And Not To Yield|
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|Friday, October 31st, 2014|
|IMPROVISING MODESTY (Modesty Blaise/MacGyver)
Improvising Modesty (The Post-Smooching Remix)
Written for the 2014 Circle of Friends Remix
Author: M. Scott Eiland
Summary: MacGyver wakes up after an improvised solution fails to produce results, and finds he has some explaining to do.
Fandom: MacGyver/Modesty Blaise
Time Frame: Sliding time frame: assume present day, late in the time frame for the Modesty Blaise novels, late in the TV series for MacGyver.
Rating: T, for themes
Disclaimer: Not mine, though I wouldn't have minded taking a serious run at writing in the Modestyverse if I had come across the novels in the last ten years rather than in the mid-1990s.
Original Story: “Untitled20061122”
Remixer's Opening Note: Another case where I saw a drabble and decided I just couldn't let it lie there unexpanded. . .:-)
My thanks to SRoni for providing another lovely story for me to Remix.
Mac was disturbingly familiar with emerging from unconsciousness after being struck by someone with serious intent. Given that, he had managed to develop a hard-wired routine when he found himself regaining consciousness without realizing how he had lost it: before opening his eyes, he would mentally recite his name, birthday, and state of birth, followed by what he had for breakfast the preceding morning and concluding with the last city he had flown into. As he became aware, he quickly ran through the drill: Angus MacGyver, March 23rd, Minnesota, ham and scrambled eggs, London—he was surprised at how little his head hurt as he did it.
The next step was tensing his muscles all over, checking for injury and restraints, along with the general state of his clothing. He felt relatively uninjured except for a slight soreness over a very familiar nerve cluster—someone had knocked him unconscious with a precise blow that did very little damage otherwise. He wasn't tied up or otherwise restrained—he was apparently lying on a relatively comfortable bed or cot--but he seemed to be wearing some sort of robe over his boxers and nothing else. Meaning that at most he had only a few of the emergency supplies that he was accustomed to have when needing to get out of a tight spot. Annoying to say the least.
The last step. . .he listened for breathing. He heard none, and continued to listen for thirty seconds. Abruptly, an amused voice broke the silence, “If you wait to hear me breathing, both of us are going to get very bored very quickly. How about we cut to the chase?”
Mac's eyes snapped open, and he received another bit of evidence that the blow to the head had done no significant damage to his memory or cognition—he instantly recognized the woman standing ten feet away as the one who had accosted him in the middle of his attempt to bypass the security around the device that Pete had sent him after.
She had changed out of the dark tunic that she had been wearing when she had slipped behind him and put that rather effective hold on him that had required, well, creative
means to slip free even momentarily. She was now wearing a red cheongsam that hugged her five foot six frame with sinful efficiency—the lack of sleeves and the slit up the thighs openly displaying the lean, taut muscle that had clearly been the result of countless hours of training. Her medium length dark hair was up in a classic chignon that would have been equally stylish if worn by Mac's great-grandmother when attending FDR's first inaugural ball or by the prom queen next spring. Her eyes were midnight blue and they focused on Mac with unnerving intensity and humor as she spoke again, “You seem to have gotten yourself into a bit of a situation, Mr. MacGyver.”
Mac wasn't surprised that his captor had identified him, and decided to return the serve without pause, “It's hardly the first time, Ms. Blaise. My thanks for leaving me with less of a headache than most would have with that move.”
The woman raised a well-tailored eyebrow and noted, “Not much of one at all, if you have your wits about you enough to recognize me a minute out of your little nap.” She reached for a cup sitting on a nearby table and walked over to hand it to him, adding, “You certainly didn't have the two hours I did to jog my own memory.”
Mac took a sip—she'd had all the time she'd needed while he was out to dose him with something if she had been so inclined—then finished the water quickly. He saw a coaster sitting on the antique nightstand nearby and put the empty cup on it as he said quietly, “Thank you.” Modesty inclined her head and Mac took a moment to examine the room: wood paneled walls and high quality hardwood flooring, with a small kitchen area in one corner. There were no windows, and the single door looked to be sturdy, with a lock but no handle on the inside. Mac didn't think he'd need three guesses as to where the key was. He coughed self-consciously and asked quietly, “What now?”
Modesty shrugged elaborately and moved off to lean against a wall before looking back at him appraisingly and replying, “That's the question of the hour, isn't it? I ran across you breaking into a facility which you may reasonably infer that I have some connection with. You work for an organization that is not known for breaking and entering for profit, whether large or small scale. I've had indirect dealings with the Phoenix Foundation—they do good work. I had some dealings with one of their predecessor companies back when I was, ah, pursuing my former professional lifestyle.”
Mac nodded curtly, but he was remembering that this woman had run one of the most successful criminal organizations in the world from the age of twenty, and done so while eschewing both prostitution and the drug trades. Two of the entries in the file the Phoenix Foundation had on her referred to tips passed on by The Network to the DEA that had done a great deal of damage to the Colombian drug cartels. Pete is going to be seriously pissed-off at me if I don't try to get her as a contact, but I've got more immediate problems right now.
“Your point, Ms. Blaise?”
Modesty smiled to acknowledge the not so subtle demand to get to the point, and continued, “So I know what they're about—and by reputation what you're about. If you cared deeply about money you'd have been a multimillionaire years ago and certainly wouldn't be involved in unorthodox hand to hand combat with retired businesswomen in the middle of the night in London.” Mac remained silent, and Modesty concluded, “So I need to find out what you were doing there, so I can decide what needs to be done about it. The easy way would be for you to just be a good boy and tell me why you were there and what you expected to find.” Modesty smiled disarmingly at Mac and added, “Any chance we could play it that way?”
Mac shrugged and replied, “I wouldn't be considered a very reliable man in my field if I spilled secrets every time a beautiful woman smiled at me and asked nicely—even if that smile is backed by world-class martial arts and firearms skills.”
Modesty nodded, her expression thoughtful, then suggested, “The next possibility would be to leave you in here, of course—since I've removed your little bag of tricks and put it in a box outside the door. There's plenty of food and water and a loo, but it might get a little boring after a while.” She grinned wickedly and added, “Of course you probably wouldn't stay put for long. Between your reputation and a few things that Willie Garvin has told me over the years about the mischief one can get up to with common household supplies, I'd say that you've already spotted half a dozen means to open that door without the key that would not otherwise damage the room.”
Mac smirked. “Fourteen—and at least twenty if the refrigerator has the usual contents for an English household.”
Modesty's eyes widened a little at the casual boast—and a little wider as she registered that he was not kidding—before she nodded absently and continued, “Of course, I have your cell phone and you'd have to go off to get help in an area unfamiliar to you—making it easy to follow you at a distance and gather information on whoever your local allies turn out to be. Since you're fully aware of this and probably know a thing or two about shaking a tail, we'd end up acting out some sort of badly written chase scene over half of southern England. Willie would never stop teasing me about it.”
Mac winced. “Yeah—wacky chase scene music isn't the thing for either of us.” Modesty chuckled, and Mac added, “And don't bother bringing up any scenarios where I attack you and try to get that key you have hidden in your hair. Even if I got lucky and knocked you out, there's probably a big guy with a fondness for pointy objects waiting on the other side of the door, ready to express his displeasure at my damaging his Princess.”
Modesty smiled a little, then replied, “Assuming you left me alive, he'd tease me about letting you get the drop on me. But you wouldn't get past him, that's true.” She carefully locked eyes with him and threw her shoulders back before suggesting, “Of course, you could always try to kiss me again and see where that gets you.”
“Right—because that worked so well the first time.” Mac was annoyed and a tad embarrassed and didn't bother to hide it. Modesty was silent, and Mac stewed for a moment before admitting, “I knew I was outclassed, and I've never really had it in me to try to kill before I was sure someone was trying to kill me. So I was thinking as fast as I could to improvise, to do something, anything, to get you to let go so I could have time to figure out how to get out. The pipe bought me a little space, then--”
“You made your move.” No accusation or mockery could be discerned in Modesty's voice, though there was the slightest hint of amusement. Mac nodded, and Modesty shrugged, “It did surprise me for a moment—so not the worst play you could have made. I've run across a few women in my line of work who would have made a point of playing 'Loves me, loves me not' with your bits and other extremities for a move like that, though. Might want to use it cautiously in the future.”
Mac shivered a bit at the mental picture Modesty had just provided for him. “Hope I don't run into any of them in the future.”
“Oh, you won't—at least not those particular ones,” Modesty assured him, leaning back with a suddenly cold expression on her face. “They worked for the wrong people, and sadists tend to make mistakes that work against them when they meet up with someone who is more interested in just winning.”
Mac remembered a few of his more. . .colorful adversaries and laughed, “Yeah, it doesn't help them think very well, does it?” He thought for a moment, then pointed out, “You could just turn me over to whoever your friend is who owns or is connected with that facility, I suppose. The fact that you deal with them and haven't just dumped my body in the Thames suggests that they wouldn't be inclined to be too rough on me.”
Modesty smirked. “Don't be too sure, Mr. MacGyver—even the good guys can play rough. Besides, I'm not sure my friends would thank me for giving you an engraved invitation into their domain. Heaven only knows what havoc you could wreak if someone carelessly left a gum wrapper and a spork in your cell.” Mac quirked a smile, and Modesty gave him a “you're not fooling anyone” look before adding, “I think we're on the right track, though. Does your organization have protocols for meetings between two organizations who aren't actively unfriendly to one another but are still inclined to be cautious?”
Mac had to think a moment after hearing the question before replying, “Yeah—it's been a while since I had a real refresher, but I know the protocols—and I think this is one of the kinds of situations they were designed to deal with. To do it, you or someone acting on your behalf will have to make the contact and deliver a message exactly as I dictate it to you. Any deviation will cause the contact to be broken and set the whole organization on high alert once they confirm I'm missing.”
Modesty raised an eyebrow and commented, “So, I'd have to trust you not to give me some sort of 'bring down the Wrath of God onto whoever makes that call' code to me on blind faith?”
Mac pretended to consider the question for a moment before replying with a grin: “Yeah—pretty much. Up for it?”
Modesty glared at Mac for a moment, then sighed and responded, “Remarkably—yes. I'll ring up my friend first and make sure he doesn't want to veto the whole bloody thing, but I've heard him say good things about the Phoenix Foundation, too—that should buy you enough trust to give this thing a go.” She reached into her chignon and extracted a key, then unlocked the door and opened it, calling over her shoulder as she did, “I'll be gone for a while sorting this out. Since you're probably not inclined to sleep any more for the time being, I'll leave you with someone to provide some interesting conversation.”
Modesty slipped out into the hallway and Mac could hear her speaking quickly and quietly to someone before the sound of conversation ceased and an unfamiliar figure entered the room. He was well over six feet tall, and resembled a rather insanely fit version of a young Michael Caine. He grinned as he laid eyes on Mac and called out, “The Princess asked me to keep an eye on you while she gets things ready. In the meantime, I'd like to talk useful gadgets with you. It's been a good long while since I was sure I was talking with someone who could teach me something new in that area.”
Mac smiled genuinely at Willie Garvin's invitation. While he was more than a little anxious to hear back from Modesty Blaise regarding the disposition of the inter-organizational meeting that would get him out of stir and start the process of identifying the real opponent in this scenario, he was always in the mood to discuss useful technological improvisation, and Willie Garvin was a worthy companion to discuss such matters. Mac grinned and replied, “All right, Mr. Garvin. Assuming the door is locked and you do not have the key—how many means to open the door without damaging any other objects within the room do you see? You have five minutes.”
“--shot caught him square in the kneecap and made a mess of his leg. Took the fight right out of him.” Modesty took another sip from her champagne and added, “The others decided that it might be best to find another mark that night.”
