Is it me? Or is LJ being teh sux0or tonight?
I've been trying to post this all day!
This was written for the PAL-a-thon. Happy April Fool's Day!
This is the first half of my PAL-a-thon entry. I promise to load the remaining parts in the next couple of days, so I'll be scarce online due to writing. Having looked at the other entries, I suspect that I may have over-thought this. Don't look so shocked. *glares*
Anyway, I urge you all to dowload the Mary Sue Soundtrack, mostly because this story gave me the evil idea for it and because some of you contributed songs to it. Plus, it's free. And the download links are good for another five days. So why not?
Title: No Myth
Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Rating: MH (Mostly Harmless)
Warnings: Swearing mostly. Definitely violence. Gratuitous use of a Mary Sue.
Spoilers: All of BtVS and AtS
Characters: Faith, Xander, Andrew, OCs, and a Mary Sue
Genre: Humor, Action
Alternative Universe Alert: All of the Scoobs went to Cleveland after Chosen. Occurs the summer after Water Hold Me Down, however you do not need to read that story to follow this one. I only mention it because I've plunked it in what I've come to call the Whisper-verse.
Summary: Faith takes it into her head that Xander needs to relax and fixates on the idea that a date—a nice, normal date—is a step in the right direction. Before it’s all over, there is a painful makeover, reluctant double-dating, uncomfortable small talk, spying baby Slayers, something that looks like Cthulu’s little sister, a trashed Starbuck’s storefront, attempted murder, Slayage, police involvement, and a trip to the Cleveland Clinic emergency room. What? You expected any date involving Xander and some random Mary Sue to go well?
Prologue: Summertime and the Living Is Easy…Sometimes
Buffy took a running leap for her bed and landed with a distinctive belly-first whump on top of her suitcase. “Zip it, zip it, zip it,” she said urgently.
“I dunno, B. That sounds wicked kinky. What if someone sees us?”
“Keep your shorts on. On second thought, don’t. I wanna hear the talk if someone walked in on us,” Faith snickered as she began the painful process of yanking the zipper on Buffy’s suitcase closed. “Jesus, B! What the hell did you pack?”
“You have too many fucking clothes,” Faith grunted. “You’d think there was no washing machines where you’re going.”
“Fine. Clothes. Shoes. Cosmetics. Magazines. iPod. Maybeafewstakesincasedad’snewgirlfriendi
“You’re going for two-and-a-half months, not a year.” With a final effort, Faith finished her job and stepped back.
Buffy paused a moment, as if afraid removing her body from the overstuffed suitcase would give it permission to spring open. She cautiously stood up and tensed. The luggage threatened to burst at the seams, but remained reassuringly sealed. As the blonde Slayer relaxed, she said, “We’re probably not even going to last a month.”
“C’mon. You’ve been cordially invited to spend two-and-a-half months in the south of France by your father…”
“My father who forgot me and Dawn existed for almost four years.”
“Even if hanging with the fam sucks the big one, plenty of other distractions like hot French men,” Faith pointed out as she flopped on the bed. “’Sides, it’s not like that suck-ass trip you had to take to Rome a few months back to help Robin negotiate for those books with that Immortal guy.”
“Please. Don’t remind me,” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Nightmare. He thought he was so Mr. Wonderful with the octopus hands.”
“You should’ve just gone with it,” Faith yawned with a cat-like stretch. “Shit. Play for the fun and games, let him treat you right for a little bit, take him for all he’s worth, and then head home with some kickass jewelry for your trouble.”
“Good thing I didn’t because then I’d feel even more guilty than I do now.” Buffy bit her lip. “He managed to do a lot of damage while he was running me through the clubs pretending he wanted to help us.”
“Yeah. About that.” Faith fidgeted. “I, unh, heard from Spike this morning. He, Angel, and that Illyria chick are licking their wounds and slowly recovering. Still won’t tell me where they’re hiding, though.”
“Neither one of them want to talk to me?” Buffy sounded hurt.
“B, Angel knows that Wolfram & Hart was playing mind games on them to isolate his crew,” Faith said. “But the shit those guys do to you, you have no idea. He’s still got to wrap his head around the fact that we had no fucking clue what was going down until Willow felt that big shift during their battle. Toss in that he’s lost four of his people in one year and you just know he’s giving himself the big post-battle beat up. He don’t wanna see nobody. Only reason why Spike and Illyria are still around is ’cause they’re both freakin’ stubborn and won’t let him do the fade. But part of the deal is Spike can’t tell us shit until Angel gets with the program.”
“I just can’t believe they thought we’d turn our backs on them like that,” Buffy said quietly. “What does that say about me?”
Faith sat up. “Ain’t about you, chica, and you know it. It says a hell of a lot more about Angel’s state of mind and the state of mind of his crew than you. He knew he fucked up by even thinking about that Wolfram & Hart deal, so all they had to do was plant the idea that we didn’t trust them no more and their imaginations did the rest.”
“They did more than that,” Buffy said angrily.
“Fuck yeah. Fake emails, fake phone numbers, a robot or clone or whatever that was pretending to be Andrew…”
“Which should have tipped them off right there,” Buffy growled. “I mean we’re going to send Andrew, someone Angel doesn’t even know, to work with him and pick up a dangerous Slayer? Does that even make sense?”
