liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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Water Hold Me Down (Part 31)

All previous parts can be found here.

Click here for Part 30

What was I thinking when I grabbed this? Xander thought as walked down the sidewalk and tugged at the green turtleneck’s collar. The only reason why he wore it on was sheer stubbornness on his part. The second Faith waltzed into his room fresh from a shower and a change of clothes and saw him putting it on, she ordered him to change. For no reason in particular, he dug in and refused, which resulted in a little verbal sparring between the two of them.

The exchange really wasn’t that heated. Plus, Faith simply gave up with the mysterious statement, “What am I worried about? Ain’t like I’m not around to save your ass, right?”

“Hunh?” Xander had intelligently asked.

“Forget it,” Faith said in a tone that brooked no further argument.

Although he technically won the fashion argument, in he still felt like he lost. Faith had gone tight-jawed on him—not a good sign since she was just about the only person even vaguely on his side right now—and he felt like the turtleneck was slowly strangling him to death.

The kindest thing he could say about the walk to the diner to meet Rupert for their noon meeting was that it was tense.

Faith kept tossing irritated looks at his shirt like it personally offended her as she kept pushing him to start talking about his reality to Rupert. She even tossed in the carrot—Rupert might take him somewhat seriously—to go with the stick—in this case, that Rupert could make his life a living hell until his friends yanked him back.

By the time they reached the diner, Xander reluctantly agreed to spill. More than anything else, he did it in the forlorn hope that Rupert would stop treating him like the enemy and might even give him some props for being a rational human being. Coming clean seemed to be the best course of action; especially since he now knew he was dealing with a real problem that involved multiple real people.

His giving in on at least one of her points of contention somewhat mollified Faith to the extent that her body language relaxed and the tone of her voice lost some of its tight-jawed edge.

Xander dispiritedly ended his perp walk by watching Faith scoot into the booth across from Rupert before following suit. As soon as he ordered the diner’s all-day breakfast special, Xander plunged headfirst into the tale of his life, starting with the Wedding That Wasn’t all the way up to the Town That Isn’t Anymore.

As the story unwound. there were questions and interruptions from Faith and Rupert, as well as deadly silences whenever the waitress swung by with food or a coffee warm-up.

Xander decided early on to keep the story of Kingman’s Bluff to sketchy details. Xander figured that Buffy and Dawn’s deaths, coupled with Willow’s insanity, was the root of the problem between Rupert and other him. There was no way he could avoid hurting Rupert’s inner Giles, but the last thing he wanted to do was make things even worse between other him and Rupert, especially since they had one scared new Slayer trapped between them.

However, Rupert wasn’t making it easy on him.

“So, if I understand you properly, Buffy and Dawn along with the two men we found with them were not killed in the Magic Box,” Rupert said as he peered at Xander over the top of his glasses.

Xander swallowed and looked down. He’d already destroyed ten sugar packets by tearing them into tiny pieces since he started and he wasn’t even halfway through his very long story. He was going to run out of things for his hands to do if he kept this up.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Xander said. “So, I grabbed Dawn and Andrew and Jonathan and we pretty much ran while Buffy and Anya tried to hold off Willow at the Magic Box. Buffy was doing the Slayer bit and Anya was doing the magic bit.”

“Was this before or after Anya returned to vengeance?” Rupert asked.

“I told you. After,” Xander said.

“That takes balls, Junior, dumping an ex-vengeance demon at the altar with her boss just panting to bring her back in the fold,” Faith said as she signaled for more coffee. “Surprised you’re still breathing.”

“She tried to curse me during this argument we had after I got back into town,” Xander admitted, “but it turns out vengeance demons can’t grant their own wishes.”

“That is an interesting piece of information,” Rupert said as he sat up. “I was utterly unaware that they couldn’t do that.”

Not surprising. Anya didn’t know that either. “It makes sense,” Xander pointed out, grateful that the conversation was heading away from him.

“Oh?” Rupert asked.

“Think about it,” Xander said. “If they had the ability to grant their own wishes, that’d give them way too much power. I’m not saying that D’Hoffryn and me ever had a beer together, but what little I’ve seen of him…well, let’s just say I get the feeling he likes being the boss. You give a vengeance demon the power to grant her own wishes, what’s to prevent her from wishing D’Hoffryn out of existence?”

“Say, in a power struggle,” Rupert nodded.

“Or because she didn’t like the way D’Hoffryn was treating her,” Xander said.

“We are speaking of demons,” Rupert said. “More likely he was more concerned about potential power grab than mere discontent.”

“So this Deehofforion’s a control freak,” Faith interrupted. “So what?”

“It’s D’Hoffryn. And calling him a ‘control freak’ does not properly describe this characteristic,” Rupert said.

“Unh, kinda thinking that’s exactly what it does,” Xander said.

“We are talking about demons,” Rupert patiently said. “Ascribing such petty human characteristics to them may put us at risk of underestimating them.”

“Spoken like someone who doesn’t know a lot of petty humans,” Xander grumbled. “I’d like to point to Tara as Exhibit A on what happens when ‘petty humans’ cause trouble.”

“Whatever. This shit’s all confusing,” Faith said as she tried to catch a waitress’s eye, since her first attempt at getting a refill was roundly ignored. “Never was much for Days of Our Little Fucked-Up Scoobies, especially since it did you all so much good.”

As a waitress swung by to refill their cups, Xander refrained from pointing out that it could’ve turned out like her world, so all-in-all, he’d take the screwed-up friends who had the habit of occasionally going off the deep end. Except for the Anya part, because he’d like her at least alive even if she wasn’t with him. And maybe being able to make beautiful custom furniture that everyone knew about and wanted. He might as well throw in having his left eye back while he was at it.

What about Haley? came the unbidden mental thought. Xander quickly squelched it. Fatherhood, his life, and Harris genes simply didn’t mesh in his mind.

“You are rather departing from the script,” Rupert prompted as the waitress moved away.

Xander startled at the interruption in his thoughts. “Where was I?”

“You and Dawn were on the lam with these two guys and Buffy and Anya were keeping Willow in check in a box,” Faith prompted.

“The Magic Box,” Xander automatically corrected. “So then Giles showed up and dosed her with some good magic so she’d feel the world’s pain. At least I think that’s what happened. Not too clear on what happened around that because I wasn’t there when it happened.”

“You must be in error,” Rupert said. “That same tactic didn’t work here. In fact, she headed for Kingman’s Bluff to put the world out of its misery. Thank heavens the entire contingent of the Devon Coven followed me.”

