Living History

Chapters 26 - 41

Author: Lizbeth Marcs <vblackheart[at]>

Summary: Some people have come a place far, far away and a time far, far ahead to ask for help on an urgent matter. The time? February 2008. The place? Moscow. The problem? They're in Cleveland, September 2003. And that's just the beginning of the trouble…

Author's Note: This is based on a challenge issued by Uncle Rand on the XanderZone list, so you know, right away, that it's Xander- centric. Beyond that I'm not telling.

Disclaimer: Is this necessary? I own nothing. ME/Fox owns everything. Deal.

Pairing: Kinda, sorta, depends on how hard you squint. Mostly friendship/adventure/humor rule the day.

Feedback: As always, thoughtful feedback is welcomed. Since this is a WiP that may take a looooong time to finish, I look forward to seeing what people have to say.

Archiving: On XanderZone is automatically granted since the challenge came from there. Everyone else please ask.

There's a glossary at the end of the story.

For the latest parts look at LiveJournal


To recap Uncle Rand's Challenge:

I've read a lot of stories on this group about Xander being the quiet hero, doing what he does without any thanks and I had a thought. What if a group of people, maybe a new group of Slayerettes, came from the future, via a spell that would send them to the time they needed to be, to save the world and were awestruck at meeting Xander, but thought Buffy was nothing special?


1) Set immediately after series finale.

2) No B/X or W/X! Story must be F/X or D/X.

3) No incredible inventions from the future for killing Vampires from a distance!

4) (Optional) Does Xander and whoever he is involved with go to the future with them when they return?

Judging by some discussion on this challenge, I'm adhering to the letter of the challenge, but probably not the intent. Heh. Typical.

Liz ;)

Latest addition

Chapter 26
What's Taran for "Whoops!"

Ruda was bouncing up and down the street as they left Erie Street Cemetery, cheerfully pointing out various items and excitedly asking her patrol buddies what that was, and what that was, and, oh, what is that?

Faith, Vi, and the latest recruit, Andrea, filled her in, laughing good-naturedly at how she'd mangle some of the words as she tried to sound them out. Whether she got them right, which always inspired a round of sincere applause from the others, or got them hilariously wrong, her grin didn't dim one single jot.

*Girl's like a disease,* Faith thought with a chuckle. Ruda's never- ending optimism in the face of a mission that had gone seriously haywire served to single-handedly raise the spirits of every Slayer in the house. Ruda obviously didn't think that being a Slayer was a one-way ticket to the vale of tears, a sharp contrast to the examples offered by Buffy and herself.

Hell, if it was possible for Slayers to have a recruitment drive, Faith was pretty damn sure that Ruda would be the first choice to serve as a poster child. It was strange that Catherine allowed future girl out of the house, but massive amounts of begging, coupled with the deadliest cute-kitten-eyes Faith had ever seen, broke down the Watcher Honoria's defenses.

Still, Ruda wasn't given free reign. Catherine ordered that she stay out of the fighting and stick to talk about the present tense. Ruda gave her Watcher half-a-nod, a sure sign to Faith's eyes that Ruda's mind was already on patrol and looking for an excuse to do some damage, and they were out the door.

All the same, Faith was impressed. Ruda actually followed orders. Sort of. She kept out of the one skirmish they had with four fledges, although she shouted encouragement and whooped from the sidelines while watching the present-day trio at work. Faith was pretty sure that Catherine would not consider Ruda's shout, "Look out behind you!" at Andrea while the newest Slayer in the house was distracted during the dust up as staying out of the fighting.

Ruda glommed onto Vi right after introductions were made and the dark- haired girl bounced between Vi and Faith all night. At the moment, Faith was enjoying giving her ears a well-deserved break while Ruda pestered the younger Slayer. She watched as her charge waved her hands in the air with excitement while Vi recounted this one time she tripped and fell face-first in the mud while chasing a Faryl demon through a back alley. Ruda constantly peppered the hat-wearing Slayer for more details until Vi was reduced to breathlessly laughing about the incident and the enthusiasm of her appreciative audience.

Story done, Ruda tripped her way back to Faith's side and said, "Tell me another one."

"Aren't you tired yet? Christ, I'm ready to drop just watching you."

"Please Lanoire...I mean Faith?"

Faith sighed. "Wicked. Did I tell you that one?"

"Wih-kid," Ruda gamely parroted. "Means really great."

"Bubbler," Faith said.

"Bub-lah. Means a water fountain, which is attached to a wall so people can drink from it."



Faith grinned. Ruda was picking up her wicked bad Boston accent. And doing a really good job of it, too. "That means living room," Faith said.

"Living rohm," Ruda nodded sagely.

"That's where people gather together, sit down, watch some tube, and maybe curl up on a couch," Faith explained.

"Oh, central room," Ruda nodded happily. "Couch?"

"Couch...couch...wait...sofa?" Faith asked. Ruda still looked blank, so she added, "Long bench-like seat that can have more than one person on it."

"I know what a sofa is, silly," Ruda grinned. A look of horror quickly replaced it. "Sorry, I didn't mean to call you..."

Faith barked a laugh. "It's okay, kid. Silly's cool. We're good." Ruda still looked like she had committed a grave sin. Faith put an arm around her shoulder and added, "Promise I won't hit ya with a thunderbolt or anything like that. It's all good. Hey! I got another one. This is guaranteed funny, at least everyone around me thinks so when I say it. It's where I'm originally from. Ready?"

