Set between S5 and S6, back when Willow's magic started to grow but before she had gone bad. Set probably a few months before she deratted Amy.
Knowledge Isn't Always Healthy For You.
Xander picked up the newspaper, looking through the classifieds. His construction job was on hiatus for the winter, mostly because everyone who could afford to renovate had left recently. The whole Glory thing had really driven real estate prices down. So, no work for at least three months. He had the money saved, but he wanted to keep it in case something happened. Like another trip to the Emergency Room. Or another move. He looked around his new apartment. It wasn't so bad. Not as spacious as the one he had shared with Anya, but not bad considering.
He read through the small amount of ads, smiling when he saw the one for Giles' store. There was no way he was working there, especially not under Anya. It didn't pay very much anyway. He sipped his morning go juice as he continued down the three columns. One ad stuck out at him, which was shocking. He wouldn't usually look at an ad to work in a bookstore. He circled it and went on, but kept coming back to it. He shrugged as he picked up the phone. Maybe he'd get over it once he talked to whomever. "Hello, I saw the ad?" he asked.
"Yup, that's us," the woman said, her voice loud and cheerful over the line. "Come on down around ten and we'll talk."
"Okay. Ten it is. Where are you?"
"Oh, we're at the corner of Main and Billings. That little brick store."
Xander made a note on the newspaper. He had never noticed a brick store there before, but okay. "All right, I'll be there at ten. Thank you." He hung up and headed for the bathroom. It couldn't hurt to check it out. Could it?
Xander walked in and sneezed immediately from the dust floating around. "Gee, and I thought Giles had some old books," he muttered as he closed the door. A woman's head peeked around a bookshelf at him. "Sorry."
She smiled. "Not an issue. I've been in Mr. Giles' store, he does have some very old books." She held out a hand. "Mary."
"Xander," he said as he shook it. He looked around again. The store was full of bookshelves. You almost couldn't get around a few of them. Between some of them were stacks of books that were probably looking for a good home. Unfortunately, the store was full. He looked at Mary, then at the stacks of books. "Behind or needing a new home? I can build bookcases."
She chuckled. "Good. You're hired." She disappeared and came out a minute later on the other side of the counter, a feat he wasn't sure how she had accomplished. He gamely went to where she had been and looked through the maze. He slowly headed down the aisle, then turned right, but it was blocked after a few feet. So he turned left at the next junction and saw the pathway immediately. "Wow," she said, looking impressed. "It took the last guy a few months to learn that." She looked him over. "So, what can you do besides build book cases?"
"I'm a carpenter by trade, but we're in a work slowdown," he told her. "I've worked for Mr. Giles on and off for a few years now." It wasn't quite a lie, he knew the contents of most of Giles' books backwards and forwards by now. Working with them for four years had done that. He had even learned the Library of Congress filing system. He glanced around the store. "I can clean," he offered tongue-in-cheek.
She patted him on the shoulder. "We just need to have more shelves, Xander."
"Where are you going to put them."
She winked at him. "Never fear, we'll have the space by tonight." She reached behind her and pulled down a book. "Memorize this."
He thumbed through it. "Where everything is?" She nodded. He looked up. "A very eclectic way of sorting."
She chuckled again. "We're like that here. Anyway," she said, hopping up to sit on the solid wood counter. "I pay just above minimum wage and allow borrowing of books as long as they're coming back in good shape. We allow you to work another job if you want, but you can't start blowing us off without telling us."
"Who's us?" Xander asked.
"My partner. He's the one arranging for more space for us." She grinned. "So, how about it?"
"Sure," Xander said with a shrug. "I won't have anything else for at least three months. Sunnydale's not exactly in a building boom at the moment." He leaned on the counter, pushing the book out of his way. "Where and when do I start?" He looked down at his dress clothes. "I'm not exactly dressed to dust."
She patted him on the head. "Go home and change. Come back around one. You can start building us bookshelves for the new backroom. We'll need about twenty of them, six shelves high, and about six feet wide each." He nodded. "I've got some lumber laying around for you to start with. I'm assuming you have a saw?"
"Yuppers." He straightened up. "I'll be back at one with my tools and I'll start working on it, boss." He saluted her, giving her his usual cocky grin. "Later."
"Have fun." She watched as he made his way through the maze and left the store, then looked behind her, toward the back room. "So?" she asked the man standing there.
"It's dangerous," he told her, not coming any closer.
"We're not a threat to him," she said lightly. She slid down to her feet. "Maybe we'll even get this mess sorted out." Her partner snorted. "It's a possibility. He seems very organized." She headed through the maze. "Where was my book," she muttered, searching for the ancient romance scroll. "Ah-ha, found you," she said as she caught it before it could move again. It wiggled in her hands, but it wasn't trying to really get away. She curled up in one of the hidden chairs and went back to her story.
When Xander came back at one, he didn't see any difference in the outside of the store, but the inside looked much more spacious. The narrow pathways weren't quite as narrow and the room seemed to stretch back further. He almost went back outside to check on it, but thought better of it. His boss, Mary, looked over at him. "I told you I was arranging for more space," she said with a shrug. "What did you expect?"
"Another floor opened?" Xander suggested, pointing up at the crowded mezzanine area. He looked up and sure enough that was crowded now too. He looked at his boss. "This is going to sound insulting, but are you a demon or are the books demonic?"
She nodded. "That did sound insulting but I know what you do so I figured you'd be naturally careful. We're a *special* bookstore and yes, a number of the books are demonic, but as with all knowledge, it's how you use it, kid." He didn't look convinced. "You know the stuff Glory was trying?" He nodded slowly, looking even less convinced, like she was going to hop over there and eat him now. "Well, some of the dimensions aren't that bad. Some of them are actually pretty nice, nicer than here even. It's all in how you use and harness the power and the knowledge."
