Xander Harris sat peacefully in the New York restaurant, finishing off his lunch and glancing through today’s newspaper. At the moment, he was reading an article in the sports section of the New York Post that sneeringly proclaimed, in absolute fairness and without the slightest hint of partisanship, that in the coming baseball season, the Boston Red Sox had no chance of ever repeating their World Series win.
The man sipped his coffee, and with a faint smile on his face, Xander recalled Faith’s thrown party at the Cleveland Slayers House the night of the last ball game of that specific competition that had been ecstatically started by the Boston native two seconds after the final out. Well, as much as he could recall. The latter parts of that celebration was a kind of a blur to him.
It had been one hell of a party.
It was a wonderful-memories-for-life party.
It was a party where the cops had been called in during the first hour, only to stay and join in the festivities.
It was a party where assorted virginities hadn’t just been lost, they had twenty feet of anchor chain wrapped around them and tossed overboard, accompanied by happy whoops, poppings of condom balloons, and running up the house flagpole a chain of bras, jockstraps, and one set of bright red woolen long underwear.
It was a party that had ended in a glorious finale of an immense conga line that had stretched throughout the entire house and outside around the grounds, composed of every and any possible individual from different kinds of dimensions and realities, all joyously dancing together. In one short segment alone that Xander had witnessed, admittedly through a cheerful alcoholic haze, the getting-down celebrants included Slayers, Watchers, an animated cigar store wooden Indian, a Catholic cardinal in full regalia including the red cap, two Elvis Presleys (Hawaii and Army), a happy crocodile showing in its belly a large lump that had emitted loud ticking sounds, some guy who managed to keep to the beat while waving in his other hand a large placard that had written on it PREPARE TO MEET THY DOOM, and Jimmy Hoffa.
It was a party that could only be summed up by one specific word in the entire history of Western civilization:
Even the humongous hangovers inflicting all those present the next day had been mostly bearable, as the survivors had uttered in awed satisfaction the phrase, “I did THAT?! Oh, my God!”, while giving each other cheerfully pained grins as they passed around the aspirin and the Bloody Marys.
As Xander smiled into his coffee mug and took another sip, he abruptly choked, spitting his mouthful back in the cup, as he unexpectedly overheard what the pair at the next table were discussing. It wasn’t their fault, since they were earnestly speaking in low tones to each other and these people had full expectations of privacy among the clatter and other diners’ conversations in the restaurant. Unfortunately, they were seated next to Xander Harris, Sunnydale survivor.
That title was accompanied with various events of all of his life in that Hellmouth-occupied town having a good number of effects on him, both mentally and physically. After the place had fallen into the biggest sinkhole ever, Xander had to deal with not only the occasional waking up in the middle of the night covered in icy sweat while screaming at the top of his lungs, but with him gradually learning his senses had improved somewhat compared to normal humans. It wasn’t anything like the heightened senses of Slayers, vampires, and other demons, but for example, the one-eyed man could now hear a great deal better than ninety-plus percent of humanity.
It wasn’t due to his body currently trying to compensate for the loss of his eye. Thinking back, Xander had realized that ever since he’d become involved with the Scoobies and all that had transpired -- Hyena, the swim team, and a gazillion other weird events, most of which involved him being hit with magic, he’d started to develop his senses. It had happened so slowly that he really hadn’t noticed any big changes, but it certainly had helped him stay alive in the insanity that was his whole life since his sophomore year of high school.
Privately mulling all this over at that time, Xander had decided not to mention his slightly better hearing and the rest to anyone, even the Scoobies, Faith, or the new Slayers and Watchers. It really wasn’t anyone’s business but his own. Plus, why give up the advantage of being able to hear anybody in the Cleveland House (i.e., sugar-craving baby Slayers) trying to sneak into his room to get their thieving hands on his private Twinkie stash?
