Conversation, Change, Confusion
Xander wasn’t at the hotel. The meeting had been canceled. Buffy was handling something in England with Spike and some slayers. Something about a vampire nest with some kind of apocalyptic ambitions. Nothing she hadn’t handled dozens of times, but since it was more than ‘just a little fight’, she’d run off to London. Xander suspected it was because she wanted an opportunity to blow off some steam where she could get a good work out without serious world ending consequences. Faith had gone with the young slayer back to Brooklyn, and she was planning on visiting a slayer she knew in Queens and coming back the next day.
Earlier tonight, Faith had arrived with the young slayer.
“Wanna patrol?” Faith had stood on House’s doorstep, looking up at Xander’s surprised expression.
“Sure,” said Xander, not sure whether this was a good idea, but unable to speak frankly, due to the presence of the very young slayer he’d never met before. “Let me get my jacket.”
“We’ll wait,” Faith said.
It had only been a few days since they’d been in Princeton but Xander knew Faith was already becoming frustrated. Today, however, had been the very first day that she’d been cleared to do any ‘PT’ as the Brit that Corday had arranged for her to work with through Cuddy, apparently called it. Faith had been stir crazy and she was eager to get back to work.
Of all those in Princeton, Xander knew he was the one with whom she felt most comfortable. Xander found it ironic, that after all they’d been through in the past, he and Faith should have become such good friends in the last year, even with him being out of the country for most of it. Most of it had probably been cemented in those three weeks right after Sunnydale where they’d ended up paired together, roaming the north east, finding every slayer that Willow and the coven could uncover. Marie had been one of the first.
“I was gonna just go out with her,” she’d indicated the young girl, then tapped her arm, “But this still hurts and I was kind of hoping you’d have our backs.”
Xander smiled at the thought. He knew part of it was flattery. Even with one arm, she was a better fighter than he would ever be, but he knew she’d had her confidence shaken and she didn’t want to risk the young, inexperienced slayer who couldn’t be more than twelve. There’d been something else too. Faith admitted that for the first time in her life, she felt a need to be careful. Apparently, Marie’s mother was fussing over her like a second daughter and Xander could tell Faith was drinking it in as parched flowers absorbed rain. Faith evidently couldn’t bear the idea of breaking her heart yet again. Xander was astounded by how much Faith had changed. The old Faith would never have admitted something like that. Xander was glad. Even though at times, Faith still sounded dangerously unsure if she wanted to live, she was actually concerned about what her death would do to someone who was treating her like a long lost daughter.
Patrol had been uneventful, though little Mikey had managed to stake her first vampire. Mikey? Really? Who calls their daughter Michael, anyway? Xander and Faith hadn’t been that surprised by the patrol. Marie’s reports had usually been quite short. Except for the times she had spent training in Cleveland, weeks would go by with barely a fight. Most small towns just weren’t a hotbed of demonic activity unless there was some kind of mystical reason for it. It was easier for demons to blend into the woodwork in big, anonymous cities.
They’d been expecting the fledge, due to the notice in the paper and it had seemed like a better situation than running around in Bed-Stuy looking for vampires with a twelve year old girl. The vampire had risen early, and Faith had deemed patrol over when whoever the sire was hadn’t shown up to claim his or her progeny. Suddenly at a loose end, Xander had ended up coming back to the hospital, though he’d already been there once today, when they’d all visited.
He’d sat with Giles and then with Cordy. Now he was depressed. Willow wasn’t answering her phone. That
was getting just a little too common for his taste. In the almost two weeks since the battle and the days they’d been here, he’d hardly seen Willow except in their meetings. He’d actually seen more of Buffy, Spike and Dawn, though they
were commuting via what Dawn insisted on calling ‘witch bus’ from London every day.
Xander was beginning to miss being on the road, which was ironic, because he’d spent the better part of a year, wishing he could stand still for more than a day or two. The road did have one advantage, however. He might have been alone, but on the road, seeing new things and meeting cool people, he was never bored. Finally, he’d taken the stairwell where he’d first talked to Greg and made his way up to the roof. He’d gotten so used to being out doors.
