ETA: I've come up with a workaround that seems to have worked for other people in the past. Please cut and paste the link for the song in your browser window if you want to download. I will upload a mirror file late today.
Arrggghhh! All of a sudden, I can't stop writing. Seriously. I'm going through a period where words are pouring out of me. I feel like I'm being beaten to death by ideas. Thankfully, they're all pretty much focused on this fic.
Or maybe I'm just afraid of tackling all those comments. *meeps*
Either way, all I can say is: Thank heavens. Writing a heavy rotation of fight scenes, like the ones I've got coming up, are difficult as all hell. It doesn't help that part of the outcome will cement my reputation in some quarters as a "Xander-basher." *boggles* Seriously, I've been accused of this.
As for this part...well, this is the part that convinced me we needed to get into alterna-Xander's head a little sooner than I wanted. After reading this part over for a thousand times, I decided that Xander isn't being thick. It's just the poor boy keeps getting blindsided with snippets of information he can't string together into anything coherent.
The issues that'll be tripping me up in the near future are actually the Cleveland scenes. There's a tiny subplot that I'm debating whether I should throw it out. I want to keep it, since it mirrors the Giles-Faith scenes a little bit and answers the question, "Why was Giles reading about the wet works team before he went to Sunnydale when it wasn't normal procedure?" At the same time, I'm not sure it actually has an immediate impact on this particular story. Although it might have a longer-term impact if/when I decide to write those last two stories I've got sketched out for the Whisper-verse cycle.
Ignore me, I'm blathering.
Icon, by the way, is by whiskyinmind. No, not created for this story, but it fit this part so well.
At any rate, I'm really pleased with this part's musical selection. Yet another case of having an outline for this part and stumbling across the perfect song to match. Yeah. Putting the final soundtrack for this will be fun. Note my sarcasm on the word "fun."
Where are all the things you fought for,
All the dreams you shed your blood for?
Are they shabby now and fraying at the seams?
Was this your boyhood vision?
To endure the world's derision
While the culprit sits and laughs behind the scenes?
Well they say
'Till the oak has hit the ground.
So let's clear the way my boys
Let the giant
Come crashing down.
Giles left an urgent message for Robin telling him to call Cleveland as soon as possible. The principal-turned-Watcher was currently prowling around Zurich with a contact that could get him an in with the largest European smuggling ring that specialized in mystical artifacts and books.
While Robin was more than capable of taking care of himself, Giles hoped he was erring on the side of caution while sniffing out his quarry. As someone who’d occasionally served as the old Council’s courier in dealing with similar underground organizations prior to his appointment as Buffy’s Watcher, he well aware of the danger such activities posed.
I should’ve never mentioned it to him, Giles fretted. I was offering my experiences as a cautionary tale, and Robin decides to use it for his quest.
He had failed to take a lot of factors into consideration in their bon voyage chat over fine brandy. Robin was too committed, too brave, too patient, and too intelligent not to give such a method a try if more aboveboard means did not bear fruit. It wasn’t that any of the others would have shrunk from such methods, but they all lacked the same combination of characteristics that would have resulted in success.
Once Robin drained all the information and resources he could from those surviving Watchers willing to speak to him, it should have been no surprise when Robin began to search the mystical underbelly of Europe. Much as the whole business put Giles on edge, he still couldn’t argue with success. Robin’s Roman connections were ultimately the reason why Xander was coming home.
It didn’t stop him from cautioning Robin every time they spoke. Please don’t put yourself at undue risk. You are far more useful alive and whole, rather than grievously harmed or dead.
My middle name’s careful, Robin always said with seriousness. Far as they know, I’m just some gofer for a rich collector. A well-educated gofer, but still a gofer. So, unless you’ve found a new source…
I’m afraid not.
Then I’ll keep my head down. But getting our hands on these resources is our top priority. A Council isn’t much of a Council without information at its fingertips.
Thanks to Robin’s dogged efforts, they had the start of a library. Robin had even formed a rapport with some connections they could use in a pinch—even though Giles loathed the idea of dealing with blackmarketeers willing to sell potentially dangerous books and artifacts to the highest bidder. Didn’t mean he wouldn’t use those connections if push came to shove. A man in his position could afford only so much idealism.
If the situation uncovered by Xander offered any bright spot, it was that it would serve to pull Robin away from such dangerous organizations before he found himself over his head and relying on a Council still too weak to do much about it. Setting Robin on finding new Watcher recruits was perhaps the only thing that would convince Robin to give up the book chase. If nothing else, Giles would be able to sleep more soundly at night. Robin would less likely find himself in dire straights if he were screening potential Watchers.
Giles glanced at the clock and groaned. It would be pushing midnight in Devon. Lady Haversham was, no doubt, still up and about since her days were easily as long as his. The nature of his dark news was best left to daylight hours. However, urgency of the matter at hand precluded waiting.