“I'll bet they did.” Mac took a sip from his own glass and had another quiet moment of gratitude that the woman sitting across from him had ended up as at least a temporary ally, a mere week after their unexpected encounter in the secret facility.
It hadn't gone completely smoothly, of course. Though Modesty had followed the instructions provided by Mac to the letter—producing a coded message that Modesty delivered back to Mac, who used the private cipher that had been given to him for that purpose to decode the designated location for the meet—the Phoenix Foundation contacts who attended the meeting were not inclined to look favorably on anyone who was holding their foremost field operative against his will, even if only partially so. Modesty's own background as the former head of a major criminal organization—even one prone to be helpful to law enforcement in certain areas as The Network had been—hadn't helped, either. Fortunately, the situation had been salvaged by the unexpected—to everyone but Modesty—arrival of Sir Gerald Tarrant, a high end British intelligence official who immediately vouched for Modesty and Willie Garvin without reservation. Since Tarrant was well known to the Phoenix Foundation and was regarded as a straight shooter, this helped bleed whatever tension remained out of the situation.
With that having been resolved, the discussion turned to what had led to the confrontation between Modesty and Mac. The Phoenix Foundation representatives stated that they had received word that dangerous biotechnology was being developed in the facility in violation of both British and international law. Tarrant denied this and offered to take everyone in the room on an immediate snap inspection of the premises. All present agreed, and the resulting field trip revealed a facility that was clearly devoted to surveillance, not bioterrorism.
Another element was that Modesty's presence there that night had apparently been a mere coincidence—Tarrant had asked her to consult on some of the data uncovered by the surveillance just that morning, and she had been departing when she noted a security breach and went to investigate of her own volition. Which meant that someone had apparently given the Phoenix Foundation bad intel about the activities in that building with the goal of creating a conflict between British Intelligence and the Phoenix Foundation, with possible secondary diplomatic consequences between the US and Great Britain (“Or maybe just someone trying to get Sir Gerald's boys to punch Mr. MacGyver's ticket for him,” Modesty had observed quietly).
The question had turned to “who?”, and that was as of yet undetermined. Both organizations were checking all available leads, and Modesty had offered to use her own contacts to follow up on anything they turned up. This would take some time, and Pete Thornton had told Mac to relax while they worked on it. Modesty had offered Mac a guest room at her home for the duration, and had snickered when Mac asked if this one unlocked from the inside.
Willie Garvin had been around on most days, and he and Mac spent time talking shop in their various fields of expertise, with Modesty an interested observer. They had also trained together, and while Mac knew he'd never be in the class of either Modesty or Willie in a scrap, he was always grateful to get a tip that could improve what he was capable of.
But it was with Modesty that Mac spent the most time, and he found the experience fascinating—it had been obvious all along that someone of her relative youth would have to have a first-rate intellect along with her remarkable athleticism and indomitable will to have accomplished even a fraction of what she had, but actually seeing it on display was another matter altogether. He was unsurprised to hear that she had been a voracious reader as a child once she was in an area where books were to be found, and each scrap of knowledge she gained fed her desire for more. He found himself wondering what she would have been if she had grown up in a “normal” environment and had been able to obtain the top-end education that her mind was clearly capable of exploiting—then decided that it was not worth wasting time wondering about, given the quality of the person who had resulted from the actual scenario.
Mac had been working on some notes from a prior case that Pete had sent for an evaluation when Modesty walked in with the champagne and sat down to chat without invitation—which Mac certainly didn't mind in the slightest. He noticed that Modesty was wearing the red cheongsam that she had worn the first night after their confrontation in the secret facility—she had chosen rather less colorful outfits for most of their time together, both in and out of the company of others.
Modesty stood up and called out, “I'll be right back.” She departed the room, and Mac turned back to his notes. After a few seconds, he called out, “So. . .what did you want to do for the rest of the evening?”
Mac felt a pair of slender arms slide around him—giving him an odd sense of deja vu—and he heard a rustle of silk slipping to the floor as Modesty whispered in his ear, “I was hoping I could persuade you to improvise again, Mac.”
Remixer's Comments: As I noted above, I read the Modesty Blaise novels back in the mid-1990s, long before I had starting writing fanfiction. While I was hardly unacquainted with strong heroines—having been an Aragorn/Eowyn 'shipper long before I ever heard the term “'shipper” because Eowyn impressed me a lot more than Arwen ever did—Modesty Blaise struck me as a protagonist who specialized in making the world bend to her will, and not the other way around: a self-made Galatea who then turned her chisel onto the elements of her world that did not live up to her expectations, with spectacular (and very entertaining) results. While she and Buffy Summers are two very different heroic figures, Buffy doesn't tend to give a crap about “how things are supposed to be” when it doesn't make sense to her, and she tends to behave accordingly (with mixed but broadly positive results). I don't think it's too surprising that I enjoyed the exploits of both and spent a lot of time writing about the latter.
I was more of a casual fan of “MacGyver,” only occasionally watching, but I certainly approved of the character concept and do think that he and Modesty would have found each other interesting and good company. This might have turned into something longer if I had watched enough of the show to get a broader read on MacGyver's personality and motivations.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired. Current Mood: Quiet
|Tuesday, September 30th, 2014|
Blood And Chocolate (The Post-Staking Remix)
Written for the 2014 Circle of Friends Remix
Author: M. Scott Eiland
Summary: After a vivid nightmare, Spike discovers that he wasn't its only audience.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Time Frame: late season seven—Willow and Kennedy are an item, Spike is chip-free. Occasional random spoilers for up to that point.
Rating: T, for themes
Disclaimer: Still not mine—all hail Joss and the other Powers That Own the Buffyverse.
Original Story: "Blood and Chocolate"
by http://dragonyphoenix.livejournal.com/( Read more...Collapse )
Spike snapped into a sitting position, gasping for breath he didn't need and looking wildly around him until he was able to orient himself to his surroundings. He was in Buffy's basement on the cot, the only light in the room coming from a small lamp in the opposite corner. He was alone, allowing him to gather his wits after what had been an unusually intense dream, even by the standards of his long association with Dru and his time with Buffy. Where in the bloody hell had that come from?
Oh, letting that idiot Andrew talk him into that silly role-playing game hadn't been a great idea, and he knew full well that blood and chocolate was a dangerous brew as far as hoping for a sound sleep went. . .but he hadn't directed that sort of thought at Red since-- He chuckled ruefully and shook his head.
“You seem rather pleased with yourself.” Spike's head snapped around toward the stairs and he saw Kennedy standing there, glaring at him with an intensity that wasn't quite Buffy-like but was impressive in its own right.
Spike felt a moment of primal fear, then remembered that Kennedy wasn't the Slayer who had effortlessly used superior strength to stake him in the nightmare, and that he was no longer suffering from the annoying little chip in his head. He cocked an eyebrow at the Potential and replied, “And what if I am? Don't see what business it is of yours—and shouldn't you be keeping Red's bed warm?”
Kennedy scowled and replied, “I was doing just that—until a dream woke me up. A dream involving you seducing my girlfriend and me introducing you to a pointy wooden object. Ring a bell?”
Spike had a first-rate poker face—good enough to let him hold his own against some of the best players in the world in cash games back before his obsession with Buffy had left him without funds or time for such pursuits—but Kennedy's matter of fact accusation made him flinch before he adopted a blank expression, and her glare intensified. Spike blinked, then muttered, “Bugger.” He looked over at the Potential and met her gaze without flinching again as he commented, “I'm not the expert Rupert is on Slayer-lore, but I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to be having Slayer dreams until you stop being a Potential.”
Kennedy shrugged, “Didn't start until a few months ago, when the bastards started trying to kill us. Giles thinks it's from The First throwing power around, or a hidden survival instinct that some Potentials have even before being called, maybe to stop something like what The First is trying to do.” She snorted and added, “And right now I don't really care why
I'm getting dreams that are telling me that the vampire in the basement is having thoughts about screwing my girlfriend—I'm too preoccupied at being pissed off by it.”
Spike nodded, “Understandable,” He reached for a cigarette and lit it up while Kennedy stared at him in growing irritation, and took a long drag before commenting, “You know, it might occur to you that the dream in question was a nightmare
for me and not take it so bloody personally. You never had a dream about shagging someone that horrified you when your eyes opened?”
“Plenty,” admitted Kennedy, walking down the stairs and going to lean against the wall opposite where Spike was sitting. “But none of those was a Slayer dream, much less one shared with a vampire. I'm still new to even the economy version of Slayer abilities, but I'm thinking I should pay attention—maybe I should talk to Giles or Buffy about this--”
Spike sighed. “Wait.” Kennedy paused on her way to the stairs, and Spike looked at her with the most earnest expression he could muster and added, “Look—there was a time when I might have had an interest in Red that way, and I think you caught an echo of it. How about I tell you about it, and set your mind to ease? Given that I don't think me saying 'I have no plans to try to shag your girlfriend' is going to impress you right now.”
Kennedy studied the vampire minutely. She had taken the time to read up on Spike's history once she was aware of his presence in the Summers home, and she had asked Giles and Buffy a substantial number of questions to fill in the gaps. She knew that he had a history of being a notoriously effective manipulator against anyone who dropped their guard against him. After a moment, she settled down into a chair that was next to her, leaning back and feeling the shape of the stake she kept on her belt. She nodded and replied, “All right then—I'm listening. If I get the feeling you're trying to sell me a bill of goods, I'm walking out and getting Giles—and if you come at me I won't bother to try to fight you. I'll just scream my head off while I still have a throat to do it with.”
Spike smiled and nodded in approval, “Smart girl. Then again, Red wouldn't have much interest in a dumb one.” Kennedy frowned at him, and he smirked, “Not flattery, luv. Even Droopy Boy is a lot brighter than most give him credit for, and Wolf Boy and Tara were both as sharp as tacks, though they both hid it in their own ways.”
Kennedy's expression went blank, and Spike shook his head and commented, “You're not going to last very long if you lose your composure every time one of her exes names comes up—it's not like she has much use for blokes these days.”
Kennedy scowled at him and snapped, “You got a problem with that?”
“It would be a bit inconvenient if I was still interested, but I'm a vampire, luv—most sexual hangups really aren't a problem for us.” He was grateful when Kennedy seemed to accept that answer and not follow up on the “most” caveat—some memories were still unpleasant after well over a century. He decided to cut to the chase: “You know the story of how I first came here after Buffy set up shop?”
Kennedy nodded. “A few months after she staked the Master. You showed up with Drusilla and ended up taking over from the existing boss.”
Spike snorted, “The Anointed One, they called him. More like The Ignited One when I threw him into a cage and hoisted him until he kissed sunlight. Good times.” He took another drag from his cigarette and continued, “Mostly saw Buffy during those early days, along with my nancy boy grandsire. Then my plan to save Dru got me laid up, and the whole thing with Angelus making a return appearance made a right mess of things.”
Kennedy shivered, “Yeah, I heard about that.”
Spike nodded, and continued, “That was actually when I first heard about Red—Angelus had plans for her. She seemed so harmless at the time, so helpless—just the sort of victim he loved. Lucky for her that he liked to mess with heads before going for the kill—bloody lunatic came in one night bragging about having killed all of Red's goldfish. I wonder if she was thinking about those goldfish when she cast that soul curse and sent big bad Angelus back into his cage.”
Kennedy was silent, and Spike took another drag before smirking and commenting, “I heard about a lot of this later, of course—I was too busy fleeing for my life and dragging Dru along with me. She didn't take that well and I wound up back in Sunnydale a few months later, single and drunk as hell. Found out Red was a witch and grabbed her and Droopy Boy trying to get a love spell out of her. Didn't work out, but I was impressed by what I saw—she kept her cool better than a lot of demon hunters twice her age and with five times her experience would have. If she'd been a little more experienced I probably would have been dust.” He smiled at a memory and added, “So after a couple of more visits to Sunnydale and liking what I saw of her, I showed up at her dorm room one night and decided to make her an offer she couldn't refuse—only to have my plans for the evening called off by that bloody chip in my head.” He shook his head ruefully and concluded, “That was a break—failing, not having a chip put in my head—turning Red would have been a big mistake.”
