liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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Water Hold Me Down (Part 26)

Things that make you go 'hunh' file: via desoto_hia873 from the Canadian Browncoats Yahoo Newsgroup. It appears that Nicholas Brendon may be filming a SciFi Original Movie in Ontario called Alien Fire that may be picked up as a series. Even more interesting, he's been cast as the lead. *scratches head* I've been unable to get independent confirmation on it, so I'm throwing it out to the FList as an interesting rumor.

Intersting if true. But until I see confirmation somewhere, I'll chalk it up as a rumor. desoto_hia873 is also looking for additional confirmation at her end>.

ETA: Looks like it might be true. desoto_hia873 heard back and it turns out that a friend of the Canadian Browncoats ListMom is doing publicity for the movie. However, nothing official has been announced anywhere.

 

 

Now on to more Water:

Can I just say how much I love Faith? About as subtle as a kick in the nuts, but she gets the job done in both "our" universe, and in any other.

All previous parts can be found here.

 

Part 25 (posted yesterday) can be found here.

 

 

 

 

Giles switching off with Willow was Faith’s cue to escape the library. B was already snugged in tight to help out Willow. G was making a run to a local bookshop that might have some more books—just what we fucking need right now, Faith sarcastically thought—that could help him research some promising leads hinted at in Robin’s information dump. There was nothing left for her to do but brush the pearlies, jump in the shower, and make sure nothing needed to be done around the house before she caught a quick snooze.

When Faith trudged into the second floor bathroom, her blood pressure shot up. The damn faucet was drip-drip-dripping again. How many times did she tell the girls to torque the damn thing shut until Cyclops got over his cold and fixed—

She leaned on the sink and let out a tense breath as she reminded herself that Cyclops didn’t get the chance before he got thrown into a mystery dimension. Proof positive, in her mind, that she should get off her ass and learn to do some of the fix-it stuff herself. That way there’d at least two people running around who knew how to use the business end of a hammer for more than bashing in skulls.

Faith splashed water on her face and went through her teeth-brushing ritual. However, when she shut off the tap, it still drip-drip-dripped, even after she torqued it.

Great. Now the stupid thing was really gone and no amount of torquing was going to help the sitch.

Screw it. Just a little tighter and she’d shut off the drip.

Using just a little more pressure, she twisted the handle and—

—it broke clean off in her hand.

She had just enough time to say, “Oh, sh—” when a splurge of water shot up from the broken handle and caught her square in the face, leaving Faith coughing, spluttering, and swearing at the top of her fool lungs. As she felt around for the shut-off valves under the sink (Cyclops had showed her where they were after an unfortunate incident involving two baby Slayers battling it out over a bottle of expensive hair gel that resulted in a shattered sink and a minor flood), she heard the bathroom door open.

She finally managed to shut off the water flow. “This bathroom is out of order,” she snarled.

“That’s a problem,” said Andrew, backed by two Slayers who were fighting against a fit of hysteria at the sight of a pissed off, soaking wet Faith.

“Out of my way,” she snapped as she shoved Andrew and the girls aside and stomped to the kidnappers’ room.

Kennedy shot away from the wall she was leaning against while she stood guard and said, “Faith, I don’t think—”

“Move or I move your ass for you,” Faith said as she kicked in the door to the captives’ room.

The crack and whump of the door giving away under the force of one pissed-off Slayer served to fuel Faith’s desire to inflict bone-crushing violence. She stormed through the door and marched up to the huddled kidnappers as they crushed themselves into a far corner in an attempt to put space between them an whatever hellbeing was after them.

Faith noticed that Ratso Rizzo was out of his cage and clinging for life against Fatso’s shirt and realized that there was no way in hell anyone moved fast enough to let the rat out his cage. The fact the vermin wasn’t locked up signaled that their captives had been violating the terms of their parole.

Faith grinned in a way that showed all her teeth. “Well, fuck me,” she said with deadly quiet.

“Faith!” Kennedy yelled as she grabbed at the other Slayer.

“Keep your ass parked in the hall or I’m planting it in the wall, sweetheart,” Faith growled. “And you better keep it parked out there and keep all the busybodies at bay.”

“But—” Kennedy began.

Faith turned her adrenalin smile on Kennedy. “Me ’n da boyz are gonna have ourselves a little chat. I just got me a notion that they ain’t been playin’ straight with us.”

Other Slayers were now gathering in the hall outside the door.

“Kenny girl?” Faith said almost sweetly as she waved at the kidnappers. “Do you spy with your Slayer eye a problem with that picture?”

For once, Kennedy snapped her mouth shut and took a look. Upon seeing that Joey was loose, her eyes narrowed into a glare. “He’s supposed to be in his cage!” she exclaimed.

“Then I think you better let Faith deal with it,” Buffy’s voice rang out.

