This is a short chapter which was an absolute nightmare to write - the hardest part so far of the entire story. Blood, sweat and tears went into this one and a huge shout out has to go to Bill the Bloodless who basically told me the first draft sucked and then dealt with my tantrums in as gentlemanly a fashion as possible...
He's shaking, he can't stop it, but that's okay because he doesn't really want it to stop. Right now, it's the only thing reminding him he's human – alive. He knows the shaking is just an after effect of the adrenaline leaving his system. God knows he's been through it often enough, but never before has it left him feeling so empty.
It's as if the epinephrine currently draining from him is taking with it something indefinable… maybe it's his hope for the future.
Not that he had all that much of that in the first place. For the last six days, since Sunnydale, since he'd let Anya die… he'd watched from the sidelines as his dreams began circling the drain. There really was nothing to look forward to anymore, not without her. All he'd wanted to do was retreat into himself, but they wouldn't let him.
That they thought they were helping he didn't doubt, but their empty platitudes and tearful attempts at conversation meant nothing to him. How could they possibly know what he was going through? None of them had liked Anya, had loved her like he had. Maybe if he hadn't had been so numb, if he'd been capable of feeling something – anything – they might have reached him. But the truth was nothing made it through the shields he couldn't remember erecting. He was cut off so he was cutting himself off. It was for their own good really; they'd realise that if they'd only stop to think about it.
And then along came Faith. He'd thought maybe she was different. She hadn't wanted conversation, she'd been there when the enormity of what had happened had finally hit home. And since then, she'd been there in the background, not pushing, not forcing her way into his pain. He's not stupid, he knows she's the one who's been keeping the kid away from him. Maybe she remembered him asking what it felt like to kill someone. No, of course she remembered that. And it's not much of a stretch to work out who victim number one would be on his own personal hit list.
So, she's been looking out for him. He really hopes she isn't looking for gratitude or anything because he hasn't forgotten either who or what she really is.
He smirks a little, remembering the last time he said that about someone. He realises just what it is he's comparing her to. She's not a neutered vamp; he'd known more or less where he stood with one of those. No. She's far more dangerous. She's Faith. And he still has absolutely no clue where he stands with her.
He had thought he had her figured out; that she was just was using him as a prop – a handy project she could take on to show everyone what a good little reformed Slayer she really is these days. But then she'd called him on what he was doing pushing everyone away and he'd started to waiver; she'd brought him into a fight where lives were on the line, including hers. He'd begun to think that maybe there was more to her than the shallow surface layers. She'd trusted him to look out for both himself and for her by not keeping him at a safe distance.
A shiver runs through him as he remembers the thrill of the struggle, the driving need, the life that had flowed through him. And then she'd killed Anya.
He's not completely blind, he knows it wasn't Ahn, he knows she's dead and gone and there's no bringing her back. But the sight of Faith killing that last vamp had been such a direct mirror of his recurring nightmare that his tortured mind was having trouble separating the two.
A blast of noise makes him stop just in time to avoid being hit in the face by a door swinging violently open into the street. Someone staggers out, obviously not completely under their own momentum and he doesn't even try to stop the smirk as the guy lands on his ass at the kerb. Xander looks up to see where he is, definitely not one of the better parts of this little burg.
The bar he's looking into isn't the kind of place one goes for the atmosphere, no, this is the dark and smoky room variety, it's sole purpose is to provide its occupants with cover from the sky while they drink as much as possible in as short a time as possible.
It's the kind of place where a weapons check on the door would be obsolete as all of the patrons were the inventive kind who'd kill you as soon as look at you. They'd certainly do plenty of damage with their bare hands before even taking into account the usefulness of the copious amounts of glass around them.
In short, it was the kind of place no sane person would even think of going into, the kind of place he'd not have been seen dead in just a week ago. Xander smiles tightly and pushes the door open, meeting the hostile stares with his own. He walks in.