"Ready." Ruda's inherent cheerfulness was making a break for her voice.


"Bahstin?" Ruda repeated thoughtfully. "I thought that was how you were supposed to pronounce it."

"You're a trip kid, you know that?" Faith asked with good humor. "I don't think I've ever seen any Slayer as happy as you are."

"Why wouldn't you be?" Ruda asked in a tone that indicated she had completely missed the subtext of Faith's statement. "I mean, you can do all these great things, and you get to travel all over the place, and you get to make friends with really interesting people. It's a lot of fun."

Andrea wandered backwards and interjected, "And deal with endless training sessions, put up with Robin or someone else trying to dictate your life, the constant fighting without a break, the feeling you get when you're beaten to a pulp before the healing kicks in..."

"Okay, it's not all fun, but it's not all bad either," Ruda countered. She fixed Andrea with a look. "I don't get it. If you didn't want to be a Slayer, then why did you become one?"

"Ahhh, Ruda?" Vi interrupted. "You know the deal. You don't choose. You get chose. That's how it works."

Ruda dismissively waved her hand. "You sound like Catherine. Every Potential gets asked if they want the power and if they don't want it they can always say no."

Faith's hand shot out and she grabbed Ruda by her upper left arm. "Run that by me one more time?"

Ruda looked at Faith as if a second head had sprouted from her shoulder. "The First Slayer asks you if you want to be a Slayer and you give her an answer." She looked around, taking in Vi's, Faith's, and Andrea's shocked expressions. "You did the vision quest before you became Slayers. Right?"

Faith licked her lips. "I think it's a little different for us. So, we're gonna take it from the top. First you're a Potential, right?"

"Unh-hunh," Ruda nodded. "One of the Councils identify you and offer to train you."

"One of the Councils," Faith repeated.

"The Council Honoria and the Council Educationary," Ruda said as if this explained everything. "Catherine's Council Honoria."

"Right. Let's skip the Watchers for now," Faith said. "Back to you." *Looks like ol' Ruda forgot the bit where she's not supposed to talk about herself,* Faith thought grimly. *This is too good an opportunity to let slide. Keep pumpin' her until that ol' short-term memory kicks in and she shuts the fuck up.*

"Anyway, I got trained by the Council Honoria even though the Council Educationary identified me first. My parents sympathized more with the Council Honoria's philosophy."

"I'm really confused," Vi said.

Faith shushed the other Slayer and nodded at Ruda.

"Anyway, when I turned sixteen, I had to go on the vision quest in the G'naroth Desert so I could decide if I wanted to be a Slayer," Ruda blithely continued.

"Decide if you wanted to be..." Vi began. She winced under Faith's glare. "Sorry."

"They let you out there with enough water for a week, but no food. It's so you'd be more receptive to the vision," Ruda continued. "Then, one night, She comes to you."

"The First Slayer," Faith stated.

"Yup," Ruda agreed, pleased she was finally getting somewhere. "She has dark skin and her hair is really messy and caked with mud and her face is all painted white. She charges you, holds you to the ground, puts a knife to your throat, and asks you."

"What did you do?" Vi asked, her eyes wide with anticipation.

"She asks if you have the Slayer spirit," Ruda said. Her voice took on a dreamy tone and her face a rapturous expression. "I looked in Her eyes and I just knew. I was meant to be a Slayer and I wouldn't be complete if I was anything else. And it was like She just knew that I knew because She kissed me on the forehead, gave me my personal message, told me the name of my Watcher, and then she was gone."

"And you became a Slayer. Just like that," Andrea said.

"You know that's how it works," Faith said quietly. "Well, not exactly the same way, is just like that."

"Anyway, when the vision ended, I had all the Slayer power," Ruda said. "The Prima picked up on the change and they came to get me and bring me back to the Council Honoria. Then they told Catherine that she'd been Called to work with me."

"Were you happy with that?" Vi's asked. Faith noticed that the younger Slayer's attitude had subtly shifted from curiosity to something resembling excitement as Vi pushed, "I mean, that the First Slayer told you who your Watcher would be because...well, Catherine seems like a really interesting person and all, but did you even know her?"

"I knew that She wouldn't steer me wrong on my Watcher. Catherine was one of my teachers, but I didn't know know her," Ruda still had the dreamy voice. She suddenly snapped out of her near-trance and she was back to being bouncy-happy Ruda, "'Sides, Catherine's the best. She's," the girl's face concentrated, although the image of thoughtful thinking was betrayed by a mischievous twitch of the lips, "wih-kid awesome."

"That would be 'better than sex,'" Faith quickly explained to the other Slayers.

This last statement resulted in two speechless present-day Slayers giving Faith a guarded look.

"Nothing's better than sex," Ruda disagreed. She thought about it while Faith joined Vi and Andrea on the speechless front. After a moment, the she added, "I tell a lie. Killing an egg-bearing pride of nine T'voraths just before they start choosing hosts? That's better than sex. Although I think it's something to do with the pheromones an egg-bearing T'vorath gives off when you kill it."

"Don't ask," Faith quickly ordered as she took a fresh look at Ruda. "Kid? How fucking old are you?"

Ruda drew herself up to her full height, "I'm twenty- Forgot to convert to...I'll be eighteen standard years in a little bit. I think. Is that right?" She looked to Faith for confirmation.