“You had the Devon Coven with you?” Xander asked.

Rupert frowned. “They are not present in your story?”

“No. I’ve never met them. I’ve taken messages from Lady Haversham a couple of times, but I’ve never actually seen any of them,” Xander said.

“So, how’d ya stop ol’ Witchy Willow, then?” Faith asked.

He decided to edit the truth down to the bone, because he suspected that even what little he told them would result in Rupert and Faith staring at him like he was crazier than they already thought he was.

“Unh, anyway, Buffy chased after Willow when she escaped. Her and Dawn got trapped in a sinkhole because Willow was tossing fireballs around and caused the ground to collapse right in front of them. Anya was teleporting around basically delivering messages from Giles because he was stuck back at the Magic Box. Andrew and Jonathan escaped. Which pretty much left me.”

“Yes?” Rupert asked.

“So, I ran up to Kingman’s Bluff and just talked to her. Instead of talking at her. Which everyone was doing. So then she decided that maybe world end-age wasn’t the way to go,” Xander breathed out in a rush.

“You left Dawn and Buffy trapped in a sinkhole?” Rupert demanded. “Anything could’ve happened to them.”

Xander decided pass on mentioning the root monsters Willow conjured up to attack Dawn and Buffy. “Yeah, but they were safe and out of the way. They were never in any direct danger from Willow. Well, unless you count attempted world-icide, which didn’t happen.”

“So, lemme get this straight,” Faith said as she tapped her fingers against her coffee cup. “You stopped her by just talking to her?”

“Unh, sort of. I kind of, ummm, jumped in the way of her magic stream and—”

“Nothing happened to you?” Rupert asked with doubtfully.

“Oh. Giles explained it to me. It works on this circuit breaker thing-y, see? And, I guess, world end-age magic requires a different energy than killing Xander magic, so I just broke the stream,” Xander hurriedly explained as he cursed himself for even trying.

“Something still should’ve happened,” Rupert insisted.

“Well, it didn’t, because I don’t have a magic bone in my body,” Xander said. “See, if I was a Slayer, or a Key, or a Watcher hopped up on magic, or a vengeance demon, or anything like that, her magic and any magic I had would have reacted. Plus, I think, there was something about her seeing a supernatural anything as a threat. I’m just all normal-guy with no magic at all. Less than no magic. Magic-less, completely and totally. So unless Willow used magic to yank my heart out of my chest, she couldn’t exactly do anything to me directly using just magic. See? Which was sort of Giles’s plan, which he forgot to tell me until after it was over and he was trying to stop the bleeding. Unh, my bleeding. There were poultices involved. For my face. Although I’ve still got these scars on my chest, which Fai—I mean other me saw but you don’t want to see, because, public place. Unless you saw them yesterday after I got out of the shower. In which case, never mind.”

They were staring at him like he was completely nuts.

“I still don’t understand why she didn’t kill you outright for interrupting her spell,” Rupert finally said. “She murdered three women in front of my eyes for doing the same thing.”

Xander looked down at his uneaten breakfast.

“She killed at least two people even by your reckoning without a thought. In my world, Buffy and Dawn were added to that butcher’s bill, as well as those two men you spoke of, and three members of the Devon coven.” Rupert’s voice had an edge. “And yet, you claim that you were able to stop her by simply throwing yourself into a stream of magic and emerging unharmed, which I find highly unlikely, and by simply talking to her. Explain to me how that’s possible.”

The hell of it was, Xander honestly couldn’t. When Rupert put it that way, his story did sound pretty unlikely, even though it was the god’s honest truth, albeit an edited one. Yet, it seemed pretty logical when Giles explained it to him between pressing poultices to his face while he babbled with worry about Willow.

He grabbed another sugar packet and began ripping it apart.

“Yo, Junior. Earth to Junior.” Faith nudged him with her foot under the table.

“I don’t know why she didn’t,” Xander admitted. “But that’s what happened. Really.”

Neither Rupert and Faith seemed willing to believe him, although neither one of them called him a liar to his face, so that was progress.

Xander fought the urge to slump and dove back in. “So anyway, afterwards—”

He continued and the story settled into a rhythm of asking questions, now more numerous than before, and answering them. There was a little controversy about Spike having a soul, which Faith insisted wasn’t possible because Spike was killing and turning people. He tried explaining about the trigger the First implanted in Spike, but since he didn’t know how it got removed, let alone how it got there in the first place, his explanation fell flat.

He also suspected that neither Faith nor Rupert really wanted to believe that Spike had a soul. He could sympathize. He didn’t really want to believe it when was told about it either, especially since, according to Buffy, Spike willingly fought for it.

Rupert was definitely resistant to the idea that Buffy and Spike had some weird, twisted relationship. Since Xander didn’t get the Buffy and Spike thing at all, he wasn’t very good at trying to explain that either. It didn’t help that he still secretly resented the fact that he very quickly went from ‘trusted friend’ to ‘guy who fixes the windows’ after Spike blew back into town.

Then came the part he dreaded telling: Caleb.

He knew there was no chance he’d be able to get out of telling it, especially since they both seemed pretty invested in hearing it. He knew if he didn’t volunteer the story, they were going to force the issue. Better he tell it on his terms than be backed into a corner until he confessed.

“—then, 10 minutes later, me and Faith, unh, my Faith, not you, ran into the winery leading the fresh wave of Potentials.” Xander paused to sip from his now-cold coffee, partly to calm down, partly because he could feel his throat closing. “When we got there, things were already going bad, so Buffy called the retreat and everyone who could got out.”

“So how’d you get caught?” Faith asked as she stared into the depths of her coffee. Xander could sense the she was vibrating with tension.

He shrugged. He was going for nonchalant, but he suspected he seriously missed the boat on that. “I, unh, didn’t run as fast as everyone else, that’s all. Caleb reached out and there I was. End of story.”

Faith slowly turned her face to him. “Bullshit,” she said quietly. “What else.”

Xander turned his head to see where Rupert stood. The Watcher’s gaze was both frank and considering, a silent echo of Faith’s demand that he add more detail.

Xander swallowed and looked down. “He, unh, took his thumb and…” Xander took a deep breath. He’d planned to keep this quiet, but obviously he had to admit that Caleb did something to him. He suspected taunting really didn’t count. “He destroyed my left eye.” He raised a shaky hand to his left cheek. “The eye’s fake. And not magic fake. Prosthetic fake. I got sick of wearing an eye patch and having people stare at me.”

