Breaking the rules

Au Bois Dormant (Faith/Giles, Rulesverse)

Let there be ficathons! Yes, one of my stories is finally due. And it's a proper one

Title Au Bois Dormant
Author Brutti ma buoni
Characters Faith/Giles, and ensemble
Rating PG13
Words 4300
Setting It’s October 2011 in the Rulesverse
Prompts I wanted to write Rulesverse for letsgetitdone anyway, but then the spook_me ficathon gave me particular inspiration. My evil creature was an evil plant, and the Tarot card prompts added a little more to the story, especially the first: http://s879.photobucket.com/user/spook_me/media/Spook_Me%20Tarot%20Cards/5797274bcf_zps72c1a77b.jpg.html; http://s879.photobucket.com/user/spook_me/media/Spook_Me%20Tarot%20Cards/61n_zps69bb5a26.jpg.html




One of the more vibrant elements experienced by anyone involved in the work of the Slayer Council was of course the ever-present threat of death from unseen and unforeseen forces. Rupert Giles really should have been accustomed to it by now. But the day Research and Development added the supernatural fertiliser to the Devil’s Bane was one of those days when foresight and custom sadly gave way to panic and despair. He blamed the relative novelty of fatherhood for the unwonted expressions of emotion involved. He was, mostly, telling the truth, at that.

*

“Faith? Faith! Pick up, dammit!

“Bugger. Is it patrol already? Look, Buffy’s not here. Nobody’s here, really. Vi was in charge, but- Faith, there’s something wrong in R&D. Could you call? Please?”

*

“Faith… I’m so sorry Faith. The Devil’s Bane has taken R&D. It’s spreading. Faith, we need you. Please get the word out. Please help.

“Michael’s in our tower, and I can’t reach him so far. You know I’ll do my best for us, but-

“Hurry.”

*

By the time Faith got the messages, Giles wasn’t answering his cell. Nobody was. Slayer headquarters sat silent, at the ass-end of the Earth, and nobody could raise it. Not that most people spotted it, not for a while. The Sahara rising was absorbing womanpower faster’n the Council could comfortably support, and they still weren’t so great when Buffy wasn’t co-ordinating from HQ. The Council was too reliant on her, maybe.

Which meant that Faith, along with Xander, was pretty much the first to raise the alarm. And Xander was in the Sahara. So.

“Guys, I need backup, but I’ll lead, okay?” Faith listened to her voice, amazed as usual by herself in action. Was that really her? She sounded cool, decisive. Someone that people could rely on. Were they nuts? I’m Faith Lehane? You all remember me, right? With the murder, and the betrayal and- And that’s my kid in there, and my… my Giles.”

But what could you do? For all the Euro squads’ fair expertise, Faith was still the obvious deputy, absent Buffy and Kennedy, and with Vi missing, presumed planted. So.

So, Trondheim to Oslo to London to Glasgow, to Faith’s least favourite car rental stand in the world, and on. On with an urgency beating tattoos in her brain. You’re okay, G. You’re okay. You’re always okay. Seen you beat down a hundred times, never seen you beat. And more voices in her head. The ones about bad mothers who leave their kids to go… save the world, okay, not so bad, maybe, but Mike was in there too, and maybe whatever it was got Giles, but didn’t get Mike, in which case Faith’s little kid, curious and defenceless but regrettably mobile in an all-fours-shuffle kind of way, was loose without anyone to care for- And that wasn’t helping.

She stopped for a while, by the side of the road, till her eyes stopped misting and her breathing settled. Faith the Vampire Slayer, right? Cool. Collected. Reliable. Not this bunch of fear and neuroses. Not the girl Giles saw, and trusted, and bore with for years before she even said-

Fuck it. She slammed a hand onto the rental’s roof, regretting only slightly the loss of her damage deposit in the resulting dent. Her palm stung. It was a reminder: life hurts. Life hurts like hell, and then it’s over, and she’d seen too many losses already. Today wasn’t the day for more.

