Author's note: Episode tag for 3.15 "Consequences".
Warning: Rape and sexual abuse.
He sits on the steps in the library with Buffy's words echoing in his head.
"She doesn't take the guys that she has a 'connection' with very seriously. And they're, they're kind of a big joke to her." He remembers Buffy's awkward expression; face twisting as though her words were sour on her tongue. "No offense."
He couldn't help but read disgust on her face, and in Giles's stumbling, embarrassed confusion, and his body felt too large and clumsy as he sat on the table in the library with his elbows propped on his knees. Because who would want to fuck him? That's what their surprise meant, he can just tell it. He feels sick at the thought of them picturing him with Faith and wondering if he was as incompetent a fucktoy as he is at everything else.
He has always known that Buffy is slightly impervious to the people around her. The double Slayer action that she and Faith have had going on has been making Willow's face pouty almost from the very start. Buffy, though, with her breezy self-involvement hasn't seen that discarding helpful Willow like a half-read beach novel is as cruel as it is insulting.
It isn't that he doesn't love Buffy, but there are a lot of things that go over her head or get filed in the funny-ha-ha section of her brain instead of under not-funny-so-much-as-heartbreaking. Willow has always been a brave little toaster about the fact that Ira and Sheila Rosenberg alternate between ignoring her and using her as a petri-dish for their latest parenting experiment, but it's only okay for him to joke about it because Willow knows that Tony and Jessica Harris ain't shit either. When Buffy jokes about parental neglect she always misses Willow's anxious lip-bite, and Xander knows that she's thinking about Joyce and what she doesn't have.
He gets that he and Willow are support staff in the grand, sweeping epic that is the Slayer narrative but it surprises him how little Buffy notices Faith, who is, after all, a member of the main cast. From the moment he met her Xander felt like she was two steps away from imploding. A certified, knock-down drag-out hottie, but also a simmering pot full of issues waiting to boil all over the nearest available person.
It's not hard for him to figure out why.
He'd bet cash money that there are some men in her past who liked to backhand her across a room. Who liked to tell her how little they thought of her with their fists as well as their mouths. It makes him kind of sick to think about it, but he has a vague idea it went beyond that, too.
Buffy has chalked up her sexual behaviour to sluttiness, but he isn't convinced. God knows he's all over the idea of women enjoying sex, although it kind of terrifies him that that might make them more discerning and therefore less impressed with his moves. But there's something dark about Faith's conspicuous sexual consumption and he saw the look on her face before she threw him out of her motel room after they'd had sex. She tried to cover it up with snark but, briefly, she looked as stricken as if he'd punched her in the face. He never wants to see that look on her face again. He never wants to see that look on anyone's face again.
He can't explain that connection to Buffy or Giles, or even Willow. He can't explain that because of Tony Harris's tongue and fists he has an insight into Faith. That he can kind of understand why her mistrust made her punch a stake through a man that jumped out at her while her body was still humming with the buzz of slayage. That he can imagine why she finds it necessary to hide the fact that she cares behind a hard, shiny shell of indifference.
With the steps of the library digging into his back he decides that, whatever the rest of the Scoobies might think, the guts move would be to go and talk to Faith. That however much he doesn't want to talk about what they had in common, he needs to just cowboy up and do it.
Standing outside her motel room he feels his courage slide out of his body, but he raises his hand and knocks on the door anyway.
She looks irritated when she opens the door and they're off to a bad start.
"Can I come in?" He senses her hesitation. "Just to talk. I promise."
He sees the anger flash in her eyes, and he could honest-to-God kick himself. Because emotionally traumatized girls love it when you imply that you might get fresh with them. Even ones who could kick your ass all colours of the rainbow.
Faith raises an eyebrow. "Like you could make something happen if I didn't want it to?"
And they're talking, however flippantly, about him raping her. That makes his stomach turn over and, before he can stop himself, he's babbling like a fool about his bicep being like a noodle.
He pulls himself together. "It's just, uh, I heard about what happened, and I thought you might need a friend."
She's having none of it, and insists that Buffy is the murderer, that she's as innocent as a newborn lamb. If she can hear the desperation in her own voice, then she shows no signs of it. Her gaze is steady and her lip quirks flippantly, like she's a character on a sitcom.
"Faith, you may not think so, but I sort of know you." Her eyes are locked on his and he wonders if they're thinking about the same thing. About the bruises he knows she saw on his skin when they had sex. About the fact that they've both been somebody's whipping boy. He sees her recoil away from him as if his gaze contains something unbearable.
"And I've seen you post-battle. And I know firsthand that you're, um, like a wild thing. And half the time, you don't know what you're doing." His voice is shaking slightly and he hopes that she doesn't notice.
"And you're living proof of that, aren't you?" It's a pro-forma insult, not in her usual league.
