liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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Water Hold Me Down (Part 28)

This part is loooong. So no pithy statements, other than to apologize for not being around and posting this sooner. I needed to tweak it to make sure it read right.

All previous parts are here.

Continued from Part 27


“Are you clear on the plan?” Rupert asked for what Xander guessed was the hundredth time.

“Putting me in front of you and Faith is not smart,” Xander stated as he leaned his forehead against the passenger window. All the stores were shut tight and the bars were starting to let out the drunks, in deference to the fact that the clock was working its way to 1 a.m.

Rupert again went with his explanation why Xander had to be the one to knock on the Harrises’ door. “You are the one who’s made contact with their daughter and made the connection. The proper—”

“And I repeat, I got into a huge fight with Anya earlier today—I mean yesterday—and I’m not welcome,” Xander interrupted in an effort to forestall yet another variation on the theme. “I have no idea what she’s told the twin. It could get really ugly and it’ll probably happen before you can blink.”

“You are still our best chance of getting through the door,” Rupert said wearily.

“What are you afraid of?” Xander murmured.

“This is about what is best for the Slayer,” Rupert snapped. “And the correct protocol.”

Xander could feel his forehead crinkle against the glass. He wasn’t aware that he’d asked the question out loud. It didn’t make the question any less legit. Even so, he bit his tongue to keep from following up. He was going to be in the middle of a whole lot of ugly soon enough. The last thing he needed was go get ugly with Rupert, or rather, uglier.

Jesus. It’s one in the morning, he’d give anything just to pass out for a couple of hours, and the world was starting to spin away from him again in that unreality slip. He didn’t get an answer when he asked Rupert and Faith why they couldn’t wait until tomorrow. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think that the two of them were aiming for maximum damage by catching the happy Harris family off-guard. He smelled a grudge and didn’t like it one bit, especially since they were using him to play it out. Good bet he was going to be the one who was stuck with the sock to the jaw since he was going to be standing in front.

Maybe it was just as well he didn’t argue, since he felt like he was back on unsure footing. One second he was positive that he was looking at a whole new world; next he thought he might have made it all up. He was pretty sure about the former when looking at the people, but the way the early morning hours and the landscape melted and oozed around him made him question everything. At this point, he was so mentally twisted up about whatever was happening that he was exhausted. About all he could do was just let the world blur and try to keep it at a distance until he was ready to deal.

Not that anyone seemed willing to let him do that, since it seemed everyone was hell-bent on going for the big drama. Although he kind of wondered why Rupert wanted him along. He wondered if Rupert wanted to see what would happen if two Xanders were standing in the same room.

Does anyone else want to lock them in a room and perform psychological experiments on them?

Xander told the voice of Riley to shut the hell up. It wasn’t funny the first time.

The car jerked to a halt and Faith unnecessarily announced, “We’re here.”

He clambered out of the car and turned to look at the house. He could see a cold, bluish light flickering through the curtains of the living room windows. At the very least, someone was up and watching television.

“Well?” Rupert impatiently asked.

“Tomorrow might be better,” Xander tried again.

“They’re up now,” Faith said. “Ain’t no time like the present.”

There’s some things you don’t want to talk about in the dark, Xander wanted to say, but he knew there was no point. He trudged up the walk, all too aware that Rupert and Faith were close behind him. When he reached the front door, he gave it a few sharp raps and waited.

“Maybe we should try the doorbell,” Faith’s voice floated out from the darkness to his left.

“Give it another minute,” Xander grumbled.

“Faith, do ring the doorbell,” Rupert said.

The tips of Faith’s fingers had just entered his field of vision when the door was flung open, revealing the twin dressed in a t-shirt and sweats and wielding a baseball bat.

“What have we here,” other him said sarcastically.

“We…unh…” Xander began.

“You were told to leave and now you’re back,” other him rumbled. Other him’s gaze tracked to the people behind him and he added, “You brought some blasts from the pasts with you.”

“We need to talk,” Xander said. As other him opened his mouth, Xander held up a hand to stop him. “Believe me, I wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t important.”

“Good night,” other Xander firmly said as he began to close the door.

Xander squared his shoulders and hurled himself forward into the entrance hall, nearly knocking other him off his feet. As he heard the bat clatter to the wood floor behind him, he shouted, “Haley! Haley? It’s me Xa—Rory!”

A hand grabbed him and spun him around and until he was nose-to-nose with his twin. “Leave my daughter out of this,” other Xander snarled.

“Can’t,” Xander began. “You see—”

“Oh, yes you can,” other Xander interrupted as his hand clamped around his upper arm. Before other him could start dragging him to the door, Faith leapt forward and pulled other him away as Xander backed up in an effort to put distance between himself and the twin.

“Get them out of here!” Anya yelled.

“What did you tell him?” Xander demanded.

“She caught you doing compulsion spells,” other Xander said.

“Very nice,” Xander nastily said to Anya. “Ready-made excuse and everything. Did you tell him what I did with it?”

“I thought you said you didn’t trust magic,” Rupert said suspiciously as he helped subdue a raging other Xander.

“That’s called sarcasm,” Xander snapped back.

“Are you calling Anya a liar?” other him said as he struggled against both Slayer and Watcher.

“Are you?” Anya echoed angrily, although Xander suspected there was a half-dare in the question.

“Listen, whatever Anya’s told you, she’s told you,” Xander said to other him. “Either way, you could’ve counted me as gone if this wasn’t important.”

“So important you brought them with you?” other Xander asked.

“We most certainly wouldn’t be here either if we had any choice in the matter. However, I’ve been informed by this gentleman and Faith that you have a Slayer here.”

“What are you talking about?” other him asked.

Anya paled.

“We’ll show you,” Xander said grimly as he walked to the foot of the stairs. He looked up and called, “Haley, I know you’re up there because there’s no way you missed the brouhaha. Come down. I’ve brought those people I told you about.”