Faith sharply focused on the Slayers gathered in the hall. B had pushed her way to the front and was, like Kennedy, now giving the kidnappers the Slayer death glare.

“Kennedy, back in the hall,” Buffy said evenly. “Faith, don’t kill them.”

A nasty snicker wove through the Slayer crowd.

“I want all of you out of here,” Buffy said. “Kennedy. Barbara. Keep guard. Faith? Explain the terms to them again.”

Faith cracked her knuckles in response.

“I don’t think—” Alistair began as his flab wobbled.

“Tough,” Buffy interrupted. “I’ll be downstairs with Willow if you need me. If I stay here, someone will be hurting even more.”

Kennedy shot Faith and the kidnappers a glare before she sulkily returned to her post. The gawkers made a good show at scattering, but Faith suspected they weren’t going to travel too far away from potential excitement. Once the hall behind her was clear, Buffy attempted to close the door and almost managed it. However, even after it was shut as much as it could be, it sadly hung off its hinges, yet another testament to the need for someone capable of doing basic home repair when multiple Slayers were in residence.

Faith turned back to the kidnappers. “I better see that rat in the cage. Now.”

“Joey is not a rat. He is a man trapped in a rat’s body,” Alistair declared.

“He was a rat when he was human,” Faith said. “And don’t think I forgot how you had his diseased ass crawling all over the house to steal something of Cyclops’s so you could pull off your little scheme. I want him in that fucking cage, now, or I’m gonna see how far I can throw him.”

Yvon lurched over to the cage to retrieve it, casting what Faith supposed was meant to be nervous glances in her direction. The affect was a little ruined by the fact that the zombie’s left eyelid seemed to have gone missing.

“That’s right,” Faith said as she watched Joey put back in the cage. “Keep the zombie away from me. Because I promise you, he gets in arm’s reach to make me toss my cookies, they’re getting tossed all over you.”

If Yvon had been thinking of inching closer to Faith, the threat was enough to ensure that he stuck close to his buds.

“Know what I think?” Faith asked. “Ol’ Joey was out of his cage to do recon. Maybe find an escape route. Steal a key. Something that’d help you clear out.”

“My lady, we are under guard and subject to random checks by your esteemed colleagues,” Alistair protested.

“Don’t give me that shit. I’ve done time.” She leaned forward and meaningfully added. “For murder.”

The kidnappers exchanged nervous glances.

“And here’s what I know,” Faith continued. “Guards get lazy-ass. They fall into a routine. You can game it if you’re smart. And you boys? You think you’re pretty smart, don’tchya?”

Sam the snake coiled and uncoiled nervously. Jack the dog sat on his haunches and looked down. Faith was a little surprised to see that the red bow the girls had tied around his neck was trapped under a front paw. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think he—unh, she, since Anya did turn him into a bitch—was looking at it.

“Thing is, the girls around here ain’t professionals, not like the guards in prison were,” Faith said. “And Slayers? They get bored real quick. Some of ’em maybe don’t look real close at the cage when they poke their nose in here. All you have to say is that Joey is takin’ a nap under that shredded paper, maybe station Yvon right next to the cage so they gotta deal with his smell if they wanna check, and they take your word for it, right?”

Alistair stared straight ahead and kept his expression neutral, which, in Faith’s mind, indicated she guessed pretty close on what they were doing.

“Betchya Jackie-girl used his doggie charms to get out and maybe get a look around, too,” Faith said as she tapped her chin in an exaggerated manner.

“Rur?” Jack voiced as he looked up.

“You’re too fucking ugly a mutt to pull the puppy crap,” Faith said.

Jack looked down again at the red bow.

“This verbal lashing is uncalled for,” Alistair protested.

“Be glad it ain’t a physical beating,” Faith stated. “If it were up to me, you’d be smears on the goddamn factory walls were we found ya. You fucked over someone who did nothing to you. He’s already fucking paid in spades for hooking up with Anya, Anyanka, or whoever the fuck she was. His happy wedding day turned into a nightmare because of it. The chick is dead now, and he’s gotta live with that for the rest of his damn life. He’s paid. But because you oh-so-innocent victims couldn’t be bothered to find out if she even lived here, let alone whether she made it out of the SunnyD, you’re making him pay again. Bad enough he’s paying, but you got all of us paying through the damn nose for your fuck-up. So don’t you fucking tell me what’s uncalled for. What you did? That eye-for-an-eye, shit? It’s a dead end. And I know me from dead ends.”

“Anyanka is responsible for our condition,” Alistair stated.

“Heessss guilty,” Sam hissed as Yvon nodded and Joey glared with his rat eyes.

“Quite right,” Alistair said. “Guilt by association. He knew what she was and he didn’t care. Everyone knew what she was, yet you welcomed her with open arms and would’ve fought to the death for her.”

