Chapter 1 - In which Xander discovers a secret
Timeline: BtVS, alternate season 5
Genre: drama, mystery, action
Characters, pairing: general, Xander/Faith
Rating: R (for intense situations).
Summary: Xander thinks he has a little secret. He doesn't know that his little secret is a part of a big fat conspiracy.
Disclaimer: They all belong to Joss. He said I could play with'em, so there.
Author's notes: Much thanks to my wonderful betas lusciousxander and deird1 who encourage me, help me with character voices, fix my bad grammar and lack of style. All mistakes are mine. This is my first plotty multi-character fic, so concrit is very welcome.
"You don't know what's in your slayer, do you?"
(Moments of truth always catch us unawares. Later, Xander realized it had been one of those moments, but back then it was just unsettling. Together with Buffy and Willow he came to the hospital to visit Joyce, and when he lingered behind in the corridor, a patient in a straight-jacket suddenly turned to him, winked conspiratorially and whispered this question. How did this lunatic know about the slayer? He was about to ask him, but a nurse approached, and Buffy called him, and he caught up with his friends and put the incident behind him.)
Maybe he should tell the others about it. Right now, as Xander, Willow and Giles sit in the Magic Box and talk about some mysterious murder they're investigating, about Buffy's problems and her mom's illness, about Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's call from Los-Angeles and Angel spinning out of control and turning to the dark side. Again. Not that it's a big surprise, that guy has always been a loose cannon...
"...And I want you to forget about it as soon as it's done," Giles says to Willow. Xander flinches. Obviously he zoned out a bit. Has he missed something?
"Sure, Giles," Willow's fingers dance on her laptop keys. "After the Initiative encryption programs this one looks easy-peasy..." She stares, surprised. "Um... Are you sure this is the server you need?"
Giles nods curtly. Willow looks at him with concern and frowns.
Xander is intrigued. Pity he's sitting across the table and can't see the screen. Is Willow hacking The Watcher Council's site? Or what?
"Who are you hacking, guys? Pentagon, or FBI?"
Giles looks at him with barely concealed irritation.
"I have to make certain enquiries, privately. This is a rather delicate business. The less you know about it the better."
Xander hopes his sulking isn't too obvious. He looks at his watch and sighs. Anya should be here already. He goes to the window to look at the street and lingers there, his back to them, so, thankfully, they can't see his face when he hears Willow's next words.
"I wish I could do a memory spell to make myself forget that I just hacked the server of Northern California Women's Facility. It's not about an upcoming apocalypse, is it?"
Xander realizes his hands are balled in fists. It's a coincidence, he thinks. It must be a coincidence. Thousands of women serve their time there.
He steals a look at Giles and Willow. Giles is polishing his glasses - never a good sign. "Not at all," he says dryly. "Like I said, it's a little private enquiry. Hopefully, nothing serious..."
Xander turns away to the window again. He's not eavesdropping. First, they know he's in the room. Second, there is nothing to eavesdrop. Giles is checking something for somebody. Big deal. And it's just a coincidence that he needs information from Northern California Women's Facility...
"...I'm sure Mr. Wyndam-Pryce is overreacting," Giles concludes.
Xander's stomach knots. No, it's not a coincidence. Something's wrong. Wrong with her.
"We're in," Willow says. "So, what are we looking for?"
Suddenly, Xander feels so dizzy he has to take a deep breath to clear his head. Something bad has happened to her. She's dying. No, she's already dead. No. No. She's a survivor. Maybe it's nothing serious. Maybe she just got sick. Slayers get sick. He remembers Buffy falling ill and him visiting her in the hospital and confronting Angelus and feeling utterly helpless against his insolence... But why does Giles need medical records? Maybe she's got some weird mystical illness. Please, God, nothing nasty. And, please, anything to delay Anya who is - he checks his watch - a quarter an hour late. Anything to delay Anya's arrival until Willow finds out that nothing's wrong with her. In a minute Willow will find her file and tell Giles that there is nothing to worry about...
"Thank you, Willow," Giles says. "I'll take it from here. I hope it's all right to borrow your laptop for an evening."
Willow furrows her brow. "Are you sure?"
"I think I can manage." Giles' smile is forced. "I may not have your computer skills but I definitely know how to use the cursor and hit 'enter' ".
Xander demonstratively looks at his watch as Giles sees Willow to the door. He's not eavesdropping, he's not hanging around, he's just waiting for Anya, who is terribly late, by the way...
"Anya is late," he says, although Giles doesn't ask him anything. "We planned on meeting here."
Giles averts his eyes. "Of course." He takes off his glasses, and starts polishing them absentmindedly. Is he just fidgeting?
