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Author Notes:

After the screw up last week, at least this chapter is going to the right people and is in the right category. No excuses - I wrote the dame software, I should be able to use it!

Xander held the skirting board in place and banged the nail in. He repeated all the way down, every three feet, and as he did, he lost himself in the familiar movement. And when he did, he was able to look back over previous conversations and actions, and wince.

The last few months had worked out pretty well. They’d fallen into a routine with work, studying, and Slaying. It worked for both of them. They’d even managed to save a little, so he didn’t have to work every hour available. He still did because he liked the work, but it was no longer a financial necessity.

His desperate need to fit in, to be of use, to be needed was obvious when you could look at yourself with perfect hindsight.

But as he looked at what he had done and how he had acted, he slowly started to understand just why he had done what he’d done, and what had driven him to those precise actions.

It wasn’t good for his ego, but it was good for his self awareness, and he felt like he was on the cusp of understanding something important about himself.

“..nder, Xander, Xander!”

Xander looked up. “Billy?”

“Quittin’ time.”

“Oh, right, thanks.”

“When you get in the zone, you work like a pro,” Billy praised as he headed out.

Xander handed in his helmet and walked home slowly. He opened the door, to the sight of Faith studying.

“Why the fuck is Paul buying so much shit anyway?” Faith grumbled.

Xander kicked his boots off, moved next to her, and looked at the paper in front of her. He smiled. “Because he still lives at home, and doesn’t know how to use the washer.”

“So Paul’s a loser who had Daddy put a gym in the garage and spends all week not doing legs. Probably using his Daddy’s credit card to buy this shit as well.” She sighed. “So, it’s 3 times 16 plus 2 times 22 plus 11, so that’s like, 103.”


“Damn, I might actually know some of this shit,” Faith said, her voice sounding shocked. She put her paper away.

He looked at her in surprise. She sat, cross-legged, on the table. “The big G thinks that there might be an apocalypse-type thing happening. I haven’t been that involved, but there’s this box, right, called Gavrok, or something. And in it, a fuck-ton of spiders that someone can eat, and become a demon.”

Xander frowned. “Sounds bad.”

“Yeah, G says it’s like a sixty-foot long snake with a spiked tail.”

“That’s a lot of potential leather,” Xander said dryly. Faith grinned at him.

“Not sure who or what yet, although, looking at the Mayor.”

“Wilkins?” Xander asked in shock.

“Yeah, his boys approached me the day before we moved in. Wanted to help me out. Told ‘em I already had help, and I trusted you a lot more than some weirdo in power.”

Xander frowned. “Sounds bad.”

“Yeah, guy in power wants young girl? Sure as hell I’d be paying for that. They were polite about it. So, anyway, it’s important, so G asked me to at least let you know.”

“Thanks. Do I need to do anything?”

“Not right now.”

“Part of me wants to go back,” he said softly. “Help in any way that I can.”

“Not to sound as selfish as I am, but you are. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, and as much as I dislike Slutty, there ain’t much that can beat two Slayers.”

“True,” he agreed.

“Especially one as hot as me,” Faith continued, winking at him.

“You’re on fire,” he said in the driest voice he could muster.

“Damn right,” Faith agreed. “And I’m so hot that I talked to your boss this morning, and you’ve got tomorrow off.”

“I do?”

“Yup, there’s a fair. I want to go. We’re going. You’re gonna wear your new jeans and that sweet jacket I picked up at Goodwill, and we’re gonna have a good time, understood?”

He felt his lips twist. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Good boy.

“Right, I’m heading out on patrol. Get some rest.” She uncurled and stood, bouncing out the door.

He watched her go, his eyes drawn to the skin tight pants she was wearing and shook his head. Sixty-foot snake? He didn’t think anyone had a shovel big enough to lop the head off of that.

He pulled out his notes again. Faith was getting confident about the exams; he wasn’t. It had been so long since he had really used his brains. And the poetry was god-awful.

After another hour of study, he looked up at the TV. They hardly ever had it on, and when they did, it was on music channels. They might have been better off with a radio. As soon as the contract was up they were going to get rid of the TV package.

“Fuck it,” he muttered, and headed to the bathroom. A wash and change later and he was in bed.

He awoke in the morning, and showered and then dressed as Faith had asked. He stepped out and grabbed some cereal, and ate it as he leaned against the counter.


He looked up, then had to spit some food into the sink, as he gasped and then coughed.

Faith laughed.

He turned and looked at her, properly this time and shook his head in disbelief.

“Yeah, well, I was fighting this vamp, and he had taken his jacket off, and after I killed him, I found some cash, and I was gonna share it, but then I thought that I could get you a present, and…” Faith was as close to babbling as he had ever heard her.

“You look so hot.”

Faith smiled. “Finally,” she crowed. She spun on the spot, and he gulped. She was wearing a simple white summer dress, with a narrow white strap on each shoulder, and a textured bodice.

The dress dropped to mid-thigh, and was followed by seeming miles of amazing leg, before feet and ankles wrapped in black combat boots. Her legs were possibly his new favorite thing in the world, and the top hardly hid her shape.

“I am gonna get lynched walking with you,” he predicted.

