Please see Chapter One for relevant disclaimers and explanations.
A/N: I'll try to get the next chapters out soon. I am still in the market for a beta-reader if anyone is interested.
It was the fourth shop window featuring a pile of gaily wrapped gifts that convinced Faith she probably shouldn't just walk in the door and hand this stuff to Buffy. She slowed her pace, tapping the presents against her leg. Spotting an abandoned newspaper on a bench to her right, she altered her course and grabbed it without breaking stride. Okay, wrapping paper, check. Tape. Hmm.
Faith chewed her lip, lost in thought as she absentmindedly turned the corner. The Sunnydale Public Library came into view and she smiled and changed course again. She yanked open the door and strode in. Spotting a nervous teenage boy at the counter, Faith immediately headed towards him, an anticipatory glint in her eye. The boy promptly dropped the book he had been scanning and scrambled to pick it up without breaking eye contact with the bombshell heading toward him.
"Hi, I'm Faith." She grinned confidently and leaned across the counter. He struggled not to back away.
"Um, hi. I'm - I'm Craig."
"I need some tape. Do you have any tape, Craig?" Faith licked her lips and delighted in watching Craig's gaze dip and jump back to hers.
He nodded jerkily and pulled out a drawer, nearly dumping its contents in the process. He fumbled around for a full minute before withdrawing a roll of tape and handing it to Faith with a shaking hand and a failed attempt at a suave smile.
"You any good at wrapping presents, Craig?" She raised an eyebrow, then dumped the gifts and paper on the counter without waiting for an answer. "Thanks, I really appreciate it."
Craig opened his mouth, then shut it, staring at the unusual items in confusion. Looking up to catch Faith's expectant smile, he paused, then hesitantly reached for the small picture-frame, leaving the - was that a wooden stake? - alone for the moment. Slowly he began wrapping the gift, all the while wondering to himself what he was doing. He opened his mouth in a second attempt at a question - that was a stake, he was sure of it - but backed down again as Faith's eyes warned him off. Satisfied, Faith casually leaned against the counter and stared at the few library patrons, glaring at one gawking woman until the offended lady huffed away. Flicking her eyes toward the unknowing Craig, Faith discreetly tugged down her skirt again. She tapped her fingers on the counter impatiently, then drew a pocket-knife and another stake from her jacket. Coolly she began sharpening the weapon, unconcerned as the slivers of wood showered the carpet.
Craig gulped when he saw the knife and quickly lowered his eyes, only to have them land on the original stake, still waiting to be wrapped. Keeping an eye on the swiftly moving blade, he slid the weapon closer to himself. He awkwardly wrapped the newspaper around it and affixed a strip of tape, congratulating himself on keeping his hands from shaking… much. He tried to peek at the mysterious girl out of the corner of his eye, at once wishing for her to stay and hoping she would go away soon.
"Faith?" Faith's head snapped up at her name and she scanned the library. Shoulda done that in the first place. Stupid.
Giles approached the counter disbelievingly. "What are you doing here?"
Faith resisted the urge to shove her hands behind her back. "Nothing," she shrugged uncomfortably. She edged to her right, blocking the countertop with her body. "I was just looking around."
Giles' brow crinkled. "In the library?"
"Yeah, what's it to you?" She lowered her head and resumed her work on the stake, one foot nudging the pile of wood shavings behind her.
"Well, I - I suppose I hadn't - do you come here often?" Giles couldn't keep the note of surprise from his voice.
"Well, what about you?" she replied defensively, lifting her chin. "You're a freakin' librarian, what are you doing at the library? I mean," - stupid, that was a stupid thing to say - "You're at somebody else's library."
Disconcerted, Giles removed his glasses and began to rubbing them with a small cloth. "Yes, well, there are - are some things, books, that I thought might, well, assist in some way to, uh, -"
"Whoa, wait a second, I thought Buffy said there wasn't anything going on?" Typical. More secret Scooby meetings. Now they weren't even letting her in on the demon stuff. Faith moved the edge of the blade down the stake with increasing force. Well, forget that. She was a slayer. A Slayer. They were supposed to tell her about this stuff. With a sharp crack, the tip of the stake suddenly snapped off and flew to through the air, landing at their feet.
"No," Giles paused to don his glasses again, regarding the fragment of wood with some degree of unease. "This isn't about Buffy. It's - something else."
"Oh." Faith swallowed, staring blankly at the dulled stake in her hands. Silence reigned as Giles struggled to find the most appropriate reaction to finding Faith in a library. Faith kept her gaze on the stake, picking at the splinters with a fingernail. Just as he decided to bring up the weather, Giles was startled to hear Faith's voice again.
"Um, Merry Christmas." The statement fell awkwardly between them. Faith's discomfort grew as Giles failed to respond immediately. She shouldn't have said it so soon. Or maybe she should have said it at the start of the conversation.
Giles saw her face close up again and mentally shook himself out of his stupor, hastening to reply. "Yes, Merry Christmas to you as well. Do you … have plans?"
Faith looked away, fastening her gaze on a far bookshelf. "Well, I was gonna go to the Bronze, but I heard it was closed. I, uh, I thought I'd stop by B's. Not for the whole night, you know, just like a minute." She flicked her eyes back towards him, wanting to see his reaction to her invading his precious Buffy's family holiday.
Momentarily taken aback, Giles groped for an answer. He spied the wrapped gifts on the counter and his expression softened. "Well, that sounds - that sounds like a fine idea."
"Yeah, well …" Faith trailed off. She turned abruptly back to the fidgeting boy behind her. "You done yet?"
Craig started, barely avoiding sending a stack of books crashing to the floor. "Uh, here." He shoved the wrapped articles towards her.
"Thanks." She was nearly to the door before Giles called out to her again.
She turned, bracing herself for a polite suggestion that she leave the Summers' alone on Christmas Eve. "Yeah, what?"
Giles smiled cautiously. "If you find should yourself with some time on your hands this evening, you're welcome to join me in my flat. I would … enjoy sharing your company," he finished, surprised to find his last statement to be the truth.
"Oh. Cool." Faith stood for a moment, considering the words. Guess the old guy's alone tonight too. Decent of him to invite her, even if he didn't want her around. She shoved a hand in her pocket, trying to think of a reply. Her fingers closed around a single dollar bill and her chest tightened. There was no way she was going over there without a present for him, even she knew that much about Christmas. "Uh, I think I'll just hit Buffy's and go home. But… thanks. Really." She stood uneasily, unsure of what came next. Giles kept staring at her with that weird look on his face.
"Well, I'm gonna go now, " Faith offered before turning away again. She moved quickly, anxious to get out of the building. Some stupid bell rang as she pushed through the door and her attention was drawn to the dinky string of lights hanging from the roof outside. Merry Christmas to you as well. Huh. Maybe B's wouldn't be so bad.