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Sleeper

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There are some conversations which you can only have in the dark.

He knows this deep down inside. He's known that in some way ever since he first found out the truth from Buffy years back. Oh sure, he'd heard Giles and Buffy talking in the library, but it never really sank in until he was down in the sewer tunnels under Sunnydale being chased by his undead best friend.

And now it's years later and miles away. He's not entirely sure that he's wiser, but at least he's learned from some of his mistakes.

Behind him, Faith stirs restlessly in her sleep. A thin humourless smile crosses his face. Of course, some mistakes just keep on repeating themselves. Naked, he leans against the glass door and stares out over the city before him. Not for the first time, he wonders at which point it all started going so wrong.

There are so many things he wants to say to Faith. So many important things. About him. About her. About the others.

But he can't get the words out.

~ + ~

Next day, he's back to work on the fifteenth floor of Wolfram and Hart. He has a big meeting that day, arranging matters to sort out a little dispute between two of their major clients. The senior partners want it resolved as soon as possible so that normal business can be resumed.

Funny. Before joining Wolfram & Hart, he never noticed 'sin' is in the very heart of business. His mouth quirks at one side and his assistants re-double their efforts around him. They know what his sense of humour has become.

There's a report of a possible Slayer sighting on the South side. He deliberately passes that one over to Wilson to be dealt with. There's generally an unspoken rule around here that certain matters should not be brought to his attention unless absolutely necessary. And Wilson…. Wilson's been getting entirely too cocky recently.

It's with great pleasure that he sees Wilson's face pale.

~ + ~

Faith's not there when he gets back.

He's not surprised, just… disappointed in a way.

In so many ways, Faith reminds him of a wild cat that's been partially house trained, capable of swinging from a tame kitten eagerly exploring her new place, to ripping someone's head off, and right back to a kitten again. He doesn't ask about her work with the Slayers, and she doesn't ask about his bosses. It's a fragile thing between them, which came about through a thousand tiny cuts and bumps in the normal ebb and flow of conversation.

But there are times when he wants to know so badly.

How the rest are.

But he can't get the words out.

~ + ~

It's THE meeting. Both heads of their respective blood feuding clans are there. Their little resource draining war will stop today. He's prepared for everything. His faithful assistants (because they know the blame stops with them) have been handling the previous face to face meetings. That's the way he likes it.

In so many ways, he's the power behind this throne at Wolfram & Hart. He runs this branch with an iron hand in a velvet glove, and sometimes the iron hand in the steel glove. When he makes a public appearance, it's normally for the biggest events possible.

Making his entrance, he sees they recognize him at once. Not, of course, that there are that many eye patch wearing lawyers in a two thousand dollar suit floating around in this place. But it's always nice to have your reputation precede you.

He recognizes some of Clan Giared at the back of the room – he'd dealt with a couple of them back when he was still with the Watcher's Council. They're the ones turning green at the sight of him. This pleases him.

"Good afternoon," he purrs. "My name is Alexander Harris, CEO of Wolfram and Hart New York. Shall we begin?"

~ + ~

She was back that night.

More tense and jumpy than ever before.

Faith walks around the apartment, almost prowling, something clearly on her mind. If she had a tail, it would be swaying back and forth non-stop. Not for the first time, he compares her mentally to the cat in the White Room. For the first time, he thinks Faith might have a chance.

He pours himself a drink, and waits by the small bar he had installed so soon after he moved in. He knows Faith in some ways so well now. Others… not so well. Faith still has depths that he doubts he'd ever have enough time to explore before something…. happens to one of the two of them. Right now, she's working herself up to do or say something.

He likes that.

When Faith gets that passionate about anything, it tends to spill over. And in their frenzied fucking (never love-making), he can forget for a few precious moments. He throws back the scotch and goes to make another. Faith's hand stops him. Pulling back his arm, she turns him gently to face her. She bites her lip, as indecision rages one last time in her eyes.

"Buffy's dead," is all she says, and his world falls apart. One. More. Time.

