liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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FIC: Revelations, Pt. 1

Given the recent decision by the Pit of Voles (aka FanFiction DOT Net), I decided better safe than sorry and am now rescuing puppies, so to speak.

This fic is the first Buffy fic I published wwwaaaaaay back in November 2002 (Whisper was actually the first one I started writing).

And yes, I think it shows.

This was written near the beginning of S7. At the time, there were a lot of rumors about Xander's storyline. After the fact, it turned out that he did have a storyline (getting killed and then becoming the face of the First Evil), but it got nuked at the last moment and it became a non-storyline. *sigh*

While I'm glad Xander survived S7, it's a shame he wasn't used. This story was based on the spoilers some of us were getting at the time. Obviously it didn't pan out. Looking this over, I updated the story slightly to make reference to things that happened later in the season, but it's still oh so very, very AU.

I should note, the genesis of this story (which is a "Xander is a demon" genre) was because I was sick and tired of reading "Xander gets a power" or "Xander is really a demon" stories and Xander just running with it like it was no problem at all. My goal was to write a Xander is a demon story where Xander was:

  1. Not at all happy about it
  2. Actually wasn't dealing well with his power
  3. His power didn't actually give him any physical power (i.e., no lightening out of the ass)

What makes this truly ironic is that I wasn't a "shipper" per se (if anything, I had a fondness for the W/X ship), yet people pegged me straight away as a Faith/Xander shipper with this story. It wasn't the intent and I certainly wasn't writing it like that (at least I don't think so). Even reading this story now, I still don't see it. But there you go.

So this was my take on "Xander is a demon." Be gentle.

Title: Revelations
Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: Rated PG for some language, alcohol abuse, and implied violence.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer are owned by FOX, written and produced by Mutant Enemy, which means none of the characters within are mine.
Summary: What if Willow’s magic blast in “Grave” had long-lasting consequences for Xander? Story is told from the POV of Faith, Buffy, Willow, Spike, and Giles. AU, takes place right after “Storyteller” but before “Lies My Parents Told Me.” Serves as a stepping off point for a Post-S7 AU series featuring Xander and Faith.
Warning: Was originally written early S7. Is now standing as an AU.

Part 1: Faith—Rhapsody in Red

Faith gently closes the basement door behind her and carefully walks down the steps. Somewhere in the middle of the staircase, she eases into a sitting position on a random step and plops her chin into a supporting hand. She watches Xander through the gloom and wonders if he heard her entrance. She wonders if he did and simply didn’t care.

There he is, one of the core Scoobies, well, former core Scooby, sitting in a dusty corner of the basement, as far away from the sunlight streaming through the windows as he can get. If Faith didn’t know any better, and she did know better, she would think Xander was a lurking vampire waiting for the sun to go down before making his escape into the night.

Not that Xander, human, vampire, or otherwise, can escape. Manacles encircle his wrists and ankles and chains keep his limbs tangled up. Another chain winds from the man to a supporting metal pole, which means that if Xander wants to he can probably hobble around the Summers basement. Faith tries to shake the image of a dog run out of her head as she calculates that the length of chain won’t let Xander reach the stairs or the window.

So Xander making a break for the window and sprinting off into the night is pretty much out of the question. Faith wonders what would happen if she changed the odds by breaking the manacles and pulled the man free of his chains.

Faith knows chains. She is familiar with them. She had come to rely on them in the past few years. Chains meant you had gone too far. Chains meant you were being punished. The presence of chains also sometimes meant movement: between cellblocks, between the prison interior and The Yard, between the loneliness of a cell and the always unexpected appearance of Angel in the visitor’s room.

Chains, both the metal and mental kind, keep you from going too far again.

Xander would probably refuse to break his chains. Will probably refuse to break them. Faith has a horrible image of her pulling the iron off Xander only to have physically free man remain unmoving and unresponsive, chained by more than just metal: chained by past, by the present threat, by the uncertainty of his future.

Sunnyhell? Why do you want to go back there? From what I understand, they all think you’re crazy, possessed, or a big evil who needs to be put down. Buffy’s been hunting you for the past few weeks. What’s in this for you?

We’re needed.

Needed? Let ‘em deal with it on their own. B will flip if I make a grand re-entrance and she’ll try to kill you. Face it, boy toy, we are not wanted.

We may not be wanted, but we will be needed.

What makes you think they’ll accept anything we have to offer?

I’m going on Faith.

From the moment she spotted Xander in the Hyperion’s lobby to this moment here on the stairs, Faith was struck by a new adjective for Xander: control. He kept himself under complete control as if wavering for one second to let any human emotion slip by his carefully schooled features would result in something violent that would erase him and wash over anyone in his immediate vicinity.

Faith wonders where Xander had learned to wear a mask that was so impossible to read; that so completely obscured his emotions and every thought in his head. She was afraid to think that the opposite was true: that emotional, impulsive, easy-to-read, joking Xander was the fake and this too quiet man in front of her was the real deal. That maybe, just maybe, Xander had always been about control.

‘Xander’ and ‘control’ are two words that should never be used in the same sentence, Faith muses. She shifts her butt on the splintery steps, trying to get more comfortable. She remembers the 17-year-old—or was he—that she knew the first time she came to Sunnydale. Not that she knew him, really, unless you count getting biblical with someone as knowing them. Faith knows for a fact that skin-on-skin is meaningless.

Not that anyone could tell Xander that, at least not then. Faith finds herself wondering if Xander still believes that sex could and should include that emotional connection. She wonders if that belief has been also taken from him; that time and experience has taught him the error of his ways. She surprises herself by fervently hoping that it hasn’t.

Loud voices interrupt Faith’s train of thought. Someone thumps something as if to emphasize a point. Faith raises her head in surprise, looking up, eyes narrowing, wondering if a crash will follow the thump. There’s nothing but more voices. Giles’s baritone, strained with the effort of trying to sound reasonable. Buffy’s soprano, slightly shrill with anger and frustration. Willow’s alto hesitantly cutting in, sometimes in harmony with Giles, but mostly singing Buffy’s tune. L’il sis Dawn is suspiciously quiet and Faith pictures the girl hiding behind the couch, fingers stuck in her ears, wishing the situation would get resolved. The army of Potentials have made themselves miraculously scarce, fleeing the house to god knows where.

