Title: Second Chances: Inner Darkness (2/?)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at

Rating: I'm gonna go say PG-13 for some strong language.

Spoilers: Speculation on season seven, and pretty much anything up to that is fair game.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: Xander's real power is revealed... and he's not too happy with it.

Author's Note: Nothing new to say.

* * *


The ensouled vampire turned, "Harris. What do you want?"

"To..." Xander hesitated, then took a deep breath and plowed on, "to apologize. For the way I've treated you. I... di-don't know what you're going through, and since you've shown up, I've done nothing but give you a hard time for things you wish you'd never done. I'm sorry."

Angel stared hard at him for a long moment. He seemed sincere, and the black-clad vampire couldn't think of any reason Xander would say it if he didn't mean it.

"Apology... accepted." How could he refuse to forgive Xander for what were very justified actions? He couldn't, not if he wanted to maintain that spark of hope for his own redemption.

Xander let out a heavy sigh and said, "But understand this, Deadboy: You lose that soul of yours, I'm staking you first chance I get. I promise you that."

Angel nodded, "I know. And I'm glad." His eyes narrowed, "And if it does come to that... you'd better keep that promise."

"Don't worry," Xander said as he started to turn away. "I will." He paused, "Curses have loopholes, don't they? Ways to break the spell?"

"Yeah, usually. Why?"

Xander turned, "Maybe you'd better find out the clause in yours, so I never have to keep that promise."

"I'll keep that in mind."

* * *

Xander blew out a shuddering sigh. He'd kept secrets before, hard ones. It had taken Willow three years to figure out what his parents were really like. It had taken over four years for Buffy and Willow to learn about his lie, and even by the time of the first reset, they still didn't know about Jack's bomb.

But those secrets paled in comparison to the ones he kept now, secrets that threatened to rip his sanity to shreds.

A part of him recognized what he was going through. He wasn't sure if it was a remnant of Soldier Guy or something half-remembered from a movie, but he knew he was starting to fall apart inside.

Combat fatigue. Shell shock. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whatever they were calling it now, he could tell that he was dangerously close to it. Staking Jesse was one thing -- it wasn't really Jesse, and it was really an accident -- but what he'd done to Buffy... to Willow...


He started, then turned. Forcing a smile to his face, he waved, "Hey, Wills. What's up?"

"What's wrong, Xander?" she asked.

"What makes you think something's wrong?" he asked mildly.

"Xander..." she said, shifting to her Resolve Face. "You can't lie to me, you know that."

"Willow, I..."

"No, Xander!" she interrupted stubbornly. She poked him in the chest and said furiously, "You've changed, Xander. Ever since you had that nightmare -- whatever it was -- you've gotten almost as broody as Angel!"

"Hey!" he protested reflexively, glaring at her. "I resent that comparison!"

She folded her arms, "But do you deny it?"

"Uh, well, that is, uh..." he stammered. *Geez!* he thought to himself with no small amount of irritation. *You'd think after all this time I'd've figured out how to lie to her!*

"I'll take that as a 'no,'" she said. "So what is it, Xander? What's been bugging you?"

"I..." he trailed off and tried to collect his thoughts. "Willow, I wish I could tell you, but... I can't. I... I just can't, okay?"

"Why not?" she demanded. "Xander, we're best friends. We tell each other _everything_."

He snapped his head up and gave her a penetrating look. "Not everything, Wills. Never everything."

She blinked in surprise, then said, hurt, "What? You mean there's something else you've been keeping from me?"

"I mean we all have our secrets, Wills," he said quietly. "This is mine."

She frowned, "Xander, I'm not leaving until you tell me what's bothering you. Resolve Face."

Xander barked out a bitter laugh, "That stopped working a long time ago, Willow."

He turned and walked away, leaving a very confused redhead worrying about her childhood friend.

* * *

"Hey, G-man."

"Don't call me that, Xander," the Watcher said tiredly.

"Just had a weird thought," Xander shrugged. "Back when Buff killed the Master, she kinda drowned, remember?"

"And you saved her with CPR."

"Well..." Xander said thoughtfully, "...what if... what if her being physiologically dead for those few seconds was enough to Call the next Slayer?"

Giles' eyes widened.