“How did you get access to my daughter without her mother or I being there?” other him demanded.

“No!” Anya screamed as she ran at Xander with claws out.

Xander stepped out of the way and Anya stumbled, landing nearly face first on the stairs. “Stay up there! Haley! Stay upstairs!” she screamed.

“Anya?” other him asked.

Haley picked her way slowly down the stairs. Her eyes were wide and uncertain, and she was trembling from head to foot.

“Haley. Haley, it’s okay,” Xander gently said. “No one is here to hurt you. All of us want what’s best for you, okay?”

Anya was on her feet, only this time she was appealing to her husband. “She’s not a Slayer,” she said.

“Lady, sell that story to someone who don’t know no better,” Faith dismissively said.

“It’s because of…” Anya’s voice trailed off as she tossed Faith a fearful look. She added with a wave at herself, “You know. He must’ve—”

“Please listen to me,” Xander interrupted. “I know you’re pissed, but I also know you don’t want Haley to get hurt and if she wanders around this town untrained, they’ll find her sooner or later.”

“They’re going to take her away.” Anya was near tears. “They’ll take her away from us.”

“Who’s after her?” other Xander asked.

“This town is crawling with vampires,” Xander said.

“No it’s not,” Anya insisted as she whirled to face him.

“Yes it is. You do remember why I ran in front of your car, right?” Xander asked.

Other Xander locked eyes with him, but Xander knew the other him wasn’t about to come clean, especially since other him thought no one knew what he did on his ‘walks.’

“Please,” Xander pleaded. “At least look.”

Other Xander said, “I’d know if she was Slayer.”

“You sure?” Xander asked.

Without taking his eyes off him, other Xander said, “Haley? Honey? Come over here.”

Haley sped the rest of the way down the stairs to her father. When Anya reached out in an effort to stop her daughter, Xander grabbed her by the wrist.

Anya looked up at him with hurt eyes mouthed, “Why?”

Xander looked away, but didn’t let go.

Faith and Rupert, meanwhile, had let other Xander go, but they hovered very close by.

“Show me your wrist, honey,” other Xander said.

Haley cast a fearful glance at her mother.

“You’re not in trouble,” other Xander said as he put a finger under her chin and brought Haley’s gaze around to him. “But I need to see.”

Haley hesitated a beat before she reached down and removed her bandage. When other Xander caught sight of her uninjured wrist, he gasped and stepped back. This time when he looked at his wife, his eyes were accusing.

“Haley,” Xander said. “I want you to pick up the baseball bat and break it in half, just using your hands.”

“Do as he says,” other Xander said evenly as he kept Anya pinned under his gaze.

Haley hesitantly went over to the bat and picked it up.

“G’won, kid,” Faith encouraged. “I already seen what you can do. This is a piece of cake. I do this sh—I mean, stuff with rebars. Gets me a lot of as—I mean dates.”

Haley grasped either end of the bat. She grimaced as her muscles tensed. The sharp crack of the wood caused everyone to jump and miss the exact moment when one bat became two halves in Haley’s hands.

“This isn’t happening,” other Xander said weakly.

“There will have to be more tests, of course,” Rupert was holding some kind of pendant and was frowning at it. “But between Faith’s field report and the little I’ve seen here, it certainly warrants further investigation.”

“No,” other Xander said firmly.

“No?” Rupert asked coldly. “My dear boy, you don’t have choice.”

“Faith’s alive. That means, she can’t be a Slayer,” other Xander said firmly. He frowned. “Unless Faith died recently.”

“You don’t know?” Xander asked other him.

“Know what?” Anya asked. She switched her gaze to Rupert. “Know what?”

“Died?” Haley asked.

“Even you ain’t that stupid,” Faith said. “Do I look fucking dead?”

“All it takes is a second,” other Xander pointed out.

“Excuse me, but died?” Haley asked as the bat halves fell out of her hands and clattered to the floor.

“Things have changed quite a lot,” Rupert said as he pocketed the pendant. “You might say that Faith’s merely the oldest of the many Slayers in the field.”

Faith set her mouth in an angry frown. Xander completely understood. If Faith was the one who led the charge against the First, than she sure as hell deserved a lot better than ‘merely the oldest.’

“One of many? Slayers?” Anya asked fearfully.

“What are you talking about?” other Xander asked.

“Had to promote all the Potentials up to full Slayers back in the day to prevent an apocalypse,” Faith said.

“Yes, it does appear that you’ve been caught in the backlash, despite your best efforts to run away,” Rupert said.

While other Xander blinked uncomprehendingly at Rupert, Xander asked, “Was that comment entirely necessary?”

“You’re enjoying this,” other Xander whispered. “You bastard. How could you do this? And you,” here other Xander whirled on Faith. “I know you aren’t much of a Slayer, but—”

“What the fuck would you know what it takes to be a Slayer?” Faith fumed.

Maybe not much, but he does know what it means, Xander thought. He let Anya’s wrist go as he suddenly realized, And so do I.

He’d known it before, of course, but it was in that distant way since all of the new Slayers were still alive and kicking, at least the ones he knew well. He also knew that what they did disrupted an awful lot of lives, thanks to many long hours talking to the new girls as they washed up in Cleveland. Hell, even Faith—well, the Faith he knew—had known that what they did may have created an army, but also put targets on the backs of a lot of girls.

But nothing drove it home like seeing a parent who knew exactly what being a Slayer meant being told that his daughter was one of the Chosen Many.

Some part of him wondered if Rupert even knew about the shimmy-shakes, the Slayer-only nervous system disorder that hit some Slayers when the reached a certain age. Unless Rupert or Faith tripped over someone like Catherine, who was from the future, they might not.

Although given the situation, now was probably not the best time to bring it up.

Xander was so lost in the wash of guilty thoughts that he didn’t even realize that Anya had moved until she almost reached her daughter.

“Look out!” Xander yelled.