“One small problem with that guilt trip,” Faith said. “I didn’t know.”

Jack looked up from his bow.

“Ninety percent of the girls in the house? They sure as hell didn’t know, either,” Faith said. “So, tell me if in your little mind whether we’re all guilty, too?”

“You would’ve still fought to keep her safe even if you had known,” Alistair dismissed.

“Yeah. We would. Wanna know why?” Faith asked. “’Cause she was paying her fucking dues, instead of sitting around on her ass whining how her fuck-ups were someone else’s fault. That’s the way it works ’round here, believe it or not. Because I guarantee you, there’s a lot of us living here that’s got ourselves some real Kodak moments.”

Jack inquisitively tilted his head at that.

“And me? I don’t even have the worst Kodak moment, so I want you to chew on that a little bit before you go for broke,” Faith said.

“Tell me, dear girl, if you were not so very useful, one of the gang as it were, do you really believe they’d even give you a chance?” Alistair asked.

The realization that she couldn’t answer that question stopped Faith cold.

“I will concede the point that we acted hastily with regards to Young Master Harris and that had we been patient, this unseemly situation would not have come to pass,” Alistair said. “But surely, he is hardly an innocent in this.”

“’e knew,” Yvon agreed. “Didn’t care.”

“Asssss baaad,” Sam hissed.

Jack looked down at the bow again.

Faith could see that they just didn’t get it. They weren’t able to get their hands on Anya, so they had convinced themselves that Cyclops deserved to be punished. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t involved. It didn’t matter they he had nothing to do with anything when it came to whatever Anya did back in her bad ol’ demon days. They had decided he was guilty to justify what they did, and that was that.

And the saddest thing about it, from Faith’s perspective, is that she pegged him as guilty for shit he didn’t do herself and made him pay for it, or tried to at any rate. So she could see why they went for it and were now busy justifying what they did to themselves after the fact.

The realization served to drain the last of her reserves and she could feel her shoulders slump exhaustion. “If Cyclops comes back damaged, I promise you that I’ll hunt you down and I will kill you so hard, that your ghosts will be looking for your heads a hundred years from now,” Faith said a split second before she realized that she had given voice to the thought.

“More threatsssssss,” Sam sassed.

Faith was just too damn tired to argue with the numbskulls. She might as well beat her head against a lead-lined brick wall. “Yeah? Well this next one ain’t. Now we know you’re not interested in helping, so you can bet your ass that your privacy is gone. When I walk out there, at least three Slayers will be walking in here. We’ll be keeping you company up close and personal until we get our boy back. Then, we’re going to let him decide what we should do with you.”

“Sssssseeeee?” Sam pointed out. “Jussssst the sssssame.”

“The hell of it is, he really ain’t. And I should know,” Faith said wearily as she turned for the door.

There was a scrambling sound. Faith turned around to find the source, only to see that Jack had gone missing. “The hell?” she asked as she spun around.

Jack was sitting in front of the door and growling.

“You think you can take me on?” Faith asked as her temper rose to the challenge.

Jack huffed and then very pointedly barked at his buddies.

Faith looked over her shoulder and saw that the rest of the gang looked as confused as she felt.

Jack rolled his doggie eyes, got on his feet, and then pointed at the other kidnappers. The stance was exaggerated, a dead ringer for Elmer Fudd’s pooch in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

“Well, well, well. What have we here?” Faith asked. “Someone seems to have gone narc.”

“I assure you—” Alistair began.

“Can it, tubby. You already proved that you ain’t what I’d call trustworthy,” Faith said. “So, what is it Lassie? Has Timmy been a bad, bad boy?”

“Ruf,” Jack said in a way that sounded fairly close to yes.

A nasty smile spread across Faith’s face as she turned to face Jack’s gang. “Would it be connected to the fact that they’re taking us seriously about being dead if we don’t get our boy back?”

“Ruf.”

“’ack,” Yvon moaned.

“Hmmm, now why would you be all scared about dyin’,” Faith mused with hands on her hips. “You were all sharing about what you did. So you should be pretty confident about keeping your skin intact.”

Jack growled.

Alistair held out a hand to keep his boys quiet.

“Now you wouldn’t be hiding something, would ya? Something that makes our job a little harder?” Faith asked. “Would explain the interest in escaping. I mean, look around. House fulla Slayers. Good chance of serious bodily harm if you got caught. Why take a chance?”

Alistair’s piggy eyes blinked.

“Seems to me, you’re pretty damn sure we’re gonna fail. Sure enough that you’d rather die trying to escape,” Faith said. “Would I be correct in my guess, Jackie?”

“Woof!”

“Boys,” Faith said. “What we have ourselves here is what I call a situation. Don’t you agree?”