He took a sip of his water, steadied his nerves, and deliberately punched the buttons that would connect him to her home. The familiar buzzing of his international call was interrupted within three rings.
“Haversham residence. This is Marlene speaking.”
“This is Rupert Giles. Is her ladyship available?”
“Oh,” the woman interrupted. “She hasn’t contacted you yet.”
Giles felt a chill down his spine. “Pardon?”
“Lady Haversham just called to give us her temporary cell number,” the woman answered. “She urgently needs to speak to you. She’s at JFK right now.”
Giles squeezed his eyes shut. Lady Haversham was already on her way here. He suspected he was about to get hit with more bad news on top of everything else. “Any notion as to why she felt the need to get on a plane before contacting me?”
The woman hesitated. “I think it’s best if she speak to you about it, Mr. Giles. The issue is, ummm, complicated.”
“I see,” Giles slumped back against his chair. “If you could give me her number, I’ll call her myself.”
“Yes, of course,” the woman crisply replied. “She’ll probably need someone to pick her up from the airport.” On that note, she gave Giles the number. He repeated it back to make sure he got it right, thanked the woman, and rung off.
The handset was barely in the cradle when the phone rang. Giles startled at the unexpected interruption before sheepishly picking up. “Good evening.”
“Ahhh, Rupert. I’m so glad I got you without a fuss,” Lady Haversham warmly greeted him. “No doubt you can see from your caller ID that I’m calling from New York?”
“I was told by your people that you’re on your way here,” Giles said. “I confess this sudden desire to visit Cleveland has me worried.”
“As well you should.” Lady Haversham’s sigh wound its way through the phone. “I know this will be an imposition, but—”
“Actually, I was about to call you and invite you here anyway.” Giles picked up a pen and began fiddling with it. “We have come across some disturbing news, one that changes the whole game.”
“Fabulous. You have bad news, too,” Lady Haversham replied. “I was hoping after that business in Sunnydale we might have smooth sailing for at least a short time. Not in the cards, it appears.”
“Would you like me to share my bad news, or do you wish to go first?” Giles asked.
“I’ve got a beastly wait for my flight. It would be just my traveler’s luck that half the world decided to book flights between New York and Cleveland today,” Lady Haversham said wearily. “I might as well hear your bad news first. My news is best shared in a face-to-face meeting.”
“As is mine, but I’ll take you up on your offer.” Giles took a deep breath and said, “According to our information, closing the Sunnydale Hellmouth may have long-term consequences.”
There was a stunned silence at the other end.
“We discovered this information thanks to Xander Harris. You may recall him. He—”
“I recall him very well,” Lady Haversham interrupted. “I’m bloody well not likely to forget what he did to pull Willow back from the brink.”
“Yes, of course. No offense meant.” Giles blinked against Lady Haversham’s snappish correction.
“I’m sorry,” Lady Haversham apologized. “I haven’t slept in almost 24 hours and me and my bags were pulled out of line for a random screening when I landed here. I missed my connecting flight as a result. I’ve gotten a taste for cutting off heads. Furthermore, you took me by surprise. I was not aware that he was a seer.”
“Seer? Xander?” Giles’s voice rose in surprise.
Lady Haversham’s nonsequitor answer made no sense. “You said he warned you about the Hellmouth closing having long-term consequences.”
“But he didn’t—it’s wasn’t—what I’m trying to say is that although he found out as a result of extraordinary circumstances, his methods of discovery were the result of mundane research,” Giles said.
“May I hazard a guess at what he found?” Lady Haversham asked.
The cold settled into Giles’s gut. “By all means.”
“The energy that used to go to Sunnydale is now being redistributed across the globe and demons are now making their way to those geographic locations,” Lady Haversham said. “If we do not begin preparing now, we will be fighting a losing battle instead of the age-old holding pattern that we’ve fought against the darkness since time began.”
Giles sagged back against his chair in relief and fought the unseemly urge to giggle. If Lady Haversham was bearing this news to him, then all it meant was that the situation was merely as bad as it was before he thought to call. While not optimal, it was much better than their troubles doubling.
“Yes. Precisely,” Giles said when he was certain he could speak without giving away his relief. “Would this be the news you wanted to tell me in person?”
“Yes.” Wonder seemed to have taken over Lady Haversham’s voice.
“Then I look forward to your arrival with somewhat less trepidation,” Giles finally allowed himself to fully relax, “as well as hearing whatever additional information you may have.”
“Of course,” Lady Haversham distantly agreed.
“Although, if I may ask, how did you discover this situation?” Giles asked.
“The coven’s seers,” Lady Haversham said. “They’ve been plagued by disturbing visions of late. We were able to piece together everything yesterday, hence my sudden travel plans to see you.”
