LA’s Angels. 16

16

From the corner of her eye, Buffy could see Cordelia standing absolutely still, glancing from her to Xander and back again.

She wasn’t entirely sure how she afforded to be so perceptive given the circumstances—her heart pounding against her ribs, her palms sweaty, her head spinning—but when Cordy muttered, “I, uh, have to be… not here” and ran for the door, Buffy tore her eyes away from Xander to stare at her friend’s retreating form.

Cordy shot her an encouraging smile before the door closed with the quietest bang Buffy had ever heard.

Leaving her alone with her best friend. The same best friend she soooo never planned to confess out her feelings for in such a complete blurtfest. Oh. God.

Slowly, Buffy lifted her eyes to him, her stomach turning cartwheels. “Xander—”

“Just—” He held up a finger, silencing her as he strode forward, his entire body trembling with emotion. He stopped a foot away from her, breathing heavily. “You love me?”

Buffy felt tears prick behind her eyes, unable to say a word. Oh, God, she couldn’t breathe.

“Love like—” Xander made various nervous hand gestures that normally would have made her smile but instead merely added to her hyperventilation. He released a breath. “Do you?”

Buffy bit her lip, blinking furiously as her vision became blurry. Looking into his eyes, she managed to force a reedy breathe but no recognizable words. Say it. For God’s sake, say it before he totally freaks or you pass out! She could no longer deny it—not to him and definitely not to herself. “I do.”

Xander’s eyes teared up almost instantly and he opened and closed his mouth several times, as though searching for the right words.

“I love you.” Buffy admitted. “But, Xander—”

“No, no buts.” He bridged the gap between them, sliding his fingers through her hair and framing her face. Her eyes fluttered shut, the tears she’d withheld escaping and rolling down her cheeks as Xander gently, tentatively laid his lips atop hers.

Joy filled her soul, her heart rocketing as love flooded every cell in her body. Xander deepened the kiss, slanting his mouth across hers and taking her breath away. Buffy wrapped her arms around him, holding on for dear life as she kissed her best friend, amazed that this was even happening.

In all their years of friendship, in all her times of happiness and despair and everything else, he’d been there, right by her side. And she’d loved him for it—for the man he was and the woman he allowed her to be. It had taken almost losing him to realize it but she was here now, in this moment and in his arms, her body bursting with exhilaration and delight.

It seemed like a lifetime later but Xander pulled back, his hands still cupped around her face. He leaned his forehead against hers and smiled.

Her heart fluttered.

“I love you, Buffy,” he said softly, rubbing his nose with hers. “I always have, I always will.” He grinned. “And you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to say that to you.”

Buffy smiled, resting her hand on his cheek. “I’m sorry it took me so long to tell you.” Her heart broke a little at what she was about to say. “But, Xander, we can’t do this.”

His face fell. Buffy swallowed. Make that broke a LOT.

“What are you talking about?” His hands slipped from her face to her shoulders, squeezing. His eyes widened in realization. “I broke up with Faith, Buffy.”

“I worked that out.” Buffy nodded, winding her fingers through his. She half smiled. “Kinda figured you wouldn’t have kissed me like that if the two of you were together.”

Xander shook his head in confusion. “Then why—?”

“I love you,” Buffy interrupted. “I love you so much. But we can’t do this.” She brought their joint hands to her chest. “Not so soon after you’ve broken up with Faith.”

Xander stared at her, silent.

Buffy released a shuddering breath, pursing her lips together when her eyes began to tear again. “I don’t want to hurt her.” One tear after another wet her cheek. “And I don’t want to hurt you.” She pressed her forehead to his chest, gathering her strength. “So this can’t happen. Not just yet.”

There was a pregnant pause before Xander said a word, mulling over her declaration. It was difficult to give someone up so soon after you’d found them. And while Buffy was tempted to throw it all to hell and keep going, she couldn’t,

“You’re right,” Xander said finally, kissing the top of her head as his arms tightened around her. “We’ll wait.”

