Previously on Walk The Line:
Faith finally spoke up, her gaze off in the distance somewhere.
"Whoever said 'the hardest thing is saying goodbye' got it totally wrong."
"They did?" he asked tentatively.
"Yeah. Try never gettin to say goodbye at all."
Andrew paced in front of the newly installed bay window, anxiously looking back and forth between the empty driveway and the clock. Xander was busy cutting pieces of trim moulding at the table saw, but even he now and again glanced from Andrew up to the clock.
The sun was setting, which meant almost another whole day had passed without hearing from Faith.
"Might as well go and give yourself a break, Andrew," Xander said after he turned the loud saw off. "You'll make big with the crazy if you keep playing the waiting game."
Andrew turned and looked at Xander, then went over and flomped down on the plastic-covered sofa that had been delivered the day before.
"The waiting game sucks. Scrabble is so much better."
Xander chuckled despite himself.
"I don't think Faith would appreciate it if she came back and found us in the middle of a backbreaking Scrabble battle."
"If she comes back," Andrew added weakly.
"She will," Xander affirmed quietly, fumbling around with the stained wood pieces in his hands. "She's been here to sleep, we know that much. Whatever grief she's feeling . . . let her get it out of her system. When she's ready, she'll be back to herself."
"If this is what grieving looks like, I'd hate to see anger. She made that wall look like a giant piece of Swiss cheese before she snuck out yesterday," Andrew said, nodding over at the newly plastered wall closest to her office.
Xander looked at the wall, then back to Andrew.
"Believe me when I say that you do not want to see Faith angry. There's Leatherface angry. There's Freddy Krueger angry. And then there's Faith angry. It's a whole new brand of scary. I don't suggest being around for that."
"Being around for what?" came a gruff voice from the front door as it opened slowly to reveal a battle-worn Faith. Bruises and scrapes marred her exposed arms and face, her tank-top nearly shredded to bits.
"Whatever war you just fought in," Andrew replied, his face scrunched up in concern as he took in Faith's appearance. "I thought Las Vegas was a relatively neutral zone, all tucked away safely within the U.S."
"Holy monkey!" Xander exclaimed as Faith turned around to hang up her car keys on a hook, showing a large gash across the back of her right shoulder. "I could be wrong, but I don't think pieces of you are supposed to be hanging off like that."
Faith looked back over her shoulder and noticed the large and gross wound.
"You're probably right. Score one for the Construction Guru," she answered blankly, but quickly changed the subject. "Sorry bout that wall yesterday. You're doin a bang-up job here, Xan, the place looks great. What's the status on the rooms?"
Xander visibly relaxed, though he kept his eyes far from her torn up shoulder. If she was asking about the remodeling, she was likely planning to stay. Besides, he had lots of news to report; her week long absence saw lots accomplished in the way of remodeling, as he and Andrew had been busy focusing on work to stop from worrying about her. They had hired a few laborers as well, so even Xander was pleased with their progress.
"Your bedroom is done but I'm sure you noticed that by now. You can take care of the deco stuff; I didn't trust Anya's suggestions of pink and lilac. Andrew's room is done and he's been doing the deco stuff himself . . ."
"I have a bunk bed in case I ever have friends visit," Andrew chimed in excitedly, but quickly piped down at the questioning look from Faith and Xander.
"One of the guest rooms is nearly done, I just need to finish installing the trim and the light fixture. Your office is done but mostly unfurnished I'll leave that up to you. Bathroom is in full working order thanks to our new plumber friend Guido, and appliances are being delivered for the kitchen tomorrow. Only room left is the last guest room. The basement remains a lizard haven. It keeps Anya in line."
Faith's eyebrows raised a bit as she looked at Xander in disbelief. She'd expected the remodeling to take two months, not a handful of weeks.
"Color me impressed. Am I paying you guys overtime?"
Xander smiled a true Xander smile, just happy that Faith seemed to be okay despite her physical condition.
"Andy and I are happy to help, though the laborers did get a base wage. I know we wanted to avoid that, but with Buffy and the Dawnster gone, and . . ." he stopped himself, not wanting to bring up unhappy memories, but it was too late. Faith's face had darkened immediately as he'd stopped speaking.
"No probs, Xan. Pay them what ya gotta, we can swing it." She turned and looked at Andrew, who was grimacing at her wounds still. "When was the last time you ate, Andy?"
Andrew looked up at the clock and thought about it for a moment.
"I'm totally ready for a snack break. I get low blood sugar and it's been about four hours . . ."
"Good," Faith interrupted and tossed him the first aid kit. "Can't have you yakkin your lunch all over me when you're sewin up my shoulder. Let's go."
She turned on her heel and headed for the stairs, leaving a wide-eyed Andrew staring at the first aid kit in his hands. When she was out of sight, Andrew looked up at Xander, nervous.
"What I'm about to admit can scar my wholesome image forever, so I have your word that you won't repeat it? Ever?" At Xander's nod, he continued. "The only class I ever got a 'C' in was Home Ec. The cooking was easy, but they made us sew together these little stuffed toys. My Yoda looked like a full on combat donkey, complete with scars and stitches."
Xander fought the laugh that was trying to escape from his throat as he looked at a truly terrified Andrew.
"Just don't make her look like a donkey and I'm sure it'll be fine," he said, trying his best to be comforting.
"Yo, Andy! You need a special invite? Let's get this freakshow on the road." Faith yelled from upstairs.
Andrew stood, trying his best to control his shaking knees, and made his way solemnly up the stairs, first aid kit clutched tightly in his hands. Xander finally laughed when Andrew was out of earshot.
