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A Matter of Faith

by Peter

Willow looked at me, then bit her lip and turned away. At first I thought she was just embarrassed, and I started to smile, but then I realized it was more than that. She wasn't sure she could tell me whatever it was she had to say.

"Tell me," I said. "You can tell me."

She looked back into my eyes and gave me a small smile. "I know," she assured me. "It's just..."

"Just what?" I prodded when she didn't go on.

She took a deep breath and let it out, gathering her courage. "You don't know that you're not the Zeppo."

I had my mouth open, all ready for a dumb comment, before what she'd said hit me. I froze like a deer in the headlights, staring at her in shock.

She chuckled nervously. "I, uh, I overheard Cordelia talking to Harmony in the hall. She was going on and on about what she'd said to you." Willow laughed again, real humor this time. "She had to explain to Harmony who Zeppo was, of course. Harmony thought it was a blimp. Which isn't half bad for her, actually..."

I cut her off. "That was a couple of weeks ago. Why didn't you say something?"

Her face fell, and she looked like she wanted to cry. "I didn't stick up for you!" she wailed. "I wanted to, I really did. I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out." She sniffed and wiped at her eyes.

I reached over to pull her into a hug. She struggled at first, then gave in and relaxed against me with a sigh.

"I'm sorry, Xander," she said. "I should have said something. But I couldn't!"

"Why not?" I asked, but I thought I knew.

"It felt like I didn't have a right to say anything. I started to, but then I realized I'd been treating you even worse than Cordelia has."

"No," I said, squeezing her against me. "No, you haven't, Will. It was just weird between us for a while there."

"I know," she said. "But that was mostly my fault." I started to say something, but she went on. "I know what you're going to say, but it was. You were trying to be friendly again, and I wasn't letting it happen."

She shifted in my arms, and I moved with her. I wanted to say something, but I knew she had to say her piece first. So, I just sat there and held her as she started talking again.

"I'm so sorry, Xander. I'm sorry I let her hurt you without saying anything." She rested her head on my shoulder and held me tight.

"It's okay, Will." She shook her head, tickling my neck with her hair. I smiled as I went on. "It is, it really is. What Cordy said hurt, yeah, but I'm okay with it now. She's just mad, is all. I can't blame her, really, y'know?"

"Yeah, I guess not. I still don't like it when she badmouths you like that, though."

I leaned down to rest my head against hers. "I know," I whispered into her hair. "And I appreciate you wanting to stick up for me."

She craned her neck to look up at me, and I drew my head back. She looked into my eyes from about six inches away and asked, "You *do* know you're not the Zeppo, right?"

I smiled. "Yeah, Will. I know."

She closed her eyes and sighed in relief. "Oh, good. I'm so glad to hear you say that, Xander. I know we don't treat you too well, sometimes. Me especially, at least lately. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Will."

"No, it's not," she insisted, "but this might be one of those things we're never going to convince each other on, huh?"

"I'm thinking maybe," I said with a grin.

"Okay. Just remember, you're not the Zeppo, and we appreciate you. We really do. Get it?" she demanded.

"Got it," I assured her.

"Good," she said, wiping at her eyes. "Your turn, then. What don't I know?"

I thought for a minute, trying to come up with something. Then it hit me. It fit in so perfectly with what we'd just talked about that I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me sooner. I'd worked so hard to forget the bad parts of that night that I'd almost managed to forget it entirely. Which would have been good in some ways, but bad in others. I didn't know what to think about it. I was too confused. I knew Willow was the only person who could help me figure everything out, but I wasn't sure how she'd feel about me if I told her. But I had to tell her.

I looked down at Willow and disentangled myself from her arms, scooting over a foot or so on the couch. She looked at me curiously, obviously wondering why I was moving away.

"I can think of one thing you don't know, Will. And it's kinda related to the Zeppo thing, even." I paused, then went on. "It's, uh, it's not good, though."

"Okay," she agreed easily. "So, it's not good. I don't care, you know that. You can tell me anything, Xander. You know that, right?" Her eyes told me she already knew the answer, but she still wanted to hear me say it.

"I know, Will. I know." I looked into her eyes, memorizing the love in them. I didn't want to tell her. I really didn't. But I had to. There was no other choice, not really. I had to tell her. Even if it ruined the friendship we'd just started to get back on track. I took a deep breath, then I just said it.