"I'll take your word for it." Jesus. Her voice sounded strangled to her own ears. Ruda had to be wrong because as far as Faith was concerned the kid, who was actually older than almost every Slayer in the house except for herself, Buffy, and Kennedy, acted more like a puppy than a veteran. Hell, she even looked younger, but that could've been an illusion because of her petite size and generally happy disposition. *Then again, that might be the difference between choosing to play and getting drafted,* she thought with a twinned pang of resentment and guilt.

Ruda shrugged off Faith's ignorance on the issue with a grin, "I'll ask J'Nal. He'll know for sure. I probably got it wrong anyway because I always mix up the conversions from decacalendars to standard calendars and back."

"Yeah, you do that," Faith said numbly as she turned back to the house.

Andrea's suspicious voice cut through the fog. "One thing I gotta wonder: what would've happened if you didn't accept it?"

"After a week, the Watchers Honoria would've sent someone looking for me," Ruda shrugged as she fell into step with Faith.

"C'mon, that sounds like an offer you don't dare refuse," Faith said.

"People do all the time," Ruda corrected.

"You're shitting me," Faith said.

"What happens to them?" Vi asked the light in her eyes undimmed.

Ruda was vague on that point. "I guess some of them just go back to being normal people. I really don't know."

"You mean you don't care to know," Andrea said angrily. "Everyone treats them like a loser because they weren't willing to make the big sacrifice or some such macho Slayer bullshit."

"Take that back!" Ruda said hotly as she spun around to face the trailing Slayer. "Okay, almost all of them leave, but I personally know one person who turned it down and she's not a loser."

"Really?" Vi asked, intrigued by the whole notion that Slayer destiny wasn't a destiny in the distant future and that walking away did not necessarily mean you were shirking your duty. "What happened to her?"


Catherine hovered over Willow's shoulder as if her very presence might make the computer work a smidge faster.

It took ten minutes for Willow to snap. Xander timed her.

"Stop it. You're making me nervous."

"Sorry. Sorry." Catherine held her hands up in the air and backed up a few steps. She began pacing the perimeter of the room, muttering under her breath.

"Sit down!" Willow shouted in exasperation. "You're making me even more nervous."

Catherine threw herself into a chair with the air of a spoiled child, one leg jiggling nervously. "There are no books here? Where are the futching books? The place looks naked."

"Grumbling about the lack of books. Giles has got to be your grandfather a zillion times removed," Xander commented.

Catherine sat up straight and gave him a look that, to Xander's mind, seemed to announce that one Harris-rah was clearly the stupidest person she had ever had the misfortune to meet in this or any other epoch.

"Look, not saying the lack of book-having is of the good," Xander said in a tone he hoped was reassuring. "We just got here so we're a little thin on the pages. Besides, the kind of books we need are on the expensive side and right now we need to get our financial house in order before we invest in anything with a leather cover or a musty smell."

"You mean people won't donate the books to you or even give you a facsimile?" Catherine sounded horrified at the thought.

"Why would they do that?" Xander asked. He winced. "I forgot. You're public and we're not so people get a tax write-off when they empty the ol' attic and dump it at your doorstep, right?"

Catherine blinked. "You do realize that I don't understand half of what you said. Taaksez?"

"A world with out taxes," Xander grinned. "Anya would be so psyched." The grin disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Her name just slipped out and he could feel the familiar mental clobber upside the head every time her memory made its presence known.

"Ahnyah," Catherine mused over the name, eyes not focused on the suddenly silent man in front of her. "I think I remember that name. Now where did I read that?"

Willow's head snapped up from the keyboard and she cautiously watched the Watcher Honoria and her friend. She subtly shifted, preparing herself to interrupt if things got emotionally strained.

"Fiancé, or ex-fiancé, or, hell, I don't know," Xander whispered.

"Ahnyah," Catherine continued, as if she didn't hear him, her mind still tracking down the name. "Ahhhnnyahhhh. Ahnyah! That's it!" She smiled, happy she figured it out. "She got killed in Sun'dyl! That's right! And you and she were once..." The smile disappeared. "Oh. Unh. Sorry. I didn't...yikes. Me and my mouth. I forgot that my ancient history is your gapping wound."

"It's okay. Forget it," Xander said. He saw Willow relax and turn back to the computer, but he just knew that she was listening to the conversation with half-an-ear peeled for trouble and mentally sent grateful vibes in her direction.

"This whole time-traveling scenario..." Catherine began.

"Is a lot less fun than you'd thought it would be?" Xander asked.

She winced. "I'm that obvious, hunh?"

"Look, I bet you're sitting there and saying to yourself, 'Who the hell are these jerks?' Right?"

"I'm not thinking that," Catherine protested.

"I can guess that you are. Look, we're all over the historical record and some of us are up there in the whole pantheon of people you want to be just like when you grow up," Xander said. "I mean, the whole - rah and -rah-sen deal may be normal for you but it scares the hell out of me. I mean, how does anyone live up to that?"

"I don't know," Catherine admitted.

"I'm not offended. I think I know where you're coming from," Xander assured her. "It's kind of like me finding out that Batman was alive and well and living in New York City, going on a pilgrimage to find him and tell him how he's a big hero, and finding out that he's just some perv in a cape that gets off on beating up people."