"Ahn?" he finally called out once he'd finished his laughing.
A shimmer of light filled the room and then Anya was standing there, looking anxious and tired.
"She's back," Xander said, a soft smile on his face.
Anya sighed loudly and nodded, looking much more relaxed.
"I'll let them know."
Without another word, Anya shimmered out like she'd never been there in the first place.
Seventeen stitches and a long, hot shower later, Faith stood in her room, watching her reflection in the large mirror as she got dressed. There were dark circles under her eyes. Her bruises and scratches were in various states of healing. The split lip she'd had was barely noticeable now, similar to the pain from the two ribs she'd broken a few nights before.
When she was finally done dressing, the worst of her mostly-healed wounds covered under her clothing now, she stood as still as can be, unable to move her gaze from her own reflection.
There was no doubt about it in her soul if she still had one, that is she hated herself. Hated everything about who she was, about her decisions, about her ability to get things done and protect those she cared about.
She was resigned to the fact that she'd never be good enough.
Her prison shrink had told her that she needed to get past her own self-hate, as it was the most self-destructive thing in her world, but she couldn't help but to feel it again. She came to Las Vegas for a new start; to make up for her past if that was even possible, and to help people along the way.
But since she arrived, she'd managed to get Robin killed and estrange Buffy yet again. She couldn't see that Robin's decisions had been his own. Couldn't see the good that she'd done. She could only see the glaringly bad; what was staring her back in the face from the broken image in her mirror.
For a week she'd been on a rampage, killing every demon that had crossed her path. She'd lost the control which she held so dearly now. It was like she was back in the same place she was years earlier, pounding on vamps for fun before putting them out of their misery.
There was no fun involved though. She'd had a plan in mind: find out about the new big and bad evil, then find him and kill him. But the local demon population had either been too stupid to give up the info or completely in the dark about his presence, because not a single one of them had given Faith anything useful. Pleas for help, cries of agony, sure. They'd begged, swore vengeance, and eventually gave in to the fact that this crazy, wild-eyed slayer would be their end.
Demon after demon, vampire after vampire fell under the grips of Faith's wrath. After a week of the same deal day after agonizing day . . . Las Vegas was starting to look like a safe place again.
Well, except for the whole violent criminal thing, but Faith had given up the business of killing humans.
None of it had mattered though. Every drop of blood spilled, every bead of sweat shed . . . it was all for nothing. She was no closer to the demon who had killed Robin now than she was a week before. No one had heard of him, and it was as if he'd up and vanished without a trace.
Maybe it was all a dream. Some evil nightmare that played over and over in her mind on a loop. But you were supposed to be able to wake up from nightmares, and Faith was still living in hers day after day.
Faith took a deep breath and sighed, finally lowering her eyes to her body.
Leather pants? Check. Black shirt? Check. Shit-kicker boots? Check.
With her armor in place, she put her tough-girl mask back on and made her way downstairs to face the world again.
All eyes were focused on Faith as she finally made her way into the front room, oblivious to the stares as she checked out the progress they'd made.
"Everything looks killer, Xan. Anything you need me to do?"
She was anxious to busy herself with something anything to take her mind off of all the bad.
"Actually, we were thinking of calling it quits for the day. We've been burning the midnight oil . . . and the morning oil, and the afternoon oil, come to think of it . . . and well, there's supposed to be an oil crisis in the world, right? So we were thinking that the three of us could hit the town, get some grub, see a show, try our chances with Lady Luck. Sound like a plan?"
Faith wanted to be optimistic, but she knew she couldn't go out and have fun when there was a demon out there somewhere turning men into monsters and killing the innocent.
With a fake smile planted firmly in place, she did her best to sound okay.
"That sounds awesome, and I totally think you two should go a live it up. I won't even harass you about the whole man-date thing. We've all been there, done that. Think I'm gonna pass though, if that's cool."
Xander frowned, ignoring Andrew's "See? I told you."
"We'd really like to have you with us, Faith. You need a break. You can't keep running ragged, chasing down whatever demons cross your path. It's sad, and it sucks to no end, but what's done is done. You can't make it better by . . ."
"I'm not trying to change the past, Xan," Faith interrupted, running a hand through her long hair. "That's pointless and I know it. But I can't sit back and do nothing while some psycho demon like I've never seen before gets his jollies out by killing innocent people. Besides, you know me overworked and underfucked."
Xander regarded her for a moment, ignoring her crude joke. Andrew watched them both as they stared one another down.
"Okay," Xander finally conceded. "No sitting back then. We work together but you've gotta stop running off thinking you can do it all alone. We're here for a reason."
Faith sighed again, frustrated.
"I can't hav
e you all in the middle of this. I couldn't watch his back, I can't watch yours," she explained, unable to say Robin's name. She barely took notice of the shimmer in the room as Anya entered. "This thing out there? He's bad news. I'm not gonna be able to do my job if I have to watch you guys get mowed down one after another, got it?"
Xander closed the distance between them until they were face to face. Faith didn't back down; instead she waited for what he obviously was about to say.
Bringing his hand up to his face, Xander pointed to his eye patch.
"I'm no stranger to being in the fray. I've been there, done that, lost more friends and eyes than I care to talk about. But you don't see me running away, do you? No, you don't. I can be fray-adjacent and still help, Faith. So put us to use. Me, Andrew, Anya . . . tell us what we can do."
It wasn't something Faith was used to . . . people wanting to be around her without wanting something in return. They didn't want fame or glory or money or even sex. They just wanted to be of use. Something more than the helpless roles they thought they'd filled in the past.