Giles mouthed ‘thank you’ to heavens, relieved that even if Xander hadn’t been kidnapped, they still would not have been taken completely unawares. He desperately didn’t want to owe an ounce of gratitude to the creatures responsible for Xander’s predicament, and Lady Haversham offered him the excuse he needed to withhold credit from the offending parties.
“How did Mr. Harris uncover this situation?” Lady Haversham asked
“Ah. That would be the other reason why I’m contacting you,” Giles answered.
“More bad news?” Lady Haversham asked.
“Bad news with the potential for trouble,” Giles said. “How much experience do you have with portals to other dimensions?”
“Some, but I can count the number of times I’ve been involved in creating such portals on one hand and still have fingers left over,” Lady Haversham said warily.
“I’m afraid you’re about to add another notch to the experience,” Giles said.
There was a pause. “Oh, dear.”
“Exactly,” Giles agreed.
Xander was still fumbling with his keys when Anya flung open the door. She was clutching the cordless in one hand. The skin on her face was splotchy and her eyes were bloodshot red from the serial crying jags that started shortly after Giles, Faith, and mirror-Xander left.
Xander was about to reach out and hug her when her desolate manner transformed into one of aggression. She stepped back and snarled, “What’s he doing here?”
Xander didn’t have to be told who ‘he’ was. Whatever happened between mirror-Xander and Anya must’ve hit “awe” on the awful-o-meter. The speed at which Anya had gone from her plan of keeping mirror-Xander close so they could watch him for signs of trouble to unrelenting hate had left Xander with whiplash. It was a large part of the reason why he believed her when she said she caught mirror-Xander doing a compulsion spell. However, after last night’s airing of the dirty laundry, Xander suspected that Anya had lied about that, although she still wouldn’t say what happened.
This hate for mirror-Xander worried him. What if, once this was over and mirror-Xander went back to wherever he came from, Anya started transferring that hate onto him? He didn’t think he could stand losing his family on top of everything else that had happened in the past 24 hours.
He could hear mirror-Xander shuffling uncomfortably at the back of the group. While he wasn’t tremendously thrilled about being in the same house as the mirror-Xander, right now he didn’t have a whole lot of choice. Haley had to be found, and mirror-Xander, Giles, and Faith were willing to help find her. End of story. Anya would have to keep the hostility at a minimum until they got their daughter back and figured out what they should do about her Slayer status.
“He’s here to help us,” Xander calmly explained. “So are Faith and Giles. None of them even knew she’d disappeared, so—”
Anya snorted angrily. “Like they would tell you the truth? For all you know, the Council already has her on a plane for England.”
“I assure you, that’s not the case,” Giles said stiffly.
“I’m supposed to believe you,” Anya demanded.
“Yo! I ain’t a fan of the Council, but even I know the tweed set don’t kidnap new Slayers,” Faith interrupted. She added after a pause, “Usually.”
“Usually,” Anya said in a dangerously flat voice.
“Was that entirely necessary, Faith?” mirror-Xander asked.
“We do it if a Slayer’s been brainwashed,” Faith quickly explained. “Or captured by the bad guys. Or—”
“When you have a big old grudge against the family,” Anya interrupted harshly.
Xander quickly got in front of Anya’s glare and held his hands up. “Hon, I’ve looked everywhere and I went to them only as a last resort. We have to find her and these guys are really the only people who know exactly what we’re dealing with.”
Anya’s chin trembled as her face scrunched to hold off another crying jag. “So of course you go to them. Why not, hunh? Because they’re always so helpful, right? You’re like a trained dog. Giles blows back into town and you go running to him. Why do I bother?”
“Hun, please,” Xander said helplessly. “We have to find Haley.”
Anya’s eyes popped open, which allowed the dammed-up angry tears to leak from the corners of her eyes. “If you think they’re not going to demand payback, you’re more deluded than I thought,” she said lowly.
“No one is taking anyone anywhere without our say so.” Xander hoped Anya believed it, even though he wasn’t all that sure he did. “The longer we argue, the harder it’s going to be to find her.”
“She might come home on her own.” Anya sniffed as she rubbed the back of her hand under her nose.
“I don’t have to go in,” mirror-Xander suddenly volunteered. “I can stay out here.”
“That’s too close,” Anya snapped.
“Ahn, please,” Xander sighed. “He’s coming in along with Giles and Faith. He’s not waiting outside where he can’t hear anything. If we leave him out here, we’ll be wasting time explaining the plan to him after we come up with one. It’s faster if he just comes in.”
Anya’s shoulders slumped. “Fine. Do what you want. You will anyway.”
“Ahn.” Xander reached out, but Anya had already turned on her heel and walked away. From the way she held herself, he could tell Anya was even more miserable about this turn of events than she was after finding out Haley was missing.
Xander looked at Giles and jerked his head towards the door.
