Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .
Time Frame: From just after "Innocence" to somewhat post-"The Replacement," with the canon timeline changed to reflect the events in my earlier stories "Silk and Sandals" and "Blades and Bonds."
Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.
TALES OF THE SLAYER, THE SAMURAI, AND THE WHITE KNIGHT
PART ONE—IDENTITY ISSUES
Valentine's Day was always a big night at The Bronze, and this year was no exception. Willow beamed as she watched Oz and the rest of the Dingoes play in front of the packed house. Buffy sat quietly next to her, trying to enjoy herself and—to her own surprise—mostly managing to do so. Every so often her gaze fell on Xander and Cordelia on the dance floor, and she quickly turned away each time, trying to find something to keep her mind off her friend. Nearby, Giles and Jenny sat quietly at a table, looking at their young charges with mixed amusement and concern.
Out on the dance floor, the reactions of those around Xander and Cordelia were mixed, to put it mildly. When the couple had first walked into plain view, Harmony and the rest of Cordelia's old flock had pointedly turned their backs on them and walked off, and there were more than a few snickers from those lower in the campus pecking order. The snickering stopped when the music started up and Xander began to dance with Cordelia. He moved like a panther, leading Cordelia effortlessly and giving her non-verbal cues that she followed without hesitation. Before long, the other dancers around them had stopped to watch them as the song approached its end. Xander leaned in, swept Cordelia into the air with what seemed to be an effortless exertion of strength, then caught her and dipped her to the ground as the last notes of the song died out. There was a moment of stunned silence, then the room exploded into cheers, as the students around Xander and Cordelia moved in to congratulate them. Cordelia looked over at where Harmony and the rest of the girls whose opinions had meant so much to her so very recently were watching with shock and naked envy on their faces. She smirked and waved "ba-bye" to the sheep before turning back to Xander and leading him back to the table where Willow and Buffy were sitting.
Willow was still less than thrilled about Xander's romantic choices, but she forced herself to smile as she called out, "That was amazing—where did you learn to dance like that, Xander?"
Xander smiled. "Jack's been giving me a few tips, and the movements involved aren't that different from some of the ones I've been using to train with the katana. Of course, doing it with a real girl instead of a stuffed dummy is a bit different—and a lot more fun—but it turned out that—" Xander paused when he noticed that Buffy and Willow were staring at him with bewildered expressions, and that Giles and Jenny—who had walked up a few seconds earlier—were looking at him as if he had grown antlers. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing—other than the fact that you were speaking in idiomatic Japanese." Giles replied tersely.
Cordelia blinked—clearly only then realizing that Xander had not been speaking in English--and stared at her boyfriend as she muttered, "Well, Daddy will be glad that the three years of language lessons didn't go to waste." She leaned in and smacked Xander on the arm and snapped, "Jack! Quit screwing around with Xander's marbles!"
Xander's expression went blank, and by the time it returned to normal he was already speaking in Jack's calm, measured tones: "Miss Chase—I assure you that I did nothing to Xander, at least not intentionally. I was listening to him speak, and I am so used to simply hearing his thoughts and understanding them immediately that I did not notice he was speaking Japanese until Mr. Giles pointed it out. I have been instructing him in the language, but his command of it just now is far beyond any level he has reached due to that instruction." Jack turned to Giles and added, "I dislike disrupting an evening of fun for you young people, but I believe that we should retire to the library and investigate this further. We may be seeing the beginnings of the personality fusion that I feared when I first summoned the sword back."
Jenny was tempted to laugh at the incongruity of being called "young people" by someone who at least looked like a seventeen year old, but the deadly serious expression on Giles' face sobered her immediately. Willow was already running to the stage to tell Oz they would be leaving, and the others were quickly headed for the door. She frowned in concern and followed.
Giles bit his lip, then turned to Xander. "I fear that your concern is well justified, Jack—there is definitely a problem here."
No kidding, Giles. Buffy shook her head at Giles' ability to understate a problem as she watched Xander's reaction to Giles' evaluation of the tests they had just run. After Xander had allowed Jack to take control, Giles had conducted a lengthy conversation in Japanese before Jack had let Xander take control again. Xander had been able to not only hear the conversation that he should have been oblivious of, but was able to translate what he had heard with little effort, in spite of never having received instruction in advanced Japanese. A few more similar tests had yielded similar results, and the predominant expression on the faces of the occupants of the Sunnydale High library was worry. Buffy frowned and asked tersely, "All right—we knew this was a risk—what can we do about it?"