Rupert sat back, his mouth open with surprise.

“You’re telling me that you’re walking around fucking half-blind?” Faith tersely asked as she stared into her cup.

Xander once again studied the congealed grease on his eggs and tried to get his throat working again.

Faith turned to face him. “May I?” she quietly asked.

He turned his head to look at her full on, rather than out of the corner of his good eye, like he’d been doing through the whole conversation.

Her hand was raised to the level of his left cheek. “May I?” she softly repeated again.

He silently nodded, mostly because he couldn’t find his voice to tell her no.

When her hand gently landed on his left cheek, he flinched out of instinct.

“Shhhhhh,” Faith soothed. She leaned in closer until her nose was almost touching his. “I’ll be damned,” she said softly.

Xander held himself very still. He didn’t miss the fact that Faith’s fingertips were trembling.

“I knew something was up with the left eye,” she continued quietly. “But I was thinking it was seein’ more than the right, ’stead of it seein’ nothing. It’s good work. They got the little blood vessels and everything. Way you move that thing makes it look real.”

My occularist will be so happy that I’m learning to move the eye so it looks real, Xander thought somewhat hysterically. He really wanted to get Faith to stop touching his face. No one had touched his face on the blind side since…

Well, since that last night he had with his Anya.

Faith was staring hard into his remaining eye, but she still didn’t remove her hand. “What he say to you when he did it?”

“Nothing.” His voice sounded hoarse to his own ears.

Faith’s hand dropped, which was a relief, but she continued to stare into his face. “Ain’t true,” she rendered her judgment.

“He didn’t say anything.”

Faith sat back, but she kept her unblinking gaze on him. “Caleb was talk-y meat. He liked to chat you up and smile in your face while he cut you. Wouldn’t shut the hell up even if you ripped his tongue out. I should know.”

“Slayers, maybe,” Xander insisted on the lie. “I wasn’t important enough for him to taunt.”

Faith snorted. “If you weren’t important, he would’ve just killed your ass.” A sly look came over her face. “Nah. He needed you alive and he wanted you to live with what he did for the rest of your life. Ain’t no way he didn’t give you a piece of wisdom to remember him by.”

Xander looked to Rupert, and quickly realized he’d get no help there. Rupert was studying the war of wills between him and Faith with too much interest. If Xander didn’t know any better, he’d think Rupert wanted to see if he’d break under Faith’s stubborn, if perceptive, insistence on this point about Caleb.

He swallowed and hoped he looked truthful. “Poking my eye out pretty much guarantees I’m not going to forget him any time soon.”

Faith shook her head. “Ain’t enough to keep him alive in your thoughts, Junior. You can get over the pain and it seems to me you’re dealing with the half-blind thing better ’n anyone’s got a right to expect. Nah. That shit don’t break people like us. Caleb knew that. He broke people by making ’em doubt themselves. He liked using people’s strengths against them. Take away your strength,” Faith snapped her fingers, “and you got nothin’ to count on.”

So, you’re the one who sees. Let’s see what we can do about that.

“Well, maybe it was aimed at Buffy,” Xander said in a carefully even voice. “Hurting me, one of her bestest buds, was probably a big ol’ signal that she couldn’t protect anyone, let alone a bunch of Potentials with almost no experience with the Slayage.”

“Still couldda done that by killing you,” Faith insisted. “He needed you alive for a reason.”

Like joining everyone else in telling Buffy she was out of control and not thinking clearly. Like being living proof that everyone was right in thinking like that.

He really hated the fact that Faith was right, just not right in the way she thought.

“Well, maybe you can figure it out when I tell the rest of the story,” Xander finally said.

“Seems to me that you’re extraordinarily lucky,” Rupert said.

Xander’s head snapped around to face Rupert. He was glad to see that Faith’s mouth was hanging open as wide as his was at that statement.

“It appears you have a knack for cheating death,” Rupert said in a vaguely accusatory manner. “I’ve heard you tell of no less than four people who’ve tried to kill you in the space of mere months, and yet you continue to come out the other side of the experience very much live, albeit wounded.”

“Does this have a point?” Xander tightly asked.

“I must wonder if perhaps you’re not inflating your own importance,” Rupert said. “Or perhaps your misadventures.”

Xander clenched his fists under the table.

“He faced Caleb. I can see it in his face,” Faith said almost mildly. She fixed Xander with a searching look. “He ain’t tellin’ the whole truth about it, that’s for shitting sure. But he is tellin’ us the truth about that. So I’m inclined to believe him about Willow, Anya, and that demon chick who stabbed him, especially since we’ve seen the scars.”

Rupert sat back and Xander realized that he’d been subjected to another test, this one to see how he’d react. He forced his hands to unclench.

“I do believe there is more of your story?” Rupert asked as if he didn’t just call Xander a liar.

Xander squelched the urge to come back with a smart remark, and continued. “So then I think Buffy saw what happened and—”

He continued talking and continued answering questions.

Then he got to the part where Angel swept into town with his magic amulet and Buffy sent him away to hold the line in L.A.

“Angel’s alive?” Faith asked in a shaky voice.

Xander again stopped the momentum and turned to look at her.

Faith’s eyes were wide and her jaw was clamped tight. He noticed she was shaking again.

“Yeah, last I heard anyway,” Xander said.

Faith was breathing hard as she leaned forward. “Is he okay? Is he happy? Is he—”

“I hope not,” Xander blurted.

Faith’s expression switched to angry and she opened her mouth.

Before she could speak, Xander added, “I mean on the happy front. Or maybe I mean too happy, because, then, y’know, he goes grrrrrr and people die.”

Faith relaxed. “So I heard. Ain’t never seen it myself.”

Xander fought against showing surprise. His Faith not only went face-to-face with Angelus in a for-the-ages smackdown, but she also took a walk through his brain, according to her. For whatever reason, this Faith wasn’t involved in helping Angel get his soul back.

Then again, no helpful and available Willow here, either. Either Angel’s people found another way to restore his soul without Willow’s and Faith’s help, or they never tried desouling Angel to begin with because they didn’t have a Faith and Willow in reserve.

“Well, the Mother House—unh, that’s us in Cleveland—and Angel’s people don’t really keep in touch,” Xander explained. “So that’s why I don’t really know anything.”

“Hunh? Why?” Faith demanded.

“Yes, I’m rather curious as to why that is myself,” Rupert said.