Kennedy frowned, puzzled at Spike's wording enough to distract her from the natural reaction to being told that by someone that they had plotted to murder her girlfriend and turn her into an undead monster. Spike noted the reaction and elaborated, “No, it's not the soul talking. It's just that it would have been a waste.”
“A waste?” Part of Kennedy knew that the reaction she was having was borderline crazy, but she was unable to avoid blurting out the next sentence: “You think she'd have been a weak vampire?”
Spike carefully put out the cigarette in the nearby ashtray, then started laughing. He continued long enough for Kennedy to start scowling again before suggesting, “Ask Rupert or Droopy Boy what kind of vampire they think Red would have been. You'll hear quite the tale.” Kennedy's eyes widened in dismay, and Spike continued, “No, it's just that being turned would have lost some of her better qualities, the ones that developed as she got older. Not long after that night she met Tara and started getting serious about the whole witch thing—it didn't take long for her to get dangerous. She became powerful and confident, and when that Glory bitch was bouncing Buffy around like a tetherball it was Willow who managed to hurt her first, then got her off-balance enough for Buffy to finish her before--”
“It's all right, Spike.” Kennedy saw the torment on the vampire's face, and while she didn't walk over to him, the compassion was naked in her tone as she added, “I know what happened next—you don't need to talk about it.” Willow had only discussed Buffy's death with her once, and her haunted expression as she told the tale was etched indelibly in Kennedy's memory, and she knew from the story that Spike had taken it as hard as any of them.
Spike managed a wistful smile, then replied, “Thanks, but I need to get through this, and you need to hear it to understand.” He stood up and walked over to the basement window, looking up at the dark glass as he continued, “We were all affected by what happened, but there was no time to mourn. Glory dying bought us some time, but not much—and we were looking at a Hellmouth that would keep drawing vampires and every other nasty around. Everyone there had their own ways to fight—hell, the little nibblet would have been there with us if we hadn't forbidden it, and that wouldn't have lasted forever if Buffy hadn't come back and we knew it. But Buffy had been the center that held things together and made them a team, and even adding a bit of muscle on my end wasn't going to solve that problem. Rupert would have tried, but the spirit had gone out of him—and they weren't about to follow me into the field and they'd have been damned fools if they did. Someone had to step into the role that Buffy had left open—and that's where Red came in.”
Kennedy smiled, and Spike nodded and continued, “She was a natural. She used her powers to coordinate attacks and keep an eye on things—and if things got really rough she was our ace in the hole: firepower that causes a hellgod pain tends to be overkill on most run of the mill demons.” He looked back at Kennedy and commented, “I've lived a long time, and seen a lot of leaders: human and demon. Red had the potential to be the best I'd ever seen. Which ended up being a problem.”
Kennedy felt a chill—she knew where this was going. “She talked them into helping to bring Buffy back.”
Spike nodded tersely. “She knew them well enough to know the ones who should be left out. Rupert would have tried to stop her, and I would have fought to the death to stop them from doing what needed to be done if things went wrong and they brought back a monster with Buffy's face.” Kennedy stared, and Spike snorted and commented, “Do you really think a soulless vampire is the nastiest thing that could be let loose on this world? Anya used to be a vengeance demon who had once been a human—they have souls, and those souls drive them to atrocities that would make Angelus shudder. Buffy soulless or with a corrupted soul would be far more dangerous than that, and I would have stood at her side and helped her burn the world to ashes, if that's what she had wanted. Red was sensible enough to know that even as she made reckless plans, and ruthless enough to be willing to put her best friend down if it was needed.”
“But it worked.” Kennedy struggled to push away the dread that Spike's harsh assessment of what had happened had instilled in her. “They brought Buffy back and no one died that night.”
“Yeah, they did.” Kennedy had never heard a voice sound like Spike's did in that moment—it was a mixture of regret and joy and utmost pain. “Problem was—Red learned the wrong lessons from it. Deep down, she's a control freak—oh, she means well by it. . .but you know the old saying about what the road to hell is paved with, right? She had just rolled the dice with the dark powers and brought her best friend back from what she thought was horrible torment as her reward—why in the hell would she doubt whether her instincts were right about anything after that? Rupert got back and scolded her for having taking such incredible risks, and she dismissed his concerns and directed veiled threats at him when he persisted.” He shook his head, as if to chase away the memories, and added, “When things started going wrong, she kept using magic to try to make the problems go away, and when that didn't help and Tara left her out of a sense of betrayal, she spiraled out of control. It took almost getting Dawn killed to snap her out of it, and give her credit, she did her damnedest to straighten up. She gave up magic completely for a while, even at times when some of us were begging her to use it to get us out of a mess.”
“Until Tara died.” Kennedy knew this story, too, though it had taken long hours with Dawn and a quiet evening with Xander on watch to get the full picture.
“Tara was. . .loved by everyone in their group.” Kennedy noted that Spike did not claim to share that feeling, but she also noted that there was a quiver in his own voice that did not suggest he viewed the matter impersonally as the vampire continued: “Any one of them could have snapped and gone after that bastard Warren with intent to kill—but Willow had already revisited her powers with a vengeance in trying to save Tara, and absorbing the dark magic at the shop was the last straw. She became an avatar of vengeance and death in that moment, and Warren was no more than a speed bump to her after that.”
Kennedy shook her head, remembering what the others had told her about the aftermath. “It's hard to believe that she came back from that, no matter how much help she had.”
“Never underestimate the power of a yellow crayon.” Willow's voice came from the stairs, and they turned to see her standing there, watching them with a thoughtful expression. “I woke up and you weren't there any more, so I followed the voices.”
Kennedy shrugged, and told a half-truth: “I couldn't sleep, and I felt like talking to someone—I had a feeling Spike would be awake.”
Willow nodded and replied, “That makes sense. Why don't you come back to bed? I'll be along as soon as I ask Spike about something.”
Spike tensed, though he noticed that Willow seemed calm. Kennedy nodded and headed upstairs and Spike called out, “Did that explanation work for you?”
Kennedy paused, then nodded once and replied, “Night, Spike.” She headed up the stairs without a further word, leaving Spike and Willow alone.
Spike began to open his mouth and was interrupted: “Gay now, Spike.” Spike blinked at that, and Willow smirked slightly and added, “But not immune to a compliment, even if it was a vaguely dark and disturbing one out of a vampire's nightmare.”
Spike stared and snapped, “Is there anyone in this house who doesn't have balcony seats to my bloody nightmares?”
“Since Buffy hasn't come storming down here to yell at you for your subconscious perving on me, I'm assuming that there aren't any others. I was probably only there due to being close to her while she had the dream and being an involved party.” Willow walked down the stairs and stood next to Spike as she added, “Thanks for setting her mind at ease, and for trying to give her some insights—there are some things she hadn't asked me yet.”
Spike shrugged and replied, “Couldn't have her running off and telling tales to Buffy or Rupert, could we? Besides, she has a right to know what she's getting into.”
Willow nodded, and turned to go. Spike's eyes fell on her as she left: she was wearing a dark green nightgown, made of very thin fabric that left very little to the imagination. . .
“Spike? Isn't this what woke us all up to begin with?” Spike blinked and noted that Willow was watching him with a playful, amused expression. He was opening his mouth to protest his innocence when she spoke again: “Shush.” He complied, and Willow shook her head briefly and whispered “Bored now,” before heading up the stairs.
Spike shivered a little at Willow's last words and muttered, “Better you than me, Kennedy.” He reached for his cigarettes again, hoping that a smoke or two would let him relax enough to sleep.
Remixer's Comments: A good drabble can be an excellent starting point for a longer story as either a sequel or a remix, and I was pleased to take the opportunity here, doubly so because I had never really used Kennedy as a character before.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired.
|Sunday, December 15th, 2013|
Little Marshmallows And A Warm Cup (Like A Stone—Joyce's Remix)
Written for the 2013 Circle of Friends Remix
Author: M. Scott Eiland
Summary: Spike mourns, and someone is listening.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: T, for themes
Disclaimer: Still not mine—all hail Joss and the other Powers That Own the Buffyverse.
Original Story: “Like A Stone,” by Evil_Little_Dog( LITTLE MARSHMALLOWS AND A WARM CUPCollapse )
|Saturday, November 10th, 2012|
|Monday, October 24th, 2011|
|Circle Of Friends Remix
We are pleased to announce the completion of the Circle of Friends Remix
, Round 1, 2011.
This was a limited remix, and brand-new, with only four participants. We followed the basic principles of RemixRedux, except that this was a round-robin. The results are as follows: aadler
: remix of lwbush
, with “Best Foot Forward
: remix of sroni
, with “The Princess Diaries
: remix of eilandesq
, with “All That Glitters
: remix of aadler
, with “Grand Inquest
Read, comment, and consider joining in the next time we do this!
|Sunday, October 23rd, 2011|
|"Grand Inquest" (DCAU) (Circle of Friends Remix)
Title: Grand Inquest
Author: M. Scott Eiland
Written For: Circle of Friends Remix
Title and URL of Remixed Story: “Icarus” http://aadler.livejournal.com/40463.html
Author and Website of Original Author: Aadler: http://aadler.livejournal.com/193757.html
Summary: In the aftermath of tragedy, the public leaders of Metropolis convene a star-studded panel to find out what happened—and are shocked at the answers they find.
Time Frame: About two years after the events in “Destroyer,” the final episode of Justice League Unlimited (possible spoilers for all series in the DC Animated Universe).
Remixer's Note: Aadler's original story could have taken place in almost any incarnation of Superman: I naturally chose the one I am most familiar with (and IMO, the best animated superhero story universe ever produced).( GRAND INQUESTCollapse ) Current Mood: relieved
|Sunday, August 17th, 2008|
|Part Two: Everest
Part Two: Everest
“Because it is there.”--attributed to George Mallory, as his answer to the question: “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?"
Mallory's disinclination to let the giant mountain stay unconquered was the end of him, of course—he vanished in 1924 during an attack on the summit, and it was not until 1999 that an expedition found his frozen remains and laid them to rest. The death of the great British mountaineer did not stop attempts to conquer the world's highest mountain, of course, and in 1953 Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal reached the summit. Since that day fifty-five years ago, thousands have made it to the top of Everest—and hundreds have died trying. Everest has been different things to different people, and in the world of athletics, most athletes have their own Everest to shoot for.
Sometimes, the mountain gets you.
Brendan Hansen waited uneasily in the starting blocks as he prepared for the 100 meter men's breaststroke final. The breaststroke is the most demanding of the strokes contested at the Olympics: its requirements have been repeatedly tightened up over the years (once to split the butterfly stroke off, once to prevent competitors from saving time by staying underwater most of the time)--and it was the last stroke that men managed to take under the 1 minute mark for 100 meters. Until two months ago, Hansen was the world record holder in both the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke. However, a familiar adversary started making a move on him: defending 100 and 200 meter Olympic men's breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima claimed the 200 meter breaststroke record in June, and was clearly headed into the Games under a full head of steam. Then disaster struck—Hansen failed to qualify for the 200 meter breaststroke in the US Olympic trials: he would have no opportunity to avenge his loss to Kitajima four years before and to reclaim his world record in the event. He had one individual race, and it was the event he still held the world record in—the 100 meter breaststroke. He qualified in fifth position in the semifinals, and thus was in lane 2 as the chime went off to start the race.
