Previously on Walk The Line:
Anya stopped mid-sentence as the front door came flying in and an excitable and anxious looking Xander came running through, his eyes immediately locking on her.
" . . . Xander?"
The shock of seeing him made her lose focus, sending her slipping through the couch and into the basement once again.
Faith calmly looked from the couch, to Xander, and then to Andrew as the sounds of Anya shrieking in the basement filled the room.
"Hey Andy, think you better go save the lizards."
There were things that Xander Harris could deal with. Being chased by supernatural freaks on a daily basis? Good. Getting carved up by a demon chick? Fine. Having a crazed preacher thumb his eyeball into oblivion? Fantastic!
But watching his supposedly dead girlfriend, no, ex-girlfriend -- whatever she was – slip not-so-gracefully through a couch was one of the few things he couldn't rationally deal with.
"Anya!" he yelled again, looking nervously around the room. "Where did she go?"
"Judging from the distance and echo of her shrieks, I'd say she's in the basement," came a voice from behind him.
Faith stiffened up as she instantly recognized the voice.
No. Nuh-uh. There was no way that Buffy Summers would haul her ass all the way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in a Ford Taurus, especially if she knew that Faith was there.
Sure enough, Buffy chose that moment to step out from behind Xander, her arms folded across her chest.
Faith smiled nervously but tried to keep her cool. She wasn't ready for visitors, especially the sort that would judge her every move and decision. Xander was cool; he'd be too busy pining over Anya to pass judgment. But there was only one reason that Buffy was there.
To check up on her.
"Got it in one, B," Faith quipped, trying to keep an air of nonchalance around her. "Next question: To what do I owe the pleasure of such distinguished Scooby company?"
Xander didn't answer. He was too busy lying on the old floor boards with his ear to the ground, listening to the sounds in the basement. Buffy stepped over him and scoped the place out, giving away nothing of her initial thoughts.
"Xander's here, obviously, because he heard Giles mention Anya and Las Vegas. There's nothing he loves more than Anya. And all you can eat buffets," Buffy added.
"Nothing like bustin' a gut for the bargain price of $11.95," Faith said with a nod. "How bout you? What's your story?"
"I was bored. I get to be a supportive friend and be a tourist. It's a win-win situation."
"For you," Faith said. "Not exactly set up for guests yet. We're still holed up at some no-tell motel a few miles from here."
"How come the noises stopped?" Xander asked no one in particular. "Where did she go?"
"We're?" Buffy asked in response to Faith, completely ignoring Xander.
"Hi Buffy," Andrew said cheerily as he walked back into the room.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Buffy laughed.
"B, I'd like you to meet my roommate and fetcher of donuts," Faith said with a grin. "Some people are born with luck. Me? Mighta been cursed. Still lookin' into it."
"Um, Faith," Andrew interrupted, "Anya says that she'll be back. She has lizard in her hair and is trying to find a spa that caters to ghostly customers."
"Anya's a ghost?" came another voice from the doorway.
Everyone turned to see a confused Dawn standing there in dark sunglasses with a duffel bag slung over her shoulder.
"Holy shit, did you guys come in a clown car or something? Seriously, how many more of you are gonna pop out?" Faith asked as she walked to the door and looked outside at Xander's Taurus.
"Unless Xander had someone in the trunk, I'm the last one," Dawn said evenly as she lowered her sunglasses and gazed around the room distastefully. "We're not actually staying here, are we, Buffy?"
"No," Buffy said quickly. "We'll find a hotel. This is Las Vegas after all. I think there are about a thousand to choose from."
"Hello, grown man having a panic attack here!" Xander interrupted the casual conversation. "Is there anyone here who can tell me what's going on or at least get me a paper bag to breathe into?"
He plopped back onto the old couch, sending a plume of dust up into the air.
Faith walked back into the room and sat down on the same chair she'd been sat on earlier, the perfect picture of relaxation once again despite the ball of nerves in her stomach.
"Sorry Xan, didn't mean to leave ya hanging. Lotsa excitement though, yunno? Anyhow, me and Andy were checkin' the place out and bam! We find Anya in the cupboard. The Powers That Be sent her here to help me out," Faith explained.
"What?" Buffy asked, surprised. "The Powers sent you a liaison? They never sent me anything. Not even a bouquet when I was, yunno . . . dead. Twice. Heck, they didn't even like to cooperate with me."
"Guess they figured ya didn't need the help. You had your own team of helper monkeys."
"Hey, I resent that!" Xander said. "And I'm still a little bit confused here. If Anya's alive again, where did she go? "
"She's non-corporeal," Faith answered. "Can't touch her, and she pretty much can't touch anything yet, but she's learning. Saw for yourself what happened when she lost her focus."
"No touching?" Xander asked.
"No touching," Faith confirmed. "Get all the horny fantasies outta your head right now, Xanman. She's strictly hands off, literally."
Xander looked disappointed to say the least. Though he promised himself he'd not get his hopes up when Giles had mentioned Anya, he'd gone right ahead and done so anyhow. There was so much about the past that he regretted. He loved Anya so much, but he had let his insecurities pull them apart.
