Part 5C: A Matter for Faith
“Hey, Harris, wanna know what hell is?” Faith asked as she leaned back in her chair.
Xander’s body shifted, but he didn’t wake up. He muttered something unintelligible that could’ve been anything. After three days of watching and listening to him so closely that her eyes were burning and her ears were aching, Faith was too tired to even try puzzling out his latest riddle.
At least he was quiet now. Mostly.
“Give up?” Faith asked.
Nothing from the still unconscious Xander. She might as well be talking to herself.
“Hell is standing around with your thumb up your ass because you can’t do shit about what’s happening in front of your eyes,” she said as she rubbed her face. “Don’t believe me? Maybe you should try talking to B and Tweedy. You had B drunk and crying on my goddamn boots almost 3 months ago, motherfucker. Betchya didn’t know that, didjya?”
Xander’s head jerked and Faith froze. She kind of hoped that last bit got through the fog; she kind of hoped it didn’t. She really wasn’t sure where she came down on that. She was…she was…ambivalent. Yeah. That was a good Robin-word. Ambivalent pretty much summed up her feelings about everything when it came to this whole Xander thing.
Xander let out a breath and mumbled something. He was slowly coming out of whatever the demon did to him, but he still wasn’t there yet.
Three days. Three loooooooong days of lying her ass off to everyone who came to the door. “He’s still out of it and talking about I don’t know about what. That’s why I’m safe. I ain’t got no clue so he won’t be embarrassed as all hell when he comes to. No, really, we’re friends, but not close, y’know? Always was more B’s friend. We really didn’t hang too much. Why am I sticking around? Well, I figure he might like to see a familiar face when he wakes up. Sure, he’d love to see Andy, but Andy knows too much to be in here doing the nurse thing, so there’s the embarrassment factor. He’ll be totally cool with it. You’ll see.”
The second the doc was gone, and the worrywarts had the door closed in their faces, she was back to listening.
And what did she get for her trouble?
Snatches of sentences that could mean anything, that’s what. Even so, there were a few things in there that seemed to point to that space where the big deep, dark secret lived. Best overall if the one in the know kept everyone else not in the know far, far away. While Faith doubted that anyone could figure out anything based on a few raving comments here or there, she wasn’t in the mood to tempt fate.
But that wasn’t the hardest part about her self-imposed sentry duty.
The hardest part was hearing a few things coming out of Xander’s mouth that sounded like they had something to do with her. It was enough to make her cringe. It wasn’t until Chicago that she had any clue that she counted in Xander’s bad memories files. Give the man an Oscar because he didn’t ever give that little bit away back in the SunnyD before it became the CraterD. Near as she could recall, he was the only person not getting in her face and demanding an apology.
But then again, he didn’t really talk to her either. Worked with her sure, probably because it was necessary. Otherwise, if it wasn’t business, he didn’t say shit.
Which only goes to show, doesn’t it? Faith thought. The ones who suck it up and make do are never the ones you expect.
“Some people never fucking change, you know,” Faith said aloud to Xander. “You had me fooled. I figured you got smarter somewhere along the way. I figured you’d send someone else with less baggage in, ’cause you know you can’t afford to pull shit like this, but nooooo. Losing your eye wasn’t enough for you? Jesus.”
Yeah, this whole bodyguard gig was already getting off to one damn fine start. First time out of the box, she managed to fuck up. Surprise, surprise. She’d just have to fine-tune the bullshit detector and next time put her foot down the second Xander started zooming her.
Actually, she did put her foot down, but she failed by not following up and planting it squarely in his ass. So much for being Ms. Nice Slayer, since that clearly didn’t work. Next time, she was just going to have to go with Ms. Bitch Slayer.
This was assuming there’d be a next time. Right about now volunteering for a next time, and a time after that, and time after that was looking like a real bad idea. Xander didn’t trust her as far as he could throw her using just his pinky. Buffy will flip her shit when she finds out that Faith slid right into the spot that she tried and failed to push her way into. Willow will passive-aggressive her every time she follows Xander to Brazil for his quarterly magical protection renewal.
She didn’t even want to imagine what Dawn was going to do or say. It would probably involve setting her hair on fire while she was asleep.
Even Giles, who was willing to give Faith’s bodyguard idea a whirl, had to have his doubts. He kept telling her that she could back off any time before she made contact. Hell, Faith suspected that the only reason why Giles even considered her offer was because he was going out of his gourd with worry and was desperate to keep Xander alive as long as possible.