"Oh." He shifted uncomfortably. "I, um, have to admit to being somewhat of a demon magnet," he admitted. "Is that going to be a problem?
She laughed. "Hell, no! You'll bring in customers to look at your pretty backside and hopefully they'll buy books!" She smiled at him. "And all you have to do is build bookshelves for now. And eventually help us sort them out."
"As long as I don't get into trouble," he sighed. "You're not evil, trying to take over the town, or kill anyone?"
"Not this week. Ask again when I have PMS," she quipped. He chuckled at that. "Feel better now that you know I'm not going to hurt your precious blonde friend?" He nodded. "Good. The wood's in the back room," she said, pointing. "I heard one of the stacks shift so you may have to ask it nicely to get out of your way."
He looked around. "If you can have as much space as you want, why don't you stretch this place out more and add in a sitting area?"
"Because that magic doesn't come for free and it's the sort of expense I don't like to pay for," she admitted. "Don't worry, I'll tell you about that later. Just get to the woodworking stuff for now and we'll be able to figure out how much more room we need. Oh, and watch out for the furry books. Not the physically furry ones, they'll try and nibble but they're usually harmless. Look out for the ones that are breeding and care manuals for the other sorts of fuzzies." He nodded giving her that 'you're insane' look again. "They're attracting new folk all the time. I'll expect them to follow you around for a few days, Xander."
"You're odd," he told her, but he was smiling. "I've never met anyone odder than Anya before." He shimmied his way through the stacks to the back door, having to jump one stack. He found the lumber, good quality maple, and set about making her a lot of bookcases. Because the store needed them. By the time she called back that it was time to quit, he had production lined about six more and could put them together in the morning, letting them dry all day so they could be filled the next day. He walked out and shut the door since his tools were back there. "I've got six started and I'll be able to pop them together tomorrow," he said as he followed her to the door. He looked back as he heard shifting. "The books really do move!" he said in amazement.
"Told ya so," she snorted. She patted him on the arm. "You go first, that way none of them will follow you home." She waited until he was outside to cast the spell of protection over her children and backed out, closing and locking the door. Her key set the security alarms, magical and not, and then she turned to look at her workers. "Don't worry, they won't eat the tools. Maybe nibble a little, but not eat." She smiled. "Come back at ten tomorrow?"
"Sure," he agreed. "I'm used to much harder hours."
"No, that's inventory time," she told him. "That usually stretches for a month and a half in one or two days." She strolled away. "Ten."
"Yes, Mary." He turned and headed to the Magic Box, going to see if they needed his help tonight. He felt energized, like he was doing good stuff again. Not at all tired, not like a day on a work site, so maybe this would be a nice switch for him. He walked in whistling and everyone looked at him, frowning. "What? I've got a nice temporary job and it's easy work for right now," he told them.
"Good," Buffy told him. "We've got to go on a patrol tonight. You up for it?"
"Sure," he agreed. "I've had a nice day starting on some bookcases." He smiled at her. "Easy compared to my usual stuff." He sat down at the table. "Where are we headed?"
"Sunnyview," Willow told him. "There's been someone over there digging up the graves for parts again."
"Yay us. Another Frankenstein wannabe?" The girls shrugged. "Cool, then let's go."
"We'll have to wait for sundown, see if we can catch them in the act. We set up a watch last night and they didn't come," Buffy told him. "Where are you working?"
"A small little bookstore up the road a bit. Right about now is when we get off, the boss knows about the hinky and strange around here." The girls looked at him. "She's a witch or something."
"Oh." Willow shrugged. "As long as you don't get cursed or something," she agreed. "Is she nice?" He nodded. "I'll have to drop by sometime." She looked at Buffy. "Want to head out now, grab burgers on the way so we can nibble?"
"Sure," Buffy agreed. "Are you buying or is Xander?"
"I can do that," he agreed, patting his wallet. He grabbed a few stakes and followed the women out to the local Burger Barn.
Xander watched the person who was walking up to the graves with a shovel. "Might that be our scumbag?" he asked.
Buffy looked over from her direction of watching and shrugged. "Maybe." She slid off the headstone she had been perched on and nudged Willow to follow her. "Excuse me," she said as she walked closer. "Sunnydale Cemetery Preservation Society. Might I ask what you're doing with the bodies you're digging up?"
"Well, for right now, I'm looking for a family heirloom," the guy said with a smile. "Later, the bodies will go to feed a beast I'm keeping locked up. I captured it and then realized what its food source is. It doesn't like the dead ones, but I'm not going to feed it live people."
"Oh, hey, a decent person," Xander told him, smiling. "You do realize that some of their families might not agree?"
"They're mine and they knew about the beast before they died," he said with a shrug. "It's not like it's illegal."
"Technically, it is," Willow told him, grimacing at the ick on his blade. "So is keeping the hellbeast probably."
"Not in this town," he said happily. "That's why we moved here. Grandma," he pointed at a recently dug up grave, "thought it'd be a nice place to come to die."
"You're just odd," Buffy told him. He nodded. "Who are you?"
"William Renquist Taylor," he said, shaking her hand. "Warlock."
"Oh." Willow frowned. "And you're keeping a hell beast?"
"Like I said, I trapped it," he reminded her. "Are you going to try and beat me up?"
"Well, she could magic you," Buffy said, nodding at Willow. "I could beat you up."
"Or I could," Xander offered. "That way you don't have to hit a girl."
"Ahhhh, not a problem," he said with a hand wave. He whistled and a large, six-foot at the shoulders beast came trotting out. "Have a snack, guy, another will be called."
"Sorry, not from me," Buffy told him. "That's from Faith." The man looked startled. "Do I look like Faith?"
"There's only one of you."