“I’ll protect you,” she said back. “And besides, these last few months of you working hard each day and us not eating junk food has hardly made you worse looking. You look fucking solid now, not work out solid, but real, like a man, you know?”

“I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, even though I still miss Twinkies.”

“Come on,” Faith ordered, as a horn blew outside. “We’re springing for a cab. I ordered it when you got out of the shower.”

He followed her, leaving his bowl in the sink, and they headed out. The cab ride took ten minutes, and he paid with a tip. He looked down as Faith’s hand grabbed his. And then they were walking together.

“I already checked, none of the fuckers are gonna be here.”

He tightened his hand on hers briefly.

They walked up a row of tents, each with a stall inside. Spotting one, Xander dragged Faith toward it, dropping her hand as they entered. He looked around, and spotted what he had hoped would be there. He nabbed it, and paid for it, seventy bucks, before Faith could protest.

For their budget, it was a bit extravagant, but he’d been working a lot of overtime.

He turned, to see Faith giving him a bemused look. “Flashback to that damn poetry,” he explained as her look turned quizzical at his chuckle. “Bemused.”

“Heh, yeah,” she agreed. He handed her the bag. She opened it, and held up the necklace. It was made of silver, with a black Celtic cross pendant that was a couple of inches high.

She put it on, and it dangled over her chest. It added a splash of dark to her white outfit. She smiled, and then held out her hand.

He took it, and they headed off. She had a persistent little smile on her face.

They played games, ate awful food, and rode on rides that would have been closed down if there was a surprise safety inspection.

They ended the day up on the big wheel, sat next to each other. As it got near the top, Faith looked at him. “I thought you were full of it,” she announced.


“That it was an elaborate ruse,” she paused, “and that’s a phrase I’ve never used in conversation before.”

“That poetry is insidious.”

Faith laughed and nodded. “Yeah, so, anyway, you’ve done exactly what you said. And you know what made me realize you are genuine?”

He shook his head.

“When you bet on me. I’ve been bet on before, and you know, it was always me as the prize. You bet your fucking lunch.”

Xander blinked. “I’d never bet something that wasn’t mine.”

Faith nodded. “So, here’s the thing. I want that to change.”


“Look, I’ve been the party girl, I’ve been the one in charge, I’ve been the one who fucks and fucks off. And I thought that people who didn’t were losers, you know. But then there was this guy, and he didn’t want to fuck me again. He just desperately needed to be needed, and then everything he said, he did. He didn’t promise the moon, he promised an apartment, and he just kept his word.

“And every night, I’d come home, and there was a bit of food ready for me. Fuck, there was a home that was mine, that I’d never really had, and I’d come home, and he’d be asleep, and I’d check, and he never woke up, because he was chill and trusted me.

“The past is that, and I’m far happier with it, lived it. Some good, some bad, but gone. I guess what I’m saying is, I need more from you.”

He blinked. “Like what?” he asked carefully.

“I want a boyfriend.”

“Wh-hua?” he asked again, as he practically heard his voice break.

“I’m not talking about sex, yet, I mean like today, I mean, your arm around me, holding hands, kissing, you know, the sappy shit. I’ve never done that, and I want to.”

“Not sure I’m the right person.”

“Fuck that,” Faith replied. “First, you look fucking good in that jacket, and you fill out that t-shirt nicely. Second, I need nice and reliable, and you are that. Third, I need someone who can look at me and want me, but still look respectful, and I ain’t never had that.

“And you know what, I have never, ever, wanted to wear a dress like this, and be girly, for another man. I like leather, I like people looking at me, but I feel special when you look at me.

“So man up, have the hottest chick you’re gonna find, date the fuck outta her, and let’s see where this fucked up train ride we call life gets two crazy and broken kids.”

“That was almost poetic,” he said dryly, and took a deep breath. As dryly as he could, he said, “Oh, God no, the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met wants to date me. Woe is me.” He looked up at her. “Yes, please.”

She laughed, and slid across the space between them, straddled his legs, and then gave him a light kiss on the lips.

And somehow, it meant more than the time they had sex.

She pulled back and smirked. She kissed him again. “That’s for the necklace.”

“I didn’t do it for that.”

“Of course not. Come on, we’ll walk home, eat at that Italian joint and get some real food inside us.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

The ride ended, and they exited the basket. Rather than hold her hand, he put his arm around her shoulders. He felt her arm go around his waist. And it felt good. They meandered toward their apartment, before stopping at the Italian.

They were welcomed; they’d been there a couple of times. And it was subtly different, the way Faith played with her hair, or with her pendant. As he watched her, she lifted it and kissed it lightly, while winking at him.

He felt himself blush.

Faith giggled, and then blushed. “Fuck,” she whispered, “I haven’t giggled since I was six.”

“Not a bad thing.”

“No,” she agreed. “Of course, you tell anyone, I’ll hafta hurt ya.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

They paused as the food arrived, and ate happily.

It wasn’t much of a walk back home, and they entered, still arm in arm. Once inside, Faith turned and kissed him gently again, before she entered her room.

He took off his jacket and boots, and collapsed on the couch. He absently turned on the T.V. for some noise, and turned it down.

“Stick a movie on,” Faith called. “Something with guns and killing.”