Knowing that is wasn't a fight she was going to win they'd help one way or another whether she wanted them to or not Faith sat back on the couch and sighed, giving in.
"There's nothing any of us can do," she muttered. "Been chasing after the demon for a week now and no one knows a thing about him. It's like he appeared outta thin air and disappeared like a fart in the wind."
"Fart talk. Amusing. I feel like I'm back in Xander's basement watching him play video games, but without the amusing cartoon violence," Anya chimed in.
"What do the Powers have to say about it all?" Faith asked, turning to face Anya.
Anya shrugged, looking as frustrated as ever.
"They either don't know or they won't say. All they can tell me is that his magic is very old and very dark. They're scared. A darkness is coming and they don't know what to do about it."
"You'd think they'd give a girl some kinda heads up, yunno?" Faith asked.
"Well, they've tried. Things aren't as easy as it seems though."
Faith furrowed her eyebrows, confused.
"What's up?" she asked, knowing that a bombshell was about to be dropped.
"Willow's spell screwed up the connection between the Slayers and the Powers That Be," Andrew explained. "I've spoken with Giles and he's confirmed it. The Powers are sending slayer dreams, but it's like the energy from the scythe caused some kind of mystical power surge that knocked out all of your satellite dishes. The dreams are out there, bouncing around with no one receiving them."
"So the slayers are operating without any sense of precognition? How do we fix it?" Faith asked.
"We don't," Anya interrupted before Andrew could start up again. "The Powers are looking for another outlet, but until then they're sending out random liaisons. You're very lucky that I died. You could have ended up with someone much worse, like Spike. He was sent to Angel, but he's too busy scheming ways to be corporeal again to be of any help."
"Spike's back?!" Faith and Xander shouted, and a gleeful smile appeared on Andrew's face.
"Well, yes. The Powers are getting desperate. You should just be grateful that you got the best. I excel at everything that I do. You'll be pleased with me," Anya said with a self-approving nod.
"Lucky me," Faith replied, winking at Xander who merely smiled at Anya's show of self-confidence. "So they don't have anything else to give me? No pointers, nothin at all?"
"Zip," Anya answered with a shrug. "Every time I go up there they're running around in their little white robes in a tizzy. I think they're in the dark as well. They know something bad is on the horizon; they're trying to keep one step ahead of it."
"That tells me absolutely squat," Faith said and exhaled loudly. "I was better off pummeling baddies. At least some of them pretended to know something."
"Maybe I should contact Mr. Giles again, see if he has any more information," Andrew said. "We've been in contact with him since . . . last week. He's promised to offer his resources to help research whatever bad guy we're up against."
Though Faith was still getting used to the whole 'people helping her' thing, she gave Andrew a nod and he went into the kitchen to make his calls away from the discussion in the front room. Minutes later when he re-appeared, all eyes were on him.
"He doesn't have any more to tell us about our bad guy, not yet. They're looking into mystics and oracles, though. If there's an oracle on our side, we won't need the prophetic dreams."
"And until then?" Faith asked, but Andrew didn't answer.
The answer was clear: they needed to sit and wait.
"You know," Anya began after a few moments of tense silence, "it's a real shame that the Powers fell out of favor with Jil'hanesh. An oracle like that could come in extremely handy now, especially given her proximity to us."
The room went silent again as all eyes moved slowly to Anya.
"The who with the what?" Faith asked, her brow furrowed again.
"Jil'hanesh," Anya repeated again. "She's an oracle or should I say he? It's always so hard to define these divine beings. They switch sexes on a whim. It can be quite unsettling when you've been invited to their birthday parties and you just don't know what to get them."
"And she lives near here?" Xander asked, his eyes intense.
"Yes. For now, anyway. She's particularly fond of Las Vegas because she has a keen interest in human interaction. You fascinate her. Surely she'll move on in the future, but her last known location was here."
"And you only thought to tell us this now because?" Faith asked, standing up and readying herself to go. Finally a solid lead that she could go on!
"While I was blessed with a fantastic body and this extraordinary brain, I wasn't given the ability to read minds. I wasn't aware that you were looking for an oracle, Faith. Just the demon that killed Robin," Anya answered nonchalantly. Only when she saw Faith's face darken did she realize that her words were a misstep.
"I have an idea," Faith said, her voice much colder now. "How 'bout you do your job and work on finding out where this Jill person is so I can do my job?"
She moved to the door, about to leave, when Anya stopped her.
"Well that's the easy part," Anya continued, unaffected by Faith's words. "Jil'hanesh has always liked to study the human form in . . . well, in its most basic and carnal state."
"And that means?" Faith asked, both eyebrows raised now. She looked over at Xander who was grinning from ear to ear.
"She's a stripper!" Xander said excitedly, making a logical and correct assumption.
Faith looked to Anya, who merely smiled proudly at Xander and nodded. She couldn't ignore the smile that was fighting to appear on her previously angry face. Letting out a small chuckle, Faith looked over at Andrew.
"I need you to go to that website you were at last week, the one when you were trying to plan a day trip for you, Buffy and Dawn. Get me the names and addresses for as many strip clubs you can find in the area. The dirtier, the better. I have a feeling our girl isn't parading around in no classy places, but I'll check 'em out too. Email me the list to my phone as soon as you get it, I'm gonna go get a head start."
Andrew went to his laptop computer and immediately started his research.
Faith turned to walk out the door but was stopped by an arm that shot out from the side, blocking the door. Looking over at him, she saw a mischievous smile on his face.
