Beta is missing, presumed burnt out, so unless anyone thinks they can keep up with me, this is going to be a warts-and-all story. If you can't look past my occasional spelling mistakes, read no further. I have run this through a spellchecker, and gone over it as best I can.
They just don't make beat-readers like they used to…
Zeppo 4: John-117
"I'm never going to feel clean again." Xander muttered as he stepped out of the black SUV that pulled up outside the old mansion, "Why did General Johnson insist we attended that dinner?"
"I'm about as happy as you are." Faith had a dangerous look in her eye as she straightened her dress, "That Senator set off my Slyer senses something major."
"Senator Kinsey is head of the Intelligence Oversight Comity, and as such, sets our budget." Riley shrugged as he climbed out of the driver seat and leaned against the car, "Just be glad that President Bartlet has him on a short leash: he'd love nothing better than to dissect the pair of you and have his cronies take Cortana apart."
"Cold day in hell." Xander shook his head, "Sure you can't stay for a few days: I know Buffy would like to see you."
"Nothing I'd rather do, but my team is being deployed to Central America tomorrow." Riley shook his head, "As is life."
"Anything you need us on?" Faith asked, looking to work off some of her pent up aggression.
"No; shouldn't be a problem." Riley smiled.
"You need us, just call." Xander headed to the door, "But not until I've had a shower and a good nights sleep."
"Hi guys." Willow called out as Xander and Faith made their way into the Magic Box the next day, "How'd that dinner in L.A. go?"
"I've had more fun dusting vamp's." Faith sat in the first available chair, "This is one part of working for the government that the President never mentioned."
"I feel used." Xander shudder, "The General only wanted us there to show us off."
"Is the big, bad Spartan feeling cheap?" Cortana appeared in the middle of the room, the holographic emitter attached to the ceiling allowing her to look like a life-sized human, "I'm shocked."
"I'd rather face a Hunter armed with nothing but a pen knife than go through that again." Xander pulled his heavily reinforced chair across the floor and sunk into it, "Feel like doing a little hacking?"
"Love to, but I'm busy" The A.I. shook her head, "Still working on those hybrid blueprints that the General asked for."
"Blueprints?" Willow asked, "What blueprints?"
"I have detailed files on most UNSC and Covenant vehicles." Cortana explained, "The Government is interested in seeing if any can be built with currently available technology. I promised them I'd come up with something and e-mail it to Area 51. Doubt they're going to be able to build a cruiser like the Pillar of Autumn, hell; I've already sent them the plans for a slipstream drive, but they seem very interested in Longbow fighters and Pelican DropShips."
"Ok Will's, look's like you're up." Xander smiled at his friend, "I want you to find out everything you can about a Senator named Robert Kinsey."
"The slime bag from last night?" Faith raised an eyebrow, "What's with the sudden interest in him? Apart from his attempts to put his hand on my thigh all evening?"
"You never told me that!" Xander looked genuinely angry.
"I knew you'd try and kill him, and I'd have to stop you." The dark-hired slayer pulled a piece of gum from her pocket and started to chew, "Part of my conditional pardon and all."
"I'll deal with him later." Xander growled, "Anyway, I want to have something on that little snake in case he ever tries something. As nice a guy as the President is, he's not going to be in power forever."
"Guys, good, you're back." Buffy walked through the back door, followed by Giles, "Suit up: we've got a demon to hunt."
"You know, of all the place we've hunted demons, they've never struck me as the type to hang out in the city dump." Faith mused as she rested he axe over her shoulder, "What's this guy want again?"
"To kill the Slayer." Giles looked at the younger of his two words, "Could be you, or could be Buffy. Either way, you might want to keep a close look out for him."
"Right with you there, G." Faith suddenly looked a little more alert, "Should have brought my armor…"
"You're the one who didn't want to." Xander grinned from inside his Mjolnir armor, "You said it creased you're cloths."
"Look, we have very little information, besides his name, Toth, and what he wants, so I suggest we try and remain focused." Giles frowned, "Should be easy for you."
"Guys." Xander stopped dead in his tacks, "Big Red Blip alert, right behind us!"
The Scooby's span round to find themselves facing a tall, back-clad demon. They all instinctively went into a defensive stance, but Toth seemed interested only in Faith and Buffy.
Raising his hand, he pointed a strange looking stick at Buffy and said something no one could understand. A bolt of what looked like lightning shot out from the end of the stick, narrowly avoiding Buffy as she jumped out of the way. Toth moved to aim at the stunned Faith, and started to chant again.
Reacting more on instinct than anything else, Xander leapt forward, managing to come between his girlfriend and the demon. The spell hit him square in the chest, the mystical power interacting with his armours force field.