"Batman? Cape?" she said with her eyebrows drawn tight. Suddenly light dawned, as if she had her own wa-wa moment. "A powerhero!" she shouted in glee. "You're talking about a fictional powerhero, aren't you?"

"Is that like a superhero?"

Catherine practically bounced in excitement. "I bet it is. And you read power funnies? Really?"

"Power funnies? Must be comic books." Xander was definitely confused. Catherine didn't strike him as someone who'd even know what comic books or the future equivalent were. Yet here she was acting like a total fangeek. "I haven't since we left Sunnydale. Besides, Batman doesn't have super powers, he's just a normal guy who's trained himself to fight and is really smart."

The Watcher Honoria regarded him with shining eyes. "I like that. It suits you."

Xander ducked his head, embarrassed at the pleased tone in her voice. He felt obscurely happy that this fact about him, which apparently never made it into whatever passed for history where she was from, was something she seemed to treasure.

"Suits me too," she added as she leaned back. "I never did want to be a Slayer, even though I was a Potential and had all the training. That's why I turned it down when the power was offered to me."

Xander and Willow froze and regarded their happy visitor with shock. They looked at each other and then back at Catherine.

Willow cleared her throat. "You know? I think it's my turn to wear the dunce cap. Unh, Catherine? What did you mean when you said you turned down the Slayer power? How is that possible?"

Chapter 27
The Slayer vs. the Woman

Faith was wandering to bed, head still spinning from Ruda's revelations and wondering how the hell she was going to bring the whole business up to the others, when Buffy darted from her own room, snagged Faith's arm, and dragged her out of the hall.

"Yo! Ow! What's up with this shit! B?" Faith protested as she was shoved into the room and Buffy closed the door, leaning against it for good measure.

"Faith? What do you think of Ruda?" Buffy asked in a conspiratorial tone.

"Ruda? She's okay. I like her anyway," Faith shrugged.

"You would," Buffy grumbled.

"Look, it's not like that," Faith protested. "She's, I dunno, fun. She totally digs the Slayer gig. I mean, just going on patrol with her is a trip. She ain't queen of quips, but she's a wicked pissah. She should hear some of the shit that comes out of her mouth."

"Looking up to you has nothing to do with that?" Buffy asked with arms crossed.

"Yeah, okay," Faith admitted with a wince. "I dig that too, probably because she's the Slayer I wish I could be and she's following me around like I'm the cat's ass. I mean, I don't think this girl would know what angst was if it bit her nose off, poked out her eye, and then did a little jig on her body."

"She's young," Buffy pointed out.

"Not as young as you think. Okay, maybe she hasn't been a Slayer long enough for the whole 'whoa is me' mindset to sink in, but I dunno, B. I don't think this girl has it in her to be like that," Faith mused. "She's wired completely different from the rest of us."

"How so?" Buffy sounded like she was legitimately curious about Faith's answer.

"Not gonna like my answer."

Buffy sighed. "Wouldn't've asked if I didn't want to know."

Faith took a breath. This was a roundabout way to approach the problem, but Buffy was a damn good start. "You never really liked being a Slayer, right? When you had the bombshell dropped on you I bet you had your life all mapped out to Barbie Dream House specifications. You had yourself a nice, shiny life. Probably was the prom queen or some such shit as that. A mom I'd kill to have…"

"You nearly did," Buffy pointed out.

"I did not," Faith cheerfully disagreed. "I just, y'know, borrowed the bod so I could steal your life. Thing is, Joyce was the tops."

"She was," Buffy sadly agreed.

"Glad you know it now. Little late, though," Faith said through narrowed eyes. She shook off the resentment and continued, "Back in the day…hell, even now you're all about the tragedy. If it wasn't Angel, it was me. If it wasn't me, it was Spike or some other bullshit. And you're always giving the evil eye at being the Slayer as being the source of all your troubles without even thinking that it just might be you."

"Oh, like you were all sparkly and happy about being a Slayer," Buffy growled. She stopped. "Wait. Wait. I said I wouldn't get mad. You're just being honest about what you think."

"See, that's the difference between you and me, B. My problem wasn't that I was a Slayer, it's just that I was me," Faith admitted. "The Slayer bit just made me more me, if you get my drift."

"Not following."

"Okay, me? Not such a great life and I'm too stupid to dig myself out of a hole…"

"You're not stupid," Buffy protested. "You're just not good at…at… well, some things."

"Whatever. Anyway, along comes a Watcher and she tells me that I'm special and I've got a big destiny ahead. Up to that point, no one's told me that, unless you count endless 'Free to be You and Me' replays in kiddie school," Faith said. "So I'm like totally hooked on the deal."

"You were happy about being a Slayer," Buffy interrupted with a tone that indicated that she wasn't buying.

"Okay, the bit that I'd probably die young and leave an ugly corpse had me pitching a fit, but it sure as hell beat the alternative," Faith shrugged. "The fighting part wasn't a big deal. Shit. I was doing that anyway, only I was pounding the snot out of other people instead of demons. The only thing Slaying did was give me an edge in a fight."

"Let me get this straight: you don't think killing Finch, killing random people, nearly killing Angel, joining forces with the Mayor, and landing in prison isn't a straight up tragedy."

"You forgot to include strangling Xander in that group," Faith dryly added.

"Answer the question."

