Love it or hate it or both, "Becoming" was a powerful episode. However, its missed or slipped plot threads have always resonated with me, and I've produced a lot of fic set during and after it over the years. Generally, I like to focus on Giles, and how he dealt and adapted to what happened to him.
Here, however, I found myself with a completely unexpected plot bunny, inspired by a reread of Angel and Faith in preparation for the April issue. Whistler, despite arguably being one of the greater influences in setting the events of the show in motion, is never mentioned before or again after his appearance in these episodes, up until walking back on scene in the comics. I always thought that was a shame...and I always thought, for a guy who's all about maintaining balance and making sure good doesn't get curbstompted by evil, it was kind of a dick move.
Thus, as I often do, I wrote a little fix-it fic, maybe explaining a bit about how the Scoobies were able to rally so well when the only other guy that could teach them was either out of town or incapable of properly holding a weapon for most of the first month or so. I'm not sure about the execution - for some reason, this has always been a hard area for me to wrestle fic out of, much as I enjoy trying - but I like the idea itself, and I hope you do, too.
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“Well, aren’t you kids a sorry sight.”
The voice was the first thing Willow heard. Blearily, she wondered why the vampire was talking to them, rather than eating them. Then she remembered that vampires were jerks – of course they’d like to make fun of their food before eating it.
There was no screaming. Were the others already dead?
There was a hand on her arm. Willow flinched away. “It’s okay.” Oz’s voice was shaking, but it was Oz’s voice. “We’re okay.”
Willow let out a long, shuddering breath, and forced herself to look up at him. Even beaten and dizzied, she recognized Oz. She could never not recognize Oz. He looked alive, and surely she hadn’t been down long enough for him to be turned…?
She let him help her up. He kept an arm around her, which was good, as Willow felt horrendously unsteady on her feet and her head was throbbing. She made out Cordelia and Xander getting up a few feet away, and between them was another figure. Willow didn’t recognize him, not even as one of the vampires that had so recently thrashed them.
“So, uh…” said Xander. He was used to getting rescued from certain death, by now, but he was used to having those rescues come from blonde Slayers. Not short, scruffy men in bowler hats. “…yeah. I guess we are. What’s it to you?”
“Those guys totally didn’t just turn into dust,” Cordelia chimed in, showing what Xander considered impressive recovery. “They were just, um…on speed. So they moved really fast. You just didn’t see them run away!”
“Sure they did,” said the stranger, sounding amused. “Vampires tend to move pretty quickly when they smell blood.”
He looked around at the four of them – upon seeing Willow, being all but held up by Oz, he let out a long, low whistle. “Oh, sweetheart. They whacked you one good, didn’t they?”
He tried to move towards her. Xander, showing about as much speed as their vampire attackers had just shown, stepped in his way. To his credit, their savior stopped short.
“Look,” said Xander. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the save. I always appreciate not being monster chow. But knowing who I’m dealing with is a bonus, too. I thought we were the only ones in town who knew what was what.”
His smile was almost pitying. “You don’t. And it’s better that way.” As Xander tensed, preparing to snap back, the man held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “But I can tell you this much – I’m here to help. With the Slayer gone, and her Watcher down for the count, it’s just you four kids holding down this fort over its keg of gunpowder. That doesn’t seem very…fair, to me.”
“Life usually isn’t,” said Oz, sounding wary.
“Life’s hard. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fair.”
“How do you know about us?” Willow’s tongue felt heavy and uncooperative, and her voice didn’t sound like her voice. Curiosity, however, was making itself known past the pain. “How do you know about Giles, and…and Buffy? And us?”
“I get around. It’s my business to know these things. And…”
Here, for the first time, the man hesitated, visibly wavering as he seemed to realize that he’d said more than he should. The hesitation was only for a second, though – then, he sighed, and finished: “…you might say I’m an old friend. Of Angel’s. Woah, hey!”
This last was because all four had gone for their stakes again, even Willow. The man held up his hands, stepping back. “Angel’s, I said. Not Angelus. Big difference, believe me.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” said Xander. There was something in his voice, that Willow couldn’t identify – something that went deeper than anger or hate. She knew that now wasn’t the best time to question him, though. It seemed that they’d tripped over a potential ally…if he wasn’t an even worse threat than the one they were still recovering from.
