Chapter 3 - In Which Xander and Willow Are Paranoid
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 style. All mistakes are mine. This is my first plotty multi-character fic, so concrit is very welcome.
The story starts here
"Apocalypse in November? The timetable up there is seriously screwed!"
They sit at the corner table. It's late, the coffee shop is almost empty, they aren't in danger of being overheard. Willow smiles at Xander's joke, but her smile is uneasy. Xander sees that she is genuinely upset, and hesitates, not sure if he should ask her to check Faith's records again and find out details.
This morning, Willow told him she would be very busy all day with research Giles commissioned her, and they arranged to meet at the dorm in the evening. For eight interminable hours he walked through the motions at his construction site. (When you look at a brick and can't see anything but a pregnant girl in a prison robe, it's disturbing.) Miraculously, he didn't end up in a foundation ditch, or under an excavator track. He cut work five minutes ahead of schedule and ran all the way to the dorm, where he found Willow immersed in magic books and dictionaries. It took all his willpower to tell her he could come back later. Thankfully she assured him she wanted to take a break, so they went to a coffee shop.
"So - it's serious business, Will?"
She sips her cappuccino slowly, holding her cup with both hands. The longer she is silent the more worried Xander gets.
"I don't know," she says finally. "There are definitely eschatological allusions in the scrolls, but they're too obscure and incomprehensible. Something about realities bleeding into one another, order overthrown and the universe tumbling into chaos and darkness... "
"Wait-wait-wait. What scrolls?"
She puts her cup down and Xander notices that her hands are trembling slightly. "Buffy asked me and Giles to investigate a murder - remember? A monk. He tried to tell her something before his death. We checked - he came here all the way from Europe. Their monastery is the headquarters of an order of Levantines."
"Are these guys evil?"
Willow shrugs. "Who knows? Of course, they position themselves as good guys. But they're so secretive. Their order appeared at the dawn of civilization, fought against invasions from other dimensions blah-blah-blah... got militarized under Roman and Byzantium empires, took part in Crusades and eventually settled in Bohemia. Some of their scrolls were stolen. Recently they emerged on eBay. Giles thinks it might be important. I promised to find out everything I can. But..."
She hesitates. Xander covers her hand with his.
"You can tell me."
"I'm using spells to decode them," she whispers guiltily. "Giles thinks I use too much magic. He thinks it's dangerous. I try to avoid it but... Yesterday he asked me to hack a high security server. How could I do it without magic?"
"But you didn't tell him?"
"I was afraid he'd get mad at me again." Off Xander's frown of displeasure she shrugs. "Don't, Xan. I know he's right. Magic takes too much energy. My head's still hurting a bit after yesterday's break-in. Usually Tara anchors me, but she's gone away for several days and I feel a bit lost without her."
Willow takes her cup again. "Did you know that Faith is pregnant?" she asks matter-of-factly.
Xander chokes on his coffee. Willow pats him on the back sympathetically.
"I was surprised, too," she says.
He coughs, then slowly wipes his lips playing for time. As soon as she talks with Giles she'll find out that he already knew. He has to find an explanation of his reaction, pronto.
Willow holds him out a tissue. "I wonder why Giles was checking up on Faith," she says and looks at him enquiringly. He wonders how much she knows and how much she suspects.
"How did you find out?" he asks. "You left the Magic Box before Giles found her records". He can't bring himself to say Faith's name aloud.
Willow looks at him suspiciously and frowns. "You know?"
He crumples his tissue nervously. Damn, he shouldn't look away. "Yes, I know about... about her condition. I was there when Giles was checking her file. But I didn't think he told you. Yet you know. How did you find out?"
Willow tenses. "It was Giles who sent you to talk to me?"
Xander is astonished. "What? No, Will! I swear it has nothing to do with Giles! He didn't want me to know either - I just happened to be there, when he..." He can't figure out how to say it without mentioning, you know, the name.
