FIC: MC 21 May ’00 – Rasputin’s Charm (1/?)
Tobolsk, Siberia, March 5th
"Please, hurry!" Sacha shivered as he made his way down the mine shaft, not at all sure if his shivering was down to the sub-zero temperatures or to the croaking growl of the man behind him.
The man in question was a tall, skeletal figure with a hooked nose and the burning eyes of a fanatic that could be seen even from within the shadows of his hooded cowl. Sacha was really beginning to regret taking this job, even allowing for the promised ten thousand dollars, more than enough to keep him and his family in luxury for several years. There was something seriously wrong with his employer.
But he was the best man for the job, a local historian with an intimate knowledge of all the national and local legends and the country’s geography. And the money the man had offered had been some tempting.
Roughly quelling his growing trepidation, Sacha continued down the disused shaft. The light from his torch lead the way, illuminating the rusting tools that had been discarded decades. He swallowed slightly at the telltale skitter of rat’s feet scurrying across the ground. "Stop!"
Sacha skidded to a halt at the man’s commanding roar, the voice impossible to ignore. Turning he spoke, wincing slightly at how tinny his voice sounded in their narrow confines. "The map leads this way," he pointed downwards.
His client chuckled, the eerie sound sending shivers up his spine. "The Mad Monk wasn’t just a charlatan holy man," his employer declared. "He was a black arts mage of some considerable skill too." Sacha opened his mouth to scoff but closed it again, the intensity in the man’s blazing eyes intimidating him into silence.
The hook-nosed man muttered something in an unrecognisable yet ancient-sounding language, his fingers tracing intricate patterns on the rough-featured stone. Sacha’s mouth dropped open as a slab of stone slid away, revealing a hole. "H…how?" he stuttered.
His employer glanced at him, a mocking glint in his eyes. "As I said, magic," the man nodded towards the hole. "Shall we?"
Sacha licked his lips, frozen in terror as he stared into the newly appeared gaping hole. There was nothing he wanted to do less. Except…
Except, he forced his gaze from the newly formed portal and to the smirking man, except irritate the ever-so polite yet somehow menacing mage. However much he wanted to run, he daren’t, if he did, he knew he would suffer direly. If he stayed, he might, might, just live to reap the rewards of the promised fortune offered by the mysterious sorcerer. "Da," he replied, his voice thick with fear.
"Then," the mage bowed extravagantly at the waist, waving expansively at the hole. "After you."
Picking up his suddenly leaden feet, Sacha entered the hole, turning sideways to fit into the narrow crevice, grunting slightly at the tight fit, nose wrinkling at the stale air in the long closed-off hole. An apparent eternity passed but finally, Sacha reached a small, nondescript clearing.
Gasping for air, he leaned over, placing his hands on his knees as he rested. By contrast, his mysterious employer seemed invigorated by their gruelling journey, striding around the subterranean chamber, eyes leaping wildly. Suddenly the man stopped. "Ah, ha!"
The magician leapt towards the wall, his eyes somehow not needing the light from Sacha’s torch to read whatever he was reading. Finally curiosity overcame Sacha’s terror. "W…what are you doing?"
He instantly regretted the question when his employer’s head snapped towards him, impaling him with his gaze. But when the man spoke, his tone was cordial enough. "There are sigils in the wall, invisible to anything but the magician’s eye. If one traces them in the proper order the door open," he smiled
"And if you don’t? If you don’t get them right?" Sacha pressed.
"Then we’ll be buried alive when the mine collapses around us," came the unsettling reply as the magician continued to stare at the wall, his fingers tracing patterns in the rough rock face.
Sacha gulped. Once again he wanted to run, but he wasn’t even sure if the path was open the way they’d entered, he was for all intents and purposes trapped. The next few seconds seem to take an unbearable eternity to pass, but finally he gasped in relief, hand going up to mop the sweat dripping from his forehead as piece of rock slid away from the door, revealing a coarsely-cut stairwell, heading downwards to a dimly glowing light. "Follow me."
Without waiting to see if he obeyed, his employer started down the stairs. But then, as Sacha had frequently reminded himself since this terrifying insanity began, he had little choice. Swallowing his terror, he followed suit.
* * *
Oleg Noch beamed as he reached the magically lit chamber. It was a small featureless place, but then its true treasures were hidden from the naked eye. "Vide!"
The second his booming echo had died out, a mist appeared, briefly shimmered and then disappeared, revealing the treasures the room’s creator had hidden. "W..what is this place?"
Oleg glanced over his shoulder, barely bothering to hide his disdain from the short, podgy native stood behind him. "As I said, the Mad Monk was a magician of considerable power," he turned back to look at the dazzling array of treasures against the far wall and smirked. "He," spying what he wanted, he stepped forward and picked up a gold chain with a golf-ball sized ruby embedded with a dozen sparkling emeralds hanging off, "hid his most valued possessions here, hoping to come back here once things calmed down. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for me, he was killed before they did so. The question is," he pulled his hood down and pulled the chain over his head, "does it work?"
"Does what work?" Sacha queried, a tremulous note in his voice.
Oleg’s smile widened. "So glad you asked." Putting his hands into his jacket pockets, he pulled his left hand back out, gripping a carving knife. "Be a good chap, slit your throat."
Sacha’s eyes instantly glazed over. Taking his offered weapon, the man drew the knife across his throat. A half second later, blood seeped through the wound, the man’s eyes dulled still further, and he fell forward, knife clattering to the ground.
"Excellent," Oleg dropped the automatic he was holding in his right hand back into his pocket. "Most satisfactory."
* * *
Philadelphia, May 10th
"Stop it! Stop it!"
Xander cackled in what even he had to admit was the arguably the world’s worst imitation of an evil genius even as he continued to tickle his helplessly writhing girl-friend laid on the bed beneath him. "I will have you my pretty!"
Faith wriggled away from him and looked up, eyebrow arched. "Who the fuck writes your dialogue?"
"Why you!" Faith descended into giggles as he intensified his tickles while at the same time taking advantage of his girl-friend’s midriff black top to blow a raspberry on her taut stomach. "That’ll teach you!"
"Why you!" Faith squealed in outrage. Suddenly Faith leapt away from his tickling hands, knelt beside him, and grabbed him in a headlock and really cranked down on him, forearm digging into his larynx, even as she brutally rubbed the knuckles of her free hand into the top of her head. "Now who’s the daddy? Say uncle!"
"Sometimes I feel like a kindergarten teacher," Tara commented from the doorway. "Have you even heard the phone ringing?"
"Oh right," Faith released her grip to allow him to slump gasping onto the bed. "Don’t be such a baby," his girl-friend scolded as she jumped up and reached for X’s mobile. "Yo," Faith greeted. "Faith’s house of pain and discipline." Xander groaned as his girl-friend continued. "Men house-broken at reasonable rates!"
* * *
"Oh hello dear, it’s always a pleasure to find the young have a side-line to supplement their main work. Most industrious."
"Yeah," Faith flushed as she recognised the cut-glass accent on the other end of the phone. There weren’t many women who intimidated her, she knew she was hotter than most, and she knew her baby was crazy about her. But Croft was different, she was totally on her level for hotness, proper educated, and had all that breeding stuff. Throw in a kick-ass reputation as a ‘tomb-raider’ and she couldn’t help but feel Lady Lara Croft was way out of her league.
Gathering herself with a shake of her head, Faith continued. "What do ya want anyhow Lady C?"
"I’m involved in a crisis," the Englishwoman continued in her typically unruffled voice. "A crisis that requires your specialist talents."
Faith winced, her own personal feelings had to come in second to any one being hurt. Didn’t mean she had to like it though. "Where are ya?" she queried.
"New York, dear."
"We’ll be on the next flight," Faith promised.
FIC: MC 21 May ’00 – Rasputin’s Charm (2/?)
"Thank you, dear," Lara purred before hanging up and turning to her companion in her exclusively decorated penthouse suite. "They’ll be here in a few hours."