"You don't know that I slept with Faith."

Willow had been smiling at me as she waited for me to take my turn. As soon as I said it she just shut down. There was no statement at all on her face, and her eyes were dead.

We just sat there for a minute, me looking at her, her looking straight through me. When she spoke, her voice was flat, but I could hear the pain underneath.


The one question I couldn't answer. I'd been trying ever since it happened. I mean, sure, hot babe. Slayer, even. And I'd almost been killed, that always gets the old hormones going. And it had even been Faith's idea, which I never would have expected. But none of that answered Willow's question. None of it explained why.

I looked at Willow and breathed a sigh of relief when she met my eyes. That meant I had a chance. She hadn't decided to hate me yet. I had a chance to make it right, if I could only figure out how. This was Willow, so I knew the truth would work, but I was damned if I knew what the truth was. I did know some things, though, and that's where I had to start.

"I was lonely. And angry. And hurt. And scared. And a couple of other things, none of them good. I don't know how to do this, Will." I was surprised at how much fear and pain came through in my voice. I thought I'd gotten better at hiding it, but I guess not. I looked over to Willow to see how she was taking it.

She was trying, God bless her. She was trying to understand. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, and when she opened them I could see that she'd pushed the pain aside. She was going to help me with this, and I started to believe it might be all right. I knew I couldn't do this alone, but with Willow I could do anything.

"Let's start with lonely." Her voice was level and strong, and it brought me back to the topic at hand. I shook my head to clear my thoughts before answering.

"I wasn't exactly Mr. Popular after we got caught, Will. Buffy and Giles were the only people who would even talk to me for a while there, and even though I know they don't hate me for what I did, I also know they blame me more than you for what happened. Which is fine, 'cause so do I."

She left the blame thing alone, which was good. Neither of us was going to convince the other on that. Instead, she moved on to her next question. "So Faith talked to you? She made you feel less alone?"

I had to laugh at that, and all the pain came out before I could stop it. "No. She didn't talk much, and she sure as hell didn't make me feel any less alone."

Willow thought about that for a second. I could see that she wanted to ask more about it, but she didn't press. "What about angry?"

I smiled at her, but I doubt it reached my eyes. "Angry and hurt go together, Will. And they're kinda related to the Zeppo thing. What I said before, about knowing how you andthe others appreciate me, that's the truth, Will. I swear it is. I know you don't look down on me or anything. I know that now. But not too long ago, I thought you did, at least a little. Remember the night the Hellmouth almost opened? What were they called, the Sisterhood of Jhe?"

She nodded. Of course she remembered them. They'd almost destroyed the world. That sort of thing sticks in your mind. I could see she also remembered the things I was referring to, and the pain and regret I saw in her eyes assured me she'd understand. So, I went on.

"They were big, and nasty, and dangerous, and all that. You guys told me I should stay out of the way. You didn't want me to get hurt. And I guess I should have been glad you cared about me, but I wasn't. Not really. It felt like you were telling me I couldn't help, that I was useless." I was working hard to keep the bitterness out of my voice, but this was Willow. She heard it.

"The whole damned world was going to come to an end, but the fact that I was willing to help was just a liability. That pissed me off. It's not like I haven't helped before. Not to toot my own horn, but Buffy would be dead a couple times over if it wasn't for me. So would you." Now I was hurting Willow, I could tell. She just sat there and took it, though. She knew I needed to get it out.

I wanted to stop. I wanted to, but I couldn't. It had been inside of me too long. "Will, almost every night I have nightmares where I didn't manage to save you guys. Where I was too late to revive Buffy. Where Angel killed you before I got to him with the cross the night he went bad. Where all sorts of things take you two away from me. Giles and Oz and Cordy, too. But that night, all I got was 'You're gonna get hurt, Xander.' Jesus, those things were tough as nails! When I saved Faith, she was getting her ass kicked, but did anyone tell her to stay out of it? No, of course not! I'm the only one who's not good enough to help save the fucking world!"

I finally stopped when I heard myself yelling. I hate it when I yell. It reminds me too much of my father. I wished I'd stopped earlier, but I was also glad I hadn't. I'd needed to say it, and Willow needed to hear it. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified of her reaction.

She closed her eyes again, and I had no idea what to expect when she opened them. I was trying to prepare myself in case she stormed out and ended our friendship again, but there's no preparing for that. I'd rather die.