"Hold up, captain. There's no way I'm staying here with the nerd and the ghost while you go out and have strip club fun," he said, "I'm with you tonight."
Faith was about to protest, knowing fully well that having another person with her would just slow her down, but Andrew cleared his throat, getting her attention.
"Just an FYI lots of these clubs require a gentleman to escort ladies into them. It's supposed to stop angry wives and girlfriends from going in and creating a scene," he explained, an apologetic look on his face.
Faith sighed, knowing that he was right.
"Fine. Xan, you're with me. Just so we're clear though, there will be no lap dances, chicken wing eating, or drinking. We get in, we look for our pal Jill, and we get out. Ya clear?"
Andrew cleared his throat again and Faith winced as she looked over at him.
"Some clubs also require the immediate purchase of a beverage. Make sure you take money with you."
Shaking her head in frustration, Faith grabbed her keys and walked out the front door before Andrew could give her any more bad news.
Xander quickly pulled out his wallet and thumbed through the bills before looking back and forth between Anya and Andrew excitedly.
"Do either of you have any singles?"
Anya narrowed her eyes at him and Xander flinched back, remembering what that look had meant in their dating days.
"Nevermind. I can just get change later. Or never. No big deal. You know what? Why don't I just leave my money here."
He quickly tossed the small wad of cash on the table and ran out the door before Anya could find a way to kick his butt.
"Just a small loan?"
"Twenty ..Fifty dollars. I'll pay you back double when we get back to the office."
"You left your money at the office? With the money-loving ghost? Bad call, slick. No way is it gonna be there when we get back."
"Don't make me leave you in the car, yo."
Xander finally gave up his whining and shuffled along behind Faith as they walked up to the first club they'd stumbled upon. They could hear the music as they approached the front entrance. The smell of standard bar food wafted through the air as they opened the door and Xander whimpered pathetically.
Once they passed through the entrance fee waived thanks to Faith's flirting with the bouncers -- they walked into a big room with all kinds of crazy lights around. There were several different bars throughout the large room, all of them fully stocked and serviced. There were girls walking around in their barely-there clothes, smiling and flirting with whomever caught their eye.
Faith was the perfect picture of calm, a sense of determination about her that kept her focused.
Xander, however, wasn't doing so well.
"I am totally, completely, and absolutely over-stimulated," he said, his one good eye wide as he looked around the room.
Faith looked over at him and took a casual step away.
"You keep your stimulation to yourself, buddy."
Xander glared at her, but she was already looking around the room again, trying to come up with a good plan.
Faith wasn't sure how she was going to go about finding the oracle. It wasn't like she could exactly walk up to the dancers and ask if they were some kind of mystical seer. Not without buying a dance first at least. Hell, half of the girls would probably say yes just to get something extra out of her.
She was holding out hope that she'd be able to sense a mystical presence of some kind.
"I don't even know where to start," Faith grumbled under her breath, her eyes focusing on several different girls throughout the room. "How the hell am I supposed to find this chick?"
"Easy. Observe. Excuse me, Miss?" Xander said with a grin as a rather tall and strong-looking waitress walked by with a cocktail tray in her hands. When the girl stopped and turned, Xander continued. "If I was to ask you to look into the future, would you see you and I together?"
Faith's frown turned into a cocky smirk and she crossed her arms over her chest, waiting patiently.
"Honey, for a hundred bucks, I'll see anything you want me to," the waitress replied, her voice much huskier than expected. And was that an Adam's Apple bobbing around in her neck?
Xander's eyes widened when he realized that the girl was not so much a girl at all.
Faith laughed loudly and nodded her head once at the waitress who winked at her before moving along.
"You just hit on a dude," Faith laughed.
"Gah!" Xander blurted, holding up his hand to stop Faith saying anything further. "Just . . . shh. Not another word. No one has to know."
The look of sheer terror on his face was priceless and Faith couldn't stop the laughter erupting from herself.
"But I'll know," she said, trying not to laugh. "And every time I think of you, I'm gonna see you mackin on the huge 'chick' with the big hands. Yunno what? I think he appreciated your 'stimulation'."
"Oh god," Xander moaned, a somber look on his face. "You're gonna tell Anya, aren't you?"
Faith regarded him for a minute before she finally calmed down enough to give him a reassuring smile.
"Secret's safe with me, man. And hey, maybe when we're done tonight, we can go to one of those clubs with the Village People impersonators . . ."
"I'll be in the car," Xander interrupted and quickly turned around and made a mad dash for the exit.
Faith watched his quick retreat, then focused back on the task at hand. Glancing around the room, she felt the skin on the back of her neck prickle. Her eyes immediately picked out the source of the tingles: a vamp sitting at a private table near the stage. She casually made her way over to the table and flopped down in the seat next to him, earning an immediately unwelcoming glare.
"Private table," he grumbled, his attention moving back to the dancer on the stage. "Get lost."
Faith watched the dancer too, pretending to be interested.
"You gonna make me, bloodsucker?" She felt his eyes move to her then, but she remained the perfect picture of cool and indifferent. "Ever hear of a slayer?"
Before the vamp could get up and run, Faith grabbed a fork from the table he'd been enjoying a blooming onion and quickly plunged it into his upper thigh, out of view of anyone in the club. The vamp shrieked in pain, but Faith looked over at him and gave him a warning glare to keep his mouth shut.
"What do you want?" he asked through clenched teeth.
"Answers mostly. You answer truthfully and with the info that I need, you walk outta here on your own two legs and not in the dust bin. Get the drift?" At the vamp's tense nod, she continued. "Goodie. I'm lookin' for an oracle, Jil'hanesh. Heard of her?"
