Yarg! A new part.
This is what we call a calm before it all hits the fan.
All previous parts are here.
When Willow and Giles switched off, Buffy was hard-pressed to guess who was leaving and who was coming in. They both looked equally awful.
If Giles and Willow were pushing themselves to the limit, she had to do the same. Lord knows she demanded it of everyone else when they all huddled in her house to hide from the First. This time, Giles and Willow were on the leadership point. They didn’t ask her to stay awake. After all, beyond being a cheerleader, there wasn’t a whole lot she could do. She just felt she should do it.
Besides, if Faith could run a day or two without sleep before her spectacular crash, Buffy figured she could do it, too. She just needed to keep ignoring the call of her bed with its soft pillows, firm mattress, comfy sheets, fluffy and battered Mr. Gordo that made it out of Sunnydale because she’d shoved him in a coat pocket, and…
“I’m awake!” Buffy started.
“Unh-hunh, sleepy girl,” Willow said with a tired smile. “I don’t know if anyone’s said this, but there’s no point in you killing yourself.”
“I’m being support-o gal,” Buffy protested.
“Support-o gal is better when support-o gal gets some sleep, especially after the night you just had,” Willow argued. “I’m good. Really. I had ten hours of sleep and everything. And Giles and me are totally 24/7 between the two of us, so there’s really no point—”
Willow was interrupted when Faith marched into the room followed by the kidnappers.
“What are they doing here?” Buffy snapped. “And where’s the Slayer guard?”
“Slayer guard is outside the library to make sure these yos don’t escape, and I call ’em yos on account of the fact that they ain’t smart enough to be yo-yos,” Faith declared. “I figure better safe than bloodshed.”
“What are you talking about?” Willow asked as her forehead crinkled into a frown.
“Our boys have decided they wanna help.” Here Faith gave the kidnappers a bright grin. “Don’tchya?”
“We…unh…” Alistair gave Faith a worried look.
“Now, now. We’re all friends now. You can share. I won’t let B hurt you. Much,” Faith said cheerfully. “But the longer you delay, the more I let her hurt you.”
Buffy rubbed her tired face with her hands. “Now what.”
“A little bit of information.” Faith smiled like she’d been crowned queen of the world. “No big, really. Something itty bitty in the grand scheme, know what I’m saying? I’m sure it just slipped their minds, since they were all so busy telling us how they was robbed.”
Sam the snake twitched. The Joey the rat dove under the shredded paper in his cage. Alistair’s flab shivered. Yvon shook so hard he was shedding skin. Jack was the only one who didn’t look afraid. The dog put his head down and whined. Coupled with the drooping tail, Buffy could almost believe that Jack looked something like ashamed.
“Oh. This is going to be good, isn’t it,” Buffy said with a despairing air.
“Yup. This looks like the bad news express,” Willow agreed wearily.
“Hey, don’t be like that,” Faith said as she bounced on the balls of her feet. “For once, our new best buddies bring us tidings of comfort and joy and all that happy holiday horseshit.”
“Believe it when I see it,” Willow grumbled.
“G’won guys. Tell them. Let’s break with tradition here and actually share the joy,” Faith said as she swatted at Alistair’s arm. Alistair’s flab wobbled in response.
Buffy was so hypnotized by the way the ripples moved across Alistair’s body, that she nearly missed what he said.
“You can see Young Master Harris if you wish,” Alistair said quickly. “We have a spell that’ll allow you to look into his captive dimension.”
“Excuse me?” Willow asked.
“Turns out our boys forgot to tell us this eeny weeny bit about the spell they used to send Cyclops into the great beyond,” Faith said. “Turns out that it ain’t so simple as dragging his ass back home. We gotta make sure we grab the right Xander, otherwise, if we don’t check, we got a whole new problem on our hands.”
“Really,” Willow said angrily.
“Hunh?” Buffy asked. “But I thought the spell was keyed just to him.”
“We, unh, my dear lady—” Alistair fumbled.