“Like I said, I don’t think anyone in Angel’s crew was thinking clearly once they signed on to Wolfram & Hart. They didn’t know whether they was coming or going.” Faith paused. “So how’s it going on finding that chick? What’s her name?”
“Diana. No, wait! Dana. And no. We don’t know who has her,” Buffy slumped. “Giles thinks it might be a rival group trying to step into the old Council’s jackboots, so he’s got Robin trying to track down any rumors of a Slayer recruitment drive in Europe, starting with touching base with any Watchers who survived the First’s attack. I’ve put in a call to Riley to see if maybe Uncle Sam didn’t grab her. I haven’t heard back yet, which could mean he hasn’t gotten my message or that Uncle Sam does have her and he’s not going to tell me.”
“This is a fucking mess,” Faith commented.
“Got that right,” Buffy agreed. “Thank god Angel managed to keep things from spiraling completely out of control in Los Angeles.”
“A world-ending event and we missed it,” Faith commented. “Least Wolfram & Hart is scrambling to get its shit together. We got lucky. Not so much Cordelia, Fred, Wes, and Gunn, though. Shit. I’ll never talk to Wes again and that just…” Faith gave her head a shake, as if trying to clear the idea out of her mind that Wes was yet another person with whom she could never make things right.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Every time I try I have the urge to start screaming.” Buffy scrubbed a hand through her hair. “Me? I want to go kill a lot of somethings, or at least help figure out what’s going on. And what am I doing? I’m stuck going with Dawn to France because Daddy dearest decides he wants to reconnect.”
“Maybe a good thing.”
“Oh?” Buffy asked archly.
“You’re too emotionally involved, which means the chances of you doing something stupid goes up,” Faith shrugged. “A little time and distance might be the best thing.”
“Easy for you to say,” Buffy grumbled.
“Nope. It ain’t. Believe me, I wanted to get on that plane to L.A. with Willow and Kennedy last week, but I know I’ll do something fucking stupid once I get there, which definitely increases my chances of going back to prison,” Faith said quietly. “I owe Angel big, but the best thing I can do right now is let our resident braniac figure out the sitch. I’m not great at sitting on my hands, but that’s what I gotta do until we figure out the real deal.”
“You’re right. I know you’re right,” Buffy said as she plopped on the edge of the bed. “And I know I have to leave it to Robin to Hardy Boy it around Europe by himself because going out with that stupid Immortal raised my profile too high.”
“Look, just go sponge off daddy-o’s guilt. Have a good time, or at least try to,” Faith said. “You’re the only one on senior staff who’s getting the vacay around here, so I say kick back and enjoy and let everyone just do their jobs.”
“Sorry you and Xander got stuck with Hellmouth babysitting duty,” Buffy apologized. “We kinda need…”
“Yeah, yeah, one senior Slayer and one Watcher hanging around in case things get dicey,” Faith finished for her.
“Shouldn’t have anything big happen. Hellmouths usually cool it during the summer,” Buffy reassured her. “At best there’ll be a few random stakings, a minor demon or two, but that’s about it. Plus, our new Watcher, Jonathan Whyte, should be getting here a few weeks, so you and Xander won’t be completely alone.”
“So, you and Dawn in France, Robin running around Europe tracking down rumors, Willow and Kennedy on the West Coast trying to figure out what the hell happened and seeing if there’s any long term consequences,” Faith ticked off on her fingers.
“Giles and Andrew in Hong Kong,” Buffy added.
Faith rolled her eyes. “Why he took Andrew of all people…”
“Giles already wants to strangle Andrew and they’ve only been there two weeks,” Buffy giggled. “Still, he needs Andrew’s demon translating skills, so Andrew it is.”
“I think Cyclops is a little hurt Giles didn’t invite him along,” Faith remarked.
Buffy tensed. “He said something?”
“You know Cyclops. Not a fucking word,” Faith shrugged. “But I spotted that look on his face while we were dropping those two off at the airport and Andrew was going on and on about the world-traveling duties of a Watcher.”
“Andrew’s not a Watcher,” Buffy pointed out.
“Shit, no,” Faith said. “But you gotta look at it from Cyclops’s point of view. Since Sunnydale went to hell, he’s had no vacay and all his trips have been stateside with one of us to help do the Slayer recruitment dance. Hell, everyone on senior staff ’cept me and him has dinged a foreign country at least once.”
Buffy winced. “We need him here more. He knows that.”
“Did you see the look on his face when he found out that Angel thought he was in Africa?” Faith asked. “He told me that was pretty much the only cool thing about the whole deal; that whoever was running the scam on Angel thought he could handle traveling around Africa all by himself and that Angel and Spike bought it. Said he trade the coolness factor of it if it brought Cordelia back, though.”
“He said that?” Buffy startled. “How come he talked about all that with you and not with…”
“I’m his patrol and training partner, remember?” Faith pointed out. “Sometimes patrol gets boring and even Cyclops will let things slip if you get him talking.”
“I’ll talk to Giles. Maybe we can get him to Hong Kong for a few weeks in August after Jonathan settles in,” Buffy said fervently.