The vamp hesitated and shook his head no, but Faith didn't believe him. She twisted the fork, feeling his flesh rip underneath it.
"Heard of her?" she asked again.
"Yes!" The vamp cried out.
A dancer walked by at that moment and took notice of them, Faith with her hand under the table and the vamp calling out, looking all tense.
"You can't do that out here," she scolded, thinking that something frisky was going on. "Buy a dance or take your boyfriend home to finish up." She stomped off, walking over to one of the bouncers near the stage exit. He turned his eyes towards Faith and the vamp, smiling appreciatively before putting on his business face.
"'Kay, looks like we've got about sixty seconds before we get tossed outta here. Tell me where I can find the oracle or I'm the only one walkin out alive. Or un-dead. Whatever."
The vamp grimaced as Faith continued to wriggle the fork ever so subtly, keeping him completely subdued.
"I don't know what you want me to tell you. Jil gets around, doesn't like to stay in one place for too long," he said and groaned loudly.
"What do you mean?" Faith asked impatiently.
"Jil likes to study human interaction. Part of that is a constant influx of new people. Thing about clubs like this is the customers take a liking to certain ladies and they become regulars. Not too interesting to study human interaction if it's always the same people, ya get my drift?"
"Yeah, I get it," Faith said, her eyes narrowing. "So where'd she go?"
"Who the fuck knows? I only come to this joint. Got a thing for Jessamyn," the vamp said with a crude smile, nodding his head toward the stage.
Faith looked up to the stage at the dancer, her long brunette extensions dancing across the skin of her back as she shimmied out of her top. Jessamyn peeked over her shoulder at the vamp at winked at him, and he did his best to reach into his pocket and pull out a bill, tossing it casually up onto the stage.
"I don't really know how much help ya been, buddy," Faith said, not taking her eyes off of the dancer.
"Oh, come on! I told you everything I know."
In a move so quick the vamp couldn't have avoided it if he'd been expecting it, Faith pulled the fork from his thigh and stabbed it into his hand, pinning it to the table. She looked up and saw a bouncer curiously making his way over, so she knew she had to make it quick.
"Now you know I'm obviously not fucking around," Faith warned as she scooted closer to him, getting right in his face. "Where is she?"
"I don't know!" The vamp cried out, his free hand gripping around the fork. "Try the Spearmint Rhino, she hasn't been there in ages!"
Faith smiled, satisfied at last, and pulled the fork from his hand. He immediately pulled his bleeding hand back and clutched it against his chest, looking at her with wide eyes.
"There. Now was that so hard?" Faith got up from the chair and went to the stage, dropping a couple bills down for Jessamyn. The dancer smiled at her and winked, earning an annoyed grunt from the jealous vamp.
Faith began to walk away, but stopped at the last moment and turned around, brushing past the bouncer who was following her out of the club. She leaned down and placed her palms on the table in front of the vamp.
"This is my town now. Better believe I'll be watchin you."
"I'm just gonna wait out here," Xander said miserably.
Faith wanted to let the guy have a break from his personal humiliation in the first club, but she knew that she actually needed him now.
"Andrew's text message said they make chicks have a guy with them in this club. I need ya, Xan."
"Why, so I can sniff out all of the cross-dressers for you?"
"No, cos you're my wing man," Faith answered with a grin. "Come on, it wasn't that bad. And I mean it, I'm not gonna say shit to Anya or Andrew, got my word on that. Hell, I'll even let ya get some chow in this one if ya want, my treat."
"Really?" Xander asked, his voice hopeful as he finally looked over at Faith.
"Slayer's honor. So come on . . . ya in?"
Xander answered with a smile and a nod, and the two finally got out of the truck and made their way into the club. Faith reluctantly paid their entrance fee seeing as that the guy at the door wasn't having any of her flirting. Obviously, this place was a step up from the last.
They were greeted by another large room with a central sloping stage and literally a couple hundred people packed into the place. The music was loud and the lights were low, but that didn't distract Faith from looking around with determination. Xander fidgeted at her side, hoping that she'd come through with her promise.
Reaching deep into her pocket, Faith pulled out a few bills and gave them to Xander who smiled like a kid in a candy shop.
"Go order yourself some food and find a table somewhere. I'll meet ya in a bit."
"You're not coming?" He asked, his voice hopeful that maybe Faith would relax and have a bit of fun.
"Not yet, got some business to tend to first."
Making her way through the various servers and guests, Faith checked almost the entire place out, eyeing up each dancer that she passed in hopes that there'd be some sort of mystical beacon flagging her in. Of course, that was too much to ask for. Not a tingle, not a hum, not a single sign that one of these girls were the oracle.
Just as Faith was about to give up and call Anya for help, she felt a small tap on her shoulder.
"Huh?" Faith asked as she spun around to see a beautiful dancer standing there. Her hair was long and blonde, not of the bottled variety, and her dark brown eyes stood out in beautiful contrast to her otherwise fair features.
"No? Cheating girlfriend then?"
"I don't think . ." Faith began, but she was interrupted quickly.
"You just have that look in your eye. You're here to find someone, and possibly not in a good way. Right away I opted for angry boyfriend. It's why we have the 'ladies must be escorted by a gentleman' rule. The less crazy girlfriends we have coming in here looking for their honies, the better," the girl explained.
"Oh. Well, it's nothing like that. I'm not exactly the controlling type. If I had a honey and they wanted to come here, we'd be together havin a great time," Faith answered, her furrowed brow relaxing when she realized the dancer was just making small talk.
