Xander walked down the hall of the new Council Headquarters feeling incomplete. It was a strange feeling, and one he hadn't felt in this dose for a very long time, and for that, he was thankful. He hated this feeling! He felt like there was a gap in his chest and his brain had to work extra hard at denying he knew why. He felt unwanted and unnecessary.
As he was walking past the door to Giles' office, his cell phone vibrated in his left pocket. Like every other time his phone vibrated, which was at least a dozen times a day, he had a momentary lapse of composure and thought his first heart attack had arrived. But after that half a second passed, he realized his fortunate error, and grabbed for his phone.
He pulled his small, but outdated, cell phone out of his leather jacket pocket and glanced at the name of the caller. Suddenly his heart attack fear rose in his chest again as he saw Faith's name scrolled across his phone. She had never called him before and he was terrified that something horrible had happened. He flipped it open quickly and asked ever quicker,
"Faith, what's wrong?"
His tone was trying desperately to sound in control and not panicky. Giles overheard his tone and immediately rose from his seat in his office and walked a few paces to the door. He saw Xander's back but Faith wasn't in the hallway. Perhaps he was hearing things… no, it was one of those blasted cell phones! He still hadn't grown accustomed to someone having a conversation with someone else in the middle of a field and the other person not being there.
"I'm fine," Faith answered, even too quickly. It was her coined phrase… One night Xander asked her if her first words as a baby had been 'I'm fine'. She hated how the first thought into her mind was a night she'd spent with Xander. It had become something of a habit at this point.
"You scared the shit out of me," he admitted, despite the fact that he was letting himself show a weakness. He wasn't as insecure about his strength as she was, ironically enough.
"Sorry… I didn't mean to, I just…" She was clearly lacking for words so Xander added,
"I didn't even know you had my number. You've never called me before. I thought hell would freeze over before you ever did… I saw your name and, hey you never know in our line of work, maybe hell actually did freeze or something." He brought his ramble to an end as soon as he realized his nervousness from before was dissipating in his blathering.
"No," she answered softly. He knew something was wrong but it wasn't in the bleeding to death with a pack of vamps chasing you category, so he was calming down.
"So why did you call me," he pressed. There was silence through the phone line except for some light static, so he added, "I ask because the last time I tried to talk to you, you didn't seem really in the mood to talk to-"
"I miss you," she answered as though her words were being shot out of a gun. She said them quickly, not because she didn't mean them, but because if they stayed in her throat any longer she would've swallowed them down again.
Now it was Xander who was quiet. Faith quickly grew uncomfortable with the silence and added, her words still moving rather quickly,
"You should come by… I'm making dinner for you… and… can you come over?" After she was done getting that all out she wasn't sure if it had all come out in the right order, but hey, she had said it. Xander could practically see her bracing herself for his decline. He hated the way she braced herself like that… he absolutely hated it! It made him so angry because it reminded him of how many times she'd been hurt before and it explained why she was so wary about so many things in a relationship.
"That sounds great," he encouraged, "I'll be right over." If there was any doubt that she was bracing for disappointment it was proven by,
"Of course," he answered. "I'm leaving now."
Xander couldn't help but smile brightly. He loved her and he didn't really want to think about how pleasant he was going to be to be around if she wasn't a part of his life. Fortunately, it seemed like now she might even want him too.
Giles smiles happily as he saw Xander practically jog down the rest of the hall towards the exit. It delighted him that these people, people who had devoted their life to saving the lives of others, were learning how to have a life of their own. He wanted them to be happy despite their burdens.
Xander drove to Faith's apartment, deep in thought about this revelation she had apparently had. The last time he saw her she was drunk and didn't even want to look at him or the flowers he had gotten her. He wasn't in complete bliss over this because he knew there were some reasons she had sounded the way she did on the phone and why she thought she needed to cook him dinner to get him to come over. All she had to say to him was that she wanted to see him and he'd be there. But, he silenced his negative thoughts, because he didn't want to completely rule out the idea of her just trying to do something nice.
Faith heard him knock at the door; it was open before the echoes were clear from the air. She looked up at him brightly, but he couldn't help but think that the bright smile seemed a little forced. God, he thought, I'm a cynical fucking bastard, aren't I?
He noticed how much she had to look up at him and he realized how much taller he was compared to her. Her big, strong persona really had given off the illusion that she was much bigger than she actually was. He was so busy thinking about height that his height compared to her slipped his mind… in the practical sense at least. She stepped up to him, gripping the lapels of his leather jacket gently as she straightened up on the tips of her toes to kiss him. Without him leaning down towards her she still was a few hairs short of reaching his chin, so her attempt at a kiss hello failed. She lowered back down to her heels and the forced confidence quickly started to dissipate.
