“Well, it did begin just as I said -- after the Beast and ‘fore the First Evil -- but nothin’ else in that story happened. Me and Wes was just out one night on business, nothin’ all that important, but it needed us both, and neither of us was alla that happy ’bout it. We was comin’ back to the Hyperion in our car, Wes was drivin’, and I was keepin’ my damn mouth shut. What the hell was I gonna say as small talk: ‘Uh, sorry ’bout the torture, yeah, I woulda killed ya, hey, how ’bout those Dodgers?’”
There was real harshness on Faith’s face, as she bitterly said the last words. Xander kept quiet, though he watched in sympathy.
“I was too busy thinkin’ ‘bout it all, until I suddenly noticed we was in a strange neighborhood that Wes had driven to, and he pulled the car over then, in a quiet street with houses ‘gainst small hills. I looked at him wonderin’ what the hell was goin’ on. He didn’t look at me, just stared outta the front windshield, and told me to get out. I thought back then that he couldn’t stand bein’ with me any more, so he was just gonna dump me. Fuck, I couldn’t blame him at all for that.”
Faith swallowed, and steadily went on.
“When I opened the door to get out, I heard him say, ‘Go up the stairs to the plaque.’ That’s all, and I looked at him still not lookin’ at me, and I got outta the car, and I looked around. We was parked right by a concrete staircase between some houses goin’ up the hill, and I figgered he musta meant those. Still not knowin’ what it was all ‘bout and expectin’ him to take off any second, I went up a few steps of those stairs. Uh, I didn’t know what a plaque WAS, but I thought maybe he was talkin’ ’bout that metal sign buried in one’a the steps.”
A shake of her head conveyed Faith’s total bafflement she felt back then. “Well, that plaque showed a picture of two happy guys next to each other smiling at me, and there was written on it a buncha stuff ’bout a film bein’ made on those steps.”
Despite himself, Xander couldn’t stop from blurting his incredulous interruption, “What, you mean ‘The Music Box’ stairs are STILL there?! Almost seventy-five years after that movie?!”
The woman shrugged, and said, “They was there when I saw ‘em a coupla years ago. Don’t know ‘bout now.” Faith looked at Xander and lifted her eyebrows in a clear request to go on with her story. The one-eyed man jerkily nodded and continued listening in utter fascination as Faith began again.
“Well, I just stared at that plaque, looked up the stairs, and then back at the car. Where it was still waitin’ for me. I went back to the car, got in, and we left. Wes didn’t say nothin’ the whole ride back to the hotel, and I didn’t either, ‘cause I kept tryin’ to come up with some kinda reason for the whole thing.”
Faith lifted her hands to run her fingers through her hair, and then she shook her head in confusion. “When we finally got back to the Hyperion, Wes finally said somethin’. He asked me -- not told, asked politely! -- to go to the tv room, and wait there. I was in a kinda daze, so I just went along, and did that. A few minutes later, Wes showed up holdin’ a bowl of fresh popcorn and a videotape in his other hand. He handed me the bowl and went over to the tv, turned it on, and put the tape in the VCR.”
Xander had his mouth open in total astonishment as the woman continued her story.
“The tape started playin’, and it began showin’ a black and white old-time movie. Wes came to the sofa where I was sittin’ and clutchin’ the popcorn bowl, sat down beside me, and grabbed a handful of popcorn. After that -- we watched ‘The Music Box’ together. With popcorn.”
Faith looked at where Xander had an expression of absolute bogglement on his face, and let a thin smile flicker over her own features. “When the movie was over, Wes stood up, took the empty popcorn bowl from me, and said the first thing to come outta his mouth the entire time in that room, in that classy English accent he always had. He said, ‘Good night, Faith.’ Then, he left me there in the room.”
“He….he….didn’t say anything else?” choked Xander disbelievingly.
Faith shook her head. “Nope, not then, or anytime after concernin’ it, when I was still there.” The woman shrugged, uncertainly looking at Xander, as she confessed, “The fact was, I didn’t even know how to start to ask ‘bout the whole thing. My brain kinda locked up every time I saw Wes, and he didn’t treat me any different after that. Funny thing, havin’ to come to Sunnydale to go up ‘gainst the First Asshole was a kinda relief, taking my mind offa what Wes did. That’s why I never told you or any of the others ‘bout it.”