He'd gotten a bit of a chance to make amends with her before they left Sunnydale, but he felt like they never got the closure they needed. They'd deserved a second chance together and were quite possibly headed in that direction, but they never did get that chance. Anya was cut down in the battle against the First, leaving Xander feeling empty, incomplete, and full of regret.
He'd spent a lot of his time since then wishing for a do-over, for a chance to make things right. Despite his best efforts to play it cool and not get his hopes up, they soared high as the sky as soon as Giles had mentioned that Anya was back in some form or another.
Understandably, it was a bit of a letdown for him to find out that yes, Anya was back, but that she was -- for all intents and purposes -- a ghost.
Seeing his downtrodden expression, Buffy walked over and sat down gingerly next to him, placing a caring hand on his shoulder.
"We knew this was a possibility, Xander. We talked about what we might find when we got here."
"I know," Xander said with a nod, his one good eye downcast. "It's just . . . I got my hopes up, Buff. Then I walked in here and saw her sitting down on this very couch, looking so beautiful and real. My heart just about stopped. I don't know; guess I just thought maybe things were going to work out for a change."
"I know," Buffy said sadly. "When she's back from, well, wherever she went to, I'm sure she'd love to talk to you. I think there's a lot that was left unsaid."
"Yeah," Xander said, trying to pull himself together. He looked over at Andrew then. "Any idea when she's coming back?"
"It might be a while," Andrew said. "I tried telling her that the lizard didn't touch her with her current state of non-corporeal-ness, but she made threats and went anyway. I figured it was safer for me to just let her go."
Xander half grinned then.
"That's Anya. No one messes with her hair except for pre-approved stylists."
"Well," Buffy interrupted, "since we have some time to kill, maybe it would be wise to find a place to stay."
"Plan on staying a while then?" Faith asked.
Buffy smiled. "It's Vegas, Faith. I plan on living it up a bit before I turn around and go back home to . . ."
"Nothing. Before you go back home to nothing," Dawn interrupted. "You need a job, or a hobby or something. You were all gung-ho about retiring, and now that you are you're bored and driving me insane. No slaying and no job for Buffy make Dawn go crazy."
Faith couldn't help but smile. So Buffy wasn't quite enjoying her retirement, or at least it would seem that way. She knew that slaying ran through Buffy's veins. As much as Buffy could try to suppress it to live a normal life, the slayer was alive and kicking within her, just as it was in Faith.
It was only a matter of time until Buffy came to grips with that and returned to doing what she was meant to do.
What that meant for Faith, well . . . she wasn't sure. It was nice to have people in her corner this time around, but she was almost positive that if Buffy came back into the game, they'd all flock to her side again.
So much for the ghostly liaison and donut-fetching geek.
Whatever, she thought. It wasn't like she'd never done things on her own before.
Still, if Buffy was determined to live a slayer-free life, Faith was determined to give her just that. If some kind of supernatural shit hit the fan during their visit, Faith would keep it under wraps and take care of it on her own.
She shook her head and focused on the conversation at hand, which had taken an amusing turn.
"Yeah, well stupid comments and out-of-line siblings turn Buffy into a frugal tourist. Maybe we can just stay here. You can use the lizard as a pillow," Buffy commented with a grin.
Dawn took the bait, however, and immediately changed her tune.
"Fine, fine. You don't make me insane, Buffy. Really, I'm the picture of perfect sanity. Look up the word ‘sanity' in a dictionary and you'll see a picture of my smiling face next to it. Now, how about we check out the Bellagio? I hear it's beautiful inside and out and that it has the best shopping center."
"On our budget? I don't think so, Dawnie," Buffy replied.
Dawn looped her arm through Buffy's and steered her out the door, talking a mile a minute about hotels and fares.
Their voices got quieter and quieter as they walked away from the building. Faith finally turned around to find a still distraught looking Xander on the couch.
"Hey . . . you okay?" she asked him, squatting down in front of him to meet his gaze.
He looked up at her, sadness written across his face.
"No, but I can pretend," he said with a sad smile.
"Listen, you don't have to go and play happy. I'll take the girls around and find a place for you guys to stay. I can play happy hostess for a while. You stay here and wait for Anya if you want. She'll probably end up back here looking for us."
Xander sighed, relieved.
"Thanks, Faith. Wasn't sure how long I'd be able to keep the happy face on for."
"Forget about it," Faith said, standing up and dusting her hands off on her pants. "You got my number if you need us. I'll even take Andrew off your back for a while."
Xander smiled softly and nodded, then went back to staring at some random point on the floor. She took his keys from the cushion next to him and grabbed Andrew's shirt sleeve, pulling him along with her.
"Great, I've been dying to visit the strip again. There's this place inside the Aladdin, they have the best cheeseburgers . . ."
"That's great, thanks for the info, Andy, but I've got other plans for you," Faith interrupted with a smile. She let go of Andrew's shirt and continued walking toward the car while Andrew stopped walking and looked painfully after her.
"So . . . no cheeseburgers then?"
"I can't believe you left him at a car lot," Buffy said as she looked out the window of Xander's car, her sunglasses hiding her amusement.
"Yunno what? You're probably right. Let's go back and get him," Faith replied easily and made like she was about to turn the car around
"No!" Came the simultaneous response from Buffy and Dawn.
