The basement is cold. Leaving the hairs to rise on the side of his arms, and goosebumbs to travel up and down his body. He can hear water dripping from a pipe somewhere and makes a note to look at it later. Water condensates through the concrete walls, multiplying the stench of too many people under one roof with the damp tang of mildew. Part of him doesn't understand how the girls can sleep down here. Even his old basement was more livable than this. He could never stand sleeping on a cot either. The short time he actually qualified as a boy scout, camping outdoors, he preferred solid ground to a piece of canvas held together by toothpicks.

Spike he can see staying down here. A cold damp basement one-upped a stale crypt any day. He glances around, thinking that if Caleb and the first don't turn them all into bullion, he can put up some insulation down here. A nice wall of Sheetrock to cover the concrete. Maybe even some fake wood paneling for that "rumpus room" feel.

He can hear the endless pitter patter of various sized feet above his head. The girls preparing, arguing, or worrying. Giles and Dawn researching. Faith doing training exercises. Willow looking up spells. Anya doing... something. He still isn't up for anything to demanding. That's what they tell him anyway. He wants to help. Looking up random facts or hell, even sweeping the kitchen would make him feel the least bit useful. But when he tries they just kind of look at him. He hates the way they look at him.

Yes he lost an eye. Yes it still hurts like hell, and yes, the right one still isn't used to doing all the work. But he isn't useless. He'll die before he feels that way again. Before he let's anyone think of him in that regard. He can still feel the eye there. The doctors called it psychosomatic impulse; he just calls it wishful thinking. Sighing he plays with one of the shackles bolted into the wall and silently hopes that Spike and Buffy never played some kind of kinky S&M game with them. Shuddering at the thought he let's the iron cuff clank back to the wall.

He can hear the yells coming from the backyard. Girls learning how to throw punches. How to kick. How to not get killed. Some of them failed to learn the concept last time around. He thinks that all them don't want to be ignorant for the next. Glancing at his watch he notes that it's almost time for his pills but he doesn't want to move. Being stuck in a hospital bed for two days didn't exactly leave him with the desire to sit on another one for just as long, but he really didn't feel like heading back up the stairs.

Vainly he wishes there were a TV or radio but dismisses it quickly. What little channels and stations were still left all broadcast the same thing. He wishes it were quiet. He likes the quiet. He would head back to his apartment, but Willow said that Caleb probably knew where he lived, and wouldn't hesitate to attack him alone. He isn't okay to drive yet anyway.

A small creak at the top of the stairs and then footsteps cascading downward. One raven-haired slayer served up to order. Once her feet hit the floor she notices his presence on the bed and quirks her eyebrow. She didn't expect to see him here.

"Itching for a smoke," she says pulling the pack from her pocket.

"By all means," he replies, waving his hand dismissively.

She lights up and inhales, a cloud of smoke swirling around her head briefly before wafting away.

"Taking a break from the horde?" She asks, cigarette clenched between her lips.

"Ran out of pirate jokes," he replies.

"Didn't think you were capable of running out of jokes."

"Yeah well, you learn something-new everyday I guess."
"Hey," she says, noticing the self-depreciating tone. "You okay?"

He casually points at his eye.

"As okay as I can be."

"Great," she says, voice warbling as she inhales. "This isn't going to be another episode of the pity party is it?"

"I hope not," he replies. "I hate that show."

"See? Didn't run out of the jokes after all."

He watches as she paces back and forth, pulling from her cigarette every few seconds, eyes catching her hips as the sashay above a barely there hem of jean. She notices him looking. Gives him a smirk and a wink, and moves a little more fluidly. A little more eye catching.

"When did you start smoking?" He asks. "I don't remember you doing it before. But I guess it's not like we spent all that much time together."

Another smirk before she moves closer to him and blows a smoke ring right in his face.

"Prison," she says. "These," holding up the pack. "Are currency. You see it in the movies or on TV and think what a joke right? Well, the details gotta come from somewhere. Just happens to be one of the few they got right."

"How much are you worth then?"

"My weight in gold."

"Funny."

"You're not the only one who can crack a joke you know. Besides, even if you don't smoke they can keep you in the lap of luxury. Do you know how many chocolate milks I can get with this pack alone? How many bars of soap? How many turns on the phone?"

He shakes his head, a small smile cracking on his lips.

"And they do tend to kill a lot of time. In prison that's all you really have. Your thoughts and the clock."

"Doesn't sound very fun."

"It's not supposed to be. Punishment remember? Atoning for all your sins?"

