Father Goose and the Black Knight
Chapter 5: The Dwarves are in the Depot
And you were afraid you wouldnt have anything to do at night in Cleveland, Fin said.
Quiet, Munch answered. I need to concentrate, I think the number seven bus is about to back up aaaaand no, just a fat lady taking her seat.
What I want to know, if they got all those cameras down here, why aint we watching exciting downtown Cleveland sitting somewhere comfortable with some popcorn?
Dont look at me, I thought I was going to Miami.
Fin checked his watch. Damn, time went slow on a stakeout. Almost over, though, for today anyway, getting close to midnight when a couple of the locals were going to take over this spot and Wait a minute.
Hey, Munch, Fin said, look over there, just the other side of the waiting room door, that look like Sneezy to you?
Yeah, now that you mention it. And hey, look whos checking out the Welcome to Cleveland brochures, that Grumpy? Or was it Doc?
I forget. But I see a couple of familiar faces hanging by the Coke machines. Our girls are here, all right. Theyre waiting for a bus.
Munch picked up the radio, held down the button and announced, We have dwarves at the depot, repeat, dwarves at the depot. He looked up and saw Fins expression. Well, somebody had to say it.
* * *
Detective Schreiner found Detectives Munch and Tutuola in a dead end alley about two blocks south of the bus station. Munch was pacing back and forth with his hands behind his back, occasionally stopping to peer down and gently probe a pile of dust with the tip of his shoe. Detective Tutuola was standing at the alleys terminus, staring upwards, a couple of times trying to climb up the wall and failing.
Ah, shit, Detective Schreiner thought, dreading what he was about to see. He motioned for a couple of uniforms to start taping off the alley, and went in.
Gentlemen, he said, and the two New Yorkers joined him at the alleys entrance. Wanna tell me about it? They turned to face him and he sighed, seeing exactly what he had expected to see. Two cases of what he called Pension Face, the expression worn by a cop actively and repeatedly counting up the days and hours and minutes until he could retire on full benefits, something Detective Schreiner had been seeing more and more often in the last couple of years. On younger and younger cops. In fact, Schreiner had identified a secondary expression seen on cops whose pension calculations went into double digits, he called it the Screw the Pension Im Moving to Iowa face.
Detective, Fin said, dont take this personally or anything, but Im not saying a damn thing until I see whats on your surveillance tapes, cause I like my reputation for being the sane one.
* * *
Xander let Renee carry him the rest of the way to the van. The leg was almost fully functional when it had to be, but he paid for it in cascading waves of pain that lasted sometimes for hours afterwards. The door slid open, Renee loaded him in, hopped in beside him and pulled the door shut and they were off.
Renee helped him up into a seat and he gathered himself, turned to face Marybeth who sat in the seat opposite, cuddling a lapful of sleeping sisters.
So, Xander said. Welcome to Cleveland. Never a dull moment. She was grinning at him. You okay, squirt? he asked Renee who nodded, grinned and turned away. He twisted back to greet the three girls lounging in rear of the van. Mchumba, Zoey, Amber, you okay?
We are unharmed, Mr. Alex, Shad answered. They were grinning. Xander closed his eye.
I fell asleep on the bus. What did you do to me?
Nothing. I swear.
Xander opened his eye, looked down at her. He raised an eyebrow.
I swear. I swear on the Scythe, I didnt touch you, and Xander knew full well that that meant shed done something to him without touching him, but his leg chose that moment to send another jolt his way and he let it go, concentrating on keeping his pain off his face. He turned back to the other girls. Did we get them all?
Of the group we were chasing, Im afraid one escaped, Mr. Alex, Shad reported. I do not know how many there were altogether.
They were each wearing these, amulets, I guess they are, Zoey said. I yanked this off the red-headed one before I dusted her.
Well done, Xander said, reaching out to take the offered jewelry, glancing idly at the obviously occult markings, then pocketing it. Well take a picture and fax it to Dawn tomorrow. Anything else? All right, full debrief tomorrow. Good job, ladies, thank you.