"That's what I thought," Faith grinned.
"But are you sure you trust him to pick out your car?" Dawn asked. "I mean, you could end up with a total guy car."
"Or the Starship Enterprise," Buffy quipped, the corners of her lips fixed in a permanent smile.
Faith kept her focus on the road but she couldn't help but notice how much more Buffy was smiling. Retirement, even though it was boring her, was doing Buffy good, and for some crazy reason it was making Faith equally happy.
"Shit, I don't care what the hell he gets me so long as it's not all beat up or, yunno . . . pink. Just needs to get me from point A to point B. Besides, I told him if he picks out a lemon he's payin' for it outta his own pocket. I gave him the basics, he'll handle it."
"You sure are giving him lots of credit," Dawn said from the back seat.
"Yeah, well . . . guess there's no reason why I shouldn't. He's a smart kid. Can't keep him on the short bus just cos he's a geek. And he totally handled the real estate stuff with Giles."
"Yeah, I guess," Dawn agreed.
They settled into a comfortable silence as they made their way down a very traffic filled and congested Las Vegas Blvd. Quiet music filtered throughout the car and Faith couldn't be sure, but she thought she heard Buffy humming along quietly.
"Seems like you're diggin' this whole retirement thing," she began. "The whole happy thing suits you."
Buffy thought about it for a moment before responding.
"I don't think I'm used to not being in crisis mode every other day, but it's nice to get a break. Definitely a different change of pace."
"Well if anyone deserves a break, it's you, I'll give ya that much," Faith said.
"Thanks," Buffy said quietly, looking back out the window. "How about that one?" she asked Dawn as she pointed toward the Paris hotel.
"No, the Bellagio, Buffy," Dawn answered as she pointed at the much more glamorous and elegant hotel just across the street.
"Dawn, we spent three weeks in Italy and you complained the whole time. Why waste our money on a place you've already seen? Let's stay at Paris or The Luxor. Hey, New York New York has a roller coaster. You love roller coasters," Buffy tried to reason.
Dawn leaned forward into the front seat and pointed toward a long drive.
"Pull in there, Faith."
Faith chuckled to herself and made the quick turn into the entrance of the Bellagio. Buffy sighed while Dawn bounced around in excitement.
"I can't believe you let her get her way," Buffy grumbled at Faith.
"Hey, far be it from me to deny anything to a Summers girl. Not stepping in front of that firing squad, thanks," Faith replied easily.
They pulled up to the front entrance and a handsome valet jogged over as they stepped out of the car.
"Welcome to the Bellagio, ladies."
"Thank you," Dawn said with a coy smile.
Buffy and Faith watched in amusement as Dawn strutted around as enticingly as she could manage while maneuvering her heavy bags. The valet, however, couldn't take his eyes off of Faith as she handed him the keys.
"Thanks buddy," she said as she walked away toward the front doors casually, ignoring the glare that Dawn was sending her way.
"So not fair, he didn't even give me a second look," Dawn grumbled as she followed with her arms crossed over her chest.
Faith caught Buffy's gaze for a split second before quickly looking back to Dawn.
"Sorry kiddo, but hey. . . he's not exactly my type. He's all yours."
She didn't explain any further. Instead, she walked across the lobby and to the check in area with Buffy and Dawn following closely behind her.
Buffy stepped forward and up to the desk when an attendant called her over. She booked a room for three days but told the clerk that that was only an estimated time; that they might stay longer or shorter depending on how the visit went.
Faith took special note of that; though she appreciated that they seemed to be there for vacation, she wondered exactly what might cause Buffy to want to leave early. Maybe she needed to have Andrew parade around quoting Star Trek for a while.
Then again, she didn't want Buffy to kill the guy, so she decided to keep that idea quiet at least for the time being.
With key cards in hand, the three girls made their way through the seemingly endless casino and towards the guest elevators.
"Why the heck do they keep the elevators so far from the lobby?" Dawn asked as she struggled to carry her heavy duffel bag.
Faith grabbed the bag from Dawn and easily flung it over her shoulder as they trekked along.
"It's just another way to con more money outta the guests. You're headed back to your room, walkin through the casino ooh-in and ahh-in, and ya hear all those slot machines chiming away and see some random Joe jumping around like an idiot cos he just won five hundred bucks. Makes ya wanna try your own luck."
"How do you know that?" Dawn asked.
"Growin up in Boston, I spent a lotta time with my mom's parents. They were gambling fiends, used to drive us back and forth to Atlantic City a lot. Got to learn the tricks of the trade early on."
"How old were you?" Dawn asked.
"'Bout seven or eight," Faith said with a shrug. "It was like a six hour drive – five the way my Gramps drove – but I was this little ball of energy. Used to drive them crazy on the ride. So my Gramps, he used to give me a shot of Brandy when my Grams wasn't looking. I'd pass out dead to the world after ten minutes."
"That's . . . disturbing," Dawn said and laughed.
"Nah, it's . . ." Faith began to explain but stopped when she noticed Buffy was missing. "B?"
