Chapter 1: three months of hotel rooms (buffy)
The night before she and Faith were scheduled to leave, Buffy snuck over to the Calendar-Giles house and found Giles kissing Jenny on the front porch. A year or so ago, this would have led to awkwardness for almost all parties involved—Giles falling over himself to look respectable, Buffy nauseated, Jenny looking a mixture of pleased and embarrassed—but they were married now, and Giles kissing his wife wasn’t quite as weird as Giles kissing his girlfriend, so Buffy mostly just smiled a little and looked down to give them some privacy. Giles pulled away, gave Jenny a last quick kiss on the cheek, and murmured something to her about the children, to which Jenny responded by patting him on the shoulder and heading inside.
Buffy loved her own mom, obviously, but sometimes she was a little jealous that Willow and Xander and Faith all got to be Giles and Jenny’s children. These feelings never had enough time to take root, though, because Giles would always turn to look at her with that fond, proud look that she knew was only for her—much as he was doing right now—and she’d remember that she was always his kid too. “Last I recall,” he said, “you and Faith were leaving in the morning. Weren’t we all planning to see you off then?”
Buffy shrugged, smiling a little awkwardly. “I wanted to stop by and say hi,” she said. “In a non-goodbye context.”
Giles opened the front door and stepped inside. Buffy followed.
The living room was a little bit in disarray. Xander and Cordelia were packing Xander’s suitcase for Paris, and seemed to be in a playful argument regarding which terrible shirts he would and wouldn’t be taking with him. Willow and Jenny were packing up some of Giles’s books in an already-overstuffed suitcase, and having a cheerful conversation about magical theory as they did so. Faith, sprawled on the couch, was making no attempt to pack at all, and grinned hugely when she saw Buffy. “Hey, b,” she said. “Ready for tomorrow?”
“Just about,” said Buffy, fluttering her fingers in a shy wave as she followed Giles into the kitchen.
There was a photo on the fridge that caught Buffy’s eye and made her smile—a new one, from Giles and Jenny’s wedding, and the complete perfection of the shot made it clear that Cordelia had taken it. Jenny and Faith were laughing, Jenny’s arms thrown around Faith’s shoulders from behind, Faith’s head turned towards Jenny. They were both rumpled, dirt smudging Jenny’s cheek and Faith’s white shirt, but they both looked so happy—
Giles saw where Buffy was looking, and smiled. “They really do love each other quite a lot,” he said.
“No, it’s—” Buffy waved a hand, smiling a little herself. “I know that. I just sometimes—you know Jenny never used to smile that big till she became a Scooby?”
Giles’s smile softened, and he glanced quietly over through the open doorway. Buffy did too. Jenny was taking books off the shelves, laughing at something Xander had just said, and—she did look happy. Really happy. Buffy liked that.
“Would you like hot chocolate?” said Giles abruptly, going all pink in the way he did whenever he’d snapped back from gazing moonily at his wife.
“Honestly, that’s pretty much the only reason I came here,” said Buffy, swinging herself up to sit on the kitchen counter. Giles pointedly tapped her knee; she pretended not to notice. “And with marshmallows, obviously—”
“Buffy, do not sit on the counter,” said Giles, “I have enough trouble getting Faith not to do it, and if she sees you—”
“Then she’ll know I’m your favorite?” said Buffy, giving Giles a winning grin.
Giles rolled his eyes a little and took out the hot chocolate mix, beginning to work on a mug. “You are a world of trouble,” he said, but Buffy could see the small smile tugging at his lips. “I fear Faith won’t get any of her summer homework done with you and your bad influence.”
It was strange, but stuff like that didn’t sting even a little bit when Giles said it. From other adults, it had always felt like a knife to the gut, but Giles said it…laughingly, like the thought of Buffy being a bad influence was the biggest joke in the world.
“You know, I’m gonna miss you over the summer?” she said.
Giles looked up, a touched grin blossoming. “I can always write,” he said.
“I’d actually really like that,” said Buffy. “Can you tell me about England while you’re there? I only went once, and it was when I was eight, and all I remember was that I kinda puked on some guy’s shoes because I ate an entire jar of marmalade at the hotel when my mom wasn’t looking.”
Giles pressed his lips together, eyes sparkling with mirth. “Well,” he said. “Good to know you were always terrifyingly determined.”
“Oh, totally,” said Buffy. “The strength is mystical, but the go-getter attitude is pure, undistilled Buffy.”
Handing her the mug, Giles curled her fingers around it, resting his hands over hers in a way that kind of felt as big and meaningful as a hug. “I’m very proud of you,” he said. “You’ve come incredibly far in the last three years.”
“You too,” said Buffy, the words bubbling out of her exactly as she thought them. At Giles’s surprised look, she clumsily elaborated, “I—I wouldn’t have been able to grow if you hadn’t grown a little too, you know? I mean, the Giles I met would so not be okay with me and my girlfriend driving off on a summer-long road trip.”
“The Giles you met was also a Watcher,” said Giles, and made a little face. Buffy laughed.
“Giles?” said Willow, poking her head in. “Jenny wants to know—oh, hi, Buffy,” she added, giving Buffy a grin and a little wave. “Giles, Jenny wants to know if you’ve seen The Illustrated Compendium of—”
“Infamous Cursed Artifacts?” Giles finished. “Tell her it’s in our bedroom, she was using it to cross-check that article last week.”
Willow gave Giles a thumbs-up and ducked back out of the kitchen.
“Why do you need seventeen thousand books, anyway?” Buffy asked, taking a sip of her hot chocolate.
“Summer reading for Willow,” said Giles. “I’ve instructed my aunts not to teach her advanced magic under any circumstances, as they’re far too flighty and irresponsible to give her a proper and thorough lesson.”
“You think that’ll work?” said Buffy doubtfully.
“Oh, no,” said Giles, and grinned. “They’ll do their damnedest to prove me wrong. Willow could stand to learn a lot from them, but they won’t take it seriously unless they feel like their abilities are being doubted.”
“Sneaky!” said Buffy, giggling.
“Jenny says it’s not in the bedroom—” Willow informed Giles.
“Has she looked?” said Giles. Directing a wry, apologetic look in Buffy’s direction, he added, “You’ll excuse me, but my wife—” (he blushed, grinning) “—requires my assistance.”
“No big,” said Buffy. “I was really only here for the hot chocolate.”
Giles rolled his eyes a little, leaned down, and gave Buffy a quick, gentle hug, careful not to jostle the hot chocolate. “Do try to get to bed at a reasonable hour,” he said. “Your mum knows you’re here?”
“Uh,” said Buffy.
“I’ll phone her,” said Giles, letting go of Buffy to smooth down her hair. Following Willow out of the kitchen, he called in his wife’s direction, “Dear, if you had looked—”
And then it was just Buffy, alone in Giles’s kitchen with her hot chocolate. She was going to miss this kitchen, she thought; she’d been at Giles and Jenny’s house a lot lately, mostly to sneak in and see Faith and knock things over and inevitably get caught by Giles or Jenny anyway. But there was something really silly and wonderful about the subterfuge, even if it wasn’t necessary: it felt so deliciously normal, sneaking out of the house late at night for girlfriendly smooches. Patrol had nothing on Faith.
The girl in question stuck her head round the door, then grinned. “Watcher’s pet,” she said. “Giles gives me so much shit when I try and do that.”
Buffy scooted over on the counter; Faith hopped up next to her. “How’s that summer homework going?” she asked.
“Fair enough.” Buffy scooted closer to Faith, resting her cheek on her shoulder. She felt Faith’s arm slip around her side, and that now-familiar rush of warmth, and god, she was so looking forward to a whole summer with just this girl. Her girl. “You all packed for tomorrow?”
“Uh,” said Faith. Buffy couldn’t help but start giggling. “Stop—stop,” objected Faith, a laugh in her voice, “it’s under control!”
“Yeah, I can tell!” Buffy giggled. “That’s why you’re not packing right now, right? Because it’s all under control?”
“Y’know what?” said Faith. “I don’t want to talk about this,” and caught a laughing Buffy’s face in her hands, kissing her softly. “New lip gloss?” she murmured.
“Mm,” said Faith, a pleased little noise that might have been about the lip gloss but was probably about the kiss. “Hey, we’re gonna have three months of hotel rooms, b. You ready for that?”
“What?” said Buffy very loudly, jerking back and hitting her head on one of the cabinets behind her. Faith’s eyes widened, full of concern, and Buffy tried to tell her racing heart to calm the hell down already. “What—um, I—I mean, you—”
“Everything okay in here?” said Jenny, peering into the kitchen. Her worried expression gave way to one of mild annoyance. “Okay, see, this is why Rupert and I don’t want people sitting on the counters. Those cabinets are recipes for a head injury, and I feel like my husband already has the monopoly on that.”
“Ha ha,” said Giles from the living room.
“Sorry, Jen,” said Faith, hopping down from the counter with genuine remorse. Turning, she extended a tentative hand to Buffy, looking almost as though she expected Buffy not to take it. “And sorry, Buffy. If that was—I mean, we can take it slow—”
Jenny cleared her throat.
“Shit,” said Faith, coloring. “Uh. We were really just talking about, um, kissing, and, um, kissing.”
“You two are old enough to make those decisions,” said Jenny patiently. “I just kinda figured you might not want me in the room for them.” With a last “Don’t sit on the counters!” she hurried back into the living room.
Faith and Buffy were left in an awkward, nervous silence. Visibly steeling herself, Faith blurted out, “I-I don’t wanna make you feel uncomfortable, Buffy. I just—”
“Oh my gosh, no, it’s totally fine,” Buffy babbled, well aware that she was talking much louder than she probably should be. “I mean, I had sex with Angel, it’s not like this is something I’ve never ever done before, just—you know, it took me by surprise! But I would totally love to have sex with you at some point. Absolutely. One hundred percent.”
Faith had gone very pink. Buffy was just about to try and backpedal even further when she realized—
“Um, maybe shut the door when you’re having really loud conversations with your girlfriend?” squeaked a furiously blushing Willow from the doorway, and stepped up, firmly closing the kitchen door.
Buffy didn’t dare look at Faith. With a soft groan, she dropped her face into her hands. “Foot, meet mouth,” she mumbled.
“The last thing I wanna do is spin you round, baby,” said Faith gently, tugging Buffy’s hands away from her face. “And I didn’t mean for it to sound like—I just like getting to be with you, y’know? I like waking up with you next to me.”
“I have bed head,” said Buffy weakly.
“Eh,” said Faith. “Can’t be worse than mine.”
“Yeah, but you make it look seductive—”
Faith grinned a little, and leaned in, pressing her mouth gently to Buffy’s.
Except the thing was, all of a sudden, Buffy couldn’t stop thinking about it. They were in her girlfriend’s bedroom, Faith lying on her stomach with an arm thrown across Buffy’s hip, and suddenly Buffy was feeling ridiculous for not thinking about it. She’d honestly been so blown away by Faith—crushing on Faith, kissing Faith, being in love with Faith—that sex didn’t really even enter the equation in the same way it had with Angel. And how did two girls have sex, anyway? How was that supposed to work? Faith was the first girl Buffy had ever let herself admit she was attracted to—she’d never had to consider what having sex with a girl might be like.
Obviously Faith wasn’t going to press the issue, especially not now that Buffy had been so visibly freaked out about it, but—
But the thing was, Buffy couldn’t stop thinking about it.
She’d had sex with Angel. Obviously. Everything with Angel had always felt amplified and huge; he’d been her first love, after all. Sex with Angel had been like that—lots of big, scary, emotional moments, but most pervasive had been the sense of safety. They’d come together after a terrible, terrifying night, and in his arms, she’d felt protected. It had been the first and only time she’d felt like everything might really be okay.
Sex with Angel hadn’t really been much about the sex. More about the Angel. And it was a little weird thinking about it, now, without all the swoony emotional baggage that made Buffy want to drop everything and run into his arms. There was still that little corner of her heart that would probably always love him, but…
Faith snorted in her sleep, rolling onto her side and wrapping her arms further around Buffy, and Buffy felt herself smile. There were so many dumb, wonderful things that she loved about her dumb, wonderful girlfriend—lots of littler things that she’d found out in the few months they’d been officially dating. Faith snored, and she sometimes laughed so hard she wheezed, and she liked Red Vines and contact sports, and she’d punch anyone out to protect any Scooby, even Cordelia for some reason.
Being with Faith felt just as big as Angel, but in a different way. If Buffy was swept up in loving Angel, she was grounded by loving Faith.
Swoony romantic talk aside, though, there was the actual problem at hand: all of a sudden, Buffy was thinking about what it might be like to have sex with Faith, and it was like some door had opened in her brain that she couldn’t shut. Because Faith already made those soft, wanting little noises when they kissed—what would it be like to hear more of those noises, more drawn-out, more longing—what would it be like if she whispered Buffy Buffy I need you I want you I love you—what would it be like if her hands were against Buffy’s bare skin and—
Buffy whimpered, rolling over and hiding her face in the pillow. This wasn’t a problem she’d ever expected to have. She’d wanted sex with Angel in terms of Angel; she wasn’t used to wanting someone so badly that she burned with it, and she had no idea how to handle it. Especially not with Faith so close, making snuffly, sleepy noises, not when Faith thought Buffy was innocent and nervous, not when Faith was holding back for Buffy’s sake—
“Buffy,” Faith whispered, voice low and throaty in that just-woke-up kind of way. “Buffy, you okay?”
“Uh, yeah,” said Buffy, a little high-pitched. “Just—you know—excited! For tomorrow!”
Faith tugged at Buffy’s hip, rolling Buffy over to face her, and gave her a soft, slow, toe-curling kiss. She pulled away only to nestle her head in the crook of Buffy’s neck, letting out a sleepy little sigh that felt like an electric shock against Buffy’s skin. “Get some sleep, b,” she mumbled.
They set off pretty early the next morning, and since they were the first of the Scoobies to leave, everyone was there to see them off. Giles pressed a wrapped summer-vacation gift into Buffy’s hands (it was pretty obviously a book), Jenny, Oz, and Xander helped Faith with the luggage, Cordelia sort of stood around making snarky comments about what everyone was doing/wearing (which, Buffy was quickly learning, was her way of being friendly), and Willow tugged Buffy off to the side to give her a giggly hug.
“You and Faith!” she said excitedly. “Road trip! That’s completely the stuff that all the best rom-coms are made of.”
“About that,” said Buffy, and tugged Willow farther off to the side, pretending that they were examining the little patch of flowers Giles had planted a few weeks ago. She hesitated, then said, “Will, I think I might—um, I think I kind of want to—”
Willow turned a little pink, but still grinned. “I mean, I did hear you talking to her last night,” she said. “You were kinda loud. And flustered.”
“I know,” Buffy groaned. “It was terrible. I got all panicky, and now she thinks I want to take things slow, but now that she’s brought it up, I just—” She looked over Willow’s shoulder; Faith, wearing an obscenely tiny pair of jean shorts, was loading a particularly overstuffed suitcase into the truck with effortless dexterity. Oh boy. “Will, I like Faith,” she said helplessly. “And not just in the—you know, obviously she’s adorable and wonderful and the best girlfriend ever, but all of a sudden there’s a part of my brain that really wants to—um—”
“Jump her bones?” Willow finished, blush deepening.
“Yeah,” said Buffy ruefully.
Willow considered this. “I mean, I get it, a little bit,” she said shyly. “We came out at around the same time, you know? I think part of it might be because Faith is the first girl you’ve ever admitted you want to even kiss, and that’s such a long time to keep all that girl-related crushy stuff under wraps.”
“Yeah,” said Buffy again, emphatically. “It’s like it’s been all bottled up and now all of a sudden it’s there! And I never had to deal with that when it came to Angel, but now I’m feeling, like, a year’s worth of Faith-related feelings that I didn’t even know I had!” She huffed, frustrated. “And now we’re going on a road trip, and I’m going to have to spend the entire time not jumping her, because I’m pretty sure she thinks I want to take things slow, and she’s being so nice about it that I can’t just tell her I’m a total flip-flopper—”
“Um, Buffy,” said Willow, “Faith’s pretty much wanted to jump your bones since day one. If you tell her you’ve changed your mind, I don’t think she’s going to be all that upset about it.”
“Yeah, but—” Buffy sighed. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just really don’t want to mess this up.”
“You won’t,” said Willow, squeezing her hands. “You’re the least messy-uppy person I know.”
“What about Angel?”
“Totally extenuating circumstances,” said Willow emphatically. “You’re going to kill it, okay? You’re going to have a great summer and you’re going to have great sex with your great girlfriend and you’re going to tell me all about it so I know how to do it when I have a girlfriend.”
That made Buffy giggle. “You have fun in England, okay?” she said. “Make sure you get at least five embarrassing baby pictures from Giles’s aunts. I need blackmail material.”
“I heard that,” said Giles mildly, but he sounded more amused than annoyed. “Buffy, the car’s ready, if you—?”
Buffy hugged Willow, then Giles, then skipped over to the car to throw her arms around Jenny and Xander. Waving to Cordelia and Oz, she said, “I hope you guys all have an amazing summer,” and clambered into the front seat.
Faith tugged at Buffy’s arm, then, when Buffy turned to look at her, gave her a quick, smacking kiss—the kind of playful hello kiss that Buffy had always wanted. “You ready?” she said.
“The readiest,” said Buffy, and tried her best to believe it.
Chapter 2: the right guy (xander)
Sunnydale’s airport only did domestic flights, so Jenny drove Xander and Cordelia down to the airport the day that their flight was set to depart. Giles and Willow still had packing to catch up on, but they’d both kind of smothered Xander in heartfelt goodbyes before he left, so he didn’t at all feel abandoned by the notion of only Jenny seeing them off. Honestly, it was kind of the opposite.
“You packed everything you need, right?” Jenny said for the seventeenth time, hands resting on Xander’s shoulders like she only half-remembered that they were there. “Sunscreen? Extra socks? Spending money?”
“Jenny, I’m good,” said Xander, ridiculously touched. “I’m an adult now, remember? I can handle this kind of stuff.”
“Hmm,” said Jenny, who didn’t look entirely convinced. “Call me if anything comes up.”
Surprising both of them, Xander stepped forward and pulled Jenny into a hug. He was taller than her by a good few inches, now, and feeling the physicality of how tiny she was felt weird beyond all reason. Jenny was one of the strongest people he knew. “I love you,” he said; he couldn’t remember if he’d told her that before. He felt like she’d probably known already. “I’m gonna miss you a whole bunch.”
Jenny was smiling at him, assessing and affectionate in a way that reminded Xander a little bit of what he thought moms were supposed to be. “I love you too,” she said. “Spoil Cordelia rotten. She deserves it.”
“Damn right I do,” said Cordelia with satisfaction, tugging Xander’s elbow. “Now let’s go!”
Xander hesitated, then hugged Jenny again, because nothing really seemed enough after all that time she’d been there for him. And she hadn’t been great at it, not all the time, but she’d always tried her best—which was more than he could say for his shitty ex-parents.
“Xan-der,” Cordelia whined, “we are going to miss our flight!”
“Seems serious,” said Jenny, and stepped back, standing on tiptoe to gently ruffle Xander’s hair. “I’ll make sure to send you guys pictures from England—”
“Only if none of them are you and Mr. Calendar-Giles making out,” said Xander. “I get enough of that on a daily basis.” Waving goodbye to a laughing Jenny, he let Cordelia tow him away, leaning into her as they headed towards check-in. “Hey, Cordy,” he said suddenly, “you, uh, you know this isn’t—first class, right? I couldn’t—”
Cordelia stopped in her tracks, directing a deeply annoyed look up at him. “Xander, do you seriously think I’m that high-maintenance?” she said.
“A little?” said Xander honestly. At Cordelia’s glare, he elaborated, “It’s what I like about you.”
Cordelia’s face softened; she blushed. “Then is it okay that I don’t mind economy so long as I’m with you?” she said.
“Um, yeah,” said Xander, who was probably blushing too. “Yep. One hundred percent.”
