Previous parts can be found here
It hadn't taken long to find him; he was in one of the first places she looked. She wasn't surprised to find him in a bar; in fact she'd counted on it. It also was no shock to her that he seemed to have chosen the lowest dive this town had to offer. What was a surprise, however, was that he still seemed to be sober. She'd expected to find him well gone by this time and had been fully prepared to carry him back to the hotel. Looked like that wasn't going to be needed, yet. He regarded her coolly for a long moment before turning back to the bar to nurse a half-empty pint glass. That hampered her plans a little, if she was going to get anywhere then she had to get him talking and right now that wasn't all that likely without the kind of vocal lubrication provided by vast quantities of alcohol.
Standing framed in the doorway she was aware of the leers aimed in her direction, and part of her revelled in that – yup, she still had it. Gradually, however, her audience lost interest and, one by one, they turned back to whatever they'd been doing before she made her entrance. Most were solitary pursuits revolving around the basic principle of getting as much alcohol into their bodies as quickly as possible. There were a few groups of twos and threes – card players, gamblers, even what looked like craps in the back. She smiled at that hearing her own voice echo in her head, "I rolled the dice…"
Letting the door swing closed behind her, she took a deep breath and strode purposefully across the sticky floor to take a seat on the vacant stool on Xander's right, making sure he could see her. He looked pale, almost spooked
and she didn't miss the slight tremble in his hand as he put the glass back on the bar. She didn't think her presence was the cause, but given his current state of mind she couldn't really be sure of anything right now.
Not looking at her, he said snidely, "You really must be a masochist, Faith. Or are you just too stupid to take the hint?"
She ignored the barb and instead signalled the bartender, ordering a bottled beer for herself she added, "And whatever he's having." It was a test. If he accepted then she was in with a shot, if not, well then she might as well pack up and head on home. After a moment he nodded curtly and raised his glass to indicate another of the same.
Taking a deep swallow of her beer, she let the silence settle. She was used to being in her own company now, and could sit in silence for hours. He wasn't. It would have been easy money, if she'd had any to lay down, that he'd crack first.
She wasn't wrong.
"What is it you want, Faith?"
"Me? I wanna be rich and famous, able to get what I want when I want it without feeling all guilty and shit. Oh, and a Presidential pardon wouldn't go amiss. I'm simple that way." She took another pull from the bottle, still not looking at him. "What about you, what is it you want?"
"For none of this to have happened." It was so quiet that she knew his answer hadn't been meant for her to hear. He confirmed that a second later when he snapped, "For you to leave me the fuck alone. That's what I want."
"Well you're gonna have to learn to deal with not getting what you want `cause that's not gonna happen `till you wake up to yourself."
She watched out of the corner of her eye as he drained the first pint and stood.
"Well you're going to have to deal with my leaving you to it then."
Faith smiled tightly as she saw him take the second drink with him as he walked away. He wasn't going far.
Finishing her beer at a leisurely pace, she signalled for another before finally turning to face the room. The place wasn't exactly packed and it took her all of a second to spot him again.
Fresh bottle in her hand, she walked across to the pool table where he was silently throwing the cue ball against the far cushion and letting it roll back to him before repeating the action like a broken record.
"Rack `em up then." She challenged, "I'll make you a deal. One game, then I'll get out of your hair." The thud of the ball hitting the cushion stopped as he looked up at her. "Just one condition," she continued. "During the game, you let me talk – no interruptions – and you listen to what I'm saying." She faced him, hands on hips. "Deal?"
He glared at her, apparently weighing up his options, before reaching down to grab the rack from its hook under the table. Tossing it to her he agreed, "Fine, but you do the honors."
Smiling, she grabbed the wooden triangle out of the air and quickly laid out the balls. She grabbed two cues from the rack on the wall and held one out to him. "You can break."
He moved around the table mechanically, not once acknowledging her presence. As he lined up his first shot she realised he was over-compensating for his lack of focus. He'd be lucky to even hit the white like that. Before she could say anything, however, he shifted to aim a little more to the left. He looked up at her with malice in his eye and a second later the balls were careening around the table as he struck them apparently with more violence than aim.
She waited for them to stop rebounding and realised he'd managed to sink one in the madness of the break. Stepping back she watched as he lined up another shot and her eyes widened as she watched a second ball disappear into the corner pocket. Looked like she wasn't the only one who spent more time playing pool than sitting in class.
