Summary: Cleveland, and a lot of things need fixing beyond the hot water system.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all of it.
Faith looked at her pardon again, before locking it in her safety deposit box. It was real; every so often she came in here to check that it was not a dream. She was officially forgiven for her crimes, even the ‘escape from lawful custody’ last year. It seemed the demon-hunting end of the Federal Government had kept track of ‘The Sunnydale Group’ and noticed that the escaped felon had run to help save LA, and then The World.
Rather than say, rob a bank and move to Pago Pago on the proceeds.
“So, still not tired of knowing you’re a free woman?”
“Never.” The Boston slayer looked around as they walked out of the bank, just enjoying the day. Dawn was friendlier now, even Buffy was better. Of course the fact that part of the price of her freedom was getting everyone ‘counselling’ helped. The blonde slayer’s anti-psychotic medication was strong but paid for by the feds, and other than that and the fact that the council was paying them now not a lot had changed for the individual slayer as a direct result of direct US Gov. involvement. It was radically different at the level of international relations and security, but the slayers never saw that directly.
“Kinda wicked to be the girl the cops call when they’re in trouble though.” Faith responded as they walked past a parked police car and got a friendly nod when recognised. Looking at what they were eating she spoke up to the closest of them. “Brady, you keep eating those and I’ll have to take you jogging with us every day.”
Cleveland was a Hellmouth, like Sunnydale, but not one run by a would be demon for a century, so the cops actually noticed and tried to fight ‘things that go bump in the night’. After a few tense run-ins the two groups had learned to co-operate – a high level meeting with ‘advisors’ from the Department of Homeland Security had helped – making the slayers a supernatural SWAT team of sorts.
It was a beautiful day, to the dark slayer at least. If others found it hot and humid she didn’t really notice, she was just appreciating being alive and free. And having friends to be alive and free with, always a plus.
Slayer HQ, Cleveland, same day after lunch.
“Xander I need to say something important to you.” The fear in her tone was obvious, and a fearful Buffy was not something many people had encountered recently. They were in the canteen area, the x-man talking to some of the slayers who had arrived since setting up here. He turned to face her, concern on his face, and motioned her to an empty chair. “Private, it won’t take long but it’s private.”
An interesting piece of trivia she had picked up in a management class was that at Disneyworld the staff members with the greatest visitor contact, the ones guests actually TALKED to, asked questions of, were the cleaners, the ‘janitorial personnel’. They were the ones people went to for help with lost children, directions to the toilets etc. The actors in the Goofy costumes were ‘important’, but like the higher ups hereabout no one just ‘talked’ to them. Xander, as Mr. Fixit and Ordinary Joe, was the one people came to at SlayCo. as it was sometimes called.
“Yeah Buff, what is it?” They were in an unused room he often held private talks in, and he was as friendly in tone as he ever was with her. Which was a little cool, these days.
“I need you to accept my apology.” She said finally.
“For what?” He asked.
“I think you know!” Was the blonde’s response.
“Don’t go all X-Files dialog on me Buffster.”
“What?” And a simple apology was becoming headache material already.
“As in, ‘the conspirators are highly placed individuals with a secret plan’ says the informant. ‘Really, who are they and what is the plan’ Mulder responds, ‘I think you know’ the informant counters, and that’s it, that’s the total explanation. I really grew to hate that.”
There was silence for a few seconds while the elder slayer contemplated her potential migraine. And wondered where the male in front of her had gotten the time to keep up with the show in question.
“I’m sorry for being a self centred bitch for the last eight years.” She explained. “I’ve been looking back at my life and I see someone I don’t recognize doing things I can’t comprehend, I mean what was I thinking when I decided that I should force Spike to live with you only AFTER finding out he was in the middle of a killing spree controlled by the First?”
The shrink dealing with her had prescribed some quite powerful drugs, and had her examining her life. He had also adopted part of AA’s 12-step plan, particularly the bit about apologising to all the people you have hurt. Hence the current conversation, the first of several if it went well.
“Actually Xander I think the phrase ‘Quiet Horror’ describes my feelings here. I wouldn’t have lived past my SECOND DAY in Sunnydale if you had listened to me and Giles and stayed out of slaying and all I did was insult you. When everyone welcomed Faith at first I acted like a spoiled brat and drove her away from us. Dawn could have been an axe murderer for all I noticed, I insulted that poor SIT after my brilliantly inspirational leadership drove her to suicide and … anyway Xander, thank you for staying with me over the years.”