There was a bright flash of light, and Toth was gone before anyone got their sight back.
"Ouch." Xander lay on the ground, his entire body throbbing, "Please tell me someone got the number of that truck?"
"Xander?" He could hear Willow's voice coming from somewhere to his right, "Oh my god, Xander!"
"What?" Faith sounded groggy, "What the hell hit me? And why the hell is Xander lying there naked?"
"What?" Xander managed to raise one of his arms so he could see it without moving his head, "What the hell…"
"Who are you people?" A deep and unfamiliar voice asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Oh crap." Xander rolled his head to the side and looked up at the tall and heavily armed figure dressed in full Mjolnir armor, "John?"
"How do you know my name?" The Master Chief asked, pointing his gun at the Scooby's, "Where am I?"
"It's ok Chief." Cortana's voice came over the suits speakers, "It's a very long story…"
"Ok, I'll try and explain this in words we can all understand." Giles looked at the hulking form of the Master Chief, who was sat in the reinforced chair normally reserved for Xander. It had taken Cortana a long time to convince the confused Spartan that he should follow the Scooby's back to the Magic Box.
Xander was sat huddled in another chair, a thick blanket wrapped round his shoulders. Faith was doing her best to comfort him, but he seemed to be in deep shock.
"We know that Toth's spell is designed to split its target into two beings; one containing the 'good' or 'positive' aspects of the victim, the other the 'bad' or 'negative' aspects." The Watcher continued, "We, that is to say, Willow, Cortana and myself, believe that the spell was somehow affected by the force field used to protect Mjolnir armor."
"Rather than split Xander into two versions of himself, it separated him from the Master Chief." Willow explained, "We don't know if this is permanent, or if there are any other side effects, so I suggest that neither of you goes anywhere until we work out what happened."
"I've had enough of this." The Master Chief stood and headed for the exit.
"It's the truth, John." Cortana called after him, "You have Xander's memories from the time the two of you were joined, and everything that's happened since. I know this isn't something you were trained to deal with, but you can't just walk off."
"Watch me." The Master Chief sounded disappointed, "I'm going to call the General and tell him what happened."
"There is one thing you should be aware of before you go." Giles called out after the Spartan, "The spell has one major side effect that all our reference materials seem to agree on: the two halves cannot exist independently. If one of you is, the other will also die, instantly."
No one said anything for what felt like an eon as they all took in what they had just been told:
The Master Chief was, as ever, unreadable behind his helmets reflective faceplate.
Buffy looked confused, if a little relived that she had been able to dodge Toth's first attack.
Willowed looked at Xander, worried for her friend.
Tara gripped Willows had, trying to reassure her that everything would be all right
Giles took of his glasses and cleaned them furiously.
Cortana looked a little distant as she started to work on a way to reverse the spell.
Faith looked like she had seen a ghost, and gripped Xander's shoulder tightly.
Xander was the first to move: he stood, and without looking anyone in the eye, walked away from the table and out into the practise room at the back of the shop. Buffy stood to follow, but Faith blocked her path.
"No disrespect B, but this is something I should deal with." The younger Slayer followed Xander.
"We need to do is to keep both John and Xander safe until we find a way to reverse the spell." Giles looked at the remaining Scooby's, "Can I call you John, or do you prefer Master Chief?"
"I prefer Master Chief." The Spartan sounded slightly different, "But John will do."
"Ok then big guy, sit." Buffy pointed at the chair, "I know you can take care of yourself, but Xander has to unlearn the way he's been acting these past few years. I just hope Faith can keep him together while we do this."
"What ever it is you have to say, I'm not interested." Xander stood pummelling the punch bag as hard as he could, "you don't need me any more: you've got an honest-to-god Spartan now."
"You think I care about that?" Faith asked, "I love you; not the Master Chief."
"I somehow have a hard to believing that." Xander turned round, "Look at me: do I look like I can handle myself anymore? Do I look like the guy who ran into a room full of Battle demons armed with nothing more than a sword? Do I look like the guy who killed Adam?"
"No: you look like the guy who was willing to stand up against Angelus in the hospital corridor, while armed with nothing more than a quick wit and a unshakable determination to protect your friend. You look like the man who saved the life of a Slayer when Angel couldn't. You look like the man I fell in love with."
"You fell in love with Xander the Spartan…"
"I fell in love with who you are inside. I don't care one bit if you're a Spartan or not: I only care that you were the only one who wanted to make me feel at home when I first came here. You were the first person, besides Clarice, my first Watcher, who ever gave a damn about me. That's why I love you: everything else is secondary."
"Than you." Xander smiled, "You know, it's good to know that there's…"
He was interrupted by the sound of braking glass and gunfire.