Of course, advantages also came with disadvantages. Better hearing also meant that he occasionally had to suffer through things like enduring an airplane trip with a continuously-crying baby in the next row over, or like at this exact moment, he couldn’t do anything so impolite as stuffing his fingers in his ears to block out the man and the woman at the other table earnestly discussing their sex life. To be exact, the lack of it.
His ears burning with embarrassment, Xander glanced out of the corner of his right eye. His strategic position sitting in the restaurant’s rear right corner, that kept his back to the wall and also had the wall on his left side covering his blind side, meant that concerning the pair at the other table now starting to speak all too graphically, he could only see the dark-haired guy’s face, with the brunette woman sitting with her back to Xander. Both seemed to be native New Yorkers, from their accents, as they now started talking about going to see some kind of sex therapist.
Still forced to listen, Xander hastily finished off his tuna melt sandwich, gulped a last mouthful of coffee, and hurriedly got out of his chair while pulling his wallet free and taking out enough cash to pay for his meal plus a good tip. As he placed the money on the table, Xander felt a wave of depression come over him, as he contemplated the fact that while the man and the woman making him flee were evidently having problems in their relationship, at least they had one. Unlike a certain ex-Scooby.
A while back, Willow had come to see him at the Cleveland Slayers House, presenting to Xander a serious Resolve Face that meant she was in a mood. Her first words clearly revealed why she was here.
“It’s Friday night! Why aren’t you out on a date?!”
“Good to see you too, Wils. How’s Kennedy and her accompanying total-bitch personality when it comes to me?”
“She’s fine, and we’re working on that. Now she actually manages not to spit when she says your name.”
“Hmmm, I’ll have to test her tolerance levels the next time I see her. I think I can find a codpiece somewhere….”
“Stop trying to joke your way out of this, Xander! Why haven’t you started seeing someone, anyone? I’m really beginning to get worried….”
“Wils, I’ve been busy, ever since I got back from Africa. Taking over the House, making sure none of the baby Slayers kill each other for taking too long in the bathrooms, planning for apocalypse season….”
“Those are excuses, Xander, not reasons.”
“Fine. You want a reason? How about the fact that something bad has happened to every woman in my life since high school?”
Willow Rosenberg opened her mouth to retort, only to close it again as she remembered. Joyce, Buffy, Cordelia, herself, Dawn, Faith, Harmony, Jenny, Kendra, Tara, the Potentials, even the demon girlfriends. And, of course….Anya.
“Oh, Xander.” The redhead’s shoulder’s slumped, as she whispered those words, and she looked down at the ground as tears formed at the corners of her eyes. An instant later, she was in a firm hug.
Willow snuffled into the chest of her Xander-shaped friend until her voice became more intelligible, “I just don’t want you to be so sad….”
Xander blinked down at the woman he was hugging and there was actual surprise in his reply, “I didn’t know I was. Or that I was showing it.”
Willow’s head came up in his embrace to look with fond exasperation into the man’s face. “Yellow crayon and everything after that, remember? Yes, you are, and you don’t even know you’re sad.”
“Um.” At a total loss for words, Xander did the only thing he could think of, which was hugging Willow harder until she squeaked, and then he let go and took a step back, taking comfort in her crooked smile directed at him.
The witch then sighed. “Look, will you at least try a little bit harder? If only to stop making ME so sad?”
“Blackmail, Wils?” asked Xander, with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ll use anything that works. Xander, it’s not your fault! It’s never been, if only you could see that! It’s just….the life we live, what we chose.”
Xander grimaced, about to object that bringing some unknowing woman into their dangerous lifestyle was a choice itself, until he caught her eye and subsided, as his friend gently said, “Yes, there’s the potential for tragedies, Xan. But the alternative is to never risk, to drive away anybody who wants to share it all… and I mean every bit of love, the joys and the sorrows both.” At that, both Sunnydale survivors looked at each other, lost in their memories of life on the Hellmouth.
