A/N: Sorry about the massive delay. Between classes and the fact that my muse decided to run off to play in the world of Rumiko Takahashi and Ranma 1/2, it was kinda slow-going. Here's to hoping I can get my pacing on this story back.
The host’s name was Martiovo but he insisted they call him Mar. Not Marti, not Martio, and definitely not Marti baby. “Insult to injury,” he had commented at this last in the list of funny nicknames Faith had spewed from her lips.
Willow watched Mar and Faith banter back and forth, scooting onto the bed finally to look at the man that was her father. Most of the tension was gone from his face but there was still anxiety there, maybe memories that would never fade. Studying him, she could see her bone structure hidden in his, like gazing into a warped mirror.
In less than a week, everything had gotten shockingly complicated. From the strange time dilation to meeting a man that the other Willow had never known existed, it had skewed her to the core. She was becoming someone else, she sometimes thought, someone not quite her but also more her than any other previous incarnation. Maybe… maybe she just needed a family, real family.
Suddenly, green eyes met gray and Willow realized Gibbs was awake again. “Oh, Mar,” she called out.
Martiovo stood, his dark tan scales glinting from the overhead light. He had shifted back to his natural form a few minutes ago, saying that waking to the same shock that had ultimately put him under would help him to accept the information they would be giving him. “Showtime, kiddies.” If Willow hadn’t spent so much time around demons, the host’s grin would have seemed just a little bit terrifying.
“You know, I was wondering,” Faith began. Both Mar and Willow looked at her to assure the Slayer that she had their attention. “What’s to stop him from fainting again?”
Willow shifted her attention again when she felt the light touch of Gibbs’ hand against her arm. “I fainted?” he asked very softly. Willow almost laughed at the stricken look on his face. He seemed… appalled that such behavior could be addressed to him. She nodded to his question, feeling almost as if she was beating a small puppy. He leaned back again, his expression turning to resignation. “Don’t tell Tony, okay?”
That time, Willow did laugh but softly. “Okay.”
Meanwhile, she could hear Martiovo answer Faith’s question. “My personal suite has a different effect of the Locum Sanctuarium. He will be held still if he moves in a way that would lead to harm but that nasty pressure is only for the club.”
Gibbs chose that moment to pull himself together. “What did happen? And what the hell are you?” Well, mostly pulled himself together.
Willow stepped between her father and Martiovo, connecting her greenish eyes to his gray ones again. “Mar is a demon. He owns the Contego, a lounge club for demons and vampires and witches and everyone like them.”
Gibbs stared at his daughter. He really, desperately wanted to believe her, not even to mention that disbelieving her would be to deny his own sight. But it didn’t fit with his perception of the world. Yes, of course, evil existed everywhere but it was evil done by men, actions with reasons that just led to very bad things. The existence of demons and other demonic things meant that evil could exist without reason, that there was another layer of the world that he never knew with magic and vampires and… It was unthinkable.
And yet, here stood a daughter he had never known that seemed submerged in that world and her parents had never known. If he had known these things existed, Ira would have changed at his core and he never had. Gritting his teeth, Gibbs swore to himself that he would be better than the people that had raised Willow, which might force him to be better than himself.
“Okay…” he drawled. “So, those things exist and a vampire almost killed me tonight.” As he said it, the full effect of what had actually happened finally hit Gibbs. He had almost died at the hands of a creature that he ultimately had no way to fight. Even he had drawn his weapon in time, he got the distinct impression that that would have done all of… absolutely nothing.
“And it hits,” Mar commented with a sigh. “He got it.” He directed the latter comment to Willow.
In turn, the redhead wilted in relief, a smile gracing her features. “Thank Goddess.” Then she frowned at the scaled demon. “How can you tell?”
“Your aura can project surface thoughts, love,” he told her with a gentle but demonic smile. “And that’s what I do here, I read auras.”
Willow brightened. “Oh, like Lorne?” Her smile faded slightly, curling awkwardly into a grimace. “Oh, Lorne…”
Mar tilted his head slightly. “Lorne?” he echoed in question.
Willow nodded idly. “He’s the host at Caritas. In Los Angeles?”
Mar smiled broadly, suddenly shifting back to his human visage. “Ah, yes. He is a foreign demon, right? A denizen from a demon dimension, appeared through a portal?”
Faith frowned at the human-looking demon. “How would you know that?”
“I have been told…” Martiovo paused, likely trying to find the right word. “Los Angeles is said to be a ‘hot zone’, or what have you. It’s like that in large cities, though.” He shrugged, beginning to lead them out into the club. “Large populated areas tend to fester and grow what psychics call ‘hot spots’, which are actually weaknesses between the dimensions.” They erupted back out to the club and, having seen them, Troy returned to his spot behind the bar. “So, who wants to sing for me?”
“Sing?” Gibbs echoed uncertainly.
Xander trailed Buffy on patrol, his mind partly elsewhere as she ranted. He knew he would go a different direction when she decided to see Angel. Tonight, it wasn’t about Angel, though. His head was starting to ache about the many new theories about Willow that Buffy was inventing.
