liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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Water Hold Me Down, Part 46a

Wheeee! I warned you this part was loooooong. Paying off the AU is hella hard, especially when Giles, Xander, and Faith keep insisting on fighting about what happened. Part 46b will be along in a couple of days.

All previous parts can be found here.

Continued from Part 45.

“Yes, yes, thank you,” Giles said into the phone. “That is very good news. Yes, I will be certain to tell his brother when he wakes.”

As he hung up the receiver, Giles let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

Young Xander had turned the corner, and even woke briefly. Naturally, the flaw in his and Faith’s hastily constructed cover-up revealed itself at this point. According to the nurse on the phone, the half-conscious Young Xander seemed confused as to whether he was in Cleveland or Sunnydale. He remained unshakeable in his belief that his name was Xander and refused to accept that his name was Rory. When asked who was president, he mumbled something about, ‘One of the Bushes.’

Young Xander had quickly sunk back into unconsciousness after that.

Needless to say, the medical staff was more than a little concerned about Young Xander’s apparent befuddlement.

Giles was concerned as well, albeit for entirely different reasons. They were going to have to find a way to include Young Xander in the web of lies he and Faith had spun. He knew Young Xander would never mention vampires, but if his story deviated too far from Faith’s ad hoc script, they were in for trouble. First thing in the morning, Faith would have to get to Young Xander, wait for him to wake, and tell him what to say. Hopefully, he would be lucid enough to remember what he was told.

The front door opened and Giles quickly made his way out of the kitchen into the entrance hall. Xander didn’t bother to take off his coat as he immediately made for the stairs. Faith marched past him and into the kitchen without a word, dropping her coat on the floor on the way.

Giles blinked after Faith. He was almost certain that he saw her clothes and face were decorated with blood. He opened his mouth to call out to Xander, but the other man had already disappeared. He mentally stuttered, since he wasn’t used to being ignored, and for a moment he was at a loss. He then spun on his heel and went into the kitchen. He saw that Faith had liberated a kitchen chair and was now standing on it with her back to him as she rooted through a top shelf in a kitchen cabinet.

“How much trouble are we in?” he asked.

Faith paused a beat before she continued her raid. “Vampires are all dust. The Harrises are officially on the safe list. For now. But you can bet if he keeps his shit up, that ain’t gonna last.” She began pulling liquor bottles out of the cabinet and putting them on the kitchen counter.

“Somehow I don’t think it’s quite that simple,” Giles remarked as more bottles joined the ranks.

“Where do you get simple out of what I just said?” Faith asked as she stepped down from the chair and closed the cabinet. “It’s friggin’ easy for you guys, ain’t it? Staked or not staked. End of story.”

As she turned, Giles drew in a sharp breath. His eyes hadn’t deceived him. Her face was freckled with what appeared to be blood droplets and her clothes were streaked. The layer on her hands was so thick that they looked rusty and cracked.

“Good lord!” Giles exclaimed when he could find his voice. “Are you hurt?”

Faith frowned at him, as if his question didn’t make sense.

Giles opened his mouth, but the wail of distant sirens slowly began intruding on the tense atmosphere.

The spell broken, Faith turned and gathered the bottles up in her arms. “Harris missed his calling. He shouldda been a firebug. Had us a nice blaze going before we left and they’re only just now figuring out something’s burning. That’s nice work, right there. Harris couldda made some serious money helping people get their insurance payoff.”

“That explains Xander’s missing bag.” Giles nervously watched Faith bring the bottles to the kitchen table. “Shouldn’t you wash? And is Xander aware you’re raiding his liquor supply?”

“Who the fuck do you think told me where the good stuff was? He figures better I get drunk here than get drunk in a bar and start shooting my mouth off. You can see Harris don’t trust drunks to be discreet, even when they’ve got reasons to keep their mouths shut,” Faith ranted without heat as she began her hunt through the cabinets for a glass.

“I daresay he was more concerned about you walking into a bar covered with blood,” Giles commented. “You don’t appear to be injured, so where did—”

Faith was apparently uninterested in hearing about her bloodied state, since she once more brought up her planned drinking. “Trust me, Rupes, you’re gonna wanna join in the party if you’re all hot for a full report.” She paused before adding, “Probably not, though. You Tweeds don’t got hearts, right?”

Irritated by Faith’s attitude and at a loss on what to say, Giles bristled as he rose to the bait. “Is there a particular reason for your hostility?”

Faith found the right cabinet and she snatched several glass out of its interior. “Ain’t sure what to think right now,” she said.

Realization dawned. “The children were turned.”

“No,” Faith answered as she walked to the kitchen table with her find.

“Thank heavens for small favors, then.” Giles let out another sigh he didn’t realize he was holding.

Faith put the glasses down and squished her thumb and forefinger together in a parody of an O.K. sign. “Very, very, very small favor. Singular. Tiny.”

Giles didn’t know how to respond, so he didn’t and focused on the only positive thing he had to offer. “You’ll be pleased to know that Young Xander seems to have turned the corner. They are confident he’ll soldier through, although they do have some concerns about his state of mind. It appears…” his voice trailed off as Faith gave no sign that she heard him one way or the other.

Faith plopped into a chair, pulled a bottle and a glass over to her, and began pouring a healthy double shot.

“I would think you’d consider this good news,” Giles said.

“Good for Watcher,” Faith dutifully said before she tossed back her drink.

Giles frowned as Faith commenced refilling her glass. In her limited fashion, Faith had championed Young Xander. He might even go so far as to say that Faith seemed to like him. At the very least, he expected something more from her. He was hunting for the right question to ask as he watched her gulp her refreshed glass down when the sound of footsteps derailed his thoughts. He turned just in time to see Xander, still wearing his coat, looming in the doorway. Thank heavens for small favors; at least Xander appeared to be blood-free.

Xander hovered on the threshold, but his eyes were fixed on the open bottle. “Wild Turkey,” he commented.

“Best kind if you’re looking for a mean drunk,” Faith replied as she poured out another double shot.

Xander frowned. “That I know. I’d like to avoid the mean part.”

Faith’s eyes flickered to Xander before she downed the liquid. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said, “No you don’t.”

“I’d like to avoid the mean part being directed at me or my family,” Xander elaborated.