Faith grabbed Haley and yanked the girl behind her before catching Anya by the wrists. “Running again?” she nastily asked.

“Hands off her,” other Xander lurched forward. Rupert moved so that he was between other Xander and Faith. He gave the other him a shove that sent other Xander back a few steps into the living room.

Xander felt like an idiot as he stood there, feeling helpless to do more than just watch.

“You’re not taking her,” Anya said as she struggled against Faith. “Haley, tell them.”

“Mom, I’m really scared of this and if Uncle Xander says they can help me—”

Other Xander now whirled on him, “What?”

“She’s been having dreams,” Xander said numbly as he stepped forward. “I didn’t say—”

“And I believe you? Why? Because you’re a paragon of honesty?” other Xander said as he threw up his hands and began to nervously pace.

“Dad, he’s telling the truth,” Haley said as she went to her father. Or tried to. It was pretty clear that she was stuck in ‘watch-only’ mode since she seemed unsure how to physically stop her father from wearing a hole in the carpet.

“Dreams. You saw—” Other Xander shook his head. “Haley, how long—”

“A year,” Haley said. “Mom said—”

Anya ran forward and gathered her daughter up into a protective hug. Faith was hot on Anya’s heels, but this time she didn’t interfere, and settled instead for using her physical presence to keep Anya from running out of the room.

“I’m trying to protect her,” Anya insisted. She backed into a corner as she clutched Haley tight. “She’s not a Slayer. Honey, you know why. If they find out, they’ll kill her.”

“Anya, you have to know the truth is out so you’ve got to stop pretending,” Xander said as he finally joined the party in the living room with Rupert. “What happened to you? You used to be the honest one. Kind of.”

“Stay out this. You’ve done enough,” other Xander whirled on him.

“Perhaps. But if your daughter is a Slayer, than he’s certainly managed to do more good than you would’ve bothered attempting,” Rupert remarked.

“Of course,” other Xander said. “Just like you. Believe everyone but me. Trust everyone but me.”

“I assure you, I don’t trust him,” Rupert said.

“Compulsion spell!” Anya shouted. “Maybe he’s been casting one on everyone so we won’t see him as the real threat!”

“All right,” Xander said wearily. “My fault, okay? It’s all my fault. Let’s just blame the one who doesn’t belong. Then you can all start trying to fix this so you can just get a move on to the happy ending.”

“Happy ending?” Other Xander’s voice rose in anger as he waved an arm at Anya and Haley, who were now trapped under Faith’s sharp-eyed guard. “You come into my home in the middle of the night and threaten to take my daughter away from me by saying that she’s a Slayer—”

“She is. I’ve seen it,” Faith interrupted.

“Oh. And I’m supposed to believe you?” Other Xander demanded.

“Hey, you got a fucking problem with the messengers? That’s your deal. Ain’t my problem,” Faith said.

“You are a problem,” other Xander argued back. “You made it pretty clear that anyone with the last name of Harris was only good for cannon fodder.”

Ouch, Xander thought with a wince.

“I ain’t never said that,” Faith protested. “I only said that about you.”

Oh, that just so much better. Thanks for clearing that up, Faith, Xander thought.

“Guess that means you, too, right, Rory,” other Xander said with nasty edge.

“His name’s Xander, like you,” Haley insisted as Anya tried to shush her.

“Junior is most definitely not on the useless list,” Faith shot back.

Not helping, Faith, Xander thought.

“Reeeealllly?” other Xander turned that toothy, evil grin on Faith. “He’s that good, hunh?”

“Gotta be better than the seven-second man,” Faith maliciously said.

“Maybe the problem is you,” Anya snapped.

“Mom? What are they talking about?” Haley asked in a shaky voice.

“That Faith is a home wrecker,” Anya stated angrily.

“I had him first,” Faith said. “You can keep him.”

“Your loss,” Anya sniffed.

“Ahn,” other Xander said in a warning tone.

“She brought it up,” Anya shot back.

Xander started rubbing his face with his hands, unable to believe that Faith actually went there and that Anya and other him took the bait, in front of the kid, no less.

“Mom? What’s going on?” Haley asked in a shaky voice. “Why are you so afraid—”

“Shush, hon,” Anya interrupted as she clutched Haley even tighter. “They’re taking you over my dead body.”

“No one is taking anyone anywhere,” other Xander growled.

“I cannot believe that you’d be so selfish as to prevent your daughter from getting what she needs,” Rupert coldly said.

“From you? You’re going to give her anything she needs?” other Xander was practically laughing in Rupert’s face. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”

“Yes, well, your daughter actually has a sacred calling and it behooves us to—”

“Use, abuse, and get her killed?” other Xander interrupted. “Assuming this is even true.”

“How about the evidence of your own blasted eyes?” Rupert sniped back. “What more evidence to you need? You of all people should know—”

Other Xander interrupted, “Assuming that this isn’t some little bit of payback because I didn’t feel like letting you get me killed while I had a pregnant wife.”

Faith’s attention laser-focused on other Xander. Her surprised expression seemed to indicate that she hadn’t known this bit information.

Xander groaned. Other him was walking the well-worn path into denial land. It was going to be a long night. The only thing they had on their side right now was that he loved his daughter and would see reason before next year because of that. Maybe.

Anya, noticing that Faith was distracted, started moving for the door to the entrance hall. Faith was on her again and blocking that exit in a heartbeat.

“Do you honestly believe that I give a rat’s arse about revenge?” Rupert shouted back while the silent tug-of-war over Haley played out between Anya and Faith. “You have not occupied a single moment of my life since you swung a crowbar at my head.”

This gets better and better and better and better, Xander despairingly thought as he leaned against the living room wall with his arms crossed. The fight was now all about doing maximum damage and not about helping Haley.

Rupert and other Xander continued screaming at each other, which served to up the already ugly atmosphere. He was starting to feel uncomfortable—physically uncomfortable—with how all this was going down. He fidgeted, hoping that movement would make the feeling go away.

