“I told you, Joel: you can’t go back,” Buffy ground out for the umpteenth time as she slid into the passenger seat of the rental car. “To everybody, you’re dead.Going back would raise too many questions, as well as tip off the people who wanted you dead, that you are no longer among them.”
The confusion was evident in set of his rugged jaw as he asked, “Among whom?”
Buffy sighed and face-palmed herself into the dashboard, being careful to not actually hurt it--they’d opted to be cheap and not get the extra insurance--before answering, “The dead, Joel. Among the dead.”Joel’s expression did nothing to ease Buffy’s frustration, though it was not really the only cause of it. Her headache was getting worse, and she was sick to her stomach with worry. Why? Because just now, at the Waffle House where they’d decided to eat in the middle of Bumfuck, West Virginia (actually, it was Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but it made her feel a little better to say it wrong), Xander wouldn’t sit with her.
It was totally juvenile, she knew, to be offended by the fact that he didn’t want to sit with her while they were eating. And yes, she knew that it was probably because he didn’t know how she would react if they were all relationship-y, but it still irked her. A quick smile his way told her that he was a little embarrassed, which was worse, because Buffy just knew—she knew
--that it had finally sunk in with him that the fantasy was better than the reality, and that the idea of her was better than the actual thing itself. She knew that he was having second thoughts about this whole thing, but to her it was more than a one-night-stand. To her it meant something. Knowing him, though, he was worrying himself sick trying to figure out a way of letting her down easily, and the only thing she could do was to break up with him first, because it would make it easier on the both of them than to wait on him to finally get around to telling her in the most disastrous way possible and she had to figure out what she was going pack and if she could convince Dawnie that they would both be better somewhere far, far away, like Europe, and—
Her frantic thoughts were broken off at the critical moment in the tangent when Xander slipped his free hand over and grabbed hers, giving her the strength she hadn’t thought she needed in so long. . . Taking a deep breath and giving him another quick smile, she turned back to Joel, who was still stewing in the back seat.
Now here was a weird cat. The first thing he’d said upon his miraculous resurrection had been, “What time is it?” After much coaxing, and more than a little bit of threatening, both she and Xander had been able to get him to come along with them, but only after showing him a bit of magic (by way of Buffy turning a metal table into a roll-up mattress). And after that, he’d had more questions about magic than about his death, and how he’d come back to life.
“There are people who want you dead, Joel, and it’s my job to make sure that you don’t die.”
“Why?”he asked imperiously.
Buffy’s frustration was on the rise again, and she almost threw her empty Diet Coke can at his stupid head when Xander, who should have been watching the road, answered for her: “That’s really a two-part question, Joe, but I’ll just say that we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys, and that should answer both at the same time.” For once, Joel gave him an acknowledging nod.
Buffy, however, wasn’t ready to let it go so easily. “And do you know of any reason someone might want to kill you?” Joel breezily shook his head, his grey-green eyes flashing in the streetlight overhead. “Okay, then,” Buffy continued, turning in her seat so that she didn’t have to see those haunting eyes anymore, “do you know why you woke up after being murdered last night by a very dangerous acquaintance of mine? Or why I’m having dreams about you? In this dream, you were playing a game where you killed others like you, and you competed for a prize. What do you know about that?”
Joel only looked bewildered. “Ma’am, I’m not sure what your deal is here, but I don’t know anything about a game or murdering anyone. I’ve never harmed a soul in my life. After what happened to my. . . I—I just couldn’t."
Despite everything, Buffy couldn’t help but to feel a little annoyed with the guy. He just seemed so. . . boring. His mannerisms were precise, and his frame was rather large, built and toned with the dedication that seemed almost manic in light of the difference between his and Xander’s bodies. She knew that Xander worked out quite a lot, in what she thought was insecurity about his position on the team and what he brought to it. But this guy. . .
Anyway, there was something off about this guy. He didn’t react like normal people would. He seemed almost. . . Zen would be the word she wanted, but that didn’t really nail down the root of his demeanor. He didn’t look at peace, he looked like he suppressed his emotions, like Xander’s Vulcans from Star Trek or whatever. Balanced he does not seem,
she thought to herself in a Yoda voice. She grinned. Xander would be so proud of her for thinking of it that way.
