Notes: Takes place after Tabula Rasa.
Be Kind, Mystically Rewind
"We need to talk," a quiet male voice said, startling Giles out of his reading. He looked up, giving him a concerned look. "Just us. The girls would get very upset."
"Conversations that start like that usually don't bode well for matters on the hellmouth," Giles said cautiously.
"Will it be any better when Willow finishes going off the deep end?" He sat on the coffee table in front of him, staring at him. Giles frowned at that thought. "Think about it, Giles. Think about what she did the earlier today. She decided to screw with Tara's memories because they had a fight. That's magical spousal abuse."
Giles shook his head. "It's not really. Summoning something to hurt them would be."
"Abuse starts small then grows," Xander reminded him calmly. "It starts with yelling and then threatening and then goes to hitting and eventually to killing." Giles nodded. Xander straightened up some. "Willow's been hitting the magic pretty hard, Giles. What happens if she fully loses control? What'll happen to the hellmouth when she snaps? Will it stay closed?"
Giles swallowed. "That is one outcome."
"No, it's the most likely outcome if she keeps going the way she's going and nothing intervenes. Which we have tried to do. Spike has. Buffy has but she did a lackluster job. Tara's scared. She won't admit it but I saw that same look on my face when I was younger for the same reason. Willow's hurting her."
"It's not like we can turn her over to the police for it," he pointed out firmly.
"No but there's things we can do." Xander looked around and pulled down a book, bringing it over. "Anya was talking about this one."
Giles looked and sighed, nodding a bit. "In it are ways to bind a witch or sorcerer's powers," he admitted. "You must be stronger than them however, Xander. I'm not."
"Can we get a few together to do it? Because..." He stood up and looked around then at him. "Giles, continue the problem from today. Where does it stop? Even if something really horrible happens, Willow's lost in her magic. She's changing clothes with it. Tara's been nagging at her for months about her magic use." Giles sighed and nodded. "We're her friends and family. It's our duty to keep her from hurting Tara when there's no one 'official' to step in."
"It is," he agreed quietly, looking up at him. "I'm still not strong enough to bind her and I'm not sure who I could trust to help me. I know a few covens but if she feels it she can reach out and channel the hellmouth."
"Which would only go with the dark magic she's been sucking up." He pulled something out of his back pocket and handed it over. "Anya brought it home earlier to see what was wrong with it."
Giles looked at the formerly charmed artifact and slumped. "That had something trapped in it."
"And it died in there when the containment spell broke according to her," Xander pointed out. Giles checked then nodded, looking at him. "What can we do?"
"I can ask some contacts quietly, see if we can get enough to bind her."
"And if not?" Xander sat down again, staring at him. He picked up the book and flipped to a page, holding it out. "That was Anya's suggestion. She said she caught her playing with a few of the dark magic books that're stored and locked in the back."
Giles looked at the spell. It was heinous. It would take Willow's magic from her, rip it from her, and transfer it into something or someone. "It's too drastic, Xander."
"As opposed to what?" he asked blandly. "Burying Tara?"
"No. I'll not let it get to that point."
"Earlier today you thought Spike was your son, Giles."
"I remember." He took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes before looking at him again. "Why are you so concerned?"
Xander pulled off his shirt, showing the mark on his shoulder. "That wasn't Anya. It wasn't me. It wasn't Buffy, it wasn't Spike, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't you. It also wasn't there yesterday."
Giles leaned forward to look at the mark that showed Xander as a future sacrifice. He let out a small moan. "When did it show up?"
"It was there when I woke up. Which, by the way is another problem." He handed over a report. "I've been exhausted recently. Anya was joking about me being pregnant; I've been so out of sorts and cranky at work my boss asked me if I was pregnant." He let Giles see the bloodwork report. "That says I'm nearly starving and you saw me eat every single day this week, Giles. It's not my doing. That was earlier today. I went to the doctor's after we got the thing solved."
Giles put it into the book, looking at him. "You think she's draining you?"
Xander stood up and slid his pants down, showing him the other mark. Giles shuddered at the sight of the mark that noted Xander was to be a demonic sacrifice for power. "I know she's doing it." He put his pants back into place and hitched them again, sitting back down. "Again, not there yesterday. The nurse found it during the physical." He looked at the book then at the older man again. "She's dangerous."
"She is," he said, nodding a bit. "I think that idea is a bit harsh."
"When does it become realistic? When the hellmouth opens because she sneezes?"
Xander pulled over his journal to show him. "Apparently you forgot this one too." He let him see the entry that Giles clearly didn't remember writing. He read a few more around it and grimaced, nearly glaring at the book. "So it's not just me. It's not just Tara. It's not just Anya who's freaked out either. I'm firmly on the side of freaked out. The only more freaky thing right now would be for an alien to shoot out of my stomach."
Giles looked at him, taking the book back to look at the spell again. He looked at the boy. "It's dangerous. It could harm her."
"She's probably going to fight back, Giles. It could kill all of us." Buffy walked in and slammed the door. "Hey."
"Why aren't you wearing a shirt and is that a branding iron thingy? Is Anya being very kinky?"
"Anya didn't do it, Buffy. I woke up with it," Xander said bluntly. "Two of them. The other marks me as a demonic sacrifice for power." She stared at him, mouth slightly open. "It's on my thigh. I won't drop my pants."
"Thanks for that," she said weakly. "What got you?"
"Buffy, do you remember this incident?" Giles asked, handing her the journal.
She looked at it, frowning some. "No, I don't. Which is kinda weird if I fought the two tentacles this time." She handed it back. "How?"
"Do you keep a diary or a journal?" Xander asked. She nodded. "Wanna get it so we can see if we've forgotten anything else?"
She went to get it from Giles' bookshelf. "I'm hiding it here because of snoopy people who're breaking into the dorm rooms to steal money." She sat down, going back a few pages to look. "You're right. I mentioned the tentacle slime." She went back a few more pages and gasped, standing up. "Oh, no. Nononono!" Giles took the book and read the entry, slumping. "Giles! I swear! I wouldn't do that!"
"I know, Buffy." He let Xander see it. Xander read it and his face tightened up in a grimace. He looked at her. "Do you feel unnecessarily scared of her?"
Buffy sat down, looking at her journal. "If that's true, yeah. What're we going to do?"
Xander looked at her. "That's what we've been talking about, Buffy. There's a few options but we need to close off a few things to figure that out." She nodded, leaning back to rub her forehead. "Giles?"
"I cannot let this go on," he agreed quietly, putting down the journal. He looked at them. "This is a situation we don't need right now."
"Yeah, well, Sunnydale emergencies are rarely planned unless there's a prophecy," Xander quipped dryly, giving him a look. He got up and found another book. "I saw this one back in high school," he said, waving it around some. "Is it her?"
Giles took it to look at it, finding the witch's prophecy. He went pale, nodding briefly. "She is." He looked at Xander. "That's an incredible memory."
"It hit me in a dream last night. I saw myself reading it." He put his hands on his hips, looking at them. "Buffy, we love you. You know that."
She nodded. "I know, Xander. Even though you're not one of the special ones you're important," she admitted, looking at him. "I'm not going to let some scuzzy demon have you for power."
"Buffy, think for a second. I'm hellmouth born, raised, and fighting. Willow wasn't born here." She gaped, sitting up suddenly. "You're not. Giles isn't. I sat over the thing for three years, just like you did."
"You haven't been there when it was opening," Giles reminded him.
"I was the one who stopped the zombies with the bomb that last time," Xander said quietly. Giles gasped. "You should've seen all the demons in Oxnard, Giles." He sat down on the coffee table again, looking at Buffy then at him. "Do we have a better suggestion?"
"Let me call some people. I want you both to stay here for now." They nodded, Buffy getting up to make some microwave popcorn while he went to his bedroom to make some calls. Xander took a handful to nibble on, looking at her.
She shrugged. "I don't know, Xander."
"This is the same as spouse abuse, Buffy. I don't want to see Tara hurt."
She nodded. "You're right." She grabbed her diary to look through, finding a few other mentions of things she didn't remember. She got up and went up to Giles' room, tapping first before walking in. "I don't remember this one, Giles."
He looked then at her. "I don't remember it happening. Was it a slayer dream?"
"It says it happened. Maybe I should ask Angel?"
"If the spell worked on Spike today it would work on him," he reminded her.
Buffy grimaced. "Who wouldn't it work on?"
"A past scrying spell," Xander said from the doorway. "Spike's here. He's shaken and paler than he should be." They hurried down to see what was wrong. Xander warmed up some blood, adding some whiskey to it before handing it over. "Here, your version of Irish Coffee."
Spike took a sip, looking at Giles. "There's a capturing and summoning circle in the park. Laid out in white stones on the ground." He stared at him then looked at Xander, then at Buffy. "Tara's there."
"Why?" Buffy asked, looking confused.
"Is she captured or is she doing the summoning?" Xander asked. Buffy stared at him. "It wasn't Anya or a demon that carved those marks on me, Buffy. I woke up to them this morning." She shuddered. He looked at Spike. "Is she doing it, Spike?"
He finished his blood, shaking his head. "No. She's frozen and watching. Red's walking around it and staring at the symbols like they're art."
"We'll stop her," Giles assured him. "Buffy?" Xander came as well. He noticed the boy grabbing something. "What's that?"
"Your blowgun and some of the Oz darts." He looked at Spike. "Which park?"
"Middle one. Near the swings." Xander nodded, heading out with the others following him. Spike trailed behind them. Something was seriously wrong here. He found where they were, nudging Buffy and pointing. "There's the witchy one."
She nodded, taking one of the darts to go that way. She snuck up on Tara and knocked her out with the tranquilizer dart, handing her to Spike. "Back to the Magic Box. Call Anya." He nodded, carrying her off. She watched Xander stare at her. "Xander?" she asked quietly.
Willow looked up. "Look what I found," she said. "Someone's doing some major mojo work out here."
"We know," Xander said, pointing at a mark. "Anya saw someone with that mark earlier." Willow scowled. "The benefits of wake-up sex, Willow." She snorted and continued to walk around the symbols. He loaded the blow dart and took a deep breath before sending it at her. She caught it. "Don't. We know, Willow. It was pretty clear when you started to erase memories. Giles has seen his journal."
"We can fix that."
"No, you can't," Giles assured her.
"Yeah I can."
"No, Willow, you can't," Buffy said. "I saw mine too." She stared at her best female friend, feeling very sad. "What's wrong with you?" she asked, sounding like she was devastated. "You're not like this, Willow. You're not bad girl witch."
"Of course I'm not! I'm doing things to help you!"
Xander looked at her. "Then explain how removing memories helps?"
She glared at him. "How dare you question me!"
He took off his shirt again, pointing at the mark. "That wasn't Anya, Willow. It wasn't me, it wasn't her, and it sure as hell wasn't Tara!" She made a motion and he went flying into a tree.
"No!" Buffy said, getting between them. "Don't hurt the Xander!"
"You're trying to kill him!" she shouted. "He's your friend!"
"Not if he's thinking those sort of thoughts about me!"
"Yes, well, he's not the only one, Willow. We do need to talk," Giles said firmly, stepping forward. The shield came up and he banged into it. He stared at her. "Don't start this. We can help you."
Xander got up and she knocked him back down but he knew what he had to do. He got up and forced himself to walk back over there, staring at her eyes the entire time. She threw a few spells at him but he seemed to absorb them. "Doing magic on a medium is always risky," he said once he was in front of her, blocking Giles' line of sight. "We can absorb more than spirits, Willow." She started to say something. "Ah!" he snapped. She backed up. "This is not you, Willow. You need help. A lot of help."
"I have a lot of help." She made a motion of her left hand and one of the symbols lit up. "Don't worry, they'll take good care of me and you."
He put her into a choke hold, knocking her out. "No, they won't." He looked at the symbol. "Giles, magical incoming thingies." Giles came over to cancel what she was doing. He looked at his best friend then at Buffy. "We need to physically bind her so she can't use it when she wakes up."
"Buffy, go to the Magic Box. There's a dark blue box in my desk. It will sedate her." She nodded, jogging off to get it. He came over to cancel her other works, kicking the rocks that made up the symbols. Willow started to come around but Xander plucked the dart out of midair, sticking her with it. She went back to sleep. Giles gave him an approving look. "We'll handle it, Xander."
"Of course we will. I have no idea where the rehab center for magic is but we'll figure something out." Buffy came back with the box and he got down to cuff her and put the necklace over her head that would block her from calling magic. Another on an ankle. One over the cuffs. Then he stood up, nodding. "Take her to the Magic Box?" Giles nodded. "Please?"
"Sure," Buffy agreed, picking her up and taking her that way. Willow moaned in her sleep but oh well. The tranquilizer darts they had used on Oz were pretty strong. She laid her down on a couch, then gently put a blanket over her. She didn't want to see her hurt but something had to be done. It wasn't right. Willow's dark side was taking over. She looked over when Spike and Anya came in. "Tara?"
"Safe. I warded Giles' place," Anya assured her. "Even if she should lash out, it'll charge the shields I have around her instead of breaking them." Giles and Xander came in. "She's got a spell to revive her faster."
"I know," Giles agreed. He came over to dart her again, then looked at Spike, who handed over the book from the coffee table. "Anya, you know more demonic magic than I do. Are there other methods of binding?"
"That she can't get through?" she asked. Giles nodded. "No. If she can touch the hellmouth she can get free of them."
"What about blocking her from it?" Buffy asked hopefully.
Giles looked at her. "Once you've touched something like that it changes you, Buffy. The same as doing magic at all changes you."
Xander sat down, looking at her. "According to what I was reading up on the other day, touching magic is like being given morphine. The type of magic gives you a different sort of high. Black magic is supposed to burn at first but then it makes you feel all-powerful and invincible. Like the druggies who think they're God and not even bullets will stop them," he finished quietly. Buffy shuddered. "Touching regular magic is like pot smoking. It's a goofy high, a comfortable feeling that gives you a happy buzz."
"Indeed," Giles agreed, looking at him. "What have you been reading?"
"Some science fiction works." He grinned. "It's been pretty right by what I've looked up during research lulls."
"I'd like to see that series," he said, going back to his reading. He sighed and put down the book, the paper back in place. "I don't know. The coven I talked to said we could try to fight her but it might drain them all. It would take all of us to do it and if even one backed out it could remove the binding totally."