"Oh? Maybe I can interest you in a dance then. One song for twenty, or three and a private booth for a hundred?" the dancer tempted, flashing her best smile.
Faith couldn't help but smile, happy to feel a bit of her old confidence coming back. Still, it wasn't why she was there. She had a job to do, and as hot as the girl was, Faith was all about resisting temptation.
Giving her rubber-band a quick snap, Faith replied, "Not that you're not gorgeous cos ya totally know ya are but you're not exactly my type. The only hot blonde I'm after comes with a side of suppressed anger and hate directed right at me."
"Guess I'm off the list then. I only just met you, and I'm not angry with you at all. Certainly not enough to hate you." She laughed a bit, then held her hand out to Faith. "I'm Camryn."
"Faith," Faith answered, taking Camryn's hand in hers and shaking it gently. "And I totally don't mean to blow you off, but I'm lookin for someone in particular. Seriously though, total hottie. I'll be kickin myself when I walk outta here later."
Camryn laughed again and leaned back against a booth, observing Faith's face.
"Hmm," she pondered, tilting her head to the side a bit as she studied Faith a bit longer. "Well, you're not a vamp. You don't smell like a demon, but looks can be deceiving. I'm gonna venture a guess and say . . . witch?"
Faith narrowed her eyes a bit, on alert now, but she was oddly comforted by the cool confidence and non-confrontational manner in which Camryn approached the subject.
"Slayer," Faith offered hesitantly after a moment passed. She quickly turned the tables though, not willing to give up any more info until she got some in return. "Now it's your turn. Ya know about vamps, demons, witches. Pretty much knew I was here lookin' for someone. Are you her?"
"Her?" Camryn asked. A split second later, it dawned on her. She knew who Faith was looking for. "Oh. Her. No, I'm not who you're looking for, I'm sorry. Jil'hanesh was through here quite a while back, and as you may or may not know, doesn't usually repeat locations unless she's really bored."
"Shit," Faith muttered under her breath. Another dead end. Shaking her head in disappointment, she asked, "So what are you then? How do you know about the things that go bump in the night?"
"Me?" Camryn asked, smiling again. "I'm just your average everyday human who's seen it all. Working in a town like this, well . . . we see all kinds. Some of us are just more observant than others."
"I see," Faith replied, trying to hide her surprise. It wasn't every day that you stumbled across someone who knew about all the bad stuff in the world and took it with a grain of salt. But still . . . "Before I jump to makin assumptions, I gotta ask . . . you're not a bad guy, are ya? Cos I mean . . . been there, done that; tryin to sever the ties."
Camryn laughed and crossed her arms over her more than ample chest.
"Well, that depends on how you define 'bad'. Ask any one of those Christian hot-heads what they think of me and my job, and well . . . I'm damned. But mostly I just live my life and try to keep out of the way of the bad stuff. Better to know your enemy and avoid him then have him sneak up on you all unsuspecting-like. Besides, helping out the good guys such as yourself? Makes me all warm on the inside."
Faith couldn't help but laugh. She instantly liked this girl. There was something about her that made Faith feel at ease, even when she was supposed to be upset at finding another dead end.
"Speaking of helping out the good guys, you wouldn't happen to know where I can find our good friend Jil, do ya? I'm gonna be lookin forever if I gotta check out every nudie bar in the greater Las Vegas area, and I gotta say . . . totally not that patient."
Faith watched as Camryn took a few seconds to think it over, but she wasn't expecting much. Hopefully Andrew and Anya had some more info for her.
"Well, I don't know where you'll find her, no. Jil'hanesh tends to favor the more seedy places because you get the most, um, interesting people there."
"That's a start," Faith said, grateful for the tidbit. "Anything else?"
"No," Camryn said sadly. "I'll keep an ear out though, see if any of the clients here have heard anything. You'd be amazed how much humans and demons alike reveal during a lap dance."
They both laughed, Faith burying her hands deep in her pockets.
"I can imagine. Maybe I'll find that out someday," she replied, a mischievous smile on her face. Flirting came so easy for her sometimes, especially when she was at ease. Camryn watched Faith's face, a small smile appearing on her own. It was a tentative smile, as if she didn't believe Faith's words. She had some innate ability to read people, and she knew that Faith's attention was only for one girl. The other blonde she'd mentioned.
"We'll see," Camryn said evasively. She flagged over a waitress and grabbed a pen and cocktail napkin from her tray. Quickly scribbling on the napkin, she handed it over to Faith as casually as possible. She knew she was breaking Club rules, but she somehow felt this was important.
"That's the number to my cell phone. Call me in a few hours, I'll see what I can dig up before then."
Faith looked down at the crumpled napkin, then back up to Camryn's face.
"Ya don't gotta do this, Cam," she said, the nickname slipping out without her realizing it. "I don't want ya getting in trouble or anything just to help a stranger out."
"I have a feeling we'll be getting to know one another, Faith," Camryn replied. She gave Faith one last smile before turning and making her way through the crowd.
Faith watched her walk away, her head tilted to the side as she appreciated Camryn's partially revealed and perfectly smooth backside. She whistled long and loud, then laughed at herself and went off to find Xander. He'd never believe that she'd had a conversation with the hottest girl in the place, and she was prepared to rub it right in his barbecue sauce-covered face.
Faith and Xander sat in the truck leering warily at the club just across the way. It barely looked like a strip club, let alone a habitable building. The only sign that it was a club at all was the flickering red sign that read "Live Nude Ladies!"
Faith groaned aloud.
"You sure I really need to check this place out, Andy?" Faith said into her phone.