Faith flicked a gore-covered pointed finger at him as she poured more liquor into her glass. “Now that’s the truth.”

“What happened?” Giles demanded.

“The Xander you wanted, as opposed to the Xander you got, fucked up,” Xander sneered.

Faith slammed back the drink, slammed the glass down on the table, and reached for the bottle. “We don’t know that,” she said.

“What happened?” Giles asked.

Xander leaned against the doorframe. “Haley is doing fine, since you ask,” he airily said by way of pointedly not answering Giles’s question. “Woke up when I kissed her on the forehead and told that I took care of it. She’s back to sleep now. Can’t get into my own damn bedroom, by the way. Since I know there’s no lock on the door, I can only assume Anya jammed it shut.”

“There was an…incident earlier,” Giles quickly answered.

Xander’s sardonic attitude disappeared and he straightened up. “What happened?”

Faith paused in her steady drinking to watch the exchange.

“A raven somehow got into the house and Anya was rather unsettled by it,” Giles explained. “After we let the raven out, Anya made Haley and myself search the house to find out how it got in. We didn’t find anything.”

Faith rolled her eyes as she tossed back the contents of her glass and poured another drink. Xander’s face crunched into a ‘what-the-hell?’ expression.

“I got the impression that she believed the raven wasn’t just a raven, but I wasn’t able to get anything out of her,” Giles added.

Xander shook his head. “If you’re asking me, I don’t have a clue.” He turned his gaze on Faith. “Then again, seems like my whole night’s been like that.”

Faith didn’t bother to answer, and instead tossed back another shot while simultaneously reaching for the bottle.

“I get the distinct impression that things didn’t go well,” Giles said.

“Oh, you could say that,” Xander angrily replied. “If you think the evil twin is going to step foot in this house after—”

Faith morosely stared into her refilled glass. “We don’t know if blood breath was telling the truth.”

Xander’s jaw jutted out. “You can’t possibly be defending that—”

“I ain’t,” Faith said. She gulped down the shot and reached for the now half-gone bottle. “Jus’ sayin’ we don’t know Watcher’s full story is all.”

“There’s no excuse for what we saw,” Xander shot back.

“Vampires are all about the pain, Harris,” Faith snarled. “Assface knew he was goin’ down, so why not leave a little something ’fore he goes? Just for shits and giggles. Ain’t sayin’ Watcher is innocent, but until I get the full story, I ain’t gonna string him up, neither.”

“Someone best explain something to me very soon,” Giles irritably interrupted.

“The evil twin left three 12-year-olds to die.” Xander glared at Faith as he spoke, as if she had somehow betrayed him. “Two of them died only a few hours ago. Long. Slow. Painful. There wasn’t much left of Tommy’s and Bethany’s bodies.”

Giles’s heart froze in horror at the news. “Oh,” was the only sound that seemed capable of escaping his throat.

“‘Oh.’” Xander sneered. “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? I tell you that three 12-year-old kids are dead, my daughter’s best friends by the way, and I get a polite, ‘Oh?’ Nice to know some things are consistent.”

“What on earth do you expect to me say?” Giles asked.

Xander’s mouth ticked into a nervous, unbelieving smile. “Not sure. More than what we got.”

“I am sorry for this loss. Believe me, I am. A situation like this is never easy and I won’t pretend that it is,” Giles began. “But I will not judge Young Xander, especially since we don’t know the whole story.”

“What’s to know?” Xander angrily asked. “He took off and left three very living young kids in the hands of animals. He then lied to my daughter and told her that they were already dead when they were on the way back here. He didn’t call for help. He didn’t even try. He left Haley believing that she failed when really—”

“Would you prefer he traded your daughter for her friends?” Giles quietly interrupted.

“We don’t know that Watcher thought about it,” Faith said with exaggerated care as she poured another drink. “For all we know, he couldda just grabbed and ran and didn’t think one way or the other about the other kids.”

“What she said,” Xander added as he angrily glared at Giles.

“Your daughter is young and inexperienced. Furthermore, Haley told us herself that she and her friends were overwhelmed by a large number of vampires,” Giles calmly explained. “A Watcher’s duty is to his Slayer first. I suspect that Young Xander is well aware of that.”

“She’s not his Slayer,” Xander said with a tight jaw. “She’s my daughter. You can’t even begin to tell me that he did anything right by her or her friends.”

“He’s a friggin’ Watcher through and through and through,” Faith mumbled sarcastically as she downed another shot. “If reg’lar people get squished, oh well.”

“So what will you do if the choice really did come down to your daughter or her friends?” Giles asked. “While, yes, I agree we should save all life if we can, sometimes you simply have to choose and he acted properly in choosing to save the Slayer. She, in turn, will most likely save lives just by virtue of who she is.”

Xander angrily shook his head. “And if Bethany was the Slayer and not Haley, you’d say the same thing to my face, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes,” Giles said firmly.

“Comes down to power,” Faith mumbled as she continued drinking. “Who got it and who don’t. Power forgives everything, even murder. Fuck me, I think I’m the poster child.” She spread her arms. “Watcher even gave me a pass for tryin’ to strangle your worthless ass.”

Xander drew himself up and his eyes narrowed. “He did what? And how dare you—”

Faith frowned. “Nope. That’s wrong.” She brightened. “For trying to strangle his worthless ass.” She nodded. “Not just one Faith. Nope. Two, count ’em, two Faiths get themselves a free pass for trying to kill a Watcher before he was a Watcher from the Watcher himself, because we got the Slay.” She nodded as she poured another shot. “Power. Ultimate get outta jail free card. Right, Rupes?”

“I think you’ve had enough,” Giles remarked.

“Fuck no,” Faith disagreed. “I’m barely floatin’. I’m aiming for blackout city. Gonna take all these bottles to accomplish that. Fucking Slayer metabolism.”

“Then at least pause your drinking so I can get the full story,” Giles said.

Faith raised her hands before defiantly downing one more shot. This time, however, she didn’t reach for a refill.

“You just don’t like the fact she’s being honest.” Xander tossed a glare in Faith’s direction before adding, “For once.”

“Fuck you, Harris,” Faith retorted.

“Oh. Well. That’s clever. Consider me wounded to my core,” Xander nastily shot back.