The glass in his hand is suddenly across the room, shattering into a thousand pieces against the wall, and he's a couple of paces away from Faith. He's not sure what he looks like right now, but he's never seen that look on Faith's face before.

Relentlessly, and with a predator's glint now shining in her eyes, Faith goes for the kill.

"The last thing she said…," and he wants to scream at her to hurry it up, "was 'Tell Xander I'm sorry'."

And again his insides clench with the agony of another loss, another friend that he'd never be able to sit down with and explain himself to. It's oh so automatic and very practiced by now, but he's still sure that Faith can see through the normal exterior he's projecting right now.

Staring at her, he realizes two things : firstly, that Faith is now the Senior Slayer alive, (and a small part of the back of his mind is disgusted that that's the top priority now) and secondly, that he really, really wants to tell her everything.

He stares back at her, his one eye unblinking, his breath coming in short pants. He can feel a little trickle of blood oozing down his hand from the glass. All he has to do is tell her.

But he can't get the words out.

~ + ~

The words flow ceaselessly the next morning, dictating the provisions of the new agreement between the two no longer warring clans. Every legal term trips faultlessly off his tongue, sly witticisms falling from his lips to re-assure them things will be fine from then on.

Before him, the new clan leaders rush to sign the contracts. He flexes his fingers carefully as he sits and waits at the head of the table, and notices a small spot of blood remaining on one hand. Cleaning it off onto the nearby towel sends a small shudder through everyone else in the room.

Time flies by as the final clauses are agreed upon peacefully. He only has to cough once to instantly remind them to come to an arrangement.

Behind them, the bodies of the old leaders cool on the carpet.

~ + ~

It feels odd, taking the afternoon off work.

It's been… what? Five years since he came to work for Wolfram & Hart. Five years since that evening with Giles…. So, about four years since he'd taken even a weekend off, and about two years since he'd last left the building. The penthouse on top of the building looks strange in the daylight.

And Faith looks even stranger.

It's odd how he never sees any of them in the daylight in his memories. It's always dark, at night or underground. And yet part of his legal upgrade was the perfect memory. Instant, accurate, total recall. So why won't he let himself remember the light? Is he that lost?

And Faith's still there.

He pauses there, inside the apartment and watches her out by the swimming pool. She's lying there on the sunlounger he never uses, sunglasses on, and a very tight fitting bikini. Black, of course. And for the first time, he wonders what she does during the day.

He can tell that she knows he's there, but patiently waiting.

In his turn, he waits at the doorway, sunlight pouring into the room and halfway up his body, warming him. He's always known that she was still out there Slaying whenever she went on one of her trips away, but seeing her like that in the harsh light of day, all the scars that he'd traced with his teeth suddenly jump out at him.

His scars are all on the inside.

Finally, she sits up and turns to face him. One arm raises up and waves him over to her. He stands there in the doorway, frozen in this unfamiliar warmth. There are so many things he could say, that he wants to say, that he needs to say.

But he can't get the words out.

~ + ~

Downstairs again, and everyone in the building is practically fleeing from him. He drags one of his faithful assistants along with him as he decides to do a surprise inspection of the building.

Two hours later, he's poked his nose into every meeting on two floors, causing one client (and possibly some of his staff) to have a heart attack, three people suddenly confessing screw-ups at his very arrival, and a trail of shocked and shaken staff behind him. It's amazing just how nervous people get when you sit in their meeting and say "Pretend I'm not here."

He grins suddenly, baring his teeth. He'll have to do that more often.

Halfway through the third floor, it suddenly hits him. All the stuff he'd pushed inside and ignored for years now comes flooding back. Returning to his office, he closes the blinds and pauses for a moment. Then he fires up the computer and sees what's become of them all.

He couldn't ask Faith.

Not yet anyway.