“I don’t see—” Alistair began.

“Oh, you will,” Faith interrupted. “Now this is where we all get to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ And I can guarantee, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna love this deal.”

Faith cracked her knuckles, just to underline her point.

***

“He’s putting on the show, ain’t he?” Faith asked, disturbing Giles’s troubled thoughts.

“I truly wouldn’t know,” Giles said. “After all, you actually observed it in the wild.”

Faith waved the hand holding her cigarette. “He acts different when he thinks no one’s watching him.”

“In what way?” Giles asked.

Faith drew thoughtfully on the Camel. “I ain’t saying he goes from King of the Geeks to Mr. Dark and Mysterious. Ain’t nothing like that. It’s a hell of a lot more complicated.”

Giles resisted the urge to pinch his nose. Faith’s facility with language always left much to be desired, but her inability to express her point on this issue stretched his patience.

“Okay. Got it. It’s like when he found that Slayer I mentioned, right? He was…I dunno…gentle with her,” Faith stared at the smoke, as if it could help her find the words. “It wasn’t none of this: ‘You’re one of the Chosen Ones, here’s a stake, let’s get dusting the bad guys.’ It was like he got it down to her level so when he was done explaining the facts of life, she wasn’t scared out of her panties.”

“We’re hardly that blunt when we approach a new Slayer,” Giles protested.

“Fuck you,” Faith said without heat. “You’re in your ivory tower, so you don’t fucking see it. I’ve heard stories about how some of your tribe go in, scare the girl half-to-death by telling her she’s got a target on her back, and then get her to sign on the dotted line because she’s too shit-scared not to. It’s worse than a Mafia protection racket.”

“If you had concerns, why didn’t you contact me?” Giles demanded.

Faith snorted. “I’ve bitched every time I heard the story, but I always ran into a nasty case of deaf ears ever time I did. Besides, ain’t like the old days. Slayers can tell you guys to shove it up your ass if they decide they’ve been pawned. Ain’t my fucking fault if your little underlings ain’t telling you the bad shit.”

“You do have my cell number,” Giles reminded her.

Faith’s smile was a half-bitter sneer. “An’ how many times did I get shoved off on one of the drones back in the early days ’cause you was too busy? Then you start bitching I never reach out and touch you. When I reach out and touch you, nine times out of ten, I’m back with a drone. So I figure, fuck it, I can handle whatever.”

“Given that attitude, I’m rather surprised you bothered to call about this,” Giles huffed.

Faith gave the closed bathroom door a speculative glance. “Between the Witch Herself takin’ an interest, that Slayer dream, two damn Harrises, a new Slayer, and a town with a sizeable vamp population, I figured I needed some Tweed. I was just hoping to get someone who was competent. Didn’t figure I’d get the Big Daddy.”

“According to Willow, I may be the only person on this earth that thing may listen to,” Giles said.

Faith drew in more smoke as her eyes crinkled in amusement. “What I’m tryin’ to say is, he knew how to do the approach up right. Played it like the Council would help and told her to keep out of the way until he could send up a flare and get her the proper training. Even you’d be impressed. I’m sure you’d find something to bitch about, ’cause that’s just you, but overall, I’d say you’d be impressed.”

“Or it could be playing her to get her on its side,” Giles stated.

“You know, you seem to think he’s got this big bad plan, and I just don’t see it,” Faith said. “I ain’t seen him act like that when he thinks he’s not being watched.”

“Seems to me you thought it was acting deliberately to cause harm when I first arrived,” Giles pointed out.

Faith frowned. “I’ve had a little mulling time on the drive back here. Thing is, he may be acting all mysterious to our faces, but I’ve seen him act on instinct. Like that vamp attack behind Target. First thing he did was get in there with stake out. Then he seemed upset that we weren’t able to save our boy. You can’t pretend that kind of shit.”

“It also had a witness who could become a potential ally if she believed it to be basically good,” Giles pointed out.

Faith huffed angrily. “Jesus. You’ve got a pretty fucking dim view of Slayers, don’tchya? You figure not just me, but some girl you ain’t even met yet can have her head twitched around by a buncha pretty words.”

“It has been known to happen,” Giles said meaningfully.

“The Boss helped me when no one else would, Rupert. So don’t you even fucking go there,” Faith bristled.

“I am merely pointing out that your ‘evidence’ can be turned against you.”

Faith snapped her fingers and interrupted, “He knows how not to be hero.”

“Pardon?” Giles asked.

“Hear me out,” Faith said. “Remember how I told you that I saw him offing vamps in a cemetery while Asshole was playing William Tell? He knew to keep a low profile and let the fang brigade focus on wanna-be. Meanwhile, he was picking off the real threats one-by-one without drawing attention to himself.”

