liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

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Water Hold Me Down (Part 16)

Still apartment-mucking (knew I should've done fall cleaning), so I still haven't managed email at all. I'm hoping after The Amazing Race. (Go Gus and Hera!)

In a way, I'm kind of glad. I don't think I'll be able to stand watching the news reports from Southeast Asia. I'm trying to wrap my head around the number 52,000 and I just can't. The closest I can come to a comparison is if my entire hometown of Waltham with its 59,000-plus men, women, and children got washed out to sea. 

Thanks to bluegreensmoke for recommending the American Friends Services Committee as a place to send your donations. They are a fine group of people and worthy of support. When I was a reporter, if you needed to know anything about the long term needs in any city or region, these folks were always on the front lines. I luvs me the Quakers. If I wasn't such a Unitarian at heart, I'd've signed on with these people. Well, that, I'm not what you'd call a pacifist. They'll find the cracks that get missed (in my experience they usually do) and work towards long-term recovery efforts (they tend to focus on that). 

Now, on to the story. I'm actually really pleased with this part. Anya and Xander. Buffy and Faith. Two conversations that change everything.

I had so much fun writing this.

Continued from Part 15.

 

Xander tried to ignore the angry glares several people directed at his back as he checked out of the research suite. Turned out there was a weeklong waiting list for professors and students who wanted to use one of the dozen or so M.A.G.I.C. installations, but Anya’s access card had trumped them all and put him at the head of the line even though he didn’t have a reservation.

He wanted to try and explain—I didn’t know. Sorry. It was an emergency.—but he suspected that it wouldn’t do any good and the annoyed group would be less than sympathetic, especially since he spent the day in the suite and they were limited to four-hour blocks. However, since the research suites seemed to be a precious commodity, he did get the idea to ask if they kept track of who used it and if they had any record of any Harrises ever taking advantage.

They did keep track, and no Harris with his or Anya’s access card had used the suites since they had been installed last year. He decided ask about any LaVelles, Jenkins, and Emmanuellas who might’ve used M.A.G.I.C., but that earned him a half-apologetic explanation that the information was confidential and that the library couldn’t share it unless he had a warrant or matching access card.

Okay, there’s a good chance other me or Anya haven’t used it, but I can’t prove it, Xander dispiritedly thought as he made his way to the ground floor to wait for his ride. I also can’t prove they actually know what’s going on in town either, but I’m going to bet they do.

Although why he was so sure about this, Xander couldn’t say. Probably because his own worst-case scenario would be that Anya and other him pulled off that fire, decided the problem was solved, and then settled down to a life of blissful denial like everyone else in this god-forsaken town.

Ummm, we do remember our weapons stash, right?

Okay, maybe he could think of a worse thing. They did just enough to protect themselves and let everyone else hang. While he wasn’t entirely sure what he expected other him and Anya to do given they had a kid to worry about and something resembling real lives, at the very least they could try to get a Slayer to move into town.

In that last scenario he was assuming Faith wasn’t the only Slayer. Since Willow was under lock and key and not exactly sane if he wanted to believe Anya and other him, it was a very real possibility that Faith was finally the only girl in all the world and she was sitting on top of the Cleveland Hellmouth. Plus, other him pointed out that he was out of the loop, so they might not even know whom to contact for help.

Out-of-the-loop or not, if they were even a little aware of what was going on in town, he was almost surprised they didn’t try the Angel option in L.A., assuming they knew how to get in touch with him.

Amazingly, he was spooked enough by what he found out about the town from M.A.G.I.C. that he attempted a quick search for Angel, something he never thought he’d do in a million lifetimes. It was a plan born of the simple any-port-in-a-storm theory, which by definition meant that it wasn’t the world’s greatest plan. One thing it had going for it was that it made dream-logic sense since it would be his perfect nightmare scenario: Angel rides into town with his batmobile and brings hugs and puppies to the populace. The town repays the Brooding One with a ticker-tape parade. Angel gets his moment of pure happiness while receiving the keys to the town and eats all of the civic leaders while they’re still applauding.

Okay, a stupid, childish, not-at-all mature direction for his nightmare to take, but given the way things were going it was not a completely out-of-bounds idea.