"Better talk fast," he taunted. "You've only got till the end of the game before your project walks out the door." The venom in his voice as he spat out the word project was lethal.
She pushed away from the wall she was leaning against and stood right at his shoulder as he lined up the next shot.
"You don't want to be treated like a project? Fine. Then stop fucking acting like one."
There was a thud and a dull rolling rattle as ball number three found its new home in the depths of the centre pocket.
"Cut yourself off from people if you want, it's your life. But the way you're doing it? You're like the fucking poster child for the Samaritans!" Thud, roll, top corner pocket. He paced around the table looking for the next shot. Faith followed, refusing to let him put any distance between them – this had to be up close and personal.
"Yeah, so you're hurting," she continued. "Everyone can see that, but I got news for you." Thud, roll, centre pocket. "You're not the only one."
He finally looked up at that, confusion plain on his face, before saying quietly. "Buffy." Faith breathed a sigh of relief, so he was listening to her after all.
"Yeah, B's pretty cut up right now, but she's dealing better than you might think. " Thud, roll. For a second Faith had seen something flicker in his expression but now he was back to the blank focus on the pool table as if it was the fucking answer to life, the universe and everything.
"I'm talking `bout Pip and Willow. Hell even Giles is pretty far gone even though he thinks he's hiding it." She softened her voice a little. "You might think no one gets it, the loss, but think about this for a second. They all lost their homes, their belongings. Every single thing that ever meant anything to them is buried at the bottom of a pile of rubble. Sound familiar?"
He nodded mutely, not looking at her. Instead he lined up another shot and she saw his hand shaking a little as he rested it on the blue baize. Almost ready, it was time to push the point home.
"You know, I caught Dawn bawling her eyes out yesterday because she forgot what colour Mrs S's eyes were? She's just a kid and she doesn't even have a photo of her mom."
"Is… is she okay?" His voice cracked a little on the question, maybe it was a sign she was getting through to him, or maybe it was just through lack of use.
"No, she's not. She's devastated. She's just lost everything and she's shutting down. But she will be okay, in time. Same as everyone else. And you know why?"
He shook his head, gaze still downcast.
"Because just like everyone else, she knows the people who matter are all in the same boat. Everyone's helping each other through this but you. You've pushed everyone away until they're too scared to even talk to you anymore."
He stood in silence for a minute, had she finally gotten through to him? She watched, frowning a little as he again lifted the cue and lined up another shot. Thud, roll. 8 ball, corner pocket. He'd thrown the game.
"You win." He said flatly and tried to walk away from her. This time she wasn't going to let him get away with it.
She grabbed his arm as he passed and said, "This isn't working, decide what the hell you want to do and do it. If you want to wallow in your own pity then fine, take some money and fuck off to wherever you want. No one's going to stop you, in fact, right now they'll be glad to see you hit the road."
He spun on her so quickly that she barely saw the blow coming. Lashing out with his cue hand he caught her square on the jaw splitting her lip and sending her reeling. Her retaliation was instinctual and she had him pinned against the pool table with the cue at his neck before she even realised it.
She watched as he glared at her and saw the rage on his face fade into anger. That she could work with.
"You don't get to tell me what to do Faith, your advice leaves bruises."
"You want advice? Go to Jeeves. Need a hug? Go to Red. Wanna have a heart to heart? Try B or Pip." She relaxed her grip, letting him stand. "But none of that's what you want is it? You've got that vibe."
"What vibe's that?" He asked, rubbing at his throat.
"Y'know, like you wanna get down and dirty and hash this all out. I'm your girl for that." She wiped at the blood on her lip and downed the remainder of his drink to illustrate her point.
He laughed derisively, "What, you volunteering to get inside my head so we can `share'?" He pantomimed quotation marks at that.
I'm already there buddy, you just don't know it yet – I saw the spark in you when you attacked. Faith smiled at her thoughts, she had her way in now. Aloud she said, "Last time I tried that I was at death's door and under the influence of some mystical drug."
"Gee, I'd love to help but… shucks, I'm all out of magickal pharmaceuticals. Maybe I can do something about the other part."
Oh yeah, you'd like that wouldn't you, she thought to herself. "It's okay, got both angles covered." She called across to the barman, "Mescal. Two glasses and leave the bottle."