Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: Rated PG for some language, alcohol abuse, and implied violence.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer are owned by FOX, written and produced by Mutant Enemy, which means none of the characters within are mine.
Summary: What if Willow’s magic blast in “Grave” had long-lasting consequences for Xander? Story is told from the POV of Faith, Buffy, Willow, Spike, and Giles. AU, takes place right after “Storyteller” but before “Lies My Parents Told Me.” Serves as a stepping off point for a Post-S7 AU series featuring Xander and Faith.
Warning: Was originally written early S7. Is now standing as an AU.
Part 5: Spike—Just Like Smoke
Spike hangs up the phone, mulling everything L’il Bit told him. It’s hard to comprehend. So Xander is a soulless demon, Spike thinks with some satisfaction. My, how the worm has turned.
He gets up from the couch and silently moves across Anya’s apartment. For reasons he can’t comprehend, Spike stalks the microwave before opening it to retrieve his cup of blood. He suppresses a snort. He has a soul and here he is stalking an appliance. It’s probably a deep-seated vampire trait that compels him to stalk his food, even if it is provided courtesy of all modern conveniences. He removes the cup and frowns at its contents. Ruined now. The microwave dinged that dinner was served forty-five minutes ago, but he was on the phone with L’il Bit wringing all the juicy details out of her.
Spike tosses the blood down the drain, suddenly not hungry any more. He tilts his head and listens. Anya is quiet and Spike reckons that she’s finally fallen asleep. He’s not sure what he should feel about that. On the one hand he’s relieved. Anya’s muffled sobs through the closed bedroom door drove him to quiet distraction as he hovered torn between the need to charge in and comfort her and the need to charge in and smother her with a pillow.
On the other hand, he wants to charge into the bedroom now and shake her awake with the news and crow that there was more than one demon involved in her little affair with Xander. Well, more than two if you count his own tryst with Anya in the Magic Box, and Spike damn well doesn’t.
Pity he didn’t get to stick around to watch the show. He’d pay good money to see the look on Harris’s face when Giles dropped the bomb on him. Although Dawn didn’t say it happened, Spike is willing to bet that Xander threw a good right hook at the Watcher’s face before storming out of the Summers house. He idly wonders if Xander will show up here to seek comfort from Anya. He hopes he does. He hopes he doesn’t.
With a start Spike realizes that he feels a little guilty about enjoying Xander’s comeuppance. A little. Not much.
Bollocks. Spike isn’t sure what he feels.
His head’s a bit of mess, been that way since he was cast out of the Summers home earlier this evening and ordered to watch Anya. When he insisted that he should stay in case Xander try something, he was quickly rebuffed.
I think you’ve done enough, Spike.
Buffy, you know I was under the thrall of—
So not what I meant.
Then what do you mean?
This is a family matter and it should be dealt with within the family.
I still don’t trust you.
Oh, but you trust me enough to watch over Xander’s ex.
Anya is distraught and shouldn’t be alone right now. Since Giles, Willow, and I need to hash this out, you’ve been elected.
Why the hurry to get the ex-demon out of the house?
She’s not thinking straight about the situation and I’m afraid—
Afraid that she might spout some uncomfortable truths about how you’ve handled the whole Xander situation from the get go?
I’m afraid she might hurt herself.
Hurt herself trying to stop you from carrying out your plan, you mean. Don’t look at me like that Slayer—Buffy. I can see the bloodlust in your eyes.
This is not bloodlust. This is me resigning myself to the inevitable. And since when are you so sympathetic to Xander’s cause?
Not sympathetic. I don’t care what you do with him. I just think that—
Don’t think. Take Anya and leave. Stay with her.
Maybe I should take Dawn and Faith with me. Dawn shouldn’t have to see this and Faith is even less “family” than I am.
Dawn won’t leave and Faith made it clear that she’ll dust your ass if we try removing her.
You trust her?
Not one little bit, but she said she promised Xander she’d stay out of it and abide by our decision.
You trust her because she promised Xander?
I don’t know what I trust, but I can’t afford to loose an ally just because Faith doesn’t feel like leaving the house.
I’m not happy about this.
You don’t get a vote.
So what do you want me to do again?
Take Anya home and stay there until we call for you.