Faith shrugged. "Well, yeah. It was bad, not saying it wasn't. Hell, okay, I'll even go with the tragic, but it is what it is. It happened and nothing is gonna erase that. Now, I can huddle in a corner and cry for the rest of my fucking life, or I can do better. Me? I'll go with do better because I did the whole hide in a jail cell and pretend the world outside doesn't exist bit. Easier for me, but doesn't help anyone."

Buffy thoughtfully regarded the other Slayer. "You and Ruda have more in common than you think."

"Not really. Ruda chose to get the Slayer juice. Me? Not so much."

Buffy blinked. She swallowed hard. "Excuse me?"

"Ruda chose to accept the Slayer powers."

"You don't get to choose, you have it or you don't," Buffy stated.

"Ruda did," Faith firmly said. "Before you say anything, shut up and let me finish. Vi, me, and Andrea got to talking with Ruda tonight and we found out some freaky shit about Slayers in her time."

"Tell me," Buffy said.

"Okay, not sure I'm getting this right." Faith's brow crinkled in concentration. "Okay, I guess there's some deal whenever she's from that a Potential is a Potential, right? Anyway, they get all the training and whatnot. Then when they hit mid-teens or something like that they go on some kinda vision quest where they get dumped in a desert. Somewhere in there they start hallucinating and the First Slayer attacks 'em, holds a blade to their throat, and asks if they got the power."

"A choice," Buffy said in a whisper. She cleared her throat, "I don't think too many people say 'no' with an offer like that."

Faith shrugged. "She said it happens all the time."

"What happens to them?" Buffy asked, bitter tone betraying resentment and her expression telegraphing just what she thought about all those girls who dared turn the offer down.

"She thinks some of them get reintegrated into society as nice normal young ladies, but that a handful of them decide to stick with it in another capacity," Faith said.

"And just how is an ex-Potential with no Slaying powers going to fight?" Buffy asked.

Faith smiled a wolfish grin. "You'd be shocked. Ruda got really defensive when we pushed her on that point and she said that she would kill all three of us if any of us dared suggest that Catherine was a coward."


"Yeah, can you believe that? Catherine's a good fighter, but she ain't exactly got the Slayer moves. Hell, she doesn't even have the moves a Potential has." She grinned a mischievous grin, "Although I bet she could well and truly kick Robin's ass."

"You shouldn't be rooting against your honey," Buffy said in a stunned voice, her mind still stuck on the whole choose-your-own- destiny idea.

"Well, let's just say I saw a few things that have me thinkin' he needs to calm his shit down," Faith grumbled. "I'd smack him one, but I'm afraid I might break his jaw. Sometimes I don't know my own strength."

"If you could choose…" Buffy began in a dreamy voice. She cleared her throat. "Hey, if you had the choice, would you be a Slayer?"

"Fuck-all if I know," Faith admitted. "It's got its good and bad like everything else. Probably, because it sure beat what I had. What about you?"

Buffy never did answer.

Chapter 28
Letting Tiger-Sized Cats Out of Bags

"…so the whole mechanism for becoming a Slayer and who gets assigned as a Watcher is like totally different," Willow concluded her report. She looked at Faith, Vi, and Andrea, "Did I miss anything?"

"Nope. You got more than we did," Faith nodded. Frankly, she was relieved that Xander and Willow got the dope from Catherine, if only to balance out the picture between those that accepted it and those that didn't.

"Is Catherine even aware that it's different in this time period?" Giles asked.

"Yeah, she is, which she remembered only after Xander and I jumped on her about the whole choosing thing," Willow said. "She was really not happy about letting it slip, but she finally answered our questions when she realized she'd already said too much. Plus, none of us could see how knowing this information really changes anything right here and now."

"It sounds like an example of the law of unintended consequences," Giles remarked. "It could be that the methods for becoming mystically imbued with the Slayer power evolved over hundreds of years to the point where Potentials could have a choice whether or not to accept it."

"Get the feeling evolution has nothing to do with it," Willow grinned.

"Where'd you get that idea?" Xander asked

"We asked her."

"She said she didn't know," Xander pointed out.

"After stuttering her way through the question," Willow replied. "Something tells me something else happened that changed everything even more than they already are. Think about this: someone came along and built what we did."

"You're guessing," Xander said with a frown.

"Ohhh, yeah," Willow agreed. "But just the same, we gotta get this infor…I mean information…to the Devon coven, as in get it to them last year. Even though we don't know anything for sure, we should check into this and the more people looking into it, the better. In the meantime I'll keep my ears open and try to get more out of 'em"

"Will, you don't really think they'll crack if you shine a big sun lamp on them and start asking questions," Buffy said.

"Probably not," Willow admitted. "I actually don't think we're going to get too much more out of our friends because they just let a tiger- big cat out of the bag. Plus the way Xander and I immediately jumped on her with questions? I'm thinking we scared Catherine half to death."

"Assuming they're telling the truth," Kennedy pointed out.

"You're such a cynic," Willow gave her girlfriend an affectionate pat on the shoulder. "Still, it can't hurt to see if it's anything resembling possible."

"It would be fascinating to know," Giles interrupted. "I wonder if this change happened before or after the human race started interstellar exploration."

"Or maybe it's already happened. Is any of us sure Potentials don't have a choice now?" Xander mused. He looked at Vi and Andrea. "Did you guys get a choice?"