She was looking down at her hands with tears in her eyes as she finished the speech. Then she stepped up to him and gave him one of her rib cracking ‘oops, forgot about slayer strength’ hugs and started crying. Saying it to Dr Helgengruber was so much easier, but here and now she had to face the possibility he had been lost to her and she hadn’t noticed it, again, that he would reject her.
“Xander, thank you for just being Xander.”
“Well I could have tried being Patricia but I don’t think it would have worked very well.”
An abandoned quarry a few days later.
Willow Rosenburg fired off what Andrew always called her ‘force lightning’, blowing up a car, a small shack and several dummies in SWAT flack vests. The class of rookie cops watching sat in stunned silence at the firepower display, the first of what it was hoped would be a standard opening to advanced training. The red head in her frilliest ‘sweet miss innocent’ outfit walked back to the VIP stand giving a shy wave to the audience while the lecture began.
“There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies, wrote Shakespeare, and as you will find out in this part of your training the appropriate response to that quote is FUCKIN A BUBBA!” The lecturer, a retired Sergeant with abundant experience of the stranger side of night shift looked at the group in front of him, seeming to catch each in turn by staring directly into their eyes, and continued. “Miss Rosenburg is a witch, and will be teaching you some basic detection spells so that you know you are dealing with a vampire or demon BEFORE it tries to make dinner out of you.”
Anything advanced was out of the question in the time available, but simple magic was a teachable skill that some people were inherently better at than others, like the 100-yard dash. Willow was in the Olympic Gold Medallist class of natural talent, some were at the opposite end of the spectrum, but anyone could learn if they tried.
“The two ladies sitting with her are Vampire Slayers…” The speech went on, briefly punctuated by a few idiots who took up the ‘does anyone think they can take the slayer?’ challenge. Seeing Vi deal so easily with two men over a foot taller than she kept scepticism to a minimum.
‘I got away with murder.’ Willow thought to herself for the however many thousandth time as the lecture rolled on. It had been playing on her mind since that day on the cliff when she tried to end the world. ‘I got away with murder and nearly exterminated the human race.’
“There is another quote from a famous egghead, ‘the universe in not only stranger than we know, it is stranger than we can know’ and he was right to some extent.” Sergeant Hernandez continued. “I mention it because as street cops there will probably never be a time when you are not operating in the dark about your potential demonic enemies and you will have to adjust to that or you will be KILLED by it. There will be times when all you can do is run away and call for backup, remember that if all you can do is not become the next fatality it beats the alternative.”
‘I murdered a man in a very painful way, then tried to murder all my friends and then I tried to destroy all life as we know it.’ The red headed witch continued in her head. ‘And now here I am not punished, not even regarded with any great fear or hatred by the people who know, helping the Cleveland Police Department. How can I be forgiven if I never atone or even admit wrongdoing?’
“Never put yourself in a position where you have no line of retreat, because some of the things out there are ridiculously hard to kill.” The Sergeant continued.
‘Like me.’ Was the Wicca’s thought. ‘They couldn’t kill me, Xander had to talk me down because no one could kill me, maybe my time in hell will be less because I stopped, I didn’t actually kill the world.’
“You will be taught to be a trained observer as part of your normal police training, and I must emphasise the importance of this in anti-demon work.” There was a pause before the speech continued. “These bastards routinely can only be killed by some special weapon applied a special way and so the exact type of demon must be known. The Judge required an anti-tank missile, while the Mayor of Sunnydale turned into a 60 foot long THING that needed to be lured into a building full of explosives.”
Both events had, it developed, been recorded, The Judge by the mall security cameras, the Mayor by various proud parents. A DVD showing both had been delivered by anonymous suits from Homeland Security, and would be shown later as part of the ‘try to go Rambo on these things and you will die’ lecture. Pounding that into the heads of the sort of teenager who signed up after seeing one too many Steven Segal movies was always a headache.
‘Angel has his Shanshu prophecy, but he has eternity to use to atone.’ The lesbian witch thought to herself. ‘I only have a human lifetime. Will it be enough?’
Slayer HQ, Cleveland, Xander’s office.
“Can we come in?” It was a group of the slayers, he knew them all from the battle with the First, and they looked nervous. Determined but nervous.
“Well you can’t go out, given that you’re already outside, so I guess you have to come in.”
“Xander, Faith needs you to forgive her.”