"I'm so tired, Xander," Willow says suddenly. "I couldn't imagine I'd feel so lonely without Tara. Nobody talks to me anymore. Giles is busy with this Faith thing. Buffy has her own share of problems. Since her mom got sick she's living at home and I hardly see her. She's either at the hospital or patrolling with Spike."
He wants to hug her and tell her that she is and always will be his best friend and he will always love her and will never keep anything from her... except he is. The way Willow frowned when she said "this Faith thing" made it crystal clear. Two years ago Willow had been aghast at him having sex with Faith - and that was before she had become their enemy. He doesn't even try to imagine how horrified Willow would be if she found out that he had had sex with Faith after she had tried to kill them. Willow would see it as a betrayal.
Except he only wanted to help somebody who was lost and desperate. If he had found the right words Faith could have stopped running and eventually redeemed herself. It's his fault that she is where she is.
He hates to admit it, but his own private apocalypse troubles him more than the new global threat that's looming vaguely on the horizon.
Willow purses up her lips. "I may be paranoid but I think Buffy is keeping something from me."
Xander stares into his cup. Is it possible that Buffy knows about what happened between him and Faith? Buffy went to Los-Angeles several times. Could she have met Faith there? Could Faith have boasted to Buffy about their encounter? No. Impossible. Buffy would never talk to Faith. Not to mention that Buffy would never talk to him if she found out about him and Faith. Whatever Buffy is hiding from them, it isn't about Faith.
"...You don't talk to me, either," Willow says. She waves her palm in front of his eyes. "Hello - Earth to Xander."
Her voice snaps him out of his reverie and he smiles guiltily.
"Sorry, Will. I just..."
"You don't even listen."
"I do! You were talking about... about Buffy. Have you seen her lately?"
Willow nods. "I went to the hospital today. Buffy's mom had a CAT scan and her doctor said she needed an operation. Buffy was nervous about it. I asked her if we could hang out tonight but she said she would be patrolling with Spike."
Xander frowns. "She's been patrolling with him so often lately."
Willow shrugs. "Buffy says she doesn't want to risk our lives and Spike is expendable."
"As long as he doesn't try anything new."
"I don't think he would. He's been so helpful lately."
"For money, Will, he does that for money. Buffy is paying him for help. He's helping himself get rich. Do you really think you can trust a killer?"
He starts to regret his words even before he's done saying them. Willow shakes her head. "I don't know. I like to believe that people can change for the better."
"Yeah, but is Spike actually people?"
She gives him a conciliatory smile. "At least we know he's got that chip in his head, right?"
He sighs. They hadn't known about chips when Jesse got turned. Vampires were enemies, subject to slayage. "Have you noticed how gray the world's getting? Spike with his chip, Giles with his Council dealings..."
"Uh-huh. Me with my magic stuff, Buffy with her secrets. Sometimes I want to ask her, but... I feel like the answer is staring me in the face but I can't see it." Willow shakes her head. "Xan, you're the only one of us who's squeaky-clean!"
He grins awkwardly. She promises to keep him in the loop and he promises not to tell Giles about her magic thing. He doesn't ask her to check Faith's records. You can't trust a killer and you absolutely can't care about one.
Back at home he ponders briefly if he should call Cordelia in LA and ask her if she has heard anything about it. Giles must've called Wesley and told him about this Faith thing. Wesley could have discussed it with Angel, and Cordy could have overheard them. Or maybe she was there when Giles called and she heard something. And maybe she wouldn't mind sharing it with her ex-boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend who didn't call her once after she left for Los-Angeles. Not to mention that it's wrong to disclose confidential information your boss is keeping secret...
He is already dialing Cordelia's number when he thinks of that last bit. Nobody answers. Wrong number? He tries again. Same result.
As he hangs up he realizes that he has only one option. He has to visit Faith.
Next: chapter 4 - In Which Xander Discovers The Sitch Is More Screwed-up Than He Thought