After spending so much of his life indoors, other than time spent on patrol with Buffy, when he never really paid attention to anything but staying alive, he had discovered that he really liked being outside, especially at night. Being outside at night and looking up at the stars was his favorite thing to do. He kept promising himself he’d learn more about them. When he’d hung out with Willow and Jesse all those years ago, they’d made up names for some of the clusters. Sadly, he realized, he couldn’t remember a single one. He sighed. Maybe he should call Wesley? He had gotten over his animus, but Wesley, even the new, improved version was still a stranger to him.
Xander turned to see Allison Cameron come out onto the roof where he was standing. He contemplated the question for a little longer than was strictly polite, but he was just too tired to play polite little games right now. The only reason he hadn’t gone home was that he needed a break from Greg’s energy. He liked the man, but soothing he wasn’t. He still felt as if he had to be ‘on’ when he was around Greg. It was interesting, but it was tiring. Maybe it was that he still hadn’t gotten over their little war yet. Maybe it was that he was still more accustomed to being around a house full of women.
Cameron was watching him with what looked like concern.
“No, can’t say I am,” said Xander finally. “If you guys can’t figure it out, there’s not much hope we can get him back, is there?”
“These things are difficult to predict, Xander,” said Cameron.
“I know,” said Xander. “When Willow got knocked out it only took her a couple hours to wake up… I really didn’t think… I mean… Faith woke up after eight months… but she’s a slayer, so that probably doesn’t count. I just want him to open his eyes and be all annoyed about being in the hospital… you know… to just be Giles.”
“To be honest, we’re hoping he’ll wake up on his own too,” said Cameron. “The neurological aspects… Well, Foreman’s tearing his hair… you know what I mean…”
“Yeah, not much with the hair! I’m not sure I feel better, knowing you guys don’t have a clue.”
“Sorry. Didn’t think you wanted me to lie,” said Cameron. “Besides you were there for the conferences.”
“No, you’re right. I don’t. It’s just getting to me… It’s gotta be too long… especially at his age. I mean… he’s not exactly young. He’s not a slayer…”
"You’re right, Xander, the longer Giles stays unconscious, the less likely he’ll wake up or recover fully,” said Cameron. “You need to keep something in mind, however, Xander.”
“House – your father. He really is the best at what he does. He seldom loses a patient.”
“So they tell me,” said Xander. “But he hasn’t figured it out yet.”
“Give it time,” said Cameron. “Giles is stable. He’s…”
“His pupils are responsive. He reacts to painful stimuli. His bloodwork is normal – actually, it’s excellent for a man his age. All his organ systems are in good shape. His blood pressure is great. Other than waking up, he’s actually in very good condition. We haven’t figured it out, but he’s… We think everything’s intact.”
“Yeah. Glasgow coma scale and all that jazz… 9 means he’s technically not really in a coma… I know that Cameron... I just… I hate this, you know?”
“I’m sorry. You do know that Cordelia’s situation is more guarded, right?”
“Yeah. It doesn’t feel the same though… We can talk to her,” said Xander.
“Yes, but her body doesn’t respond to painful stimuli. If she couldn’t talk to us, I’d say she was in a vegetative state,” said Cameron. “I don’t know if we can help her.”
She didn’t tell Xander that anyone else would have probably allowed her to die. Apparently, Angel had had enough pull at Wolfram and Hart to override any medical opinions. The one thing that surprised her about the whole thing was that, despite the amount of time she had been in her ‘coma’, Cordelia’s body had barely deteriorated. Maybe it had to do with her part demon physiology. That was why the team were the only ones allowed to handle her bloodwork or tests – from start to finish. Everything other than her CBC was slightly different, but it was stable, and as far as they could tell, completely normal. Other than not waking up, in fact, she was almost uncommonly healthy. Unfortunately for Cordelia, the not waking up was a pretty big deal.
“I know,” said Xander. “I know she’s frustrated.”
“Wouldn’t you be?” asked Cameron. “To be trapped in limbo like that… fully aware, but unable to communicate with almost everyone and unable to reconnect with her body…”
“I’m not sure I could handle it,” said Xander. “Melinda said sometimes people can’t handle being incorporeal and they do really scary stuff.”