Leave it to Buffy to be absent during the first time that Faith decided to open up about her past. Both Dawn and Faith turned around to see Buffy at a slot machine, eyes excited as she pulled the lever back. She smiled all big as the machine started chiming.
"I won!" Buffy exclaimed.
The two girls walked over casually to find that Buffy had won a whopping $20. Still, it didn't stop Buffy from jumping around excitedly.
Dawn rolled her eyes and said quietly enough so that only Faith could hear:
"She needs a shot of Brandy, stat."
After settling their items in their hotel room and checking the place out, Buffy and Dawn conned Faith into touring the strip a bit before heading back to Xander. Buffy had called Xander and asked if he wanted to join them, but he was intent on waiting for Anya to make her reappearance and urged them to go on without him.
Faith didn't have much choice but to tag along with Buffy and Dawn. She called Andrew who was busy wheeling and dealing at the car lot and informed him of the plans. He happily agreed to meet her back at their new place later that night but made sure to let her know that he'd make an excellent tour guide if she changed her mind.
The girls weaved in and out of the constant crowds of people, taking time to check out every street vendor and performer that they could, all while avoiding the guys handing out escort and stripper pamphlets as best as they could.
Dawn made a game of it at first, taking every flier and pamphlet that they handed her, but Buffy eventually made her throw them out when people began to stare at the rather large collection of naked girly literature.
They made their way past Caesar's Palace and the Mirage, stopping only to rest when Buffy and Dawn complained that they'd worn the wrong shoes.
After more complaining than Faith could take, she suggested that they hop on one of the passenger busses and step off when they found something they wanted to see. Buffy and Dawn were more than happy to do so, both girls rubbing their sore feet as the bus moved along.
They soon found themselves in an area with most of the older, less glamorous hotels. None of the girls made any move to get off of the bus as nothing there seemed incredibly appealing to them. They figured that they'd wait for the bust to turn around so that they could head back toward the newer, more popular area.
Just as Faith decided that there was nothing worth seeing on their side of the street, she noticed an old woman walking around on the sidewalk in some glitzy, ridiculous showgirl attire, trying her damnedest to get the attention of the passersby. Most of the people walking along ignore her, however, dismissing her as yet another crazy homeless person.
But not Faith. She could tell that something was off.
Without thinking, she stepped off the side of the slow moving bus and made her way toward the old lady. Buffy and Dawn yelled after her but when she didn't stop, they hopped off too, groaning about their sore feet.
The old woman noticed Faith walking towards her and how she kept eye contact, looking concerned. She immediately made her way over, her hands clinging to Faith's arm as she pleaded with her.
"You have to help me!" the old woman pleaded.
"What happened?" Faith asked, concerned but puzzled at the same time.
"He's got them. He's got them all!" she explained, leaving Faith even more in the dark.
"Who's he, and what does he got?" Faith asked, trying her best to sound soothing.
Buffy and Dawn came jogging up behind Faith, wondering exactly what the hell was going on.
"Mr. Deacon," the old woman said exasperatedly. "He has my friends and he won't let them go. Had me too, but I outsmarted his security. Took me almost forty years but I did it! We have to help them, oh please . . . you have to help us!"
"We will. I . . . I will," Faith corrected herself. She didn't bother to address Buffy's semi-irritated look. Instead, she took the old lady's arm and led her toward a small diner nearby.
Faith was sat next to the old woman, Kitty, at a small round table with Buffy and Dawn sat on the opposite side, listening closely to her tale.
"It was the 1960's when I came to Las Vegas. So long ago that I forget the exact year," Kitty began her tale. "The Rat Pack, they were the big deal then. This place was nothing more than a dust trap before them, but they turned things around. Made Las Vegas an entertainment destination. I was just a poor girl from South Dakota, but I had dreams. I wanted to see my name in lights. We watched a television special with Frank Sinatra singing in Caesar's Palace and he had the most beautiful, elegant dancers. I knew then that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to dance for Frank Sinatra."
Kitty paused to take a sip of her coffee, her wrinkled hands clasped tightly around the warm mug.
"So, I bought a bus ticket and headed here to start my new life. I was going to be the best dancer in the lot. But what I didn't know was that thousands of young girls across America had seen that same program and had the same idea in mind. When I got here, there were girls up and down the streets, standing in lines for auditions. I wasn't kidding myself; I knew I wasn't good enough to compete with them. That's when I saw an ad for cocktail waitresses at the hotel you saw me outside of back there. I went in, had an interview, and I was the newest addition to their staff."
"So what happened?" Faith asked, nervously fiddling with her own coffee mug.
"Well, I did what I was supposed to and I did it well, but I'd always sneak off to watch the dancers in the theater. They were graceful, almost magical. So beautiful, so youthful, so elegant. Mr. Deacon, the owner of the hotel, he'd been watching me. He pulled me into his office one evening and I begged him up and down to spare my job. I promised I'd never sneak off to watch the dancers again. He wasn't mad though. In fact, he was very friendly. He told me that I had what so many people lacked: aspiration, ambition. When he offered me a contract to be a dancer, I hastily accepted it and signed away, anxious at the new opportunity. That's when it all began to change."
"What changed?" Dawn asked.
Kitty smiled sadly as she gazed into her cup of coffee.