“You could, although I think it might be better if you guys waited and just shipped him out on the next foreign trip.”
“And if he’s not the right fit for the mission?” Buffy asked.
“Send him anyway,” Faith shrugged. “If anything else he could keep ‘the right fit’ a little company and see some sights. Way things are going, I wouldn’t blame him if he was thinking you don’t trust him to do anything important.”
“He’s a Watcher and he’s guarding the Hellmouth and running the whole house for the summer with you,” Buffy stated angrily. “I wouldn’t trust anyone else, other than Giles, to hold down the fort while we’re all away.”
“It’s summer. When nothing happens. And most of our baby Slayers are off visiting the family or bopping around on vacation. When the population in the Mother House will be him, me, a newbie Watcher, and two Slayers who are locals and actually won’t be living here,” Faith pointed out. “Meanwhile, everyone else is on an important mission, except for Dawn and you, because you’re visiting daddy-o in France, and me, but that’s because we don’t know how rock solid may fake paperwork is now that Angel’s tried to blow up Wolfram & Hart.”
“Put it like that, it sounds bad,” Buffy’s shoulders slumped.
“Yup. Sure does.”
“Okay, next foreign trip it is,” Buffy readily agreed. “Just hope we don’t need him more on the home front at the same time.”
“Good,” Faith nodded.
“Gotta admit, I’m a little surprised.”
Buffy studied Faith a moment. “You’re getting pretty good on the Xander read-age, and I’m talking Willow-good, well, Willow when she was crushing on Xander anyway. Anything you want to tell me?”
Faith burst out laughing. “Holy shit! You think I’m crushing on Cyclops?”
“I dunno,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “You’re spotting things with him that everyone else totally misses, you’re watching his back even when he doesn’t know you’re watching his back, so I have to start wondering…”
“Nah. Nothing like that,” Faith easily dismissed the notion. “Like I said, we ended up being working partners, so I’ve been hanging with him a lot on the job. Besides, if he’s bothered he might get distracted and that ain’t good for me, right? Just looking out for my own interests.”
Buffy shook her head. “Whatever you say.”
“S’the truth. Besides, you’re outta your gourd if you think for one second that…”
“I bet I’m going to have to remind you that we had this conversation at some point in the future,” Buffy said confidently. “Then I’m going to dance around and tell everyone that I saw this coming.”
Faith resisted growling her annoyance at the other Slayer. B was trying to get under her skin to cover for the fact that she completely missed the boat on Cyclops feeling a little left out, so she changed the subject. “Any last minute advice before you abandon us?”
“Nah. Covered everything. Anything I missed, Xander pretty much knows the drill already, so you’re probably good.” Buffy stood up. “Well, maybe one thing.”
“Don’t let the world end?” Faith asked sarcastically. “Already know that one.”
“World endage never happens in the summer, so nope.” Buffy grinned mischievously. “If Xander goes on a date, be prepared to Slay.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “I don’t know if you noticed, but he’s been making like a monk on that front. I’m thinkin’ he must be developing a complex between the one-two punch that is Anya and Cordelia.”
“Yup. Noticed the monking. But lately he’s been attracting a few eyes,” Buffy giggled. “Other day some girl at Starbucks was flirting up a storm with him and he completely missed it. Sooner or later someone’s going to club him over the head and drag him on a date and given that it’s summer, I’m betting on sooner rather than later. I’m just telling you to be prepared for badness when it happens.”
“Really.” Faith’s voice was hard. “There a reason why you’re telling me this?”
“Just to throw your words back at you? Ain’t about you and your issues, chica,” Buffy’s giggle threatened to spin out of control. “This has to do with the Xander mojo. He has the absolute worst luck. Let’s just say there’s a reason why me and Willow associate Xander dating with his head getting eaten.”
“His head getting eaten?” Faith asked. “For a second I thought you’d say attempted murder, given this is me you’re talking to.”
“Eat his head. Suck his life force dry. Stab him. Okay, yeah, something trying kill him.” Buffy nodded. “Just be ready with a stake, ’kay?”
“Unbelievable,” Faith muttered.
“Fine. Don’t listen to me,” Buffy cheerfully shrugged. “You’re probably right. Given his current state of cluelessness, Dawn’s more likely to get a date when I’m following her around with a crossbow.”
Chapter One: Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues
Faith’s second summer in Cleveland was shaping up to be just as boring as Buffy promised.
She truthfully didn’t count her first summer here as actually being ‘in Cleveland,’ especially since they had just arrived and everyone was still recovering from the destruction Sunnydale. The gang had been so busy finding their feet—not to mention finding a house that could hold all the bedraggled survivors that chose to stick around—that the summer of 2003 flew by at such blinding speed that everyone simply missed it.
The quiet of summer of 2004 was a sign that the Cleveland household had finally settled into the greater cycle of evil and not-as-evil that seemed to control the greater rhythm of the Slaying world. Evil—if B, Cyclops, and Willow could be believed—took a holiday, or at least toned it down a thousand or so notches. Since Faith actually had very little experience with this bizarre annual event given that she was either finding out she was a Chosen One, comatose, in jail, or running her ass away from Sunnydale during her previous summers as a Slayer, she had no choice but to believe them.