“Hey! You ain’t pissed at me.” Faith pointed a red finger at him. “So stop being an ass. I’m willin’ to hear all the sides. Unlike the Tweed over there. He’s ’bout ready to stick a halo on Watcher and call it a day.”

“I would hardly say that,” Giles said as he wrestled his anger into submission. Considering Faith’s and Xander’s strained tempers, losing his own would be a disaster. “I’m pointing out an unpleasant and unfair truth. If Young Xander had even a shred of doubt that he could spirit Haley to safety and save her friends, he acted properly.” Giles then turned on Xander. “Furthermore, I dare you to say that you’d trade Haley for any one of her friends or for all three of them put together.”

“That’s not the point,” Xander said angrily.

“That’s ’cause you wouldn’t make the trade,” Faith said.

“She’s my daughter,” Xander emphasized.

“Which is an answer in and of itself,” Giles said.

“Yo, I’m agreeing with, Harris here,” Faith said. Now that she had stopped her steady drinking, the fuzzy edges of her speech were slowly getting sharper. “Hell yes, his daughter comes first. She should.”

“But don’t you see? You are condemning Young Xander for doing the exact same thing that you’d do,” Giles said. “Granted, he most likely made this decision for very different reasons, but the end result is the same.”

“If you let me finish,” Xander interrupted. “My issue, my big issue, is he lied to her. He put the blame right at her feet and didn’t bother to tell her the truth.”

“When was he supposed to tell her the truth?” Giles mildly asked. “If the timeline we hastily constructed earlier this evening was even close to accurate, when was he supposed to find the time to fully explain what had happened?”

“Plus, she mighta run back and gotten herself killed,” Faith muttered almost to herself. “Maybe he was just getting her out of the way before shouting for help.” She shook her head uncertainly. “Don’t know without asking him.”

“You expect him to tell the truth?” Xander asked. “I don’t know if you noticed, but he and the truth aren’t even on the same planet. They’re not even in the same galaxy.”

“I admit that I have some doubts about some of the things he’s said,” Giles allowed.

“Does that include the little lie about my parents?” Xander asked.

“That does happen to be something I believe, if only because he put no particular emphasis on that information,” Giles said.

“Before you two come to blows,” Faith interrupted. “I’m with Rupes. Goes without saying he’s lying about some things, and definitely lying by omission. The point, though, is that there’s probably a lot of shit he doesn’t want to say ’cause he’s been called a liar once too often. Or maybe he don’t want to start a whole new shit storm. Or maybe, like the rest of us, he knows better than to say things in front of people not in the know. And when it comes to him? We ain’t in the know. That don’t make him a liar.”

“You realize that made zero sense,” Xander said.

“Fine. Let me split a hair. The fact he ain’t being 100% honest don’t make him a con man trying to rip you off or cause drama,” Faith angrily replied. She turned her glowering look on Giles. “And it seems to me that someone shouldn’t be telling tales out of school about Watcher’s life in that other reality of his, especially since we don’t know shit about what’s true and what’s not.”

“So that excuses him lying to Haley,” Xander sarcastically said. “We know he’s a liar and that’s what liars do, so that makes it okay?”

Faith shook her head and gave the Wild Turkey bottle a longing look. “You’re a real black-and-white kinda guy, ain’t ya Harris?”

“We’re moving away from the point,” Giles interrupted. “He probably lied to Haley because, again, he may not have had a choice. Your daughter was prepared to march out there this evening and face down those vampires, despite everything that happened. It’s an admirable trait for a Slayer, but a deadly one in a child that inexperienced. That lie may have saved her life. So I ask you again, what did you expect him to do?”

“Of course,” Xander said sourly. “Take his side. I forgot. He’s the mini-Giles you actually wanted.”

“Don’t take it personally,” Faith said. “The Tweeds always got each others’ backs.”

“Whose side are you on?” Xander rounded on her. “First you’re on his side, then you’re on mine. Make up your mind.”

“I’ll always question when I’m on your side,” Faith spit.

“This is all bullshit and you both know it,” Xander snapped. “There’s always another option if you’re willing to try and he wasn’t willing.” Xander peeled off his coat and threw it at Giles, who neatly sidestepped it. “And while the two of you are making excuses, you should know that he took one look at that waterfront and started freaking out. He was shaking in his Timberland boots before he left my van. He was ready to cut and run before he even hit the sidewalk.”

Faith sat up. “What?”

“He kept saying that it was a perfect vampire hideout and searching it without backup was a bad idea. He didn’t even want to be there,” Xander angrily replied.

“Say what you will, it appears he accurately assessed the situation,” Giles dryly said.

“Fuck!” Faith slapped a hand down on the table, causing both Xander and Giles to jump. “I told him and told him. If he even thought he was in trouble he was supposed to call me. Now you tell me he knew he was in over—son of a bitch!”

“Do you mind? I’ve got sleeping people upstairs. Try not to yell at the top of your lungs,” Xander snapped at her.

Faith turned to Giles. “I told him if he even so much as got a funny feeling in his big toe to give me a shout. If Harris is telling the truth—”

“I am,” Xander defensively interrupted.

“—this colors things just a little bit,” Faith finished as if Xander hadn’t spoken.

“There could be reasons why he didn’t contact you,” Giles said.

“I was just down the road,” Xander hammered his point. “I told him to call me if he saw anything that looked wrong. I could’ve been there in 5 minutes.”

“Given your difficult interaction, I’d be more surprised if he did call you,” Giles said.

“See? Tweeds always got each others’ backs. He’ll go down fighting for Watcher, even if it turns out Watcher was in the wrong,” Faith bitterly said.

“Faith, you of all people know how quickly things can turn sour,” Giles irritably said.

“Riiiiight. He walks into the old dance hall, hears sounds of fighting, and doesn’t bother to hit speed dial and take two seconds out of his busy time to tell someone there’s trouble going down before going to investigate?” Xander sarcastically asked.

“He may have walked into the middle of it not knowing—” Giles began.

“Because, nooooo,” Xander continued as if Giles hadn’t spoken. “Instead, he does the stupid thing and charges right on in because he’s got to be the big man and save the day. Then he figures out that he can’t handle it and he goes with his first instinct to run. Haley probably only got saved because she was right in front of him for easy grabbing.”

