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Shadowed Path

Xander grinned wildly, as he blew past the 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign, in a dark green, '74 Chevy Nova, convertible, heading out for the open road.

He'd been dreaming of this trip for years. He was going to drive, while Willow navigated, and Jessie kept his eyes pealed for scantily dressed hitchhikers. They had all planned it out long ago, but Jessie had died and his Willow was… not so much his Willow anymore, but he was still Xander and he was damn sure going to see all the sights the three of them had dreamed of since they were kids.

He wasn't really all that surprised when a figure materialized in the passenger seat. He knew he'd been much too happy within city limits and something was going to happen to correct that. Hellmouth Karma really sucked.

"If you're going to ride along with me, you're going to have to split the cost of gas." He quipped absently, as he ran a quick mental check on what weapons he could actually reach, without stopping the car, and coming up empty.

He risked a quick glance at his uninvited passenger. 'Ram's horns, red eyes, bluish warty skin. Demonic trendy. Check. Fashionable red and yellow robe with silver amulet. No clue, but he seems strangely familiar.'

The horned figure chuckled. "Fearless, I like that. I don't, however, like what's going to happen to one of mine if your life continues the way the 'Powers That Be' have scripted it to." He made little air quotes with his hands, showing some rather nasty looking claws, but making no overtly hostile moves.

"Powers That Be? Scripted?" The dark haired teen relaxed minutely, as he realized that evisceration didn't seem to be on the menu just yet.

"Yes to both. The 'Powers That Be' is the current title of a bunch of cosmic busybodies that claim to be the 'forces of light', but show far less concern for those fighting on their side then they do for a number of your enemies. They make long term plans for 'The good of humanity', but show no concern for any of the humans involved. If they had a motto it'd probably be 'Think of the children'." The demon finished with a wince.

The demon seemed to have an affection for air quotes, Xander noted, as he matched the wince and raised him a groan. "So, basically they plan on bending us all over, with no lube no less?"

The demon nodded. "Exactly, and their plan for you is worse then just no lube, it's more along the lines of, no lube and a cellmate named Bubba. You have noticed the increase of entropy in your personal life, haven't you?"

"Entropy? You mean like things breaking down?"

"In a way. Think of it more as 'things' dropping down to a lower energy state. All the good things you do are forgotten and your relationships with others dropping from love to like to tolerate. Surely you've noticed the number of times you've been made a… butt monkey and the slowly creeping disdain in your personal life?"

"Yeah…" the Zeppo trailed off, his thoughts heading down dark paths.

"That is their work. Think of all the time and effort they put into screwing you over. They spent more time screwing with you then they did preparing Buffy to fight the 'big bads'. Let's just look at the Willow situation for instance. Oz just happens to score high enough on a career placement exam to end up interviewed by some nameless suits along with Willow."

Xander shrugged. "He said he tested well."

"I hardly see how questions about whether you like shrubs or forestry would mark someone as a computer genius. There was absolutely nothing in that test that would score intelligence, only interests and it was pretty much useless at that too."

"Damn!" Xander cursed himself, unable to believe he'd missed that.

"The whole Terakan assassins deal was a setup. Oz saving Willow and getting a minor flesh wound. You've taken far worse saving her before and no one's ever made a big deal out of it. So suddenly she has a 'cool' upperclassman sniffing after her, who is 'just as good at computers' and 'saved her'. Do you ever recall him so much as touching a computer?"

Xander opened his mouth to respond, but the demon wasn't finished yet and was probably going to do even more air quotes if Xander was any judge.

"And let's not forget you and a girl, whom you had a perfectly satisfactory hate-hate relationship with, suddenly playing tonsil hockey instead of killing each other when trapped in a locked room together. Doesn't it seem a bit suspicious that a legendary assassin was completely unable to break through a flimsy basement door?"

Xander growled as he realized the truth of the demon's words. "I can't believe I missed all that."

"Lets not forget the piece de la resistance!" The demon stabbed the air with his finger.