He chuckled and found an action movie. Faith emerged; she’d changed into flannel bottoms and a tank top. She moved over, and flopped down, draping herself over him.

Sunday morning, Xander worked as he normally did.

“Have a good day?” Hank asked.

“Very good.”

“She’s a nice girl.”

Xander nodded his agreement.

“So, you dating now?”

“Faith told you that?”

“Said you were both broken kids who were doing things differently.”

Xander winced and nodded.

“You’re a good worker, Xan, you are always here early and work late, and you’re now doing work at a high quality. So congrats, I’m paying you like a Journeyman now. We’ll take care of the paperwork after you get your G.E.D.”

“Wow,” Xander replied in shock.

“Yeah, well, you deserve it. Since you’ve started, I’ve been through five other carpenters, none of which stuck it out, even though they were all older than you. Keep it up, keep working, and you’ll go places.

“I guess what I’m saying is, get your G.E.D – because I’m taking the promotion away if you fail – keep working, and I see no reason why you and that gal can’t stay together. And seriously, you might be a seven or an eight, but she’s an eleven. You are never going to find another looker like that who can look at you like she does.”

Xander rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s just, you know, she is an eleven. She can do better.”

“You think so, huh?”

He nodded.

“Does she think so?”

He blinked.

“Because she’s never seemed to lack confidence in her looks.”

“Well, no,” he agreed.

“So, don’t be dumb, accept the fact that she sees something in you that she doesn’t see in other people, and don’t blow it.”

“That’s good advice.”

“Yeah, take it from the fifty-year-old on his second marriage. Keep this slow pace, don’t rush anything, and enjoy it.”

“Thanks, boss.”

“Yeah, now, get back to work. Lollygagging is costing me even more now. I’ll be in L.A. for the next week, so Jim will be in charge.”

At the end of the day, Xander hurried home. He opened the door, dramatically, found Faith still in her pajamas, looking at some of their G.E.D notes. He picked her up, span her around, and kissed her.

“I approve,” she said with a smile. “What’s up?”

“I got a promotion. Works out at five bucks an hour, after tax.”

“Wait,” Faith said. A look of concentration appeared. “That’s an extra $800 basic a month?”

He nodded.

“Fuck,” she whistled. “Look who’s a high roller now,” she teased. She kissed. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Means we can do a bit more.”

“We should save,” she suggested. “Get a car, or maybe a bike.”

“A bike?”

“Yeah, I can be your biker chick. Also, cheaper, easier to fix, there’s only two of us, and if we want to go anywhere, we can pack light.”

“Those are not bad points,” he mumbled. “What are the bad points?”

Faith pouted. “Fine, they’re more dangerous and less convenient if you want to move shit.”

“But I can heal from broken bones quickly and you’re a Slayer.”

Faith’s pout vanished. “Neat, in which case, I’m gonna get dressed and go get a paper. We’ll see if we can find a place offering lessons, get our licenses, and be official, and all that shit.”

“Damn, I gotta pass my test again?”

“It’s an endorsement on your license,” Faith corrected, “just a quick written test and a riding test. It will be easy. We can do that first, and then find a bike we like.”

“Hmm,” Xander mused. “I drive, I get you pressed against my back, you drive, I get my arms around you. I win both times.”

Faith grinned. “Ditto.”

She bounced away to get dressed. She poked her head out. “You gonna make burgers for dinner?”

“Sounds like a plan,” he agreed.

“And get a nap so we can patrol later?”


“Good.” He went to his room and took off his boots, before heading to the kitchen. He opened a cookbook and followed the recipe to make the patties, before shoving them in the fridge.

Faith bounded out the door, and he chuckled, then collapsed on the couch. He was a bit tired, but his mind was wired with the idea of having their own transport, and being able to visit places easily.

He relaxed, yawned, and drifted off.

He awoke to find Faith draped over him. She awoke as he moved. “You looked comfy,” she explained. “Found a place, we can do it in the evenings. Should take three or four weeks, a couple of hundred bucks each.

“Oh, and I forgot to tell you on Friday, I had a chat with the G.E.D. people. They’re like, super-helpful. They’ve got an exam going on in two weeks.”

“That’s close,” he said.

“Yeah, but we can treat it like a practice exam, you know? They’re chill with the idea, and we’ll then have three more months, which would be right?”

He thought. “Yeah, that makes sense,” he agreed.

“Best thing, it’s free, because we’re under twenty-one. I explained that I’m an orphan who fucked up, and you dropped out to grow up, get a job, and you’re helping me.”

“That doesn’t sound as good as you spend every night killing vampires.”

“Yeah, I felt like an idiot, but you know, I still remember fighting, fucking, and running away. Not scared like I used to be. Every day, you know, it’s a bit better.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean. Every day, I feel a bit better, like I really over-reacted to what happened, I coulda handled it better.”

“It’s the fear,” Faith said. “You had your role, and it was taken away.”

He nodded.

“Right, I’ve been jonesing for your meat all day.”

Xander laughed at the impish look on her face. He slid out from under her. “Far be it for me to keep my girlfriend waiting.”

“Damn right, chef-boy. We should get you an apron; you can cook naked under it.”