Buffy nodded, allowing herself a few more seconds in his arms before she pulled away from him, the crestfallen expression on his face mirroring her own. She knew she’d go to bed with a shattered heart, even though it was the right thing to do.

****

THE NEXT MORNING

Angel rolled over in Cordelia’s bed, shielding his eyes from the dull light that flowed just short of the bed from either end of the balcony curtains. There was a gaping space next to him and he turned his head towards the clattering sounds coming from the bathroom.

“Cordelia?”

“Yeah?” She emerged from the bathroom, fully dressed in a simple black shirt and jeans, still running a brush through her hair.

Angel groaned, ducking his head under the pillow. “Baby, it’s nine o’clock in the morning…”

“I know.” Cordy walked briskly over to the bed, sitting on the edge and pulling her boots on. “But Faith didn’t answer any calls last night and I want to head over and make sure she’s okay.”

Angel peaked out from under the pillow. “Did the boy choose Buffy?”

Cordy nodded.

“Huh.” Angel shrugged. “I would’ve gone with Faith.”

Cordy shot him a look. “Uh-huh, okay, I’ll file that under ‘information I could’ve done without yet will come back to haunt you.’ And, yeah, well he’s Buffy’s best friend. He’s been in love with her for years and she’s practically the only one who didn’t know.” She rolled her eyes. “We should’ve seen this coming.”

“We?”

“Make that me and Riley and any other relevant person who is not you or Buffy.”

Angel fiddled with the hem of her shirt, pulling it up slightly and placing a kiss on her naked hip. “So, is this Riley guy still in love with you?”

“It should go without saying that he adores me beyond all reason.” Cordelia grinned at the change of subject. “But, no. That was different—we were together and *then* we became best friends.” She squirmed when he traced the outline of her tattoo. “The break up was a mutual decision. But hey, if you’re still curious, you can ask him tonight over dinner.”

“Hmm…” Angel agreed, barely listening. Her tattoo was fascinating, dark and brilliant, standing out against a radiant canvas of bronze, flawless skin. When she bent over for her other boot he seized the opportunity, lifting her shirt a little higher. He pressed a kiss to the very centre of the sun, trailing his tongue down to the base.

Cordelia shivered. “Angel—” She sucked in a breath and the scent of arousal flooded the air. Angel wrapped a hand around her waist, hooking a finger through a loop in her jeans. “Angel, I have to go.”

She made an attempt to stand, nearly falling backwards as he tugged at the loop. He tried to pull her back into bed but she was having none of it. Cordy pulled away from him, squeezing his chin between her thumb and her forefinger, placing a wet, mushy kiss on his mouth.

“Sorry, gorgeous.” She winked as she grabbed her jacket, heading for the door and leaving him aroused and frustrated. “We’ll finish this when I get back.”

****

Faith sipped her morning tea, resting her head against the soft pillows of her couch where she’d fallen asleep the night before watching Sex & the City. Man, she loved that Samantha.

She sighed, wrapping the blanket a little tighter around herself. She wasn’t sure what was worse—the fact that she’d been dumped by Xander Harris, or the fact that she hadn’t had the sense to dump him first.

It wasn’t like she was really bitter about it—they weren’t anywhere close to serious and she’d never to the day had a guy leave enough of an impact on her to make her give a crap when he walked away—but the logistics of the whole thing irked her a little.

Xander was obviously still in love with Buffy. He always would be. She wasn’t sure why she’d even pursued it in the first place. She liked the guy, sure, but it wasn’t like she wanted a house with picket fences and a cat named Betty. And she damn sure hadn’t wanted to be the blunt object that brought Xander and Buffy to their collective senses. So what the hell had she been thinking?

The doorbell startled her out of her thoughts and Faith groaned, uncurling from beneath the blanket and pushing herself off the couch. She looked through the peep hole, smirking as she opened the door. “I was wondering how long it’d take before you showed up.”

“I come bearing gifts.” Cordelia Chase walked through the door and into the apartment like she owned it, dropping the burgundy Prada bag she was carrying down on the kitchen counter and lifting items out of it. One by one she handed them to Faith. “Behind pocket number one…”

“Liquorice?” Faith asked, staring in confusion at the packet in her hand.

