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Fan Fiction: They Also Serve
Chapter Four: Arrivals & Departures
"This is what is hardest: to close the open hand because one loves."
Xander spent a long moment on Buffy's porch, breathing deep, before opening the front door and carrying in his armload of booty. He'd been expecting to find Willow ready with questions, especially since he'd left so abruptly, and he wasn't sure yet whether he was ready to answer. Fortunately, the house was peaceful and quiet, with no witches to be seen.
The quiet was broken a moment later with the sound of laughter in the upstairs hall, followed by the muffled slam of a door and then the creak of pipes that heralded a shower. Xander glanced at the ceiling with a smile, then turned his attention to the mess he'd dumped on the coffee table. It was good to hear them happy, after the darkness that had dragged at everyone this year. He didn't mind waiting while they got 'reacquainted' some more.
They practically glowed when they came downstairs awhile later. Xander had a brief flashback to his almost-wedding, and Buffy waxing on about the light at the end of the tunnel-- well, that had all gone to the Hellmouth in a handbasket, but it looked like someone else had taken up the job. Hey, maybe one day they'd all manage to be happy at the same time.
The conversation went brightly, too, up until he mentioned the part about the buzz saws. Of course, Willow couldn't let that go. Xander liked that she cared about his well-being, really he did. What he didn't like was the 'fray-adjacent' mentality; it had plagued her attitude towards him ever since she'd discovered her witchy side and left him the only normal Scooby. It hadn't kept him from stopping zombie bombers back then, why should it keep him from tracking homicidal geeks now?
It wasn't worth the argument, though. Besides, he could hardly explain to himself how he'd discovered the threat there, much less anyone else, so there really wasn't any way to make what he'd done sound less dangerous. He decided to just play the 'got lucky' card instead, then segue right into Responsible Xander.
As a distraction, it seemed to work; they were as concerned as he was about the bad guys, of course, and the mention of Giles didn't hurt. Except that led right into whys, and wonderings about Anya and Spike, which skated perilously close to things he didn't want to talk or think about just now. He'd made such a habit out of being blind to things he didn't want to see... that wasn't going to work anymore, and he knew the truth was going to hurt. Best to face it later, when he had time to fall apart.
Finally, the research won out. Willow had CDs to decipher, Tara was paging through the books, and Xander was still sorting out the papers. He hadn't had a chance to examine every one of them in the lair, and he still couldn't find the one that had triggered his memory about the Orbs. The thing had to be...
Xander froze in mid-sort, blinking at the page in front of him in surprise. Then he started laughing. "I don't think this one is going to help us any."
Willow, deeply absorbed in Research Mode, looked up and gave him a distracted little frown. "Hmm?" Her eyes fell to the piece of paper and the strange symbols that covered it, and her frown deepened. "Why do you say that? I mean, it's not any language I recognize. It could be the key to their next plan."
Tara gave him another of her strangely knowing looks and raised an eyebrow at him. "O-or a shopping list?"
Xander laughed. "Poetry, actually. Klingon love poetry, no less... and not even original. 'I hunt in darkness, the stars my guide. The memory of you sings in my blood'... this is straight out of a Star Trek episode."
Willow stared at him, her green eyes wide with surprise. "You can read Klingon?"
He really needed some more guy friends. Xander laughed again, blushing a little, and let the sheet of paper flutter from his fingers to rest under the coffee table. "Moving right along, before I embarrass myself any further..." he said.
Willow rolled her eyes, but Tara was still watching him with a thoughtful expression. "There's a lot more to you than you like to pretend," she said quietly.
Uh oh. Danger, Will Robinson. Xander could almost feel the question coming.
"Or is it something to do with Giles' wish?" Willow asked seriously, picking up on Tara's lead. "I've been meaning to ask you about that."
He made one last weak attempt to deflect the conversation. "What, you think Giles wished me to speak Klingon?" he joked. "You'd think he'd pick Latin, or something else useful."
Oh, she'd brought out the big guns now; Xander found himself looking at Resolve Face and winced. "He actually wished for me to grow up. Cruel and unusual, hunh?"
Tara took a deep breath. "That could work," she said, nodding at him.
Okay, that was an unexpected reaction. "Uh, what do you mean?" Xander asked, blinking at her.
Tara glanced briefly at Willow, then returned her focus to him. "We, um, I noticed earlier that your aura, it's different. More, more focused, more coherent."
"Coherent?" His eyebrows went up. Okay, so maybe half the things out of his mouth were stupid humor. But even if his jokes weren't funny, he liked to think that they made some kind of sense.
"It's like you were all frayed at the edges," she said. "B-before, I mean. Maybe from the times you were possessed. And now it's like you're, um, re-woven."
Xander looked down, bracing his hands on the couch, thinking about that for a minute. Re-woven, she said. Well, it seemed as though a few non-Xander threads had got caught up in the weave. Soldier reflexes? Sharpened senses? Damn and double damn; he really didn't want any leftovers from the hyena. "It makes as much sense as anything," he said, sighing. "But... can we not talk about it yet? I need some time to think."
The girls glanced at each other again. "We just, you know, we worry about you. If you need to talk about it..." Willow lifted a hand from her keyboard and laid it on his arm.
He took her hand and squeezed it, then moved it back to the computer. "You ladies'll be the first ones I come to," he assured her, then smiled. "Especially if things get weird."
Willow smiled back, relieved. "When are things not weird with you, Xander?" she teased.