“Faith,” he protested playfully.

“I’ll put on a school girl uniform for you,” she offered, a sultry look in her eyes.

“There goes standing up straight,” he mumbled.

Faith laughed and moved to the doorway so she could watch him cook. He didn’t know why she liked his burgers, they did taste good, but he was pretty sure anyone could cook them.

He grinned, as the rolls, salad and condiments were waiting for him. It didn’t take long for him to heat the griddle and get them cooking. As he let them rest, he knocked together the rest, placing a slice of cheese on each at the proper point to ensure it melted without running off or burning.

He put three on a plate for Faith, and had two himself.

“Yeah,” Faith groaned as she sat at the table. “That’s what I wanted.”

Patrol was quiet, too quiet, really, but at least it allowed them to hold hands and talk.

The next few days flew by, as he worked and studied with Faith. She would spend the mornings asleep, work out and practice her fighting with Giles during the day, and then study with him before patrol in the evenings.

She’d join him for breakfast and tell him stories of what they had killed the night before. There were times when he wanted to get out there and help, but he knew he was helping in a different way.

He often studied at night, but he wasn’t getting into the poetry, and his eyes glazed over every time he started one – especially the ones with Latin in the titles.

“Come on, Xan,” he encouraged himself, talking over the sound of the music playing on the T.V.

“What’s happening?”

Xander jumped and turned to see Faith standing by the door, a grin on her face.

“My heart beating at a hundred miles an hour,” he groaned. “I’m supposed to be looking at this damn poetry, right, but I look at the title and my eyes just blur. Some of the other poems have been good, but this one?”

Faith moved over and picked the piece of paper, her eyes scanning it. “Dude, this poem’s like epic, and it’s full of death and dismemberment!”

Xander blinked. “You can put that in poetry? I thought it was all, alas, alack, I’m in love, sorta crap.”

“His hanging face, like a devil’s sack of sin;” she quoted. “It’s like something from Robocop.”

“True,” he mused.

“Hey, an idea,” she said. “I’ll read it to ya.”

He crossed his legs and looked at her attentively. “Is now a good time to admit that I fancy the teacher?”


“I fancy the teacher.”

Faith grinned and started to read.

“Do we have a Latin dictionary?” Xander asked, after applauding as she finished.

“I’ll get the G-man to translate it tomorrow?”

“Screw that.” Xander picked up the phone and dialed Giles’ number. “Hey, G-man,” he said as the Brit answered the phone with his traditional hello.

“Xander,” Giles replied, and Xander could hear him rolling his eyes over the phone.

“Anyway, I need some Latin translated. Faith’s just read me this awesome poem, and its title and then end are in Latin, and I have to know what they mean.”

Giles paused. “Okay, not a question I anticipated, but sure, go ahead.”

He reached out, and Faith passed him the poem. “Okay, it ends with, ‘The old lie, D…”

Before he could finish, Giles interrupted with the entire line.

“I’m seriously impressed,” Xander stated.

“As am I,” Giles replied. “It translates as ‘it is sweet and right to die for your country.’”

“And it’s a lie, and he’s talking about how war sucks,” Xander said. “And he’s digging into the lies recruiters and the forces like to tell you, about how dying for the flag is somehow good, but at the end of the day, you’re still dead and you are just a name on the wall?”

He could actually hear Giles smile over the phone. “That’s exactly it, Xander.”

“Cool, thanks Giles, I appreciate the translation. We’ll probably see you soon.” After a goodbye, he hung up and grinned at Faith. “It is sweet and right to die for your country,” he repeated to Faith, “but that’s not like sweet as we use it, it’s more like, good, ya know?”

Faith grinned and nodded. “Told you it was awesome.”

He moved over and hugged her, before dropping a kiss on her lips. “Let’s rent a movie and get some Chinese in.”

The next evening, he was finishing the dishes, as Faith had cooked, when there was a knock at their door. Which was unusual because he’d never heard anyone knock on it.

Faith opened it. “Who are you?” she asked before pausing. “Yo, Xan, you know a blonde bimbo and a jock?”

“Not recently,” he called, and entered the living room.

“You better come in,” Faith sighed.

“Harmony, Larry,” he said, as looked at the two. “Not to be impolite, but what the fuck are you doing here?”

They looked uncomfortable, as they walked in. He gestured to the couch, and sat in the arm chair. Faith perched next to him.

“Nice place,” Harmony said, “And I mean that in the, you’re paying for it yourself, kinda way, not living off of mommy and daddy, like the rest of us.”

“Thanks,” he said, as dryly as he could.

“So, like, it’s the prom in three weeks,” Harmony continued, “and then the end of the year. And the committee was talking; something is gonna happen at graduation.”

He cocked his head.

“Summers, Rosenburg and Cordelia have been talking,” she explained. “Which is why we’re here.”

“Yeah,” Larry said. He paused and looked at Faith. “Fuck, Harris, out of the damn park, man.”

“Yeah,” Faith agreed with a complete lack of modesty. She put her hand possessively on his shoulder as she looked at Harmony.

“So, right, erm, yeah,” Larry continued. “Look, Rosenburg, Summers, Cordelia, they are trying to, you know, organize us, but they suck.”