Faith tenses, waiting for the violence factor to pick up, but it doesn’t. The voices drop in volume, but don’t completely fade out. There are footsteps overhead, as if someone is pacing back and forth trying to marshal more and better arguments for their side. She relaxes, but only a little.

It’s clear what the argument is about. What do we do about Xander?

At that thought, Faith returns to watching the subject of this latest passion play. He doesn’t appear to have moved or noticed the rising and falling rhythm of the voices overhead. For a man whose very future, whose very life, depends on who wins the argument upstairs, Xander is at best dispassionate; at worst, apathetic.

She studies him. Xander is sitting upright, knees bent at 45-degree angles to brace his back against the cellar wall. His hands are cupped over his knees as if to keep them in place. His eyes are closed and his head leans back against the wall. It would fool almost anyone into thinking he was napping in that position, except that Faith can hear from his breathing that Xander is wide awake.

Angel was still recovering from his latest Angelus period when he got the call from Sunnydale: Xander has gone evil, he’s disappeared from Sunnydale, he might be heading your way. Catch him. If you can, get him back to Sunnydale so we can deal with him. Kill him if you must.

That last statement—or maybe it was an order—came as a complete surprise. Angel may have never been fond of the boy and at times may have wished he would simply go away, but unless Angel was in Angelus mode he never wished the boy dead. And if Angel—Angel, who had no love for Xander—never wished him dead, how could Xander’s friends state that killing Xander could be necessary and would be forgivable?

Faith barely paid attention to the confusion the call left in its wake. Sunnydale was the past. She had no plans to go back. Xander, Buffy, and all the rest were not her problem. As far as Faith was concerned, the Scoobies could play out the latest drama in their lives without her input, thankyouverymuch. She had her own life to live and her own ghosts to put to rest. Moving forward meant never going back.

Except here she is back at the beginning. This is the place where it all began to go wrong, where events just spun out of her control. Where she spun out of control. Faith blinks and focuses on Xander again, studying him more closely this time, unnerved that he hasn’t moved, hasn’t even twitched, since she sat down on the stairs. She wonders where it went wrong with Xander, wonders if he really spun out of control or if it just looks that way to his friends, well, former friends. As far as Faith can tell, Xander seems very much in control, well, in control of himself anyway.

There’s that word again: control.

Faith shakes her head, trying to reconcile the restless, nervous, quick-smile boy she met a hundred years ago to the silent man now sitting in the basement. The images don’t match. The situation simply does not compute.

When Xander suddenly showed up at the Hyperion and walked into the lobby, the Angel Investigations team was so stunned that not one of them moved. When Xander calmly announced that he’d come to take Faith back to Sunnydale to help battle the First Evil and the imminent opening of the Hellmouth, it was too much for group to comprehend. Almost at once Angel’s team erupted in questions, demanded explanations, tried to get Xander’s side of the story.

Faith didn’t get involved, but instead watched from the sidelines. She was struck by the fact that not one person in the Hyperion moved to subdue the hunted man now in their midst. Buffy’s gang struck her as a group that would hit first and ask questions later. Judging by the call from Sunnydale and what happened after Xander and Faith showed up unannounced at Buffy’s house, it appears that it remains the Scoobies’ modus operandi. Angel’s team seemed to be more interested in getting the facts before making a judgment.

The fact that Xander did his best to answer their questions, made no move to attack them, and acted nothing like a man with a mission to destroy all that was holy and good in the world proved that the L.A. team’s approach was the right one, at least in this case.

Faith knows which group she’d rather be allied with and wonders if Xander now feels the same way.

Xander!

Yes, Angel?

Before you go, I want you to think about something.

What?

When you’re done with whatever you need to do in Sunnydale, I want you to consider coming back to L.A.

Why?

I want you to work with us. I think you’d make a good addition to the team.

You’re offering me a job? Again with the, ‘ why?’ Followed by a, ‘hunh?’

Look, Cordelia doesn’t seem to get visions any more and Lorne can’t read someone unless he’s looking at them and they’re singing. Your talent, well, it would be a great asset to us. You’d save more lives here in L.A. than if you stayed in Sunnydale, always reacting to the latest big bad in the neighborhood. Here you could be proactive.

Angel, we don’t even like each other. We’ll never be friends. You can’t possibly mean—

I do mean it.

I already have a job.

In construction, yeah, I heard. But you can’t be just a carpenter. Not anymore.

Yes I can and I will.

Do you really believe that? After all you’ve been through, do you really think you can go back? I notice you’re not answering me.

So, then, what do you want me to do?

It’s not what I want. It’s not what anyone else wants or expects from you. This is about what you want. So, Alexander Harris, what do you want?

I don’t know.

Fair enough. Promise me something.

What?

Think about my offer.

I will.

You’re not just saying that?

No. No, I’m really not. Your offer scares me, but. . . All right. Yes. I will give it some serious thought. I need time to decide, but I will think about it.

That’s all I ask.

Faith knows that when this is all over, assuming she survives, she’ll be on the next bus back to L.A. She finds herself hoping that Xander will give her a ride; hoping he’ll do it because he’ll be heading that way.

Faith stands and stretches, feeling cramped from sitting too long on the stairs. Upstairs the voices are quieter, signaling that a decision has been reached and only the details are being worked out. She vaguely wonders what she’ll do if the final decision is death to Xander. She pushes the thought out of her mind and exchanges it for a vision of her and Xander making the escape back to L.A. with the windows rolled down and the wind blowing in her hair.

She slowly finishes her descent and carefully crosses the basement acting like she, the Slayer, was merely a concerned human approaching an injured animal that might lash out, because he mistakes her intent to help as an intent to attack and inflict more pain. Faith silently crouches next to Xander, but is careful not to touch him. Still he doesn’t react.

Faith is suddenly hit by another memory from the Hyperion. Angel’s team insisted that Xander sing for Lorne to confirm that he wasn’t the danger Sunnydale lead them to believe. They were willing to listen, but they weren’t stupid. Xander reluctantly agreed, moving into the sunny courtyard to sing for the green demon. Faith couldn’t hear the words, but the melody was familiar. No one would accuse Xander of having a spectacular voice, but he could at least carry a tune.