“I fail to see—”

“Then back at Target. He got one, but only ’cause he got there first,” Faith continued. “But when I was on the scene, he got the fuck out of the way and let me do my thing. One of the vamps even attempted an escape, and he didn’t go chasing off after the dipshit. He figured I had it, and I did.”

“What point does this have?” Giles asked.

“The point is that this guy has been doing this shit for a long time,” Faith said. “What’s more, he’s used to doing it with Slayers. He knows that jumping in headfirst and playing the white knight could get someone killed. So he lets other people do the heavy lifting, but he watches their backs to make sure they don’t get in over their heads.”

“I am still—”

“What I’m trying to say, Rupert,” Faith said sarcastically, “is that our mysterious visitor is better than a hero.”

“I tremble to ask what, in your mind, is better than a hero,” Giles said.

“He’s a pro.” Faith nodded as if that was all the answer she need provide. “Deal with enough heroes, you get to appreciate pros. They’re better at making sure your sorry ass stays alive when the chips are down.”

The sound of the shower stopped and Faith and Giles fell silent as Faith snuffed out her cigarette. The minutes ticked by before the creature emerged barefoot and wearing jeans, but no shirt.

“Sorry,” Young Xander apologized with a nod toward Faith. “I thought I grabbed everything, but I think I was too focused on hot water dreams and wasn’t paying attention.”

As it rummaged around in the bags looking for more clothes, Giles noticed that it bore some impressive scars on its upper torso. There was something that looked like claw marks across its chest, something that looked like an angry stab wound in its gut, and a vivid white slash across its upper right arm. Giles suspected that if the light in the room were brighter, he’d probably find more evidence of a violent life.

Given Faith’s rhapsodizing about pros versus heroes, Giles glanced over at the Slayer to see her reaction. He was somewhat put off to notice that she seemed to be enjoying the view.

Young Xander finished layering a flannel-shirt over his t-shirt. “So,” it said without preamble. “Curious how you managed to call forth multiple Slayers.”

“You’re not in any position to ask questions,” Giles stated.

Young Xander looked to the heavens and shook its head. “C’mon. Throw me a bone. One question. Just answer one question.”

“Found a Scythe,” Faith said.

“Goes without saying,” Young Xander said. “Gotta use something for the focus, so it makes sense.”

“How do you know—”Giles began.

“Been there, done that,” Young Xander said with a wave of its hand. “Complete with the little old guardian lady who lived just long enough to tell us what it was.”

Faith gave Giles a nervous look. “Well, he’s dead-on about that.”

“Just want to know who cast the spell,” Young Xander shrugged.

“Who cast it on your end?” Faith asked suspiciously.

Young Xander stared at Giles and said, “Willow’s the only one with that kind of power.”

Giles’s gut clenched.

“Too bad she’s bug-shit crazy,” Faith commented.

Young Xander’s eyes didn’t leave Giles’s face. “So I heard. Who else has that kind of power?”

“Willow allowed us to tap into her power and focus it through the Scythe,” Giles said. “The Devon coven actually cast the spell.”

“Complicated,” Young Xander remarked. “More people involved, the more things can go wrong on something like that.”

“We were rather desperate, with the rise of the—”

“—First,” Young Xander finished for him. “A lot of people were doing desperate things when the First was in the middle of its power grab, so I get that.” It shook its head and suddenly seemed to find the nondescript art on the walls interesting. “How is she?” it asked softly. “Willow. How is she here?”

“Bug-shit crazy, like I said,” Faith jumped in before Giles could answer. “And fucking dangerous to boot. It’s a bad combination.”

Young Xander cast Giles a speculative glance. “All that combined with her power, I’m surprised she’s still alive.”

Giles felt a cold tingle along his skin with the knowledge that this creature believed that Willow should be dead. The fact that Young Xander could even consider killing Willow as a possible course of action seemed wrong in the extreme. He could not imagine Xander Harris of Sunnydale, California, being quite so cold-blooded as to think seriously about murdering a childhood friend that he once cared about.

But then again, Young Xander seemed to constantly take him by surprise by just how bloody-minded it was about practical matters.

“Rupert made himself a little deal,” Faith said. “In exchange for access to her mad magic, everyone had to promise to keep her ass alive. If even one person decides to go for it, even if they ain’t a Slayer or a Watcher or a witch, we’ll all fucking pay for letting her die.”

“Willow always was smart,” Young Xander murmured.

“Only person who can kill her is Rupert here,” Faith said with a jerk of her head in Giles’s direction. “And he’s got to do it all by his lonesome. You wanna know why she’s still breathing? Ask our fearless leader.”

Young Xander looked at Giles with something resembling sympathy. “Well, at least I know you’re not a complete stranger.”

“Now it’s my turn,” Giles said as he drew a stone out.