"There's two thanks to CPR," Xander told him.
"Oh, dirt. Well, hell. Okay, then just eat the witch," he sighed, pointing at her. The dog looked from Xander to Willow and back, then snuffled at Xander. "Not him, he's just surrounded by it." He smiled at Buffy. "You've got to excuse him, he's still a puppy," he said with a smile.
Buffy grabbed the thing's jaws and snapped its neck. "Now it's not. Don't try to eat my friends," she said when he started to frown. "It's not terribly polite."
Xander nudged Buffy. "Rising," he said, pointing. The warlock looked startled and cast something but the fledge kept coming up.
Willow sighed in disgust and levitated a stake over, punching it through its chest before it could get fully out of the grave. "You've got a lot to learn if you're going to operate in Sunnydale, Mister. You can't curse them back into the grave, it only makes them cranky and it takes more power than you're willing to give up."
"Um, if we can help you find the family heirloom, would you quit digging dead people up?" he asked.
The warlock thought about it then shrugged. "Since my pet's dead, I probably won't have to once I find it."
"What is it?" Willow asked.
He pulled a picture out of his pocket and handed it over. "This. There's been six copies found so far."
Willow pulled over her backpack and set up a small candle so she could see the details better. She thought about it, summoning it to her. A bunch of copies fell to the ground but only one of them felt magical. "This one has magic," she said, handing it over. "If it's not that one, there's the rest, except for the one stuck in that tree," she said, pointing behind her. "It tried to come through it."
He looked impressed. "Wow. You're a damn fine witch. Wanna have kids?"
"I like women," Willow told him.
"Hey," he said with a lecherous smile, "so do I! We'll put a cute one between us. Between my family lines and your magic, they'd be hellish kids."
"No thanks. I'd hate to have to do that to my girlfriend."
"Can I watch you two then?"
"NO!" she said, sounding disgusted.
"Sorry, just asking. You know how men my age are." He nodded at Xander. "He's probably asked the same thing." Xander shook his head. "No? Are you gay?"
"No, I have more sense than to piss Willow off. She'll kill me." He smiled at the man. "Why don't you gather your stuff up and go home, man. Before the rest of the fledges come out and you become food."
"Okay, all right, I'm going," he said, gathering up all the small copper medallions and taking them with him. He had to make two trips to get his shovel and his beast's corpse, but he eventually made it back to his car.
Xander looked at Buffy. "Was it just me or was he stranger than ordinary?"
"He was definitely stranger than normal," Buffy agreed, turning around. "Wanna do a quick patrol or not?"
"Nah, I've got to be at work at ten," he said, smiling at them. "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to bed I go." He winked at Willow. "Have fun with everybody." He headed for his car and then home, going to crawl into his nice, cool bed, in the nice air conditioning, and sleep for the whole night without anyone strange interrupting him. Hopefully.
Buffy looked at Willow. "I think I might like this relaxed Xander," she noted. "He seems kind of nice and cool to be around."
"Much better than the uptight and nasty Xander that appeared after that whole Anya fiasco," Willow agreed, walking Buffy off.
Xander walked into the bookstore and smiled at his boss. "Yet again I do return," he quipped.
"Cool. All your tools are fine, but your hammer has a few teeth marks on it. Sorry."
"As long as it's useable. Or I can always go buy a new one," he assured her easily.
"You're chipper. Too much crystal meth in your cocoa puffs?"
"No," he said, laughing. "A good night's sleep without the interruption of demonic activity from anyone!" he said happily. "Even the warlock last night wasn't too bad and he went away willingly. No pains or owwies all night." He shimmied his way back to the back room and set his bookshelves together, glueing and nailing them before he clamped them. One of the books jumped up there. "Hey! Wait until they're dry. You can have them tomorrow." He hit himself on the forehead. "Why am I talking to a book?"
"Because it likes your new shelves," Mary called. "What was this warlock's name?"
"William Renquist Taylor," he called back. "Looking for a copper medallion."
She walked into the backroom. "Did he find it?" Xander shrugged. "How many does he have?"
"He said he's found six that weren't right so Willow summoned all of them using his picture to make him go away. He wasn't too pleased with us. Willow wouldn't sleep with him, or share her girlfriend with him, or have babies with him, and Buffy killed his hellbeast pet."
"Huh." She punched him on the arm. "I'm not asking for detailed information, kiddo, but I wouldn't mind having a rundown of people like that. They tend to make my life difficult then I end up dueling. Would that be okay with you?"
"Sure," he agreed. "I don't think I'm breaking any rules by telling you that. Oh, Willow said she'd try and pop around soon."
"Cool. Let's see if she can see the illusion spell," she said as she walked away.
"Only witches, wizards, and warlocks of the higher magics can see the store."
"Um, I'm not one of them," he noted.
"No, but the ad called out to you. It only appeared because you have the skills I needed," she said, putting her head back into the room. "Don't worry, I'm not tainting you and you're probably going to ease a lot of the trouble around here. But like I said, you're allowed to borrow books as long as they don't come back slimy and stuff." She petted the book nudging her ankle. "Yes, I know, he's cute and you like him. Go pet him instead of me." She winked. "It likes to be petted with the grain of the fur," she advised as she left him alone again.
Xander bent over and petted the book gently. "How's that? I'll get you again during my break." The book curled up next to where he was working, watching him with the spaces between its pages turned toward him. He considered this. He had petted a furry book, it was watching him. Why wasn't he creeped out? "Why aren't I weirded and running screaming?" he asked the book. It opened up to show him a highlighted section. "Because I know I'm not in danger and am actually protected in here," he read. "Oh, okay. That explains it. Thank you." He petted the book again. "You're a very good book." It opened to another page. "Oh, Homer. Okay, Homer, you're a very good book." It shivered then settled back down into its watching him thing. He put together the last of the bookshelves and set them off to the side to dry. He had to shoo a few books off them. "Wait until they're dry or you'll stick," he warned them. They gathered together to watch the shelves, more of them coming in. "There will be enough space for all of you, do not fight." He started to build more, having to remove a lot of books from his work area. He managed to catch a corner with a sander when one snuck up while he wasn't paying attention. They all scrambled away and he took that one to his boss. "I was wiping my forehead and it jumped up into the sander's path," he said dryly.
