s tension fill the air beside her.
She had talked with Harris, he was Harris to her again, while they were in the cell, while walking through the dark cavern. They had talked a long time under the shadow of death. He was funny, he was kind. He was crazy brave and she owed him her life. She’d seen the girls pile on him with obvious love, she knew in her bones he was good man. He had to be one of the best of ….Them. And just for a moment he had showed her something, call it ruthlessness, call it resolve, it scared her.
She’d seen such power. She’d seen a dragon. A huge fire-breathing dragon. She’d seen a single woman bring it down. With a sword. Then pass out sandwiches like it was just another day at the office.
She’d seen a group of such women, moving with organized speed and efficiency, blow through monsters that would haunt her dreams like wolves in a hen house.
She’d seen cold calculations done and a man killed. Assuming he had the power they said he did, and who was she to argue that, she couldn’t fault the logic, though she’d tried all night.
She thought she understood better now the arguments of an old, very short term, boyfriend, who had enraged her, telling her how much the police frightened him.
“I know you feel over-whelmed by the population,” he’d said, “tied down by all the rules and regulations, I know you eat your own sometimes, but still the single largest organized armed gang in the City is the NYPD. You Olivia, mean well, do your best, any single cop can be a good guy, probably is. The world would be worse without you…”
“But as a whole you are still power incarnate. You walk around with guns visible, you push people around. You have backup just minutes away. You have all manner of petty ways you can fuck with people’s lives. You put people in cages. You enforce laws good and bad. You are controlled, of course, restrained. But only as long as you agree to be restrained. Only as long as the power that controls you agrees to be restrained.”
Now Olivia understood the phrase “power incarnate” a little better. And the fear.
They were invited out to the slayer house for dinner, steaks off the grill, friendly conversations, tying up loose ends. She wondered if it was a test. She wondered what happened if they failed.
He found her sitting in the glider on the front porch.
“Mr. Giles,” she said, looking up as he approached, sat beside her.
“I think, under the circumstances, you might call me Rupert.” He laughed as he saw her face. “Or at least you might go American and drop the mister.”
“Is that my reward? Does that mean I‘m a real Watcher now?”
“In a way. Let’s say you’ve completed your dissertation.”
“And now I have to defend it?”
“Only to yourself. Xander let you do it. You’ll never get a better compliment, you know.”
They sat silent for awhile.
“I don’t feel bad,” she said. “I felt a little sick at the time, while his body was dying but, not now. It was the right thing.”
She stood, leaned against the railing looking back at him, “The girls are so easy with it all,” she said, “they run they jump they battle demons. They eat ice cream. They have so much power. I had a little crush on Xander, and then Faith… I started to understand how Aunt Gwen felt, why she wanted some power for herself so badly. And then last night, with all those girls following my orders I had such power she couldn’t even dream of. It was intoxicating. Tempting. So I’m sitting here wondering what happens if I start to like it too much… if I…”
“Oh,” he said. “That’s easy. Then Xander kills you. Or has Faith do it if need be. Or I do. Or Buffy does. Or Willow. Or, I think, maybe Renee, she seems to have a fine moral compass. Because we are all-knowing and all-wise and always do the right thing. I’m sure that’s in the handbook somewhere.“
“Oh, I see,” Georgianne said. “Well, that’s all right then.”
“Hey Will,” Xander said, “how were the mountains?”
“I thought Giles said something about you going on a retreat in the highlands. I wasn’t really listening. So, how are you? How’s the new girl? Had her tongue pierced yet?”
“Her name is Lilly, and no and Hey! None of your business, mister. Not that you are in any position to talk mister-I’m-sleeping-with Faith the …. Dragon Slayer.”
“Don’t wanna. But okay. So, Thiago did well then?”
“He did fine. He’s a little imprecise with the teleporting, but otherwise he did great. He’s the one who picked up on the Ovid’s Petals being used, kept his cool when it all went down. He could chill a little in general, but no big. Will?”
“I’m gonna need a favor later. I know it’s not your favorite thing, but, maybe Thiago isn’t quite ready. Plus, I’m gonna need you to do it even if everybody else is against it. I’ll bring it up at the meeting, and I hope they agree, but I need you to do it even if they don’t. Cause I know I’m right.”
“Okay. If you’re sure. But I’m not turning Andrew into a newt again.”
“Oh, please, just for a little while.”
“Please. Please please please and I won’t call Lilly and tell her you were ogling my girlfriend.”
