The War Ground and the World's Pain
Yeah, Willow’d said to watch out for people saying “Guten Tag
,” but Faith hadn’t thought she’d meant herself. Still, she hadn’t been acting like she was ready to go on tilt and level them, her mother, the building, or the planet, so things were okay at the moment.
And Amanda actually looked surprised. Way she’d heard Nikita tell it, getting the mental drop on Amanda was damn near impossible. So something about this wasn’t going the way she’d planned. And it was always good to throw the bad guys off their game. Even if this one was a lot less likely to try to end the world than to fuck with their heads, every little bit helped.
Next to her, Nikita was grinning like the cat that ate the canary, the mouse, and the guinea pig, and was doing its level best to polish off the chicken. Alex and Michael looked angry, still. Ryan looked calm, though if he was actually calm, he could’ve given Oz pointers in serene.
Amanda, meantime, had recovered quickly, though not fast enough that any of them hadn’t seen her momentary panic. “Willow. Dear,” she said. “I wasn’t aware you’d learned German.”
“I picked up a little here and there,” Willow said.
“And Nikita. I suppose I should let you know that if I’m taken into custody or killed that there is someone out there who will make certain your clear picture gets out there as having killed the President.”
Nikita looked around at Alex, Ryan, and finally Michael, and said, “I think that’s a risk I’m willing to take. You almost won, Amanda. You almost convinced me to abandon them, to let them go. But you didn’t.”
“She didn’t even almost win,” Michael said.
“Oh?” Amanda said. “How so?”
“Because she didn’t try to leave us because we were causing her pain,” Alex said. “She tried to leave us because she was causing us pain. And that’s not the lesson you were trying to teach us.”
“Alexandra,” Amanda said. “Started any revolutions lately?”
Faith didn’t get that, and neither did Willow, but apparently everyone else did. “One,” Alex said, “Was enough.”
“Yes,” Nikita said. “And we’d like to thank you for doing something that I worked for three years to do. Turns out I could’ve gotten done what I wanted a lot quicker by somehow kicking you out of Division and leaving myself in there. Who knew?”
“And now no one has what they want,” Amanda said.
“Way you say that,” Faith said, “Sounds like you think you’re teaching us a lesson.” Faith was sure of it. Watchers had the same smug attitude at times, but at least what they were trying to teach you wasn’t that life sucked.
“I am,” Amanda said. “And who might you be?”
“I might be the next Lotto winner,” Faith said. “If that ticket I bought last night pays off. Otherwise, I’m just what you see right in front of you.” She laughed. “And what the fuck lesson you teaching, anyway? ‘Life sucks’? Figured that out when I was ten years old, myself.”
“Then congratulations,” Amanda said, sneering. “You picked that up a lot earlier than everyone around you seems to.”
“Yeah, I’m a freaking genius,” Faith said. “Look, all you gotta do is look around to figure that out. It ain’t hard.”
“Nikita appears not to have learned it yet,” Amanda said.
“Ha!” Nikita said. “I figured that out a long, long time ago. The problem isn’t that life sucks, the problem is that I think it’s worth doing something to try to change that.”
“It is,” Willow said.
“Willow,” Amanda said again. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
“Trust me, mother,” Willow said. “You really don’t want to hear what I have to say right now.”
Amanda said, “I imagine it would be insults, imprecatory comments hurled my way, comments about how my parenting style is little better than that of a cowbird, and that you hate me forever?”
“Hate you?” Willow said coldly. “Mother, I don’t hate you.”
Alex and Ryan looked a little worried at that, but Faith gave them a ‘trust her’ gesture. She mostly did. There was a small part of that still thought Willow might go ballistic any second, but it was only a small part, more like her being prepared for anything than her actually thinking Laurel, Maryland was going to be a war ground for the next apocalypse.
“The way you treated me,” Willow continued, “Ever since I was even vaguely old enough to take care of myself long ago guaranteed that the most I would ever feel for you was a vague sense of gratitude that you gave me enough money to live on and didn’t, you know, throw me out on the street. And up until about twelve hours ago, that is exactly what I felt for you. But now?”
“Now you want me painfully dead?” Amanda asked.
Willow’s bitter laugh was joined a second later by Nikita’s. “No,” Nikita said. “I want you dead. It doesn’t even have to be painful, though you long ago earned that. But that doesn’t matter. Willow doesn’t want you dead. So you’re not going to die. Yet.” Amanda seemed confused.
“And that, Mother, is what love gets you. You’re my mother, despite not having done much in that capacity beyond the biological and financial senses. So you don’t die.”
And even though she’d just been caught flat-footed and apparently had no way out, Amanda smiled. “Willow. I am so proud of you.”
