Anya sprawled on a pile of rubble in a dusty hallway, covered with blood, her eyes open but unseeing. Xander stood before her, unable to look away from his dead fiancee's body, even though he could hear a horde of armed demons shuffling down the corridor toward him.
Anya’s eyes suddenly moved, piercing him with an accusing glare. “Xander! Why didn’t you save me?”
Xander threw himself out of bed, fighting a tangle of sheets wrapped around his legs.
It took a moment for him to calm enough to reach for the lamp by his twin bed. He sat on the floor for a long time, until his breathing settled and his personal demons retreated back down the corridor of his mind. His alarm clock told him it was 10 o’clock, but he wasn’t sure if that was morning or night. “Doesn’t matter,” he mumbled to no one, “gotta pee.”
His place didn’t have a bathroom; that was because it was supposed to be a storage closet. He threw a robe over his pajamas and stumbled bleary eyed through the door, then paused for a moment as his eye adjusted to the obscenely bright lighting of the hallway in Watcher headquarters. “Lights.” Morning in Chicago, then. Giles had the lights set to dim automatically at bedtime -- Giles’ bedtime. “Hate lights.” At his Cleveland motel, no one had ever left the lights on for him.
Something itched behind his eye patch, and he had to force himself not to scratch. Sometimes it seemed like he still had something useful under there. Sometimes it seemed like Anya was still there, too. Both were equally unlikely.
He set off for the communal bathrooms, wishing Giles would complete the negotiations so they could start constructing rooms on the floor above. He was -- how old was he? Twenty-something? Seemed like he should be older, but in any case he deserved his own room, with his own toilet. Of course, he was likely to have the men’s room to himself today. As far as he knew, since Robin had left on some mysterious mission, Giles and Richard were the only other males on this floor at the moment. It was probably tea time for those two.
To his surprise, Faith was leaning against the men’s bathroom door, one foot propped behind her. “Sorry, Xan -- occupied.”
“Occupied?” He still tensed up whenever he saw her. After all, she was his first -- well, maybe lover wasn’t the word. Plus, she’d kicked the crap out of him once or twice. “But -- two stalls, Faith. And four of those wall thingies you women don’t have a name for.”
She crossed her arms and smiled, and he noticed she wore the same leather get-up she’d had on when they passed in the hallway the previous night. Not to mention that dark lipstick, guaranteed to get some guy’s jaw broken. “The urinals are open, but I don’t think the girls would appreciate your presence -- and I don’t think you’d like it much, either.”
At that moment the lady’s room door beside them banged open and Vi stumbled out, grasping the door frame to stay upright. She looked green. Not a nice, springtime green, either. Vi looked to Faith with unfocused, bloodshot eyes. “Slayer ... “ She gulped. “Healing ... powers ...?”
Still smiling, Faith shook her head. “Give it time. I fixed up a breakfast that should help -- jammed some bananas and egg whites in a blender, it’s like a lumpy paste. Swallow that down, and it’ll fix you up good as --”
Eyes widening, Vi turned to rush back into the room. As the door closed, Xander heard the sound of retching.
“What -- is there a flu going around?” Just what they needed, Xander thought. And if it was hitting the slayers this hard, it would kill him.
“Kind of. I took the older slayers out last night, they wanted to try the high life.”
“You --” Xander stared at her, horrified. “You got them drunk? But most of them are under twenty-one!”
“Yeah, but I only took the ones who are over eighteen, or close to it. That whole drinking age thing doesn’t make sense, anyway. You can vote, and drive, and go to war, but you can’t mix some schnapps in your orange juice? What’s up with that?”
“But -- you’re supposed to set an example!” Xander’s head throbbed even more than when he’d awakened, and his bladder screamed just as loudly. “You’re a role model.”
“Elected or drafted?”
“That’s not the point. You’re here, and you need to set an example.”
“Xan, the whole reason they wanted to try it was because of setting an example. You’re a role model. You’ve gone through even more than they have, without having any powers. They look up to you, and they --”
“Whoa, wait. What does this have to do with me?”
Faith’s smile disappeared. “Is that a Bud in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”
Xander’s hand dropped to his thigh. There was, indeed, an empty beer can in the pocket of the plaid dressing gown Dawn had given him for his birthday.
“I couldn’t help noticing you’ve been hitting the sauce ever since you got back from Cleveland last week. Of course, spending time in Cleveland could drive anyone to drink.”
The men’s bathroom door shuddered, and Faith stepped aside to let Rona and Liz out. Without comment, the two slayers stumbled down the hallway toward their rooms, holding each other and sliding along the wall for support.
“Open for business. They were the only ones in the boy’s room.” Faith waved her hand invitingly, but Xander was rooted to the spot, his mind buzzing. “Come on, you must need to go bad. I saw you sneak that case of beer in yesterday.”
“I ... didn’t ...” His mind flashed to images of his father at the top of the stairs, yelling, and his uncle stumbling down the porch steps, and his family throwing silverware across the dinner table. “I’m not ... I was just having trouble sleeping ...”
“Slayers, you know. They get overconfident, think they can handle anything. Sometimes you gotta teach them a lesson the hard way. I’ll be public enemy number one for awhile, but they’ll still have you to look up to.”
Xander stared at her, unable to breath.
“Funny thing about grief.” Faith spoke in a tone he’d never heard from her. Softer than he’d ever imagined. “People handle it in all sorts of ways. Some cry, some punch walls, some try to escape ... I tried to escape, a few times. But things have a way of catching up to you.”
“This lesson wasn’t for the slayers, was it?”
“Well, I think they learned a lesson of their own. Two birds with one stone, right?”
“Yeah.” For the first time since their last day in Sunnydale, a tear slid down Xander’s cheek. “I miss her.”
“Don’t spit on her memory.” Faith rubbed his shoulder, just for a second. “You want a hug?”
Startled, Xander stared at her.
“Cause in the dining hall there’s a whole room full of slayers who don’t have hangovers. Be careful, though -- they’re all underage.” Faith sauntered down the hallways, hands in her pockets, whistling.
Because he didn’t know what else to do, Xander went on into the bathroom and took care of business. Then he returned to his room, found a trash can and the remaining beer, and took care of that business. Too many carbs in the stuff, anyway.