"Which would leave us with a pissed off witch," Anya assured him, giving him a look. "I would be."
Xander nodded. "Considering what happened when she lost Oz? Yeah." He looked at Giles again. "Are there options? I don't want to go to the suggestion of last resort unless we have to."
"Call Peaches. He's dealt with mojo," Spike offered. Giles nodded, moving to call him. He reached over and knocked Willow back out with a fist. "Won't have that."
Giles hung up. "He doesn't have any good ideas either, though he did caution that she'd turn into Drucilla if she were ever turned."
"Then we're down to two options," Xander said. "Either the last resort one Anya suggested earlier or going back in time to stop her."
"Both are a bit extreme," Giles said, giving him a look. "Another science fiction novel?"
"No, that prophecy book said it was an option." Giles sighed, shaking his head. "Well, isn't it?"
"It's a difficult spell, Xander."
"Is the other a better option?" Willow moaned and Xander nerve pinched her this time.
"No. Neither is a good option." The store's phone rang and he answered it. "Magic Box." He listened then blinked. "How on earth...." He nodded once. "That's fine then. Thank you for letting me know. Of course we can. Thank you." He hung up. "We'll have to do the capturing spell. As Wesley put it, Cordelia just went into a screaming fit of a vision about going back in time and creating chaos that would make Ethan moan in pleasure." Buffy shuddered at that mental image. "Which means it's not a good idea." He looked at Xander then around. "We'd need something to hold the energy."
Xander swallowed and got up to find something he had put in there recently, coming out with the hand-carved wooden jar. It had figures carved into it and a heavy stopper on top. He stroked over it, looking at Giles. "I've been working on containment things."
"I used your last one. It was very suitable." He looked at the figures and nodded. "This one would do for her, Xander. Thank you." He patted him on the back and moved to look over the spell they'd need to do. He was missing one thing but Angel could get it for him. As long as they could keep Willow asleep long enough. Anya came over to knock her out magically. He smiled and reinforced it so Willow probably wouldn't get up until it was time.
Xander snuck into the library's office, wincing as he shut the door quietly. "We need to talk," he told the younger, yet older man sitting there. He flopped down on the couch at the odd stare he got. "Giles, look really closely at me," he said calmly.
"You..." Giles stood up to come over. "Xander, you're not ....."
"Yours? Yeah, I know." He groaned but handed over something. "From your hand earlier today in my time."
Giles took the journal he knew very well, stroking a hand over it. "Was something that evil that we had to do temporal magic to stop it?" he asked calmly.
Xander looked at him, nodding a bit. "Yeah. It was. It's going to be a bit of reading. Start back in October of the last year. I'm gonna sit right here and hide from the younger me."
Giles sat down to read his journal, finding the dates easily enough. He had always labeled well. It's good to know that he hadn't stopped that. He read over a few then found a mark. "What's this mark on the side?"
"It relates to the last few entries, Giles. Ignore it until you get there."
Giles nodded, going back to his reading. He was not happy with how things were going. Something had seriously gone wrong in the group. He looked at the young man across from him. "What separated the group?"
"College. The Initiative added to it on purpose to get Buffy."
"Military special project. Freshman year out of UC Hellmouth."
"I'll be on the lookout for them." He went back to his reading, frowning at a few of the entries that had marks. "How...." He looked up. "Willow?" he asked quietly. Xander nodded. "Oh, dear." He knew why now. He kept reading, coming to the current, for the boy's time frame, entries and he was not happy. He squeezed the bridge of his nose then looked at him. "There was truly no other way?" Xander removed his shirt, making Giles pale and shudder. "Never mind."
"She had a summoning thing going in the park. She was going to use Tara," he said quietly.
Giles slumped. "Then why come to me?"
"Because Willow was woken up before the spell. Giles, mine at that time, thought it only fair." He leaned forward, checking the outer areas of the library. Then he looked at him again. "I never want to see Willow pick up scattered magic and call up the hellmouth again, Giles. Nor do I want to see Buffy's neck snapped by magic. Dawn was gutted with it and screamed for hours it seemed like," he said quietly, his tone a bit cold. "Tara was only bruised and beaten. She's still in the coma at home. You got a few injuries, you're in traction for the double spinal fractures lower in your back." Giles shuddered. "And I never want to have to kill her again," Xander finished. "Trying to save everyone else meant that I had to hold the capturing urn we had and I ended up using it to gather her blood for this spell. I will not see them die that way."
"I can understand that. It's very important." He stroked the book a few times then looked at him. "How did she start to go wrong?"
"She went to a magic dealer and he convinced her to try black magic. It became an addiction. Before then she'd been stealing books. Since she closed the hellmouth the first time." He stood up and glanced out there then at him again. "I don't think we have a choice. Given what we know will happen. Given how I had to kill her, I know we don't have a choice."
"No, we won't," he sighed. "It would change other things, Xander."
Xander nodded. "I know that. We'll still need someone to do the magic stuff, like sticking Angel's soul." He shifted closer. "Unfortunately she couldn't have marked me without me having some of the same skills. Never opened...."
"I've checked you," he countered.
"Giles, you can't mark me as a sacrifice of power without me having some," he pointed out calmly. "Even the taint I carry from all the power floating around wouldn't let her use me that way." He heard the door open and got out of the line of sight. "That's someone."
Giles got up to tell the girls what to research, giving the younger Xander a long look. Then he came back into the office with a small lie about needing to research something private and special. He closed and locked the door again, looking at the boy. "You're out there."
"Later on tonight I'll be headed out on patrol and get another head injury," Xander said bluntly, giving him a look. "By the way you hated it when I had to jump in, did it wrong, with the wrong weapon, and still managed to solve things and save her. Used to nag yourself late at night about never training us with the weapons we use."
"I didn't see that in there," he said dryly.
"Did you see your three month scotch binge?" he asked bluntly.
"Not yet." He went to read over it from the date he was at now, going forward so he had some warning of what might be coming. He finally looked up. "You called on the what?" he demanded.
"First slayer spell?" Xander asked a bit smugly. Giles gave him a horrified look. "It was necessary to beat their super creature. Screwed with us for months and she went back to training."
"I see." He glanced out at the chatting girls, so innocent at this age and so young. Then he went back to the journal's story. It was not a happy one. He finally got back to the point where he had sent the boy again then looked at him. "It may not happen. Knowledge would keep it from happening."
"Giles, you can no more keep her from stealing your books than you can keep Buffy from going on dates," he said gently. "She's already got a few of them stored at her place." Giles got up to check his magic books, making distressed noises from the book cage.
"Everything all right, Giles?" Buffy called.
"Yes but I think a few of the books are missing. Some of the magic books."
"Oooh, um, oops?" Willow said. "I wanted to see more about a few spells?" she asked at his look. "I'll bring 'em back later, Giles, I promise."
He closed the book cage. "Those books are much too advanced for where you are magically, Willow."
She beamed and shook her head. "No, I can do most of them."
"You shouldn't be able to at your level of learning."
"So she's an advanced learner," that Xander said calmly. "What's the big?"
Giles looked at them then sighed. "There's supposed to be a progression, children. Or...or else things have been known to happen. Like getting addicted to the magic. Or accidentally reactivating the hellmouth," he said, staring at Willow. She went a bit pale at that. "Magic is not only something fun to do on the weekends, Willow. It's a serious undertaking. More serious than your education here is. You should be careful with what you're attempting and playing with."
That Xander stood up to stare at him. "She's not going to turn into something we have to slay, Giles."
"Even if a portent said it's possible?" he asked. "Ethan Rayne started out the same way, Xander." Xander went pale at that. "He's not the first nor will he probably be the last." He looked at the devastated little witch. "You'll bring my books back and we'll see what spells you've done. If you lie to me I will lock your powers down," he assured her firmly. She nodded, ducking her head. "Buffy, escort her home and back here. Xander, go ahead and go for the night, lad." He patted him on the shoulder. "Your concern for her is worthy but if not, something will have to happen," he said quietly. The girls left and they both watched them.
Xander looked at him again. "We know she's gone out of bounds with the magic stuff, Giles," he said quietly. "I'm not that stupid. Why the worry since I was in the book of portent and doom recently and didn't see her mentioned?"
Giles sighed. "There was recently a temporal spell."
The other Xander came to the doorway to look at his younger self. "She does go bad, little me."
"Don't call me that!" he complained, then realized who he was talking to. "Wow, I look rough."
"That's because she just killed nearly everyone you know," the older Xander said quietly, coming out to look at him. "I'm so screwing with my timeline so that Buffy and others will live." He looked at Giles. "Do you want to do a warm transfer into a capturing urn or not? If so I need to get to work. The proper time is coming up next week."
"I'm not sure which is wiser," Giles admitted.
Xander looked at him. "Will we need the power?" That Xander nodded. "For?"
"More hellmouthy events. This'll screw with the future so it might not happen." He touched his younger self's cheek. "You've got so much to live for, Xander. Don't get stupid, all right?"
Xander nodded, watching him leave through the stacks. He looked at Giles again. "How?"
"It's a spell that's only done as a last resort, Xander." He sat down, looking at the boy, who sat down as well. "It's incredibly difficult but earlier in the night she had went bad, flipped out as you young ones say, and gone rogue. She killed those trying to help her." Xander went a bit green at that. "You, well you did what you had to do."
Xander nodded. "That thought crossed my mind in the past," he admitted, looking at him. "And? Is there other news?"
"It appears that you have the ability to do it should you want to. Do you feel any urgings toward magic, Xander?"
"No, not really. I mean it'd be cool and all...." He shook his head. "Its also a lot of study."
"It's also very helpful now and then when used properly but you'd have to have a guide. I'm afraid I'm going to be holding a rather short leash very soon."
"But you'll need me."
"I do. My journal said that I would, Xander. Especially at graduation." He smiled. "Now, let's see if you have access to it and you're using it unconsciously, shall we?"
"Would that be why spells go screwy?"
"Yes, instinctive shielding would account for that," he agreed. "I was an idiot not to see it and test you for it before." He went to get what he needed, coming out to test Xander to see what was going on. The flashes in his aura nearly blinded him. Xander was a .... "Oh, dear. There's a reason you keep getting possessed."
"Like on the show, I'm a medium?" Xander asked dryly. "Yeah, figured that out."
"Your shields are working at the moment but you're fairly glowing with the power as well." He reached out to touch a spot. "Can you feel that?" Xander nodded. Buffy came back in but neither one noticed. "That spot of power in you is very deep. You're as connected to the hellmouth as she is for some reason."
"Is that why every vamp and bad girl in existence wants his panties?" Buffy asked, making them jump and Giles cancel the spell. She grinned at Xander. "You're using magic?"
"No, apparently I've been shielding instinctively and it's why magic goes screwy around me. That and why I suck in spirits."
"Oh. That stuff. Okay. Is that a sign of future Xander dangerousness?"
"No," Giles said, smiling at her. "Xander doesn't revel in the power he could have. Or else we'd never get him unpossessed."
"That's good at least. Willow went to get some stuff from the computer classroom and her locker." She nodded. "I don't know what's going on."
Xander looked at her. "There's a portent in a special book that says she's going to go all junkie on it, Buffy," he told her simply. She shook her head, slumping a bit. "They're thinking dangerous from the jonesing."
"I get that. I've seen other addicted kids," she agreed. She came over to sit across from then. "So instead we'll have what?"
"I do know some," Giles admitted. "Xander has raw power that needs to be tapped into now and then to keep it drained down. For right now, take Xander on a patrol then go home. Let me examine Willow." They nodded, getting up and walking out. Willow had to be hunted down, she was in her locker getting things out. "Finding copied spells?" he asked, making her jump.
She looked at him and nodded. "Yeah. I was doodling a new one the other day during lit." She handed him the stack and came out with a few more. "What's the big deal anyway, Giles?"
"The portent said you'd become addicted, Willow. It's not going to be good for the world with the power you can control." He walked her back to the library, doing the same spell on her. He nearly beat the shit out of her for what he saw. "The necromancy?" he asked calmly.
"The soul spell?"
"No, Willow. True necromancy."
"I was trying a small mouse resurrection to see if I could," she defended.
"Which is against the natural order." He went back to looking. "I see blood magic?"
"A protection," she said quickly.
He let that one go, it was possible, though not very likely with the amount of blood tainting from spilling her own. No sacrificing others yet at least. "Weather magic?"
"Um, rain storm when we hadn't had any in months?" she said, looking confused. "Was that bad?"
"Yes, adding new storms to the weather system is tricky at best," he lectured. "You could cause storms to be held up in other areas, which can cause flooding, or take water away from other areas, which can cause a drought, if you're not careful."
"Oh. It didn't say that."
"That's because that's not a beginner's book," he said firmly. "Which you should still be using, Willow."
She got up, breaking the spell. "I'm perfectly reasonable and able to keep myself from going junkie on the magic!" she defended a bit loudly.
"Then don't use any for a week," he offered, staring at her. She glared back. "Don't. There's other ways to do things. We won't need a spell anytime soon from what I've seen. Don't use any magic, for any reason, for a whole week. The only thing that should be going on around you is your natural shielding." He stood up. "By the way, thank you for getting those books to Xander as well. It's keeping him from being taken over again." He stared down at her. "Are we agreed?"
She huffed. "Fine. Whatever." She made a grab for the books but he stopped her. "I can't even read?"
"No. These are not beginner books and you're jumping ahead. You're missing critical information, Willow. Including how to pace yourself and how not to let the magic run your life." He put the books into the cage and locked it, adding a lock spell on top of it. "Now go home. The other two are on patrol tonight." She huffed off. He glared at her back but had to let her go for now. She'd prove her intentions this week. He went to take his journal home so he could make notes for himself for later on. It would probably disappear when time changed due to the temporal spell. There was no way she'd give up magic for a week with what she had been doing.
Giles came in the next morning to find his lock spell was broken. Half of his books were missing. And Willow wasn't in her morning classes. He finally found Buffy and Xander on break and noticed the magic floating around them. He came over and did something to Buffy's neck, making her tense and stare at him. "Morning."
"Morning. What's with the touchy stuff, Giles?"
"You've got a spell on you," he said quietly.
"Bad hair? Because it would *not* behave this morning. I had to pull it up with a scrunchy."