"Thank you my dear." The suavely suited man stepped towards her, took her hand and lifted it to his mouth. After brushing his lips against her knuckles, the sensation making her shiver, the man dropped her hand, and straightened, a smile playing on his lips. "Seeing as your friends have a somewhat suspicious nature I think I’ll go and get ready for our meeting, allow you to pave the way so to speak. Good-bye dear."
"Bye," she smiled dreamily as the man left.
* * *
"This is it?"
"This is it."
Faith gulped at Xander’s confirmation. She craned her neck to look up at the looming hotel, noting its grandiose front. This place was way upper-class. Looking down at her own attire of leathers and midriff top, she shrugged self-consciously. "Maybe I should change," she suggested.
Xander shot her one of his wicked irritating all-knowing looks. "Tara," her boyfriend glanced at Big Sis, "can I have a minute?"
"Sure," Tara nodded before moving off down the crowded street.
Xander turned back to her, his face a little angry. "Don’t you dare," he said flatly.
"Don’t you dare," Xander placed his hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. "Don’t you dare look down on yourself. How many people in there," Xander nodded towards the building while all the time keeping his eyes fixed on her. "How many people in there have saved the world? You’re as good as anyone. And," her boyfriend kissed her on the forehead, "better than most. And don’t you forget it."
"Yeah," Faith replied, unshed tears burning her eyes and her voice huskier than normal. Impulsively throwing her arms around her boyfriend, she hugged him tightly. "I love you," she whispered.
"Right back at you," Xander whispered. "But I do have the need to breathe, so for the love of my ribs please let go."
"Oh, sorry." Reddening, Faith released her grip and stepped back, uncomfortable at her momentary show of emotional weakness.
Xander winked at her. "Never be sorry for pressing that hot little body against me."
Faith grinned before punching Xander on her arm. "Sleaze," she accused.
"True," Xander rubbed at his arm where she’d hit him. "But I’m your sleaze, right?"
"Truth," Faith agreed before glancing over her shoulder at Tara buying a burger from the local stand some thirty metres away. Raising her voice, she let out a shout. "Yo sis! What you doing eating that? I thought you were on a diet? Let’s get this show on the road!"
"You do that just to annoy her don’t you?" Xander accused.
"And your point is?"
* * *
"Uh, hey, we’ve got a friend staying here."
Craig sniffed as he turned his attention to the rag-tag trio of teenagers stood before HIS perfectly polished and gleaming reception desk, their very presence polluting the reception area’s thick burgundy carpet. The male of the trio was dressed in a pair of cargo trousers and light brown shirt, a handsome young man Craig silently admitted, if he met the teen in one of the city’s many gay clubs he’d be more interested in picking him up. But a patron of HIS hotel? Hardly.
And if anything, the youth’s female companions were even worse. The brunette was undoubtedly stunning, but her skimpy get-up was strictly streetwalker chic as evidenced from the leers she was getting from a number of the power-suited businessmen passing through the reception area. The blonde, well she looked like an out-of-date hippy. He sniffed again. "I sincerely doubt that you have friends staying here."
The young man glared at him, hand touching the brunette’s shoulder as the girl started towards the desk. "Look if you just check -."
"Please leave, otherwise," he picked the phone up, his icy gaze still fixed on the trio, "I will be forced to call security."
He swallowed as the boy’s eyes turned flint-like. "That would be the biggest mistake of your career," the teen warned. "You dial anybody except our friend and I’ll make sure you’re fired by the end of the night. Now," the youth’s tone lightened. But only a touch. "Please ring Lady Croft and tell her Xander’s here."
Hand shaking slightly, he lifted the phone, noting with chagrin this palm’s sudden sweatiness. His eyes fixed on the waiting trio, he quickly dialled the phone. "Hello, Lady Croft speaking?"
"Yes Mi’ Lady," he said. "I have a trio of teens here. A young man called Xander -."
"Wonderful!" the noblewoman interrupted. "Please send them up."
"Yes ma’am," he hung up and stared in amazement at the kids.
"Well?" snapped the brunette, her low-class tone confirming his earlier thoughts. But just what did such street trash have to do with Lady Croft?
Dismissing such thoughts as none of his business, not to mention an invasion of one of the hotel’s most prized guests, he nodded. "Lady Croft is in the Alexander Suite on floor 23, it’s fourth from the right."
"Thanks," the young man nodded curtly before heading towards the elevator, the new-age hippy trailing behind. After a smouldering glare, the brunette followed them.
* * *
"I can’t believe that fucking asshole!" Faith fumed as she glared around the gleaming, mirror-walled elevator. "The way he looked at us, like we were the shit off his shoes!"
Xander sighed, feeling the throbbing beginnings of a killer headache. "Relax Faith, we’re in now, he’s not worth it."
"Yeah," Faith grunted as she slumped against the back of the elevator and lapsed into a sulky silence. Xander exchanged a glance with Tara before likewise falling into a silence. A couple of minutes later, the elevator smoothly stopped, its doors sliding open. "This it?" Xander nodded at Faith’s question and followed the two girls out into the plushly carpeted corridor. "Man, this places reeks class."
Xander nodded, Faith’s awed whisper echoing his own thoughts. "Yeah," he said airily, "I might buy the place."
"Buy the place?"
"Yeah," Xander nodded again at Tara’s wide-eyed query. "It looks like a great investment. After all, I have the money." Both girls exchanged glances before looking at him and laughing. Xander grinned, with that subtle reminder of their own position his girls wouldn’t be intimidated by this or any other place.
"This is the room," Tara said before knocking.
"Door’s open!" exclaimed a familiarly cut-glass voice from within. Xander took a hold of the door’s ornate, golden handle and opened it before motioning his two companions through the entrance and following them in.
As always, Lady Croft took his breath away. Dressed in a shoulderless black evening dress that contrasted beautifully with her creamy white skin and clung to her full curves like a second skin, the slits from the waist down giving tantalising hints of her long -. "Oww!" he rubbed the back of his head where his girl-friend had hit him before gulping at Faith’s glare. "Uh, why did you call us here Lady Croft?"
Lara’ eyes flickered with dry amusement. "Why, couldn’t it have been just for the pleasure of your company, Xander?" the noblewoman chuckled at Faith’s possessive growl even as Xander began to wonder just how bad leaping out of a twenty-third floor window could be.
Thankfully the Englishwoman’s expression sobered. "No," she shook her head. "As I said I’ve discovered a problem," the Englishwoman glanced towards the laptop sat on the room’s desk. "If you wouldn’t mind."
"Sure," Xander followed the Englishwoman over to the computer.
"This man," the noblewoman pressed a key on her keyboard.
There was a beep, and a photograph appeared of a hook-nosed man with wild eyes
bubbling with intensity. "Is Oleg Noch, an Ukrainian occultist and magician of
some note. He is also a former Watcher -."
"Whoa!" Faith interrupted, her tone strident and, a quick sideways glance confirmed, eyes worried. "Former? You sure about this? It could be a trap to allow those rat bastards to get their hands on me."
"I’m sure." The Englishwoman nodded grimly before pressing another key. Tara groaned, Faith swore, and he looked away as the first image was replaced by the sight of a naked, golden-haired girl lying on a table, her eyes staring up lifelessly and cut open from neck to groin, her organs lying on the table beside her. "This was Lukina Mayna, Oleg’s Potential. He sacrificed her, used her spirit to summon Rasputin and query him about the Mad Monk’s occult artefacts."
"I’m going to gut this fucker," Faith muttered, her voice trembling with anger. "And who’s this Rasputin?"
"He was a Siberian monk," Tara put in. Which was lucky, because Xander had never listened much in history. Or in any class, really. "He gained favour and power with the Russian government through helping the Empress’ ill son. According to history, he had a magnetic personality and was soon considered to be the power behind the throne. His scandalous behaviour helped ferment peasant dissent in Russia, and he was murdered in 1916."
"That’s correct," the Englishwoman agreed. "What isn’t widely known is that Grigori Efimovich Rasputin was also an occultist of considerable power and created a number of artefacts, including," Lara pressed another key on the laptop keyboard. Xander stared at the enticing piece of jewellery pictured on the computer screen. "Including Rasputin’s Charm."