The welcoming committee spilled out onto the verandah and down the steps when the van arrived, enveloped him in excited chatter. He reached for his cane and
Fuck. Damn. Crap. Oh well. He reached down under the seat for the spare he kept in each of the vehicles, struggled out of the van, slid the door shut and turned to accept a series of quick, welcoming hugs from girls who were all smiling way too much. He looked for and found Caridad standing at the foot of the steps, looking a little subdued, though even she hid a quick grin as he approached. He laid his arm over her shoulders, gave quick squeeze, did his best Joey Tribbiani, asked. How you doin?
A little tired, but Im fine, she answered.
Anyone give you a hard time?
No more than the usual.
Good. Anything new? he said and Caridad jerked her head up toward the house, Xander looked and saw her silhouetted in the doorway, making an entrance as always.
Hey Harris, she said. She shifted and ambled down toward him, all lazy lioness stalking her prey, reached out and took his chin in her hand, moved his face left then right. Its a good look for you, she added, but I think the purple sideburns are a bit much.
* * *
He was still a clown, Faith thought.
Shed slept on the plane, first class, it was the only way to go. Shed arrived earlier that evening, her body rested and fresh, her wounds still vivid pink and tender but closed. Shed caught a cab to the house, her gut full of snakes and butterflies that writhed and fluttered more and more the closer she came.
There were memories here, shed lived with Wood here for almost two months, the longest by far shed ever stayed with one guy. It had been great at first, hed trained with her, gone on patrol with her, it was like having a real Watcher of her own for the first time since Kakistos killed her first one. Bought her books to read, she hadnt really seen the point but hed said she would in time. Hed taken her out to dinner and ordered for her in French. Hed bought her clothes, not really to her taste, but good stuff, not like the girly horror the Mayor had gotten her.
But it had dawned on her, not slowly, not really, Faith caught on to things like that quick, but shed tried to ignore it. The Mayor had bought her that dress because hed thought shed look pretty in it. Wood bought her the slick slit-skirt numbers because he thought he would look good next to the hot woman wearing the slick dress. And he did, of course.
They spent more and more time on deportment and less on training to kill vamps, the books became less about expanding her world and more about knowing the right thing to say at parties. He got careless. Forgot little things like Slayer hearing. She heard him on the phone, politicking with the Council, selling himself as the Slayers son who had tamed the wild Faith, claimed her as his own, an asset he brought to the table. Later in England, Giles would do the same thing, but at least he was up-front about it.
Shed called him, Wood, on it.
The difference between you and the Mayor, shed said, the Mayor had to sell his soul and eat spiders to become a snake.
And they were on then, shouting and screaming. Hed raised his hand to her, which in the first place, how stupid can you get, second, he of all people should have known better, shed told him things in the small of the night
He knew it, too, the moment he raised his arm, she could see it in his face, not his heart breaking but anger, at himself, for making a tactical mistake. Shed left that night, right then, taking nothing but the clothes on her back and bus fare to LA.
That had all happened here, in the house in Cleveland but hell, it was just a bad memory, not her worst, not even in her top ten, nothing to be nervous about.
She was nervous about Harris. It was silly, for chrissakes. Harris.
But he was the only one left who could possibly understand.
Oh, shed made peace with Buffy, but thats all it was. Peace. Dawnie was always friendly but part of the whole Buffy package, really. As was Giles, when he wasnt super-Council-man he was still first and foremost Buffys Watcher and always would be.
Red was all up on her cloud of earth mother Wiccan mojo and had forgiven her as you forgive a careless child, but they werent ever gonna hang. Shed never really known Oz.
Everybody else was dead.
Once in Italy, this guy had closed down this whole restaurant, okay, café, just for her. Done the whole thing with the fiddle player and jewelry and a line of waiters, and yeah, it was cool. But shed hinted, just once, playfully, that she wasnt gonna put out, and seen the guys eyes go cold with rage.
