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Chapter Data

Chapter Sixteen

Fan Fiction: They Also Serve

Chapter Sixteen: Conversations & Confrontations

"The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order the continuous thread of revelation."
~Eudora Welty

 

Xander drifted slowly back toward consciousness, peripherally aware of the tread of feet through the house and the soft swell of voices on the back porch. None of it triggered as a threat, however, so he decided (if a vague intention could be called a decision) to just sleep in a little bit longer. After all, until pretty recently he hadn't believed Sundays even had an A.M.

It was not to be, however. He had just burrowed deeper into his blankets and tuned out the others when Giles began to stir, mumbling something under his breath that Xander couldn't decipher.

"Great." Xander yawned, scrubbing a hand over sleep-crusted eyes, then stretched and sat up. "I wonder if he knows he speaks foreign languages in his sleep?"

There was no real reply from the sleeping Watcher, just more unintelligible phrases. Xander sighed and thought of the empty bedroom upstairs, but quickly nixed the idea as he realized that one of the voices on the back porch must be Buffy's. Which meant that Tara should have woken him, already. Oh well, he was sure she had her reasons.

He stretched again and got to his feet, then fingered the hem of his grimy shirt and wondered if he still had a change of clothes here. Probably. He'd ended up here fairly often after patrols during the summer, and he doubted any of the girls would have thrown his things away since.

Sure enough, a quick trip to the basement uncovered a worn pair of blue jeans and an aging Hawaiian shirt. Not very flattering, but then, that was why he'd worn it on patrol; it didn't matter if his old duds got stained with demon goo. He carried the clothes upstairs and ran a brief shower, then dropped the dirty clothes in the laundry heap.

By the time he found his boots again and decided he really didn't want to put them on yet, Willow was stirring upstairs and Giles had snapped out of whatever dream he was having. He wasn't very communicative yet, though, so Xander left him rummaging in the kitchen for tea and reached for the back door to join in the conversation.

"... rather impressive acquisition," another British voice was saying, as he put his hand on the door knob. "That will give your group quite an advantage in future difficulties."

It took Xander a minute to identify the speaker as Wesley, the useless, prissy Watcher that Cordy had mooned over all that time ago. Xander had heard via the Willow gossip line that he'd gotten more useful and less prissy of late, but Xander had yet to see that for himself. The guy hadn't come with Cordy to Joyce's funeral or to Buffy's, which was a black mark against him; but to be fair, most everyone in Sunnydale had made their dislike of him pretty clear.

While Xander stood inside the back door pondering, the conversation outside continued. "I just don't believe it," Buffy was saying, in a tone of mild disbelief. "Xander took Warren down, even though he had the Orbs? That's impossible."

The old proverb, 'Those who eavesdrop seldom hear any good of themselves,' ran through Xander's mind. Still the Zeppo, he mused, and scowled.

Tara continued, however, before he could go out there and make a fool of himself. "W-we were out too, looking for Amy. We found her, but she was badly hurt, and the earthquake made it w-worse. Anya found us, though, and granted Amy a wish; she took the injuries from Amy and gave them to Warren. I think Xander was f-fighting him at the time."

"And that would give Xander an opening," Buffy said, slowly. "Lucky for Xander. Giles told me night before last that it's nearly impossible to stop a guy with the Orbs, since he'd be as strong as me and pretty much indestructible."

Well. That was a little better; not a put-down, just genuine surprise. Slightly mollified, Xander finally opened the door and stepped through. "Which means training should be slightly less embarrassing from now on," he said, dredging up a goofy smile to flash at the group. "No more Puffy Xander, for one thing."

"Xander!" Dawn grinned at him. "Hey." She stepped forward and gave him a tight hug. Xander patted her back a little awkwardly, grateful once again for her presence in the Scoobies' lives. Growing up around Willow had in effect given him a sister, since they'd been so close over the years, but despite the fact that he was older physically Willow had always filled the elder sibling role. Dawn was the younger sister that he got to spoil and tease, and he'd missed their camaraderie during the months when she was fixated on Spike and he'd been stressed about his upcoming wedding.

Tara smiled at him. "Morning, Xander. S-sorry I didn't wake you. I thought I could, um, tell them what happened here, first?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, quietly. "We've got kind of a lot to tell you guys, and I only want to say it once."

Xander looked her over carefully, still not sure how he felt toward her after what he'd discovered. She looked worn and thin, 'like butter scraped over too much bread,' to quote the biggest movie of the year. He already knew this weekend had been pretty horrible for her, from what Dawn had said on the phone, and the last several months had been pretty bad all around. Pulled from heaven, money troubles, annoying enemies, Giles leaving, Willow going magic-happy-- and that was just the stuff he knew had happened before she'd gotten frisky with the undead. Xander still couldn't quite wrap his mind around the Spike thing... he didn't even have a soul!... but maybe there had been extenuating circumstances. Maybe. If she'd just talk to him!

"Hey Buff," he said, and mentally shoved the mess aside. To everything there is a season, as the saying went, and the moment for confrontations was not this one. "How are you doing? You didn't sound so good on the phone."

Buffy's expression threatened to crumble, but she held it in, wrapping her arms around herself like protective bars. "I've seen better days," she said, shortly. "But I'm OK."

Xander didn't really believe that, of course. It didn't look like Wesley did, either; the ex-Watcher raised his eyebrows at her, then sighed and smiled ruefully at Xander. "Don't believe a word she says," he declared. "We've all had a lot to digest of late, Buffy more than most."

"Wes, right?" Xander said, and stuck out his hand to shake. The guy looked different than he remembered-- tougher, experienced, and more confident. It wasn't just his change of wardrobe, it was written in his stance and the lines of his face. Xander instinctively responded to that with a higher level of respect. "I hear you've had an interesting few years. Too bad we didn't get this version of you instead of the Watcher; you were pretty useless back then."

"Xander!" Buffy blurted, appalled.

Wesley looked a little startled at the bluntness, but he smiled in return and took the offered handshake. "It's all right; I was, you know."

"Only about 90 percent of the time," a dry voice added from the doorway. "You drove the girls up, then?"

Wesley nodded to Giles. "Yes. Most of the others were unable to come, for one reason or another, and I have need of your library, at any rate. We've uncovered a new prophecy."

"Of course," Giles said, with a frown. "Although I was rather expecting it. Your situation is a bit unique."

"No kidding," Dawn exclaimed. "Vampires aren't supposed to have kids. And how weird is it that Angel's son turned out to be someone we know?"

"Wha... hunh?" Xander interrupted, completely thrown for a loop. Tara looked as flabbergasted as he was, but the others all seemed to know what she was talking about. "Say that part again? Angel has a son?"

"Yes," Wesley said, dryly. "Although I believe we should wait for Willow; as Buffy said, we've a lot to tell, and I don't wish to repeat myself."

"I'm here," Willow said, walking out through the open kitchen door, behind Giles. Her red hair was still damp from the shower, as she'd taken one just after Xander, but she'd taken the time to find something a bit more stylish to wear. She gave Tara a lingering hug of greeting, then leaned up against the railing, watching the others. "Amy's still asleep; I didn't think you'd want her down here."

Buffy shook her head. "No, I don't. She may have rejected Warren and Rack, but her loyalty is still kinda questionable."

"So," Xander slapped his hands together impatiently, interrupting the conversation. "Now that everyone's here. I repeat: Angel has a son?" The concept was mind-boggling. And ominous.

"Angel huh, what, huh?" Willow repeated, eyes wide. "Cordy never said anything!"

"I don't think she felt it was her secret to tell," Wesley said, apologetically. "Not until Angel told Buffy, and as he never did..." The ex-Watcher let his voice trail off as he glanced at the aforementioned Slayer.

Buffy met his gaze with an annoyed expression. "Yeah, not until said son had already gotten stolen, thrown through a portal back in time, and grew up into you. Which, when you think about it, is really twisted. I mean, for awhile there I was dating my Watcher's dad."

"Now there's an image," said Giles, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Xander would have been slightly encouraged by the way Buffy was taking the news, but he was too busy being thrown by it himself. "OK. So let me get this straight. Angel, some woman, 9 months later a baby. Which I'm guessing is some weird prophetic thing? I could maybe get my mind around that. But..." He blinked at Wesley. "I mean... How..." He paused and shook his head, taking refuge in humor. "I'm going to go cross-eyed if I keep trying to figure it out, aren't I?"

"That's just really strange," Willow said, a kind of awe in her voice. "And I mean, Hellmouth here. I know from strange. How's everyone dealing with this?"

Wesley sighed. "Well... it's a work in progress. The latest prophecy hasn't helped any, I'm afraid..."

"Oh, I don't know," Dawn said brightly, with a brave smile. "I mean, sure, Slayers aren't exactly known for their long, happy lives, but with four of us around I think we ought to do OK."

"Four?" Giles exclaimed, in tones of disbelief. "Dawn, what do you... Wesley, what is the meaning of this?"

"Oh, right," Buffy said, with a subdued smile. "You hadn't heard that part yet."

"What part? You don't honestly mean to say that, that, that Dawn's to become a Slayer now? I'd thought she was safe from that, when she didn't develop the powers after your death. And Wesley? Four? You don't honestly mean to say..."

Wesley produced a knife from somewhere up a sleeve, and solemnly bent it into a pretzelled shape. Giles fell silent as he watched, staring at the twisting metal, and the others seemed equally mesmerized. Xander blinked and looked up at the man's face as he worked, and was startled to see a flash of gold in the blue of Wesley's eyes. That, more than anything, made the whole thing real.

Xander kept watching, still and quiet, as Wesley tossed the bit of metal flashing through the air toward Buffy. He kept his eyes on the man while Buffy un-pretzelled the knife and handed it to Giles. He kept staring while Giles sputtered in surprise, then took a deep breath and spoke up.