FIC: MC 21 May ’00 – Rasputin’s Charm (3/?)
"Rasputin’s Charm?" Faith queried, her eyes fixed to the computer screen. She didn’t go much for jewellery, but this was different, she’d look a million dollars in that. "What’s that?"
Lady Croft turned towards her. Faith bristled inwardly at the noblewoman’s expression. She really wanted to slap the smug bitch. "As I said, Rasputin was an occultist and mage of considerable mage. What Tara," Lara fixed her big sis with a dazzling smile, "said was correct as far the accepted version of history. However, what really happened is rather different."
"How so?" asked her best friend.
"It wasn’t merely Rasputin’s personality that allowed him to gain the influence that made him so notorious." Faith resisted temptation to roll her eyes, listening to the noblewoman’s lecture reminded her why she’d stopped going to school before she hit her teens. Booooooring. "He created the Rasputin’s Charm, imbuing it with spells of Compulsion that ensured its wearer had the power to control anyone they met as long as they didn’t take the necklace off."
"And Oleg Noch has it now? What does he intend to do with it now?" Xander queried.
In answer, Lara Croft strode over to the glass doors at the back of the hotel, slid them open, and walked out onto the balcony. After exchanging confused glances, Faith and her friends they hurried onto the balcony after the woman. "I believe Oleg is after that." Lara pointed across the busy road.
Faith shaded her eyes from the blazing sun. Across the road stood a looming building with an almost entirely glass front and a row of flags flapping in the wind before it. "Eh?"
"The United Nations building," Lara explained.
"Oh," Faith nodded sagely. "The what?"
* * *
Lara fought back a sigh at the teen’s confusion. Knowledge and intelligence were very different, while the Slayer was evidently a resourceful and quick-witted girl; her knowledge-base wasn’t very large at all. "The United Nations was formed in the aftermath of the second world war. It is an international organization of nation-states, based on the sovereign equality of its members. Members are pledged to fulfil the obligations they have assumed, to settle international disputes by peaceful means, to refrain from the threat or use of force, to assist the UN in actions ordered under the charter and to refrain from assisting any country against which such UN action is being taken, and to act according to the charter's principles."
"Right," the brunette nodded. "So it’s like a government, but instead of looking after just one country it’s meant to look after the world?"
"A good summary," she agreed with a smile. As she’d thought. Not well-educated but perceptive nonetheless.
"Does it work?" Faith queried.
"No," she replied flatly. A number of the more powerful nations largely hamstring it. Most disappointing really, it worked better than its predecessor ‘The League Of Nations’, but it was a close-run thing.
"Why he’s interested in it then?" Faith pressed.
"If the UN enforces a trade embargo on a nation, it could cost them billions of dollars in trade a year. If a few third-world dictators offers Oleg Noch say 10% to get sanctions removed, he’d be making maybe billions a year."
Lara smiled thinly at Tara’s softly-spoken explanation. "Perceptive but wrong. Noch appears to be rather more ambitious than that. He intends to use the UN to covertly take over the world."
Lara was surprised when the Slayer threw her head back and laughed, eyes sparkling with amusement and Tara and Xander grinned. "Don’t they ever think of any other than take over the world?" Xander commented.
"I mean," Faith snorted. "Mind control? Can you get any more Dr. Evil?"
"This is a serious matter," Lara stiffly scolded.
"Sorry," Xander’s face sobered. "Have you any idea where Noch is?"
"I’m afraid not," Lara replied. "However I have organised a meeting with my contact."
"Wicked," Faith looked at her, expressive eyes inquisitive. "Where’s this meeting gonna take place?"
Lara hid a smile. This was going to be quite delicious. "We will meet our contact at a ball at the United Nations tonight." It was an even greater struggle to hide her smile when the Slayer’s face dropped.
* * *
"I can’t do this, X," Faith paced the carpet of the suite that Lady Croft had rented for them, heart thumping with terror.
"Shame," she glanced towards Xander sat on the edge of her bed, loathing her boyfriend for the smug smile on his face. "I was kinda of looking forward to going to this shindig with the two foxiest women on the east coast on my arms." Xander sighed. "Guess it’s just gonna have to be me and Tara then."
Faith shook her head. "Real obvious, Harris."
"Look Faith," face sobering, her boyfriend rose, strode across the floor, and took her by her elbows. "I think you’ll look great. What’s the problem?" Her boyfriend peered down at her, staring into her eyes. "Faith?"
Faith’s mouth opened and shut without any noise coming out. How could she tell her baby that she, tough kid from Beantown, was terrified of everyone turning and laughing at her for trying to be better than the street-trash she really was. Finally she managed a lame: "I’ll stand out."
"Yeah," Xander nodded. "You will. Every guy in the place will be wishing they were me. Every woman will be wanting to scratch your eyes out for being the most beautiful woman there." Xander trailed his thumb down her cheek. "Lara said that she’d bought some dresses for you. They’re in the cupboard. Why don’t you a least try a few on, see if you like any of them?" her man suggested. "Women normally like playing dress-up," Xander grinned. "Although my tastes usually run to cop, nurse, or cheerleader."
"Perv," Faith kicked her boyfriend in the shin. "I don’t do requests."
"Ow!" Xander grabbed his leg and began hopping furiously around the room. "Not what you said in the plane bathroom on the flight over here."
Faith’s eyes widened and her mouth opened and closed at that remark. After shooting her boyfriend a playful glare, she hurried into the walk-in cupboard, eyes widening at the dresses she found inside. "Fuck, some of these outfits must cost thousands."
"Well, you’re worth it."
Faith smiled at X’s comment.
* * *
"C..can I come out?"
Xander sighed at Faith’s uncharacteristically shy voice, hating the life that had left the love of his life with so many self-esteem and confidence hang-ups. "Sure, hon!" he called back, the note of cheerfulness in his voice sounding false.
"You ain’t gonna laugh?"
"No Faith," Xander assured his girlfriend. "I’m not going to laugh. Not when I still have so much need for my arms," he added in a lower mutter.
After a second the door swung open and his nervous-looking girlfriend stepped back into the main suite. "What do ya think?" Xander just stared. Faith’s face fell. "You hate it. I’ll change."
"NO!" Xander croaked. "It’s perfect."
Faith smiled uncertainly. "Ya think?"
"No," Xander shook his head, grateful that his voice was returning to something approaching normal. "I know."
The beautiful Bostonian had changed into a shoulderless, form-fitting black dress that’s daring cut began mid-way down her ample cleavage and cascaded down to the floor, slashes in either side going all the way up to the Slayer’s tiny waist, revealing her spectacularly muscled legs. The silk dress appeared to gleam with glitter and swished elegantly with the slightest movement his girl-friend made. Together with her usually free-flowing hair tied back in a pony-tail and a more restrained than normal make-up, she looked a Faith that he’d never seen before.
But no less beautiful for it. Standing, he put a hand on Faith’s shoulder. "Y..you l…look." Xander waggled his tongue in an attempt to get rid of the cotton that appeared to be covering it. "You look," he smiled, relieved that he’d regained the power of speech, "amazing."
Faith looked up at him, eyebrow arched suspiciously. "No shit?"
"No shit," he confirmed with a grin before offering his girl-friend his crooked arm and the nearest he could get to a rakish grin. "I’d be honoured if madam would allow me the utmost privilege," man this flowery language was exhausting, "of escorting her to a soiree I hear they’re throwing across the road."
"Why," Faith laughed at his put-on voice before smiling and fluttering her eyelashes in the most unconvincing little girl act he’d ever seen. "I’d be charmed."
FIC: MC 21 May ’00 – Rasputin’s Charm (4/?)
"Hello?" a cultured voice queried.
"It’s me," Lara whispered into the phone receiver, unsure as to just how good a Slayer’s hearing was. "We’ll be coming across, soon."
"Splendid," her contact paused. "And they have no idea I’ll be there?"
"They don’t," she confirmed before herself pausing. "They won’t be happy at me springing you on them."
"Leave that to me," replied the self-assured man. "I’ll charm them."
Lara chuckled. "As always."
"Why thank you my dear."