Faith’s inner cynic didn’t trust the quiet one bit. Although she did wonder if maybe she was being a bit too-too about it, especially since Cyclops all but assured her whenever she complained about their situation that she was going to wish for the heady days of summer when the next apocalypse came due in May.
By the middle of July, she and Cyclops had a routine. There was training and mentoring the two local Slayers in the early afternoon, random household chores to be done in the late afternoon, and supper. The days ended with the two of them and one of the local Slayers doing the regular nightly patrol. Summertime patrols were somehow the worst, if only because it usually boiled down to a long nighttime stroll through the shadier parts of Cleveland. Faith could count the number of vampires staked since June 21 on one hand and still have fingers left over.
Weaving through all of this were messages from the outside world. There were daily postcards adorned with brief notes from far-flung Slayers making the most of summer. There were daily frustrated reports from Willow and Robin as they tried to untangle their respective mysteries. Both were getting nowhere at a snail’s pace, hence the frustration from them, which only served to feed both Xander’s and Faith’s own frustrations that they were tied to Cleveland and unable to help either party.
The last thing either of them needed was the bitch-session calls from Buffy and Dawn. Both girls moaned about the awfulness of their father’s girlfriend, complained about the dullness of the pretty landscape, and begged for any scrap of hope that Xander and Faith were drowning in evil so they could hop a plane back to Cleveland.
Then there was Giles’s insistence about being kept in the loop for everything, even if the everything in question turned out to be nothing more than a big ol’ goose egg.
While Faith was ready to climb the walls—if only because she wasn’t getting any action on either the Slaying or the getting laid front thanks to the fact she was patrolling every night with Cyclops—Xander seemed to incrementally wilt with every arriving postcard, every filed daily report from Willow and Robin, and every call from Buffy, Dawn, Willow, and Giles. By mid-July, Faith could see Xander was sinking into full-blown depression and once again silently cursed everyone for not noticing that maybe Xander wanted to get a little international travel in, even if it meant he’d be working like a dog for the privilege. Even knowing that B and Giles thought they were paying Xander and her the biggest compliment in the world by leaving them in place as the active Council-in-residence did nothing to dim her irritation.
The arrival of Jonathan Whyte was cause for a little excitement, if only because it meant an unfamiliar face and news of the outside world. Excitement was quickly dashed, however, once Faith and Xander experienced the whole package.
Whyte was youngish—albeit older than either her or Xander—and one of those dudes with a Watcher bloodline reaching back god knows how far. And he wasn’t afraid to mention it. A lot.
Faith supposed Whyte was just nervous and was flashing the street cred to impress them, but as he recounted his extensive travels on the “continent” while he “attended university,” and prepared himself for the day when he’d “do his family proud” by making full-bore Watcher, Faith could see Xander’s shoulders slump ever lower.
Then it happened. Whyte finally stopped bragging about himself long enough to check out Xander’s street cred. To sum up the disastrous conversation:
“Certainly you’ve traveled extensively while recruiting more Slayers into the fold.”
“Not really. Pretty much stayed in the good ol’ U.S. of A.”
“Yes. Well. I suppose it’s best to get to know one’s own country before traveling abroad. So, what is your specialty?”
“What did you study at university?”
“Unh, never went to college. Oh, and I’m kind of a Jack of all trades, I guess. Pretty much fill in where needed.”
“Oh. I see. So, what did you do for a living before Mr. Giles recruited you?”
And that, as they say, was that.
Never mind that Cyclops had fought in and survived at least seven apocalypses, that he had more field experience working with Slayers than ninety-nine percent of the old skool Watchers three times his age, and that in a hand-to-hand fight Cyclops would eat Whyte for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All Whyte could see was that Cyclops was not to the manner born and didn’t have the right paper credentials to be a Watcher.
Whyte was polite, to be sure, but he definitely addressed Cyclops like he was nothing more than the hired help. The situation was shaping up to be worse than when Robin and Xander shared the same roof. While Robin and Xander had been known to butt heads over any number of things, up to and including whether the sky was blue, Robin never doubted for a second that Xander had earned his spot the hard way and respected that.
What really threw Faith for a loop was that Whyte’s attitude seemed to knock Cyclops completely off-balance. This was a guy who’d go toe-to-toe with anyone, anything, anywhere if he thought he was in the right, yet a punk like Whyte managed to make Cyclops retreat even further into himself by using just a certain tone of voice.
After one week of undiluted Whyte, and Faith was annoyed on Cyclops’s behalf. She even tried giving Whyte a little one-on-one talk about his ’tude. She might as well have been talking to thin air for all it helped.
Faith finally decided that what Cyclops needed was a break in the routine. She suggested that maybe he should take off for a while; maybe check out Chicago or Nashville. Nothing doing. He was entrusted with staying put and keeping an eye on things just in case, so staying put he was. Then she suggested that maybe he should give himself a week off from patrolling so he could do something fun with his time and not worry about schedules or getting things done. Again, no dice. His argument was that it wouldn’t be fair if he took a week off when Faith couldn’t do it herself.