“Well. Maybe. But only for like five minutes.”
“Just so you get it on video.”
“Hey, Big G.,” Xander said, smiling as the older man winced in the traditional manner, “wanna make a grocery run? See real food, actual unboiled vegetables all green and everything?”
“Xander, the UK actually has a substantial agricultural economy and I assure you….”
“You coming, or not?”
Xander waited until they were in the truck and blocks away, well clear of even slayer hearing.
“You ruthless bastard,” he said.
“I need Watchers, Xander, real, experienced tested Watchers. And the only true test…”
“Is the test of fire, I get it.”
“And witches. Willow can‘t be the only….”
“I know, we save Willow for the apocalypses, not the Xander might eat his hand situations.”
“I’d have brought her in before you devoured anything vital.”
“Define vital….Giles, it’s okay. I understand. Really, I do. But there are some who might not, so what we’re doing here is negotiating my silence. I’m thinking, you eat two twinkies for each person I don’t tell.”
“That’s just cruel.”
“Washed down with cream soda. House brand.”
“Zoey has this idea for creating a small fleet of motorcycles to extend our patrol areas and act as a sort of rapid response unit…”
“Xander, when I tell you our budget is limited I’m not…”
“So we all need to fight a little harder a piece of the pie. We’re talking used bikes and some additional tools and work space for Zoey, very economical. And as a reward for her hard work and initiative, I happen to know that she has her heart set on a particular Italian model that might be easier found used in, you know, Italy, so maybe if you could pry Buffy off her latest…”
“Send Dawn the specs. You know I love Buffy, but if you ask her to find you a Ducati you’re going to receive either two stuffed toy felines or a cap with a mallard on it and a puzzled note.”
“Point. Dawnie it is, though, actually I think she wants a Guzzi and…. moving on…”
“So essentially you want me to approve all your requests at the meeting.”
“No. There’s a request in for a commercial grade ice cream maker I’d appreciate you turning down.”
Georgianne was pleased with the world. Her plan had come off perfectly. Xander was retrieved whole, there had been a few bites and scratches, one sprained ankle, but no serious injuries.
To be sure at the, what else to call it, after-party the big hit had been the epic re-re-telling of Faith and the Dragon. And Xander had been the recipient of the majority of the big passionate hugs, to the point where Faith had climbed in his lap and only half-jokingly began telling the girls to back off.
But she’d received hugs herself, and at the very least a pat on the back from every girl, and seen in their eyes respect and not the horror she’d feared.
And now she was PRESIDING over a meeting attended by Giles, Willow, Xander, plus Faith, Caridad and Vi, all people of the bus AND she felt perfectly comfortable. They’d breezed through the budget requests, Giles approving nearly everything she asked for though what he had against ice cream she couldn’t fathom. She really looked forward to giving Zoey the go ahead, the girl would burst with excitement and that without even knowing about her own bike in the works.
They’d teased Vi and discussed the idea of married slayer housing, brainstormed a bit on how best to crack down and get a little tighter grip on the demon community. Now, they were at the major decision of the day, what to do about the SVU cops coming to dinner.
“I think they could be useful,” she said, envisioning the rolodex on her desk, filled with names and numbers of people in… important places, people who could smooth the slayer’s lives. But she saw Xander slowly shake his head.
“If it was just Munch, maybe. He’s a little more… flexible in his thinking than the others. And, by himself, no one would believe him. Besides, it’ll be for their own good. They’ll begin to doubt themselves and go looking and get themselves killed. Plus I truly believe Stabler will be a lot happier not knowing.”
“With all due respect, Xander, whenever anyone starts talking about doing things for someone’s own good….” she started.
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s true, but I mostly threw that out there to make Will feel better.” He leaned back, Georgianne saw the pain cross his face. Saw Faith reach out and lay her hand on his shoulder.
“God, it would be nice to have string of useful contacts in the cops, with the DA. It wouldn’t work. We ask for favors. They’d ask for help. There’s a man holding hostages on the tenth floor, could a slayer maybe sneak in… Then they’d demand our help. Start giving us assignments. Demand that a slayer do regular SWAT duty. Take it over.”