“Oh, it is,” Faith interrupted. “But, you see, it turns out that the pull back will grab the Xander that’s the closest to our little exit sign. Any old Xander will do, not just Cyclops.”
“Back up,” Willow said. “Life experience can affect an aura. If the differences between them are as big as we think, it shouldn’t work like that.”
“Now you’ve lost me,” Faith said.
“You would be correct if we could fine tune the spell as much as you indicate.” Alistair’s know-it-all attitude seemed to be finally overriding his fear. “However, as we did not have access to Young Master Harris to do so, we had to do a rather quick and dirty job of it based on the object we stole from him.”
“So, it’s keyed into the parts of the aura that never change and can implant itself on personal things,” Willow said almost to herself.
“I think I’ll go join Faith in lost land,” Buffy said.
“Remember how there are some Xander-centered alternate realities that can’t exist because then Xander wouldn’t be Xander any more?” Willow asked.
“Oh, I get this,” Faith answered. “That serial killer thing, right? If there was a world where Xander made Ted Bundy look like a fine upstanding citizen of the U.S. of A., by definition that reality wouldn’t exist because then he ain’t Xander.”
“That’s it,” Willow nodded.
Faith looked rather pleased with herself.
Not wanting to be the only dummy in the room, Buffy said, “I blame no sleep. But, hunh?”
“The spell is tied in to those parts of Xander that make him fundamentally Xander,” Willow explained. “Which means that for the purposes of the spell, all Xanders are the same Xander.”
“And that’s bad?” Buffy tentatively asked.
“Means we could grab the wrong Xander by mistake,” Faith circled back to her main point.
“Y’know,” Willow frowned at the kidnappers, “that’s kind of important information. Critical. Fatal even. Especially since we’ve been looking for a spell to reach on through and grab him since we were told the spell was custom-made for one-eyed Xanders who live here.”
“Which is why they have a way for us to check out the merchandise before we buy,” Faith said.
“You mean to tell me, that we could’ve found him at any time,” Willow said angrily. “You mean to tell me that we didn’t need to do everything we did to find the right dimension?”
Alistair shrunk back, at least as much as his bulk would allow. “Yes.”
Buffy stood up so quickly that her chair skittered backwards and crashed into the wall.
Faith dove in front of the kidnappers with a shout, “No!”
Buffy’s eyes snapped to Willow. She could see the witch was bloodlessly pale and shaking with rage. Buffy flung herself next to Faith and yelled, “We need their spell!”
“Do you know—” Willow stopped, but her mouth kept moving as if she were groping for words. She shivered so hard that Buffy was half-convinced that Willow was well on her way to black-eyed badness.
“Will, calm down,” Buffy pleaded as she felt Faith tense next to her. “We need the spell they just told us about. If we don’t have it, we’ll have to look for it and that means a whole new bucket of big problems.”
Willow thrust her arm out to point at Alistair, who was busy trying to shrink his considerable bulk behind Buffy and Faith. The other kidnappers were hiding behind their leader, although they were having more success at staying out of sight. “Your head,” she said in a voice that sounded frighteningly like Dark Willow. “It’s on your head.”
“What is? Will?” Buffy asked, putting on her best best-friend voice.
“Let it go, B,” Faith said quietly next to her.
Buffy shot Faith a look.
Faith kept her eyes trained on Willow, but answered the unasked question. “Gut feeling we don’t wanna know. You remember that non-interference thing she had to promise, right? I’m thinkin’ it’s that.”
God. She must be really tired and suffering from scrambled brain caused by Xander-Willow-Giles-shaped worry. Of course that was it. Willow and Giles were really upset about that deal, so it made sense.
“Do you have any idea what we’ve gone through to get what we got?” Willow growled. “If we didn’t need your information so bad I’d make you wish Anya had killed you.”
“They promised to come clean,” Faith said.
“Can we trust them?” Buffy asked.
“I think the answer is no,” Willow said.