Finally, Xander blew out a resigned puff of air, and then sardonically said, “I wonder what would’ve happened if you’d broken a purple crayon. Or maybe the umber one. What the hell was umber, anyway?”
“Dark reddish-brown,” absently answered Willow. She looked in increasing hope at Xander, who shrugged and rolled up his remaining eye to the heavens, as he agreed.
“Okay, okay. I’ll start….looking. But, have you even considered the fact that I haven’t been on a date since….Sunnydale? I warn you, if I wake up next month in Las Vegas with a wedding ring, an obscene tattoo, and a circus contortionist in bed with me, I know exactly who I’m going to blame!”
As Xander tucked his wallet back in his pants pocket after dropping his payment on the restaurant table, he sighed. Despite carrying out his promise to Willow to try to find someone, the man’s dating attempts over the next few months hadn’t really worked out. Little things like having to leave your date in the middle of dinner to chase after a vampire taking its latest prey along with it when that monster left the restaurant put a certain frost on the whole getting-to-know-you part of the romantic appointment. It hadn’t improved things at all that the vampire and its potential meal had both been hot women. Xander now understood why it took so long for Clark Kent and Peter Parker to get a girlfriend.
Things only got worse when others offered their help. When the Cleveland baby Slayers learned of Xander’s attempts to meet new people, all of them had been charmed and they unanimously decided to find someone for him. Now, Xander reflected, it had been acceptable back in Sunnydale to miss little things like Ms. French wanting to bite his head off after mating. He’d been a teenager on the Hellmouth, after all.
The baby Slayers had no such excuse. Xander shook his head over the fact that a bunch of warrior girls with mystic senses developed specifically to recognize the presence of evil had completely failed to detect that their last three choices for his blind dates had been a were-leopard, the last priestess of a minor demonic cult, and a Democrat. He’d been glad to leave town for a few days to come to New York on Council business, despite the fact that when he’d headed for the airport, one of the baby Slayers had casually dropped the question, “Hey, Xander, how do you feel about Paris Hilton?”
Maybe it was time to give serious thought to changing his name to Fitzgibbons and moving to Alaska.
As Xander turned away from his table, a faint smile appeared on his face, showing his quick change of mood. His amusement was boosted by the realization of the slight absurdity that a man who had stared down Angelus, had snarked at various Hellgods, major demons, and Principal Snyder, and had survived telling a certain blonde Slayer not at her best in the morning that he’d drunk the last cup of coffee in the house, had been run off by a couple talking about sexual positions.
True, Anya had casually chattered about things that would have curled Dr. Ruth’s hair, but….well….that had been Anya.
Passing by the table where the pair had fallen silent, Xander indulged in his curiosity and on his way, he glanced at the woman, whose face was now visible.
Renee and Ellis paused in their conversation, staring at each other as each tried to deal with their feelings about their relationship problems. Neither of them paid the slightest attention to the man walking by their table, until both heard an incredulous “GACK!”
The couple’s heads jerked around to look at the unknown man with an eyepatch now standing by their table and staring at them, total astonishment on his face. No….he wasn’t staring at them. He was staring at Renee.
Wondering if this guy was one of New York’s crazies, Renee nervously glanced at Ellis.
Xander saw her reaction, and knew immediately that whoever the woman with Faith Lehane’s face was, there was no possible way she was the dark Slayer. The California native had known the Boston-born female for years now, including the time they’d spent living with the baby Slayers in the Cleveland Slayers House, both of them as Heads of the House. He’d seen her bad and her good, her joys and her sorrows, her triumphs and her despairs. He’d seen her shuffling around the House kitchen at five a.m. with disheveled hair and wearing a wifebeater t-shirt, men’s boxer shorts she’d swiped from him after his shopping trip to Sears, and bright yellow duckie slippers.
In all that time, Xander Harris had never seen Faith Lehane nervous. Defiant, yes, especially when during that kitchen occasion, he’d caught her drinking OJ straight from the container.