Xander nodded in understanding, as Faith grimly went on. “’Course, you know alla what happened next. When I saw Wes again after Sunnydale, we was a buncha refugees shelterin’ in the Hyperion, and we was all too busy dealin’ with it all. Never said a word to him all that time ‘bout what he done, showin’ me that plaque and in the tv room, mostly ‘cause I just had too much to do. And then, we all split up, with me comin’ here for the first time. Didn’t think about it all that much, ‘cause I figgered sooner or later I’d come up with a way to ask Wes what the hell all that was for.”
Once again, both people in the room became frozen, this time in a mood of shared sorrow, as Faith whispered, “Sooner or later never happened, ya know.”
There was quiet in the office for a while, as two fellow survivors remembered the departure of the Fang Gang to the undiscovered country.
Faith finally broke the silence, as she said in a calm voice, “Xander, I just made up my mind. It’s my choice for movie night this weekend. I was gonna show a real treasure, a really dark and gut-bustin’ Japanese comedy called ‘The Crazy Family’, but I’m not gonna now. Nope. We’re gonna see ‘The Music Box,’ and that li’l squirt Emmeline is gonna be right next to me when it’s shown.” A quirk of Faith’s lips showed a hint of incisor, as the Alpha female of the Cleveland Slayers House brooded on her response to that baby Slayer’s challenge.
Xander looked a bit worried, as he cautiously inquired, “Uh, Faith, isn’t that a little mean? She’d have her feelings really hurt, having her face rubbed into you having putting Emmeline on when you made up your story.”
An actual growl came from Faith’s throat, as she gave the Head of the House the fisheye, with the woman rumbling, “She needs to be taken down a peg or two, that gal. Needs ta learn old age and treachery will overcome youth and enthusiasm every time.”
Faith’s fierce expression smoothed into calmer reflection, as she mused, “’Sides, after the movie, ’fore she feels too bad off, I’m gonna tell another story, ‘bout what I just told ya.” The woman looked at Xander on the floor with her mind clearly made up, as she started speaking again, slowly at first, and then more quickly, as Faith decided how to deliver her tale to the entire House.
“It’s gonna be another ghost story, but this time, it’s gonna be real. It’ll be ’bout a guy, who spent alla his life growin’ up knowin’ that he was gonna do the most important job in the world, and bein’ taught that there was only one way to do that job. But when he finally gets a chance to do his duty, he finds out that what he learned ain’t worth shit. Alla he knows doesn’t have a thing to do with the real world, and when he tries anyway, he fucks up, gets treated like he’s a total asshole, and worse of all, he fails in his job when he knows that coulda mean the end of the whole world.”
Gulping, Faith managed to utter the next soul-searing sentences. “Durin’ it all, he gets a truckload of crap from everyone. Yeah, he deserved some of it, but not alla it. And….and….he didn’t deserve what I finally done to him.” Tears trickled down Faith’s cheeks, as Xander held himself still in horror at the woman’s scourging herself with her words.
“I’m gonna tell ’em all, every Slayer of ’em, that we might think we’re pretty hot shit, with alla our powers and mystic stuff. But….I once ran ’cross an completely ordinary human, kinda like someone else, with nothin' but what he was born with and gained during his life, who did somethin’ beyond what any god, demon, angel, or any other power coulda done. He had a perfect excuse to give it all up, but he didn’t. He went back into the fight, doin’ his best ’gainst the dark. And, durin’ one very special time, he set aside his bitterness and rage….just ’cause it was needful….to bring someone else back into the light.”
Faith sniffled, and wiped away her tears with her hand, as she paused in her speech. When she didn’t speak again, Xander cautiously got to his feet and headed over to his office desk, to open a drawer and take out something from there. Turning around, a box of Kleenex in his hand, Xander froze, as Faith started speaking again.
“It took me years to wrap my head ’round alla that, and I ain’t finished yet. I might never be. ’Specially since Wesley Wyndham-Price did somethin’ AGAIN that shook me up without even knowin‘ why, and I never had a chance ta thank that bastard, when he did the most English uppah-uppah crust, tight-assed, sneakiest way of tellin’ me he forgave me!”