“I don’t know how Melinda does it,” said Cameron.
“She’s got the heart of a saint,” said Xander.
“She’s got a lot of courage,” said Cameron.
“She really does,” said Xander. “She was wonderful. She fit right in… and afterwards… She was so good to the girls.”
She’s an amazing person,” said Cameron. “She would make a really great therapist.”
“I think she already is,” said Xander.
“I guess you’re right,” said Cameron. “It’s not like there are too many people who can do what she can do.”
“I don’t think too many people would want to be able to do it,” said Xander. “I could see how it could really wear on you after a while.”
“It’s not like what you do is so easy,” said Cameron.
“I guess it’s what you’re used to,” said Xander, shrugging. “I can’t really imagine doing anything else.”
“That’s how I feel about medicine. I mean… I remember in premed… It was the last class I needed for medical school. Organic Chem. I really didn’t like Orgo. I was so afraid that I’d fail – or get a really bad grade and not go to med school. Once I got to medical school…”
“It was easy?”
“I wouldn’t say that. It was… It just felt right from the beginning, you know. You’re gonna laugh, but I remember how happy I was the day we got our cadavers.”
“You’re different,” said Xander.
“I don’t know. I saw the look on your face when you were fighting… you love it.”
“Yeah. Wish the girls got that,” said Xander.
“I think they just want to protect you,” said Cameron.
“I know. I just… It’s a guy thing…”
“You’d like to be the one doing the protecting?”
“Something like that!” he grinned at her.
“Well, you can protect me anytime. I’ve seen you swing a sword. I wouldn’t want to be on your wrong side,” said Cameron.
“You mean my blind side?” he said, an edge of bitterness creeping into his tone.
“No. To be honest, I kind of forget that you only have one eye,” said Cameron.
“I’m wearing an eye patch,” said Xander.
“After a while, it’s just part of the scenery,” said Cameron. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m sorry you lost your eye – but if you’re embarrassed?”
“People stare,” said Xander. “It’s why I let Willow talk me into the prosthetic spell.”
“It’s a spell?”
“Yup,” said Xander. “It… I can feel it… So, if I don’t need it, I don’t use it.”
“She gave me a spelled potion. All I have to do is massage it onto my eyelid and read a short incantation and voila, two good eyes. For some reason, it affects my vision though… It’s like it’s sending a partial message to the nerve or something… It gives me a headache if I use it too long. House was the first person who figured out that it wasn’t real.”
“I couldn’t tell,” said Cameron.
“She’s very good,” said Xander.
“Can’t she fix it so it doesn’t make you get headaches?”
“She’s working on it. At least, now we’re in the same place,” said Xander. “It’s just... when you do magic there’s always a cost. There are worse costs than the occasional headache.”
“That’s just it, Cameron. It could be anything. Magic is unpredictable. That’s why she hasn’t tried to fix me – to re-grow my eye. If she’d known then what she knows now; we wouldn’t have let them take the eye out. It’s a lot easier for magic to repair things than to replace them. The body wants to be… the way it’s supposed to be – that’s why it fixes itself, why we heal. You know that – but I’m talking about mystically as well...”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“Magic has rules just like everything else…” said Xander.
“So, why’d they take it out?” asked Cameron.
“All hell was breaking loose in Sunnydale; half the hospital staff was gone. The doctors were afraid of infection and they didn’t think there was anything that they could do. They told me if I didn’t want to go to an eye center in LA, I should take it out, so I did.”
“I’m sorry,” said Cameron.
“Did you ever think of getting a regular prosthetic?”
“I have one. I just… hate the way it feels… and speaking of infection… once was enough, if you know what I mean… the places I go to… It’s just not worth the trouble.”
“You traveled a lot, didn’t you?”
“Yup,” said Xander. “It’s why it took me so long to come look for Greg. It’s kinda hard to get to know someone if you’re always on the other side of the planet.”
“So, how many countries have you been to?”
“I’m not sure,” said Xander. “I can tell you that I personally made contact with more than sixty different slayers in sub Saharan Africa alone.”
“Wow,” said Cameron. “In one year?”