Their rescuer sighed, sounding so much older than he looked. He might have been – Sunnydale was that sort of place. “Look, let’s start over, shall we?” Then, in a move so surprising that Willow blinked muzzily to be sure he’d really seen it, he tipped his hat to them. “The name’s Whistler. I’m here to help. I think I’m off to a good start by saving your lives.”
The four managed a mumbled agreement, Xander’s coming a bit more grudgingly than the other three.
“Why?” asked Oz, a split second before Willow thought to.
“Are you saying I need a reason to help four kids in over their heads?”
This time the “yes” was a bit more emphatic – Cordelia even managed a “hell, yes.”
Willow thought she saw Whistler smile. “Maybe you’re not as dumb as you look. I’ll explain on the way. After I get all of you home.”
He was promptly and passionately shouted down. “We’ve got patrolling to do,” said Xander. “And we outnumber you. Thanks, guy, but this is our town full of graveyards, vampires, and Hellmouths.”
“You’ve got a broken wrist and a witch still getting back on her feet,” Whistler countered. But, seeing them all so determined, so senselessly determined, he seemed to soften. “Look. Just for tonight. I want to explain myself, and a graveyard at night is about the worst possible place for that. I’m here to help – that wouldn’t work so good if I got you all killed by being my usual distracting self. And you won’t do the Slayer any good if you get killed trying to pick up the slack.”
Xander glanced back nervously at Willow. She tried to smile reassuringly at him, but was aware that she was painting a pretty sorry picture without any energy or strength to change that.
“Xander…” said Cordelia, sounding truly anxious.
“…okay,” said Xander, although he obviously didn’t like it. “Home, explanation, sleep. Back in the saddle tomorrow night.”
“Good boy,” said Whistler.
No one except Oz noticed the hand gesture Xander made behind Whistler’s back. He didn’t say anything, just focused on making sure Willow didn’t stumble. They were all tired and exhausted and on edge, especially knowing that this was all probably going to happen again tomorrow. He couldn’t blame Xander his frayed nerves, especially since with Giles still too badly injured to do much and Willow still woozy, he’d somehow wound up the leader of this particular bout of insanity.
Leaders had to make hard decisions and swallow their pride. Xander was good at both, although he probably wished he wasn’t.
And so, making a strategic retreat and determined to come back no matter what, the Scoobies ad Whistler trooped through the graveyard back towards the gates and Cordelia’s waiting car.
Willow didn’t hear much of the explanation that came on the drive home. She fell asleep on Oz’s shoulder, and he shook her awake every ten minutes or so, so that she’d hear a few snatches of voices in conversation before drifting off again. When they finally arrived at her house, no explanation was forthcoming even though Oz turned her over to Xander to walk up the drive.
“See you tomorrow, Will,” he said, hugging her gently, before holding open the patio doors into her room so she could stumble inside.
“Night, Xander,” Willow mumbled, smiling tiredly up at him.
She might have missed the full story…but when she walked into the library the next day, the sight that met her eyes made things clear enough. That sight was Whistler and Oz going at it with quarterstaffs. Whistler was even wearing Giles’ padding set, although the height difference between the two men meant that he looked ridiculous even as he put Oz through his paces.
Whistler was an agent of balance, he told her later. It was his job to make sure that good had a fighting chance, even if evil would always exist in the world. He’d helped set Angel on the path of good to begin with, and now that that plan had spectacularly fallen through…someone had to pick up the slack, and they were willing.
And if they were willing to fight, Whistler was willing to help. He couldn’t stay forever, especially since he seemed to think that Buffy would not be pleased to see him when she finally returned. However, he could give them some weapons training while Giles was out of town, and he could patrol one of Sunnydale’s twelve cemeteries on his own.
Things got harder, when he left. But they’d also gotten better. Giles got to take some of the bandages off. Xander started to regain the use of his hand. Willow got a little more steady on her feet, and Cordelia came to accept some of the dents and scratches in her car as just another burden she had to bear to save the world.
When Whistler finally disappeared into the night from which he’d came, they only missed a couple of steps, and their collective vampire kill rate had risen to six in ten. Willow thought that made them pretty awesome in their own right…but she knew they’d had some help getting that far, and regretted for a long while not having the chance to thank him for his help.
After those few weeks, none of them ever saw him again.