The feeling only got stronger.

Xander grimaced and looked around. Maybe it was just the ol’ body throwing up a protest for use and abuse. He hadn’t been taking it exactly easy since this morning.

Christ, he was itchy. He felt like there were ants marching underneath his skin. He caught himself scratching his arm in what Faith had termed “the dope scratch” when she tried to teach him how to pretend he was strung out so he could act as vampire bait on slow nights.

With breathtaking suddenness, the itchy feeling translated into a warning electrical jolt along his spine that propelled him into standing upright. Everyone was so entranced with the life-or-death struggle between Rupert and other Xander that no one noticed.

Now that feels like major-league magic is going down somewhere, Xander thought as he immediately began scanning the room. He didn’t see anything, well, apart from Haley and whatever was going on with her. Plus, this whole feeling magic thing was his secret, and he wasn’t in love with the idea of outing himself when there probably wasn’t a reason for it, so he didn’t say anything.

Rupert and the other Xander stood toe-to-toe and shouted at each other while Anya huddled with Haley in the corner. Faith continued to block any means of their escape, so whatever was going on no one else had picked up on it. Maybe you’re just doing the unreality slip thing again, he tried to reassure himself.

The warning prickle shot up to eleven on a scale of one to ten and his mind started screaming, Danger Will Robinson! Danger! “Watch out! Magic!” he yelled.

All yelling ceased as every eye in the room swung to him.

“What are you on about?” Rupert asked with an exasperated air.

“I’m telling you that he’s nuts,” other Xander stated. “You’d rather listen to a crazy person than to me. You really don’t change, do you?”

“One might say the same about you,” Rupert shot back.

“I don’t see nothin’,” Faith declared as she began scanning the room. Fake Faith at least seemed to buy he wasn’t completely off his rocker.

Xander desperately looked around. “Just listen to me. Something’s coming and—for me to feel it like this? I mean at all? Because, me not so magic-sensitive being all suspicious of spells. You know it’s got to be huge.”

He heard Faith’s sharp intake of breath. “There’s something in the corner there.”

“Get down!” Xander shouted as he spun around. He saw a pinprick of shivering light surrounded by a distortion moving to the center of the living room.

“What is that?” Anya asked from her huddled position around Haley.

Haley went pale and still; her eyes were wide with fear.

“Just everyone keep calm. I don’t know what it is and panicking won’t help,” Xander said. As he crouched to keep low, but in a position to run if he had to, he could feel every muscle tense as he waited to see what would happen while the feel of magic crackled along the surface of his skin. Whatever the spell was, he had never in his entire life felt something that strong. It took everything he had not to run out of the room to get away from it, let alone stop himself from fidgeting.

For a moment, the distortion simply hung there.

He noticed that the other Xander was taking the same stance he was, although he looked a lot less twitchy than Xander felt. It was yet more confirmation that other him had been doing his secret solo hunts for a very long time. “Get it out of here,” the other him demanded.

“How?” Xander asked.

On that question, the light and its distortion suddenly expanded.

“Anya! Get Haley out of here!” other Xander ordered as he got to his feet.

“Nobody move!” Xander countermanded as Faith put a death grip on Anya’s shoulder before she took a step. “It might be attracted to movement. Until we know what this is, we don’t know what’ll set it off.”

“But—” other him protested.

“He is correct,” Rupert interrupted from a crouched position. Xander inwardly cringed against the surprise in Rupert’s voice.

“This is ridiculous!” other him shouted.

The ever-growing distortion floated a few inches closer to other him, who looked like he was ready to grab Anya and his daughter and bolt, despite Faith’s threatening presence. Rupert quickly stood up and grabbed the man’s arm before he could move.

Xander could feel the final intense pulse, like something was trying to push through some kind of resistance, and the light resolved itself into a ball of gentle light surrounding Willow.

“Xander!” she shouted happily at the other him. “Oh thank god thank god thank god! We’re so worried! Are you all right? Oh, wait. Maybe you can’t talk, so blink once for yes and twice for no if you can’t.”

“WILLOW!” Xander broke out of his paralysis with a yell as he barreled at her.

He registered Willow turning around with her mouth dropping open in an ‘O’ of surprise. She recovered in time to yell, “Xander! Wait! Don’t get too close! Your —”

The plan—such as it was in Xander’s sudden, explosive, and violent relief—was to grab up Willow into a hug and never let go. When he reached her, however, his arms wooshed through her insubstantial torso. He was treated to a brief moment of ice cold and near electrical pain as he tripped through the magical hotspot. He ended his trajectory not by hugging a Willow-shaped person, but by hanging off a very pissed-off other him-shaped person.

Other him immediately shoved him off with a snarl while he heard Willow yelp an, “Ow!”

Xander finally managed to find his feet and turn around, but he couldn’t wipe the fool grin off his face, despite the fact he could still feel the ants stomping up and down his spine. “Willow? Are you okay? Please tell me that’s really you. Please tell me that you’re real. Please tell me what’s going on. Because I’m really, really losing it right now and some answers is what I really, really need, starting with—”

“Good lord,” Rupert interrupted.

Other him moved around to Xander’s right and he could see other him’s expression had fallen into a mixture of shock and wonder. “Willow?”

“Oh my god.” Willow looked stricken as she wrapped her arms around herself.

“Willow?” Xander asked in a more worried echo of other him.

“Are you okay?” Willow asked him.

“I don’t know, am I? You’re the one in the real world,” Xander pointed out.

Willow frowned. “Real world?”

“This cannot be happening,” Rupert declared.

“Giles?” Willow asked. She looked at something over her shoulder, looked back, and then looked again over her shoulder. “Not him. The other Giles. Ummm, yeah, there’s another Giles over here.”

“And another Xander,” Xander pointed out. “Along with another Faith and an Anya and—”

Willow shot him the shut-the-hell-up-right-now-mister look. Xander knew better than to keep going.