"Getting kidnapped by Spike and 'The Fluke' suddenly becoming solely your fault, as if Willow had no will of her own and was simply an innocent bystander."

"I really could have done without that, that's for damn sure." A now dispirited Xander muttered.

"Let me toss you out a little factoid that will make you feel significantly better about your part in all of that. Did you know that hyenas are mystically the exact opposite of wolves?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

The demon grinned. "Who do you know that would be shallow enough to buy a wolfbane based perfume, if she found out that one of her 'friends' was a werewolf?"

"Cordelia." Xander said, trying to figure out how this all fit together.

"And if wolfbane magically repelled werewolves, what would it do to the exact opposite of one?"

"Attract." Xander offered tentatively, really hoping he was wrong.

"Exactly. So, Miss Chase's perfume is suddenly a Xander specific aphrodisiac, causing you to start seeing her in a more favorable light and giving you urges you would have sworn were unholy before."

"Well, that covers my attraction to her, but why would she be attracted to me?"

"Several reasons;" the demon announced, "it'd really piss her parents off, which is a prime motivator for any teenage girl, natural curiosity, after all you are unlike any guy she had ever dated before, you are a hero. You saved her life and those of her friends, several times, despite not liking them, because it was the right thing to do, so you really can't reject the title. Naturally she'd find herself attracted to you. The fact that she was the queen of Sunnydale High just cemented things."

Xander was about to ask what her being the queen of the high school had to do with anything, but the demon jumped right back in before he could.

"Now, let me ask you this, if the hyena chose you based on your personality traits, then why would it turn you into a brainless sociopath that would try and harm your pack? They may be mystical opposites, but their social patterns are nearly identical to wolves, and to a certain mammalian species sitting not too far from me right now."

"I always heard that hyenas were merciless predators who preyed on any hint of weakness in their own kind as well as prey." Xander remarked skeptically

The demon sighed and shook his head. "Sure, and lemmings jump off cliffs."

"They don't?"

"You really need to stop relying on Disney for all your nature facts or you're going to end up mauled, trying to feed Yogi and BooBoo a picnic basket."

"That's Hanna Barbara, not Disney."

"Not my point. Disney originally did nature films as well as cartoons and they encouraged naturalists to find interesting ways to interpret the facts. Lemmings do not, in fact, throw themselves off cliffs. The cameraman played with the angles and came up with a great story about a suicidal species. They never jump off anything higher then they can land safely from. If they all acted like they appeared to in that film, there would be no next generation, but back to the hyenas. Hyenas are just like wolves with obvious differences due to the local environment. Wolves had a similar reputation until a few writers wrote stories about what they were really like."

"So I wasn't behaving like a hyena?"

"Not remotely. You and the others were behaving like the popular misconception of what hyena's act like. Your possession was altered to grab part of it from the popular consciousness rather then the actual totem. It set the groundwork for the entire Willow/Cordelia/Xander fiasco and allowed the 'PTB' to move ahead several other plans they had."

"What other plans?"

"By having you attempt to 'mate' with Buffy in such a forceful manner, which was perfectly understandable by the way, even if you had been behaving like you should've, that scene probably would have occurred, because she was definitely aroused by the hyena-you and you were still running on instincts and heightened senses. If you'd been possessed for a week or more before that event and given time to acclimatize, you'd have been a tad more subtle, although still pretty straightforward and she would've ripped your clothes off. The slayer spirit and the hyena totem are actually linked because of certain events in the past, but I'm wandering off topic again. The 'PTB' set events into motion the way they did so you would come on much too strong and completely alienate the slayer as well as driving a wedge between you and Willow."

"So they did all that to keep me from hooking up with Buffy or Willow?"

"That and arrange a couple of deaths and some other events to keep your group small."

"Principle Flutie died, but I don't think we killed anyone else." The teen muttered morosely.

The demon groaned. "They did kill only the one person and I'd appreciate it if you avoided needlessly angsting over his death. You were not responsible for his death. You weren't even there."