Their flight left LAX in the afternoon, but Cordelia fell asleep almost immediately after the plane took off, seatbelt unbuckled so that she could nestle comfortably against Xander’s side. No one had ever sat with Xander like that—cuddled into him, trusting that he’d take care of things—and it made a strange anxiety rise in his chest as he looked down at her. Asleep, Cordelia looked so small, her hair falling to hide her face, her perfectly-manicured hands grasping tightly at his jacket.
He’d told her about the thing with Willow almost as soon as it had happened. He hadn’t intended to, initially—he had known Cordelia for years, and knew how hard she took betrayals like that—but Willow, after being prodded into telling Oz by Jenny, had firmly asserted to Xander that Cordelia really did have a right to know. So he’d told her, and she’d gone white, and she hadn’t talked to him for two days, and he’d been half-convinced that their relationship was over when she’d cornered him by his locker.
“Listen,” she’d said. “I’ve thought this one over long and hard, and you’re kind of the guy who gets caught up in the heat of the moment, right? I mean, you kissed me for the first time in the heat of the moment, and we honest-to-God hated each other back then. So I think I can give you a free pass, ‘cause you told me about it, but only if you can promise—”
Xander hadn’t even let her finish, he was too busy stumbling over all the different things he wanted to promise her and knew that he could. That it had been a one-time thing, that it would never happen again, that as long as they were together he wouldn’t kiss any other girls, that Willow was his best friend and a few wires had gotten crossed, that Cordelia was the only girl he wanted to be with, nobody else—and Cordelia had looked at him, eyes bright and shining and a little stunned, because that had been the first time he’d ever told her anything like that.
And that had changed…literally everything, because all of a sudden, Xander’s feelings for Cordelia had been out there and she’d known about them. But she hadn’t tossed them in his face, or laughed at him, or told him he clearly wasn’t serious—she’d kissed him, and she’d said very shyly that she kind of only wanted to be with him too.
Even now, Xander couldn’t fully understand why the hell she’d trust him like that. He’d made out with another girl. He’d come back groveling—he’d sounded so pathetically like his dad, even as he’d meant every word—and she’d trusted him. All that time spent hating Cordelia made him feel ridiculous; how the hell could he have not realized that he could never be good enough for her?
Cordelia stirred, then, jerking Xander out of his murky self-loathing. She gave him a small, happy grin, and it settled him: whether or not he was good enough for her didn’t matter. Not if he made her smile like that.
“Hey, you,” she said. “How long have we been up in the air?”
“Uh, about twenty minutes,” said Xander.
Cordelia made a face. “So what, only nine hours and forty minutes to go?”
“Do you wanna make out?”
“Xander!” said Cordelia, a laugh in her voice. “We can’t do that! This is an enclosed space!”
“If I recall, you seemed perfectly fine with enclosed spaces last year—”
“There’s a difference,” said Cordelia, “between a broom closet with no people and a plane with many people.”
“O-kay,” said Xander, grinning, and stole a quick kiss anyway. “So no making out. What do you want to do for the next nine hours?”
If you had told the Xander Harris of freshman year that he’d be starting off the summer before college playing Twenty Questions on a plane with Cordelia Chase, he’d have immediately wanted to know whether he had suffered some kind of traumatic brain injury. That Xander was kind of a dumbass, all things considered. Cordelia wanted to play sleepover games, and Xander always liked excuses to get to know his girlfriend a little better, and it was pretty ridiculously fun to just hang out with her.
“Is it a vegetable?”
“You asked that,” said Cordelia.
“Did I—oh, yeah, five questions back.” Cordelia wiggled her fingers, pointedly; Xander was down to his last four questions. “Um, is it—is it a fruit?”
“That was four questions back. Are you playing dumb with me?”
“It’s cute that you think I have to play dumb,” said Xander.
Cordelia whacked his shoulder. “Xander Harris, do not sell yourself short,” she said reprovingly. “I’ve had plenty of dumb boyfriends. The fact that we’re on a plane to Paris makes you the absolute smartest one.”
That made Xander laugh. He kind of wished they were at their apartment in Paris already, because there had been multiple times in the last few hours where Cordy was so Cordy that the need to kiss her felt like a physical ache. “Fine,” he said. “Is it a carbohydrate? And don’t play dumb with me, I know you know what carbs are.”
“Obviously,” said Cordelia, “I’m always watching my intake.”
“You know you don’t need to do that, right?”
Cordelia went a little pink. “You wouldn’t say that if I ballooned up to the size of the Yellow Submarine,” she said.
“I’d roll with it,” said Xander, reaching across the armrest to take Cordelia’s hand in his. “I’m dating you, Cordy. The pretty face is just a bonus.”
Cordelia bit her lip and smiled, eyes going all soft. “You’re totally getting some once we reach our new apartment,” she said.
“Some what?” said Xander, his voice squeaking a little in a totally manly fashion.
“Don’t play dumb, Xander,” said Cordelia. “And as it happens, it is a carbohydrate.”
“Some what, Cordelia?” said Xander, who had now completely forgotten about their game of Twenty Questions. “Is this because I’m taking you to Paris? Because I didn’t take you to Paris to—to—I’m taking you to Paris because I love you, that’s different, I don’t want you to feel like, like you have to—”
“See, that’s exactly why I want to,” said Cordelia, soft and earnest in a way the Xander Harris of freshman year would never have imagined she could be. “And if it helps, I haven’t—” She turned a little pink, then said, “I mean, you’re not the only one who has reason to be a little nervous. I’d kind of been…waiting. Till it’s someone I care about. So that first time after the Hellmouth opened again—that was my first too.”
Oh man. Xander thought he might have a heart attack. All those times he’d made fun of Cordelia for the guys she dated—he’d never have even considered that she might have been waiting for the right guy. And she’d dated football players, she’d been at the top of the food chain, she could have had any guy she wanted—and she wanted him?
“Are you sure?” he said quietly.
“Am I ever not?” Cordelia squeezed his hand. “Anyway. I just told you it was a carbohydrate—”
Xander leaned across the armrest and kissed her very softly, his heart fluttering. “I really love you, you know that?” he said shyly, a little floored by how much he meant it. “And I’m gonna get you a whole bunch of croissants in France.” Cordelia’s eyes widened with a mild, surprised alarm, one that didn’t seem entirely related to the sentiment of his statement, and something occurred to Xander. “Is it a croissant?”
“Damn it, I was so close!” said Cordelia indignantly, falling dramatically back against her seat. She turned onto her side, cheek resting against the seat back, and lifted the armrest again, bumping her knees against his. “Okay. Your turn.”
Xander thought. “Got it.”
“Is it a yellow submarine?”
“Just once,” said Xander, “just once, for the sake of my dignity, could you possibly pretend that you’re worse at this game than you are?”
“Nope,” said Cordelia, popping the P with a broad grin.
“Good,” said Xander, and kissed her again.
When it got late, they fell asleep cuddled up together, and woke up stiff and sore only when the plane landed. Cordelia was adorably mussed, and had hidden herself under Xander’s jacket by the time he’d fully awoken—which made getting off the plane a little difficult.
“Cordy,” he said patiently. “Sweetie. This is kind of part of traveling together.”
“I look awful!” said Xander’s jacket. “And you’ve never seen my hair when I’ve just woken up, it is not good—”
“Remember when you came back from the apocalypse with half your hair gone?” Xander reminded her. “You know, before you got that adorable Parisian bob to even it out? I still thought you looked cute then—”
“Love is blind,” said Xander’s jacket.
Xander pulled the jacket off before Cordelia could do anything about it, and his heart just about melted. She was right that he’d never seen her like this; her makeup was smudged to the point of being all but gone, her hair overly fluffy on one side and clinging to her head on the other. She looked younger, and softer, and nowhere near the perfectly-polished Cordelia Chase she let other people see.
“Xander—” said Cordelia miserably.
Xander caught his face in her hands and kissed her, pulling back to rub his nose against hers. “Cordy, do you have any idea how pretty you are?” he said softly. “Inside and out.”
“Shut up,” said Cordelia, grinning at him with that big, infectious smile.
Nearby, a flight attendant cleared her throat.
“Shit,” said Xander, and he and Cordelia hastily began throwing their stuff together. It took Cordelia longer; she was a lot more cluttered than Xander, and somehow half the contents of her makeup bag had ended up scattered around their seating area. “Sorry!” said Xander to the flight attendant, and waited patiently until his girlfriend had slung her oversized purse over her shoulder, then took her hand and tugged her out into Paris.
Cordelia stopped as soon as they were off the plane, taking everything in with big, wide eyes. Xander was too focused on her to really register the hugeness of the moment, at first, but when he followed her gaze to all the different shops, the signs in French—
I’m in Paris, he thought. Then, Whoa. Cool.
“Xander!” wailed Cordelia, who was pretty clearly still a little overtired from a very long flight, and cuddled into his side. “Xander, we’re in Paris, and I’m going to get to shop in Paris, and we’re going to be having sex in Paris—”
“Uh, Cordy?” said Xander. “Volume control?”
“I love you,” sobbed Cordelia, throwing her arms around him. Xander really didn’t mind her shouting about that, so he hugged her back, smiling softly into her hair.
They had had sex for the first time after the whole thing with the Hellmouth, when Xander had told Cordy he loved her and she had smiled all big and bright. They’d snuck up to his bedroom and shut the door, and Xander had thanked every deity in existence for his relatively soundproof walls, because Cordelia, predictably, was loud about what worked for her. Most of it had been the exhilaration of both of them being alive, and Xander had nervously chalked it up to a post-apocalypse buzz—a spur-of-the-moment fluke that might not happen again. He’d come to terms with that.
This was different, though. This was Cordelia looking at him with steady dark eyes, tugging him down onto the bed in the apartment they’d be renting together for the next year (holy shit, that sounded terrifyingly grown-up). There was no adrenaline rush—if anything, it was a little bit the opposite, given that they were both still kind of jetlagged. It wasn’t fast and urgent, but soft and slow, because this wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last.
Xander fell asleep pretty soon after, a combo of jet lag and that warm, comfy post-sex feeling, and woke up to find his head still pillowed on Cordelia’s stomach. She was stroking his hair absently, staring up at the ceiling with a small smile on her face; she turned her head to look at him when he moved up the bed.
It was dark outside, now, the stars just barely out. She looked so pretty at night. She looked so pretty all the time, really—more so, now that Xander knew the kind of person she really was underneath the makeup. “I love you so much,” he said softly. “I’m really glad we didn’t end up vampire food back in freshman year, ‘cause I’d have hated to miss out on this.”
Cordelia rolled onto her side, bumping her shoulder against his. “Me too,” she said.
“So how’s Paris been treating you?”
“I ordered takeout,” said Cordelia happily. “I had to use that English-to-French dictionary Willow got me.”
“Did you save me anything?”
“There’s probably some coffee,” said Cordelia, waving a dismissive hand. “But you said you liked me at any size, so I ate most of what they brought till I wasn’t hungry, and turns out I was extremely hungry so there isn’t a lot—”
She didn’t sound apologetic in the slightest, which made Xander grin. “I’m not that hungry,” he said. “We can always order more stuff. So are you gonna want to shop tomorrow, or should we go sightseeing?”
“I want to try more French food,” said Cordelia, settling into his arms. “You’re totally gonna be dating a submarine by the time this vacation is over.”
“Well, she’ll be the cutest submarine I know,” said Xander, kissing her on the cheek. She smelled sweet—all perfume-y and floral—and it made his kiss linger, then slip over to her mouth. She sighed, turning fully into him, and he felt a steady warmth in his chest: being with her was somehow the best thing he’d ever stumbled into.
Cordelia pulled back. “Do you wanna have sex again?” she said. “Because that would be nice, but we are in Paris, and I think a moonlight stroll would be so totally romantic?” It was one of her usual pointed orders, but it was also very clearly a hopeful question.
“I mean,” said Xander. “We’ll have to get dressed—”
Pulling herself from his arms, Cordelia all but scrambled for her half-unpacked suitcase, attempting to smooth down her hair and pull on her underwear and apply her lipstick all at the same time. No, not attempting, she was doing it, and succeeding. How the hell was she doing it?
“Xander,” said Cordelia impatiently, “if we wait too long it’ll be too dark!”
Feeling a nervous rush of excitement—the way he always did before an adventure—Xander followed her out of bed.
They walked hand in hand down the narrow Paris streets, Cordelia stopping every five seconds to demand Xander take a picture of her posed artfully against a brick wall, or looking back over her shoulder as she strolled, or sitting on a bench and smiling beatifically up at the camera. Xander didn’t mind. She was ridiculously cute when she was fussing about the right angle, and the way she looked back at him made it clear that half the joy in her pose came from just enjoying his company.
He was in love, in Paris. There was probably nothing more cliché. He was in love, so in love, with a girl who was light-years out of his league, and he was so fucking terrified of the day she was going to finally figure out how much better she could do than him.
Chapter 3: welcome to the family (willow)
hahaha don't look at me. this was supposed to be my Big Summer Project but....life happened....college started....and anyway, the braveryverse is Notorious for ridiculous breaks between chapters. y'all who have been following this 'verse long enough, though, know that i always, always come back.
anyway!! on to the calendar-gileses!
“Rupert!” shrieked a voice, and Willow was nearly knocked over by two brightly colored blurs. Giles, still extremely jet-lagged from the plane, was knocked over, and fell back against the wall as the blurs—attacked him? No, Willow realized as she squinted, they were hugging him, tightly, babbling over each other with delighted observations.
“Goodness, you’ve grown—”
“—how tall you are, just like your father—”
“—is that grey in your hair? How abhorrent—”
“—where is that new wife of yours that so deeply distresses the Council, we simply must meet her—”
“Thank you, aunts,” said Giles very loudly, attempting to wrest himself away from the excitable young women. It didn’t really work. “If you would please—”
“Oh, you’re not getting away that fast,” said one of them, pulling back to grin at Rupert. Whoa, thought Willow, and immediately told the gay part of her brain to please stop. Unfortunately, the gay part of her brain was kind of all of her brain, which meant that all of her brain was now taking in the fact that both of Giles’s aunts (aunts?) were extremely pretty. One was blonde, one was brunette, both wearing well-fitting sundresses and high heels that accentuated pretty much all their assets—
“Eyes front, soldier,” said Jenny from behind Willow. Willow jumped. “They’re definitely too old for you.”
“Buffy dated a centuries-old vampire and no one said boo,” said Willow petulantly.
“Listen, if you really wanna give Rupert a heart attack, definitely date one of his great-aunts,” said Jenny, patting Willow’s shoulder. “But they’re gonna be teaching you magic this whole summer, so I seriously wouldn’t recommend it.”
“Great-aunts?” said Willow disbelievingly. “They barely look older than me!”
“Thank you, dear,”said the blonde one, swiveling to give Willow a beatific smile. “Goodness, Rupert, what an adorable child! Have you and your new wife started procreating already?”
“Should we, Rupert?” said Jenny, looking extremely amused by the question.
Giles went very pink and started stammering. The brunette aunt, still hugging him, let go to giggle at his expression. “Good lord, you still do make that face,” she said. “I’d assumed you’d grown out of it by now.”
The blonde came closer, then stuck out her hand to Jenny. “Sophronia Fairweather, but I go by Sophie,” she said warmly. “Welcome to the family, darling.”
“Jenny Calendar—um, Calendar-Giles, now, I guess,” said Jenny, going a little pink herself as she shook Sophie’s hand. “Thank you so much for taking Willow on for the summer. It really means a lot to us.”
“No trouble at all,” said Sophie, a newly mischievous tilt to her smile. “Looking after your daughter ensures that our dear Rupert will be getting the intimate attention he deserves on his honeymoon.”
“Oh, he’s gonna,” said Jenny, grinning back. Noticing that Jenny hadn’t corrected the daughter bit, Willow had to hide a huge smile of her own.
“I like her,” said Sophie, loudly enough that Giles and the other aunt could hear. “Rupert, you were quite smart to lock her down.”
“No one locks Jenny down,” said Giles fondly, crossing the terminal to brush a quick kiss to Jenny’s temple. “The only reason she stayed was because I wasn’t fool enough to try.”
“So?” said the other aunt. “When are you two getting started on children?”
Giles made a few panicked attempts at answering before giving up. Jenny, unflustered, said with amusement, “Is this your attempt to rattle me, Aunt Lavinia?”
“Oh, he has told you about me,” said Lavinia, sounding pleased. “I rather think I like you too, Mrs. Calendar-Giles.”
As the adults continued to chat and banter and get to know each other, Willow’s gay brain (which was to say, all of her brain) noticed a flip of dark hair in her peripheral vision. She turned almost without thinking, and caught sight of one of the prettiest girls she’d ever seen.
The girl’s hair was dark, and long, which Willow had been expecting. What she hadn’t been expecting was the fact that this girl, even after hours on an international flight, looked almost artfully exhausted—a picture-perfect kind of dishevelment. Her hair was fluffy instead of tangled; her eyes were heavy-lidded but lacked the usual dark circles. She was wearing a sweater and jeans, and she was pulling an expensive-looking wheeled suitcase behind her, and—
And she turned.
And she saw Willow staring, and smiled. Sharp and appreciative, eyes giving Willow an up-down glance before a severe-looking older man called, “Kennedy, for god’s sake—” and the girl gave Willow a last little smirk, turned, and left.
Willow’s heart was pounding; she couldn’t entirely figure out why. Some part of her felt like she should follow that girl through the airport and ask her—why were you looking? What were you looking at? Were you looking at me the way I was looking at you? But that was ridiculous, she told herself. Ridiculous. She needed to get better at the whole lesbian thing.
“Will?” She felt Jenny’s hand on her shoulder. “Sweetie, did you hear me? We need to head back to Lavinia and Sophie’s place—well, Rupert’s place if we’re being technical—”
“I’m fine!” said Willow very loudly, terrified that she might be blushing. “Just tired! Just a little tiny bit tired from the jet lag, you know how jet lag can be, it can be so annoying but I’m fine—”
Jenny raised an eyebrow, smiling slightly, but didn’t press the issue. “I’m sure you can nap at the manor,” she said. “Come on.”
“Okay!” said Willow. Then, “Wait, what?”
Giles had a manor. An actual manor that he had apparently just never brought up. Jenny didn’t seem all that surprised by this, which Willow guessed made sense because Giles would probably have told her, but it was a multiple-story estate out in the country, with sprawling acres of greenery, and huge spiral staircases, and horses.
“You’re rich?” Willow squeaked.
“It’s a bit of a grey area,” said Giles sheepishly.
“It really isn’t,” said Jenny, a laugh in her voice. “He only doesn’t think he’s rich because the aunts live in this house and his dad has control of most of the money. I keep telling him that family-money rich is still rich—”
“Most of the Watchers are quite well-off,” said Giles awkwardly. “The Council is an extremely old, extremely affluent organization, and our family has been part of it since its beginning. It stands to reason that we’d see a good percentage of the returns.”
Willow was kind of having trouble reconciling Giles with this giant place. “Did you grow up here?”
Something in Giles’s face closed off, just a little. “Yes,” he said, and his hand reached for his wife’s.
“Oh, Rupert was such a darling boy,” said Sophie from behind them; Willow jumped. “Absolutely precious. I’ll assume, Jenny, that you’d like to see pictures?”
But to Willow’s surprise, Jenny didn’t seem all that interested in the concept. Her attention was entirely on Giles, who now looked a little pale. “You know, Sophie, I love that idea,” she said, eyes never leaving her husband’s, “but I think Rupert and I are both a little tired out. Is it okay if we drop our stuff off in one of the bedrooms and check in with you both a little later?”
“Oh—of course!” said Lavinia. “Rupert, I assume you know which room you and Jenny will be staying in?”
“I think my old room should be fine,” said Giles vaguely. “Yes. Thank you, aunts.” With that, he started up the stairs, Jenny on his arm. Willow couldn’t really make out what Jenny was saying to him, but she was talking in a soft, concerned tone of voice that made Willow more than a little bit worried.