"Hey, don't look at me. I was at ground zero," Vi said. "It all just happened so fast and I was fighting for my life. Even if the First Slayer asked me I wouldn't even notice. I was just glad to get it because my chances of surviving got that much better."

"I didn't," Andrea said sourly. "I was practicing karate moves at the dojo when I got hit and almost threw my sparring partner through a wall. No one asked me if I wanted this life."

"Would you have said yes?" Xander asked.

"Hell, no," Andrea crossed her arms. "Look, it's not like I hate it or anyone here, but I lost everything. Next thing you know, all these big scary things are coming out of the woodwork to eat me. They almost killed my parents and there was no one out there who could help me."

"So it's a good thing we found you and invited you to come here," Robin said with an air of satisfaction.

"Oh, like I had a choice," Andrea muttered.

"You did have a choice," Buffy insisted.

"Actually, you didn't," Xander contradicted, eyes not leaving Andrea's face.

Andrea offered Xander a strained smile; relieved someone in the room was seeing her poorly expressed point. "If I didn't come here, then my family'd always be a target," she said.

"And we're the ones holding all the cards." Xander scrubbed his face with his hands. "If you want help, you have to work with us."

"Xander, I think you're being overly dramatic," Giles said.

"Am I?" Xander asked. "We don't even have enough resources to find all the baby Slayers that are out there. Right now we're finding them because of luck. God knows how many are right under our noses right here in Cleveland and we can't even find them."

"The Coven in England is doing the best it can," Willow protested.

"We're all doing the best we can," Faith nastily countered. "But it ain't good enough. When we found Andrea here and whatsherface, Susan, they were in pretty tough shape."

"Hallelujah," Robin sighed. "Now everyone agrees we've got a crisis on our hands."

"No one said we didn't," Buffy disagreed. "Just that we might start making mistakes if we keep pushing ourselves to the breaking point."

"Like you have room to talk," Robin snarled.

"Any minute now the two of you are gonna whip out your dicks and see whose is bigger," Faith commented.

"Hey! Everyone back up," Xander interrupted while Buffy and Robin glared at one another. "The point is not that it's almost impossible for us to find the new Slayers all over the world, because, guess what? No matter how hard we try some of them, maybe a lot of them are going to slip through the cracks."

"And what do you propose we do about that?" Robin asked.

"Right now? Barring a miracle? There's not a whole lot we can do," Xander stated, angrily crossing his arms.

"Nice attitude there," Kennedy said. "Very inspiring."

"Xander's right," Willow quietly chimed in. "This is a pretty overwhelming problem and we don't have the resources to do everything we want. We don't even have the resources to do everything we should."

"Which brings us back to what can we do about it?" Buffy sighed.

"Look, we're getting distracted. What I mean is…" Xander paused, took a deep breath, and asked the question that no one seemed to realize needed asking. "Okay, we find a new Slayer, one that hasn't been backed in a corner by the neighborhood nasties, at least not yet. What are we going to do if she turns us down because one, she doesn't need our help, or two, doesn't think she needs our help?"

"As you pointed out, our resources are limited," Giles said. "Much as it pains me to say this, if the Slayer in question turns us down, then she's on her own."

"We abandon her," Xander flatly stated. "Just like that."

"Not loving that idea either," Faith agreed.

"Christ, do you even know what you want to do?" Robin asked with exasperation. "First you point out that we have an impossible job, which I've been saying since we left Sunnydale. Then you say that if a Slayer refuses our help, even if she's not in trouble, we should devote resources to help her anyway? While I don't like it any more than you do, sometimes we need to compromise. So, given the fact you finally get what I'm been saying all along, you believe should dedicate the resources we don't have to a Slayer who's not in trouble and tells us to go away?"

Xander's eyes narrowed in thought. "Yes."

"Whoa, hold up," Buffy said. "That's like forcing her to be a Slayer."

"No, it's more like keeping an eye out for trouble, no pun intended, and if she changes her mind, she has the option to come to us," Xander said. "I mean, once we know who she is and where she is, how hard is it to keep up with her local newspaper? Not very. If we get the Sunnydale weird vibe, we contact her to make sure she's okay."

"And we'll be doing this, when? In between searching for other Slayers? Slayers who desperately need our help? Whose lives may be at risk? Whose families are being targeted?" Robin threw his hands up in the air. "We have limited people, limited time, and too damn much work as it is. We should concentrate on Slayers who want to be Slayers or are in trouble. The girls who aren't interested can be given information about who they are and a way to contact us if they're in trouble or change their minds."

"Assuming they'll even know they're in trouble before trouble strikes. That could mean a death sentence," Xander commented.

"It stinks, I agree," Robin rounded on him. "But we may need to make some hard choices that none of us like. As much as I would like to be idealistic about this, I have to be a realist if we are going to succeed. All of us have to be if we…"

"Is he saying what I think he's saying?" Vi interrupted.

"Rationing," Xander stated coldly.

"Conserving our energy," Robin corrected. "We should focus our efforts on the Slayers who need our help or want to…"

"And what other things are going to make the checklist," Xander hotly interrupted. "Is a Slayer. Check. Wants to be a Slayer. Check. Willing to train hard. Check. Willing to put up with mind-numbing, endless patrols. Check. Wants to fit in a ballet career between Slaying. Ooops. Sorry. No can do. We only accept you if your totally committed to the special Slayer plan."