Buffy was surprised when Willow coughed uncomfortably and replied, "I've been working with Giles and Ms. Calendar to come up with a solution, based on what we've been able to uncover about the spell that Ethan and Aku used and Jack's own comments."
"And why exactly didn't any of you bother to tell me about this?" Xander sounded uncharacteristically irritated at Willow, and after a brief pause that the others readily identified as Jack trying to placate him, he added, "Not to be unreasonable or anything, but it is my life we're talking about here."
"Xander?" Xander blinked once in surprise, then turned to Cordelia as she continued, "Are you a ridiculously smart genius who just finished setting the curve in Computer Science and Psychology while learning about magic in her spare time?" Xander shook his head, and Cordelia pressed on: "No? Then maybe you're a middle-aged English guy who's been trained about demons and dark magic since he was your age?" Xander shook his head again, looking increasingly uneasy, and Cordelia raised an eyebrow as she added, "And I'm pretty sure that you're not Ms. Calendar—I don't swing that way."
There were a few snorts around the room, and Xander flushed crimson. "Very funny—is there a point here?"
Cordelia walked up to Xander and locked eyes with him as she snapped, "My point is, jackass, that you might want to shut up and be grateful you have friends who can help get you out of this mess. You don't know how to get out of it—Jack doesn't even know how to get out of it, and he's older than the rest of us put together. So sit down, zip it up, and do what they tell you."
Xander stared, and seemed to zone out again before glaring at Cordelia and finding a chair at a table in the corner where he sat down and sulked visibly.
Giles noted that Willow was preoccupied with staring at Cordelia as if the cheerleader had just grown a second head, and decided to resume the explanation: "The basic problem we face is that the spell cast by Aku was designed to deal with only one consciousness at a time—it was to bury the resident consciousness then—if the target won the challenge—to allow the dismissal of the original resident consciousness permanently. Jack's sense of honor ended up creating a situation that the spell was not meant to deal with, and the situation ended up re-stabilizing with Jack voluntarily submerging himself in what was more or less a dual personality. As long as he stayed submerged, there was little threat involved to either, as he was entirely passive and simply observed what was going on." Cordelia coughed uncomfortably, and Xander gave her an apologetic look as Giles continued, "Once Jack re-emerged due to the crisis, the main thing keeping the two personalities separate was Jack's own disciplines of the mind—and with the addition of the divine katana that is starting to prove inadequate even faster than we feared."
Xander sighed. "All right, G-man." Giles twitched slightly, finding the appellation as distasteful as always but seeing it as a sign that Xander was re-asserting his familiar personality. The young man smiled at the reaction and continued, "Good recap, but what do we do about it? We haven't used the sword since we took out the Judge, so we're not making it any worse that way right now. What's the big plan?"
"Practice, practice, practice—and another spell." Everyone turned to Jenny, who had been waiting for Giles to finish the setup. She walked over to a nearby whiteboard and said, "Jack and Xander have to co-exist in the same mind and body while still retaining their individuality and their connection with reality—it won't do to simply wall one of them off indefinitely until we can safely exorcise Jack." She drew a circle, then divided it into three parts, which she labeled as "X," "J," and "X/J," with the "X/J" part taking up half the circle. She turned back to her quietly watching friends and continued, "We've discovered a spell that will help shore up the power of Jack's mental discipline, let Xander have a safe harbor in which to develop his own, and will allow both personalities to co-exist at the same time without erosion as long as both avoid certain activities."
"Well, that sounds perfect—why didn't you just bring this to Xander and Jack in the first place?" Buffy asked.
"Well, we only finished tweaking it two days ago." Willow replied, looking at Xander with concern, "and we wanted to wait to make sure it was really required—it isn't going to be a picnic for either of them." She walked over to Xander and took a deep breath before addressing him, "After the spell is cast, you're going to have to set up a schedule: six hours a day, Xander will be alone with Jack submerged. For six more hours a day, you switch: Jack is dominant while Xander is submerged. During those times, the submerged personality will be completely unaware of what is going on, and the dominant personality will have no access to any special abilities or knowledge possessed by the submerged personality unless both of you have actively discussed and reviewed the memories."
Xander nodded slowly, then asked: "What about the other twelve hours a day?"