"You said you wanted seedy. According to the websites, this one is the seediest. It's the Kiwi of the seedy clubs."
"How seedy is seedy?"
"Well, when asked about the quality of their ahem ladies, I quote, the girls aren't the best in Vegas but there are a couple pretty ladies."
"Great," Faith groaned again. "You guys might wanna have some antibiotics ready for us when we get back. We might need 'em."
Faith clicked her small phone shut and slipped it into her jacket pocket.
"This is gonna be awkward, isn't it?" Xander asked.
"Oh yeah. You got the stuff?"
She looked over at Xander to see him clutching a small plastic bag from a store they'd just stopped at.
Reaching into the bag, Xander pulled out a small bottle of anti-bacterial hand cleaner. He clutched it tightly to his chest and looked at Faith, his eyes wary.
"Let's go," Faith said, steeling herself.
When they walked into the club, it was everything they'd expected from the description. Everything was old, from the seats to the patrons, even to some of the dancers. Xander grimaced as he noticed the dancer on the main stage. He appreciated real boobs as much as the next guy, but when they started pointing down at the floor, it was a sign to retire.
Faith walked around the small room trying to keep her cool, but it was way too uncomfortable. The other clubs had been so packed that she blended in with no problems, but with the scarce crowd here, all eyes were on her and Xander as they walked around.
They finally stopped at the bar where one or two older gentlemen were having a drink, oblivious to their presence. The bartender winked at Faith, but she blew him off and rested her back against the bar, gazing out into the room.
"I can't sense anything," Faith said. "Powers That Be give us a way to feel the bad guys, but we gotta search out the good guys with a map and compass."
"Maybe you're reading the wrong map," came a voice from behind Faith. She turned around to see the bartender leaning on the bar just behind her, butting in on their conversation.
"Oh, and I bet you've got the right map, right?" Faith asked, her voice a warning. "Listen buddy, quit while you're ahead, I ain't interested."
The bartender stood up straight and lifted his hands in mock surrender, slinging his bar cloth over his shoulder.
"Hey, no harm no foul. Just thought that with you looking for me all night long, it might be nice to finally throw you a bone," he said easily, a smug look on his face. "By all means, continue your fruitless search."
Kiwi. Fruitless. This guy knew that they were coming.
"Jil'hanesh?" Faith asked, eyeing him up and down in disbelief.
"In the flesh," he answered as he briefly curtsied.
"Little different flesh than I was expecting," Faith admitted. She never thought to look for a non-stripper, let alone a man.
"Well, what can I say?" he asked, leaning back down on the bar again now that Faith was less aggressive. "I like to switch it up sometimes. Besides, place like this? You get the best people at the bar with their back to the stage. They always have the best life story."
Faith looked over at the two men who were sitting at the bar, her mind stretching to create some kind of elaborate history for them, but she couldn't get past their sad and worn exterior.
"Those guys? 'Best life story?' Can't say I see it," Faith admitted.
Jil'hanesh looked over at the men, then back at Faith and Xander and leaned in a little bit closer.
"One of them is going to go on to do great things. He's got a talent for making people better. And the other, well . . . he doesn't know it yet, but he's the one who's gonna put an end to that all with an envious rage. Two fates intertwined, yet they meet here when they're not even on the same path yet. It's amazing. They could become friends tonight, bosom buddies, but still . . . their paths will cross down the line, and one will die."
"So why can't you stop him?" Faith asked, looking angrily at the two men, trying to figure out which one was the doer.
"I have nothing to do with fate. I have no sway over their free will. I only see. The same way that I see why you're here," Jil'hanesh said, his voice suddenly becoming serious.
"So you know I'm not just here for a Cosmo and a lap dance," Faith joked, but Jil'hanesh didn't smile.
"You've never dealt with evil like this before, honey. Vamps, demons they're all saints compared to this."
"We beat The First," Faith offered. "That was some pretty big bad. How much worse can it be?"
Judging by the face Jil'hanesh made, Faith knew it was worse. A lot worse.
"The First Evil was intent on creating a world of evil. Man existed. The First was intent on creating a world so bad that evil would rule. It wanted power, more than even it was capable of grasping."
"And how is that different from this guy?" Faith asked, trying to cover the way her voice wavered ever so slightly.
"This evil isn't intent on creating; it's intent on destroying. It's not the First; it's the Last. The Final Evil. It doesn't want the world; it wants its power."
Faith's jaw clenched tightly, her eyes locked on Jil'hanesh's. He wasn't lying, nor was he exaggerating. This was bad, and it would probably get a whole lot worse before it got better, if it ever could.
"B the other slayer she stopped demons trying to end the world more times than I can count. Why can't we stop this guy?"
"Because he won't do it himself," Jil'hanesh answered, then took a deep breath. "Man has changed since the beginning of time. You're darker, more corrupt. This evil will use man to destroy one another. It doesn't need lackeys or help when you all will do it yourselves. And it won't be waiting for a nuclear holocaust one hundred years from now. It was brought forth by the inherent evil in man, and now that it's had a taste, it wants more."
"What do you mean?" Faith asked, cautiously.
Jil'hanesh kept his eyes locked on hers, a pained expression on his face.
"When you were in prison, you were assaulted by dark magic. Not just you, but all of the inmates there. Inmates in prisons across most of California."
"The patches?" Faith asked, her hand coming up to rub the spot on her arm where the fake nicotine patch once was.
"Yes. The man who gave the patches the black magic guru he knew what he was doing. He didn't want the evil for himself; he was using it as a means of summoning It. The Last Evil. The vampire with a soul took care of the guru, but it was already too late. The Last Evil is here, and it won't rest until it succeeds."
