Still not mine.
Author's Note :
That's right people, rumours to the contrary I'm not actually dead. I do still live, do still write, and will try to get the rest of this up before too long.
I do want to give an abject apology for taking so long to post a new chapter. The only excuse I can give is that my job got so soul-destroying that I found myself unable to write anything. And no, I don't count one-shots. Recently though, things have started to change and, god willing, I can start getting back to an even keel, and start writing and posting new chapters for not only this story, but all the others I'm working on.
So, check list. Abject apology, done. Explanation, done. Right, on with the story.
Shaking, stunned, and afraid that his lack of forethought might have screwed him utterly, Xander could only gape soundlessly as he frantically wracked his brain for some excuse that the astute werewolf would believe. Alas, the sudden threat of exposure had blanked his mind, and he could almost see the resolve fill the other's eyes.
"I'm right, aren't I?" Though the tone was light, a shrewd glint in Oz's eyes told how focussed he was, "All this… it's just to hide the truth. Why you haven't been around, why you haven't been complaining about not helping. It's because you've teamed up with Walker, right?!"
As he'd spoken Xander had felt his heart drop lower and lower, but when they reached the conclusion, the world seemed to freeze as he stared open-mouthed at the triumphant werewolf. Did he just…?
Then it struck him. For all that he had changed, grown strong and trained hard, neither Oz nor any of the others were aware of that. As far as they were concerned, he was the same moderately useless person Giles had just finished describing, so Oz had leapt to the only obvious conclusion.
Xander wasn't Walker, but he was working for him.
That he could be so close, and yet so wrong boggled Xander's mind. And as a self-satisfied smirk flowed onto Oz's face, Xander realised that Oz was now sure he was correct, based off his own reaction. Which meant…
Which meant, with a certain amount of prudent editing of the truth, Xander could get out of this without anyone being the wiser to his true other life.
"It.. it happened a few months ago." He made sure to make his voice light, tone withdrawn, to give the illusion of despair, "After Buffy pushed me away, he.. he came to me, told me that he knew of me, of what I'd been doing. Of how my dear friends had treated me," he was unable to stop a hint of his bitterness from leaking through, "and how he felt that it was wrong. He offered me the chance to help. So I said yes."
"And tonight?" Though Oz still sounded suspicious, there was something about his eyes and the general tension of his body that made Xander think that he believed the tale.
"He heard that the Mayor was holding Willow, and offered to help me get her back. He went inside, while I stayed nearby giving cover if it was needed. He got her out, but let me bring her here."
"Then why can't I catch his scent?" A narrowing of the eyes told Xander he had to tread carefully, as there was a loose thread that the werewolf had caught.
For a moment, he floundered, then inspiration struck. "I told you, he'd been watching us for some time. He knew all about you, and knew he had to hide his scent from you, so got some magical mojo cooked up that would make him untraceable by animals. No offence, but he figured you might be able to track him back to his real identity, and he doesn't want that known."
Stopping, Xander waited with bated breath and prayed that Oz would believe him. Lies, but mixed with just enough truth to make it believable…
He flinched, couldn't help it, as Oz swung his arm up, but then breathed a sigh of relief at the offered hand. Bringing his eyes to the others, he let a tentative smile appear.
"I might not agree with your actions, and I think you should tell them," inclining his head back in the direction of the library, "but you saved Willow. You saved her life. I owe you for that. I'll keep quiet, for now at least."
Smiling openly, Xander took the proffered hand and shook it firmly. "Thank you. Truly. But as for telling them… do you really think they'd let me continue if they knew I was fighting? Do you really think they could accept it? In their eyes I'm useless. That'll never change… and I'm too tired to try."
Xander forced his mouth shut, irritated at the slightly self-pityingly tone the explanation had taken, and tried to bring the conversation to a close.
"Besides, this way I can help out when things go hairy… like tonight. There's just one thing though…" He trailed off, as a sudden thought hit him, and he looked at Oz with narrowed eyes as he considered if Oz would agree to it. "Neither myself nor Walker, since he would've told me if he was aware, knew about the Council's plans for the box. With me cut out of the loop, I have no way of knowing if bad things are going down, unless… unless someone…"
"You want me to spy on them."
Xander cautiously nodded, worried at Oz's possible response.
"If you'd asked me before, I would have said no and informed Giles at the first opportunity. Now…" Oz met his gaze, brow furrowed, "now… now I'll say yes. This doesn't mean I'm going to tell you everything," he cautioned Xander, who nodded vigorously in understanding, "I'll tell you if big bads come to town, but no more. I won't report on Buffy or Willow."
"That's all I ask." Xander hastened to say, "I don't want a traitor, I want a friend who'll let me know when the shit's coming down, that's all. I just… I just want to protect those I care about, however I can."
For the first time, the two young men looked at each other, and came to complete understanding. For the woman they loved, they would help each other. Then the moment was over, and Xander twitched his head back.