He grinned, then deliberately turned his attention back to the sorting. He still felt Tara's eyes on him, but after a minute she turned back to her text, too.
By the time Giles arrived around 3:30, the three of them had managed to wade through nearly everything that had been retrieved from the geeks' lair. A lot of the information was just junk, like the Klingon poetry, but there had been enough of the other kind on one of the CDs to light up Willow's eyes and send her scrambling to hook up her printer. Dozens of sheets filled with bank blueprints, vault schematics, armored car routes, and other highly valuable theft targets had printed out at her command.
They were busy piecing together a probable timeline from the information when Xander heard Giles' car pull up. Xander dropped the page he was working from on Willow's stack and walked to the front door, then paused with his hand on the latch, waiting.
"Xander, what are you..." Willow frowned, looking up at him, then looked out the living room window. "Giles is here?"
"Yup," he said, grinning back at her while he listened for the G-Man's footsteps. "Three, two, one..." He pulled the door abruptly open and stepped back, grinning at the British man's non-plused expression.
"Xander," Giles greeted him with a frown, and dropped the hand he'd been reaching for the door with.
"Hey, Giles," Xander nodded, and gestured towards the living room. "Come on in. Wills made some tea."
The older man sighed and stepped over the threshold. "That sounds marvelous; it's been a very long day already. Have you found anything else about the Orbs of Nezzla'Khan?"
Xander shrugged. "No, mostly just clues for their treasure hunt... Talk about crime spree. The stuff about the Orbs is mostly written in another language, so we were saving that for you." He tagged after Giles into the living room, and pointed out the things they'd set aside for him.
Giles settled into a chair and picked up a text, frowning at it. "Probably the language of the Nezzla demons," he said, sighing. "I know a little of it." He accepted the cup of tea Willow brought him, and took a careful sip before settling it on a tiny cleared space on the coffee table. "Have you located Miss Madison yet?"
Xander smirked at him. "And I quote, 'Don't do anything foolish before I arrive,'" he said. "It's been several weeks since we saw Amy last, and she was all skanky magic girl then. I didn't want to check up on her without backup."
"What about Amy?" Willow asked, looking a little confused.
Giles looked at Xander, and Xander sighed. "Warren needed someone to cast a spell to find these Orbs, right? So they could pull off the rest of this stuff. Except Jonathan bailed on them, and half these opportunities are time-sensitive, so they have to find another magic-user right away."
"And you think they'd go after Amy? Do they even know her?" Willow frowned. "She was in a cage in my room for three years."
"Well, they had her address in their lair," Xander shrugged. "We need to check with her at least."
"Okay," she said, nodding. "I'll go with you."
"Whoa," he objected instantly, throwing up his hands. Here be dragons! "And what happens when she makes with the mojo? No offense, but I need a functioning witch or mage, and Tara's the only good one I know." He glanced over at the witch in question with a small smile. "That is, if she wants to come."
Tara looked surprised, but also pleased that he'd asked. "O-of course," she said. "If Willow doesn't need me here?"
Willow looked a little hurt, but her expression was also tinged with self-disgust; she didn't like his objection, but she understood. "No, I'll be fine. Amy was pretty strung out last time I saw her, I doubt she's much danger anyway."
Giles looked pensive. "I wouldn't underestimate her, Willow," he said. "In fact, it might be a better idea if I accompanied Xander. If Mr. Meers and his friend haven't reached Miss Madison yet, then we can prevent him from doing so, and this text is useless; if they have, I might have more luck stopping any spells in progress than Tara would, and the translation can likewise wait."
The comfortable way Giles spoke of the magic caught Xander a little off guard. When they'd defeated Catherine Madison during Xander's sophomore year, Giles had claimed he'd never cast a spell before. Since then, Ethan and Eyghon had proven that an obvious lie, but the older man still seemed uncomfortable when casting magic, and not particularly gifted at it.
Xander didn't have a chance to ask any questions, however; without warning, there was a disturbance in the air and Anya's form appeared in the middle of the living room, facing Tara and Willow.
"Willow!" Anya exclaimed, wringing her hands. "That friend of yours, the twitchy one who used to be a rat and led you into the bad magics? I can sense her, she wants vengeance very badly, but for some reason I can't teleport to her. That's never supposed to happen."
"So..." Xander said, slowly, trying not to choke on the feelings of frustrated love, self-hatred, and disgust for what she'd become that roiled in his stomach. Note to self; find out from Giles later how to stop Anya-- no, Anyanka-- if it became necessary. "Why are you telling us all this?"
Anya spun around, noticing Xander and Giles for the first time. "Well. Since you're White Hats and everything, and I can't help her, I thought you might want to know. Not that I care what happens." She frowned at them, then snapped her fingers and disappeared as abruptly as she'd come.
"That was... unusual," Giles said, slowly.
Xander blinked, then twitched his lips into a sour smile. "What, no 'Oh Dear Lord'? You're slipping, G-Man."
Giles lifted an eyebrow at him. "Do stop calling me that, Xander," he snarked back. "I noticed long ago that you don't listen to that particular phrase anyway."
"Whatever you say," Xander smirked, grateful for the distraction from thoughts of Anya. He moved towards the door, pausing when he got near Giles to hold out his hand, palm up. "Hey, Dad, can I drive?"
The irritation on Giles' face grew more pronounced. "Don't call me that either," he growled, brushing past Xander to exit the house. "And the day you drive my car is the day I no longer walk this Earth."
Xander shook his head and followed the other man out the door.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.