“Huh?” Everyone said at about the same time.
“You were my most important object: Proving that a child given all the material assistance it needs –“ It? It? Even her drunken bitch of a mother’d never called Faith it – “and a minimum of emotional attention could not only survive, but thrive. And look at you now. You’re one of the finest computer experts on the planet; you’re wealthy –“
“You’re rich, Red?” Faith asked. She’d known Willow wasn’t exactly poor, but didn’t think she was rolling in it.
“I’ve made good investments,” Willow said. “I learned some things from Anya. And is that really important right now?”
“No. It ain’t. Sorry about that,” Faith said.
“As I was saying,” Amanda said, “You’re rich. And if what I hear about your – other activities – is correct, you’ve assisted in saving the world from utter destruction a number of times.”
“I’d’ve thought you’d’ve wanted the world destroyed,” Alex said bitterly.
“Me? Alexandra, in the end, nothing matters, but that hardly makes me genocidal. Diogenes the cynic was once asked what the difference between life and death was. His response was that there was none. His questioner followed up by asking him why he didn’t kill himself, then. Diogenes’ response?”
“’cause there’s no difference,” Faith said.
Eyebrows raising, Amanda said, “Yes.”
“You don’t need to look surprised,” Faith said. “Southie don’t mean uneducated. ‘course, that still doesn’t mean I know what your fucking point is.”
“If nothing matters, why destroy the world?” Amanda said.
Faith got the point, though she didn’t agree. From the looks on their faces, everyone else but maybe Alex also got it.
And she had a response. Angel had said it once. “If nothing we do matters,” she quoted, “Then all that matters is what we do.”
“The world might be crap, Amanda,” Nikita said. “We shouldn’t make it worse. Saving one life might not mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it means a lot to that one person.”
Willow, in the meantime, was laughing again. It wasn’t an amused laugh, or a cold one. It was almost the kind of laugh she would’ve expected to come from the Joker, if the Joker was a woman. Only reason Faith wasn’t in full panic mode is that Willow’s voice, when she spoke, was colder than ice. “Mother. ‘If nothing matters, why destroy the world?’ Would you mind if I answered that?”
“Of course –“ Amanda began.
Willow interrupted her by telekinetically picking her up for a second and then putting her back down. “That was a rhetorical question. Somehow, you know that I helped to save the world. What you don’t know is that once, I tried to end it.”
“Really?” Amanda asked. Had to give the bitch credit. She had to be shaken from being – well, shaken – but she wasn’t showing much of it. Of course, a stone cold psychopath wouldn’t be showing much either, so scratch the credit.
“Yes. And do you want to know why? Again, rhetorical, open your mouth and you’ll be fifteen feet up and falling, I swear. I tried to end it because, for one moment, I felt people’s pain. Everyone’s pain. And the best way I could think of to end their pain was to destroy everything. One blast of fire and it would have all been over. The only people left alive would have been whatever poor fools were in space at the time, and all they would have gotten to do afterward was write the world’s epitaph.”
“So you felt something, and you tried to destroy the world,” Amanda said. “Sounds like you’re proving my point. Something mattered to you. Compassion causes pain.”
“Their pain would have been there whether I would have felt it or not. And there were, and are, much better ways of trying to cure pain than killing the patient.”
“None more efficient,” Amanda said.
“True,” Willow said. “If efficiency’s the most important thing. But even if you’re being utilitarian, Mother, killing patients who can be saved is a horrendous waste of resources.”
“Also true,” Amanda said. “Which is another reason I’ve never tried to destroy the world.”
“You’ll notice the world’s still here, though,” Willow said. “Would you like to know why?”
From a bit behind her, Ryan said, “I would. But can I ask a question?”
“Sure!” Willow said, somehow sounding a lot more cheerful. “This is a group effort, after all.”
“We agreed not to kill her,” Ryan said, “But is there a reason we haven’t captured her yet? Right now, all we’re doing is standing around and talking with her. Wouldn’t this be a better conversation to have after she’s safely locked up in a cell somewhere?” He took a breath, and then said, “Look. I get that you’ve got a lot of stuff to work through. Finding out Amanda’s your mother and that your whole life was basically an evil psych experiment can’t be fun. But can’t we do that later?”
“Am I going to get the chance?” Willow asked.
At this, everyone looked at Nikita. “We’ll give you the chance,” she said. “Birkhoff?” she said into her headset. “What are we doing about anyone we catch?”
Which was a point; Nikita and her friends weren’t exactly in good with the authorities. Fortunately, they weren’t acting alone, either. “Relax,” she said. “We got this.”
“We do?” Alex asked.