"So I think we've left them long enough, why don't we head back? Besides, I think your girlfriend might be awake by now, and you…"
He had to stop, blinking at the almost dust-trail that Oz's leaving caused. Grinning crookedly, he walked at a more sedate pace to the filled room, and as he did the words of his counterargument sprang to mind… and his already crooked grin grew increasingly feral. No matter that Giles was at least partially right… he was still in the wrong, and Xander needed to make sure that that was clear to the librarian.
Re-entering the room he was gratified to see that Willow was indeed awake, with an anxious Oz sitting next to her, clutching at her hand. Briefly he glanced over at Xander, before returning his focus to her. Though watching them together still created an ache within him, Xander knew they were good for each other. That in times like these, with what they did to keep the world safe on a daily basis, they all needed something to clutch at to lighten the darkness that tried to smother them.
For Willow it was Oz, and vice-versa.
For him… it was something else.
Dragging his eyes from the couple, he fixed his stare on the Watcher and the Slayer, engaged in a furious looking discussion off by themselves in one corner. Taking a deep breath he moved towards them. There were things needed to be said.
His name pulled the older man around, upon seeing Xander standing there his expression darkened, but Xander refused to let the man have the floor again, not before he'd said his piece.
"You said some things, and I needed a little time to process them. Now I have, and I have a response. You said it was my own fault, that the lack of training was my choice, that you had some small part, but mostly it was my own. I say to you what you said to me: bullshit."
He didn't raise his voice, he even smiled a little, but he could see Giles bristle at the implication.
"True, I could've asked, I could've shown interest in learning, that I didn't doesn't exactly make it my fault. I'm a teenager. I'm not supposed to have interest in learning new things. But you… Giles, you're an educator. Your entire job is to make recalcitrant and unwilling kids learn things. Everything you said, all those points you made, they weren't to point out my mistakes…
"They were to hide your own."
"How dare you!" The words came not from the man, surprisingly, but from the blonde at his back. "It was always you who got into the trouble during patrols, it was you I had to save more often than not! You can't blame others for your…"
"I'm not saying it's entirely his fault!" Xander cut her off harshly, "I do have a certain amount of blame on my own shoulders, but then so do you, and Willow, and Oz, and anyone else who fights. All I'm saying is that he," pointing at Giles accusingly, "has more than anyone else. I just refuse to let him shift all the blame onto me."
Enough was enough. They'd had this argument too many times, and while he knew he was right, it was just as clear that neither Giles nor Buffy would ever see that they were in the wrong, in any way at all. Casting his eyes away from them, he suddenly realised there was one less person in the room than when he'd left to rescue Willow.
"By the way, where's Cordy?"
And blinked, as both Watcher and Slayer flinched.
"After those… things you said," Buffy began, her tone poisonous, "and you left, she grabbed her things, looked at us, and told us to…" She paused, her face red in anger as she tried to force the words out. But it wasn't her who finished.
"She told us to 'go fuck ourselves'. She said she knew she was shallow, but even she had standards on how she would treat people. And that how Buffy thought of her was wrong." All eyes had turned to the monotone of Oz, even as Willow's eyes widened at what she was hearing. "I think you've made a convert." The last was made as a snide aside, but only Xander saw the half-wink that Oz sent him, and realised what the man was hinting at.
Yet again, Xander was struck dumb as a new possibility raised its head.
Buffy's huff brought him back to the matter at hand, and he couldn't help but sigh at the mulish expression on her face. He was so caught up on her childishness though, he never noticed the slightly troubled look on Giles'.
Not wanting to deal with any of this shit anymore, he moved quickly to Willow's side and gave her a quick hug followed by a kiss to the forehead, just to show how worried he was. Though he had to fight to control his reaction to her presence, and prayed that the werewolf sitting beside her never noticed.
He then turned and walked away, leaving the room and heading back out, knowing he had to report in on all that had happened to Tank before things started to slip from his memory. Though he had to grin as Willow's plaintive voice could be heard wafting out the swinging doors.
"I know I was out of it for a while, but what the hell is going on?!"
It was sounding like he was having a bad influence on more than one person. With a melancholy grin, he walked out into the dark.
Sipping at his glass of water, he awaited Tank's verdict. He'd just finished going over all that had occurred that night. Not just everything that happened within the Mayor's office, but everything. The things that were said between himself and the Scoobies, both times, as well as the intel about the Mayor's forces and their new standing with the Watcher's Council. It had taken a while, and left his throat sore at the end, but he was done. He hoped.
"How close were your words to what Giles said to you?" Tank asked quietly.
In response Xander shrugged. "I did the best I could, but a lot happened tonight, and I might have been off with a few things. But the gist is right."
"In that case, I think… I think you were wrong to say what you did."
Xander gulped, worried. For Tank to say that, then he must have made a serious mistake somewhere.