“Is he okay?” she asked the aunts. Normally she’d ask Jenny, but the aunts had known Giles for long enough that maybe they’d have picked up on something too.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” said Lavinia, in that sweetly condescending tone adults used when they didn’t want to talk to kids about grown-up stuff.
Until that moment, Willow hadn’t realized how accustomed she was to Giles and Jenny answering her questions with as much honesty as they could. Being patronized was an uncomfortable feeling, and she didn’t like it. “With all due respect, great-great-aunt Lavinia,” she said, “if you’re going to be teaching me magic this summer, you’re going to have to respect me enough to give me honest answers.”
Lavinia blinked, then cocked her head, looking at Willow with a new interest. “Well,” she said. “I’ll thank you to never call me great-great-aunt again—it makes me sound horrendously old—but you might actually be a worthwhile protégé. I’m quite surprised.”
“Rupert isn’t all that fond of his home,” said Sophie, stepping up to Willow with the same intrigued look in her eyes. They were fascinated by her, Willow realized, and part of her very much enjoyed their scrutiny. The other part, though, the part that Jenny’s and Giles’s attention had nurtured, was quietly alerting Willow that they weren’t interested in her, just her mind and her magic, and getting attached to their approval wouldn’t do anything good. “He never was, not even as a child. We rather expected him to be a bit upset about coming back here, especially now that the Council knows he’s back in town.”
“What?” said Willow. “Why would the Council know? Giles said he only told family—”
Lavinia rolled her eyes a little. “Dear little Willow, we’re not his only family,” she said. “Rupert’s father got wind of his son coming to stay, and now he’s put some hare-brained scheme in motion to bring him back into the fold. You might want to alert your mother before—”
When she said mother, Willow knew she had to mean Jenny—but the lovely warmth of being Giles and Jenny’s kid, of suddenly being accepted as part of Giles’s age-old lineage, was dulled by a growing apprehension. “Before what?”
“God, this house is huge!” gasped Jenny, appearing on the landing of the front room’s spiral staircase. “Rupert just showed me the attic bedroom, Willow, I wanted to see where you’ll be staying. Can you get your things from the car and bring them up? You can use a levitation charm if you need to—” She stopped, frowning, halfway down the stairs. “Everything okay?”
Willow looked to the aunts, but they looked just as elegantly unassuming as they always had. Before what? she thought. And why won’t they tell Jenny themselves?
“Willow?” Jenny prompted.
“Um, fine!” said Willow hastily. “Fine.” She saw Sophie give her an approving, pointed nod, and tried to put aside the nervous, sick feeling in her stomach.
Willow told Jenny later. She hadn’t really wanted to do it in front of Giles’s strangely foreboding aunts, so as soon as all of her stuff was set up and unpacked, she navigated through the maze of rooms until she’d found an innocuous-looking door that was very slightly ajar. She knocked.
“Come in,” called Jenny in a loud whisper.
The bedroom was a little bit bigger than Giles and Jenny’s room back home, but Willow got the sense that it was one of the smaller ones in the house. It was cluttered, but in a teenage-boy kind of way, and Willow realized that Giles probably hadn’t been back here since he was her age. Someone had come in and cleaned up the room, but it was clear they hadn’t known what they were doing, because the books were stuffed haphazardly into the bookshelf at odd angles.
At first glance, Willow thought Giles was asleep; he was tucked into Jenny’s side, half-propped up on pillows, and his breathing was steady and even. But he lifted his head to look at her, managed a weary smile, and went back to his position, arms tightening around Jenny in the same way Willow had seen Buffy cuddle Mr. Gordo sometimes. Jenny looked a little wrung-out, but she seemed to be trying to smile for Willow’s sake.
Something felt really weird about them being here, Willow thought. She liked the aunts, but it didn’t seem like Giles and Jenny liked anything about their current living situation but the aunts, and that felt unfair. She was glad that Giles and Jenny would only be staying for a week before heading off on their honeymoon—right now, they looked like they really needed some kind of a vacation.
“Everything okay?” Jenny asked quietly.
Willow wavered. She really hated to be the bearer of bad news, especially when Giles and Jenny were both so obviously stressed as it was. But holding back from telling them would probably cause more problems in the long run, so she said, “Um, the aunts mentioned something that kind of got me worried.”
With her free hand, Jenny patted the space next to her on the bed. Gosh, that was a big bed. “Sit,” she said.
Willow did. Giles raised his head a little to look at her, his eyes full of a half-relieved affection. He counted her as something familiar and home-y, Willow realized, and that concept brought a lump to her throat. “So,” she said unsteadily. “Great-great-aunt—can I call her that?”
“It’s apt,” said Giles. “If I’m your family, so is she.”
“And we’re family?” said Willow, a flutter in her chest.
“No, Rupert played the Please Teach My Daughter Magic card with his aunts because you’re just some random stranger,” said Jenny, sardonic and loving at the same time. She reached up to brush a hand through Willow’s hair. “I know you’ve already got parents, but if you want…” She stopped, looking almost ashamed of herself for bringing it up.
“I know I’ve got parents,” said Willow, and snuggled closer. “They’re here.”
It had been years that they’d known each other, she thought. And it wasn’t like she was planning to call Giles and Jenny Mom and Dad, because those words kinda left an acrid taste in her mouth anyway. But Jenny had held her when she had cried through coming out for the first time, and Giles had made her hot chocolate when she felt like her world was ending, and—that was what parents did, right? Real parents? Willow didn’t really have a very good baseline for parenting, but she thought that Giles and Jenny were probably doing an okay job.
She looked up to see how they’d taken her pronouncement, and found herself entirely unsurprised. Giles’s eyes had gone a little misty behind his glasses, and Jenny seemed a little stunned in her delight. “Wow,” she said. “Okay. Just totally skipped a good eighteen years of the kid-having process, huh, Rupert? Got like three of them handed to us ready-made. Four if you count Buffy, but she’s already got a mom—”
“Is now really the time for quipping?” said Giles.
“I’m very emotional. Now’s definitely the time for quipping.” Jenny stretched out an arm, pulling Willow into her other side. Willow nestled in, grinning. “Anyway, Willow, you wanted to tell me something?”
Even the terribleness of the stuff Willow was about to say was softened by the warm, safe feeling she was feeling right now. Which said a lot, because that stuff was terrible. Willow swallowed, then said, “Great-great-aunts Sophie and Lavinia said something about some Council plan to get Giles back into the fold. And they said I should specifically warn Jenny.”
Jenny stilled, then turned her head to look at Giles. “Do you think—”
“Oh, they’re not going to go after you,” said Giles. His voice was laughing, but his eyes were steel. “Even if they were stupid enough to disregard the fact that you stabbed Travers, they know me well enough to know I’d rip them limb from bloody limb if they tried.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Jenny agreed, but she was still frowning a little. “If it’s not an attack, though—”
“I’d wager a guess at some sort of attempt at diplomacy,” said Giles. “And if it’s that, we can really just put it out of our minds.”
“Rupert—” Jenny began.
“Giles,” said Willow, “I really don’t think we should just—”
“There is no offer they can give me that I would want,” said Giles with a simple, steady conviction. “Not when my life is so full of joy as it is.”
Jenny smiled, tenderly, but the worry hadn’t left her eyes. Willow couldn’t help but feel the same way.
“What do you think they want from him?”
“Honestly?” Buffy’s voice was staticky, but the worry was still evident. “I have no idea. I mean, he really is happy, Willow, I don’t think they can buy him off or get him to leave Jenny or something—”
The thought twisted Willow’s stomach. “They did say I should warn Jenny,” she said. “What if the Council wants to try and convince him that she’s ruining his life, or something? What if he believes them? What if he breaks Jenny’s heart and leaves her not even a month into their marriage and sends us back home to Sunnydale and I can’t learn magic because Jenny’s heart is too broken to even teach anyone anything ever again? What if—”
“Will?” said Buffy. “Slow down. It’s not gonna be that bad.”
“But what if it is?”
“Look, you know Giles,” said Buffy gently. “You do. We do. He loves Jenny more than pretty much anything. Whatever they have to say about her is probably gonna end up with Giles punching someone in the face. The last thing he’s gonna do is break her heart, okay?”
“Buffy, I think about last summer all the time,” said Willow shakily. “All the time. She was so hurt when he left, and she didn’t have anybody to talk to about it. If that happens again—”
There was a knock on the attic door.
“Oh, I—I have to go,” said Willow, terrified that Jenny might have heard her. “Call you later?”
“I’ll use that spell Giles gave me to send you the hotel number,” said Buffy. “Don’t worry, okay? It’s going to be fine. I love you.”
“Love you,” Willow echoed, and hung up, then crossed the room to open the door.
Giles gave her a small, gentle smile. “I couldn’t help but overhear,” he said. “I must apologize.”
“Oh no,” said Willow miserably. “Giles, I’m sorry! I just meant—I really, really, really love Jenny—”
“Well, we do have that in common,” said Giles, reaching out to squeeze Willow’s shoulder. He stepped past her and into the bedroom, sitting down on her bed, and patted the spot on the bed next to him. Willow sat down, and he took her hands. “Jenny is of the mind,” he said, “that you will worry yourself to death over this Council thing if I don’t have a solid conversation with you. And after hearing bits and pieces of your conversation with—Buffy?” Willow nodded. “I can’t help but agree with her.”
“Jenny seemed worried too,” said Willow.
“Jenny is,” Giles agreed. “For different reasons than you. She is afraid that the Council’s attempts to win me over might end with them somehow hurting me through diplomatic action, and that’s the very last thing she wants. I assured her what I will again assure you: there is nothing I want from them.”
“But what if—” Willow swallowed. “What if it’s something we haven’t thought of?”
“I don’t doubt that it will be,” Giles said, and let go of one of Willow’s hands to give one of her pigtail braids a reassuring tug. “They are terrible men, but they are quite smart about attempting to get what they want. But Willow, they have not accounted for one thing.”
“What?” said Willow doubtfully.
Giles looked at her, eyes all soft and misty, and then he leaned in and pulled her into a hug. Startled, Willow hesitated, then hugged him back—and wow, he was a really good hugger, because all of a sudden she felt safe and secure. Like everything might really be okay.
Giles pulled back. “Whatever they have thought of,” he said softly, “it will not change how much I love my family, and that all my decisions are made to protect my wife and my children. That can never be altered without altering me, and the Council isn’t in the habit of direct mind control.”
That made Willow giggle, albeit a little wetly. “You promise we’ll be okay?” she said.
“Of course,” Giles murmured.
He was probably lying, Willow thought, just a tiny bit. But parents did that too sometimes for their kids, so she decided that this time she’d let it slide.
Chapter 4: good enough (faith)
just as a heads-up: some allusions are made to faith's life in boston, & her less-than-healthy, mostly-transactional relationship to sex before sunnydale.
The phone rang like seventeen times before anybody picked it up. As soon as the ringing stopped, Faith said, “Finally,” then realized with an abrupt jolt that there probably was some kind of a time difference. Whoops.
Oh, thank god. Jen had picked up the phone. Anyone else and Faith would have had to ask them for Jen, and then they’d know that she needed something, because generally you don’t call Jen if your long-planned road trip with your super-hot girlfriend is going perfectly, you call Jen if it’s going bad, and it was not going bad it was just—
“Faith?” Jen prompted, sounding less sleepy and more worried.
Faith glanced over at the closed bathroom door. Thank fuck Buffy took long showers. “Uh,” she said. “So. We reached our first motel just fine.”
“Okay,” said Jen, and Faith could almost hear that wry little smile in her voice. It made the situation feel a little better. “Glad to hear it. Hon, you know it’s three AM over here, right?”
“Yeah,” said Faith. She swallowed, fingers tightening around the receiver. “Yeah. Listen, Jen—” Fuck. How was she supposed to launch into this?
But then, by some goddamn miracle, Jen asked, “How’s Buffy?”
“Great,” said Faith, feeling a sense of helpless relief. “That’s the fucking—that’s the problem. Jen, we’re—I mean, she’s—” She took a steadying breath, then said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“How do you—” Faith glanced towards the closed bathroom door, then back again. “So I’ve had sex before I came to Sunnydale,” she blurted out, stomach churning in the way it had right after she’d told Jen she liked Buffy. Most people didn’t really have nice things to say about Faith having sex. “And B—I mean, the last time she had it, the only time she had it, it was somebody she really loved.” She paused, giving Jen an opening to say something, but Jen didn’t. Which made Faith brave enough to keep going. “And I’m not—I mean, I had sex with a lot of people, ‘cause sometime I needed shit from people that they wouldn’t give without sex. And B probably sees sex as some big lovey-dovey thing, and if we’re gonna have sex than I want to make sure she knows she’s getting someone who’s already—” She swallowed. “Um. Already been used. Or whatever.”
There was a long silence. Then Jen made this pained noise and said, “Faith. Faith, I—” And Faith knew Jen well enough to know what it meant when Jen was making noises like that: it meant that Jen wanted to wrap Faith up in her arms and hold her really tight.
Knowing that Jen still wanted that—that Faith’s admission hadn’t changed that—felt like enough of a hug in its own right. “I just don’t know what to do,” she said unsteadily. “B still—I mean, sex still means something to her. I don’t think it does for me.”
Jen made another little sobbing noise, then said, “Just—give me a second, okay?”
“Yeah,” said Faith dully. “Yeah. Sure.”
She heard a rustling sound, and then footsteps, and then, in the background, the muffled sound of someone crying very hard. The reception wasn’t that great, but Faith’s Slayer hearing was still able to pick up Giles’s warm, worried tones in the background—and she could imagine the scene, probably. Jen curling into Giles’s chest and refusing to tell him what was wrong.
Faith still hadn’t gotten used to someone giving a shit about what had happened to her. She felt like she was intruding, listening in on something like that, and so she set the receiver down herself.
Buffy poked her head out of the bathroom, wrapped in a tiny towel, hair stringy and wet. “Everything okay?”
Faith tried to smile. “Just calling Jen,” she said.
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Whoa,” she said. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, can you just, can you give me a minute?” said Faith uncertainly. “I think I really upset her. I’ll just—” She motioned towards the receiver.
“Sure,” said Buffy, now looking pretty concerned. She hesitated, then backed into the bathroom, and Faith heard the sound of the hair dryer switching on.
Faith picked up the receiver again. Now there wasn’t any sound at all. “Jen?” she said.
Jen drew in a breath. “Fuck,” she said. “Sorry. That was not very graceful of me.”
“You’re good,” said Faith carefully. “Sorry if I—”
“No, you’re fine,” said Jen firmly. “I just—” She exhaled. “I love you very much,” she said. “I think you know that by now. And sometimes it is really…it is so intensely hard to know that you’ve gone through stuff that I wasn’t there to help support you through.”
“We didn’t even know each other,” said Faith, trying to laugh.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jen quietly. “I hate thinking about you in that position.”
Faith didn’t entirely like the way that sounded. “I’m not some fuckin’ tragic heroine,” she said, a little more acidly than she’d intended. “Don’t act like I needed to be saved from sex, like I’m ruined now—”
“Faith, you know that’s not why I’m upset, right?” Jen’s voice was steady, now, calm and unwavering. “I’m not upset because you’ve had sex before. The choices you make are yours to make. I’m upset because you think that those choices have somehow made you less than Buffy.”
Somehow, when Jen laid it out like that, it sounded terrible. The thought of other people thinking that of her made Faith want to punch a wall—but some small, hurting part of her felt like it was true. Faith swallowed, leaning against the wall. “Haven’t they?”
“Never,” said Jen. “Never ever.”
“What if she doesn’t think so?”
Jen scoffed. “Then she and I are gonna have a problem,” she said, as if it were obvious. “Look, you’re not—” She took a breath, then tried again. “So you’ve had sex with a handful of people, right?”
“Why are we having this conversation?”
“Stay with me, Faith. It’s a yes-or-no question.”
Faith chewed on her bottom lip. Part of her felt like this might be a trick question—like Jen might just be waiting to pull the rug out from under her and gasp multiple people? And you so young? Shameful! But she still remembered how it had felt, months ago, when Jen had held her tight in that burnt-out factory building and whispered I love you too. She steadied herself, then said, “Yes.”
“Okay,” said Jen, a note of satisfaction in her voice. “Then you should know that every time with a different person is different. It’s not like your past experiences have anything to do with the way you feel about Buffy, right?”
Faith blinked. She felt almost like a weight had been lifted. “No,” she said. “No, they—I don’t even think about them when I’m with her.”
“Then I don’t think it matters whether or not sex is a big romantic gesture for you,” said Jen. “I think it just matters whether or not sex is something you’re interested in—” She coughed. “With Buffy. God, I hope Rupert isn’t up, he’d have an aneurysm if he listened in on this call.”
As if on cue, there was a series of crashes in the background, and then Giles’s voice shouting, “THAT WASN’T ME.” Startled, Faith started laughing.
“Poor baby,” said Jen, a giggle in her voice. “He loses absolutely all of his common sense when I catch him in the act.”
Faith was pretty sure her laughter was kinda transitioning into…fuck. Something else. She sniffled, roughly wiping her eyes, and nearly dropped the receiver. Holding it to her ear with her shoulder, she said unsteadily, “I just want—I just wanna be—she’s so good, Jen. How the fuck am I supposed to be good enough for her?” And that felt more like what she was really worried about.
“You are one of the best and bravest people I know,” said Jen, as though it was the simplest truth in the world. “It takes a lot of courage to be able to love people after you’ve seen the worst that can happen to them. The fact that you love Buffy as deeply as you do—that you’re trying so hard to be someone that she and your family will be proud of—”
I don’t have a family, Faith thought reflexively. But what came out, soft and shaking, was, “Do I have a family?”
“Isn’t that who you call when you’re scared?” There was a gentle laugh in Jen’s voice, and it warmed Faith to her bones. “Isn’t that who picks up, no matter what time it is?”
Faith exhaled, a relieved almost-sob, and fell against the wall.
“I love you,” said Jen. “Rupert loves you. I’m pretty sure Willow loves you too, at this point, which is pretty surprising considering how jealous she was of you at first, but—well. I think she gets it now.” Faith could almost hear the smile in Jen’s voice. “If you need me to tell you that you’re a good person, I will. A thousand times over. But I think it’s more important for you to remember that whether or not you’re good, you’re loved.”
“I miss you,” said Faith, surprised by how much she meant it. “I like it better when you’re here than when you’re not.”
“Well, that’s a glowing endorsement,” said Jen tenderly. “But as I recall, you have a pretty awesome road trip planned for the summer, and I’d hate to think of you missing out on it simply because you miss me.”
Faith grinned. “Yeah,” she said. Then, “Shit, B’s still hiding out in the bathroom!”
“I told her I was on the phone with you—” Faith winced. “Never mind. Uh, I should probably go, and…you should too, right?”
“As long as you’re okay?”
“Mostly,” said Faith honestly.
“Call me if you need anything,” Jen reminded her. “Anything at all. Even if you just need me to tell you how great you are. I am an excellent cheerleader.”
Faith scoffed. “You’re more of a football player,” she said, and grinned a little at Jen’s delighted laugh. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” said Jen, the last word broken off by a yawn. “Bye, honey.”
“Bye, Mom,” said Faith, and hung up very fast before Jen could respond. She hesitated, then knocked on the bathroom door. “Uh, B? We’re good.”
Buffy poked her head out, her hair now dry and overly fluffy around her head. “Is Jenny okay?”
Faith gave Buffy a small, wry smile. “She was mostly upset ‘cause I was upset,” she said. “It was a whole thing.”
“Upset about what?” asked Buffy a little nervously.
Faith hesitated, then took Buffy’s hands, tugging her over so that they could sit down on the edge of the bed. Talking to B felt a little less scary, now that she’d talked to Jen. “So you probably gathered that sex isn’t exactly a new thing for me,” she said tentatively. “And I, uh, felt kinda—like maybe you’d want someone more on your level, or something.”
“Are you saying that I’m not on your level?” said Buffy, visibly injured.
