Coming Home - Part 3
(A Divergent Destiny Story )
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Written by IceWing (icewing@one.net)

"So," said Faith as they headed out to the garage. "There any good restaurants in town these days?"

"Well, the Red Coral burned down last summer. Mario's is on the other side of town. Niecy's got bulldozed on Monday, but they're going to build a new one, a lot bigger too. Kinda sucks, because that's the best pizza in town…" Xander looked at Faith, noticing a somewhat perplexed look on her face. "Faith, you ok?"

It took her a second to answer. "Yeah, my brain's just a little fuzzy. I mean, I can kinda remember those last two. I know I've eaten at them, but, its like its fuzzy or something." She paused again. "Did… Did we eat there together?"

"Oh, you wound me deeply… Yeah, I took you there when you found out about my zombie adventures…"

"Yeah, that's right." In her mind, Faith remembered how the night had started out ok, but had ended up with… Damn, what had happened that night? Something had come up, right after the pizza had come out of this kitchen. But the memories were slippery and slid away before she could really remember too much…

Xander noticed Faith's silence, but misinterpreted it. He reached over and gently squeezed her hand, reassuring her that he was there, and that everything was going to be ok.

The touch of his hand around her's reassured her. Inwardly, Faith was a bit nervous. She knew that she should be able to remember, but the memories, she couldn't reach them… Taking a deep breath, she focused on the now instead. She'd try and figure out what was going on later on in the evening. "So, where're we going then?"

"Well, what're you in the mood for?"

Faith thought about it for a moment before answering that some barbeque sounded pretty good.

Hearing that, Xander thought for a moment, before mentioning that there was a place down on Milpas Street he'd heard good

things about, called Johnny's Rib Shack. Some of the guys at work gave it good recommendations.

"Sounds like a plan. Lead the way…"

** ** ** ** ** ** **

"Oh, that definitely hit the spot," she said as she stretched out on the passenger seat.

Xander chuckled and shook his head. "I swear, you're about the only girl I know who can eat as much as me and still have such a svelte figure. Two complete meals and," he said with a grin, "yet you still stole some of my fries!" Not noticing Faith's slightly embarrassed look, Xander opened his door and slid into the driver's seat. "So, you have any preference on where we go shopping?"

"How about that big mall down on State Street?"

Xander responded that sounded good to him and with that they pulled out of the parking lot and headed downtown.

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"Come on Xander, you're the one that wanted to take me shopping," said Faith, a wicked grin on her face. "And I even helped you carry the bags out to the truck."

"Oh lucky me," he responded, rolling his eyes, but with a small smile. "Anyway, its my turn to pick now." He took her hand and led her to one of the music mega-stores which served as a secondary anchor store for the mall.

"This place any good?"

"Well, its where I got most of the mini-discs that I sent you, so offhand, I'll go with yes."

The two wandered around the Morning-Glory Music for close to an hour, before heading up to the cashier with their selections.

Faith had picked out almost a half dozen mini-discs, ranging from Stevie Nicks, DJ Mary Jane, two sounds of nature CD's and a techno-trance bit called Viral 16. Xander on the other hand had picked up two CD's as well as a pack of guitar strings.

"Since when do you play guitar, Xan-man?"

"Huh?" said Xander as he paid for the purchases. "Oh the strings. Well, I guess its been a, I don't know, since junior year."

Faith made a kind of 'come on, spit it out' gesture.

"Not really all that much to tell." He thought for a minute. "Well, maybe there is. When I was in middle school, I won a contest for a month stay at a music camp. I'd never touched… Well, I'd never played an instrument before…" Memories of being hit with a recorder flashed through is mind before he could drive them back down. "Anyway, I had a pretty good time. Made friends with one of the counselor's, a guy named Eric. We kinda became pen pals for a while, but then I got a couple letters back when I sent them. Stamped with deceased. Then about a year later, I got the guitar in the mail. There was a letter, saying he and shelly were moving on, but he wanted me to have the guitar. I tried to write him again, but same thing. Letters returned by the post office, marked deceased. I never really knew what to think of that, even once I found out about the whole nightlife thing."

"You any good?"

Xander shrugged. "Not bad I guess. I play at it sometimes… Play along with Eric…" He saw the confused look on Faith's face and explained that he'd gotten a copy of an album Eric's band, Hangman's Joke, had put out and played along with it sometimes.

"A gift from beyond… Weird."

As he took the bags and they walked out of the store, Xander laughed. "Faith, this is SunnyDale. Normal would be weird here… The whole guitar thing, its par for the course…"

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

Carlos couldn't for the life of him understand why he kept agreeing to come to the mall with Dawn and Kit. He never got to hang out in the arcade any more, or at any of the electronics stores. All he managed to do was serve as a bag carrier, and fashion observer. Not really his idea of a great time. "The things I do for you two," he muttered. At least Dawn hadn't been able to buy much today, so he only had one of her bags, as opposed to the three he was lugging around for Kit. There had to be some justice in the world, but then again, this was the town under which the Hellmouth hid.

Leaning against the edge of the railing, he watched the people milling about on the first and second floors. Always plenty of time to people watch while the girls window shopped. And in SunnyDale, there were almost as many non-humans and regular folks, which made the people watching all the more interesting. He felt a bit of pride as he picked out a vampire in the crowd. 'Yeah, you need to be shopping at the mall, dude. That outfit is so dated even I know it.'