“I know you love it.” Cordy handed her a CD, delving right back into the bag.

“Heavy metal music?” Faith cracked a smile. “Cordelia—”

Cordy shrugged. “I know you like pummelling things when you’re angry. Seemed like an appropriate soundtrack Which reminds me…” She frowned, rifling frantically through the bag. “Now where did I—aha! Here.”

She handed Faith a small, thick plastic packet with a grin, hands on her hips. Faith studied the packet, feeling a surge of laughter bubble up in her throat. “An inflatable doll?”

“It was either that or a punching bag.” Cordy smirked, waggling her eyebrows. “I figured you’d have more fun with the doll.” She pointed at the packet. “And look, it’s blonde”

Faith released a snort of laughter, tossing the bag onto the counter and walking around it into the living room. “Thanks, Cor,” she said dryly. “Maybe I’ll have a few rounds with it later.”

Cordelia followed her to the couch, taking a seat next to her. She intertwined her fingers with Faith’s. “Not to sound all Agony Aunt or anything, but—are you okay?”

“Surprisingly?” Faith said. “Yes.” She ran a hand through her hair. “It bugs me a little, sure, that I didn’t think to dump a guy who’s completely in love with someone else. Or, even better, not get involved with him in the first place beyond casual sex…” She glanced at Cordy, rolling her eyes. “But we weren’t campaigning to be the next Brad and Jen, so I’m fine.”

“More like a Ben and Jen,” Cordy said, a contemplative look on her face.

Faith mock-glared at her. “Did you just compare me to J-Lo?”

“Uh…,” Cordy paused, grinning at her. “It was a metaphor.”

“Right,” Faith snorted, resting her chin on her palm. “To be honest, I feel bad for the guy.”

Cordy look confused. “We’re back to Xander? Cause Ben was doin’ just fine—”

Faith made a face at her. “Yes, Xander!” She shrugged. “All that pining and those unrequited feelings. I just hope he finds… whatever it is he was lookin’ in all the wrong places for with me? I’d say peace, but then I’d have to question his sanity.”

Cordy took a deep breath. “Faith, there’s something you should know.”

Faith looked up.

“Buffy…” Cordelia bit her lip. “Buffy’s in love with him too. That’s why she was so weird about you guys, it just took her a while to figure it out.”

Faith’s mouth opened and closed a few times in disbelief, surprised that she felt somewhat lighter after that revelation. “Well, damn.” She popped a liquorice whip into her mouth. “Colour me speechless yet not totally surprised.” She scratched her chin. “I guess… I’m happy for them?”

Cordy raised her eyebrows because Faith wasn’t looking too sure. “Really?”

“Sure.” Faith smiled slightly at the look on Cordelia’s face. “I mean, my ego’s not exactly jumping for joy or anything, but it’s about time. They were always kinda meant for each other, weren’t they?”

“So you’re not mad?”

“No.” Faith shook her head, shrugging. “I’m not really anything at the moment.”

Cordelia rubbed a hand across her back. “I’m sorry, honey.”

“Don’t be,” Faith said firmly. “Like I said, I hope they’re happy together.”

“Uh, actually,” Cordy said as she put her hands in her lap, “I think the actual plan is to not rush into a relationship.”

Faith paused, a liquorice whip inches from her mouth. “Come again?”

“Buffy seems to think it would be in poor taste for them to hook up so soon after your split.” Cordy shrugged. “She’s afraid it’ll upset you.”

“Oh, for the love of—!” Faith rolled her eyes, smacking a hand down on her knee. “Are you kidding? Tell me you’re kidding! She’s turning out to be even more of a Sandra-Dee than I thought!”

“Faith,” Cordy admonished.

“No, Cordy, this is ridiculous!” Faith got to her feet, grabbing the packet with the inflatable doll and ripping it open. “So you’re telling me, not only did I get dumped by Xander frickin’ Harris for nothing… but now the Betty to my Veronica has sent you over to hold my hand while I fall apart at the loss?”

