Disclaimers, etc., in Chapter One
The walls of the motel room vibrated with the volume of their laughter, and Mac couldn’t remember the last time her cousin had seemed so… human.
“And so me and Will and Ahn are walking along, sharing a bag of chips and just chatting, and Riley’s up there all sneaky, dipping between headstones like they’re trees in the jungle. And he pulls up behind one and kind of gestures.” Xander made a fist and thrust his arm up and down.
“Yeah,” Willow said. “And none of us had any idea what he was doing.”
Xander nodded. “I mean, first of all, we never hid between the headstones unless there was something to hide from.”
“Plus, I’m not sure he realized we weren’t trained militarily.”
“Still aren’t,” added Buffy.
“So he does the arm-thrusty-thing,” Xander continued, “And Will says, she asks, ‘What’s that mean?’”
“And we didn’t have any clue, none of us,” said Willow.
“Right. So I just kind of shrug and yell out ‘Hey Riley! What’s with this?’” he said, making the motion again. Mac started cackling again.
Grinning, Willow continued. “So Riley turns around, looking all serious and a little angry, and he says, he says,” Willow paused, then spoke in her best imitation of Riley’s voice, “’It means yell real loud so any vampires out there can hear us.’”
Willow continued laughing pretty long after everyone else had stopped, and Xander glanced over at the table she sat next to.
“Hey, Will, how many have you had?”
Willow looked at the table next to her and started counting.
“Four,” she said.
Mac glanced at the table. There were three bottles there.
Riley laughed. “Ever the light weight, Willow.”
This was an entire side of her cousin she’d never seen. Not the seriousness they were describing, Mac was entirely used to that. But the part Mac wasn’t used to was Riley taking a ribbing as he was due, and not even getting a little angry or stuffy.
He was relaxed. So relaxed, in fact, that he had allowed her – after extracting a blood oath that she would never tell her parents – to share a beer with them. Mac looked around the room at the people sitting, drinking, laughing, enjoying themselves, and she was awed.
Not more than two hours before, they had been battling the forces of darkness. A dozen demons in a cave system on the coast, and they strode in and kicked ass like it was their job. Which, in fact, it was. She didn’t know how well they had done. They had won, of course, and with only a few relatively minor injuries.
Though Mac decided that the day she began calling two broken bones and a concussion ‘minor’ injuries was the day she… well, she wasn’t quite sure what, but it wasn’t gonna be any time soon.
Granted, though, Xander didn’t seem to be suffering much, and the attention he was getting from the girls, particularly Willow and Faith, did seem to be making up for much of the pain.
A knock on the door brought Mac out of her thoughts. Faith opened the door to reveal Logan and Veronica.
Logan made a big show of looking Faith up and down. “Wow.”
Veronica gave him an elbow in the rib. “Can we help you?” Faith asked.
“Uh, I hope so,” Logan said. “Is the girl who looks like my sister here?”
Buffy began to respond when Willow called out, “I’m here!” She levered herself out of the chair and stumbled over to the door. “Hi,” she said, cheerily.
“Hey,” Logan said, laughing. He looked at Veronica and pointed at Willow. “Told ya.”
Veronica rolled her eyes.
“Can we talk? Uh, in private.”
“Sure!” Willow agreed, stepping out into the night air.
“Uh,” Xander said, leaning forward, a finger raised in the air.
“On it,” Faith said. She followed Willow outside and shut the door behind them. Mac wondered what was going on, but Buffy started telling another story, and she turned back to the conversation.
* * * * *
“So, I don’t know if you know this. I’m Logan Echolls, and my sister, Trina, is a heinous bitch of the highest order. And you look *exactly* like her.”
“I’m not a bitch!” Willow protested.
Logan cocked an eyebrow in confusion.
“She’s a little drunk,” Faith explained, leaning against the wall of the motel.
Logan grinned. “Perfect. Listen, I was hoping you could help me out.”
“What with?” Willow asked.
“Well, I was kind of hoping for some blackmail material to use against Trina. And since you look like her, and you seem to be friends with a um… friend of ours…”
“Mine,” said Veronica.
“Right. A friend of Veronica’s, I thought you might be willing to help me out.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Veronica said, shaking her head. Her arms were crossed over her chest.
“I can pay,” said Logan.
“How much?” Willow asked.
“How much do you want?”
Willow concentrated hard for a moment, her face scrunched up in a little ball, then raised a finger as if the answer had appeared to her out of the ether. “Five thousand dollars!”
“Done,” Logan said, pulling his checkbook out of his back pocket.
“What!” exclaimed Veronica and Faith.
“Hey, this is Trina we’re talking about. The most manipulative, evil, spiteful human ever to walk the face of the Earth, next to my dad. Five thousand dollars is nothing to pay to have immunity from her.”
Logan wrote the check to ‘Cash’ and handed it to Willow, who promptly stuffed it in her bra.
“So, what can you do for me?” he asked.
“Do you have a camera?” Willow asked.
Faith noticed that she seemed to have sobered up a little. It was good, too, because she didn’t want Willow getting taken advantage of. Although she had just gotten five grand out of the kid.