But that thought itself caught in her mind: Xander. Would he be proud, or would he look at her and think that she was cute for trying? Maybe she’d pushed too hard and he’d needed his distance. She couldn’t help but to wonder: did she measure up to his fantasy? She knew that he’d been pining for her for years, though more subtly in the past few of them, what with him having real relationships and all. But she knew—just like every woman knew—that every man wants what he cannot have. Unattainability is the sexiest aphrodisiac. Well, to men, anyway. For Buffy, it had always been the power she felt in the knowledge that she could control whether men got to have her or not. And now that she’d let Xander have her? She wanted more of him.
She’d never have thought it, that she would let him slip into the cracks like he did. She’d thought that they would have a little fling and she would have her fun (how very Faith-like of her, right?), and that would be it. But he’d gotten in there, in her mind and under her skin, with his intense worship of her body and the restrained need that he’d unleashed within her. With every man she’d slept with, there had been a give and take. The other men in her life had taken as much as they’d given whenever they’d made love/fucked like raging wildcats. But with Xander? He’d been. . . well, he hadn’t taken anything from her, instead fueling the fire and desire and longing that had been welling up in her for so long.
That moment, when she'd looked up into Xander's eyes, felt him moving along with her -- he'd shattered a wall of ice she'd long ago put into place. After Angel, and Parker, and Spike, and even Riley, she'd thought there was a part of herself that would be missing forever. But Xander... faithful, dependable Xander, by her side all that time, had been what she'd needed to be complete.
And, good God, the sex had been spectacular. Not just because, apparently, Anya hadn't been kidding all those times, but because there was just something right
about the way their bodies fit together.
And now she was getting wet. Damn it!
She needed to think about something else. Something else, something else. . . Ah, yes!
“So, Joel. Tell me about yourself!” she all but commanded, trying to hide it behind a perky smile and a light tone. She needed something
to get her mind off of making love to Xander.
Buffy could tell by the heated look his eyes that Joel was in no way oblivious to the undertones present, ground out: “Well, I live by myself in a respectable neighborhood, not far from where I work. I exercise daily, before and after work, no exception. As for what I do: I’m a Loans Officer at a New York Community Bank. Heard of it? Thought so. I enjoy reading and watching movies, though not in excess. My favorite foods are banana pudding from the Magnolia Bakery and Tri-Color pizza at Di Fara’s. My favorite song is Old College Avenue by Harry Chaplin. Anything else I can tell you, or do you even care?” he challenged, his irritation starting to turn to anger.
Buffy, completely aware—if not caring—of his ire, asked one last question: “Tell me about how you came to be dead.”
The sun was just shining over the peaks of the Colorado Mountains as Faith pulled her bike off the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, on a part of I70 that didn’t get too many passers-by. Flipping open her encrypted phone, she pushed Speed-Dial One, and waited as it rung the requisite five and a half rings. The voice on the other end was scratchy from years of cigars and whiskey as it answered, “What happened?”Shit,
she thought. “Hey uncle Niall. What’s the what?”
“Don’t you go all Ditzy Girl on me, Creideamh
! You know what I’m talking about! You failed me, and you failed the family.”
Though the cold dawn in the mountain reaches hadn’t penetrated Faith’s leather riding outfit, this old, feeble man’s words had chilled her to the bone. “What are you saying, Niall? You’re not going to give me another chance?”
The old man’s voice quavered in rage as it spat out, “You have ruined everything, fhealltóir
. You are no longer my niece.” Faith’s eyes lit with horror as he finished, “You are no longer family.”
Faith, who hadn’t cried when Robin had died, who hadn’t cried when she’d been stabbed in the gut by Buffy, incongruously felt tears stinging her eyes as she begged, “But Uncail,
I can fix it! I can kill him and make him stay dead this time! Please, Uncail
, give me a chance to make this right.”
The cold, hard voice of Faith’s only remaining blood relative sighed, whispering, “You know, I loved you, once. When I found out what your son-of-a-bitch father had done to my sister-in-law and niece, I put a bullet in his head. And you know what? It hadn’t hurt nearly as much as it’s going to hurt me to do this thing to you. Goodbye, Creideamh
Faith held the phone up to her ear long after the phone darkened and silence filled her ears and heart.. Solemnly, after what seemed like hours, she reached up with her other hand and flicked away the tears that had formed there, the brush of the rough leather against the delicate skin of her eyes bringing her back into focus. With cold deliberation, she took the flip phone in both hands and snapped it, crushing both ends for good measure.
She was gonna have to do this one alone, if she wanted to fix anything. She knew Uncail would send men after her, and she knew what she would do to them when they came. She would show Uncail that she finishes what she starts, and that he would welcome her back into the fold. After all, that’s what family was for, right?