With a furtive glance at the closed bedroom door, Spike removes a cigarette pack from his coat pocket and expertly flips a fag into his mouth. A moment of hesitation later, he lights the coffin nail—heh, coffin nail—and draws hard.
You know, those things’ll kill you.
Spike jumps, quickly exhaling the smoke, looking wildly around. He relaxes when he realizes that he’s utterly alone. But he could’ve sworn he heard. . .that voice was right in his ear.
I mention today how much I don’t like you?
“You mighta let it slip in. . .once or twice,” Spike answers the silence and for some reason a smile touches his lips. He suddenly frowns, taps the ash from the cigarette, and broods at the sour smoke. This is quite the cock-up, one of epic proportions. He sees this changes everything; will change everything. Wonders if Buffy realizes it yet.
Poor Buffy, Spike thinks. She likes to gift-wrap people into pretty little boxes and handles it poorly when it turns out that people aren’t knick-knacks. She was furious when that computer teacher turned out to be a Romani spy, nearly destroyed when Angel reverted to Angelus the first time, tripped over her own mouth when Willow embraced her Id, and still isn’t sure what to make of himself.
But when all the little Scoobies discovered that Xander. . . Well, Buffy immediately went into “kill him” mode, didn’t she? Didn’t matter that Xander was human, well, that they thought he was human. Didn’t matter that the right and proper thing to do would be to turn him over to the police. No, Buffy grabbed a sword and went hunting. So much for leaving human evil on the doorstep of human law.
Strange, how the Slayer reacted. Spike draws slowly on the cigarette and thoughtfully releases the smoke in his lungs. He’s disquieted by the image of Buffy hunting, skulking through the dark streets of Sunnydale, Xander always one step ahead. She’d find one of his hiding places, only to discover that it had been abandoned the day before. She’d stumble across one of Xander’s human victims—which were actually demons lurking in human skin if Spike understood L’il Bit correctly—bodies still warm, the blood still flowing.
Yet she never caught him and she would’ve never caught him if Xander hadn’t thoughtfully showed up on her doorstep with the other Slayer in tow.
Thirteen. There were thirteen in all, nothing more than the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Frightening to think about if there really are hundreds of infected people programmed to respond to the First Evil’s call by shedding skin to let demons out of human shells to become warriors perfectly designed to bring down the wrath of evil long contained.
And yet, according to what Spike heard, killing the thirteen was all that was necessary, just enough to tip the balance in favor of people who like living on this sorry old world, for all its problems, conundrums, and heartache. Hell on earth or an earth touched by hell. Hell of a choice that, but then Spike knows which he prefers, which he preferred even when he didn’t have a soul.
Not that victory is a sure thing, not by a long shot. There are too many variables that still need to play out. All Xander’s murders did was buy them some breathing room, just enough of an advantage to give them a hope of winning when all hell breaks loose and wackiness ensues.
Spike wonders if he knew what Xander knew whether he would’ve stopped at the thirteen, wonders if he would’ve wanted to stop at thirteen now that the chip is dead. He’s surprised to discover that he’s glad he didn’t have to find out.
A rustle from Anya’s bedroom brings Spike out of his trance. He listens as the brief activity quiets and Anya’s breathing resumes its deep and even pattern. Let her sleep, Spike decides. She’s had a longer night than most. The news that Xander’s alive can keep until she wakes.
Part 6: Giles—Mortality
Giles breaks the seal on the Johnnie Walker Black, pours the amber liquid into the glass, and carefully thinks about nothing. Nothing is safe. So’s the oblivion promised by a long night of hard drinking. He doesn’t care that getting pissed tonight of all nights while sitting in Buffy’s kitchen ranks as one of the most imbecilic things he’s ever done.
Well, aside from all the imbecilic things he did when he ran with Ethan’s crowd.
But after the night he’s had, hell, after the year he’s had, he just doesn’t want to care anymore. The hell of it is, he does. He absently swirls the scotch around the glass wondering how he went from being a Watcher to a single Slayer to watching a group of young adults wade through human blood.
Alexander LaVelle Harris, Giles bitterly muses, is one of his most spectacular successes yet. Ethan would be so proud.
Stop it. No thinking. Giles swiftly drains the contents of his glass and pours himself another.