Fucking B, Faith sourly thought.
Why the fuck did they have to team up for that Halifax thing? And days after Buffy had her knock-down-drag-out with Xander no less. If only something came up on Buffy’s end so another Slayer got sent to Halifax in her place. If only the kiddos in Cleveland were a little less good at being Slayers so another Slayer got sent to Halifax in Faith’s place. If only they didn’t hit a bar after they kicked ass and took names. If only Faith hadn’t asked Buffy what crawled up her ass and died while they were knocking back shots. If only Buffy was a little less drunk when she let loose with an answer that went on for hours and involved the aforementioned crying on Faith’s steel-toed Docs and the not-aforementioned puking in the gutter outside the bar.
“Know what I can’t figure out, Harris?” Faith asked.
Nothing from Xander. Not even a twitch this time.
“How the hell did we end up here, hunh?” Faith ran a hand through her hair. “You got so many friends holding out a hand to help you that it makes me dizzy, but do you grab those hands and hold on tight? Oh, fuck no. Seems to me that you ain’t thinking clearly and your buds are inna panic about it.”
Xander sharply inhaled, held it, and softly exhaled. Faith waited for him to say something, or even wake up. Nothing. Good thing she wasn’t holding her breath while waiting. Slayer or not, she would’ve had a blue face.
“Either way, good job — fantastic job — on being an idiot,” Faith continued her rant at the insensible Xander. “Your fabulous grand prize in the idiot sweepstakes for people who do not appreciate the friends they got is me with a pretty red bow around my neck. And just so you know, I ain’t gonna put up with your bullshit like your buddies do. Are we clear?”
Nothing. Faith knew he was alive because he was still breathing. Other than that, she might as well be talking to a statue.
What on earth was she doing here? What did she think she could actually do? She couldn’t fix it, and she couldn’t wiggle her fingers and make it all better. Hell, she couldn’t even get Xander to be straight with her. She could practically hear Robin’s voice telling her that she didn’t it need this. She did enough to save the world thanks to being a Slayer and she shouldn’t be looking to take on more than her share. She should file this one under “not her problem,” because it really wasn’t.
Except there was Angel’s voice telling her to never stop fighting, partly because she had a lot to make up for, and partly because someone had to.
Someone’s got to help the hopeless, and Angel wasn’t around to do it anymore, which, she supposed, was why she was here even if she was feeling a whole lot of ambivalent.
“You better be worth it,” she said to Xander, to Angel, to herself, and to the world in general.
Xander gasped and his eyes popped open. The top half of his body gave a start, like he was about to sit upright in bed, but he couldn’t seem to coordinate his muscles well enough to pull it off.
“Jesus!” Faith exclaimed as she startled upright in her chair.
Xander’s eyes fluttered as he moaned.
Faith shook herself, got out of her seat, and scurried to his bedside. She leaned over him so she was right in his face.
“Yo, you in there?” she asked.
Xander blinked at her with a puzzled frown, like he wasn’t sure who she was.
Faith felt like an idiot, since the only way she knew how to find out whether his brains were scrambled came from bad soap operas and cheesy action movies. She held up two fingers and asked, “How many fingers am I holding up?”
His chapped lips moved, but no sound came out.
“Unh, right. Two. I mean, if that’s what you said you’d be right,” Faith nodded. “You remember your name? How about the name of the president? I mean of this country and not whatever country you were in last. Oh, you’re in the states, by the way. Chicago, in case you forgot.”
Faith backed off a little and dropped her voice. “Okay. Overdid it. Why don’t we stick with your name, hunh?”
Xander breathed a word that sounded vaguely like his name. Close enough.
“You know me?” Faith asked as she pointed to herself.
Xander frowned at her and asked in a hoarse whisper. “Faith?”
Faith didn’t realize that she’d tensed up until all her muscles relaxed. “Bull’s eye,” she said with relief. “You’re doing wicked good. I’ll just get the doc.”
Xander said something that sounded like “thirsty” followed by something that sounded like “tired.”
“Hang on for just a sec,” Faith said as she straightened up. “Let me just get—”
Xander had already fallen asleep. At least Faith hoped he was asleep and not trapped in his nightmares again.
“Don’t move,” she unnecessarily said as she headed for the door.
