Story: Sophomore Slump (chapter 3)

Authors: Pat Kelly

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Chapter 3

Title: Three


"Fuck you doing?"

At the same time a detective was walking her girlfriend home from a monster mashing, Faith had been embroiled in one herself. But as she slurred those words, she was sprawled over fallen trashcans in the alley next to Weevil's Neptune home. And he stood over her, having bailed her very intoxicated ass out for the latest time.

"Neighborhood watch," he said, hand held out, offering to help her to her feet. "Thing I had people around here thinkin' you'd be good for?"

The ‘09ers covered their neighborhood, leaving he and his to their own. No, Neptune's classes didn't even join together when facing menace by vampires. It was reassuring in a way that pissed him off.

Faith drilled him with the most withering look she could manage and scrambled to her feet noisily, evidenced by the clanging and crunching underneath her. She ignored his offer, having to hold herself up by leaning against the wall. Binging on tequila and J.D. then going out to slay...she was lucky she was alive to be this pathetic.

"I look out for me."

"That what this is? ‘Cause me, I'da called it something different," commented Weevil, shaking his head at the drunken mess in front of him.

"S'funny...opening mi casa to a easy-ridin' white girl who packs away fifths like a camel, isn't the ‘Latino-Fantasy-Come-True' you'd think," he shrugged. "Who'da guessed she was bigger help in a coma?"

Her response was to lunge at him, but he sidestepped, and she grounded again. Though not before slamming her shoulder into the opposite wall.


"Some superhero."

"Ain't a hero. Nobody goddamn listens."

"How ‘bout a person?" He asked, annoyed, then looked around at their alley location. "Hey, this remind you a'your crime scene? Wanna finally get the hell over it, place is perfect."

If she could've kicked his ass right then, she would have.

"You got no idea what--"

"Go ahead, blame the kid. Because she deserves it."

That was his successful attempt at blatant sarcasm.

"I know she doesn't, all right?" She replied to him.

But finding out that Dawn never existed was the straw that broke the camel's back. Instead of just secluding and feeling sorry for herself in Sunnydale, hearing that, she fled to go on a near constant bender.

"I'm the asshole...that whatcha wanna hear?"

He squatted down so they were face-to-face.

"She owns up."

"Tryin' to earn a merit badge between pimping IDs, Navarro?" She spat back at him rather cruelly, doing her best to just sit straight. "Den musta needed a janitor wicked bad. When'd they let ex-cons Scout?"

"Wake up every day knowin' what I am. Got your break though, better believe I woulda paid attention to how good I had it. Least enough so I didn't screw over people who thought I was worth somethin'," Weevil threw back, her digs rolling off.

He'd accepted who he was a long time ago--problem was, Faith had yet to.

"Only reason I came off the bench to play backup? Buffy was outta town. But she's back with the Superfriends, and I'm a stringer who shouldn'ta made the cut," she believed.

"Not when ya get that body all kinds of fisted, goin' one-on-one with a Terminator," he agreed, though he had a different reason. "But once you're on the roster, only one way you're scratched off."

He paused while she held her head and groaned.

"Want proof? There. Don't give a damn if it's in your blood, girl...even clover-eaters can't sober this fast." Beat. "Well, bet Buffy could, ‘cept she won't hit the hard stuff."

"Thought you two were tight." She looked at him like he was crazy, and had just lost all his credibility. "She lives for the hard stuff."

"Was talkin' booze," he elaborated.

Maybe she hadn't quite sobered.

"But okay, I'll do metaphor." He'd gone to English once or twice. "Might have the experience, but the hard stuff still kicks her ass. She can be just as thick as you, Boston.

"Difference is, she loses? Learns from it. She didn't go after that thing by herself. And she ain't scared to pick herself back up after a knockdown, either. That's your problem--you're afraid."

"What're you, a Mexican Yoda now?" Faith verbally attacked. "Blow me."

A fire began to light in her eyes, but she made no move to deny his claim.

He was getting nowhere. Backed into a corner, his options had whittled. He'd had just about enough of her self-esteem issues, anyway.

"Nah. Seconds turn stale, I ain't interested," he replied, standing, and standing over her. "Casa's closed. Leaves two down the PCH, or...Hector? Couple blocks over? Famous for bragging how hard his stuff is. Low standards, too.

"My choice? Rather take a chance in Hell than destroy the legend."

"Longer stretch in Chino, that wouldn'ta come so easy," she smirked.

He didn't.

"They put Joyce under. Last I heard, it's only a matter of time ‘fore the big, puta de dios makes her move. Be a shame if the kid wasted her six months carryin' that pedestal around...‘cause she won't see fifteen."

He turned away, and left her there to pass out. Guilt was a low blow, but it was all he had left to use.

She asked his back, "Hell am I supposed t'do? Her big sis gets what? B's still the hero."

Here was the second thing Faith was owning up to, this time to herself. She'd never be as good as Buffy. She'd pretended a while, because she had Dawn there to treat her like she was, but she wasn't. Even if they were evenly matched as slayers (and she doubted that), as people, Buffy still edged her out. Buffy's hands were clean.