Faith finally fell into her own brand of brooding on her unhappy situation. She knew that she and Cyclops needed to get out of neutral, she just didn’t know how. She found herself hoping for a little trouble. Nothing big or fatal, but something just exciting enough to make Whyte eat his attitude and so she’d have a great story to tell when everyone returned to the nest.
Good thing Xander couldn’t read her mind, otherwise he would’ve read her the riot act after he was done boarding up the windows, making a panicked run on the supermarket, wrapping himself in his ‘Puffy Xander suit,’ and getting himself into crash position.
The silent wish was out of the bag, however, and the universe, as it so often does when it comes to Slayers and Watchers yearning for a little bit of excitement, decided to oblige.
And is often the case when things like this happen, it started innocently enough. In this particular situation, it started with a trip to the ocularist for Xander’s annual check on his artificial eye.
Well, actually, it wasn’t the doctor’s visit itself that was the root of their trouble, but it was the reason why the two of them were in Cleveland Heights near a Borders bookstore. Since B had complained in her last call to the Mother House that she’d read all her magazines and was now officially forced to interact with her father and the girlfriend far more than she wanted to, Xander proposed stopping in and compiling a care package for blonde Slayers in distress who would’ve flunked high school French were it not for red-headed witches helping them cheat.
Faith naturally agreed. No skin off her nose to do B a favor. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
The short answer?
A bookseller named Inez Morningstar with a mellifluous voice charming enough to calm rabid dogs; a sweet disposition that perfectly matched her outward beauty; a pert, upturned, eminently kissable button nose; glorious, flowing blonde hair with strawberry highlights; otherworldly violet eyes that made male hearts pound in their male chests; a fabulous, billion-dollar smile that put everyone around her at instant ease; a bone structure that that made supermodels weep in frustration because she had it and they didn’t; skin that was as translucent as the finest bone china; and the kind of body that Hollywood starlets and porn stars pay big money to plastic surgeons to own.
And yes, that is the short answer.
Now aren’t you glad you asked?
Chapter Two: The Mid-West Farmers’ Daughters Make You Feel All Right
“She’s hitting on you.”
“Wha?” Xander’s head popped up from the latest Terry Pratchett novel.
“That girl. She’s hitting on you,” Faith hissed.
“Shhhhhhhh,” Faith waved her hands at him. “What the fuck is up with you? Keep your voice down.”
“Because she might be hiding somewhere close by,” Faith replied, her tone hinting at the kind of conspiracies that resulted in trashed shopping malls and demolished buildings.
Xander blinked owlishly, but lowered his voice. “Faith, you do know that I have no idea what you’re talking about. Who might be close by?”
“The girl who helped us find the science fiction section.”
“What about her?” Xander asked.
“She. Is. Hitting. On. You.” Faith hissed in frustration. Jesus. This was going beyond clueless and heading right into no-one-is-that-blind territory. Frankly, in Faith’s humble opinion, everyone needed a little screwing of the guilt-free variety to keep their heads on straight and—Buffy’s bizarre warning about Xander and dating be damned—Cyclops was a little overdue in that department.
Xander looked around. There were customers browsing the books in the nearby sections, a few kids running riot among the graphic novels, a few geeks quietly discussing the finer points of the D20 gaming system, but no female-shaped booksellers. He focused back on the Slayer menace standing next to him. “There is no girl hitting on me,” he slowly replied. “Unless she’s invisible, and then, hello! Marcy! No thanks.”
Faith sighed and rolled her eyes. “Xaaannnnderrrrrrr,” irritation dripped from her voice, “the girl who helped us find this section, got the book off the shelf, handed the book to you, and then got you in a 20-minute conversation about the finer points of Pratchett was seriously checking out your ass.”
Xander blinked, craned his neck to try and get a look at his own ass, and gave up, opting instead to apply his own brand of logic. “One, she was not hitting on me; she was doing her job. Two, we did not talk for 20 minutes,” Xander said, burying his head back in the book. “Hey, I’m thinking Dawn might like this, but I dunno.”
“So now we’re putting a care package together for Dawn? Don’t know if you noticed, but little miss language expert can actually read French and doesn’t need English-only reading material,” Faith pointed out.
“We’re here, so why not,” Xander absently replied. “Besides, when I talked to her a few days ago she said the whole ‘reconnect with daddy’ mission was now going over about as well as a vampire in baptismal font. I figure some classic Pratchett might at least give her something to laugh about.”
“Cyclops, maybe you should stop being the house mom for one frigging a second and…”
“I should start her at the beginning,” Xander interrupted. “With The Colour of Magic. Rincewind kills me. Oh! Maybe I should get her started with Granny Weatherwax in Equal Rites. Willow always loved Granny.”
“Xander!” Faith barked in an effort to head off more babble she couldn’t quite follow. She ignored the unhappy glares from the other shoppers. “Fine, you did not talk for 20 minutes. It was more like 19. I do own a fucking watch, you know.”
Xander sighed, reluctantly closed the book, and replaced it on the shelf. He gave the spine a longing glance. Mr. Pratchett, it appeared, would just have to wait until he dealt with this new crisis.
“You are going to ask her out,” Faith ordered.
“No, I’m not.”
Stunned by this outright refusal, Faith’s mouth hung open. Xander looked like he wanted to reach over and tap his fingers under her chin to get her to close it. Probably deciding that he liked having his hand still attached to his wrist, he opted to go with the wisecrack. “You’re gonna catch flies like that.”