Just the same, Angel’s famous elusiveness spared him from even dealing with that unreal reality. Since he didn’t know Angel’s last name—assuming Deadboy had one—or any of his aliases, he got a zillion listings for angels of the winged kind instead of the fanged kind. He couldn’t find a listing for Angel Investigations and what little information he could find on Wolfram & Hart didn’t list Angel or any of his cohorts as part of that organization.

Just what he needed, yet another unthrilling reminder that he was completely on his own until someone whipped up a cure for him in the waking world.

Either way he had an immediate problem: Should he confront the gruesome twosome about what he discovered in the workshop and at the library? On the one hand, he thought he should. On the other, every time he brought up something weird-worthy, Anya and other him gave him the kind of shut-up looks that didn’t leave a whole lot of room for debate if he wanted to avoid sleeping in an alley.

So much for all those high school daydreams of being a lone wolf, badass, vampire hunter hero-guy, Xander dispiritedly thought. I so totally suck at this alone thing that it’s not even pathetically funny.

He made it into the cool late afternoon air, took a deep breath, and headed for the parking lot where Anya dropped him off earlier in the day. “C’mon guys. Any time you want to wake me up, I’m ready,” he said quietly. “I’ll French Robin if that’s what it’ll take. Hell, I’ll blow Robin if that’s what it’ll take. Of course he’d probably break my jaw if I tried it, but it’ll be sooooo worth it if I’m not here tomorrow.”

Anya’s car was waiting for him, which was a prompt for him to check his watch and make sure he wasn’t running late. It was 4:30 on the dot, so she probably hadn’t been waiting long. He slid into the car with a reflexive apology and was just belting himself in when Anya started the car and began to drive.

“Find anything?” she asked.

Xander once again cursed the fact that he was blind on his left side. Anya’s voice sounded off somehow, but he couldn’t turn around to get a look at her expression without giving away the fact that he couldn’t see her. “I won’t be going home tonight, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry.”

“Nothing on alternate universes?”

“Alternate…oh, yeah. World without shrimp.” Xander cringed. He almost slipped. He was pretty sure that telling your delusions that they were delusions when they seemed pretty sure they were real was not the best way to dig himself out. “Ummm, everything I found seemed more science fiction-y than, y’know, science-y.”

“Hmph. You don’t seem to be doing well. Maybe I should help you.”

Xander wanted to smack himself. Of course. It made complete sense. His brain may hate him, but his brain probably didn’t want him to die either. Since his brain was good enough to lay out all the problems he was facing in Zihuatanejo, why not give him the key out of here while it was at it? Using Anya’s image was pure genius and once again weirdly logical. Real Anya was an ex-vengeance demon and knew all about this kind of thing, ergo, fake Anya had to have the solution.

His brain worked so much like a Dungeon & Dragons game that it was frightening. All he needed right now was a bag of dice and some graphing paper and he’d be out of here in no time.

“Because you’re the expert,” he cheerfully agreed.

“Is that a crack?” Anya asked angrily.

“Hunh? What?” Xander’s head snapped around to look at his driver. “No. No crack. It just figures you would be the expert.”

Anya pulled over, cut the engine, and angrily turned to face him. “You are! You are making fun of me. What? You don’t think I can help with your important research? Don’t think I’m smart enough to help?”

“Where is this coming from?” Xander asked as he leaned back against the door. “It’s just that you really do know all about this stuff and I don’t even know where to start.”

Anya frowned at him, like she wasn’t sure he was sincere.

“Ahhhhnnnnya. Anya. Listen. I mean,” Xander’s hands started fluttering in very Willow-like fashion as part of his protestation of innocence, “I just feel kind of stupid for not asking you before. You ex-vengeance demon who knows all about worlds without shrimp and troll dimensions. Me normal guy who only knows about one dimension. Well, mostly one dimension. I think. I don’t know. If someone changes your memory about the past by, like, say inserting Dawn-shaped people in your brain, does that make your one dimension into a new one?”

Anya blinked in confusion. “I don’t think so. All it means is that it’s the same dimension with different memories.”