*

The castle was invulnerable, supposedly, though life had also taught them some important lessons about what exactly invulnerable meant when you were talking about supernatural powers. Sure, no demon attack had got through the gates, but an insane witch, a dimensional rift, a Watchers’ Council easter egg surprise in their midst – all of the above, and no Council barrier had kept them out. Mostly because it wasn’t the work of outside demons, but inside forces. And this time, no different.

“Fuckin’ research,” Faith breathed, when she breasted the top of the steepest hill overlooking the castle. “Always knew it was fucked up.” Because, why keep on searching for more bullshit powers when nothing they’d ever faced wouldn’t quail before a crossbow and the right spell if absolutely required? And, okay, she was being unreasonable, and what Vi’s crew had done to improve the crossbows wasn’t nothing, but just right exactly now, Faith was reserving the right to be furious. Better than terrified.

The castle wasn’t there, any more. Or, probably still there, somewhere, but the valley was almost filled with furious green plant growth. Up to the rooftops of even the tall castle they called home – if it was even still standing inside that insane vegetation.

“Hello?” Faith hollered, feeling foolish. “Anybody there?” Her voice echoed, but dully, as though the valley was eating the sound.

A small flock of birds, put to flight and fright, took off from a tree near her, out over the valley. The lowest and last two stuttered in flight, and fell.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Faith dropped back behind the hill crest. Checked her cell reception (okay, maybe another thing R&D took credit for), and dialled. “You there, Xander? Can you get Wes and Angel online? As many others as you can raise? The castle’s fallen.”

She stood, hollowing slowly out from the pit of her stomach, listening to the Council go about its work. Watching the death-still valley, where her family was.

*

“What are you saying, Faith? Please make it very clear.”

Sometimes, Wesley’s voice could take Faith back a full decade and more. To furious teenage resentment of this privileged fucker and his attitude and his inability to understand how damn scared and yet how skilled she was.

“Faith? Are you still there?” Wesley still, when anyone else would better get her to talk, she suspected. “I know your thoughts must be with those inside, but you’re our only soldier on the ground. If you don’t report, we can’t help you.” And there it was: Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, not the dick he used to be. Faith swallowed down bile, and spilled.

“Pretty sure we have a full Sleeping Beauty sitch here, guys. Castle’s under maybe twenty feet of brambles all over – I guess it’s Devil’s Bane from what Giles told me-“ She takes a moment to breathe through the memory of listening to that message for the first time. She’s been blocking it out ever since. “The whole valley is carpeted, and it’s growing. There’s no sound from the castle, and Giles’s message didn’t sound like he could raise R&D after the plant took over.” Which meant, what? “But I don’t think they’re dead.” She breathed again, harshly. Could hear it rasp over the satellites, bouncing her fear to transmitters worldwide. “Or, they could be. But there’s animal life on the edge of the growth and it seems like when it gets too close, it just falls asleep.” Sleep, yes. That’s what happened to the birds. Not death, sleep. Of course, she wasn’t close enough to see that for sure, but-

Before she could explain any more, or justify it to herself any further, she was interrupted by a touch on her foot. “Guys? Gotta go.”

The thing with Faith? She was never too far from a blade, even after a whole bunch of international air travel where knives tended to be unwelcome. It was all about priorities. And the tendril of Devil’s Bane clambering around her ankle wasn’t enough to drag her into the plant’s clutches. When she looked over at her rental car, though, more branches were starting to wrap around it. The trunk was still free, so she could haul out a real machete and free the vehicle fast enough. Slamming into the front seat and reversing up the road one-handed, she picked up her phone again.

“Still there? Guys, it’s spreading fast. Out of the valley already. Dudes, this plant is out of control. We have to stop it.”

“And by we, you mean you,” said Xander, quietly.

“Who else? I’m here.” And everyone I love is in there. She could still feel the strength of the plant as it coiled around her, around the car, the insistence of its growth, like tentacles probing for weakness. Imagine that, all over your body. Imagine that, if you’re a toddler who doesn’t know that this isn’t how the real world should be.