“You…you…yes…we’ll…” Alistair stumbled.
Jack let out a bark that sounded pretty close to ‘yes.’
“Why should we?” Buffy asked.
“’Cause I gave ’em a motivational speech,” Faith said.
“Let me guess,” Buffy said. “If we don’t get Xander back, we’ll kill them? We already gave them that speech.”
“Better.” Faith looked over her shoulder at the kidnappers with a grin. “We let them walk free and clear if we get Cyclops back in one piece. If we don’t get Cyclops back or he comes back hurt in any way, even if it ain’t their fault, we won’t kill ’em either.”
“What?” Willow demanded.
“I said that we’d go to you for a spell that’ll send their asses to a hell dimension instead,” Faith said.
“Oooooo, I like that plan,” Willow nodded. “And I think I’ve already picked their new home. It’ll really hurt sending them there.”
“Willow, they’re not worth it,” Buffy said.
“Didn’t say it would hurt me,” Willow said with a not very nice smile.
The other kidnappers joined Jack in the whimpering.
Buffy prayed that Willow was bluffing. She’d much rather go with the threat of death. It seemed safer somehow.
“Now,” Willow said in a deadly voice. “Show me this spell, and I might pick a less painful dimension if things go wrong.”
There was silence for a few heartbeats.
“Yvon,” Alistair said, “please do remove our spell notes from your inner pocket and turn everything over to Ms. Rosenberg.”
“’Vryting?” the zombie asked.
“Yes, yes,” Alistair said impatiently.
“Notessssssss?” Sam asked.
“Yes,” Alistair wilted slightly, “including my journal detailing my research progress in discovering the dimensional spell and observational notations on the comings and goings of this house.”
Buffy internally cringed as she watched Yvon rummage inside the rags that passed as his clothes. They’d searched everyone but the zombie, the reasons for not doing it being pretty obvious since no one in arm’s reach could avoid getting sick from the smell. It was a stupid mistake; one that could’ve cost them if Faith hadn’t found out that the kidnappers had kept back important information.
Willow strode over as soon as the papers were produced. “Is this all of it?” she demanded.
“Everything is there,” Alistair said.
Faith looked down at the dog and asked, “He telling the truth?”
“Why are you asking him?” Buffy asked. “He’s on their side.”
Jack gave Faith a tail wag and did something close to a doggy nod.
“If he says that’s it, that’s it,” Faith assured Willow.
“Right,” Willow said as she snatched the papers out of Yvon’s hands. She gagged from the smell of standing too close to the zombie before she spun on her heel and headed for the table. She halted and spun around again, only this time she looked more Willow-ish. “I, unh, hate to ask, but, ummm, I kinda need Giles to help me go through all this stuff.”
“I’ll go wait for him and grab him when he gets back,” Faith volunteered. Her meaningful gaze took in all the kidnappers except Jack, Buffy noticed. “I need to get me some air. I think I’ve reached my blowhard limit.”
I don’t belong anywhere.
Xander sat in front of the mirror located over the dresser and stared at his reflection. He couldn’t see anything wrong with him, and he was really, really looking. Sure, he looked exhausted, washed out, and like he was about to drop, but he looked just like him.
No sign of anything evil inside. At least he didn’t think so.
Then again, Willow had no idea she was sliding down the path to black-eyed badness until after she crossed through Big Bad territory and landed on the other side.
Xander closed his eyes and tried to control the shiver.
He was happy that Rupert and Faith at least left him alone while they got ready and refreshed for the big visit to Casa Harris because he was having a hard time looking either one of them in the eye.
He was really unhappy they left him alone in the room because now he was stuck with himself.
And the mirror. Can’t forget the mirror.
He was pretty sure that one of them was standing guard outside the door while the other got ready, given just how much Rupert didn’t like or trust him. It’s what he’d do in their place.
God, he felt so stupid. What did he expect when Gi—Rupert showed up?
Hugs and puppies? An easy answer? A quick solution?