In spite of his recent problems, Hansen had grounds to be optimistic: Kitajima had not beaten him head to head since the 2004 Olympics, and no one had ever defended the 100 meter men's breaststroke gold medal. After the first fifty meters, Hansen was second, trailing Alexander Dale Oen of Norway by 0.12 seconds, with Kitajima 0.06 seconds behind him in third. At that point, the defending champion turned it up a notch and blew by Hansen, then Oen—the NBC video feed showed that Kitajima was ahead of world record pace by the 75 meter mark, and he stayed there—touching the wall first with a time of 58.91 seconds: shattering Hansen's world record of 59.13 seconds and making him the first human being to break the 59 second mark in the breaststroke. Hansen strove to keep up, but Oen held him off as he touched home second, and Hugues Duboscq of France slipped by him to take the bronze. In what was probably his final individual Olympic race, Hansen lost his world record, was shut out of the medals, and had to watch the coronation of Kitajima as the consensus greatest breaststroke swimmer of all time as the Japanese swimmer won the 200 breaststroke in Olympic record time on August 14th—repeating his 2004 sweep of the men's breaststroke medals.
It must have been tempting for Hansen to retreat from the scene of his failures, but he still had one more competition to deal with: the 4 x 100 men's medley relay—the event that would represent Michael Phelps' eighth gold medal should the US win it. While Hansen did not swim the fastest breaststroke leg in that final—that honor went to Mr. Kitajima yet again—he helped keep it close with a solid 59.27 leg before handing it off to Michael Phelps, who set up history with his own blistering butterfly leg of 50.1 seconds—the fastest 100 meter butterfly leg ever. Jason Lezak sealed the deal for the second time that week for the US men's swimming relay team by holding off Eamon Sullivan, and the gold medal was safely in US hands. The four Americans celebrated, and Phelps thanked his teammates for the great effort. As far as could be seen on NBC, Hansen never even looked at Kosuke Kitajima during the celebrations. That mountain had beaten him decisively—but he was enjoying being at the top of this mountain instead.
* * * *
Sometimes, the mountain takes notice as you approach the summit.
An athletic, serene-looking brunette in her mid-thirties watched quietly in the stands at the Water Cube in Beijing as the last preparations for the 800 meter women's freestyle were made. Her name was Janet Evans, and she had won this event in overwhelming fashion in 1988 and 1992: starting at the age of fifteen in 1987 and for most of the next decade, Evans had been the most dominant women's long-distance swimmer in history. She finished her career with four Olympic gold medals and a silver, and the world records in the 400, 800, and 1500 meter freestyle events—all set during the heyday of the East German cheating machine that gave Erich Honecker's monstrous regime dozens of undeserved gold medals and world records. East Germany vanished, but Evans' records endured into the twenty-first century with few signs of looking vulnerable. Many swimming records were shattered repeatedly at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and at the World Championships in between, but Evans' records remained untouched.
In 2006, the adamantine began to show cracks. Laure Manaudou of France—who ended up having a rather poor Olympics after her personal life became a soap opera in the past year—claimed the first of the three records by finishing the 400 meter freestyle in a time of 4:03.03, shattering the mark that Evans had set in winning Olympic gold in Seoul: she had held the record for almost eighteen and a half years, as she had broken her own standing world record with her Olympic victory. The 1500 meter record—a distance not contested among women at the Olympics—fell next, as Kate Ziegler of the United States completed the distance in 15:42.54, breaking Evans' record by almost ten seconds. The mark had been set in March of 1988 and—as with the 400 meters—had involved Evans breaking her own world record in the event. Janet Evans had owned the 1500 meter freestyle record for one month short of twenty years, and now it was down to the 800 meters—her signature Olympic event. As the swimmers stepped up to their marks for the final, she had owned the record for almost nineteen and a half years—the next longest standing long course record for women's swimming had been set in 2000. Janet Evans had predicted that her final record would fall in Beijing, and the field that qualified was lightning-fast—seven of the eight qualifiers put up times that would have beaten Janet Evans' gold medal winning time in 1992—and had left the two American swimmers—Kate Ziegler and Katie Hoff—as frustrated observers. The field was fast, but all eyes were on Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain—who had put up the second fastest time ever in the 800 meters in qualifying after winning the 400 meter freestyle earlier in the week, though it was still fully two seconds slower than the legendary record that Evans had finalized in Tokyo in August of 1989.
Janet Evans watched quietly, ready to mark the splits as the race progressed. The crowd—still excited after Michael Phelps' astonishing razor-thin victory in the 100 meter butterfly-- hushed. The signal went off.
The NBC announcers were still excitedly talking about Phelps' win, but the view on the screen spoke for itself—Adlington was swimming far ahead of world record pace, as the green line following her more than two body lengths away indicated. About two-thirds of the way through, the view changed to a split screen for a moment—revealing that Janet Evans was watching the scoreboard with attentive eyes, marking down the split times that were supporting her pre-Olympic predictions for the race.
At about the 650 meter mark, Rowdy Gaines suggested that Adlington would be giving back a little of the distance to that moving line, as Evans was a remarkable back end swimmer—making her late race splits insanely difficult to beat. It never happened. Adlington kept her head down and swam hard for the finish in spite of having no one nearby to push her—a circumstance that Evans herself was all too familiar with in her career—and powered into the finish with a time of 8:14.10, beating the oldest record in the sport by 2.12 seconds and completing the 400M/800M Olympic double gold that Janet Evans herself had accomplished twenty years before in Seoul. The two golds were Great Britain's first women's swimming golds since 1960.
As Adlington celebrated, Janet Evans flashed a brilliant smile and applauded: The final footnote to her own legendary contributions to the sport had been written, and magnificently so. Celebration was definitely in order.
* * * *
Sometimes, that mountain doesn't turn out to be as difficult as you thought.
Janet Evans' last Olympics—where she failed to medal in any event, but had one of the most memorable moments in the Games when she handed the Olympic torch to Muhammad Ali—was in 1996. She retired after those Games, at the age of 25. Dara Torres was a three-time Olympian as of 1996 as well, but she did not participate in the Atlanta Games: she was at that time 29 years old and had been in retirement since the conclusion of the 1992 Olympics. She had a collection of Olympic medals won in relays, and had settled down to a new career as a sports commentator and a model, once gracing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. In 1999, she decided to make a comeback, and she qualified in three individual events in the Sydney Olympics at the age of 33—winning bronze medals in all three for her first individual Olympic honors, along with two gold medals in the relays. There were some raised eyebrows, but Torres passed all her drug tests with flying colors, and Torres took her Sydney haul back into retirement, where she remained as the 2004 Olympics were held and she celebrated her 37th birthday.
Dara Torres gave birth to her daughter Tessa in April of 2006, and began swimming regularly again to get in shape. Still in excellent condition, she decided “why not?” and began training again for competitive swimming. What seemed ridiculous on the surface was suddenly no joke as in August of 2007—four months past her 40th birthday—she won the gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle in the US Nationals. She proved the win was no fluke at the Olympic trials in July the next year by winning both the 50 and the 100 meter women's freestyle events—setting a US record in the 50. She ended up dropping the 100 freestyle from her schedule as a concession to her age, but she still faced formidable obstacles: her times, while they were the best she had ever put up, were not as fast as the best times of several swimmers from other nations—she would be hard-pressed to do as well as she had in Sydney.
Torres' first event was the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay, an event which US women have traditionally done well in, though Australia came into the Beijing Olympics as the defending champion in the event. Also looking dangerous was the team from the Netherlands, which had won bronze in the 100 free relay in Athens, and which had four solid 100 swimmers for the final. Natalie Coughlin—who would manage to receive a substantial amount of notice and praise in these Michael Phelps-dominated Olympics by medaling in six different events—led off for the US and gave a solid performance, putting the US in third behind Germany and Great Britain—neither a medal contender once their fast leadoff swimmers had finished—and ahead of Australia and the Netherlands. Lacey Nymeyer took over for the US and gained on the Germans as the British second leg swimmer fell out of contention, but Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands slipped by her into second place as the third leg began. The German third leg swimmer was outmatched and quickly fell out of contention, and Femke Heemskerk of the Netherlands pulled away from Kara-Lynn Joyce of the United States, giving the Netherlands a 0.71 second lead as the anchor leg swimmers took over.
Marlene Veldhuis—who would later swim in the 100 meter freestyle final and finish seventh—took over for the Netherlands and Dara Torres was faced with two problems: the almost insurmountable lead that the Netherlands had, and Libby Trickett of Australia—who was left eight-tenths of a second behind Torres by her teammate's early problems, and was the world record holder in the women's 100 meter freestyle—coming up behind her. She settled down and swam her leg, and gradually closed distance with Veldhuis, as Trickett gained bit by bit against Torres.
The race ended with the first three finishers all swimming their 100 meter relay leg in less than 52.6 seconds. Velduis held back Torres, and Torres held back Trickett, leaving the order of finish: The Netherlands first, the United States second, Australia third. At age 41—the oldest person ever to swim in the Olympic Games--Dara Torres had managed to come within a tenth of a second of matching the time of a world record holder who had not yet been born when Torres won her first Olympic medal. It was an astonishing achievement, but more was yet to come.
The 50 meter women's freestyle was the first event held on August 17th—the final day of swimming competition in the Water Cube. Torres had already attracted attention for convincing officials to wait for a Swedish swimmer who had torn her suit just before the semifinals in the 50 free. The Swedish swimmer failed to make the final—Torres qualified fastest for the final, to the amazement of many.
The 50 meters is known as the “splash and dash”: there are no turns, and little time to breathe—just a dive into the pool and a mad swim for the other end. There is no room for error. Libby Trickett—still smarting from her defeat in the 100 meter freestyle—was an obvious threat as the world record holder in the event, as was Britta Steffen of Germany—who had been the one to defeat Trickett in that 100 meter final. Also waiting on the blocks was 16 year old Australian Cate Campbell—who had been only a few months old when Dara Torres was competing in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The starting tone sounded, and eight women hit the water with a resounding splash, followed by enough whitewater to keep a hundred rafting daredevils happy. The replay would later show that Steffen had managed the fastest start, and at the end it ended up being the difference, as Torres took an early narrow lead, but wasn't quite able to hold it. As with the now-legendary finish in the men's 100 meter butterfly that gave Michael Phelps his seventh gold, it came down to a few centimeters at the finish, with Steffen out touching Torres 24.06 to 24.07 seconds. Cate Campbell came up right behind the older women to finish at 24.17—beating out fellow Australian Libby Trickett for the bronze. The good fortune that had blessed Phelps the night before wasn't there for Torres—but she had beaten her personal best in the event by two-tenths of a second: it would be hard to imagine anyone doing better.
There was no time for Torres to grumble over a lost opportunity—she was scheduled to swim the freestyle leg of the 4 x 100 medley relay after the men's 1500 meter freestyle and the medal ceremony where she would receive her silver medal for the 50 freestyle—a total rest of less than thirty minutes. After the thrilling 1500 meter race—in which Australian two-time defending gold medalist Grant Hackett narrowly failed to win the event for the third straight Olympics—the medal ceremony began: Torres was visibly fidgeting as she smiled—she wanted to get to the locker room to prep for the relay. Mercifully, she was released soon after the ceremony concluded, and she ran off, coming back out a few minutes later while still pulling her swimming cap on.
As with the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, Natalie Coughlin led off for the US—this time with her signature backstroke: she had won the gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke earlier that week by beating world-record holder Kirsty Coventry. Zimbabwe wasn't in this final, so it surprised few when Coughlin handed Rebecca Soni—winner of the 200 meter breaststroke earlier that week—a substantial lead going into the breaststroke leg. Unfortunately for Soni, Leisel Jones of Australia—who had finished second to Soni in the 200 breaststroke—had beaten Soni for the gold in the 100 breaststroke—and Jones' superior sprinting ability took its toll quickly: by the time the butterfly leg began, Jones had turned a 0.39 second deficit into a 0.98 second lead. Christine Magnuson of the United States managed to make up 0.12 seconds on Jessicah Schipper on the butterfly leg, but when the final leg began and Dara Torres hit the water, she found herself 0.87 seconds behind Libby Trickett of Australia, the world record holder in both the 50 and 100 meter freestyle. Jason Lezak had entered into Olympic legend earlier in the Games by overcoming a 0.59 second lead in a similar situation in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay—Torres' task looked hopeless.