No. Don’t imagine. Think and act.

“How do I stop it from controlling me? I can hack at the vegetation, but this sleepy stuff’s gonna take me over eventually and you’ll just have one more victim to fetch.”

“You could burn it off,” Angel started. “But-“

“Yeah. People inside.”

“No wildfire,” agreed Xander. “But targeted? Laser scalpel your way in? See if that stops it regrowing immediately.”

“Still need to breathe.”

“Easy,” said a new voice. Kennedy. Hooray. “Unless the plant already got our outer perimeter stash, there’s breathing masks in there.”

“Need some research on an incantation,” Wesley warned. “It may not be a biological agent.”

“Fine.” Kennedy’s voice was calm. “You have thirty minutes, then we regroup. Faith? You got a laser cutter you can try on the tendrils? There’s a flamethrower in the outer perimeter too, but it’s a little unguided for when you’re through into the castle. But maybe go get that too, since you’re passing.”

Blessed action. “Got it.” Faith was on it before the call completed. Move. Don’t think. Don’t think about what’s inside. Just about getting in there.

*

The outer perimeter wasn’t so far from being overwhelmed, but Faith liberated the laser, the narrow-gauge flamethrower for controlled burns, plus a bunch of cutting implements in different metals (maybe, finally, they’d find a use for the pewter scimitar?). And a mask. Okay. She burned off the tendrils coming up on the store as they appeared over the nearby ridge, and waited for contact.

“Okay,” Kennedy again. “Wesley says this is mostly just slash and burn. You need to find the source, and cauterize it root and branch, but I’m guessing that’s gonna be in a pot in R&D so at least you don’t have to play hide and seek in the thorns. You got protection? It’s prolly gonna be spiky.” Cutesy language from Ken? Meant she was freaking a little about what Wes had told her. But then, Kennedy really didn’t like non-sentient enemies. Faith didn’t care so much. Sometimes, just cutting 'em down feels good.

She looked down at her usual denim-leather outfit mix, and wished her jacket zipper wasn’t busted. But then, when did she ever fasten it? “Good enough. Hack it is.”

“Great. Call us when you’ve killed it, okay?”

“Well, obviously. Someone will call.”

“No,” said Kennedy, quietly, “You need to call us.”

And wasn’t that a bunch of mysterious and not reassuring? Why wasn’t Wesley giving this info, anyway? But Faith gave a mental shrug. Whatever it was, she’d find out, after. And if it was that everyone in the castle was dead… well. She’d probably call Kennedy. In the end.

*

Slash and burn it was. Cut a hole to give good sight of the roots. Burn, controlled, laser off the tendrils attempting regrowth, and keep creating herself an access tunnel. Faith tried not to notice that slowly, but most definitely, it was growing back despite the flame and laser combo. Her exit wasn’t going to stay clear. And it’s not like lasers run on air. She might end up without a way out, if the battery flattened at the wrong moment. So: all the more good reasons to keep on cutting.

It took maybe two hours to reach the castle wall, and Faith’s escape tunnel didn’t stretch back more than 100 meters when she looked back. Another good reason to not look back. She breathed one long steady exhale, catching the panic before it could bloom. Picked up her machete (and really, even Faith’s love of sharp things was waning with this job), and hacked towards the front gate. She was on the last stroke before a planned burst of fire, when someone screamed. Right close before her.

Then there was silence.

Faith stopped. “Fuck,” she said, aloud, fuzzy through the breath mask. “Who’s there?” Was it the plant? Was it trickery?

No. It was blood, oozing between the thick thorns, and Faith had cut someone. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, are you hurt bad?” No answer. Fuck. Dead?

She cleared forward, fast but careful, and found herself looking at Debbie. Debbie asleep, but standing, and bleeding hard from a cut in her side. Faith touched the wound, and Debbie screamed, still sleeping.