"Well, you can't keep the separation up while you sleep, so that will take care of at least half of it. The rest of it. . .that's going to be up to you two to work out, Xander. If you use the time during school hours, you can keep from having to use your "alone" time for school and interaction with people who don't know your secret." Xander frowned, and Willow knew that he had just realized that he would need to keep up appearances quite a bit under the new arrangement—and that Jack would need to continue to use his acting abilities at times. She continued, "Jack—during the times you are dominant, engaging in activities that are intimately associated with your personality will help you strengthen the barriers. The best ways to do this would be to continue your ki exercises, and—"
"Summoning back my katana." Jack's calm tones interrupted Willow. "Rather ironic that the source of the current problem should also help solve it."
Willow nodded. "Best not to overdo it, though—that weapon is powerful enough to possibly cause you to overwhelm your barriers from the inside if you keep it around constantly. Just feel free to summon it at need, and for maybe an hour or so a day if you wish to train with it." Jack nodded, and Willow continued, "Also—you must never summon it when you are sharing time with Xander—that will cause a recurrence of the same problems you're having now." She shifted uncomfortably, and hesitated for a moment before muttering, "Also, Xander—there are a few things that you should only do when you are 'alone' and never when sharing time with Jack."
"OK—what are they?" Willow flushed, and Xander pressed. "What are they, Will?"
Xander heard an exasperated sigh behind him, and then Cordelia was there, glaring at him and muttering, "What she's trying to say is that the next time you try to drag me into a broom closet, there had better be only two of us in there."
Giles and Jenny turned away and seemed to be inspecting the stacks. Buffy let out a sound that sounded suspiciously like a muffled giggle. Willow turned bright red and stared down at her feet. Xander hesitated, and was still considering a response when Cordelia leaned forward and whispered in Xander's ear for a few moments. Xander blinked and stared at Cordelia for a moment before calling out, "Well, I happen to think this is the best plan ever—let's get started."
The others relaxed and Willow walked away, heading for a pile of books and notes. Cordelia was turning away, concealing the relief on her face, when she heard a calm voice call out: "Miss Chase?"
Uh oh. Cordelia turned back and saw a reproving expression on her boyfriend's face. "Yes, Jack—what is it?"
Jack shook his head in mild dismay and replied, "While I find your efforts to insure that Xander's full efforts will be devoted to finalizing this plan to be admirable, I would appreciate it in the future if you would give me enough warning to retreat so as to avoid overhearing. . .your description of the incentive plan."
Cordelia winced slightly. "Sorry." Jack nodded once, and his expression went blank as Xander re-emerged.
"Didn't hear a thing—looks like the soundproofing is back in my head." Xander sounded relieved as he reported to Giles about his perceptions after the spell had been cast and Jack had taken control. "It was kind of peaceful—even better than it was before we summoned the sword and Jack took control to—" Cordelia cleared her throat menacingly, and Xander flinched and concluded, "Anyway, it seems to be working fine. Jack says I'll have to practice to get it working as well when I'm alone, but that shouldn't be a problem."
"Good." Giles' relief was mirrored on the faces of the others in the room, and he looked at them with concern and ordered, "I think we've had enough excitement for one night. Buffy—you may dispense with patrol tonight, and I advise everyone else to get a good night's sleep."
Cordelia had already gathered her possessions and immediately headed for the exit, not waiting for Xander. She was feeling a little shaky after the events of the night and she wasn't about to show weakness if she could help it—
Cordelia stopped in her tracks and turned around, surprised at the identity of the person who had followed her. "What? Shouldn't you be back with Xander, making sure that your little brain zapping mojo didn't do any harm?"
Willow set her jaw and snapped back: "Shouldn't you?"
Cordelia raised an eyebrow at the shot across her bow. "What's it to you? I'd think you'd be happy if Xander wasn't being exposed to the 'evil, skanky woman' as much."
Willow reeled a little as she realized that Cordelia was quoting back her own words at her, and was silent for a moment before muttering, "Well, I didn't mean for you to hear that—hasn't anyone ever told you that eavesdropping isn't nice?"
"I'm sorry—I must have missed that day at evil skank school." Cordelia took a moment to watch Willow squirm, then snapped, "All right—awkward social moment over. What do you want?"
Willow blinked, sighed once, then muttered: "Look. . .I just wanted to say thank you for helping talk Xander into doing the right thing. . .even if I don't want to think about your methods."