Young Xander took a step back. “What’s that?”

“To ascertain whether you are human.”

Young Xander seemed dumbstruck by the answer. “You don’t think I’m human?”

“As I said, your very presence has disrupted this world to such an extent that it can never be put right again,” Giles said. “For all intents and purposes, no one—not seers, not even Willow—can tell us what will happen next as a result of your mucking about. Please excuse me if I find it difficult to believe that a mere human is capable of that kind of damage.”

Young Xander kept his eyes fixed on the stone. “So, if I let you do this, you’ll stop acting like I’m the enemy?”

“What’s this ‘let’ us do anything we want to you?” Faith asked. “You ain’t got a choice, Junior.”

“Ah. It’s like that,” Young Xander said quietly.

“It’s precisely like that,” Giles stated. “Now do hold still.” The Watcher uttered the Latin phase and waited. A light in the stone’s center sputtered and sparked.

“Ain’t looking good for ya,” Faith remarked.

Young Xander tensed.

Finally, the stone lit up with a flash, causing all three occupants in the room to wince. As Giles’s vision cleared, the stone settled into a soft pulsing glow.

“This is good, right?” Young Xander asked tightly.

“For you,” Faith answered. “And for now.”

“Not feeling the comfort with that,” Young Xander said.

Giles stared into the stone’s glow. A soul. As impossible as the answer was, there was a very real human soul in that body. There was a shadow in the stone, revealing a slight flaw in whatever passed for this person’s spirit. Nothing to mark it—him—as evil, but certainly enough to show that he’d been touched by darkness.

Although, to be bluntly honest, Giles knew that any Watcher or Slayer with any significant field experience would bear similar flaws. It was simply the nature of the beast when one stood on the frontlines. Lord knows, his messing with Eyghon and allowing Ethan to influence him in his youth had left a sizeable spot on his own soul.

However, given the coven’s and Willow’s warning that Young Xander was not linked into the web that bound the world together, it was certainly cause for concern, especially in light of the damage he’d inflicted since his arrival. It also came down to the kind of darkness man had been touched with. Willow especially enjoyed harping on the uniqueness of it. It could very well be he was looking at the beginnings of a malignant corruption that would only reveal itself with time—time he and this world did not have.

“Well?” Young Xander asked.

Interesting. Young Xander was fidgeting slightly. Giles took an experimental step forward and watched while the young man went very still, his eyes fixed on the stone.

“You seem concerned,” Giles commented.

Young Xander said nothing, but switched his gaze from the stone to the man holding it.

“You needn’t be. This does tell me that you are, indeed, human,” Giles said.

“Then can we shut off the magic?” Young Xander asked.

“It’s perfectly harmless,” Giles pointed out before uttering the proper Latin phase to shut it down and pocketing it. He was interested to note that Young Xander’s shoulders relaxed when the spell ended. He gave the man credit for a semblance of control he didn’t think was possible in any version of Xander Harris. He would’ve missed the slight slump had he not spent years watching young Slayers train and spotting holes in their fighting techniques. “You act as if this posed a danger to your person.”

“Magic makes me uncomfortable,” Young Xander said. “I don’t trust it, especially when it involves me. Spells tend to get weird when I’m around, but then again, you know that, so...” He trailed off in a casual shrug.

“Yes. I do recall a love spell that went quite awry,” Giles said. “Although that is the only one I recall.”

Young Xander gave him a sardonic grin. “Unh-hunh. So this is the part where we test my memory and see how close we get to the truth? What do I win if I fail?”

“Are you planning on failing?” Giles asked.

“Let’s see…I better stick with the ones I know you’ll know about,” Young Xander made a show of tapping his chin, but his eyes revealed amusement, almost like he was playing with his audience. “Spells that involved me directly included the Great Two-Xander Panic during the Toth incident. And how can we forget the Sunnydale sing-a-long? Plus, you skipped over hyena hijinks, solider possession, fun with syphilis, demon magnetism, and the great Willow of forgetfulness spell. Then there was the whole raising Buffy from the dead, which lead to big Buffy- and Willow-related problems.”

Giles clenched his fists at the casual way Young Xander tossed out that last item on his list, like everything came up roses when all was said and done. He acted as if Willow’s and his meddling in dark magic didn’t result Buffy’s and Dawn’s gruesome murders, as well as the deaths of three young men and a seedy mage; near destruction of the world; and Willow’s present condition, or, given Young Xander’s earlier question on why Willow was still alive, her death. He wondered if the bloody bastard had any semblance of a human heart to go with the human soul.

“Technically, though, those spells didn’t actually go wrong since they actually worked the way they were supposed to,” Young Xander added with a wave of his hand. “And speaking of spells that worked, just for fun I’ll toss in the spell that combined Willow, Buffy, you, and me into one big super Slayer.”