“No,” said Faith fiercely. “I’m saying there’s no way in hell I’m anywhere close to being what you are—”
“All right, Faith, I’m gonna have to stop you right there,” said Buffy, her face relaxing. “The last guy I dated was all about how much better I was than him, and you know what? It gets old. I think I wanna date someone who gets that I love them a whole lot, and that it sucks to hear somebody you love talking about how really, I should love somebody better. I love you, Faith. Okay?”
She smiled, sweetly earnest, and Faith felt herself smiling tentatively back. “I just thought,” she said. “Maybe you’d want someone better than me.”
“I hope Jenny told you that you were being stupid,” said Buffy. “Did she tell you that you were being stupid?”
“You know Jen wouldn’t do that,” said Faith, her smile widening into an outright grin.
“Well,” said Buffy, and squeezed Faith’s hands. “You’re being stupid, Faith.” She leaned forward, draping her arms around Faith’s neck, and kind of bonked her forehead against Faith’s. “But you’re my stupid Faith, okay?”
Faith had never been anyone’s before. Not like that. Her grin wobbled, and softened, and she leaned forward and kissed Buffy—and she didn’t feel that same unsatisfied ache as she did after patrol, or that half-bored pleasure that she had with other people back in Boston. Kissing Buffy felt like someone had lit a quiet fire inside her, warming her from the inside out. She felt safe, and happy, and—
“I wanna take things slow,” she blurted out, pulling back. The words startled her as much as they did a wide-eyed Buffy. “I’m not—I don’t think I’m ready to—I mean, we can cuddle and stuff ‘cause we’ve always done that but—” She swallowed, unused to feeling so nervous. “I wanna get used to the girlfriend stuff,” she said. “If that’s okay. Is that okay?”
Buffy blinked, then smiled, reaching up to tenderly tuck a loose strand of hair behind Faith’s ear. “You waited around for me to figure myself out, didn’t you?” she said. “I’m glad I’m gonna get the chance to return the favor.”
They ordered a pizza, and when it arrived, they spent the rest of the night dripping pizza grease onto the bedsheets and watching whatever was on cable. Buffy, as it turned out, had an adorable habit of criticizing the physics of action movies. “That’s not how that works,” she was saying. “Did you see the way his head snapped back? He’d have broken his neck if it had happened in real life—”
“Movie, babe,” said Faith patiently.
“How are you okay with this?” Buffy glared accusingly up at Faith. “You fight vampires, you know this isn’t how it’s supposed to go—”
“Cookie,” said Faith, “it’s a fuckin’ movie. If I wanted to break my brain tryin’ to figure out why the fighting doesn’t make sense, I’d have to break my brain tryin’ to figure out why all the ladies are running around in six-inch heels. Now—” She stopped. Buffy’s eyes had gone very wide. “What?”
“Did you just call me cookie?” said Buffy.
Faith blinked. She played back what she’d just said. “Uh, I don’t—I don’t think I did—”
“You so did,” said Buffy. A slow, delighted smile was spreading across her face. “Faith, am I yourcookie? Am I your cookie, Faith?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, I’m never gonna live this shit down,” said Faith, tugging Buffy closer into her side and doing her best to pretend she wasn’t blushing. “Listen, it was an accident—”
“What kind of cookie am I?” Buffy persisted. “Chocolate chip? Snickerdoodle?”
“Sugar,” said Faith without thinking, then felt her cheeks heat up. “And—and it’s not like I was thinking about it—!”
“Faith Lehane,” said Buffy happily. “Closet softie. Who’d have guessed?”
“I’m not in any closets, thanks,” said Faith, and punctuated her point by flipping her girlfriend into the pillows, pressing kisses to a giggling Buffy’s neck. She steadied herself with a hand at Buffy’s waist—
—and the mood shifted. Buffy stopped laughing. Faith pulled back, and saw the way Buffy’s lips were parted, felt Buffy’s breathing stutter as her hands reached up to brace against Faith’s shoulders—
Want, take, have, Faith thought—a motto she’d abandoned in Boston. For half a second, she was back in some sleazy motel room, pushing some nameless girl into the pillows, caught up in pleasure and warmth—and then she pulled back, shaking.
“Faith?” Buffy sat up, eyes worried. “Was that too much? If you want—”
“No,” said Faith, and reached out to grip Buffy’s hands. “I’m—fuck.” She turned back towards the television. Eyes trained on the screen, she said, “I don’t know if you’d have liked the girl I was before you met me.”
There was a brief silence. Then Buffy said, “Thing is, Faith, I did meet that girl.”
“Yeah?” said Faith stiffly.
“Total disaster hottie,” said Buffy. “Exactly my type.”
That surprised Faith into laughter—a warm, happy laugh that made Buffy smile too. She turned onto her side, nestling herself against Buffy this time. “I’m gonna get there,” she promised.
“And if you don’t, that’s okay too,” said Buffy gently.
“Don’t say shit you don’t mean.”
Buffy kissed the top of Faith’s head. “You know I don’t do that,” she said simply.
And the thing was, Faith kind of believed her.
They fell asleep cuddled up next to each other, the empty pizza box knocked gracelessly to the floor after a more successful makeout session that hadn’t ended with Faith flipping her lid a little. Faith fell asleep first, because she always did, and that night she had a really fuckin’ nice dream where it was Willow and Xander’s we-got-into-college party all over again. Only this time it was Buffy under the tree with her, head resting on Faith’s shoulder, fingers curling quietly into the sleeve of Faith’s leather jacket, and she was mumbling in a low, happy voice about their plans for the future.
Faith woke up in the middle of the night, because she always did, and realized two things: first of all, she hadn’t had nightmares in at least a month, and second, this was the first time she’d woken up to something just as good as what she’d been dreaming. It felt like this summer might go okay, Faith thought, and so she kissed the top of her girlfriend’s head and went back to sleep.
Paris was amazing. Cordelia couldn’t believe that she was lucky enough to have a guy who would freaking take her to Paris on a whim. Like, that was the kind of rom-com crap she’d always told herself she was too old and too experienced to believe in (no matter how much time she spent daydreaming about it in math class), but here he was! Taking her to Paris, holding her hand, telling her how pretty she was…it was everything she’d ever imagined as a kid.
Well, to be completely honest, she’d never imagined that her dream guy would be Xander Harris, but baby Cordelia had been pretty dumb sometimes. Not now, though. No, now Cordelia was intelligent, and cultured, and—
“OOH SHOES!” said Cordelia, tightening her grip on Xander’s hand to pull him to a stop. “Xander, look at those shoes!”
“Uh,” said Xander, squinting at the glitzy, glittery heels in the boutique window. “They look…kinda painful?”
“My mom always said that you have to suffer for fashion,” said Cordelia, eyes fixed on the way the golden sparkles caught the light. Those would go so nice with her little yellow dress, she thought, the one in her closet back home—
And then she remembered with a small jolt that she was living in Paris for a year, away from college and her parents, because her dad had run the Chase family into the ground. Her favorite clothing had been packed in two tiny little suitcases to bring to her and Xander’s new apartment. The stuff that hadn’t been packed had been sold to help finance this trip. The little yellow dress, the one she’d worn with the shimmery headband and the pink lip glossand the soft white cardigan, had been placed in the pile to sell.
Cordelia felt a strange sense of loss as she looked at the shoes. They belonged to a different girl, she thought. A carefree, careless girl. A girl who wasn’t holding hands with Xander in Paris, because the Cordelia Chase who had shopped ‘till she dropped would never have given Xander the time of day. And it wasn’t as though she wanted to be that girl again—that girl would’ve missed out on a wonderful guy—but she felt the absence of that girl, sometimes. It was a weird feeling to have.
“You okay?” said Xander.
Cordelia rested her head against Xander’s shoulder. “I don’t know,” she said absently.
Xander turned his head and kissed her temple.
Cordelia turned, eyes wide. The voice sounded familiar. Why did the voice sound familiar? She scanned the sidewalk, searching for the source of the voice. Old guy on his cell phone. Mom walking hand-in-hand with her little girl. Young man holding an ice cream cone, walking side by side next to—
“Margot!” said Cordelia, and her heart skipped a beat. Raising her hand to adjust her adorable red beret, she let Xander’s drop, hurrying down the sidewalk towards Margot in a way that she hoped looked at least reasonably cool. “Ça va?”
“Pas mal, Cordy,” said Margot, giving her a lipsticked grin. “Your French is a little better since last we met.”
“A little?” scoffed Cordelia.
“But not by much.”
“Hey—!” Cordelia couldn’t keep up the indignant façade for all that long. Moving forward, she pulled Margot into a hug, making sure to keep her black-and-white shirt away from the strawberry ice cream cone Margot was holding. Margot still smelled like expensive perfume, this close. “But seriously though. How have you been?”
“Cordelia, wait up!” A little out of breath, Xander half-tumbled towards Cordelia and Margot, steadying himself with an awkward hand on Cordy’s shoulder. The part of Cordelia that had wanted those shoes couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of dorky Xander next to effortlessly gorgeous Margot, but the bigger part of Cordelia—the better part of Cordelia—felt warmed by Xander’s clumsy sincerity. She leaned into him. “Uh, hey,” said Xander, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “You know these guys?”
Margot gave Xander a long look. Finally, and still with that delectable French accent of hers, she said, “My name is Margot Daniels, and this is my boyfriend Sebastian. Cordelia and I were briefly acquainted in Tuscany about a year ago, when both of our families were taking us on vacation. I assume you’re here again with your parents, chérie?”
“Um,” said Cordelia tightly. Margot had only known the cheerfully wealthy Cordelia; she didn’t know what Margot would think of the newly-penniless person she was now.
“Nah, Cordy and I are on vacation,” said Xander, and Cordelia felt a reassuring hand at the small of her back. God, she really was dating the perfect guy. “We’re spending a year in Paris together for funsies. I didn’t know she had any friends here.”
“Oh—well,” said Margot, “we met in Tuscany, after all. Exactly what part of France I was from didn’t really come up in conversation.”
Not a lot had come up in conversation, as Cordelia remembered. Margot had only been in Tuscany for a few days. The last time they’d seen each other had been Margot’s hotel room—and Cordelia had no intention of telling Xander about that. “Yeah, it’s really awesome to see you,” she said, giving Margot her biggest and best fake smile. It had been awesome to see Margot, at least at first—but the reality of the situation was sinking in, and all of a sudden she felt like she really needed to get out of there.
Xander’s eyes darted between Margot and Cordelia. “You guys wanna come over or something?” he offered. “Cordy and I haven’t really made any friends yet, and—”
Goddamn it, Xander. There was good, and then there was too good. Couldn’t he pick up on any of the tension? “Oh, it’s okay, I’m sure Margot’s busy,” hedged Cordelia, “she’s always jetting off to cool places like Milan or Tokyo—”
“Don’t undersell yourself, chérie.” And there was that drop-dead-gorgeous smile of Margot’s again—the one that had melted Cordelia’s heart a year ago. “I can always make time for an old friend.”
“So she seems cool,” said Xander when they got home, hanging up his coat on their newly-purchased coatrack and running a hand through the sticky-uppy parts of his hair. “Her boyfriend was kinda quiet, I guess, but that was probably ‘cause mostly you two were talking.”
“Xander, why did you do that?” Cordelia demanded.
Xander looked somewhat startled. “Why’d I do what?”
Cordelia let out a frustrated breath. There was no way to explain the situation with Margot without, well, explaining the situation with Margot, and she had no idea how Xander would take that. “She and I haven’t seen each other in forever,” she said instead. “The only Cordelia Chase she knows is the one who had cash to burn and shopping trips to make, and I’m not that girl anymore.”
“Cordy,” said Xander, patting her shoulder. “Money or no money, you know you’re still the same old perfect Cordelia, right?”
“But that’s not—”
Xander kissed her on the cheek. He didn’t seem to be actually looking at her. “They said they’d be over for dinner, right?” he said. “I should probably get started on making them something to eat. Giles taught me how to make this really awesome pasta dish, and I bought most of the ingredients for it last night.”
Cordelia took another, longer look at Xander. Something about the way he was avoiding her eyes made her feel like she wasn’t the only one here with a secret. “Xander,” she said, “are you okay?”
“You know me,” said Xander, giving her a lopsided smile. “I’m always fine.”
“That’s not necessarily true—”
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready to greet your guests?” said Xander, turning back towards the kitchen.
Cordelia let out a frustrated breath. Usually Xander was more willing to talk about stuff, and she couldn’t understand why he was acting like they were both sixteen again. But he was right—Margot was showing up pretty soon, probably with a whole bunch of sophisticated French friends in tow—and so she headed to their bedroom, crossing to her significantly smaller closet and opening the door.
Most of this stuff was more practical than fashionable, a fact that hadn’t bothered Cordelia until right now. Part of her knew that the concept of wanting to impress Margot was patently ridiculous, especially when she had someone as incredible as Xander in her life, but…she just didn’t think it was fair, that she’d had to grow up so fast thanks to stupid decisions her dad had made. She should have gotten at least a few more years to be vapid and self-centered and preoccupied with shopping. She missed the version of herself that had been cool, not…whatever it was that she’d turned into now. Xander wouldn’t have looked at this girl twice.
With a small, tired sigh, Cordelia began to undress, throwing her clothing haphazardly to the floor. She ran her fingers along the hangers, trying to find the best dress she could among the leftovers, and settled on a purplish one that would match her best pair of heels. “Xander?” she called, pulling the dress over her head.
“Yeah?” called Xander from the kitchen.
“Zip me up?”
Xander came in, wearing his special chef apron that he always insisted on putting on when he cooked. He wiped his hands on the apron, then stepped behind Cordelia, carefully pulling the zipper up. “You look beautiful,” he said softly.
Normally, that would have been enough to settle Cordelia’s nerves. But the fact that Xander had called her the same old perfect Cordelia hadn’t sat right with her, especially coupled with his unusual spaciness. “Are you okay?” she asked again.
Xander kissed the top of her head. “With you as my girlfriend, how could I not be?”
That didn’t make Cordelia feel any better.
Despite Cordelia’s worries about hordes of French socialites, Margot showed up with only Sebastian at her side, wearing an entirely different designer outfit that looked just as extravagantly expensive as her first one. To Cordelia’s great surprise, she took the apartment situation in stride. “Such a nice little place!” she said warmly. “So very—comment dit-on—” She snapped her fingers, frowning and mumbling to herself in French, then: “Cozy!”
“So I’m not the only one struggling here, huh?” teased Cordelia, taking Margot’s bags to set them down on the coffee table.
“Pfft.” Margot grinned. “This is Paris. I have no need to speak English here. If anything, Cordy, it is you who should be making the effort.”
“Hey, who’s the host?” Cordelia countered. “You’re on my turf right now.”
“And what lovely turf it is!” Margot agreed with a warm laugh.
Cordelia was starting to feel a little better now that Margot was actually here, especially since Margot was so freaking nice. She was used to the rich girls of California, the ones like Harmony and Aura who dropped you like day-old chowder if you weren’t cool enough—but Margot was admiring the dumb lamp they’d bought at a cheap furniture store down the street. “Adorable!” she proclaimed. “There clearly are benefits to living modestly—your apartment stands as a testament to that.”
“Oh, it’s all Cordy,” said Xander, giving Margot his first genuine smile of the night. “She can’t help but kill it when it comes to interior décor, no matter how tiny our budget.”
Margot chewed on her lip, looking a little nervous. Tentatively, she said, “Please let me know if I am overstepping, and of course you do not have to answer if you do not want to, but…Cordelia, am I wrong to assume that your financial situation has changed somewhat since last we met?”
Cordelia hesitated. Just as uncertainly, she said, “Yeah, it. It kinda has. My dad was indicted for tax fraud and my family kinda lost everything.”
Margot let out a soft breath. “I am deeply sorry,” she said. “That must have been quite difficult for you.”
“Yeah, well.” Cordelia managed an awkward smile. “It hasn’t been all bad. I have a really kickass boyfriend who’s willing to move to Paris with me just to make me feel better.”
Margot smiled back. “Then you have not lost the most important riches,” she said. “Sebastian and I, we are similar in that respect. He is my other half.”
“Oh, I don’t know if Xander’s my other half,” said Cordelia immediately. “I don’t really like the concept of other halves. I’m a totally great whole person even when Xander’s not around, and he’s his own whole person when I’m not there. I mean, sure, it’s romantic to think about someone who fits in your life like a puzzle piece, but at the same time, ech. What happens if your other puzzle piece doesn’t wanna stick around? Then you’re just left being half a person. Sounds gross.”
Margot looked mildly surprised, at least at first, but after a few seconds her smile returned with a vengeance. “I have missed your way with words,” she said. “You are remarkably quick-witted. It was what first drew me to you in Tuscany, you know—most people in my social circles are interested only in maintaining their image. You are wholly and completely yourself, and you expect others to accept you as such. I find that admirable.”
Whoa. How had Cordelia totally misread Margot? She’d been imagining a cutthroat French socialite who would jump at the chance to make fun of Cordelia’s apartment—but instead, there was this nice, smart girl who just happened to be rich. “You’re really sweet,” she said with a nervous laugh, feeling herself begin to blush. Goddamn it, now she was thinking about that night in Tuscany. And obviously she was with Xander and that totally wasn’t going to change, but—
“Xander is a lucky, lucky man,” said Margot finally, patting Cordelia’s shoulder. “And speaking of!” She turned, then, to Xander, who had been watching Cordelia and Margot talk with that same strange expression on his face. “Xander, oui? How has Paris been treating you thus far?”
“Oh, uh, pretty great,” said Xander with an awkward grin. “Kind of difficult considering that I can’t speak French, but Cordy’s been giving me pointers.”
Margot frowned. “How long are you staying?”
“We’re thinking a year,” said Xander.
“And you cannot speak French?” Margot looked genuinely worried. “That might prove difficult for you.”
“Well, I…” Xander trailed off, looking embarrassed. “I didn’t really think about it,” he mumbled. “Not till now, at least.”
Taking in Xander’s visible discomfort, Margot turned her concerned expression into a gently encouraging smile. “A romantic at heart, then,” she teased playfully, resting a hand on Xander’s shoulder. “So focused on sweeping dear Cordy off her feet that you forgot to account for a few things. Sebastian could learn a thing or two, I am sure.”
“Hands off my man,” said Cordelia, only half-joking. That was her Xander.
Margot made a show of raising her hands up and away. “So!” she said. “What shall we do tonight?”
Buying wine at the grocery store had made Cordelia feel so cool and grown-up at the time, but bringing it out in all its cheap glory made her feel a little ridiculous in front of Margot and Sebastian. Margot, of course, was totally fine with it, but some weird, awful part of Cordelia felt like Margot shouldn’t be. If the situation had been reversed—if it had been Cordelia with riches and Margot newly-poor—would Cordelia have been so graceful, so kind? Would Cordelia have kept her mouth shut about the cheap wine and complimented the tiny apartment?
She tried to settle her nerves by taking a sip of wine. It didn’t help all that much.
“You and your Cordelia will of course have to attend the upcoming Midsummer Gala,” Margot was saying to Xander. “Sebastian’s family hosts it at their mansion, and he makes such a big production out of it. This year the theme will be—what was it, Sebastian?”
Sebastian (who, Cordelia had learned, spoke minimal English but understood it pretty well) said something in French.
“Merci.” Margot pressed a kiss to Sebastian’s cheek, leaving a pink lipstick mark against his dark skin. “I am so forgetful,” she said with a laugh. “Happily-Ever-After is the theme this year, and so all the guests will be dressing as fairy-tale princes and princesses.”
“Oh,” said Cordelia uncomfortably, thinking back to her wardrobe’s meager offerings. “Um, I don’t know if—”
“If you and Xander would like to come over in a few days and look through my closet, I would be happy to host you!” said Margot earnestly.
Xander let out a small laugh. “Don’t know if anything in your closet would fit me, Margot,” he said, grinning, “but I’d be happy to check it out anyway.”
Margot giggled too. “Well, I have two brothers,” she said, “and one of them might be around your size. Our tailor can always make alterations—ah, Cordy, don’t make that face at me! Money is no object, and I appreciated your company in Tuscany last year.”
