A/N: Sorry about the delay. The Christmas vacay didn't allow for as much writing as I'd planned - silly family obligations! Also, I've recently had a couple other crossover stories burning in my head, one on the site and the other not yet. Sorry, I'm a slave to my muse.
Willow followed Gibbs sedately when he opened the door to his house, a structure that screamed as much about him that she had already guessed: military habits of minimalism wrapped in old-fashioned things. The older man’s smile was small but obviously bright for him and she chastised herself for being mentally absent. However, Faith was keeping up the conversation for the both of them, yet again showing a side of herself that no one in Sunnydale had witnessed.
Desperate to rejoin a conversation that had slipped away from her, Willow blurted two words. “The boat.” The volume of her voice and the knowledge that their attention had now diverted to her, she blushed deeply and began to ramble in fragments. “Well, Abby mentioned… And I was just wondering about… It’s in the basement?”
In response, he smiled and grabbed her hand, a gesture that made her equally uncomfortable and inexplicably happy. She glanced back at Faith to see the dark Slayer smiling, peace encompassing her face in a way Willow had seen on no one else. She had yet to inform her of what Martiovo had seen in his reading but Willow knew enough about microexpressions and the emotions that drove them, a very specific aspect of Sheila’s career of choice, to know the importance of such an expression on Faith.
She was maybe, finally okay.
Smiling wryly to herself, the redhead reflected on that. It didn’t take any special level of intelligence to know that Faith had been through a lot, more than Buffy had at any rate. Frustrated rage swelled up in her again but she pushed the weight of it down before it could fully coalesce. However, the attention span of her friends had never needed to be encompassing, letting the troubles at Faith’s core slide away from their view as often as the blond Slayer would forget that her brooding boyfriend was indeed a vampire.
With her eyes that had been taught to notice everything and the intelligence that attached the according importance to each of these small details, Willow knew there was far more to Faith than the bad girl attitude. Her opinion of men and of people in general screamed abuse, sexual and otherwise. She was usually leery and distrustful, although her eyes now looked upon the witch with gratitude that bordered on worship. That thought brought on painful memories of the other Willow and the covens that referred to her as the Willow, both the World-Destroyer and the World-Savior.
With a soft hiss, she realized the non-memories were still close to the surface, just waiting for the right moment to strike at the heart of her. The guilt, the sorrow, the regret of that other Willow was still there, waiting for moments of weakness.
“Hey, Red.” Willow turned at the soft sound of Faith’s voice. “You okay?”
The redhead smiled but she could feel the tremble there, knew that she wasn’t fooling anyone. “It’s fine,” she mouthed noiselessly. Though Faith’s gaze remained worried, the Slayer didn’t ask again.
As Gibbs led them down the basement stairs to show them his current pride, the framework of a boat that didn’t even have a designation yet, Willow wondered at their current situation in Sunnydale. While it was comforting to know that Xander was still the best friend she could hope to have, the attitudes of the blond Slayer and her Watcher were worrying. She could have maneuvered the situation to her liking, had Buffy not maintained that horrible tendency to hear information at the most inappropriate times. Now, it was going horribly pear-shaped.
As her hand touched the manually shaped wood, the boat itself holding strong emotions somehow, an equally horrible thought occurred to her. “Oh, Goddess. The hellhounds.”
“What was that, Red?” Faith sidled up to the witch, tilting her head slightly to look her in the eye.
Bit by bit, layers of a plan began to form in Willow’s mind. It involved looking into the other Willow’s past; a kind of future scrying, if you will. “The prom,” she answered the Slayer disjointedly. “There’s this guy – Tucker, I think. He’s breeding hellhounds to attack at the prom.”
Her father had been listening quietly to their conversation and apparently his investigative self had a question. “How would he manage that?”
Willow looked at Gibbs, her eyes quickly noting the intent sincerity on his face. “Something about horror movies?” She shrugged. “I just remember Xander saying that it was going after people in formalwear.”
“This hasn’t happened yet?”
Faith looked to the man and saw the confusion there. “Um, a future her sent memories back in time. Y’know, it’s a thing.”
Willow nodded in agreement. “All her memories, actually. I was kinda off for a while.” She spread her hands in an encompassing look-at-me motion. “I’m all better now, though.”
Gibbs smiled at her tone, that achingly fearful sound. “I believe you.” He leaned against his tool shelving, his gray eyes dancing with amusement and anticipation. “So, what are you going to do about them, then?”