“No invitation?” Giles asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake. Will you cut it out?” mirror-Xander irritably asked. “Stop kicking him, already.”
“Junior has a point, Rupes,” Faith said as she stepped through the door. “Time and place for everything and this ain’t it.”
Xander blinked. Faith was defending him? No. Not defending you. She’s agreeing with mirror-Xander. Big difference.
Giles actually seemed abashed. “Quite right.” He gave Xander a curt nod. “A truce, then.”
As Giles followed Faith into the house, mirror-Xander reached out and grabbed Xander by the arm. “I just thought of something. You wouldn’t happen to have a street map of the town, would you?” he asked.
Xander cringed at his own stupidity. He had a whole collection, but when he ran out of the house like a crazy person to look for Haley, he didn’t even think to consult them. If there was anything good about having mirror-Xander around, it was that they probably did a lot of things the exact same way. No doubt, mirror-Xander had his own collection of street maps marking the trouble spots in Cleveland.
“Yeah, in my workshop out back,” Xander answered.
Mirror-Xander shot the van a speculative look. “You don’t keep it in the glove compartment?”
“Of course not,” Xander urgently whispered as he signaled mirror-Xander with his hands to keep his voice down.
Mirror-Xander looked positively puzzled by Xander’s desperate, silent plea. Xander wanted to smack himself. Mirror-Xander still hung around Slayers, so it probably never occurred to him to keep any tracking maps secret.
“Yeah. Okay. Message received,” mirror-Xander said slowly. “But we kinda need to look at it if we’re going to systematically search the town. It would be helpful if we knew how big of a job we’re talking about.”
Xander closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Once Anya got a look at those maps, there was sure to be another round of fighting. However, mirror-Xander was right. Those maps could spell the difference between finding and Haley and—Don’t even go there, he cut himself off.
“Follow me,” Xander finally said.
As they left the front porch and went around to the back of the house, Xander was once more unnerved by how quiet mirror-Xander could be. He’d seen some flashes in the other Xander that were familiar—like that ridiculous babbling about something called ‘kitten poker’ the other night—but most of the time he was utterly at a loss to find something recognizable in that face or the way he talked. Sure, mirror-Xander looked like him, his voice even sounded like him, but he didn’t act like him at all. And—this was the worst part—Xander suspected that mirror-Xander, by and large, might not even think like him.
“Well, here we are,” Xander said to break the tense silence. He fumbled with his keys. “I’m not used to letting anyone in, because I like keeping the ol’ workshop neat. You know how it is, right? When I’m reaching out for a hammer, I need to know it’s going to be there and—”
“You don’t want anyone to find your weapons,” mirror-Xander interrupted.
Xander dropped his keys and spun around.
Mirror-Xander didn’t even so much as flinch. “I’ve already been inside.”
“What? When? How? Who?” Xander sputtered.
“The night of your party,” mirror-Xander admitted. “I was trying to figure out what was going on, so when Anya handed me the house keys to sneak back in after hours, I used them to take a look around your workshop. Then I noticed your fence and got really curious, so I went back and did a little scooby-ing.”
Xander winced against that last word.
“I figure if I’m making you be honest, I probably should be, too,” mirror-Xander said. “Plus, this town has a vampire problem. So handing out extra stakes and any other weapons you’ve got stashed in there might be a really good idea.”
“I just have two compound bows, arrows, and stakes,” Xander said.
“That’s it?” Mirror-Xander sounded disappointed. “No axes, swords, or crossbows?”
“One man shop, remember?” Xander said shortly as he reached down to get his keys. Now that the shock was over, he could feel himself get angry at mirror-Xander’s blatant disregard for his privacy. Not even Anya would dare walk into his workshop without asking first. “Carrying around a crossbow is bulky and I usually don’t get close enough to make it worth the hassle of wandering around with an axe or sword. I can at least hide the stakes.”
“Good point,” mirror-Xander conceded.
Xander opened the door and huffed into his workshop.
“The picket fence, though, that’s really clever,” mirror-Xander said behind him.
Xander spun around to face him. “Was that a crack?”
Mirror-Xander held up his hands. “Whoa! I said it was clever. Where do you get that I was making fun of you?”
“Clever,” Xander deadpanned. “Such a Giles word.”
Mirror-Xander closed his eyes tight and pinched the bridge of his nose in a manner that was a frightening imitation of irritated Giles. “I’m still missing something,” he said.
“It’s like saying, ‘good boy,’” Xander grumbled as he went over to the loose floorboard in the far corner of the workshop. “Or, ‘I didn’t know you were that smart.’ Or—”
“I get the idea,” mirror-Xander interrupted wearily. “Just FYI, I wasn’t putting you down. I was basically saying, ‘Wish I thought of that.’ Not that it helps me now. I live in urban Cleveland. Even if there was room to put up a two-sided white picket fence, it would look really suspicious to the neighbors.” He suddenly brightened. “Although, we could maybe do a veggie garden in the backyard come summer. All those stakes for the tomato plants would make really good hidden weapons. Plus, fresh vegetables. Willow would be all over—”
At the mention of Willow’s name, Xander felt a stab in his gut and sharply inhaled.