God, what the hell had Cordelia done last year to make this hot, sweet girl like her so much? “Well, thanks,” she said, and took another sip of wine. “On all accounts. It’s always lovely to get invited somewhere fancy.”
“If one has riches, the best thing to do is share them,” replied Margot simply, leaning slightly against Sebastian. He tucked an arm around her waist, looking at his girlfriend with a soft expression that reminded Cordelia a little of the way Xander had been looking at her in their prom photos.
She snuck a look at Xander, then, to see if he was maybe making goo-goo eyes at her too. But Xander’s attention was on his wine—not in a sullen way, just in a kind of spacey way. Like he was thinking about a problem that needed solving. “You good?” said Cordelia softly.
Xander snapped to attention. “Huh?” Noticing Cordelia’s expression, he gave her a sheepish smile. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry, Cordy. I guess I’ve been a little out of it today, huh?”
“Try a lot,” said Cordelia, remembered that they had guests, and added hastily, “But it’s fine and I love you.”
Margot giggled again. “You two are adorable,” she informed them. “Perfectly matched.”
“If only,” said Xander with a wry laugh.
“What was that supposed to mean?” said Cordelia, frowning.
“Cordy,” said Xander, looking at her dead-on for the first time since that afternoon, “if I was even half as amazing as you are, I’d be the James Bond of high school graduates.”
Something about that struck Cordelia as off. Margot made the appropriate little aww noise at Xander’s comment, and Sebastian smiled softly in Xander’s direction with the Smitten-Boyfriend kinship that smitten boyfriends with incredible girlfriends shared, but Cordelia couldn’t quite get back into the dinner-party-conversation headspace after that.
Sure, she was incredible. That wasn’t being questioned. But why the hell would Xander look at her without artifice and honestly say that he wasn’t even half as amazing as her?
yes cordelia kisses girls no i don't make the rules
Chapter 6: poison to the family line (jenny)
For the first time since meeting Faith, Jenny hadn’t been entirely truthful with her. It hadn’t been a lie, saying that it had hurt so much to hear Faith thinking of herself as less-than thanks to past experiences—but she hadn’t told the truth about why it had hurt. Faith hadn’t asked. Presumably, Faith had assumed that Jenny’s reaction had stemmed from the same tender feelings as always. Presumably, Faith had been too caught up in the terror of being honest to notice how unusually affected Jenny had been.
After Jenny hung up the phone, she glanced over at Rupert, who had been hovering in the corner of the room ever since she’d curled into his arms and cried almost without stopping. Without a word, he crossed the room to sit down next to her at the kitchen table, taking her hands in his. He rummaged quietly in the pocket of his bathrobe, then took out the Giles engagement ring, slipping it back onto Jenny’s finger—she always took her wedding rings off before going to sleep.
The warm family magic wrapped itself around Jenny, Rupert’s love for her made tangible. She looked up at him and said, unsteadily, “I was that bad girl, you know. I was the one no one thought would amount to anything.”
“Well, they were wrong,” said Rupert.
“They thought I was poison to the family line,” said Jenny. She dropped her head, looking down at Rupert’s hands. “It’s why they sent me after Angelus. They knew I’d never marry, or, or do magic—”
“And look at you,” said Rupert, leaning forward to rub his nose very gently against hers. “Doing both.”
Jenny didn’t smile. “When I heard Faith talking like that,” she said. She had to swallow a sob before trying again. “When I heard her saying those things. I couldn’t—I couldn’t help thinking of my family. They’d have talked about her exactly like that, and she’s—” She did sob, then. “She’s incredible!”
“Dear, I think this situation is a bit exacerbated by the fact that it is three in the morning,” said Rupert, taking Jenny’s face in his hands and brushing a tear away with his thumb. “I do understand that—that there are still parts of your family situation that might remain permanently unresolved, but the fact of the matter is…” He trailed off. “You are my family, Jenny,” he said. “You, and the children.”
“And your aunts,” said Jenny. “And your dad.”
Rupert scoffed. “Hardly.”
“And your aunts love Willow,” said Jenny, all but crying. “They dote on her. Do you know what my family would say if they saw Willow? They’d say you have a husband, Janna, why haven’t you started making children of your own? This is what comes of marrying so late in life—”
Rupert’s reassuring little smile faded into something sadder. More tired. “I am sorry that you miss your family,” he said unsteadily. “I—quite hoped—that the children and I would be enough to make up for that loss, but I understand if that’s not…if that isn’t the case.”
She’d hurt his feelings. This was coming out all wrong. “No, Rupert, I just,” Jenny tried, and gave up. She moved forward a little instead, tugging herself free of his hands, and tucked her face into the crook of his neck, breathing him in. She felt her breath stutter as she began to cry—quietly, so he wouldn’t hear—and he gathered her closer into his arms, stroking her hair, because of course he’d heard it anyway.
“Guys?” Willow’s voice was thick with sleep. “I thought I heard—” She stopped. Jenny couldn’t see Willow’s face, but she heard the tremor in Willow’s words. “Is Jenny okay?”
“It’s all right, Willow, we’ll all talk in the morning,” said Rupert, calm and warm in that way he was getting so good at. “Do go back to sleep, won’t you? Tomorrow’s a rather important day.”
Jenny waited until the quiet padding of retreating footsteps had faded, and then she raised her head. Quietly, she reached up, touching Rupert’s cheek. “Please don’t think you’re not enough,” she said softly. “It’s not a—it isn’t a question of enough. It’s just that I miss them a whole bunch sometimes, even though I can’t think of any people less deserving of me missing them.”
“I understand,” said Rupert. He rested his hand over hers on his cheek, leaning into her touch. “I suppose I just…” He trailed off, looking helplessly up at her. “I would give anything for you to be happy,” he said. “Uncomplicatedly, truly happy. I cannot think of anyone who deserves it more.” He grinned a bit. “Though the children deserve it just as much, of course, but I feel that that goes without saying.”
Jenny smiled too. The guy she’d married was a far cry from the guy who had clung to Council beliefs about Slayers and Watchers and emotional attachments; she treasured every reminder of that.
“I find the fact that your family threw you over so callously….completely reprehensible.” Rupert’s hand tightened over hers. “You are a treasure, Jenny. Never forget that.”
“With you around to remind me?” Jenny stepped into his arms again, bumping her forehead against his. “Impossible.”
Willow watched Jenny like a hawk at breakfast.
“I’m fine,” said Jenny. Willow didn’t take her eyes off of her.
“Willow?” said Rupert. “Jenny is entirely all right. Please focus in on your pancakes before you drip syrup all over your jeans.”
Willow chewed on her lip. Then she said, “But the aunts said—”
“Faith called early in the morning,” said Jenny. It was becoming clear that any attempt at evading the truth would come off to Willow as Rupert and Jenny hiding damage inflicted by the Council, and Jenny didn’t ever want Willow to have to worry about that for no reason. “She was dealing with some heavy stuff from Boston, and I got upset thinking about what she had to handle before she met us.”
Something in Willow’s face relaxed. “Oh,” she said. Uncertainly, “But Faith is okay now, right?”
“Of course, sweetie,” said Jenny, reaching across the table to rest a hand over Willow’s.
“On another topic,” said Rupert smoothly, pouring some syrup onto his pancakes, “what would all of you like to do today? This is, after all, a vacation, and I should like to make sure my daughter has some fun during it.”
Willow glowed. Jenny grinned. Since their conversation in his childhood bedroom, Rupert had been making a point to call Willow his daughter at every available opportunity, and it never failed to make Willow smile. “Um,” Willow said. “What are our options?”
“Well,” said Rupert. “We can explore the grounds on horseback—”
“That,” said Jenny immediately. “That. Let’s do that.”
“It’s not as romantic as you think it is, Jenny,” said Rupert immediately.
“Oh, you’re just afraid that my horse will be faster than yours,” teased Jenny.
“To be precise,” said Rupert, “I am afraid that you will drive your horse as recklessly and speedily as you drive your car.”
“Please. Anything is speedy next to your negative-two miles an hour—”
Willow coughed pointedly. Jenny and Rupert turned to look at her, and saw that she was clearly biting back laughter. “O-kay,” she said. “Are there any other options?”
“Holy shit,” said Jenny.
Rupert whacked her shoulder. “Don’t blaspheme in my library.”
The library was huge. Shelves of books extending to the ceilings, one of those slidable ladders that led to a platform halfway to the ceiling, simply because the shelves were so high that climbing a ladder to reach the highest shelf might prove dangerous—Jenny moved forward towards the nearest shelf, pulling a book free. A cloud of dust enveloped her. “AACK!”
“No one comes in here very often,” said Sophie, muffled a bit through the sound of Jenny’s hacking coughs. “And at this point, Vin and I have progressed well beyond a need for beginner spellbooks and ancient texts. Your wife would be the first to open a book from the Giles collection in…oh, how long was it since Alice passed away?”
“I’m sorry,” Rupert was saying, “no one’s opened a book in here since Mum died?”
“Well, Ru, you know your father preferred the Council collection—”
“Jenny, are you okay?” asked Willow anxiously.
Eyes streaming, Jenny pulled herself up. Rupert gave her that exasperated/smug half-smile he brought out whenever she did something stupid to herself and he thought it was funny. She stuck her tongue out at him. “I am great,” she said, wiping her eyes and accidentally getting more dust all over her face. “Learning so much right now.”
“You look ravishing, darling,” said Rupert.
“Oh, fuck you.”
“Do not blaspheme in my library—”
“Oh, you two are just precious,” giggled Lavinia. “I always did say, Sophie, our Rupert could only be happy with someone just as much of a spitfire as him.”
“Yes,” said Rupert, crossing the room to help dust Jenny off. “Spitfire is indeed an apt description of my wife. Disastrously destructive.” He pressed a dusty kiss to Jenny’s temple. “Do be careful with the books, dear, or you’ll choke on more dust.”
“God, can you imagine?” Jenny laughed, leaning into him. “I survive the vampires and the Hellmouth, but I get taken out by a dusty library.”
“You do need to build up your tolerance to this sort of thing,” teased Rupert. “You did marry a musty, dusty librarian—”
“Good lord,” said Sophie.
“Newlyweds,” said Lavinia knowingly.
“They’re like this all the time,” Willow agreed. At Rupert’s raised eyebrow, she turned pink. “Well, you are! I never said it wasn’t—uh—great-great-aunts, can you help me out here?”
“I already told you not to call us that,” said Sophie, flipping her blonde hair over one shoulder.
Still laughing, Jenny tugged Willow over into the hug. “So,” she said to Rupert. “How many of these books can we actually read without being attacked by dust?”
“Probably none,” said Rupert apologetically. “Unless there’s some way to clean up dust in half a second—”
Willow tugged on Rupert’s sleeve. “I mean,” she said hopefully. “There—there kind of is.”
Rupert blinked, looking slowly down at her. “Oh?”
“Can I, Jenny?” said Willow, turning big puppy-dog eyes in Jenny’s direction. “I’ve been really good, I’ve practiced just like you taught me, I’m responsible and everything—”
Jenny grinned. “Go ahead.”
Willow beamed, stepping away from Jenny and Rupert. “Ladies and gentle…dad!” she announced to the room at large, which made Jenny start giggling and Rupert choke on some dust. “Observe!” She then did a theatrical twirl, raising her right hand in midair. Blue-and-gold sparkles descended upon anything with even a hint of dust, pulling it towards the center of the room. (Jenny, now surrounded by sparkles, sneezed.)
When the sparkles cleared, the room looked gorgeous. Books covered in thick layers of dust now shone with a new luster. The curtains, once cobwebby and tightly shut, were now clean and drawn, sunlight streaming into the library. Even Jenny, now sans dust, felt a little more polished. “Bravo!” she exclaimed, starting up a round of applause. “Incredible! Now there’s that Calendar-Giles magical aptitude we’re so proud of!”
Giggling, Willow took a bow. “I accept tips in more spellbooks,” she said hopefully, eyes already scanning the room.
“Go ahead,” said Rupert. “This library is, after all, just as much a part of the family as us.”
“So it’s you, me, Willow, Faith, Xander, Buffy, and the overseas library?” quipped Jenny.
“Yes,” said Rupert very seriously. “And the aunts, of course.”
“And that’s it, then?” came a voice.
Rupert stiffened. Jenny frowned. The voice didn’t sound familiar, and it wasn’t like just anyone could get past the magical wards surrounding the Giles estate. So who…
“You list off your entire family, Rupert,” said the older man, stepping into the library, “and forget to mention your dear old dad?”
Edmund Giles wasn’t exactly what Jenny had been expecting. He smiled just as softly and easily as Rupert, and they both had the same gentle eyes. He too seemed ill-suited to be a cold, dispassionate Watcher, if the way he was treating Willow was anything to go on. “A granddaughter, then,” he said warmly, sticking out his hand to a wide-eyed Willow. “And a magically gifted one at that. Clearly my son is quite lucky to have you.”
Willow had gone pink, a delighted smile on her face. “Th-thank you, Mr. Giles!”
“Granddad will do just fine, don’t you think?”
“Thank you, Granddad,” Willow corrected herself, smile widening. “It’s really nice to meet you! Giles doesn’t talk about his family a lot.”
“I’d think not,” said Mr. Giles, eyes flickering briefly to Rupert. “Things between us have been…strained…for a while. I hope that that can change—”
“Not a lot can change in a week, Dad,” said Rupert stiffly. He was gripping Jenny’s hand tightly enough for it to hurt.
“And you must be the lovely Jenny,” said Mr. Giles, ignoring Rupert’s words entirely in favor of turning his attention to Jenny. Jenny felt her stomach turn over. She’d had so many bad experiences with the Watchers’ Council, she wasn’t prepared for Rupert’s father to reject her too—
“Clearly a woman with a good head on her shoulders,” said Mr. Giles. “Well done, Rupert.”
Rupert pressed his lips together and stared down at the floor.
“Um,” said Jenny, trying to catch her husband’s eye. Something was very wrong here. “Thanks?”
“I look forward to getting to know you more over the next few days,” said Mr. Giles. “Perhaps I might take the three of you out for lunch tomorrow? Or dinner, if you’ve already made plans?”
“The entire week is booked,” said Rupert without looking up from the floor.
Mr. Giles let out a small, disappointed sigh. “Rupert, really,” he said. “It’s only a dinner invitation. I know we haven’t been on the best of terms, but I at least deserve the chance to make that right—”
“Dad,” said Rupert, raising his head, “we haven’t spoken face-to-face in nearly ten years. I don’t seen how you can even begin to make up for that.”
“You did spend three of those years overseas,” pointed out Mr. Giles with a wry laugh. “Listen, Jenny—if you’d talk him into dinner, that would mean the world to me. You can make my son do just about anything, from what the Council’s been telling me.”
Something about the way he phrased that made Jenny feel deeply on edge. “Well, not anything,” she said, trying to laugh herself. “Rupert and I have an equal partnership.”
Mr. Giles laughed again, still gentle and unassuming. “You really do seem a lovely woman,” he said. “I hope you at least will join me for dinner. I should like to know more of the woman who captured my son’s heart. The Council’s account of you is, I am sure, quite biased and cruel.”
“Oh, you bet it is!” said Willow fiercely. “The Council doesn’t know anything about Jenny!”
“I’m sure they don’t,” agreed Mr. Giles. “I’d love to discuss that fact with my new daughter-in-law a bit more.”
“Edmund,” said Sophie, a strangely warning note to her voice.
Mr. Giles glanced at Sophie and Lavinia. “I should like to remind you both,” he said, still quite politely, “that my attempts to mend fences with my son are entirely none of your business. We did discuss this, didn’t we?”
Sophie pressed her lips together. Lavinia let out a long-suffering sigh.
“Are you done, then?” said Rupert.
Mr. Giles turned back to Rupert. “I’m not sure,” he said. “What are your dinner plans tomorrow?”
A long moment passed, during which Jenny felt Rupert’s hand clench tighter still around her own. Finally, an almost childishly hopeful note to his voice, he said, “You really do want to mend fences, Dad?”
No, thought Jenny. Every single alarm bell went off at the way her husband was saying that. No no no no no.
“Of course,” said Mr. Giles softly. “You’re my son. You mean the world to me, no matter what.”
Rupert swallowed, hard. “All right,” he said. “All right. Dinner, then. Tomorrow. Here. Jenny and I can cook something.”
“Jenny can what?” said Jenny indignantly.
“I’m glad to hear it.” Mr. Giles rested a hand on his son’s shoulder, then let it drop. “I have some Council-related business to attend to today, so I really must go now,” he said. “Thank you very much for hearing me out. I deeply appreciate it, and I hope that this can be a new beginning for both of us.”
“Yes,” said Rupert. His eyes were fixed all but helplessly on his father. “Yes. Myself as well.”
As soon as Mr. Giles had left the premises, and as soon as Willow was sufficiently distracted by the spellbooks in the library, Jenny yanked Rupert upstairs and into his childhood bedroom, shutting the door behind them. “Okay,” she said. “Clearly I’m not the only one with family baggage. Rupert, we need to talk about this.”
“I don’t see what there is to talk about,” said Rupert stiffly. The way he was holding himself—god, it reminded her of when she’d first met him. It had been years since she’d seen him this closed-off.
“What’s going on between you and your dad?”
Rupert didn’t answer.
Jenny let out a frustrated breath. “We’re married,” she said. “I promised you in my vows that I’d always be there to hold you. How can I do that if you’re not telling me what’s wrong?”
After a long, painful silence, Rupert sat down on the bed, still tightly gripping Jenny’s hand. She sat down next to him. In a quiet, choked voice, he said, “Jenny, I so badly want him to understand how much I have always valued his good opinion, and how little he has ever valued me. If there is a chance that he has changed—”
Jenny swallowed. “Oh,” she said. This didn’t feel like something easily untangled. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Just…” Rupert swallowed. “Just give him a chance,” he said. “At dinner tomorrow. Give him a chance to make things up to all of us. I don’t know what he’s trying to do, but I think there’s a possibility that it could be something good. He likes Willow, he clearly thinks highly of you…” He trailed off, letting his head fall to rest against Jenny’s shoulder.
Jenny reached up with her free hand, gently stroking his hair. “And if it’s not good, you’re still my family, okay?” she said very softly. “It goes both ways. Don’t forget that.”
Rupert let out a sobbing breath and kissed her shoulder.
Chapter 7: healing (buffy)
For a stupidly long time, Buffy’s life had felt so automated: school, training with Giles, home, midnight patrol, home before Mom woke up, school again. It had almost felt like if she’d stepped outside and left it, her life would have kept going without her, chugging along like some well-oiled machine. But she and Faith had very pointedly decided not to draw up a plan for the road trip, choosing instead to drive aimlessly and stop at places that interested them, and it was the first time in a very long while that Buffy was waking up not knowing what the day would bring.
Faith was the best company for days like that. She was old hat at unpredictable traveling, which meant that she’d come up with lots of different ways to make even long car rides fun. “How many cows have we seen?” she inquired from the driver’s seat.
“Uh,” said Buffy, and checked her notepad. “Seven.”
“If we see ten before the next gas station—” Faith tapped her finger against her chin, considering, then said, “You gotta make out with me at the hotel.”
“That’s gonna happen anyway,” giggled Buffy.
“I know,” said Faith. “Low-stakes bet.”
“Aren’t you a high-stakes girl?”
“Stakes don’t need to be high when you’re in love,” said Faith, giving Buffy a surprisingly soft-eyed glance through her lashes. “Did I tell you how pretty the sun looks in your hair today?”
“You say that every day,” said Buffy happily, leaning back in the seat. “Oh—eight! If we don’t see ten, though, we have to stop at the gas station for ice cream.”
“That’s gonna happen anyway,” said Faith, grinning at the open road.
“Low-stakes bet,” Buffy volleyed back, placing her hand over Faith’s on the steering wheel.
Hey, Calendar-Gileses! (This includes Willow, obviously.)