“They suck so much,” Harmony agreed. “Like, as bad as me when I was in charge of the cheerleading squad. We got to talking, and we were like, who can organize us? And your name came up.”

“So, a few people saw you two at the fair, it’s not as if a hunk in a leather jacket and a hot chick in a dress like the one you were wearing don’t stand out,” Larry continued. “A load of boys were drooling over her.”

Xander frowned, and covered Faith’s hand with his own. He felt her squeeze.

“And honestly, if I’d known that under that loser persona there was a hunk who can leave school and not end up a drugged out loser, I’d’ve cut Cordelia a hell of a lot more slack.”

“Yeah, that’s the past.”

“Moving on,” Larry said, taking the hint. “We need to know what to do, on Graduation, and like, you’re voted in.”

“Are you nuts?” Xander asked. “I’m not a student, I can’t help that.”

“Pfft,” Harmony waved her hand. “You understand, and your girl’s like Summers, right?”

“I am,” Faith agreed. “Problem is, we don’t like that bunch.”

“Come on, we need you,” Harmony protested.

“Fine,” Xander groaned. “We’ve got something important to do the next few weeks, but the week before prom, we’ll have a plan and we’ll come and discuss it with you.”

“Cool,” Harmony cheered. “So, yeah, we’ll, like, get out of your hair.”

“Please do not give our address to others.”

“Sunnydale’s not that big, so people will see you, but people are not gonna, like, drop around uninvited.”

“Cool,” Faith agreed. The two stood, and Faith escorted them out. She returned. “I know I should have offered them a drink, but, well, you know?”

“Yeah.” And he did.

After patrol, they went back to studying with a vengeance. Even their Saturday evening they studied until late, watched a movie and then fell asleep on each other the couch.

The following Monday, he arrived home to an immediate question.

“What the fuck has some ancient Greek dude got to do with triangles and why should I care?” Faith demanded. “I’m clearly too fucking dumb to understand this shit.”

He paused. She was sat on the floor in shorts and a tank-top, her hair was pulled back in a pony tail and she had a pencil behind one ear. Next to her was a bin full of crumpled up paper.

“One second,” he said. He toed his boots off and removed his jacket. He headed into the kitchen and got two cans of beer out. He popped them and poured them into glasses, before sitting down on the floor next to her. He picked up the worksheet she was looking at and glanced at the problem. Faith drained half her glass.

“Okay, Greek dude was Pythagoras. We know him, remember, crazy beard dude.”

“Oh, yeah,” Faith said, calming down. “ A -squared plus B -squared equals C -squared,” she recited.

“Bingo. So, we got a couple of triangles that are close buds. And we know some of the distances, right?”

Faith nodded. “And we have that big A divided by little A formula crap to work it out?” Her voice had changed, as the frustration was gone.

“Right, so we know that X divided by 20 is basically the same as doing thirteen divided by twenty six.”

“Yeah, and thirteen divided by twenty six is half, right?”


“So it’s half times twenty, which is ten?”

Xander flipped the sheet with the answers over. And showed it to her.

“Yes!” Faith jumped up and punched the air. “Take that, you piece of shit math problem.”

Xander laughed. “I’m gonna take a shower.” He took his glass with him. He’d learnt long ago that unattended beer (and food) tended to be Shanghaied by Faith.

“I’ll get the food going,” Faith agreed. “Thanks, Xan.”

He smiled at her, and headed to the shower. He was in a really good mood now. There was something really good about helping, but at the same time, he was starting to realize that being needed wasn’t everything. He didn’t need to dedicate everything to it. If Faith was good for one thing, it was her confidence.

Sure she had issues as big as his, but underneath that was someone who would always be able to drag herself back from the edge, no matter how close to it she got.

And he was paying attention to that confidence. He had lost his own, and was rebuilding it. He was good at carpentry. He worked hard, and he was a good provider. Some of the really good carpenters got paid a very serious amount of money, and if he followed his vocation, paid his dues, and became a Master, he could make some serious cash, even without going to college.

Sure, if he didn’t have Faith, he would have to devise another way of dealing with the things that liked to go bump in the night, but that was a good thing. It meant he wasn’t feeling as dependent as he had when they had first got together.

He really didn’t want her to leave, and he wanted to see where this journey was gonna take them, but he would never allow himself to fall into the almost depression-like state that he had been in when Buffy, Willow and Cordelia had told him they didn’t need him.

He wasn’t that person, and didn’t want to be that person. He was becoming an adult and he was damn proud of that achievement.

“And I’m pretty sure you would be, too, Jessie,” he said softly, looking up at the ceramic dragon. He grinned. “They might not be as big, but I reckon Faith has better tits than Cordelia.”

He could hear Jessie’s denials ring in his ear, before he took his shower.

The Saturday of the test started a little cool, and Xander showered and dressed in comfortable clothing. He exited his room, to find that Faith was prowling back and forth. She’d only done a quick patrol the night before, and looked wide awake.

And both wired and extremely nervous.

“Xan, do we have to do this?” she asked, as she looked up at him. “We’re five by five as we are.”

“If you score better than me, I’ll get the apron. I score better than you, you break out the school girl uniform.”