“It’s complicated,” Xander said. “Buffy, well, she’s on board the ‘need space’ train right now. And with Angel? The ‘need space’ would be no space. She’s busy trying to figure out who Buffy is now that she’s not the one and only and Angel’s a big ol’ complication.”

“He always was,” Rupert remarked.

“B I buy,” Faith stubbornly said. “Me I don’t.”

“That’s even more complicated, if you can believe it,” Xander said. He mentally scurried through his mind and wondered how much he should give away, not that he knew much. He only knew what Faith told him, and she only told him because she was really upset.

“So,” Faith prompted as a warning.

“See? It’s like this. Angel pulled some strings to get her prison record erased, since he wanted to give her a chance at a fresh start,” Xander said.

“Better than owing my freedom to the Council’s long reach,” Faith snorted.

“You were quite grateful at the time,” Rupert said.

“Yeah, and I’m still paying down the interest,” Faith shot back.

“Do you two want to hear this or not?” Xander snapped.

Faith and Rupert both turned to him.

“Well, at first Faith figured some lawyer owed Angel a favor and that’s how he did it,” Xander said. “Then she found out that he pulled it off because he’d taken over this law firm, Wolfram & Hart.”

“The hell you say,” Faith exploded.

“It’s true,” Xander insisted.

“You cannot serious,” Rupert said. “Wolfram & Hart is controlled by demonic forces and is currently headed by Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, who is not at all shy about using Wolfram & Hart’s power to frustrate the Council at every opportunity. Should Angelus be in charge of that organization, the damage he could cause would be—”

“Junior said it’s Angel who’s in charge, not Angelus,” Faith stubbornly interrupted. “And I ain’t buyin’ he’s thrown in with those guys. They’ve tried to have him killed multiple times. Hell, they even hired me to kill him once.”

“I don’t know what the deal is or how Angel ended up being the big cheese,” Xander tried explaining. “And I got Wolfram & Hart was evil from all the ranting Faith did after she found out. She got in touch with him in late September, which I know because…well, let’s just say it happened after a big thing happened with us, unh, not Faith-me us, more like all of us. Anyway, before she could catch him up on us, he told her about his new gig. Even if I were three states away, I still would’ve heard what she yelled at him. Then there was massive breakage, which I had to fix since that’s what I do when there’s breakage.”

“She didn’t go and check it out?” Faith growled. “She shouldda known something wasn’t kosher.”

Xander let out a breath. This was the part where he was treading on questionable ground. “Faith tried getting back in touch with him after,” Xander said. “She told me long after the fact that she felt kinda bad about blowing up at him, but their fight was so bad she didn’t feel like she could just hop on a plane to L.A. and confront him.”

Faith pursed her lips, like she could see it but didn’t want to.

“None of us knew at the time, but she did try to reach him something like every other day for almost two months,” Xander continued. “She tried his cell phone first. She got it the first time and left a message. He didn’t call back. She tried a second time and it was out of service, so she figured he lost it in a fight.”

Faith snorted like it was typical Angel.

“She even called Wolfram & Hart,” Xander said. “I guess his secretary—Faith told me she thought her name was Melody—took her messages, but Angel never got back to her.”

“She sure he was getting them?” Faith asked.

Xander snagged another sugar packet and mentally debated with himself.

“Well?” Faith demanded.

Xander winced, shook his head, and began destroying the packet. “You’ve got to understand. Faith and me…we’re not big on sharing deep dark secrets.”

“What do you know?” Faith insisted.

“No. She didn’t know if he was getting her messages,” Xander finally admitted as he concentrated on his shredding operation. “Melody claimed she was passing on her messages every time Faith called, but she kept insisting that Angel was either tied up in some battle or another and that her messages were just falling through the cracks.”

“You ain’t answering my questions,” Faith growled.

Xander rounded on her as the destroyed sugar packet slipped from his fingers. “What do you want me to say? Faith was pretty upset about the whole thing, which I know because we went on patrol right after she made her last attempt. If she was talking to me about it? You know that it had to have been killing her.”

Faith’s mouth snapped shut.

“And I did point out that maybe she should go to L.A. and check out the situation,” Xander said. “But this fight they had over the Wolfram & Hart deal was really bad and she said some things that maybe she shouldn’t have said. Angel told her to stay clear of him and Wolfram & Hart after she said what she said and she didn’t want to make things even worse by showing up on his doorstep.”

“How could it possibly be worse?” Rupert asked.

“What he said,” Faith said with a jerk of her head.

“I’m not Angel’s biggest fan, that’s no secret,” Xander said. “But Angel means a lot to her and she feels like she owes him. She felt like she let him down because of this whole thing and…”

“And what?” Faith demanded.

“It’s not for me to say,” Xander insisted.

“Hey, she’s me, right?” Faith pushed.

“That’s open for debate,” Rupert answered.

Xander could see that Faith wasn’t about to let go since Angel was involved. He wondered if anyone would stubbornly fight for him the way this or any other Faith would fight for Angel.

“Faith didn’t say this,” Xander admitted, “but if you want to know what I think, I think deep down she’s afraid of going to L.A. and finding out that Angel really has gone evil, because then she’d have to do something about it. But I think she’s even more afraid of finding out that Angel has written her off as someone he can turn to if he needs help. If she stays in Cleveland, she can hang on to the hope that he’ll come around and try to contact her.”

Faith suddenly found her hands very interesting, which was as close to a confirmation as Xander was ever going to get that he’d guessed right.

“She said a lot of stuff that night we talked and told me a lot of stories,” Xander added. “She needed to unload and I happened to be there when she needed to. It’s not like she could really talk to Buffy about it and by that time Robin was out of the picture. That’s what I do. I listen. And I keep my mouth shut. But I can tell you this: she is hurting about the situation, but she doesn’t feel like she can do anything about it. So don’t go all judge-y unless you know what I know.”

“But Angel’s alive,” Faith insisted.

“Last we heard,” Xander confirmed.

Faith let out a breath. “I’ll take it.”

“Which leaves open the question,” Rupert interrupted. “How did you defeat the First?”

Xander took a lung-stretching breath and picked up where he left off with Angel delivering the amulet. This time, he was allowed to speak without interruptions. He felt like he was weaving a spell over Rupert’s and Faith’s heads, one they seemed powerless to stop until he got them to the end.

Once he made it to the Town That Isn’t Anymore, he slumped back against the seat. He felt hollow, like he’d given everything of himself away without having anything to show for it.

Rupert frowned and was lost in thought while Faith signaled the waitress for more coffee and grumbled about no smoking laws that wouldn’t let her light up in the diner.