“Cyclops, you’re young and you’ve got your whole goddamn life ahead of you. Plus, between the glass eye and the fact you’ve been working out like a gym rat so’s you can keep up with the superpowered chicks, you’re lookin’ mighty fine to people who don’t know you.”
“Gee, thanks,” Xander muttered sourly. “You bring backhanded compliments to a whole new level, you know that right?”
“You know what I mean. When you don’t make with the goofy-ass jokes you could pass for something resembling hot,” Faith waved it off.
“And again with the…”
“Awww, c’mon,” Faith interrupted. “I’m tryin’ to boost your confidence here.”
“And doing a masterful job of it too, I might add,” Xander said as he rolled his eyes, surprising Faith with the fact that he’d gotten light-years better at matching the movement of his fake eye with the real one.
“I’m just saying that there’s no way in hell you’ll be able to stick with living like a fucking priest for the rest of your life. You hate poverty, you hate being told what to do, so I really don’t think celibacy is going to…”
“Anya’s been dead only a little over a year and I just found out that Cordelia’s dead. Unlike certain people I can name, the dead people in my life stay dead,” Xander muttered as he angrily shoved the book back on the shelf.
Faith rubbed her temples. So that was his problem. “I understand what you’re saying. I do. But hanging with just me, the newbie Watcher, and our resident baby Slayers? You’re playing it safe and you know it. Go out. Mix a little with some nice, normal people. I’m not saying you have to marry her. Just, I dunno, don’t be shutting new people out. It’s no way to live. Trust me on this.”
“Key words in that nice little speech is ‘normal people,’” Xander reminded her. “At what point should I tell some woman who’s been conned into going out on a date with me that my hobbies include vampire-dusting and demon-bothering, and that my romantic evenings seem to consist long night walks with a stake and a bottle of holy water on the off chance that something might try to rip my throat out? And how do you bring something like that up anyway?”
“How the hell do I know?” Faith asked.
“Because you immediately told everyone you slept with that you were a Slayer?” Xander asked, relieved he was finally getting his point across.
“Hell no. I didn’t tell and they didn’t ask. Actually, if there’s talking is involved you’re not doing it right.”
“Sounds lonely,” Xander commented as he prowled the aisle in search of another book for Dawn.
Which probably goes a long way to explaining Robin’s attraction before the relationship crack-up. He knew. I didn’t have to explain shit, Faith silently admitted.
Still, his trying to toss the ball back in her court was a case of the pot fighting it out with the kettle. He’d outright refused every option she proposed to give him a break from the tense atmosphere in the Mother House, but she hadn’t considered forcing him to take only a single night off. And what could be better than a night off while he went on a normal date? True, the bookseller in question didn’t strike Faith as being anything short of extraordinary, but the way she was looking at Cyclops was all Faith needed to know. If Xander asked, he’d have himself one fine-looking date.
Tricky, but I bet I can swing that much. Faith took a deep breath and attempted a reasonable tone. “It’s just one fucking date. Dinner. Maybe a movie. Blow off a little steam, I say.”
Xander favored her with an angry glare. “And if I suddenly come across a vampire trying to attack someone? I get called a freak—again—and she suddenly needs to take an extended vacation to Pluto.”
“I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” Faith stated with crossed arms. “Besides, it’s one date. One. You can’t take one night off for one little date?”
Xander groaned. “Faith, I really don’t think…”
“Plus, I think you really need to get laid.”
That sentiment surprised a laugh out of him.
Faith lightly punched his arm, careful to keep any hint of her strength out of it. “I know, your world’s all upside down and inside out that someone that gorgeous might want to rip your clothes off and do you. But the ass is looking mighty fine and it’s a shame to let it go to waste. C’mon. A date with one of the locals, especially a local looking like she does, would do you good.”
“Why what?” Faith asked.
“Why is this so important to you?” Xander asked, a pleading tone creeping into his voice. “I’m fine. Really. No problems.”
Time to get ugly about it, Faith figured. While she didn’t know if this was actually true, her many experiences with members of the opposite sex told her that she’d hit a bull’s-eye. “Unh-hunh. Right. Suuuuure you are. And I didn’t hear you jacking off in the shower the other night.”
Xander squeaked and turned an interesting shade of red. “Can we get off the subject? Please?”
Bingo! “We get off the subject when you ask her out,” Faith said with something resembling a prim tone, well, as prim as she could manage anyway.
“Doing it for your own good. There’s health and sanity involved. You don’t want to be poisoned by your own testosterone, right? Can’t be good when your hot dates pretty much consist of Mrs. Palmer and her five daughters.”
“Gah! You win!” Xander winced. “Jesus, I thought when Andrew flitted after Giles for some quality demon-spotting in Hong Kong I’d get some privacy, but nooooooooo.”
“That Slayer hearing will getchya every time, sport, and don’t you forget it,” Faith grinned as she grabbed his arm and dragged him away from the science fiction section in search of her quarry.
“I’m buying you earplugs,” Xander complained.
“What? And deprive me of my fun?”
“You enjoy listening to…oh god…you realize that I now need some serious therapy, right?”