Faith almost stumbled, and met his eyes. She laughed suddenly, and moved over and hugged him. She buried her face in his neck, and he ran his hands around her waist. For the first time in ages, the urge to say something stupid was strong, but he resisted. Jokes had a time and a place, but this wasn’t it. Well, not the stupid sort anyway, they were both trying to leave their pasts behind and become more.

“Faith, you’ve studied for this test, and it’s just a practice anyway. We’ll go, take it, and see how much more we need to study, and what to focus on. The next time, we’ll kick its ass from here to the big city.”

“Yeah,” Faith said, as she exhaled and then stood back. She looked at him hopefully for a second, before she gave an exaggerated sigh. “Fine, if you’re not gonna say it, I am. We’ll slay the test!”

He blinked at her for a second, and then laughed.

“One of us has to say something like that,” she said, her lips pursed. “Now, you get some breakfast on, while I go and get dressed outta my run-away clothes.”

“Okay,” he said, and watched her leave, because frankly, the run-away clothes involved tight leather, and he was all for that.

He headed into the kitchen and got some eggs going for breakfast, and then put some bacon on so they could take some sandwiches with them for lunch.

He put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, and timed it so that the eggs were done the same time as the bread, and called out for Faith. She turned up, wearing slacks and a blouse, the cross he’d given her on top.

“Good impressions, right?”

He nodded and put the plate in front of her. Out of their original budget, the only thing they’d gotten wrong was the food budget. That had eaten into their spare money before he’d got the pay rise. A Slayer’s appetite was huge.

After breakfast, he did the dishes while Faith made her specialty sandwiches. With their lunch packed, he took Faith’s hand and they walked out.

Outside their apartment, casually resting against his truck – a Ford that could probably eat most other vehicles on the road – was his boss. “Hank?”

He nodded. “Faith, Xander,” he said. “You are living up to your word, so I figured I’d give you a lift.”

“Thanks,” Xander said, “but you didn’t have to come out all this way just for that!”

Hank smiled, and opened the door. There was enough room for the three on the front seat. Faith went in the middle, and then rested against his shoulder.

“Thanks for this,” Faith said, as Hank entered. “It’s because of my man that I’m still here. I was ready to bolt this morning, school and I never got along, but I knew he’d talk me out of it, and he did.”

Hank chuckled.

“Of course, now I gotta get a better score than him. There’s a bet riding on it.”


“Hey, he’s my boss,” Xander complained. “There are some things he doesn’t need to know.”

“Yes, dear,” Faith agreed, a mocking little tilt in her voice, “I get a higher score than him; he cooks in just an apron for me.” She paused. “He wins, well, I’m gonna break out the white blouse, Mary Janes and short plaid skirt, and we’ll see what a bad girl I can be.”

“Faith,” he whined, as he shifted, the thought of having a boner in his boss’s car just enough to get his mind off of the thought of Faith dressed like that.

Hank was laughing. “That’s one way of encouraging each other.”

“If normal worked for us, I’d be in school back east, and he’d have never left. Of course, he’d still be with his shit parents and massively unhappy under the class clown act, and I’d be the biggest bitch this side of the Atlantic.”

“A lot of folks are different,” Hank agreed. “It’s what you do with the difference that counts.”

“Growing up is hard,” Faith sighed.

“It doesn’t get much easier.” Hank indicated and pulled into the Sunnydale Adult Education car park. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” they both said, as they exited the cab and entered the building.

“My, how wonderful it is to meet you. Two kids fixing their mistakes the old fashioned way with gumption and hard work.”

“Erm, thank you, Mayor Wilkins,” Xander said in surprise. To say he was shocked to see the man in front of him was an understatement. He was wearing a red sweater with a white shirt under it, and some casual slacks.

“Not at all, young man. Why, when I heard from Doris here that two of our youths were taking their G.E.D today, I just had to say good luck. Doris was a dear and informed me that this is a bit early for you, so it is just a warm up, but that doesn’t matter. You are taking another step to becoming good citizens.”

“Thanks,” Xander said, feeling more than a little wigged out.

“Well, I won’t keep you anymore.” He smiled. “Remember to vote Wilkins,” he added, and walked out.

“That was fucking weird,” Faith mumbled.

“Come on, you two,” the woman he now knew was called Doris said with a gesture. Inside a large classroom, two desks were set up.

“Mayor Wilkins has always been a big supporter of Adult Education,” she explained. “He’s helped fund this center.”

“Oh,” Xander said.

“Well, here we go. We’re going to start with Language Arts.”

Xander sat, and at her word, turned over the paper.

“DULCE ET DECORUM EST,” was the header of the first page. He looked at the first question, and smiled.

They paused for a break, both deciding that they would rather kept going, as they wanted it over and done with.

When they had finished, Doris looked at them, her face straight. “Make yourselves a cup of coffee, while I grade the last exam,” she said.

They headed to the waiting area. “Fuck, eight hours of tests. I’ve never sat so damn still in my life!”

“I kept wanting to get up and fix the skirting,” Xander agreed. “Shoddy workmanship.”

Faith laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Ready to put on a show for me?” she asked. “I’ll get some ones and fives!”