"No. Both of you get to the library now." They nodded, going that way. He found Cordelia and Oz, their other helpers, on the way and sent them that way as well. He walked in to find the principal sneering at them. "Do you mind!" he snapped, making the man jump backwards. "One of their friends disappeared last night. I'm asking pertinent questions so we can search for her after school. I'll make sure they get to the class after this one. Now shoo!" He reinforced it with a touch of magic, making him run off. Magicing him was too easy sometimes. He took a deep breath and looked at them. "Cordelia, I can barely find the spell on you."
"Well, yeah, evil witchy poo girl didn't have anything of mine," she said dryly. "I'm figuring that's why we're sending out a search party and the poorly dressed one, female edition, isn't here."
"She ran off with a bunch of magic books," Xander said grimly. He looked at Giles. "Had the rosemary oil out already?" Giles nodded. "Thanks."
"Welcome." He made sure all the spells were canceled, having to get Buffy twice. "There. Now, does anyone know where Willow is?"
"I tried her house, she's not answering," Xander admitted.
Oz looked at them. "Why the worry?"
"Because she's been stealing books," Xander told him. "Giles has a portent that she's going junkie on it."
"Huh," Oz said slowly, clearly thinking. "Have we checked the hidey holes?" He looked at Xander. "Jesse's house?"
"Burned last year," Xander admitted. "Let me check them. Giles?"
"Report back to me if you find her, Xander. Do not try to take her on yourself."
"Yes, Giles." He headed out the back way, sneaking off school property yet again. Oz and Buffy would search their usual areas. He called the hotel. "Hi, can I please be connected with the guy that looks like a Harris?" He smiled. "Yeah, Mr. Klin Gon-Cool. Thanks." He was connected over. "What a cheesy name," he said dryly. "Hunting." He sighed. "And I should do what? Because I have the feeling you know more than you're letting on. If it was desperate enough to come back like you did, something majorly evil happened."
He stopped, walking into an alleyway to listen to what he was saying. "Why?" he asked, his voice cracking. He hung his head, nodding a bit. "We're hunting for her now. She stole books." He nodded. "That's possible, but...." He smiled. "Thanks, man. Yeah, that's where I am." He hung up and headed back to searching. The other Xander had an idea but that was a later searching area.
He found her in the old library, which had been closed down for years and was now a storage area. He called Giles before walking inside. "Hey." She flinched and looked at him, glaring a bit. "Don't even." He squatted down across from her. "You worried us sick," he said gently, stroking over her forehead with a finger. "Come *talk* to us maybe?"
"You all think I'm going to go bad and evil Willowy." She stood up, backing away. "I won't let him take my magic! It's wrong and a foul spell!"
Xander sighed, looking at her. "Willow, maybe he can drain it back down to newbie levels and let you rebuild without the bad stuff." He moved closer and she moved off again. "Willow, don't start this. You know I'm not going to hurt you."
"You will!" she said, sounding panicked.
Xander stepped back. "Fine, we'll wait here. Buffy's going to be here soon." She snarled at that. "No, that's my line," he joked, grinning a bit. "Unless you were possessed too?"
She snorted and started to gather things. "You'd never understand, Xander."
"Really? And yet I have the memories of two beings that help us now and then," he said dryly, staring at her. "I have to block mine before the next one eats me too, Willow." He walked over, taking the books and tossing them back down. "You're not going."
"Hey!" some guy shouted, coming out of the shadows. "Leave her alone!"
Xander threw a stake then followed it to make sure it hit the right target and dusted the vampire. Then he turned around to find Willow gone. He sighed and came over, grabbing at the spot of magic he could feel. "The dust in the air doesn't move away just because you're shielding the light stuff," he said when she returned, still glaring at him. Buffy, Giles, and Oz walked in. "No Cordy?"
"I only had her picture," she muttered.
"Yes, well, it's too bad you did that spell anyway, Willow," Giles said.
"We can drain her back down to newbie levels, right, Giles?"
Giles looked at him. "I may have a delicate enough touch for that, yes. If not, I know someone who would." He knocked her out with the needle in his hand. "Buffy, Oz, please gather the books and spells? Xander help me carry her to the car." They got her out there and the other two came out, letting Oz follow in his van. They went back to Giles' apartment and carried her in there, tying her up on the couch. Then Giles started to call around to find someone. A cloaked figure came in with the spell and a small glass bottle with a sealing cork. "Thank you," he said quietly, getting a nod and the older Xander leaving before the others could tell who he was. He put them down and finally found who he was looking for. "I don't particularly want to talk to you but I have to. Willow's broken free," he said quietly, squeezing the bridge of his nose while the other party talked. "Yes, all that. Only her own blood so far. I faced her down and she stole books earlier. Thank you. I'm at home. Tonight?" He smiled and nodded. 'Thank you." He hung up. "It'll be a long time. You should go back to classes."
Xander snorted. "Yeah, right," he said, sitting down. "Buffy, make some popcorn?" She nodded and went to do that. Oz sat at Willow's head, stroking through her hair gently. "Oz, man, we're sorry."
"Not your fault." He looked at him. "She went too deep. Seen it in others. Magic's more dangerous than drugs." He went back to watching her sleep and stroking her hair.
"It is," Giles agreed. "Especially when you end up out of control like she is." He looked at the gathered children. "I've had to call Ethan. He has a better touch with this spell. This way it cannot and will not kill her."
"Good," Buffy agreed. She gave Xander a bowl with half her popcorn and sat down to nibble. "And? Should we watch out for more chaos?"
"Other than her?" Xander asked. He ate a bite of popcorn, then looked at her, then at Giles. "Is she doing chaos magic too?"
"The spell this morning was," Giles admitted.
"Then he should know how to deal with someone doing his God's work," Xander said simply. Giles gave him a dirty look. "If she is, then she's switched over, Giles. You made the comparison yourself."
"I doubt she'll fully turn out like him. No one was there to stop him."
"She's got us," Oz agreed. "Will it matter?"
Giles shrugged. "I can only hope so." He felt magic going off and went to look out his back door. "Ethan. Thank you for coming."
"I heard what you didn't say, Ripper." He walked in with him, looking at the young witch on the couch. "Were we ever that young?" he asked quietly.
"Unless you came out with the headache like Athena did in the myths," Xander quipped. "Even younger."
Ethan smiled at him. "Thank you for that reminder, young man. He is training you?"
"No, he wasn't letting me go near it," Xander told him.
Ethan looked at Rupert. "Do stop that."
"I had plans of it." He looked at Willow. "Can we drain her back down to the basic levels?"
"We'll see. I need room to work," he announced. Everyone but Oz moved. He looked at Oz, who shrugged. "I'll get your aura with hers."
"It's possible it's already mixed since they're dating," Buffy said, eating another bite of popcorn.
"Then I'll look at him next," Ethan said. "The same as I will be the rest of you to remove any spells she might've laid." He gave her a look. "Perhaps you'll turn away from your shopping addiction if I do so."
"Doubt it, I knew what shoes were and why they were good for me long before I moved here."
He snorted. "If you say so. Move, young man."
"Oz, do move," Giles ordered. He nodded, moving to the same couch Xander was, taking a few pieces of Buffy's popcorn on the way.
Ethan got what he needed from around the apartment, plus a few things from his own bag. The spell to look at her aura wasn't that hard. What he saw made his chest hurt. "It's worse than mine was at her age," he said, looking at Ripper. Who nodded, grimacing some. "How did she get this far?"
"She had to help close a hellmouth and she was stealing books," Xander told him.
"As I did, at least the second." He looked her over. "We can do this," he decided. He took the small glass jar, looking at it. "Inadequate to hold it." Xander got something bigger, handing it over. "Good." He did use the bottle to drain her of some of her blood. Power flowed through blood so reducing a pint of it was a good way to weaken her. Then he started on the spell with Ripper's help. The magic was carefully moved into the new jar and sealed in with as many spells and wards as they could do together. A second was gotten and drained her down past the halfway mark. Willow was weakly glowing now. She was more than weak enough for even Ripper to bind but he did it for him, putting on that she could not harm any humans, unless they were the cause of an apocalypse. He crafted it so she had outs and only had to ask for them but she would have to ask.
Then he sealed off the power straw she had back to the hellmouth. She flinched for the first time at that. He severed it completely then burned the place where it linked in closed. She moaned and reached in her sleep. Oz came back to stroke over her hair, making her calm down again. Ethan finally stepped back, glancing at the clock that read eleven. He looked at Giles and nodded. "She's done. She has enough power to do normal, boring little spells. Things like minor healings, herb wards, those things. If she's careful about it she can rebuild it. I've also bound her from causing harm intentionally. She has outs if she asks us for them, Ripper, but she'll have to ask." He nodded once. "She'll live and be well but I've severed her connection to the hellmouth completely." He looked at Xander. "You, front and center, boy."
"I have a name," Xander said patiently but he did get up and let Ethan look at his aura. "This isn't going to get me possessed again, like Halloween, right?" he asked bluntly.
Ethan looked at him. "No, lad. Nothing that drastic." He kept going over him, frowning some. "You need to be trained," he said, looking at Giles. "Especially to keep spirits out of him."
"I've been going over the shielding books," Xander said.
"Good! It's still easier if someone should train you." He looked at Ripper. "Can you or should I send him on? There is Morgaine in Florida."
"I'll start it and let her finish it when he's graduated. I have some information that leads me to believe we'll need him here for upcoming things."
"Excellent." He clapped his hands. "By the way, I felt it when it appeared."
"It was necessary." He handed him the journal, letting him read the last few entries. Ethan's face went hard. "Now you see why it was so important."
"I did before," he assured him, handing it back. He looked at Xander. "She is not typical. She is however a signpost."
"I don't want to depend on magic," Xander told him. "I never did."
"Good boy." He looked at his old friend. "Anything else you should know?"
"Is there?" Giles asked.
He looked at Oz. "She's not on birth control. She should be. Pregnancy can send her magic off the scale with the hormone fluxes. It's a common reason why their spouses are changed into things."
"Not an issue. I don't want kids," Oz told him. That got a nod and Ethan gathered his things to leave, giving Rupert a slip of paper.
"Thank you," Giles said. He let him out then came back. "You two go home."
"I want to know how we're going to keep Xander from turning into her," Buffy said.
Xander looked at her. "I'm not going to do what she did. I'm not going to steal books, Buffy. I'm more worried about the protection stuff. How to protect us if we get attacked and things. Besides, too much like homework," he quipped. She relaxed at that. Oz gave him a look. "It is. We all know studying is not my strong suit of armor."
"True," Oz agreed. "We get to nag?"
"Sure. I'm sure I'll be learning all sorts of shielding stuff soon. You can nag." That got a nod and Oz looked at Giles. "Should we cart her home?"
"I'll let her sleep here tonight so we can talk before school." Oz nodded, settling in on the other couch. "Of course you'll be here. I'll see you two in the morning." They nodded, heading off. Giles tucked her in then went to his own room. "Feel free to use the facilities, Oz."
"Thanks." He stared at his girlfriend. She was in so much trouble when he decided what he wanted to yell at her.
Three Years Later
Xander looked over as someone new came into the shop. "What can I help you with?" he asked. This one was setting off his danger senses in funny ways. He clearly wasn't a thug. He clearly wasn't a bruja that was doing bad things. Those were his usual ones anymore. He wasn't demonic, he had too much experience with that to miss any signs of that and there weren't any. So what was he?
"I'm here looking for information about the potential homicide of a Miss Emma Wilhelm."
"No possible about it," Xander said, leaning on the counter. "We all know it was. By the way, you are?"
"Tim Speedle, CSI," he said, pulling out his badge. "Were you a witness?"
Xander stared at him. "Let me see your hand."
"I'm getting a bit used to that question," he quipped, letting him see his hand with ill-held-in impatience. The boy traced something over his hand with his fingernail and he shivered, feeling...something wrapping around him. "What was that?"
"Protecting you. Someone's been hunting us for months and you guys haven't done a damn thing. I figured since you are, I should make sure he doesn't get you too."
"He? You know who it is?"
"We've heard he's been bragging." He leaned on the glass counter again. "We've also heard he's been down at the Borgia Club a few times. He's a Crowley person and into unwilling sacrifice for power." He stared at him. "We also know he's practicing as a simple palm reader off the main drag by the beach."
"Do you have his name?"
"I don't go near them. They set off my spidey senses."
Xander smiled a bit. "I'm a medium, a true medium," he said quietly. "I'm very tied into the past instead of the present. I've seen his victims floating around him and they all warned me off." He looked around him. "Speaking of, is the guy following you a friend?" The CSI blanched. He looked at him, then smiled behind him. "Need me to be a mouthpiece?" The spirit shrugged. "Anything?" It said something and he smiled. "Okay." He looked at the guy again. "He said he's going to kick your ass for turning down the redhead. They were nearly as hot as him and at least then you'd get *some* fun because you're a miserable prick since that day in December when he had the accident, and he stressed accident. So I'm thinking that was also a subtle quit kicking yourself in the ass over it."
"Have you ever lost anyone?" he demanded.
"Yes. I even commanded the battle when I lost some." The man gaped. "I've lost plenty of people. Ones I cared very deeply about. Now I know how to talk to them. The training did help. I don't get the headaches anymore from nightmares." He grinned. "He's off the main drag by the beach, CSI Speedle. Oh, and clean your gun, jackass. That was the other message. Something about disappointing H or something?" The guy stomped off. Xander shrugged. That was his job, he didn't care if the guy didn't like it. He got back to his book. Morgaine was off today so he was in charge of the shop. He sent her an email then went back to reading. Hopefully this one would get the guy. He had a feeling so he turned on the news, watching the guy be arrested. He grinned. "Yay us. Now let's hope he doesn't get bail."
The same CSI drug a friend into the store a few days later. "Where's the mouthy young guy?" he asked the older woman behind the counter.
"Xander's off work today, gentlemen. Can I help you? I can feel Xander's protection on you."
The second guy looked at her. "I know some of you are for real."
She smiled. "Then you know what a hellmouth is, sugar?"
"No," he said bluntly. "It sounds pretty bad."
"It's where Xander's from and it's worse than you think. What can I do if he can't? I'm actually his teacher."
Speedle looked at her. "I want him to prove that he's got the real gift."
"Sure. He's ...." She looked up. "In the park near the ugly dog statue." She looked at them. "He's communing with nature and his lunch. He'll probably be there for another hour or so since it's a pretty day and the girls are out there rollerblading in bikinis." The second guy laughed. "He is."