“She’s just not acting like herself, you know?” The blond Slayer flipped a vampire on his back, quickly staking him in the heart. “Don’t you see? It’s not just this family stuff. It can’t be. There’s gotta be something else going on.”
When Xander focused on Buffy again and found her hazel eyes looking up at him in some innocent girly expression, he couldn’t take it anymore. “God, Buffy, just stop it.” He cringed, thinking momentarily that he sounded a little too like Cordelia for his liking. However, when her hazel eyes became wider in an look of miscomprehension, his expression turned fierce, at least in his own head. “You know, you don’t know Willow at all.”
“What do you mean?” Buffy all but shrieked. “She’s my best friend!”
Xander sneered at the Slayer, a voice in the back of his head informing him that mocking her was probably a bad idea but the side of him that always defended Willow (even against himself) won out this time. “Really? Best? Do you know anything about her other than she’s smart and shy? Do you know anything about her parents other than their names?”
Buffy tightened her hand about her stake in a grip that looked painful but her expression wasn’t quite as convicted as it always was. “They’re Jewish.”
“Jesus, Buff, you don’t even know what her mother does for a living? Why you’ve never seen either of them except that time when they were going to burn you at the stake?”
Buffy grimaced. “Thanks for that reminder.”
Xander almost growled, ready to point out to Buffy just how little she actually knew about their friend despite the fact that it had taken him almost ten years to accrue the knowledge he had. Besides, it was supposed be easier between girls, wasn’t it?
However, his disparaging remarks came a little slow. “I’m surprised at you, Buffy.” The voice came from the shadows but they both knew to whom it belonged. Angel.
“Deadboy,” Xander sighed. Could his night get any worse?
Angel stepped out of the shadows and looked at Xander. “I spoke to her earlier. She seemed kind of anxious. I thought you’d like to know.”
In turn, the dark-haired teenager blinked at him, surprised at the vampire’s concern of someone besides Buffy. “Thanks. This kind of stuff always makes her nervous.” Looking closer, it was obvious to Xander that Angel had likely come off a fresh brood but he thought maybe that something else was bothering him.
Meanwhile, Buffy was watching them, suspicion clear in her darting eyes. In her mind, this only confirmed the weirdness of Willow’s behavior the past few days. It would likely never occur to her that the entire basis of her relationship with the redhead could change with a simple college decision, which had led to this revelation about her heritage, which had in turn completely taken over her sense of self. It also would never occur to her that losing control of her friendship was what actually bothered her or that the truth behind Willow’s behavioral change had been brought up about a month or so ago around the time her vampire double had appeared.
“Why would Willow call you?”
Xander turned his head to look at Buffy so quickly, he felt something in his neck creak. From the tone of her voice, he could tell she hadn’t really heard anything he had said to her. At the moment, he did wonder about the answer to that question. As much as Buffy knew so very little about Willow, Xander realized that he hadn’t been the best of friends to her lately. However, he did remember that most times when he made a less-than-positive remark in Angel’s direction, her eyes would become reproachful but resigned.
Angel shrugged at Buffy’s question. “She needed to know something.”
“What?” There was that shrieking sound again.
Xander watched in amazement as the vampire’s face turned blanker than he had ever seen it before. “That’s not really your business, is it.” He worded it like a question but his tone and inflection stated clearly that it was a statement and his opinion. He then turned to Xander, whose mouth was slightly open in confused awe. “I need to talk to you.”
Closing his jaw as naturally as he could manage, Xander nodded. He idly heard Buffy’s angry scoff and her boots as she walked away. “What about?”
Something resembling a smile ghosted across Angel’s face. “Willow, of course.” He glanced down at the ground and then at the path Buffy had taken. Xander wasn’t sure if he was remorseful about stepping on Buffy’s feelings or checking to see if she was out of earshot. “She brought Faith by the mansion a few nights ago.”
“What?” Xander felt like his eyes were possibly bugging out of their sockets but he was sure to keep his voice low. Not only could Buffy still be nearby, they were standing in a cemetery.
Angel began leading them away, walking in a path that led directly opposite of Buffy’s. “Faith apologized but there was something else. Something I don’t think any of us thought about.”
Xander frowned. There was so much guilt on the vampire’s face. Whatever he was talking about, he definitely blamed himself. “What is it?” He hated it but he could feel himself softening toward Angel bit by bit.
“The Mayor is a sorcerer and it’s likely that he excels in compulsion with the way he maintains his thrall over Sunnydale.” Angel gazed at Xander, almost willing him to get it.
The teenager locked eyes with him, knowing that Angel was trying to tell him something but wanting him to understand it on his own. “Compulsion? Like… mind-control?” Angel nodded solemnly. “So… Faith. Faith has been with him for a while. You think he’s been working mojo on her this whole time?”
Again, that solemn nod. “And the thing that bothers me is that Giles should have known this. The only person that did get it was an inexperienced witch who had every right to hate Faith.”
Xander ran a hand through his hair. “Buffy would never believe that Faith had no control over what she was doing.”
Angel sighed. “That’s why we need to inform the Watchers.”
Xander cringed. “Right now?” After a moment, he realized that the path that they had been walking was slowly circling them around to the high school. “Well, I think this might complete my night.”