“Whoa, back up a sec.” Cordelia waved her arm in argument even as she quickly pulled her legs up out of Faith’s now ferociously paced path. “Buffy didn’t send me. Nobody sent me. I’m here for *you* because, hey, best girl buds—it’s what we do.”

“The same kinda girl buds that think I’m gonna go to pieces over a guy? A guy! And not just any guy, but Xander… who wears his heart on his sleeve the way I wear leather!”

Faith’s speech got increasing louder and more agitated to match her frustrated gait and swinging arms. “So it’s not as if I shouldn’t have seen this piece of 90210 melodrama coming a MILE away! Guess what… if I didn’t? There’s the fact that Xander all but broke out in hives at the idea of sleeping with me. Not all women, mind you, just me! Me, the total opposite of Buffy, who’s freakin’ perfect and blonde and smart and full of table manners!”

She continued to vent. “But you know what the worst thing is? The worst thing is that they both deserve to be happy and they could be happy together but instead they’re being all noble and considerate of my feeling or some crap like that! Which means I can’t even be pissed at either of them and that is just PISSING ME OFF!”

Cordelia paused with double raised eyebrows, making sure the other’s woman’s rant was truly over. “But you’re not upset or anything.”

Faith stopped suddenly, took a deep breath, and finally looked back at her friend. “Okay, maybe I am… a little.”

“I think you can drop the maybe part now.”

“Yeah.” Faith collapsed onto the arm of the sofa, chucking the inflatable doll she’d been waving wildly during her tirade onto the seat. She groaned and let her head fall into her hands. “This whole thing is so messed up.”

“Tell me about it.” Cordy let her face scrunch up in an exaggerated grimace. “Either of you femme fatales go anywhere near Riley, I’m kicking your ass.”

Faith flopped back against the sofa cushion as a gurgled laugh escaped her mouth. “You could try.” Then she turned her head and gave Cordelia a probing look. “You know I want Buffy to be happy—really honest-to-God, bustin’ out all over happy—right?”

“Of course I know.” Cordy reached over and lightly stroked the other brunette’s arm. “She does, too, by the way.”

Faith let her chin drop to her chest, almost sheepish when she asked, “Does it make me a total bitch to feel a tiny bit, I don’t know… temporarily jealous?”

Cordy smiled softly and pulled her normally tough-as-nails pal into a deep hug. “No, honey… it just makes you human.”

****

“Dammit.” Wesley swore under his breath, slamming the large book in front of him shut. This wasn’t right, he didn’t want to do this – didn’t want to send his girls to hell and back. It was too dangerous, too detrimental to their physical and worse, emotional health.

And yet there appeared to be no other way. He’d researched every other possible approach only to come up empty handed. He doubted the Powers would be much help – their intentions for the team had been made pretty clear, this *was* after all their job.

Wes placed his head in his hands, his heart lifting slightly when a warm hand settled on his back, rubbing in soothing circles.

“Coffee?” Kate asked, handing him a small mug. “The kick might help.”

Wes took it with a grim smile. “I’m sorry I’m being so dull.”

“Hey, you’re in overprotective, worry mode.” Kate waved his doubts away with a hand. She grinned. “I think it’s sexy.”

Wesley smiled, staring at her for a second before returning to the crowded table in front of him. Books and papers were scattered across it, some littering the floor. “I just don’t know what to do, Kate.”

Kate frowned, squeezing his arm. “You’ve done all you can, Wesley. It’s their decision now.”

“Yes, but they’ve appeared to have made the wrong one.”

“Maybe.” Kate said. “But it’s up to them.”

Wesley released a breath, removing his glasses and placing them on the table. “You’re right. Of course you’re right. I just…don’t like it, that’s all.”

“It’s nice,” Kate smiled softly, cupping his cheek. “That you care so much.”

Wesley nodded, covering her hands with his own. “Right now, it seems like all I *can* do.”

****

Her skin glistened in the late afternoon sun, all smooth and golden, her body a masterpiece of slim curves, inherent elegance and delicate, subtle strength. The bikini she wore was barely there, a colourful combination of bright vertical stripes that glimmered brilliantly in the setting sun.