The redhead smiled back at her father, her own eyes just as bright as his. As the plans in her head started to come together, she began to feel more confident. Because the truth was that if she had a plan, everything looked that much better. “Oh, I have some ideas.”
Faith only smirked at them, the father-daughter smiles of ‘we’ve got you now’. She settled onto a nearby bench and listened long into the night as they bounced ideas off each other, though the older man’s own thoughts reeked of military and artillery. Around midnight, she realized that this was what it was like to have a family.
“Wes is here,” Faith murmured to Willow as they stepped off the plane into the corridor that led directly to the receiving gate of the airport.
“You can tell?” The slim redhead wasn’t looking at the Slayer or her path but instead double-checking her messenger bag for the pictures Gibbs had given her with a promise to return them after they were ‘scanned, whatever the hell that might be’. Oh, yes, it was obvious that the older man was definitely not technologically inclined.
“Watchers got a feel to them, not quite human but not quite not, y’know? And I doubt it’s Giles. That stuck-up, tweed-wearing, pansy son of a—”
“Faith!” Willow screeched softly. After a moment, she sighed. “I just hope Xander didn’t get tailed.”
“Tailed?” the dark Slayer echoed. “Well, look at you. Sounding like a real government agent and everything.”
She blushed in response but the thought of the younger Watcher so close kept her from ducking her head. As it was, the older memories had already started eating away at her remaining shyness. “So what?” she rejoined playfully, the faint curve of an amused smile on her face. After a second, that faded. “You like him, right? I mean, my judge of character isn’t going all screwy, is it?”
Faith scoffed softly. “Look at who you’re asking, Red. I thought the Mayor was choice.” They erupted into the gate area and Xander and Wesley were waiting quietly yards away. She stopped and Willow followed suit. “Okay, look, he’s your dad. You feel whatever you want. But… he helped and he kept a level head about the demon stuff.”
The smile returned in the form of a grin. “His original denial notwhitstanding?”
She laughed and looped an arm over the redhead’s shoulder in a partial hug. “Whatever that means.”
Xander took long strides to reach them, the Watcher following him skittishly. “Hey, I want hugs!”
Willow bestowed a bright smile to her friend. “I didn’t know you could have Watchers as pets, Xan.” She flashed the same smile at Wesley, hoping to indicate that she was joking.
In turn, the Watcher presented her with a polite-looking smile and cleared his throat. The sound was innocent enough and Willow added it to her list of Buffy-influenced peeves. For the longest time, the sound of Wesley Wyndham-Price clearing his throat had always sounded pompous and rude. But now… well, it just sounded like he was preparing to speak. “I gave him a rather convincing argument.”
Xander laughed. “Wes said he didn’t believe it either. I even watched him try to convince Giles that you weren’t possessed or whatever, you know, after Buffy left.”
Faith’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her Watcher. “Blondie there too much for you, Wes?”
Willow’s face arranged into pained disappointment. “They think I’m possessed?”
“It’s probably easier,” Faith said softly.
Xander smiled awkwardly at the Slayer, the back of his mind likely replaying scenes of an act that Faith would sooner forget. “Yeah, I mean, in Buffy’s head, being friends with Faith pretty much means you’re working for the Mayor.”
Willow caught Wesley’s gaze as his eyes did that searching thing, trying to find the truth in an otherwise untruthful comment. Geez, the Watcher’s Council has screwed with him but good. “Well, Xander, the thing is… we are.” Xander’s eyes popped wide and one of Wesley’s eyebrows quirked upward, his mouth instantly open with questions that she didn’t want to hear. “No, not here. We can talk at my house.”
Wesley’s mouth closed again, his lips set in a tight line as they exited the airport. He refused to speak on the drive, setting the mood for the entire car, and the three teenagers exchanged a myriad of meaningful expressions. In the space of a few minutes, which felt like ten years of listening to her own heartbeat for Willow, they arrived at her house. Outside of the lingering silence, she thought with forced cheer, it was all really… efficient. For lack of a better term.
As soon as the solid wood door with its fancy glass etching shut behind them, Xander exploded, leaving Wesley no time to chastise them. “What do you mean, you’re working for the Mayor?!”
Willow bit her lip, the prior tension and her friend’s obvious anger rendering her silent, a reaction that Faith immediately caught. She looked from Xander, who was prepared to start foaming at the mouth, to Wesley, whose eyes were dark with accusation. Moving so that her actions would not be misconstrued, she stepped in front of Willow, her scowl clearly transmitting the fury in her chest.
