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 called Where Fools Go.
Warning: Was originally written early S7. Is now standing as an AU.
By Lizbeth Marcs
Part 1: Faith—Rhapsody in Red
Faith gently closes the basement door behind her and carefully walks down the steps. Somewhere in the middle of the staircase, she eases into a sitting position on a random step and plops her chin into a supporting hand. She watches Xander through the gloom and wonders if he heard her entrance. She wonders if he did and simply didn't care.
There he is, one of the core Scoobies, well, former core Scooby, sitting in a dusty corner of the basement, as far away from the sunlight streaming through the windows as he can get. If Faith didn't know any better, and she did know better, she would think Xander was a lurking vampire waiting for the sun to go down before making his escape into the night.
Not that Xander, human, vampire, or otherwise, can escape. Manacles encircle his wrists and ankles and chains keep his limbs tangled up. Another chain winds from the man to a supporting metal pole, which means that if Xander wants to he can probably hobble around the Summers basement. Faith tries to shake the image of a dog run out of her head as she calculates that the length of chain won't let Xander reach the stairs or the window.
So Xander making a break for the window and sprinting off into the night is pretty much out of the question. Faith wonders what would happen if she changed the odds by breaking the manacles and pulled the man free of his chains.
Faith knows chains. She is familiar with them. She had come to rely on them in the past few years. Chains meant you had gone too far. Chains meant you were being punished. The presence of chains also sometimes meant movement: between cellblocks, between the prison interior and The Yard, between the loneliness of a cell and the always unexpected appearance of Angel in the visitor's room.
Chains, both the metal and mental kind, keep you from going too far again.
Xander would probably refuse to break his chains. Will probably refuse to break them. Faith has a horrible image of her pulling the iron off Xander only to have physically free man remain unmoving and unresponsive, chained by more than just metal: chained by past, by the present threat, by the uncertainty of his future.
Sunnyhell? Why do you want to go back there? From what I understand, they all think you're crazy, possessed, or a big evil who needs to be put down. Buffy's been hunting you for the past few weeks. What's in this for you?
Needed? Let 'em deal with it on their own. B will flip if I make a grand re-entrance and she'll try to kill you. Face it, boy toy, we are not wanted.
We may not be wanted, but we will be needed.
What makes you think they'll accept anything we have to offer?
I'm going on Faith.
From the moment she spotted Xander in the Hyperion's lobby to this moment here on the stairs, Faith was struck by a new adjective for Xander: control. He kept himself under complete control as if wavering for one second to let any human emotion slip by his carefully schooled features would result in something violent that would erase him and wash over anyone in his immediate vicinity.
Faith wonders where Xander had learned to wear a mask that was so impossible to read; that so completely obscured his emotions and every thought in his head. She was afraid to think that the opposite was true: that emotional, impulsive, easy-to-read, joking Xander was the fake and this too quiet man in front of her was the real deal. That maybe, just maybe, Xander had always been about control.
'Xander' and 'control' are two words that should never be used in the same sentence, Faith muses. She shifts her butt on the splintery steps, trying to get more comfortable. She remembers the 17-year-old—or was he—that she knew the first time she came to Sunnydale. Not that she knew him, really, unless you count getting biblical with someone as knowing them. Faith knows for a fact that skin-on-skin is meaningless.
Not that anyone could tell Xander that, at least not then. Faith finds herself wondering if Xander still believes that sex could and should include that emotional connection. She wonders if that belief has been also taken from him; that time and experience has taught him the error of his ways. She surprises herself by fervently hoping that it hasn't.
Loud voices interrupt Faith's train of thought. Someone thumps something as if to emphasize a point. Faith raises her head in surprise, looking up, eyes narrowing, wondering if a crash will follow the thump. There's nothing but more voices. Giles's baritone, strained with the effort of trying to sound reasonable. Buffy's soprano, slightly shrill with anger and frustration. Willow's alto hesitantly cutting in, sometimes in harmony with Giles, but mostly singing Buffy's tune. L'il sis Dawn is suspiciously quiet and Faith pictures the girl hiding behind the couch, fingers stuck in her ears, wishing the situation would get resolved. The army of Potentials have made themselves miraculously scarce, fleeing the house to god knows where.
Faith tenses, waiting for the violence factor to pick up, but it doesn't. The voices drop in volume, but don't completely fade out. There are footsteps overhead, as if someone is pacing back and forth trying to marshal more and better arguments for their side. She relaxes, but only a little.
It's clear what the argument is about. What do we do about Xander?