“Ah girls, what brings this up?”
“The need for sleep.” Rona said. “She wakes us up every night with these nightmares, and screaming about ‘no, Xander, I didn’t mean it, forgive me, oh god no’ after the first six months it kinda drags.”
“Could be one reason Woods left, ‘cause she still did it with him there and that’s gotta be hard on a guys ego, yah know.” Piped in one of the others.
“What do you think I should do?”
“Say you forgive her.” Said Rona again.
“Set up a couple session with the shrink.” Said Vi.
“Tie her up and spank her ass with a stiff hair brush.” Said Kennedy, offering one of hers to him for the purpose.
“Rona, good first move, Vi, I don’t know if the good Doctor will be up for that but I can ask. Ken, are you channelling Anya now or is this why Wills likes you so much?” He could talk about the former demon without pain now, he even smiled at his old friends lover while saying it. “I didn’t know it was this bad, in Sunnydale…”
“In Sunnydale you weren’t actually sleeping in the house and we were all so tired and scared it just kind of added to the ambiance of the place.” Vi responded.
“Ah yes, being woken up by screaming in the early morning, that good old Sunnydale vibe.” A pause, while he considered how to air his concerns for his red headed friend to the woman she loved without seeming to intrude on their private life.. “ Ok, and Ken, can I talk with you privately for a minute…”
Doctor Helgengruber’s office, a Buffy session, October 14, 2005.
“You do realise that you are potentially a beacon of hope to the other slayers and potentials, don’t you Buffy?” Her shrink announced one morning.
“You mean they could give pep talks by saying ‘If you last long enough, you too can be one dose of the most powerful anti-psychotic medication available from being a total loon, brought back from the dead twice, and seemingly only able to form romantic attachments with the undead or soldier boys with quote genetic and cybernetic enhancement end quote’?”
She was smiling at him, she didn’t particularly trust her own judgement any more and if he said ‘yes that’s exactly what I mean’ she … well, ok so she wouldn’t take it at face value. But she would get a second opinion rather than dismiss him as a crackpot.
“Cause doc, gotta say it sounds like something I might not have been terribly thrilled by at the tender age of 15.” She said, then added in a more conciliatory tone. “Of course I’m nuts, so, it might be a really good idea.”
He looked at her for a while, in that way he had that reminded her of Giles polishing his glasses. The he lowered his head and looked at her over the top of his glasses for a while, before speaking.
“I was thinking that Slayers traditionally know they are doomed.” The good doctor – and he was a good doctor, he even made house calls – finally said. “I have studied the psychology of slayers most all of my professional life, and the sense of hopelessness and giving up on life that precedes the demise of so many is evident.”
“They get a death wish?” She asked, remembering a conversation with Spike on the subject.
“I would not have phrased it that way, but a sense of duty can only go so far. Most have never even held hands with a boy because of Council upbringing, have no friends and no contact with their families, and can only hope for a quick, violent death rather than capture, rape and torture before being turned.” He shook his head. “I really think Mr Giles was in the right by not letting you read the chapters of the Slayers Manual which detail how common that fate has been, by the way, damn the traditionalists.”
“Vampire Slayers, my god how many of them are there? Are they like super dangerous cause…” Shock didn’t begin to cover it, and her respect for Giles rose again. ‘Always looking out for me, aren’t you’ she thought, of the man who hadn’t even told her there WAS a manual.
“No Ms Summers, the slayer essence leaves on turning and what is left is a vampire girl in her teens who is mainly a trophy for the sire. They never last long.” Knowing this was traditionally supposed to motivate the slayer to fight harder, he thought and had consistently argued it was sadistic. “So do you see now how your having made it this far, with friends who stand by you and retirement to a training post, maybe even a family some day, is hopeful by comparison?”
“So you think happy retired Mommy Buffy is in my future?”
“It is what you wanted since becoming the slayer.”
A warehouse that evening.
BOOM, CHUNK-CHUNK, BOOM, CHUNK-CHUNK. The shotgun was deafening in the enclosed space, and one of the guard demons swords slid along the floor from where the creature lay thrashing in pain. The rescue team was four cops in all, two of whom were releasing the hostages as the other pair stood guard. Most of the action was happening at the other end of the huge space, which was how the rescue could happen at all, the demons were distracted.