The session was over too quickly. Lorne stopped him mid-song and began an intense conversation with Xander. Xander backed up a few steps, suddenly looking so very small and so very lost in the expanse of the courtyard. He kept shaking his head ‘no’ at odd intervals, as if the physical movement would simply make Lorne’s message not true. After few moments of this, Xander was back in the lobby, body shaking with the need to maintain control.

Before anyone could ask what was wrong, Xander meekly asked if he could crash for a few hours in one of the hotel rooms. He’s tired. It was a long drive. He has a lot to face when he gets back to Sunnydale. A few hours’ sleep, please, and he’ll be on his way, with or without Faith.

Angel cast a quick glance at Lorne, who had quietly followed Xander back inside. An imperceptible nod from that horned head was enough to convince Angel to grant Xander’s request. Fred offered to show Xander one of the “less dusty and icky” rooms while Lorne whispered, “We need to talk” into Angel’s ear.

Through this whole business Faith simply watched, not wishing to get involved, not wanting to get pulled back to Sunnydale.

Angel and Lorne emerged an hour later from the back office. Angel looked at once shaken and upset. He glanced up the stairs, worry etched on his face. Something had rocked Angel’s foundation, Faith remembers thinking. Something even more unnerving than Angelus and it’s something to do with Xander.

While Faith doesn’t know what it is, she knows what it isn’t: Xander being evil. Judging by Lorne’s reaction and Angel’s concern, Xander wasn’t what Sunnydale reported. That leaves one question: What is he?

When Lorne was done with Angel, he had a message for Faith: go back to Sunnydale and watch Xander’s back. When Faith asked Lorne about his message to Angel, all she got was a headshake. No, no answer for her, at least not yet.

Back in the basement, Faith reaches out and touches Xander’s hands. His eyes fly open and for a moment Faith wonders if maybe Xander was asleep and really hadn’t realized she was there. Then she knows. Xander knew she was there, he just didn’t expect a gentle touch. She wonders if he no longer expects to be touched with any gentleness ever again.

Xander’s eyes seek out hers and for a brief moment, they lock Right. On. Her. It’s a brief flash, but with a shock Faith sees it. Recognizes it. Has seen it in too many mirrors when her ghosts have been extra loud and her nightmares especially intense. It’s the haunted look of someone who is trapped, who questions every decision they’ve ever made, who wonders where they went wrong, who wonders what they did to deserve this.

It’s the look of someone with blood on his hands.

And for a moment Faith wonders if Angel did Xander any favors by asking questions first and letting him live. Wonders if it maybe wouldn’t’ve been kinder to simply follow the last order from Sunnydale and kill Xander outright.

She wants to tell him that he can get beyond this, but knows that it’s sort of a lie. Knows that Xander would recognize it for the lie it is. She can see him, scrubbing himself raw in the shower with soap, keeping the water so hot that it scalds his skin. Doing anything to wash the blood off him and out of his mind, knowing that it’s useless because all the soap and water in the world can never wash his soul clean.

The moment of recognition is over almost before it’s begun. As Xander’s expression closes down to the infuriating hard-to-read mask, Faith knows that Xander saw her expression, knows that she knows.

And she simply doesn’t know what to say, so she says nothing.

Instead, she moves a hand into one of his chained ones and surprises herself and him by interlacing fingers. She isn’t even sure what she’s trying to say by this simple bit of physical contact. She doesn’t even try to analyze it.

Again, she’s taken him by surprise. He glances down at their interlocked hands, as if trying to figure out an inkblot; glances back to her steady gaze, his expression a mix of gratitude, self-hate, and simple need before finally closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall.

She notices that he doesn’t try to pull away from the physical contact.

And in the dark of the basement, neither of them moves.

***

Part 2: Buffy—Masquerade

Buffy opens the basement door and walks down the stairs, the very picture of a woman with a distasteful mission. She stops at the bottom and sees the silent pair in the corner. Faith is watching her with a wary expression. Xander doesn’t react at all. She notices With shock that Faith is clinging to one of Xander’s hands.

Buffy suppresses the urge to stride over and slap their hands apart. She wants to shout at Faith, Do you know what he did? Do you have any idea what he’s capable of? But then, Faith has shown she’s capable of doing the same thing.

What Xander did was not an accident. It was by design, plotted and carried out by the man now chained in her basement.

Assuming that the man is the same thing as Xander.

Maybe Faith and that thing in chains deserve each other.

Instead, Buffy walks over to the pair, holding the keys to the manacles up. Her voice is gruffer than she expects. “I’m unlocking you, no tricks.”

Her only reply is a derisive snort from the Xander-shaped fiend.

Faith disengages, stands up, and steps back. Buffy notices that Faith doesn’t move too far away and that the other Slayer’s body is tensed, ready to spring if Buffy does more than just remove the chains.

Buffy kneels in front of her prisoner, hating the fact that it leaves her momentarily vulnerable. She unlocks the manacles around the ankles and removes the chains. Neither dark-haired creature moves from their spot. Faith merely watches her. The other remains passive, eyes closed, waiting for whatever will come next.

“Stand up,” Buffy orders. “We’re going upstairs to have a talk with Giles.” Her tone clearly telegraphs what she thinks of this turn of events. She doesn’t like it and doesn’t agree with it.

The man stands, keeping his eyes downcast and focused on the basement floor. He holds his still-manacled hands in front of him, waiting for them to be removed.

“They stay,” Buffy states.

As the hands drop, the head shoots up and a play of expressions flicker across the too-familiar face: hurt, anger, resignation. Buffy reminds herself that whatever this is standing before her, it’s not-Xander. Whatever, whoever, Xander was is now gone. All that’s left is the thing before her.

She nods to Faith, “You first. I’ll follow him up the stairs.”

A sneer passing as a smile crosses Faith’s face, but her eyes remain cold. “Gonna keep an eye on ol’ Xan here, hunh? What are you gonna do if he does something funny?”