"Ooh, you poor thing," she cooed, looking at the corner. "I bet that hurt. We'll get it fixed right up. I warned all of you to leave him alone while he had the machines going! They're dangerous! They could kill you all and then what would I do for company!" The books quivered and settled down. Xander didn't have another problem that week.
Xander looked around at the shelves he had made, smiling when he saw them full of happy, non- moving books. "Did you spell them?"
"No, they'll pop down tomorrow," she told him, handing him a check. He frowned. "I pay by the week, just in case you get spooked and run," she told him.
"Oh. Thanks." He tucked it into his wallet. "What is that furry one? The one which follows me?"
"It's a beginning creature book," she told him. "You can borrow it if you want."
"Thanks, I might. I doubt it'd like my apartment, but I guess I should read Homer."
"He named himself?" Xander nodded. "Well. He really does like you. By the way, you only get a ten percent discount." She gave him a look. "I don't want the money back that badly."
"I don't think I could handle having a book that curled up with me all the time," he agreed. He grinned and picked up the book rubbing against his ankle. "Come on, we'll take you home tonight. I don't have anything else to do and you can be read in the tub." He walked out with a wave for his boss, missing the book that tried to follow him out. Homer didn't though, it pounced on the other book and bit it with its pages. "Hey!" He picked them both up. "No fighting!" He handed the one that he wasn't taking back to his boss and strolled home. It was a pleasant late afternoon. He grabbed takeout on the way and no one mentioned his book. It was like they couldn't see it. He shrugged it off as more of the shop's magic concealing it.
You know, he really should pay more attention to the clues around him. Especially when shadowy cloaked figures stare at him from the alley near his house as he walks past.
Xander walked back in Monday morning and his boss looked surprised. "What? I didn't damage it," he said, handing back the book. "It was pretty interesting. I didn't know there were so many classifications of demon dog."
"Not that. You came back?"
"Was I fired? You never said I was fired." He bit his lip. "If you want me to go, I will, but I thought I was doing okay."
"No, you are, but nobody comes back." She frowned. "I guess you're more than odd enough to enjoy the job, which means I like you, kid. You can stay. You passed both tests." Homer quivered. "What?" She looked at him. "You got him wet?"
"Just a corner. I fell asleep on the discussion of flesh-eating beasts vs. the ones who eat whole people."
"Ah, yeah, I never liked that section myself," she admitted. "Hair dryer?" He nodded. "Good job." She smiled at him. "More bookcases if you wouldn't mind. I left you more wood back there. At least enough for three more. Then you can help me start the inventory process." His eyes widened. "I promise, the time out of time won't hurt you. You'll be just fine, only a little more tired tonight when you go home." He nodded and went back to do as she had requested. She bent down to listen to the book, smiling. "You think he would?" The book quivered. "But whose would he get, Homer?" The book whispered something else to her. "Yeah, that might work. Did you see him?" The book shifted and got down to follow the neat human. Mary leaned on the counter and looked at the backroom door. "I guess he would make an interesting knowledge repository," she admitted quietly. He partner came out of a shadow near her. "What do you think?"
"I think he'd do well to take over," he hissed in her ear. "Do you need to expand more?"
"No," she said firmly. "With these new cases and the new room upstairs, I won't need more room for a long time." She looked at him. "I'm not forgetting more for you," she said coldly. "Go away."
"As you wish. Remember our bargain though and how many more books will be coming." He bowed and disappeared.
Xander cleared his throat. "There's a way to get rid of his sort. Willow knows. I could call her over. She's an expert at getting through demonic legal forms."
Mary laughed bitterly. "Thanks, kid, but I can handle this one without the tainted witch." He raised an eyebrow. "Really, I can handle it."
"Okay, let me know if we can help." He went into the back. "You only got me enough for two and a five shelf," he called.
"Fine, whatever." She put her head down on the counter. Would he be willing to take part of this curse off her? He seemed like he could handle it. It wouldn't drive him insane and the knowledge would be in good hands at least. If that Watcher stayed around long enough, he might even be able to help the poor kid if he agreed. Get him over the rougher spots. She groaned as the pain in her stomach started again. This part of the curse couldn't pass onto him, but he really wished she didn't have to have it anymore. She went up to her apartment, going to give birth to more little books, filled with the knowledge that she had at one time asked to be blessed with. Between this and having to forget some of it as a price for the space to keep her little darlings, she wasn't sure which was worse. Two new baby books came out of the pouch in her stomach and she set them to dry in the special trays she had created. They would be fine up here for now, until they grew some more. She checked her pouch, cleaning it of the slime that always came with the new books and then went back down to the store. She found Xander and an actual customer, though not one she liked. "Ethan," she said dryly.
"Ah, the Mistress of Knowledge," he said, kissing her hand. "Might you have something on Teutonic Death Rites?" She gave him a bland look. "Just as a matter of non-magical research. A most interesting artifact fell into my hands and I need to check my translation. But your new handyman here can't seem to find anything."
Xander whistled. "Teutonic Death Rites and Language?" he called. Six books and one tome hopped up to the counter. "Take your pick, Rayne, then get out of my town." He glared at the chaos sorcerer. "We'd prefer it if you *mailed* in any future orders, before I tell Buffy and Giles you're back."