Willow’s silent order disappeared as quickly as it appeared on her face. Her eyes pinged back and forth between him and other him. “Wow. I mean, just wow. I guess they were telling the truth about—hey, how much older is the other you?”

“Twelve years,” Xander answered. “And who was telling the truth? And what can you tell me about what’s going on?”

“You got sent to a freaky alternate dimension,” Willow explained. “And even though I knew there’d be an older you, I guess it’s still a bit of a shocker, ’cause, y’know, I still think we look just like we did in high school. Except for me. I’ve got better taste in clothes now.”

“Says the woman who just bought a sweater that could double as dead Elmo’s pelt,” Xander said out of reflex.

“Hey! Cleveland’s really cold! At least I don’t buy all my clothes two sizes too big,” Willow argued. “I swear to god, you don’t want people to notice you’ve got a body, let alone—”

“Plus, you’re gay now instead of going for the werewolf smoochies. You haven’t reminded me in the past week or so,” Xander teased.

Willow’s face exploded into a genuine grin and Xander relaxed. That was his Willow all right, complete with her inability to avoid distraction and her willingness to put up with him.

“Back to the alternative dimension thing-y,” Xander prompted.

“Which you knew because I told you,” Anya said from her corner.

Willow jumped with a squeak at the interruption and glanced at Anya. She quickly re-focused back on him. “In the case of the spell that sent you here, well, any spell that sends anyone to another dimension really, a time drift happens. The bigger the difference between the traveler’s home dimension and the one they end up in, the bigger the time drift. Wow. Twelve years. That’s a pretty big difference. So whatever it is, I’m thinking that it’s not what we think is.”

“Hunh?” Xander asked.

“This isn’t possible,” other Xander whispered next to him. “Please tell me this isn’t possible.”

Willow opened her mouth, as if she wanted to say something, but ended up biting her lips instead. If Xander didn’t know any better, he’d think that Willow was pretty close to crying.

“How bad is this?” Xander asked.

Willow snapped out of it. “At our end? We’re got a Xander-shaped hole, which means everyone’s unhappy, but in the bigger scheme of things nothing’s too out of balance because we have a subtraction instead of an addition. At your end? We don’t know, but there’s a potential for real badness. See, the thing is you don’t belong there, so you’re like this added thing and it might throw things a little out of whack. The longer you stay there, the bigger the potential for bad.”

“It’s already happened,” Rupert said with a meaningful glance at Xander. “Our seers have informed us that his presence has utterly destroyed the fabric of this world.”

“That’s not at all possible,” Xander stated. “I’m just one guy. There’s no way I can cause that kind of damage.”

Anya snorted derisively. Other Xander shot him a glare. Rupert rolled his eyes. Faith smirked. Haley just looked confused.

“On a world-wide scale,” Xander hastily amended.

“It’s a pebble in a pond scenario.” Willow had taken on that tone she used in high school when she’d help him with his algebra homework. “At first there’s a plunk. Then there’s nothing. Then there’s all these ripply things that happen.”

Xander paled. “A domino effect.”

“Yup,” Willow nodded. “The trick is to get you out before ripples start, but, I’m guessing, it’s a little too late for that. Which I sort of knew but was kind of hoping that—”

“You were able to pick up the disruption?” Rupert snapped the question.

Willow paled and her eyes got wide. “Ummmm, I really can’t say anything.” She was going that mouth-breathing thing she always did when backed in a corner, Xander noticed. “See, there’s these rules. And I have to follow the rules. Or the badness gets badder and I can’t—I don’t want to risk it.”

“Who the fuck are you?” Faith asked.

“I’m Willow,” Willow said with a sickly, hopeful grin.

“Faith is quite right,” Rupert said with a hard edge. “Since when are you concerned about the rules?”

“Hey!” Xander shouted. “Back off. Right now. If Willow can’t spill, she can’t spill. She’s only doing it to protect you.”

Rupert seemed thunderstruck by the very idea

Willow bowed her head, like she found her feet very interesting all of a sudden.

“Will?” Xander gently asked.

Willow looked up, but she seemed haunted.

“Will, I can only solve one problem at a time over here,” Xander said. “And since you’re not here, there’s not a whole lot you can do to at this end. Okay?”

“We can get you out there as fast as possible,” Willow said, “before the disruption gets any worse, which I guess is already pretty bad, but hopefully it’s not world-ending bad.”

“World-ending?” Xander nervously asked with a glance at Rupert.

“We don’t know,” Rupert said tightly. “It may well be.”

Xander swallowed. Other Xander just glared at him and shook his head. Xander recognized that I-knew-it-I-knew-you-were-an-evil-bastard look. He wasn’t sure which was worse: that another him who was real hated him, or that he probably deserved it.

“All of a sudden, thinking this is a nightmare, a demon-poisoned inspired hallucination, or that I’m dead looks a whole lot more attractive right now,” Xander said.

“You thought my life wasn’t even real,” Anya exploded. “I don’t believe you! Everything you did, everything you said, all of this,” her waving arms took in the room, “was because you didn’t think it was real?

“Look at if from my point of view—” Xander fumbled.

“If you would, please. We shall deal with this later,” Rupert snapped. “As for you,” he turned to Willow, “aren’t you worried that your presence might be causing more disruption?”

“How long can you stay?” other Xander asked Willow. He looked like he desperately wanted to reach out and hug her, even though he knew there was no contact to be had.

Rupert glared at other Xander.

Willow seemed torn between answering the two questions. “Unh, I’m not really here, I mean, there. So, as long as I follow the rules, it should be okay, or, y’know, badness. I mean, bigger badness. All I’m doing is peeking through the dimensional curtain, which is not easy, but it’s doable. So, I can’t really just hang out because sooner or later you start drawing and, well, that causes problems for the spellcaster. We’re trying to avoid burnout.”

“So…you’re okay then,” other Xander hesitantly asked.