"Everything. He put my name in lights. I didn't think anything of it. I danced better than I ever had, had more fans than I could ever imagine. It was wonderful. But something wasn't right. He kept the dancers in the hotel, ordering us to live in staff quarters. We weren't allowed to leave, but we daren't say anything to him; after all, he gave us such a great opportunity. Years went by and we became miserable. We were prisoners there, held by our dreams and desire to make it big."
"Didn't you ever stop to wonder why he wouldn't let ya leave?" Faith asked.
"Well, yes, of course. We couldn't ask though. It would have been insubordinate, and we'd signed contracts of our own free will. So, the years started to pass and times started to change, but . . . we didn't. The same people came and went, and they grew older, but . . . we didn't. It was magic. We kept our youth so that we could keep Mr. Deacon open for business and making money. No one but us noticed, but no one would listen. Customers came and went, but Mr. Deacon was smart; he'd always change the lead girl, the headliner, so the focus wasn't solely on one of us."
"How did you get past security?" Buffy finally chimed in, concentrating on every detail.
"I climbed into a laundry bin and housekeeping wheeled me into the basement. Once I was there I saw a delivery lift and I climbed out through it and into the back alley. And that's when . . ." Kitty stopped and looked down at her wrinkled, slightly shaking hands. She was unable to speak, clearly distraught at seeing herself aged almost forty years.
"It's okay," Buffy said softly, lightly touching Kitty's hand with her own. "We're going to help you."
"I hope you can, but he's so powerful," Kitty said sadly. "He's not human. I never knew people like him existed, but they do."
"Gonna let you in on a little secret," Faith said with a small grin as she leaned in closer to Kitty. "Me and B here? We're powerful too. Now B, she's retired, but I'm thinkin' that I can take care of your friend Mr. Deacon. I have a friend who can find out . . ."
"Quit telling people I'm retired," Buffy interrupted. "I'm here and I can help. With the both of us on this, we can just get in there and . . ."
"I don't think so," Faith interrupted this time. "You're here on vacation, B, and I'm not about to get blamed for making you do un-retirey things. I've got a hand on it from here. You and Dawn go get Andrew, ask him to find out what kind of demon this guy is . . ."
"Demon?" Kitty asked, confused.
"Oh no, I am NOT teaming up with Andrew. I'm a slayer, Faith . . ."
"You were, and now you're Buffy Normal. Not lettin' ya change that cos ya happened to be in the wrong place at the right time," Faith cut her off. "Now go and get Andy . . ."
". . . or don't, and instead listen to Dawn," Dawn interrupted now. "The demon is a time shifter. He can hold time still in any given space. Time goes on, but he can hold things – and people – in a given time or state. Looks like this guy is a greedy time shifter that wanted a share in the big bucks, which is why he held all of the pretty young dancers there all these years. Speaking of pretty young dancers, I also think you're dealing with a bit of a perv."
Buffy and Faith stopped their bickering back and forth and looked at Dawn. Kitty just looked completely puzzled.
"You sure about that, kid?" Faith asked, standing up from the table and fishing in her pocket for some money.
"Definitely. You don't live in slayer central for all those years without learning a bit about the baddies," Dawn answered.
"Good. You guys stay here with Kitty . . ."
"Absolutely not," Buffy interrupted and stood up. "Like it or not I'm in this too. We go, we slay, we . . ."
"Simmer down B, this isn't your game," Faith said sternly. "You wanna be the boss? Join the Council. You wanna help me out? Fine, I see you're all up on the helping front no matter what I say or do. But you're not slaying, no way no how. You can be bait."
For a moment Buffy looked angry, but she realized that Faith was right. No matter how much admitting that to herself made her cringe on the inside, it was true. Her features changed from anger to concern.
Faith plonked another quarter into the old-fashioned slot machine, paying it no attention whatsoever as she looked past it and at the greasy middle-aged man who was busy interviewing Brittany at a cocktail table. Or should she say Buffy?
"Well," Buffy began, playing the role of an ambitious young airhead just perfectly, "I've always loved serving people. And I totally love the cute little outfits the waitresses get to wear. I think working here would be a great opportunity for me while I focus on my dream."
Mr. Deacon, the greasy-middle aged man who was busy leering at ‘Brittany' in the most unnerving way ever, instantly perked up then.
"Dream? And what's your dream, sugar?" he asked as he rested his hand on Buffy's knee.
She fought back the urge to vomit, knowing that she had to stay in character.
Faith noticed Deacon's hand and almost stood from her inconspicuous spot behind the slot machine, but instead she took a slow drink from her bottle of beer and bided her time.
"Well . . . I want to be a dancer," Buffy said, an excited smile on her face. "I want my name written in lights as big as the strip!" she squealed excitedly.
Faith began to choke on her beer, nearly spitting it out all over herself. Mr. Deacon looked over in her direction, but she quickly recovered and went back to feeding quarters into the slot machine. Mr. Deacon looked back at Buffy, a devilish smile on his face.
"Brittany, I have to tell you: You're too good to be a cocktail waitress. I look at you and I see . . . potential. I think I have something better suited for you."
"Oh?" Buffy asked, playing coy.