Harris had taken her to a movie just to have her company. Pathetic how often she thought of that day. Harris had given her a gift, no big deal, just this ten dollar poncho. But, no strings attached. And it was something she liked, not something someone thought that she should want. Only Angel She stopped that thought.
The house had changed. A porch had been added, new paint, new gravel in the drive. The little things she remembered, a broken board, some missing shingles, all fixed.
Shed paid off the cab, rung the doorbell, a tall black girl opened the door and tensed a moment as Slayer recognized Slayer, but not recognizing her.
Xander home? Faith had asked.
Mr. Alex is not the girl had started, but then Caridad had come out of the office, called out,
Faith! and Faith had seen the black girls eyes widen, then narrow, felt her body shift into prefight mode.
Shad, Caridad had said, its okay. And Shad had stood aside in the traditional non-invitation and Faith had stepped inside.
There was hug from Caridad and friendly noises, not ecstatic to see her exactly, but theyd been together in Sunnydale and that superseded reputations.
Dont mind Shad, Caridad said. Xander pulled her out of some African hellhole and shes a little overprotective, but dont worry, Xander will set her straight. Vis upstairs taking a nap, I dont know if you know any of the other girls here?
Dont think so. So, Giles called me, said Xander had got into some kind of trouble?
Thats why youre here?
Yeah, but Giles didnt say
Its nothing urgent. You wanna wash up?
Yeah, I could
The room Faith had shared with Wood had been divided, Caridad explained, one half split in two and turned into Xanders office and bedroom, the other half was the guestroom. Faith threw her saddlebags on the bed.
The holy of holies, Caridad said, grinning, pointing to a door at the back of the room. Xanders bathroom, and his PRIVATE shower and bathtub. Which has been in almost constant use since he left for Missouri. You hungry? Youre lucky, it was fried chicken night and we made enough extra to cover the post-patrol snacks. Plus theres coleslaw and potatoes and stuff, just help yourself. About half the girls are on patrol now but theyll be back early, around eleven or so. The rest are on clean-up-before-Xander-gets-home duty. If you need anything Ill probably be either next door in the office or downstairs somewhere, but you know, just shout. Get yourself some of that chicken before the locusts descend and me or Vi will bring you up to date.
* * *
Damn, Faith said, stepping into the dining room. The particle board tables and metal chairs she remembered had been replaced by a long rough hewn table and benches out of a medieval banquet scene. One wall was covered in weapons, crossed swords and axes that might be taken as fakes for display but Faith could see the edge on the steel her hands itched for the big claymore in the center of the array.
Xander calls it hiding in plain sight, a girl said from the far corner of the room. She was slim with delicate features, brown hair pulled back in French braid, she came forward, clearly assessing Faith. Im Isobel.
Where are your horns and your tail?
The girl grinned. Its what we tell the newbies late at night when the winds howling, its Faith on the warpath, seeking redemption, be a good Slayer or Faith will come and take you to hell.
Damn straight, Faith grinned, bright and hard, hiding the hurt. She turned to the other wall, stared at mural in progress. Xena. Cool.
Well, its supposed to be Valkyries cause, well Valkyries are corpse-gatherers, right, and vampires are corpses, sort of, and we really didnt want to have pictures of women with their right tits cut off so we didnt do Amazons but it is kinda coming out Xena, isnt it?
Well, Xenas cool.
Yeah. Its corny, but we all kinda see ourselves that way, dont we? Except Jacquie who thinks shes Ares. Caridad said youd want to eat?
Isabel filled up two plates with chicken, corn, mashed potatoes, and, on Faiths nod popped them in the microwave, asked, You want something to drink?
I spose a beer is out the question?
No, we got Heineken, Harp, lessee, some Coronas and a six of Old Peculiar.
No shit, Xander lets you guys have beer?
Well, no keggers or anything like that, but yeah. And wine with dinner if we want it, though most of us dont really.
Gimme a Harp then Umm, Isobel? This Faith the boogeyman stuff, does Xander ?