Bad. Bad, bad, bad. Faith was breathing it as she grappled with too many weapons and sought her first aid kit. Roughly wrapped Debbie’s torso, and hoped she hadn’t done permanent, internal-type damage. And moved on, trying not to see the tendrils returning to envelop Debbie’s still, still-bleeding form.

If she screams, she’s not dead, right? Again, not the most comforting thought ever thought. And no more flamethrower, because serious burns were nothing Faith’s kit would mend. So.

Another two hours working around to the gate, because who could move fast when any incautious move might kill a friend? Devil’s Bane pulling at Faith with every step, too close and too much. But she found the door, and blasted flames around the frame, and then behind her, where she knew it was safe. It was a little gesture, maybe futile, but it made her feel a hell of a lot better.

Till she opened the gates, and saw the solid mass of thorns awaiting inside. And here, for sure, there would be people all over. Maybe running for the exit or the weaponry, if they saw the Bane coming. They were Slayers; they would have tried to fight.

More time. Faith’s eyes were getting fuzzy, nothing to see but thorns, and seeing them through the mask eyepiece wasn’t helping any. Either she was tiring badly or the Bane was starting to work. Bad. Very bad.

The one good story was how R&D wasn’t away back in the castle’s upper apartments, but accessed directly from the great entrance hall. Unfortunate, because it was probably how come more people hadn’t made it outside the entrance. But useful for your everyday heroic rescue measures. So, keeping one hand on the left wall, Faith could work her way around to the stairs. And climb. Climb on the bodies of Slayers, as it turned out. Slayers and Support Officers, and Faith was trying not to recognise them, and trying not to think of them as corpses, but she stood on Vi’s hair at the top of the steps and apologised before gagging, just a little.

She tried very, very hard not to think of Giles as one of the still bodies under her feet. He wouldn’t have been here, most likely, but he could be. She wasn’t looking. Wasn’t thinking, wasn’t- Yeah. Self-deception with nobody around to fool. Awesome waste of your breath, Lehane. Inching her way through the R&D lab – Vi might not have been the last out, nothing to swear to that. Also, R&D was full of shit that would react badly to lasers; not all of it likely to be asleep due to Bane.

Bench by bench, she looked for the source, and almost missed it, because it was so small. Just a little pot, a glass beaker really, showing some sprouts, a flimsy root system, and one single huge tendril, wrist-thick, springing upwards in the way that plants do. Not looking too sinister, unless you knew there was a castle of people asleep, because of this one giant stalk-

Wait.

Faith’s childhood hadn’t had all that much sitting-at-Momma’s-knee-hearin’-stories time, but Disney didn’t let you down. This was fairy tale shit.

She set herself up, laser to the fore, and silently prayed a fucking giant wouldn’t fall on her when she cut the thing. Three cuts, and she was pretty sure it was dead. Sliced the stem a few more times to be sure, then set the burn low and fried the sucker.

The castle remained silent. Faith took a breath, and another, and prayed some more, to whatever fairy tale deity might be useful here.

There was a sigh, and Faith felt the castle shake. The Bane started to dry, and powder, decaying so fast she could hardly see. Like vamps dusting, almost. And it was gone, leaving only a mess of dust everywhere which housekeeping was so going to bitch abo-

But there were no other sounds. Nobody awakening. There were four bodies in the lab, and Vi at the top of the stairs, and not a one of them was moving. Faith swallowed hard. Could she take off the mask, because everything seemed really hot all of a sudden, and she couldn’t breathe…

Stupid panic, but it didn’t wreck her completely. She at least found a window, and stuck her head out before taking off the mask, breathing in cautiously where she wanted to suck down air like it was vodka (which was really what she’d have preferred to be swallowing just now). No wooziness. No fuzz. She took another good lungful, and used it to get to the next window, and the next in progression. Just in case the drugged air lingered, but she had a feeling it was as gone as the weed that killed the castle.