"Yes. Yes I do. Brittany, let's you and I go for a walk. I think that we might be able to catch our dancers in a rehearsal. Maybe you can suit up, show me what you've got. As it stands, we lost a dancer earlier today and we need a replacement a.s.a.p."
With a completely fake smile plastered on her face, Buffy stood up and followed Mr. Deacon through the casino and toward the theater doors. Faith stood up and followed far behind, making sure to stop at random spots along the way, even fetching herself another beer from the bar. She couldn't have it look like she was following the owner of the casino around. Surely security would pick her out fast if they'd thought she was.
Instead, she took her time, reminding herself again and again that Buffy could take care of herself.
Still, she worried despite herself.
About ten minutes had passed when Faith finally made it to the theater doors. Buffy had been out of sight, out of contact for ten minutes now. Faith knew she should be cautious and go slow, but a protective feeling engulfed her and she had to know that Buffy was alright.
Just as she was about to walk through the double doors, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She spun around to see Dawn standing there with a scared looking Kitty at her side.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" Faith asked as she ushered them off to the side, hoping to keep them away from anyone who might notice Kitty.
Then again, that might be difficult as she went from looking like a 20-something girl to a 60-something woman in the same day.
"I called Andrew to see if he could confirm my thoughts on the time shifter demon. For the record, I was right," Dawn explained.
Faith gave her an exasperated look and signaled for her to continue quickly.
"He says that the source of his power will be in his instrument of conscription."
"In English?" Faith asked.
"His pen. You've gotta get his pen."
Faith smiled. "Right. So, I find his pen, smash it up, and poof no more demon? Shit, easiest slay ever."
"Sounds like," Dawn said with a shrug. "Umm, where's Buffy?"
"In the theater," Faith said, nodding to the large double doors. "Was just about to check it out. Guess I can get my slay on now, too."
"Yup. And seeing as that you've got things covered in here, we'll just go back to the diner and wait. Come on, Kitty," Dawn said with a comforting smile, guiding Kitty down a row of slot machines.
After they left, Faith took a look around to make sure no one was watching before slipping cautiously through the large double doors.
Her entrance went unnoticed in the mostly dark theater, as the music playing in the theater covered the small clang of the doors closing. She slipped into the back row of chairs and slid down so that only her head was visible. Looking over the rows of chairs, she saw about twenty girls on the stage, all dancing uniformly to the music. They wore smiles on their faces, but Faith could see the anguish beneath their cheery façade.
She knew that she had to free them.
The music, almost trance-like in nature, continued to play through the theater as a new dancer made her way on stage. She was dressed like the others, but Faith didn't quite get the same Stepford Wives vibe from her.
It was Buffy.
She watched as Buffy observed the other dancers, trying to commit as much of their dance to memory as she could. After a few minutes, Buffy began to move with them in the dance, every step as graceful and elegant as the other dancers if not more so.
As Buffy bent and swayed to the music, Faith couldn't take her eyes from her lithe body. The way her muscles flexed under her skin, the way her hair tickled across her shoulders and danced across her back with every twist and turn.
Faith was mesmerized. She'd never seen something so beautiful, so alluring, and so completely and totally taboo from thinking about. Letting herself think about Buffy in non friend-like ways would only lead to badness down the line. Badness that would lead to her going crazy and through a downward spiral. Again.
Faith shook her head and looked down at her lap, almost ashamed at herself for having such thoughts. She had a job to do. Things to make right. She looked back up and saw Mr. Deacon standing on the side of the stage with a clipboard under his arm and a very prominent pen in his front pocket.
Steeling herself, she was just about to stand up so she could get things done when she heard the theater doors open. Two large security guards walked in escorting a visibly shaken Kitty and Dawn.
"Boss," one of the guards yelled, "look what we found."
Mr. Deacon turned and smiled evilly.
"Kitty. Welcome back, darling. We've missed you."
All of the dancers stopped and faced the commotion, pure shock written across their faces when they saw their long time friend in her current state.
"I'm not staying, you can't make me!" Kitty yelled as she struggled in the big security man's arms. "I've got friends who are helping me!"
Mr. Deacon just chuckled.
"Yeah? Well, what are you waiting for, Kitty? Introduce me. I'd love to meet these friends!"
Faith smirked to herself as she finally stood from her hiding position.
"Look what the Kitty dragged in," she said as she casually strode down the aisle, making her way toward the stage.
"This is your savior?" Deacon asked Kitty. "Really?"
Buffy took that opportunity to announce her true presence by upper-cutting Deacon on the jaw. He barely flinched and sent Buffy flying across the room in response. She landed in a heap against a cinderblock wall and lay there in a stupor, barely noticing the few dancers that ran over to check on her.
Dawn shrieked and tried to run over to Buffy's aid but the guard just held her back and laughed at her struggling.
Faith, on the other hand, leaped up on the stage and stood so she was face to face with Mr. Deacon.
"You wanna try that shit with me?" she asked menacingly.
Mr. Deacon just laughed before backhanding Faith across the face. She faltered and nearly toppled over, but quickly regained her balance after colliding into him. When she finally stood face to face with him, she had a big smirk on her face.
"Ooh, we've got a live one here, fellas," Deacon teased. "Sweetie, I've got a death warrant with your name on it."