She tilted her head slightly as she looked at him, trying to figure out why he had refused her a kiss. He seemed like he wasn't even paying attention… She tugged slightly on one side of his jacket, still looking at him with an innocent tilt. He snapped back to reality rather than his thoughts and saw her expression that he wouldn't describe as angry or insulted, just beseeching.
"Sorry," he said, smiling down at her.
"It's okay," she smiled back and repeated her attempt at a kiss hello. He leaned down this time and met her lips with his. He wasn't expecting a kiss, and he certainly wasn't expecting just a simple kiss. He wasn't sure if he'd ever gotten one of those from her before.
She kissed him, her hands quietly still on the front of his jacket, her lips pressed against his softly and lovingly and then they parted. There was no moaning or panting or pulling or grabbing… but the simple kiss still had just as much sex appeal as any of the other times she had kissed him and it had an added something that he couldn't quite place. She lowered back down to her heels again and smiled at him energetically. He smiled back, a rush of happiness running through his veins.
As she turned back towards her apartment, he was almost shocked that she put her hand in his leading him inside. He followed her happily and as she closed the door he continued inside.
"You want a soda?" she asked as she passed the fridge.
"Yeah," he answered with a grin. He noticed the subtle difference between her usual, 'want a beer'. She was definitely working extra hard on trying and he still wasn't sure if that was completely a good thing. But that kiss was amazing.
He probably would've stayed in his thoughts of that kiss much longer if it wasn't for the sharp sound of her opening the can of soda. He took a step towards her and she answered his motion nonchalantly,
"Go sit down, I'm going to put it in a glass."
"That's okay," he answered, not wanting to make more work for her later with washing unnecessary dishes. "I can just drink it from the can."
"It's not that cold yet and I know you like it cold…" she glanced down at the ground for a brief moment, almost embarrassed that she had learned things he liked. He couldn't help but smile; he loved her slightly embarrassed grin that brightened the hues in her cheeks and he really liked the fact that someone was thinking about the little things that made a difference to him. It had been a while since anyone had done that. It's true that the big stuff is the big stuff, but when the little stuff gets remembered, it makes a big difference too.
He sat down at the small kitchen table, trying to subdue the glowing feeling inside of him. He was almost flustered by the confusing mixed signals… Not that there were any real mixed signals, but that was the problem. All of Faith's signals were congruent and with her, that seemed mixed. He had become much better at interpreting her completely askew ones.
Faith walked over to the table a few moments after him with his bubbly beverage mixing happily in a tall glass of ice. She approached from behind him and leaned around him from the back to put the glass on the table in front of him. She touched his shoulder with her free hand as she did so as a caring gesture.
"Thanks." She nodded and answered,
"Umm… I think the steak is going to be ready in another couple of minutes." Xander smiled appreciatively, despite the worry he was feeling. Not to insult her in any way, but Xander was well aware of Faith's domestic skills and frankly, she had absolutely none. Steak was a fairly easy thing to make, but he still had his doubts about her ability to do so without a little guidance. But he saw the look in her face and how desperate she was – for a reason he couldn't understand – to impress him or make him feel important, so he kept quiet.
She sat down in the other chair at the table and he asked, wanting to keep the atmosphere comfortable,
"I haven't seen you in the last couple of days… everything okay?"
"Been better," she admitted, but quickly defended, "but I've also been a lot worse, so I guess I can't bitch about it too much, right?"
"Yeah," he smiled, "but you can bitch about it a little if you want…" She smiled, but once again her eyes fell to the floor, as if she were a lot more anxious than she was letting on.
"Listen," he added, "I'm really sorry about all of those things I said… I've never been that angry before and I guess I just didn't know how to deal with it."
"It's fine," she answered shaking her head dismissively. Her reaction was too okay for him to believe it was genuine. He was about to press the issue farther, knowing there was no excuse for him calling her the things he did, but he smelled the distinct smell of smoke.
"Shit!" she cursed, catching the scent a moment before him. She jumped out of her seat and ran over to the oven and opened it, allowing a large dark cloud of smoke to escape into the room and showing the steak up in flames. She felt her heart sink at the sight. She had tried to hard to try and just make a fucking dinner – something normal people are able to accomplish on a daily basis – and she had completely messed up.
She reached towards the pan the steak was on but Xander quickly grabbed her arm from behind her.