Her cell phone pressed against her thigh. She didn’t want to call. Putting it off, she checked the pulse of the nearest body, and found it was there, thank goddesses. Slow, but steady and firm, like a sleeper’s. She walked shakily down the stairs, trying not to tread on the sleepers (definitely better than thinking of them as ‘bodies’). Slowly, up to HQ. Would Giles be-

Yes. Yes, he was. Lying across the desk, with three duty SSO’s beside him.

Seeing it was significantly worse than she’d imagined. Giles was many things, but still was rarely one. Even reading, he twitched and grumbled and wrinkled his nose, and took notes. As a sleeper, he wasn’t restful (too many demons, he’d say, apologetically). Now, he was motionless, faceplanted by the screens, his glasses askew and pressing into one side of his nose. All wrong, said Faith’s head. All wrong.

She leaned over, and switched on the comms. “Guys? Faith here.”

“Good evening,” said Wesley, immediately, like he’d been sitting on his computer the whole damn time.

“Sorry it took so long,” she said, on autopilot.

“I’d imagine it was somewhat challenging to get inside,” said Wesley, quietly. “Well done. I assume by the fact you are inside and awake that you’ve managed to kill the Bane?”

She tried to feel triumphant. “Yep. All dusted. But-“ She waved a hand behind her, “You can see. Sleeping Beauty is not waking up. None of ‘em.”

“Yes,” said Wesley, still quiet. “I’m afraid we feared as much. Fairy tale magic, as you might have deduced. Tricky stuff. It works by its own rules, and I suspect you have fallen into the rule of three. Chopped down the beanstalk and entered the sleeping castle, but there must be something else.”

“Kissed the Prince,” Faith said, deadpan. “Nope, tried that.” Although only on the forehead. Tongues seemed way too much for an unconscious Giles.

“Right,” said Wesley, also deadpan. “Then perhaps you could look out for a spindle, an angry dwarf, a high tower, or, of course, apples.”

“Apples?”

“Very mythical, apples,” came the firmly Watcherly answer. “Although, if you come across any with a snake, do be careful. We wouldn’t want to get creationism confused with fairy tales. That's a can of worms best left firmly unopened.”

She sighed. “Right. So… you don’t know what I need to do now?”

“Not as such,” was the reluctant response. “But good luck. I’m sure you’ll recognise an opportunity when it arises. A support crew is on its way from Rome, so you won’t be alone much longer.”

“Not feeling very alone just now, Wes.” Faith looked down and caught herself holding Giles’s hand. It was true, except in all the ways that mattered.

*

She wandered through the castle, absently setting right things which had fallen and looked dangerous. It was fairly amazing that nothing had gone boom, being stopped in the midst of action this way. But even the kitchen wasn’t a disaster. Gas was off, and nothing looked like burning. Kind of thoughtful, for a curse. But then, that was fairy tales. Nobody burned down Sleeping Beauty’s castle, though you would think a candle could have done a lot of damage unattended within hours, really.

It was about then that Faith remembered those fairy tales that concern wolves. Not an awesome moment. Though she could take a wolf if she had to (the flamethrower would help), and in some ways it’d be better than silent inactivity.

But first, she needed to go to the nursery.

She could pretend, if she really wanted, that it hadn’t been practical to head off there immediately. And sure, of obvious reasons, it was tucked away in the less accessible parts of the castle. And the lab and HQ had been essential stops. But really, she hadn’t wanted to see this.

Ten kids, now the castle had so many staff, and none of them naturally dopey. But here they were, silent and snoozing like the rest. She didn’t want to look, not at any of them really. She could try to pretend it was naptime, but the furious shrieking of Slayer brats told to doze wasn’t in the air. This was as unnatural as anything she’d seen all day, and felt worse.

Mike, now. Face-planted into a book, and that could raise half a smile at least. He slept this way pretty often already, lulling himself with pretended words the way other kids play with a blankie. Not so wrong. He had a piece of fruit in one hand, though, and she automatically patted him on the back to make him cough up anything in his mouth. Would be bad, to choke her kid when the spell broke.

His mouth opened, and a perfect bite of apple rolled out. Faith stared at it for a moment, and swore.

Mike hiccupped, and gasped, then wiggled his arms.

He rolled over onto his back, and giggled. “Muh?”

His first word hadn’t been Mommy but 'Da', which was fair. She wasn’t around so much just now. But this chopped off version, his current name for Faith, felt damn good. And that was before she heard the sounds of stirring bodies outside.

Apple. Faith. Apple. Okay.

She picked up Mike, who didn’t scream. Didn’t seem wet, nor hungry. Like the past hours and hours hadn’t passed for him. Like he’d been unBeing for a while. She was still shaking, inside, by the time she got up to HQ and could pass her son to her husband (a sentence that, really, she still couldn’t think without blinking).

Then, oh then there was kissing. Ignoring the awakening and onlooking SSOs, and the live comms screens behind, there was epic kissing. Faith got pretty close to tears before remembering just who was in charge here.

“Wesley?”

Her former Watcher coughed, a lot. It wasn’t discreet. “Yes?”

“Stand down the alert. I can confirm situation at the castle is basically normal. Everyone’s awake. Lots of people are bleeding. Someone who isn’t Giles is gonna take over in fifteen minutes here-“ Which was mean, she knew. Everyone would be feeling like seven shades of shit after the whole plant sleep thing, not Giles alone.

But Faith Lehane just recaptured a castle, slew the beanstalk, woke the sleeping prince and also spent the whole damn day chopping plants to death. And that sort of rep equals big damn heroes. Big damn heroes get to take the saved damsels (male, middle aged, glasses-wearing damsels, and really short not-quite-toddler damsels) off to safety and damned well recover and celebrate and not cry too much. Okay?

Wesley was nodding. He seemed okay with that, including the unspoken parts. “Fine. We’ll make a note to ensure the perimeter is restocked. Review medical supplies tomorrow?”

Yay. Inventory. Every hero’s favourite. “Copy that, Wes.”

The thing about heroics? Nobody stays a hero when they’re done.

*
This is wonderful! Your use of fairy tale elements was skillful and not the least bit forced. Brava! Love it!


Gabrielle
EEEEE. Moar Rulesverse! We haven't gotten to see a lot of Faith in action in the Rulesverse, and I loved how you tied her anxiety here specifically to Giles and Mike - pretty new things to be anxious about, in the grand scheme of Faith. I love it. :D
Yes, it was time for Faith I think. Even though Rulesverse is kind of all about the domestic, with the big action round the edges, it's nice to have her on a mission too. Especially one with a family edge.

Glad you liked it!
Aww, that was so cute! I love the whole concept of Faith as Prince Charming!
Yay! The Prince was Mike! I'm imagining sticky baby kisses for the Hero, which is a nice change.

As you well know, I love the Slayer Council arrangement, and that there are "perimeter stores" and worldwide "comms" and all the stuff that just makes sense for an organization of world savers. And office politics.

“Easy,” said a new voice. Kennedy. Hooray.

Plus, you've left a tantalizing hint at a bigger story:

The Sahara rising was absorbing womanpower faster’n the Council could comfortably support

It's a nice touch that this particular epic quest is just a blip for the Council, but everything to Faith and her family. Marvelous.
I love my Rulesverse! And most of it does happen round the edges of big plots, which doesn't mean it isn't fairly earth shaking for the people concerned. Who, for once, is Faith.
Great stuff, and so glad you linked again today. I'd been meaning to come back and read this and had...well, forgotten.
Thanks! I've got your bookmarked, among others. After a quiet time on LJ last week was suddenly All The Fic. Which is great, but can leave fics neglected. Hence repimping, which I don't normally bother with.
Oh, I was so scared! Especially when she cut Debbie by accident. And then cut down the plant, but no one woke up. But she picked up her baby and (burped him)out came a piece of apple. I love it! So sweet, so perfect!
Excellent work!

I really enjoyed the way you tied in the fairy tale elements. :)