“Back off, okay? I’m not above sending you back to the Twinkie.” A small part of Faith smiled at her newest Buffy insult. Bright and yellow on the outside, nothing by empty calories on the inside. Well, it fit…
Wesley spluttered suddenly, apparently having hit his limit of listening quietly. “The Mayor is abominably evil. His ascension to true demonic form could potentially destroy us all!”
Willow scoffed. “Yes, we know. But Faith would continue to fall to his strong compulsions if I hadn’t done this. How do you think the Mayor would take his best girl gallivanting with the enemy?”
“He calls you that?” Xander interjected. “His best girl?”
Faith ducked her head in a way that echoed Willow’s shyness. After a short moment, she cleared her throat softly and nodded. “Anyway, we’ve got something a little more pressing than the Mayor right now.”
Wesley held his hand in a ‘stop’ gesture. “Just a minute. So, are you with the Mayor or not?”
“Not,” Willow and Faith answered instantly in unison.
The redhead smiled at Xander. “We’re just playing a long game of Double Agent.” She arched an eyebrow and waited for his smile that signaled his comprehension. “But there’s a guy in town brainwashing hellhounds to attack the prom.”
“Ohh,” the dark-haired boy said. “But how do you know about the… hellhounds? Do we even know how to kill hellhounds?”
Wesley cleared his throat gently, capturing their attention. “The hellhound is a foot soldier for other, more powerful demons. They are notoriously weak and can be killed by a shot to the heart or decapitation.”
As the Watcher spoke, Xander slowly tilted his head and then looked at Willow. “You know, when G-Man does that, he has a book in his hand.”
Faith placed an arm on her Watcher’s shoulders. “Well, Wes, looks like you’re more useful that you been acting.” In response, the 20-something man blushed and murmured incoherently, nervously.
Willow laughed and started up the stairs. “I’m gonna grab my address book. I’m not totally sure where Tucker lives.”
Xander followed closely behind his friend, wanting to ask some questions. Also, the way she said his name, she knew the guy that had the sack to brainwash demons. “Wait, Will, why do you have this guy’s address?”
She looked back over her shoulder to roll her eyes at him. “Because he goes to school with us.”
He rolled his eyes at himself. Of course, he did; why else would the guy want to ruin their prom? “Who is this Tucker guy anyway?”
Willow set her messenger bag on the floor near her desk, taking a large pile of pictures out of a side pocket that she rarely used. She set the pictures near her scanner and moved over to her bed, sitting down and opening her end table, where the address book sat alone with this book on witchcraft outside of a coven. It was about the only way she mimicked her parents, the address book plus whatever she was reading at the time. With a smile, he remembered when they were young and it was a guide to medical practice.
He looked at the picture on top, an aged photo of a man, woman and seven-year-old child. The kid looked scary-similar to Willow in her pre-teens. So, the man was probably the infamous Gibbs, who Willow had spoken little of, and her relaxed body language told him that everything had probably gone well there. “So, this is him?” The redhead flicked her eyes up, nodded silently, and continued to flip through the leather-bound address book. “Who’s the girl?”
“That’s Kelly, his real daughter.” She said it without looking up and her tone was monotonous, not really there. Knowing her like he did, Xander knew she hadn’t worded it that way on purpose, maybe even meant ‘first’ instead of ‘real’. But it was there, just the same.
However, Willow didn’t need her Freudian slips to be brought to her attention, so he let it pass. “How old is she?” Inside, he hoped he’d gotten to meet her and that things were copacetic.
He felt it in his gut as his friend raised her head slowly to meet his. Willow may not be aware of her own speech patterns but she heard his. She closed the book, her index finger holding a place somewhere near the end. (Probably found the name she was looking for, he thought idly at the back of his mind.) “Xander, Kelly and Shannon died back in ’91. But she was at least a year older than us.”
“So, we’re not talking about you being the object of his affair, then?” he asked quietly, trying to take as much of the harsh quality of his words from the question as he could.
“Nope.” She opened her book, her eyes scanning the same line multiple times, likely memorizing the address, and then closed it and put it back into her bedside table. She stood and took his hand, gently steering him away from her father’s memories. “I promise, we’ll talk about everything soon.”
Xander nodded silently. “Hellhounds, beware,” he said with a weak grin. “What about Angel?” This question was asked in a softer voice.
Willow shot him an endearing half-smile. “Too many bridges.” Code: something she didn’t want to think about yet. “Let’s take care of Tucker first.”
“You got a plan?” he asked as they reached the head of the stairs and began descending.