“You see, there’s the difference,” he teased. “You come out in a school girl uniform and I’m gonna be putty anyway.” He paused. “Mentally, at least.”

She kissed him, quite chastely, and then let go of the hug. He turned and put a couple of quarters in the vending machine. The room seemed to fill with nervous energy as they waited. They looked at each other, but neither seemed to be able to break the tension. Even the bad coffee didn’t help.

The door opened and Doris appeared with a sad look on her face. He grabbed Faith’s hand. “What areas do we need to concentrate on?” he asked.

She sighed. “I’m disappointed,” she confessed. “I thought I’d get to see you again, but seeing as you both passed, I guess I won’t.”

Xander felt his mind shut down for a second. He had to shake himself to get it to wake up. “What?”

“You passed.”

“Both of us?” Faith squeaked.

“Both of you,” Doris said with a wide smile.

“Even me?” she checked.

“Even you.”

Xander whooped as he stood, and lifted Faith and swung her around, before hugging her tightly. Faith hugged him back as hard, as she laughed. “We did it!”

“See, I told you that you aren’t dumb,” he said happily.

“I passed because you sat through all my tantrums, all my insecurity, and was with me every damn step of the way.”

“Hey,” he said mildly, “who was there when I was doubting?”

“Me,” she said smugly. “We did it, Xan.”

“You both did very well,” Mayor Wilkins voice called. He entered the room; he’d changed his sweater from earlier. “In fact, both of you would have scored in the top ten percent of your class, had you stayed in school. It is clear that you’ve both studied very hard.” He paused and offered his hand. Xander shook it, and was surprised to find it felt normal, and not creepy at all.

Faith shook his hand as well.

“Now, as I’m delighted that you’ve both passed, I’ve written you both a letter of recommendation for college.”

“I could go to college?” Faith asked, her voice very small.

“You could, there are many reputable student loan companies, and I have left the details with Doris.”

“You want to go?” Xander asked Faith.

“Maybe,” she mumbled. “Kinda, a little, dunno, would like to at least look at it.”

“Well, I don’t want to. I’d rather keep working and get on with my career. But, you know, we already have a place, we’d probably be able to swing the cost of the tuition...”

Faith was suddenly wrapped around him tightly.

The mayor chuckled. “Well, I’m sure you would prefer to go to a discotheque rather than hang about with an old person like me.” He paused. “Oh, and as you’ve both done so well, I see no reason why you can’t receive your General Educational Development certificate at the Graduation in two weeks. I’ve already talked to Principal Snyder and he is utterly delighted at your progress and looks forward to seeing you.” The mayor smiled once more. “Once more, many congratulations,” he said as he walked out.

“And from me,” Doris said, as she left them alone.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked, as he sat down. Faith looked at him, with tear-shot eyes.

She hiccupped a little laugh. “Yeah. It just hit me, you know, everything. That I’m here, I’ve got a future, and I’ve got a man whose first thought was how to help me get to my dreams.” She smiled. “Life, you know, it’s good.”

“Apart from the upcoming apocalypse?”

She snorted. “Faith the Slayer ain’t going down to anyone, not when Faith the Slayer has a real home to go to.”

“Come on, let’s get out of here.”

They both walked out, and got their scores in an envelope as they said goodbye to Doris. Outside, it was a gorgeous day that seemed that little bit brighter than the previous few weeks.

To their surprise, Hank was there again. This time, so was Giles.

“Congratulations,” Giles said. “Mayor Wilkins informed me that you had both passed.”

“Thanks, G-man,” Xander agreed.

“I agree. Not bad for a trial run, eh?” Hank asked.

Xander rubbed the back of his neck. “I think we were both using that excuse to take the pressure off.”

“Yeah,” Faith agreed. “I’d’ve been upset if we’d failed after all the studying we’d done. Xan practically taught me half the stuff in there.”

“What scores did you get?” Giles asked.

Xander handed him the envelope. “We haven’t looked yet.”

The Watcher opened it, and smiled. “Wow, considering that a pass is 2250, you both did exceptionally well. Faith, you got 3040, and you did really well in Math.”

“Ha, take that crazy beard dude with a triangle fetish,” Faith cheered. “So, what about my X-man?”

Xander had to keep his face still, even as his inner child geeked out at both the possessive phrase and what she had called him.

Giles sighed. “Xander, you studied for this, right?”

He nodded. “A lot.”

“Have you ever studied for a test before?”

Xander opened his mouth, and then shut it. He thought. “Only when Willow made me, and I was normally too concerned with slacking off and making jokes.”

“And this time was different?” Giles asked.

“Sure, I said I’d do it, and Faith was there working hard, I couldn’t let her, or Hank, or more importantly, myself down. They believed in me.”

Giles took off his glasses and polished them. “I’ll bet it never occurred to you that you were easily passing high school, and that if you studied more, you could get on the honor roll?”

“Huh?” he asked.

Giles sighed. “Teenagers,” he mumbled.

“Your teacher is trying to tell you that you’re smart, and if you’d put this dedication into school work, I’d be down a carpenter, and you’d be heading to college.”

“No,” Xander said, “College was never for me. I need to be moving, using my hands.”