What? No. And dont tell him I said anything, either. Its an ice cream offense.
Xander has three sources of power. TV, ice cream and the BBE. Like, if were not getting all our chores done and stuff, suddenly the cable goes out in the middle of American Idol or something. If hes really mad he threatens to cut ice cream out of the budget. I mean, yeah, you can just go down to the store yourself, but you cant keep ice cream in your room, you know, so when you want some Rocky Road after patrol, youre SOL, so thats pretty effective.
Threatens. He ever do it?
Yeah. Once. Cause someone who shall rename nameless except for being called AMBER didnt think he would do it. But he did. For two weeks. And he bought vanilla yogurt instead and wouldnt get anymore ice cream until we finished it. Ewww, Isobel shuddered. The microwave binged and she retrieved the two plates, passed one to Faith and the two Slayers dug in.
It was good.
This is homemade, Faith said, surprised.
Yeah, course, whatd you expect?
Frozen. Like from Sams Club or something.
Faith tried to remember the last time shed had a home-cooked meal. She couldnt. They ate.
What was the other thing, Faith said a little later. You said TV, ice cream and something
The BBE, Isobel said, holding up her hands in defense, like a young vamp facing his first cross. Beware the Big Brown Eye
And then Caridad came in with Vi and they fixed plates as well and sat down with Faith and brought her up to speed on Marybeth and siblings.
So theres no looming Big Bad, then?
Vi shook her head. Not as such. Its just if the cops got involved Xander might have to take the girls and bail to keep the House out of it Faith, you are always welcome here, but what Xander asked Giles for was another Watcher, not
And pretty soon the patrols where returning and the kitchen filled with girls, all furtive and pretending not to stare, Caridad began making formal introductions, Faith began to have fun watching each girls reactions, some frankly curious and staring at her, some feigning indifference, one or two were hostile, as many were clearly a little scared, all of them hungry.
Ice cream? Isobel asked Faith. Triple chocolate or Rocky Road. Or, you know, both?
The girls began slowly to drift and gather at the doorway, one of the girls was on the phone with Vi in the van and was relaying updates as it returned home. Faith hung back a little, nervous again. Fucking Saint Harris didnt need her. Probably wouldnt have time for her either. Damn, just feeding all these girls was a full time job and he did more than that, she could tell by the way they all smiled when they talked about him, by the anticipation she could feel in the air as he approached.
She should have gone to the Caribbean, cause dancing in Havana she could have told herself that she could still go to Cleveland if she needed too, that she wasnt alone in the world, she still had a friend in Cleveland.
But she was in Cleveland and if she found out now that she was just another mouth to feed, that she was alone here, then she was alone in all the world.
Caridad came back, spoke softly to her. Faith, how long has it been since youve seen him?
Couple years at least. Not since Italy.
I just want to warn you so you wont be shocked, hes changed some. Hes got this scar on his face, on his right cheek, it really shows up cause hes so tan. And he walks with a bit of limp. No big deal, he gets around, I just didnt want you to, you know, freak or anything, he hates it when people get all pity party about his scars
Gotchya, Faith said.
And then he was there, outside. Faith hung back and watched as the new Slayer emerged with her sisters was gathered into the fold and carried inside, watched Harris emerge from the van and saw that Caridad was wrong. He hadnt changed at all. He was still a clown.
He still suffered from chronic Hawaiian shirt disease, he let children paint on his face.
She wanted to run down and jump into his arms but she was Faith and Faith didnt do that.
She waited until he looked up and saw her. Harris, she said, and ambled down to take his chin in her hand, move his face left then right, he had a thick green mustache and an orange goatee. Its a good look for you, she said, but I think the purple sideburns are a bit much.
He closed his eye and sighed and shook his head, said, Younguns today, got no respect.
And then he straightened and grinned wide and said, Clint, howve you been? and opened out his arms and pulled her in and held her and Faith knew she wasnt all alone in Cleveland and wrapped her arms around him and held on tight.
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