“I’ll kill him,” Buffy replies. The Slayer shows no emotion as she says this as the girl inside wails and screams, This is your friend. You can’t do this. Buffy knows she can and she will if necessary. She wasn’t strong enough to do it to stop Angelus, but she has to be strong enough to do this. Xander, the Xander she knew, would want her to.

Wouldn’t he?

Faith reacts like she’s been slapped. Not-Xander shows no reaction to this exchange or to the coldness in Buffy’s voice. Buffy wonders if Xander she knew was always difficult to read; wonders if she ever understood the boy and later man who called her friend. Wonders if not-Xander really is Xander and that all the signs of his instability and propensity for evil were always there, but she utterly missed them because it was evil of the human kind, rather than evil of the Hellish kind. She wonders if she should’ve seen this coming and curses herself for being so very blind.

She fiercely pushes the thought aside as Faith starts up the stairs, the man following not too closely behind. Buffy takes up the rear, her eyes not leaving the Xander-shaped body, waiting for any suspicious move, any excuse to end this, now, on the cellar stairs. But there are no suspicious moves, no excuses to make as Faith and then the captive emerge into the kitchen. Buffy closes the basement door behind her and orders the pair into the living room where Giles is waiting to pronounce not-Xander’s fate.

Faith flops down on the couch, enjoying the warmth of the dying sun after the cool darkness of the basement. Willow sits at the opposite end, sitting stiff-backed and dry-eyed. The only sign of an internal struggle is the way her hands twist around themselves, as if uncertain how to express the tension without everyone in the room erupting into another fight. Dawn sits in a chair in the corner, doing her best to look invisible.

Only Giles seems to be in Technicolor, dominating the living room as he stands in its center, expectantly waiting to begin. He sees the current subject of discussion standing uncertainly in the entrance to the living room as Buffy brushes past him and settles herself on a chair. He frowns at the manacles still present on the wrists.

“Buffy, I told you to remove the chains,” he quietly remarks.

“I did.”

“His hands are still bound.”

“I thought it best—”

“Buffy…”

The warning tone implicit in Giles’s voice is enough to prompt the Slayer to move from her spot. She removes the manacles none-too-gently, ill grace telegraphed in every move. Buffy takes the manacles and returns to her seat, the sound of her teeth grinding in frustration can practically be heard by everyone in the room.

For his part, Xander, not-Xander, whatever the hell it is, surreptitiously rubs its wrists, but remains quiet. If it expects anything: judgment, mercy, an explanation, it doesn’t show on the face. The expression is that carefully schooled neutral look that drives Faith up the wall and shuts the rest of the world out.

Giles clears his throat to begin. “We are not going to kill you.”

Buffy notices the Xander-thing merely nods in response, clearly not surprised by the decision. She clenches her fists in anger. The bastard was sure of himself, wasn’t he? Sure they wouldn’t do it. She wants nothing more than to pull the rug out from underneath the son of a bitch.

“We also know that you’re still you, Xander,” Giles continues.

Faith perks up, a momentary hope flittering across her face, briefly interrupting the typical bored-now Faith expression that usually resides there. Both Buffy and Willow exchange looks, neither one of them agreeing with Giles’s statement, not willing to believe the statement is true. This is not-Xander and no one will convince them otherwise.

Xander—not-Xander, Buffy reminds herself—responds by taking another step into the room towards Giles. Buffy tenses protectively, but the familiar-looking monster stops, maybe sensing one more step would push Buffy over the edge into its death.

Giles’s tone is gentle, soothing, the sort of voice you’d use on a hurt child. “I know you’re confused and scared. I know you felt that you couldn’t ask for help. I know you feel trapped and that you had no choice.”

“No choice?” Buffy explodes. “Giles, that, that, thing killed people! Humans! We should turn him over to the police! Not run an intervention!”

Faith reacts to the outburst by swiftly focusing on Xander, trying to read his reaction to the accusation. Xander catches Faith’s eye and gives her a slight nod. Faith sinks back into the couch. It’s been said aloud. No going back now.

“Yes, he did kill people,” Giles allows. “But I showed you the coroner’s reports. They weren’t human, at least not when they died. Isn’t that right, Xander?”

“They were infected.”

Everyone in the room jumps. Xander hasn’t spoken since last night when he and Faith showed up out of the clear night sky on Buffy’s doorstep. Not a single word crossed his lips as Buffy knocked him out and chained him up in her basement. His voice is rough from disuse and Buffy remembers a time when that seemed an impossibility because Xander was never quiet, even when she just wanted him to shut up.

Giles nods, looking grim. “Do you know how?” Buffy is surprised to realize that Giles genuinely doesn’t know the answer and is looking to Xander, Xander, of all people, to give him one.

Xander looks thoughtful, as if mulling his response or composing his thoughts. He opens his mouth to reply. Closes it. Opens it again. It reminds Buffy of a gasping fish who’s been pulled from the water. Xander looks again at Giles, his gaze steady. “I’m not sure.”

Giles deflates slightly at that, but hangs on to hope. “Which means you have some idea?”

Xander shakes his head no, but answers something else. “Yes. I think. I’m not sure. Maybe I am.”

“Xander.” Giles’s voice is strained, containing a warning and encouragement at the same time. “Trust your instincts, no matter how crazy it seems.”

Buffy seizes on that word: crazy. Maybe this really is Xander and the Hellmouth or some mysterious demon has driven him insane. Maybe he can recover. Maybe they won’t have to kill him. For the first time since this whole business began, she feels a tendril of hope. She brutally suppresses it afraid hope will lead to pain, hurt, and loss.

Xander exhales a deep breath. Whatever he heard in Giles’s voice seems to have given him permission to let go, at least a little. “A demon. It was a demon. It would implant something in people, I’m not sure how. Whatever it would implant would just stay dormant until it was activated and when it was activated they’d turn into one of those super vampires…” Xander’s voice trails off and he begins to shudder.

Giles swiftly crosses the room and places a reassuring hand on Xander’s shoulder. Xander’s response to Giles’s touch is to jump back and regard the Watcher with alarm. Buffy thinks she should be surprised by this reaction, but is more surprised that she isn’t. It’s just confirmation that this really is Xander. Xander who thought he was doing the right thing by killing thirteen people in cold blood, although she can never understand how he could go through with it. Why he would go through with it.