BOOM, CHUNK-CHUNK, BOOM. Its head gone, the crippled demon, which had been crawling towards them even with its hip shattered, dissolved into a puddle of yellow goo. The would-be sacrifices were led back to the exit, past Xander who was firing single shots from an M-16 he kept in the boot of his car for just such occasions. Faith and Suchi, one of the new slayers, were fighting the demons at the ceremonial area twenty feet away.
Or rather they were fighting one of the groups of demons, the other bunch being behind some kind of magic barrier. They couldn’t escape from where they were, but since Xander's shooting was keeping them behind the green barrier they had to be vulnerable.
“May I?” one of the hostages, a bald man in his twenties asked, pointing to the weapons bag. The former Zeppo nodded, not really allowing himself to be distracted from what he was doing. The hostage took out a 9mm Beretta, went into a perfect Weaver Stance and fired off a quick double tap past the slayers. A small demon that had been staying out of the hand-to-hand suddenly lost concentration, followed by its head as the magazine was emptied into it.
“Bang.” And Xander’s bullet went straight through were the green barrier had been and dropped something large and mean looking like a sack of potatoes. ‘Thank you Father Jessup for the blessed tracer rounds’ the former construction foreman thought. It was suddenly chaos as demons started dropping, the rest panicked, and another squad car arrived, adding to the firepower.
“FALL BACK, FALL BACK!” Harris the younger shouted to the two slayers, who took the hint and backed up to his position, clearing the field of fire as they did so. With the hostages safe outside and four of the six Cleveland Police now on site in the firing line the withdrawal was bloody and quick. Time to get out while the bad guys were stunned and the good guys had plenty of ammo. “Time to leave people, every second person retreats ten paces and reloads, then the rest mad minute and leapfrog twenty paces back and do the same, three, two, one, NOW.”
Slayer HQ, -aka SlayCo - later that evening, after action review.
“So, how did you drop the magic green thing?” Vi asked. These sessions were really for training as much anything else; it was Xanders idea from his soldier memories. The bald hostage was there too, he said he was intrigued.
“They violated rule Evil Overlord Rule 221.” The bald man responded.
“Huh?” Was the response from everyone, well, everyone except Andrew, who spoke up immediately.
“My force field generators will be located INSIDE the shields they generate.” The would-be super-villain was feeling useful for a change and continued. “The little guy you shot?”
“Exactly.” From the bald man.
“Again with the huh, for the dumb blondes in the audience?” Buffy said. Her sense of humour was returning, plus she was studying Xander carefully as to how to put people at ease and make friends.
“The Evil Overlord Guide, my father made me memorise it.” The hairless one responded. All 231 points of it, actually.
“Was he some kind of science fiction fan, cause I remember Xander printing off some of that as kids?” Willow asked. Her ability to focus on a task was powerfully displayed by the question. Not many people could have paid any attention to the goings on around them while sitting on Kennedy’s lap and having her ear nibbled by the slayer, who also had her hand under the red-head’s jumper and, apparently, her bra as well.
“No, he was Lionel Luthor.” From the father who had responded to his need for relationship advice by supplying him with a copy of the Complete works of Niccolo Machieavelli in the original language it had seemed perfectly reasonable.
Faith’s bedroom, SlayCo, that night.
“So Xman, this Lex character, who’d never seen a demon before yesterday, sizes up the situation, realizes the little demon mumbling in the back is making the force field and wastes him with a handgun from twenty feet?” She had been there but of course had not seen any of the details, being involved in slicing and dicing scaly things at the time.
“Yes.” He said, distracted.
“You do realise that that’s almost impossible, don’t you?”
“How come?” The male in the bed questioned. Or it might have been that, it was hard to understand him now.
“FBI statistics.” The Boston born slayer replied. “One of the Instructors at the police academy pointed out that in actual gunfights the average American policeman can’t hit a standing man at ten feet, and the average pistol fight involves emptying the weapon at eight feet.”
“But I’ve seen them at the range and they do WAY better than that.” Buffy commented.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” The dark slay said to her, and the bottle blonde returned to her sword swallower impression. The one that had the Xandman so distracted. Who Faith proceeded to kiss, and keep kissing for ages until he came in a shuddering climax. “Now B, lay back, spread your legs, and let me eat at the Buffy Buffet.”
After a while they lay back on the bed and rested. With the emergency rescue mission and the decision about to try what they had just done it had been a long day and they were relaxed and tired. Sleep was easy and restful.
Willow and Kennedy’s bedroom, also at SlayCo.