Ethan laughed. "How very delightful you are, Mr. Harris. I remember you fondly as well."
"Finn's still around," Xander sneered.
"Yes, but his former branch of the military are all gone," Ethan noted happily. "They felt they just *had* to let me go,' he said with a smirk. "They weren't very bright, now were they?"
"No, but if you did something to help us when we brought them down, I'm more than happy," Xander admitted. "Are you going to cause trouble with this new artifact?"
"I sincerely hope it's not what I think it is," Ethan offered. "If it is, I'm dropping it off on your boss' doorstep tonight and hoping your little witch can deal with it."
Xander scratched beside his ear. "Willow's become a bit more powerful since you last saw her, Ethan. Raising someone from the dead apparently upped her reserves." Ethan opened his mouth. "Bother Willow," he said with a sneer, "I want to see that duel."
"Xander," Mary warned. "Ethan is a good customer."
"Who causes me no end of problems," Xander pointed out. "We go into battle mode each time he comes to town. By the way, Giles said he wanted me to hit you if I ran into you."
"I'm sure he does, but he'll have to do that himself." Ethan smiled at Mary, then at Xander. "You see, I'm the only hope she has to get out from under her curse." She hit him, hard, on the arm. "Ow, wench." He smiled at her. "I have recently found something that would allow you to do one massive purge and have to read it all this time, or you might retain some of it, but it would end both curses."
"There's always more coming," she said quietly.
"Not now, though for it to be final, you might have to be turned." She grimaced. "I know, not a charming thought, but possible." He gave her a winning smile again. "Whatever you want. You may have missed it in all the accumulated knowledge you hold."
"I think that was purposefully withheld." She saw her helper's clueless look. "I made a wish for knowledge," she explained.
He winced. "Ow. Hurt?" She nodded. "I'll have to remember that one."
"You could help take some of it off her," Ethan offered. "She's allowed to have repositories, but that means you'll have to go somewhere safe and stay safe for as long as she lives." He looked at her, then at all the books. "It would also slow down the leakage she's forced to bear." He looked at the boy again, then at Mary. "If you told his Rupert, he might help you transfer some of it over. He might even be willing to become a repository himself. He is like that."
"I wouldn't trust most of the Watchers to hold the knowledge, only to hold the hands of the people who I curse with it," she told him. Xander opened his mouth. "I'll explain it once bright boy here is gone, stud. Ethan, which book did you need and is this a loan or a buy?" She braced herself. Each book someone bought took some of her knowledge away permanently.
"I think a loan," he said with an endearing smile. "Relax, I do know and understand," he said gently, giving her a soothing squeeze to the shoulder. He picked out the ones that would help him most. "I'll be back tomorrow for an answer. You know it can only be done once a year and the time is nearly upon us."
Xander waited until the door had closed. "Okay, so do you leak out the knowledge or do you give birth to it?" he asked.
She laughed. "Did anyone ever tell you you're a bright kid?"
He shook his head. "Most everyone overlooks me and my skills," he told her with a grim look. "Which?"
"Both. To pay for the space, part of my mind is erased, allowing less space to hold knowledge. I can put some of it on the back burner as it were by giving birth to a few books." She pulled up her shirt to show off her pouch. "But the more I do that, the more space we need."
"And the cycle gets more vicious," Xander put in. She nodded. "Is there a book around here on that?"
She frowned. "Not that I know of. I've asked over the years and nothing has anything on it."
Xander looked up. "Birthing books, what she does," he called. One very heavy old tome rattled and he went to pull it down, walking it back. "I like your cataloging system. I'll have to borrow it some day," he said at her shocked look.
"Of course it wouldn't come to me when I ask," she said bitterly. "I might find a way out of this curse."
"Probably. I can still get Willow to look over the contract if you want." He flipped open the thick pages, looking down at the entries. "Ah ha!" he said happily. "Stopping." He turned back there. "And of course the page is missing." He lifted his head. "Willow Rosenberg!" he called. Willow slid into the empty space behind him. "Hey, Wills, we *desperately* need this page to cure a curse, can you find it?" he asked, getting out of her way.
"Xander, I was having a moment with Tara," Willow sighed, stepping forward. "What sort of curse?"
"I asked for knowledge," Mary told her.
Willow looked at her. "Shit," she said simply. Mary nodded, looking grim. "Got all of it?" Mary nodded again. "Damn, girl. That is one I'm glad I didn't do." She looked at the book, tehn smiled. "I've seen this book before," she said happily. She held her hand over the page and chanted, recreating the page. It was blank. "Huh. It wasn't blank before."
Ethan strode back in and handed it over. "You could have tried asking, Ms. Rosenberg. That was frightfully rude."
Willow looked at him, frowned for a second, then punched him in the nose. "Dirtbag." She looked at the page, comparing it. "It's not the right page, Rayne." She put it back where it was supposed to go and then decided to close the book. Ethan screamed. "It won't disappear, but I know who can put it back," she told him, talking down to him. "Be right back. This one was in Amy's mother's stuff." She disappeared again.
"What the hell has that bloody girl been doing!" Ethan demanded as he stood up.
Xander shrugged. "She killed a fawn and brought Buffy back a second time," he told him. "She's been stronger since then." Ethan stood there, looking stunned. "I warned you."
"Yes, but I don't usually talk to lapdogs," he sneered. A book bit him and he screamed.
"Homer, you'll get rabies or something," Xander said, picking up his favorite book. "Behave, you don't know where he's been or what he's been playing with." He noticed a shadow moving. "Is that your manager?" he asked, pointing it out. Mary nodded. "Cool. Willow, the demon's here too," he called out. It started to move but was engulfed in a block of ice, though Willow didn't reappear. "Hey, I didn't know she could do that," he said happily. He continued to pet his book.