"Guess all I've gotta do is sign it, huh," Faith teased back as she produced an ornate looking pen from her hands. She wiped the blood that was slowly trickling from her nose and smiled in satisfaction at the surprised look on Deacon's face. She smiled even bigger when she cracked the pen clear in two right before his very eyes. "Oops! A little tip, Deaky: never keep the important stuff in your front pocket. Someone with a history of pick-pocketing could take that shit right from under your nose."
Though Mr. Deacon surely looked perturbed, he was still very whole and not making with a puff of smoke dramatic final exit. He fixed his dangerous gaze on Faith and stepped toward her, magic sparking in the air all around him. Faith quickly got into fighting stance and looked down quickly at Dawn.
"I thought you said poof and he's gone!"
"I never said that, you did!" Dawn defended.
"Why the hell are we trusting me all of the sudden?"
Panic setting in as Mr. Deacon approached her, Faith lunged forward with both shards of the broken pen in her hand. She slammed her hands down, hoping to whomever was listening that she'd at least stun the guy so that Dawn could make a clean getaway. The shards landed right in Deacon's eyes, leaving him a twitchy mess on the floor before he finally stilled and poofed into thin air.
Magic began crackling in the air as the clipboard that Mr. Deacon was holding became engulfed in flames. The small pile of papers that were under the clip crackled and popped and turned into a million particles of fine dust.
The two guards, bewildered and scared, took off up the aisle and out the theater doors, leaving the group of women there to fend for themselves. There was nothing to ward off, however, except for a gold-tinted wind that swept over the dancers, tickling their skin and stealing their breaths before vanishing off to nowhere.
It took a moment or two for the women to collect themselves before they'd realized what had happened.
Their contracts had burned up. Mr. Deacon was dead.
They were free.
Faith wanted to stop and look at their excited faces, but instead she found herself at Buffy's side, checking her over.
"Hey, you okay?" Faith asked as she helped Buffy to her feet.
Buffy swayed back and forth for a moment, but she eventually got her bearings and smiled, embarrassed.
"Yeah. Guess I wasn't quite on my game there."
"My bad too. We shoulda known the guy had some wicked mojo. Coulda been better prepared," Faith admitted.
"Doesn't matter now," Buffy said with a smile. "You saved the day. Can't really complain."
She looked over Faith's shoulder to see Kitty standing there with her friends, who had all reverted to their proper ages. Seeing her smile, Faith turned around to see the smiling faces.
"Guess that means this is turning into an all senior revue, huh," Faith chuckled, earning a playful hit on the arm from Kitty.
"I don't know how you girls did it, but . . . thank you. Thank you so much, from all of us. We don't quite know how to thank you."
"You don't have to," Faith said with a smile. "Get out there and see the world. You've been stuck here long enough."
Most of the women offered up their final thanks and turned around to leave, but Kitty stood there for a moment longer, unable to express her appreciation enough.
"You girls make an excellent team," she said fondly. "Thank you, again."
Buffy and Faith looked at one another for a brief moment before hobbling off the stage together, letting Kitty help them along the way.
Dawn was left standing there in the theater, her hands on her hips.
"Doesn't anyone think people are gonna find it a little bit weird to see twenty old chicks walking around dressed up like show girls?"
The girls took a cab ride back to the Bellagio where they cleaned up and showered before heading back to Faith's place in Xander's car. It was nearly dark by the time they returned, but they could see lights on from the inside, a sure sign that Xander was still hanging around.
They opened the door to find him in the exact place they'd left him earlier in the day, but Andrew was sat at his side now yapping away.
Faith dragged Andrew into the area that was to be her office and closed the rotted door so that they could have some privacy.
"How'd it go?" she asked him as she leaned back against a decrepit old desk.
"The mission was a success. I narrowed it down to a Black Ford Escape or a Red Jeep Grand Cherokee. You can go there tomorrow and . . ."
"Just order up the Escape and let me know when I've gotta sign the papers. Now, uh . . . how's Xander doing? Any word from Anya yet?" she asked, quickly changing the subject.
"Xander said that she shimmered in, got a little bit freaked, and left. I'm sure that she'll show up again soon."
And as if on cue, Anya shimmered in and nearly stumbled through a wall but instead slipped through Andrew and caught her balance. Andrew stood up straight and wrapped his arms around himself.
"I feel a little bit violated," he said.
"Yes, well . . . try having a lizard make his home in your hair and then see how you feel," Anya replied. She turned to Faith and noticed the bruises on her face. "Or try feeling like she looks."
"Thanks Ahn, nice to see you too," Faith said with a smile. "Where the hell have you been? Xander's been waiting here all day just tryin to catch a glimpse of you and ya go MIA?"
"Well what was I supposed to do? ‘Hi honey! Here, let's have hugs and sex. Oh wait, you can't touch me!' Be real, Faith."
"I am real, Anya. Ignoring it doesn't make the problem go away. You need to deal with it," Faith explained.
"No I don't," Anya said, crossing her arms over her chest. "And stop being so reasonable, it's unnerving!"
"Do what ya want, but it's not gonna go away forever," Faith said before walking out of the room, leaving Anya and Andrew behind.