* * *
"Are you ready, Tara?"
"Give me a minute," she replied, shouting through the white door. After checking her subtle make-up in the bathroom’s oval mirror, she took a breath. Her, the shy, quiet one, at an UN reception, this was going to take some getting used to. Taking a breath, she made her way through to her room’s hallway, and opened the door. "Hey."
"Wow, sis!" Her best friend’s eyes were sparkling. "You look totally hot!"
"So do you," Tara said, her smile forced. Faith looked amazing. It was moments like this that sent an arrow through her heart, reminding her of how she felt about her best friend. She got that Faith and Xander were a couple, they were so perfect for one another, but sometimes she couldn’t help feeling left out.
"What?" Xander had a puppy-dog expression. "No compliments for me?"
"Yeah, sis," Faith giggled. "He spent more time in front of the mirror than me, throw the guy a bone!"
Tara’s giggles were unfeigned. "Well I’m no expert on guys, but I guess he scrubs up okay."
"Oh such compliments!" Her giggles turned to laughter when Xander dropped to one knee and raised a hand. "My heart is captured!"
"Just remember who’s got your balls," Faith darkly warned.
"Are you three finished? Only we have a charity dinner to attend. A dinner I paid a considerable amount of money to buy a table for."
Tara’s breath caught when she glanced across the hallway to see an immaculately dressed Lara Croft, complete with fur coat. The perfect epitome of sexy, yet refined class. After a second, Xander rose and grinned. "Just about." Xander looked towards the two of them before offering them his elbows. "Ladies, if I may be have the honour of escorting you?"
Faith nudged her with her hip as they moved to flank Xander. "Someone’s got a crush," her friend gleefully whispered.
Tara gritted her teeth as she took a hold of Xander’s right elbow. Of course in between fancying Faith like crazy, she frequently wanted to strangle her.
* * *
Faith swallowed as she craned her neck up to look at the gleaming building towering above her and her companions. "Definitely an oil well."
"Uh?" confused, she glanced towards her boy-friend. Seeing the tell-tale smirk on his face, she shook her head. Trouble was coming, she just knew it. "Spill, Harris."
"I was just thinking when an Arab sheik offers to buy you two fine-looking ladies off me." Faith and Tara turned their glares on an unaffected Xander. "I won’t accept camels. Oh no, it’ll have to be oil wells. Maybe one for each of you. This could turn out to be a very profitable night for -."
Xander doubled up when she and Tara simultaneously elbowed him in the guts. "Dickhead," she scolded.
"Pig," added Tara.
"When you children have quite finished playing?" Lady Croft queried from the front entrance. "Only I would rather like to get inside."
Faith gritted her teeth together at the English noblewoman’s impatient tone. "Uppity bitch," she muttered.
"Now Faith," Xander’s voice gently mocked her, "play nice with others."
"Next one’s in the balls," she playfully threatened.
* * *
Faith clenched her fists together under the dining table. On balance she’d rather be fighting a horde of Kawzo demons than being here right now. The long, boring dinner had been murder on her nerves, carefully watching Croft and making sure she did exactly as the English noblewoman did. She didn’t think she’d embarrassed herself, but it had been a close run thing. Add the dirty old bastards who’d tried peering down her top and she was about ready to explode. Only the calming influence of Big Sis and X had stopped her so far.
In the background, she heard the big band on the stage start up. "Um, would either of you two like to dance?"
Faith shuddered inwardly at X’s question. She was a wicked dancer, all grace and sexy suppleness, but this formal stuff was completely alien to her. And X stunk at even night-club dancing, she loved his zany moves, but out here on a real dance floor, the thought was horrifying. Man, every one would stare. And while she normally loved being the centre of attention, this was not what she meant. "Uh, thanks but no, X, this formal stuff really ain’t me."
"No thanks Xander," added her sis, "I’d rather just stay here."
"Such a shame," a deep voice said from behind her. Turning, she saw their group being observed by a suave-looking dude in his mid-forties. She couldn’t help noticing that while Xand looked ill at ease in his tux, the newcomer looked totally at home. "I’ve always believed that beautiful women were made to dance." The man’s smile widened. "Especially when dressed so elegantly."
"Ah," Faith glanced across the table to Lara. "James, it’s good to see you. I thought you’d never get here."
"My apologies," the man smiled before striding over to the beautiful Englishwoman and pecking her on the hand. "I’d have been here much earlier, Lady Croft, but the barman," the man sighed, "hadn’t the slightest idea how to mix a Vodka Martini."
Croft laughed. "What does one expect of colonials?"
"Exactly," the Englishman glanced at them. "Well, Lara said she’d found some good looking companions. I see that once again," the man sat down, "she was correct. I’m James, I’m an old friend of Lara’s, attached to the British embassy. Pleased to meet you all," the man flashed them a smile before sitting down beside the English noblewoman.
* * *
Xander glanced at the man. Everything about him screamed player. And he didn’t like the way he was looking at his girl-friend. English, tough guy. Watcher’s Council? They’d been set up. Hackles rising, he rose, tugging uncomfortably on a button on his tux jacket. "Huh," he smiled politely. "I’ve just gotta go p-, to the toilet. Be back in a minute." The moment he was behind a near-by pillar, he pulled the button loose and slipped it into the back of his phone. That accomplished, he quickly dialled a number. After six tension filled rings the phone was picked up. "Hey, Brill, it’s Xander. I’m just sending you a photograph."
"Kid, you know what time it is?"
"Uh, sorry," Xander winced at the old spy’s growl. Somehow he wondered just who was running this operation. "I’m at the UN. in New York-."
"Uh," Brill snorted, "I remember when the place had an actual admission policy."
Xander chose to ignore that. "I’m sending you a photograph of a man. I want you to see if you come up with a match as to his identity."
There was a brief pause, an opportunity Xander took to discreetly look across the crowded ballroom to check on his girls. "Oh boy, Harris. You’re in the big leagues now."
"That was quick." Xander groaned inwardly. That did not sound good. "Who is he?"
"I didn’t need to run the software," the electronics surveillance expert explained. "I recognised the man straight off the bat. "He’s James Bond, the British Government’s most dangerous assassin, 007, licence to kill. A legend, the Chinese, Russians, half the South American governments, drug-lords, terrorist, shady conglomerates, they all have prices on his head. Our own government won’t admit it, but he’s the best there is. Be careful, kid."
Xander half-grinned. "You telling me you care, Brill?"
The head of the Mithras Brotherhood’s electronics division chuckled. "Hell, no. I like the pay check," the man’s voice sobered, "you look after the girls, boy. You hear me?"
"Yes sir," Xander responded before hanging up the phone. Why was it every man he met over the age of 40 wanted to adopt his girls and threatened his hide if anything happened to them? His eyes hardened as he turned his attention back to the secret agent stood with his girls. So, the Brits had sent their best man to kill Faith had they? "Boy," he muttered. "Are they gonna be disappointed." Forcing a smile, he headed back towards his companions.
* * *
Bond smiled politely at a comment from Lady Croft. His attention never wavered from the beautiful young women sat opposite him. Miss Hart, the Slayer, she was a beautiful young woman, her every emotion playing in her expressive eyes, her movements filled with barely restrained energy. The other young lady, the alleged witch, she was quite the enigma, much more difficult to read. And their young friend, he’d never met someone so young who moved so warrior-like. They were quite a trio. "Hey everyone," Bond glanced up to see the youth returning, eyes narrowing as he noticed the button the boy had been fiddling with had now disappeared. Surveillance device or coincidence? He didn’t believe in coincidence. "I’m sorry, but my stomach isn’t feeling too good," the youth looked meaningfully towards his two young friends, "we’ll have to go back."
Surveillance device it was then, Bond decided. He’d definitely been rumbled as the Americans would put it. Fascinating, the boy clearly had potential. "Please," he stood. "Allow myself and Lady Croft to accompany you back to your hotel room."
The teen opened and closed his mouth, eyes flickering with frustration. "Sure. Thanks."
"My pleasure," he replied with a smile. Oh yes, something was definitely up.