Giles holds his hands up, to signal that he won’t touch Xander again if Xander doesn’t want it. Xander’s body language relaxes.

“What activates it?” Giles asks.

“The when the First’s human minion hits Sunndayle,” Xander replies.

“How long has this ‘implantation,’ as you put it, been going on?” Giles asks.

Xander begins to shudder again. His reply is horrifying. “Years.”

“How many people infected?”

“Hundreds.” Xander wraps his arms around his torso, as if he’s cold and will never be warm again.

Giles shoots another question at Xander and Xander answers. There’s a rhythm to it, a sort of vocal symmetry that a neutral viewer can appreciate.

Buffy realizes that Giles is literally interrogating Xander now, more interested in the responses than how the answers are affecting the man being questioned. She opens her mouth to ask Giles to stop, give Xander a little breathing room. She quickly shuts her mouth. She knows they need these answers and needed them yesterday. Hell, they needed them months ago before anyone even knew there were questions that needed asking.

But Xander knew, didn’t he? He knew and he didn’t tell them. Buffy fights the wave of anger swelling in her. Why didn’t he say anything? He should’ve said something. A whispered voice reminds her that she knows why. Xander never asks for help, never asks for rescue. And if he did ask her, if he did warn her, would she have even heard him? Would she have listened? Or would she have cavalierly dismissed his warnings, just like she cavalierly dismissed his suggestion to question Willy about a demon or his objections to taking Spike in?

She hates herself just a little when she admits the answer to those questions to herself.

The atmosphere in the room changes and captures Buffy’s attention. She sheepishly looks around. She lost track of the interrogation chasing after her own thoughts. Faith and Willow wear matching expressions of horror. Dawn slumps in her chair, eyes dull with what she’s heard. Giles is rubbing his glasses. And Xander. . .

Xander looks miserable, eyes studying the designs on the living room carpet, jaw muscles working hard, and eyes blinking furiously as he reigns in his emotions.

“Thank you, Xander,” Giles says quietly.

Xander looks up, startled. Buffy wonders if anyone ever thanked Xander for anything before. She cringes a little when she can’t remember a single case. At the very least, he deserved a single thank you, maybe even a kiss on the cheek. Doesn’t every white knight deserve it?

Of course, Xander is no longer a white knight, Buffy muses. Recent events have muddied the shinning armor and killed the white horse. So, if Xander isn’t a white knight, what is he, then?

“Can I go?” Xander mumbles.

“We’re not finished yet,” Giles responds, replacing the glasses on his face. “We need to talk about you.”

***

Part 3: Willow—On Power, Control, and Balance

Giles’s last comment hangs in the air and Willow knows the world is holding its breath. She finds herself wondering what the Watcher will say. He’s already promised to spare Xander’s life. What’s the alternative? Willow somehow doubts he’ll get the Dumbledore treatment.

She shudders, remembering what she expected when Giles bundled her off to England. Punishment. Imprisonment. Getting stripped of all her hard-won powers. Being chained in the dark until some authority decided that she had been punished enough and could be paroled back into the light.

She feels Faith tense next to her. Oh yeah, if anyone knows anything about horrific crimes and justified punishment, Faith would be the “it girl.” Not that this softens Willow’s attitudes towards Faith one bit. Willow feels guilty; she should be more understanding, considering the blood staining her own hands, but she can’t see beyond, what? Jealousy? Power struggles? High school? Her own pettiness?

So Willow waits and, with the rest of the world, holds her breath. In her subconscious, DarkWillow squirms with glee, Buckle up kiddo. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Xander waits impassively for Giles to finish his thought, but Willow notices something in his eyes, a form of pleading that maybe, just maybe, Giles can make this better, make all the pain of the past few months go away.

Willow knows he’ll never ask, not in words.

She wonders if anyone else in the room can see it.

Willow isn’t sure how she should feel. On the one hand, this is Xander, really Xander, and not some possessed shell, not some demon wearing a friend’s face. Yet on the other hand, she just witnessed the most scariest thing she’s ever seen, more frightening than the first time she saw vampires, more terrifying than when the Sisterhood of Jhe tried to re-open the Hellmouth, more soul-freezing than the first time she looked in the mirror and saw her own black eyes staring back at her.

It’s knowledge.

Xander knows things, black things that count on silence and darkness and secrecy to get the job done. He can see things that succeed by not being seen. That connection to the dark is more intimidating than a Slayer’s strength, more terrible than dark magic spun out of control. And Xander, who barely cracked a book in high school, who struggled to keep up in the research department, who never went to college, who never was considered a “brain” by either his classmates or his peers, Xander has access to knowledge and information that Willow will never be able to grasp, let alone understand.

She isn’t sure she even wants to try.

Willow suddenly flashes back on a conversation she had with Xander just after she got back from England. She can almost sense the warm sunlight, the peacefulness of the cemetery, and the comfort of knowing that she had at least one true friend in this world. What is it he said? You can have power or control, but not both. It’s a trade-off and you have to choose.

With a start, Willow realizes Xander’s choice. He went with control. In recent months, he subtly directed things with a suggestion here, a word of comfort there, a well-placed question at the right moment, a misplaced bad joke elsewhere. All subtle actions that hid him right under their collective noses and no one saw, no one even noticed, that something was off until it was too late.

For her, it was always about power. For him, it was always about control. She now sees the pattern: a yin-yang, the sort of balance that the universe so loves to strike.

Why didn’t she see it before? She who frittered on about how everything is connected, everything has its place, the great order of the universe, and magic, and, more specifically, her place in this constellation. Why did she ever assume that somehow, somewhere, the universe wouldn’t do something to balance her descent into the ways of power?

Willow bitterly concludes that the universe has a very sick sense of humor.

She wonders when it started. She thinks back and…

No…

It can’t be…

No…

DarkWillow chuckles. Light dawns.

The realization slams into her and her breath catches. She feels tears begin to spill out of her eyes, but is powerless to wipe them way. No one notices her. Everyone is caught in the moment; everyone is holding his or her breath.