It didn't stop her from trying, though. Torres tore through the water after Trickett, and the margin gradually lessened as the swimmers made the turn for the last fifty meters. The other swimmers were left far behind—as was the green world record line—as Trickett powered for home, with Torres doggedly hanging on behind her and closing the distance.
But it was not to be—Trickett touched first as Australia smashed the world record for the medley relay with a time of 3:52.69, while Torres touched second for the United States in an American record time of 3:53.30, going under the old world record in the process. China beat out the others in the distant field of pursuers for the bronze with a time of 3:56.11.
Dara Torres had won her third silver medal in Beijing, falling short of gold in her final effort thanks mostly to the brilliance of Leisel Jones in the breaststroke. She had more than done her job—in her desperate effort to catch Trickett, she had completed her 100 meter freestyle leg faster than any woman had done before—a breathtaking 52.27 seconds and a full quarter second faster than the world record holder from Australia had covered the distance. Astonishing.
She hasn't said for sure that this is it for her—how many athletes do retire right after putting up the best performances of their lives? But if I might presume to offer the remarkable Ms. Torres some advice—if you come back, do it right away in London in 2012 and don't wait for 2016. If you come back at age 49 and start winning gold medals in the pool, you're going to make some of those kids you're swimming with cry—and I'm not just talking about the women.
* * * *
Sometimes, you're lucky enough to have a friend join you at the summit.
The controversy about the ages of the gymnasts on the Chinese women's team was being discussed far and wide—as the Chinese and the IOC gracelessly sidestepped it—as the women's all-around competition began on the morning of August 15th. Two Chinese gymnasts—including Yang Yilin, whose date of birth had been shown in an official Chinese media article preserved by bloggers before it was scrubbed to be a full year later than the one on her passport—were in the running for the all-around women's championship, as were two Americans: Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson. They are very different: Liukin—the daughter of a Soviet Olympic champion—reminds one of the willowy grace of Nadia Comaneci, while Johnson has a compact, powerful build that is more like Mary Lou Retton—who was in the stands to cheer on her fellow Americans. Bela Karolyi—who had been at the head of those complaining loudly about Chinese age-related shenanigans—praised both Americans but gave Johnson the slight-edge to win the all-around.
There is no room for error in the all-around. Each woman in the final performs one routine on each of the four individual events of women's gymnastics—highest total score wins. With the recent changes in scoring, each event has different potential scores (they're supposed to be working on this to equalize the events more—it'll definitely cause problems in the long run if they don't).
Johnson, Liukin, and Yang all began on the vault—Johnson had the highest level of difficulty and therefore the initial edge, and while Liukin and Yang both performed solidly, Johnson took the early lead with a score of 15.875—giving her a 0.650 edge over Yang and 0.850 over Liukin. Jiang Yuyuan of China—also considered a contender up to this point—landed on her posterior on her vault and only managed a 14.825, taking her out of the medal hunt.
The leaders moved on to the uneven parallel bars, which is one of Liukin's specialties. However, Yang Yilin performed a routine of equal difficulty, and when the judges had evaluated both Yang outscored Liukin 16.725 to 16.650, producing some grumbling about the judging from various quarters. Johnson's routine was substantially less difficult than that of her rivals, and she only could manage a 15.275 in spite of near-flawless execution of the routine. Yang led, with Liukin trailing by about two tenths of a point and Johnson about three quarters of a point behind Yang.
The balance beam—a notoriously unforgiving event—was next, and Liukin rose to the occasion, putting up a near flawless, very difficult routine that was scored at 16.125 (with the score only being released after Nelli Kim—now the president of the organization that created the new scoring system—came out of the stands to nudge them along). Johnson also produced a superb routine that was scored at 16.050. Yang—perhaps feeling the pressure—had several small bobbles and only managed a 15.750.
After three rounds, Liukin had taken the lead over Yang by 0.150 points, with Johnson 0.600 off the lead. It would come down to the floor exercise.
Yang went first, and matched her lifetime best on the floor exercise with a 15.000 as the partisan Chinese crowd roared in approval. Liukin went next, and—as Bela Karolyi shouted with glee back in the studio sitting next to Bob Costas—she executed an almost flawless routine for a 15.525, her highest score ever on the floor exercise and allowing her to pass Yang into the top spot. It was up to Shawn Johnson—the gold was out of reach, and it would take a nearly perfect routine to pass Yang for the silver. She stepped onto the floor without hesitation—and put up a 15.525, matching Liukin's score and allowing her to pass Yang by a mere 0.075 for the silver medal.
The two friends embraced—they had pushed themselves hard over the months, hoping for this result with the only difference in agenda being who would be standing on the top of the podium. For the first time ever, women from the United States finished 1-2 in the all-around competition. Somewhere out there, little girls are watching this—probably on tape, given the hour NBC ended up broadcasting it—and dreaming of future moments of glory.
* * * *
Heck, sometimes you become the mountain.
Every Olympics has a thousand stories, many of which would be compelling in their own right even if one avoids the often maudlin excesses that NBC goes to in order to lure in female non-sports fans to Olympic coverage. It is perhaps unfortunate that the stories above—along with many others—will be largely forgotten due to the overwhelming publicity that Michael Phelps inexorable journey to an unprecedented eight gold medals in a single Olympics has generated. It would be more unfortunate if he didn't deserve every bit of the attention. While Phelps is one of the most talented swimmers ever, his will to win is what has served as the capstone of his legend. Along with the races that he won with ease, he won in spite of adversity—malfunctioning goggles left him virtually blind during the last third of the 200 meter butterfly, which he ended up winning in world record time—and dangerous opposition—he had lost the 100 meter butterfly until the very last instant, when a wrong decision by Milorad Cavic and a questionable one by Phelps himself left him in what happened to be the only situation in which he could pull off a win by the narrowest possible margin.
He needed help with a few of those medals, of course. The role of Jason Lezak in getting Phelps his second gold medal—along with his solid performance to lock down the eighth and final one—has exponentially increased the respect for his not inconsiderable skills. He will be remembered for a long time because of this, while Gary Hall Jr.--who was heard to denigrate Lezak as a “professional relay swimmer” before these Games—will be best remembered as a world-class jackass rather than as a gold medal winner in his own right. Who says life isn't fair?
Phelps is the new Everest in Olympic swimming, of course. Eight gold medals will be a devilishly difficult standard to reach again, and trying for nine will add an order of magnitude to the difficulty, at the very least. If it is done, it will be by a remarkably versatile and talented swimmer who is getting help from the schedulers. One can hope that if it is done, Phelps will be there to congratulate the winner as Spitz has been available with praise and encouragement for Phelps. One unquestionable advantage of sports over mountaineering is that one's opponents are human—whether they congratulate you, or sneer at you, or their families stop by to share their memories with you, the obstacle that you have overcome is now ready for someone else to take a shot at. Overcoming natural obstacles is an important part of the human condition, but overcoming the challenges that our fellow human beings throw our way is ultimately the path to reach the pinnacle of human achievement. It is this that makes sports great—and which will allow them to remain important as the human race completes overcoming the hazards posed by the natural world we live in and seeks out challenges beyond this fragile globe.
Next up: track and field—the heart of the Olympic Games.
|Monday, August 11th, 2008|
|Part One: The Human Drama
I'm dedicating this series of Olympic diaries to three people:
--Jim Murray, who showed me how a professional sports columnist is supposed to do his job with his incomparable column in the LA Times;
--Jim McKay, who left us this year after gracing many Olympic Games with his knowledge, professionalism, and love of sports in general;
--and my father, who helped to kindle a lifelong love of sports by putting up with the seven year old who kept asking, "Was that a home run, Dad?" every time a batter fouled a ball over our seats in the blue deck behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Thanks, Dad--I finally figured it out.
Technical note: I'm not going to hyperlink all of the events referenced here--the NBC Olympics site is here
if anyone wants more specifics on the events I mention (or the ones I don't).
If I'd had a vote, I'd have sent the 2008 Summer Olympics somewhere else--maybe almost anywhere else that could have plausibly staged the Games without suffering a financial disaster of the kind that Montreal went through.
I've still got issues with the Chinese government: big ones
. If the balloon ever goes up in a war between China and Taiwan, I know whose side I'll be on, and it won't be Beijing's. On the other hand, I've got nothing against the Chinese people as a whole, and--speaking strictly from the Olympic angle--I have warm feelings towards the Chinese Olympic movement for helping to thwart the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles: an act that broke the string of failed Olympics that had started with the Munich Games in 1972 and which re-kindled the fire of the Olympic movement that has burned strong to this day. I'm less thrilled that the Chinese resorted to hiring unemployed East German coaches for their swimming program in the early 1990's to squeeze out some dubious medals at the Olympics and World Championships, but eh, bygones. The bottom line? Boycotts of the Olympics don't accomplish anything but harming athletes--like communism, one would think that people would get a clue after repeated, catastrophic failure. Ultimately, the Olympics will end, and the fact that several thousand athletes will perform before billions on TV won't keep critics of Chinese human rights policies from continuing to perform their good works. The Chinese government will find--as the Nazis ultimately did--that putting on a magnificent Olympic Games will not make any difference in the long run if they undertake courses of action that belie the beauty of their efforts during the Olympics.
OK, enough with the politics for the moment--on with the show.
The opening ceremonies were every bit the fantastic show most expected them to be--the Chinese outdid themselves in the now-traditional practice of the host nation telling the story of its history with performances and displays from its talented artists. After it was done, the athletes began to file into the stadium, and I settled down to watch. I almost titled this article "Pictogram Soup," because of the seemingly random order of the opening parade of nations (except for Greece in the traditional first position and China coming last as the host nation) produced by organizing them by the number of strokes used in the Chinese pictograms for each nation. The Chinese chose NBA star Yao Ming to carry their flag at the head of the huge Chinese Olympic team, and walking with him was a remarkable young man
with a story that probably had even some of the most grizzled "get on with the sports" curmudgeons straightening up and listening.
When the athletes were all gathered in the infield of the stadium, the final part of the torch run began, and the progression was more or less normal (a procession of Chinese sports legends from the past and present) until the torch was passed to the final bearer--the legendary Chinese gymnast Li Ning
. He was standing on a platform that was nowhere near any obvious lighting point or staircase, and I found myself wondering, "OK--what next?" The answer came quickly, as Li Ning took to the air on wires and began a journey around the upper rim of the stadium toward a huge torch that had--according to the NBC crew--not been there but half an hour before. Li Ning is almost 45 years old, and he was having to exert some considerable physical effort to stay upright and to not drop the torch as he zipped along--the man is obviously in great shape. Also, if word had leaked out to individuals who wanted to make some sort of point by disrupting the ceremony, he was pretty much a sitting duck to anyone who wanted to take a potshot at him and managed to get in position to do so. A brave man, and one who has my respect.
With the torch lit, the Games were opened--and the US woke up Saturday morning to terrible news from Beijing
. It is sad to realize that if Todd Bachman and his wife had chosen to show no interest in the country that was hosting the Games--staying in the hotel when the actual events he was there to see weren't going on--he'd be alive and well today. With the death of the murderer by his own hand, we may never know what motives--if any coherent ones existed--were involved. It is important to realize that the Chinese certainly didn't want this to happen, and that Athens wasn't immune the actions of random lunatics either, as the attack on Brazilian marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima when he was in the lead late in the race proved. The Chinese--and Todd Bachman--were less lucky, and we should not dishonor the Bachman's choice to explore their host's nation by excessive criticism of the Chinese for the tragedy.