FIC: MC 21 May ’00 – Rasputin’s Charm (5/8)
The moment they left the UN. Building, Xander glanced across at his girl-friend. Faith raised an eyebrow but nodded imperceptibly. Keeping a discreet eye on where the British secret agent was standing, and sure to keep himself between the Englishman and his girls, he reluctantly allowed the man to follow them back to their hotel. "Well thanks," he forced a smile as he stopped outside their hotel room. "It was a pleasure meeting you, James." As soon he got inside, he’d tell the girls what was happening and get out of town, quick.
"Actually," the Englishman flashed him a smile. "I have some business I think you might be interested."
"Okay," Xander nodded. So, he’d have to take the guy out. Casting a casual glance left and right, he satisfied himself the corridor was empty, no witnesses to hear what was going to happen next. Unlocking the door, he opened it and ushered the girls in before turning to the British assassin. "After you."
The Englishman smiled at him. "Such manners from a youth of your age," the secret agent commented. "Gives one hope for the future."
"Thanks," Xander nodded. The man’s praise would be a heck of a lot easier to take if Xander didn’t know he was here to kill him. The moment the secret agent stepped through the doorway, Xander went in with a punch to the kidneys.
The man somehow pre-empted him and twisted away from the attempt, the hard edge of the man’s hand chopping his wrist down even as the man threw a palm strike at his chest. Surprised that his attack had been foiled, Xander was too late to block the secret agent’s retaliatory strike.
Grunting slightly at the jarring pain, he tried for a kick to the outside of the assassin’s left knee only for the man to block it on his thigh. Ignoring Tara and Faith’s shocked cries; Xander went old-school with a headbutt at the man’s face.
This time he connected, knocking the man back a step. Moving in to capitalise on his slight advantage, he threw a right-handed karate chop at the man’s neck. The secret agent winced and stumbled sideways when the blow connected, falling into the desk pushed against the far wall.
Pain exploded in the side of Xander’s head. Dazed, he slumped against the wall, he watched helplessly as the man raised the paperweight he’d snatched up from the table to hit him again.
* * *
"I really don’t think so." Bond heard the Slayer’s husky croak in his ear. Before he had time to react he was grabbed by his collar and flung face-first into the hotel room door. Head swimming, he spun around to pull out his Walther PPK to get the girl to back off so he could explain things. "Naughty! Naughty!"
"Oh bugger." His eyes widened when the girl moved with the speed of lightning and snatched the gun out from within his jacket with a skill any pickpocket would have been proud of.
His eyes widened when the girl bent the weapon in two before dropping it and advancing on him, her eyes somehow darker than ever. "Hitting my boytoy," the girl grabbed him around the throat before he had chance to point out Xander had actually thrown the first punch. He let out a choked gasp when the supernaturally powerful teen lifted him into the air. "So not cool."
He was relieved to hear the click of a gun behind him and the sight of an ashen faced Lara pointing her pistol at Faith. Although given his current situation and the awesome power of his assailant he had the uneasy feeling that firing a .25 at the brunette would only annoy her. "Faith," the noblewoman’s tone was tight but her aim rock-steady. "Put him down."
The Slayer glanced over her shoulder. "I never liked you, you snooty bitch." James let out a helpless cry as the Slayer flung him into the wall, crashing into it, and sliding down to the ground. "So," Faith turned to the Englishwoman. "How’s it gonna be?"
"First thing," James groaned when Harris pulled a shotgun out of the Always Pocket he’d been briefed about but never really believed in. Until now. "She drops the gun." Xander smiled. "Mine’s bigger than yours."
"He’s always wanted to be able to say that," Faith muttered.
"No." James’ heart skipped when the previously silent Tara stepped smack dab into the danger zone, a look of determination on the shy witch’s face. "Every one here is good. There’s been a mistake."
"Are you telling me I can’t read auras Xander?" Tara demanded.
Faith sniggered at Xander’s gulp. "Man, you are so whupped," the raven-haired Bostonian gloated.
"Okay," his eyes still on the noblewoman, Xander lowered his shotgun to the floor as Lara did the same.
"If I might enquire." Head still woozy, James forced himself to his feet. The coal-eyed Slayer turned towards him. He raised his hands placatingly, having no wish to tangle further with the young lady. Unless accompanied by a rather large tank. "What precipitated your attack?"
"Oh I don’t know 007," Xander said sarcastically. "The fact you’re not an attaché at the embassy but Britain’s foremost assassin, sent to off my girl-friend, maybe?"
"Ah," James winced. He’d been right, the youth had twigged him. Bright boy. "You’re half-correct, Xander. I am an agent of her majesty’s government rather than a diplomat." Faith growled, James hurried on. "However my government have not sent me to kill anybody."
"The Watchers’ Council-."
"Do not run the British government," he snapped with greater force than was perhaps prudent. "They have influence, true." How much he wasn’t sure, but they didn’t have enough influence in the world to coerce him into killing the children stood before him, not given what he’d read in their files. "But I am not here as their assassin."
"Oh yeah?" put in the young man, eyes still suspicious. "Then why are you here?"
"In truth, my mission is two-fold. My government is aware of the danger posed by Oleg Noch, and want him tracked down at the greatest alacrity-."
"That greatest what?" queried the Slayer.
"Speed, Faith," the witch patiently explained.
"Right," Faith nodded before muttering. "Geez, Limeys. Every single one of them was born with a thesaurus up their ass."
James ignored that comment in favour of continuing. "But I also possess a standing order to make every attempt to track you down-," Faith growled. "Not to kill you," he hurriedly added. "Rather you have certain resources that interest my government and we would be more then interested in entering negotiations with you."
"Tara?" The young man didn’t look away from him.
"He’s telling the truth."
James noted the slight relaxation in the boy’s shoulders. "Fine, we’ll work together to stop this Noch character. But I’m not interested in any deal with any government."
"Mr. Harris, my government could be of considerable assis-."
"Governments change, Mr. Bond," for a moment he could have sworn he saw a flash of the warrior-god in the boy’s eyes. "Political parties, leaders, policies. One thing that doesn’t is corruption. A country’s people might be good, but their governments never are. Whatever gifts and skills I’ve been given aren’t going to be used by any nation, not even my own, they’re meant to be used," the boy blushed and shook his head, a note of disbelief entering his voice, "to protect the world."
There was a note of finality to the boy’s words. But even so, James felt compelled to put his government’s point of view. "Mr. Harris, I can understand a certain amount of cynicism, but I assure you-."
"Something wrong with your hearing? Boy toy said no," Faith stared at him for a hard second before glancing towards the English noblewoman. "Now you engineered our so successful meeting, you wanna tell what’s happening with Noch?"
"Unfortunately, I have no fixed location for Noch." Lady Croft shot the strangely unaffected Slayer a glacial look. "However I have information he’s taking delivery of an artefact that will increase his powers at a private residence," the noblewoman glanced across at the wall clock, "three o’clock in the morning."
"What artefact?" asked the witch.
Lady Croft pursed her lips together. "I’m sorry, my informant didn’t have that information. However I have discovered that the wearing of sunglasses nullifies the Charm’s powers."
"That’s something," Tara commented.
Xander groaned, refusing to be comforted by the noblewoman’s discovery. "So we don’t know if it increases his power with the Charm or in some other way?"
"I’m afraid not," replied the noblewoman.
"What about building schematics, security arrangements, and personnel?" James put in.
"Those I do have."
"That’s something," Xander commented. "We best look them over." Suddenly the youth groaned again. "Three o’clock in the morning? No sleep again?"
"Lazy ass," the Slayer muttered.
FIC: MC 21 May ’00 Rasputin’s Charm (6/?)
"Damn!" Faith whistled as she peered through X’s night-vision binoculars. "That is one nice piece of merchandise. How much does it retail at, five mil?"
"Rather closer to ten," replied Bond from the front of their limo.
"Choice," Faith whistled again as she continued to peer at her dream home. The white-washed Georgian-style building was probably four stories high with maybe 20 – 30 rooms. It had high walls, big grounds, plenty of room for X to build a clubhouse for their -.