“You know who I would really like to fuck?” The younger woman asked. It was a game they played regularly, a place, a movie, a book, which of the women would you just screw stupid, and give all the details. Their relationship was not like the one Willow had had with Tara, but the rich girl made her feel worthwhile and at peace.
And horny of course, lets not forget that.
“No, which of the girls here at SlayCo do you really want to have totally meaningless sex with?”
“Dawn.” Her lover pronounced. “She’s cute, she had great tits, and a very spankable ass.”
“Go on.” All three items of description being perfectly true and the two of them were monogamous, after all.
They were also naked and there were tongues, hand and fingers and long rubber devices in use, so her normal restraint was not evident. Also this was her and Ken’s bed, she could be or say anything she wanted here, and it was all right. The dark haired non-Wicca had put a lot of time and effort into creating that belief, knowing perfectly well the load of guilt her girlfriend carried with her.
“How about, on her eighteenth birthday, we bring here up here and break her in properly?”
“You make her sound like a horse.”
“I’d like to ride her like one yeah.”
They made love and talked, eventually getting around to the Tara/Warren/I tried to end the world stuff, as they routinely did. The red head would talk about it, her girlfriend would listen, give advice, and remind her of things like the thank you’s she sometimes received from cops who’d found her training useful. A crayon drawing from a six year old would have been sacrifice had been included in one. It showed a stick figure ‘Willow the good witch’ throwing little balls of fire at big things with too many teeth. The slayer of the pair had framed it and put it on the wall where it was the first thing Willow saw in the morning and the last thing she saw at night.
“I’ll never be able to tell you how much I love you.” Willow said just while snuggling down for sleep.
“Nor I you. Sleep tight.”
SlayCo HQ Canteen, breakfast the next day.
“So, Buffy, how was your first time with a girl, feel like abandoning the home team now?” Willow asked with a smile not seen in many years. And a totally innocent enquiry tone of voice too, a ‘do you think it will rain today?’ tone.
“No, but I mean it was fine, really.”
“FINE!” Faith responded with mock outrage. “That was some of my best work, it was FUCKING EXCELLENT.”
“Or excellent fucking anyway.” Xander quipped.
“Well I’m not quitting guys any time soon because of it, but yeah, I’d probably repeat the experience.” The elder slayer added brightly. She was experimenting with various sexual things she normally would not try, as part of her attempt to find ‘the non-cuckoo’ Buffy, as she phrased it. As long as she was honest with him about it everything was ok with her shrink.
Given the almost total absence of data on Slayers love lives – most had never had one, no slayer had had a child AFTER being called, and so on – whatever the elder slayer did would simply be recorded. The slayers now existing were all ‘of child bearing age’ as it was traditionally phrased, and being monitored closely on every aspect of their thoughts, moods and behaviours. In a century or so the Watchers would actually have a clue as to what advice to give a slayer in Buffy’s position.
For now all they could do was hope for the best, plan for the worst, and not get thrown by anything in between.
Lex Luthors hotel suite, same time.
“So let me see if I have this straight.” The billionaire and son of a billionaire said. He had started a routine investigation as soon as he borrowed a mobile phone, and the woman on the other end of the phone had been working ever since. “The Department of Homeland Security has a block over their records, except for Faith McCormack’s pardon for murderer and that Buffy Summers is still being made to pay off the bank loan on her mothers house despite the fact that it, and in fact the whole town, does not exist anymore.”
The investigator responded to that for a while, as the purple clad man sipped his coffee. The Los Angeles bank in question was apparently in a tight squeeze financially and not about to let anyone off the hook.
“And they’re all being paid the minimum wage plus room and board by an English organization called the watchers council so the rest are probably having to chip in so she can make the payments.” More talk from the other end of the phone. “Good, yes send me what details you can get on the bank and I assume the usual payment arrangements will do?”
Lex Luthor was beginning to think he finally understood his friend Clark. The demons had made it clear they were trying to ‘exterminate the plague of human.’ In helping the hastily organised rescue operation – it started with a noise complaint and escalated rapidly – he had helped SAVE THE WORLD. It was in capital letters in his mind I HELPED SAVE THE WORLD YESTERDAY. He could have just obeyed the orders of his rescuers and left but he stayed and dropped the magic force field creator and HELPED SAVE THE WORLD.