"They were my pack." Xander stated a bit wistfully.

"No, they were supposed to be your pack, but they were co-opted by the 'PTB'. If they had actually been your pack and behaved like the hyena's children were suppose to, no one would've died. Well… except for the pig, but no humans and they would've obeyed you. By altering things the way they did, the 'PTB' got rid of Flutie and scared Andrew and Jonathan away, otherwise you would have had a budding mage and techno-wizard flocking to your banner."

"Buffy's banner you mean." Xander said, with a trace of bitterness that he hadn't expected.

The demon chuckled. "I said your banner and I meant it. You named yourself King of the cretins, which in this case meant, all the 'geeks and dweebs'. Why do you think it was so easy to get the entire senior class to listen to you? All the downtrodden in the school, i.e. everyone but the teachers and the cliques trying to run the place, considered you their leader in some small part of their minds. If you had stepped up and acted the part they would have declared fealty to you. As it was, your actions declared you to be an uncrowned king in hiding, so only the 'common folk' actually obeyed you in anything but an emergency."

"I became king, just by declaring it? I think it takes a bit more then that."

"Not really. Just declaring yourself king in a public forum and having no one gainsay you is the first half of becoming a king, the second half is acting the part. Being related to royalty helps, but it's not compulsory. It'd probably be a bit more difficult away from a Hellmouth, but it is primarily a social position. Being on a Hellmouth just added some additional perks to the job."

"Perks? I didn't notice any perks. I'm pretty sure I was perk free."

"Well, for the most part, they weren't obvious ones. Your skin was kept free of blemishes, meaning pimples or rashes, despite your junk food diet."

Xander grinned, shedding some of his melancholy . "Very nice perk for a teen."

"Indeed. You'll also notice that you never got a cavity or had a tooth knocked out, not even when Angel almost broke your jaw."

"So, kingship comes with dental."

"Kings are thought of as having roguishly good looks, so while you were king it prevented disfigurement. It also gave you a bit of martial skills."

"I don't remember gaining any fighting skills. They would have come in handy and what do you mean, 'While I was king?'"

"You fought at the slayer's side against things that should have broken you easily, instead you only got bruised, most of the time and did you ever wonder how you spotted problems in battle so easily, with just enough time to throw yourself in harms way or why you kept so much of the soldier's skills, when everyone else lost anything they gained from their costumes? I won't even go into how morale improved for any group you were in, that was a rather obvious one. You have left high school, left it in about a thousand pieces in fact, so you are officially an ex-king now."

"You make some good points. I wondered how I'd managed to survive the ascension. I'd had a premo-thingy I was going to die. Hell, I'd even made out a will."

The demon chuckled. "Premonition and technically you did die, or rather, King Xander did. King Xander is dead in a metaphorical sense. You're just a commoner now."

"Damn, it was kinda good to be the king, looking back at it I mean."

"Yes, but back on topic. The 'Powers That Be' wanted you emotionally estranged from Buffy, so they could make sure she sex with the brooding corpse, so Angelous would kill Miss Kalderdash. With her dead it weakened your group by removing your one experienced practitioner and slowed down Willow's progress and prevented her from learning the spell that would have returned Amy to human form."

"That… blows." Xander growled, his knuckles turning white on the steering wheel.

"Yes, it does. The death of Flutie also allowed them to put Snyder in charge, which gave the mayor easier access to the school, making installing surveillance devices and keeping the pressure on your group much easier. He knew most of your moves before you made them and reduced your effectiveness by increasing your stress levels."

"Wheels within wheels."

"Yes, they think 10 moves ahead, such as slipping Willow a spellbook with an anti-lust spell that required wolfbane as a main ingredient and relied on making the caster feel so guilty that they would ignore the person they were lusting after."

"The Fluke?"