Ethan looked at him. "Were you born here, boy?" Xander raised an eyebrow. "Tell me!" he demanded.
"I don't talk to rude people, Ethan, I hurt them," he said snidely.
"Fine. Would you please inform us of your place of birth, brat!" he said hotly.
"I was born here, back when the old hospital was next to the actual Hellmouth. I was one of the last children born there, Willow was the last child born there. Happier now?" He smiled sweetly. "Because I know already all about that massive little prophecy about us being forces of problems for those like you. Giles told me when he found out." His smile brightened some. "I can only say I'm honored."
"Boys," Mary butted in. "Quit. You're giving me a headache."
"He made me possessed once," Xander defended. "He changed Giles into a Fyarl demon."
"He's a chaos sorcerer, what did you expect?" she asked.
"I know, but he can bother other people to get his rocks off."
"I have," Ethan pointed out.
"Oh, yeah, because the age regression candy bars were *so* much fun for the rest of us," Xander said snidely.
Willow reappeared. "Enough, Xander. It's his nature. He can't help himself. He's like a gamblaholic in Vegas around here." She handed over the book. Or a reasonable copy of it. "There we are, all back together. The other one had typos, this one doesn't. I put the changes in red in case there's a problem and the little statue on our doorstep had better disappear again, Ethan. Before I have to get pissed and use it to destroy someone like you." She looked at the creature in the ice. "Well, gee," she said hotly. "One of *them*. Amy had one of them at one point in time I believe." She walked over and tapped on the ice. "Let her go. Release that nice little chain of yours or I'll take it from you and break it for you."
"You can't threaten then," Ethan said dryly. "They're above even your abilities." He watched as her hand went through the ice and grabbed the necklace around his neck, taking it from him. "How did you do that?"
She held it up, showing the skin attached to it. "They never expect brute force from a witch, Ethan, you know that." She looked him over. "You're at least cuter now that you're not wearing gaudy and shiny clothes. Now you look like you're mafia." She handed Mary the necklace. "Here, you'll probably have to destroy it or break it somehow." She waved. "I'm going back to my girlfriend now, she's kinda waiting on me. Xander, report tonight." She disappeared.
Both adults looked at Xander. "What?" he asked. "We interrupted her nookie. We're lucky she didn't kill the demon for us."
Ethan pinched the bridge of his nose. "I can foresee a lot of problems from that witch," he said sadly. "Let's hope she doesn't try to kill all the magic." He looked at the book. "We can't destroy it yet."
"I know," Mary said, looking at the big loop. "My life, a never-ending circle." She handed it to Xander. "The only way to break the curse is probably to kill me and let the knowledge flow back."
"Or to have your repositories take in more," Ethan pointed out. "There's some knowledge that should never be put back into the world."
"Good point," she sighed. "Kid, you up to doing that for me?"
"Do I have to carry it around?" he asked.
"It's more like it'll be stuck in your head," Ethan told him. "I was a repository at one point in time but one of the demons I dealt with sent it back to her, which created this current problem."
"Maybe if you didn't play with demons, you wouldn't keep running into these problems," Xander pointed out dryly.
"Then the world would be a much more boring place for some of us," Ethan pointed out in the same tone of voice. "I'd like to see you have a gift like mine." He snapped his fingers. "That's right, Ripper probably crusted yours over."
Xander glanced around then held out his palm and created a small fireball. "Says who?" he asked the stunned wizard. "Some of us don't play and try to increase what we can do. We figured out we could do this much by goofing around and then left it alone." He made it disappear just before Willow came back. "Tara said no?" he asked with a grin.
"I thought I felt elemental magic and checked, but it wasn't him," she said, pointing at the ice. She looked at Xander. "It felt like you."
"Really? Huh. Would that go along with lighting the book on fire back in highschool?"
She thought about it. "Maybe." She shrugged and disappeared again.
"Smooth," Mary said with a grin. "No wonder Homer likes you."
"Dare I ask?" Ethan asked. Mary pointed at the book that had bitten him. "Oh, that sort of Homer." He nodded. "Then what we do is up to you, my dear Mistress of Knowledge."
She frowned. "I don't like giving it up. It's made my life happy." She looked around at her children. "But I can't go on like this, can I?" Both men shook their heads. "Then what can I do, Ethan?"
"You can either bless someone else with *part* of your curse, all of your curse, or keep doing as you're doing now and hope that it won't get worse when the next of your repositories is found and tortured," he said quietly.
"Tortured?" Xander asked. Ethan glared at him. "If I'm going to help, I should at least know the basics," he pointed out. "Is this like a 'we're going to make you regret it', 'we're going to turn you onto something new so you have to give it back', or like 'we're going to end your life to make her miserable' sort of torture?"
He looked the boy over and decided he did deserve the truth. "Any, depending on the person," Ethan said honestly. "I went through the first two, some have gone through all three when they didn't break."
"What about the partial?"
"The partial would be the best, but some of the knowledge would be released," Ethan admitted. "We might be able to pick and choose which fields were opened and which were kept secret. As is, she's the store of all the knowledge from all planes and all times."
"I can see where that would cause problems for the general public," Xander admitted. "Would it cause birth problems? Would more books be born?" Ethan nodded. "By who?"
"By both of you, or just by the person who had more than their system could take," Mary told him. "You can't be serious, Xander."
"Gee, you do know my name," he said with a grin. "As for right now, I think we could use some help. Could we split it among *two* people?" Ethan smiled and shook his head. "Okay, then what?"
"If we bless part of the curse, I could let a few subjects go, which would make it easier on the next person," Mary admitted. "The realmal knowledge might go back to their native realm, it might not."
"Hence a problem," Xander agreed. "Could we force which knowledge gets put into books? Would leeching it into books help this process?"
Mary looked stunned. "It hurts to do that, kid."