He looks up and spies Faith watching him from the doorway. Almost before he sees it, a ghost of distaste crosses her eyes. Her lips imperceptibly tighten as she turns away and retreats to the living room. Giles remembers seeing a similar reaction from Xander in that long lonely year when Willow and Buffy left them behind to go to college and they sat around his apartment with nothing but each other to keep themselves company. Just a little earlier every day, Giles would pull down scotch, whisky, vodka, whatever was on hand, and pour a drink. Something in Xander’s eyes would flicker, but he’d say nothing.
Xander always excused himself shortly afterwards.
Of course, Giles knows enough to know why Xander reacted the way he did. He knows nothing about Faith—never really made the effort to try—and suddenly finds he regrets it. Let it go, Rupert. Spilt milk, falling London Bridges, open barn doors, and all that rot.
Giles knocks back the glass in his hand, winces at the burning sensation, and pours himself another.
Ahhh, yes, the demon alcohol, source of so many a man’s downfall. Right now Giles thinks it will eventually be the death of him, provided the First Evil, the Hellmouth, or a random demon doesn’t get him first. Certainly alcohol lead to Xander’s downfall. Funny thing, Xander didn’t even have to take a single sniff for it to happen. Giles isn’t sure whether he wants to laugh or cry about the irony of it.
Giles toasts the sins of the fathers and sips from his glass. Though far from empty, Giles tops off his drink.
Giles thinks he should’ve told him, let Xander know where the blame really lie. So, ever wonder how Anya’s former vengeance victim escaped from his hell dimension? Ever wonder how he found out she was human and getting married? Ever wonder how he knew where to find her? Ever think about why he targeted you instead of the woman he wanted dead?
Ever wonder why I never bothered to attend the wedding?
The Watcher removes his glasses and rubs his eyes. He can’t tell them; he can’t tell him. He’ll have to do it eventually, but he can’t face throwing more pain on top of Xander today, not after the scene in the living room, not after how everything turned to shite for the human when Xander fled from his last chance at normalcy by leaving Anya at the altar.
Giles remembers watching the ceremony descend into chaos, witnessing events courtesy of the coven’s scrying mirror. He remembers shaking so hard that his teeth rattled. He did this. He set that demon free, gave it the crystal bauble that would plant nightmares in the groom’s head, spelled out the revenge plan stressing that Xander was the target and not Anya, and had it transported to Sunnydale on the day of the wedding.
Giles thinks that he should’ve realized something: Xander’s unique heritage would amplify the crystal’s effects so that he was not just seeing, but feeling and living the visions. That was unexpected. It also meant that Xander was seeing a grim reality. The visions are not false. The answer is true. Please check the correct box.
Hell of a choice, Giles thinks. Become an abusive, domineering, hateful alcoholic, or become a demon with a direct link to evil knowledge, dark visions, and horrific nightmares. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, so you might as well damn the torpedoes.
At that, Giles gulps the scotch, ignores the burn, and pours himself another.
Not that Xander’s lack of fortitude in the face of emotional adversity set the chain of events in place. No. Willow slipping into the dark would’ve happened one way or the other; no way to prevent it, according to the coven in Devon. She’d gotten too powerful and too used to the rush of commanding reality and lives with the sound a single word. Giles in desperation asked the one question he now regrets asking: Can we get her back?
He was strangely not surprised when Mrs. Haversham gave him a one-word answer: a name. And so Xander’s fate was sealed: the whipping boy, raised by mongrels pretending to be parents, was set on the sacrificial stone of Willow’s rage and grief.
But Giles needed him. He needed Xander to be ready and available in Sunnydale when the inevitable happened and not sunning himself in Baja with his new bride or enmeshed with starting his own family. Xander had to be in the right place at the right time to stop Willow’s murderous rampage.
Frightening how easy it was to manipulate events to make sure that happened.
Giles made the choice, traded one child for another in hopes that both would somehow survive. Too bad it didn’t work out, but the fate of the world was in the balance. Giles is almost certain that Xander would’ve agreed, had anyone bothered to ask the human. All the assurances from the coven—that it was the right decision, that something truly evil was coming, that the end result would give him a more grounded witch and a very powerful ally in the coming cataclysm, that it would work out for the best—provides no comfort at all in the here and now.
Giles bolts the scotch and pours himself another.