He takes a breath.
"See, you're trying to hurt me." And God knows he understands that impulse.
"But right now, you need someone on your side. What happened wasn't your fault. And I'm willing to testify to that in court if you need me."
There's something about his offer that sounds lame, even to his own ears. Or maybe it's the way that Faith is looking at him like he's retarded.
She plasters on her sluttiest smile, and it's so plastic that it makes him wince. "I know what this is all about. You just came by here 'cause you want another taste, don't you?"
Xander's skin itches with frustration. That half-hour they spent together has been on his mind, sure. But now the idea that he's just the latest in a long line of men who have had their five minutes of fun with Faith's body, because she's trying to erase the hurt it was caused, makes the idea of touching her somehow obscene.
"No! I mean, it was nice. It was great. It was kind of a blur. But, okay, some day, sure, yay, but not now. Not like this."
Not with the muscles in the corner of her mouth tense with the effort of holding her smile in place.
Faith runs her hands over the back of his head, and Jesus she's strong. "More like how then? Lights on or off? Kinks or vanilla?"
Kinks or vanilla? He barely understand what that means but he has a vague idea that Faith is talking about whips and chains and that sends a shiver up his spine, because it's just occurred to him that they are playing for real now.
He jerks out of her hand. She lets him. "Faith, come on. I came here to help you." He looks her in the eye. "I thought we had a connection."
She laughs, and there is no humour in it. Then she throws him backwards on to her bed and the terrible sinking feeling in Xander's stomach turns into a whole menagerie of animals fighting in his colon.
"You wanna feel a connection?" Her voice sounds almost angry.
"It's just skin." It's the same lie he's told himself over and over again, so he didn't have to acknowledge the fact that his father had hurt his body, but had also hurt him as well. It was a lie when he told it to himself and it's a lie in her mouth, too.
"I see. I want. I take." Her mouth is on his and he can't kiss her back. This isn't sex, this is fucking awful and, despite what he's heard in the locker room, he doesn't understand how there could ever be any confusion about that.
"I forget." Even with the fear freezing his veins he hears the wistful tone in her voice.
He finds his own voice. "No. No, wait"
He's panicking now. "It was more than that." It wasn't, probably, but he has to get out of this. He has to get out of this.
"I could do anything to you right now, and you want me to. I can make you scream." He's frozen now. He's never heard anyone sound like her. He's been scared before, so scared that his father was too fucking drunk to know when to stop hitting him, but this is a whole other level of fear and he can smell it coming off him like steam. And she's writhing over him and he's half-hard and he feels like he should be crying but the tears aren't coming.
"I could make you die." It's the way she rolls her tongues lovingly over the words that pushes his terror level into the stratosphere.
And then her hands are round his throat, and a part of his brain notices that she's pushing hard enough to restrict his airway, but not so hard she snaps his hyoid bone like a twig. She's still rubbing all over him and he's as hard as a rock and the way his body is betraying him is making the bile rise in his throat.
And that and the crashing, crushing tidal wave of terror are the last things that he remembers before Angel bursts into the room and punches Faith hard in the head.
Even though the slide of Faith's leather pants over him and her lips on his face weren't making that much noise, the silence after Angel punches her unconscious is too much for Xander to cope with.
Angel stands awkwardly in the dingy motel room and Xander realises that he is whimpering. Whimpering loud enough for anyone to hear him, let alone a vampire. And lying on his back, he feels suddenly vulnerable and he curls over onto one side; facing towards Angel because he knows he's not going to be turning his back on anyone for a while.
"I need to get her—." Angel gestures economically at the passed out Slayer at his feet.
"Yeah." Xander's voice is husky.
He can't bear the flicker of pity in Angel's eyes and so he looks past him to the open door; hanging on one hinge in the splintered door-frame.
"Are you ok?" Angel's voice is calm and Xander feels a small burst of appreciation that he hasn't made a move towards him. "Xander?"
Somehow Xander remembers that, even though Angel has just rescued him, Angel has also done this to more people than he can count; men and women both. He thinks that he's not going to talk to Angel about this; not now, not ever.
"Yeah," he says, and Angel gives him a lingering look that nearly makes Xander puke before he drags Faith's body away.
When Buffy and Willow and Giles see the bruises, they assume that Faith just wrapped her fingers around his neck where he stood and tried to throttle him. He doesn't correct them, even though the sight of the ring of purple around his neck makes him feel dirtier than he's ever felt and the pressure of it is building in his chest.
Angel doesn't correct them, either, although he sees the look that Angel shoots him before letting the lie hang in the air. Angel is wearing much the same expression when he manages to engineer things so that he and Xander are standing together, out of earshot of the others, for a few seconds.
"You don't want them to know?" He doesn't look at Xander.
"Thanks," says Xander. He doesn't say for what.