Author: M. McGregor
Warnings: A little language here and there. Nothing major. Despite the title, this is still largely genfic, no pairings to speak of. Friendship is the name of the game.
Disclaimer: If these characters belonged to me, I would be living somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. I'd have a nice luxurious cabin near a mountain somewhere. It would have solar panels, central air-conditioning, and hot and cold running supermodels. The cold supermodels run to warm themselves up. The hot ones run cause they accidentally lit themselves on fire while trying to cook me dinner. Silly supermodels, you don't know how to cook!
Anyway, I don't own this stuff.
Author's Note: If you don't remember, this is all based on the Surrogate Angel/Connected Series, which was written before any S8 comics came out, and would be ignoring them anyway even if they had. Enjoy.
Xander And Faith
Xander clenched his teeth together as he slowly threaded his arm through the sleeve of his shirt. His left arm was almost completely immobilized by the large cast he wore. It encompassed his arm and most of his shoulder, leaving him in the awkward position of having one arm constantly up. The cast had been formed so that his elbow was bent partially. A support strut connected the elbow joint of the cast to his hip, but it had a clasp at the hip that allowed him to remove it when necessary.
He’d been in the hospital for a little over twenty-four hours. He had a major puncture wound to his upper shoulder and a cleanly broken forearm. He was still slightly woozy from the demon toxin that had been coursing through his veins, and he was more than a little worried about walking without falling over. He’d lost a lot of blood, and he considered himself lucky that he’d only required stitches on four of the gashes he’d received while battling the demon.
He’d taken a major beating. In any other situation the doctors would never let him leave his bed, let alone the hospital.
He grunted slightly to himself as he managed to pull his shirt sleeve over his bad arm. He quickly snaked his other arm through and then tugged the shirt down over his head. Sweat beaded against his brow as he ignored the pain in his bad arm. He took several long, steadying breaths.
If his injuries had come from any other source, he’d still be lying in bed. The police might be interviewing him, wanting to know how he’d managed to get himself so beat up. Maybe they’d have run some tests on the toxin they’d found surrounding his wounds, instead of “misplacing” the samples before they made it to the lab.
“Maybe, maybe, maybe,” Xander muttered to himself. There was no maybe about it. Not really. Life was what it was, and he wasn’t about to fool himself into thinking it could be different. Besides, it didn’t matter what the hospital decided. He was leaving anyway. If there was bad mojo rising, then he was going to be there to...
“I’ll figure that out when I get there,” he answered himself as he began the struggle of putting on his jeans with only one arm. He managed to get them on, but only after several minutes of hopping around the room. Afterwards, he was forced to sit back down and wait for the room to stop spinning.
Sitting alone in his hospital room while his arm throbbed in time with his heartbeat, he started to wonder if he’d imagined her. Had Buffy Summers really just walked into the room? Had he really just seen her again? Had he really just let that reunion happen; just let it occur without participation or comment?
He was going to England the next day. Buffy wanted him there because it was where he would be safe. She wanted him protected, because he was a fragile little boy who could be killed at any moment. He knew that look. Over and over again through her brief little visit, he’d seen it in her eyes. She’d been reminding herself that she was supposed to worry about him.
That was unfair, he knew. He was being unfair.
It was just that things were different now.
He slumped back onto the hospital bed. The soft impact of his body against the mattress ignited his arm again, but he ignored it as before. Pain was easy to ignore. He’d gotten so good at it. There was nothing else he could do. It was either ignore it or go insane.
He was different. His life was different.
Of course, he’d been different then, too. It hadn’t really changed anything. Nobody cared if he changed. Sometimes he could hardly care himself. So what if he was different? So what if he felt some vague sense of adulthood creeping up on him?
Watching children die could do that to a guy.
He closed his good eye and tried not to see dead Slayers. He clenched his fist and tried not to list their names in his head. He took a deep breath, and then he tried to scream. He couldn’t. His breath came out of his lungs as a shuddering and pathetic exhalation that was only one step removed from being a sob. He choked it back and ignored the pain.
Xander sat up quickly and angrily wiped his good eye with the back of his hand. His good hand curled into a fist and then slackened again. He repeated the action several times, breathing slowly in and then slowly out.
He looked up. Faith was there, looking tired and a little confused. She watched him quietly, almost cautiously. He felt a lump form in his throat. He should have asked her to stay.