Xander heart sinks. Does Giles know? Maybe he just suspects something. Or maybe Xander is just imagining things, and Giles is impatient to send Willow and him on their way as soon as possible and to focus on his oh-so-mysterious research. The research that has nothing to do with her.
When Giles returns to the table, he sits down, his back to the wall, making it impossible to look at the screen without being noticed. Xander loiters about, trying to come up a reason to get closer and look over Giles' shoulder. His mind is blank, he can only think about her, sick, wounded, dying in her cell. Screw the excuse - he just has to pick the right moment to look, as soon as Giles finds her records.
Interminable minutes pass. Giles is deft with books but slow with computers. Every time he clicks a key and peers at the screen, Xander tenses, ready to spring to the monitor, but every time Giles shifts his gaze back to the keyboard and slowly clicks the keys again.
The phone rings, shrilly, making Xander jump. He grabs the receiver without taking his eyes off Giles. "Anya, what happened?" Anya chirps something about a new beauty parlor and how trendy it is and how many women are lining up for it and about being sorry for ruining his evening... Xander listens with half an ear and tries to reply coherently. "Sure... Yes, of course... Next time. No, I don't mind at all..."
Suddenly, Giles raises his head and looks Xander in the eye. It's the mix of guilt and curiosity on Giles' face that makes Xander decide.
"So, why do you need Faith's medical records?" he asks as he puts the phone down.
Giles is appalled. "How have you... I mean, what a strange, ridiculous idea..."
"Just 'cause I didn't do college, doesn't mean I can't use my head." Xander hopes his face doesn't betray him. "Faith is serving her time there, right? I can put two and two together, you know."
"How did you know where she is incarcerated?"
"You told us. Or maybe Buffy did." He knows he's bluffing heavily but he has no choice. "Besides, you said her former Watcher had asked you to check the files."
"You said something about Wesley overreacting. Giles, can you just tell me what's going on?"
Giles deflates and looks away.
"Don't misunderstand me, Xander. There are things you're better off not knowing. For your own good."
Whatever it means, it doesn't sound good. Cue for a lame joke. Hopefully his smile doesn't look particularly phony. "So, you're protecting our innocent souls."
Giles snorts. "Or, rather, your sarcastic little arses."
Xander hesitates. After all, he has nothing to lose. Maybe Giles doesn't know anything.
"Mind if I help? No offence, Giles, but you're a lousy hacker."
Giles smiles wryly. "I bet this thing is possessed," he murmurs. "Every time I have to double-click my fingers suddenly stiffen".
Xander snorts and comes closer. Now he can see the screen with rows of files. They're labeled by numbers. Giles clicks the next file, it opens. He looks at the photo and, after yet another tussle with the disobedient mouse, closes the file. It takes him about thirty seconds to do it.
Xander sighs. There are thousands of files. At this rate they're likely to spend the whole night here.
"Why don't you rearrange them by date?" he asks.
Giles looks at him in awe. "You can do that?"
Xander shrugs, feigning indifference. He takes his stand behind Giles' back and reconfigures the order of files. Ms. Calendar's computer classes turned out to be pretty useful. His hands itch to start checking June 2000 entries but he restrains himself. Giles shouldn't suspect that he knows when Faith was transferred there.
"Check the June files," Giles says. Xanders suppresses a sigh of relief and starts the search. Double click - look at the photo - close - next - double click - look - close - next... His fingers move quickly, automatically - computer games are good practice.
"You haven't answered," he says. "Why do you need her records?"
"Just a precaution." Giles' voice is tired and flat. "She's refusing to meet anybody. The last time Mr. Wyndam-Pryce saw her was when she was transferred there in June. He said he got the impression that she was..."
Giles falls silent. Xander's heart skips a beat.
"Mr. Wyndam-Pryce hoped to get a chance to talk to her. To ask her. To clear it up. She refused to see him. He tried to make official enquiries..."
Xander bites his lips. He's on the verge of screaming with frustration. Double click - look - close - next - double click - look...
Her photo leaps out at him from the computer screen like a slap in his face - stubborn mouth, challenging eyes, tousled hair. Xander reluctantly tears his eyes off her mug shot and feverishly scans the words onscreen.
"Oh dear," Giles says softly and closes the lid of the laptop. "Xander, I'm extremely grateful for your help, but it's... It's no concern of yours, really. Thank you."
Xander nods automatically. He lets Giles to show him the door of the Magic Shop because he's too stunned to resist. He hasn't read everything on the page but he had enough time to catch the gist.
Faith is pregnant.
Next: Chapter 2 - "No! It's not what you think"