"Yes, the fluke. Of course what isn't mentioned is that the spell takes time to work. So, by casting the spell it attracted you, thanks to the wolfbane, and then it made her feel incredible amounts of guilt and the need to avoid you when it finally kicked in, all perfectly timed for the maximum amount of emotional damage."


"And they call us demons evil, well to be fair we are, but usually we're much more upfront about it."

Xander frowned. "So what exactly do you want from me? I can't exactly see a demon popping up and telling me, my life sucks and is only going to get worse, as a hobby. I mean, I already knew that."

The demon nodded. "I intend to help you. Not to benefit you, of course, but to benefit me."

"How is helping me going to help you?" Xander asked suspiciously.

The demon grinned widely, showing off numerous pointy teeth. "Because, my dear boy, by helping you I'm throwing a wrench into the plans of the 'PTB' and keeping one of my best people from falling into their hands."

"And you think I'm going to help you advance the opposing team's game plan?" Xander asked, his eyes searching for something solid to crash the car into. 'I may not be happy with the shit job I've been handed, but I'll be damned if I help the other side and that's a lot more literal then I feel comfortable with.'

The demon just chuckled as he watched the young man plot their death, knowing that the desert they were currently driving through held nothing but sand for the next 25 miles. "Not at all. By helping me you are actually advancing the 'light's' side. The 'Powers That Be' claim to be the side of light, but they aren't advancing the light's side. They are trying to keep things balanced. They work against you nearly as much as they work for you."

"Do you really expect me to believe that?"

"I am fully prepared to offer you a blood oath." The demon said, pulling out his trump card.

Xander stopped looking for places to crash and started looking for a place to pull over.

"You're serious?"


"You'd actually work against your own side?"

"My own, no. The rest of the 'forces of darkness', yes."

Xander noticed that the demon loved to make air quotes and found it a bit annoying, but as it was still better then getting eviscerated or forced to relive his high school years, decided to let it slide.

"I thought you were all on the same side?"

"Don't be silly, we're evil and evil, at heart, can best be described as selfishness. We fight against each other, nearly as much as we do against the forces of 'light'.

"So if the forces of light are working together and the forces of darkness are working against themselves, then why hasn't the light won yet?"

The demon grinned again, showing a lot more canine teeth then Xander felt comfortable around. "Because the light side isn't unified either. They work together far more often and certainly more successfully then the dark does, but we of the dark side of the equation, try to prevent that as much as possible. Besides, as I've already pointed out, the 'Powers That Be' are working on stalemating everything, not winning."

"Why the hell are they doing that?" Xander exclaimed, not noticing that the desert around them had somehow been replaces with cornfields.

"Because as soon as either side actually wins, both are called back and the mortal planes are forbidden to all but the neutral powers. It allows the various races a period of time to adjust and heal from the eternal war and it's my guess that the 'Powers That Be' like being in charge. If either side won then they wouldn't be in charge anymore and would have to start over from scratch when the grace period ends and the rules change to whatever the new rules would be." The demon shrugged, as if it were unimportant.

"But aren't they being selfish doing that and wouldn't that make them the dark side?"

The demon shrugged again. "Probably, but for them to join our side they'd have to redeem a number of villains…" his voice trailed off. "Janus' Beard! That's exactly what they are doing. They plan on redeeming enough evil beings to allow them to join the ranks of evil and win the game by default! That's why they've worked so hard on keeping your enemies alive and in the game. The entire balance claim is just a smokescreen and your relationship with Cordelia and it's break up, allowed them to drag my Anya into it."

Xander stared wide-eyed at the 'Welcome to Smallville' sign and muttered "Wheels within wheels."

"Exactly. It seems I've underestimated them. I thought they were only playing 10 moves ahead, but they're really playing 13. Thankfully I'm playing 15." The demon grinned evilly. He was a natural at it and it showed.

Xander just drove slowly down Main Street, staring wide-eyed at the scenery and slid into an empty parking space that the demon pointed out in front of an old movie theater that had been converted into a coffee shop called The Talon. "We're in Smallville."