“Fifty weeks, actually. It didn’t feel like a year,” said Xander. “Sometimes it felt like decades… Sometimes the time from when we left that hole in the ground to now… well it feels like I blinked, you know?”
“Sounds intense,” said Cameron.
“Story of my life, Allison,” said Xander.
“It’s one hell of a story,” said Cameron.
“Maybe one day when I’m old, I’ll write a book. Doubt anyone would believe it,” said Xander.
“You don’t think some day everyone will know the truth?”
“No, I really don’t,” said Xander. “A lot of people know already, and oddly enough, no one’s rushing to break the story. Every now and then someone writes a book of ‘fiction’…”
“Like what?” asked Cameron.
“You really don’t want to know,” said Xander. “Let’s just say the world is a much scarier place than the headlines would have you think.”
“Yeah, kinda got that from L.A.,” said Cameron.
“Yeah, that was the biggest… but you know something, for every big one… There’s hundreds of people in the middle of nowhere, stopping something from getting bigger…”
“But you said… I thought you said there used to be just one slayer,” said Cameron.
“Which is why there have been regular people… and some not so regular people… who’ve filled in the gaps,” said Xander. “Hunters, exorcists, witches, people like Melinda and Allison Dubois. I’ve met some of them in the last year. We’re damn lucky they’re out there.”
“So you’re not the only normal human doing this, then?” said Cameron.
“There are thousands of us around the world,” said Xander. “Some of them just go after what shows up on their doorstep… some of them… they follow the worst of the worst.”
“Would you like to do that?”
“No, really don’t want that life. I only thought that this was hard,” said Xander. “When you’re a normal person and you go up against what they’re going up against as often as they do?”
Xander shrugged, grimacing slightly.
“Didn’t like what you saw, huh?”
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful and all… but I’m really glad I’m where I am.”
“So am I,” said Cameron.
Xander gave her a sidelong look, but she was looking off into the distance.
“I’m even thinking of buying a house,” said Xander.
“Really?” asked Cameron, turning to look at him. She sounded pleased by the idea.
“Yeah. I don’t like England much. I can see people I care about here. Family even. My mom and I? We’ve made our peace, but I don’t— I still don’t get why she stayed all those years… and I have no
desire to move to North Carolina.”
Xander actually shuddered at the thought and Cameron rolled her eyes.
“Is that where she is now?”
“Yeah, she decided she wanted to go back to school. She took the insurance from the house, dad’s – Tony’s insurance and the pittance the government gave us after Sunnydale; she was able to buy a little place down there. She’s near a friend from high school who’s got her own business in Wilmington. Great place to visit, but not my thing…”
Especially not with his mom’s guilt over leaving Tony Harris in Sunnydale. Xander knew his antipathy about North Carolina had almost nothing to do with the place itself. It was more about the fact that his mother was there and how he felt about her. Xander could sympathize with her feeling a certain amount of regret that Tony had gotten himself killed, but even now, she still seemed to blame herself. Xander had had enough of her dysfunctional attachment to Tony Harris to last him several lifetimes. It was simple. Xander was glad his mother wasn’t dead, and for once, hadn’t listened to the bastard. He was doubly glad she’d lived long enough to tell him about Greg. As complicated as Gregory House was; and as insane as he could be; Xander actually liked the man… most of the time, anyway.
“So, have any plans for the evening?” Cameron asked.
“Other than getting a bite to eat?”
“I know a great restaurant,” said Cameron, smiling up at him.
Giles was running naked through the countryside. He was running for his life. Of course, this was a memory. The cold night when everything had came apart – when he and Ethan were tripping over themselves trying to get away, trying to outrun the thing that they had called, the thing that had killed their friend. In this version of the memory, it was all their friends, not just the one who had died that night. Finally, it was just Giles. Even Ethan was gone. Then he was face to face with Angel. Angel, and a man and a woman he could barely see.
Wesley was obsessed. He really was beginning to think that coming here had been a very bad idea. What he could have dismissed as concern only a few days ago was rapidly becoming a fixation. Just as he had obsessed about Cordelia all those years ago; and then about Fred for all those years since; now he was obsessing about Willow. A lesbian witch with magical shell-shock. The dreams had started the night after the first board meeting.