“See? This you’d know. I didn’t even know to ask.” Xander grinned a please-don’t-kill-me-grin. “I’m being totally sincere guy.”

Anya turned around and placed both her hands on the steering wheel. “Oh. Just so long as you’re not making fun of me.” She shook her head like something occurred to her. “And how do you know about troll dimensions?”

“What?”

“How do you know about troll dimensions?” Anya repeated slowly.

Oh, shit! I told her Anya was already gone before Olaf happened. “There was, unh, a spell. That went wonky. Really wonky. Bad wonky.”

“Yes,” Anya prompted.

“Supposed to be a, ummm, call up a demon spell? Yeah. I think. Giles needed information from some nether realm or something.” Xander’s brain was desperately scrambling to come up with something that had nothing to do with crystals, Olafs, or Anyas. “And, unh, Willow accidentally opened a portal into the troll dimension, so, yeah. Trolls everywhere. With hammers. Can’t forget the hammers. And the baby-eating. And the wenching. They were big on the wenching, but bigger on the baby-eating. Mostly.”

Anya mumbled, “And people wonder why they had to lock Willow up.”

“So, see? One experience and I was safe in my own town. Well, as safe as anyone is in Sunnydale. Was. I mean was in Sunnydale. Or anywhere, for that matter.” Shut up shut up shut up! She bought it! Keeping talking like this and you’re going to blow it!

Anya snapped a nod. “All right then. We’ll try again tomorrow. This time we’re going to find something.”

“I don’t get why you think I was making fun of you or that I thought you were stupid,” Xander said. The second he said it, the evil thought occurred and his eyes narrowed. “Is he calling you stupid?”

Anya looked confused. “He who?”

“Me. Other me. Your husband,” Xander spat. “That little son of a…”

“Xander?” Anya started laughing. “He’ll be the first to tell you that he’d still be doing drywall if I didn’t push him into business for ourselves.” Her laughter broke off and she regarded him through narrowed eyes of her own. “But you have.”

Xander swallowed and looked away. That was the million dollar question wasn’t it? Great. Now he was putting himself on a guilt trip. This was probably another thing that had been bubbling at the back of his mind since he got an eyeful of fabulously successful Xander and his business-savvy wife.

“Well?” Anya’s voice was hard and Xander just knew she wasn’t going to let him go.

“Back when…I mean when you first became…I guess I wasn’t all that…” He shook his head. “I should’ve been more understanding and a little less correct-y.”

Anya’s voice softened. “I seem to remember asking for help on how to learn how to be human. Is that why that other me left?”

Xander clenched his fists and still couldn’t look at her. He really didn’t want to lie, at least not about this, but he’d been piling up the whoppers since he got here. So he told as much of the truth as he could, “That would’ve been the smart decision.”

Anya made a ‘hunh’ sound. “Typical you. Always blame yourself. If that were true, you’d be wearing your entrails as a necklace.”

“There were threats,” Xander admitted before he could stop himself.

That got Anya’s undivided attention along with a triumphant gleam in her eye. “Ahhhh, so me leaving was worse than you let on.”

Xander bit his tongue. Anya was digging again and he handed her ammunition without even thinking. Jesus, he was an idiot.

“You said she was happy after she left,” Anya pressed.

Xander swallowed. “I think so. I hope so. Not really possible to know for sure after, well, you know…. I’d like to think she is. Happy. And at peace somewhere. I’d like to think she found her own bit of a heavenly dimension, I guess.”

“And what about you?”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.” Anya was pressing again, digging for more information. At least this time he could see it. “Are you dating anyone? Find someone else?”

Xander let out a breath. He could tell the truth about this much. “No. I haven’t dated at all since…I mean, look at me. I play with Slayers on a regular basis and help with Slayage. One time I went out on a sort of date, well, it was more of a flirting actually, and ended the night being called a freak. Another time I got stabbed by my date who turned out to be a demon. So you can see, not much on the dating.”

“Ahhh, there it is. Vengeance.” Anya tsked a pleased sound.

“Vengeance?” Xander asked. “How is that…”

Anya brightly smiled. “Living well is always the best revenge, especially if you’re living better than people who thought they’d do better than you. Looks like your Anya learned that lesson before I did.”