Xander hastily stepped forward, holding out the box of tissues that was grabbed by a crying Faith, with all of the contents now yanked out of the container and clapped against her face, hiding her entire countenance.
Eventually, the woman’s sobbing subsided, and after Faith noisily blew her nose into the handful of tissues she’d been holding against her features the entire time, she peeled away the soggy paper handkerchiefs, to blink at Xander patiently standing in front of her and holding the office wastebasket ready.
Faith dropped her refuse into the wastebasket, and warily looked at Xander’s comforting smile, as he gently said, “It’ll be a good story, Faith, and one the baby Slayers will always remember. Along with the symbols that might be shown on the Hal Roach screen credits at the start of the movie.”
The woman stared in utter bewilderment at the man who’d said this, with Faith distracted from her grief, as might have been Xander’s intention, as the confused Slayer inquired, “What the hell are ya talkin’ ’bout?”
Xander grinned an authentic Harris-goof grin at her that actually made Faith’s lips unwillingly curve up a fraction, as he cheerfully said, “Faith, life itself is composed of two elements that always appear in theater and represent what can easily change to the other and back again, the duality of the world. A pratfall and a deathly collapse on the stage are really the same, in a way.”
Hastily going on at Faith’s uncomprehending look that was beginning to change to irritation, Xander said more seriously, “Faith, I think what Wesley wanted to show you, when he took you to the stairs and showed you the movie, in the company of a guy that went through hell, that comedy and tragedy can come from the same place and the same person. All you did, and all you can do, can include both joy and disaster.”
Looking thoughtful, Xander finished, “Look, just think it over, okay? Take a gander at the symbols on the movie credits, and think about there’s a reason why the theater masks of a smiling comedy face and a sorrowful tragedy face are among the oldest unchanged symbols in the world. Wes would have surely known that.”
Wondering *When the hell did he become Mr. Philosophy?*, Faith dubiously said, staring at a beaming Xander, “Are ya tellin’ me he just did the whole thing ta mess with my mind, and get me ta think ’bout it all?”
Without any warning, Xander abruptly leaned forward to where Faith was in her seat, his extended index finger shooting forward for his fingertip to press firmly against the tip of her nose, as he gleefully shouted, “BEEP!”
An instant later, Xander was flat on his back on the office floor, with Faith kneeling on his chest and giving him a serious tickling, causing the man to gasp out during whoops of laughter, “By…George….I….think….she’s….got….it!”
Faith finally stopped tickling him, but she remained perched on the man’s body, smiling down at his face. She blinked at these features abruptly changing to pure sorrow, with the corners of his mouth drooping down and his brows lowering in grief. As she stared, a realization burst into her mind, and she also let her face imitate his distress. Right after that, Xander beamed up at her, his eyes wide open in delight as his mouth opened into a wide grin.
For several moments, both smiled and frowned at each other, each with different expressions from the other’s, until Xander and Faith finally shared a pleased unspoken message that it was time to end it. Faith got up off Xander, and held out a hand for him to grip while he pulled himself up off the floor. As Xander bounced onto his feet, the man pretended to carefully place an invisible hat on his heat, and looking determinedly at the woman, he intoned, “Shall we be off, Stanley?”
Faith also pretended to place an imaginary hat on her own head, spending a few moments fussily adjusting this, until she then held out a crooked elbow for Xander to link his arm through it, and she also intoned, “We certainly shall, Ollie!”
Side-by-side, both stepped towards the door, and as Xander opened this and Faith turned out the office light, the Heads of the House marched out of the room.
After, of course, spending several moments trying to fight their way out of the doorway when they got caught squashed together when Xander and Faith both tried to get out at the same time.
Further disclaimers: I own nothing of Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, their characters, or any Hal Roach production, nor do I own any Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters. All such characters are the property of their original owners.
Author’s Note: The stairs and the plaque signifying the making of ‘The Music Box’ do indeed exist today in Los Angeles. I’ve been there, and while the surroundings have certainly changed since that movie was made, the stairs are basically the same. The boys would have been pleased. (Whistles ‘The Cuckoo Song.’)
Thanks for all the reviews!