Boring, formal… that was what he had imagined anyway. He’d been in the conference rooms at the old council. Rooms that smelled of old books, expensive tobacco and gin. Even with the presence of old Bernard Crowley, Michael Robson and his wife, and the young watcher in charge of the Cleveland office, Robin Wood, it was impossible to keep things formal. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Buffy had brought Spike, and Spike, whatever his failings, had a talent for seeing the absurd, which, as annoying as it had been to Angel at Wolfram and Hart, served to put everyone at ease, and take their minds off the grave and the miserable.
Or maybe it was just the Scooby way. Buffy, Xander, Dawn and of course, Willow. Even in the face of misery, probably because
of the grave and the miserable, they joked, pranked and teased. At least, Spike, Buffy, Xander and Dawn joked, pranked and teased. Willow was stoic. She smiled at appropriate times, though Wesley could tell that her heart wasn’t in it. She even laughed a few times. Yet those were the moments that had made Wesley most ill at ease. The others pretended not to notice, tried to treat her the same way they usually did, but Wesley could feel their unease too. Xander’s in particular. When he thought no one was looking, Xander studied Willow with a pensive, slightly sad look. A very similar look to the one that Robin Wood gave Faith, who only spoke when asked a direct question, though her answers were thoroughly professional, yet another revelation for Wesley of how much had changed in just one year.
Despite the moments of levity, they had covered a lot. Buffy was surprisingly focused, especially compared to the somewhat flighty girl he’d known in Sunnydale. She had neither years of watcher training nor the patience that comes with age. Buffy, therefore came right to the point. Buffy had seen too much not to be serious about their responsibilities and all they entailed. She had a great many ideas, most of which Wesley was certain had never occurred to the Watcher’s Council of Britain. Xander, Faith, Dawn and Wood had ideas too and Robson seemed to be representing the areas Giles had been working on. Of course, that only meant they would be more meetings. The one tonight, however, had been canceled at the last minute, thanks to a call from London.
Tonight, instead, Wesley was going to try to talk to Willow about her state of mind. At least, he planned to try. He’d showered, though of course, he’d spent the whole day in an air-conditioned conference room, in this very hotel, so he hardly needed it. Except for the fact that the thought of his meeting with Willow had set his mind on a decidedly unprofessional train of thought. He’d decided that relieving some of his tension before
he had to sit all alone next to her in his very lavish suite was the better part of valor. Perhaps the better part of valor might have been discussing things with Buffy and Xander first, but he hadn’t thought of that until after he’d issued his invitation. He’d actually suggested they have dinner in the dining room, but she had begged off, informing him that she’d come to his suites after her massage instead.
“Are you sure?” he’d asked nervously, trying very hard not to think about that massage.
“Of course, Wes,” she’d said. “I’d rather keep any uh… sensitive matters… out of the public eye, if you know what I mean.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he’d said, managing somehow to keep a straight face.
“Then it’s settled. It’s not like you don’t have a work area, Wes. We can talk there. It’ll be private and much more comfortable, doncha think?”
For the first time all day, she’d seemed almost cheerful and Wesley had found himself agreeing. Wesley had eaten his dinner alone in his suite.
Willow was knocking on his door. At least, Wesley hoped it was Willow. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, self consciously smoothing his hair, like a teenager on his first date. Then he turned and headed to the door.
“Hey Wes,” she smiled up at him.
“Hi Willow,” he said.
“Hope you had a chance to relax a bit. That massage did wonders for me,” said Willow, stretching her neck and smiling at him languidly.
Wesley couldn’t help but notice the way her nipples moved against the soft material of her dress as she stretched.
“I took a shower,” said Wesley.
“Have you tried your Jacuzzi yet?” asked Willow. “It’s so great! Buffy was right. We needed a treat. I’ve never had a room with a Jacuzzi before…”
“Neither have I,” said Wesley a bit stiffly.
“I thought… Huh. I thought maybe Wolfram and Hart… well, uh, you know… Wolfram and Hart and of course Wolfram and Hart had everything, right?” said Willow, shrugging, and plopping down on the very comfortable loveseat, sitting cross-legged and leaning back.