Willow knows, she knows this: no matter what happens next, no matter what’s said, she and Xander are now chained together at the neck. In some ways, they always were linked more closely than blood and Willow wonders if this truth were true from the time they both were conceived. She knows the chains are now pulling tighter into a stranglehold and she can sense they’ll weigh very heavy on the pair of them for a long time to come.

She wonders if Xander will ever be able to trust her again, wonders if he’ll be able to ever look her directly in the eye.

She hopes he will; she bets he won’t.

***

Part 4: Buffy—Unmasking

Yes, let’s talk about Xander, Buffy thinks. Here’s an opening question, one that I’m sure you’ll enjoy from the hypocrisy files: If you were in trouble, why didn’t you come to us? Why didn’t you come to me?

Buffy feels her body tense into that oh-so-familiar ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. She glances over to Willow, who looks as if Faith had reached over and thumped her in the stomach. Dawn’s dead eyes seem to have a little more life in them, hopeful that she’ll get some explanation about big brother Xander. Faith feigns indifference, but keeps stealing glances at the subject up for debate.

Xander’s expression is inscrutable, eyes locked on Giles’s face. Buffy fights the urge to leap out of her chair and shake him, if only to get a reaction. Maybe if she shakes hard enough, the real Xander, her Xander, will emerge with a quick quip and a ready smile to make this business easier. But she knows that no matter how hard she shakes, the Xander she knew, check that, thought she knew, is long gone. There’ll be no awkward, stupid jokes, no ready smile, not for a long time. She wonders if that side of Xander will ever re-assert itself. She thinks that it probably won’t in her lifetime.

Giles breaks the spell by informing Xander that he’s a demon.

Buffy can feel the shocked expression on her face. Xander is a demon. He’s not-Xander then and the real Xander is elsewhere. He’s probably being held captive until this thing in her living room finishes the damage. He may even already be dead and his body dumped in a shallow grave. Her heart skips a horrified beat when she realizes that she hopes this is true.

Except that Giles said this is Xander. Buffy looks at this thought and mentally blinks. She turns to study Xander more closely and tries to find some physical clue that she might’ve missed. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices with some satisfaction that Faith is doing the same thing. It must be doubly embarrassing for her. Faith did see him naked, after all.

Xander for his part is shaking his head no. Buffy hears the broken, whispered response, “You’re wrong Giles. Tell me you’re wrong,” and her heart breaks just a little.

“I’m sorry. I’m not.” Giles tone is the no nonsense librarian of Buffy’s high school years.

“I don’t believe you.” Xander’s voice is stronger now. Buffy suspects that his unique ability to see what he wants to see is reasserting itself. She secretly crosses her fingers and wishes Xander the best of luck in this little war.

Giles sighs, takes a step forward, and stops. Xander surprisingly stands his ground and keeps his gaze steady on Giles. Buffy suddenly sees how hard this is for Giles and that what he’ll say next will kill him just a little.

She doesn’t want to watch.

“You’re a Pythia,” Giles says. He stops. This is usually the cue for one of the group, usually Xander or Buffy, to make a crack about the name, mangling it mercilessly while repeating it.

There’s no comment forthcoming.

If Giles is surprised that he’s met with utter silence, he shows no sign. He meets Xander’s hard, hazel-eyed stare.

Buffy shudders when she realizes that Xander’s eyes are the only thing alive behind the emotionless mask.

“Pythias are extinct—” Giles begins.

“And yet here he is,” Buffy mutters. Off Giles’s look, she mimes locking her mouth with a key and throwing said key away.

“As I was saying, Pythias are extinct, but their descendants do live on.” Giles slips into his mode of teaching and explaining, a familiar pattern that would be comforting if he were talking about a stranger. “The Pythias disappeared from the historical record shortly after the Roman Empire converted to Christianity.”

“Wait a minute, the Pythia was a woman,” Willow protests.

“The ones seen by the public, yes,” Giles responds.

“Are you saying that the Pythia, the oracle at Delphi, wasn’t even human?” Willow looks excited, a new fact to learn, a new mythology to rethink. Willow lives for this, Buffy muses with a touch of bitterness, she never wonders if pretty new knowledge will hurt someone. Willow suddenly looks at Xander and the expression of rapture fades from her face.

“No, they weren’t human, in general,” Giles explains, warming somewhat to his subject. “But because their population was always so small, it wasn’t unheard of for humans to volunteer to mate with one of them, to please the god Apollo, see? The fresh human blood prevented inbreeding. After a few centuries of this, the Pythias looked as human as you or I and could easily inbreed with the general human population.”

Buffy wonders if Giles even realizes that Xander is still in the room as he gives his dissertation on ancient demonic races. She wonders why Giles didn’t tell them this information before. She tries to think of a reason why Giles waited until now to say something about Xander’s status. While she would like to believe Giles waited so he could answer all of their questions at once, some nasty corner of her mind thinks that Giles wanted to grandstand, like a magician waving his hands in the air to make the Statue of Liberty disappear.

She begins to think that Xander wasn’t the only one who was sure that the carpenter would live to see another day.

“Were they evil?” Dawn asks as she fearfully glances at Xander. A brief look of hurt crosses Xander’s face when he sees Dawn’s expression and despite everything, Buffy feels for him.

“Under the pagan system, not considered evil, no, even if their knowledge was feared,” Giles answers slowly. “They tended to be far more accurate when predicting cataclysmic events, evil doings, dark happenings. So you can see where some people might think them evil.”

“So when Delphi ceased being a center of pagan worship…” Willow begins thoughtfully.

“The Pythias left and blended in with the general human population rather than be killed by new Christian converts, yes,” Giles nods, pleased to be falling into a familiar give and take.

“And where do I fit in?”

Giles startles. Buffy smiles a small grim grin. She was right. Giles did forget Xander.

“You were one of the descendants,” Giles replies.

The expressionless mask cracks with surprise. “Were?” Xander asks.

“Yes, well, you aren’t, how can I put this gently…” Giles verbally fumbles. The Watcher takes a deep breath, looks directly into Xander’s eyes, and levels the harsh truth with no sugarcoating. “You were human with a demon heritage, but you were all human, you must believe that.”