"You'll burn your hand," he snapped, almost scolding her. He grabbed the fire extinguisher (that he had bought for the apartment) and quickly killed the fire as well as any hope that the steak was salvageable. He returned the extinguisher to it's station and then looked back over to Faith as he took a few breaths to calm down from the sudden excitement.
"I guess I'll order something," she said, trying to make her voice sound unaffected by the event. "What are you in the mood for?"
"Italian's always good," he answered, trying to sound supportive. She nodded and walked towards her phone in her bedroom, and he could tell she was upset. He was surprised that it bothered her as much as it did; he had always seen Faith as the type that would've found this whole thing hysterically funny. She was usually never the type to try and be perfect at everything – she had her job and she knew she was awesome at it and that was usually enough for her. He couldn't quite gauge her mood since she seemed to be trying to play 'perfect' and it just didn't fit with her personality.
He walked over to the window of the kitchen and opened it up, wanting to let the smoke out. After that, he grabbed his soda off of the table and went to sit down on the couch. The air was clearer in that room and he thought getting away from the kitchen setting would help chill Faith out a little bit.
She came out of her bedroom after ordering the food and saw him sitting on the couch watching some commercial. The back of the couch was facing towards her bedroom; she walked up to the back of the couch,
"They said it should be less than an hour…"
"Cool," he answered, turning his head to look at her.
For a girl who claimed to only be interested in the big picture, Faith was the master of details. She ran her hand down the front of his chest, exactly where it made heat rush through him. She breathed hot air on the top of his ear as she leaned the side of her face against his and then lightly kissed his ear. She grinned at him mischievously and then walked around to the front of the couch.
Her smile was contagious; he smiled up at her as she towered over him now. She lowered down to him, her hands resting on the top of his thighs, and kissed him again. He was lost in the kiss and by the time he came back from it she was kneeling down in front of him. The girl really knew how to make a guy feel like a god. She arched her back, making herself just tall enough to grab his lips for another luscious kiss.
As she kissed him, he felt her hands run up his thighs to his waist. He wasn't sure what she was doing, but it wasn't bad. She parted from their kiss, not necessarily at the end of the kiss, but then looked up at him with a pure admiration in her eyes as she looked up at him. He couldn't believe how gorgeous she was. But he was ripped from his moment of admiration for her when he felt her unbutton his jeans. The reality of what she was doing suddenly jumped into his brain and he all but panicked.
"Whoa, what are you doing?" he asked quickly grabbing her hands.
"Nothing," she answered, shifting her weight to her feet to stand instead of kneel. He held her hands wanting to make a big point that he didn't expect things like that from her, especially in an attempt to make up from a fight. "I'm just playing," she lied, really not emotionally secure enough at this point to deal with being questioned about something like that.
She motioned to walk away, trying to come up with an excuse in her head as she did it. He held her hands still and wouldn't let her walk away from this. This was what everything went back to – it was a big issue.
She froze. She was torn between ripping her hands out of his grasp angrily – how dare him grab her and try and tell her what to do – and sliding onto his lap as though that had been her plan all along. Although her first impulse was to go with the angry, she reminded herself that the point of this was to get him back and make him want her again. Her pulling away from him – like she always did! – and then inevitably getting into a fight over it, would only remind him of how much nicer his life would be without her.
So she turned back to him and slid down softly onto his lap. She straddled him, looking passionately into his eyes, but he saw the blankness that it was covering. She ran her hands up his chest and squeezed his shoulders gently as she reached her lips to his.
"Faith…" he said, pulling his head slightly back so that their lips met but he aborted the kiss.
"I miss you," she admitted. The feeling of having his lips graze hers and then be pulled away filled her with an ache that she didn't know what to do with. She genuinely needed him but she had no practice in life admitting that to someone and it caused her movements to seem forced and jarred. She leaned in to kiss him again, not able to deal with looking at him at that moment because she felt like she was about to break down into tears.
"Faith," he repeated, grabbing her upper arms and pushed her back slightly so he could look into her face. "We need to talk," he stated firmly. She tilted her head downward, really not able to deal with looking into his eyes.
Xander saw her eyes brimming with insecure tears. He felt awful, knowing the pain she felt was due in large part to him. He hated that he had made her so upset… so upset that Faith had tried to make dinner… so upset that she was willing to, well, you know, (he felt very childish being unable to even say the word in his head) and… she was trying so hard… it was weird.
As she stared down at his stomach in front of her she began playing aimlessly with the material of his shirt between her fingers. She wanted anything that would be a distraction from the shattered glass cutting her apart inside. Xander saw a very young child sitting there in front of him. He realized that he'd never seen her appear so child-like; as a child would mindlessly touch something as entertainment or distraction or perhaps even as an escape, she fiddled with the excess material of his shirt.