"You're twisting my words," Robin shouted back. "That's not what I'm saying."

"Really?" Xander glared. "Because I'm thinking all this discussion about limited resources and focusing only on the committed is going to lead us right on down that road."

"And once again, that's not what I…" Robin began.

"Welcome to our brave new world," Giles interrupted. "Somehow I don't think this is what Huxley had in mind."

"Robin's got a point, Xander," Kennedy said. "Once we get the brush- off, we can't just hang out in the background, even if it's from a distance. If the object of our obsession finds out, we'll get slapped with a restraining order because we're stalking a young girl. Leaving a business card is about the best we can do."

"I'm not talking about stalking. There's no stalking involved," Xander protested. "Is anyone even listening to me?"

"I heard ya," Faith said quietly.

"So did I," Vi said. "And for the record, I'm with Xander. The situation stinks, but keeping an eye on the Slayers we find, even if they don't join the Slaying-is-cool squad, is the best we can do."

"Robin's right," Buffy said. "The whole point of the spell was to give girls the choice. And guess what? Someday, somewhere, they'll get that choice."

"But they don't in the here and now," Willow said.

"Yes they do," Buffy said. "Okay, they've got the Slayer powers, but that doesn't mean they have to be Slayers. They can be whatever they want. They can achieve anything. It's up to them if they want to work with us or not. Bad situation, but we're trying to do the best we can and much as it kills me that Robin's right, he's right."

"You can't be serious," Xander said.

"We don't have enough people or resources," Buffy pointed out. "If we did, that would be different and I'd hiking you on my shoulders and carrying you around the house. But if they say no, we have to leave them with as much information as we possibly can, walk away, and work with people who want to work with us or help the Slayers who need help."

"And if they decide to rob banks, we're just going to let that slide?" Faith asked. "Count me on Xander's side."

"Me, too," Andrea said.

"Side? What? Whoa. Hold up. There are no sides here," Xander protested. "All on the same team, remember? I just made a suggestion on how to deal with…look, the last thing we need is to argue about this. I'm just doing a 'what if'."

"But it's something we will have to deal with, sooner or later," Giles said as he looked thoughtfully at Xander.

"But we aren't." Xander sounded desperate. "At least, we're not dealing with it yet." His eyes locked on Willow. "Besides, we have other problems. Tell 'em Wills.

"Ahhh, yes. Finding the arrow," Giles said, although his eyes didn't leave the squirming Xander. "How is that going?"

"It's not," Willow admitted. "And that's a huge problem."

"Agreed," Robin said. "They've only been here a couple of days and we've been at each others' throats since they got here. I shudder to think what would happen if the visit stretches out to a month."


"This is getting worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse…"

"We know Charlie, we know," Catherine dejectedly said.

"No, I don't think you do." Charlie was on the verge of jumping up and down. "Mush, people! We are talking smushed on re-entry! At this point, there's not going to be anything left for us to save! Assuming we survive going back! This is bad, bad, bad, bad…"

"Charlie," Catherine growled her warning.

"You must admit, Charlie does have a point," J'Nal calmly said. "However, doctor, you really do need to settle down since we don't know…"

"Look at him! Calm as a vegetable!" the doctor flung his arm in the witch's direction. "How can you just sit there! Wiggle your fingers, mutter something incomprehensible, and do something!"

Catherine dropped her head in her hands while next to her Ruda held her breath. Charlie-and-J'Nal bickering in times of stress was legendary among the Watcher Honorias.

"I do not 'wiggle my fingers,'" J'Nal protested.

"Well, whatever the hada you do, just do it!" Yup. Charlie was well on his way to full-blown hysterics. "Make them forget or something."

"I can't!" J'Nal shouted back. "It's against every principle that we…"

"People!" Catherine shouted as she jumped to her feet. "Arguing about this isn't helping!"

"Especially since we can pretty much point the fingers at everyone in the room," Ms. Tikri said quietly from her corner.

"Don't look at me," Charlie huffed as he crossed his arms. "I've been a lot more careful than anyone else around…"

"J'Nal is pretty much the only one who hasn't inadvertently given something away," Catherine corrected.

"Oh really?" Charlie began. "I gave away nothing more than what I needed to in order to explain…"

"You told Giles that the journal in my possession was written by one of the Founders," Catherine said with deadly quiet. "You didn't need to say that."

"So? It's not like he knows who your Founders are," Charlie huffed.

"They know the journal's from 2008. It's not a huge leap of logic to figure out that someone living in this house right now wrote it," Catherine pointed out.

"Something tells me they're not big on logic," J'Nal grumbled.

"Here, here," Ms. Tikri muttered.

"Giles strikes me as logical and if he starts thinking about it…" Catherine trailed off. "I don't know if you noticed, but we're in a house full of Slayers. We won't be able to stop them if they decide to take the journal from me. If that happens…"

"Definite mashed Charlie," the doctor finished for her.

"See Charlie? It can always get worse," J'Nal pointed out.

Charlie began pacing, hands clenching and unclenching. "This is just unbelievable!"

Catherine made a defeated sound. Much as she adored Charlie as a friend and respected him as a doctor, when he melted down like this-- which on those rare occasions it happened tended to happen in the lull between Very Bad Things Are Happening--it was best to let him run out of steam until he could think clearly. There was no point in trying to get him to shut up until then.