Faith shook her head, pain tightening her chest. ‘Cept that wasn’t gonna happen, destiny had already given her a different fate. "Die young, leave a hot corpse," Faith muttered, swallowing the pain down deep. When she’d been Called, she hadn’t given a shit about how long she’d live, just having a blast before she ticketed out. But now it was different, she had stuff to live for, but was still doomed to die young. Life fucking sucked.
"Faith," she started slightly at a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she saw her honey staring down at her. "Are you okay?"
"Just getting psyched," she lied.
Her boyfriend stared at her for a second, concerned eyes peering at her filling her with a warmth where seconds earlier there’d only been coldness, before nodding slowly. "Okay, but you know what you’re doing?"
"Geez, X," Faith snapped. "I’m not a fucking ‘tard!"
"Yeah," her boyfriend chuckled, "you’re okay." Xander leaned in and kissed her on the forehead. "Stay safe."
Faith smiled. "Always, lover," she promised before getting out of the back of the long car, sighing slightly at the bite of the New York winds after the comfortable luxury of the leather upholstered limo.
* * *
Xander sighed at the sight of his girl-friend’s delectable rear disappearing across the road, the slamming of the door behind cutting out the ever-present background sound of a permanently busy New York. Looking for an excuse to distract himself from what she would be facing, he glanced towards Lara. "You’re sure we’ve got the full security details?"
"Yes, Xander," Lara sighed, probably impatient with him asking for the hundredth time. "I’m sure."
"And you’re sure the guy who owns this place is just a shady antiques dealer and not a mobster or a terrorist?" he pressed.
"I pity the poor mobster."
Xander ignored Bond’s mutter to stare at the tomb raider. "Xander, she’ll be fine," the noblewoman assured him.
* * *
Faith looked up at the granite wall surrounding the grounds of the sprawling mansion. According to Lara, the walls were ten foot high, and Faith could see the glint of the barbed wire on the top of it that the noblewoman had mentioned. Throw in the surveillance cameras and the motion sensors on the wall’s top and it was one hellvu obstacle.
Except, Faith smirked, when you could jump twenty feet from a standing position. After a quick glance around to check the street was deserted, Faith dropped in a low squat, ass touching the pavement. Filling her lungs with air, she exhaled powerfully as she exploded upwards, thighs and claves contracting mightily as she flew into the early-morning air. Tucking herself in a ball as she reached the top of the wall, she flew over and landed in a crouch on the other side. "Easy as," Faith gloated, a grin splitting her face in two as she glanced around her surroundings, long shadows cast by the grounds’ many trees. "’Course there’s an upside to having kick-ass powers."
"WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!"
"Shit!" Faith cursed as she reached into her pocket, pulled out a piece of prime beef laced with some knockout drug Bond had gotten from the British Embassy. "That monster sounds the size of a tank!" Faith gulped as a massive dog bounded into view, muscular legs carrying effortlessly towards her. Faith reckoned the dog had to be twice her weight with a long, square muzzle, powerful looking jaws, and a rippling body covered in short red hair. "Fucker’s got teeth the size of a shark’s."
Faith sighed in relief when the dog stopped at the meat, its small eyes staring suspiciously at her before starting to nuzzle the meat. "There you go boy," she coaxed. The dog snarled and looked up. "Or you can just take your time," she hurriedly added.
Apparently satisfied by her words, the canine began to gnaw hungrily at the meat. Within minutes, it hit the ground beside its half-eaten meal, mighty chest rising and falling, a loud snoring emitting from its half-open mouth. Unable to avoid temptation, Faith crept over to the animal and crouched over it. "You’re not so fierce now are ya?" she whispered, hands gently stroking the creature’s hair and tickling his small ears. "No you’re just a big beautiful softie."
Forcing her mind back onto the mission, Faith rose with a sigh and one last regretful look back at the dog. As a kid, she’d always wanted a dog but her mom had always said she already had one worthless mouth to feed, she didn’t need two. Faith smiled as an idea occurred, she’d have to bug X into buying one for her. "Guy’s a pushover," she muttered before starting off at a jog towards the single man guard post by the front gate.
When she was a dozen feet away, she stopped, crouched and picked up some loose stones from the ground. "That should do it," she muttered before sliding them into a pocket. For a moment, she watched through the lit window in the back of the guard post. Satisfied that as Croft had said there was only one guard, she set off at a run, covering the distance between her and the guard post at a blur before leaping into the air, and landing gently on the roof. "Easy as falling off a biker," she exulted.
As expected the slight bump that followed her landing, but only slight, she wasn’t a fat ass, caused the guard to open the door and look up at the roof. Faith leaned back into the shadows and waited, heart pounding, until he went back inside. Once the door had slammed back behind the sentry, Faith pulled the stones she’d picked up earlier and flung one against the door. Nothing. She threw another.
On the fourth, the door swung open and the guard stepped out, but this time with his gaze directed downwards. Taking her chance, Faith leapt off the roof, her feet smashing into the man between his shoulder blades, knocking him forward. "What the -!" the chubby guard’s was muffled by his face-first collision with the ground, but then a mouthful of dirt tended to do that to people.
Before the man had chance to recover, Faith was on him, grabbing him in a chokehold until he passed out. Rising, she dragged the man back into the guard post and quickly closed the door before pulling out her cell and dialling X. After six rings he picked up. "Yo, it’s Agent Hot Babe, target secured."
"Agent Hot Babe?" Xander queried.
"Hey," Faith smirked into the phone, "you got who it was, right?"
Xander sighed long-sufferingly. "Yes Faith, great codename."
"Yep," Faith agreed. "That’s what I figured. Say, have we talked about getting a dog?"
Xander sighed again. "Just open the gates, Faith."
"Spoilsport," she groused as they simultaneously hung up. Seconds later, there was a discreet knocking on the gates. Faith looked down at the security panel before her, brow furrowing as she tried to work out which button worked the cameras, which worked the communications system, which worked the lights, which was the alarm, and which was-. "Gotcha," she pressed a button.
After a tense second, the iron railing gates slid soundlessly to one side. "Wicked," Faith smirked as the others hurried through to her station.
"Are you okay?"
"Five by five," Faith winked at her honey, heart warming at his concern. Turning away, she looked towards the English noblewoman. "There’s sensors on the road, right? So if someone goes up the road when company isn’t expected, they go off, yeah?"
"Correct," the Englishwoman nodded, only her eyes visible through the camouflage paint she and all of them had daubed on their faces. "We’ll have to crawl up to the house on the lawn to avoid the sweeping spotlights."
"Crawling around on the grass," Faith beamed. "Sound familiar, X?"
"Oh shut up, Faith," Xander groaned.
"On the contrary," Bond smiled. "I’d be more than interested in clarification."
* * *
Xander peered up from behind the short hedgerow, glaring at the two gorilla-sized guards stood there. "How are we going to get past them without them raising an alarm?"
Bond chuckled. "I always feel bewildering the enemy with style works well in these situations. Brushing off his suit, Bond straightened his tie, and wiped his face clean of paint, before, Xander’s eyes widened, standing and walking towards the men.
"What the fuck is he doing?" Faith hissed.
"James knows what he is doing," said the infuriatingly calm noblewoman.
"Well hello good chaps-."
"Where the fuck did you come from?"
Bond appeared unfazed by the giant guard’s interrupting snarl. "I appear to be lost-."
"I’m afraid this is private property," interrupted the slightly less caveman looking of the two. "You’ll have to leave."
"But all I require," Bond stepped closer to the men, "is dir-." Xander’s eyes widened when the Englishman headbutted the nearest guard to the gravelled ground, before spinning to face the other, levelling him with a tear-inducing kick to the testicles. Before either man had chance to reach for their guns, Britain’s most dangerous man had knocked them out with soccer kicks to the face.
"Ouch," Faith muttered from beside him. "That almost doesn’t make you look like an out of shape pussy the way he kicked your ass before. Almost."
Xander glared at his girl-friend. "Remind me why I keep you around."
"My winning personality." Faith’s beaming smile flashed at him through the darkness. "Or it could be my kick-ass body."
"Yep," Xander nodded, "definitely the body."