“Extraordinary,” the Watcher finally said.

Xander slouched even further and tried to hide his disappointment. He wasn’t entirely sure what he expected, but he sure as hell was expecting more. “That all you can say?”

“To be brutally honest, I’m not certain what I can say.” Rupert leaned forward resting his chin on his hands. “As I’ve pointed out before, your story does stretch credulity.”

“Which part? That part that I’m a Watcher? Or the part where I might be telling you the truth?” Xander snapped. “No. I get it. It’s the part where I turn out to have a brain, right?”

Rupert’s look of surprise just went that much further toward fueling Xander’s frustration.

Xander picked up his cup of cold coffee. “Jesus. I’ve just about had enough of this shit.”

“And, as I’ve noticed through your whole narrative, you have quite the temper,” Rupert dryly remarked.

“No,” Xander stared at the greasy sheen on the coffee’s surface. “I’m not used to you being like this. I’m used to you treating me like I’m a…I don’t know…”

“Like an adult?” Faith volunteered.

“If you want me to treat you like an adult then perhaps you should act it instead of like a petulant child whenever you’re questioned,” Rupert stated.

“And maybe you need to stop looking at me like I’m your Xander, because I’m not.” He put the cup back down and rubbed his forehead. “Look, I’m sorry. Believe me when I tell you that this really isn’t me. Faith, I think you’re right. I’m turning into the bad Xander.”

“Toldjya,” Faith encouraged while she flashed Rupert a sardonic grin.

“It’s not just you, you know,” Xander said softly to the Watcher. “It’s everything. It’s seeing Anya alive again. I didn’t even see her body. I was fighting in another part of the school with Dawn and I only heard what happened from Andrew. There was no funeral. No memorial service. Nothing. Just she’s dead. Ooops, gotta run. Look, our town’s gone. Let’s go find a new one to destroy. Seeing her alive…Jesus, I never even kissed her goodbye.”

“You do realize that—” Rupert began.

“Yeah. Trade-offs. I get that. Save Anya and Buffy and Dawn and god knows who else gets it when Willow goes off the deep end. So, hey? Who do I think deserves to die more?” Xander bitterly asked. “Know what kills me? The bigger picture is exactly the same. You still managed to pull off the spell that empowered all the Potentials. Still have multiple Slayers running around. Faith’s still hanging on the Cleveland Hellmouth. The only big difference is you’re in England full-time, right? But the big picture? What I did or didn’t do didn’t change a damn thing. So, please excuse me if I feel a little—” Xander cut off in mid-sentence as that dreaded, but familiar, electrical feeling shot up his spine.

Faith was instantly alert. “What is it?”

Xander stared down into his uneaten breakfast. “Magic. Somewhere. Not as bad as last night, but still—”

Faith interrupted him by grabbing his arm. “Don’t look now, but I think we got company.”

Xander scanned the diner and saw: “Giles?”

“I must say, walking through walls is quite bracing,” Giles, his Giles, said as he stepped around people and made his way to the booth.

Rupert watched his slightly glowing younger twin approach, his mouth forming an ‘o’ of surprise.

When Giles reached them, he explained. “I do apologize for the sudden appearance. Willow felt it best if I made my debut some distance away from you to avoid setting off your magic sensitivity.”

Rupert’s head snapped to Xander and his eyes narrowed into a glare. Xander slumped. Looked like his other big secret was now out of the bag. Thanks Giles!

“Unfortunately, I materialized in the middle of the street. Nearly gave a motorist a heart attack and caused an accident, so I do believe there are some bugs that need to be worked out. I find it very comforting, if somewhat frightening, that the people here are as stubbornly blind as people in Sunnydale,” Giles continued, completely oblivious to the silent war going on under his nose. As if noticing the table for the first time, he glanced down at it in a thoroughly befuddled manner. “I hate to bring this up, but I don’t think I can actually sit.”

“Maybe if you put a chair right about where you think the booth seat would be?” Xander suggested. Despite Rupert’s continued glaring, he could feel the relieved smile spreading across his face. This was his Giles all right. If Giles was here, that meant everything was fixed.

Giles gave Xander a mischievous grin and began ordering an unseen Vi to get him a chair and place it just so. He seemed to be making a big show of it, fussily asking her to adjust it so it was at just the right position.

“Good thing he didn’t show up a few hours earlier,” Faith smugly remarked while Giles held his one-sided conversation.

A few of the other nearby patrons stared at the strange man who seemed to be talking to invisible people about chairs while staring right at a seat. Rupert looked mortified. Giles didn’t seem to care.

Xander was grinning like the fool he was when his Giles made a great show of sliding into the booth, and settling into place.

“Ahhhhh, we’re having a good morning, I trust?” his Giles asked.

“If you’re back so soon, that means good news and that means a good morning,” Xander said.

Giles turned to Rupert and remarked, “Oh, do shut your mouth. You’re starting to drool. It’s very unseemly.”

Rupert did as suggested and leaned toward his twin. “Extraordinary.”

“Hit him, Giles. He’s stuck on the word,” Xander said.

“Yes, I do believe you once suggested ‘fascinating’ as a viable alternative. However, I find the rules for using it to be quite restrictive,” Giles said.

“I tremble to ask,” Rupert said.

“I was reliably informed that I would have to wear pointed ears and hold my hand just so,” here Giles solemnly demonstrated a clumsy version of the Vulcan salute, “and at random intervals tell people to ‘Live long and prosper.’”

Rupert looked very lost. Faith sputtered in amusement. Xander bit his lip and tried not to laugh.

“I fear he thinks I’m insane,” Giles said.

“Nah. He figured out you were insane when he found out I was a Watcher,” Xander said. “In his opinion I lack certain qualifications.”

“Oh?” Giles raised an eyebrow. “And what would that be?”

“Brains,” Xander said.

“I see.” Giles was now glaring at his opposite number.

“That is a blatant misstatement. Furthermore, please do see this from my point of view,” Rupert hastily explained. “Last I spoke to Xander—or rather, the Xander in this reality—prior to be summonsed to this town, we exchanged some rather harsh words.”

Xander attempted to intervene. “Unh, now really isn’t the time to get into this, since I’m pretty sure that Giles being here is eating up a lot of power. Plus, I’ve got the ants marching thing going on with my skin, so maybe if we—”

“I contacted him and asked him to come to Sunnydale when it was clear that First Evil was on the rise,” Rupert explained to Giles.