“You don’t play fair.” Angel rasped, his throat dry with desire as he stood at the edge of the shadows, watching her, his hands itching to reach out and touch.

Cordy lifted her sunglasses, raising an eyebrow. She took a sip from her drink, leaning back in her deck chair. “Please, this is the most sun I’ve had all week.” She rested her hand beneath her breasts, sliding it down her stomach, knowing the effect it would have on him. Angel growled, his hand tightening on the sliding door.

“Wasn’t there something we were supposed to be finishing?” He grumbled. “Oh, I don’t know, together?”

Cordelia’s lips quirked up at the sides. “Quit your pouting, Angel. The sun will set soon enough and then you can haul your luscious ass out here and join me.”

She was right. It didn’t take long for the sun to disappear beneath the faint line of the horizon and Angel strolled out from the kitchen and onto the patio, throwing his towel onto a deck chair. He glanced down at Cordy, swiftly turning on his heel and sliding into the luke-warm water of the pool.

He smirked when she sat up. “Angel?”

“Hmm?” He began doing laps, his body submerging and emerging from beneath the surface, water sluicing between his shoulder blades as he swam the length of the pool. Frustration and annoyance radiated off Cordelia in waves and Angel bit back his smile, doing a final length before stopping at the side, just short of her tapping feet.

She had gotten out of the chair, her hands on her hips as she glared down at him. “Weren’t you supposed to join me?”

Angel spread his arms wide in the water. “Why don’t you join me?”

Cordelia huffed, rolled her eyes, then huffed again. Finally, she moved, dropping to her heels and sliding one long leg after the other into the water. She glided down the side of the pool and into the water, swimming leisurely over to him until she was about a foot away. When he stretched out his arm she linked her fingers through his, bringing his hand to her lips.

All the blood in Angel’s body rushed south as she sucked a finger into her mouth, holding his gaze and kissing the soft skin between his index finger and his thumb. Her lips trailed along his forearm, slowly bridging the space between them as she gave in, linking her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.

“I’m not a big fan of games.”

Angel grinned widely. “So I see.”

“Shut up.” She kissed him, teasing his lips with tiny close-mouthed kisses, never quite letting the weight of her mouth to fully rest on his. His body stirred, feeling incredibly alive and Angel cupped a hand around Cordelia’s neck, putting the slightest bit of pressure and holding her lips in place.

“And I’m the impatient one?” She mumbled, nipping his lower lip.

“Shut up, Cordy.”

Her laughter was beautiful, the moonlight making her body, her eyes, her very *soul* glow before him. Something tugged at his heart and Angel swiftly buried it deep, thinking of his son, of his own little private hell that still awaited him. This place, Cordy’s arms, they were refuge. And yet somehow, by just being herself she made him feel like a human being, made everything in this moment seem totally perfect –

“Therapy.” Came a strangled voice from the kitchen doorway and Cordy and Angel jerked their heads up to see a man – young, good looking – leaning against it with his arms crossed, looking ill. “As in *I* am going to be needing a LOT of it.”

Angel’s arms tensed around Cordelia as he braced himself for a fight, pausing when he noticed Jack standing at the guy’s feet, looking up at him and zealously wagging his tail.

“Riley.” Cordy said breezily, not bothering to unwrap her legs from around Angel’s waist. “How’d you get in?”

Oh.

“I have a key, remember?” Riley winced. “Speaking of which, can you UNLOCK your limbs from around him long enough to actually introduce me to the guy?”

****

“Please, Planet of the Apes is by FAR Heston’s best movie!” Riley slammed his fist down onto the small table between the deck chairs, making the glass atop it rattle.

“You’re wrong,” Angel retorted, sipping his red wine. “Ben-Hur is a classic. There’s no beating it.”

“Whatever. My dad made me watch Planet of the Apes when I was eight.” Riley smirked at the memory. “Best damn day of my entire childhood.”

Cordy raised an eyebrow. “Dull childhood.”

Riley shot her a dirty look. “There were scantily clad primitive women.”