“Well, your lowest score was 720 out of 800. In your language, and God only knows how, considering how you used to butcher my mother tongue, you scored 796.”

Xander felt his mouth drop open.

“Woohoo!” Faith cheered. “Way to go!”

He turned and grabbed Faith. “Thanks,” he whispered into her hair. “For helping fix me.”

“We did each other,” she whispered back. “And you win the bet.”

“Well, congratulations. Xander, Faith, please drop by tomorrow?” Giles asked.

They both nodded and said their goodbyes as Giles got in his car and drove off.

“That was a bit weird,” Hank pointed out.

Xander nodded his agreement. “G-man is the librarian. I spent a lot of time avoiding work in there,” he replied.

“Anyway, and this is your boss pulling rank, we’re going out for dinner to celebrate.”

“Do we need to change?” Faith asked.

“You both look fine.” They piled in to the Ford, and were driven to a slightly clichéd-looking Mexican restaurant. Inside, Xander was surprised to find Harmony, as well as an older woman there. The joined them at a table that was in the corner.

“Hey Xander, Faith, like, congratulations,” she greeted them.

“Suddenly, you knowing where we live isn’t a surprise,” Xander said dryly.

Harmony grinned. “So, you know my step-dad, and this is my mom, Charlotte.”

“Charmed,” the older woman said, before she looked impish. “I’m looking forward to hearing all the true stories about my daughter at school.”

“Mom!” Harmony yelped.

“I haven’t been there for a while, and before that, we weren’t really friends,” Xander said, “and I’m not one to pass on unsubstantiated rumor.”

Charlotte pouted, while Harmony looked relieved. Without looking up from the menu, Hank asked, “Does your expression mean that we wouldn’t approve?”

“Dad,” Harmony protested. She groaned, “Look, maybe I’ve been a bit of a bitch, but I’m still, you know, growing up and all that.”

“Enough of this,” Charlotte said. “Dirty laundry should be dealt with in private.”

“I dunno, it’s a bit like a free show,” Faith pointed out. “Besides, seeing parents that care? Bit weird for both of us.”

“Agreed. My parents care dramatically, as long as it’s for a bottle of Jack.

“But as a subject change was requested, how did you know it was congratulations?” Xander asked.

“Because if you failed, Dad was gonna take you to a dive and get you plastered.”

“You’re not that rich,” Faith interjected, causing a laugh.

A waitress popped by, and Hank ordered a barrel of bottles of Mexican beer. The waitress didn’t blink at the underage people at the table, and went to fetch it. The half-barrel, full of ice arrived almost instantly.

Faith reached out and snagged one, popping the cap with her thumb, and took a long drink, draining half the bottle. She relaxed, and leant against Xander. “That’s better,” she said with a long sigh. “Last week, we studied until eleven, and fell asleep watching a shitty movie.”

“Worth it,” Xander said, as he opened a bottle the conventional way, with the bottle opener attached to the barrel, and offered it to Charlotte, who took it with a smile. He did the same for Harmony and Hank.

Faith waited until Hank had a beer. “True. Who’d have thought that studying paid off?”

“I meant that I got to sleep with you in my arms,” Xander said.

Faith turned and looked at him. “Cheesy,” she informed him. She reached up and touched her lips to his. “Sweet, though.”

“So, what happened to you, Xander? Because, honestly, you were, like, the class clown with bad dress sense.”

“I still have bad dress sense.”

“Which is why I now buy most of his clothes,” Faith agreed. “I might not be a clothes horse, but I know what I like on my man.”

“As for me…” Xander said. “You won’t repeat this?”

Harmony looked serious. “I promise.”

“Very much so,” Hank agreed, “she’s given her word.”

“And breaking my word means no allowance,” Harmony said, “and grounding, and it’s the prom next week.”

“In short, I lost myself, and didn’t know what I was doing. So I was all set to skip town, bus ticket and all, and I met Faith on the way.”

“I was having a bad time as well, and was about to do something just as stupid. We got to talking, and decided that we could either do the thing that seemed natural, which would be something stupid, or try something different.”

“So I quit school, and went begging to Hank.”

“Who took a gamble and got a damn reliable carpenter out of it. Worked out for me.”

“And us,” Faith agreed. “So yeah, we basically just try and do things differently from our instincts. “I know Xander wanted to dance after we got the results, but instead, he realized that having a hot girl pressed against was better than any damn solo dorky dance.”

“Damn straight.”

There was a round of laughter. “Right, we ready to order?” Hank asked.


“And it’s our treat, and if you’ve seen some of the blouses that Harmony wears, you’ll understand why we say order what you like.” Charlotte tucked some hair behind her ear. “They do great steaks here.”

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Author Notes:

Thanks to Luan Mao (Who updated Something Like Your Family just yesterday) for betaing this for me, and for changing a line to make it far funnier.

I took some liberties with the poem involved, as I seriously doubt that an American G.E.D. test would focus on a British war poet - but if you can't put your favourite poem in, why bother?

Wilkins was an amazing villain, he was so aware that politenes cost nothing.

Harmony is always (well, when I still read BtVS fanfiction) portrayed as a one dimensional-ditz, Over the final two chapters, I'll be trying to add at least one more dimension.

And to finish off:


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.