At that thought, Faith returns to watching the subject of this latest passion play. He doesn't appear to have moved or noticed the rising and falling rhythm of the voices overhead. For a man whose very future, whose very life, depends on who wins the argument upstairs, Xander is at best dispassionate; at worst, apathetic.
She studies him. Xander is sitting upright, knees bent at 45-degree angles to brace his back against the cellar wall. His hands are cupped over his knees as if to keep them in place. His eyes are closed and his head leans back against the wall. It would fool almost anyone into thinking he was napping in that position, except that Faith can hear from his breathing that Xander is wide awake.
Angel was still recovering from his latest Angelus period when he got the call from Sunnydale: Xander has gone evil, he's disappeared from Sunnydale, he might be heading your way. Catch him. If you can, get him back to Sunnydale so we can deal with him. Kill him if you must.
That last statement—or maybe it was an order—came as a complete surprise. Angel may have never been fond of the boy and at times may have wished he would simply go away, but unless Angel was in Angelus mode he never wished the boy dead. And if Angel—Angel, who had no love for Xander—never wished him dead, how could Xander's friends state that killing Xander could be necessary and would be forgivable?
Faith barely paid attention to the confusion the call left in its wake. Sunnydale was the past. She had no plans to go back. Xander, Buffy, and all the rest were not her problem. As far as Faith was concerned, the Scoobies could play out the latest drama in their lives without her input, thankyouverymuch. She had her own life to live and her own ghosts to put to rest. Moving forward meant never going back.
Except here she is back at the beginning. This is the place where it all began to go wrong, where events just spun out of her control. Where she spun out of control. Faith blinks and focuses on Xander again, studying him more closely this time, unnerved that he hasn't moved, hasn't even twitched, since she sat down on the stairs. She wonders where it went wrong with Xander, wonders if he really spun out of control or if it just looks that way to his friends, well, former friends. As far as Faith can tell, Xander seems very much in control, well, in control of himself anyway.
There's that word again: control.
Faith shakes her head, trying to reconcile the restless, nervous, quick-smile boy she met a hundred years ago to the silent man now sitting in the basement. The images don't match. The situation simply does not compute.
When Xander suddenly showed up at the Hyperion and walked into the lobby, the Angel Investigations team was so stunned that not one of them moved. When Xander calmly announced that he'd come to take Faith back to Sunnydale to help battle the First Evil and the imminent opening of the Hellmouth, it was too much for group to comprehend. Almost at once Angel's team erupted in questions, demanded explanations, tried to get Xander's side of the story.
Faith didn't get involved, but instead watched from the sidelines. She was struck by the fact that not one person in the Hyperion moved to subdue the hunted man now in their midst. Buffy's gang struck her as a group that would hit first and ask questions later. Judging by the call from Sunnydale and what happened after Xander and Faith showed up unannounced at Buffy's house, it appears that it remains the Scoobies' modus operandi. Angel's team seemed to be more interested in getting the facts before making a judgment.
The fact that Xander did his best to answer their questions, made no move to attack them, and acted nothing like a man with a mission to destroy all that was holy and good in the world proved that the L.A. team's approach was the right one, at least in this case.
Faith knows which group she'd rather be allied with and wonders if Xander now feels the same way.
Before you go, I want you to think about something.
When you're done with whatever you need to do in Sunnydale, I want you to consider coming back to L.A.
I want you to work with us. I think you'd make a good addition to the team.
You're offering me a job? Again with the, ' why?' Followed by a, 'hunh?'
Look, Cordelia doesn't seem to get visions any more and Lorne can't read someone unless he's looking at them and they're singing. Your talent, well, it would be a great asset to us. You'd save more lives here in L.A. than if you stayed in Sunnydale, always reacting to the latest big bad in the neighborhood. Here you could be proactive.
Angel, we don't even like each other. We'll never be friends. You can't possibly mean—
I do mean it.
I already have a job.
In construction, yeah, I heard. But you can't be just a carpenter. Not anymore.
Yes I can and I will.
Do you really believe that? After all you've been through, do you really think you can go back? I notice you're not answering me.
So, then, what do you want me to do?
It's not what I want. It's not what anyone else wants or expects from you. This is about what you want. So, Alexander Harris, what do you want?
I don't know.
Fair enough. Promise me something.
Think about my offer.
You're not just saying that?
No. No, I'm really not. Your offer scares me, but. . . All right. Yes. I will give it some serious thought. I need time to decide, but I will think about it.
That's all I ask.
Faith knows that when this is all over, assuming she survives, she'll be on the next bus back to L.A. She finds herself hoping that Xander will give her a ride; hoping he'll do it because he'll be heading that way.