Cordelia shrugged. "I don't know about you, but I don't like an audience for certain things, even if it is, well, a big superhero type. I wouldn't want Buffy there, either. Jack doesn't seem to want to—"
"Do you love him?" Willow's question made Cordelia stop in mid-sentence. Willow did not recoil at the glare that Cordelia directed at her and pressed: "Do you love Xander?"
"What right do you have to ask me that question? I've known Oz a lot longer than you have—how would you like it if I started getting in your face asking if you loved him?" Cordelia shook her head in exasperation and snapped, "What is your problem, anyway?"
"You weren't the only one eavesdropping that night." Willow saw the "duh" expression on Cordelia's face, and amended, "Well, you knew that, because you were eavesdropping. Anyway—I thought that you were seeing Xander because of the effects that Jack had on him—"
"Even though Jack said that wasn't true." Cordelia sounded subdued.
"Well—yes." Willow sounded embarrassed, and she turned away from Cordelia as she continued, "I mean, it made sense—Xander never liked you before Jack came along, and suddenly he's all over you? What am I supposed to think? But I've been watching, and as much as I don't like it, when he's with you he's still Xander—and you seem to be OK with that. It still creeps me out, but I can live with it. . .but it would make me feel better if he wound up with someone who loved him."
Cordelia looked carefully at Willow, and a dormant empathetic impulse came to the surface. She sighed and gestured at a nearby bench, and they sat silently for a few minutes before Cordelia sighed and said, "I don't really get it either. Jack tried to explain it to me, but even with his weird people reading thing it's not like he's inside my head. It's just that. . .when I'm with him, no matter what we're doing—fighting or going into one of those damned closets, I just feel comfortable, like I'm where I'm supposed to be. I don't know if it's love, but it feels right—and I'm not giving it up without a fight." She turned to look at Willow and concluded, "So if you're saying you're not going to try to mess with what Xander and I have, then thanks—but I'm not asking for permission from anyone."
Willow frowned, then nodded. "I'm getting that." She extended a hand. "Truce?"
Cordelia hesitated, then grasped the extended hand firmly. "Truce."
Willow smiled hesitantly, then stood up and left without another word. Cordelia sat for a few moments, then called out, "You know, Willow's right—eavesdropping is rude."
Xander emerged from the shadows, but it was Jack's voice that responded, "My apologies, Miss Chase. I have a light step, and by the time I reached this spot I realized that my presence would disrupt what seemed to be an important conversation between you and Miss Rosenberg. I was about to slip away when you called out to me."
Cordelia smirked. "I've learned a few tricks lately that help with people sneaking up on me."
"So it would seem." Jack noted laconically as he walked over to Cordelia and commented, "Your behavior just now was quite honorable—you could have easily been far less sensitive to her feelings."
Cordelia shrugged. "Xander would be mad if I was too nasty to her without her starting it—and she's known him since they were babies: if she really thought I was bad for him she'd really make a mess of things." She looked over at Jack and added, "From what I overheard, even you don't want to cross her."
Jack shrugged noncommittally, and Cordelia decided to change the subject: "So what's it like for you now?"
Jack smiled slightly and stretched as he replied, "I'm going to need to train extensively during these times—with Xander 'gone' I don't have his mental cues telling me what his body is capable of, so I still have a tendency to try to do things that I could do with my old body—the young version of it. If I don't train appropriately, I'm going to end up dislocating something important. Fortunately, I believe the power from this—" Jack held out his right hand, and the divine katana appeared in it "—will help with the process."
"So—you're going to be training like crazy and turning Xander's body into one that can handle the moves of a superhero sword master and martial artist?" Cordelia was staring at Jack with an expression that implied that she had just found gold.
"Umm. . .yes." Jack replied, wondering at Cordelia's reaction.
Cordelia nodded, and stepped forward. Jack was startled as she leaned in and kissed him directly on the lips. The kiss was dry but rather forceful, and it was a moment before Jack stepped back and whispered, "Miss Chase—that was completely—"
"Inappropriate, I know." Cordelia replied. Jack stared at her, baffled, as the cheerleader looked at him and added, "Jack—I want you to tell Xander about that kiss, after you tell him what you told me just before it happened. I'm pretty sure he'll understand why I did it."
Jack blinked. "If you say so, Miss Chase." He bowed once, politely, then retreated, trying not to seem as if he was fleeing.
Cordelia watched him leave in silence—but inside she was laughing like a madwoman. Her life had just gotten more complicated, but a lot more fun. She continued to look the way Jack had gone for a few more moments, then left the hallway.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired.