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Chapter Data

Chapter Three

Fan Fiction: They Also Serve

Chapter Three: Theories & Evidence

"Too bad that you couldn't see / See the man that boy could be / There is more than meets the eye / I see the soul that is inside"
~Avril Lavigne, 'Sk8er Boi'


"So what's up with him, do you think?" Willow turned to the window, watching as Xander started his car and pulled away from the curb.

"I don't know," Tara answered, furrowing her brow as she thought about it. "But there's, there's definitely something different about his aura. Has anything, um, really big happened in the last couple of days?"

Willow frowned, puzzled, and flopped back down on the couch next to Tara. "I don't think so. I mean, aside from Buffy going crazy and trying to kill us, or his un-Wedding a few weeks ago... You really think something's wrong? He could just be tired, or maybe he forgot to do his laundry, or maybe he's still all depressed about the Anya thing, or, or, Wait!" Willow sat up straight, staring wide-eyed at Tara. "The wish thing! It has to be the wish!"

"W-wish?" Tara shook her head, confused. She had her suspicions about Anya; Xander's ex-fiancé had been trying awfully hard to get everyone she knew to make nasty wishes about him, Tara included. Coming from an ex-vengeance demon, that was pretty ominous behavior. But surely no one had taken her up on it?

"You didn't see it," Willow said. She reached for Tara's hand, twining their fingers together as she stared into the distance, remembering. "The nerdy guys have these cameras set up everywhere, the house, Xander's job site, the college, the Magic Box, everything. They were spying on us. So I hacked into their camera feed yesterday and started looking around, and I saw her in the shop, crying all over Giles. We didn't even know he was back! And then she stepped away and her face went all demon-y, and I just know he made a wish. Poor Xander."

"It doesn't have to be a bad wish," Tara said slowly, thinking about it. "Giles doesn't hate him."

Willow sighed, and made a sad face. "No, but he's not best friends with Xander, either. Giles can be pretty hard on him when he thinks he's being immature, and I know he didn't think Xander was ready for marriage in the first place. I can think of lots of things he might have said to Anya about it."

"M-maybe," Tara said, still working it out in her thoughts. "But Xander didn't look injured or anything. Confused and upset a little, but not physically hurt. A-and there's not much you can wish about a person's mind. You could wish him smarter, or in love, or French, o-or something, but anything like that would be obvious."

"And I can't see Giles making that kind of wish, anyway," Willow said. "Not intentionally. He maybe would say, 'I wish he hadn't jilted you,' but then we wouldn't remember it happening, right? We'd be different people already, like what happened with skanky vampire-ho me." She shivered, then picked up her coffee and took a long sip.

Tara leaned forward and took another doughnut, then nibbled on it thoughtfully as she considered the changes in Xander's aura again. "You know," she said, "Ever since I've known Xander, he's been a little, um, unfocused. Like he has all these compartments in his life, and he doesn't really know how to integrate them. There's hard-working Carpenter Xander, and funny Scooby Xander, and insecure Boyfriend Xander, and... and lots of Xanders."

"Like different personalities?" Willow scrunched up her forehead, looking puzzled.

"N-no. More like masks. And he, he has trouble taking them off, I think. Or seeing other people without theirs."

"I never thought about it that way," Willow said. She set her coffee down and snuggled into Tara's side, laying her head on her girlfriend's shoulder and idly stroking her arm. "But isn't that normal? Because of his parents, you know, the insecurity thing? That doesn't make for a good self-image."

"S-s-some of it, p-probably," Tara agreed, resting her cheek on Willow's soft red hair. "But th-that applies to m-most of us." Take her father, for example. Just thinking about him, most days, was enough to raise her stress levels and worsen her stuttering considerably. She took a deep breath, cleansing her mind of the negative thoughts, and continued. "Didn't you mention before that Xander has been possessed?"

Willow was quiet for a minute, thinking. "He got possessed by a hyena, and then a soldier, not long after we met Buffy. The soldier thing was the first time we met Spike, too; it was that Halloween when I got turned into a ghost. Do you think it fractured him somehow? And that whatever Giles wished for fixed it?"

"Possibly," Tara agreed. "That would explain the differences I saw."

They sat together like that on the couch for another couple of minutes, lost in thought, until Willow smiled against Tara's shoulder and got a little more motivated with the areas her hands were roaming. "Enough about Xander," she said, in slightly husky voice. "This is our first day back together. There are other things we could be doing."

"MMmmmm." Tara giggled, and turned her face towards Willow's for a lengthy kiss. "But not on the couch."

"Well, then what are we doing downstairs?" Willow giggled back, then linked both hands with Tara's and stood, pulling Tara after her.

Tara stole another kiss, then let Willow lead her to the stairs and back up to the master bedroom. Xander had said he'd be a couple of hours, hadn't he? They had lots of time.

Tara and Willow spent the next hour and half rediscovering each other in the snug confines of the master bedroom. Bodies explored in shadow the night before were now limned in diffused sunlight; territory made new by months of absence became familiar again, inch by inch. As they lay together afterward, soaking up the peace, a verse oft heard in her childhood floated through Tara's mind:

"And the evening and the morning were the first day," she whispered, thinking about the hope and beauty inherent in the beginnings of things... or a re-beginning, in their case.

Willow smiled. "First day of the rest of our lives," she whispered back, indulging the cliché. Then she stretched and sat up. "Joint shower?" she suggested.

"Mmmm," she was answered; and so they did.