A prompt suspicion entered Xander’s mind, aided by his instantaneous recall of the date on today’s newspaper he’d just read. The man whirled around, glowering at everyone else in the restaurant, as he crossly waited for them to yell, “APRIL FOOL!” and have the other Scoobies, baby Slayers, Watchers and other people and friends from his life come pouring out of the service doors and through the front door, all whooping with glee at pulling such a prank on him. Including Faith herself, with the most extreme evil smirk on her face, at her success in finding someone who could’ve been her identical twin sister.
The woman herself seated behind the tense man standing ready for action and possibly about to go berserk now cleared her throat and asked, an edge of panic in her voice, “Ellis, do you know this guy?”
Her boyfriend worriedly shook his head, and cautiously called out, “Uh, mister, is there something we can do for you?" in the exact tone that means hopefully, it’ll be just something minor, like telling him the time and not have to listen about how the aliens are going to control everyone’s minds unless you all follow me to the hills and wear one of my homemade tinfoil beanies.
Xander gradually relaxed, as nobody else in the restaurant did anything except to stare at him in puzzlement over their pasta. Slowly turning around to see the seated pair warily regarding him, Xander began to consider the remote possibility that this wasn’t actually some kind of joke, but just another weird event in his life. As he glanced again at the concerned woman, the man with one eye now realized this had indeed happened, and sheepishly muttered, “Uh, sorry. You look like someone I knew….know.”
Ellis and Renee blinked at this, and then looked at each other with mild relief on their faces. Politely, Renee asked, “So, it’s another woman? What’s her name?”
“Faith. Faith Lehane. Say, you couldn‘t possibly be related?…” Xander’s voice trailed off after his question.
Renee shook her head, adding, “I’m an only child, there’s no other woman my age among my relations, and I’m from Greek and Albanian ancestry. That name sounds Irish, doesn't it?”
The now more at ease man standing by their table nodded, “Yeah, that’s what she told me once. Well, uh, sorry for disturbing you. Bye.” At that, he began moving off, accompanied by Ellis and Renee’s relieved farewells. Unfortunately, this relief was cut short, as the man abruptly stopped, and turned around to head back to their table, a look of determination now appearing on his scarred features.
Looking down at their apprehensive faces at seeing him back again, Xander had to wonder why he was doing this, interfering in strangers’ lives. *Because it’s the right thing to do*, he thought, taking a breath, and then speaking directly at both of the people there trying to deal with their relationship problems.
“Listen, uh, I lost someone special to me years ago, and I’m still not over it. Whatever happens with you both….just try your total best to make it work, okay? That does help you live with it, kind of, whatever happens. Um. Good luck. Sorry for butting in. I’ll, uh, be going now.” Xander then left, heading out of the restaurant, not looking back. If he had, he would have seen the two people seated at their table now staring at each other and both beginning to deeply blush, as they realized someone had overheard them struggling with their private lives.
Out in the New York sidewalk in front of the restaurant, Xander began walking down the street. To his mild surprise, he was feeling a little bit better about his own life. He began to wonder if he should mention this, along with the whole strange encounter in the restaurant, to Willow the next time he saw her. It might not be a good idea to tell Faith about it, if only to avoid having to answer her questions about exactly what those guys had been talking about in their efforts to spice up their sex lives.
Xander chuckled, as he continued down the sidewalk, and then he shook his head, lost in his thoughts. *Nah, for one thing, the whole first of this month thing will probably come up, and they’ll both think it’s some kind of April Fool’s gag I’m trying to pull on them. Just keep quiet about it all, dude.*
As he headed back to his hotel, Xander also considered a more pressing problem concerning the Cleveland baby Slayers. *They couldn’t have been serious about Paris Hilton, could they? Well, when you go back, you better stock up on stakes and holy water. That chihuahua of hers looks really vicious. Got to be some kind of demon.*