The data from Files And Records was as complete and up to date as ever. Buffy's death is gruesomely described from the beginning of their attack, to the rescue of the little girls (he idly wonders if she'd known they were out before she died) and even finishes with a photograph of her grave. It looks very familiar for some reason, and he stifles a grim chuckle as he recognizes it from Sunnydale. He's prepared to bet any amount of money that wherever this tombstone is, Buffy's body is not there.

The smile fades as he remembers the last time Buffy was buried, and why they'd want to play Three Card Monty with it this time round. Pressing on, he searches for more information.

Dawn. Now very high up in the Watcher's Council. Not quite his equivalent yet, but in a couple of years, maybe… Looked like Oxford had been good to her. Engaged to a Slayer's brother.

Illyria. Still at large, presumed to be in Africa somewhere. Amazing how someone so blue could blend into the background so easily. Still, if she ever did locate one of her few remaining places of power, they'd soon feel it.

Rhona. Died two years back, in a normal Slayer/Vampire facedown apparently. Huh.

Robin. Happily running the training school based in Cleveland, and the big Hellmouth expert now. Looked like losing his leg to that Mihves demon hadn't slowed him down around the school at all.

Kennedy. Still reckless and prone to diving straight through problems. He shuddered slightly reading the insane risks she'd taken during her last couple of Slaying gigs. Like Sunnydale-Faith with the brakes off and no sense of self preservation. And apparently still reacting badly whenever his name was mentioned. Files and Records really was most complete.

Andrew. Running a resturant in Phoenix of all places. Apparently doing a roaring trade. Who'd have thought the little twerp would have done so well? And not with a comic shop…

Riley and Sam Finn. No longer running missions themselves in the South American jungles, but training the new teams instead. There was a note on the file being generally concerned about the increased losses to W&H.

And Faith. He regarded the front of that file for a good ten minutes before finally pushing it away unopened. It wouldn't be right somehow.

But no mention of her. The one he wanted to know about the most.

Guess there was only one source of information left to try.

~ + ~

Night once more, and just how the two of them preferred it.

Back in his (their?) penthouse atop the W&H building, things seemed almost back to normal. The careful dance around the specifics of their day, the banal generalities of day to day living together, and the almost ritual fight for the remote control. As Faith happily switched over to watch Wheel of Fortune (an embarrassing habit she swore she had no idea where it came from), he settled down to making a meal for them.

And yet, things weren't normal. His attempted jokes fell flatter than normal, and Faith kept sneaking looks at him from the side. He might still have only one eye, but he'd had six long years to get used to feeling people watching him.

Later, as they lay in the bed, sweat drying on their bodies, he finally managed to ask "What… does this mean for you? Buffy's death, that is…?"

There was a long pause and he could feel her tense up at the unexpected opening. Then, obviously forcing herself to relax and think about it. "I'm really not sure," comes Faith's eventual less-than-reassuring answer. "It's not like I've ever been one for authority. Taking orders or giving them."

There was a rustle, as she reached for her pack of cigarettes from the side and lit one. She paused, lying on her back and stared up at the dark ceiling. "I made my peace with B a long time back, Alex. Maybe it wasn't the best friends forever thing she might have expected, but hey! It worked, and I didn't care too much to do anything much more 'bout it."

She took a deep drag on the cigarette and blew out a plume of smoke. "But if you mean what am I gonna do now, I have no fricking idea yet."

He felt cold, lying in the bed with her, yet not actually touching her body. "And what about…. them? How's…Willow taking it?" Saying her name out loud for the first time in years felt strange. Once there had been a time when they spoke to each other daily. But that was then. Before Giles's death.

Faith's head turned to regard him coolly. "She's still in her coma, Alex. And probably still will be for years yet." Another part of his soul broke soundlessly inside his chest, and he sagged a little deeper.

Coma.

Swell.

That explained a few things, didn't it?

He lifted up his right hand and held it in front of his face, regarding it with an odd detachment. Such a small thing really to have such an effect on his life. One small movement of his trigger finger five years back, and everything went spiraling out of control.