“You can do that?” Faith asked.

“There’s consequences, though,” Young Xander said. “Then again, all magic has consequences, which I learned the hard way and then needed that little lesson repeatedly beaten into my thick head. Let’s just say after that spell that combined all of us, we all got nailed by some pretty freaky dreams involving a pissed-off First Slayer. Unless world-endage is involved, I do not recommend trying it. Even then I’d recommend it only as a last resort.”

Giles gave his head a hard shake. He couldn’t have heard right, yet Young Xander seemed to know exactly what he was talking about. “You were not involved in the Spiritus-Animus-Sophus-Manus spell.”

Young Xander actually seemed taken surprise by that. “But I was the one who made the joke that gave you the idea.”

“Well, yes. That much is true,” Giles allowed. “But you were not involved in the actual casting of the spell.”

A flash of something, what Giles wasn’t even sure, briefly showed itself in Young Xander’s face. “So who was Animus?”

“Animus? Is that like animal?” Faith asked.

“The heart,” Young Xander said. “Willow was the spirit, Giles was the mind, and Buffy was the hands.”

Giles nearly laughed at the revelation. “You were Animus? I hardly think so.”

Young Xander set his jaw in a manner that, in a strange way, reminded Giles very much of Faith’s defensiveness whenever she felt short-changed. “So, who was it?” he asked again.

“Well, Riley, of course, as Buffy was quite mad for him at the time,” Giles answered.

“Of course,” Young Xander echoed dismissively.

“I’m rather surprised that you played that role,” Giles said. He expected some reaction out of Young Xander, but got nothing beyond vaguely amused, as if the other man was listening to a not-very-good joke. “Your mind was quite disordered at the time as you were dealing with all sorts of personal issues that were of the more mundane sort. You said yourself that you wouldn’t be able to bring the focus necessary to the spell.”

“One problem with your story,” Young Xander said. “Riley wasn’t even there when we discussed the spell. He was too busy being tortured by Adam.”

“I assure you, he most certainly was,” Giles said.

“Is there car accident involved somewhere around this time?” Young Xander asked with something resembling interest.

“No offense, but I am surprised that you were involved, even without the presence of Riley,” Giles said.

“So we’re back to not answering my questions,” Young Xander muttered.

“You show unease with the use of magic,” Giles continued. “And if there was any shred of doubt about your ability to use it or be part of the spell, such as the doubt you just displayed with something as simple as an enchanted stone to read for the presence of a human soul, it would mean disaster to the other people involved in the casting.”

“I was much dumber at the time,” Young Xander said shortly. “And believe me, if I have to, I can definitely deal with magic and the use of it. I don’t have to like it, but I’d be an absolute idiot not to admit that it’s sometimes necessary.”

“But you’d still be a hindrance to any sort of spell casting with even that attitude,” Giles said.

“Notice me not using magic,” Young Xander said.

“Beyond that, there’s also an issue of a flaw in your soul,” Giles said.

Faith, who had been watching the back-and-forth between himself and Young Xander with consuming interest, sat up. “Flaw?”

“What flaw?” Young Xander asked.

To be on the safe side, Giles thought it best not to credit Willow. However, there was no harm in attributing Willow’s statements to someone else. “Our seers informed us that you were ‘dirty?’”

Young Xander’s eyebrows crunched down low over his eyes. “Dirty?”

“Dirty. Scarred. Stained,” Giles elaborated. “Touched by darkness.”

Young Xander went so suddenly pale that his eyes seemed to grow darker in contrast, an illusion that took Giles quite aback.

Still, he needed to push this and see what sort of man he was dealing with. “Your soul is hardly pure. There is quite a flaw in it, one that has the potential to corrupt any spell with which you are involved and could ultimately consume you. I could see it quite clearly in the stone. Would you like to see?”

“Is that why I’m here?” Young Xander asked quietly.

“What did you do to earn that stain, I wonder?” Giles asked.

“I don’t know,” Yound Xander said.

“I don’t believe that,” Giles stated.

“I swear. I don’t.” Young Xander showed something that looked a little like fear, and a lot like something else Giles couldn’t name. “Please, you’ve got to believe me.”

“You haven’t given me a reason to do so,” Giles pointed out.

“But—” Young Xander began.

“Surely you must’ve noticed. Surely you’ve seen changes in yourself marking the event,” Giles pushed.

Young Xander kept shaking his head no, but the expression on his face seemed to indicate that Giles had hit on the something. He knows. He knows precisely what I’m talking about. Giles knew he’d have to push further. He needed to know if whatever caused the flaw—the very thing Young Xander suddenly seemed desperate to hide from them now that he’d been found out—was what was causing the disruption.