Unh, well, sort of on the first question, since Giles wasn’t big on giving out the hugs. He figured Rupert would rather cut off his head than look at him, which sort of begged the question why one Xander-shaped head was still attached to his Xander-shaped shoulders.
Not that he was going to ask, because he’d like to keep his head attached to his body, thanks.
Not like that poor bastard Ramirez.
Xander unconsciously rubbed his hands in an effort to keep the oh-so-pleasant memory at bay.
As for the other two questions? Yes. And Yes. That was exactly what he expected. He expected Giles to save him. Instead he got Rupert, who wanted him dead.
The smell of fresh cigarette smoke reached his nostrils.
Faith was standing guard, then.
At least she didn’t seem to want him dead.
It wasn’t much, but it was something.
The reflection is all wrong.
Xander never questioned the spun-glass moments he tended to associate with the people he knew. For better or for worse, those memories influenced how he saw them, even years after they no longer seemed to apply.
There he was following Buffy through the sewers as they tried to rescue Jesse—too late, I’m always too late—while he cringed behind her and tried to hide the fear with stupid jokes. Buffy just kept marching forward into the darkness to rescue someone she didn’t even know. She was the world’s most unlikely superhero and she knew who he was and she was okay with him being right there with her—not thrilled, god no—but okay.
There was Willow in kindergarten crying because she broke the crayon. She absolutely convinced she was going to get into trouble with the teacher, which meant she’d get in trouble at home. And how she smiled at him through the tears when he said he broke it and the look of admiration when he didn’t get in trouble at all.
Dawn sitting in the living room with her books after finding out she wasn’t a Potential and telling him that he needed a cape.
Giles after he’d been possessed by the hyena. Giles, who promised not to give away his secret before giving him a dose of understanding smile. No adult had ever forgiven him like that. Giles did it without question and without ever referring to it again.
All Xander knew in that moment when Giles smiled and forgave him for being a beast that he’d die for the guy.
He knew he still would, despite Rupert.
Fuck you. You can’t take that away from me.
Giles would tell him, right? Giles wouldn’t lie to him about some flaw that could make him evil, right? He might sugarcoat all the way. He might break the news gently, but he wouldn’t hide it, would he?
Giles told him and told him and kept repeating it and repeating it until Xander finally got it: the magic sensitivity thing-y was because of the Hellmouth. The vibing thing he got stuck with was just because he was born in Sunnydale General and was standing at Ground Zero when Spike pulled the Hellmouth down around his vampire ears.
It was nothing to worry about, Giles said.
Nothing at all.
Just learn to use it and learn how to kick up the ol’ Spidey senses a notch so he could do more than pick up on active, fresh, or uber-powerful spells.
It could save someone if you learned, Xander. That’s what Giles said.
And if that way lay the way of evil Xander, there’s no chance and hell Giles and Willow would be pushing him in those stupid training sessions he hated.
Giles would tell him if there was danger. Giles wouldn’t lie to him.
Not to him.
Not about this.
There’s something missing.
Xander hit the brick wall when Rupert pushed about how there was something evil inside, something evil enough to maybe threaten a whole world.
Well, he didn’t so much hit the wall as he got shoved into it face-first, but that was beside the point.
He might imagine a world where Buffy and Dawn were dead. It had happened twice for Buffy and had nearly happened more than once for Dawn. So, them being dead? Not outside the realm of a twisted, fevered, hallucinogenic imagination.
He might even imagine a world where Willow was crazy and evil, because he’d seen the possibility with his own two eyes back when he had two eyes.
But he knew it wasn’t in him to turn Giles into Rupert. He knew it in his gut.
It wasn’t that Rupert was doing anything unusual—well, it wasn’t that Rupert was saying anything really new. God knows he’d heard Tony say similar things about being him bad, and stupid, and dirty, and destructive, and on and on with a list of sins. Usually Tony was drunk off his ass when he said it, but Xander had gotten so used to hearing it from Tony that it didn’t even hurt anymore.