His Willow is a murder, this new Xander is a serial killer, and Giles has the blood of Ben, Xander, and a few more on his hands. He barks a laugh. Of all the people in Buffy’s circle of friends and allies, Buffy the Slayer is the only one who’s only taken human life for reasons of self-defense. Well, Dawn hasn’t killed any humans yet, but she’s been on this earth a mere three years. Give it time.
Giles holds his glass aloft, watches the light through the liquid, and tries desperately to stop the thoughts chasing each other in circles inside his head. This is a momentous occasion, a voice inside his mind remarks. Something needs to be said.
In response, Giles straightens in his chair, holds the glass up in a toast, and says to no one in particular, “To the late Alexander Harris, murdered in the name of hope and love, age 22, in the month of May in the Year of Our Lord 2002 on a beautiful sunny day on Kingman’s Bluff. You are sorely missed.”
With that, Giles downs the contents of his glass.
Then he pours himself another.
Part 7: Buffy—Old Friends Who’ve Just Met
Buffy is just exhausted. Emotionally. Physically. Exhausted. She is the perfect example of exhausted. She suspects there’s a picture of her in the dictionary right next to the word’s definition. She’s crisscrossed Sunnydale twice in her search. Some favorite hangouts were immediately crossed off the list: the Bronze, Willy’s Bar, in short, any place there would be a crowd.
She’s beginning to think that might be a mistake. Xander-alone time may involve him hiding in the anonymity of a crowd. Then a thought occurs to her and she slaps her head. One place she didn’t check. The beach. She’s glad it’s only a few blocks away because she’s about ready to give up and go home.
Not that she would if she turns out to be wrong about the beach, too.
She pulls herself together and begins the long march to her destination. She mulls that whenever Xander went on patrol with her or helped her with a monster hunt, she usually found trouble or her target fairly quickly. She snorts. Yet another Xander-as-convenient-plot-point-in-her-l
Amazing that she missed it; that they all missed it. As Spike might say, a four-year-old could’ve figured it out, had any of them been paying attention.
Buffy refuses to feel guilty about missing all the signs and silently curses Giles for not saying anything sooner, or at least before things got out of hand. How was she expected to notice the coincidences swirling around them? Given the general overwhelming weirdness that is life on the Hellmouth, Xander’s own unique brand of strange wouldn’t even register on anyone’s radar. It was simply lost in the background radiation, mistaken for little more than noise when hidden among all the more powerful signals.
But that’s kind of the whole point, isn’t it?
Buffy stops at the edge of the beach, takes a deep breath, and trudges onto the sand. Half way to the water, she stops, studies her surroundings. It takes a few moments to spot him in the dark, sitting just above the high-tide line and staring out to sea.
She’s found him. Now what?
With a deep breath, she bows her head as if she’s walking into a stiff wind and works her way to him. She gets close enough to touch. He doesn’t bother to look up.
“You’re here.” A simple statement, a dead voice. His eyes don’t leave the water.
“Yeah.” Buffy replies, her eyes not leaving him. She’s a little disconcerted to notice that Xander seems to be breathing in time to the waves slapping on the shore.
“Now what?” he asks.
“Hoping you’d tell me, since you’re the answer man,” Buffy responds, her voice just a little to brusque.
“You’re the Slayer and I’m a demon,” Xander states, as if this explains everything.
“I don’t get you,” Buffy replies.
“It means that I pretty much fall under your jurisdiction.” If the words are difficult to say, nothing in Xander’s demeanor or dead voice shows it. “You know, the one that falls just outside of human law? I guess that means you’re now my judge, jury, and if necessary, my executioner.” He glances at her before turning his attention back to the sea. “I won’t bother to throw myself on the mercy of the court.”
Buffy feels her knees give out. She doesn’t fight it and falls on the sand. She doesn’t care that Xander can reach right over and plunge a knife in her chest and send her back to heaven. Assuming heaven would let her back in.
So this is what it feels like, she thinks. This is what being the Slayer really means. It isn’t dusting vampires, it isn’t fighting demons and assorted big bads. It’s when a friend literally puts his life in your hands because you have the right to kill him. It’s when he expects you to treat him worse than you would an evil, soulless thing.
“This isn’t fair!” The words are out of her mouth before she can stop herself.
Xander fixes her with a quizzical look, taking in her slumped, kneeling form less than a foot away from him on the sand.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to you,” Buffy tries to explain.