She didn’t get more than a half dozens steps away down the hall before Bernie popped out of her bedroom.
“Hey,” Faith gave her a weak wave. “Patient woke up for something like 10 seconds. The doc should maybe get a look at him.”
Bernie rubbed a tired hand over her face. “Thank God. Once he fully recovers I’ll be able to strangle that man without guilt,” she said.
Faith bit her lip as she looked back at Xander’s bedroom door. Bernie knew shit-all about Xander’s deal, but if she didn’t say anything now, Bernie was sure to put up a stink when Faith unceremoniously hauled his ass out of the house the second Xander could sit upright. “Yeah. About that. Good shot G’s gonna want him out of here as soon as he can move.”
That statement woke Bernie right up. “You can’t be serious. The man was injured in the line duty, in large part because he wanted to prevent one of the girls from going through this. Mr. Giles can’t possibly expect him to hop right in the saddle the second he regains consciousness.”
“No, no. Nothin’ like that,” Faith said. “G’ll want him recovering back in London, where he’s due for a full physical and mystical check-up anyway. Harris is like the Council’s golden goose. Ain’t no way G’ll risk Harris. I figure that after he gets a clean bill of health, he’ll finally get to enjoy that vacay he had to give up to come here. Y’know, so Harris can enjoy a little extra recovery time in the sun and the surf.”
Bernie shook her head. “Oh. Yes. Of course. I apologize. Last I looked at the clock it was 3 a.m., so I’m not thinking properly.”
“Three in the morning?” Faith’s shoulders sagged. “That late?”
“That early,” Bernie corrected her. “I just got off the phone with Mr. Giles. He’s been calling me every two hours over the past few days to get an update on Xander’s condition and to give me the latest news on their investigations.”
“How bad’s the news?” The question was so automatic that it was out of Faith’s mouth before she realized it.
Bernie looked up at the ceiling. “We’re looking at the beginnings of a disaster.”
Faith stared. “Disaster? I thought we cleaned house. The DiBenneditos hadn’t started building their demon zoo and we killed the one trial demon they had, so—”
“Carna Security’s part of a larger network,” Bernie said as she shook her head with a wince. “That network happens to include Xander’s Ani Security Consultants.”
“Oh, fuck,” Faith whispered as she leaned against a wall. “Harris got bit by demons in Thailand after all, and he didn’t even know it.”
“Yes, it really is a rather unbelievable stroke of luck,” Bernie said.
Luck is the last thing I’d call it, Faith thought
“This business could have gone completely undetected for months — or dare I say years — had Xander not been involved with that business in Bangkok before coming directly here,” Bernie continued. “Had he not mentioned what he discovered in Thailand to us, I would’ve never asked the Council to make researching Carna Security a priority. As it is, the only connection we have is tenuous at best. It could’ve been so easily missed had the red flag not gone up the flagpole for us to salute.”
Screw ambivalent. When it starts to rain shit, it’s time to break out the umbrella, Faith thought as she pushed off from the wall.
“The only good news in all of this is that whatever is behind these two businesses may not know we’re on to them,” Bernie continued. “The Council is now digging through the various shell companies for both security firms. Mr. Giles is hoping to have some solid leads over the next day or so.”
Faith faked a wide yawn.
“Sorry. Here I am prattling on while you’re standing there,” Bernie winced. “You must be exhausted after your vigil. I’ll let you go on to bed.”
“Thanks.” Faith knew she didn’t have to fake looking exhausted. “Hey, don’t forget to wake up doc so he can check on Xander. Mentally he’s back, but physically he could use a little eyeballing.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Bernie said. “And Faith…thank you. I’m sure he must’ve been comforted to wake up and see a friendly face.”
More like shocked it was me he woke up to, but okay, Faith thought as she waved over her shoulder at Bernie and stumbled to her room.
As soon as the door clicked shut behind her, Faith longingly stared at her bed. Right about now, she’d give anything just to burrow under the covers and sleep for a week. However, she had to move fast. One way or the other, Xander had to be out of here in a few days, tops. She had some quality cock blocking to do before that happened.
She yanked her cell phone out of its charger and began scrolling through the numbers. She paused over Giles’s number, and again over Rona’s. Giles had already given his tentative okay for this, so he could wait. Rona was just going to have to suck it a little while longer.