“Hey,” he replied. His voice sounded distant and far-off. What was wrong with him, anyway? He inhaled sharply through his nose and sat up a little straighter. He pushed away the names in his head, knowing they’d be back to haunt him even more for doing so. He did his best to put a slight smile on his face as he got up slowly. “You’re back.”
“Yeah.” She looked at him and then at the floor. She rubbed her nose with her thumb, and then looked up at him, her head still facing down. He saw the muscles in her neck tense as she swallowed. “You--,” she began, but the word seemed to vanish as soon as it left her. She cleared her throat and tried again. “You okay?”
“Nothing. Never mind,” she said quickly. She lifted her head and pretended to look at something interesting out in the hallway. “We bouncing soon?”
He watched her silently for a few seconds. Something was wrong with them, and it wasn’t hard to know what that something was. Buffy seemed to be standing in the space between them. His jaw clenched for a moment before he banished that image from his mind. It wasn’t fair on a number of different levels.
“Yeah. I was uh, just about to go.”
Without her, he realized. He realized he hadn’t entirely expected her to come back. He felt a little sick.
“Apartment’s still trashed,” she reminded him. Her eyes flicked back to his as if she were waiting for some special reaction from him. “Buffy wants to leave tomorrow.”
“You talked to her,” he said, and wished it didn’t sound like an accusation.
He should have asked her to stay. He opened his mouth to tell her so, but nothing came. His ears felt hot and he looked away from her.
“She wants us in England,” Faith said. “Got a flight all set for tomorrow.”
“Yeah, she, uh, she mentioned that.”
“You up for it?”
He would have to be. “I think so.”
“You gotta know so. You’re hurt, Xander. You’re not going if you can’t handle it yet.”
“I’m not?” he asked with a surprised chuckle.
She shook her head seriously. “Buffy wasn’t here yesterday. She didn’t see how messed up you were. I was and I did. Just cause they’re letting you out of here doesn’t mean you’re okay.”
Buffy wasn’t here yesterday. The words seemed to echo in his head. He squinted his eye shut at the sudden wave of disorientation that washed over him. The world turned sideways and he pitched forward as he lost his balance. Pain burst forth from his shoulder and arm before igniting the stabbing sensation that always prickled just behind his bad eye.
She caught him before he’d tipped more than a few degrees forward. Her arms went under his and around his chest, encircling his body. She held him up easily and without any sign of strain. Her eyes met his, and he blinked as he realized how close he suddenly was to her face.
“This is okay?” she asked without amusement.
His entire weight was being supported by her. Xander swallowed nervously and managed to shift his weight so he was standing on his own again. Her arms remained cautiously around him. He tried to keep his heart from racing. He tried to keep from giving in to some unknown sense of panic. She eyed him suspiciously.
“I’m okay. Really. Just a little dizzy still.”
“This is a little dizzy?” she asked. He wished she would let go.
“It’s just the toxin. I’ll be fine by tomorrow.”
“Faith,” he said sternly. He stepped away from her, and she let her arms slip from around him. “I appreciate the concern, okay, but I’m fine.”
“You can barely stand.”
“Not true! See? Standing right now.” He stood as tall as he could and stared at her pointedly. He did his best not to wobble in place. “I’m Xander-the-Stander.” He put on his best smile. Make her see everything was fine. Make her see there was no point in worrying about him.
“Is this how it’s gonna be now?” she asked, crossing her arms.
“Is this how what’s going to be now? Faith, I’m fine. Honestly.”
“Fine,” she muttered. She turned and moved towards the door. “Whatever.”
“Faith,” he said plaintively. He wasn’t entirely sure what she--
“No,” she said, suddenly spinning back to face him. “Fuck this. This isn’t how we do shit, Xander. Not you and me. You and me, we...This isn’t how we do it!”
She was mad, he realized. Really angry. Her face was turning slightly red as she glared at him.
“Do what?” he asked as carefully as he could.
Her jaw clenched and she breathed angrily through her nose. “I’m not you, okay?”
“Uh, yeah. I know that.”
“No! I mean, I’m not you, okay? I don’t know how to do this shit!”
He raised his good hand tentatively. “Could I maybe ask what it is you’re supposed to do?”
“You! Me! Me and you! The whole,” she moved her hands back and forth in a sawing motion. “The whole you and me thing!”
“There’s a thing?”