That's all the brunette slayer wanted--the blood off. But it remained.

"That's not me."

He hadn't stopped walking as he called, "Then who the fuck are you, huh?"




An hour later, on the back porch steps of the Summers' house, Giles sat nursing a glass of scotch. He wasn't a believer in any kind of traditional, rewarding afterlife, or traditional God for that matter, but with his stare directed to the night sky, he wanted that for Joyce. Because he did believe the universe owed her an apology.

"They went to bed," said Keith as he reappeared, sat down on the steps as well, and accepted the glass Giles returned to him.

This eased the Watcher's mind, because when the girls first arrived, Buffy's eyes seemed so empty.

"Hopefully Veronica will get her to rest."

He remembered his introduction to the other man's daughter, a couple days before Homecoming. She'd just showed up in the library, much to Buffy's delight. Her first words?

{"Is it true? Does Carrie actually go here? Because that'd be awesome. She's the last autograph I need to finally complete the can."}

Leading Buffy to reply that she needed to stop stealing plot points from Tom Hanks' movies. Then they kissed, and he cleaned his glasses.

Quite the pair, those two. At least in public, they hid the deepness of their partnership behind humor and whatnot, but as soon as Veronica took over the responsibility of patching Buffy after patrols, like tonight, Giles knew all he needed to know. Veronica gave off the illusion of not taking much seriously, until she wanted you to see just how serious she could be--an intentional tactic, to be sure.

But more than anything else, she got Buffy to smile. Even in the direst of circumstances. He'd be forever thankful for that skill.

"If you don't mind my saying, you've raised a remarkable young woman."

Keith had an appreciative smile. "Sometimes I think she's the only thing I've done right. But she still worries the hell outta me."

Then he swallowed half his drink in one gulp, grimacing as it made its way down his throat.

Giles nodded, knowing the feeling. "Even as proficient as Buffy's become, I'll continue to worry." To which he added, "In my, ah, role as her Watcher, of course."

The detective didn't need to be one to see past that. "You've been the father Hank should've been to her, Rupert. And that's Joyce talking."

The Englishman cleared his throat, and responded to the compliment in his reserved manner. "Well, she was...being very kind."

Emotion snuck in there anyway.

Each man succumbed to his thoughts for a couple minutes, and Keith? Couldn't help feeling like a thief.

"Already feels wrong...being here. Calling it home. This isn't mine."

A sigh shuddered out of him. "You know, if I'd won the election, Joyce and I were going to buy a bigger place in Neptune. Should've counted on it getting complicated."

Regret layered into his voice, and his next swallow was more conservative.

"So when Joyce offered, I thought of Veronica first. I wasn't putting her through all that again."

That was a decision he didn't regret, even if they'd moved to a Hellmouth. Yet however irrational, he wanted to ask Joyce's forgiveness and thank her at the same time.

"But now she's gone, and I don't know if I can protect her family."

"You don't believe she felt the same?" Giles asked, rhetorically. "We do the best we can, Keith--you understand that better than I. And, at the very least, it's within our power to see that Dawn is guided and supported. Though you're not obligated in any way to--"

"No, agreed," interrupted Keith, firmly onboard. "More than anything, she didn't want Buffy dropping out over Dawn. She was afraid Buffy would never go back."

He'd promised their mother before the surgery, though Joyce had been reluctant to ask it of him. But he would have helped raise Dawn whether she did or not. With someone adult in the house, the slayer would have no reason to quit college.

"I survived one teenager...I'll probably survive another," he prayed.

They finished their drinks in silence then, and with a strong, sympathetic hand on Keith's shoulder, Giles bade him good night. After a minute, Keith went inside to pour himself another. Except it sat on the counter, un-drunk, because in private, his tears streaked silently.

Every time he had someone...

As the phone jarringly rang, he quickly dried his face, like the person on the end might somehow be watching.

"Hi," came an unexpected voice. "Number was in the book."

Answering a call from his ex-wife was the last thing he'd expected; he couldn't talk.

So she did. "Adriana called me; if I'd known sooner...I promise, I would've been there, Keith. Tell the girls I'm sorry, and that I really do mean it. Please."

She sighed at his continued quiet. "Hope she made you happy."

"I can't do this. Not now, Lianne," he finally said.

Hearing him speak, she picked up on a quality she knew intimately.

"Are you drinking?" When he didn't answer, her next, surprisingly soft, sympathetic question was, "Helps, doesn't it?"




Morning. Veronica sat at the kitchen's island with her laptop when there was a knock at the back door. Then a double tap. Then three and a half more knocks, before it softly opened.

She smiled at the screen, not even turning. "Good to know some things are still held sacred. Has your timing improved?"

Wallace shut the door behind him and took the empty chair next to her, placing down the breakfast sandwiches he bore.