“Of course there were…,” Cordy deadpanned. “Why am I not surprised?”

“See? Planet of the Apes is just a sensationalist movie.” Angel dismissed it with a flick of his wrist. “Ben-Hur—now that’s one of the greats of our time…”

“You’re both dorks of our time!” Cordy snapped. “Speaking of time, you’re wasting mine. I’m glad you’re bonding but yeesh. I’m going to get some juice.” She stood up with a huff and walked into the kitchen.

Neither man batted an eyelid.

Riley made a face. “A great what—fashion statement? It’s about men in short dresses and sandals!”

“It’s a historically accurate wardrobe!”

“Right, because there’s no mandatory loss of balls with that?”

Angel rolled his eyes. “As opposed to your pick where all men are ruled by apes.”

“The apes are intelligent!”

“It’s about APES,” Angel repeated, the inflection in his voice saying he shouldn’t have to point out the obvious.

“Bite me.”

Angel grinned, flashing a hint of fang.

“And we’re back to therapy.” Riley leaned back in his seat. “Which I should warn you, you’re getting the bill for.” He mock-glared. “Dead man walking.”

“Ken doll.”

Riley laughed, taking a swig of his beer. “Alright, I call it even.” He tipped his bottle. “Heston’s a legend.”

“Amen.” Angel clinked his bottle with Riley’s, pausing when the boy’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Don’t you guys burst into flame when you say shit like that?”

Angel made a small choking sound in the back of his throat, beer nearly coming out of his nose. “That would be a no.”

“If you’re still debating Charleston Whatshisface, I’m leaving you both for a younger, buffer, more trainable cabana boy.” Cordy strolled back onto the patio and Angel held his hand out, spreading his legs when she slipped hers into it and slid onto his thigh.

“One official conversation change coming up.” Riley popped a peanut into his mouth, ruffling Jack’s hair. Then he made a vague gesture towards them, “Let’s discuss this, shall we?”

Cordelia raised an eyebrow. “Depends.”

“On what?”

“How narrow-minded, over protective, and testosterone-laden you’re gonna be.”

“Pretty damn,” Riley replied instantly, locking eyes with Angel. “She likes you. And if I have to tell you that you’re the luckiest bastard to ever walk the planet, you don’t deserve her.”

“Gee, Dad, why don’t you just forget all the flowery getting-to-know-you talk and just cut to the chase?” She wiggled around on Angel’s lap, trying to get comfortable and Angel stiffened, tempted to glare at her when she smirked but not dropping Riley’s very serious gaze. “Tone down the seriousness, Riley… it’s starting to freak me out.”

“Likes Heston, seems like a stand-up guy… no reason for me to not to be tickled pink.” He didn’t look away from the vampire currently cuddling with his best friend. “But I find it’s easier to keep the math very simple. She’s happy, I’m happy. She’s hurt, you’re dust. Simple enough?”

Angel didn’t look thrilled with Riley’s tone but to his credit, he extended his hand forward, his eyes totally sincere. “All smart-ass remarks about ‘you human, me vampire’ aside – I get it. You care about her.”

Riley raised an eyebrow, reaching forward and shaking Angel’s hand. “Don’t you?”

Cordelia rolled her eyes at their display. “Well, don’t I feel like a piece of meat?”

Angel hid his smile with a kiss on her shoulder while Riley merely grinned at her, unabashed. “That’s why we love you, Cor.”

****

Buffy didn’t much like walking into public parks at night time – it came with patrolling responsibility every now and then but it still gave her the wiggins. She followed the winding path between the trees, walking several feet until she came to the clearing Faith had described earlier that evening on the phone.

A figure was already standing where they were supposed to meet, a man, medium height, dressed surprisingly similarly to –

Buffy’s eyes widened. “Xander?”

“Buffy?” Xander’s jaw dropped when he saw her. He took an uncertain step towards her. “What are you – ? Did Faith – ?”

“I did.” Faith said, appearing as if from nowhere and making Xander jump. “And relax, I haven’t lured you both here to kill you, though I’ll admit it is tempting.”