Despite the strange and bizarre situation he had found himself in, the Master Chief was glad that his reflexes were as sharp as ever: Toth hadn't even landed in the middle of the shop before the Spartan had drawn his ever-present sidearm and fired a pair of rounds into the demon.
He was less than happy when they seemed to have absolutely no affect what so ever.
Buffy, also reacting purely on instinct grabbed her sword from the table and ran at Toth, intending on killing him before he could unleash any more of his spells. But the demon ducked below the swinging blade and knocked her off her feat.
The Master Chief ran at Toth, hitting him with the force of a small car. They both fell to the floor, trading blows as they tried to get back to their feet. Willow and Tara tried to find a spell to contain the demon, while Giles helped the dazed Buffy to her feet.
Faith and Xander ran in from the back room, each having grabbed battle-axes from the wall. The dark-haired Slayer ran into battle without a second thought, butting her trust in her instincts and training, while Xander stood back and started to evaluate the situation.
Even with the genetic and cybernetic upgrades removed, he still retained all the Master Chief's memories and training. A lifetime of near constant combat, mixed with his own experiences from living on the Hellmouth, gave him an unusual insight to how the fight was developing.
Toth roar with anger as he kicked out with both feet, sending the Master Chief flying into a bookcase, which instantly collapsed under the force of impact. A backhanded blow sent Faith crashing into the wall with enough force to knock the wind out of her.
Grinning, Toth drew a knife from his belt as he approached the defenceless Slayer. There was a sudden blur of movement, and the demon had just enough time to look surprised before his head toppled from his shoulders and rolled across the floor.
"That's for hitting my girlfriend." Xander looked down at the headless corps. He looked up and saw how the others were looking at him, "What? You think I can't handle a demon like him without Orion Program upgrades?"
"That's my boy." Faith stood and walked over to Xander, enveloping him in a tight hug and kissing him deeply.
"Um, guys." Willow stood, holding the wand that Toth had dropped, "I think I know how to put Xander and the Master Chief back together again."
"Ok." Xander turned to the Spartan, "It's up to you, John?"
The Master Chief slowly removed his helmet, revealing a pale, scared face. His close-cropped hair was starting to go grey around the edges. He looked at Xander with limpness blue eyes, as if scrutinising him.
Xander retuned the gaze, never braking eye contact. He felt like this was an important moment, something that would prove, once and for all, if he were worth of the Spartan title.
The others kept quiet, somehow realising that something intensely important was happening. Eyes flicked between Xander and the Master Chief, trying to read the expressions on their faces, without much success.
Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, a faint smile flicked across the Spartan's face. He walked over to Xander and carefully rested a hand on his shoulder.
"You've done good, better than anyone could have expected." The Master Chief smiled, "You'd have made a good Spartan."
"Thanks." Xander smiled.
"Um, not wanting to spoil the heartfelt moment, but shouldn't we get this spell over and done with?" Faith asked, "You know, before someone else turns up and try's to kill either of you."
"Ok, so just stand a little closer together." Willow stood holding the wand, "We only have one shot at this, so let's not mess it up."
"Not messing up a very good idea." Faith looked a little worried, "Hurt my boyfriend, I get very angry."
"Trust me Will's; you wouldn't like her when she's angry." Xander smirked, "Ok; beam me up Scotty."
"You can do this." Tara smiled at Willow as the young Wicca started to chant.
A bright light filled the room, temporarily blinding everyone. It died back slowly, forcing everyone to blink reputably I order to get their eyesight back. Cortana was the first to look round, somewhat worried when all she saw was a figure dressed in Mjolnir armor.
"Xander?" She asked tentatively.
"Yeah, it's me." The young man removed his helmet and smiled, "Let's not do that again."
"I should kick your ass for putting me through that!" Faith smiled as she embraced her boyfriend, "But I meant what I said: I love you for who, not what, you are."
They were interrupted by the sound of a car pulling up out front. Xander instinctively drew his gun, pointing it at the door while the others went for their own weapons.
"You guys redecorating or something?" General Johnson asked as he looked at the broken windows and shattered bookcases, "On second thought, I don't want to know: there's only so much I can take."
"Sir." Xander lowered his gun and came to attention, "I thought that you were down in South America?"
"Mice and men, Master Chief, mice and men." The Marine officer shook his head, "We got a call from the Whitehouse: there's some sort of emergency at NORAD. The President personally asked me if the two of you would be willing to take part in a rescue operation of some sort. Can't say anything more unless you agree."
"It never ends." Xander looked at Faith, "Fancy going to Colorado?"
"You know me." The Slayer smiled, "I love to travel…"
Don't worry: I intend to continue that little cliffhanger at some point, so watch this web-space…