The conversation was very close to pushing him over the edge into crazy-flakes screaming territory. Not smart if she held his ticket back to the waking world.

“So who called you stupid?” Xander changed the subject. “Why would you assume that I would call you stupid if you claim that my evil twin would never do that?”

Anya’s expression twitched, like she knew he’d somehow escaped the prospect of giving away more information than he wanted. “It’s just the way you act. It’s the way you look at us, like you know something we don’t. It’s like these secrets of yours gives you power. Well, it doesn’t you know. It doesn’t make you better than us, so stop acting like it does.”

Xander once more had the feeling that Anya wasn’t so much angry with him, but at someone or something else that happened long before he ever showed up. Since this Anya was a figment of his imagination, it probably meant he had some deep-rooted resentment against his friends that he didn’t realize he had.

Oh, god. More of this and his head was going to explode.

“Okay, you got me,” he admitted. “I can’t tell you everything and I won’t tell you everything. It isn’t like I’m asking to swap life stories here. We already know the difference between my reality and yours, so I really don’t see how more information is going to get me gone.”

Anya let out a huff of angry breath as she turned the key to restart the car. “Secrets. Always with the secrets. One thing that never changes.”

Xander grabbed Anya’s wrist. “Secrets? Never changes?”

“Let go,” she yanked herself free. “It’s nothing.”

“This is about my twin isn’t it?” Xander growled through his teeth. When Anya opened her mouth to protest, he held up a warning finger. “Don’t lie to me.”

Anya looked away. “He’s getting edgy again.”

“Edgy,” Xander echoed. That first night with other me was pacing the house and Anya was sitting stiffly on the couch like she was expecting a fight.

“He gets like this sometimes,” Anya said.

“More than sometimes,” Xander corrected.

Anya shot him a questioning glance.

Stakes, and arrows, and crosses… “He’s me, right? I’m just another version,” Xander said.

“He goes walking. At night,” Anya said tightly.

Xander could feel his chest tighten. Fires and vampires, oh my. “How often?”

“Varies,” Anya said. “More often lately, but it varies. Used to be once a week, but now…”

“Almost every night,” Xander finished for her.

Anya shook her head. “No. Three times, sometimes four times a week.”

“You know what he does,” Xander stated.

Anya let out a breath and her head leaned back until it was resting against the headrest. “I don’t know. I tried following him once. Two years ago. I mean, he always walks out the front door when he goes on one of his walks, but this one time when I looked out there he was gone.”

A well-worn path in the neighbor’s yard behind the bushes. “You really don’t know?” Xander was more than a little incredulous.

“I tried following him. I walked around for hours. When I got back home he was already there and he was furious with me.”

“What did he do?” Xander honestly wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

Anya glared.

“What. Did. He. Do.”

“We got into a fight. The worst one we’ve ever had. It was like he was possessed. I even thought he was possessed, that’s how bad,” Anya admitted. “He said I didn’t trust him and that if I didn’t trust him it wasn’t going to work.”

“It wasn’t going to work,” Xander repeated.

“I’m assuming he was talking about our marriage, although I have no idea where that came from.” Anya grimaced. “You should have seen him. He was screaming at me that I wasn’t ever to follow him. Ever.”

“You put up with that?”

“You didn’t see him. There was no arguing with him. He actually picked something up and was about to throw it at me when he realized…”

“He what?” Xander’s question was too loud in the car’s enclosed space.

“He didn’t throw it,” Anya quickly assured him. “Actually, I think he scared him far more than he scared me when he did that. Stopped the walks for a few months that’s for sure. But he was just miserable and impossible to live with. Finally, one night he just took off without telling me. He didn’t get back until dawn.”

“And you’re sure you have no idea what he does on these walks,” Xander said.

“Not a clue,” Anya grudgingly admitted. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he’s having an affair, or a whole lot of little ones since this has been going on since we moved here, but I don’t smell another woman on him when he gets back. Believe me, I’m always in a position to take a good sniff when he gets back.”

“Someone’s going to have to tell me how that works,” Xander muttered.