Willow blinked quickly, but when she spoke, Xander picked up that it was that rehearsed, guarded way of speaking cheerfully she had when she was trying to hide something. “Oh, I’m fine. Giles, I mean my Giles, is keeping the portal open while he chants and—hey! Buffy!”

Willow was shoved aside as Buffy appeared. “Giles is having a really hard time keeping the portal open this long by himself, so you have to help. I’ll finish passing on the message,” the Slayer ordered.

The other Xander went pale and fell backwards onto the couch. Anya spun around to see that her husband was staring in shock. Then she gave Xander the kind of glare that made him really happy that she couldn’t whistle up D’Hoffryn.

“Wow! This is so weird. There’s two of you,” Buffy said happily. “Don’t you worry, Xand. We’ll get you out of this.”

“Buffy?” Rupert hesitantly asked. All suspicion was wiped from his face, replaced by pure emotion. As much as Xander wanted to find some trace of Giles in Rupert, he wished he didn’t have to see it like this.

The tone in Rupert’s voice brought Buffy up short and she looked at the Watcher with surprise.

“Is…is Dawn with you?” Rupert asked.

A frown line appeared between Buffy’s eyebrows. “She’s checking Jeanne…oh, Xander? Jeanne got hurt last night. Nothing serious, but it could’ve been, so maybe you should sit her down for a talk. She’ll listen to you when she won’t listen to me. I’ll tell you the deal when you get back.”

“You’re asking Xander to talk to—” Rupert began.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Buffy interrupted as her frown deepened.

Thankfully, Rupert had no idea what to say, but Xander was afraid that when he did find words it would just ladle more drama on a not-fun evening. He knew he had to cover and fast, because god knows what would happen if the truth about other Buffy, other Dawn, and other Willow came out in the middle of this crisis. He strode over to Rupert’s side, hoped he wasn’t wincing because movement seemed to cause the ants on his spine to take up tap dancing, and said, “He’s just surprised to see you since you’re kind of tied up somewhere else. In, unh, Italy. So he’s kinda got to wrap his head around the fact that you’re here when you’re not supposed to be here.”

Faith moved away from her Anya-blocking duties over to his side and whispered, “Nice cover.”

“Oh. Okay.” Buffy nodded. “So, anyway, Xand? It turns out that you were the victim of a little revenge scheme.”

“Little? Buff, I don’t know if you noticed, but if I heard right, an alternate reality? Not little. Very much not little. Big. Yes. Huge? Oh, yeah. Mind-bendingly insane? That gets a little closer to the truth,” Xander fervently said. “So how do I fix the mess caused by me being here? And how to I get out of here?”

“Unbelievable!” Anya shouted. She marched over to him and began angrily poking a finger into his chest. “You show up! You ruin our lives! And now you can’t wait to run away! I don’t believe this!”

Buffy let out a gasp when she saw Anya. She blinked quickly as she gave Xander a look of pure heartbreak.

“Ummm, Buff? What’s the deal? It’s just Anya, right?” Although his voice was steady, he suspected that if the other him was paying any kind of attention he wasn’t fooled for a second. He had to have seen the look on Buffy’s face. He had to figure that he wouldn’t be going into reassure mode unless there was a damn good reason for it.

Buffy said nothing as she openly stared at Anya. Her face was a mess of tiny tics and twitches, almost as if she were about to cry. A hand appeared in the light and gently pulled Buffy out of view.

His Faith stepped into the breach, hooked her fingers on her belt loops, and scanned the room.

“Oh, fuck,” other Faith whispered next to him. “There you are.”

His Faith’s eyes honed right in on her doppelganger and her expression hardened right into that oh-so-familiar expression she got when a vampire managed to get momentarily get the better of her in a fight. It said: “I’ll fuck your shit up but good, you little cocksucker.” Xander wondered what the hell could possibly inspire that kind of reaction from his Faith when looking at other Faith. He was just happy that his Faith couldn’t pull off the awe-inspiring show of violence that usually went with the look. Right about now, the last thing he needed was worry about getting blood out of other him’s carpets.

“I’m here, ain’t I?” other Faith snarled. “So don’t you be giving me that look.”

“And all it took was me channeling Johanna,” his Faith snarled back. “I should kick your ass for that alone.”

“Think you could take me?” other Faith bristled.

His Faith responded with a feral grin. “Watch me.”

Other Faith cracked her knuckles in a meaningful manner while his Faith shifted into a fighting stance.

“Hey!” Xander shouted as he stepped between the two Faiths. “The estrogen level is getting a little stuffy between the two of you. So stop it. Now. I want answers and I don’t want to have to wade through whatever is going on between the two of you to get it.”

“Estrogen level?” the Faiths chorused.

“More deadly than testosterone, especially when multiple Slayers capable of real property damage are involved,” Xander sniffed. “Not that you can touch each other anyway, so really? The posturing? Vaguely hot in a chick fight sort of way, but more than a little worthless. Besides, both of you are still clothed, so it wouldn’t be any fun for me to watch anyway.”

Other Xander choked. Anya made an angry buzzing sound. Haley looked horrified. Rupert pinched the bridge of his nose with a mutter. Other Faith gave him a the-hell look. His Faith guffawed.

“Goddamn,” his Faith said in between trying to catch her breath. “You’re like Yoda, you know that?”

“Service to be, glad am I,” Xander grinned. One more potential fight diffused. Now if he could just get his Faith talking about his situation, he’d count it as a success.

His Faith nodded. “Right. So you kinda got from Willow and Buffy that you’ve got yourself a problem.”

“Ya think?” Xander asked.

His Faith held up her hands. “Hey! Don’t get all snippy with me, Watcher man. I know where you hide the diary and I ain’t afraid to use that against you.”

Xander could practically feel every eye in the room swing to him. “Very funny,” he said. “Do you have a line of people behind you all just dying to comment that I’m in waaaay over my head? ’Cause you know I’m not going anywhere.”