Then she opened her eyes, and I knew I'd live for at least a little while longer. The pain was back, but there was sorrow and an apology there, too. That's all I needed. I waited while she gathered her thoughts enough to speak.

"Xander, I'm sorry you felt that way. I know none of us wanted you to take it like that, but we really were worried about you. Ever since..." She paused and swallowed heavily before going on. "Ever since we got caught, you've been throwing yourself into fights without really thinking about it. It scared us. It scared me. I know you can handle yourself, but this was different. Or it seemed different, anyway, and I think that's all I can say about it. I'm so sorry." She looked at me, and she must have seen the relief in my eyes, because she smiled.

I smiled back, and that part of it was done. That's one of the things I love about Willow. Something like that should've taken us forever to talk out, but we've known each other so long it was easy.

I was still worried, but I was starting to think that maybe we could get through this okay. Willow was thinking the same thing, I could tell. "What about scared?" she asked. "You said you were lonely, and angry, and hurt, and scared. Tell me about scared."

I snorted. "Damn, Will, what wasn't there to be afraid of that night? I knew you guys were trying to keep the whole world from dying, but I didn't know what was going on." I looked up and caught her eyes. "Believe me, Will, it's much worse to not know the details. No matter how scary it is to be in the middle of it, it's worse to be on the outside, not knowing if the people you love are going to be alive in the morning." I felt the tears starting, as I remembered how I'd felt that night. I looked down so Willow wouldn't see them, but I knew it was a wasted effort.

I was right. She was beside me in an instant, her arms tight around me as she rocked me back and forth. "I'm sorry, Xander.I wasn't thinking. I'm so sorry."

I calmed down in a minute or two. Willow was okay, so the memories didn't have the same power they'd had that night. She continued to hold me after I stopped crying. "Thank you," I whispered.

"No problem," she whispered back. Then she laid her head on my shoulder and asked, "So you were afraid because you didn't know what was happening to us?"

"Yeah," I said, nodding. "That, and Jack trying to kill me and all."

"What?!" she screamed, jerking upright and away from me.

"What?" I echoed, not understanding her surprise. Then it hit me. I had never told her about Jack. I hadn't told anyone. I was so used to Willow knowing everything about me that it had never occurred to me that she didn't know about it.

I smiled at her sheepishly. "Yeah," I said. "Jack O'Toole tried to kill me that night." I stopped, to give her time to ask a question, but she just stared at me, so I went on. "Let me give you the short form: Jack was a zombie. His grandfather raised him up after he got killed in a drive-by, and that night he was going around waking up all his dead gang-banger friends. Ugly bastards, Will, let me tell you. But they liked me, 'cause hey, who doesn't, right?" She didn't take the bait. She was still staring at me, stupefied. I was beginning to get worried. "Anyway," I plowed on, "they wanted to make me a member of the gang, but Jack said I had to die first, so he tried to kill me with Katie. That's what he called his knife. Katie."

Willow finally found her voice. "Why didn't you tell me?!" She looked hurt, and I felt ashamed for a second, but then I remembered I had no reason to be.

"Because we weren't really talking, Will," I told her with a shrug. "And after the whole 'stay out of trouble' speech from all you guys, I didn't really feel like sharing."

I watched Willow's eyes as she struggled with that. I knew she wanted to yell again, but she also knew I was right. Finally she just said, "Wow. I don't know what to say, Xander. Tell me what happened. And what does it have to do with Faith?"

"Not a whole lot by itself," I admitted, "but it sure had a lot to do with how messed up I was when I ran into her. Well, ran into the demon she was fighting," I amended.

"What?" Willow asked, confused.

"Yeah, this really doesn't make much sense, does it?" She nodded, and I smiled as I went on. "Okay. Breaks down like this. I ran into Jack while I was on a date with this girl Lysette. Who was quite possibly the most boring woman in the history of the world, by the way, but that's another story. Anyway, we run into Jack, he pulls a knife on me, but then he decides I'm an okay guy. We go driving with him, and he wants to go to the cemetery. I figure, why not? It's pretty much my home away from home anyway, right? So we go by the grave of one of his buddies, and he does this weird ritual and said dead buddy climbs out of said grave."