"Do you feel atoned Faith?"

She stops pacing and stares at him, a little surprised by the source of the question. He sees it on her face and grins in response.

"You've only seen the tail end of one of my speeches," he says. "I've gotten pretty deep since the last time you saw me."

"Getting that," she replies

"I guess this is the part where I tell you those things will kill you."

"Not like I'm going to live long enough for them to catch up with me."

Fair enough, he thinks to himself. She keeps pacing and he keeps sitting and for the moment it looks as if the conversation is over. But she finishes her cigarette and stubs the rest out with her shoes before moving to sit next to him on the bed. Her leg brushes his and he feels a flash of memory from the last time she touched him. Hands around his neck. Squeezing the life right out of him. His eye closes against the thought.

"Why didn't you smoke outside?" He asks.

"Same reason you're sitting down here. Too many people, too many eyes watching, just too much period."

"I was thinking I should fix this place up a little bit. Well, you know, aside from having to fix it up all the time anyway. We could put up some walls, maybe a pool table, dartboard? Giles could feel right at home in the stuffy pub atmosphere."

"Sounds doable," Faith agrees.

"Yeah, assuming we're not crushed into baking soda in the next week."

Faith bumps his shoulder a little rougher than intended and he winces slightly.

"Big bad might be a little bigger and badder than the others," she concedes. "But that doesn't mean we can't give Father Blood a nice little beat down and send the First crawling back to whatever rock it crawled from under."

"Suspiciously optimistic of you," he replies.

"Prison," she says. "Makes you hope. For a life better than what you get in there."

"Was it really that bad?"

"Nah. Three squares. A roof over your head. Don't think about the bars half the time and it's home."

"Make anyone your bitch?"

"Couldn't resist that one could you?"

"Nope. Going to answer?"

She leans in close to his ear, warm breath tickling the lobe.

"Don't you wish."

She doesn't back away as quickly as he thinks she would. Lets her mouth stay a little longer next his ear, tongue flicking playfully across the skin. He shifts his head quickly away and she laughs and punches him on the shoulder.

"Been down that road already," she says. "I'm not a girl who likes to backtrack."

And she moves away, heading for the stairs and back to the girls, smiling all the while.

***

It's around three in the morning when he wakes up sprawled out on the couch. Yawning he throws his feet to the floor careful to avoid the few potentials sleeping on the floor. His eyes still feel heavy and he's not exactly sure when he passed out. The pills he has to take knock him out within an hour, and while he thinks one should be enough the doctor recommends two.

Slowly he makes his way upstairs marveling at how quiet the house is; the only sound is his feet on the stairs. He walks toward Willow's room to see if, by some small chance, she is still awake so she can clean his eye. Upon reaching her door and peeking in he sees her asleep, Kennedy's arm thrown protectively across her waist. Sighing in disappointment he moves further down the hall to the bathroom.

Once inside he washes his hands in the sink, the water taking just a little bit too much time to drain. Too many girls equal too much hair. He moves his hand to remove the bandage but hesitates. Staring at himself in the mirror all the jokes seems to fade away and he's forced to deal with what happened. He doesn't like seeing half his face wrapped in a bandage, knowing that what's underneath will never heal. He doesn't like that he has to be strong about it because there are bigger more important things going on. Closing his good eye his tilts his head downward, just breathing and listening to the quiet. When he looks up into the mirror again Faith is right behind him.

"Do you wish that it didn't happen?"

He stares at her. A little surprised at the source of the question.

"You're not the only one who got deep," she says.

"Is that a trick question?"

"It could be."

"No," he replies. "Dating Anya has made me pretty careful about what I wish for."

"Still doesn't mean you don't."

"No, I guess it doesn't," he admits. "How did the patrol go tonight? Sorry I couldn't tag a long, but my little white friends here aren't big on the energy."

"No complaints," she replies. "Not too many vamps out there. I think they're catching on the fact that all the residents have jumped ship. Have you seen it yet?" She asks, moving back to the subject she wants to address.

"Seen what?

"Your eye."

"No," he replies looking away. "Willow usually cleans it for me but I don't want to wake her up."

"Needed to give yourself a little pep talk before hand?"

"I... I can't bring myself to look. I know it's there. I know it's not going to go away. But I don't want to see it. Besides, the doctors say I shouldn't expose it to air for long periods of time just yet."

He turns to face Faith who leans with her arms casually folded across her chest on the doorway.

"What do you think it's going to look like?" She asks.

"Ugly."

"It was bound to happen sometime," she says. "This is a rough game we play Xander. No one comes out clean."

"Slayers do," he replies. "Your gal's little quick healing trick never seems to leave a mark."

Faith stares at him, shaking her head slightly, before lifting the bottom of her shirt just above her belly button. Xander looks at the nasty line of raised pink flesh. Where Buffy had tried to kill her.

"They stick," she says. "If they're deep enough."

He nods and she moves from the doorway toward him. Opening the medicine cabinet she removes the box of gauze and bottle of disinfectant the doctor gave him and sets them on the sink. Putting her hands on his shoulders she guides him to sit on the toilet and proceeds to open the box and bottle.

"What are you doing?" He asks.

"You're not ready to look yet," she replies. "You shouldn't have to."

"Do you know what to do?"

"In prison, after the psychological assessment, they determine if you're an inmate worth teaching first aid. You have to volunteer for it. Lot of territory in there, lot of feet to step on. Lot of anger. You step out of line and someone will put you back in it. And a lot of the time people get hurt."

"So you've seen someone lose an eye before?"

She reaches her hand to gently caress the bandage.

"Yeah."

Xander watches as she carefully peels the tape from his forehead and cheek. Sees the concentration in her eyes, the care. When it is off her eyes widen just a fraction, and he knows what she looks at isn't pleasant.

"Ugly isn't it?"

She nods as she pours some of the disinfectant onto a pad of gauze and dabs it across the wound. Thinking that it stings is a vast understatement. It feels like liquid fire is seeping into his brain and he bites his lip against the pain, hands clenching into fists. He breathes deeply trying to keep the scream from escaping his throat. Faith ignores his discomfort, concentrating on getting all of it cleaned. A minute passes before she finally finishes, cutting a fresh patch of gauze and placing it against his face.

"You've changed," he says softly.

"Just figuring that out? Man, Angel's crew has got the one up on you guys in swiftness."

"Sorry," he apologizes. "I didn't... I just meant that...well you know. Nevermind. Thank you."

"No problem."

"Faith?"

"What?"

"How long did it take you to heal?"

"You know how long I was in the hospital for."

"That's not what I mean."

"Oh."

She stands quickly and moves to leave but he lays a hand on her arm. For a second he thinks he thinks she'll shrug him off and keep moving, but she doesn't. Only sighs and faces him again.

"Think I'm still working on that," she says.

"I think you're doing pretty well."

His hand is still on her arm and she looks at it. It's been so long since she let a man touch her. Since she wanted a man to touch her. She left prison for L.A. and nothing but fist fights with a demon that wore her savior's face, and shouting matches with a man she once thought couldn't save himself from a rat. His hand feels good on her skin. And there's just something more to it. He isn't just some louse she'd find at the Bronze or some other random place just to get her rocks off. She knows him. Knows he won't get any ideas unless she lets it happen. Knows that, for a virgin, he was still pretty okay in the sack. And from all the bragging Anya does, has only gotten better. She thought Wood might have been an option, but he wasn't here. He wasn't the one touching her. She shifts closer to Xander, lets her body press up to his and looks him in the eye.

"I bet you'll look wicked dangerous with an eye patch," she purrs.

"I thought you didn't like to backtrack," he says.

"All these country roads look the same," she replies.

"You sure this is something you want to do?"

"See. Want. Take," she replies.

He smirks in response and lowers his lips to meet hers.

***

When it's over she moves to grab her clothes from the floor and head back up the stairs. Thankfully none of the girls had chosen to sleep in the basement tonight, and Spike is still out of town. Screwing in bathrooms isn't all that fun or convenient. They'd barely made it down here in the first place. Xander looks through a half-closed eye as she bends over looking for her shirt.

"Hey," he mumbles sleepily. "Where are you going?"

"Away," she says still scouring the ground.

"Why?"

She stops searching and stands and turns to face him.

"What do you mean why?"

"I mean, why are you going to leave this semi-comfortable bed to go back and sleep curled in a ball amongst the masses? There's plenty of room here."

He lifts the thin blanket and motions for her to come back.

"Do I have to write you an invitation?" He asks.

"I don't," she begins. "Cuddle. Not really my thing. Never has been."

Xander stares at her and she shifts uncomfortably at just how much intensity he can focus into one brown orb.

"This isn't going to be like last time Faith," he says. "You've changed since then. You know it, I know it, and they-" pointing upward at the ceiling. "-know it too. All your old ways are exactly that. Old. If you don't like to cuddle, fine, I'm not going to make you. But I'm not going to let you run away."