Xander sighs and turns away from her. “I’ve been helping you since I’m, what, 15? 16? It should’ve occurred to you that sooner or later something bad would happen.”
“But, but. . .” Buffy begins. “You were supposed to be normal! You were going to get married, and have a house, and a white picket fence, and a minivan, and 2.5 children, and a dog, and maybe a cat! And I was going to get to watch! And I could be crazy Aunt Buffy who comes around to baby sit or hang out at barbeques! I’d be the one who brought the cool presents for birthdays and Christmas and—”
“You’ve really thought about this, haven’t you?” Xander’s voice betrays a little amusement at this outburst. It’s the first flash of humor he’s shown since he came back home and Buffy is inordinately grateful to hear it. It’s that sound that brings tears to her eyes.
“Not really,” Buffy surreptitiously wipes the tears from her face, annoyed to find fresh ones springing up to replace those that are gone. “I just kinda realized it tonight.”
“So you’re upset because you can’t live vicariously through someone normal?” Xander snorts, shields back in place. “Sorry to disappoint.” He turns his attention back to the Pacific.
Buffy takes a deep breath. “It’s just, it’s just. . .” Her voice trails off. “You were normal. You were human, not a Slayer, not witch, not a vampire, not a werewolf, not a Watcher, and not some super-solder. You were you and now. . .”
“Now?” he prompts.
“Now you’re just one of us.” Buffy’s shoulders slump at this admission.
“Again, sorry it didn’t work out for you.”
“This isn’t about me!” Buffy growls.
Xander shrugs. “Seems to me you think it is.” There’s no venom in his voice, but it’s clear that statement was meant to hurt.
Buffy cringes. “I think it explains why I was so angry when, you know. . .”
“I murdered people?”
“They weren’t people. Not any more.”
“Yes they were, in all the ways that count. Brings my total body count up to sixteen humans in two years.” Xander replies in that dead voice, the one Buffy is quickly learning to hate. “Better than Spike’s track record in the same time period.”
“Don’t compare yourself to Spike,” Buffy snaps. “You’re better than. . . . Wait, sixteen?”
Xander vaguely waves three fingers in Buffy’s direction. “The three people got burned to death in our little Dancing Demon incident. Managed to do that with a soul.” Xander drops his hands. “Sixteen deaths I have to live with.” His humorless chuckle raises the hair on the backs of Buffy’s arms. “Maybe I should call Deadboy in L.A., ask him if he ever managed to forget the faces of all the people he’s killed. You’d think I’d feel less guilty, considering my lack of soul-having.”
“You have a soul,” Buffy quietly responds.
Xander turns to look at her, eyes dark, eyebrows lowered into a furious knot. “You did hear what Giles said, right? I. Am. A. Demon. Not part demon. Not sorta a demon. A demon, full stop. By definition, I don’t have a soul.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Well I do.” Xander looks away from her and back at the ocean. “And people accuse me of seeing only what I want to see,” he mutters. Buffy isn’t sure, but she could swear she hears unshed tears in his voice.
That’s when it occurs to her: she’s never seen Xander cry. She’s seen him furious. She’s seen him sad. She’s seen him emotionally hurting. She’s seen him depressed. She’s seen him upset. She’s never seen him cry. Even tonight, Xander Didn’t. Cry. Once.
She wonders if maybe she should worry about that, but decides to let Xander mourn in his own way.
“You know, if you ever need help. . .” her voice trails off.
His head whips around to look at her so quickly Buffy thinks Xander must’ve snapped bones in his neck. The look of incredulity on his face is enough to make her a little ashamed. “Not that you probably think I’m a good person to ask, given, well, everything.” Buffy’s eyes wander, looking at anything but him. “I just, well, I just want you to know that, ummm, if you ever feel like we can talk. . .be friends again. . . I’m willing to listen. I’ll be here. I’m willing to wait.”
Xander’s expression softens just a touch. Oh, but it’s a crack, Buffy thinks. The tiniest of tiny cracks and maybe, just maybe it’s enough. Not to fix things, not to make things the way they were, but maybe hope for a rebuild because somewhere in Xander’s head, somewhere in Xander’s heart, the foundation of Xander still survives. And Buffy sees it. It’s a flash, but it’s enough.
Buffy reaches out to touch his shoulder and stifles disappointment when Xander shies away.