"There has to be a way to stop him," Xander said after a long stretch of tense silence. "This is what we do, we fight the bad guys. Right, Faith?"
He looked over at Faith who was staring at some random point across the bar now. Her body was tense, her eyes ablaze with anger and frustration, but underneath it all was a look of guilt. Like she believed this was in some way her fault.
"Whether or not you were in prison, this would have happened," Jil'hanesh said, reading her body language perfectly. "The guru began the chain of events, and now The Last is overseeing a virtual chess game, using man as pawns to do evil. Sin is his game; he infects people with his evil and waits for them to do bad. Envy, greed, gluttony, lust, pride, sloth, wrath . . . it's how he does it."
"The seven deadly sins," Faith interrupted, a distant look on her face.
"And they're deadlier than ever now," Jil'hanesh finished. "Once infected, the host the person acts out, blackening their soul. When The Last retracts the evil, strengthening himself from its power, the host . . . well, the host doesn't make it."
Faith's eyes darkened and finally met Jil'hanesh's again.
"You see things, right? So you gotta know how to stop it. Tell me what you know."
"I've told you what I know. I have nothing to do with fate. Your heart is true and you mean well, I can see that much, Faith. But this is not something I can help you stop, because I don't see a way to stop it."
"So what do I do?" Faith asked through clenched teeth, eyes brimming with angry tears. "Sit back and let him win? That fucker killed my friend right in front of my eyes. I'm supposed to be dead. But here I am, alive and kickin and not able to do one god damned thing to stop this douche from doin it to everyone else I know."
"You won't sit back," Jil'hanesh said confidently. "More help will come. You will fight with every last breath in your body. This much I see. I don't see this being stopped, but if anyone can do it, it's you and your friends."
A pregnant pause followed before Faith finally pushed off of the bar and turned around to leave.
"Thanks for your vote of confidence," she said angrily.
"Faith," Xander began, trying to get her to reason or to calm down, or simply to walk her back from the edge.
It was useless though. Faith was already half way to the exit and wasn't looking back.
"Faith!" Jil'hanesh called out. He watched as she slowed down, then as she eventually stopped, not looking back at him. "There will come a time to fight, to be strong. Until then, take time to do the things you should do. Mourn those you've lost."
Faith quickly turned around, looking him in the eye. He continued, his voice sincere.
"Give him more than the cold hard vengeance that drove his life. He's deserving of a proper send-off by those he was close to."
Faith looked at him for a good long while, her body slowly losing some of the tension. Nodding her head in understanding, she looked to Xander, then walked out of the exit.
"Wow," Xander said, blowing out an exasperated sigh. "Heavy stuff."
"Very much so," Jil'hanesh replied. "Keep an eye on her, Alexander. She'll let her anger get the best of her and we'll all suffer for it."
Xander looked at him warily, wondering if that was friendly advice or an ominous warning. With a nervous nod of his head, Xander quickly made his way to the exit, hoping beyond hope that he'd never have to face Angry Faith again.
"Umm, I don't think this is such a good idea. I have a weak stomach."
"You're not gettin' outta this, Andy. I already bought the tickets."
"I'll happily refund you the cost of the . . ."
"Don't make me gag you."
Andrew's bottom lip stuck out in a small pout as he let Faith usher him through the line with her hands on his shoulders. Xander followed along behind them, eating a gigantic slice of New York style pizza. Even Anya was there, lurking somewhere where no one would have the opportunity to touch her.
Explaining her non-corporeal nature in public was more of a chore than any of them were willing to deal with.
They finally approached the front of the line, the large metal cart waiting for them with its ominously scary straps and harnesses.
"This is worse than Anya torturing me with the power saw," Andrew whined as the attendant helped him into the seat and with the confusing straps.
"Don't worry, bud. Xan's gonna be next to you the whole time, that large slice of pepperoni pizza churnin around in him the entire way," Faith teased.
"Your words fail to comfort me," Andrew replied back. "Oh god, I think I'm hyperventilating."
Faith smiled as she got into the cart behind Xander and Andrew, strapping herself in without the help of the attendant. She was a pro at this kinda thing. One of the attendants started calling for a solo rider to sit next to Faith, but she asked him if the seat could remain open.
She hoped someone would be there with them in spirit.
After a brief rundown of the rules, the operator hit a lever and the roller coaster took off from the small bay, sending them off into the dark Vegas night.
The last day or so had been rough since Faith had talked to the Oracle. She'd spoken with Giles and anyone else who would listen, but still she felt helpless. Like she should be doing something that she wasn't.
Still, she heeded Jil'hanesh's advice and took the others out for a night to celebrate Robin's life; the time to fight would come later. She'd gone to the only place in Las Vegas that made sense to her: New York, New York. They'd had dinner, drinks, done a bit of goofing around, and now it was time to ride the roller coaster. Robin used to talk about his visits to Coney Island when he was little. This was the best that Faith could do to remember him they way he would've wanted.
The small cart climbed the hill, Xander whooping and hollering in excitement and Andrew moaning in fear. Faith laughed as she watched them in the cart in front of her, just happy to see them having a bit of fun.
Well, Andrew might argue about the 'fun' part, but at least it got him out of the office.
The apex of the hill neared and Faith closed her eyes, waiting for the moment of weightlessness. The moment where the weight of the world on her shoulders disappeared again and she was just another girl in the world, even if only for two seconds.
She held her breath and smiled, her stomach dropping as they plunged down the deep hill.
Two seconds, just another girl.
It was a good feeling.
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