Xander wanted to lunge across the table and strangle Rupert to get him to stop. He knew where this was going; yet he could seem to get his voice or his body to move.

“It was desperate times and we needed all the experienced help we could get. He point blank refused. He further told me never to contact him again since, as he put it, I was the one responsible for Willow killing Buffy and Dawn,” Rupert stated. “Surely, you an see why I am somewhat suspicious of Young Xander here.”

Xander snagged yet another sugar packet and began tearing at it. The table top in front of him was littered with the corpses and the white-grained guts of its brethren.

“Xander?” his Giles gently asked.

Xander paused in his destruction and looked up into Giles’s painfully earnest face.

“We were already aware that this was the case before we contacted you,” Giles assured him.

The sugar packet slipped from between Xander’s suddenly nerveless fingers. “Buffy and Willow and Dawn know that—”

Giles sighed. “Myself, Faith, and Willow know. We have not yet informed anyone else of it as it might cause needless problems at precisely the worst possible time.”

Faith studied Giles with a thoughtful look on her face. Rupert was once more staring open-mouthed at Giles.

“So no telling Buffy,” Xander fervently said.

“No. Buffy will have to be told,” Giles disagreed. “But after we get you home. Besides, she will find out when you file your report for our records. We’ll just be certain to inform her prior to that, as she would be justifiably miffed if she waited until after you were done with your written report.”

“Can I put off filing it until the tenth of never?” Xander hopefully asked.

“Rather unprofessional of you,” Rupert said.

“I don’t fucking blame him,” Faith disagreed.

Giles shot Rupert a glare before turning his attention back to Xander. “Xander, I am sorry that you’ve had to experience this situation.”

“Don’t say sorry to me. I’m still alive and two-eyed and living the good life,” Xander countered as he picked up the half-destroyed sugar packet and began tearing at it in earnest. “Everyone else except for you, Faith, and Anya? Not so much.”

“Please tell me you’re not beating yourself up over this,” Giles said. “This is not you. Another you perhaps, but not you.”

“I don’t know if he’s beating himself up, but there were some bumpy uglies who were real sorry they met him last night,” Faith grinned.

“I seem to recall telling you that you should stay with him, not get him involved in a fight,” Rupert began. “If he were killed—”

“Hey, we talked all right?” Faith interrupted. “Had to get him to chat somehow. Now we know everything we need to know.”

“Of course. Makes sense now,” Xander said as he turned his attention to Faith. “Everything was just to pump me for information. I should’ve known.”

“Look, I was just trying to figure out your deal,” Faith said. “C’mon, even I’m agreeing with Rupes that you’re a little too good to be true.”

“And if I wasn’t, what were you going to do? Kill me?” Xander snapped.

Giles sharply exclaimed, “Xander!”

“I’m not apologizing,” Xander said. He leaned toward Faith. “Nice to know that I shouldn’t trust anything you say. So that little pep talk, that all bullshit, too?”

“Believe what you want, but I meant what I said this morning,” Faith said angrily.

“Yeah. Whatever.” Xander refocused on Giles, who was looking at him like he’d never seen him before. “Just tell me you’ve got the magic door out of here. The sooner I’m out of this hellhole, the better I’ll feel.”

“Your man is rather the heartless sort, isn’t he,” Rupert remarked.

Giles bristled. “Xander’s been known to show his temper,” he allowed. “And given this situation, it’s a wonder he’s dealing as well as he is. But heartless? I hardly think so.”

Xander blinked. Even though Giles said he knew everything, Giles was still defending him. If it wasn’t for the magic prickling on his skin, he would’ve hugged Giles for that, even though he knew his arms would’ve passed right through the guy.

“Heartless is what his sort does best,” Rupert said. “You fail to realize that at your peril.”

“His sort,” Giles repeated in a low and dangerous voice.

“Selfish then,” Rupert clarified. “It seems to me that I’ve seen a pattern of running away from difficult situations.”

Xander wasn’t sure, be he could swear that every hair on Giles was bristling like it had never bristled before, so he was shocked when Giles’s next volley sounded almost friendly.

“And where on earth did you get that idea?” Giles asked with a toothy grin.

Xander studied the diner’s exit. If he started running now, he’d hit the sidewalk outside before someone got hurt. Out of the corner of his good eye, he could see Faith watching the exchange like she was checking out the world’s best action movie. All she needed was the popcorn to make the illusion complete.

“The Xander in this reality ran away with his bride, rather than return to face the reality of what he and his compatriots had done to Buffy. He shed all his prior responsibilities and commitments without a second thought,” Rupert stated. “And, according to Young Xander himself, he also failed to live up to his responsibilities on numerous occasions.”

Xander was impressed. Rupert was still arguing with Giles. Although he could count the number of times on one hand that Giles had directed the angry face of doom at him, he knew enough to shut up and do what he was told when he’d seen it.

“Ahhhh, because we are all aware that you’ve never once fled from your responsibilities or commitments,” Giles quietly accused.

Rupert went very still. Xander figured it was too late to start running now, so he might as well enjoy the show.

“So, I will do you the courtesy of not mentioning Ethan, Eyghon, or Buffy when she came back from the dead.” Giles’s smile was cold. “So, it appears, my dear fellow, his sort is our sort, or would I be in error?”

Let’s hear it for Giles’s inner Rupert. Xander bit his lip to keep from grinning. He never thought he’d see the day when Giles would say that he—one Xander Harris, resident loser of the late and not-so-great Sunnydale—was ‘his sort.’

“You would be very much so,” Rupert said.

Xander let out a defeated sigh.

“While you have made your point, with a sledgehammer, I might add,” Rupert continued, “that still does not qualify him with the sacred trust you’ve bestowed upon him.”

Giles blinked with surprise, although Xander bet it was because he wasn’t used to people not named Buffy pushing an argument after Giles said his peace.

“Honestly, a Watcher?” Rupert waved a hand at Xander. “He clearly lacks the proper education. And while Faith informs me that he is satisfactory in a combat situation, he has expressed an unprofessional attitude on more than one occasion.”

Xander opened his mouth to protest.

“Furthermore, he lacks the requisite bloodline,” Rupert finished.

Giles shot Xander a confused look. “Is he bloody serious?”

Xander gave Giles a weak grin. “I’m afraid so.”

“Seems to me he did all right finding a Slayer all by his lonesome,” Faith remarked.

“A Slayer?” Giles asked. “Here?”

“Unh, yeah,” Xander said. “It was by accident. Trust me.”

“Well then, that is good to know,” Giles nodded. “We’ll get on it right away.”