“Thanks,” Nikita said. “Yeah, they’ve got it. Someone from the Academy is going to take Amanda directly back there so we can have some time with her.”
“And everyone else?” Alex asked.
“Look down there,” Faith said. Everyone, including Amanda, spun to see where Faith was pointing. At the edge of the fenced-in parking lot was a good-sized group of people . . in full army gear.
“Who’s that?” Michael asked flatly.
“Remember back in the meeting,” Faith said, “When we mentioned our friend? The one Xander said was a client of the genefucking club for men?”
“That’s him?” Ryan said.
“That’s him,” Faith confirmed.
“We need to get out of here,” Alex said. “We can’t let Nikita get seen.”
Amanda said, “It appears you have backed yourself into a corner.”
And Willow said, “Mother. You really don’t understand what the word ‘friend’ means, do you? That man out there is willing to cut us slack. He’s willing to help us for no other reason than that he likes us. If we ask him to look the other way, he will.”
“Are you willing to bet Nikita’s life on that?” Michael asked.
“Whatever else soldier-boy out there might do,” Faith said, “He sure as shit ain’t gonna shoot anyone on sight. Unless they’re a vampire. But I’m thinking we’re out here in the middle of the day, so right now, we’re all good.”
Ryan said, “Okay. Good. We’ve established that we’re going to take Amanda there into custody. Could one of us actually do it? I’d feel a lot more comfortable if she had a gag in her mouth.”
Michael and Nikita gave him a fishy look, Alex and Willow giggled, Faith guffawed, and even Amanda managed a smile. “Didn’t know you thought that way, Tommy,” Faith said. “Maybe when we’re done you could show me some of the things you want to do with that gag.”
Ryan took it for the teasing it was – not like Faith would’ve turned him down if he said yes, he was certainly good-looking enough, but she wasn’t expecting it – and just rolled his eyes. Alex, over her giggle fit, pulled a pair of handcuffs from somewhere, walked over, and told Amanda to put her hands behind her back.
“And if I don’t?” Amanda asked.
Faith said, “Trust me. We’ll make you.”
Amanda looked in Faith’s eyes, figured out she wasn’t kidding – ‘cause she sure as shit wasn’t – and, sighing dramatically, put her arms behind her back. Alex came over, jerked the arms a few times “just to get them into the right position” – and since that was probably less than a thousandth of the grief the bitch had caused them, Faith wasn’t about to bitch about it.
They walked back down to the food court area, stepping back over the two groaning Shop security guards, Amanda dead center, flanked by Nikita and Michael. A few seconds later an army squad came bursting through the doors to the outside, weapons pointed at them.
“Hands up, everyone,” Nikita said, raising her hands slowly. “Amanda, don’t try anything.”
Everyone but Amanda put their hands up – hey, better safe, you know? – and Amanda wisely didn’t say anything. A few seconds later a voice from behind them said, “They’re okay. Go clear out the rest of the building.”
As the squad hustled away and everyone put their hands down, Faith called after them, “Yo! Bookstore’s got the closest way downstairs. To the left.”
Then the owner of the voice – Riley Finn, of course – walked up. “Heya, Smallville,” Faith said. “What’s shakin’?”
Willow also said, “Hi, Riley!”
“A lot of people up and down the chain of command,” he said. “I can’t believe we missed this. Someone was supposed to be keeping an eye on these clowns.”
“Clowns are funny,” Willow said. “Well, unless you ask Xander. This, not so much with the funny.”
“Not even close,” Riley said. “How’d you find about it?” And why didn’t you tell us sooner? She could clearly hear him asking.
“Luck,” Faith said. “My friend back there asked us for a favor and this is what it led to.” She pointed to Nikita.
“And who is your friend?” Riley asked.
“Someone who was never here,” Faith said. “None of them. It was me, Willow, and a squad of Slayers. Got it?”
Riley leaned in and said, quietly, “I get the story later, right?”
Willow said, “More than you’re getting now. Not all of it’s our story.”
“But what we can tell you, we will. Promise,” Faith said.
“Okay. And her?” he pointed to Amanda.
“She’s coming with us, too,” Faith said. “We might turn her over to you later. Maybe in pieces, maybe not.”
“Okay.” He leaned even closer and whispered. “Though one of the things you’re going to have to explain is why you’re leading your own mother out in handcuffs.”
As Willow’s jaw dropped, Riley smiled, said “Good day,” and went to follow his squad.
“I’m for getting out of here,” Nikita said when he was gone. “How about the rest of you?”
As they walked out, Amanda said, “What did that man say to you, Willow?”
Willow straightened up and said, “Be quiet, Mother.”
“Such scorn in the way you call me mother,” Amanda said.
“Would it be better if I used both words?”