While some events--such as team sports--extend from the beginning of the Games to their end, the most notable division in the Summer Olymics is the staging of virtually all the swimming events in the first half of the competition, while the track and field events are staged in the second half, with the middle weekend serving as the transition between the two. While the swimming preliminaries moved along on Saturday, the early events in other sports began to play out--the US swept the women's saber event for its first three medals of the Games, and the cycling events began with a gold medal for Germany.
Sunday dawned, and the swimming finals--scheduled in the morning to accommodate US TV to the dismay of Janet Evans, among others--began with the first rung in Michael Phelps' quest for eight gold medals at these Games, the 400m individual medley. This was widely considered to be Phelps most challenging individual race, as his teammate Ryan Lochte had pressed him hard in the Olympic trials before finishing second, and Lochte was considered to be markedly superior to Phelps in the breaststroke--one of the four swimming disciplines required to complete the medley. This proved to be a mistaken assumption, as Phelps actually *gained* time on Lochte during the breaststroke leg as he powered on to a world record, with Laszlo Cseh of Hungary sneaking past Lochte for the silver medal. Later that morning, Park Tae-Hwan of South Korea gave his countrymen a moment of pride as he won the 400 meter freestyle to give South Korea its first swimming gold medal, Dara Torres continued her remarkable story by winning a silver medal in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay at age 41, and Katie Hoff's effort to emulate Michael Phelps' versatility on the women's side of the competition got off to a solid start with a bronze medal in the 400m individual medley, finishing behind Stephanie Rice of traditional swimming powerhouse Australia and Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe (whose citizens could probably use a bit of good news right now). Finally, on Sunday night the Chinese faced up against the US in men's basketball and fought valiantly for the first two quarters before being overwhelmed 101-70 in what was almost certainly the most widely watched basketball game in history.
By the time Monday dawned in Beijing, the US was leading in the total medal count, but China--as is traditional for host nations--was outperforming its already formidable standard performance by scoring golds in sports they haven't been traditionally strong in along with their now-legendary dominance in the diving events. The swimming finals continued, with two being particularly memorable (not to slight Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, who became the first man to win the 100 meter breaststroke in consecutive Olympics--in world record time). The first of these was the women's 400 meter freestyle, which featured three swimmers who had beaten the existing Olympic record in the event set by Janet Evans in 1988 during the prelims. One of those swimmers was Katie Hoff, competing in her second individual event and going for her first gold. She was leading in the last moments of the race, but a last effort by Rebecca Adlington of the United Kingdom forced her to settle for the silver, with Joanne Jackson adding the bronze to the daily medal count for the Brits. The finish was close enough that the announcers thought Hoff had won the race until the electronic sensors confirmed the result--and the replay showed Adlington just edging out Hoff at the very last instant. It was a hint of what was to come later in the morning.
The signature event of the day was to be the men's 4 x 100 meter freestyle race--which had been traditionally dominated by the United States until the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney--when a powerful Australian team beat the US soundly, and an upstart South African team repeated the feat in 2004 in Athens. The expert view seemed to be that the US would taste defeat yet again this year: the French team contained three of the world's greatest 100 meter freestylers, and one of the members of the French team was indiscreet enough to say they would "smash" the Americans in the relay. Big mistake, pal.
Michael Phelps--who would need a gold in this event to keep his chances of eight golds in these Olympics alive--swam the first leg for the US, and while he broke the US record for the 100 meter freestyle with a time of 47.51 (only opening legs of a relay are eligible for unit distance records), he was well behind Eamon Sullivan of Australia--who shattered the 100 meter world record with a time of 47.24 seconds--when he handed off the swimming duties to Garrett Weber-Gale for the second leg. Weber-Gale gained considerable ground, passing the slower second leg swimmer for Australia by the end of his 100 meters to hand third leg US swimmer Cullen Jones a narrow lead.
Unfortunately for Jones, the faster French swimmers were in the back two legs, and in spite of Jones' valiant efforts the French were in the lead by almost a full body length when Alain Bernard--the man who had held the world record in the 100 meters only two minutes before and who had been the one foolish enough to brag about smashing the Americans--was freed to start the final leg of the relay, with veteran US swimmer Jason Lezak given the grim task of trying to take him down from behind.
The task looked hopeless, and Rowdy Gaines--doing color commentary for NBC--made it clear that he viewed it as such, as Lezak moved up against the lane marker and tried to keep up with Bernard as he churned along in the next lane. For the first fifty meters, the distance remained much the same. . .but after the turn--as the swimmers continued to leave the moving green "world record line" far behind them--Lezak gradually began to gain ground. Gaines noticed it about thirty meters from the finish and began shouting in excitement as the swimmers blazed along at world record pace. As the finish line appeared on the screen, Lezak was visibly pulling up beside Bernard. As with the women's 400 meter race, there was an instant of doubt at the moment the two swimmers touched the wall--both fully four seconds ahead of the existing world record in the event. The screen lit up: USA 1st, France 2nd. . .and after a moment, Australia 3rd. Gaines and his partner in the NBC booth erupted in shouts of joy, and even the most nitpicky professional broadcaster might have had trouble finding fault with them for it at that moment. Jason Lezak--faced with chasing down the world's greatest 100 meter swimmer with a full body length to make up--had completed his 100 meter swim in 46.06 seconds, the fastest 100 meter relay leg in history. Michael Phelps' quest for eight golds was alive and well, and the 4 x 100 meter freestyle gold had come home to the United States after eight years in exile.
The scary thing to realize is that for Michael Phelps, the hard part is over: the remaining events are ones in which he is a clear favorite as an individual, or which the US is expected to win with reasonable ease in the relays. Things can still go wrong, but if someone offers you even money to bet that Phelps pulls off the eight golds, it ain't a sucker bet. If he pulls it off, these will be remembered as his Olympics, but Jason Lezak will go down in history with Bullet Bob Hayes as someone who took over a relay with his team losing, and pulled off a miraculous individual performance to drag his team to victory--people will be watching the footage of that relay finish a century from now, if civilization persists.
Next time: swimming continues, along with gymnastics.
|Monday, June 23rd, 2008|
|"A Prayer For Chen" (originally posted on Tacitus.org)
A Prayer For Chen
By M Scott Eiland, Section M. Scott Eiland
Posted on Sat Jun 5th, 2004 at 05:56:27 PM PDT
“They’ve sent in the tanks.”
I was sitting on a bus, waiting to reach my stop at the local movie theater, when I heard the woman’s voice. I was an old hand at bus travel by then, and my first instinct was to ignore her—I was a few days away from taking my LSATs, and the movie I was heading for was designed to take my mind off the stress of a test that would help determine a good deal of my future. The sheer outrage and horror in her voice was what dissuaded me from my first reaction—I knew that something terrible had happened. I listened, and my worst fears as to what it could be were quickly realized: on June 4, 1989, the government of the People’s Republic of China lost patience with the massive, peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in historic Tiananmen Square and sent countless soldiers and tanks in to crush it. Many hundreds of the demonstrators—mostly college students—were slaughtered by troops firing indiscriminately as a horrified world looked on. The PRC had slain far more of its own citizens in atrocities of the past, but never before had it so openly and unapologetically shown its most brutal side to the world. As the words and pictures passed in front of my eyes over the next few days, I found myself thinking often of a young man at whose side I had walked across that very square five years before.
I graduated from Glendale High School in mid-June 1984—six weeks shy of my eighteenth birthday. A good portion of the graduating class were heading on a trip to Hawaii, but I had made other plans, thanks to the generosity of my maternal grandparents, and to a relatively recent promotion their son had received. My Uncle Clarke works in advertising, and his firm had offered him a job not long before that had required him to relocate to Hong Kong. He quickly found that he loved the place, and what had been possibly a short-term assignment became an indefinite one. My grandmother had decided to visit him in late June 1984, and my grandfather had generously offered to pay my airfare for the trip—which was to include side-trips to Macau and the PRC, at a time when the United Kingdom and the PRC had recently concluded negotiations to return Hong Kong to the Chinese when the Brits’ 99-year lease on the colony was set to expire in June of 1997. It promised to be an interesting time to visit that part of the world, and I was looking forward to it immensely.
We arrived without incident, and Hong Kong proved to be a fascinating place to explore, as did Macau. My passport went missing the morning we were scheduled to depart for the PRC, but my uncle proved quite adept at pulling strings with both the US consulate and the Hong Kong customs authorities (though he made me pay for it with some epic glares), and I managed to make the flight on time with my grandmother. After a bumpy flight, we landed on the mainland and were greeted by two Chinese men—a short, squat man in his early fifties who was quite friendly but clearly spoke little or no English, and a man about my height (6’2”) and in his early twenties, who spoke English more fluently than a good portion of my high school class. He introduced himself as Chen, and explained that he was to be our guide, and that the other man (whose name has been lost to me over the years) would be our driver.
We all got into a tiny car, and spent the next couple of days driving up to Beijing, stopping at various sites along the way and staying in medium sized towns. Over that time, my grandmother and I got to know this young man rather well. He was a recent college graduate, and had been recently been assigned as a tour guide by the government. My grandmother expressed surprise that someone who spoke English as well as Chen would be assigned as a tour guide, rather than as an English teacher—particularly since the Chinese government was at that time conducting a massive campaign to teach many of their people the English language. Chen did not take offense, but he replied proudly that the state had chosen his career for him and that it was his duty to perform it well. Nonetheless, I noted what I believed to be a wistful look on his face, and I got the impression he would have been rather more happy if the government had decided as my grandmother would have had them do.
Chen and I talked less than he did with my grandmother—the new sights were often rather overwhelming to me, and it has long been a survival instinct of mine to simply be quiet and listen when I’m in such a state. However, sports soon proved to be an excellent communications medium for us—a Chinese high jumper had recently set the world record, which was a topic of special interest to me given that my maternal grandfather had been a prime candidate for the 1940 US Olympic team in that event before those Games were cancelled due to WWII--and the 1984 Summer Olympics were to start in Los Angeles approximately one month later. We spoke of that, and of the Soviet-led boycott of those Games—which gave him an opening to remind me that they and the Soviets were not exactly on best terms any more.
After five days, we exchanged farewells and my grandmother and I flew back to Hong Kong, where we spent a few more days before heading back to the States. It had been a memorable trip, and I had enjoyed myself quite a bit. My grandmother kept in touch with Chen for the next few years, but though I responded politely when my grandmother told me what she had heard from him, I’m fairly certain I almost never thought of him otherwise. He had been a nice man who had done a good job showing us around his country, and that had been all. I was pleased to hear that he was apparently doing well, but other than that he was off my radar screen.
That changed, as I watched the occasional news clips and read the magazine articles with the horrific pictures accompanying them. The teenagers who had bravely held up their signs and built the mock Statue of Liberty in the ancient square were abstractions—Chen was someone I had known, however briefly, and he was somewhere within the borders of the PRC. I had no idea what might have happened to him.
The piece of film which captured the act of the slender and probably young Chinese man as he walked in front of a column of tanks and forced it to stop until friends coaxed him away remains one of the most stunning memories of the last twenty years: breathtaking in terms of courage, heartbreaking in terms of the futility it represented, as the tanks rolled on once the young man was gone. The film was, of course, taken from a long distance—as far as could be told at the time, the brave soul could have been any of a hundred million young Chinese men. I knew that it almost certainly wasn’t Chen, but the thought that it possibly could have been him haunted me somewhat. Also troubling me was that he also could have been one of those who viewed the protestors as trouble-makers who needed to be dealt with: a few days of interaction five years before was simply not enough to go on to decide whether he had been on the side of the angels in this matter or not.