“Back up, Harris,” Faith turned on him. “You can say a lot of things about Watcher, but he ain’t no fucking coward. I’ve seen him in action.”

“Be that as it may,” Giles quickly jumped in. “This arguing is getting us nowhere. What Young Xander did or did not do is beside the point. It’s been done and now we must all deal with the consequences.”

“By ‘we,’ you mean ‘me,’ unless you plan on moving into town and dealing with Joey’s Tommy’s, and Bethany’s parents every day,” Xander snarled.

“That’s enough!” Giles hissed through his teeth. “Until we can question Young Xander about his side of the story, all we have is speculation.”

“His attitude about what happened is gonna have a big fucking bearing on whether I throw his ass under a bus,” Faith said.

“I want him coming clean to Haley,” Xander said firmly. “I do not wanting her living the rest of her life with guilt because he made a bad decision and then tried to cover it up.”

“Depending on what he tells us, your issues may or may not be fair,” Giles huffed.

“See? All for Tweed and Tweed for all,” Faith remarked.

“Faith,” Giles said with exasperation.

“Fine. You want a change in subject?” Xander asked. “How about this one? What happened in Malibu? Because it turns out that that’s why we got a pack of new vampires in town.”

Giles whirled on him. “What?”

“Yeah, Faith figured it out between something the vampire said and me filling in the blanks. She had a mini-orgasm over it,” Xander confirmed.

“You’re a class act, Harris,” Faith said. “That shit’s called covering. Happens when a piece of info takes you by surprise.”

“Oh, dear lord,” Giles wilted. “Are you certain?”

“Yeah.” Faith’s answer was definite. “Classic case of the little people getting squished underfoot. Again.”

“And it turns out there was some kind of plan involving me,” Xander continued. “Didn’t get the details because Faith cut her pet vampire off before he spilled. Then she refused to talk between the waterfront and here. So, I think I’m owed some answers.”

“He’s dust, ain’t he? So not so much a pet,” Faith defensively said.

“Well,” Xander demanded as he tapped a foot.

“Might as well tell you,” Faith shrugged.

“Now there’s an enthusiastic answer,” Xander snottily said.

“Xander, please,” Giles interrupted. “I understand that you’re upset and angry. But if you want to know, you’ll have to spare us the dramatics.”

Xander glowered at Giles before he angrily took a seat at the kitchen table. Faith poured a shot and silently held it out to him, but her offering was waved away. Faith shrugged before downing it.

“Faith,” Giles sighed as he took a seat.

“No point in it going to waste,” Faith said.

Giles turned to Xander. “What happened in Malibu was—” he began.

“We should start earlier than that,” Faith interrupted.

“Do you wish to tell this story?” Giles asked.

“Hell, no,” Faith answered. “But I think I better.”

“If you two are done, I don’t care where you begin, but I’d like to hear answers before I grow a foot-long beard,” Xander interrupted.

Faith licked her lips and began. “The whole thing actually started back in the SunnyD.”

“Is it necessary to start that far back?” Giles asked.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” Xander agreed.

“Gotta explain the Wolfram & Hart thing, and that means I gotta start with a history lesson,” Faith said. “Anyway, back to the SunnyD. Things weren’t lookin’ so hot. My girls were getting picked off one by one by Bringers.”

“Bringers?” Xander interrupted.

“Harbingers. Servants of the First Evil,” Giles explained.

“I remember what they are,” Xander snapped. “I remember when they showed up senior year. They were back?”

“We did tell you the First Evil was on the rise,” Giles mildly pointed out. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you weren’t listening.”

“I heard you say that thing about the First Evil,” Xander angrily said. “I also heard the word ‘apocalypse’ and a dog whistle for me to come running.”

“Stop it. Now,” Faith ordered. “Who’s talking? That would be me. You wanna get the dope on Malibu or what?”

Xander and Giles continued glaring at one another.

“I can start drinkin’ again until I hear you’re ready to play nice,” Faith threatened.

“Please do continue,” Giles said without taking his eyes off Xander.

Xander merely snapped a nod.

“So anyways, Caleb, a fucked-up preacher dude who was really tight with the First, he kidnaps my most experienced girl,” Faith continued. “From what I understand Kennedy, that’s the girl that got kidnapped, was next in line after me for the Slayer gig, but when I failed to die she stayed a Potential. Had a big chip on her shoulder about that. Anyways, long story short, he killed her and nearly killed me when I tried to get her away from him.

“Meanwhile, the Hellmouth was getting ready to explode. Turns out there was this seal on it, see? Which is why you wasn’t overwhelmed with demon energy while you lived there. Somehow, that seal got opened. Don’t know how.”

“According to Young Xander, a blood sacrifice was needed to open the seal,” Giles interrupted. “He claimed that there were several attempts during his last year in Sunnydale, one of which was successful. His people managed to close it before they were forced to reopen it again for the final battle.”

“Wait,” Xander said slowly. “Are you telling me that they closed this seal and then reopened it? Even though it was keeping all this badness back? Why the hell would they do something that stupid?”

“Probably because it was gonna blow open anyways whether it stayed sealed or not, and if it blew while still sealed it’d be even worse, maybe even take out the whole of the west coast, leastwise according to this coven who was helpin’ us out in Devon. That’s in England. We were in Sunnydale, they were in Devon, in case you’re wondering. Anyways, this coven said seal or no seal, the thing was gonna go nuclear,” Faith explained. “Only difference between what happened with him and what happened with us that I can see is we never managed to close the damn thing, which meant all these Turok-Hans escaped and were running all over the damn place—”

“Back up,” Xander interrupted. “Turok what?”

“A Turok-Han is a primordial vampire,” Giles explained. “They are faster, stronger, and far more deadly than the vampires you are familiar with. Many of the normal rules don’t apply to them.”

“Yikes,” Xander said quietly.

“You ain’t kidding,” Faith agreed. “They ate through almost half the town before people started getting a friggin’ clue. People started fleeing. Some of ’em didn’t bother packing. Good for us, because we could rummage for what we needed, but bad because utilities went bye-bye. So, here we are, everyone’s fleeing the SunnyD, my girls were shrinking in number, I just got my ass kicked by Caleb, the Hellmouth is about to go volcano, and then it hits me: we need more Slayers. Problem is, I got less than a dozen or so Potentials to turn into Slayers, which wasn’t near enough. Enter Angel.”