"But it would help?" Xander asked. She nodded, looking unhappy. "Can we pack and choose which knowledge goes?"
"We might be able to," Ethan agreed. "And we could do a massive switch over and a repository, who could do the birthing," he decided. "I've done that once, nothing was said about me not doing it again, though I can't keep it."
Mary perked up. "I wouldn't have to have the slimy little things?"
Ethan smiled. "Of course not," he said, patting her on the hand. "That would leave the rest of your children."
"How old are you?" Xander asked.
"Over six thousand," she said tiredly. "I started out with the knowledge of Atlantis and made a mistake casting something, which opened me to the other knowledge."
"Ah, another demonic trick," Xander said happily. She stared at him in shock. "They're like that, Mary. They'd do anything to make your wish uncomfortable for you. They don't want to be seen as the good guys for the most part."
"Good point. I wish I had thought of that," she admitted. She shook her head. "I've already got the temporal spell set up to do inventory. We can do it tonight."
"Okay. What do I need to do?" Xander asked.
"First, we'll need a space," Ethan told him. "I'll need the modification. We'll need much more room than we have here." He looked around. "Mary, do you have a way for me to create a dimensional pocket? A free space as it were?"
"Sure, I think," she said, frowning up at the mezzanine. "Dimensional pockets?"
"Can I keep that part of the spell?" Xander asked. Ethan smiled and nodded. "Cool." He leapt up and caught the book coming flying down. "Here we are," he said, handing it over. "Mary, would you be insulted if we turned all this into a major library? With a few different openings, just in case Sunnydale falls?"
"Go ahead," she agreed, smiling at him. "It's nice to have someone else look at the problem."
"Especially when you're used to planning battles," Xander told her. She looked impressed. "Yeah, I planned the one at Graduation." He looked over Ethan's shoulder. "That sort," he told him quietly. "With anchors in a few different places."
Ethan looked back at him. "That's not a bad idea, coming from you it's nearly a miracle."
"I should sic Anya on you," he said bitterly. "She at least realized what was going on around her." He went into the back to finish the bookshelves, Homer following him. By the time he was done, Ethan was set up to do the spell and the new one already had inhabitants waiting on the glue to finish drying. "One more day, guys," he reminded them. He made some more plans. It seemed so right to be jumping in, and he would be very useful to everyone who needed it. Besides, he liked the old library and this was going to be comfortable for him he guessed. Especially if he could talk Ethan into staying around and working that temporal spell again. He made a short list of how he was going to change things, then went out to go help. He mostly watched, the door, the books, the flames to make sure none of the books were suicidal, but he did help when told to hand over things. Soon, the spell was in full swing. That was when Willow came back to free the demon.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Freeing her," Xander said absently. "Take the demon and go."
Willow opened her mouth. "Xander!"
Mary looked at her, mesmerizing her. "Leave and take the demon with you. Forget about this, Willow." She nodded and took the demon with her. "Sorry, had to learn that," she said with a shrug.
"It's all good with me," Xander said with a shrug of his own. "She's gotten scary sometimes." He looked at Ethan, who was staring at him. "She's using it to change clothes, Ethan. A few of us are worried about her."
"I foresee a bigger problem then," Ethan sighed, going back to the spell. He got them facing each other, with him on the third mark. "Are we ready?"
"For many years," Mary admitted. She took Xander's hand. "It'll hurt and I'm sorry."
"It's okay. Did you cut my last paycheck?" She nodded, smiling at him. "Cool." He took her hands to squeeze, then Ethan's on top. "Okay, go for it." He closed his eyes as he felt the transfer start, letting his mind go blank. Not that it was so hard most of the time, but this time he wanted to look at things, categorize it as it flowed past and he knew he couldn't, not yet. That would come later. When he rested, his mind would sort everything into its own funky category system. He could wait, at least, until the itching in his head stopped. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt some of the paths trickle to a stop, so maybe he was nearly done? He felt some of it get shunted over and smiled in his head. He saw the arcane knowledge flow past and took that from Ethan deliberately, just in case, so it would be safe. He felt the disgruntled mental thought and shrugged mentally. "Not like I'm trusting you," Xander pointed out.
"Quit fighting, boys. You'll have to work together for nearly a month," she moaned. She could feel her mind emptying and more knowledge pushing in. She let it go as well, and finally the crowded feeling was relieved. Everything was emptied. Her life. Her memories. Everything. She fell to the floor, a mummy.
Ethan opened his eyes. "We'll need to do the modification spell next."
Xander put a hand on his arm. "Do you want to mourn?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I expected to do this a few years back. I'll mourn once I'm free." He looked at the boy, who looked like he understood. "How many friends have you lost?"
"A few," Xander admitted. "Too many to remember comfortably." He stood up. "Modification or room first?"
"Room," Ethan decided. "Your idea was an excellent one. You can even make more bookcases."
Xander scratched the back of his head. "I think there's gaps. They weren't able to give her all of it." He looked around. "There's definitely stuff that's missing."
"Then you'll probably find it some day," Ethan told him. He set about making the dimensional pocket, ignoring the urge to let the knowledge out. When that space was done, he taught Xander the spell to make bookshelves, letting him arrange things while he went to expel the knowledge he was storing into baby books. He found her drying trays upstairs and made use of them, enjoying the freeing feeling he was getting. As he finished relieving himself of the last book, he wondered if the boy knew he was now immortal. He shrugged it off. Xander wouldn't care, he wasn't power hungry like he was. He had done this to help Mary out. For no other reason. Sometimes, he simply didn't understand the good guys. He went down to tell Xander he was done and found him collapsed in the new book room. The shelves were full, with a few empty spots waiting on the new ones. He tapped the boy on the shoulder, waking him. "Are you all right?"
