She watched him silently for a moment. Something was definitely off here, worse than before. Anger and resentment were radiating from him and yet, looking at the sickly grin on his face, she could almost believe that nothing had happened and he was the same clown she'd met all those years ago. Why was he putting on this act? Did he really think he was fooling anyone? Then it struck her, he had almost succeeded in fooling her. Buoyed by her talk with Willow, she'd been downright positive when she'd reached his door and even his silence hadn't dulled her enthusiasm. It was only when she'd seen his silent struggle on the stairs that she had been forced to remember that things weren't okay - some things never would be again.
Her first instinct had been to go back and help but she knew he would have hated her for that, just as he would have hated to see the pity the girls had cast his way whilst he'd dreamt on the bus. So she'd fought against her impulses and waited until he was ready. If any of this was going to work it was going to have to be at his pace. She could point him in the direction to go but it would be up to him to
make the first move.
And make that move he apparently had, she thought as she saw his retreating form moving further away down the street. She had to run a little to catch up with him and when she did he barely acknowledged her presence. Matching his pace easily, they walked in silence for a few minutes before she finally gave in and spoke.
"So, you're cool with the whole patrolling thing again then? `Cause if not we could do something else if you want."
"Huh." He turned that sickly fake smile to her again, "I guess I'm your patrol man. Unless… what other wanton acts of debauchery did you have in mind?"
She regarded him coolly trying to work out just what was going on with him. His tone of voice was just too flippant but she couldn't fail to detect the bitterness underlying it. The grin stretched across his face but didn't quite reach his eye. Instead there was an almost manic glint there, a turmoil of emotions, which wasn't surprising after everything he'd gone through recently. Foremost amongst them was something she couldn't remember seeing on his face before - fear.
Xander Harris was terrified and that threw her completely. Even back when she'd been at her most screwed up and had tried to choke the life out of him, there had been no fear in his eyes; just determination, worry and shock. Now though he was genuinely afraid. Of her.
She could actually feel her heart sink as realised that but she knew this wasn't the time to wallow in her own misery.
"Cut it out." She warned in a low voice.
"Cut what out?" He asked with a seemingly innocent smile.
"This shit." She shook her head, "This whole goofy act, you're not fooling anyone. Look, I'm not asking you to pour your heart out, God
knows I'm never going to be anyone's idea of a counsellor but you gotta know that bottling it all up like this just ain't healthy. Trust me, I know."
The grin dropped from his face instantly and he became that blank wall again. When he spoke again the coldness was back, "You know? What the fuck would you know about it? After all this time, you breeze back without a care in the world and expect everything to be squared away? The others might have forgiven and forgotten but I haven't. You're not a Slayer, you're a killer and you'll never be anything else." She looked down at that. "I'm not some project you can take on so you can feel better about yourself. Just butt out."
"What?!" The incredulity in his voice would have been funny if this whole thing wasn't tearing her apart.
"Look, I've been there. I know you're hurting..."
"You don't know anything about it." His voice was so quiet, so unlike anything she'd ever heard from him that she was lost for words.
Shocked, she rallied as best she could.
"You think no one gets it? You think you're all alone? Well, I gotta tell you something, if you keep this up much longer you will be. No
one knows how to talk to you anymore; you're pushing all of your friends, all the people who love you, away. Cutting yourself is damn
easy, trying to reconnect? Harder than you'd ever believe." She couldn't stay, not now. Turning quickly so he wouldn't see the tears
welling up in her eyes, she walked away.
Why the hell had she opened herself up to this? She should have known, let anyone get close to you and you'll only get hurt - it had always been that way and she'd just been naïve to think it could ever be any different.
He was using his words as a weapon and they were cutting her deeply. That they had the ring of truth to them made it all the worse. She had come back hoping to gloss over her past and after bare minutes of awkwardness she was welcomed into the fold and held up as a role model. Her crimes had been forgiven without her asking for it and that had left her with a disjointed feeling. These people were more important to her than she could explain, even to herself, and she wanted things to be right with them more than anything, but even though things were good, she didn't feel like she'd earned it.