“Figures,” Xander grumbled as he rolled his eyes.

“Yeah? Well this is the part you should be payin’ attention to,” Faith retorted. “’Sides, I didn’t see you risking your ass on the frontlines.”

“Well, you asked so nicely,” Xander sarcastically said. “I got your definite need for cannon fodder and I wasn’t in the mood to join the ranks.”

“That was not why we approached you,” Giles sighed.

“Yeah, because you always had such faith in my abilities, even for something as mundane as carpentry,” Xander angrily shot back.

“How about we not go there just now,” Faith butted in. “I’m tryin’ to explain—”

“You at least had experience fighting on a Hellmouth,” Giles angrily interrupted, fueled by a long-suppressed pool of resentment. “You had as much experience as myself and more than Faith. Certainly more experience than any Potential we had, including one local girl who, previous to being recruited, had absolutely no idea that Sunnydale was on a Hellmouth. You had knowledge and information that we could have used. You knew almost as much about the demon underground as Willie due to your solo work.”

“You’re seriously telling me that you would’ve actually listened to me?” Xander asked with disbelief. “You never did before, unless Buffy backed me up. So excuse me if I have serious doubts that you would’ve let me do anything other than pay for the groceries and serve as a human shield to protect the really important people.”

“And here I was thinkin’ we wouldn’t be able to find a use for you,” Faith said sweetly.

Xander leaned toward Faith with a nasty smile. “Sorry if I decided my pregnant wife was a little bit more important than keeping your hide intact.”

Giles, who was busy trying to suppress the anger over old wounds, was surprised to see Faith’s shoulders slump ever so slightly.

“You mighta mentioned the pregnant wife part way back when,” she said. “How the fuck were me and Rupes supposed to know?”

Xander seemed surprised that Faith didn’t press the argument, but that didn’t stem his hostility. “You didn’t ask. And you can’t tell me it would’ve changed a damn thing.”

“Most likely not,” Giles said tightly. “We needed your knowledge too much to simply give up because of your personal concerns.”

“Because god knows, you never thought my personal concerns were worth shit,” Xander grumbled

Faith shot Giles a look. “Might’ve convinced me to back off,” she allowed.

Resentment once more forced Giles to speak when he knew silence was the superior option. “I think we have definitively proved that your mere presence in Sunnydale could have saved lives. If you can live with that knowledge…but then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. You always were motivated by selfish concerns, even from the beginning.”

Xander’s eyes went dark with fury and his mouth worked, but all that came out were strangled, angry sounds.

“We don’t know that him being there would’ve changed anything,” Faith said.

The sentiment took Xander and Giles by surprise and they both turned to Faith.

“Not meaning to speak out of school, but, hell, according to Watcher himself, he actually didn’t do a whole hell of a lot in the battle with the First,” Faith said. “And he did say that the big picture was exactly the same. So, even according to him, he didn’t make a damn bit of difference one way or the other.”

“Buffy and Dawn are alive. Willow is sane,” Giles said, ignoring Xander’s all-over-body wince. He paused before saying the next part because he knew it would deeply wound Faith, but making her see that she was being too forgiving of Xander had somehow trumped everything. “Angel is also alive and he’s keeping Wolfram & Hart occupied enough that they’re not nipping at their heels.”

Faith looked away.

“Whatever Young Xander has said or not said about his last year in Sunnydale, you cannot convince me he didn’t make difference,” Giles quietly added. “We’ve seen the proof with our own eyes and it’s undeniable.”

“You son of a bitch.” Xander sounded defeated rather than angry.

“You ain’t the only one he’d trade,” Faith bitterly said to Xander.

“I have never said that,” Giles said.

“You didn’t have to,” Faith quickly replied. She looked at Xander with a frown as she tapped her fingers on the table. “I ain’t sayin’ my attitude about you saying no would’ve been better if I knew, but maybe the ending would’ve been different. Still pissed at you catching me across the head with the crowbar. Almost caved my skull in.”

“You lunged for my throat,” Xander said defensively. “You and my throat? Not going to happen again. Ever.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have lunged if you said, ‘No. Can’t go. Pregnant wife,’ instead of, ‘No chance in hell you murderous slut. Fuck off and fight your own goddamn apocalypse,’” Faith said.

“We won’t even get into what you said about me,” Giles grumbled. “Holding me responsible for everything that—”

“Every word deserved,” Xander interrupted.

“You really do hold tight to those grudges, don’t you?” Faith sourly asked. “And that goes for both of you.”

“Neither one of you ever gave me a reason to let go.” Xander crossed his arms, signaling that he was done fighting because, in his mind, he was still right.

“And look where it’s got us,” Giles said. “The moment we get beyond a crisis, we’re so busy placing the blame on one another that we are incapable of a civilized conversation.”

“I blame the evil twin,” Xander said.

“All the poisons do have a habit of eventually leeching out,” Giles said, although he wasn’t entirely sure if it was an agreement or a disagreement with Xander’s characteristic finger pointing.

“Watcher’s a real bite in the ass, that’s for sure,” was Faith’s glum contribution. “Other people get subtlety. We get a two-by-four cracked across the skull. Ain’t fair, if you ask me.”

A gloomy silence took hold as each of the combatants mentally retreated to their corners. Heaven knows how long they sat there—minutes or hours, no one could say—before Xander reached out for the bottle of Wild Turkey and poured out a healthy portion for himself, Giles, and Faith. Maybe it was a sign of a temporary truce, maybe a sign of making peace with the past. Either way, Giles was wearily surprised that he’d take it and be grateful.

Xander picked up his drink and stared into its murky depths. “Damnedest thing,” he said. “No matter what I do, I can’t get away from either one of you.”

“Freakiest shit ever, that’s for goddamn sure,” Faith agreed. “Whole fuckin’ dimensions where we’re stuck with each other. Whole fuckin’ dimensions where we’re not just in the same zip code, but the same damn house. Whole fuckin’ dimensions where that’s considered a mighty fine idea.”

Giles held his glass up in a toast. “To the survivors.”