Lex Luthor was ultimately driven by some simple desires, first of which was to avoid becoming his father. The other big drive was to be a great man, which was tending to make him act more and more like his father. Living his life was like watching a train wreck in progress, everything seemed pre-ordained and heading towards a place he didn’t want to go and I HELPED SAVE THE WORLD YESTERDAY!
“Thanks for what you did yesterday, the others always have a problem admitting it but we can always use the help.” Alexander Harris had said to him as he waited for his limo to come take him home yesterday. And now Lex was seeing how to change his fate, how to avoid hid destiny. He picked up the phone and made a call.
“Mr Harris, I think I’ve found a way I can be of further help to your organization.” Paying out a house mortgage was peanuts, after all, and after all, if he allowed the world to end it would be terrible for business. “How about lunch with you associate Ms McCormack at Le Grande Buffet, I’ll send a limo and we can talk?”
Slayer HQ, Cleveland, sunset, Tuesday 10 January 2006.
Giles recorded voice was clear and a little emotional as it read out the piece of poetry over the building public address system.
They shall not grow old,
As we that are left, grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun
And at the morning
We will remember them
The reading ended and ‘the last post’ played, a mournful bugle sound, and then everyone fell out of attention facing west and went back to whatever they had been doing when sunset was announced. An Australian watcher had suggested it, a daily ritual of the Returned Serviceman’s League in her homeland.
“Slayers are human beings, not just disposable assets for the friggin watchers council” was how Morgana had put it. “We shouldn’t just casually walk away from their corpse’s and shout NEXT!”
Slayer HQ Cleveland, Training Room 3
Faith was in the boxing gear room, as she thought of it, and returned to hitting the heavy bag with a vengeance. The bags were replaced a lot more regularly than a normal set of users, even heavyweight professionals, would need, but it was just the cost of realistic training. Harder and harder, faster and faster she punched, kicked, kneed and elbow struck the bag until one particularly heavy kick snapped the chain and threw it into the wall.
Gravity had very little time to work before she reached the bag and kept punching. Harder and harder, faster and faster, until eventually the bag was a torn ruin and she was punching the wall with the bag filling piled up at her feet. She was sobbing uncontrollably, unable to see the wall anymore through her tears, still smashing into the plaster.
Finally she stopped and sank to the floor, the wreckage of her hands slowly healing under the wraps and the gloves and all the blood. Xander stepped hesitantly forward and crouched in front of her, carefully not touching her. The rest of the occupants of the room remained where they were, which was standing well back with looks of fear on their faces. Faith and Buffy were the two slayers who had survived longest as chosen, Buffy cheerfully admitted to being a diagnosed psychotic, now Faith was acting crazy.
Would they all go through this if they lived long enough? Was insanity the fate of slayers who were not killed in action?
“Faith, I’m not gonna ask if your ok ‘cause obviously you aren’t, but can you get up and come to our room ‘cause your scaring people?” He said it with a smile on his face, but the fear in the eyes of the new slayers who had run up to his office to get him was very real. And very sensible, for that matter.
“They’re dead.” The Boston slayer mumbled.
“Who’s dead?” Xander answered.
“Everyone.” Was the response. “Mom, dad, Jeff, first watcher, everyone’s dead. I failed them, they’re all dead.”
“I’m not dead.” He said with a false cheer in his voice, looking for something bright to say.
“Only ‘cause Angel stopped me.” Then she started back on the serious crying, as he helped her to their room.
Lex Luthor’s bedroom, Metropolis, morning of Thursday 12 January
“See Lex, all of us from the original Scooby gang have all seen WAY too much action, apparently Faith was in the middle of a breakdown when she arrived in Sunnydale.” Buffy was lying on her stomach with one hand running over the Billionaires chest, playing with his chest hair.
“Really?” He said in a calm, clear tone. Sometimes the blonde slayer wondered if he had majored in cool, instead of business as he claimed.
“Really, much of the mental breakage with our Faith, way much.” She said, then looked up from her gazing at his chest and added. “By the time she reached us Kaikistos, who was just this total ubervamp with hooves, old, old bad guy, had turned and made her stake both parents and her first boyfriend, then tortured her watcher to death in front of her.”
The relationship between them was the most normal either had ever had, which was a depressing statement if one thought about it. While Lex was, once again, a man drawn to the dark side, and arguably already well on the path there, he had not actually raped, tortured and then killed the entire population of an orphanage or convent, as two of her previous lovers had. ‘Spike hadn’t even been embarrassed about that despite having regained his soul’; she thought ‘again with the why didn’t I stake him?’