“Sorry,” mirror-Xander apologized. “I’ll shut up now.”
Xander steadied his nerves and lifted the loose floorboard to retrieve the maps.
“Hunh,” mirror-Xander commented. “I missed that on my search. So much for me being the next Sherlock Holmes, not that I had any illusion about that before this second. Although I’m kinda thrown on why you’re hiding a street map.” When Xander came up with a stack of them, mirror-Xander amended, “Or a whole bunch. I’m afraid to ask.”
“Hello? Tracking maps?” Xander asked.
Mirror-Xander’s eyebrows crunched low like he had no clue what Xander was talking about.
“C’mon, I know you did this back in Sunnydale,” Xander prompted.
Mirror-Xander looked even more confused than he did before.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Xander deadpanned.
“We pretty much relied on Giles to keep track of trouble,” mirror-Xander said. “Don’t take this wrong way, because this is so not a slap at your intelligence, but how did you come up with this?”
Now it was Xander’s turn to be confused. “After the accident,” he prompted. “The car accident that—”
“What does a car accident have to do with creating,” mirror-Xander paused as he glanced at the pile of maps in Xander’s hand, “tracking maps? Which I assume you’re using to track the town trouble spots. Am I right?”
Xander mentally took a step back and took a good look, a really good look, at mirror-Xander. He noticed that mirror-Xander was returning the favor with a searching look of his own.
Oh my god, Xander realized. We really don’t think anything alike. He might as well be a total stranger. With that realization, Xander could feel his heart pick up a nervous beat. On some subconscious level, Xander had counted on mirror-Xander to be the same person underneath that Watcher façade. That person he could trust to help him with Haley when the chips were down. He suddenly wasn’t sure that the person looking back at him would really be true to his word and back him up if he had to face down Faith and Giles over Haley’s fate.
“I need to know,” Xander said hoarsely.
Mirror-Xander said nothing and kept that unsettling, searching gaze on Xander’s face, something that worried Xander more than he cared to admit.
“I need to know if you’ll let them take her away,” Xander said.
Mirror-Xander tilted his head in a way that reminded Xander a little too much of Spike. It could signal curiosity, or it could signal the start of an insult.
Xander took a deep breath and dove into it. If he was going to throw himself on mirror-Xander’s mercy, he better tell the truth. From what he’d seen of mirror-Xander, he had a nasty habit of sniffing out people’s weaknesses and using those weaknesses against them in a very Tony-like manner at the worst possible time. The difference was that mirror-Xander was completely sober when he did it, so he didn’t have the late-and-not-so-great Tony’s excuse of being drunk.
“Anya wants to grab Haley and disappear,” Xander said.
“And you don’t,” mirror-Xander added.
Xander swallowed and looked down. “I want to leave it up to her,” he said.
Xander looked up. Once more mirror-Xander’s stance reminded him of Giles whenever the Watcher was considering a thorny issue, but didn’t want to give away what he really thought until all the information was in.
“This town—” Xander nervously cleared his throat. “Not just this town, but I know this town better than anywhere else. Outside of Sunnydale, I mean. There are vampires here. Not a lot. Enough, I guess. No real big bads, so that means no Hellmouth, but—”
“Faith and Rupert said a lot of demons fled Sunnydale before they closed the Hellmouth,” mirror-Xander interrupted.
“Yeah, well, not surprised. The murder rate in southern California shot way up towards the end. Of Sunnydale, I mean,” Xander said. “I didn’t make the connection, if you’re wondering, it just makes sense now that you say it.”
Mirror-Xander crossed his arms and leaned against the wall in a way that strangely reminded Xander of Buffy. “Are you sure we should be talking about this now? We still have to find Haley,” he said.
“I need to settle this before we do anything,” Xander said. “So, please.”
Mirror-Xander stayed silent as he swiped something away under his left eye in that nervous habit he had. Even though it was yet another sign about how different he was, the thought that mirror-Xander might be nervous made Xander feel better.
“I know this town can be dangerous and I also know that Slayers attract trouble,” Xander said as he went to his workbench and put down the maps. “So, no matter what, we’re going to have to move.”
“There’s no place for you to move to,” mirror-Xander said behind him. “What’s happening here is happening everywhere. Plus, all that Hellmouth energy that used to go to Sunnydale is redistributed to every mystical problem on the planet. I hate to break it to you, but Haley’d be just as likely to find trouble somewhere else as she is here. If she decides to pass on the training, you’d be better off staying put, because she at least knows the town.”