“To those who didn’t,” Xander corrected. “Survive, I mean.”

“That, I’ll drink to,” Faith agreed.

Faith gulped back her portion. Giles took his slightly slower. Xander sipped at his glass, made a face, and put it down without finishing it.

“Sorry,” he apologized, even though no one said anything. “Tony’s drink. Never could stand the stuff.”

“Where was I? Before we got off track,” Faith asked.

“Angel shows up,” Xander prompted.

“You hadn’t mentioned the amulet,” Giles added.

“Right,” Faith picked up where she left off. “Angel shows with this amulet. According to him, it was supposed to scrub the Hellmouth clean, like scrubby bubbles on bathroom mildew. He also said the catch was that only a vampire with a soul could wear it and since he was the only candidate that meant him and only him.

“Meantime, all the Bringers and Turok-Hans led by Caleb fell back to the Hellmouth, which was a sign the First was about to take its big bow and start takin’ over the world. When that happened, volcano Sunnydale and hell on earth. Anyways, it gave us a little breathing room so we could plan. First thing, we had the Devon coven do the spell to make Slayers out of the Potentials.”

“About that,” Xander interrupted as he leaned forward. “Did you even think about what you were doing? I mean, every Potential in the world? Hello? And where was the Watcher’s Council in all of this?”

Giles tackled the last question. “The Watcher’s Council had been destroyed by minions of the First some months before. The survivors had scattered and were in hiding. Only several of my compatriots were active or public, and they were working with the Devon coven. I was either in Sunnydale or out and about finding Potentials to bring to Faith.”

Xander’s eyes swiveled to Giles. “I’ve never been a big fan of the Council, but even I can see that handing all that power to young kids on a plate without someone telling them the who, what, where, and why is not a good idea. And I’m not even talking about some girl going, ‘Cool, I can kick everyone’s ass!’ I’m talking about some girl suddenly getting targeted by demons and not knowing why. Or what about the families? Hunh? Did you even think about what this would do to their families?”

“We needed the juice,” Faith defensively said.

“Then juice up the girls on the Hellmouth,” Xander shot back. “Why yank a bunch of innocent kids into it?” He turned to Giles. “I mean, Jesus, how many times did Buffy complain about being the Slayer? How many times did she die because she was the Slayer? Then you turn around and force it on every girl in the world? That’s a Grade A example of heartless.”

“Not every girl,” Giles corrected. “Only those who were in the Slayer line.”

“And that makes it so much better,” Xander deadpanned.

“If you must know, there was no time to fine tune the spell to be that selective,” Giles said. “And even if we had more time, there is no way to know if selectively activating only a handful of Potentials would’ve been possible.”

“I ain’t so sure I would’ve gone with only activating the group in Sunnydale anyway,” Faith added. “If things went really wrong, the Slayers who weren’t there might’ve been the last line of defense.”

“Not that they would’ve known what was going on,” Xander argued. “So, really, a clueless last line of defense? That’s not a good enough reason to do what you did.”

“I think we have evidence that you’d agree to it if you didn’t know that it would touch your family so personally,” Giles said.

“Don’t even think of bringing the evil twin into this,” Xander snarled. “I confronted him about it and as far as he’s concerned they did the right thing.”

“That’s because we did,” Giles threw back. “As did Young Xander’s people.”

“Before we start another friggin’ argument, lemme just say something,” Faith interrupted. “I agree, your family situation sucks right now. I agree, what we had to do, that sucked, too. But this was a genuine apocalypse, not a little apocalypse that wouldda just taken out the SunnyD and surrounding area. We had a big-ass gun pointed at our heads and all the options were bad. This was the best option on the list. Hell, it was the only option on the list. If it didn’t work, then it was over and out. Final score: Humans, 0; First Evil and Friends, 6 billion and counting. Get me?”

“Obviously it was ultimately the right choice, given events since then,” Giles added. “Furthermore, it appears it may have been destined. We have evidence, thanks to Young Xander, that the exact same decision was reached and the exact same actions were taken on his side of the dimensional divide. The methods and players were different, true. But they also empowered all the Potentials and they are also rebuilding the Council.”

“From the sound of things, they’re doing the rebuilding completely different. Watcher was floored when he found out that we don’t got Slayers and witches on our Council and he didn’t sound all that approving of the fact that we just brought in the old boy network to fill the seats,” Faith said. “So I wouldn’t say it’s exactly the same.”

“The point,” Giles argued, “is that at the moment of truth, they reached for the same solution.”

“Fine. You were righteous. You made the right decision. Whatever.” Xander defensively crossed his arms across his chest. “But you can’t convince you got happy ever after. You can’t convince me that every new Slayer was thrilled about what happened and you can’t convince me that every Slayer has locked arms in sisterhood and are now happily Slaying.”

“Since it didn’t happen that way, I won’t,” Faith said. “You gonna let me finish talking or not?”

Xander looked down at the table, while Giles reached for the nearly empty bottle to pour himself another drink.

“So, anyways, the day we’re gonna go marching up to the Hellmouth, the coven casts its spell,” Faith said. “All the girls I had, they’re around me. I’m holding the Slayer’s Scythe—”

“The what?” Xander asked.

“Slayer’s Scythe,” Faith repeated. “It’s kinda this Slayers-only special weapon that we found in the SunnyD. Long story how I got my paws on it, but that’s all you need to know. Anyways, the coven jacks into Willow’s power for their spell, and directs the energy through the Scythe in the SunnyD.”

“Willow cast the spell?” Xander asked. “But I thought—”

“She was incapacitated, yes,” Giles interrupted. He sipped at his drink to steel his nerves. “Only Willow had the ability to tap into that kind of power and serve as a conduit. She allowed us to use her to perform the spell, provided we met certain…conditions.”

“Conditions,” Xander slowly repeated.

“You must understand,” Giles continued. “Willow is, for all intents and purposes, insane. Dangerously so. However, she is also still human.”

“Just barely,” Faith muttered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Xander demanded.

“Enough.” Giles glared at the pair of them. “If you let me finish, Willow knew she would fare no better than the rest of us in a world ruled by the First. Furthermore, she viewed us turning to her for help as a sign that she was not wrong in her mad pursuit for power.”

Xander snorted. “You took advantage of her.”