“What works?”

“The smell another woman thing. Is it perfume? Moisturizer? What?”

Anya started giggling.

“Am I missing something?” Xander asked.

“You really haven’t had orgasms with a lot of women have you?” Anya’s giggling was threatening to go out of control. “Definitely not more than one at a time.”

“Unh, still unenlightened over here.”

Anya patted his arm, but she was still crazy smiling. “Ask Buffy or Willow when you get back. I’m sure they’ll explain it to you.”

“One question. Is this going to get me slapped?”

“Probably,” Anya cheerfully answered.

“Think I’ll stay unenlightened then,” Xander said.

Anya coughed herself back to seriousness. “Thing is Xander’s been on edge all day. Actually he’s been on edge for the past couple of days, but it’s been especially bad today. If you hadn’t shown up…”

“He would’ve taken one of those walks the other night,” Xander finished for her.

“Yeah. Because we didn’t know who you were he wound up staying in. Now that we know you’re you…or him…I’m not sure you being here is going to be enough to keep him home.”

“Ahh, just to point out, you’re assuming an awful lot here,” Xander said. “You don’t know me and you don’t know the kind of person I am. So leaving me alone with you and Haley is not the smartest thing he could do. He and I talked about this the other day.”

“Oh, please.” Anya rolled her eyes. “You’re Xander. Differences aside, I can see you’re the same person. Plus, how much sense does it make to say you might pose a threat when you’re planning to do something evil? No one’s that stupid. Unless you’re Spike and have a chip in your head and want to be evil when you can’t be evil. You don’t look like Spike to me, so I think we can safely say that’s not going to happen.”

Hire a thief to catch a thief. Xander could feel himself getting angry at the realization. “You’re going to ask me to follow him, aren’t you?”

Anya tapped the dashboard. “I’m worried. I don’t know where he goes or what he does. When he doesn’t go out it’s like something’s eating him from the inside. I don’t know what to do. He won’t tell me what’s wrong and he’s going out more often in the past two months.”

He noticed the jump up in deaths. Xander could feel himself start to shake. “You can’t trust me.”

“Why not?” Anya asked.

“Correction, you shouldn’t trust me. Hire a private detective if you’re worried. Don’t ask me to do this.”

“He flipped out when he found out that I followed him. What do you think he’s going to do if he finds out I hired a private detective?”

Xander looked Anya in the eyes. What he saw there told him everything. She really didn’t know about anything, which was nothing short of amazing considering the fact she was an ex-vengeance demon and had put in time as a Scooby. Anya, it appeared, was in serious denial, as in Sunnydale-level denial, about what was going on in town and with other him. How it happened he had no idea. All he knew was that he was deeply disappointed with the realization that Anya was blissfully and stubbornly ignorant.

He supposed he could tell her right now and dump all his clues right in her lap and let her figure it out. At the same time he knew he wouldn’t do it, probably because he was clinging to some small hope that he was wrong.

“Fine,” he finally agreed. “I don’t think he’ll take that walk tonight. He’d be stupid if he does leave me alone with you. But if he’s that stupid, I’ll follow him. Don’t blame me if you don’t like what I find.”

Anya let out a relieved breath. “I just need to know.”

***

Buffy sat alone in the kitchen, her hands curled around her coffee cup, and focused on the steam. She felt so useless. She hated feeling useless. Plus, useless-feeling Buffy always did stupid stuff just to feel less useless. Right now going out and doing something stupid would be catastrophically bad because, with a houseful of new-ish Slayers, missing Xanders, and terrified Willows, it could lead to dead bodies. The luxury was off the table.

Not that I ever really had the luxury, Buffy’s head thunked down on the table. I just like to think I did, but that led to bad things then, too. Like kidnapped Dawns, hurt Willows, furious Xanders, disappointed Gileses, Angeluses, Spikes, and, before she forgot, dead bodies.

Could she be any more of a spoiled brat? With everything going on, she was acting like someone ripped her Hemery High May Queen crown off her head and stomped on it while she watched.