"We'll find him there then. Thank you," Speedle said, dragging his friend out. "This makes no damn sense, Eric," he was complaining as the door closed behind them.
"Ah, he went for the freak-out principle. Must've been the one who caught our threatening presence." She went back to her order.
Speedle found the guy on a blanket in the park soaking up some sun, even though he was wearing clothes. "Hey."
The kid looked at him. "CSI Speedle. What can I do for you today?" He waved a hand as he shifted. "Please, share my blanket." They both sat down across from him. "What happened? Did he get bail?"
"I want you to prove it to both of us that you're not one of the cranks selling cures," Speedle told him.
Xander looked at him. "You still haven't cleaned your gun?" Eric hit him on the arm. He grinned. "Also, there's a tragedy coming up," he said quietly, staring at him. "Do it tonight, dumbass. And that is a quote." He looked at the other new guy, then giggled. "You had a younger sister. She was going to be one of us."
Eric nodded. "I did. She died in a car accident when I was six."
Xander nodded. "We all instinctively mark those that we love." He reached up to touch his neck. "There's hers." He stared into his eyes. "She did love you. She thought you were better than her teddy bear and sliced cheese together." Eric grinned at that. He looked back at the staring man. "Now, you," he said, popping him on the top of the head. "Don't make me break the rules and do a compulsion. I don't need another spirit haunting me, dumbass."
"I'll make sure he cleans it tonight," Eric said, standing up. "Can we come to you when we need help on those cases?"
Xander grinned. "I might be one of the best sources you'll ever have since I spent the last three years of high school hunting demons, CSI Delko."
"I never told you his name," Speed said. He checked, no visible ID. "How?"
Xander looked at him. "She told me. She's giggling at all his dating. Said he was a naughty teddy bear. I'm guessing she's never moved on from her last age." He looked at Eric. "She's happy and content. She watches you because she wants to."
"Thank you," he said quietly. "If you need us, you'll call? Something like that guy."
"We tried. They didn't want to know."
"We do," Speedle said.
Xander nodded. "Then I'll do that." They nodded and left. "The Goddess works in mysterious ways," he said, watching them walk off. "And sends me some very hot straight guys. Pity." He went back to enjoying the sunlight and the beauty of nature in the form of bouncing bikini-clad girls.
Speedle found his boss on his doorstep that night. "I am cleaning it," he complained.
"Good." He walked inside and shut the door. "Eric and you went to lunch, Eric came back looking like he had a weight taken off him."
"The person who helped me with that serial case talked to him. I wanted proof he was legit."
Horatio Caine nodded. "I don't think any of them are."
"He talked to Eric's former little sister. Knew his name without any ID present or me telling him. Reminded me to clean my gun."
"Then I like him for that much alone." He stared at him. "This isn't something you usually believe in."
"He did something to my hand and I felt it move up my arm, H. I don't know what but whatever the guy did attacked the two patrols with me but not me."
"That's evidence of something. Can he prove it to others?"
"You'd have to ask him."
"You'll share your information source?" Speed nodded, writing out the shop's address. "Thank you."
"Now, let me check your gun." Speed groaned but went to get it so he could see how he was doing. Horatio watched him finish before leaving him alone. He had some thinking to do. His next free lunchtime he went to the shop, finding the young man surrounded by begging young women. He was handing them something and they left as each one got one. "Succuba?" he asked dryly.
"They wish. Neopagans and the new catalog just came out for the holidays." He leaned on the counter behind him, smiling a bit. "What can I do for you, Horatio?"
"You know me?"
"No. The one behind you told me who you are."
"The one..." He looked then at him. "You see spirits?" That explained a lot, he wasn't one of those odd little witches or a new age person with cats after all.
"I'm a medium," he agreed. "I'm also a witch." He stared at him. "Before you can ask, the guy's older, not a relative by his facial structure. Looks like a thin santa with white hair."
"That's my former boss," Horatio said. "Can you contact them?"
"If they're hanging around. I don't usually try to call anyone back. Why disturb their rest unless it's vitally important?"
"That is a kind thing I suppose. My brother died a few years back."
Xander stared at him. He sighed and came closer, walking around him. "Into the back room." Horatio walked that way. Xander put up a sign and followed once he did something. He looked at him. "Jacket off, shirt open." Horatio gave him an odd look. "We each mark those we love and protect, Horatio. Even those of us without power. It's the links that lead back to our souls. A tiny thread. I need to see which one is which. Eric's were around his throat, yours are around your chest. It shows you have a very deep and caring nature."
"What did Eric's mean?"
"That he's very protective and a bit hot blooded when provoked."
"He can be," he admitted. He took off his jacket. The boy came closer, touching things near him but not him personally. One he hesitated at but touched it then shook his hand quickly. "Bad?"
"Your nephew is like me only not a medium. We'll need to make sure he doesn't want to use it or how to shield himself if he does." He moved around him. "He's showing up like a sore tooth by the way." He found another one that matched it. "His mother's hitting on you?" He looked at him, seeing the unamused look. "Is she at least pretty? I never get any play down here." He found the other one connected to the nephew's line, frowning at it. "You only have one brother, right?"
"Still do, Horatio. It's intact." He walked back around him then did something. The room darkened and Xander chanted quietly, lighting two candles. Finally the lights were exposed around him, making Horatio gasp. "It's a simple spell like to see your aura. Turn slowly. Halfway to your right." Horatio did that. "See, yours wrap around you but very few anchor in. The ones that do hold the others slightly steady." He touched one. "This is your nephew. Like I said, sore tooth." He touched the two lines with it. "This is his mother's line. Strong, fiery, passionate, cranky, hitting on you because it's tinged with passion of a sexual nature but it doesn't go both ways." He touched the other one, then held up a broken strand. "This is what happens when they die. This was.... It feels like a coworker you were close with but not *too* close. Friend for coffee close, not snuggling close." He held up the other one. "This one is your nephew's father's line. It's still very much intact. Cloudy, but intact."
"He was a meth head when he was shot," Horatio said.
Xander looked at him. "Something's not right about that, Horatio. The cloudiness speaks of drugs." He pointed. "This is another one with drugs in hers. Her and your niece. Look at how the two siblings are connected. It's the same line." He stared into his blue eyes. "I wish I could find him for you but he's very much still in your realm and not mine."
Horatio nodded once. "Can you feel distance?"
"Not terribly far away. In the US, probably on this coast?" He shrugged and blew out the candles, canceling the spell. "I know a few hackers if you want their number."
"No. Thank you." He did back up his shirt and put back on his jacket. "Do you charge for this?"
"Only those who want me to tell their futures," Xander asked for a grin. "To ease souls? Never. That's a bad on the karma scale. I've got enough bad on there from watching friends die and hunting bad things that happened to the others."
Horatio frowned. "Where are you from?"
"Sunnydale," he said quietly. "If you've heard of them, I worked with a member of the Watcher's Council. They sent me to Morgaine after graduation became so bad and evil." He swallowed. "I wish I could help you more."
"No, you did plenty, Xander." He handed him a card. "If you need us, you call me personally."
"Agreed. Thank you for keeping the shit sucker in jail."
That got a nod. "Better for him and you." He walked out, heading back to his office to think. Something was definitely not right and that boy wasn't it. His instincts had been honed by many years of police work. He knew the boy wasn't lying. The light show had been impressive and proof enough that he knew which line he was looking at. So he did some digging. A few loose ends that hadn't been tidied led him a bit deeper. It led him to a release order for the person who had shot his brother. That was definitely a wrong move on someone's part. Digging deeper got him an agent's name. He could pay him a visit. After he warned his sister-in-law. The boy had been right about her temper being fiery and passionate. Even if he didn't believe the part about her hitting on him.
It was a few months later when Xander had to use the call me option. He was not a happy person either. He looked at the store, then at his boss, who was being taken away in an ambulance. He walked over to one of the cops. "This wasn't us doing this," he said calmly, trying to stay calm. If he panicked, bad things could happen. Giles and Morgaine had both drummed that into his head a few times. The cop looked at him. "We didn't have anything other than a laptop and the cash register plugged in. The only candle going was next to me while I did meditation and I was upstairs." He pointed at the building. "It started in the back. This wasn't us."
"We'll look for signs of arson, sir. You live here?"
"I'm Xander. I work in the store and I study with Morgaine." He looked over as the ambulance left then looked at him again. "The only thing I don't know if it was her or me they're targeting."
"Why would they?"
"Um, hello, neopagan, and there's some idiots with bibles here and there. They've tried to kill her and burn her in the shop before. Also, it could do with my past," he finally admitted. "I don't think so but I don't know."
"Was anything flammable back there?"
"The stove. That was the kitchen. She was in the front when I came down the stairs. She was bloody and beaten when I got her out of there and called you guys." That got a grim nod. "Please call someone?"
"I will, sir. Now, do you have anyplace you can stay tonight? There's a number of good shelters."
"I have friends." And a bank account so he could stay at a motel and not endanger his friends, but he wouldn't say that to the guy. He didn't want to seem like a suspect. "Can I go wait with Morgaine? Her family's some of the idiots with a bible sort. They'd like to pull the plug even if she doesn't need it."
"Go." The boy hurried off to his car, heading off. He looked at the store again then at the fire chief. "Interesting talk," he said, walking over there. "Talked to the guy who worked here and lived upstairs, Chief."
"This isn't the first time they've had the building torched?"
"No, as I remember it someone tried about six, seven years ago. Bigots."
"The boy thought it could be them. He was upstairs. She was in the front. The only candle he knew of was with him." That got a groan. "Her family's got bigots in it. He went to guard her. He said it could be about him too." That got an odd look. "He nearly begged me to call someone."
"I'm going to," he agreed. "Something isn't right about this fire. It's not like any I've ever seen before."
"Plus he said she was injured when he pulled her out. I thought my boys did." The Fire Chief gave him a look. "I don't know. I could've sworn my boys pulled her out of the store." He pointed at one and he came over. "Did you pull the owner out of the store?"
"No." He held his head. "Um, I...." He looked at him. "I think maybe I did, sir."
"Was she bruised when you did it?"
"No, no she wasn't."
"She was when she left," the Fire Chief told him. The guy gave him a horrified look. "This is an odd one. Ignore it, son. I don't care who removed her from the fire as long as someone did." That got a nod and he went back to work. He looked at him. "Who do you want me to call?"
"Caine's lab are good and stubborn enough to get to the bottom of the strange stuff."
"I'll let him know." He walked off making that call. "Horatio, Peter. I've got a fire at a mystical bookstore that's raising my hackles. No, we're pretty sure it's arson. Because it hit every room but about six in the building and they're not together. Plus, there's some debate about who pulled someone out of the store and if she was bruised before then. The shopkeeper's helper or whatever said he did. The officer we asked changed his mind mid answer to say he did but she wasn't bruised. Woman's on her way to the ER." He listened. "There. On the news already?" He glanced around. "Please? Thanks." He hung up, nodding at the officer, who handed him his notes. Horatio himself pulled up with Speed a few minutes later, letting him hand over the notes. "This is what we have so far. You can see the strangeness of the burn pattern. Young guy claimed he was upstairs meditating by the notes. She was in the front of the store."
"What's in those rooms?"
"Not a clue," he admitted.
Speed took off his sunglasses. "What's that small room in the back?" They both gave him odd looks so he pointed. "The room off the back stairs, guys. Can't we see it?"
Horatio looked then shook his head. "No, Speed, we can't."
"That kid's thing," he said, suddenly getting it. He looked around. "Where is he? The assistant shopkeeper, Xander."
"He followed his boss to the hospital to guard her. Told the officer in charge that her family were the sort to be idiots with a bible, like the last sort that tried to burn her out."
Horatio nodded. "All right. Speed, go get him. Check on her, take any evidence on them. I'll stay here until you can bring him back."
"Sure." He went to do that, taking the hummer. He made it to the hospital not long after, walking into the ER waiting room. He pulled up his ID. "There was a Morgaine... Don't know her last name, brought in here after a fire from her shop?"
"Fire victim? No, Detective, there hasn't been any in hours."
"The ambulance reported coming here."
The young man he wanted stomped in. "They're outside," he told her. The paramedics came rushing in. "Small problem." He looked at him. "CSI Speedle."
"What's going on?"
"If I had a clue, I'd handle it," Xander said firmly, staring at him. "I don't have a clue yet. I'm here to guard her," he told the nurse. "Her family is *not* to get near her. They're bigots and tried to have her killed a few years ago for being a wiccan."
"I'll make a note but unless she says so legally they can."
"She's awake," he said. She went back to ask that. He looked at him. "The ambulance stopped for no really good reason near a park." He walked into the waiting area to pace and think and keep himself under control. He had to stay in control.
Speed stopped one of the paramedics. "I need anything you got off her for evidence." The paramedic gave him a confused look. "The fire victim?"
"The one you just brought in," he said coolly. The guy still looked confused. "Xander!" He came jogging back. "What's wrong with him?"
"I don't know," he said, looking at him. He walked them off to the bathroom, finding the spell and unraveling it. "Okay, how are you this morning?"
"I have a headache. Why?"
"Because you just told me you didn't know what your last haul was when I asked," Speed told him.
"Um... fire victim."
Speed rewound the tape he was doing to play for him. The guy looked really confused. "Let's go get the evidence before your partner compromises it." That got a nod and they went out to the ambulance. The other guy was dead in the front seat. The back was spotless and newly cleaned with bleach. "Crap."
Xander whistled, bringing him back there. "Not living."
Speed looked, then went to get someone to gather him more gently. He came back out. "I want you two together, here," Speed ordered.
"I'm needed in there. If her parents show up they'll try to kill her or have her admitted to psych for being one of us," Xander told him. "You'll be able to find me. It'll find me," he said, nodding at his hand.
"That back room off the back stairs?"
Xander swallowed. "Darker rituals for those who need to do them safely. Some of the darker protection rites need spilled blood of your own. Morgaine dealt with those. I had bad examples so I don't." He walked back inside, going to the nurse. "She okay?"
"She did okay it, Mr. Harris, and you can go back. She's not in that bad of shape. She'll be admitted for observation." Xander nodded, letting her walk him back there. She went back to the desk.
Xander looked at her. "Clouding spells," he said quietly. "Do you have a clue?"
"The Loa were talking about bad things," she said quietly. "They won't talk to me."