Xander yawned. "Yeah, I'm fine. We had a small battle of wills about being put into category and alphabetical order by subject. But I won," he said with a sleepy smile. "Are we nearly done?"
"Nearly," Ethan agreed. "Let me check the other doors."
"If you escape, I'm hunting you down, Ethan," Xander reminded him. "If you snap the temporal spell then Willow will definitely come looking for the reason. I'll tell her it was you if she doesn't already suspect you."
"Fine." Ethan looked out each door, adjusting the signs. "We'll need virtual guardians."
"That won't be that hard," Xander pointed out, stretching. "There are how many wizards and witches who'll want in here?" He smirked at the shocked look. "Think they can't police each other?"
"No, I think it's bloody brilliant," Ethan told him. "The Watchers won't stand for it though."
"Yay," Xander said dryly. "Who said I was giving them access?"
"You are such a shit some days," Ethan said with appreciation and bright smile. "All set?"
"Nearly." He looked down at the remaining books. "What about the new ones?"
"They're drying and growing. It should be a few more weeks."
"Cool." Xander went to have a look around, noticing someone at the main door. "Customer." He opened the door. "Hello. We're doing inventory."
"Oh." He smiled and pulled off his illusion. "I felt some new books come in. Any on numerology?"
"Check down the street at the Waldenbooks, they've got some hidden in their New Age section for some reason," Xander told him. William Taylor Renquist nodded and hurried off. Xander closed the door. "Along with a popular translation of the Necrinomicon," he muttered.
"Is it in human skin?" Ethan asked.
Xander shook his head. "It's a paperback."
Ethan laughed. "Will wonders never cease." He grinned at the boy. "Whatever shall we do with the time we have left?"
"Finish cleaning up this part of the room?" Xander suggested, pointing at the dusty shelves. "We'll put the new ones out here and I'll come to work until I can find someone part time," he decided. "That way they can be watched as they grow and get used to helping people." Ethan nodded, still looking impressed. "Want an honest job? I'll allow you research time and the apartment upstairs."
"I..." Ethan closed his mouth. "What are the strings?"
"You don't walk back into Sunnydale. You can use any of the other doors. You keep the peace until the self-policing starts. You keep the shelves in order if possible. You set up standardized lending policies. You can even work with Giles if you want." Ethan looked clueless. "He did run a library for three years."
"Good point, I had forgotten that," Ethan admitted, looking around. "I can live upstairs?" Xander nodded. "How often will you be coming in?"
"Every day until my regular job picks up, then I'll at least pop in every night. Maybe in a year you'll have whatever you've been searching for all this time."
Ethan looked the boy over. "How do you know I don't have what I'm looking for?"
"Because you're still pulling petty tricks, Ethan, and it stinks of not knowing what you want and boredom with your present life." He waved a hand at the new library. "Think about all the demonic magic you could learn. You could even do it better than some of the demons, impress them so you get your soul back sometime soon maybe." Ethan looked stunned. "Or maybe you'll find the world's biggest practical joke in there somewhere and cast it somewhere *other* than Sunnydale."
"I can live with that for a while," Ethan agreed, smirking at the boy. "Do you know what you're offering me?"
"A chance at actually kicking Rupert's ass?" Xander suggested. He stepped closer. "He left us, Ethan, and I'm still harboring ill feelings because of it. He did come back, but he's wanting to go again. I'm leaving that up to you." He walked away, going to use the phone. "Are we back in normal time?" Ethan nodded. "Then we'll have to report finding a mummy back in the shelves," he pointed out. "Close the door." Ethan went to shut himself in the library while Xander made the call. "Sunnydale Police? Hi, I work at Borgerson's books on Main and Billings. Yeah, the brick building. While I was cleaning out the back shelves for an inventory, I found a mummy. No, human. I don't know, my boss is missing and this was on the way back to her apartment," he admitted. "Thanks. Yeah, I'll be here." He hung up and went to turn over the sign and leave the door cracked. It was still light out, they'd be over quickly. He was sitting on the counter when they came in. "I finished cleaning out the sections around here so you could get to her," he said when the officers looked at the shelves. "We've just reordered everything into the new room." He pointed at the door. "That's how I found her."
"Is there anything that would say it was your boss?" one of the officers asked.
Xander pointed at her bracelet. "She always wore that."
"You don't look too disturbed," one officer noted. He must have been new because he was carefully examining everything.
"In case you hadn't heard, I've seen a few dead bodies. My graduation had a massive gas leak that blew up most of the crowd," he told him. "I've seen death. She's long dead."
"I guess," the officer said, following his superior's lead. He even accepted the quiet reprimand for asking questions. They gathered up the body and left, promising to look into things. Xander waved at them and took a lollipop out of the formerly hidden jar. He smiled as Willow strolled in. "Hey, my boss died."
"That sucks. Does that mean you've lost your job?"
"Nah," Xander said with a handwave. "She told me to stay and take care of it until her heir came." He sucked on the sucker as he saw her looking around. "When she went, most of the books disappeared," he told her. "They moved and everything, Willow."
She snorted. "Books don't move on their own, Xander, it must have been magic."
"I guess," he agreed, smiling at her. "Let me get my tools and I'll walk you back to the Magic Box." She nodded and he went to gather up things, stopping in to look at Ethan. "Willow's here, I'm heading back for the night. The cops decided it was strange but within Sunnydale norms," he said quietly. "Have fun reading." He clapped him on the back and left.
Ethan shook his head. "That boy is just annoying."
Willow looked at Xander as they walked out of the shop. "Where did Ethan go?"
"He left. Just went poof with a few books."
"Ah, the wonders of magic," Willow said, smiling at him.
"Yeah, magic," Xander agreed, slinging an arm around her shoulders. "Want to eat dinner?" She giggled.