"You're not really human anymore, are you?" Xander asked, quietly.

Wesley gave him a level look. "No. Not really. I'm meant to be something called the Destroyer, although the prophecies group me with the others as the Chosen Ones. It's a very recent development, and one I'd rather do without, actually."

"On the bright side, though," Tara added, softly, "at least you've still got your soul."

Everyone turned to look at her. She blushed a little, embarrassed, but stood her ground. "I, I can tell. It's like you're a hybrid, or something."

Shades of grey. Was there no black and white in the world anymore? Xander looked at Dawn, who he'd been feeling protective of, and Wesley, who he'd just begun to respect, and felt very lost.

"M-m-maybe we should take this to the books," Giles said, vigorously polishing his glasses. "As, as you said, it's quite a lot to digest, and..."

"...we haven't even scratched the surface of what's happened," Buffy said, with a sigh.

"But, on the plus side, we'd have flat surfaces and warmth and possibly snacks?" Willow said, with a slightly hopeful look. "Although I wouldn't suggest eating anything actually found in the Magic Box. Anya's gotten some really strange things in lately."

There was a pause as everyone regained their equilibrium a bit, and Wesley nodded toward Giles. "Magic Box it is," he said, solemnly.

One by one, the crowd on the porch filed back into the house, shooting wondering looks at each other. Xander stood and watched them go, content to be last, wondering what he was going to say to Anya when they got there. A small, irrelevant worry; but it kept him from worrying about everything else.

Forget asking why this was his life. Why was this Dawn's life? And Wesley's. And Angel's. And oh my God, that meant Spike was Wesley's nephew! And that was just...

"Xander?" Buffy said softly, interrupting his thoughts. "Are you OK?"

She was the last one out there, besides him. He looked up at her, searching her face for something he couldn't put a name to, then flinched and looked away as his sensitive nose detected cigarette smoke on her jacket.

"I've seen better days," he said, parroting her words back to her. "But I'm OK."

"Xander?" she said, sounding a little hurt. "I, I know we didn't talk so much there for awhile, but... I do care, you know? And I'm so sorry, about you and Anya..."

His eyes flicked back to hers, and he couldn't stand it anymore. "I know, Buffy. I know, OK? So just... don't."

She stared at him. "What? What do you mean, you know..."

"Spike," Xander said, with a sigh.

The color drained out of Buffy's face abruptly as she realized what he meant. "You know about Spike?" she finished in a whisper. "But, but it's over. Xander, it's been over for awhile now, and I already know what you're going to say, about the chip and him being evil and everything but it's just... it was so hard..."

He made a slashing gesture with his hand and cut her off before she could hyperventilate. "Too hard for the truth?" he said, bluntly. "Buffy, I'm not going to lecture you. I think you already know all the arguments. What hurts the most isn't actually that you were with Spike..." He pulled a face and shuddered. "It's that you didn't trust me enough to tell me."

"I'm sorry," she said, in a small voice, looking crushed. "You're right. I should have told you."

Xander swallowed, then reached out to trace the curve of Buffy's cheek with one rough finger. He never could stay mad at her for long, and he hated to see her hurt. "Well, maybe you would have," he conceded, "if I hadn't given you so many reasons to think I'd be an ass about it."

"Guess we've all done a lot of things lately we're not proud of," she said, with a slightly watery smile.

He chuckled, and dropped his hand. "And I've probably got you beat."

"Wanna compare?" she teased, gently.

"Not so much." Xander took another deep breath. They still hadn't resolved all that much, but it was a start. It was like lancing a boil, or something; their friendship was still a little messy and sore at the edges, but the pressure was draining away. "I don't know what I'd do," he added, "without you and Will."

"Let's not find out," she said softly, with tears in her eyes.

Xander nodded, and held his arms out as she came toward him for a hug. He held her there for a long moment, just letting the comfort of it wash over them both, and nearly burst into tears himself when she whispered something else against his shoulder.

"I love you. You know that, right?"

If she'd said that years ago, if she meant it as anything other than affection for her Xander-shaped friend; but he knew the order of things. Xander smiled sadly over her shoulder, staring into the far corner of the yard...

...and gasped, as he spotted something over Buffy's shoulder. "Buffy!"

She pulled back and followed his alarmed gaze toward the corner of the yard, where a still-battered and bloody Warren stood, pointing a gun at the space between them.

"You think you can just do that to me?" Warren laughed crazily, none too steady on his feet. "You think I'd let you get away with that? Think again!"

Buffy moved, trying to throw herself in front of Xander, but he was having none of it. Xander turned with her, spinning as she lunged so that he ended up between her and Warren, leaning slightly forward as he grasped her arms.

Then a loud noise sounded, and everything became a curious mixture of numbness and pain. Xander stared down into Buffy's eyes, startled by the specks of blood that had appeared on her face and on her shirt, and suddenly realized that he'd made a crucial mistake.

He wasn't carrying the Orbs.

Darkness swam up to claim him, and he sagged into the Slayer's waiting arms.

 

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