Logan pulled out his cell phone. “Right here.”
“Okay,” Willow said. “You ready?”
Logan shook his head. “Yeah, but what can you do here?”
Willow grinned. She reached out, grabbed Faith’s hand and pulled the Slayer towards her. Faith was too surprised to react. And suddenly, Willow’s lips were pressed hard up against her own, and the witch’s tongue was exploring her mouth. She heard Logan’s phone clicking in the background a couple of times before she overcame the surprise enough to pull away.
Willow wiped her mouth off with the back of her hand, and turned to Logan. “That good enough?”
“Perfect!” he yelled.
Faith opened her mouth and inhaled, ready to give Willow a really good yelling-at, when the redhead turned to her and spoke.
“You get half.”
Faith clamped her mouth closed, nodded once, and went back inside, leaving Willow to her own devices.
* * * * *
“Okay,” Sam said. “We should take you home, Mac.”
“Aww, really?” Mac asked.
Xander smiled. She really did seem to be enjoying herself.
Riley smiled at his cousin. “’Fraid so, kiddo. Your mom’ll kill me if I keep you out of school for another day. I’ll stick around for a little while, though. Give you some basic training after school. That sound okay?”
“Really?” Mac asked. “Just you?”
“I’d love to stay,” Sam said, “but I have some newbies to break in back at Fort Bragg. Some exercises Uncle Sam doesn’t want the ol’ gimp here involved in anymore.”
“Thanks for the support, honey.” Riley turned back to Mack. “The training won’t be easy, though.. I’m gonna work you hard.”
He shook his head. “Nothing. I just… what are you going to do, make her run a marathon in record time, and then have her kick your ass in hand-to-hand?”
“I can do that?” Mac asked, wide-eyed.
Faith smiled at her. “Might need a half-hour rest between the marathon and kicking his ass, but yeah.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of setting up a training schedule, some weapon work, identifying the more frequently seen types of demons,” Riley said, glaring at Xander.
“Oh. Well, I suppose that could work.”
“Okay,” Riley said. “Well, we should go.”
“I’ll come with,” Buffy said, cheerily.
“That’s really not necessary,” said Sam. “It’s out of –”
“I’m coming,” Buffy said, slipping on her sandals and shooing people out the door. “And so is Willow.”
“It was nice meeting you!” Mac called as Buffy rushed her outside.
The door closed, leaving Xander and Faith sitting on one bed together, alone. Xander sat for a moment, considering the situation. Faith seemed to be doing the same.
“It seems to me,” Xander said after a moment, “the two of us, you and I… have been set up by those who we would call friends.”
Faith nodded, silently.
“Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Not at all. Just a quick observation.”
“So this whole thing,” Faith started.
“By which one can only assume you mean the whatever-it-is between you and me.”
Faith nodded. “It’s kind of doomed to failure, isn’t it?”
Xander laughed. “It is incredibly doomed. Doomed beyond belief. Doomeder than… um… than Buffy’s attempts at pretending she’s a real blonde.”
Faith looked troubled. “That’s pretty doomed.”
Xander nodded sagely. “So, what kind of food do you like?”
“Food. Stuff you eat? I believe there was a promise of some sort of dinner date. I mean, obviously tonight might not be the best time for said date,” Xander raised his broken arm, “but it never hurts to be ready.”
Faith stared at him for a moment.
“What? Do I have something in my teeth?”
Faith looked incredulous. “Didn’t you just say anything between us was doomed?”
“And you still wanna go out to dinner?”
Xander shrugged. “I mean, if you’d rather just go get coffee… or I suppose we could just make some coffee here tonight, I’m pretty sure I’m up to that. Actually, that’s a good idea anyway.”
Xander swung his legs off the bed, walked over to the coffee maker and started his preparations.
“Are you crazy?”
“It’s a popular theory,” Xander responded.
“If ain’t nothing but pain gonna come out of any of this, why would you want to pursue it?”
Xander finished pouring water into the machine, closed the lid and pressed the appropriate button. He turned around and leaned back on the bathroom counter.
“I never said that nothing but pain would come of this. I said it was doomed.”
“What’s the difference?”
Xander smiled. “That the time intervening could be great. The time between now and damnation could be fun, and happy, and so full of… of whatever, that any pain we felt at the end might be worth it.”
“But if it was…” Faith asked quietly, “wouldn’t that make it worse at the end?”
“Maybe. But I think you’re worth the risk. And I’m not so afraid of losing something that I won’t try to have it.” He smiled. “Anya taught me that.”
Faith looked confused. “I thought Dawn and Andy pretty much said you taught her how to be, like, human.”
Xander shrugged. “I taught Ahn how to get along in society. How not to freak people out, how things worked. But what most people don’t remember is that, when she died, Anya was 1125 years old. She had a lot more life experience than all of us combined.” Xander laughed a little and shook his head. “And she wasn’t afraid to tell me when I had my head up my ass… like now, when I’m standing here, talking to a beautiful girl who I would like to start dating about my dead ex-fiancée.”
Faith waved his worry away dismissively. “You really loved her, didn’t you?”