The protestors fought back somewhat before being crushed—I remember feeling a moment of dark joy when I heard reports of soldiers being dragged out of tanks by enraged protestors and torn to pieces, and the memory shames me now—most of those soldiers were as much captives of the state which ordered them to annihilate the protestors as were the protestors themselves. My anger quickly focused with totality on the government of the People’s Republic of China, and I waited for an indication that my government would do the right thing and make them pay for what they had done. I was quickly disappointed.
I had voted for George H.W. Bush reluctantly in 1988—he seemed a poor successor for Ronald Reagan, and I had doubts about his dedication to certain elements of the Republican agenda that I approved of (the economic ones). However, the thought of Michael Dukakis as President put a chill down my spine, and I didn’t cop out when early news made it clear that Bush wouldn’t need California to win—I cast my vote for him with my teeth gritted, but with a hope that he’d do a good job.
The Chinese had a substantial number of students in the United States in 1989—many of whom had been openly supportive of the demonstrations as they were going on. It was obvious to anyone with a functioning brain that those students would be at risk if they chose to return, and it would have been poetic justice indeed if a good portion of the best and brightest youth of the People’s Republic of China had decided to pursue other options for their future in response to a speech from the President of the United States offering them asylum. The nation—in a bipartisan rage over the images from Beijing—would have supported him overwhelmingly.
Unfortunately, Mr. Bush was self-admittedly not a man of vision, and his Administration quickly made it clear that no such offer was forthcoming. I knew at the time that even if such an offer was made, many would not have accepted it—the thugs in Beijing could always use the hostages the students had left behind in their family homes to exert pressure to force their return. Nonetheless—the offer should have been made, and this country would have been far the richer for receiving the ones who accepted.
I—among many others—seethed at this idiocy, and when Brent Scowcroft made a high level visit to Beijing mere months after the last of the blood was washed from the square, I had had enough. I approved of many of the individual actions of Mr. Bush after 1989—his judicial appointments, his handling of the Gulf War (until he abandoned the Shiites to their fate after the cease-fire)—but thereafter I held the man himself in utter contempt. I briefly considered voting for Ross Perot—until he revealed himself as being a few hearts short of a flush—and was heartened by the strong anti-Chinese rhetoric of Mr. Clinton. I decided that while I could not bring myself to vote for him, it probably would not be so bad if he was elected. I cast a blank ballot for President that year (after rejecting a whimsical impulse to write in Barry Goldwater—who had appropriate contempt for the Chinese government). Unfortunately--as with many of his other promises--Clinton’s rhetoric about the Chinese proved false, and he quickly resumed his predecessor’s practice of kissing their posteriors.
Fifteen years have passed since I heard that woman on the bus, and much has changed. The Chinese took over Hong Kong in 1997 without incident, and have largely let it remain the cash cow it has always been, with only subtle signs they are tightening up the freedoms that have made it a financial dynamo. Time will tell whether this is newfound wisdom from the Butchers of Beijing and their successors, or simply the experience of the frog who fails to note the water he is sitting in has slowly been heated to boiling until it is too late. My uncle—who still resides in Hong Kong--met a wonderful woman from South Korea a few years after I visited him, and they now have two sons on the verge of adolescence. My grandmother has retired and remains sharp-witted and charming in her mid-eighties, aside from an inexplicable affection for one William Jefferson Clinton. My grandfather passed on in 1993, after a long and fascinating life. As for me—I’m older and wiser than I was when I heard the tragic news in 1989, and I’ve learned to ponder matters more deeply before making important decisions in a moment of righteous outrage. Sometimes, though, when I see a rare shot of smiling faces in Iraq amidst the negative coverage, or I see a story about the upcoming Olympics, or just for no reason I can discern--I stop and think of a sea of smiling faces in an ancient square, remember an earnest conversation about the finer points of high jumping. . .and I whisper a prayer for Chen.
|Sunday, July 22nd, 2007|
|AS HE HOLDS HER (Holding: Tara's Remix) (BtVS)
Written for the 2007 Gen Remix.
Title: As He Holds Her (Holding: Tara's Remix)
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Title and URL of Original Story: “Holding”:
Author and Website of Original Author: Izhilzha: http://www.fanfiction.net/u/161888/
Summary: In the aftermath of “Grave,” Xander is watched by a loved one as he watches over Willow.
Time Frame: Just after “Grave,” with spoilers for the first six seasons of BtVS. Also contains story elements relating to my story "We Wait," which can be found under my author name at fanfiction.net.
Disclaimer: They're all Mr. Whedon's--I'm just having a quiet moment with some of them.
Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.
My thanks to Izhilzha for providing a lovely story for me to remix. :-)
AS HE HOLDS HER
He doesn't know I'm here. Which is not a big shock, really. I mean, hello—invisible and incorporeal here. But the way I really know that he's clueless about my presence is that I can see the pain on his face. If he knew that I was here, or if Willow was awake, he'd never let either of us see it. That's my girl's best friend—it takes something like a troll intentionally breaking his wrist to get him to scream, and even then it took a conspiracy between me, Willow, and Anya to get him to actually take a few days to deal with that brutal injury. Glory broke my hand before she scrambled my marbles—I know how much pain he was in. He thinks he's alone, so he's letting his guard down.
I look at him and wince as I watch him cradling Willow gently as he twitches in pain. He's bruised in several places—he took some shots even before he confronted Willow, and never even paused. Willow's assault on him was a relatively feeble one from the beginning—she could have vaporized him on the spot if she really had wanted to—but I can see the scorch marks on his clothing and see the dark stains that suggest some painful if not life-threatening burns lie beneath. Even dead, I can still read an aura with the best of them, and that ability is telling me that Xander needs several days of bed rest at least—preferably at a hospital. Mind you, I know it probably won't happen—knowing Xander, even if everyone else is alive and well, he'll insist on watching over Willow instead of dealing with little things like keeping from going into lethal shock. Damn it, there are times I wish that I had been the one dating him all these years, so I could have the best opportunity to kick his ass for pulling stupid stuff like this. All right, so it saved the world this time. Again. Doesn't mean I have to like it.
Willow shifts slightly in Xander's arms. Her face looks almost peaceful—a startling contrast from the sight that had met my newly incorporeal gaze after I had fallen lifeless to the floor in the master bedroom of the Summers house. In the instant of my death, I heard a quiet voice saying, “Tara—your time as a living human being has finished its span. You may go on to the reward that your deeds have earned you—or you may linger, so as to bear witness to what is to come and to possibly aid when the circumstances permit. Choose wisely.”
It was an easy choice, and made more so by the confirmation of what Buffy had told us—there was something better waiting for us on the other side. I could see how knowing that might make someone stop caring about what happened on this earth after they died. . .but it just made me want to try harder before I had to leave for good. I called out my answer, and my vision cleared to a horrible sight: Willow holding my body with eyes that had gone black with dark magic and rage.
I had two companions—a dear friend and mentor, and the lost love of another friend and mentor—and we watched helplessly as Willow rampaged. By unspoken agreement, we split up, though we ended up coming back together as the subjects of our observation converged on the Magic Box. The feeling of helplessness grew as Willow overwhelmed the others, and I feared all was lost when Giles' unexpected entrance shocked everyone in the shop—living and dead. I could see Jenny's relief when Giles bound Willow—but I knew it couldn't last, and being unable to warn them was rather inconvenient when Willow mesmerized Anya. As the situation dissolved into chaos, we were divided again—leaving me to make the horrified realization of what the white magic that Willow drew out of Giles had done to Willow's mental balance in her dark magic addled state. Willow left Giles mortally wounded and diverted Buffy's attention with a trivial exercise of her powers. No one was left to stop her, and I despaired.
“Xander's a sweetie.” I told Willow that once, when I was still hiding what I believed to be my dark secret from everyone, and Willow wondered if Xander had said something to offend me. It's true—except for his occasional blowups with Buffy, he's probably the gentlest man I've ever known. It isn't a soft nice, though—if he thinks something is wrong he'll keep after you until you give it up. Even with Buffy. . .I think that the main reason he reacted so badly to the news she had been sleeping with Spike was guilt on his part that he had missed the signs. Looking back on it, it should have been obvious that Xander was going to be the one to save the day here. Willow wasn't hiding her intentions, and Xander knew where to find her. Willow had more raw magic than any being on this Earth, and Xander had nothing but his raw determination, tolerance for pain, and his love for a girl he had known since they were babies. She never had a chance, and—as she slumbers after having succumbed to absolute exhaustion from extreme magic use and bitter sobbing—she's never been safer than she is in his arms right now.
I hear a satisfied sigh next to me, and turn to see Joyce watching Xander and Willow with an expression fitting for the substitute mother she had been for both of them. She walks up next to me and reports, “The dirt monsters—I really wish that sounded more bizarre than it does—that were attacking Buffy and Dawn went poof when Willow gave up. Dawn managed to do a thing or two with a sword that had Buffy impressed. Another of my daughters keeping secrets from me—somehow, I just can't seem to get mad about it.”
A dark-haired beauty drifts into view, and Joyce and I unconsciously draw breaths that we don't need any more as Jenny comments: “Rupert will be fine—he wasn't hurt badly and the plan was for Willow to consume that light magic all along. . .nearly apocalyptic consequences notwithstanding. Anya is taking good care of him.” Her gaze falls on Xander and Willow, and she shakes her head in mild amazement as she whispers, “You always had a way of coming through when we needed it, Xander.” She moves over and crouches down next to the slumbering woman as she whispers, “You have a hard path in front of you—thank the Powers that you have some good people looking out for you.”
I see the affection on her face and mourn for a life cut all too short before practical matters urge me to pipe up: “Uh, it looks like the world isn't going to be incinerated right now—what comes next?”
“We wait for the others to find them.” Joyce looks out at the eastern horizon, where the sun is peeking out and casting golden rays on Willow's hair. I feel a pang for what I have lost as Joyce looks down at Xander's pained expression and adds, “Until then, I don't feel right leaving them alone. We have plenty of time to go over everything else later.” Jenny nods in agreement, and Joyce concludes, “We never know when we might be able to do something that helps—for right now waiting is the best thing for us to do.”
I see tears appear in Xander's eyes—they glitter in the sunlight as they splash into Willow's hair. I look at the others and nod as I reply to Joyce:
“The very best.”
Closing note: Aside from the original story, I borrowed some themes from “We Wait,” a story I wrote back in 2002:
I've always been fond of “Xander waits until he's alone to unload emotionally” stories, but this particular situation—along with my remembering “We Wait”--suggested to me that looking at the situation from a slightly different perspective might work.
Current Mood: tired
|Sunday, July 8th, 2007|
|Fresh Out Of The Package (Hot Bunk: The Captain's Remix) [Gen Remix]
Title: Fresh Out Of The Package (Hot Bunk: The Captain's Remix) Current Mood: calm
Title and URL of Original Story: “Hot Bunk”:
Author and Website of Original Author: Hossgal:
Summary: Mal notices something about the new guy and decides to take
advantage of it.
Time Frame: Just following the first meeting between Jayne, Mal, and
Zoe as portrayed in “Out of Gas.” (possible spoilers for all of that
Disclaimer: These folks belong to Joss too—I've just never played with
My thanks to Hossgal for providing a lovely story for me to remix. :-)
FRESH OUT OF THE PACKAGE
Mal watched as his new tracker and hired gun applied his weight to the dorm hatch,
overcoming its resistance. He grimaced as the lights flickered a couple of seconds
after Jayne went down the ladder, and he turned quickly, smacking the wall unit as
he called out: “Still a few--” [SMACK] “--bugs in the system. But not to worry.
I'll get our engineer up and he'll set it to rights.” To his relief, the lights
came on and stayed on as he finished speaking.