They didn’t have to travel far before Faith spotted the girl in question—like she could miss this girl even in a crowd of millions—waiting on another customer. Once she located her target, Faith pulled Xander out of sight into a book-lined alcove. “There she is, go get her,” Faith hissed.
Xander tried one more time to get out of it. “Go get her? Just like that? Did it ever occur to you that she just might say no? Which there’s a better than 90 percent chance of that happening, by the way.”
“And on what do you base that?”
“Unh, because that’s what women do when I ask them out. I’ve had a long and intimate relationship with the phase, ‘Back off loser, I have mace.’”
“Oh, please. I ain’t buying that shit.” Faith paused to peek around the corner to make sure the innocent creature was still within pouncing distance. “I seem to remember you were dating a cheerleader when I blew into Sunnydale back in the day.”
“Cordelia. Her name was Cordelia.”
“I know her name, Cyclops,” Faith huffed a breath. “But you’re missing my point. Cheerleaders date football guys, not chronic losers with a taste for mace, so you musta done something right.”
“That was a case of hormones attacking during the heat of battle, so there was no actual asking of the out in that situation,” Xander said.
“Ahh, gotchya. That’s cool. But still there’s always Anya, right?”
“Not exactly,” Faith repeated slowly.
“She basically walked into my basement abode, dropped her dress, stood there naked, and said she wanted to have sex with me so she could get me out of her system,” Xander explained.
Faith was momentarily struck speechless.
“I think you see my pattern here,” Xander added.
“Nah, c’mon. You’re just yanking my chain because you want out of this,” Faith gave him a friendly nudge with her elbow. “Overplaying your ‘poor helpless me’ schtick there, Cyclops. I know for a fact that there’s someone else besides Cordelia and Anya.”
“If you’re including you on that list, which I don’t think you are, yes. If not? No.”
Xander’s reward for unvarnished honesty was the rare sight of Faith actually sputtering between laughter and disbelief.
“You know?” Xander grinned despite himself. “This is what I’d call flattering, with you going all assume-y about my dating prowess, but as you can see, I’m usually the pouncee and not the pouncer.”
“You make it sound like this rocket science and it ain’t,” Faith said. “Just go up, make some small talk, and ask her out.”
“And if she says no?”
“Then she says no.”
“And if she says yes?”
“Should I be worried that you sound more worried about the yes and less about the no?”
“I’m worried about the yes because it means she’s looking to feast on human flesh and I just offered myself up as an entrée,” Xander answered.
“And what scares me is that you’ve got the rep for being the optimistic one,” Faith shook her head.
“Hey, if you’re not afraid to explain to everyone why the only thing left of my body is a single chewed-on vertebra, I’ll ask her out.”
“Halleluiah, choirs or angels sing. I finally convinced your stubborn ass.”
“Yes, Faith. You won. I’d rather face certain death than have to listen to you nag me about my sex life, lack of.” Xander paused. “And am I the only one totally skeeved that you of all people are obsessing about it?”
“I’m not obsessing,” Faith protested.
“Fine, but you gotta admit the irony levels are reaching poisonous proportions.”
“Oh. Hey. Sorry.” Xander’s answering wince mirrored Faith’s. “I know there were axes buried and I didn’t mean to bring up…”
“Nah. You got the right,” Faith shrugged off.
“Still, the past is the past and I know that it’s just…I mean, this is just a freaksome conversation we’re having,” Xander said. “If someone told me a year ago you’d be blackmailing me into going out on a date ‘for my own good,’ I’d think they were high on magic weed.”
“Call it payback for past bad acts, hunh?”
“Faith, I said…”
Faith looked him right in the face and said, “I know what you said. You may think we’re square, but I think I need some more squaring at my end.”
Xander fidgeted uncomfortably. “Tell you what. If my date tries to eat me and you save me from her, you can seriously consider yourself squared, okay?”
“Sure, whatever you say.” Although Faith didn’t sound at all like she was prepared to call her past bad acts against Xander anything close to squared even if she saved him from another creature in the Harris Dating Missteps Hall of Fame, “So, you ready?”
“Unh, no.” As Faith’s eyebrows lowered in irritation, Xander quickly added, “What I mean is, I don’t actually know how to ask someone out on a date without sounding like an Andrew-level dork. Maybe if you could, I dunno, tell me what works with you so I could try that.”
Faith took another peek around the corner before looking back at Xander. “I don’t think that’s gonna work.”
“Why not? You’re both female-shaped.”
“She’s got perfect taste in clothes.”
“And she looks like she’s never actually ripped the heart out of a demon.”
“Looks can be deceiving, especially if she is a demon.”
“I dunno, Cyclops. I can’t see her as a relative of that Achoo demon we took out before B hightailed it to France.”
“It’s Ashovu demon and why do you think me going out on a date with her is not going to end in tragedy again?” Xander asked.
“Plus, I like motorcycles. I don’t see her riding in the bitch seat of bike, not that I don’t think she wouldn’t look hot if she did.”
“Don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t actually own a...”
“I bet she’d melt wicked hard for a cool car,” Faith mused. “Cool cars are big snatch catchers.”