Xander nodded. Behind him, the coffee pot dinged, and he turned around.
“Hey,” Faith called.
Xander turned around, and she waved him over to the bed. He sat next to her.
“So you really think this’ll be worth it when it blows up?”
Xander shrugged. “It might blow up tomorrow, or it might be years before we’re at each others throats. “ Faith winced. “Sorry. Bad choice of words. But what I mean is… you never know. Maybe we’ll get lucky and instead of lots of pain, we’ll just die.”
“You’ve got a seriously messed up outlook on life, Harris.”
“So I’ve been told.”
Faith pulled her legs up under her. “Turn towards me,” she said. Xander complied, wondering what she was doing. She ran her hand over his hair, and the strap that kept his eye patch on. Gently, she slipped her hand under the strap and started pulling it away.
“Hey, wait… what are you doing?” Xander asked, pressing his hand against his eye patch.
“I want you to trust me,” she said, looking straight into his good eye.
“Hold on a second,” Xander said. He closed his eye and concentrated.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Making sure Willow isn’t eavesdropping,” Xander said, picturing a huge frog with razor sharp teeth and a taste for redheads. When there was no reaction, he opened his eye again. “Sorry. Thought this should be private.”
Xander licked his lips, swallowed, and nodded. Faith continued, slowly removing the patch from his eye. She got up off the bed and put the patch on the sink. When she returned, she straddled Xander’s lap. She ran her thumb around the edge of his eye cavity.
“I want you to know that I’m serious about this,” she said, looking him straight in the eye. “The whole deal, not just the happy-Xander. Not just the Xander who makes jokes out of everything. All of it.”
Xander’s hand reached up to caress her, but she pushed him down on the bed, leaned down and kissed him again. “No funny business. Not yet. I don’t want it to be just about the physical.”
“I’m entirely unfunny,” Xander said, shifting slightly beneath her, “despite what messages you may be getting from other parts of me.”
Faith’s mouth quirked into a slight smile.
“I need you to know how important this is to me,” Faith said.
Xander nodded once.
“With the exception of Angel, every man I ever trusted either ran away or cheated on me, done me wrong, or was just in it for the sex. I know you ain’t like that. But you gotta understand where I’m comin’ from. You got your thing with Willow and Buffy, and even Dawn to an extent, and that’s cool. I ain’t trying to intrude or get between you.”
Xander opened his mouth to speak, but Faith pressed a single finger softly against his lips. He nodded silently.
“So I don’t really know where to go from here. I only done the ‘dating’ thing twice in my life. Once with Wood… I think you know how that turned out.”
Xander opened his mouth again, and again Faith pressed her finger to his lips. More determined this time, Xander spoke anyway. “Wooss a duhass.”
Faith grinned, leaned down and kissed him again. “No argument from me. Anyway the other guy… let’s just say the relationship changed when one day, all of a sudden, I could catch his fist and break his hand and throw him across the room and through a wall.”
Xander smiled sadly at her.
“So here’s where we’re at. It ain’t gonna be easy. I got issues and so do you. I can be a heinous bitch and you’re sometimes so stubborn you can’t see straight.” Faith smiled at him. “But I’m willing to work at it, if you are.”
Xander pointed to his mouth with a questioning looking in his eyes. She nodded.
“Two things I’d like to say here. The first is that yes, I’m willing to work. I get that it’s gonna be hard, but I think there may really be something here. I think it’ll worth it and more.”
Faith smiled. “What’s the second thing?”
“Any time,” he said. “Any time at all that you want to push me down on a bed and straddle me, just say th—“
Faith silenced him with another kiss. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s pour that coffee, go for a walk and maybe get into another street fight.”
Faith rolled off of him and got up. As Xander headed for the coffee pot, the room phone rang.
“Got it,” Faith said. Xander watched appreciatively as she crawled across the bed, then turned back to the coffee.
“Helga’s House of Pain, what’s your pleasure?” Faith answered. Xander snickered. “Oh, hey, G. What’s up?”
Xander continued to pour as he listened in.
“I thought the Maryland thing was kind of a priority. Oh really. That serious? Okay, hold on, let me get a pen.”
Xander finished pouring, retrieved his eye patch and slipped it back over the cavity where his eye used to sit. He watched as Faith took down whatever Giles was telling her.
“Okay,” Faith said. “No, I got it. No, it’s just me and Xander. None of your business. No. No. Yes. No. I think it’s ‘romantically.’”
Xander laughed, imagining the questions Giles was asking.
After another minute of questioning, Faith shot Xander a pleading look. He smiled, walked over and took the phone.
“Giles,” he said.
“Xander. Are you –”
“It’s cool Giles. We’re all adults here. Thanks for being worried.” He glanced down at the notes Faith had written. “We’ll call you when we hit New Jersey.”
Xander hung the phone up and looked at his – he smiled at the thought – his girlfriend. “Sometimes you just gotta tell him what’s up.” He handed Faith a cup of coffee. “Shall we?”
Faith smiled, accepted the cup, hooked her arm through Xander’s and led him out the door.