When she landed on Buffy’s number, Faith drew in a deep breath. This was going to be one hell of a conversation, but she had to get it done.
She hit send as she plopped her butt onto the bed.
Just when she thought she was about to get dumped in a voicemail box, Buffy’s breathless voice was on the line. “Faith, I can’t talk. I have to pack and go because—”
“So you heard,” Faith interrupted.
That brought Buffy up short. “Heard what?”
“That Harris is down and out in Chicago and dangerously close to that window of safety shutting on him.”
Buffy sputtered a bit. “How do you know about Chicago? I found out two hours ago when Dawn finally got hold of me. The only reason why she’s not there right now is because Giles told her to stay in Prague because of some big emergency that came out of nowhere. Everyone’s running around like chickens without heads and everyone’s leave has been cancelled. Something about a new big, bad network of evil they just found out about. I’ve been ducking Giles-like calls so I can plead ignorance when I land in Chicago.”
Faith looked up and spotted her reflection in the mirror. She looked pale and exhausted; nothing at all like a woman who was up for a fight.
“Dawn’s in tears, but she said she can’t get there.” Buffy was still ranting. “So it’ll just be just me and I’ve got to finish making arrangements to get out of here without being seen, so I can’t talk.”
“Cool your jets, B. I know all about Xander ’cause I’m in Chicago with him,” Faith said.
“Just left Xander’s bedside. He’s out of the woods, so it’s a matter of getting some liquids and food in him. I’m prepped and ready to run him out of here as soon as he can walk more than 10 steps, so there’s no rush for you or anyone else to be here,” Faith said.
“What are you doing there?” Buffy sounded like she was getting her rage on. “When Xander had to cancel the Bermuda trip and our surprise Christmas party got delayed, Giles sent me to Midway to help out Riley. Did you know that Midway is a real place and not a really boring war movie? Well it is, and I’m here, and I’ve been up to my neck in — while you’ve been — God! He’s Giles-burgers!”
Faith drew in a deep breath. It was over the phone now or face-to-face with Buffy later. “Reason why G sent you off to Midway was because he wanted to put me in position.”
“Position? What position? The position where Xander nearly gets killed?”
Faith winced. Buffy wasn’t saying anything she hadn’t already told herself. “The position where I get my claws into his ass before he realizes he’s been set up with a bodyguard he doesn’t want.”
The speaker on the cell issued a series of coughs, sputtering, and half-swallowed words while Buffy got her shit together.
Faith figured it was time to hammer the nail into coffin like it was a bitch slap. “And that’s an assignment that I’m on until further notice.”
“You? Of all people, you?” Buffy was hollering now. “Xander wouldn’t take help from me. And you think you’re going to just waltz on into his life and he’ll take help from you? Do I have to tell you that’s never going to happen? Do I have to tell you why that’s never going to happen?”
Faith looked up into the mirror again. Christ, she looked like shit. “The big diff between me and you, B, is that I ain’t gonna argue with him about it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“B, think about this. You hook up with Harris on one of your regular meet-and-greets in Oslo. While you’re there, you lay down the law that you are now his big, bad bodyguard,” Faith wearily said. “And what happens?”
“What does this have to do with—”
“You get into a fight, that’s what,” Faith interrupted. “Harris says no, you say yes, it ends with the two of you screaming at each other in the middle of the street. Then you go to your separate corners and cool down. Then Harris comes on all sweet and sorry for being an ass, and swears up and down that he’ll think about it. You buy that fairytale and think you guys can go on as scheduled. You go to your hotel room, secure in the knowledge that he’ll come around on the bodyguard scheme before it’s time for him to leave Oslo, except you wake up the next morning and find out he’s blown town on you.”
“I know the story, Faith. I was there, remember? Which, by the way, you weren’t,” Buffy huffed.
“Who’s the Slayer?” Faith asked.
“Who’s the Slayer?” Faith repeated.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“B, wait.” Faith leapt to her feet, although God knows why. It wasn’t like she could stop Buffy if the Blonde One decided the conversation was over. “What I’m trying to ask is why you didn’t just hunt his ass down, grab him by the scruff of the neck, drag him back to Oslo, and make it clear you weren’t gonna take no for an answer?”