Sometimes he wished he'd never worn that soldier costume for Halloween. The memories and training it had given him had been invaluable at times, yes. Firing weapons, fighting unarmed, and infiltration. All abilities that had kept him alive over the years – particually in the last five. But at what cost?

"Kennedy still hates your guts, you know," said Faith almost conversationally. "She blames your joining Wolfram & Hart for distracting Willow enough to get her that injured."

Yeah. That he already knew, and in a lot of ways didn't blame her. Kennedy hadn't been there for the early Scoobie days, so had the ability to hate him in a pure untainted way. He envied her that in a way. He'd lost his black and white vision a long time back.

He looked at Faith who was regarding him similarly. This was the longest, most open conversation they'd had since she first turned up three years back and refused to leave. The senior partners had been intrigued by the potential of tempting the once rogue Slayer back over, and allowed things to develop. And he was fairly sure that the Watcher's Council, though not happy with Faith, were also taking a long term view about it all.

Suddenly desperate to stop thinking, he reached for Faith roughly, and threw her cigarette to one side. Burying himself in her warm flesh sped the night by and the darkness of sleep claimed him eventually.

He woke the next morning to find Faith packing her bag. Not the normal 'throw a few things into a hold-all to last for a couple of days' thing she did every now and then. This was a careful and deliberate looking around the apartment and taking the things that really mattered to her.

That meant one thing. She was going to the Council.

The new Senior Slayer was reporting for duty, and that meant they were done. She wasn't coming back.

It hit him then like a flash. He loved Faith. Really, honestly loved Faith. Not an Anya level cringe-half-the-time, massive-sex-sessions, lust-based relationship, but Love. And how typical of the Harris genes to only notice this when the woman involved is about to leave forever.

Scrambling out of bed, he quickly pulled on his boxers and hurried after her to the main room. She was there, taking what looked like a last almost fond look around the place. "Faith?" he asked, wondering exactly what to say to her.

How could you tell the woman you love that your last few years have all been a lie? That even if Willow's magic would let you, how do you tell her that it was all a way to infiltrate the very worst of your enemies? That you're a sleeper agent way out in the cold, unable to come in?

Yes, you killed Giles.

Yes, everyone left that went through Sunnydale now hates you.

But Giles was dying from the cancer anyhow, and it was his idea to use his death to sever you from the Scoobies. Wolfram & Hart were rising from their ashes stronger, meaner and nastier than ever before. Someone had to get in there and find out what they were doing. And after Angel's failed effort in LA, it would take a lot more to get inside than before.

But with Willow's magic to seal the true state of affairs from everyone else except Buffy and Willow, it could be done. Only the three of them would know after Giles's death. Only the three of them would carry the knowledge in their heads, unable to speak a word until Willow released the spell.

And so he'd shot dead the closest thing to a real father that he'd ever known, and left all those he loved behind to come to Wolfram & Hart. Using all his abilities to fit in and even prosper there. He'd been welcomed as a source of information, evaluated as a possible recruit, and eventually given responsibilities.

And now Buffy was dead.

And Willow was in a coma.

And the magic still held him there.

Faith kissed him gently on the cheek. "Goodbye, Ale – Xander," she whispered. "I've got to go now, and take Buffy's role on. And that means I can't have any room for shades of grey in my heart."

She turned and hefted her bag over one denim clad shoulder, then paused at the doorway. "I don't think you're a bad man, Xander – just someone as screwed up as me. But I can't do it any more. I guess I finally grew up enough to take the responsibilities seriously."

Faith swallowed, and looked him directly in the eyes. "I can't stay here, with you, any more. But… you could always… come with me?" she said, eyes moist.

He could say nothing. At a loss for words for maybe only the second time in his life. Not even sure what he could say to describe the void inside him without her, the knowledge that maybe someday, there would be someone waiting for him after it all finished.

He wanted to scream, to shout, to tell her everything about the choice he made five years back. He wanted to hold her, to hug her, to whisper sweet caresses into her ears.

But the words couldn't come out.

And as Faith sadly turned and walked away, Xander Harris knew he was damned.

~Fin~