A/N Just a bit of Christmas cheer. I have no proprietary claim on BTVS or anything associated with it, except for my DVDs.
It was a bar, like what you would find in every major and most minor cities in the world. These places did not advertise, they did not set out to become the places that they did, they just kind of happened. These bars were as diverse as the cities that they were found in, but they had one trait in common, the quiet. It was a bar where those who felt that they had been screwed over by life came to forget; where those who no longer felt needed or wanted came to remember and where those in pain came to simply get numb. It was not the kind of place where dreams died, but it was where the wake was held. Every one of these bars were quiet and peaceful and dark, in other words the perfect place for brooding; Angel would have loved any of them on sight.
As for the people there, ‘Relics’ would probably be the best word to describe the regular patrons of these bars; people who were remnants of what they once had been. Some had been broken by life, others had been disillusioned by life but all had come to pretty much not care for the life they were now living. It is needless to say, but a majority of the clientele were older, which is why she stood out so vividly.
She was young, clearly under thirty; and beautiful. Several of the patrons gazed at her and remembered times past and girls they had once known; but no-one approached her; they better than any others could tell when someone wished to be left alone. They recognized one of their own, and despite their many differences, she belonged. One time, a young nephew of one of the regulars had tried to pick up the young woman, thinking that she simply needed some of his charm to overcome whatever was holding her down. She had turned to him with a contemptuous look and informed him that if he didn’t leave immediately that she would tear his arms off, shove one down his throat and the other up his ass so he could shake hands in his stomach. The matter of fact way she said this, with no raised voice or wild gestures convinced everyone there that she would do exactly what she had said if the idiot didn’t leave her alone. The young man’s uncle was a veteran and had heard the sincerity in the young woman’s voice and hastened to get his brain dead nephew out of there before the old man was short one more relative. After that day, no-one but the waitress came near the girl’s table.
Faith liked the bar; she’d been coming here ever since Wood had headed on to greener pastures, or at least a girlfriend who wasn’t as ‘challenging’ as Faith was. She remembered walking out of ‘Slayer Central’ after that particular conversation and just walking and crying and wondering what was wrong with her while at the same time being embarrassed because she was doing something so ‘girly’. Faith just walked, not caring where and all the while wondering why she couldn’t seem to have anything that resembled a normal relationship. Somehow her feet had ended up in front of the bar, and she had kept coming back since then; she liked the quiet.
It was Christmas Eve around nine in the evening when she walked in. She silently glided through the tables until she came to her usual spot and sat down. Without a word being uttered, a beer appeared in front of her, almost as if by magic. The young woman sighed heavily and took a sip, then she just seemed to sit and watch the bubbles form in her glass and stream to the surface of the liquid. Sitting there obviously lost in the painful memories of Christmas’ past, she didn’t hear the door open.
As soon as they saw him, the regulars knew that he didn’t belong there. It wasn’t anything physical, the eye patch or the tan; it was the way he carried himself and what was in his eye, as though he truly believed that anything could be overcome and there was always hope. A commodity that was in short supply in a bar such as this. He was young as well, dark haired and lean, with a deep tan and wrinkles around his one eye that spoke of long hours out in the sun. He was casually dressed and carried himself with confidence and grace. He spied the young woman and made his way over to her table. Every patron there winced in anticipation as he carefully pulled back a chair and sat down. Without looking up she simply asked, “you got a death wish or are you just insane?”
“I don’t know,” the young man replied. “I once lived in a house with about twenty super powered girls who all seemed to PMS at the same time, so maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve faced scarier things than you Faith.”
The young woman looked up, a slight smile on her face and light in her eyes. “Xander,” she said, as much a question as a statement.
“Yeah Faith, it’s me.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” the man said in a ‘DUH’ tone of voice.
“To give you your Christmas present of course,” he said as he pulled a small vial and two pieces of paper out of his pocket.
Faith appraised the vial with a carefully neutral look and asked, “What the hell is it?”
“A new past,” Xander answered in a matter of fact voice.
She pulled her gaze from the vial and looked back into his face, she could tell he was completely serious and completely sincere and all she could think to say was, “huh?”
Faith just sat there staring at the man sitting across from her, thoughts racing through her mind, and leaving questions in their wake; why was he here and not with Red, B and Pip. Could she trust him? Before he had headed to Africa he claimed to have forgiven her but had he really done so. And what the heck did he mean when he said the bottle could give her a new past. Ever practical, she left most of the questions un-asked and focused on the immediate situation, “how does this bottle give me a new past?”
“Well that’s kind of an interesting story,” Xander said and he waved the waitress over and ordered a ginger ale. The rest of the patrons were studiously not looking at the two young people, but every ear was trained in their direction and those sitting by the softly playing juke box were cursing their bad luck. “About four months ago I was in Kenya looking for a slayer who was a Massai, Kamala; have you met her?”
Faith shook her head ‘no’ and Xander continued. “When I found her, she refused to leave until the next night because there was a ceremony that she had to be a part of. Figuring that I didn’t want to piss off a slayer, not to mention an entire African Village, I went along with it and settled in the guest quarters. Originally I was just gonna sit around until the ceremony was over, as an outsider I wasn’t allowed to be there; but then the village was attacked by an Orgatal demon. You familiar with them,” he asked Faith.
The young beauty thought for a moment and then said, “they’re rare but aren’t they attracted to magical output and only silver can kill em?”
“Got it in one,” Xander answered. “It came looking for something or someone to eat, drawn by the buildup of magic for the ceremony. Anyway, I had the only silver weapon in the whole village; so I got the ‘honor’ of killing it. Which I managed to do, but I paid my usual price.”
“Meaning you got beat to a pulp before you offed the thing,” Faith said with a small grin.
“Anyway,” Xander continued, “while he was patching me up, the Witch Doctor told me that I had protected the tribe, so now I was a member and could attend the ceremony. He also gave me this as a thank you. Later he asked where I had gotten the silver dagger. I told him you had given it to me, so now you are also an honorary member of the tribe.” At the look on her face he quickly continued; “I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry to claim that honor, the initiation was a cast iron bitch, and they were easier on me because I had slain a demon for them so I didn’t have to do anything physical. My guess is you might find it too uncomfortable.”
“Why,” Faith asked, “what the hell happens?”
“I can’t tell you that, tribal secrets and all,” Xander said with a bit of a smirk.
Realizing that she’d just had her chain pulled; Faith gave a low growl and said, “so hint at it then.”
“Well, it involves a lot of sand and a distinct lack of clothing. Now I happen to recall that someone I know burns even easier than Willow when she’s out in the sun.”
Faith winced, when she’d first arrived in Sunny D; everyone had gone to the beach. Faith had been to the ocean and all, but she’d never just sat out in the sun or played in the surf before. Trying to maintain her tough facade, she’d insisted that she didn’t need anything as pussy as sun block. Consequently she’d ended up looking like someone had boiled her. Trust Xander to remember the embarrassing stuff; “so what about the ceremony, smart ass?”
“Oh right,” Xander said. “Long story short, a girl who was known to the tribe was an orphan because her family had been on the wrong side of one of those psychotic little ‘ethnic cleansing’ episodes that seems to sweep across African countries from time to time and she was damn near catatonic because of it. So what they did was gave her a new past to lessen the pain.” Here Xander leaned forward, “basically what happens is that you write down what you want your past to have been like on a piece of paper. You can’t change any of the facts, like having your parents still alive if they’re dead or anything like that, doing something like that would drive you nuts when you encountered the reality; but you could change the circumstances to something less traumatic. Like in your situation; you might change the way your first watcher died to a car crash, or falling and breaking her neck, that way the whole torture thing that Kakistos put her through would no longer be in your memory. Anyway, you write your new past out, drink the liquid; I think it puts you into some kind of magical trance or something, then I recite the spell. When you wake up, you have a completely new past without all the attendant baggage.”
He sat back and took a long pull at his ginger ale and watched the thoughts flicker across Faith’s face. Normally the girl was entirely self possessed and difficult to read, but now, in this vulnerable state, reading her thoughts was as easy as reading a newspaper in broad daylight. Xander could see the painful memories and recollection of bad choices on her face and he hoped that things would turn out the way he expected. Caleb had named him ‘the one who sees’ and though the guy was a complete psycho, he had gotten that right. Xander had always seen the others, seen them as they truly were and more importantly, seen what they needed. His only failing had been to reject what he saw due to an almost complete lack of self confidence, but Africa had put that to rest for good and all. He knew Faith, he knew that she still tortured herself over the past and was having trouble moving forward in her life. Against orders he had actually called Angel because he was worried about the dark slayer. Now he didn’t have much use for Deadboy, especially after becoming the CEO of Evil Inc; but the jerk knew Faith better than anyone else. Angel had said that Faith was haunted by the two most horrible words in the English language, ‘what if’; and that only when she had dealt with that could she start to move forward and heal. So now here was Xander, offering the answer to her prayer, a past without baggage or self loathing.
Finally Faith looked up into his eye, “why me, why don’t you use this on yourself?”
“How do you know I haven’t,” Xander answered.
Faith laughed, “because I know you boytoy, you hang onto the past wicked tight, and you wouldn’t give it up easy. Also when I looked up to see who it was, there was a little fear in your eye, it was gone quick but it was there. I know if I were you, one thing I would have made sure to erase was all the bad shit that went down between us, and if that were true, you wouldn’t have been afraid.”
Xander laughed, it was light hearted and free; not the kind of laugh you’d expect when such weighty matters were being discussed in such a subdued atmosphere, but the mere sound of it caused most of the patrons to smile, and Faith even allowed herself another small grin. “You’re absolutely right Faith, I haven’t used it. The reason I’m here with this is simple; I think you need it more than me. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on the Hellmouth, killed my best friend after he was turned and my home life was not exactly from ‘The Brady Bunch’; but from what little I know, there are things in your past that are too horrible for me to even imagine. So when this was offered to me, I thought of you.”
“But why offer this to me, what am I to you except a girl that once tried to kill you.”
Xander leaned forward so quickly that Faith was worried for a moment that she had somehow angered the senior Scooby, but Xander simply took her hand in his and said, “You’re one of my girls.”
“Of course, as surely as Willow or Dawn is; and what’s Xander’s first rule of life?”
“You would do anything to help one of your girls.”
“Exactly, now you know why I’m here.”
“So what do the others think of this” Faith stalled.
“I don’t know I just got here about an hour ago.”
“Huh,” Faith said. “How the hell did you find me if you didn’t ask the others, not that they’d know where I am,” she continued. The question was a cover; inside Faith was astounded that Xander had come to find her before even letting the others know he was in town. Somewhere inside, down where she didn’t even know it existed a small flame of hope was lit. Could it be possible that despite all the shit between them that he truly considered her to be one of his girls? Did he really care for her?
Xander gave her a superior smirk. “Faith I’ve been finding slayers all across a continent, finding one in a city is child’s play.”
She almost bought it, but she saw the playful twinkle in his eye and said, “Bullshit.”
Xander’s smirk got even wider, but he pulled out a small device that looked like an elaborate calculator; “homed in on your cell phone signal.”
She looked at him skeptically, “where did you get something like that?”
“From some twerp with the CIA. My slayer at the time and I saved him from some vamps and he gave me this as a thank you.”
Faith looked down at the vial of liquid again; she had stalled as long as she could, and though it was tempting, she just couldn’t accept his gift. Now she was just trying to figure out how to tell him without pissing him off. What he was offering her was priceless, something millions of people would kill for, and she was gonna turn it down. How could he take that as anything but another rejection from a friend, it had happened so many times already? Finally biting the bullet, still staring at the vial she said, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this Xander, but. . . . .” her voice trailed off.
“But you don’t want it,” Xander finished for her.
Faith looked up expecting to see anger and contempt, but instead she saw compassion and understanding and even joy. At Faith’s look of confusion Xander told her; “a wise man once said that we have to understand and accept that our past is a part of who we are if we are ever going to become who we are meant to be. It took me a long time and a lot of looking inside myself to come to grips with that, but I made the same decision you just did.” Reaching across and taking her hand again he said, “I’m proud of you Faith, you made a tough call and you made it right.”
“So you’re not pissed at me for saying no?”
“No, I’m not pissed Faith.”
“But I just turned down this priceless gift, something that you did just for me, how can you not be pissed?”
Xander stared at her, his eye boring into hers and said, “Perhaps my gift to you wasn’t a new past, but the realization that you have to accept your past and move on.”
“So this was some half-assed test,” Faith said, a little anger creeping into her voice.
“No,” Xander replied. “This wasn’t a test, it was a choice. Everything I told you was true. The spell works exactly the way I described and I do think you could use it more than anyone I know; but I also knew that you needed to realize a few things for yourself and so I gave you the choice.”
“How did you know, I haven’t seen ya and we’ve barely spoken for over a year?”
“Because I’m the ‘one who sees’, that’s my power, I see everyone as they truly are and I see what they need.”
“So how the hell did that happen?”
“Dunno, it’s just part of who I am.”
Faith smirked at his answer but then turned serious. “Sorry I ruined your gift to me by saying no.”
“Who ever said that a new past was the only thing I’d gotten you,” Xander replied with an impudent grin.
Faith saw that he was serious, and suddenly she was bouncing in her seat like a six year old. “So what else did ya get me,” she asked.
He reached into an old army medics bag that he had been carrying and pulled out a wooden box and set it on the table in front of her. He slowly opened the lid and smiled as she gasped in wonder. It was a dagger; the blade had silver and wood inlays and polished to a mirror shine. The haft was Ivory and elaborately carved with the image of a lion standing out in bold relief. Wordlessly Faith picked it up and held the dagger in her hand; it wasn’t simply beautiful, but it was perfectly balanced and sharpened to a keen edge. When she finally looked up, she could see that Xander was blushing and it hit her, he hadn’t bought this for her, he had made it. She could not even begin to imagine the amount of work that had gone into the forging and carving alone, let alone all of the other things that had been needed. Compared to the knife the Mayor had given her, the dagger looked like Excalibur next to a butcher knife. Then she realized something else, Xander had given her a dagger on purpose, it enabled Faith to look back on the gift of a knife with joy and not disgust. She could see it as a true gift from someone who cared for her, and not the twisted parody that the mayor had offered her. It was another way for her to put the past behind her.
He saw that she realized the truth and said, “Well it seemed only fair, you gave me a silver dagger and it saved my ass, I’m hoping this will do the same for you.”
She looked back down; the unshed tears in her eyes were reflected back to her in the mirror like blade. “I don’t know what to say,” Faith finally managed to get out; “thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.” It wasn’t the first time someone had come through for her, but somehow it seemed to mean more that those in the past. Faith had read the sincerity in his eye earlier when he had said that she was one of his girls, but she hadn’t truly believed him until now.
Taking her hand for the third time he said, “It’s more than enough Faith.” And she saw the sincerity in his eye. Then he stood up and dropped a couple of bills on the table and said; “what do you say we get to the house and deliver the rest of my presents. I mean you’re one of my girls, but you’re not my only girl.”
Faith stood up as well. “I don’t know stud, I kinda like having ya all to myself.” She sighed theatrically, “but if you insist I guess I owe ya.”
“True,” Xander said with a smile, and then offered his arm to the startled brunette.
Faith shot him a dazzling smile and hooked her arm through his as she stood up. As she walked out the door with him, the patrons realized that she probably wouldn’t be back. There was something in her eyes now that hadn’t been there before, something that each of them remembered seeing in their own reflections once upon a time. Many there thought about what they would have changed in their past if the offer had been made to them, but a few considered the two people that had just left and wondered what the future held for them.