“Faith, Xander’s lost so much since Sunnydale. I couldn’t just bully him like that. I couldn’t just tell him he had no choice. God knows he’s got so few choices left. Taking away another just seemed…it seemed…well, cruel.” Buffy sounded hurt. “I figured he maybe he needed a little time to think about it and that he’d come around once he did. I mean, it’s me and not some random newbie Slayer who’d be watching him. It’s completely diff—”
“B you love that man too damn much to do him any good,” Faith said as she looked down at the toes of her boots.
“Unh, Xander’s my friend, but I think you’ve totally misread—”
“What I mean is that you’re not willing to have him hate you,” Faith said as she began pacing again. “You’ll give him room, and give him room, and then give him more room until he accepts it. Now maybe he will, maybe he won’t, and maybe he won’t get a chance to change his mind. Now me? I don’t care if he hates my sorry ass. He pulls any shit on me I will hunt him down, tie him up, and repeat at the top of my lungs that this bullshit is for his own good. Hell, he doesn’t like me now. A little hate? Ain’t nothin’ I ain’t dealt with before. I can deal with him hating me for however long it takes for him to settle down and just accept it.”
“You realize that you’re not making any sense,” Buffy huffed.
Faith turned and once more caught sight of her reflection. In that moment, she finally understood why Xander wouldn’t — maybe even couldn’t — grab hold of that B-shaped hand and never let go. She felt an unaccustomed flutter in the pit of her stomach as realization sunk in. This was what she was signing on for. This was the thing she had to make stick. There was no backing out of this one, no matter how many second and third thoughts she had about it.
Funny how life worked out. When Robin started making noises that sounded suspiciously like “lifetime commitment,” she packed her bags and ran. Months later, she was doing the exact same thing to a guy who probably loved the idea of any lifetime commitment, let alone with her, even less than she did.
“B, I’m gonna state my case, but I need you to promise to hear me out, okay?” Faith asked.
There was a long silence at the other end. In her mind’s eye, Faith pictured Buffy doing exactly what she was doing: standing in some borrowed bedroom, staring at a mirror, and wondering what the hell happened to bring her life right to this point. It was scary to realize that whatever Buffy did next hinged almost entirely on whether Buffy trusted her to be on the straight-up.
“B?” Faith prompted when the silence stretched out long enough to get on her nerves.
There was a sound of movement at the other end, before Buffy said, “Okay. I’m listening.”
Faith blinked at her reflection and felt like the world just stood on its head and turned itself inside out.
“Are you still there?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah,” Faith breathed. “What I’m trying to say is that I understand where you’re coming from, but you’re too close to him to force the issue like you should. But lemme tell you, when he pulled into the Windy City your bud was a wreck. I’m not saying he was making stupid mistakes, ’cause he really wasn’t. He was right a lot more than he was wrong when it came to the important stuff. But he’s off-kilter and beat down, y’know? And he made one really bad error in judgment that he wouldn’t have made if he was thinking clearly, which is why he got nailed.”
“You’re not telling me anything I haven’t seen with my own eyes, you know,” Buffy said quietly. “It’s like I told you. He did okay for a long time, better than I would’ve anyway. It’s finally getting to him and…I couldn’t just stand there and watch. I mean, I make sure to meet up with him every six weeks or so, but it isn’t enough. And watching him just fall apart in front of my eyes…I had to try. I had to. Even with that huge fight in Oslo, I figured if I kept working at it—”
“No you didn’t,” Faith quietly interrupted. “At least, that’s not what you said.”
“I was drunk and upset when I said that. I didn’t mean it,” Buffy said defensively.
“You were right when you were drunk and upset. And you wanna know why?” Faith countered.
There was a soft sigh. “Because Xander knows he’d end up hating me for it and he’d rather be dead before that happened.”
Faith blinked with surprise. It appeared that the message had been received after all.
“Have I mentioned that I hate it when people who are not me are right?” Buffy added.
“I got clued into that years ago, B,” Faith said.
“Funny.” There was a pause. “I still get to see him every six weeks. More if I want.”
“Done and done,” Faith quickly agreed. “It’ll give him someone he can bitch to about me. Rather it was you than Willow. Your gal pal is likely to turn me into a newt or something.”
“I’ll make sure Willow stays away from the newt-making spells,” Buffy giggled. “And Faith, thank you. And good luck. If you need anything, including quality Xander-threatening to get him to behave, you can call me any time.”
Faith let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “You know I’m gonna take you up on it.”
“I’m counting on it.”
It was nice to hear that Buffy sounded relieved.