“Argh!” She spun around and grabbed the edge of the door with one hand before slamming it closed. She turned back to him, holding her hands over her head as if she were about to tear her hair out. “I’m trying to help you, you fucking idiot!”
“You already helped me. You know, with the keeping me from getting horribly murdered by an angry demon?”
“That’s not what I’m talking about! I’m trying-- Why can’t you just--” She threw up her hands in frustration and turned away from him. She stared at the closed door. “God! I want to hit you so fucking bad right now.”
“Um, please don’t?”
She rolled her eyes slightly and letout a tiny snort of laughter. “I’m not gonna.”
“That’s good,” he said, still trying to figure out what she was so mad about. He usually felt like he had a pretty good handle on Faith. He hadn’t at first, but they’d gotten close in the last few months. He’d seen a side of her he would have never figured would be there. He’d seen Faith; the real, true person. He’d seen her at her worst moments when she was desperate for someone to just be there for her. He’d seen her without any defenses, without any energy, and without any pretense. He’d held her when she felt weak, and was beginning to wonder if she ever truly felt otherwise.
“Faith,” he began.
“No,” she cut him off. She turned back to face him. The anger was still in her eyes, but it was being forced down. She took a deep breath. “I can’t do this the way you can.”
“Do what, Faith? I don’t know what we’re doing.”
“I can’t do like you do and just fucking know what to say,” she continued, ignoring him. “I’m not like that. I’m not...I’m not good like that, Xander.”
“Faith, you’re no--”
The hard look in her eyes cut him off. Eyes locked on his, she said, “Point blank, Xander: Do you want me to go with you?”
He shrugged as best he could. “Yeah. Sure I do. I mean, if you want to go.”
“So you,” she stressed the word. “Want me to go with you? You don’t want to go by yourself or seperately or nothing?”
“Faith, if you don’t want to go you don’t hav--”
“I’m going one way or the other,” she said. “That’s not the question. The question is if you want me to go with you.”
He felt like they were going around in circles. “Faith,” he sighed, shaking his head. “Why wouldn’t I?”
She stepped towards him until she was standing directly in front of him. He looked down nervously at her eyes and felt his muscles tense. She edged closer, staring up at him as she did so. Soon they were standing body-to-body as she glared up at him.
“This is why,” she said with an expression of pure steel. “Cause you’re looking at me like I’m her. Cause you tense up just cause I’m standing close to you. Cause Buffy Summers walked in here and you freaked right the hell out.”
“That’s not true,” he said, realizing it to be a lie as the words escaped his lips.
“Then why are you giving me this bullshit like you’re barely hurt? I carried your bloody body into this hospital, Xander. I know how bad that thing messed you up. How come when I walked in here you looked at me like I was a ghost and then started talking to me like I’m her? Like we’re just...”
Just. Buffy was a just?
His throat tightened. It was true. Buffy was a just.
“Fuck you for making me say this stuff,” she whispered, her eyes flicking away from his. She stared down at the floor for a moment. “I don’t do this. I suck at it.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. He was sorry. He just couldn’t figure out what exactly he was sorry for. Whatever it was, it was dark and quiet and he could hardly see it. Didn’t want to see it.
Her eyes flicked back up to him. His throat tightened and he felt that rush of panic sweep through him again. He almost pulled away from her. She leaned even closer to him.
“You scared of me?” she asked in a quiet whisper. Her expression was one of almost resigned disappointment.
“No,” he replied, and realized how true that was as soon as he said it. He lowered his head slightly so their foreheads almost touched. “I’m not scared of you.”
Her eyes were so close to his. He could never be scared of her, not after seeing so much of who she was. She was Faith. His fear of her had vanished without fanfare one quiet night as he sat beside her in the dark. He could never fear someone who had been so open with him. He could never fear someone who trusted him so much.
“You scared of her?” Faith asked. Her eyes did not stray from his.
Xander stopped breathing for a moment. His heart began to beat faster and faster. The tenseness in his muscles became a painful cramp of locking fear. His mouth opened to refute her, but he couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t be a lie.
She nodded sadly, and then she put her arms around him. Xander closed his eye, let his body relax, and slumped against her. She held him easily and without words. For once, is was she who would be there for him, and not the other way around. For once, she would help him bear the fear, the anger, and the pain. She was, Xander slowly realized, more than strong enough to bear it with him.
And he, he realized, was just weak enough to let her.
Continue to The Connected Series - Antagonist"