“Hiding from it will do you no good,” Giles pressed. “Hiding from it will ultimately destroy you.”

“I’m not hiding.” The way Young Xander said it seemed to indicate he was close to breaking down and telling them.

One more push and I’ll have my answer, Giles thought. “You most certainly are. I can see it your face that you already aware of this state of affairs. You will tell me, one way or other, with or without your consent.”

Young Xander seemed to shrink inward on himself as he whispered, “Don’t.”

Faith jumped to her feet and growled, “Stop it. Rupert, stop this shit right now.”

“Stay out of this Faith,” Giles said, his eyes not leaving the shivering Young Xander.

“No. Who the fuck died and made you Caleb?”

Young Xander’s eyes snapped to Faith. “Caleb?”

“Fucked-up preacher type working for the First,” Faith was glaring at Giles now. “Grabbed one of my girls off the street and I had to go after the son of a bitch with claws out. He nabbed my sorry ass and I had to listen to shit like this for days while he did the slice and dice on me.”

“You got caught by got Caleb?” Young Xander gave his head a disorientated shake. “Only time you crossed paths with him was when we stormed his hideout. I saw you flashing knives at him, but that’s about it.”

Giles clenched his fists behind his back. So close, so very close. However, he held his peace as Young Xander set another intriguing thread before him. Caleb’s taunting Faith about her unfitness as a Slayer and the fact that she was truly alone during the time she was held captive was the penultimate turning point in their battle with the First. During his taunting, Caleb revealed information about the presence of the Scythe and spurred Faith’s idea to empower all of the Potentials with the Slayer spirit so she had an army backing her in the final battle.

He was very curious to see how Young Xander remembered this incident.

Faith’s expression was now the mask she wore whenever any mention was made of Caleb, leaving Giles to wonder for the millionth time whether Caleb’s tortures went beyond taunts and bloodletting with a Bringer’s knife. “So, if Caleb didn’t grab me, who did he grab?” she asked.

Young Xander’s hand drifted up to his left check and he brushed something away under his left eye, almost like he was trying to brush away a memory. “Me.”

Giles could feel his mouth fall open. Faith had drastically changed after she escaped Caleb. Although Young Xander seemed so different from the Xander Harris he was familiar with—different enough that his statement sounded plausible—Giles had a difficult time believing that in another place or another time Caleb had thought to single this man out.

“I don’t buy that. He nearly killed me. Ain’t no way a non-Slayer walked out of that alive,” Faith said evenly.

Young Xander’s expression was nearly a mirror of Faith’s Caleb mask. “He only had me a for a few minutes. Trust me, it was enough to do permanent damage.”

“What could he possibly do in a few minutes that could come close to what Faith went through?” Giles asked, out of legitimate curiosity.

Young Xander looked at Giles as Faith said, her eyes not leaving the other man, “If you’d been up close and personal with the fucker, you wouldn’t be asking that.”

“But still—” Giles protested.

“Junior ain’t a Slayer, Rupert,” Faith stated in a controlled tone that revealed her desire to scream. “A few minutes I think’d be plenty.”

“I’m sorry about what happened to you,” Young Xander said to Faith. “I just…just sorry.”

Faith gave Young Xander a nod. “I’m sorry about you, too.”

Giles stuck his hands and his pockets, knowing that he didn’t dare push Young Xander any further about flaws or potential flaws in his memory, character, or soul, or about his alleged experience with Caleb in an effort to get the man to talk. With a simple name, Young Xander managed to win Faith completely over to his side and he suspected Faith would react poorly to more testing in this direction. For now, he’d have play it as if Young Xander was who he claimed he was, but he’d have to keep sharp on him until his mind was put to rest on the matter.

“Now then,” Giles said, breaking the silence. “You were mentioning something about finding a Slayer.”

“I saw her,” Faith bristled.

“So just like that, we’re all friends now and you want information,” Young Xander coldly stated.

Giles had to admit that dealing with Young Xander was a very different experience than dealing with the devil he knew. “I will not insult your intelligence by even suggesting that we are friends. But it appears our interests somewhat coincide on this matter.”

“Fair enough,” Young Xander nodded.

“Faith failed to tell me the young lady’s name when we spoke on this. So, I’m forced to ask you her name,” Giles said.

Young Xander grinned, although there was no humor in his eyes. “You’re gonna love this. Haley Harris.”

“Harris,” Giles repeated numbly.

“Yeah,” Young Xander was almost laughing now. “You get to deal with two Xanders for the price of one. Now personally, I can’t wait to see the touching reunion. I’m thinking I should sell tickets.”

“Fun for the whole family. Bring the kiddies.” Faith was practically licking her chops at the prospect. “Karma. She is quite the bitch.”

“Indeed,” Giles weakly agreed.

 

Continued in Part 27

 

 

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