"Then I'll ask around." He smoothed her hair back. "Want to go to a hotel when we get you out of here?"
"Probably should. Can't go to Candi's place anymore."
He grinned. "She's a ho but she was your ho."
"Not anymore. I don't date hos. I'm not santa." She let him pet her until she fell asleep. Xander pulled over a chair to guard her until the orderlies came to move her up to her room. Once up there Xander closed the curtains and did what he did best, protection spells around her to protect her from whoever was doing this.
Someone was going to get the old Sunnydale Foot Up the Ass treatment.
She'd cheer for him. She really would.
Xander came back to the shop after he made sure she was secure and told the nurse who could see her and who was to be tossed out a window, his words. He managed to get a milkshake on the way back so he was slurping it as he got out of his car. Everyone stared at him. "I need the sugar." He looked at the store. "Book room. Weapons room. Robe room. Working areas. Specially shielded meditation area," he said in Speed's ear, pointing at each one. "Back room for rituals. Shielded blank room for emergencies." He stepped back. "There's no way that fire was natural."
"We can't find an accelerant," Speed said, looking at him. "We found some oil. Peanut."
"She's allergic." He finished his milkshake then looked at them. "The book room should be falling in. It's full of bookshelves if someone hasn't been in there. The weapons room has swords and things." That got an odd look. "Athemes," he lied. "For ceremonial work." He stared at it then at him. "Want help?"
"I can't let you in there, kid. It's dangerous."
"Some of them may not let you into them. The shielded areas won't. The meditation room is set up for me specifically. It's where I was when the fire started." He looked around then walked over to grab a ladder off one of the fire trucks. "Need this." He walked into the shell of a building, resting the ladder against the upheld room, climbing up there to open the door with his shirt over his hand.
"Get down from there," Horatio yelled.
"Shut up." He opened the door, looking inside, ignoring the glares. He grabbed something and carried it down. "The only lit candle in the shop." He waved it, it was still burning. Still whole. The room hadn't been touched by heat. Horatio gave him a horrified look. "I need into the book room." He blew out the candle and that room fell, the ladder falling on top of the new rubble. "Huh." He blinked. "Interesting. Never seen that happen." His face screwed up while he thought. "Very interesting." He walked back to the book room, taking the gloves Eric handed him. "Thanks. Might want to step back." He opened that door once he had the gloves on, looking inside. "This should have about six hundred books," he said quietly "In nice, neat shelves. Packed full." Speed came over carefully to look. There were three books in there on the floor. He walked in to grab them, handing them over. "Poser books we let the wannabes study so they feel like they're connected."
He took the ladder back and put it up to get into the weapons area. He opened it carefully and looked, then smirked. "Someone had a clue." He finished climbing inside and looked at the stores. He opened the hidden panel and nothing was inside it. Speed and Horatio both came in. "There were specially blessed weapons, all silver, all swords, in that compartment. Two long, one short, one two handed claymore." He looked around then pointed. "My axe from Giles is missing. Silver, double headed battle axe." He slowly turned, looking again. Then he looked at them. "Close your eyes. It'll flash." They did it and Xander clapped three times. The other hiding spots came open. "Okay." He looked. "Her poppy stash for medicinal tea is gone. So's the .... Aw, crap." He walked over to grab something, sniffing it. "Your accelerant." Horatio came over to take a sample. It ate through the swab. He looked at them. "This means it points back to me, not Morgaine," he said calmly.
Horatio pulled him up. "How do we collect that?"
"It's from fire demons, Horatio. I'd suggest glass but it might burn it too." He looked around then sighed, pulling down a sword to look at. "They put some on the blades left here." He put that one back and went into one area that was barely open, pulling out something no one knew they had. It glowed for a minute then quit and turned dull black. He closed his eyes and concentrated, shrinking it down. It went into his pocket. "Okay, we're not happy," he said. "I'm sorry if you get thoughts you don't want to have. I have to talk to some Loas."
"Why?" Speed asked.
"Because they were giving hints to Morgaine but not me. I need to know why." He left them alone. "There's no more hidden areas and you should be able to get into everything else," he offered before climbing down the ladder.
"Hold it," Horatio ordered, following him. He stopped him by his car. "You cannot do this on your own, Xander. This is a case now. It is our job."
"Can you deal with demons?"
"I don't believe in demons."
"Really? I've seen plenty of them. I hunted them for three years, Horatio," he said quietly. "And this has something to do with that. I don't know what and I'm endangering you by being close to you." He stepped back. "Speed can find me."
"I don't care. If you're in danger we can protect you. I cannot and will not allow you to go vigilante, Xander."
Xander smiled. "Who said they're here, Horatio? All I'm doing is going to a better information source." He patted him on the arm. "I'll be safer alone. Anyone with me is in danger." Horatio tried to stop him again but something came rushing out of the shadows. Xander turned and hit the thing, knocking it down and out. "Huh. Demon." He pointed. "See, demon." He grinned. "I'll be at the Radial Inn tonight. Some of us go there to do spells sometimes. It'll probably be a few hours." He got into his car and drove off.
"I want this thing handcuffed and figured out," Horatio ordered. A patrol officer did that, giving it an odd look. "It tried to attack myself and the other witness. I am not amused."
Speed walked into Horatio's office. "Doing a background check ran me into three hackers who tried to virus the system and one who actually answered questions after I answered why I was searching him." He handed over the sheets he had carried in. "If they're after him we're in deep shit."
Horatio looked at the forms then at him. "Where is he?"
"He checked into the motel last night. Otherwise, no clue. I'm assuming he's still asleep. His boss is out of the hospital and at the room as well. He came out briefly for two sodas when she got there then locked them in tightly."
"All right. We're going to talk to them."
"About what? How do we know anything about this?" he complained. "I have no clue." His hand suddenly cramped and he grabbed it, massaging out the cramp. Stetler sneered from the doorway. "Ah, no wonder I had hand cramps." He looked at Horatio. "Why?"
"I have the feeling he might be able to pinpoint why they want him and why they took those things." He stood up. "Did you need something, Rick? We're going to talk to the victims of that shop fire yesterday."
"It was noted you seemed very friendly with him," he said with an evil smirk. "Relatives? Friends perhaps? I didn't know you went that way, Horatio."
Speed smirked then shook his head. "He doesn't. A friend of Eric's said he was good at other things that could help us. Since he spent three years in a town that had a high death rate we've been going to him for information on what goes on in that subgroup in case we get another serial killer that somehow manages to be overlooked."
"Why would anyone care?"
"Because they're still citizens of Miami and they deserve all the protection they need, even if they do have beliefs that run counter to what *you* believe, Rick. Nothing in my church would bother them." He grabbed his sunglasses. "Let's go, Speed. He can huff if he wants to." He closed and locked his office door, glaring down at Rick. "Maybe if you sought out your own priest it might ease these confusion issues of yours, Rick." He walked off sliding into his sunglasses. "Hand alright?"
"The further we get from him the better it feels. It must know IAB forms cause injuries." They got out to the hummer and headed off. "Or whatever Xander did to protect me before just set off a warning," he said quietly.
"For some reason I'm betting the later," Horatio admitted. "Which I'm not fond of either."
"He doesn't even know Stetler, why would he hate him already," Speed quipped.
"Cute. Really," Horatio said with a small smirk.
"He was talking about bible-thumping idiots who believe they have the right to tell others how to worship. Guess he's one."
"Or a something we haven't seen yet." He changed streets and headed for the motel. "We'll ask," he said once they parked a few minutes later. They got out. "Which room?"
"For some reason I think it's the one that's smoking," he said, pointing a bit. They hurried up there and pounded on the door. "Xander!"
Morgaine opened the door. "We're blessing things, Detectives. Do we have any idea what happened?"
"Some," Speed said, walking inside. He nearly gagged at the stench of herbs. His eyes were watering. Xander came over to smudge his forehead and for some reason it was better. He did the same thing to Horatio. "Is this going to cause a headache when I get near Rick Stetler the same way whatever you did to my hand caused a hand cramp?"
Xander stared at him. "Hmm. Halfie working at the police station," he said, looking at his boss. "Atypical."
She hit him on the arm. "Quit doing Yoda impersonations, Xander." Speed snickered. "What do we know, gentlemen?"
"The beast that attacked us got free somehow," Horatio said.
"Not hard, whoever sent it summoned it back," Xander told him. "And?"
"I want to know why they took *those* things," Horatio said, staring at him. "Why those blessed weapons, or why your battle axe." She gasped and looked at him. He shrugged a bit. "What?"
"Xander, your personal weapon?" He nodded. "That was blessed by you, Xander. It holds a lot of your energy. A lot of your blood and sweat. They can use it against you!"
"I know that." He pointed at the dresser. "Which is why I picked up that one." He looked at her. Then at the two officers. "She needs put into protective custody. Even if it's after me it'll come after her. Let me finish the protections. Of us I'm the stronger witch." He got back to work, making her sit down so he could go back to the purification and then blessing and protection rites he had planned. It was a good few hours before he was done but by the end she was calm, nearly asleep for the first time since the fire. He looked at Horatio, nodding. "Protect her for me?"
"I will have her protected and make sure she stays protected," Horatio agreed. "What about your protection?"
Xander stiffened. "I'm more than equal to whatever this is, Horatio. I *refuse* to hide from some blood sucking asshole with a plan to use me to get more power."
"Why?" Speed asked.
Xander looked at him. "Get her to safety. There's four things it could be about." He nodded, going to call someone to pick her up quietly and take her to a safe house. He sat on the end of the bed. "By now I'm assuming you've looked into my past. I know you have actually because the three hackers were one and told me."
"It was nice the last time he asked," Speed said.
"It was." He grinned. "The other one I'm not so sure of her motives. We haven't been close in about five years." He tucked his legs under him and looked at his sword then at them. "You're going to freak out. That's why it's better if I do it on my own."
"We've already reached that point and now we've moved on," Speed said dryly. "So let's start at the beginning."
"We should," Horatio agreed. "Why you and why your past?"
"I'm from a town called Sunnydale. It's got a hellmouth there. A hellmouth is a point of immense dark power that can open portals to various hell dimensions. If you take the power away from it it's still dark power but it's immensely powerful." He pulled something off his neck. "A pebble the size of the marble I wear holds enough energy to craft a spell that could destroy a city. Literally." They both stared, Horatio taking off his sunglasses. "I wear this because it keeps me from getting sick thanks to the radiating nature of the power I sucked up since birth." He let his necklace go. "Without it I get extremely ill. It holds a shield around me that keeps others from feeling that I grew up there."
He shifted some, putting his other foot on top. "In tenth grade a slayer came to town. She's mystically chosen to hunt demons and vampires. I jumped in when my best male friend was killed. I brought in my friend Willow, the hacker I'm not sure of. In our junior year we found out Willow was having problems with her magic. It was getting out of hand and she was showing signs of becoming a junkie. She was a witch that could tap into the hellmouth. She had closed it and kept it closed. She was stealing spell books to learn more magic that was very harmful to others. So we, as her friends, removed the greater majority of her magic to save us all."
He grimaced then looked at them again. "You see, at that time we had a ...visitor I'd guess you say. There are spells that are complex and powerful enough to go back into the past. Not just viewing, which I can do easily, but ones for when things get so desperate that fucking the world over is the only way to fix it or to stop it from ending. The me from that time came back to save Willow and the rest of our group." He looked at Speed, who shuddered. "Willow had went full black magic junkie in his time. They had tried the same intervention after she had started to remove memories and had offered the me there as a demonic sacrifice. He had the markings on him that said she was doing it within a month. When they tried to channel her to fix it she killed nearly everyone we knew."
They both shuddered. "Hence the time flippy thing he did. It is so strong it is forbidden in *every* tradition unless there is no other way to save *everyone* in the world. At that time, Willow was killed and the hellmouth couldn't be closed. All the powerful ones who could were now dead. The hellmouth was going to open. The whole world would've died." It was the only reason he could find for himself to do that extreme of a spell. "So we intervened earlier. There's two jars with Willow's essence and old magic, heavily tainted by the hellmouth we studied over in our school library, and her natural magic, which was also tainted by living in Sunnydale. I have one hidden. The other was sent to a coven in Devon, in England. One that Giles trusted. I haven't been able to get hold of them to see if they still have it hidden. All the numbers I have are at least two years old." He looked at Horatio again. "That's the second possible reason they're after me. Stealing the books and the blessed weapons could mean either of those options were plausible. With the new power they could do spells that they hadn't had access to before, or use the weapons since part of my gift as a medium is to learn from the spirits that have inhabited me. Including some incredible fighters over the last few years."
"Can they use the weapons if they steal your energy?"
Xander nodded. "Stealing my energy would give you some of my essence. Used properly you could use it to basically mimic me or try to become me. To use my gifts. The same as using Willow's energy is the same. Not only am I like a nuclear battery of dark magic, which I don't use, I'm powerful without that. You see, we both learned magic on the hellmouth. When they channeled and bled Willow's powers down we still needed a witch. They found out that not only can I suck spirits in and make them get stuck in me, but I had power to do that."
"Not just what was radiated into you," Horatio said.
Xander nodded. "Doing magic is a lot like drawing on the Force from the Jedi movies combined with intense concentration. Thousands of people *can* do it. Most don't believe. Even if they did, most of them could about light a candle, float a pencil, little things. My senior year I closed the hellmouth. I also planned the assault at graduation that saved us all from a higher level demon that wanted to take us out. I used the hellmouth to explode the school." He shifted again, looking down then at them. "It could be retaliation for that reason. Graduation was only two years ago. Some of his flunkies are still around and it would've taken about that long to gather enough money or power to find a contract hitman to do this to me. The books and weapons are currency in our world. Very powerful. It doesn't make as much sense to me.
"The fourth reason? Perhaps due to one of the demons we hunted or that I hunted. Some spells do require hunter's blood. A few very dark ones require a hunted hunter's blood. One you've beaten." He swallowed. "I don't think it's as likely and I've seen no other hints of it. If I had to guess I'd say the first two. Both of which mean that they'll take out the people around me to get me free and clear. Which is why I need Morgaine safe and I need to be left alone so I can fight this thing. A human had to set the fire and I need them to pay for it. It wasn't the same person as the one who guided the fire. It couldn't be. They would've had to been in a trance to guide it from the first spark. You can't do that and run or loot. Or even beat Morgaine."
"Can it be set magically?"