"Yes, I wanted a non-fat latte and they blow Starbucks out of the water, besides I thought you'd get a better feel for the 'big picture' if I showed you exactly how big it truly was."

"We're in Smallville."

"Yes and before you ask, yes it's that Smallville and yes this is that Talon." The demon led Xander into the coffee shop, completely unconcerned about his demonic appearance.

A young woman with a brilliant smile and slightly Asian features greeted them as they slid into a booth. "Welcome to the Talon. Oooh, nice costume. What'll it be?"

The demon smiled. "Thanks. I'll have four… no, better make it six, non-fat lattes, large, with coconut sprinkles."

"And for you?" She turned her thousand watt smile in Xander's direction.

"We're in Smallville." Xander replied numbly.

"Is he ok?" The brunette asked, her smile fading slightly.

"He's just had a bit of a shock. Get him a large… no, make it 3 extra large, mocha frappuccinos, with whip crème and chocolate sprinkles."

The bell on the door chimed loudly, as three more familiar Smallville faces walked into the nearly empty coffee shop.

"Hey, Lana. I thought this place would be busier." The bald headed man said, a teasing glint in his eyes.

"Hey, Lex. It's always dead during the local football games. After the game it seems like half the town tries to cram themselves in here. I assume you're here to help." It wasn't a question.

Lex grinned. "Always. Running the counter beats the hell out of dealing with the bean counters at the plant."


"I'll help… provided I'm given… proper incentive." The dark haired young man's leer was more comical then lecherous.

"Keep it down to under a dozen cups and you have a deal." Lana grinned at her friend's antics.

"Cool. I love caffeine!" Clark grinned and rubbed his hands together evilly, before taking off his Levi jacket and revealing a rock solid physique that a tight white t-shirt did little to hide, but was somehow overlooked by the local jocks and bullies who picked on him, despite not being half as well built.


The sandy blond girl patted her laptop, hanging on her side. "Let me put my latest story to bed first. Say… 15 minutes?"

"Sure. Thanks guys."

"We do this every game. Don't make such a big deal out of it." Lex said, as he slipped behind the counter and tied on an apron. It was a white frilly number that clashed rather badly with the young pimp… err businessman look he was going for.

Xander spoke up. "We're in Smallville."

Everyone turned to stare at him and his ram horned companion.

"Cool costume." Lex commented, preparing their order from the ticket Lana had just handed him.

Cloe just stared, her head cocked slightly to the side.

"Is he ok?" Clark asked, radiating concern.

The demon shrugged. "He's just been given a bit of a shock, on top of some rather distressing news. I'm hoping the caffeine breaks him out of it, otherwise I'll have to try slapping him."

"That's not a costume." Cloe declared, staring directly into the horned figures eyes. "The slitted pupils dilate just like a cat's when the light hits them and the skin moves much too naturally to be anything but real."

Lana and Lex stared at Cloe, trying to figure out what the joke was, before concentrating their attention back on the lounging demon, who twitched a pointed ear at them and grinned, showing off enough canine teeth for a pack of Dobermans.

Clark quickly moved in front of Lana. "What do you want?"

The demon shrugged. "Coffee."

They turned to Xander. "We're in Smallville?"

Everyone turned back to the demon.

The silence stretched for a long moment before the demon spoke again. "I'm paying cash, so it's not like I'm going to stiff you on the bill."

Cloe stared at the two intently. "It's impossible."

"No, I really do have local cash on me. You just can't rely on Visa in other dimensions."

"That's not Nicolas Brendon, is it?"

"No, that's Xander Harris."

"Then that would make you… D'Hoffryn."

"I can show you my American Express card if it'll help." The demon offered.

"Credit card jokes?" Cloe asked, looking a little frazzled.

The demon shrugged. "Well someone has to 'Make with the Quippage' and Xander is…"

"We're in Smallville." Xander stated firmly.

"Exactly." D'Hoffryn nodded, as if it explained everything.

AN: No beta. Send corrections via PM.

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