*Okay,* Xander thought, *that's the Kendra situation... minimized. I already crushed the Master's bones, and Deadboy's thinking about his curse. What else do I need to...? Of course. Gotta make sure I'm in shape if I'm gonna save the world.*

* * *

Xander swung the sledgehammer one more time, driving the sharpened two-by-four deeper into the ground. He gave it a solid shove. It didn't wobble.

He smiled and put down the sledge. Picking up a long coil of rope, he began to wrap it around the top end of the two-by-four.

* * *


The musician turned and cocked an eyebrow, "Do I know you?"

"No," Xander shook his head, "but I know you. Remember the cultural exchange dance?"


Xander smiled and said, "I'm a friend of the Eskimo."

"Oh," Oz said. He was a little upset at that, though no one who didn't know him well would be able to tell. He had hoped she was single.

"Strictly friend," Xander reassured him. "I know you've had your eye on her lately, and I was wondering if you'd like an introduction."

"When?" Oz barely bat an eye.

"Tonight. Bronze. Eight o'clock."

"I'll be there," Oz nodded with a small smile... which, for him, was equivalent to Xander's Snoopy Dance.

* * *

Xander punched the rope-wrapped wooden post angrily.

*Who the _hell_ does she think she is?!* he snarled mentally as he swung around and lashed out at the post with a forearm blow. *She hasn't seen what I've seen. She has _no_ right to judge me!*

Throwing a one-two combo into the practice post he had set up two nights ago, he thought back to the previous night.

* * Flashback * *

"Hey, gals," Xander said with a smile.

Willow looked up at him, Resolve Face on, it vanished in a wave of surprise. "Who's this?"

"Buff, Will, meet Daniel Osbourne, better known as Oz. He plays guitar for the Dingoes. Oz, these are my two best buds, Willow Rosenberg and Buffy Summers."

"Hi," Oz said, his attention clearly focused on the redhead.

"Hi?" Willow said uncertainly.

"Well, I'm gonna get some fresh air," Xander said, rising and ignoring the panicked look in Willow's face.

Buffy frowned but said nothing.

* * *

"Hey," Xander said, "where's Oz?"

"He's off getting some drinks," Buffy said.

"Xander, what- what is with you lately?" Willow asked. "First you get all broody, then you start pushing me away, and now you're trying to set me up with a guy? Xander, I appreciate the thought, but I don't want you to set me up with someone. I... I..." she stuttered to a halt and looked to Buffy for support.

"Go ahead," Buffy said with an encouraging smile. "Tell him."

Xander snorted derisively, "You mean your little crush on me, Wills?"

Willow's eyes widened, and Buffy's jaw dropped. The Slayer finally found her voice and asked, "You know?

He rolled his eyes and said condescendingly, "I'm not _that_ blind, Buff. I was hoping she'd get the hint and move on."

"'H-hint'?" Willow asked in a small voice.

He let out an annoyed sigh, "God, Wills, for someone so smart, you're pretty damn stupid sometimes. You're my friend, Wills. That's all, and that's all you'll _ever_ be. Our relationship would be the same if you were a guy."

That said, he spun on his heel and walked out of the Bronze. Buffy hesitated, then stormed after him. Stepping outside, she called, "Xander!"

"Yeah, Buff?" he said, pausing and turning toward her.

"How could you _do_ that to her?!" she snarled angrily, walking up and poking him in the chest.

"I'm doing her a favor, Buffy," he said evenly. "Trust me. It's for the best."

"A _favor_?!" she sputtered incredulously. "Xander, you just broke her heart in the worst way I've ever _seen_, and you call that a _favor_?!?"

"Just shut up, Buffy!" he snarled. "You don't understand."

"Damn right, I don't!" she shot back. "And I don't _want_ to."

He rolled his eyes and turned to leave.

"Hey! I'm talking to you!" she shouted. "Don't you walk away from me, you bastard!"

* * End Flashback * *


Xander blinked at the sound and realized he'd broken the post. There was also a slowly expanding red spot on the rope wrapped around the post.

That's when the pain registered, and he let out a low hiss. Looking down, he saw his arms and hands were bruised and bloodied. Although most of the damage was on his knuckles, bruises and small cuts covered his arms all the way up to his elbows.


* * *

Author's Postscript:

The greatest demons are those that live within.