Willow's eyes were as wide as saucers. I smiled. "It gets weirder, believe me. Where was I? Right, dead buddy numero uno. Well, Lysette ran like a girl. Not as dumb as she looked, I guess. So, I'm left with Jack and Zombie Bob. That was his name, Bob. Then we went and woke up some of his other buddies. It was a whole big zombie family reunion going on in Uncle Rory's car. Then we go driving, and they decide they want to stop by the hardware store to pick up some stuff. I told them it was closed, but they just busted the window open. I'm not sure why I was surprised. They'd just risen from the dead, what's a little breaking and entering, right? Anyway, I was just sitting there, waiting in the car. And that's when I saw you, coming out of the magic shop."

I looked over to see how Willow was taking my story. Her eyes were even wider, which I'd have sworn was impossible. "Oh, my gosh!" she said. "That's why you were out in the middle of the night! I should have known something was wrong."

I chuckled. "Don't worry, Will. You had a lot on your mind. I knew that when you, uh, when you told me you love me."

She smiled at that, and blushed a little. "I do love you, Xander. I'm glad I told you."

"Me, too," I agreed. "And I love you. But since we were barely speaking to each other at that point, I figured things were even worse than I'd thought. That's when I started to really get scared. And I decided that, no matter what, I was going to help. So, when Jack and the Dead Boys came out of the store, I told them I had to take off. And that's when they decided to let me join the gang. Only problem was, I had to be dead."

"What did you do?"

"Ran like a girl," I said proudly. "I got away from 'em, and drove like hell. I didn't know where to go, but I figured I'd find you guys and help somehow. But before I could, I saw Faith. She was fighting one of those demons, and she wasn't doing so good. She knocked it into the road, and I nailed it with the car. Then Faith jumped in, and away we went."

"Where'd you go?" Willow asked. Her voice was quiet. She didn't want to hear what was coming next.

"Back to her motel room. Her shoulder was dislocated, and I helped her pop it back in. Then she said she was... you know. And then we..." I couldn't finish.

I didn't have to. Willow was smart enough to connect the dots. "How was she?" she asked, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

I shrugged. "As first times go, I wish I'd had better." Or been with someone I loved, I added to myself. But I couldn't say that. I looked over at Willow. She was staring at the floor. I sighed. "Will, I don't know why I did it. I mean, I'd almost gotten killed, and it's not like Faith gave me a lot of choice, and..."

"I told you I loved you," she whispered, cutting me off. I winced at the pain in her voice.

"Yeah," I agreed, closing my eyes.

"I told you I loved you," she repeated, and I knew she was looking at me. I opened my eyes to see hers, brimming with tears. "I told you I loved you, and you went and slept with Faith. That hurts, Xander. I mean, I know things weren't good between us, and I know I went back to Oz. So, I don't really have any right to be angry here..."

It was my turn to cut her off. "Yes, you do, Will. Of course you do."

She shook her head. "No, I don't. I really don't. But I am. I'm angry, and I'm hurt, and I'm trying to deal with it, but I don't know if I can. I told you I loved you!" she screamed.

I sighed. I didn't want to say it, but I knew I had to. "Yeah," I agreed. "You told me you loved me, Will. You told me you loved me, and then you walked away."

Her mouth was open to say something, but no sound came out for a long moment. "What?" she finally asked.

"You walked away from me, Will," I said with a sad smile. "And the next time I saw you was the next morning, and you were all lovey-dovey with Oz again, and telling me it was a good thing I hadn't been around during the dangerous parts."

That got Willow thinking. I could see the confusion in her eyes. "I didn't," she started, then paused, licked her lips. "I didn't think of it like that."

"I know," I said softly. "I know you didn't. And that's okay, Will. But do you see what I'm saying?"

She nodded slowly. "I do. Yeah, I do. I shouldn't be angry. I know I shouldn't. But it's hard, Xander. I'm sorry, but it is. I mean, I told you I loved you."

I sighed again, tired. Too tired. I knew what she was saying. I appreciated how she felt. But I had my own feelings to deal with, and they weren't easy. Finally, I chuckled, softly and wearily, and said the first thing that came to mind.

"Well," I said, "considering how when I told you I loved you, you woke up and called for Oz, I'd say we're ev..."

I broke off, realizing what I'd just said.

I looked up into Willow's eyes, and saw the same realization dawn on her.

Oh, shit.

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The authors own nothing. Joss, UPN, WB, etc. own Buffy, the show, the characters, the places, and the backstory. The authors own any original plots.