“Wow. The news just gets better and better, doesn’t it?” Xander commented.
“You could say that,” mirror-Xander agreed.
“What were you thinking?” Xander asked with a spike of anger. He turned to face mirror-Xander and demanded, “Did you do the same thing?”
“Close the Hellmouth? Activate all the Potentials? Yeah. We did,” mirror-Xander admitted.
“What were you thinking?” Xander asked again. “Did you even think about all those girls? Did you think about all those parents? I don’t have to tell you how short a Slayer’s life is, do I? Or do I?”
Mirror-Xander finally looked down. “No.”
“So, knowing what you know, you just decided to, what? Slap all that Slayer mojo on all these girls?” Xander’s hands closed into fists and he rode the fury. “How many of them got any warning, hunh? What did you tell the parents? ‘Hey, good news! Your little girl’s got super strength, super-fast healing, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. The bad news is she’s probably going to be dead before she hits 20.’ And what about Buffy, hunh? Didn’t you hear Buffy complain enough about how tough it was being the Slayer? Or did you forget all that when you decided to make everyone a Slayer?”
Mirror-Xander looked up. His face was pale and he did show at least a little guilt, which served to make Xander only angrier.
“We were desperate,” mirror-Xander quietly said. “You have no idea what that last year in Sunnydale was like. The First Evil was hauling out the big guns. Its minions were killing Potentials all over the world. The Watcher’s Council was destroyed. The Hellmouth was going to blow one way or the other. We had to do something. We needed an army of Slayers to fight because having just Buffy and Faith with the superpowers wasn’t going to be enough.”
“So you save the world and innocent bystanders like me get to pay?” Xander spit. “Great. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I get to look forward to burying my daughter before I go completely grey.”
“Don’t think like that,” mirror-Xander hurriedly said. “If you think like that, it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the last thing you need right now—”
“Don’t tell me what I need right now!” Xander yelled. “Know what I need from you? I’ll tell you. When we find Haley, we’re going to ask her what she wants. If she wants to be trained, I want her trained, even if I have to fight Anya to make sure that happens. If she doesn’t, and you try to take her away anyway, I will find a way to hurt you. And don’t think you crawling back to your hellhole of dimension will save you, because I will find a way to get you. You can count on that.”
“If Haley doesn’t want to go, I’ll help you get her out of Dodge. Either way, I’ll back you up based on what she decides. That’s how I always operate, so I’m not the enemy you think I am on this,” mirror-Xander promised. “And weird as this sounds, I don’t think Rupert will force the issue if Haley wants to pass. I know for a fact that Faith won’t. You heard her. She’s not a big fan of the Council.”
“Probably because they won’t let her kill anyone,” Xander muttered.
“Hey!” mirror-Xander protested. “Faith, both Faiths, have done their time and they are trying to do the right thing. And if you stopped holding a grudge against all things Rupert and Faith for just one second, you might actually see that.”
“Amazing,” Xander said. “Just, amazing. You really are a lapdog, aren’t you?”
Mirror-Xander hissed inward through his teeth, although Xander couldn’t tell if it was out of anger or because he scored a point. He really didn’t much care.
“Doesn’t matter what they’ve done to you or how many times they put you down or how much no one would help. How you had to do all that investigating on your own. How no one would listen to you that it wasn’t an accident.” Xander waved a dismissive hand at him. “I bet you even convinced yourself that they were right.”
“What are you talking about?” mirror-Xander asked.
“Never mind,” Xander said. “You didn’t see it then when it happened, why the hell would you believe it now? Hey, you got what you wanted, right?”
A sarcastic smile spread across mirror-Xander’s face. “So what did I want? Please tell me. I’m panting with anticipation.”
“You tell me,” Xander said evenly.
Mirror-Xander’s eyes narrowed and his jaw squared. It was a clear indication that he was in a fierce battle with the Harris temper, which in this case never had been tempered by the presence of a wife or a kid. Xander was a little surprised when mirror-Xander didn’t explode.
“While I’m really tempted to smack you upside your thick head about what I did or did not get, the clock’s ticking,” mirror-Xander said in a dangerously low voice. “Show me the maps.”
Xander fought the childish urge to say, “What’s the magic word?” Instead, he stepped back, sarcastically bowed, and swept his arm in the general direction of the map pile. Mirror-Xander was already at the workbench by the time Xander was back upright again. He was so startled that the other man had moved that quickly that he involuntarily stepped back.
Mirror-Xander, meanwhile, glowered down at the pile. “Why so many?”
“I hold on to the old ones just for reference. The newest two are at the top of the pile,” Xander explained.
Mirror-Xander gave him an inquisitive look.
“One map marks out where I think there’ll be problems, but I don’t have any proof.” Xander pulled the corresponding maps out of the pile. “This one marks out where I’ve actually run into trouble.”