“Giles,” Xander began.

“Just give me the name of the town and the girl and we will immediately contact her once you return,” Giles said.

“Giles, don’t bother,” Xander said.

“What? This doesn’t sound like you,” Giles said.

“She doesn’t exist,” Xander said carefully. “I…I mean, she doesn’t exist in our world.”

Giles slumped back as he realized what Xander said. “Oh, dear.”

“Yeah, you could say that,” Xander said.

“This alternate reality deal gives me a fucking headache,” Faith complained.

“It gives you a headache?” Xander asked. He shook his head. “Speaking of which, there is something I found out here that may apply to us.”

Giles snapped back to attention. “Yes?”

“Demons,” Xander said. “Sorry I didn’t say anything last night, but I was all head-spiny and it slipped my mind. Plus, me not so great with the research, so it’s a guess and—”

“Xander,” Giles warned.

“Right.” Xander steeled himself. “See, you know how we know Clem fled the Hellmouth before it blew?”

“Yes,” Giles said carefully.

“I think he wasn’t the only demon that ran,” Xander said. “I tried to do some research to figure out what was going on and kinda stumbled across this. It looks like when things started getting really hairy in Sunnydale, the demons followed the humans on the evacuation train. If you look on a map, you can see this wave of bad rippling out from Sunnydale. This town I’m in? Zihuataneo? It was one of the first towns hit by the bad because it’s not that far away. We’re talking huge increases in murder rates and the number of missing people. The further out you go from Sunnydale, the later the wave hits. It’s like seeing all those high school maps of the wagon trains heading out west, only this time it’s in reverse. Maybe they’re looking for fresh hunting grounds or a new Hellmouth. I didn’t get far enough to find out for sure.”

Giles paled.

“You were not aware that this would happen?” Rupert asked with a sniff.

“Yeah,” Faith agreed. “Demons are evil, but most of ’em ain’t stupid. One thing to have the First Evil at the top of the pyramid. Something else to be at ground zero when it takes a bow. Better to watch the show from a distance if you wanna live to enjoy the new demon golden age.”

“Dear god,” Giles said softly. “It’s not something we considered.” He looked at Xander as realization dawned on his face. “That’s why our new Slayers have invariably had brushes with the darkness before we got to them.”

“More Slayers, more demons, more clashing,” Xander agreed.

“Surely, when you consulted with the Devon Coven about the plan their seers warned you that this would be the result,” Rupert sounded incredulous.

“We, unh, did not consult with the coven,” Giles hastily explained. “There really was no need to and we felt it best…no, I tell a lie. We simply did not use them as a resource.”

“So you went and destroyed the biggest fucking Hellmouth on the planet without checking to see if you’d get whiplash?” Faith asked with disbelief. “That’s just fucking whacked. Next you’ll be tellin’ us that you didn’t know all that blocked Hellmouth energy would be goin’ to all the other bad hotspots.”

Xander and Giles exchanged despairing looks.

“Fuck me,” Faith said as Rupert stared with horror at Giles and Xander. “You fucking didn’t even know that.”

“Faith, how long have we got before it all goes boom?” Xander urgently asked.

Faith screwed up her face as she thought. “It don’t so much go boom as it is that all those hotspots just get more powerful. And it kinda happens over time. Best thing you can do is what we did: get as many girls trained up as you can and station ’em where you need ’em. Sooner or later all the demons are gonna start heading for those places and throw themselves a party.”

“Please tell me there is some positive news,” Giles said.

Faith regarded Giles with surprise. “Why ain’t you asking Rupes?”

“Rupes?” Giles asked.

“Her infernal nickname for me,” Rupert grumbled.

“Guys,” Xander interrupted.

“You’re on the frontlines,” Giles explained to Faith. “I trust your Slayer instincts over a Watcher’s any day, especially on something of this nature.”

Faith’s eyes went back and forth between Xander and Giles, like she’d never seen anyone like them before. Rupert was staring at Giles like he was insane.

“Please, Faith?” Xander prompted.

“The good news is that the Cleveland Hellmouth is the worst, so you’re right where you need to be. Also, every hotspot gets the juice, so you don’t have so many of the bastards concentrated in one spot, like back in the SunnyD,” Faith explained. Her voice started hesitantly, like she could believe what she was doing. As she continued talking, her voice gained strength as she realized that Xander and Giles were hanging on her every word. “If you can get together a team of three or four Slayers to move in on each trouble spot, you can pretty much keep a lid on things. The bad news is that all the demons are spread out all over the fucking place and grooving on the bad mojo, including some real hellholes that even the humans’d run away from if they had themselves the means. Ain’t sayin’ it’s easy, but it can be done.”

Giles let out a breath and nodded. “Thank you, Faith. That was most helpful.”

Faith started her blink-y thing again. “Unh, you’re welcome?”

Giles rubbed his forehead. “I had hoped to avoid recruiting from the old ranks, but once again, Robin was right. We may have to reach out to the bastards.”

“I dunno if that’s so bad,” Xander said. “Robin’s got that personnel screening thing-y he showed us before he went off to Europe to go book shopping. He’s at least got experience doing background checks and personality profiles because of the principal gig. Plus, he’s the son of a Slayer, so that might give him an in that no one else has and he’s in Europe anyway, so maybe he can weed out the ones we really don’t want and you’d only have to interview the people we could at least work with.”

“You’re advocating for Robin’s plan?” Giles asked with amusement. “I suspect you’ll be eating crow over this.”

Xander shrugged. “Then I’ll have one crow pie well-done. Not the first time, won’t be the last. I don’t know about you, but I heard we needed to start doing all of this yesterday. Plus, Robin’s been pushing for it because he’s our in-house Chicken Little, so he’s the only one who’s really thought about it. Besides, I’m the only other person around who’s hired and fired people, but that pretty much consisted of: ‘Can you swing a hammer?’ and ‘Have you paid your union dues?’ and ‘Federal law requires that I have to at least see a green card before I hire you.’ I really don’t think that’s going to help.”

“Point taken.” Giles winced. “I hate to say this, but your current predicament may have been into a blessing in disguise for us.”

“Could’ve fooled me, but then I was probably thrown by the fake beard and the funny nose-and-glasses combo,” Xander said.

Rupert gave him a withering look. Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. Faith protested with a, “Hey!”

“And I’ll stop it with the bad jokes,” Xander apologized. “But you still haven’t told me why you’re here.”

Giles brightened. “Some good news at least. We found a spell that will bring you home.”