Buffy felt a wave of guilt wash over her as she took a step forward. “Faith, I’m so sorry – ”

“Finish that thought and I’ll beat your ass,” Faith interrupted her, crossing her arms.

Xander frowned and Buffy narrowed her eyes, completely lost. “What’s going on Faith?”

“It’s pretty simple actually.” Faith said, jutting her chin out sharply. “So I want the two of you to shut up and listen very closely.” She glared at them, pausing to take a deep breath.

Xander shifted uncomfortably. Buffy only stood silent, listening.

Faith continued. “You love each other. It sucks that none of us realised it sooner but you do. And I don’t want to stand in the way of that.”

Buffy swallowed. “Faith – ”

“I wont let *you* let me stand in the way of that,” Faith said firmly, looking Buffy straight in the eye. “If you do then none of this will be worth it. Not this uber-awkward moment in our friendship, not our work… none of it. Plus, I’ll lose my temper AGAIN, which as we all know, isn’t pretty.”

She swivelled on her heel, facing Xander. “I’m already over it. But I’d be lying if I said you didn’t piss me off just a little.” Xander swallowed, nodding. “And I know you’re sorry but none of that makes any difference if you don’t see this through. Because then you messed it all up for nothing and I’d have to take back my ‘you’re not a loser’ theory.”

“You can take it back.” Xander said softly. “I deserve it and you have every right to think it.”

“Don’t play for sympathy, Xander.” Faith said dispassionately. “I don’t care for it. The only thing that’s gonna make this right is if both of you snap out of whatever holier than thou bubble you’re in and get together so that we can all get on with our lives.”

The sudden hope that rushed through her veins made Buffy nearly dizzy with it. “Really?”

“No, I staged this whole thing because I’ve discovered my inner martyr. Yes, really,” Faith answered, and Buffy swore she saw her lips quirk at the edges. “Do I wish you’d found some other sucker as the catalyst for your romantic not-quite-coupling? Hell, yeah. But my heart isn’t broken and the bottom line is I want you to be happy.” She did smile then, the tiniest curve of her lips though it made Buffy’s heart sore. “The two of you fell in love. Not exactly end of the world stuff. So just get over yourself already and be together, okay?”

***

They were both silent for a few seconds after she spoke and Faith raised her eyebrows expectantly, watching conflicting emotions dapple across their faces. It surprised her, how fair and rational she was being, and yet Faith knew she’d dealt her own hand in this too – she’d wittingly dated her best friend’s best friend who just happened to be in love with her best friend.

Faith shook her head, having confused herself. Either way, they’d all done a little something wrong here and there was one way to set it right, one way they’d all be happy and all loose ends were tied.

She came out of her reverie with a shocking realisation – Buffy and Xander both looked like they wanted to hug her. “Don’t even think about it.” Faith said, putting a hand up in front of her. “None of that.” She shook a finger, taking a step back when they both stepped towards her. “Hey! Hey, hey, HEY! I said – ”

She was engulfed in a group hug mere seconds later, the breath rushing out of her lungs as they both ploughed into her, wrapping their arms around her tight. She didn’t want to enjoy it, really, she didn’t, but when Xander’s chin rested atop her head and Buffy pressed her cheek into her shoulder, Faith couldn’t help herself – a grin broke across her face and she laughed, a strange happiness taking flight inside her.

“Alright…” She conceded, patting their backs almost awkwardly, “No, really, knock it off.” She rolled her eyes when they didn’t immediately let her go. “Guys, breathing! Becoming an issue!”

They released her, smiles on both their faces and Buffy grabbed her hand, squeezing it.

“Thank you, Faith.” Xander said sincerely, gracing her with a smile.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome.” Faith pushed Buffy towards Xander, sliding her hands into her pockets. “Go kiss and strike up the violins, or whatever the hell it is you people in love do. I’m outta here.” She winked at them, turning and walking towards the exit of the park, throwing a final look over her shoulder at the couple she left behind.

Silhouetted in the moonlight, Buffy and Xander stood wrapped in each others arms, the joyful kiss they shared making Faith certain she had done the right thing..

Part 17 

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