FIC: MC 21 May ’00 – Rasputin’s Charm (7/8)
Bond watched with interest as his companions crept out of the garden to stand with him, hidden in the shadows provided by the porch roof. After securing the unconscious guards, he turned to the young man. "I believe you said you had a plan for dealing with this?" he nodded towards the numeric keypad by the front door.
"Yeah," the teen pulled an electronics device out of that Always Pocket he’d been briefed about, took out a wire and fixed it to the back of the machinery before pulling out another wire and a laptop, connecting them together, and passing them to Tara. "Dial her up, Tara."
"Sure, Xander," whispered the chronically shy witch before taking the lap-top and kneeling on the wooden floorboards. After a few seconds there was a beep. "She’s on-line."
"Thanks, Tara," the boy crouched by the witch. "Hey Angie, got the readings?"
"Numeric key pad, working on a three digit code?" a woman’s voice beeped out of the computer’s speaker. "This shouldn’t take too long."
"Yeah," Xander looked around, peering searchingly into the shadows. "Let’s hope not." Two tension-filled minutes there was a beep and the white pine doors swung silently open. Xander grinned goofily. "Thanks Ang."
"My pleasure Xander," the voice said. "Now be careful. And can I go back to bed now?
Xander smiled. "You have your leader’s permission."
"Gee," the voice chuckled. "Thanks boss."
Once the youngsters had packed their equipment up, they crept through the front doors, James’ pencil light leading the way into a sumptuously decorated hallway, its pastel-coloured adorned with paintings each valued at least six figures. Yes, exceptional taste, he definitely approved. "Wow," he heard the Slayer whistle. "This place is big, but what it really needs is a jukebox and maybe a pool table."
"I’m sure there’s one in the basement," he replied with a shake of the head. Americans!
The girl glared at him. "Don’t forget the sunglasses to block the Charm," Lady Croft smoothly interjected. "We’re inside now; we could bump into Mr. Noch at any time."
"One wouldn’t," he reached into his suit’s inner pocket, "want that." After putting his glasses on, he turned to the English noblewoman and adventurer. "Lady Croft, if you wouldn’t mind leading the way?"
"Jesus," he heard the Slayer mutter. "He’s gonna curtsey in a second."
"Men bow, Faith," commented the witch.
"Not that man," Faith muttered. "I mean look how well he dresses, can’t be straight. No offence, sis."
"Oh none taken," snapped the Witch.
"Hey!" the Slayer sounded injured. "Whadda I say?"
Bond’s lips pulled up in a half-smile. His envy of Mr. Harris for having such a beautiful girl-friend was now tinged with more than a little pity. From the sounds of things the boy had his hands full.
"We’ll head to the lounge," declared Lady Croft, "that’s where the meeting’s meant to take place." The noblewoman glanced at her watch. "In fact the principals should all be there by now."
* * *
"Wicked cool," Faith muttered as she followed the Englishwoman through the mansion’s darkened corridors and up a number of sweeping stairwells. She paused occasionally to stare with wonder at the opulence surrounding her, vases, statues, and paintings; she thought houses like this only existed in black and white English films. She might joke about pool tables and shit, but to live in a place like this. Man, Faith shook her head. It was a million, no a billion, miles away from the slums she’d grown up in.
After a couple of minutes walking through a maze of darkened and creepily silent corridors, they entered a passageway with a pair of guards at a door at the far end. "Oh dear," Bond muttered from his position crouched behind the bookcase by their entrance. "Those two fellows are a considerable obstacle. There’s no way to get to them without them raising the alarm."
"Oh," Faith smirked as she leapt up into the air, grabbing the thick wooden beams attached to the ceiling and running all the way to the other end. "I wouldn’t say that. See ya in a minute."
"Faith! Get down!"
Ignoring her boyfriend’s hissed voice; Faith wrapped her legs around the wooden beam and crawled, monkey-style, to the other side of the corridor until she was above the two oblivious guards. Faith licked her lips as she noticed their holstered guns. So maybe this wasn’t the smartest idea.
Faith grinned suddenly. No one had ever accused her of smarts. Taking a breath, she released her grip on the beam and fell, dropping between the two sentries, her elbows flying out to crack into the side of the guards’ heads. "Hello boys," she purred as she landed in a crouch between the two men. Seeing the dazed man to her right grab at his gun, Faith swept his legs from beneath him. The other man opened his mouth to yell, but thanks to a backwards elbow to the throat it came out as a croak, and a fist to the jaw ended his part in the fight. Turning to the man to the man lying on the ground, Faith leapt on his back, looped an arm around his neck, and choked him out.
"Faith!" Faith looked up to see her furious boy-friend glaring at her. "You should have waited for us!"
"Hey," Faith leapt up gracefully. "Bad guys down, me okay. What’s the prob?"
"You shouldn’t take risks like that!" Xander said through gritted teeth.
"Hey," Faith shrugged. "Taking risks comes with being a Slayer, but thanks for caring." Grabbing Xander’s face in her hands, she pressed her lips to his and worked her tongue into his mouth with a fluid expertness. If nothing else, he couldn’t nag with her tongue in his mouth.
"Are they always like this?" James asked Tara.
Her sis blushed at being spoken to by the suave Englishman, but managed a nod. "Pretty much."
Bond sighed. "I thought so. You have my profound sympathies. It must get tiresome?"
"You have no idea," replied her sister.
Faith broke off from her kiss to flip big sis the bird and shot the secret agent a poisonous look. "Are we gonna get this done?"
"I don’t know," the secret agent shot back. "Have you finished investigating Xander’s tonsils?" Her boyfriend coloured. "Only if you think you haven’t cleaned them completely I’m sure we can wait."
Faith’s glare intensified. She decided she was so throwing him into another wall before this was over. Turning her gaze back to X, she tilted her head sideways towards the door. "Shall we do this?"
Xander pulled out his gun. Bond and Croft did the same. "Let’s."
Her heel crashed into the door, tearing it open, and flinging it off the hinges. A grin on her face, and sunglasses firmly on, she walked in, her companions flanking her. "Yo!" she exclaimed, "it ain’t a party without a little Faith!"
The room beyond was filled with antique furniture. She was no expert but the stuff looked as old as hell, and expensive to boot. Floor rugs, paintings, desks, chairs, vases, everything. But the man stood by the glass door leading to the balcony dominated it, both by his presence and by the power radiating from the amulet around his neck.
The dude was tall, even taller than her X, but scrawny as hell. Despite that, he was a scary SOB with staring eyes burning out either side of his hooked nose, eyes that threatened to ignite everything between him and her companions. "Ah," the man glanced at his watch, a gem-encrusted Rolex, "you’re just in time." The former Watcher took a sip from the wine glass in his hand. "I hope security weren’t too much of a problem for you. And you must be Faith," the man stared at her, "you’re as beautiful as your legend suggests. I’m sure your skills are going to be very handy for me, I feel sure we’ll have a very fruitful partnership. Once," the man chuckled, "you’ve been influenced."
"Sunglasses, idiot," Faith growled.
"Ah yes," Faith heart dropped when Noch turned to Lady Croft, the noblewoman’s gun coming up to cover them. "Did you seriously think something as inconsequential as sunglasses could negate the power of my amulet?" The man’s thin fingers trailed over the top of the amulet’s shining surface. "No, I merely planted that story with my pawn here to ensure you would come here undefended. When my activities become general knowledge, certain powers will attempt to come after me. I will need some protection." Faith’s stomach hollowed. "And who better than a Slayer? And now," the lips on the man’s skeletal face parted in a death head’s smile. "Be a dear, and kill your friends."
FIC: MC 21 May ’00 – Rasputin’s Charm (8/8)
Xander’s heart stilled when Faith turned towards him. "Faith," he shook his head. "No."
The Slayer snarled before leaping at him. For some reason surely borne only of insanity, Bond attempted to grab hold of his girl only to catch a crunching elbow beneath his chin that flung him across the room, and through the doors they’d just entered through.
Xander took the brief half-second Bond had given him to draw and aim his shotgun.
Except he couldn’t pull the trigger. Not on her.