Andrew looked at Anya before quickly following Faith, leaving Anya completely alone. It wasn't long before Xander figured out what was going on, though, and stuck his head in the room to see for himself.
"This where you've been the whole time?" He joked as he walked into the small space.
"Well, no. I was hiding, of course. This is awkward and I was trying to avoid it." Xander couldn't help but smile at Anya's frankness.
"God, I've missed you," he admitted. "The way you speak, the things you say . . . everything."
"I know. I'm quite exceptional, aren't I?"
"I . . . I never got to say goodbye, Anya," he said sadly. "You were there, and then you were gone. There were things I wanted to say, wanted to do . . . I was too scared."
"I know you were," she said quietly. "But I was too. We're both to blame for what happened in our past, Xander. Maybe you more than me, but . . . yes, we both had blame."
"I wish we could start over again. I would . . . I'd never take a single minute for granted. I'd give you everything you ever wanted," he said as he took a step closer to her. Unconsciously he reached up to touch her face, but his hand went right through her.
Anya shook her head, disappointed.
"As appealing as that sounds, we can't. I'm a ghost. A bad one at that. I fall through couches and floors, and lizards are attracted to my ghostly hair."
"I know, but . . ." he began, but Anya cut him off.
"No but's, Xander. There's no future for us, not like this. We need to accept that and move on," she said. She tried to sound as even as possible, but her emotions came out in the end and her voice hitched in her throat. Trying to hide the small slip up, she turned around and faced the wall, her arms crossed over her chest.
Xander reached out to touch her shoulder but pulled his had back as he realized he'd not be able to. A single tear rolled down his cheek as he turned around and made his way out of the room.
He wiped the tear away before the others saw him, but he knew they could tell how upset he was.
Faith was sitting on a chair with a few of the estimates for renovation that Giles had arranged before he left. Buffy and Dawn had been sitting on the old couch, but they quickly stood when they saw him coming.
"Hey," Buffy said, walking over to him. "How did it go?"
"Not so good," he answered honestly. "She can't . . . nothing can happen. I have nothing without her. I get to go back to LA to nothing."
"That's not true, you have us," Dawn said, walking up and resting her head on his chest.
He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her gently, patting her back as he sniffled one last time.
"I sure do. I just wish . . . yeah. I just wish," he stopped himself there. "Listen, you crazy kids stay and have fun; I'll even leave you my car. I'm gonna hop a bus back to LA."
"What? No," Buffy said. "Stay with us. There's so much to do. We can't make things better, but we can at least try to help distract you. Excalibur has a Steak buffet for $ 21.95."
Xander laughed, but he wasn't falling for it.
"I appreciate it, Buffster, I really do. But then someone would think I was an actor from the Treasure Island pirate show and I'd have to sign autographs, and then I'd get famous and forget all of you. Couldn't do that to ya," he quipped.
Buffy smiled, but she could tell he was just covering up his pain.
"Are you sure you won't stay?"
"Yeah," he said with a nod. "There's nothing for me here."
Faith had watched the entire show play out before her, listening intently the whole time. She looked down at the estimates in her hands, then quickly and quietly crumpled them up and tossed them into another room.
As Xander hugged Buffy and Dawn goodbye and made his way to the door, she stood up and stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey Xan, I know my timing sucks and stuff, but I need a favor. See, I got this place now but I can't find any contractors willing to come out here and fix it up. They're too busy working on the big casino projects. Think you might be able to stick around, lend a bit of your construction guy expertise?"
Xander looked around the dilapidated old room and titled his head before looking back at Faith, a small smile on his face.
He'd been there earlier in the day when two contractors had come by, measuring things and leaving their quotes behind.
With a slight nod, he smiled and said:
"Yeah. I can do that."
"You sure? I mean, I don't wanna inconvenience ya or anything. It's a tough job and it needs lotsa work, but . . ."
"No, I'm sure. I think everything's gonna turn out just fine."
Meanwhile across town, three young men were headed back to their hotel after a long evening at a sport club. They'd had a few drinks and forgot to hit the bathroom on the way out of the club, so they sidetracked into an alley to relieve themselves.
As they stood there competing with one another about who could pee the longest and the furthest, a thick black smoke crept out from the darkness and began to twist and turn on top of the building next to them, transforming into a dapperly dressed gentleman with a large amulet embedded in his chest through his pinstriped suit.
The gentleman's eyes glowed red as he watched them, his fingers flexing and curling as he adjusted to his new form.
After a moment he ran his fingertips over the amulet and some of the black smoke spilled out. It twisted and turned and made its way down to the three guys in the alley, creeping into their bodies without them even knowing. Within the blink of an eye all three men stood up straight and sneered at one another, almost feral in nature.
As if in perfect synchronicity, they ran out of the alley and back onto the sidewalk, stumbling upon a middle-aged man walking alone. They surrounded him and laughed maniacally before diving upon him, kicking and punching and generally pummeling him into submission. When the man was nothing but a quivering mess lying prostrate on the ground, they stood up and took off, ready to find their next victim.
The dapper gentleman on the roof smiled and laughed before turning back into smoke and vanishing into the night once again.
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