"I would've noticed that and put it out instantly. There's, there were, spells on the shop that would've protected against that. I put them on myself, CSI Speedle. My best skills, in any field of magic that I can use, are protection and offensive spells. If you're going through fantasy novels and they talk about battle mages? I'm one." He shifted again then coughed to clear his throat. "If you guys can get the human, it'll lead back to the other one."
"We'd have to arrest him too," Horatio reminded him.
"Not if you can't prove it, Horatio. They'd be friends or something. We're pretty interconnected on some levels but most of us have very few real friends. Like Morgaine's family they don't believe or they doubt and make fun of us."
"Do you and Willow still talk?" Speed asked.
Xander shook his head. "No. I was there when they had to bleed her magic. I'm guarding part of it from her and she knows I have some of it somehow. We literally had to take her down from as much energy as I carry with the pebble on me to what Morgaine has. She's an herb witch. She can follow a recipe and make mac'n'cheese to put it into mundane terms. I can bake a towering cake that makes people wonder how in the hell I did that. In those levels, Morgaine can make really great pies but makes crappy cakes." That got a nod from Horatio, who sat down. "I know I'm in danger. I've been in danger. I was born in danger on the hellmouth. Anyone who has any sort of psychic or magical gifts there are in greater danger than the average person," he finished quietly. "I can handle danger to myself. I will not get someone else killed to protect me."
"Even if we could find you a place to hide where they couldn't get you?" Horatio asked. "If you can keep them from finding her, you can keep them from finding you."
"I can't work that level of magic on myself or I can stunt my own magic," Xander told him. "Which means then I'm screwed."
"The paramedics and the cops?" Speed asked.
"It's called a clouding spell. It basically inserts a cloud of what you consider the truth into the others. They can break past it. It wasn't that thick of one. They're not as powerful as I am. I could tell that when I got the paramedic free or else he'd still be clouded. But the truth is, whoever did this killed the other paramedic and set the fire."
"What about church, Xander? It's shielded."
"No, holy ground isn't a shield, Horatio. What we do is just as natural as anyone else. Even chaos magic is natural. It's caused by the growth of discordance." He shrugged. "I'm not forbidden from going to church. I have no problem going to them. I don't like what most of them preach and I'd rather not listen to someone tell me I'm evil because I can protect someone using the energy that floats around everything. The last time I went to one I nearly got burned. I didn't like that."
"There are still holier spots. Could they protect you?"
Xander shook his head. "Why would consecrated ground matter, Horatio? It's not that sort of unholy. Even the flame demons they had the snot of to set the fire with wouldn't have been stopped by that. They're a natural manifestation. It'd be like keeping a beaver out of a church. That only works for the higher levels and those things. I have a few fascinating books in storage if you want to look them over." He grinned. "I figure at least one of your people can use it."
"Eric can't," Speed asked. "We talked about it later that night. Now, Calleigh...." Horatio shook his head. "No?"
"No. She was laughing that you guys went to see a real male witch."
Xander grinned. "Most people without a clue would've called me a sorcerer or a warlock, which is offensive to us."
"She's from just outside New Orleans," Horatio said.
"Then she's probably got a clue and worked with one of us or seen one of us at play before. There's a few very strong bayou witches that way. We hate the hell out of them when one gets pissed off. They will swear at you, curse you, and then you'd better beg for mercy." Someone tapped on the door. He stared. "Untapped power. Female." He got up to answer it. "Hi, and you would be?" he asked the woman.
"Alexx Woods. Someone said we had a body here? Horatio?"
"No, not yet," Xander said. He came out and looked around then up. "Oh, there's one," he said, pointing up. "See, hanging guy."
"Oh yeah." She went to deal with that. "Speedy?"
"Coming, Alexx." He looked at Xander. "We can still help protect you."
"Doing that would get you dead," Xander said quietly. "If it's one of us, we're stronger than the mob and we can get in anywhere there's air with the right set of skills. Go help the guy who got pushed by his girlfriend." Speed gave him an odd look but went. He looked at Horatio, closing the door. "What?"
"You can see into the past?"
"It's like a scrying spell but yes. It's not that hard. Why?"
"Show me what happened at the store."
Xander stared at him. "I tried that. They tried to block it."
"Then show me. Different intent, which I've heard is important?"
Xander grinned and Horatio smirked back. "That may just work." He went to run water into the bathtub, then came out for his tackle box kit, coming back with it. A few minutes later he nodded Horatio to follow him. They knelt beside the tub and Xander closed his eyes, hands on the side of the tub, chanting under his breath until a picture came up. If he opened his eyes the picture started to fade but Horatio could see it.
Horatio watched what was happening. It was going double speed but it showed everything. He flinched at the first flame of fire. It was not good. He saw Xander react and then get his boss out of there, calling for help from across the street. He watched the rest of the night's work on the shop, making sure it was accurate for what happened. He finally patted Xander on the arm. "Thank you."
"Did it help?"
"The one who set the fire beat her. The one who set the fire also killed the paramedic. You were right, it was a flunkie. The books were taken by magic," he said quietly.
Xander slumped. "Then that's option one or two." He looked at him. "I will not make Miami a war zone. I will not endanger lives with this."
"I would appreciate that, but we all know that you'll do what you have to so you're protected," he said quietly, looking at him. "I'd rather you tell us so we can be there to help you protect yourself."
Xander stood up, helping him up. "If there's time." That got a nod and Horatio slid back into his sunglasses. "If not, I'll present their mangled corpse to you."
"I'd prefer you call, Xander."
"If I can. I won't make that promise. They tend to come back on you." That got a nod and Horatio left to check on the body upstairs. Xander cleaned up the room, making sure all his working equipment was put away. Not even a candle for someone to take advantage of. Then he laid down to think. He decided to call Sunnydale. "Hey, it's me," he said quietly. "Was anyone out there attacked?" He listened. "Morgaine's shop was burned, she was beaten, a lot of the weapons and books were stolen, Giles," he said calmly. "Speaking of, is the coven in Devon okay? I tried to call and can't get any answers." He nodded slowly. "Now what?"
He grimaced. "Yeah, I'm fine. She's okay and in hiding. Because they clearly want me, Giles. They took my axe. They didn't take her atheme." He smiled at the cautious words of support. "I figure they wanted the power I have or something I know and have hidden. I've done it a few times." He nodded slowly as he listened. "Yeah, that's what I'm thinking and why I tried to check on the coven. Sure. You let me know?" He smiled. "Thanks, Giles. Yeah, I'm good. In a motel but I'm okay at the moment. It'll be fine. Have a better week." He paused. "Oh, the spirit around you said to watch out for commandos and their leader, Riley?" He grinned and hung up. He knew Giles hated it when he did that but oh well. It was probably important. He got comfortable, letting himself sleep. He had laid protections on the motel room. He'd be safe enough for now. Until he could hunt.
Xander got the first hint of something that was coming for him and followed it. It wasn't hard, they were trying to track him. They were being very obvious to one who could see the dead souls they were sending his way. He looked at one, who pointed and shrugged. "I know, he's stupid," he muttered. The ghost nodded but disappeared. He got out of his car, walking to the house where the guy was hiding. He looked around then casually knocked on the door. Kicking it in would get bad notice from the neighbors. A woman answered. "Someone here called and wanted to speak to me?"
"Who're you?' she asked.
She flinched. "Oh, dear." She let him inside. "It's not what you think."
"I'm sure it's not. That's why our shop was burned and my personal weapon was stolen." He stared at her until she whimpered. "Leave us." She fled and took the two kids she had with her. He walked into the back bedroom, staring at the man petting his axe. "You wanted me. I'm here. You could've just called. I might've shown up without the temptation and the fire."
"I did not set the fire, young man."
Xander snorted, looking him over. "Uh-huh. That's why you've got burns from the demon snot. Right?"
The sorcerer glared at him. "How dare you assume!"
Xander walked in and lifted up a hand, showing him the burns. "Kinda obvious since they coated the blades they left with it." He took his axe back, then looked at him. "Why send spirits to me? I didn't need to talk to more today."
The man swallowed. "You can?"
Xander nodded. "And have many times. Why torch the shop and come after me?"
"You were responsible for the world being warped," he sneered.
"If I hadn't done it then, the world would have died. Willow went off the deep end and ended up killing everyone. I had to take her out to save myself. Beyond the fact that the me who did that isn't the me here. That me never used magic." He smirked. "You can't even try to call vengeance down on me for saving people's lives."
"I don't have to." He chewed on his thumb until blood flowed. "You'll pay anyway."
Xander snorted. Then he shook his head. He pulled something out of his pocket and held it up, making the guy shake. "No, they won't be coming. The High Demonic Council looked into the matter before the graduation battle. They said it was reasonable." He put it back into his pocket. "Anything else? Because there's normals searching for you too. Miami doesn't like arsonists."
Xander shook his head. "I'm already paying. You have no idea how things changed, dude. Beyond that, fuck yourself." He walked off. "I'd put the books back by the way."
"They're already gone. You'll be going with them!" He threw a spell his way.
Xander blocked it, staring at him. "That was terminally dumb." He smirked. "Did you like setting the fire? You clearly don't have the power to be the one who guided it." He walked out, finding someone watching him. He smirked and waved his free hand. "Morning. How are you today?" he asked cheerfully.
"Is he all right?"
"He's frustrated. Thought I'd do something for him when I'm not. Especially since he stole my favorite weapon." He got into his car, his axe going beside him. He considered going to the motel, but that was not the place he wanted to have a showdown. There would be innocents that could get hurt. He took it out toward the edge of the city, heading for the Everglades. Some deserted road by some water would do just fine. He found a good feeling spot and got out, leaning on his trunk. He checked his axe over, taking off his shirt to wipe it clean of the former holder's taint. "Stupid person probably tried to dent you too," he told it. "Or make you unholy." He looked up as a hummer drove up and stopped, Horatio getting out. "What are you doing here?"
"Tracking you since you didn't call."
"He was the one who set the fire, not the one who guided it."
"I have Speed taking him in for questioning." He called that in to let him know. Then he came over to stare at him. "What is that tattoo of?"
Xander looked at his shoulder then at him. "Consider it like a statement. Most of us find some way to point out our major influences. Morgaine has a great feel for water spells. If you look at her, she wears coral jewelry, wears things that're water patterned. Subtle pointing out that she likes water." Horatio nodded at that. "Since I do what I can do, there's no real way I can wear something like that. There's no spirit stone or protection t-shirt."
"I can understand that. The tattoo says that?"
"It's got a few marks hidden among the swirls of the design. Again, something that someone who's studied would notice if they were looking." Horatio nodded once at that. "The rest is just pretty," he added with a grin.
"It is a very pretty design," he agreed. "Why come out here tonight?"
"Because his buddy's a dick and he's stupid enough to try the motel and get innocents. He wants me for some reason. I'm not going to let him dance me into a corner of surrendering to protect people. Which is why you should not be here."
"You're one of Miami's citizens."
"And I can protect myself," Xander countered. "Better than you can protect me." A woman drove up and got out, staring at him. "Hmm, not who I expected to show up. He send you to greet me?" he asked dryly.
"No." She moved closer. "Who are you, boy? This is our country."
"Xander Harris, Morgaine's student. It was an attack. I wanted him away from civilians. Even this one but he's stubborn. I did not mean to intrude, ma'am."
She stared at him then at his shoulder. "That's a bold statement for one so young." She saw the axe then him. "A blessed weapon?" she asked, looking very amused.
"Ma'am, I'm born and bred from Sunnydale," he said quietly. She flinched and stepped back. "I helped the slayer out there and I led graduation." She shuddered. "Yes, she's my baby. They stole my baby. The minion is pitiful but they're stupid enough to attack innocents to make me make a choice. I thought out here was far enough away to not bother anyone. I did not mean to interrupt your territory."
"Don't be so formal, boy." She stared at Horatio, then nodded at him for Xander's benefit. "He seems to want to help."
"He's investigating the fire. I'll gladly let him have the mangled body after I kick it for hurting my teacher."
"At your age?"
"Even I need a moral guidepost and have things to learn," he assured her.
"Good," she said with a smirk. "Some of you boys are too full of yourselves." He turned to show her his back. She touched one scar then backed away. "I see."
He turned back around. "I was made into the protector I am, not born to the calling."
"Agreed. Technically there's a few of the bayou leaning out here."
"I don't mean to intrude. Is there another area that's better?"
"You're still a bit formal," she said smartly.
He smirked. "That's because I know what scary witches your type are, ma'am. The rumors say a lot about your leaning's tempers."
She cackled. "Only when you piss us off."
"I'm trying to be a good boy," he offered.
"You act it very well," she assured him. "Use here if you want. Try to keep it out of the water."
"If at all possible. He sent his minion with flame demon snot."
"That's a bit disgusting."
"Very," he agreed. "Um...." He looked up then around. "It's coming. Can you kinda take him?" She walked Horatio off even if he didn't want to be. Grabbing a grown man by the ear and yanking had the same effect as doing it to a little boy. Xander hopped off his trunk, leaving his axe there. It'd do no good unless the idiot showed up physically. Xander set a magical sink for the spell he could feel growing around him. It hit and got sucked back into the earth.
She clapped. "Nice effect."
He smirked. "The goddess can purify it of intent before passing it back to something more deserving. Like a tree." She nodded. Another spell tried to hit him and hit the sink. It wasn't costing him any energy to keep it going. He had made sure it wouldn't catch his magic at all. So when the guy showed up huffing in anger, Xander sent one his way, making him scream in anger as the magic sink sucked at his shield enough to let it through. Xander smirked and waved. "He sent another minion? Aren't I important enough to actually come face me himself?"
"No," he sneered. "You're just a protector."
Xander held up a finger with an evil smirk. "Correction, I'm a demon hunter who can do magic and protect others." The man went pale. "I learned from some of the best. Her name's Buffy." The guy disappeared. Xander wiggled his fingers. "Yay you. Horatio, your dashboard cam get him you think?"
"I hope so." He frowned. "Are we going to get more visitors?"
"Yes," both witches said in unison.