Well, it hurt, but it didn’t cut. It didn’t make him bleed.
What an odd thing to realize. What Tony said ultimately didn’t matter, but what Giles thought mattered a whole hell of a lot. He didn’t love Tony, but he really loved Giles.
Because Giles was the only adult who had ever forgiven him for anything.
Giles may have snapped, and snarled, and subjected him to British snits, and lost patience, but Giles always forgave him in the end, no matter how much he screwed up.
Somewhere along the way, Xander had started counting on that.
He started counting on the fact that Giles was not cruel.
When Rupert threw his Hellmouth-shaped curse in his face, not knowing or caring what he was doing, when Rupert threatened to rip the secret out of him even if it meant destroying him, Xander realized one thing:
He couldn’t imagine Giles ever being like this. He didn’t care how fevered, twisted, or hallucinogenic this reality was. Rupert was a step beyond his imagination.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t see a flash of Giles in there, because the hell of it was, he could.
Rupert was Giles without a heart.
Or more likely, Rupert was Giles after his heart got violently ripped out.
He knew it was true right down to every pore in his body.
And if Rupert was Giles, the other him was him, other Anya was Anya, and other Faith was Faith. He could see the people he knew inside every one of them, but somewhere along the way they got twisted up and lost.
They were all real, which meant there was a good shot that this world was real, too.
That very possibility scared him to death.
They’ve forgotten how to fly. She’s forgotten how to fly.
Those spun glass moments had always been funny things.
He never knew where they come from, when they hit, and how they altered his idea of someone from that point forward.
It was a lot like catching sight of a familiar face in an unfamiliar way.
He was on patrol with Faith, Rona, and Vi. It was near the beginning of his and Faith’s very tentative partnership, so they didn’t have Barbara, Sally, and Lisa with them. It was just the four of them, all trying to get used to this weird and uncomfortable thing they had going.
They’d been looking for a F’tua demon that had been pestering the locals. Faith spotted it and she took off after it. When the thing climbed a tree, she followed. When it swung from branch to branch to get away, she was behind it, but just out of stabbing reach.
When it leapt to a nearby tree, Xander told Vi and Rona to keep following it so they wouldn’t lose it while Faith climbed back down.
Then Faith did the most amazing thing.
She actually flew.
She leapt out the tree to go after it and for a heart-stopping moment she hung in the air, like she counted on the wind and her power to get her to other side. She was so fearless, like it didn’t occur to her that she could die from the fall; like it didn’t even cross her mind that she could fall.
And in that spun-glass moment Xander thought, “Beautiful.”
Not hot. Not sexy. Not woogga-woogga. Not even, “Daddy like.”
Just that one word.
And when she landed in that tree within stabbing reach, Vi and Rona whooped and hollered. Part of him wanted to whoop and holler with them, but bigger part of him was terrified that she’d fall to the earth.
So he ran around underneath that damn tree, straining his one eye to try and see what was going on. He silently cursed his stupid feet and clumsy bedrock-like body for being chained to the earth and unable to do anything more than watch and hope.
There was a yell of triumph and that demon thumped to the ground about a foot to the left on Xander’s blindside. While he jumped from the surprise, Faith swung down through the branches until she was hanging upside-down from a bottom branch yelling that she was da man. Vi and Rona kicked the cheering up a notch.
He stuck his hands in his pockets so no one would see him shaking and said they should just call it an early night.
When Faith decided to hit the clubs instead of head home, that was comforting. It meant that Faith was still Faith and she’d always be Faith, even though he saw her fly.
The thing about spun-glass moments was that they tended to float away like soap bubbles. When everyday, earth-bound things started piling up and needed to be addressed, the memories went into hiding. He tended to forget he had them in the first place. They were nothing more than a passing thought that barely registered before they disappeared.
Until faced with a Faith that had forgotten how to fly.
And he knew just who to blame.
Xander knew it.