"I've missed this," Tara said softly a few minutes later, resting her forehead against Willow's under the gentle cascade of water.

"So have I," Willow replied with a wistful smile. "Let's not ever fight again, okay? I mean, I know things won't ever be perfect, but whatever I have to do, giving up the magic, anything, I'll do it. I never want to lose you again."

"I think that can be arranged," Tara said happily. "Um, speaking of arranging, if we have time after the Scooby research, I have all this stuff over in the dorms that could use another home..."

"We'll make time," Willow declared, pulling back to make sure Tara got the full effect of her expression. The wet tangles framing her face and the drops of water glistening on her cheeks did nothing to diminish the impact of the Resolve Face.

Tara laughed, delighted, and dropped a kiss on the tip of Willow's nose before reaching around her for the shampoo.

By the time they had finished dressing again and weaving braids into each other's hair, it was almost one o'clock. Nearly three hours had passed since Xander had grabbed his coffee and doughnut and took off into the wilds of Sunnydale. The girls frowned at the bedroom clock, then headed down the stairs arm-in-arm, intending to start a search for him.

Xander was already back, however, sitting quietly on the couch and sorting a mess of books and papers on the coffee table.

"Xander!" Willow exclaimed. "We were just about to go looking for you, it's been more than two hours since you left. Why didn't you tell us you were back?"

He looked at them and smiled, his brown eyes twinkling with good humor. "Hey, I didn't want to interrupt again," he said. "And you know, if you still want to be alone..."

"No, no, we're good," Willow said, giving Tara a warm look.

"We're better than good," Tara echoed, smiling back at her.

"Great," Xander said, grinning benevolently at both of them.

"Super," Willow added softly, and reached up to stroke Tara's cheek.

It took a lot of effort for Tara to look away from Willow's green gaze and pay attention to Xander again. "So, um, nerds. How are them? They?"

Xander shrugged. "Well, it was definitely their lair," he said. "But you were right, Willow; they obviously knew you were tracing their signal. They left in a hurry. Van was gone, but everything else was still there."

If Willow had been a cat, Tara mused, her ears would have perked up at that statement. "We should go back," the redhead exclaimed. "Tara and I can take a look around..."

Xander winced and gave Willow a sheepish look. "Actually, there's nothing left there now. Giant buzz saw. The place was booby-trapped, like Indiana Jones and the Nerd Pit of Doom."

"Xander!" Willow's excitement shifted to alarm. "You could have been killed! You're not Buffy, you know. This stuff wouldn't be worth you getting hurt." She let go of Tara's hand and knelt down by the coffee table to get a closer look at the things he had brought back.

Tara followed her, lifting one of the heavier tomes from the table before settling cross-legged with it on the floor. It wasn't written in any language that she recognized, but there might be English notes scribbled in the margins somewhere.

Xander sighed. Tara looked up again and caught a flicker of irritation and guilt cross his face, but it was quickly replaced by a rueful smile. "Yeah," he said. "I know it was dangerous. I got lucky; I spotted the trap right away." He waved a hand over the coffee table. "So I carried all this stuff out before setting it off to see what it would do. Those guys really didn't want any intruders getting back out alive."

"You set it off on purpose?" Willow shook her head. "Why? What if it had caught you? And what if there had been more? I mean, it seems kind of silly for them to only set one obvious booby trap."

"My curiosity got the better of me," he said, shrugging carefully. "And hey, I'm not exactly stupid. I tripped it from outside. But that's kinda beside the point. We need to go through this stuff and see if we can find anything that might tell us what they're up to and where they're going. Giles will be back in a couple hours, but I'd like to get a head start-- I want to find these guys before they hurt anyone else."

"He's coming back already?" Willow lifted a data CD out of a stack of loose pages, then moved around the table to retrieve her notebook computer from the couch where she'd left it earlier. "You called him?"

"Yeah, it looked this might be more than we could handle," he answered. "I thought we could use that big brain of his."

"That's a good idea," Tara said. "This looks like it could take awhile, and, and we'll need him for these demon texts... unless you think maybe Anya...?"

Xander's face closed up at the mention of her name, and he shook his head. "I'm guessing she's not feeling real researchy right now."

"W-what about Spike?" Tara pressed.

He rolled his eyes. "Even if I was inclined to trust the chipped freak, he isn't around. He vanished last night when he was supposed to be watching Jonathan. I'm guessing they're in L.A."

Willow's eyebrows went up. "Because of Buffy, you think? Why was Jonathan here, anyway?"

"When is anything to do with Spike not about Buffy these days?" Xander snarked. "Jonathan I dunno, I think he's just running away from Warren and Andrew. They wished him back here courtesy of Anya, and he wasn't too happy."

"Well, if he's telling the truth that's one less bad guy to worry about," Willow mused. She frowned at her computer screen, clicking around the contents of the CD. "So why is Buffy meeting with her Dad?"

"Wants custody of Dawn, he says," Xander answered, shuffling papers around. "Demanded they meet with his fancy lawyers today."

"C-can he do that?" Tara shared an alarmed look with Willow.

"Not according to Buffy's Mom's lawyer. Giles called him last night and made sure he'd be there. According to him, unless CSD decides Buffy's evil, Dawn gets to live here as long as she wants."

"Well that's hopeful," Willow said, turning her attention back her computer. "Hmmm... and so's this, maybe, if I can figure it out. A bunch of schematics with the designations stripped." She sighed. "This is going to be a pain."

"Well, you know what they say," Tara teased.

"No pain, no gain," Xander and Willow chorused in reply.


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