"If you want to keep that hummer that pretty, boy, I'd move it far away," she said, giving him a shove. "Now. We'll bring 'em to you down the road. Where it's safer for you." He got into his hummer and made it back to the road before the light explosion happened. He parked at what he thought was a safe enough distance, hiking back to the battle. Xander looked like some fantasy novel hero. He was using his axe on someone, letting his magic sink and shield catch the spells the other two were throwing at him. He looked at the other witch, who shook her head. He glared. She glared back. He pulled his gun. "Miami-Dade PD. Freeze," he announced to be formal. One threw something at him that looked like sand. He dodged and shot them in the leg. They went down screaming. Xander knocked him out with a hard bat of the axe's head and pole to his forehead. Then he used it to gut another one and knocked the last one out with magic. "Was that all of them?" he asked, putting back up his pistol.
"No. That was the puny testing force. There's going to be more and there's going to be demons," Xander said simply. More started to appear. He looked at the other witch and pointed at Horatio. She nodded, pulling him closer to keep him out of it. Xander growled and dove for one demon, taking him out before moving on. "I almost missed Sunnydale. Thanks for the reminding me, guys! I'm having fun now!" He kept it up until the big guy got there. He threw a spell Xander's sink couldn't catch. Xander could still throw up a good shield and hit him back. The guy grunted and backed up a step. He threw something else while the remaining demons attacked. Xander moved one to block the spell to take it out then attacked the other two before turning to throw something back at him. The grass around the guy lit on fire but not him. The other guy was smirking until the ground gave way under him. "Peat moss," he said, wiggling his fingers. He took out the last demon and moved to take on that one. "Anything else you wanted to...discuss? If not, Morgaine wants her books back."
"You are not worthy to be one of us," he sneered. "You use stolen power."
"I'm protecting it, not using it. I don't need to use it." The man pointed at the pebble necklace he wore. "That's to keep down the radiation sickness from the hellmouth." He took it off and threw it at the other witch. The idiot threw a spell at him. Xander nearly turned him into charcoal. "See?" He put out the fires and stared at the begging, moaning lump of miserable person. "No way you're getting anything else. Where's my teacher's things?"
"Gone," he grunted. "The one who wanted it and paid for it has them."
Xander walked over, taking the necklace back from her. "Take him and go," he said quietly, staring at her. "She's coming."
"The one we had to bleed and save the world from," he said simply. "She's got some of it back." She scurried off, pulling Horatio to her car so they could leave together.
"We should help him."
"Nothing can save him but himself," she told him firmly. "I don't know anyone who can stand against that one. She's gone rogue and she's powerful." She called her coven's leader. "It's Miranda. She's coming. She's gotten some of it from somewhere."
"The power he has stored? He was worried about the coven in Devon."
"Aw, shit, we heard they were having problems." She repeated that. She nodded. "On our boundary. There, yes. Harris, from Sunnydale. He got the rogue Blaised." She hung up and looked at him. "There's going to be a huge charred spot. If he's lucky, he'll survive. If we're all lucky, she won't." He opened his mouth. "No," she snapped and he closed it. "She's *dangerous*, boy. She went dangerous enough that he came back in time to stop her before she could end others. No one does that without a world-ending reason."
Horatio nodded. "I understand that. Why now?"
"She's past the age of teaching. Somehow someone told her where her power was sent. She wants it back and she was deep on the road to addiction from what was spread around. Any witch that can play with a hellmouth is dangerous, even if she's the lightest of white witches. This one spent her time with him, hunting. She's not pure by any means."
Horatio slowly nodded this time. "So, what can we do to help him?"
"Pray to whatever god or goddess you see fit, son. If she gets it back, we'll be meeting them shortly."
He nodded, sending a silent prayer. "Would injuring her to break her concentration help?" She gave him a long stare. "I did some research recently."
"It won't help now. She can stop them. Same as the boy can."
"That is a trick I'd like to learn," he said, blinking when a dim glow started. "Is that a bad sign?"
"The demon of temptation has arrived, pray harder that she finally sleeps sometime," she said quietly, going back to her own praying.
Horatio got out but she tried to stop him. "He need his back watched in case something else tries to attack him."
"Of course it won't be a fair fight. She might win if it was." She stared him down. "All true protectors learn to live in the shadow and the light, son."
He nodded. "I know that lesson very well, ma'am, which is why I believe I'll walk in the shadows." He jogged back there to watch and help if he could.
Xander was staring at the girl who appeared. "You let your hair grow again," he said quietly.
"I got too busy with school and stuff to remember to have it trimmed." She looked him over. "You look tanned and fit."
"Miami agrees with me," he agreed. "There's a lot of nature I can appreciate plus a lot of things to learn and get into when I'm bored."
He snorted. "Not my thing, Willow. Books were always your thing, not mine."
"True." She stared at him. "Where is it?"
"Someone took the vial Giles hid with the other coven."
He pointed at the body. "I met him earlier."
She stared then at him. "You can't do anything a powerful coven can't, Xander."
"The Devon coven are nice women, I'm sure they are, or were. They're very white witches."
"They are, just blinded by their own light," she agreed.
"Which is not a problem I've ever had. Remember, it took Jesse to show me that there was light, Willow," he said softly. She stared. He put his axe down. "It's safe and will stay safe."
"How can you be sure without checking?" she taunted.
"Because I see it every day. I saw it earlier." She moved closer. "I'd never let anyone get it, Willow. It's too dangerous. They could use it to control the hellmouth and destroy the world. They start a new apocalypse over my dead body. Don't you guys have enough of one with the military?"
She snorted and waved a hand. "They'll be stopped in time. They always are."
He stared at her. "So the fact that Buffy's dating one?" She glared. "The spirit hanging around Giles said so. He wasn't real thrilled with her."
"Is it Ethan?"
"No. I've seen him recently. After Giles handed him over he got free." He smirked. "Not exactly how they thought."
"He's possessing you?"
"No. His son's hiding him." She looked so confused. "It only takes a few minutes plus kids are an essence of chaos."
"My mom did say I caused her plenty of hell and havoc," she agreed. "I guess that makes sense."
He nodded. "He's not a bad guy. I met him last year when he came for an order."
"Oh." She looked around then focused on his axe. "That's not the one Giles sent you. Is it?"
"It is actually. It needed a lot of attention to get to the state of magnificence it is now." He grinned, smiling down at it then at her. "She's my version of a kid."
"You could spawn," she said dryly.
He shook his head. "I'd never do that to someone. Demons still search me out. The kid would be hurt," he said quietly. He shifted. "I can feel you drawing magic, Willow. I should warn you we're on the edge of a bayou witches' coven out here."
She snorted, shaking her head. "They won't bother me. You're a male."
He smirked. "I was very polite to the one I talked to earlier when I was defending myself against your minions."
"They're not my minions."
"Uh-huh. Borrowing?" he asked dryly.
"No, they're his. I'm here to get my powers back so I can make sure they're safe. He might use them to hurt me or others."
He stared at the groaning body then at her. "I doubt he can do that," he said sarcastically. "Especially since he was pretty weak overall. A lot of his came from demon summoning and playing them off each other."
"I know but it's easy to find guys like that. A few favors called in and I found out where he was hiding."
He shrugged. "It's still not coming out of hiding, Willow. No one is getting it."
"No, it's dangerous," he countered. "It was part of you, like a tumor drawing you to the dark side."
"This isn't Star Wars. I'm not a sith."
He quirked an eyebrow up. "Could've fooled me. Why else did the me from the future come back to stop you before you killed everyone but me?" She flinched. "He left me a letter, Willow." He pulled it out of his pocket, tossing it at her magically. She caught it and read it over, her lips turning into pale little lines. "You became addicted and you went sith. Full on, homicidal, evil mask and all I'm sure."
She looked up. "It could've been that you guys forced me to it."
"Earlier that day, you had erased memories on purpose from your lover so she'd quit nagging you about your magic abuse. I saw the diary that he brought back. You rearranged memories of mine, Buffy's, and Giles." He licked his lips. "You were so addicted and in denial that you nearly caused the hellmouth to open."
She sneered. "I can't be that bad. Everyone knows I'm the good one of us."
He shrugged, shifting again. "Good is relative, Willow, and can be an illusion. The same as you're hiding a scar on your right cheek with one." Her hand moved to touch it then she made it go down. "Demon?"
"Buffy still okay? Giles didn't say anything when I talked to him the other day."
"She's fine. Doing well at the moment in college. You really should go to college. It'd mean you'd have a good job."
"I think I'll have a decent enough job rebuilding Morgaine's store with her," he assured her. "The idiot minion burned it down after taking the weapons and books. By the way, she wants them back."
"She's not here?"
"No, she's protected. I made sure of it." She sneered. He smirked. "Willow, I've spent the last few years learning a lot about protection. She's protected in traditions you can't even pronounce."
"I doubt that." She raised a hand and muttered, then shrieked and stomped a foot. "What did you do!" she shouted.
He shrugged. "Protected the innocent."
"She took you from us," she sneered.
"No, Willow, you going dark side took me from you and took you from us," he said quietly. "If you hadn't become so dependent on a simple bit of extra power, then nothing like this would have happened. Ever. You let it happen by deciding magic was the reason for your existence and the reason that made you something instead of looking at what was already making you special."
"You're nothing compared to me," she sneered.
"I'm nothing like you," he corrected. "I know all my skills and my weaknesses. I know how to overcome them, fight against them when necessary, and I know I'm more than the sum of my magical abilities. I always have. I had to learn to like myself a long time ago." He shifted again. "You nearly done? This is getting painful."
She glared. "Why?"
"Because you used to be my best friend. Now, you're ..... I'm not really sure what you are but you're not Willow anymore. Jesse would be unhappy and pout at you, Wills."
She glared and sent a spell his way. She was next to his power sink so it was absorbed. "That's cheezy," she sneered.
He shrugged. "It works and keeps the bayou clean of extra spells and magical donuts." He put up a shield. "Try it if you want, Willow Rosenburg. You're not getting it back. Ever." She threw a combined spell, making him grab his axe on the way to fight the thing she summoned, even though the magic of it was trying to sap his strength. He laughed, defeating it easily. "You always did underestimate me, Willow." She threw something else at him, something meant to stun or kill him. He blocked it and sent it back, expression not changing. He was sad, he was upset, he was mourning, but he couldn't let that get in the way now. She tried something new. He leaned on his axe, letting it absorb it this time. "Aren't you done yet?"
"You're not fighting!" she shouted.
"I don't need to fight, Willow. Fighting doesn't make me any more powerful than I want to be. I'm satisfied with who I am and what I can do."
"You're using that power. I know you are. You could never be that powerful."
He dropped his shields and put the pebble necklace into his pocket, letting it all out. "Really?" She gaped, mouth open, just staring at him. He dampened it down again. "Remember who's the real hellmouth baby here, Willow. It's not like I'm going to call on it. You can't call on it this far away. You have to be in contact with the town." She held up something. He grabbed it with a levitation spell and threw it toward Horatio. "Nope, not allowed. We don't need to warp Miami that way." She flung herself at him, trying to beat him. He let her hit him a few times then he socked her in the jaw, knocking her out. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "Ethan!" he shouted, looking up. "Willow's broken out again!"
Ethan Rayne appeared with a sigh, looking at her. "Why is she here, boy?"
"She's looking for the stuff I have hidden. Like the one she took from the coven over there."
"Where is it?" he asked.
"Are you certain?" he pressed.
Xander nodded. "She never twigged to it." Ethan smiled. "Take her and put her somewhere safer? She brought hellmouth dirt."
"Hell." He looked. "It's drawing the native magic."
Xander looked then sighed, walking over to it. He put the sink overtop of it, letting it suck the power down. "We don't need a hellmouth outside of Miami," he said quietly. It was finally just dirt so he looked back. "Better?"
"Much." He held up the sword Xander had taken from the store. "Cute."
Xander summoned it and shrunk it, putting it into his pocket. He shrugged. "It happens. Forging is a good lesson for my skills. Keeps my blades sharp too."
"Uh-huh." He took the girl with him.
Xander relaxed, looking at Horatio. "That was stupid. She could have killed you."
"I thought I might help."
Xander shook his head. "No. There's no help for her anymore. Thank you though." He looked over as Willow appeared, panting and in a rage. "Ethan still okay?" he asked dryly.
"How dare you!" she snarled. She stomped his way, gathering all the ambient magic to her. "You'll pay."
"No, I won't," he said, shoving Horatio out of the way. "I've already paid, Willow." She threw the last massive spell at him. It hit him. It wrapped around him. He concentrated and it went away, down into the sink. It had hurt, a lot. He wasn't showing it though. "The things you learn when you need to hide from bullies," he said quietly, throwing one back at her. She screamed in pain as it ripped through her body. It burned all the hellmouth energy up. "Only one born and bred there should have hellmouth taint, Wills. You know what taint does to you." Giles and Ethan appeared. He walked over and knocked her sobbing body out, letting her fall to the ground. He looked at them then down, pushing the magic out of her and into the ground. She went totally limp and laid there, barely breathing. "She'll be safer again," he said, not looking at the older men.
Giles walked over, tipping his face up. "We do what we must to protect those who cannot do it on their own, Xander," he said quietly. "I'm proud that you could."
Xander looked at him. "Now you're scared of me?" he asked dryly.
"No, lad. We know where your loyalties and skills lie," Ethan assured him. "We know what a protector is." He looked at the witch. "She'll wake up some year."
"By then maybe her power will have dissipated back into the earth," Xander said quietly. "Or she'll have learned sense since I knocked her out of her body when I knocked her out." Ethan grimaced. "She'll learn one way or another but she won't be able to gather magic or influence others. Only those who knew her can see her." He looked at Giles. "Did you solve the military thing?"
"Yes, your call to the proper authorities got them there to investigate and stop them most quickly," he said dryly. "Buffy is quite miffed that her boyfriend is headed for federal prison at the moment. Said it's wasting his skills at post-patrol stress relief on his new cell mate."
"Pity but shouldn't torture others," he quipped back. He looked at Horatio then at Giles. "Can you remove it from him?" he asked quietly.
"I can. What of her powers?"
"They're safe." He smiled slightly. "Not like I'm not going to protect them beyond even her using them, Giles. They're not the same as they were."
"You tainted it?" he asked.
Xander pulled the sword from his pocket to enlarge it, letting him see it. "I did learn how to forge weapons working on the axe you sent me," he said dryly. He put it back into his pocket and did the same to his axe. "Go. Please?" he begged quietly.
"We are. Good work. You saved her."
"I don't know why but I had to. I owe her that much for all the years of friendship." He walked off, heading back to the road. The witch stopped him. "I'll get my car tomorrow. It's got flat tires and I'm sure all the magic drained the battery."
