It certainly hadn’t helped her save her husband.
The black dress was laid out on their – her – bed. How many times had she worn this? A dozen? Twenty? That had changed too. In her youth, she would have laughed herself sick at the idea of wearing anything so staid and respectable but a few years ago she had stood just here, right here, looking at herself in the mirror, and her usual clothes hadn’t felt right. So she had bought the dress. Xander had never said anything. She wondered if he had noticed.
Faith hated funerals. She presumed everyone did, but wondered whether everyone felt the same sense of crushing failure that she did, the feeling that she could have stopped it, if only she’d tried a little harder. She could have stopped Xander…
Well, that was ridiculous for a start. Xander had walked into Cheropteryx’s lair knowing full well that he would die. Had planned it that way. They had never talked about it, but Faith knew her husband, even the man he had become. There were always two plans: the one he told the rest of them, and the one in his head, the one with every action and reaction mapped out, the one with the dead and the injured and the survivors all listed, neatly, in little mental columns.
It had broken him apart, killed the Xander she had known. Which seemed fitting, because everyone else had been killed as well. She was the only one left who could remember Xander as he had been, not the forbidding leader of the Council. It sometimes, when she was in an unusually good mood, amused her to watch slayers and watchers alike scuttling out of the way as he strode down a corridor or into the dining room. That look: half awe, half fear.
Could they imagine him as a boy? A high school geek, with loud shirts and execrable taste in girls? Could they imagine him standing up passionately for his friends, or cracking bad jokes, or complaining about Giles’ Englishness?
Could anyone back in Sunnydale have imagined what that boy would turn into?
She slowly pulled on the black dress, wondering when it was that he had changed. Not after Anya and Sunnydale. He had been down for a while, hardly surprising, but with all that was needed in re-starting the Council and getting everyone settled, he had been busy and needed, and after a while he was back to normal. Except just a little more serious, just a little more given to contemplation. Not enough to notice, really.
Then Robin had died. That had been a shock, more because Robin had always been so confident, rather than anything else. She’d grieved for him, although their relationship had been over by then. Still, he had taught her a lot about herself. Had made her grow up, in a way. Maybe Xander had been a little more serious after that. But not enough to notice, really.
There had been more deaths, and more responsibility for Xander. When Giles had launched his suicidal attack on Amos, Xander had taken over the Council. Had that been it? Had that been when he had become someone else entirely?
Oh, fuck it, who cared? He had been her husband, and she had loved him. Still loved him, damnit. Why? Why had he done it? What had been so goddamn important that he had to die for it? And was she so unimportant that he couldn’t bring himself to live for her? Faith dropped to the bed, and tried not to cry. You never cried at these things, it only worried people and made them uncomfortable. She tried to breathe deeply and swallow down the lump in her throat. There. It was fine. Everything was going to be fine. She’d get through this. Not a problem.
But it was a problem, Faith realised, as she sat in the church, listening to Arthur, one of the watchers, read the eulogy. She hadn’t paid much attention to the funeral arrangements, had ignored them as far as she could. But Arthur? He had been with the Council for about ten years, just after Xander had taken charge, she remembered. Who was he talking about? The words flowed over her, but made no sense. A sterling leader, a brilliant strategist, a man to look up to… it wasn’t Xander, and she couldn’t bear it.
Had he loved her, this man? How could she tell? Their marriage, in recent years, had been unnatural, superficial. How had she not noticed? They slept in the same bed, but that was about it. They rarely shared meals. They had no family or friends to speak of. They didn’t go on vacation, or shop together, or chat over breakfast. It had been that way for years. It seemed strange, now, that she had done nothing. She hadn’t tried to talk to him about it. She hadn’t felt neglected. She hadn’t had an affair, or got a divorce, or any of the other things women apparently did under similar circumstances. She had just carried on the marriage, carried on loving him, carried on pretending, even to herself, that everything was normal.
God, never mind Xander changing, it was as if she was a stranger to herself. The first sign of a guy losing interest, she would have been out of there. Passively hanging around someone, never letting go – that wasn’t her. Not her style. But then, neither was the dress. Why did people never tell you, when you were younger? They told you about growing up, about living with houses and jobs and children. They never said how you became a different person entirely.
There was a wake, of sorts. It was quiet. It wouldn’t have been, thought Faith, trapped in the faded reality of the past. It would have been sad – they would have been sad – but everyone would have remembered the best of Xander, and they would have laughed, and shared out his godawful shirts, and loved him. No-one here had loved him, except her. They had respected him, and been a little afraid of him, but they hadn’t loved him.
The world had changed so it was scarcely recognisable.