“Thank god,” Xander said.

“When?” Rupert asked.

“A week from today,” Giles beamed. “It’s a matter of waiting for the proper alignment.”

“A week,” Rupert hissed. “Do you have any idea how much damage he can cause in a week?”

“Xander would not purposely cause—” Giles began.

“His very presence is disrupting the equilibrium in our world,” Rupert said. “It may lead to destruction on an epic scale and we will be powerless to hold it back.”

“Good lord, man! We are doing everything humanly possible to get Xander home,” Giles protested. “Furthermore, if you at least provide details to Xander, I’m certain he will do everything he can to ensure that your world is not lost as a result of his presence.”

“He has already caused damage by his actions,” Rupert said.

“Ahhh, and these actions are what you call heartless, then,” Giles mildly said.

Xander’s heart sunk.

“You can hardly blame a drowning man when he accidentally hurts someone to get to safety,” Giles said. “I daresay—”

“You are making excuses? For him?” Rupert incredulously asked.

“I most certainly am not,” Giles said. “I never have and I never will. But you must see that these are extraordinary circumstances—”

“Giles, he’s kinda right,” Xander quietly interrupted. “I did my share of damage without really thinking about it. I thought it wasn’t real and—”

Giles pointed to him, but he addressed his remarks to Rupert. “My evidence, if you will. This damage you claim he’s causing is a result of a series of misunderstandings and misinformation. He is hardly this heartless monster you are so hell-bent on turning him into.”

Xander grabbed another sugar packet and began tearing at it. He really didn’t deserve Giles defending him like this.

“I simply don’t understand this hostility,” Giles continued. “Surely you must’ve seen his worth when we combined forces to defeat Adam.”

The sugar packet slipped from between Xander’s fingers. “He didn’t.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible,” Giles frowned.

“That’s because Xander in this reality was not involved in the Spiritus-Animus-Sophus-Manus spell,” Rupert said.

“So who was Animus?” Giles asked.

“Holy shit,” Faith said. “Score another one for Junior tellin’ the truth.”

“Riley,” Xander answered.

“Riley,” Giles deadpanned. “Why on earth—”

“Riley was worth ten of him,” Rupert said with a nod in Xander’s direction, which hurt Xander a hell of a lot more than he cared to admit because it was probably true. “The man had a true heart and would never waver. And furthermore—”

“Was this before or after he ran away to rejoin the military after Buffy discovered him carrying on in vampire whorehouses?” Giles mildly asked.

Riley was murdered by the Knights of Byzantium because they wished to discover the identity of the Key,” Rupert bristled. “He certainly never left Buffy’s side and he certainly never patronized such disreputable establishments.”

Giles looked to Xander for an explanation.

“Don’t look at me,” Xander dispiritedly said. “I don’t know what happened or how, only that I was told it did. I’m really afraid to ask.”

“But,” Giles began.

“Please. Let it go, okay?” Xander pleaded. “You’ve been here awhile and Willow’s probably getting tired right now.”

Giles looked over his shoulder. “I assure you, she’s holding quite steady. Not a sign of strain, which perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise. She is much stronger than I am, so the spell is stronger as a result. Furthermore, we are not putting as much ‘ooomph’ in it as it were, so—”

“Giles, I don’t need an encyclopedic entry. I get it,” Xander interrupted. “Willow powerful. Spell no problem. Except for the fact I want to peel my skin off, which I can live with.”

“Will you be okay for the week?” Giles asked. Xander could see the worry in Giles’s eyes.

“I can handle it,” Xander assured him, even though he wasn’t sure it was true.

Giles let out a sigh. “Trouble does the most interesting way of finding you. It seems that since Sunnydale you’ve become a veritable lightning rod for these sorts of things.”

“Gotta love that Sunnydale Hellmouth radiation poisoning thing-y. Willow got the mad mojo, but I got the trouble magnet.”

“Would that include the magic sensitivity that you failed to mention?” Rupert asked with tight voice.

“Ahhh, you were unaware,” Giles said.

“Was kinda hoping to keep that my ace in the hole, Giles,” Xander said.

“Oh, I see. I do apologize for unintentionally revealing that,” Giles said.

“I have not yet heard an explanation,” Rupert said.

“Yes. About that. It’s a rather complicated mystical effect on Xander because he was born on a Hellmouth and was standing right on top of it when it began to close. Nothing serious, but it has had some lasting effect, I fear.” Giles turned to Xander. “And for the last time Xander, you are not poisoned. As I explained a thousand times—”

“Cursed then,” Xander interrupted. When he saw his Giles was about to pop from frustration, he added in a conciliatory tone, “Stop worrying about me, please. I promise I’ll keep my head down. Just get me home.”

Giles gave him a dose of understanding face and said, “We’ll contact you in a few days to see how you’re getting on and then we’ll do so again when we are hours away from pulling you home.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Xander promised.

“Please—and I can’t stress this enough—be careful. And for heaven’s sake, go easy on yourself. I daresay you’ve had a rough week of it,” Giles said. On that, he excused himself and slid out of the booth. Xander’s lone eye ached as he watched the man thread his way through the diner and wait by the door. When a departing patron opened it, Giles slipped behind the person and disappeared into the street.

He could feel the irritating all-over body tingle snap off, a sure sign that Giles was home and he was once again alone. Not exactly alone, but Rupert and this Faith really didn’t count.

“Unbelievable,” Rupert said.

“Say it another time for me,” Faith agreed.

“Shut up,” Xander said quietly.

“It appears we have more to discuss,” Rupert said. “Starting with—”

“No,” Xander interrupted. He could feel his temper clawing to get out and fought to keep it in check. “I’m through. I told you everything you needed to know and more. And you keep calling me a liar—”

“I have not—” Rupert began.

“And you,” Xander turned to Faith, “you lied to me.”

“I didn’t—” Faith began.

“But know what? I don’t really care about that,” Xander said. “The way you treated Giles when he was here? He was here to help and tell you that I was going to be leaving, which is what you want, by the way, so I think being just a little polite to his face wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.”

“I hardly think he needs you defending his honor,” Rupert said.

“I think the best thing I can do is just get away from the pair of you because right now, I’ve got some choice things I want to say and I don’t think any of us need to hear it,” Xander said as he got up.

“And where do you think you can go?” Rupert remained firmly seated. “You have no where else.”

“We’ll see about that,” Xander growled.

He stomped away from them, fully intent on taking a long cool-down walk.



Continued in Part 32



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