"Faith," he began, needing to say something. She looked up at him and he suddenly felt less confident. "I-" he was stopped by the ringing on his cell phone.
He felt her muscles tense at the sharp ring. Faith reacted sharply but subtly when she was caught off guard – that was something he had certainly picked up on. When something surprised her, her first instinct was to jump glaringly, but then her defense mechanism – 'I'm five by five' – kicked in and she would repress that urge to respond to her surprise. Xander thought that was why she blew up sometimes… it was all those little outbursts that she suppressed that finally would turn into one huge one that there was no holding back.
"Are you going to answer it?" she finally asked after hearing it ring several times while Xander seemed to be thinking about something.
"Yeah," he answered, finally coming back to reality. He reached into his pocket and pulled it out, "it's Buffy…" he added seeing the caller ID. Like clockwork, as he flipped open his phone to connect with one Slayer, the other distanced. Faith stood up from his lap and walked into her bedroom, despite his hand gestures for her to stay and he'd only be on the phone for one minute.
"Hey, Buff, what's going on?"
"Xander, I'm really sorry to bug you but one of the pipes was dripping a little and Robin tried to fix it and… well, it's kind of leaking now."
"Leaking, like how much leaking?"
"Umm… it's not too bad," she lied.
"Buffy, are there any other buckets around?" he heard Kennedy call from the background.
"I could only find those four," Buffy answered her. Then she realized Xander was listening, "It's possibly a little more than a leak…" she admitted.
"Okay," he answered with a sigh, glancing behind him towards Faith's bedroom.
"Are you busy?" she asked, feeling bad that she was asking Xander to come back to help.
"Umm…" he answered, if you could call that an answer.
"Where are you?"
"I'm just at my place doing some laundry," he lied. "I'll be there in a couple of minutes. Don't touch anything!"
With that, they both hung up. Buffy went back to helping the others carry buckets of water out of the bathroom and Xander stood up from the couch. He knew Faith had heard everything, including the fact that he was now finished with his phone call, but she still didn't come out of her room.
Xander walked around the couch and gingerly into her bedroom. Her back was facing him but he could tell she was pretending to need to neaten up some things on top of a shelf.
"Hey," he said softly.
"What's up?" she asked, turning to face him with an indifferent expression glued to her face.
"Busted pipe or something… they've got a major water problem over there right now. Wood tried to fix it but I think he just made it worse…" he added, trying to bring some humor, but instead he just dug himself a hole.
"He's good at that," she muttered. Xander got completely thrown off base by her response. He stood there in silence for a long moment, unable to come up with what to say to follow that. She continued for him. "So, you have to go take care of it, huh?"
"Yeah," he answered, "I would walk them through it over the phone but I think it would end up taking less time if I just went over there. It shouldn't take long…" She nodded, pretending to believe his promise. "Why don't you come with me?"
"As similar as I'm sure I am to you to laundry, I'm not sure anyone else would get the similarity…"
"How are you like laundry?"
"You're doing your laundry…" she answered, but then muttered, "You're here cleaning up your dirt."
"I said I was at home because you're the one who doesn't want them to know," he answered, almost snapping angrily.
"It's cool," she answered. It bothered him how her tone sounded so much more calm when she was responding to an angered voice. It just made him realize how dulled she was to it… at least on the outside.
"Why don't you come?" he encouraged again.
"Nah… I've got to wait for the food," she reminded him. She leaned back against a dresser, placing her hands on it behind her back.
"Right," he answered. "Okay…" he added. He looked over at her and he knew she needed some sort of something to feel less shitty about how this had all gone "Umm…" he added without realizing. Great, now I'm a bumbling idiot in front of her… wonderful, I've reverted back to a high school boy when she's around! He really wanted, and knew she wanted or even needed, him to kiss her goodbye, but damn it, she's fucking intimidating! He knew, just because he was closer to her then she'd let him realize, he knew she'd melt right into his arms if he went over and kissed her goodbye, but there was some stupid part of him that made him nervous and unable to do it. He was scared that because of his nervousness, the kiss would feel forced and she'd feel even worse thinking it was some sort of charity case.
"I'll be back soon." She nodded and forced a half smile. His stomach fell to the ground so quickly, it felt as though it bounced back up to his throat. He swallowed it down, rationalizing that that was impossible, and turned and left the apartment. He too had his juvenile tendencies… when put into an awkward situation like that, he would think about stupid things like his stomach's ability to mobilize throughout his body!