He turned and looked right at her, said, “Cops, politicians the world over… even the occasional Watcher… power junkies. Slayers are the super primo grade. Raw power. They wouldn’t be able to resist…”
He leaned back,
“We can only hide in plain sight like this if they don’t know we exist. And if we can’t hide in plain sight, there is no normal life for the girls. As for these four. We killed a man and used them to cover it. It will bother them. The magic and the demons and even the dragon will fade, but they’ll remember the dead man and they’ll remember being used and it will nag at them. But that’s not it either, really. We’ve declared ourselves outside the law, straightforward defied, worse, ignored their authority and they won’t be able to live with that. Everywhere I’ve been, the worst of Africa, the best of Europe, nothing pisses off a cop faster than ignoring his authority over whatever bit of turf, however tiny, he claims as his own. Maybe we’re no better. But it’s only a matter of time until Benson tells someone it was George who put in the knife. Maybe nothing will happen, but we’ll always have to wonder… “ He paused, rubbed his eye a moment then leaned forward to talk directly to Willow.
“And maybe we could live with that. But it wouldn’t stop there. If four cops want to expose us and know what they’re looking for, they’ll expose us. Expose Robin in New York. Maybe not to the public, but they’ll take it upstairs. They’ll want slayers under their control, in the end, that’s always where it will lead. We’d have to hide, go deep underground and no chance at all for normal lives….”
“It’s okay, Xan,” Willow interrupted, “I understand.”
“Shall we put it to a vote, all in favor say aye,” George said, and that was that.
“One more item,” Giles said. “Unless you’re having Willow visit the entire traffic patrol, I understand it might be diplomatic of Faith to keep a low profile for awhile. And while I’m sure we’ll get it quickly quashed, there is still technically a warrant out for Xander’s arrest. So, since George has shown she can handle the easy stuff, demons and wizards and so on, I thought maybe we’d give her a real challenge. Such as getting a houseful of slayers to school on time. While Xander and Faith take a little vacation, courtesy of Rosenberg travel.”
“Just a beast of burden, me,” Willow said. “Just say where and when.”
“I’ve got a couple ideas,” Faith said.
“So, what if they decide to rob banks?” Stabler said.
“Then I think banks get robbed,” Benson answered. “But they don’t rob banks. We’d have heard.”
The four detectives were parked a little ways down the street from the slayer house. Benson’s fears had spread.
“We could just not go in,” Fin said.
“Then I think they come and get us,” Benson said. “We have to go in, we have to smile and laugh and eat and convince them we’re not a threat. That we’ll keep their secrets. Harris is a good guy, I believe that. But if he decides we’re a threat to his girls I think he feels really really bad about making us disappear. But he still makes us disappear. Just like you would, Elliot, if you thought it was the only way to save your girls.”
“So we just leave them to this secret war of theirs?”
“You know,” Munch said, “When I stop and think about it, those demons were all ugly and evil looking, but the only actual killing we’ve seen has been done by these girls.”
“Not helping, John,” Benson said. “That’s because, one, they’re very very good, and two, the demons don’t invite you to ride along. And yes, Elliot, we leave them to their war because we don’t have a choice.”
“And we’re just supposed to ignore…. I can’t…”
She knew Elliot had spent the day trying to think of ways to warn his daughters about vampires that wouldn’t have Kathy calling Dr. Huang. Or getting a restraining order. Without much luck. The only way was to capture one and show them like he’d been shown.
“I was sitting right next to her,” he’d told her, “we talked about her boyfriend. I was going to … HELP her. IT. I HAVE to warn my kids.”
“Okay, “ Fin said, “say Harris is Gandhi and Ma Theresa and all things nice. What happens when the next dragon eats him?”
“Then we pray whoever takes over has no reason to hate cops,” Benson said. “Look, guys, please. If we decide we have to do something we can do it later, after we take some precautions, write letters to be mailed if we're missing, something like that. Right now, just think of it as undercover.”
Once inside Benson began to relax a little. Her fears began to seem silly. There were new faces, an ethereal redhead who apparently had gone beyond tree-hugging and named herself after one, who pinned a flower on her lapel, touched her forehead and blessed her. There was an older, quite charming British man decked out in an absurdly tall chef’s hat, presiding over the grill on the back porch. She looked around, Munch, wearing his own lapel flower, was entertaining a group of girls with Stupid Criminal stories, Stabler, similarly adorned, had been coaxed into bringing out his wallet load of family photos. Fin, also flowered, was sitting with two girls, being shown an album of African safari photos, lions and elephants, baboons, but didn’t seem to be suffering too badly.