He continued to watch, letting the minutes drift by. A familiar face broke through the crowd down below. He thought about yelling down to Xander, but decided against it as he noticed the extremely hot chick in the UCLA sweat shirt. Never a good idea to bother a brother when he's on a date. After taking a moment to admire the view a bit more, he headed back to the store where the girls were. Xander had seemed pretty tight with the girl, considering how close to each other they were. He needed to razz Dawn for not mentioning this new interest in Xander's life. After all, since he'd been initiated into the group, his dates had been the subject of more than one pre-relationship screening.

Dawn and Kit were walking away from the cashier, another bag in hand, as Carlos approached. "Hey Ladies, you'll never guess who I just saw downstairs with some college girl."

The younger Summers female took in the smirking attitude and knew immediately that Carlos was once again trying to make fun of her for her mostly moved beyond crush of Xander. "Oh, and I suppose you think that I'm jealous?"

"Well, that's an added bonus, but actually, I was mostly wondering why we haven't heard of this mystery woman. They were almost bumping hips as they walked into Abercrombie."

Dawn tried to play it off, but she was a bit worried on a couple of levels. First, Xander had been playing some cards pretty close to his chest of late. Not anything specific, but he'd pretty much stopped coming by the house for the past couple of weeks. That wasn't a huge factor in itself, but coupled with the lessened contact with the rest of the gang, well it just worried her. "Any bets on how long she'll last once she finds out about Xander's nocturnal activities?"

This had turned into a ritual for the combined Scooby/Scrappy Gang. Every time one of them started to date, there was a pool formed, with five dollar bets for each six hour time block, to see how long the uninitiated would stick around once they discovered the truth about the SunnyDale nightlife and the gang's role in holding back the tide. Not surprisingly, Giles usually won, having had the most experience in breaking people of their worldviews, but Kit was catching up on him steadily.

Kit answered first. "Well without meeting her, there's no way to be able to form an opinion. Plus, how serious are they? We're at a disadvantage here because we don't know how long they've been together, what she's like, or if she maybe already knows."

"Don't know. She's pretty enough to be some kind of model or something, nice body as well. Doesn't seem like the kind of girl he's normally with, or tries to be with anyway. My bet, less than a week."

"You're a real dog Carlos, you know that right?" Dawn looked at her two friends as the solo male Scrappy made some lame barking noises. "Tell you what, you guys finish shopping, I'll give you a yell tonight, ok?"

"Dawn, promise you're not going to go all jealous stalker type on the guy."

"Not gonna happen," she replied. "I just need to touch base with him."

"Cool, we'll catch you later then." And with that the three friends parted ways, Carlos and Kit heading to Suncoast Video, Dawn heading down the escalator to the first floor.

As she entered the store, Dawn couldn't help but wondering what Xander was doing in here. This was just SO not a Xander store. He was more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Must be this mystery woman. Dawn felt herself tense up a bit at the thought. She tried to convince herself that it was just an honest appreciation for Xander's track record when it came members of the opposite sex. 'Ampata, Mantis Lady, and Anya. All members of the demonic persuasion. Oh, and Drusilla… Can't forget the insane vampiric psycho-bitch.' Then there were the normal humans. Ok, it was a pretty empty category, since Cordelia only half qualified even on her best day. Then the strong female protector of mankind types…

Before she could finish her thought, she saw Xander, leaning against the wall near the back of the store.

She meandered over to him, moving from row to row, keeping out of sight until she was almost directly beside him. "So, do you think this dress would look good crumpled up at the bottom of your bed?"

Xander jumped halfway out of his skin, then turned to face her. "Jesus Christ Dawn, you scarred the crap out of me! That was just evil… Evil I say!"

As she stood there smiling at him, she saw the look on his face go from shock to anxiety in less than a heartbeat. Apparently, whoever this girl was, he was definitely trying to keep her a secret. Or, she decided as she thought about it, he cares about her so much that he's afraid the whole Hellmouth thing is going to run her off.

"So, Xander, what brings you to the mall on such a nice day?"

"Umm, I just thought maybe I could use some new, umm, shirts. Maybe some jeans as well… So, here I am."

Dawn grinned. This was just too easy. "So, where are these clothes you're getting? Let me give you my expert fashion sense…"

"Oh well, I was waiting for…" He looked at Dawn. "Hey, aren't you supposed to be out with the Scrappy's today?"

"Carlos saw you, mentioned it. And since you've been stealth guy the last month or so, I thought I'd ditch them and come hang out with you instead. I mean, you're here all by yourself, with…" she looked down at the bags by his feet. "With your bags of clothes that look suspiciously like they're for a woman…" Her eyes glinted with laughter as she looked back up at him. "So, either Larry was closer than we thought, or there's something you're not telling me…" She let her voice trail off in almost a singsong voice.

The door to the fitting room opened, and Faith stepped out. Her eyes were on the mirrors set on and into the opposite wall, so she missed the young woman standing with her back to Faith, who was talking to Xander. Had she been paying attention, she would have seen the twitch he was developing, or the fact that he swallowed nervously as she turned, watching the look of the pants in the mirror.

'Ok,' thought Dawn. "This is just weird. First he's all jittery, and nervous. Now he looks like he's just realized there's a train about to derail in front of him. What the hell is going on here?'

Faith leaned first one way, then the other, as a quick stretch. "What do you think, Xan? They look good on me, and plenty of stretch in them..." She twisted, then did several high kicks before bringing her shin up near her face. "Pretty damn solid if you ask me."

As the voice behind her spoke, Dawn turned around, noting the look of near panic on Xander's face as she did so.

Dropping her foot back down, she turned to face Xander. "Yeah, these are... DAWN!!"

"Faith?" came the half whispered word, disbelief evident in the voice of Dawn Summers.

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End - Coming Home Part 3
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