I know Giles said you guys would probably be really busy in England and you and Jenny will write longer, better letters after you’ve dropped Willow off, but I don’t mind it if all I get in reply to this letter is a two-sentence postcard. I’ve kinda started missing everyone. You three, Xander, Oz…heck, even Cordelia. Can you believe Cordelia’s on this list? I’m in shock. It’s a total bummer that she and Xander are gonna be living in Paris for at least a year. Anyway, it’s late at night, Faith and I are driving to Who Knows Where, and she thinks I should go to sleep but I kinda wanted to write you. Even though I know it’s gonna be a while before you all read this, it makes me feel really happy to know that you will at some point.
I’m sending Giles and Jenny some pictures for the family album: I took a whole bunch of Faith. Most of them are from this weird roadside antique store we went to yesterday. She tried on this really old feather boa and some sunglasses and put on a funny accent like some movie star from the twenties, and the lady behind the counter kept on trying to shoot her disapproving looks, but she’d just pretend she couldn’t see all the death glares.
Also a few of them are from the night we parked the car by the side of the road and stargazed. I took a lot of blurry, dark shots of Faith and they mostly ended up coming out like conspiracy-theory Loch Ness Monster pictures, but her pictures of me turned out pretty okay. She’s making me send them to you guys because she says that you don’t have enough pictures of me and I’m part of the family too. I hope that’s true.
ALSO this paragraph is for Giles: can we get a puppy or a kitten or something? Faith wants to know. I know my mom won’t let me keep a kitten in the house so it’s gotta stay with you and Jenny. I’m bringing this up because we keep on driving through towns with pet shops and animal shelters and the kittens and the puppies are SO CUTE. Faith doesn’t wanna just spring a baby animal on you and Jenny when you get back from your honeymoon, though, ‘cause she says that’s a “dick move,” but she’s making me ask you specifically because she knows Jenny will just say yes without asking you. She and Jenny have apparently had lots of conversations about dogs.
ANYWAY please please please tell me about England when you get this! How’s the family? Is Willow settling in okay? I JUST MISS YOU GUYS A LOT. EVEN THOUGH I’M HAVING FUN I STILL MISS YOU GUYS A LOT.
xoxoxoxoxoxox LOTS OF LOVE,
The tenth cow was spotted just as they were pulling into the gas station. Buffy let out a theatrically disappointed huff, and Faith giggled, kissing her on the cheek before hopping out of the car. Buffy watched her go for a second or two, feeling all soft and fluttery: she’d heard Faith laugh, but she’d never heard Faith laugh like that. Warm, and unguarded, and uncomplicatedly happy.
And hard as it was to deal with how much she was suddenly noticing how pretty her girlfriend was, it became a hell of a lot easier when she could see what respecting Faith’s boundaries had brought out. Faith was comfortable with Buffy in ways she hadn’t been before, and the laugh was only the tip of the iceberg.
“Hi,” said Buffy, falling into step with Faith as they entered the gas station. “What kind of ice cream are you thinking?”
Faith slipped her hand, casually, into Buffy’s, looking away as if she thought that looking towards Buffy would make her seem too forward. “Popsicle,” she said. “One of the really fucked-up flavors that turn your mouth blue.”
“Ick,” said Buffy. “I’m totally not kissing you if you do that.”
“I won the bet,” pointed out Faith.
Faith laughed again. It was such a joyful sound. “What are you getting?”
“Strawberry,” said Buffy decisively. “And if they don’t have that, vanilla.”
“They have Neapolitan, I think,” said Faith, squeezing Buffy’s hand. “Best of both worlds, right?”
It was so weird, talking about dumb teenage stuff like ice cream flavors and kissing and not the fate of the world. Weird, and good, and wonderful. Buffy didn’t have to think about whether or not Sunnydale was gonna explode in her absence, because it wasn’t her or Faith’s responsibility for the summer. The two girls in all the world, getting ice cream like two girls who just happened to live in the world.
“I love this,” said Buffy, tilting her head up to look at the fluorescent lights of the grocery store.
She felt a fleeting kiss pressed to her temple, and Faith said, “Me too, b.”
Though I meant it when I said I didn’t have much time to write you the lengthy replies you deserved, I have found that I am able to make time when someone as important as my first Slayer decides to write me. Your letter was brimming over with joy and love, enough so that it spilled over into our own day. We were all delighted to hear from you.
As for the request regarding a baby animal, I hope you know that you and Faith have both caused me some serious havoc. Jenny demands a dog, Willow wants her own kitten, and both of them refuse to let me send out a letter saying anything other than “yes, Buffy, you and Faith may acquire as many animals as you wish and bring them home.” I am not at all opposed to the concept of us all going to purchase a pet together at the end of the summer, but I have some concerns about the two of you buying an animal and taking it with you on your road trip. It may be difficult for a cat or dog to acclimate to its new owners and location if said location is constantly changing. So: I leave the decision up to the both of you, but please keep the animal’s health and well-being in mind.
Thank you very much for the pictures. Faith was entirely right: we could always use more of you in the album. Your arrival in Sunnydale was, after all, the catalyst that brought us all together: the family album would not be complete without you in it.
England has been…eventful, but in a way that I hope will be ultimately positive. Spending time with one’s family is generally a good thing, I think.
I hope that you and Faith are having a much-deserved, much-enjoyed vacation.
“What?” said Faith.
Doing her best to avoid the cesspool of gas-station snacks in the middle of the bed, Buffy tossed the letter to Faith. “Mr. Calendar-Giles,” she quoted, an affectionate laugh in her voice. “I bet he signs everything like that now.”
“Well, I’m still calling him Mr. Calendar,” said Faith solemnly. “We all know who’s in charge there.”
“He says he doesn’t think we should get a puppy ‘till we’re off the road,” Buffy added, pushing some of the snacks to the side so that she could lean against Faith’s shoulder. “He spent a whole paragraph explaining why. But he said when we get home we can get one!”
“Sick,” said Faith appreciatively. “I want a big dog that can bite all the vampires for us.”
“What about a snuggly golden retriever?”
“My idea, my puppy,” said Faith, “and I want one that can bite things.”
“You say that,” said Buffy, “but out of the two of us, who’s the one who always goes to look at the scrappy little runt in the back of the animal shelter?”
Faith blushed. “Shut up!”
“Softie,” said Buffy.
“Take it back!”
“You’ve got an ooey-gooey marshmallow center—”
“I’m gonna fuckin’ deck you if you keep going!” But Faith was already dissolving into laughter too, throwing her arms around Buffy’s waist and pressing a kiss to the top of her head, and that was new too. Faith’s threats used to have weight behind them, but now she was joking, because hitting people and hiding her soft spots weren’t things she needed to do anymore.
“You like the puppies that need saving,” Buffy continued, and she couldn’t keep the warmth out of her voice. Never could, around Faith. “You like being able to help the ones who need helping, because you’re the kind of person that likes helping.”
“Shut up,” said Faith, smiling awkwardly and turning a dull shade of red.
“You’re a good person, Faith,” said Buffy. “The best person.”
Faith’s smile flickered a little, at that. She settled herself a little more closely into Buffy’s arms, then said, “I mean, I don’t know about that—”
“Take the compliment,” Buffy encouraged her.
Faith didn’t meet Buffy’s eyes. “It’s hard,” she said, after a moment. “I’ve—I spent my entire fuckin’ life hearing that I was nothing but trash. I don’t know how long it’ll take before I start even believing that I’m not.”
“Okay, well, first of all, I’m gonna personally track down and fight every single person who made you feel that way,” said Buffy conversationally. “Maybe break their kneecaps.”
Faith snickered. “It’s so funny when you talk smack,” she said.
“You’re wearing pajamas with little jumping sheep on them,” said Faith. “And you’re cuddling me.”
“Well, I’m multifaceted,” Buffy informed her. “And nice try, trying to distract me, but it is not gonna work.”
“I think it almost did—”
“You know that Jenny’s fingers aren’t ever going to be the same again?” said Buffy. “And even though Giles came back, I don’t think Willow trusts him all the way not to leave like he did last summer. And Xander still hasn’t talked to anyone about his dad, and I—” She swallowed. “Sometimes,” she said, “I have nightmares about going into that old boardinghouse, only Giles really is dead.”
“My point,” said Buffy, “is that if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that these things take time. You can’t just expect things to snap magically into an okay place even when the stuff around you is better than it’s ever been.”
“I don’t know how much better that makes me feel,” said Faith ruefully. “I mean, shit, am I supposed to spend the rest of my life feeling like I don’t deserve to be with someone as kickass as you?”
“Well,” said Buffy, “I can just keep telling you that the whole concept of deserving me is stupid and dumb. People are just people.”
“And smart,” said Faith, kissing her jaw. “Did I mention smart?”
“Hmm,” said Buffy, preening, and giggled when Faith’s smile finally returned. “Just—cut yourself some slack, Faith, okay? Maybe you can’t see the changes you’ve made, but I sure can.”
“Yeah. I love you.”
“I love you too,” mumbled Faith, sounding half-afraid to admit it, and tucked her face back into Buffy’s shoulder.
Dearest and darlingest Mrs. Calendar-Giles,
Did you know your husband is signing all his letters to me “Mr. Calendar-Giles?” Well, okay, he only sent me one, but I still think it’s really funny. If he’s calling himself “Mr. Calendar-Giles,” I hope he knows that I’m totally not calling him Calendar-Giles. We already had that discussion at the wedding and the thought of calling Giles 'Calendar-Giles' breaks my brain a little.
Mostly I’m writing this letter because I feel like you’re the one other person who loves Faith as much as I do, except in like a totally different way. And then I started thinking about it and realized that you’re also the one other person who loves Giles as much as I do, except in DEFINITELY a totally different way, because no offense but there is NO way I would EVER EVER EVER want to marry Giles. YUCK. Also the “yuck” comes from the fact that he’s basically my dad, not from the fact that your husband is gross. He’s not. He’s great. I’m getting very off topic because it’s like one in the morning and I’m kinda tired.
I guess I just kind of started thinking about the fact that we love two of the same people a whole bunch, and they’re two people who have been through a lot of tough stuff. And Giles’s stuff is less current, so I wanted to ask you, because I know you’ll know why I’m asking: does it get better, after a while? Someone I love very much needs to know.
Ms. Summers (ahaha see I did it too)
Thank goodness for magic: Jenny’s response came only thirty minutes later, appearing on Buffy’s nightstand with a soft pop. Turning on the nearby lamp, Buffy picked it up, unfolded it, and felt something warm unfurl in her chest.
Hey, Ms. Summers.
Yeah, I know. The guy’s a dork.
And to answer your question (concisely, because I get the sense you need an answer soon): I don’t think it ever gets better, at least not in the sense you’re thinking of. I think pain and trauma changes you a little bit, and you can’t really return to the person you were, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get easier after a while. You learn to live with the stuff that’s happened to you, and come to terms with it, and find ways to be happy around it. It becomes an easier part of your life to accept.
So. Give Faith time and space (because I assume we’re talking about Faith here), and be there for her when you can, and let her learn how to be there for you when you need it. Things won’t magically knit themselves together into a perfect happy ending, but sometimes that’s kinda fun: it means you two have a hand in shaping it together.
My most esteemed regards,
Buffy had always kind of thought of healing as a pretty linear process, especially when she was thinking about Faith. But even though Jenny’s explanation meant a lot more hard work on everybody’s part, it still rang true in a way that warmed Buffy to her core.
So healing wasn’t going to be a magic Band-Aid fix. That was cool. Buffy could actually work a little better with that. Being a Vampire Slayer meant that the job was never really going to be done, right? That there was no real way to just fix the fact that this was her life now. But she had a family, and someone to snuggle with at night, and a whole life still stretching out ahead of her, as wide and bright as the open road. And if Buffy had figured out how to build a life around her Slayer-ness, then she knew she could help Faith learn to build a life around the stuff weighing her down—and maybe ease the burden a little with lots of love and cuddles.
Thanks. For a lot of things, I think. I don’t know how to put them all into a letter, but.
Chapter 8: heaps of other french guys (xander)
Margot Daniels was the prettiest girl Xander had ever met. Long golden hair like some kind of Disney princess, big, earnest brown eyes, and a warm, genuine smile: Margot was pretty inside and out, and rich to boot. And she was the kind of rich person who wanted to share their good fortune with other people—the kind of rich person that Xander had honestly thought didn’t actually exist. Everything about Margot was picture-perfect, and it was starting to turn Xander’s stomach.
Not for the reason he’d been expecting, though. When he’d first met Margot, he’d felt a guilty twinge of attraction, but it wasn’t very strong and so he’d been able to ignore it. The thing that was beginning to bother Xander was the fact that Cordelia’s eyes lingered on Margot’s in the same way they’d once lingered on him—furtive, and almost ashamed, with a little twist of attraction. He knew Cordy well enough to know when she had feelings for someone, and judging by the way Margot had called his girlfriend an old friend, it was pretty clear that the feelings had once been reciprocated.
It was a moot point, Xander told himself. A completely moot point, because Margot was dating Sebastian, and Cordy was dating him, and neither girl seemed particularly interested in changing that fact. Besides which, Margot was a legitimately nice person—not at all the type of person who would dump her devoted boyfriend to steal Xander’s devoted girlfriend—and Cordelia was much the same. For all of Cordy’s self-proclaimed cattiness, Xander knew she had strong morals at her core.
Xander kept thinking about how there were probably a thousand other Margots out there—girls and boys alike who were rich, and pretty, and well-dressed, and kind. He kept thinking about how they were going to meet Margot’s friends, who were probably just as nice and incredible as Margot herself, and about how some of them were probably going to be single. And they were in Paris, after all—who wouldn’t want to date an international hottie? Hadn’t Cordelia always been talking, years ago, about her many French fantasies regarding summer love? Wasn’t that the reason he’d taken her to Paris in the first place?
God, he was stupid. He was so fucking stupid. Any girl with half a brain would pick someone like Margot over someone like Xander.
“Blue or yellow?” inquired Cordelia, holding up two summery sundresses in front of the mirror.
Hastily, Xander shook himself out of his haze. After a moment of consideration, he said, “Uh, blue?”
“Hm. Thanks.” Cordelia turned, standing on tiptoe to press a quick kiss to Xander’s cheek. “You should get ready too, you know. Margot’s super sweet and she won’t say anything, but I am not having my live-in boyfriend show up to a social engagement wearing Star Wars pajamas.”
“Okay, these aren’t Star Wars pajamas—” At Cordelia’s look, Xander grinned sheepishly. “Fair enough. Should I have you pick out my outfit?”
Cordelia blinked. “Why would I?”
“Don’t you usually have, like, five thousand opinions on what I should and shouldn’t wear?”
Cordelia shrugged, smiling softly. “Well,” she said. “Call me a total sap and a total sucker, but I kind of like the way you dress. Maybe it’s not fashionable, or cute, or fun to look at, but it’s you, you know? What’s not to like?”
Xander wasn’t sure what to do with that. “You literally just listed off three reasons you don’t like it,” he said.
“Xander,” huffed Cordelia, stepping forward to shove the sundresses into his arms, “I told you those reasons so you can understand how much I care about you! You’ve been acting super spacey and weird ever since we met up with Margot, and I don’t know why, but I do know you have absolutely no reason to be! We’re in Paris, okay? We’re supposed to be doing dumb couple stuff together, not—not having weird pseudo-fights over nothing!”
She kind of had a point, Xander thought. The guilt settled more solidly in his chest. Whatever was going on with him—whatever uncomfortable truths he was realizing about their relationship—it shouldn’t have to be Cordelia’s problem. This was her fun vacation, not his pity party. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m being kind of weird but I’m working on it.”
“You better,” said Cordelia. “There are heaps of other French guys for me to date if you don’t.”
He could see the teasing sparkle in her eyes, and he knew she wasn’t being serious, but—shit, she really was right. If he didn’t shape up and start acting more normal, Cordelia was going to start looking for someone less of a mess. Xander swallowed, hard, and did his best to smile. “I love you,” he said.
Cordelia’s face softened, her brow still slightly furrowed. “Talk to me if something’s got you all weird,” she said, and stood on tiptoe again, pulling him into a clumsy hug. “That’s what I’m here for. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Xander, glad that he didn’t have to meet her eyes.
Margot sent an actual limo to their apartment. Not only that, but Cordelia acted like this was normal. “Oh, yeah, this is just good manners,” she informed Xander. “If your guest lives far out of town and you’ve got the means to transport them, you do it, and you do it in style. Daddy used to do things like that all the time for business associates until—” She pulled a face. “Well, you know.”
“So what,” said Xander, suddenly feeling very underdressed in his Hawaiian shirt and jeans, “we just get in the limo and it takes us…”
“To Margot’s mansion, obviously!”
“Ah, yes,” said Xander. “Margot’s mansion. Now why did you let me dress myself?”
Cordelia gave him a withering look. “Because it doesn’t matter what you wear, Xander,” she said. “Margot doesn’t care about that kind of thing. If she did, we sure wouldn’t be going to her mansion right now.”
“Really?” said Xander skeptically.
“Really,” said Cordelia, sounding thoroughly exasperated. “Why would you think I’d wanna hang out with someone who cares about stupid things like fashion and clothes more than they care about people?”
“Because for a period of time, you cared about that stuff,” said Xander. “A lot. And you made fun of me for it. Also a lot.”
A deeply hurt look crossed Cordelia’s face. “Oh,” she said in a small voice. “Oh. Well. I.”
Xander instantly regretted saying anything at all. “No, it’s okay—”
“No,” said Cordelia, still in that unusually tiny voice. “It, it really wasn’t. And I think some part of me knew it even at the time. I guess I never really apologized for that stuff, huh?”
God, now Xander felt terrible. “You don’t need to—”
“Xander, I think I do.” With a wobbly smile, Cordelia reached up to squeeze his shoulder. “If it left this much of an impact on you, it was a bad call on my part. I’m really sorry.”
Xander shrugged her hand off. “You don’t need to apologize,” he said again. It came out sharper and harder than he’d meant it to, and when he saw Cordelia blink back tears, he only felt worse. “It’s fine. Okay?”
Cordelia drew her arms in, hugging her stomach, and watched him get into the limo without a word. She followed him in, keeping a significant amount of distance between them when she sat down in the limo, and made a point of looking out the window instead of looking at him.
“Cordy,” said Xander.
“You’re being a dick lately,” said Cordelia to the window as the car started. “I don’t know what’s up with it, but I don’t like it. At all.”
“If you’re not gonna tell me about whatever’s bothering you, that’s fine,” said Cordelia. “But stop pretending that you’re totally fine, because I can tell that’s not true.”
“I am fine,” said Xander.
“Ugh!” Cordelia let her head fall against the window. “Seriously! At this point I miss when we were just insulting each other, because at least then you were being honest with me!”
“Oh, so you miss the insults!” said Xander. “That’s great! Good to know that that was the appeal!”
“What is wrong with you right now?”
Tightly crossing her arms, Cordelia turned herself bodily away from Xander, all but pressing herself against the side of the car. Xander did the same thing, watching the streets and the people and all the stuff about Paris that had felt so cool when they’d first gotten there.
What was going wrong here? What the hell was he supposed to do? He couldn’t just tell Cordelia that he felt like she was gonna ditch him for some rich French person the first chance she got—she’d feel awful, because she’d think he thought little of her. And it wasn’t that he thought little of her, it was just that he thought she should be dating someone better, and he knew that that would make her mad too. There was no way he could be honest with her without really upsetting her, and this was supposed to be her vacation.
He felt awful, and he didn’t know what to do about it. But he couldn’t afford to sulk for very long: they would, after all, be guests in a very nice mansion. Turning back towards Cordelia, he said quietly, “Look, can we…table this till after we see Margot?”
Cordelia’s back was still to him. Without turning around, she said, “You’re gonna just use it as another excuse not to talk to me, Xander. If you’re not planning on telling me what it is that’s bothering you so much, then I’m going to tell Margot that we’re having a fight.”
Xander’s stomach lurched. “Cordelia—”
“No!” Cordelia turned to him, eyes fierce and wet. “Xander, it shouldn’t take me threatening stuff like that to get you to even consider talking to me! And if you tell me one more time that everything’s just fine, then—”
“Then what?” snapped Xander. “You’ll break up with me?”