“And now I’m not.” Xander says this slowly. Buffy pictures him chewing on the idea before spitting it back in Giles’s face.

“No, you’re not. Your human self was, ummm, burned away if you will. All that’s left is the demon. I’m sorry, Xander.”

“But how—.” Xander begins and stops. Buffy watches Willow begin to shrink into herself out of the corner of her eye as Xander slowly turns to look at the witch, light dawning in his eyes. “Burned away. As in burned away by a spell,” he says. It’s not a question. It’s a monotone statement of fact.

“Yes.”

Under Xander’s unreadable look, Willow has the good sense to look down at her lap, fingers once again twisting around each other. Faith looks back and forth between the two, her face showing confusion. Buffy remembers Faith knows nothing about Kingman’s Bluff, how Xander interrupted Willow’s spell by running into the magic stream not once, but twice. She wonders whether it was the second interruption that brought the demon to the fore, or whether Xander’s humanity died on impact the first time he got hit.

“I still don’t buy it,” Xander is stubborn. He’s not giving up his membership card to the human race without fight.

Go Xander with your bad self, Buffy thinks.

“It’s still a fact,” Giles states blandly. Buffy wonders if Giles thinks he’s being kind. “The signs of your heritage were always there, although I admit it took a bit for me to catch on.”

Suddenly Xander winces, as if struck by a headache. “You claim you knew there was something wrong with me from the beginning.”

“There was and is nothing wrong with you,” Giles stresses. “And not from the beginning, no.”

“How long?”

“Knew for almost certain? Since the enjoining spell we used against Adam.”

Xander’s head shoots up. “Which means you had an idea before that.” Accusation and warning pepper Xander’s tone.

“I suspected something, well, different about you when you were able to revive Buffy after the Master drowned her,” Giles replies.

A quiet response through clenched teeth. “I see. And you didn’t see fit to tell me until now?”

“I wasn’t certain at first and I didn’t wish to say anything until I was completely sure,” Giles is talking fast to beat the explosion building in Xander’s eyes. “After the enjoining spell, I was almost certain, but I thought it best not to pursue it simply because it wouldn’t change anything.”

“It would’ve been nice if I heard your ‘suspicions,’ which are still wrong, by the way,” Xander growls.

“Would it have changed anyting? Answer me truthfully, Xander. How would you knowing about my suspicions have changed anything?”

“It might have proved you gave a shit,” Xander spits.

Giles seems surprised by this statement. Buffy suddenly realizes that it never occurred to Giles that maybe Xander would’ve liked some attention for himself, attention that he was always willing to give to herself and, to a lesser extent, Willow.

Xander continues to glower at the dumbfounded Giles, all his attention focused on the Watcher. “Still, you said you were never sure about me. What makes you so sure about me now?”

“Xander, I just spent the past two hours questioning you about things you have no logical way of knowing and hearing you give me answers. How can you seriously ask me that question?”

“Answer.” Xander’s reply more like an order.

Giles sighs. “After I returned to England the second time, I heard some information that seemed to fit your, well, peculiarities. I started to do some research and I was able to track your family line—”

“Of drunks,” Xander interrupts with a bitter laugh.

“Did you ever wonder why almost every member of your family is a raging alcoholic, Xander? Ever think they were maybe trying to drown something out?”

“Oh, this is good. This is just great.” Xander throws his hands up in the air. “Now you know my fabulous, miserable family history. You then are trying to tell me that it all boils down to genetics? Tell me, oh great and wonderful Wizard of Oz, please tell me how I managed to avoid this particular curse, with one or two notable slips.”

“Because unlike the rest of your family, you always used your gifts, even before your transformation,” Giles quietly replies.

This stops Xander cold, emotion draining from his face. “You’re lying,” he whispers.

“I’m not. I have a rather extensive list I could show you, but I’m more than willing to give you…”

“You’re lying,” Xander says louder. “I’m human, normal! I have a nice, normal job and nice, normal bills! You know, the boy next door, face in the crowd, just another nobody! Hell, people pass me by without a second glance all the time! Unless I’m doing something that looks patently evil, my supposed friends don’t even notice me!”

Buffy cringes at this tirade and wants to cover her ears and block the sound out. Giles’s soft reply cuts into her hearing. “Why does it bother you so much that you might be unique?”

Xander glares at Giles, but says nothing.

“Some of the highlights,” Giles says, picking up his train of thought. “Did you realize that of all of us, you’ve never been hurt enough or sick enough to spend time in hospital overnight?”

“I had my arm broken. Twice.” Xander contradicts.

“Yes, and you’ve been hit by a Troll Hammer and didn’t even get a concussion. Spike beat you pretty seriously when he kidnapped Willow and yourself, yet you suddenly recovered enough to get to Cordelia’s side when she fell and was impaled. You’ve been tossed around by just about every demon that’s made a visit to the this godforsaken town and haven’t suffered more than a few scratches, bruises, mild concussions, and yes, two broken arms. Broken arms should’ve been the least of your worries over the years,” Giles says.

“I think you’re reaching,” Xander mutters.

“You also had a habit of showing up or making statements at the oddest times,” Giles says. “You came up with the idea of the enjoining spell.”

“It was a joke. Not my fault you took me seriously.”

“You prevented the high school from blowing up.”

“Actually, I did help blow it up.”

“Ahhh, but you prevented it the night the Sisterhood of Jhe tried to reopen the Hellmouth.”

“WHAT?!” The exclamation is out of Buffy’s moth before she can stop it.

Xander, for his part, looks shocked. His mouth forms words, but no sounds come out.

“Yes, I do know about it, Xander,” Giles answering his unspoken question. “Found out long after the fact. Actually, I discovered it after I started researching you and your family background. Those zombies that you stopped? They had been contracted to blow the high school up and help the Sisterhood reopen the Hellmouth. Those responsible for hiring them were soundly punished for, shall we say, using substandard materials.”

“But. . .” Xander begins, his face telegraphing worry. Buffy wonders what else Giles is going to throw at him. Wonders how much more surprised she’s going to be before the night is over.