“And again we’re back to something I don’t actually own. Plus, that means you and her would date my Uncle Rory when he had that cherry convertible which…my mind just went to a very terrifying place.”
“Guys in bands are also big.”
“We’ve moved on from things I don’t own to talents I don’t have, I noticed.”
“Look, you’ll do fine,” Faith assured him. “Assuming she has more in common with me than Willow, I’m sure if you go the ‘let’s do coffee’ route, you’ll get a yes.”
“In other words you figure that, like you, she’ll go for breathing.”
“Hey!” Faith protested.
“Actually, that’s meant as a compliment,” Xander said.
“And just how is that a compliment?” Faith asked with crossed arms.
“You forget I’ve hung with Buffy for years,” Xander pointed out. “Breathing is actually optional for her.”
Faith choked on a laugh.
“And if you tell her that I said that, we are so unsquared it’s not funny,” Xander said.
Faith glanced around the corner again before zipping back into the alcove to give Xander a shove in the girl’s general direction. “She just ditched the customer. Go. Go. Go,” she said urgently.
“Faith, this is insane. I think there’s something wrong with you.”
“Stop making excuses.” With a final hard shove she propelled Xander out of the alcove. He managed to catch himself before he stumbled right into the target.
Faith grabbed a book off the shelf, flipped it open, and stuck her nose in it. It was some computer thing that would probably make Willow excited. She guessed. She didn’t know, since she barely could use a keyboard, let alone do something that required her to type alphabet soup.
Her Slayer hearing picked up bits and pieces of Xander’s attempt at small talk. He seemed to be going the Pratchett route, asking the girl in question to recommend a book for a friend who was ignorant of the wonders of this guy. Faith snorted. Clumsy come-on to end all clumsy come-ons, especially given he was trying to pick up someone that wonderful. At least he was going with his strengths.
She glanced over the top of the book and saw Xander following the bookseller back into the science fiction section. She grinned. They did actually make a good-looking couple, so she was worried about nothing. Probably would grow into something pretty big. Next thing you know Ms. Perfect and Cyclops would be moving into their own private love nest and…
Mental brakes screeched to a halt. Whoa! Where the fuck did that come from? Faith gave her head a hard shake to clear it. She wasn’t at all the romantic type and here she was imagining Cyclops sweeping the girl off her feet.
“Guess Cyclops ain’t the only one ’round here who needs to get laid,” Faith laughed at herself as she replaced the computer book on the shelf. Then she remembered why she and Cyclops were actually at the Cleveland Heights Borders. “Crap. B’s magazines.” A quick flag at another bookseller, this one a sour-faced old crone, and she was off grabbing the magazines they were there to buy before circumstances distracted them from the business at hand.
Chapter 3: A Small Change in the Plan…
“Look, what could possibly go wrong?” Faith asked happily as she maneuvered the car down the street.
“Pedestrian!” Xander shouted.
“I see him, for Christ’s sake. Not going to run him over.”
“We passed close enough to see his entire life flashing in front of his eyes!”
“My reflexes are good. No one will be hurt in the…”
“Slayers and cars don’t mix,” Xander grumbled. “Should’ve never let you drive.”
“Hey! Who was the one that said we needed more than one driver in the house for the summer?” She glanced at her nervous passenger. “Jesus. The air conditioning’s on full blast and you’re sweating.”
“This sweat is fear. And I mentioned driving thing before Whyte showed up with his shiny international driver’s license. I’ve changed my mind. Three times with you behind the wheel has convinced me it was a stupid idea.”
“You’re just being pissy because I made you go out on a date.”
Faith slammed on the brakes, which jerked Xander hard against his seatbelt. The cars behind them took up and angry chorus of squealing brakes and beeping horns.
“Oh, did I forget to mention?” Xander asked airily. “You’re joining me on this date.”
“You’re supposed to be dating her! Not me!”
“Don’t be a sicko. Cousin.”
“That’s right. You’re my first cousin, twice removed, come to visit from Boston.”
“Why you little…”
“You and a man or woman of your choosing will be my body guards for the evening, although I told your little miss wonderful that you’re nervous about dating your whatever and asked me to tag along. I stressed that she would be saving me from third-wheel status, a fate worse than death. And I mean that literally.”
“I can’t believe this!”
“Believe it. I’ve been nearly eaten too many times to be taken in by just another pretty face,” Xander huffed with crossed arms. “Besides, her vibe’s all wrong. Something’s up and I don’t like it.”
“You’re being paranoid.”
“No. I learn from experience. Granted, it took me twenty-three years to catch on, but I’m so caught I’m on fire. I may be slow, but I get there in the end.”
“This is absolutely fucking…”
Pounding on the driver’s side window interrupted what promised to be a primo Faith-style tirade. Both Faith and Xander startled and realized that there was a very red-faced, fat-necked gentleman glaring at them.
“I think we’re blocking traffic,” Xander commented.
Faith rolled down the window and the man exploded into a string of profanities and orders that Faith move her shiny ass before he rammed her bumper and shoved her, her car, and her passenger into on-coming traffic.
“Can we just move? Please?” Xander pleaded.
“Right,” Faith grimly agreed. She floored the gas pedal and car screeched away, leaving their angry motorist coughing in their exhaust.