Since Sunnydale, she'd gradually set about putting things right again on the quiet. Giles had been the first and the belief in her he'd
demonstrated had been humbling and a little scary. He was giving her a chance to prove herself and that's all she wanted, well, that and not to let him down. Apologising to Willow had been one of the hardest things she had ever done but the redhead had accepted so graciously that Faith was developing a real taste for forgiveness.
And here he was - the man she had so wronged; the man she had tried to kill with barely a second thought; the friend she had turned away laughing as she did; the one person from whom she most wanted to earn forgiveness, and he was telling her she would never have it. The pain that caused was unlike any she had known. Almost as if a part of herself - hope for the future perhaps - had been torn away. But who was she doing this for? Who was she trying to help here? She realised that she was being selfish now, yes she wanted him to forgive her, but there was more at stake here than just making her feel better. She wanted to help him. Xander. He had to be her primary focus.
Steeling herself, she took a deep breath and walked back to where he was standing. Stopping directly in front of him, she forced him to see her.
"Xander. I'm sorry." She kept her voice low and tried not to let the short bark of derisive laughter hurt her. "I'm sorry for everything I
did back then. I'm sorry for the people I hurt, for the people I killed; I'm sorry for their families; I'm sorry for turning my back on Buffy and Giles; I'm sorry for never giving Willow a chance even before I lost it. I'm sorry for all of that. You're right, I don't deserve to be forgiven for any of it, what I did shouldn't be forgotten. All I can do is try to make as much of a difference as I can. I know it's not a set of scales, I can never make up for what I did but I have to try. Otherwise what's the point?" She held up her hand to forestall an answer. "Rhetorical question. So yeah, I'm sorry for all of the shitty things I did but the thing I'm most sorry for is how I treated you."
He snorted that horrid laugh again and snapped, "Yeah, well, nearly throttling someone like me shouldn't really rank at number one on the list of Faith's all-time biggest mistakes."
She shook her head. "Not that - although I am sorry for that as well, more than you know. No, you tried to help me, you tried to be my
friend when I needed one most and I threw it back in your face. Strange as you might find it, that's what I'm most sorry about. You
offered me a way out of the mess I was getting into and I laughed at you. I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well like you said. It's just skin." She'd thought his voice had been cold before but this was sub-zero.
"You don't mean that. Hell, I didn't mean that at the time - I was scared and out of my mind and I had no fucking clue how to get out of
the state I'd found myself in..." She trailed off as it finally hit her just what it was that was going on here, why this was all so important to her.
Looking up to see him watching her with something akin to puzzlement, she smiled softly and dredged up a five-year-old echo, "You're trying to hurt me, but right now, you need someone on your side." His sharp intake of breath signalled that he'd recognised his own offer now being handed back to him. She carried on, "Who'd have thought, after all this time, you'd be the one about to turn away a friend."
"You're not my friend, Faith. I don't know what you are, but you're not that." The coldness was thawing, leaving behind an almost defeated tone that she hated almost as much. Her heart lifted though, as she realised the fear was gone as well, he was still in turmoil but he wasn't frightened of her any more.
"So long as we're not enemies that's all that matters for now. We can work on the rest." She smiled gently and turned away feeling that
they'd finally made some progress when he called out to her. "Faith." She turned back, "I... I won't say I forgive you. I can't
forget any of it, but thank you for apologising."
Warmth crept over her; this was more than she'd hoped for. It was a small step, that much was sure, but it was a step nonetheless. He was letting her back in, at least part of the way.
"Faith?" She frowned at the suddenly strained tone in his voice.
"About this patrol, I take it you brought weapons?"
She spun to see what he was looking at. Vamps. Three of them, heading straight for them.