The anger in Cordelia’s eyes faded. The tears didn’t. “Is that what this is?” she said.
Oh god. He hadn’t meant for the conversation to go in this direction, he hadn’t wanted for things to turn out like this even though he’d known it was coming, this was all just happening too fast and he couldn’t—
“Xander?” said Cordelia. Her voice broke. “Please. Please just talk to me. Whatever it is that’s going on—whatever it is I did—we can fix this, okay? We’ve been through so much worse. We’re—I love you, Xander, that doesn’t just go away—”
“You shouldn’t,” said Xander.
Cordelia blinked, startled out of her misery. “I’m sorry?”
“You shouldn’t,” said Xander, staring down at his shaking hands. His stomach turned. He wanted to pretend it was because he was carsick. “You shouldn’t love me so much. You and I both know that you could do better.”
There was a very long silence. Then Cordelia shouted, “XANDER HARRIS, ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?”
Xander froze. Slowly, he turned to look at her. This wasn’t at all the reaction he’d been expecting. “Am I…what?”
Clenching her fists, Cordelia directed a furious glare at him. “I have been worried sick,” she snapped, “that you’re dealing with something serious, that you’ve been having second thoughts about taking me to Paris, that you don’t want anything to do with me now that I’m not a fashionable rich girl, and you’re telling me that you just think I could do better than you? That is NOT your decision to make! If I say you’re perfect for me, then you’re perfect for me—”
“Well, what happens when you decide I’m not?” Xander burst out, infuriated by Cordelia’s fucking certainty. “What happens when you finally realize that you’re in Paris, the city of your dreams, and everyone here is either richer than me or prettier than me or both? What happens when you realize that you deserve better than some dumb loser who only made it into college because Jenny and Giles were there to push him into applying, and then didn’t go anyway?”
Cordelia stared at him with flashing eyes, and then something in her face shattered. She pressed her fingers to her mouth with a small, broken sob. “Xander,” she said.
“Cordy,” said Xander jerkily. “See, this is why I didn’t want to tell you—”
There was a cough from the chauffeur up front, and Xander realized that the car had stopped moving. Before he could reach for Cordelia, she was already opening the car door, checking the state of her makeup in a small compact mirror as she drew in a shuddering breath. “Well, come on, then,” she said, and turned an impeccably gorgeous smile on Xander. Her eyes were very purposefully blank. “Margot’s waiting, isn’t she?”
“Cordelia and Xander!” Margot first hugged Cordelia, then Xander, beaming delightedly at both of them. “Right on time! Now, I know I said you two would be looking through my closet, but…”
“Oh, Margot,” huffed Cordelia, a playful laugh in her voice. Behind her, Xander was experiencing some pretty serious emotional whiplash: Cordy was showing absolutely no sign that she had been arguing with him on the car ride over. He was too confused about that to even really think about the argument itself. “You’d better not have gotten us some new stuff. I told you that that wouldn’t be necessary—”
“And I told you that I have much too much money not to spend it on people who deserve a bit of extravagance,” said Margot warmly. “Please. Follow me.”
Cordelia tucked her arm into Margot’s as they walked. She glanced back towards Xander, and the look in her eyes was one so profoundly heartbroken that Xander felt sick to his stomach. This, he thought. This was why he hadn’t wanted to tell her. He knew Cordelia—he knew she’d be hurt by his own insecurities. He hadn’t wanted to make them her problem. He shoved his hands into his pockets and did his best to pretend he was admiring Margot’s ostentatious mansion, and the spiral staircase, and the many expensive-looking paintings on the walls, right up until they entered a giant room full of clothes.
Cordelia let out a soft, longing breath. “You’re, like, basically a Disney princess, Margot,” she sighed, moving forward as if spellbound. “Can I—”
“Try anything!” said Margot warmly. “Take anything, if you like it. I have too much clothing to notice.”
“Are you SERIOUS?” shrieked Cordelia, and flung her arms around Margot. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Xander’s stomach turned again and he stared down at his shoes.
“Xander?” said Margot. Then, to Cordelia, “Is everything all right?”
“Oh, uh—” Cordelia hesitated. “We had a rough night’s sleep last night. Lots of traffic downtown for some reason. Xander sleeps by the window so he kinda got the worst of the noise.”
Xander had to be kind of impressed by how well she’d come up with that on the fly. “Yeah,” he said lamely. “By the window.”
Margot clicked her tongue sympathetically. “Poor Xander,” she said. “Well, perhaps it will awaken you to see your Cordelia in a perfect princess dress?”
“What color?” said Cordelia eagerly.
“Well,” said Margot, “I have quite a few dresses, and alterations can be made if they don’t fit, so—”
“Aaah, let me see!” giggled Cordelia, hurrying past Margot and through an open door Xander hadn’t noticed.
“Wait here, Xander, I want you to be surprised!” added Margot delightedly, following Cordelia inside and shutting the door behind her.
And then Xander was left alone, in the middle of what felt like some kind of giant Barbie playset, with the knowledge that a Disney princess was treating his girlfriend like the queen she deserved. He didn’t have money, or style, or any of that stuff that Cordelia had always valued back in high school. He’d spent most of his money on a trip to Paris and on buying the apartment for them to stay in, and he was still doing his best to lock down a local part-time job that only required a high school degree. Not exactly Prince Charming.
God, what was it going to feel like when Cordelia came out in that luminous princess dress? What was it going to feel like, knowing that the best she could get was from someone else’s charity instead of from the guy who was supposed to support her and love her and give her the world? All Xander had given Cordelia today was that miserable expression on her face.
And she was going to come out in that dress, looking so unbearably fucking beautiful—and he couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t do it. He wasn’t even close to strong enough to see how incredible Cordelia was when she was given a real chance to shine. A lump in his throat, Xander turned on his heel and strode out of the room.
It started out as a walk, and then, through the still-open door, he heard the rustle of skirts and Cordelia’s soft voice. And then he imagined facing her in that dress, eyes wide with hurt, and suddenly he was running—away from Cordy, away from Margot, away from his own fucking inability to be the kind of guy she deserved. Tumbling down the spiral staircase, shoving his way past the butler at the door, wrenching the door of the limo open.
“Get me to the airport,” he gasped out without really thinking about it. “And step on it.”
Chapter 9: our family (rupert)
yes i know it has been a year. honestly, in so many ways this fic is already finished for me? i was writing it as a coping mechanism in a part of my life that was rlly difficult, and now a lot of the struggles i face aren't struggles that i can grapple with via writing the braveryverse.
BUT. this thing hangs over me like an unfinished specter. though i think i've kinda changed a lot as a writer, i'm going to do my very best to respect the wishes of bb high school me (and of y'all!) when it comes to giving these characters the authentic, loving send-off they deserve.
Rupert still didn’t feel entirely settled. The roast was easy enough to make, the wine a respectably expensive red that he was sure his father would appreciate, Jenny and Willow dressed to the nines in the new outfits they’d bought at a department store two towns over—and yet there was still a feeling in the pit of his stomach telling him that something was very, very wrong.
He felt more than ridiculous about it. His father had made it abundantly clear that mending fences was the primary goal of the dinner, and the look in his eyes had seemed more authentic than anything Rupert had ever seen from the man. And yet he kept on thinking of the aunts’ disapproving expressions and pursed lips, and of Willow’s childish eagerness to be accepted into a family, and of Jenny’s reticence to trust his family when she’d been so badly burned before. More was at risk than Rupert’s father could ever comprehend—and Rupert found it entirely unlikely that the man had changed enough to recognize the stakes.
“He liked me,” Willow was singing to the kitchen, spinning around in a tux and tails. “He liked me. He said I could call him Granddad!”
“That’s great, sweetie,” said Jenny, who was adjusting the neckline of her long black dress. She’d swept her dark hair up into a complex updo—almost definitely helped by the aunts and a touch of magic, Rupert thought. “Do you think we’re too formal?”
“No, I told my dad it would be a nice occasion,” said Rupert. “And he tends to err on the side of formality regardless of the occasion. His casual wear is still a suit and tie.”
“So that’s where he gets it from,” said Willow, giggling. “You know, Giles, he really reminds me of you?”
Rupert felt something twist in his chest. “Oh?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Jenny, and Rupert felt her reassuring hand at the small of his back. “They’ve got the same face, but that doesn’t always mean they’re the same person.”
Her words, chosen carefully and pointedly, steadied Rupert just as much as her touch. “Quite,” he agreed, turning a bit to look down at Jenny. He hoped she could see the thanks in his smile.
Willow’s eyes darted between them, a small frown on her face. She bit her lip, but didn’t say anything more about Rupert’s father. “Should I go help set the table?” she asked instead. “Aunts Vin and Sophie said they could use an extra pair of hands—”
“Yes, that would be very helpful,” said Rupert, directing a soft smile at Willow. “Thank you, dear.”
Willow hovered in the doorway for a last moment, then headed towards the dining room. “Aunts!” she called ahead of her. “I can try that spell you showed me, the one with the hand-wavy thing and asking the magic where the forks go—”
“You’re not like him,” said Jenny steadily.
Rupert looked down at her. “You don’t know that.”
“I don’t have to,” said Jenny. “Whatever you think of yourself—whatever he made you think existed within you—it’s just as true as my family telling me I was weak and useless. Okay?”
Rupert swallowed, and didn’t answer.
“Jenny,” said his father warmly, taking Jenny’s hands in his and pressing a polite kiss to her cheek. “What a delight to see you again. You look lovely.”
“Thanks,” said Jenny. There was a smile on her face, but it was less of the soft warmth that came out around Rupert and the children—more of the smile she had given Quentin Travers, and vampires who thought they could get the best of her, and even Rupert himself back when he was Mr. Giles to her. “And it’s of course good to see you too, Mr. Giles.”
Mr. Giles inclined his head. “Rupert.”
Had his father ever looked at him like that? Apprehensive and hopeful all in one? Rupert remembered the disapproval and the anger with crystal clarity, but the moments like these were few and far between. He knew he was a fool to trust that his father would have changed, but they hadn’t seen each other in three years. Maybe—if he was lucky—
“Father,” said Rupert quietly, and stuck out his hand. His father shook it. “Vin and Sophie are out getting dessert. Willow’s already at the table, if you’d like to head in.”
“Certainly,” said Mr. Giles, letting Rupert’s hand drop. “I do look forward to seeing—” And then he stopped, a strange expression on his face.
“Hey, Granddad!” said Willow brightly. “Table’s all set and everything! I got kinda bored just sitting around.”
“Sweetie, your bow tie’s crooked,” said Jenny with a genuine laugh, moving forward to straighten it. “How did that happen?”
“Forks are a nasty business,” said Willow solemnly.
Mr. Giles was looking at Willow a little differently, now. “An interesting choice of dress,” he said, slow and deliberate. “This is a formal dinner, isn’t it? Shouldn’t your daughter be wearing something more appropriate?”
Willow’s smile slipped. This was the point, Rupert thought, when he was supposed to say something in her defense, but the words felt frozen in his throat.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Giles,” said Jenny with pointedly feigned sweetness. “Maybe it’s a little different here in England, but back in America, some people wear tuxes to formal dinners. Did I misunderstand some kind of tradition?”
Rupert snorted. At his father’s death glare, he did his best to hide his laughter, but Willow had no such qualms. “Maybe I went too formal, Jenny,” she chimed in. “I mean, I’m the only one here wearing a tailcoat—”
“Yeah, what is this, the seventies?” Jenny teased. “The 1770s?”
“Angel would fit right in!”
Mr. Giles now looked deeply confused, and Rupert couldn’t help but relish in it. But then—and it was only for a moment—his father’s eyes narrowed, taking in the scene in front of him in a way that seemed more calculating than warm. That was a look that Rupert remembered, and he felt his stomach turn over as those eyes skimmed over him. “We should head in for dinner, then, shouldn’t we?” his father said lightly.
“O-of course,” stammered Rupert. Jenny, who had been playfully fussing with Willow’s hair, gave him a worried look. He couldn’t quite meet her eyes. God, what must she think of him right now? Letting his father attempt to humiliate his daughter, a girl who had had more than enough to deal with from her biological family? “Let me just—”
“I got it, hon,” said Jenny, squeezing his elbow as she passed. Opening the door for the rest of them, she directed a particularly combative smile at Mr. Giles as he passed. Mr. Giles smiled back, just as dangerous, and sat down at the head of the table, Willow on his right.
None of this felt like it was going according to plan. Mending fences was entirely out of the question if Mr. Giles continued in this vein. Hopefully, Rupert thought, his father had at least some idea that the situation was going south—if he was aware of it, he could work to make his true intentions shine through.
God, Rupert hoped that his father’s true intentions were good ones. “I would like to thank my lovely wife for not cooking this meal,” he teased, sitting down on his father’s left side and squeezing Jenny’s hand when she sat down next to him. “I don’t think it would have reflected well on us Calendar-Gileses if she burned down the house within a week of arriving.”
“Happy to help, babe,” said Jenny. “And in turn, I’d like to think my excellent husband for cooking, because I’d probably starve to death within two days if he wasn’t here to remind me to eat things.”
“Deeply concerning.” Rupert grinned at her.
“I bet Faith would love this roast,” said Willow wistfully.
“Faith?” repeated Mr. Giles, frowning.
“We were fostering three kids for a few months last year before they headed off to college,” Jenny explained. “Xander’s off in Paris with his girlfriend, and since Faith’s a year younger, she’s gonna take an extra year to study on her own time.”
“No, that’s not—” Mr. Giles waved a dismissive hand. “I’m not asking about the other children. When you say Faith, do you mean Faith Lehane?”
“Well, yeah,” said Jenny, frowning.
“The lost-cause Vampire Slayer?” Mr. Giles sounded genuinely surprised. “I’d assumed her to have run off by now. Is she still with you?”
“I don’t think I’d call her a lost cause,” said Willow unexpectedly, eyes narrowing. “She’s a pretty awesome person even without the superpowers.”
“Yes, well, the superpowers are the most important part,” said Mr. Giles patiently, as if explaining something to a five-year-old. “Though I understand you all care very much about this Faith Lehane, I am a member of the Watchers’ Council. I tend to think about a bigger picture than just one girl.”
Rupert began to pour himself a large amount of wine.
“Well, yeah, I understand that,” said Willow. “But you can care about the bigger picture and still understand the value of the people inside it. Like Giles!” She turned, giving Rupert a big smile. “He was all Mr. Big Picture till he met Jenny.”
“I’m very aware,” said Mr. Giles, tilting his head a little as he surveyed Jenny.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” said Jenny, eyes narrowing.
“I don’t think it means anything,” said Rupert. “I think it’s fine. More wine, Dad?”
“I haven’t had any,” said Mr. Giles.
“Well, that’s as good a reason as any to pour you some—”
“No, loop back,” said Jenny coolly. “What do you mean, you’re very aware?”
“This moment is about us being together as a family, Jenny,” said Mr. Giles casually. “I’m making an effort to become a part of yours. There’s no need to pick a fight.”
Rupert tensed up, fully expecting Jenny to flare up and start an even bigger argument. His father’s chastisement of Jenny had been completely unjust. He’d made a passive-aggressive statement, then shifted the blame for it onto her. That sort of thing upset Jenny to no end. She’d be furious. She’d be—
“O-okay,” said Jenny unsteadily. A humiliated blush was rising in her face as she looked down at her plate.
And with another horrible twist, Rupert realized: Jenny was trying to protect him. No matter how little she personally liked his father, the grief and guilt she’d felt upon cutting her ties to her own family was something she clearly didn’t want him to experience. And here was Rupert’s father, throwing more responsibility and shame onto the shoulders of a woman who would happily bear that burden—
“Don’t you dare talk to my wife like that,” said Rupert. He couldn’t keep the growl out of his voice. “Apologize at once.”
His father looked up at him. “Rupert, really,” he said reprovingly.
“Apologize, Dad,” said Rupert. “You made a backhanded comment and she called you on it. That’s not on her.”
Jenny still hadn’t looked up from her plate. Willow had stopped smiling entirely.
“Your wife should be more polite to her father-in-law,” said Mr. Giles mildly.
“Family only gets you so far,” said Rupert coldly. “It’s decency that earns you decency in return, Dad, and thus far, you’ve been—”
“Are we really doing this in front of your wife and daughter?” said Mr. Giles. “They shouldn’t have to deal with this sort of thing.” He inclined his head towards Jenny and Willow. “You two may leave the table,” he said. “Go on.”
“We’re family,” said Willow stubbornly. “We stick together.”
Mr. Giles laughed again, that same sharp bark as before. “Family,” he said. “Is that what you’re calling it?”
Jenny had gone very still.
“I did indeed wish to mend things between us, Rupert,” said Mr. Giles. “But I first needed to fully understand the situation that had caused you to abandon your post and once again humiliate the Giles family. Consequently, I asked for this dinner to observe your wife’s machinations in action. The Council was kind enough to give you a second chance after your youthful indiscretions—they will not be as kind again.”
“I think I’m quite fine with that, thank you,” said Rupert, anger stiffening his words enough that he could barely get them out.
“No, Jenny’s fine with it,” said Mr. Giles. “Jenny wants to play happy family over in Sunnydale with two poorly-trained Vampire Slayers, and to hell with the rest of the world. Isn’t that right, Jenny?”
Jenny’s breathing was ragged. She still wasn’t looking up.
“Your wife,” said Mr. Giles, “has only ever thought of what she wants, not what might be best for you and your family. She has deluded herself into believing that your true destiny is to spend the rest of your natural life with her, and that being a Watcher is some sort of evil, soulless cause. We are pragmatists, Rupert. We are realists. Your wife is an optimist who will lead Faith Lehane into an early grave, just for the sake of her own short-term happiness—and she is the reason that you have strayed so far from the people who are willing to truly support the work you’ve been destined for.”
Rupert stared, wordless, at his father.
“And your daughter—” His father made a derisive noise. “Now, I cannot speak for the others—I haven’t met them, after all. But if they are anything like this girl, they are simply neglected, unloved children hungry for even the slightest scrap of positive attention. Wholly unstable, and wholly useless to the cause.”
Tears had sprung up in Willow’s eyes.
“I have fought,” said his father, “long and hard, with the Council, for your sake. I have managed to cut a deal that I think will work quite nicely in your favor, and will protect all the people you seem to have grown to care about in Sunnydale. I have made it clear to the Council that you were simply led astray, and that it is your wife who should be held responsible for the disaster in Sunnydale.”
Slowly, Rupert turned, looking towards Jenny. His wife was hugging her arms to her chest, looking just as dazed as she had after Angel had tried to kill her back in December.
“After you publicly denounce your wife’s actions,” his father continued, “and after you cut ties with her in every sense of the word—legally, emotionally, whatever else—I have convinced the Council to consider reinstating you as Watcher to both the Slayers. I’m well aware you ‘quit,’ but I explained to them that you were likely strong-armed into it by your wife and should not be held accountable for your actions—so long as you make it clear that they were not your actions, but your wife’s decisions.”
Willow, watching Mr. Giles with wide, hurt eyes, had begun to silently cry.
“It’s for the best,” said his father gently. “It really is. I know it’s hard to believe right now, but this is much like Eyghon. Our family can come back from this—”
And that was it. Our family, his father had said—as though Rupert’s family wasn’t Jenny and the children in their wonderful little house. As though Rupert’s family was this man, sitting across from him, who hadn’t spoken to him in years—not Faith’s raucous laughter or Xander’s awkward grins or Jenny’s bracing hand on the small of his back. Without even having to think about it, Rupert stood up, yanking his father to his feet, and punched Edmund Giles in the face.
Jenny gasped, loud enough that it was almost a scream. Willow drew in a sharp, sobbing breath, then gasped, “Giles!”
“Would you like to say that again, Dad?” said Rupert, giving his father a tight smile. “Go on. Tell me about our family, hmm? Tell me about your son, about his new wife, about the children he’s taken under his wing. Talk about them like you know them. Talk about them like you haven’t been across the fucking pond ‘till I started doing things that didn’t make you look good.”