“Oh, and thanks for giving Xander a job, it’s kind of you.” The blonde slayer had decided to change topics, shoptalk was depressing and her time with Lex was too precious to waste on something like that. The one eyed man had just that morning been officially offered a position as a management trainee with Lexcorp’s consulting division.
“Something given has no value.” The bald man quoted back to her, Robert Heinlein being the nearest thing to a left liberal author allowed in the Luthor household during his childhood. Which said a lot about his father to anyone who has actually read Starship Troopers, or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. “I didn’t give him anything, he’s a diamond in the rough in a world full of smooth, flawless MBA’s with no actual talent for anything except office politics and applying rote solutions from management textbooks. I organised an interview, he earned his place all by himself.”
Faiths psychiatric hospital, a few days later.
Alexander Lavelle Harris was in the waiting area when they arrived. His contract with Lexcorp gave him far more flexibility with his hours than normal, due to his commitments to SlayCo. Commitments that Lex had sadly pointed out would ensure he would never be a high earner.
Flashback to the previous day
“What do you think I will be making smooth guy?” Xander had asked, a little worried. Partly by his lack of a good moniker for the billionaire.
“Not a lot, not more than 2 or 3 million dollars a year and even that will probably take a while.” The man who’s definition of poverty was not everyone’s had responded. “This year I doubt you will break the hundred thousand mark, even with bonuses.”
“We are here to see Faith McCormack, I believe she is a patient here?” The eldest of the group said. They were all women, inevitably given what they were. The receptionist told them to wait with the other person seeing her, so they came over and stood in front of him. “So, you are here to see Faith too, we are told.”
“That’s right your nunship.”
“What is your relationship with her, if you don’t mind me enquiring?” Or even if you do mind me enquiring, her tone implied. “I must say all of this is more confusing than helpful in some ways. Such a bright, obedient girl, then suddenly she starts getting into trouble and disappears. We have been praying for her for years and suddenly that nice Mr Luthor calls and says she’s here and arranges for us to see here”
“I’m Xander Harris, I’m a friend and FAITH WAS CONVENT EDUCATED?”
“My dear Mr Harris her life long ambition was to join our Order and be a missionary teacher.” Another of the nuns in the back responded. “She always had her heart set on working in our orphanage in Khartoum after meeting some of the …”
“Mother Superior, he’s fainted.”
The hospital ward full of slayers was depressing to Xander, but then they always were. And honestly he couldn’t decide if the fact that it was just a training accident made it better or worse.
“But the briefing said Mortain demons weren’t dangerous!” Chelsea, the team leader for this part of training said. Team leader position was rotated after each exercise, as part of the leadership skills requirement. Buffy’s lack of such skills was always a problem, but her lack of understanding that she lacked leadership ability was nearly catastrophic.
“No, it said they were not HOSTILE.” Was Wesley’s exasperated response. “The use of the word hostile implies intent to do harm, dangerous simply means the capability to do harm.”
One of the downsides of a British public school education is an inability to understand how people who did not attend them think. The Englishman had been educated in a place where no-one would ever say ‘farther’ when they meant ‘further’, and could tell when to use present perfect tense instead of imperfect tense in Latin without having to think about it almost before he could tie his own shoelaces. Consequently he had no idea why Chelsea, who had never been taught the difference between a noun and a verb, failed to grasp the difference in meaning.
“Personally I would have assumed anything that was eating a Grizzly bear it killed with its own claws was dangerous, but maybe I’ve been a park ranger for too long.” The speaker looked like exactly what he was, someone who had lived his whole life in the outdoors. He was speaking quietly to the one eyed man as they stood a distance away from the now heated conversation between former watcher and slayer.
Originally the mission was non-contact, it was just supposed to involve a long hike through rough terrain with a time limit for pickup. The idea being that the leader had to balance the need to maintain a steady pace against the need to avoid causing blisters and strains that would also slow them down, all in the context of varying individual temperaments and walking pace. Teaching slayers to work as part of a team was a new idea and the training course borrowed heavily from various militaries.
It was not supposed to be testing to destruction. Or not quite destruction, due solely to a demon with more sense drunk than Xander's parents had ever shown sober.
“It never would have occurred to me to try to take a drunk’s whiskey away while it was still conscious.” Was the slayerette’s response. He had been called in to start the inquiry into this mess, a role he had been picking up some experience at as part of his work. “And I probably won’t be demanding you put up a ‘do not attack the things that eat the bears’ sign.”