She could hear footsteps heading for the kitchen and she snapped her head up and put on the brave face. Her shoulders slumped when she saw Faith appear in the doorway. The other Slayer shoved her hands in her pockets and leaned against the doorframe.

“Yo.” Faith gave a toss of her head by way of greeting.

“Hey yourself,” Buffy muttered back.

There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence.

“Coffee fresh?” Faith asked.

“What?” Buffy startled. “Oh. Yeah. Just made it. What with all the bad dreams floating around I figure caffeine is my new best friend.” She held her coffee cup up in a salute and said in a bad British accent, “Here’s blood in yer eye, matey.”

“Now that is one weak-ass pirate imitation. You should leave that shit for Cyclops,” Faith said as she made her way to the Mr. Coffee.

“Didn’t know he did them anymore.” Buffy slumped further down in her chair.

“Hunh?” Faith asked with a distracted tone as she rummaged through the cabinets for a mug.

“You know. Since the eye. Used to do bad pirate imitations. Well, he always did stupid jokes, but he did pirate a few times. Even dressed as one for Halloween one year and everything. But not since the eye. I mean, not really. He’s joked about being a pirate. Or is that being mistaken for one? I forget. But no more mateys and shiver-me-timbers, which, good because it was cheesy, but bad because, well, no more cheesy ever. Or that kind of cheesy anyway.”

Faith gave her a dose of what-the-hell look.

“I’m blabbing. Ignore me.” Buffy quickly sipped from her cup to hide her embarrassment.

Faith pulled out a chair, flipped it around, and straddled the seat, all while gulping from the cup.

“Doesn’t that burn your tongue?” Buffy asked.

“Pain plus caffeine equals one awake girlfriend and me? I ain’t got no plans to sleep either.” She carefully placed her cup on the kitchen table and stared into its depths. “So, how’s Willow?” she quietly asked.

“Calmer. She doesn’t remember anything. Just remembered waking up with me and Kennedy doing the fussing thing, so she’s a little freaked.”

Faith bit her lip. If Buffy didn’t know any better, she’d think Faith was trying not to smile.

“So what you’re telling me,” Faith drawled, “is that she’s a calmer freaked.”

“I guess,” Buffy shrugged. “She and Giles are trying to figure out what’s going on. Actually, more like Giles doing his Watcher Top Ten List and Willow playing Truth or Dare.”

“Surprised you’re not in on the fun,” Faith said mildly before sipping from her cup.

“Giles thought I was being too distract-y and made me leave.” Buffy traced swirls in the tabletop. “He didn’t make Kennedy leave.”

“Probably because you were going into Mama Bear mode and Kennedy wasn’t.”

Buffy opened her mouth to protest and then shut it. Okay, so maybe she got a little annoyed with Giles because he wasn’t being at all gentle with the questions and Willow was upset, but she wasn’t interrupting that much.

Faith held up her hands. “Hey, I’m not saying you was wrong to do it. Not trying to be critical or nothing. I think it’s good you watch people’s backs. Just maybe you’re being a little too protective when maybe you shouldn’t is all I’m saying.”

Buffy started giggling. “I don’t believe this. You’re pepping me. You’re being pep girl. How did you get to be pep girl?”

“Pep?” Faith asked.

“You know, with the advice and all.”

“Fine. I’ll stop.” Faith made an irritated move to get up.

“No. Wait. Stay.” Buffy waved at Faith. “I could use some pep.”

Faith settled down again with a frown. “Just trying to make sure we’re cool,” she said defensively. “With everything else, I just figured me and you need to stay tight ’cause last thing we need is to add us to the list of problems.”

“You’re right,” Buffy nodded. “And we’re cool. We were never uncool, well, about this anyway.”

“B? I think we have ourselves a first.” Faith held her cup up in a salute. “Blood in yer eye matey yourself.”

Buffy grinned while she mirrored Faith’s sipping action.

“I’m glad, ’cause I was getting a little worried,” Faith said.

“Wasn’t mad at you. Well, I’m not mad at anyone really. Actually, I’m still mad at the freak show upstairs, but not anyone else.”

“So what’s with the ’tude then?”

“That’s right. You’ve never met useless Buffy have you?” She faked a tiny bow in her seat. “Behold, I’ve become fray-adjacent and it sucks.”