Mirror-Xander frowned. “Wouldn’t it be easier to track on a computer? Even 12 years in the past there’s software that—”
“Anya uses the computer a lot more than I do, so it wasn’t an option,” Xander said shortly.
“But why use two maps at the same time?” mirror-Xander asked. “You could still track both potential trouble spots and real problem areas on the same map, so you’re losing me.”
“This way works the best, which you’d know if you didn’t rely on Giles all the time,” Xander said with a slightly superior air as he unfolded the maps.
Mirror-Xander grumbled something under his breath, but still leaned down over the map marked up in pencil. Xander explained with no small amount of pride, “I do some light shading around the areas where there’s been a sudden up-tick in weirdness. If you can read the chicken scratch, you’ll also see I write quick notes to myself so I can remember why that spot attracted my attention.”
“Wow. My writing really does suck,” mirror-Xander remarked.
Xander fought back irritation. He expected something more than a dismissive crack about handwriting. “Moving on. The other map to the left you’ll see is marked in various colors. The color corresponds to the type of trouble I’ve run into. It’s mostly green—that’s for vampires, by the way—although there’s a blue spot for the zombies I found out about last month. Some contractor looking for cheap help. Don’t ask. The red spot is for a coven of witches I’m keeping my eye on.”
Mirror-Xander sharply looked up at him with a disapproving frown.
“Going by the markings on the edge of their property, they’re into some questionable stuff, but they haven’t done anything illegal or wrong,” Xander explained. “Still worth watching, though. They seem to be all about the personal power instead of helping their fellow man. I figure it’s a matter of time before someone gets stepped on.”
“Karma’s more likely to step on them first if they’re not careful,” mirror-Xander said as he stood up. “Magic has a tendency to bite people in the ass if they step too far to the left or the right, I’ve noticed.”
“Like you have any experience with that,” Xander snorted.
Mirror-Xander fixed him a speculative look. “What makes you think I don’t?”
“Buffy. Willow. They’re still alive, aren’t they?” Xander asked.
“You forgot Dawn,” mirror-Xander quietly reminded him. “She’s still alive, too.”
“Oh, yeah. I tend to forget…well, I don’t forget her, exactly,” Xander fumbled. “We really weren’t all that close. I basically knew her as Buffy’s little sister. Besides, it’s not like she was really real.”
Mirror-Xander’s eyes scrunched in a way that led Xander to believe that mirror-Xander had no clue what he was talking about.
“Hello? Fake memories? Dawn was really some mystical key?” Xander prompted.
“I know all that,” mirror-Xander said as he intently watched him. “I’m just surprised that—”
“Dawn was closer to Willow and tended to resent it when I was honing in on her Willow-time,” Xander explained. “It’s not that I didn’t like her or that we avoided each other. It’s just that she liked Willow and was pretty indifferent to me.” Xander grinned and shook his head. “Actually, according to my fake memories, for the longest time I didn’t think Dawn even liked boys. But when she got one look at Riley, oh boy! She had such a crazy crush on him, like you wouldn’t believe. She was so jealous of Buffy. Kept saying that if Buffy ever wanted to give him up, she’d date him in a heartbeat.”
Mirror-Xander’s jaw started going slack at the beginning of Xander’s quick detour down memory lane and ended with his mouth wide open by the time he hit the end. Mirror-Xander gave himself a hard shake and his expression settled once more on mass confusion. “Dawn was crushing on Riley?” he asked with obvious disbelief.
“Big time,” Xander said as he gathered up the maps.
“Dawn had a crush on Riley?” mirror-Xander repeated almost to himself.
“We don’t have time for the obsessing,” Xander said.
“I mean, sure. Dawn imprints like a baby duck on people she likes, but she didn’t have a crush on Riley. She really liked him, but she wasn’t crushing on him,” mirror-Xander said quietly.
Xander had enough. “And while you’re obsessing about Dawn, my daughter is still—”
Mirror-Xander’s face lit up. “Animus.”
“What?” Xander bit out.
“Riley was animus here and Dawn had a killer crush on him. In my universe—” mirror-Xander’s eyes widened with horror. “Maybe she wasn’t made up of just Buffy. Maybe any of us could have jumped through that portal to close it.”
“But Buffy’s alive and Willow’s sane,” Xander interrupted. The maps crinkled as his hands clenched into fists and his heart pounded. “So no resurrection spell, right?”
Mirror-Xander turned his stricken face to him and said the one thing Xander was afraid he’d say. “Wrong.”
“But the Buffy and Willow in your—”
“I’m not doing this again,” mirror-Xander interrupted in a broken whisper. “We have to find your daughter. Later. Talk to me later.” He then turned and drifted out of the workshop, leaving Xander to stare after him.
No. No no no no no. Giles was not right. He was not, Xander thought. Giles left, too, so he had no right to say that I was being selfish when I left.