‘As if demons weren’t bad enough, now we have moonshine whiskey making demons to contend with.’ He thought. ‘Well we learned two things already. Chelsea has a major judgement problem and there really are demons with enough brains to not play hopscotch in a minefield.’
“Son, we need to have a LONG talk about all this, ‘cause I agree with the general idea o’ what your tryin’ to do but the execution needs work.” Given that Ranger Hart was, before getting into the protecting the birds and trees thing, a whole other kind of Ranger into the ‘they let me blow shit up and shoot people’ thing, his advice was probably worth having in this regard. “Oh, and old Kleph’ gave me two jars of his finest as his way of apologizing for yesterday.”
“Yeah he’s been making his hooch out of the berries here for, oh I don’t know exactly but apparently he sold a big batch to Custer’s boys on their way through once.”
“The demon who did this claims to be responsible for Little Big Horn?” Xander looked at the man incredulously. “That’s what you’re saying, he got Custer tanked and that led to the last stand?”
“No it was years before that, and anyway he says everybody knew Custer was a homicidal idiot, except the brass in Washington and the eastern newspapers. The Seventh still hate him you know, I worked with them once or twice.” The ranger countered. “Look Keph avoids hurting humans because it causes trouble for him and hurts his business.”
Which Xander already knew from having talked to the big green guy before coming to the hospital. And he really had to see if it’s bear meat marinated in chilies and homemade rocket-fuel recipe works with beef and Jack Daniels. Because it had been a really interesting crack of dawn breakfast.
“Ok, so can I see you in your office tomorrow?”
“No but I’ll pick you up from your room and you can help me work out what to put in my report of this fiasco.” He was the parks service liaison, he had a lot of paper to fill in over this.
Xanders regular shrink session, a month later.
“The thing you have to keep in mind is that Faith is an artificial construct.”
“She’s a robot?” The man with the eye patch responds doubtfully. He’d been sleeping with her for a while now, presumably he’d have noticed.
“No. Faith is not just an alias Mary McCormack used when she was trying to avoid Kaikistos, she is a complete character she had to play to be able to do what was necessary.”
“Because Fa… sorry Mary was a nice convent educated girl who wouldn’t do any of that stuff?” Such as exchanging her virginity for transport, food and spending money from a bunch of bikers. Mary COULDN’T have done that, Faith was a horny street-smart girl who got to Kansas City that way and felt fine about it.
“Apparently her father was a method actor, and she picked up the ‘living the role’ idea from him. By the time she was in Sunnydale Faith had done too much for Mary to ever be able to live with it.” Prostitution, theft, drug use and sale, seducing anyone of either sex whom might be of use to her…
“Doc, I appreciate this but aren’t you breaking confidentiality or something? Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you are one of the people she kept being Faith for.” Was the response. “You are important to her as a friend. She can’t accept herself, which is why she’s still Faith, everyone she knew as Mary was dead except the nuns who Faith would never trust and Mary is convinced will spit on her if they know the truth.”
“But the nuns called her Faith…” this was WAY too deep for the x-man. He preferred problems solvable with planning, negotiation, a joke, or a large, sharp, axe. Ah the joys of gaining a part time management degree.
“They were told she was known only as Faith, so they used that. Besides nuns take a new name on ordination, so they’re used to the idea. And the law does not recognize split personalities, so they just list Faith as the alias she’s currently using.”
“So she keeps being someone she can’t stand because she thinks I’ll reject her if she’s nice? That’s…” The former construction worker was lost for words for the moment.
Faith eventually recovered, but never was Mary again. She was a little like both and a bit like someone totally different, but also Xander Harris’s wife and the mother of his children.
Willow Rosenburg, with the aid of Kennedy, slowly recovered her sense of being a worthwhile human being.
Buffy Summers became Mrs Elizabeth Luthor, she always did have a preference for men with a dark side to them. Lex and Clark Kent remained friends, although there was a lot of shouting when they eventually found out each others secrets.
Dawn Summers became an archaeologist, eventually proving that the Sphinx really was from a totally different and much earlier civilisation than the one that built the pyramids.
Keph the moonshine brewing demon made friends with Chelsea, who was actually a very good slayer as long as she had someone else to think for her. His marinade recipe was turned into a best selling sauce thanks in partnership with Xander.
Giles married a Welsh woman he met in Kenya and started a family a little later than most.