We took advantage of her,” Faith said. “That ain’t even possible. The Witch Herself is the most powerful fucking witch on the planet. If you wanna talk people who don’t care who gets squished, she’s number one on that list.”

“Unlike you,” Xander said.

“Hey, I’m doin’ my bit to keep people from getting squished, but your little buddy don’t make it easy,” Faith hotly said. “She’s more trouble than she’s worth.”

“Please,” Xander waved off. “If it wasn’t for her, none of us would be here and that’s according to even you.”

“She helped once,” Faith held up a single red finger. “And that’s because in her mind she’d get to be the big ol’ hero. Now we gotta keep her locked up to keep her from getting loose and none of us can lay a pinky on her. Hell, even if she does break out and start takin’ over the world, we can’t do shit because Rupes over here made a bad, bad deal for access. Only person who can take her out is head of the Council, but Rupes appears to be savin’ the Big Bad Witch for a rainy day.”

“And had I followed the urging of certain parties after her rampage in Sunnydale, we would’ve lost our battle against the First,” Giles argued.

“That explains why you didn’t throw her away after you took advantage of her,” Xander said.

“Where on earth do you get the idea we took advantage of her?” Giles said.

“You told me that Willow went insane after…after…” Xander cleared his throat. “After everything that happened. You can’t tell me that if Willow was in her right mind she would’ve agreed to it.”

“Was she in her right mind when she decided to play god and bring B back from the dead?” Faith nastily asked.

“Looking back, I’m not sure about that,” Xander said. “When Glory killed Buffy, she wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. She kept pushing and pushing for the resurrection spell, but she couldn’t do it until I agreed and I wasn’t going to until she could show me proof that Buffy was in a hell dimension.”

“Why not get someone else if she was so het up about it?” Faith asked suspiciously.

“The candidate pool to fill my slot was really limited.” Xander ticked off on his fingers, “Spike didn’t have a soul, and that made Willow nervous about using him because then it might screw up the spell. She knew Giles here wouldn’t agree. And she didn’t want Dawn involved because she didn’t want to get the kid’s hopes up. That, and I pointed out that using Dawn wasn’t a good idea since she was Key-girl and god knows what kind of problems using her in any spell might cause. Last thing we needed was to trigger that ol’ Key energy and accidentally rip another hole in reality like what happened with Glory.”

Giles’s eyes narrowed. “I was unaware that you were opposed to this.”

Xander shrugged. “Willow always wanted to fix things. It was her thing. For example, after Buffy decided to make me fray-adjacent, Tara caught her researching a forget spell so we’d all start linking arms and being such great friends again. Tara went out of her way to give me the head’s up because she thought it was better to work things out normally and couldn’t talk Willow out of it. I had a huge fight with Willow over that. I didn’t dare tell Anya about it, because that would’ve opened a whole bunch of new problems.”

Giles leaned back and thoughtfully said, “That explains why Willow stopped pressing for reconciliation.”

“That wasn’t why she was mad at me,” Xander said.

“Oh?” Giles asked.

“Right after my fight with Willow, I ran into Tara and told her that she’d be better off leaving her shiny new girl friend right away, because it was going to be more of the same if she stuck around,” Xander shrugged. “I told her all about Willow’s attempted de-lusting spell back in high school to show that it wasn’t the first time Willow tried to use magic to fix things the way she wanted.”

“Well that was stupid,” Faith said. “You had to know that was gonna get back to the witch.”

“You’re not kidding.” Xander sounded almost friendly as he agreed. “But I was still fuming. No. Not fuming. Pissed as all hell. So my mouth runnethed over. That got Tara angry and she went right back to Willow and they had a huge fight about it.”

Giles scrunched his eyes shut. Apparently Xander had seen what he had missed. Willow was turning more and more to magic to remake the world to her liking, even before she brought Buffy back from the dead; possibly even before she graduated high school. “Why was this incident not brought to my attention?” he asked.

“Oh, because you’d believe me over Willow? Please,” Xander said through his teeth. “The only way you would’ve believed me was if Tara mysteriously broke up with Willow and Willow refused to say why. Since Tara opted to not just stick around, but keep her mouth shut about it, I really doubt you would’ve even listened to a word I said, and that’s assuming you’d even let me through the door to let me talk to you.”

A new round of anger swelled inside Giles at Xander’s accusation. “That is utterly besides the point.”

“Not to actually agree with Harris, but it’s human nature to distrust the info when you don’t like the messenger,” Faith said.

“Maybe if you had forced me to listen—” Giles began.

Xander rolled his eyes.

“I might not have believed you at that moment, true,” Giles amended “But at the very least I would’ve had the information. If nothing else, I might’ve looked at Willow’s continued magical studies with a more critical eye.”

What critical eye?” Xander asked. “You pretty much left Willow out there on her own when it came to the magical research front, but you were all very willing to take advantage of whatever she learned on her own. I didn’t exactly see you laying down the guidance.”

“Because I had no idea she was abusing her knowledge as far back as you claim,” Giles said.

“As I claim.” When Xander furiously repeated those choice words back at him, Giles realized that he had expressed himself rather poorly. “You’re throwing doubt on what I’m saying now. So, really, that just tells me you would not have bought into anything I could’ve said to you at the time.”

Faith again tried to butt into Xander’s and Giles’s private war. “I think you might be seeing something in what Rupes said that wasn’t there.”

“I’m seeing just fine, thanks,” Xander rounded on Faith. “First they refused to believe that my parents were murdered. Then they froze me out when I pointed out that they’d help someone they didn’t even know, but weren’t willing to help me.”

“Been there. And welcome to the club,” Faith snorted.

“Xander, we did not freeze you out,” Giles protested. “You may recall that I opened my home to you until you could get back on your feet after your parents’ death.”

“And I was immediately relegated to making grocery runs and not allowed to help with the Slay or investigating the Initiative because Buffy wanted me out of it until I toed the party line, sucked up my personal issues, and played nice,” Xander hotly shot back.

“Buffy and I agreed it was for the best,” Giles said. “We had good reasons to believe that you were putting yourself in undue jeopardy while you chased phantom murderers.”

“No, it was because I stepped on the toes of the Initiative and Buffy didn’t like the fact that her boyfriend looked bad,” Xander spit back.