“Sucks donkey dick,” Faith agreed. “Or maybe elephant dick.”

“I’ll go with the elephant.”

“B? You ain’t useless. I mean, c’mon, I’m stuck holding hands and you get to go out and do the important shit.”

Buffy’s eyebrows rose at that. “What are you talking about?”

“You know, keeping the city safe for kittens. Making sure the fangsters get theirs before they give theirs.”

“Finding Xander is important,” Buffy said evenly.

“Bad choice of words,” Faith said absently. “Finding Xander is way more important. Shit. Knew that even before Willow started freaking. Everyone’s knocked off-balance on account that he ain’t around to keep the peace. Would you believe I just broke up a squabble over a fucking borrowed shirt? Yeah. No shit. So I step in and know what the snots say to me? ‘That’s not how Xander would deal with it.’ Un-fucking-believable. Do I look like Xander?”

Buffy covered up her desire to start laughing by drinking her coffee. Looked like Faith was dealing with her own set of frustrations, which was comforting in a mean sort of way.

“So I says to them, ‘Well, I ain’t Xander, so suck it up.’” Faith shook her head. “Sorry. Getting off track there. What I’m saying is, I know finding Xander’s more important to us, right? But Tweedy’s also got a point that vampires don’t Slay themselves and that’s kinda more important to people who ain’t us. And you got a point that Tweedy’s got us ass backwards on this, although he’s also got a point that maybe you’d be too Mama Bear for the job.”

“Faith? I never thought I’d ever say this to you, but you think too damn much.”

Faith snorted at her.

Buffy started giggling again.

“I guess it’s just that I don’t think I’ll do any good in there.” Faith traced the rim of her coffee cup with her finger. “You’re right. I don’t really know Cyclops all that much. I thought I had him pegged, you know? And all this shit I’m finding out about him pretty much tells me I got him all wrong and I just don’t know what to make of it.”

“Which is why you’re perfect for the job,” Buffy said softly.

“Didn’t you just hear what I said? I. Don’t. Know. Him.”

Giles was right. “I’ve known Xander for eight years and he’s, what, 23? That’s more than a third of his life. Did you know he was the first person I met in Sunnydale?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“S’true. He was the first person in Sunnydale to go out and Slay with me. Okay, he didn’t know we were going on a Slay mission. He just thought I was trying to find Willow and tagged along. He was the first person in Sunnydale to find out I was a Slayer because he overheard Giles talking to me. Hunh.” Buffy shook her head. “Guess he was around for a lot of my Sunnydale firsts.”

“Amazing he’s still talking to you,” Faith commented.

“Amazing he’s still alive,” Buffy chuckled. She bit her lip and frowned. “At least I hope so.”

“So, is there a point?” Faith asked.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is I kind of have this fixed idea of Xander,” Buffy tapped her forehead. “And that idea might be different from the real flesh-and-blood Xander.”

“Come again?”

Buffy hoped she could explain it to Faith because she wasn’t entirely sure she really understood the epiphany herself. “It’s like this. I look around at all the new girls, right? And whenever they need something they go to Xander. I mean, since Sunnydale they’ve all kind of done it without anyone telling them to do it. It’s like they see him as the guy who’s responsible for making sure they’re okay. He’s the cool adult and he’s a Watcher. I mean, Xander, a Watcher! If you told me that back when I first met him I would’ve laughed. Xander probably would’ve laughed.”

“People change, B.”

“But don’t you get it? Every once in awhile it just hits me how funny it is, Xander-then and Xander-now, y’know? I just have this idea in my head that he’s this friend-shaped guy with a skateboard and a serious klutz problem. Sometimes I still see that guy, even when he’s being all Watcher-y and adult-y. And I know it’s not fair. I’m not who I was so it’s kind of stupid to expect Xander to be who he was.” Buffy sighed and began tracing patterns in the table again. “I guess sometimes I need to believe klutz Xander’s still in there even if it’s not the real Xander any more.”

“So what you’re saying is because I know nothing I can see him better than you?”

“Yeah.”