Now was not the time. He had a daughter to find first. Then he had family trauma to deal with. But come hell or high water, he and mirror-Xander were going to have a chat about what did and did not happen in his world.
Xander clutched the two maps in his hands and purposely strode outside. He found mirror-Xander hunched over, hands on his knees and breathing hard like he’d just run a marathon.
“Willow’s spirit, Giles’s brains, Buffy’s inner strength,” mirror-Xander was muttering. “And heart? Mine? Can’t be. Just can’t be right.”
Xander halted in his tracks. “That sounds like that spell Giles cooked up to defeat Adam.”
Mirror-Xander’s head dropped lower. “Could’ve done more than that. I don’t know. No way to know now. As far as we know, all the monks are dead and there’s no one to ask. Could ask Giles, I guess, but he probably wouldn’t know either.” Mirror-Xander straightened up and looked at him with no expression on his face. “You weren’t part of the spell to defeat Adam.”
“And you were?” Xander’s voice rose in disbelief.
“What part did you play? Rover?” Xander nastily asked.
“Animus,” mirror-Xander choked out.
“Animus?” Xander grinned.
Mirror-Xander seemed to be deflating before his eyes. “Heart.”
“I know what it means,” Xander snarled. “Makes sense. Anya wasn’t even there. So, you were the one screwing Buffy instead Riley, hunh?”
Mirror-Xander stood frozen, his mouth agape, his eyes wide.
“Unbelievable. With everything else going on, you were willing to throw it all over for—” Xander angrily shook his head. “Just because you didn’t give a crap about what happened, you passed Giles’s little test for Watcher-dom? Or was it because you joined Buffy’s exclusive little boyfriend club that you didn’t care what happened to anyone else? Wow, that just inspires confidence that the Council will do right by my daughter.”
“Buffy’s boyfr—screwing Buf—where the hell is this coming from?” mirror-Xander stuttered.
“Well, unlike you, I did give a flying fuck. I had other things to worry about. Riley was more than happy to take my place and Buffy was more than willing to hand it over,” Xander said. “Second he got killed though, it was all open arms for Xander.”
“I don’t understand why you’re going all third person on me,” mirror-Xander shook his head as if to clear it. He suddenly stopped and Xander watched as realization finally dawned on the other man’s face. “Is this because of the car accident thing?” mirror-Xander tentatively asked.
He’s fucking clueless. And we’re all walking on eggshells because of him? Xander furiously thought. “Right. The car accident, remember?” Xander asked harshly. “The one that you obviously don’t care about?”
“But you say wasn’t an accident,” mirror-Xander said in a low voice as his eyes drifted to the house. Xander could see from mirror-Xander’s profile that he was desperately trying to remember something or figure something out.
Xander reached out and grabbed mirror-Xander’s forearm and gave him a shake. “That’s because it wasn’t,” he hissed. “And you believed them, didn’t you, when they told you that it was just an accident. So you behaved and toed the line and they let you, what? Get to be the donut boy? Kiss ass? Be the human mascot? You were really willing to buy that it was just a DUI when—”
Mirror-Xander shook his head in a disorientating manner. “Wait. Slow down. I don’t—”
“God, you’re just pathetic,” Xander spit as he let go. “You’re looking at me cross-eyed over Dawn, but you don’t care—know what? I don’t have time for this.”
“Wait! I think I need to ask you about this car—” mirror-Xander began.
“And I have a daughter to find,” Xander coldly said.
“And you keep attacking me! For the bazillionth time, I’m not the enemy! You’re the one who makes all these accusations that don’t even make sense and then won’t give me any answers!” mirror-Xander yelled in frustration. “I’m not the one who keeps changing the subject!”
“Are you going to help me find Haley or not?” Xander growled.
The question served to calm Mirror-Xander down and he fidgeted. “Right. Haley. We find Haley first. Drama later. Find Haley now.”
Xander angrily turned away and stomped to the house. Even so, he felt a sense of unease in the pit of his stomach.
Mirror-Xander bought the story that Tony and Jessica died in a one-car DUI at face value. Even if that other man bothered to look into it, he wasn’t willing to fight to find out the truth. How could he trust a man like that to be sharp enough to help find Haley?
The short answer: he couldn’t.
The worst thing about the situation: he didn’t have a choice.
The sad fact of the matter was, right now, he trusted mirror-Xander more than Anya to bring Haley home. Anya was so terrified of getting tangled up with the Council that she was more likely to take off with Haley and not even leave a note.
Fine. He was on his own. He’d done it before when tearing through Sunnydale looking for the thing responsible for Tony wrapping the car around a tree. He was far more motivated when it came to looking for his daughter. He was gong to find her and bring her home, because god knows he couldn’t trust anyone else to do it.
DOWLOAD (good for seven days):Crashing Down by Heather Dale
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