“Wouldn’t help you if you did,” his Faith shrugged. “Now that we got you, we pretty much can follow you anywhere once we get this magic mirror fired up. It’s like Romper Room on steroids.”

“That’s something at least, but maybe you might want to dial back the power a little bit. I practically jumped out of my skin when I first felt it.” Xander’s shoulders sagged with relief. “Now maybe you can fill in the big gapping holes Willow and Buffy left behind and tell me what’s going on?”

“Oh, that,” his Faith waved her hand. “Turns out a few people haven’t forgotten Anya’s spotty record and were looking for revenge.”

“Mom, what’s she talking about?”

Everyone in the room jumped. Haley had kept so quiet that almost everyone had forgotten she was even there. Anya taught her that hide in plain sight thing way too well, Xander thought grimly.

Anya moved to her daughter’s side. “It’s nothing, honey,” she said as she hugged the girl.

“But—” Haley began.

“It’s not a big thing, kid. She lived in Sunnydale back in the day. Just breathing the oxygen in that town got you some bad-ass enemies,” his Faith said a little too casually.

Rupert’s eyes slid of over to Xander, forcing him to mouth, “Later,” at the Watcher.

His Faith, meanwhile, seemed pretty focused on Haley. Without looking at other him, she asked, “Your kid?”

“That’s our daughter,” other Xander said tightly.

Whoops! Xander thought. Faith’s about to get the total loathing spillover. Pretty amazing now that he thought about it. He hadn’t been crazy about Faith showing up in Sunnydale to help them fight the First, but he never really hated Faith, certainly not to the level other Xander did.

His Faith actually took a step back, like other Xander’s hate was a physical thing that could hurt her. “‘Ours’ being yours and Anya’s?” She sounded a little hesitant asking that question.

“Do I look like your buddy over there?” other him snapped.

And damn if his Faith didn’t take another step back under that question, even going so far as to raise her hands to show she didn’t mean anything rude by it.

“Would be an improvement if you got close,” other Faith stated.

His Faith gave other Faith a sharp look.

“Can we just stop with the hostility for one second?” Xander interrupted. “What is the deal here? We’ve got multiple problems that we’ve got to solve and everyone’s suffering from diarrhea of the personal issues.” He turned to other him. “Faith—the one in the halo—is trying to help and you’re acting like she pissed in your cornflakes this morning. And you,” here he turned to other Faith, “dial back the attitude against both Xander Senior over there and the other you. We get it. You’re the toughest Slayer in the room, but it’s not helping anyone.”

“Especially you,” other Faith said harshly.

“And us,” Rupert interrupted. “The longer he stays, the greater our problems in this reality. So, as it stands, his problems are very much our problems as well.”

“Xander’s right,” his Faith agreed. “Fun as this isn’t, keeping this portal open ain’t a picnic at our end and I’m getting the sign I’ve got to make this quick. So just everyone let me get this out and you can go back to hating each other in peace.”

“We don’t hate each other,” other him protested.

“Yes we do,” Anya corrected.

“Dislike, honey,” other Xander said. “The word is ‘dislike.’”

Now it was Xander’s turn to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“Yeah?” his Faith asked. She seemed almost disappointed as her gaze moved from face to face. “Cause what I spy with my little eye is that Anya’s right.” She gave Xander a tight smile. “This bugs me so much that I think I’m gonna have to turn in my official outsider badge now, ain’t I?”

“Don’t know if you noticed, but you kinda lost it in the Sunnydale sinkhole,” Xander pointed out.

His Faith rewarded him with the biggest dimpled grin he’d ever seen before she smoothed her face into a more business-like expression. “The deal is this: a bunch of bad asses booby trapped this crystal ball—”

“The one I picked up in my room?” Xander asked. “I thought that was a birthday present from Willow. It was wrapped and had a card and everything.”

“That’s the one,” his Faith gave him the backatchya point. “Don’t feel stupid about it. You jumped to a pretty reasonable conclusion on that, so I don’t want to hear how you messed up when we haul your ass back.”

“I won’t—” Xander began a protest.

“Unh-hunh. Right,” his Faith waved it off. “Just warning that if I hear shit like that out of your mouth, I will kick your ass until you get a clue. So just shut up and let me finish, ’kay?”

“Sorry,” Xander apologized.

“Anyways, these guys booby trapped this crystal ball with some kind of spell that would toss your ass into another reality,” his Faith continued.

He had a million questions, but he didn’t dare ask any of them. “I see,” he encouraged.

His Faith nodded to acknowledge what he couldn’t say. “So, the bright idea these guys had was to send you here and hold you for ransom.”

“Ransom?” Xander asked.

“Yup. They wanted Anya to turn herself over to them to face their idea of justice. Once they had her, we’d get you back,” his Faith explained.

Other Xander immediately shot over to his family and wrapped his arms around Anya and Haley in a protective hug.

“Fuck,” other Faith whispered next to him, “a magical lynch mob.”

“That’s a problem,” Xander pointed out.

“Yeah, no shit. First we had to tell ’em that last we hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Anya in awhile,” the vague lie casually rolled off his Faith’s tongue. “Plus, even if she was still around and even if she was willing to make the trade, you’d go all nuclear on our asses when you got back. Then you’d hunt them down and make ’em all die a really painful deaths.”

“In other words, they had no idea that they their little revenge scheme was for nothing,” Xander bitterly said.

“Bingo. Once we convinced these yo-yos that we were straight up, they agreed to help reverse the spell,” his Faith said.

“So what’s taking so long?” Xander asked.

His Faith’s eyes slid over to Anya. “They’re missing an ingredient for their retrieval spell,” she said.

“Like me,” Anya said.

“Forget it,” other him flatly stated. “We’ve gone through enough.”

“Cool your jets big guy. No one’s asking anyone to make the ultimate sacrifice,” his Faith said.