“You also were the first to ‘just stumble’ across Angel after he got back from Hell, bringing that whole business out in the open,” Giles says, beginning to tick off points on his fingers.

“Like I could forget,” Buffy mutters.

“When Spike was kidnapped by Glory, you were in his crypt when her minions took him and so were able to warn us,” Giles continues.

“I went there just to talk to him about—” Xander begins. He glances at Buffy and snaps his mouth shut.

“You found out about Buffy being the Slayer when you were hiding in the library stacks,” Giles continues.

“I needed a book.” Xander is fighting to remain calm. “And I was not hiding in the library. You just failed to see me come in.”

“You happened to overhear that the swim team was having tryouts and were able to get on the team,” Giles says, ignoring Xander. He gives Xander a questioning look. “Tell me, did you ever swim competitively before? Have you done it since? How did you get on the team?”

“This is insane troll logic,” Xander comments, his posture defensive. “All you have a bunch of coincidences, which by the way, can apply equally to all of us in this room, so don’t even start—”

“Xander? I’m going to ask you one question. If you can answer this question, then I will concede that you are right and I am wrong.”

“One question.” Xander is suspicious.

“Just one. If you can answer it, then I will stop this conversation now,” Giles says. Buffy figures the question must be quite the bombshell. Giles is willing to stake everything on it. Buffy mentally prepares for crash position.

Xander nods his assent, studying Giles through narrowed eyes.

Giles takes his shot. “How did you know where Angel lived?”

Xander seems surprised by the question. “What?”

“When you went to drag Angel from his living quarters so you could rescue Buffy from the Master—”

“Wait a minute!” Buffy shouts. “Angel took Xander—”

Giles regards her with irritation while Xander blinks in silence. “Xander went and got Angel, not the other way around. Before you say anything more, Angel told me this himself while you were visiting your father in L.A. that summer.”

“But how did Xander know where Angel lived?” Buffy protests. “I certainly didn’t tell him. I know Angel sure as hell didn’t.” And that’s when it hits Buffy. That’s when she gets it.

Giles turns back to Xander. “Yes, Xander, please explain how you knew where Angel lived.”

“I. . . . Someone must’ve told. . . No, no one did. . . You just said that. . .” Xander fights with the idea and in that moment, in that one single moment, Buffy sees something in Xander break. His shoulders slump and the eyes go a little dull. In that moment, the moment where he couldn’t rationalize something away; the one question he couldn’t answer, Buffy Summers watched Xander Harris die.

“I’ve made my point then,” Giles says. “I’m sorry about this, Xander. Truly, I am.”

Emotion rushes back into Xander’s face at that, his eyebrows knit as if a thought occurs to him. “Wait a minute. Last year when Willow—” He glances at the woman in question before looking back to Giles. “You were counting on me to be in the right place at the right time to stop her, weren’t you?”

Giles keeps his voice steady; his face is pale. “Yes.”

“You set me up.” There’s a tone of wonder in Xander’s voice as his eyes unfocus a moment. When his eyes snap back to life, his tone is cold. “You. Set. Me. Up.”

“I didn’t precisely set you up, no. There was no other choice,” Giles tries explaining.

“You knew exactly what would happen,” Xander paces on this statement. Stops. Fixes Giles with a look. “You knew what would happen if I went to Kingman’s Bluff.”

“Not precisely, no. A good idea what might happen, maybe.”

Buffy restrains herself from launching herself across the room to slap Giles.

“Did you think to ask me?” Xander growls. “Did you even once think to warn me?”

“Would it have changed anything?” Giles is genuinely curious.

Xander grimaces and waves his hands, as if to ward off the question. “Yes. No. Maybe.” He looks back at Giles, voice calmer. “I’d like to say, no, I wouldn’t do anything different, but I honestly don’t know. I will never know. I’ll never know what kind of man I am.” A not-particularly-nice grin slides across Xander’s face. “Oh, wait. I’m not a man. You have to be human to be a man.”

“Xander—” Giles begins.

Xander waves Giles off. “You know what? I get it. I get why you couldn’t ask me. There wasn’t enough time. You were the general in this battle and a spur of the moment decision had to be made. I get that. I even get why you didn’t think to mention all the other stuff about demons in the family to me. But there is something I don’t get. Something I don’t understand. So, I’d like an answer. Right now.”

“Anything,” Giles quickly responds.

“Why didn’t you warn me later?” Xander asks. “You had time to tell me after I talked Willow down. Hell, you could’ve called me with the bad news from England. But not a word out of you, not a peep. Here I am in Sunnydale thinking I’m going insane because I know things, Giles, I know things that I really don’t want to know, I see things I don’t want to see, I have nightmares Every. Single. Night. I’m terrified because everyone needs me to be stand-up guy Xander, safe and non-threatening Xander, and before we forget, the Xander-shaped friend, and I’m barely holding it together.”

Buffy can hear the anger bleeding through every word. The mantra plays through her head again: If you were in trouble, why didn’t you come to me? Isn’t that what you said, Xander? Shall I hold a mirror up to your face, Xander? Are you getting the irony here, Xander?

“You never said anything, so I wasn’t sure…that is until Dawn contacted me about your recent activities I wasn’t certain there were any long-lasting affects.” It’s a weak explanation. From the look on Giles’s face, Buffy knows that Giles knows that it’s a piss-poor excuse.

Xander slumps against a living room wall, his anger spent. Buffy can almost feel the emptiness left behind. “I trusted you Giles.” Xander’s voice is breaking with hurt, pain, and loss. “I would’ve trusted you with my soul. Hell, I did trust you with it. Look what you did. You let me lose it. You let me lose it without telling me what I was doing or why.”

“Xander. . .” Giles begins, taking a step forward. He looks hurt when Xander immediately reacts by sliding along the wall away from him and closer to the front door.

“You should’ve said something. Anything. Just warn me that all that magic might affect me. A word Giles. That’s all I needed. Just a word.” Xander fights to keep control over his face, force it back into the expressionless mask. It isn’t working. He looks at Giles and in almost a whisper, adds, “You owed me that much.”

With that, Xander spins out of the living room and flees from the house.

Continued here

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