“Nothing personal,” he mumbles, his eyes now downcast, avoiding her gaze. “I just can’t. . . It’s not you. . . It’s me. Please. I just can’t stand to be touched right now.”
Buffy drops her hand into her lap. Studies him for a moment. “Do you want me to leave?”
A small voice. “No.”
That answer is a surprise. “So what do you want?” Buffy asks.
“Just to sit here and think about nothin’,” Xander’s eyes wander back to the ocean, breathing matching the tide, in, out, in, out. “I guess I just don’t want to be alone.”
Buffy nods, settles herself into a sitting position on the sand so she is almost, but not quite, touching. Listens to his breathing, in, out, in, out, and times her breaths to match. She finds it oddly relaxing and wonders why she never tried this before. “So,” she says between calming breaths. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Nothing. Don’t really want to talk.”
“You, Xander Harris, are going to sit here in complete silence?” Buffy chuckles. “Never thought I’d see the day when you’d want to be quiet.”
A ghost of a smile plays across Xander’s lips. “I like the quiet.”
Part 8: Faith—Thank You and Good Night
Faith can’t sleep.
Big fucking surprise.
She hauls herself off the couch and creeps up the stairs. She cracks open the first bedroom door she sees and spies Buffy, Willow, and Dawn sleeping in puppy pile formation on the bed in what was once Joyce’s old room. As Faith closes the door, she feels a twinge. She liked Joyce. B didn’t know how good she had it.
Another creeping move brings her to another bedroom. Buffy’s old room. Faith opens the door with more certainty and leans against the frame. On the bed an exhausted Xander rolls over, shying away from the light. Faith debates a moment before stepping into the room and closing the door softly behind her. She leans against a wall and slides slowly down until she settles in a crouching position using the wall as a support for her back. Her eyes adjust to the dark and she remembers Lorne’s message: Ya gotta go with him. Watch the kid’s back. Everything depends on it.
After hearing the stuff she heard tonight, Faith thinks she and Xander might be better off if she asked him to watch her back on something like a permanent basis. She wonders for something like the millionth time how he’d react if she asked him to ditch Sunnydale and leave with her after this business with the First Evil and the Hellmouth is finished.
A low moan from the bed knocks Faith to attention. She watches Xander’s body twitch, roll over to face back in her direction, then relax. His breathing is ragged. A nightmare, Faith figures. She wonders if it features the people he murdered, she wonders if it’s something worse. Decides that she really doesn’t want to know.
She crawls slowly over to the bed, careful to make no sound. She freezes when another tremor shakes the bed and Xander kicks the covers partially off. He’s muttering now, a broken string of words that may or may not be English. Faith silently wishes he would wake up, but is afraid to snap him out of sleep herself. After a few tense seconds of waiting, the muttering dies down. Faith breaks out of her paralysis and finishes the long crawl to the bedside.
Sitting up in a kneeling position, Faith studies, really studies, the man in front of her. He’s wearing sweatpants, she notices. She sees the scars of three parallel scratches on his bare chest. Her eyes wander to his face and with a shock she sees the scars of more scratches on his right cheek. Her eyes narrow. She doesn’t recall seeing them earlier in broad daylight. Yet, here in the dark they stand out, an angry red against pale skin.
Xander’s eyes snap open and body tenses. Faith prepares for some angry questions and readies her excuses, but he doesn’t seem to be aware of her presence. His eyes look right through her, focused on something else. The irises go momentarily black before a subtle swirl of green washes them. His eyelids fade to a close and something like a soft cry escapes him.
Demon? She questions.
Human still, she decides.
Once again she finds herself reaching out, this time to touch the scars on his chest. Her fingers barely brush the skin when Xander whimpers in his sleep and begins to shiver. She pulls back, uncertain what to do. Then she remembers. She reaches out and holds his hand. The shivering subsides and the breathing evens out while somewhere Xander searches for some real sleep.
She isn’t sure how long she sits there watching him when the bedroom door inches open. A sliver of light spills into the room and Faith turns her head to face the next worried visitor. She is surprised to see Buffy’s silhouette peeking through the crack. If Buffy is surprised that Faith beat her to the punch, she gives no sign.
Xander stirs, but doesn’t let go of Faith’s hand, which for some reason pleases the woman kneeling in the gloom. It’s been too long since something hasn’t died or cringed from her touch.