Faith leaned back. “That has got to be the stupidest thing I ever heard. Besides, Xander can still be klutz. You didn’t see the header he took into a snow bank, although he throws a really deadly snowball.”

“You’re missing the point,” Buffy protested.

“No, I got your point. I just don’t agree with it,” Faith said sourly. “I’m talking about the history, see? You and Willow and Tweedy and Dawn at least know what went down with him. Well, some of what went down with him. You can at least point to something and say, ‘What if this instead of this?’ I don’t have that. So I’m stuck listening to all of it like a mook without contributing nothing because I don’t know nothing.”

“I think you know more than realize,” Buffy said. “I mean, c’mon. That betrayal thing. Okay, not happy when you said it, but thinking about it, I can see it. I might not like it, but it’s a side of Xander I never really considered. Or wanted to consider, ever. You picked up on it because you don’t have a fixed idea in your head about who he is and you did that based on one word.”

“Now you’re missing my point,” Faith grumbled.

“Maybe if you tried explaining it to me.”

Faith sniffed as she thought. “Okay. I got one. Xander’s stick around guy, right?”

“Yyyyyeeeesssssss,” Buffy said cautiously.

“You said he’s stuck with this shit for eight years. Never walked away. Never said, ‘Fuck this shit’ and taken off,” Faith waved around the kitchen.

“Well, he did take a road trip,” Buffy said slowly.

“Right. But he still came back,” Faith said. “Still jumped right back into the Slay thing when he did, I bet. Now, that says to me that he’s a stubborn ass. Even when things get tough in this game, he’s hanging tough even though he’s out-matched, out-gunned, and out-everything. Does not walk away from the people he cares about no matter what. Follow?”

“I think so,” Buffy said doubtfully.

“Okay, now take this wedding thing.” Faith shook her head and interrupted herself. “Let’s just leave aside the fact that Cyclops was marrying someone with a 1,200-year body count that makes Angelus downright fluffy.”

“Yeah, never got that either,” Buffy said. “Guess that’s part of why I’m mad at freak show. Part of me hates being reminded that Anya had victims and we really didn’t give it too much thought.”

Faith waved a dismissive hand. “That’s ’cause you didn’t see the bodies.”

“Well, we did. Once. But she made a deal with D’Hoffryn to reverse it, which is how she lost her vengeance demon powers a second time, so it wasn’t exactly the same thing.”

“We’re getting off track on what I was saying,” Faith said.

“Sorry. Please continue.”

“Okay, Cyclops is marrying Anya even though he knows everything, right? Not exactly blind-sided on the vengeance demon thing. Anyways, bad shit goes down and he takes off. Just up and runs, just like that. Not only that, if I heard right, he actually stays the fuck away for awhile and doesn’t even tell no one where he’s going.”

Buffy thunked her coffee cup onto the table and stared at Faith with wide eyes.

“I dunno, but that doesn’t strike me as exactly him. It doesn’t fit,” Faith said, not realizing that Buffy had fallen silent. “But I wasn’t there and I don’t know. I don’t know him well enough to know if he’d do shit like that.”

“He left,” Buffy whispered.

“Okay, maybe he didn’t leave completely since he still came back,” Faith said. “And maybe he didn’t exactly let go of Anya either since they were back on the ins when I pulled into town. Shit. I think I picked a bad example.”

“He left,” Buffy said louder.

“Unh, B? What’s with the fixated?” Faith asked.

“I don’t believe it,” Buffy said with wonder. “What’s the last thing we’d expect Xander to do, but he’d still be Xander if he did it?”

“I thought I just said he didn’t actually leave,” Faith said.

“No, he left alright. He’s left twice actually. The road trip. The wedding. He’s left, so it’s not totally out of the realm of Xanderness.” Buffy nodded as she looked at Faith. “But he’s never stayed away.”

Buffy shot out of her chair, grabbed Faith’s wrist, and started dragging her out of the kitchen.

“B? Ow! What the hell?”

“I think you hit on it,” Buffy said as she made for the stairs. “Faith, you’re a genius!”

 

TBC…here

DOWLOAD (good for seven days): The Dark Night of the Soul by Loreena McKennitt

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