Faith put her head in her hands as a sign that she knew there was no point in even trying to interrupt this latest round. However, she didn’t take her threatened course of action and start drinking.

“Once we discovered who the Initiative were, they had the potential to be excellent allies for Buffy,” Giles said. “Much as I didn’t like their dismissive attitudes toward myself, I cannot deny that the opportunity, had it worked out, could have—”

Xander snorted. “Yeah, because working with the Initiative turned out so well for you guys. Remind me who was the walking menace again? That would not be me. Remind me who found out key information about Adam? That would not be Riley, your man on the inside.”

“I will not hear you speak ill of Riley,” Giles snarled. “He laid down his life to keep the Knights of Byzantium from discovering Dawn’s identity.”

“Poor Riley got sucked into believing he should be Buffy’s personal State Farm,” Xander nastily countered.

“A role you would’ve killed to play once upon a time,” Giles sneered back.

“Fine, your dicks are the same length,” Faith jumped in. “Can we just—”

“Bet you dollars to crullers that if Riley survived, he would’ve been stuck being Buffy’s little servant around the house, assuming he would’ve bothered sticking around after she died,” Xander retorted hotly. “Say what you will about Spike, at least he was stayed to help with patrols and guard Dawn in case any of Glory’s minions decided to try again.”

“Spike was a murderous fuck,” Faith spit. “He killed three of my girls. I caught him out. He was singing some creepy-ass song while he just sat there in the middle of all their bodies. Staking was too goddamn good for him, especially since he didn’t even put up a fight so I could beat his ass first.”

“Whaddya know,” Xander turned on her. “Looks like we agree on something. Which only goes to show what I think about Giles’s beloved Riley.”

“I saw Riley’s heart when we combined to fight Adam,” Giles snarled. “I will not deny that he irritated me at times, but I will not stand by and listen to you diminish who he was.”

“Now what I find interesting is that Watcher’s precious Giles got just as protective of his one-eyed boy when you tried to do the same thing Harris’s body double,” Faith interrupted.

“That’s because the evil twin didn’t have a spine when it counted and turned all mini-Giles,” Xander sneered.

“I thought we were going to leave Young Xander’s information confidential,” Giles said.

“Just remarking on it, is all,” Faith said with an evil glint in her eye. “And this combo spell, well, seems to me that Watcher was in on that and not B’s boyfriend. So, a girl’s gotta wonder if there’s an eye-of-the-beholder thing going on.”

“Faith,” Giles hissed.

“I already know about him being part of that spell,” Xander said.

Faith’s and Giles’s mouths snapped shut and they looked at Xander with surprise.

“I didn’t get the whole story,” Xander said tightly. “But it’s pretty clear to me that he got it by default. Makes sense, right? He dumped Anya and hooked up with Buffy. Of course, Buffy’s going to want her boyfriend in the heart slot.”

Giles startled when he felt a sharp kick on his shin. He looked around and saw Faith shaking her head ever-so-slightly at him.

“This is not information I was aware of,” Giles said guardedly as Faith winced. He still had doubts about Young Xander’s story. It was entirely possible that he and Faith heard one version of Young Xander’s history and that Xander had heard something else entirely.

“I worked it out,” Xander said sourly. “When I told him that I knew, he didn’t even bother to deny it. He even tried to pretend that he had no idea what I was talking about, even though he told Anya and me when he first got here that he and his Anya broke up while he was still living in the basement at the Harris home.”

Something in Giles’s gut unclenched. Given what he knew of Xander, and what little he knew of Young Xander, it was entirely possible that Young Xander really did have no idea how to respond to such an accusation and that Xander had jumped to a conclusion on flimsy evidence. Truthfully, it wouldn’t be the first time that Xander had seen things that simply weren’t there.

Faith continued to glare at Giles, as if daring him to clear up the confusion, but her comments were directed at Xander. “Now that we’re all done pointing fingers. Again. I just got one question.”

“Hopefully this won’t start us down the road for yet another fight,” Giles grumbled.

“I’m not the one starting any of this,” Xander huffed.

“Don’t make me bang your heads together,” Faith threatened. “This just goes back why you ended up helping out with the bringing-B-back-from-the-dead thing, since you claim you were so much against it.”

Xander looked chagrined. If Giles didn’t know any better, he’d think that Xander actually regretted it. “A bunch of motorcycle-riding demons blew into Sunnydale and were tearing up the place. We tried to fight them, but we couldn’t even make a dent in the mayhem. We needed Buffy alive because the Buffybot wasn’t even close to cutting it. Plus, they ended up destroying the bot, so we really didn’t have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice.” Giles’s voice was hard.

“Says the guy who’d already run back the England at that point,” Xander countered angrily. “I didn’t see you getting hurt or killed in Sunnydale while these guys rampaged through town.”

“Yo!” Faith interrupted. “We are not doing this again.”

“Fine,” Xander crossed his arms defensively. “Just to sum up, yes, I think Willow was well on her way to crazy land when Buffy died. And yeah, I’m guilty for being Mr. Enabler for caving in. And yeah, maybe I should’ve been a little bit more butt-in-ski when the whole Willow-magic-addiction-Buffy-yanked-out-of-heaven thing came out, but Buffy was shutting everyone out and Willow didn’t want to hear it. Since I had huge amounts of evidence that Buffy and Willow would never listen to anything I said, I gave up.”

“And again, I believe I should point out that we have proof that Willow would, in fact, have done the same if she was in her right mind,” Giles said. “According to Young Xander, the Willow in his reality cast the spell herself without the aid of the coven.”

Xander shook his head, although Giles was hard-pressed to decide if it was out of disgust or because he didn’t want to accept the information. “Did it ever occur to you that none of the mirror universe people are sane? Or even the good guys?” he asked rhetorically.

“Now you’re just lookin’ for shit without proof,” Faith commented.

“What’s done is done. There’s no point in arguing about it now,” Giles said.

“Especially since you left the rest of us to pick up the pieces from that spell,” Xander said.

“If you’re done gettin’ in the last word,” Faith interrupted as Giles opened his mouth to retort. “Lemme finish. Then you can spout off bullshit at each other after I’m done.”

Continued in 46b

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