"We'll have it towed. Where are you staying?"
"The shielded motel downtown."
"I'll have it sent to the Rede Garage. It's one of your kind's place."
Xander grinned. "I know. She's cute too." She swatted him on the arm. "Thank you for guarding him, even if he did try to help." He kissed her on the cheek. "If you need me to clean up any of that mess, let me know. I left the magic sinks up for now."
"They're self-perpetuating, kid. They'll be fine."
He grinned. "Plus clean up some of the residue." He walked off, heading off to walk into town.
She stopped Horatio when he tried to follow. "She was his best friend. Let him mourn."
"I was going to give him a ride back into town. It's a long hike."
"It is." She let him go. "Next time, try to stay a bit more protected."
He smirked. "Sometimes you can't be protected if you're going to protect others." He hiked off to his hummer, driving it to find the boy and give him a ride back to his motel. He pulled up beside him. "Give you a ride back?"
Xander looked over at him. "I need to think but thank you anyway."
"It's at least twelve miles back to the nearest bus stop, Xander. Let me get you back to your motel. Then you can think and do whatever you need to."
Xander shrugged. "If you won't get into trouble."
"We do protect *and* serve," he joked lightly. Xander gave him a weak smile but climbed in. "Are you all right?"
"No," he said honestly. "And I probably won't ever be but I had to."
Horatio considered it as he drove. "It's callus, but in some ways it's like having a beloved pet put down. They may be like part of your family, but to spare them suffering sometimes it has to be done," he said finally.
Xander looked at him. "Maybe. Thanks, Horatio."
"Welcome." He got him to the motel with a long, silent ride. They were each thinking. Horatio hadn't known that the world the boy lived in was *real* before he had met him. Now that he knew, he was open to a lot of new information that he had no idea how to explain to himself or others. He had no idea how to explain why the people who had set that fire might get away. The witch had promised she'd send any living ones to him tomorrow at the lab so he could arrest them for 'causing such a bad disturbance' as she had put it. He stopped Xander from getting out. "It was bad, Xander, but was it the worst that could happen?"
"No. Not this time," he agreed. "I just need to process."
"I understand. If you want to talk, I'm off most nights."
Xander smiled. "I might take you up on that if I don't have to leave to protect you guys from others coming for me. Now that I've shown that I have skills and power, there'll be those who want it."
"There's always people who want some sort of power or fame," he agreed. "That doesn't mean you have to leave. Just that you have to be more careful. Not all the way to paranoid, but careful enough."
Xander nodded. "I understand. Thank you."
"You're welcome." He smiled. "Now, anything else you need to talk about?"
"Do you think Speed might like boys?"
Horatio smirked. "I don't know. I would suggest you try asking him to something like a movie or something to do with food or a book. Those are things he likes."
Xander beamed. "Thanks, Horatio."
"He's a very delicate soul, Xander. Don't play with him."
"I learned that lesson already." He slid out and went up to his room, waving at the motel's owner and protector. "I'm okay."
"What the hell?" she demanded, following him up. "We all felt that. Shields all over the city went up."
He turned to look at her before he got the door open. "Rosenburg came looking for what was put into my care."
She gaped. "You're from where?"
He opened the door then grinned. "Sunnydale." He walked in and shut the door, going to take a shower. He felt tainted so he'd be in there for a good, long time.
The protector watched the hummer leave, then went to call Morgaine. She was his teacher and mentor. "You never told us the little smartass bastard was wrapped up in that mess out by LA," she said blandly. "He's here. Running up the motel's water bill. A crime lab hummer dropped him off. All he said was that Rosenburg came looking for what was put into his care." She shrugged even though the other witch couldn't see it. "I don't know. I know he's walking. He looked heart sore. Sure, come on up. He'll probably still be raising my water bill." She hung up and went to watch over that room. The first time she had me the little smartass she had known he hadn't been trained to do things the normal way. Now she understood why that was and why he was such a smartass. Pity, but he was cute. Tragic, but cute.
Xander came out of his shower, finding Morgaine waiting on him. "Broke in?" he joked weakly.
"Yup. C'mere, dickhead." He came over to cuddle her. She smiled, stroking over his hair and back. "Shh. You did good, Xander. You saved her and them." He looked up at her. "You did save her. Even addicts need saved from themselves. That's why we have safety laws that get you put in the hospital for 72 hours when you're a danger to yourself or others."
"She might never wake up."
"She's not dead. I know you're not able to do that to a real friend." He shook his head. "Then she's safely contained in a little padded room so she can't hurt others or herself." He put his head back on her shoulder. "Rest, Xander. I'll watch over you." She looked at the sword and axe on the dresser. "Then we'll figure out what to do with that."
"Pouring it into the sword changed the power," he said quietly. "It's not hers anymore. The same as me working on my axe to make it better and putting my own blood and sweat into it changed the taint it carries from just mine."
"True. Heat will forge power the same as it will metal." She stroked over his hair again, letting him rest and not think. The boy had little coddling in his past. It spoke how much he cared for and trusted her that he was relaxed and letting her cuddle now. She let the boy relax until around dawn. "We need to find a new shop."
"Giles is going to be sending all the stuff she stole back," he said quietly, putting an arm around her waist. "Plus the weapons if he finds them."
"I'm sure we'll get most of them back. You should nap."
"I can't sleep."
"Shut up and nap, Xander. That's an order."
"You can so."
"Why not?" she asked impatiently.
He looked at her. "Post battle stress relief," he said bluntly. She blushed. "I think of you like a sister, Morgaine."
"Why didn't you take care of that in the shower?"
"The water was cold by the time it hit me."
"Damn it." She let him go and he stood up, hunting down clean clothes. "Don't pick up a succuba this time, don't pay too much for her, and don't you dare do anything related to sex magic. The last time you had to hunt the day before the fertility spell we did for Marjorie turned the extra stress you were carrying into triplets. She still wants to curse you for that."
"Two are gifted and one's a lesbian like her," he defended. "The one that's not talented would make a fantastic hunter."
"She's only nineteen-months-old," she complained. "You can't tell that yet."
"I can so. She's got a very good grip. She's got a fantastic endurance and stamina already. Her mind's very sharp and she can pinpoint anyone's weakness. That's how she gets all of us to spoil her rotten." He smirked. "I've already talked her into letting me teach her self defense." He skipped out, waving at the motel's protector. "Going for some stress relief."
"There's a nice gay club up the street," she called after him. "It's safer."
Xander smirked at her then winked. "Thanks, dear." He headed for it. It was still thumping even at this early hour. The bouncer looked at him. "Post fight stress relief."
He nodded, letting him in even though he wasn't really dressed to club. The kid wasn't going to get into a fight. Start a fight over who helped him with that stress, but not get into one.
Xander moved onto the floor, melding into the dancing. His skills on the dance floor had improved a lot since he had come to Miami. Now he understood why people had hips to move to the bass beat. He spotted a familiar head and considered it then moved closer. The guy irritating Speed glared at him so he moved up behind him, stroking over Speed's stomach. "You're not worthy of either of us. Go suck the bouncer off, dearie." He huffed off. Xander grinned at Speed, kissing him on the cheek. "It's a heroic save." He winked and moved off.
Speed caught him, pulling him back. "Thank you for the save, Xander. Why are you here?"
Speed stared at him. "Are we done?" Xander nodded, turning serious. Speed grinned. "Good." He danced with him, letting the kid safely let it go. That's the same reason he was here. To let it go. Xander was enticing.... Very enticing. He clearly knew how to use his body in more than a fight. If he wanted to help him relieve his stress more than on the floor, the boy was clearly open to it.
Xander was thinking that the motel's protector was a seer of some sort. Here stood the most perfect man he could imagine. And he might even put up with him when he was in a wild, crazy, needy mood. He moved closer, watching Speed's eyes. They didn't change but the guy looked amused. "I am and always have been a geek. Brains turn me on," he quipped with a grin. "Especially if they can explain warp theory to me."
"Not real yet," Speed chided.
Xander smirked. "I've been told I can achieve it sometimes."
Speed cackled, shaking his head. "That's an original come-on, Xander. I like it." He let the boy kiss him. "I'm not the sort to play that way in the clubs."
"Would you consent to my humble self taking you to a movie?" he asked. "Your choice but I'd prefer no subtitles unless it's anime."
Speed considered it. "Not this week. Let you calm down first."
Xander put his mouth next to Speed's ear. "Calming down isn't going to matter, Speed. Now, tomorrow, next year, you're still too hot for someone as plain as I am but I can always hope to rise above my station to touch those closer to wonderful."
Speed shivered. "You always turn so enchanting?"
"No." He smirked. "But the first time I saw you I nearly begged then." He winked and turned to dance back-to-front with him.
Speed moaned. He knew the kid could hear it but he had to. That body was calling out to his. "I have to be at work in three hours."
"We have to rebuild the shop and get all the stolen stuff back. Which means I've got to move boxes." Speed laughed. He reached back, groping his thigh and lower butt cheek. "We'll figure out the gross manual stuff whenever you want."
"Oh, I do want." He was panting now. The boy was rubbing against him just right. "Is that a promise or a tease?" he asked.
Xander turned and shifted enough to look at him. "Promise. I don't tease unless I plan to pay up at a later date."
Speed moaned again, taking a kiss. "Anyone at your room?"
"I can get a second room, Speed. Come with me?"
"Now is good. Then you can decide if I'm going to be more than a few good dates or not." He hauled him back to the motel, getting them a second room. Morgaine could probably hear them, but oh well. He was sure she'd only giggle.
Speed walked into the lab, finding Horatio staring out a window. "Did you actually make it home last night?" he asked dryly.
"I almost did. I ran into a battle."
Speed moved closer. "I just ran into Xander at a club, H." The older man looked at him. "How bad was it?"
"It was more low key than I expected. No explosions, no gunfire. Some grunting, some light, a lot of emotional pain," he sighed. "It was painful to watch." He stared at Speed. "How was he?"
"Good enough. Morgaine came to calm him down after his shower."
Horatio smiled. "Does he cuddle very well? He seems like he would."
Speed hit him on the arm. "Did you tell him I'd be there?"
"No, I suggested you liked movies, books, and cooking when I dropped him off around eleven," he admitted with a small grin.
Speed checked his watch. "Then maybe it was a coincidence. He did ask me out to the movies. Said I could pick as long as any subtitles meant it was anime."
"He seems like a very complex young man," Horatio agreed.
"He used a Star Trek reference as a come on line," Speed said with a grin. "It was goofy, but cute."
"Who was?" Calleigh asked as she snuck up behind them.
"Someone I met last night."
"Is he a nice boy?" she asked.
"Very. You might like him." He smirked at her. "He's very cuddly too."
"We should meet him."
"If we get serious, you might," he offered. "For now, we're going on our first date soon. You'll scare him off."
"Uh-huh. He's that gay?"
"No, but you'll still scare him off. But you can ask Eric or H if you want."
Calleigh looked at him. "Will I scare him off, Horatio?"
He nodded. "He's had some past problems with female friends, Calleigh. Leave it be for now."
"Fine. So, after the second date?" she asked.
Speed looked at her. "Maybe." He walked off again. "Don't we have some nasty, dirty scene we can send her on, H?"
"That's mean," she called after him. "I should return the favor."
Eric laughed, coming out of the lab he had been working in. "He'd just fine new, interesting ways to torment you, Calleigh." He watched Speed walk off. "Nice date?" he asked her quietly.
She smirked. "Not yet."
"I never thought Speed would be that loose, that's more my thing," he said with a wicked grin. "Good for him."
"Eric," Horatio sighed. "Leave him alone."
"Fine. Who was he out with?"
"Ask him, not me."
"Fine." He spotted someone stomping their way. "Dweeb alert," he said dryly.
Horatio looked then walked off shaking his head. "Go work, children."
"You're not old enough to be my daddy, Horatio," she chided, hitting him on the arm. She did go to her lab anyway because she didn't want to deal with Stetler. She was in a *good* mood today. He'd just ruin it.
"Yes, Rick?" he asked impatiently. "Did you need something?"
"Your hummer's camera was wiped clean of all of last night."
Horatio looked at him. "I was helping mediate a personal problem that had little to do with a crime. The part that did, we'll be seeing later today. No one else needed to see that other part."
"That's against regulations."
Horatio shrugged. "Human dignity is always beyond regulations, but I'd never ignore that. Some of us believe that people can be healed and helped without a book in their face, Rick." He walked off, going to gather reports. "Report it if you want." He turned, finding a chirping toad. "That was not nice," he muttered, picking it up. "I'll yell at him for you."
Speed came out, looking at the toad. "He's just sullied toads everywhere but it wasn't him. Morgaine said he's a problem and it's going to come down to the station being hurt by him."
"I don't know yet. She texted." He smirked and waved at the toad. "I know a few classes of schoolkids who could use a new pet." The toad almost looked scared and tried to get up Horatio's shirt sleeve.
"Be nicer," Horatio ordered, taking him to his office to put him down. "I'll talk with her later, Rick. For now, stay out of sight." He grabbed his keys and sunglasses, heading off to find Morgaine. He tapped on the motel room door, getting Xander. "Is your boss here?"
He handed over a note. "From her. I can solve it later, hopefully. Let me take a nap first?" Horatio gave him a look. "She's at the supermarket buying sprouts, Horatio."
He hummed as he walked off reading the note. That wasn't a good thing. She wasn't at the nearest supermarket but he did find her at one of the specialty vegan shops. He walked up to her, grimacing and hands on hips. "Morgaine."
She looked up at him, smiling a bit. "I've got to balance out my karma somehow, Horatio. He's a threat. I'm doing good work."
"He's a toad."
"I know that."
"That's not nice. Wouldn't that be doing harm?" he asked patiently.
"Not with what he had planned for you and others."
"Fix it soon, please. We can stop his plans if we know about them."
"Fine." She concentrated. "There, he's back. Better?"
He hummed. "Perhaps. Just let me know and we'll do something about it."
"Yes, Horatio." She moved closer. "Is your boy going to be nice to mine?"
"Speed is a very nice boy."
"Good. Xander's very special and I see him like my pesky little brother. Consider the toad a warning." She walked around him, going back to her shopping. Horatio left, probably mentally swearing but that was something that happened around Xander now and then. You had to expect it when he was in a mood. And boy did that one guy put him into a mood.