Jayne did not reply, and Mal took a moment to look down at Jayne from an angle that
would be difficult to spot him from below. The mercenary seemed to be carefully
studying his new quarters—his eyes fell on the single bunk frame resting against
the forward wall and stayed there for a long moment—but it was a glance at the rear
wall that had Mal ducking back quickly as Jayne looked up at the hatch and called
Mal thought about making him wait a moment, but decided against it—in any event he
was curious as to what had attracted the mercenary's attention. He leaned through
the hatch and replied noncommittally, “Yes?”
Jayne gestured at the back wall, clearly indicating the markings that made it clear
that the room had once held two bunks, and asked in a mildly anxious tone: “All
this is mine, right? I ain't got to share this with anyone—that was the deal, like
Mal allowed his amusement at the question to briefly and intermittently reach his
expression. Interesting development—now let's set this up right. He nodded, the
amusement still flickering across his face, and replied, “Yeah, that was the deal.
What's the matter—something not to your liking?” He let his features drop into a
mask of cold menace and continued in a tone that was equally icy as his hand
drifted slowly in the direction of his sidearm: “'Cause we can always renegotiate.”
Mal gave Jayne points for nerve—Mal had position on him and could easily shoot him
down where he stood, but the big man only sounded mildly nervous as he moved
carefully away from the ladder and called out, “Just hold up, no need to start
changing things already. I was just looking around.” He started pacing off the
room, getting its dimensions and studying its features.
Mal watched for a few moments, noting the surprised expression on the mercenary's
face and the thoughtful set of his jaw as he bent over slightly—apparently
measuring the area where the bunk would be. He was about to call down when he
heard a familiar step behind him. He turned and headed back to where Zoe was
waiting with a grim expression. He nodded to her and asked, “Everything ready
“Wash says she's ready to fly. Bester says. . .well, a lot of things that amount
to saying she's ready to fly.” Mal snorted—the choice of Bester as their
mechanic had not been a felicitous one, but they were stuck with him for the
foreseeable future. Zoe nodded, then inclined her head at the open hatchway
and added simply, “I don't trust him, sir.”
Mal chuckled. “Zoe, he was holding a gun on us waiting for an excuse to kill us
three hours ago. If you did trust him I'd be inclined to boot you off this
ship at next planetfall.” Zoe quirked a very slight smile at him to acknowledge
the point, and Mal added, “You know, the last time you felt the need to tell me
you didn't feel right about someone joining this crew, he ended up in your bed
not long after. . .maybe I should warn Wash--” Zoe's expression didn't change an
iota, but Mal saw an indefinable something flicker in her eyes, and he decided
that even ironclad loyalty had its limits and smoothly changed gears: “--or not.
I was just watching him look at his quarters—he's acting like a kid with a new
toy: he can't believe it's all his.”
“Folks who hire mercenaries aren't exactly inclined to pay extra to give them
comfort they didn't contract to be having.” Zoe looked over at the hatch herself,
and her tone was contemplative as she continued, “That dorm probably looks like
a palace to him—but he turned on his last boss when we offered him a better deal.
He might do the same thing tomorrow if someone offers him enough.”
“He might at that,” Mal allowed, frowning as he considered the situation. “Man's
used to going from job to job. . .no loyalty, no home. If that's all he really
wanted, a bigger room wouldn't have him all bothered. If we could give him--”
Mal paused, then looked towards a nearby stack of crates that contained supplies
that they had picked up only hours before Jayne's former employers had captured
them. He popped open a crate and pulled out a bundle. Zoe's eyes widened in
recognition and she was opening her mouth to ask a question when Mal put a finger
to his mouth in a shushing motion and walked over to the hatch, dropping the
bundle down the opening.
A startled grunt came from below, and Mal looked down to see that Jayne had
apparently been about to climb the ladder when the bundle struck him.
He assumed an apologetic expression and called down, “Oh, sorry about that—didn't
see you standing there.”
Jayne looked annoyed, but he sounded perplexed: “I wasn't.” He gestured at the
bundle and asked, “What's this?”
Mal looked at him with an expression that suggested that Jayne had just asked him
to explain how to use a doorknob. “Bedpad, for the bunk.”
Jayne looked down at the bedpad, and his expression twisted with confusion tinged
with frustration: “This is brand new—you think I'm made of money? I can't afford
this—you ain't even paid me yet.”
Mal turned back to Zoe and smirked briefly before turning back and replying in a
hard voice: “Bedpad comes with the bunk. With the linens, too. Got no cleaning
staff—you'll need to take care of that yourself along with your laundry. We're
not running a hospital ship here, but I expect my crew to keep things
tidy—and washed.” Zoe called from behind him, and he turned to acknowledge her.
"All right, tell them I'm on my way. Jayne -" He turned back and saw Jayne
look up from studying the faded store tag on the bed pad in response to his
comment. Mal smiled inwardly and concluded, "You just take your time, get
settled in. We'll be stopping to re-supply in a day or two, you can get anything
you're missing then. Holler if you need anything." Mal held Jayne's gaze long
enough to see the mercenary nod in acknowledgment before he withdrew from the
hatch and walked back to Zoe.
They walked back to the cargo hold in silence, with Mal silently indicating that
questions should wait every time that Zoe began to open her mouth. When they
reached their destination Zoe turned and burst out, “You bought that bedpad
for yourself—the one you have is falling apart.”
“Mmhm—had it for five years now. It's seen better days.” Mal replied quietly,
leaning back against a bulkhead. “But I can survive until next planetfall before
I get another new one—we ended up doing well this trip. I'll get better use out
of that bedpad giving it to Jayne than I would have using it for the next few days.”
“So why not just tell him that you're giving him your bedpad if you're trying to
sweeten the pot?” Zoe asked, leaning back against a stack of crates as she
frowned in mild confusion. “He thinks that everyone here gets this treatment
Mal nodded. “Exactly.” Zoe blinked, and Mal elaborated, “I don't want him
thinking we're soft, or that things are going to be easy—we're not soft, and
he's going to learn that things won't be easy right quick if things go like
they have been. I want him thinking that this is an operation where he can
count on us being straight with him. . .and maybe he'll think twice if someone
makes him an offer better than the one we made him today.”
“That's a lot to expect from a bedpad and some straight talk, sir.” Zoe sounded
Mal nodded absently, his mind already going to the final list of preparations
needed before next planetfall. His eyes turned to the hallway they had just
left, and in the direction of the man who was busily moving into his new home,
and he turned back to his second in command and shrugged.
“It's a start.”
-As always, comments are welcomed and desired.
|Thursday, June 21st, 2007|
|Friday, April 20th, 2007|
|*sweeps dust away, checks the mail, sits down*
Posted in this long-dormant locale by request of the ever-persuasive sroni
Comment to this post and I will …
1. Tell you why I friended you.
2. Associate you with something (a fandom, a song, a color, a photo, etc.)
3.Tell you something I like about you.
4. Tell you a memory I have of you.
5. Associate you with a character/pairing.
6. Ask something I’ve always wanted to know about you.
7. Tell you my favorite user pic of yours.
In return, you must post this in your LJ. Current Mood: cheerful
|Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003|
|Spotted this and couldn't resist. . .:-)
Rec meme snatched from a lot of people
Rec-Go-Round: Rec me one story you've written that you're proud of, any genre, here in my LJ. Then go forth and ask the same in yours. Current Mood: amused
|Saturday, September 6th, 2003|
Summary: Magneto dreams, and is visited by an old friend offering counsel.
Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .
Rating: PG-13, for themes.
Time Frame: About two years before the events in the first X-Men movie.
Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.
Dedication: To Sir Ian, for his masterful portrayals of an epic hero and an idealistic monster.
Author's Note: Reference is made to events described in "The Silmarillion"--some of this will be unfamiliar to those who haven't read it.( FELLOWSHIP: 2,778 WORDSCollapse ) Current Mood: creative
|Saturday, July 19th, 2003|
|Tuesday, June 10th, 2003|
|Death Of A Champion
Spectacular Bid died yesterday, after a magnificent racing career and (alas) a rather undistinguished two decades at stud. My father was always a horse racing fan, and I had been fascinated by Affirmed's three great wins over Alydar the previous year, so I was watching with interest as Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to fall short in the Belmont--victimized by a wounded hoof and an inexperienced jockey. It was 1979, and three horses in the previous six years had won Triple Crowns (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed). Some thought that, of the legendary thoroughbreds of that era, Spectacular Bid would be the greatest of all (in point of fact, some still do think that). No one would have dreamed that Spectacular Bid would be the first in a long line of disappointments as far as the Triple Crown went (though he was far from a disappointment in the rest of his racing career), or that he would die after a long life just after the latest challenger to the jinx fell short. It is hard to say whether Spectacular Bid's death would have seemed even more timely if Funny Cide had pulled off the hat trick and landed his Cinderella-like owners that $5 million bonus, ending a quarter-century of famine that began so soon after the racing world had known feasts--and legends. In an era where athletes all too often disappoint us with their foibles, there is a special joy to be had in watching a great thoroughbred run. Whether they run to immortal glory or ignominious defeat, they are giving us their best--and we won't have to put up with the complaining afterwards on ESPN Classic or in the latest sports memoir.
And to Spectacular Bid--thanks for the memories. Current Mood: thoughtful
|Saturday, February 15th, 2003|
Ford has a commercial out that uses historical tax cuts as background for talking about their deals on car financing. Unfortunately, the first line of the commercial hit me like the sound of fingernails scratching down a blackboard, amplified to the volume of an air raid siren: "In 1921, Calvin Coolidge signed a tax cut--"
STOP. RIGHT. NOW!
Two different men served as President of the United States during 1921. Woodrow Wilson finished off his second term in 1921: he was an invalid due to a stroke he suffered in late 1919. On March 4th, Warren Harding was sworn into office, where he remained until dying suddenly on August 2, 1923 from a stroke--his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge, assumed the Presidency at that time and was re-elected in 1924 in his own right.
Now, I know it would be nice to pretend Warren Harding never existed: he was probably the worst president in history, with only a few other candidates for the position (Grant, Nixon, and one or two others depending on your political sensibilities). Republicans would certainly like to forget he ever existed, and Democrats probably would just as soon downplay the fact that their 1920 ticket (James Cox/FDR) got trounced by such a non-entity. However, facts are facts. Harding was President in 1921, Coolidge was Vice-President and didn't sign a damned thing except maybe an occasional check at lunch. Someone had to approve this commercial--dozens of people must have heard the text of it before it went on the air. Didn't *one* of them learn enough in U.S. History in high school to pause and go "Hmmm. That doesn't sound quite right." Doesn't Ford employ people to, you know, make sure the facts they use in putting a commercial together are actually. . .FACTS?
This may seem like a silly, trivial thing to go on a rant about, but I see it as a symptom. Listening to the rhetoric of those from the antiwar movement has led me to believe that most of them used their history textbooks to even out the weight distribution for the controlled substances they were carrying around in their backpacks and smoking during recess. If people don't know or understand history, of course they're not going to have a clue about what's going on in the world. Most of the people living in South Korea now weren't alive when the North Korean Army came pouring over the 38th Parallel like an evil tide, and the youngsters are thinking maybe that goofy looking guy in the military uniform really doesn't want to loot their nation and drag them into the hellish existence that is life north of the DMZ. It would be really nice if some of them would bother to listen to their parents and grandparents about just how bad things were fifty years ago, and why their very lives depend on treating those crazy bastards to the north with the appropriate levels of attention and righteous anger.
Santayana warned us that those of us who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. From what I'm seeing, that's a big problem in the world today, and I sure as hell don't want a repeat performance of the history that people seem to be most blissfully ignorant of lately.
Oh well, back to writing. Current Mood: aggravated
|Friday, February 14th, 2003|
|Sunday, February 9th, 2003|
Finished a short Smallville story tonight--"Sealed," It's a Chloe/Pete conversation piece from Chloe's POV. I suppose I was just trading one cliche for another here, but I liked the way it turned out.
Take *that*, evil writer's block! :-) Current Mood: cheerful