A half-second later, Faith’s tiny but so powerful hand closed around the shotgun’s muzzle. A half-second later, the gun was ripped from his grasp and flung across the room, shattering a mirror on the far wall.
Seven years’ bad luck. He had a feeling it was all going to be his. Compacted into the next extremely pain-filled minute.
Faith led with a side heel kick to his face that would have taken his head off if he hadn’t just managed to sway away from it. Taking advantage of her one-footedness, he kicked at the inner knee of her grounded leg.
The brunette just grunted at his attack before driving the point of her elbow into his chest. Pain exploded through his torso, his suddenly shaky legs taking him back a step. Faith came in relentlessly, throwing a blinding flurry of rights and lefts that emphasised the world of difference between sparring with and actually fighting a Slayer.
Most of the blows he caught on his arms and shoulders, but those that got through drove the air from his body, and even those who didn’t hit with bruising impact. Realising he soon wouldn’t be able to hold his arms up; Xander stepped in close and butted his girl-friend full in the face before driving his heel down onto her foot.
Again Faith’s only reaction was a grunt before continuing her onslaught, shooting a knee towards his groin that he thankfully managed to catch on his thigh. Wincing at the pain, he jammed his forearm into the brunette’s throat, only for Faith to respond with a rib-cracking right that had him stumbling backwards, gasping for air. Suddenly, the brunette’s awesomely powerful arms were around his torso, holding inexorably onto him. And somehow he didn’t think it was to kiss and make up.
Faith flung herself backwards and released him, throwing into the air via a released belly-to-belly suplex. "AHHHH!" Xander groaned as he smashed headfirst through a glass coffee table, shards slicing into his forehead even as he twisted in mid-air to ensure he landed on his shoulder rather than his head.
His breath coming in heaves, head ringing, and body aching, he watched helplessly as his girl-friend approached. Taking a breath, he forced himself to his knees, desperation ensuring he grabbed a glass shard, hoping that just maybe pain could break the link between Noch and Faith.
When Faith was in range, he thrust at her thigh with the glass. "Ahhh!" he screamed again when the Slayer’s hand blurred down, grabbing his wrist and twisting. Pain flaring through his forearm, the glass dropped harmlessly to the ground. Before he had time to formulate another plan of action, Faith’s other hand closed around his throat, lifted him off the ground, and threw him over her shoulder.
The last thing Xander before passing out was the wall racing towards him. And then there was a crunch. And nothing.
* * *
Tara watched with mounting horror and anger as her best friends battled. Noticing that Lady Croft’s attention had turned away from training a gun on her to watching the battle, Tara edged backwards to the bookshelf stuffed full of first editions and picked the vase off the top. Stepping forward, she crashed the vase into the back of the Englishwoman’s head, knocking her to the ground. That accomplished, Tara turned her attention towards the obliviously smirking Watcher. "You want to hurt someone," Tara’s eyes flashed. "How about I hurt you!"
* * *
Noch took a sip of his wine as he watched avidly as the Slayer tear her boyfriend apart. She was extraordinary, he’d seen two other Slayers in action during his time as a Watcher, but neither had matched this one’s pure intensity. Although maybe that was the effect of the Charm and her eagerness to obey.
And her boyfriend was impressive too. Not many men could last ten seconds with a Slayer without requiring a hospital bed. He winced when the Slayer flung the youth through his $ 75,000 coffee table, comforting himself with the thought at least she got results.
It was a shame though. In many ways, Harris was the greater resource, but he was far from sure that his amulet would be able to control a man partially possessed by a god. "Best he dies," he muttered. "Tidier, simpler that way."
"AHHH!" he screamed as he realised the chain around the amulet was heating up, the blazing metal burning into his neck. Grabbing hold of the necklace, he ripped it off and flung to the ground, staring in disbelief at the magical artefact.
His eyes snapped towards the Slayer, striding towards him, her face contorting in homicidal rage. Eyes widening in horror, he reached for the amulet.
* * *
Faith snarled, lip curled in disdain as she approached her crumpled opponent. A simple twist of his head and he’d be dead. Better, less painful, than he deserved for angering her master. Grabbing a handful of the man’s hair, she yanked his head back. "Xander," she croaked.
Stomach heaving in self-disgust, she gently lowered her man to the ground and turned. "You bastard," she grated as she started towards the mage who’d caused her to hurt HER man. The fucker was gonna pay hard.
The man’s eyes widened and he started towards the amulet. "I don’t think so," Faith stepped between the Russian and the amulet and kicked him full in the balls. The Russian’s eyes crossed as his knees buckled under him, pitching him face-first to the ground.
Faith snatched hold of the former Watcher’s throat as he fell, and flung him towards the glass doors leading to the balcony. The doors exploded as the man flew through them, shards of glass flying everywhere, the doors no match to a Slayer’s fury. Still growling, Faith strode onto the balcony, smiling coldly at the barely conscious man lying slumped against the balcony railings.
Knocking aside his feeble struggles, Faith crouched over the Russian and snatched hold of him around the collar and crotch before clean and jerking the body overhead. Standing, she walked to the edge of the balcony. "P…please," the man stuttered through mangled lips.
"I don’t think so, asshole," Faith looked down onto the shadowy grounds beneath them. "Four floors. If you’re really lucky it might not kill you. But hey, way your luck’s been going, I really wouldn’t make any long-term plans." Faith tilted her head, nose wrinkling as she realised the man had wet himself. Damn, some villains had no self respect. "Or, short term ones for that matter."
Faith blinked at her sis’ voice in her head. "I hurt X ‘cause of this bastard, he’s gonna pay," Faith snarled.
"And I stopped you from killing Xander, you owe me, and I’m calling it in," her sister telepathically replied. "You can’t murder, I won’t let you. Put him down."
"Fine." Faith dropped the man on the ground, then smiled. Her heel came down on his legs twice in quick succession, shattering both knees, her ears filling with both the crack of bone breaking and the Russian’s screams. Faith turned back to the disapproving witch. "What?" Faith shrugged. "I said I wouldn’t kill him and I haven’t."
Faith exchanged a worried glance with Tara. "Xander!" In a second she and Tara were by her battered boyfriend. Xander’s right arm hung awkwardly, blood covered his face from a hideous cut on his forehead and another on his left cheek, while both his eyes had been swollen shut by her bludgeoning punches. "Oh god," Faith’s eyes filled with tears, heart tightening in pain. "I…I’m so sorry, X. I didn’t mean-."
Her boyfriend smiled then winced. "It’s okay. It only hurts when I breathe. I figure on holding my breath for the next -." Faith began to sob, her body shaking. "Hey, hey," Xander winced before sliding an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close enough to whisper in her ear. "It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s not your fault." After a minute or so of her crying into his shirt, X spoke again. "Faith, help me up."
Faith looked at X. "X, you shouldn’t move." Faith glanced at Tara. "Tar, call Leo."
"Faith," Xander winced. "I’ve got business to take care of. Grab my shotgun and help me up. Just over to the amulet."
"Mule headed man," Faith muttered before easing her boyfriend up and helping him over to the amulet, wincing at every pained gasp from her lover. X stared down at the amulet and then took his shotgun from her and pointed it at the amulet.
"Xander, no. The British government sent me to retrieve that -."
"I don’t care," X didn’t shift his gaze from the amulet. "That amulet has too much power. I’m not waiting for you to turn up with it around your neck, asking us to join you again."
"Xander, I assure you-."
"Assure me all you want." Her boyfriend pulled the trigger. Faith’s ears rang as the amulet exploded, her nostrils filled with the smell of gunsmoke. "Let’s get out of here," Xander said.
"What about Lady Croft?" Tara queried as Faith eased X around towards the entrance occupied by the British intelligence officer.
"Leave her," Xander winced and swayed, but now his eyes didn’t shift from the secret agent stood there. "She might have been under Noch’s spell when she brought us here, but she wasn’t coerced by him into introducing us to Bond. She lied to us about him, let him take care of her."
"Xander," the secret agent grimaced. "I assure you my government -."
"Save it for someone who cares," Xander glanced at her. "Let’s get out of here."
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