"She up yet? ‘Cause I brought--"

Veronica clamped her hand over his mouth instantly. "You might wanna check your membrane...before it goes completely, irrevocably insane. Like it will if you dare to ask that again--guaranteed with a stamp."

When his word hole was freed, he said quieter, taking that warning as a no, "Yeah, Xander heard the night went bad."

"Understated noun choice...Willow's?"

Veronica didn't need corroboration on her hunch. The redhead had stayed behind at the house until she and Buffy had returned last night.

"What keeps her glass half-full, I'll never know. Almost ready to claim it's the Judaism; well's *that* tapped," she continued.

"So it was worse than bad," Wallace said simply.

She wanted to find something large and devastating to compare it to, but couldn't even manage gallows humor. Not with this.

"Ever since last night became last night? Been forgetting about it." She still remained focused on her screen. "Where is everyone?"

"Xander had to get back to that job he was doin' five. How's the guy do it? Especially after I embarrassed him in front'a his demon like that?"

Oh yes, he was the Scrabble victor.

"But uh, she's working too," he further answered. "And Willow, Mac and Tara are takin' Dawn out for the day."

Good, that was good. It would make this easier.

"Where's your dad?" He asked.

"At the office, handling grief in the traditional, Mars way--by drowning himself in cases." And truth be told, she wondered if that would be enough this time. "Say, before you peel away on that long and winding road to nowhere, separating us alllll those miles..."

She finally turned her head toward him, flashing her most innocent, "please?" smile.

"...wanna do me a favor?"

As always, Wallace felt a chill go up his spine, but... "Never thought I'd miss hearin' you ask that question. Who's the...?"

She turned her laptop around so he could see the pictures she'd been pouring over, horrifying him instantly.

"Gah!" Wallace wasn't sure he wanted to know, yet he questioned, "What'd I need to see that for? And why're you snappin' shots of it?"

It was a dude. In some kind of locker room. Wearing a dress.

"Well I guess *you* haven't been experimenting in college," Veronica commented faux-judgmentally, beginning to cycle through her work. "That's Ben. That's Sunnydale General, where he supposedly has residency. That's his '98 model Taurus."

She came to a photo of a swanky, upscale nouveau riche mansion.

"And that's where he unwinds in his off hours. Fishy? Methinks so. Because what our young, Dr. Frankenfurter/McDreamy *doesn't* have?"

"Money. No trust fund, no rich uncles," her friend guessed.

She felt like a proud parent. "Excellent, Black Stallion. I see I've trained you well."

"Probably spend the rest of my life tryin' to figure out if that's a good thing," Wallace felt the need to say in reply, "but all me interested. Guy a case?"

"Soon as I laid eyes on'm. Officially, my machete-keen, investigative sense hacked clean through his charming veil of lies," she explained, puffing herself falsely up. "Unofficially, the bastard's eyes laid on Buffy every time we were at that hospital, and thought they'd get away with it. So, went troweling for dirt, started a mudslide."

Her friend grinned, as she had a habit of doing that.

"Just another day for Veronica Mars." His grin smirked, and then began to smile. "You love her."

She stared at him as if he was very, very, *very* slow.

"I take it training's failed. Hard," she said.

His smile just stayed in place. Made her uncomfortable. She felt exposed. When she could feel herself blushing, he laughed.

"Jerk," she name-called. "Don't do that."

"Do what?" He played the innocent.

Her fist showed itself, voice deadly serious. "I'm warning you, Fennel, I hit like a girl."

"Fine," he acquiesced, stretching his arms. "This ‘Wallace'? All business."

"Ooh, that's my second-favorite ‘Wallace,'' she beamed, pinching his cheek. "And if I know him like I think I do, he's wondering where the mudslide is."

He rubbed his cheek. "Before that he was."

She just clicked on another picture and blew it up full screen.

His eyes bugged. "Aw damn. What the hell?"

It was a photo taken at night, outside the same mansion. Through what looked to be a penthouse window, you could clearly make out Glory. Then another showed her minions scurrying like rats to the front door. They were all time-stamped, so Wallace could see that the photo of Ben leaving was taken the next morning. He was no hostage.

"To find out, I'm going planting," the detective outlined, short and to the point. "But it sure would be nice to have somebody watching the perimeter."

Not to mention someone at the ready with her girlfriend on speed dial should things go wrong.

"Please be kiddin'." He kept saying that hoping one of these times she would be. "You *do* know what she is, right? She catches you..."

"She's gonna drive me crazy?" Veronica realized that.

Life in a straight jacket had an odd appeal. Not enough of one, but it did.

She hated this plan. Yet after last night, she had to give their team some kind of edge. Give Buffy an edge.

Eyes and ears would do the trick. Maybe she'd get lucky, Ben would beat his roomie home, and spill until he couldn't spill no more. Or maybe she'd get super lucky, and not die.

"Boy, aren't I glad I'm bringing a failsafe along."

Her arm went around his shoulders, and she batted her eyelashes. As she waited for his answer, those breakfast sandwiches just got colder.



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