"You were forgetting one very important point, something that was shadowing everything he did, everything he's ever done. Giles isn't just someone who helps out when the Scoobies fight, he's the one who has to send you all out into battle. That he's usually there right alongside those he ordered into danger is a mark for him… but the fact is, he's the one who has to make the hard decisions. He's the one who has to send out a teenaged girl to face possible death every night. That's not an easy thing to do, and for you to lambast him for his actions…"
Tank shook his head.
"He has the weight of the world on his shoulders, literally. He's the one who has to arm the Slayer with the knowledge she needs to defeat her opponents. He has to make sure she's as ready as possible to give her the edge she needs to win. That he can't give other people as much focus isn't his fault, it's the nature of things. That he can give you as much as he does tells me he cares for you all.
"Xander," He stared intensely at the stunned youngster, "you said the reason that Buffy allowed Cordy to stay was to act as bait. Why do you think Giles allowed Cordy to stay? Do you really think he would be willing to sacrifice anyone, ever? He did it, despite the danger, because he knew that no matter Buffy's personal feelings, she would still do her best to save Cordy's life. All you've done is isolate Cordelia Chase from the group, which puts her in as much danger as you yourself were in."
Here Xander broke in, eager to make some kind of amends.
"Yeah, I know. That's why I think we should train her. Give her a grounding in weapons and fighting, and…"
"We?" Tank gave Xander a jaundiced eye. "I'm sorry Xander, as much as I'd like to help your girlfriend, I can't. there's too much happening just now to take on someone else. If you want to spend time teaching her, then be my guest. But don't look at me… and whatever you do, don't tell her about Mac or myself."
Xander flinched at the sudden intensity.
"Because of your actions she's in danger, and there's a pretty good chance she'll wind up dead or turned. If she knows about us, that puts us all in danger. Don't tell her. Ever."
He nodded shakily in answer. Not only did he understand the need for secrecy, he also caught the threat. If Cordelia was to ever discover the truth, then she would be… dealt with. It was a side to Tank, a practical and terrifying side, that he'd never known to exist, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it.
Looking back at the larger man, he found himself being studied intensely. Blinking in surprise he leaned back in apprehension. He had a feeling that what was coming was even worse than what was already stated.
"Xander, I have a question for you. If Willow was in danger, if her life was at stake, and you knew you could save her, but it would allow the bad guys to win, what would you do? Would you save her? Would you let her die? Could you let her die?"
Xander could only stare in horror.
"Wh… what are you saying?!"
"It's quite simple kid, could you sacrifice the girl you love if it meant you would save the world. Not in the heat of battle, but as a cold-blooded decision. No? That's why Giles is the leader and you're not. If it came down to it, he could make that choice, even if it killed a part of his soul. It's the same for myself and Mac. We know how important this is, what we do. We understand our part in it all.
"And we know that if it became necessary, any one of us might be sacrificed. Including you. If it was needed, we'd leave you in a heartbeat."
He grinned humourlessly at Xander's suddenly white face.
"It's something you seem to have missed. This isn't a game. This is war. People die. Vampires, demons, monsters… hundreds, if not thousands of people die every day all over the world. There are far more of them than us, and sometimes a heavy price is required. Sometimes it's the blood of the innocent. Sometimes it's our own. What we're trying to do is turn the tide, hold back the darkness, using our own blood at times.
"I honestly thought you were already aware of this, otherwise I would've said it before. Everybody dies Xander, very few get to choose when or how. You and your friends are caught in a bad situation, and I can guarantee you will lose some, if not all. If you can't handle that…"
He sighed, letting his shrug say it all.
The words were quiet, and Tank barely heard them.
"I did know, or thought I did. But seeing Willow lying there, with that vampire over her… I can't promise anything. I'm sorry, but where she's concerned, I can't. I can only promise to do my best. It's all I could ever offer. If that's not enough…"
A large hand clapping him on his shoulder brought his eyes back to Tank's, and found a gleam of pride. "Truthfully, if you'd answered any other way, I'd have kicked you to the kerb. I know exactly how much you care about that girl, and that you can even consider it… it gives me hope, for the future."
For a moment he smiled at the not-so-young-anymore man, then moved back to the planning table nearby.
"Now, getting back to the Ascension…"
End of Chapter 12
Author's Note :
Well, you'll be happy to know that I was able to write this in one sitting, more or less, meaning my own mojo seems to be getting back to normal, so here's hoping the next chapter will be finished and up soon. All I can really promise right now though, is that the wait will be nowhere as long as the wait for this one was.
Now as a point to any readers wondering about the constant changes of opinion, I never wanted to give the impression that Xander was entirely correct, or that Giles was, I simply wanted to make it clear that there was more to the truth than any one person could see.
The fact I got irritated messages about it tells me that it kinda worked, though it would've worked better if I posted this chapter sooner ^_^
Lastly, I know Oz is a little too verbose in this chapter, but I find him very hard to write. Try to write him yourselves, you'll quickly understand.
Anyway, I'll stop it there since I seem to be rambling slightly.
Ciao for now.