She makes no move toward the bed, but stops looking for her shirt.

"I get the feeling that no one has ever asked you to stay before," he says softly. "Or even if they did you really felt no need to. And it's kind of sad don't you think? It never meaning anything. You told me once that it's just skin. But there's more to it. You know that. I know you do. This mission you have to redeem yourself, well it starts in the little things too. Not necessarily a little after sex cuddling. But I hope you get my meaning. No matter if you think it was just sex, I don't. I didn't then either. You and I are connected Faith. You never saw it. Maybe you never will. But it's there. I offered to help you once. And the offer still stands."

Faith doesn't reply at first. Just regards him with something he never saw from her. Respect. He who she threw out just minutes after their first tryst. He who she mocked with his concern. He who she tried to kill. She steps closer but still hesitates. It's easy to try and make a bid for redemption when you don't care what anyone else thinks about it. Angel himself cared. But in a different way than Xander apparently did. Hell, even Angel's little group regarded her suspiciously. Same with Buffy's. She notices the little looks of scorn now and then. Doesn't care because it's something she deserves. Actions equal consequence. She's learned that. She's just not sure what consequence will come from this one.

The choice is almost ridiculously easy.

"You weren't kidding about the speeches," she says moving to join him on the bed.

"Density shows itself in the strangest forms," he replies.

Once under the blanket she shifts backward, cradling herself against the curve of his body.

"Is this okay?" He asks as he drapes his arm across her stomach.

"Fine," she replies.

He runs his fingers lightly across her stomach and she's a little surprised by how nice it is. Having something there. Having someone want to be there. She closes her eyes and feels the grin threatening to grace her lips. They all might be dead soon. The world may once again be flushed down the toilet. But it didn't hurt to feel like you had something to fight for. Xander's fingers find her scar and trace it up and down.

"There was this girl I knew up in Stockton," she says. "Name's Dottie. Just starting her thirtieth year in a twenty-five to live sentence. She had this real bastard of a husband. Beat her nearly everyday of her life. Not just with his fists, but broken bottles, shattered mirrors, you name it he probably used it. Cut her to shit. Finally one day she decides she's not going to take it anymore so she puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger. Justified if you ask me, but you know the law, eye for an eye is never cut and dry. No one talked to her up there. They didn't like to look at her. All they saw was what happened when you just sat and took it. But I talked to her. And we get to be pretty close. So one day I ask her if she wished he didn't cut her like he did. And you know what she tells me? No. She didn't even have to think about it. Just flat out no. And I ask her how the hell she can say no.

This is what she tells me. Scars are maps of your life. Good or bad. Clean or dirty. You have a scar on your body you've got a story to tell. You know where you were, what you were doing, and how it happened. So at first I don't know what to think about it. I mean, if you ask me, they were just proof that he stole her life from her. But all she said was that they were proof she did live."

"That's..." he begins. "I don't know what to say to that."

"I didn't either. But the more I thought about it the more it made sense."

"So you don't wish this," he says still running his finger up and down her stomach. "Never happened?"

"Got a lot of regrets," she says. "But I don't think it's one of them. I had a lot of time to think about what I've done. Why I did it. You don't know what it's like Xander. All the power. All the freedom. You're riding high above cloud nine. But I guess that eventually something is going to come along and ruin your fun. You don't live like I did and get to keep doing it. Just happens my good time came crashing down in the form of a ten-inch knife to the gut. I look at it now and think it was the first step you know? Showing me I wasn't indestructible. I have this scar forever reminding me of that fact. I guess old' Dottie was right."

"I'll take that as a no then," he chuckles lightly.

"Funny," she deadpans. "Keep them coming Harris; you still got a perfectly good body to pick apart other pieces at a time."

"How bad did it hurt?" He asks.

"Besides the guilt, worst pain I've ever felt in my life."

"I can still feel Caleb's finger shoving itself into my skull," he says. "Just before I go to sleep I see him. Grabbing me. Asking me if I'm the one who sees everything. I don't think I'm ever going to appreciate this the way you do."

"No one says you have to," she replies.

"Faith?"

"Yeah?"

"If the world doesn't end this time, where will you be?"

"Probably on another hospital bed with one hell of a story to tell."

She yawns and moves just a little closer into him.

"Xander?"

"Hmm?"

"I bet this will shut Anya's sex stories up a whole lot faster."