“So now what?” Xander asked.

His Faith shoved her hands in her pockets. “These guys are messed up, but they ain’t randomly evil, so—”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” other him exploded. “If I just heard you right this all happened because they wanted revenge on Anya!”

His Faith’s eyes snapped to the other Xander and she gave him a hard glare. “I could list off a shitload of reasons why they think they were justified, which you don’t want me to do in front of the kid.”

Other Xander’s jaw clamped shut and Xander could see he was fighting off a towering rage.

“Don’t get me wrong,” his Faith continued in that deadly voice. “I don’t like the deal any more than you do, but a lot of bad shit went down because of Anya. You might not like to think about it, but that’s the truth.”

“Like you can talk,” other Xander stated.

“Compared to what went down for as long as it went down? Whatever I did here or on your side that shit makes me look like a choirgirl who keeps her legs crossed,” his Faith said. “It don’t make what they wanted to do right, but a few people can see why.”

The other Xander opened his mouth, but Xander interrupted. “Look, this is getting us nowhere. Anya’s unavailable on our side of the portal, and no one is asking your wife to pay the price, so let it go already.”

“How can you even begin to say that?” the other him angrily hissed.

“I can say it because it’s true.” On that, Xander firmly turned his back on his double and faced his Faith. “What are my options?”

“Sit tight while we look for an alternative.” His Faith sounded relieved that she didn’t have to look at the other him anymore. “It’s going to take a bit, but now that we know where you are and how you got there, and now that the people responsible are helping us, we’re pretty sure we’ll have this cracked in no time.”

“Please hurry,” Xander said.

His Faith grinned. “You can bet on it. You’re the only one who thinks my holy snowball plan will work.”

“Holy snowball?” other Faith asked.

“I’m afraid to ask,” Rupert said.

“’Course, you’re biased since I’m your Slayer,” his Faith said. She fixed Rupert and her twin with a threatening look. “You treat my Watcher right. I find out that you’ve been giving him shit and I will come through this portal and kick your asses into next week, got me?”

Once more everyone was staring at Xander in shock, although he was pretty sure nothing could match the shock he felt at his Faith staking a claim on him. His mouth had to be hanging open wider than everyone else’s.

“I don’t hear anyone promising anything,” his Faith prompted.

“We’ll—” other Faith began. She gave her head a hard shake. “We’ll make sure you get him back in one piece. But not because you think you’re the shit.”

“I’ll take that as a promise and let the trash-talk go,” his Faith said with a curt nod. She looked over her shoulder. “Yo! Gotta go. Just keep it hanging loose, Harris.”

“I will.” As his Faith turned away, he added, “And Faith? Thanks.”

His Faith gave him a grin. “Don’t go all mushy on me. I’m just looking out for my interests. I plan to cash in on this for a very long time.” She turned back around and said, “Better cut the power guys.”

His Faith’s back faded out with the light, leaving behind a deadly silence.

Although Xander felt immediate relief from the spell’s end, he tensed and silently counted to ten.

Right on time, the other Xander gritted through his teeth, “Get out of my house. All of you. Right now.”

“I really don’t think that’s a wise—” Rupert began.

Other Xander turned to face Rupert. “I really don’t care what you think. I’m counting to ten, and then I’m calling the police.”

“This isn’t going to make it all go away, you know,” Xander pointed out. “We leave and you’re still going to have a Slayer daughter and an ex-vengeance demon wife.”

“Vengeance demon?” Faith exploded. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! She’s a fucking vengeance demon. Christ, Harris. Where the fuck are your brains?”

“Ex-vengeance demon,” other him snarled at Faith. “And you have some nerve.”

Haley gasped and twisted out of her parents’ embrace. She looked askance at Anya, breathing hard to fight off tears.

“Look, can we just stop fighting for one second and try to work this out?” Xander asked. “Because this finger-pointing is going to get us nowhere fast.”

“I’m sick of your self-serving bullshit. You’ve said enough,” other Xander spit at him.

“No. I haven’t,” Xander shot back. “As for self-serving? Here’s a newsflash for you, just in case you missed it. Sooner or later someone is going to come looking for one or both of them. And if they don’t come looking for them, they’re going to be looking for you. You can’t possibly be that stupid not to realize that.”

Other him took a swing, which Xander easily caught. He could see the pure rage on the other man’s face. As for him, he felt too calm for comfort.

“I know what you do at night,” Xander said quietly. “I’ve watched you do it and I can see how much you enjoy it.”

“Xander?” Anya asked.

“Now if I caught you, you can bet you’ve attracted attention. Going hunting without backup? I don’t care how good you are. Sooner or later you’re going to be caught,” Xander said.

Rupert was now openly staring at other him. Faith had a shit-eating grin on her face, like she couldn’t wait to see where this argument would go.

Other Xander yanked out of his grip. “Really,” he angrily said. “Seems to me I’ve been doing just fine. And what is this ‘hunting’? I don’t—”

“You go out at night looking for vampires to kill, so let’s call it what it is,” Xander stepped right into the other man’s face. “Think about this, dummy: One night your number’s up. If you’re lucky, they’ll kill you.”

“Dad? What is he talking about?” Haley plaintively asked.

“Xander? What have you done?” Anya numbly asked.

“Anya, you know what happens when you get unlucky with vampires, right?” Xander didn’t take his eyes of the other him, who was now looking very trapped. “Think you’d let this guy in if he said he lost his keys?”

Anya slowly backed up until she was against a wall.

“I think we better do what he says and leave. Let him think about it for a little while. He knows I’m right, he just doesn’t want to admit it,” Xander said.

“You’re wrong,” other him stubbornly insisted.

Xander hated himself just a little for his final parting shot. “You know? They were all right about you. You really do see only what you want to see. Keep living life like that and you deserve everything you get.”

He was shaking when he turned and left the house. He didn’t look back to see if Rupert and Faith were following him.



Continued in Part 29




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