His father stared at him with wide, stunned eyes, raising a shaking hand to his definitely-crooked nose. “Rupert,” he said unsteadily. “What—you’ve never—”
“Go on,” hissed Rupert, and pushed his dad against the wall, the man’s head connecting with the paneling with a satisfying thud. “What do you want to say, hmm? Still feeling as brave as you were? Still feeling like you can bring me back into the fold?” He dropped his hands, stepping back, and pulled Jenny up—much more gently—into his arms, pressing a reassuring kiss to the top of her head. Tucking her into his side, he crossed the table to tug Willow up as well, pulling her flush against him and letting her sob into his shirt. “We’re leaving,” he announced, and said it again. “We’re leaving.”
His dad stared at him, unblinking.
“Oh, love,” murmured Rupert to Willow, stroking her hair as she continued to cry. “There, now. Come on.” Awkwardly, he steered the three of them out of the dining room, glancing tentatively up the stairs towards their things—but no, there wasn’t any time. A transportation spell would have to do the trick. “Jenny,” he said, “can you—”
Jenny began to cry.
Rupert was going to return here and eviscerate his father as soon as he had gotten Jenny and Willow safely away from this place. Carefully, he waved a hand, and the front door opened by itself. He led them outside, tugging them down the steps, then murmured an incantation in Latin: instantly, their newly-packed suitcases appeared by the rental car, flying into the open trunk. “We’re going to go to a hotel,” he informed them. “How’s that sound? We’ll get some lovely room service and watch a movie, hmm?”
Neither Jenny nor Willow seemed willing to let go of him.
“Come on,” said Rupert, opening the door of the backseat and carefully untangling Willow from his arms. When she looked up at him with wet eyes and a lost expression, he leaned down, kissing the top of her head. This seemed to relax her enough that he could shut the door of the car.
Still crying, Jenny raised her head, tightly gripping the lapels of his jacket. Without a word, she bumped her forehead against his, then moved her hands up to cup his face. Her breath was beginning to steady, but her eyes still looked lost and tired.
“I love you,” said Rupert steadily, kept calm only by the fact that someone had to be.
Jenny let out a shaking breath, staring up at him with empty exhaustion.
“Let’s go,” said Rupert, and bundled her into the car.
Upon reaching the hotel, Jenny immediately took off her shoes and dress, collapsing facedown on one of the beds in an oversized t-shirt borrowed from Rupert’s luggage. Willow went the opposite direction, not even bothering to take off her shoes before falling down on the other bed.
Rupert decided to find a middle ground. He took off his jacket, tie, shoes, and belt, set them all carefully down atop the nearby bureau, and lay down on the bed next to Jenny, who immediately curled into his arms. “So,” he said. “That could have perhaps gone better.”
“Giles, how are you even remotely okay right now?” said Willow shakily from the other side of the room.
Rupert gave the question some thought. “Funny as it was,” he said, “I was expecting something like that. I’m only relieved that it’s over.”
“I thought you were gonna listen to him,” sniffled Willow, rolling over onto her side. “I thought you were gonna believe all that stuff he said. About Jenny and me b-being a bad—being a bad choice.”
“Come here,” said Rupert. Willow pulled herself up off of the bed, crossing the room to settle into his other side. “You are both the right choice. All right?”
“Okay,” Willow whispered.
Jenny raised her head, eyes wet.
“Darling, are you all right?”
With a shudder, Jenny tucked her head into the crook of Rupert’s neck. She still hadn’t said a word.
Chapter 10: trusting someone (buffy & faith)
The phone rang early in the morning. Faith, always a light sleeper, woke up before Buffy, who made a little whining noise and tried to throw a punch in the direction of the offending noise. “Ease up, babe, I got this,” said Faith, trying not to laugh, and pressed a kiss to the top of Buffy’s head, leaning over her girlfriend to pick up the phone. “What’s up?”
“I tried to call the number Giles left for emergencies but his aunt picked up,” Xander was saying. “And she said Giles couldn’t come to the phone right now, and neither could Jenny or Willow, and then when I asked her more about what was going on she hung up on me, but the thing is this is really a legitimate emergency and Faith I don’t know what to do—”
“Shit, man, slow down!” Faith rubbed her eyes with one hand, yawning. “I just woke up! What the hell’s goin’ on?”
“I don’t know! Couldn’t you have used that special communication spell Jen and Willow gave you?”
“Jenny and Willow designed that spell so we could communicate with you and Buffy without having to use magic ourselves,” explained Xander. “I don’t know enough about magic to cast a spell that will make my phone always able to connect with wherever they are.”
“Shit,” said Faith again. “Okay. Well, they’ll call us to check in at some point, man. I don’t think it’s worth flipping out about—”
“I need help now,” said Xander.
There was something strangely off about his tone of voice, now that Faith was paying attention. She’d assumed he was just worried about Giles and Jen, but now that she was thinking about it, Xander had never been the kind of guy to flip out over one missed call. “What’s going on?”
Xander swallowed. “I don’t know if you can help with this one.”
“Uh,” said Xander. “I may or may not have completely ditched Cordelia in her Disney princess friend’s apartment, commandeered said Disney princess’s limo, and gotten a ride to the airport with the intention of leaving Cordy in Paris.”
“…say what now?”
Xander let out a frustrated breath. “I just—” He swallowed. “I can’t take this anymore,” he said. “Every day here feels like a reminder that Cordelia could do so much better than me.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, man,” said Faith disbelievingly. “You for real here? Who the fuck gives a shit about whether or not Cordy could do better? Maybe you don’t see why she chose you, but she chose you.”
“And you trust Cordy’s judgment, right?” Faith continued. “You think she’s the smartest, hottest, best chick in the world?”
“Answer the question.”
“…yeah,” said Xander softly. “Yeah. She’s incredible.”
“Then how the hell can you fuck her over like this?” said Faith fiercely. “If she says you’re her dream guy, then guess what, Harris? She’s not wrong. You’re a kickass dude when you’re not doing stupid shit like what you’re doing literally right now. You’re dumb and funny and kind and you took her to fuckin’ Paris to cheer her up—”
On the other end of the line, Xander started to cry.
“Xander,” said Faith, her voice softening. “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. She loves you, and you gotta believe her.”
“I fucked up,” Xander sobbed. “God, she’ll hate me!”
“Not if you go back and apologize—”
“She’s never gonna want to see me again!” Xander was crying hard, now, and it made Faith wish she could be there for him. “I-I—”
“C’mon, man,” said Faith gently. “You can do this.”
Xander made another attempt at speech, sobbed again, and hung up. Feeling slightly sick, Faith placed the phone down, then slid down the pillows to snuggle wordlessly into Buffy’s arms.
“Wh’s goin’ on?” Buffy mumbled.
Faith drew in a shaking breath.
“Faith?” Buffy pulled herself up to lean back on her elbows, eyes alert and worried.
Faith took another breath, then said, “Xander’s—he’s havin’ a rough time.”
“Is he—I mean, is he okay?”
“Yeah,” said Faith. Then, “Uh, no. Honestly, I really don’t know. Think it’s a little too early to tell. But he wasn’t able to get into contact with Giles, so he ended up calling me.”
“Is Giles okay?” said Buffy anxiously.
Faith bit her lip. “Well, according to Xander, he’s not picking up the phone at his aunts’.”
Buffy hesitated. “Do you think we should write them?”
“Don’t see how it could hurt,” said Faith.
Hopefully everything’s ok, but Xander tried to get in touch with you guys and he wasn’t able to reach you. Is there a new number we should call if we need a phone conversation?
Buffy + Faith
The response came quickly: a scrap of paper with a phone number. That didn’t seem like Giles or Jen at all. Giles would always write at least a few warm sentences, and Jen had a tendency to get wordy and rambly.
“Okay, something’s definitely wrong,” said Buffy, and grabbed the scrap of paper, picking up the phone to clumsily dial the number in the dark. Faith turned on the nightstand lamp to help. “Hello? Yeah—hi, Giles. Yeah, I was just—I was wondering if everything’s okay?”
Stomach in knots, Faith waited, watching for the longest five minutes of her life as Buffy listened to whatever the hell Giles was telling her.
“Oh—oh my god,” said Buffy suddenly, drawing in a sharp, sobbing breath. “God, yeah, of course.” Another beat. “Hey, Jenny?” Buffy’s voice had gone unusually soft. “It’s Buffy. Giles says you aren’t talking, so I’ll just talk to you, how’s that?”
“What the fuck is going on,” said Faith flatly.
Buffy turned towards Faith, eyes wet, and made an I’m on the phone motion with one hand. “I love you very much,” she said to Jenny.
“What the fuck is going ON,” said Faith again.
Buffy swallowed, then said, “Hold on, Jenny.” Covering the receiver with her hand, she said, “Giles’s dad came over for dinner and basically tried to get Giles back into the Watchers’ Council. He said that Giles could be a Watcher again if Giles told the Council that all the stuff he did last year was Jenny’s fault.”
“All the stuff,” said Faith, her voice shaking with rage. “Like helping me with my English essays? Like making sure Xander was living in a safe home? Like making Willow hot chocolate and making sure the Council never drugged you and locked you in a room with a vampire?”
“Yeah,” said Buffy, and Faith could see the same steely anger in her girlfriend’s eyes that she herself felt. “All that stuff.”
“And Giles’s dad wanted Jen to take the fall for him?”
“Yeah,” said Buffy again.
“How the hell did that go?”
Buffy gave Faith a sharp, unpleasant twist of a smile and said, “Giles broke his dad’s nose.”
Faith felt a strange, confusing rush of emotion at that. “Give me the phone,” she said, and Buffy obliged. There was silence on the other end of the line. “Giles?”
“No, it’s me,” said Jen. Her voice was cracked and hoarse.
And even though Faith had meant to talk to Giles, all of a sudden, clarifying something with Jen seemed way more important. “Mom?”
Across from her, Buffy’s eyes had gone very wide. “What?” said Jen a little shakily, like she thought she might have heard wrong.
“I mean, we’re family, aren’t we?” said Faith, gripping the receiver tight enough that she had to remind herself not to crush it with her Slayer strength. “Family’s who picks up no matter what time it is—or calls, if they have to. So—I can call you Mom, now, right?”
Jen started to cry. There was a rustle, and then Giles’s voice came through. “Buffy,” he said, sounding shaken, “what exactly did you say to her? She hasn’t said a word to me or Willow since the incident at—”
“No, Giles, it’s me,” said Faith.
A silence. Then, “Ah. Well, that makes a bit more sense.” More rustling, and a soft, indecipherable murmur from Jen. “I’m very sorry about all this, Faith,” Giles said softly. “I really did hope that you and Buffy would be able to have a stress-free vacation.”
“That’s the way family goes, though, right?” said Faith with a small shrug. “When the people you care about are going through shit, it’s not like you can just ignore it.”
“No, I suppose you’re right,” said Giles, “but that isn’t entirely what I meant. This—this business of mine—my troubles with my father were never supposed to touch any of you, much less hurt Jenny as deeply as they have.”
“Then if you really wanna apologize to someone, try her,” said Faith gently. “I’m good, okay?”
Another silence. “Yes,” said Giles. “Yes, I suppose you are.” A long pause. “I love you very much, Faith. I’m very proud to know you.”
Had Giles ever said something like that to her before? Faith didn’t think so, judging by the way her heart felt like it had grown five sizes. “Love you too, Giles,” she said, grinning softly. “How’s Jen doing?”
“Hold on—” A rustling, and then there was silence on the other end of the line.
“Hope I didn’t drop that on you too fast, Jen,” said Faith carefully. “Sounds like there’s kind of a lot of stuff going on in England.”
Silence. Faith’s stomach turned over. Jen wasn’t one to be quiet, especially not when she was upset.
“I love you,” said Faith. “I hope everything works out.” After about a whole minute of listening to Jen’s ragged breathing, she handed the phone off to Buffy, settling herself back under the covers.
“Hey, Jenny,” Buffy was saying. “Hi. Um—oh! Hey, Giles! Is she—yeah, okay. Yeah. She should probably sleep, then, I guess. Look, call us if anything changes, and—uh, you should probably call Xander too. He was trying to reach you guys and I think he really needs your help.” A beat. “Yeah. I-I love you too. And Jenny too, obviously. Is Willow okay?” Another beat. “Oh, that’s good! I’m glad. Taking a walk in England sounds fun. Maybe she’ll meet someone…I don’t know. English.”
Faith rested her head in Buffy’s lap, closing her eyes.
“Yeah. Yeah. Take care.” Buffy hung up, then leaned down, pressing a kiss to the top of Faith’s head. “You okay?”
Faith opened her eyes slowly, sitting up in bed. “Yeah,” she said. “No. I don’t know. I wish we were all together.”
Buffy’s smile was lopsided and sad. “Me too,” she said. “This stuff was way easier when everyone was eating snacks in Giles and Jenny’s living room, you know?”
Faith considered this. “Well,” she said slowly. “I think we can do something about one of those variables.”
“God,” said Buffy, mouth full, “I’m literally gonna marry this cupcake.”
“Should I be threatened?” said Faith, rummaging in the newly-replenished pile of snacks for a bag of Doritos. Thank god for 24-hour gas stations.
“Oh, totally,” said Buffy, swallowing and wiping her mouth free of crumbs. “Hundred percent. I’m gonna leave you for a better cupcake—”
“A better cupcake?”
“I mean,” said Buffy. “If I’m a cookie—”
“Jesus, I’m really not gonna live that one down.”
“—then you’re totally a Hostess cupcake,” said Buffy. “Cute, sweet, and a soft icing center.”
Faith blushed, smiling, and bit her lip to keep from saying I’m not—
“You are, though,” said Buffy, catching the expression on Faith’s face and draping her arms around her girlfriend’s neck. “Like, gosh, you helped Xander and Jenny and Giles tonight!”
“It wasn’t a big deal—”
“It was,” said Buffy. “Okay? They all needed somebody, and you were there for them. That’s kickass, Faith. I love you so much.”
Faith’s heart fluttered. Without really thinking about it, she leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to Buffy’s lips. Buffy tasted a little like the cupcake she’d been eating—sticky and sweet, and like you wanted to go back in for seconds. Placing her hands tentatively at Buffy’s waist, Faith deepened the kiss, sliding one hand under the hem of Buffy’s t-shirt to rest it against her girlfriend’s bare hip.
Buffy made a soft, needy noise against Faith’s mouth, then pressed her hands against Faith’s shoulders, pushing her down into the pillows. And suddenly, something flared up in Faith: something she hadn’t felt in a very long time. Desire.
“Fuck, B—” she gasped out as Buffy’s lips moved to her neck.
Buffy stopped, looking down at her with worried eyes. “Is this okay?”
Faith’s heart was beating very fast. She’d always been the one on top, the one in control—but now it was Buffy straddling her hips and pressing her hands into Faith’s shoulders. Buffy had the leverage. Faith had never let someone do this before. “Can we—” She moved up the pillows, a combination of fear and arousal making her a little dizzy. “Can I—”
“Yeah, of course,” said Buffy, and made to move away.
Faith grabbed her waist, holding her in place.
Both of them stared at each other for a very long moment. “Faith,” said Buffy in a low murmur, face flushed, and god, that was it, that was all Faith could take. She lunged forward, catching Buffy’s face in her hands and kissing her again, deeper, harder, more—
“Faith. Faith!” Buffy pushed on her chest, still gently, just enough to break their kiss. Breathless, she said, “We need to talk about what’s going on right now, okay?”
Want, take, have. Faith remembered this. That wild feeling clawing at her chest made it hard for her to think through talking at all. “I want—” She didn’t know what she wanted. “I need—”
“Are we gonna have sex?” said Buffy, shifting a little on Faith’s lap. “Or is this just gonna be a makeout session?” She looked pointedly down at her tank top, which Faith had somehow managed to push all the way up her stomach so that it bunched under her bra. “Because we haven’t gone this far before, and I know you said you were nervous about anything besides kissing.” She reached towards Faith, carefully tucking a loose strand of hair behind Faith’s ear. She let her hand linger, fingers brushing reassuringly against Faith’s cheek. “I want to make sure this isn’t something you’ll regret.”
“It’s not,” said Faith, leaning into Buffy’s hand.
“Are you sure?”
Faith swallowed. After a moment, she said, “I think—maybe not tonight, you’re right about that, but—later. Soon.”
Buffy smiled, another one of those lopsided half-smiles that made Faith want to kiss her silly. And it was so dumb, but the stuff that drew Faith to Buffy wasn’t her hair, or her eyes, or the way they felt tangled up together—it was things like Buffy’s smile, and the funny way she spoke sometimes, and the cadence of her laugh. The stupid things. The irreplaceable things.
“Take your time, okay?” said Buffy. “I already promised you that I’d wait as long as you need. There’s no need to rush anything.”
And that made a difference, Faith thought. That made this thing with Buffy something new. Maybe she’d had sex, but she’d never had a first time—it had always been quick and rough, an attempt at distraction or transaction or just action. But Buffy was saying: we can take it slow. We don’t have to go fast to have fun.
“I love you,” said Faith. “I really do.”
“I love you too,” said Buffy warmly, clambering off of Faith’s lap to lie down in bed again. She tugged on the waistband of Faith’s pajama pants, pulling her down into her arms. “C’mon. Sleepytime.”
Faith closed her eyes and buried her face in Buffy’s shoulder, breathing her girlfriend in. She was still worried about her family—she was pretty sure that that would linger until she was certain that they were all okay. But this close to Buffy, encircled in the warm arms of someone who cared about her, she began to feel safe enough to slowly drift off to sleep.
The phone rang again in the actual morning. With a groan, Faith buried her face in the pillow, waiting for Buffy to pick it up, because she had gotten it last time and she’d be damned if she missed out on any sleep—
“Hey,” Buffy was saying. “Hi. Yeah, we’re—yes. We’re okay. No, seriously, don’t—don’t apologize, okay? I know it’s been a mess. Just focus on feeling better.” A pause. “I love you too. Rest up.” She hung up the phone, then slid back down into Faith’s arms.
“How’s it goin’?” mumbled Faith.
“Oh, you know,” said Buffy vaguely.
Faith sighed, snuggling closer. “Think it’ll get better?”
“I mean, I’d bet on us,” said Buffy, her voice softening. “We’ve all come back from worse than this. That time Giles got his throat cut, that time my ex-boyfriend tortured Jenny, that time Jenny and Willow got kidnapped—”
“Hey,” said Faith thoughtfully. “I was there for some of those.”
“Ah, memories,” said Buffy, and for whatever fucking reason, that made Faith start laughing. And then Buffy started laughing too, moving up the pillows to kiss Faith between giggles, and—something started to happen, then. The kisses got softer, more languid, and Faith found her hands moving again in the same way they had last night, pushing Buffy’s tank top up to press her hands against her girlfriend’s bare skin.
“You good?” Buffy murmured, pulling back to study Faith’s face again.
“Yeah,” said Faith softly. “Yeah. I mean, if you want—we can—we can go a little past kissing. At least, if you’re okay with that.”
“You know what, I think I should tell you something,” said Buffy, smiling slightly. “Whenever you feel one hundred percent ready to have sex, I’m there. I’m at the point where I’d like to take that step, but only when I’m sure I’m taking it with someone who’s just as sure about it as me. Okay?”
“So—whenever I say I’m ready, you’re ready?” said Faith, heart pounding. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“And you’re willing to wait around,” said Faith slowly. “Even though you want me.”
“You adorable dummy,” said Buffy, and kissed Faith again, just as gentle and lazy as before. “Don’t you remember? You spent the entirety of last year waiting around for me to figure myself out. Why would my waiting for you be any different?”
Faith let out a breath. “I don’t know,” she said awkwardly. “I just don’t have a lot of experience with…with this kind of thing.”
“Being in a relationship?”
“Trusting someone,” said Faith.
“Which is why I’m willing to wait as long as you need,” said Buffy, bumping her forehead against Faith’s.