In that split second when Caleb had him by the throat and whispered that he was the one who sees, Xander knew he was mortal.
That wasn’t to say he wasn’t aware he could die before that moment. It had always been a possibility and he knew it.
But it was the first time he felt mortal.
Nothing was the same after that.
And Faith—this Faith—knew she was mortal, too, in the same way he knew he was mortal.
This Faith couldn’t fly because she wouldn’t fly. She didn’t trust her power to see her through and she wasn’t fearless.
He could see it in the way she fought those vampires behind Target. She fought like Buffy, with feet planted on the ground, drawing the power up from the earth. It made sense in a strange way. Buffy had died twice. Buffy was probably more aware she was mortal than he was aware of his own mortality.
He didn’t even want to imagine what Caleb did to Faith to take away her power over air.
It bad was enough that somewhere, somehow that it had happened and it was possible.
He just hoped that Faith—his Faith—would never be chained to the earth like that.
Dirty. Scarred. Stained. Touched by darkness.
That’s what Rupert said about him.
Rupert also said that something had gone wrong in this world and it was all falling apart. Somehow, someone pinned the blame on him and made him the scapegoat for whatever apocalypse was looming on the horizon.
There was no chance in hell he was causing the kind of damage Rupert said he was. He was just one guy, and a guy with no superpowers at that.
Yet someone, somewhere had put the fear of Xander into Rupert.
Xander bit his lip to keep the crazy laugher at bay.
Then he better damn wall not admit to his Spidey-senses. He better damn well not admit he couldn’t see out of his left eye—although he was kind of surprised neither Faith or Rupert noticed that something was wrong with it.
Those two secrets might be his only aces in the hole. If he got backed into a corner, if they decided to remind him that he was mortal, his secrets might be the only things that could save him.
Okay, he wasn’t entirely sure how being blind on one side might save him, but he never knew what might come in handy.
The only way they were going to find out any of his secrets was if they ripped the secrets out him.
And that was going to happen only over his dead body.
There was a loud knock on the door that propelled Xander forward out of his seat. While his heart raced, he managed to gasp out, “Yes?”
“Get your ass in gear,” Faith said through the door. “We’re leaving now.”
“In a sec,” Xander called back.
He spared a final glance at his reflection in the mirror and swallowed hard.
The world is broken.
Maybe this was reality. Maybe it wasn’t.
But it was a possibility. He had to accept that.
If this was real, that meant this town was a real danger to everyone who lived in it, especially untrained Slayers. He had to make sure that Haley got out and got Council help, because she wasn’t going to survive very long without it.
Sure, they’d be turning her over to a Council run by Rupert, but it was a hell of a lot better than no Council at all.
“I should do the spell,” Willow said.
“This spell is simple enough,” Giles said lightly. “Certainly simple enough for one such as myself.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Willow said with her arms crossed.
Buffy and Faith exchanged looks and in unison rolled their eyes. Neither one of them really saw the point in intervening, since neither one of them were magically inclined.
“Willow, must I repeat that it’s safer for you to blaze the trail into an unfamiliar dimension?” Giles asked.
“Safer for who?” Willow stubbornly asked.
“For all of us,” Giles said. “I would prefer to be cautious about this. Our kidnappers could be setting us up for quite the fall. You have the best chance of getting out of the situation should something go wrong.”
“You could be hurt by casting the spell if they did a booby-trap-y thing-y on us,” Willow pointed out.
Giles gave her a tight smile. “If that’s the case, then I suppose you’ll have to avenge both Xander and myself.”
“But—” Willow protested.
“We are getting him back, one way or the other,” Giles interrupted. “I will not leave him to rot alone in an unfamiliar place.”
“You make it sound like I would,” Willow angrily replied.
“Willow,” Giles reached out and placed a comforting hand on the witch’s shoulder. “if I thought there was a better or faster way of reaching Xander than leaping blindly off this cliff, you can be certain I’d do it.”Continued in Part 28
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