She was chattering as though she was unsettled, but even so, she seemed less antsy than Wesley felt.
“I suppose,” he said, feeling as though he was expected to answer. “I didn’t actually live there… Angel was the one who had a suite. I never did visit… the facilities…”
Wesley sat on the loveseat too, feeling awkward again. He’d planned to suggest they sit on the balcony – where they would have had a lovely view of the well-lit gardens, but two separate
chairs and at least the potential for an audience, but here they were. He suddenly couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“So Wes, what’s the what?” she asked lightly, though the smile didn’t quite make it to her eyes.
“I—I wanted to talk to you,” said Wesley.
“Yeah, you said that before,” said Willow, frowning a little. “Did I do something wrong? I mean… you’re like… well, you’re sweating, Wes.”
“Am I?” he touched his hand to his forehead, realizing she was right.
“It’s not that hot in here,” said Willow.
“No, I suppose it isn’t,” said Wesley, looking away.
“So… either… I did something wrong, or you have bad news or something,” said Willow. “Since everyone I care about was in the next room when you said you wanted to talk to me, it can’t be that kind of bad news…”
“You did nothing wrong, Willow,” said Wesley.
“I – I’m… worried about you,” said Wesley, finally.
“Worried?” asked Willow.
“You seem… preoccupied,” said Wesley, standing up, because he couldn’t remain sitting.
“Yes,” said Wesley.
“You mean, you saw inside my head during the spell and you think I’m a basket case,” said Willow.
“I didn’t say that,” said Wesley.
“You’re not exactly in stellar shape yourself,” said Willow, somewhat defensively.
“No, I suppose I’m not,” said Wesley.
He sat down again.
“Why do you really want to talk to me, Wes?”
“I just told you,” said Wesley, meeting her gaze. “I really do have…”
“Yes,” said Wesley.
“Are you sure that’s all it is?” asked Willow.
“What do you mean?” asked Wesley, shifting uncomfortably.
“What else do you want, Wes?” her voice was soft, but her eyes bored into his and he had to fight to stay focused on the conversation.
“I want you to consider getting counseling, actually,” said Wesley.
“Oh?” she seemed very surprised, as if she had been expecting something else.
“I think it might be… a good idea,” said Wesley, wondering why she looked so surprised.
Willow stood up. Wesley felt both disappointed and relieved.
“I’ll look into it,” said Willow. “Perhaps I’ll talk to Joe.”
“Perhaps that would be a good idea. If he’s not the right person… well, he may know…”
“A psychiatrist with supernatural experience?”
“Yes,” said Wesley.
“Maybe he does,” said Willow. “If he can deal with Faith… I’ll be like marshmallows, right? Easy as pie?”
For some reason talk of marshmallows and pie put mildly salacious thoughts in Wesley’s head. He licked his suddenly dry lips.
“Sure,” he said, forcing himself to take a very slow deep breath.
“So… would you like some wine?” she asked, gesturing toward the well equipped bar.
“Uhmm… yes… Of course,” stammered Wesley, feeling as if he had crossed into unfamiliar and slightly treacherous territory. “I’d like that very much.”
Wesley didn’t move. Willow stood there, as if she were waiting for something, a small smile on her face.
“Well…um… It’s your room, Wes,” said Willow. She gave him an amused look.
Wesley stared at her mutely. God, you are so… hot!
“You’re not so bad yourself,” she said so softly he wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly.
“Excuse me?” he said.
“You said I was hot. I said… well, you know what I said…” she blushed.
“Oh,” said Wesley. “I said that out loud?”
“Uh huh,” said Willow grinning up at him. “Why don’t I get us that wine…”
“Th-thanks,” he said.
“You know… if you’re trying to seduce me… this is a unique approach.”
“Yup,” said Willow.
“Is it working?” he asked.
“I’ll let you know,” she said, handing him the wine.
“Not to put too fine a point on the subject, yes,” he said.
“That’s what I keep telling myself,” said Willow.
“Really?” he asked. “Is it working?”
“I don’t know,” said Willow. “I might be a bit confused right now.”