But just as she would decide she was being paranoid, they were just girls having a party… then a glass would fall and be snatched out of the air with inhuman speed and the whole scene would change, like those trick pictures, a cup or two faces, and she would see not laughing girls but elegant little killing machines, moving about with a casual grace that revealed rather than hid their power. She felt Harris’ eye on her. You know who sucks at undercover? Me, that’s who, she thought.
There was a gathering at the dining table, much laughter and some tears. Apparently Harris and Faith were leaving the next day on some sort of honeymoon type trip, first stop, Cuba.
Cuba!? Benson wondered, worried. Why Cuba?
There were improvised gag gifts, a micro-micro bikini…
“Oops, I think this one was for you, Xan,” Faith said, grinning, playing to the chorus of salacious female laughter.
Then there was cake and ice cream and Harris was coming toward her, she shrank back.
“There’s no need to be afraid, Olivia,” he told her.
“Isn’t there? Why are we here?” She let him guide her away from the party, into his office.
“Just wanted to remind you that they’re also little girls. And give you a chance to talk to someone who would believe you, if you need to.”
“And then we just go home and pretend we don‘t know.”
“Gangs on PCP. Gas leaks. It happens.”
She looked at him. “You know we can’t do that, don‘t you?” she stated, saw his face go sad. She sank into a chair. She’d never felt so helpless.
“What are you going to do to us?” He looked at her, she saw him form the lie, then let it go.
“You’re going to forget, Olivia.”
“What? You’re going to…" The dragon was a horror, a nightmare, yet still a scene was part of her now, something she she didn't want to lose. "You have no right!”
“None whatsoever. Just the duty.”
In the car Benson resisted the urge to follow Elliot’s lead and loosen her belt. The second piece of cake, one too many.
“That was amazing,” she said, her mind still full of the girls in gi’s displaying their skills, wondering if she was too old to learn a few of the less athletic moves.
“You know,” Fin said, “I've always thought all that martial arts crap about learning serenity through kicking people in the head was just BS, but for a group of troubled girls they sure seemed … serene.”
Munch started the car, they moved off, he said,
“Catharine Lodge called me, said we should look into getting an agent. Says she’s already getting movie offers….”
Faith stood and watched Xander comfort Willow. He carried her into the bedroom, tucked her in in what had been Faith’s bed in the room she shared with George. He sat a moment, hand resting lightly on Willow's cheek, murmuring softly. To her own amazement Faith realized she wasn’t jealous. She waited.
When he came out she took his hand, said, “I have a surprise for you.”
She guided the motorcycle through the empty cemetery streets, lit only by the half moon and the headlight, she paused on a knoll, pointed at a particularly lush spot in the grass,
“You like it?” she asked.
“It’s… nice?” Xander said from pillion, “Grassy.”
“It’s where I’m going to bury you if you laugh at me,” she said, and the motorcycle moved on before he could answer. She parked beside a large marble mausoleum, with MATHER written over the door.
“This is…” Xander said as she help him dismount.
“His grave, eventually. But that’s just a bonus. Hang on.” She took him on her back and carried him up to the cleanswept flat marble roof. There was a little table already in place, with a bottle of rum, a box of twinkies, cigars, and a boombox.
Faith unzipped her boots and kicked them off, dropped the leather jacket. She pushed a button and the haunting strains of a waltz by Jay Unger and Molly Mason floated out over the graveyard. She took him in her arms, whispered,
“Let me guide you,” and began counting, “ONE two three ONE two three...”
It took a little while, early professional experience notwithstanding, Xander was not really a natural, they stumbled a bit, falling together, laughing, but gradually he fell into the rhythm and while still taking a little of his weight to ease his leg, Faith was able to close her eyes, rest her head on his shoulder and let him lead, to lose herself in the peace of the movement and the feel of his arms around her.
Renee sat in the tree and watched for awhile. She’d made a quick scout to be sure no vampires would interrupt them, but all was clear. She was going to miss him, but he’d be back, and Faith would take good care of him, she could slay dragons, she could watch Xander’s back.
Renee dropped lightly to the ground. She knew George was taking a group of girls out on a late patrol. George was pretty smart, but she was still new and Renee knew she needed someone to watch over her. She started back, a few steps later Shad dropped and followed after, then Jacquie joined, and Isobel, then Zoey. They found their stashed bikes and mounted, rolled silently away while behind them Father Goose and the Black Knight laughed at the devil and danced in the pale moonlight.