Faith stands and stretches, feeling cramped from sitting too long on the stairs. Upstairs the voices are quieter, signaling that a decision has been reached and only the details are being worked out. She vaguely wonders what she'll do if the final decision is death to Xander. She pushes the thought out of her mind and exchanges it for a vision of her and Xander making the escape back to L.A. with the windows rolled down and the wind blowing in her hair.
She slowly finishes her descent and carefully crosses the basement acting like she, the Slayer, was merely a concerned human approaching an injured animal that might lash out, because he mistakes her intent to help as an intent to attack and inflict more pain. Faith silently crouches next to Xander, but is careful not to touch him. Still he doesn't react.
Faith is suddenly hit by another memory from the Hyperion. Angel's team insisted that Xander sing for Lorne to confirm that he wasn't the danger Sunnydale lead them to believe. They were willing to listen, but they weren't stupid. Xander reluctantly agreed, moving into the sunny courtyard to sing for the green demon. Faith couldn't hear the words, but the melody was familiar. No one would accuse Xander of having a spectacular voice, but he could at least carry a tune.
The session was over too quickly. Lorne stopped him mid-song and began an intense conversation with Xander. Xander backed up a few steps, suddenly looking so very small and so very lost in the expanse of the courtyard. He kept shaking his head 'no' at odd intervals, as if the physical movement would simply make Lorne's message not true. After few moments of this, Xander was back in the lobby, body shaking with the need to maintain control.
Before anyone could ask what was wrong, Xander meekly asked if he could crash for a few hours in one of the hotel rooms. He's tired. It was a long drive. He has a lot to face when he gets back to Sunnydale. A few hours' sleep, please, and he'll be on his way, with or without Faith.
Angel cast a quick glance at Lorne, who had quietly followed Xander back inside. An imperceptible nod from that horned head was enough to convince Angel to grant Xander's request. Fred offered to show Xander one of the "less dusty and icky" rooms while Lorne whispered, "We need to talk" into Angel's ear.
Through this whole business Faith simply watched, not wishing to get involved, not wanting to get pulled back to Sunnydale.
Angel and Lorne emerged an hour later from the back office. Angel looked at once shaken and upset. He glanced up the stairs, worry etched on his face. Something had rocked Angel's foundation, Faith remembers thinking. Something even more unnerving than Angelus and it's something to do with Xander.
While Faith doesn't know what it is, she knows what it isn't: Xander being evil. Judging by Lorne's reaction and Angel's concern, Xander wasn't what Sunnydale reported. That leaves one question: What is he?
When Lorne was done with Angel, he had a message for Faith: go back to Sunnydale and watch Xander's back. When Faith asked Lorne about his message to Angel, all she got was a headshake. No, no answer for her, at least not yet.
Back in the basement, Faith reaches out and touches Xander's hands. His eyes fly open and for a moment Faith wonders if maybe Xander was asleep and really hadn't realized she was there. Then she knows. Xander knew she was there, he just didn't expect a gentle touch. She wonders if he no longer expects to be touched with any gentleness ever again.
Xander's eyes seek out hers and for a brief moment, they lock Right. On. Her. It's a brief flash, but with a shock Faith sees it. Recognizes it. Has seen it in too many mirrors when her ghosts have been extra loud and her nightmares especially intense. It's the haunted look of someone who is trapped, who questions every decision they've ever made, who wonders where they went wrong, who wonders what they did to deserve this.
It's the look of someone with blood on his hands.
And for a moment Faith wonders if Angel did Xander any favors by asking questions first and letting him live. Wonders if it maybe wouldn't've been kinder to simply follow the last order from Sunnydale and kill Xander outright.
She wants to tell him that he can get beyond this, but knows that it's sort of a lie. Knows that Xander would recognize it for the lie it is. She can see him, scrubbing himself raw in the shower with soap, keeping the water so hot that it scalds his skin. Doing anything to wash the blood off him and out of his mind, knowing that it's useless because all the soap and water in the world can never wash his soul clean.
The moment of recognition is over almost before it's begun. As Xander's expression closes down to the infuriating hard-to-read mask, Faith knows that Xander saw her expression, knows that she knows.
And she simply doesn't know what to say, so she says nothing.
Instead, she moves a hand into one of his chained ones and surprises herself and him by interlacing fingers. She isn't even sure what she's trying to say by this simple bit of physical contact. She doesn't even try to analyze it.
Again, she's taken him by surprise. He glances down at their interlocked hands, as if trying to figure out an inkblot; glances back to her steady gaze, his expression a mix of gratitude, self-hate, and simple need before finally closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall.
She notices that he doesn't try to pull away from the physical contact.
And in the dark of the basement, neither of them moves.