He spun and pointed at the still-standing Catherine and Ruda sitting on the end of the bed. "How could you just forget that Potentials automatically become Slayers in this time period? How?"

"Don't look at me," Ruda protested, "I thought Potentials always had the choice. I didn't know. Besides, who thought of that stupid system? One minute you're a Potential and then--WHAM--next minute you're a Slayer. What happens if the Potential doesn't want it? Or what happens if the Potential isn't right in the head? That's just asking for trouble."

"I knew it, but I just forgot." Catherine ran a hand through her loosened hair. "It's one of those trivia questions that they stick on a history exam to see if you read all the material and you forget the answer right after you check true or false. Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"If we're pointing fingers, let's not forget pointing one at me," Ms. Tikri said, a cascade of ice blonde hair hiding her face. "I completely lost control of my interview with Buffy Summers. By all that's holy, the fallout from that alone…"

"I'll be damned. A witnesser even thinking about taking responsibility?" Charlie sarcastically asked as Ms. Tikri cringed under the verbal assault. "You must really be afraid we'll haul you before the Commission to get your license pulled."

"Assuming there's a Commission to haul her in front of," Catherine said. "And can I just point out again that--with the exception of J'Nal--none of us are innocent here."

"I know, she's worried we'll haul her before the Slayer Judiciary Committee and make her explain why all their religions disappeared without a trace," Charlie snarled.

"Stop it!" Ruda was on her feet. "Stop it, stop it, stop it! It just happens and she didn't mean it! And sometimes you just want it to happen! Leave her alone!" On that note Ruda stomped into an adjoining room and shut the door firmly behind her, leaving her stunned teammates to look at each other in shock.

A few uncomfortable beats of silence later, Catherine turned to follow her Slayer. "Not another word until I get back," she ordered over her shoulder as she opened the door.

When she entered the room she saw Ruda staring vacantly up at the ceiling. Catherine took a deep breath, shut the door behind her, and sank on the edge of the bed. "Hey," she quietly said.

"Hey." Ruda's voice sounded like she wanted to cry.

"Don't let it get to you," Catherine soothed. "You made an honest mistake and…"

"I met Knowles-sen tonight."

Catherine scrambled through her mental rolodex for a few tics until she could picture the encyclopedic entry in her mind's eye. *Knowles, Violet (Hero).* She could feel her tongue stumbling for a few more tics after that until words finally dropped from her lips. "Which one is she?"

"The one with the hat." Ruda sat up, hugging her knees to her chest, looking younger and more uncertain than Catherine had ever seen her.

Catherine felt her eyes narrowing with the mental effort of trying to come up with face to match the name and failed miserably.

"She was on patrol with me tonight, along with Lanoire-rah-sen and Andrea," the way Ruda said 'Andrea' was a pretty clear indication that she didn't like the girl.

Catherine scrubbed both her hands in her hair. *I am such an idiot. I didn't think.* "Ruda, I'm sorry. I should've never let you go on…"

"You were just giving in because I begged," Ruda flashed her weak smile. "You can't resist big eyes and I know it."

Catherine reached out and played with a strand of her Slayer's hair. "Most deadly weapon in the Ruda arsenal. We should package it and give it to all the other Slayers to help them manipulate their Watchers, too." When Ruda giggled, Catherine let her hand drop and quietly asked, "So that's why the big explosion back there, hunh little girl?"

"She's really nice, you know," Ruda said, sinking again into low spirits. "And she's funny, and she's sweet. And she has no idea what's going to happen. And I can't do anything about it."

Catherine frowned, this time because she had connected name to story and could feel for what her Slayer was going through. "No, you really can't," she agreed.

"But it's not fair." Ruda's chin sank to her upright knees. "I'm supposed to save people and that includes yelling 'Look out, bad things ahead' when people are about to walk right into it. Just doing nothing when you can stop it is wrong."

"Unless it's the right thing to do," Catherine disagreed. "Every screw-up we've done…well…we don't know how it'll affect the future. For all we know, time might be more resilient than we think and everything we've said and done might fall on deaf ears and nothing changes."

"Or the wrong breath at the wrong time means we've got no home to go back to. I know, I know," Ruda said. "I was awake during the lecture the Prima made us sit through three times."

"Look, tell you what, if it turns out that we've screwed up the timeline beyond salvaging, you can yell 'look out' all you want at all the people you want because then it won't matter any more. Deal?" Catherine asked.

"I'll be good until then," Ruda promised, as she looked at Catherine with suspiciously bright eyes. "Is it wrong for me to hope things go really, really wrong so I can do that?"

Catherine gave her Slayer a tight smile. "No. Not at all. I'd be more worried if you didn't." She looked back at the door. "Why don't you rest a bit, hmmm? Let me smack some sense into the Battling Beebles out there and we'll come up with a plan to limit the chances of us really making a mess of things."

Ruda let go of her knees with a breath and was back to staring at the ceiling. Catherine leaned down, planted a gentle kiss on the girl's head, and headed for the door.


"What is it little girl?"

"How do you do it? Knowing what's going to happen to everyone in this house and how it all ends up? How come you don't want to tell them about all the big, great things they're going do and all the big, terrible things that they've got to face?"

Catherine crossed her arms, looked down in thought, and asked a question where she knew the answer is 'no.' "Did I ever tell you what the First Slayer said to me before she attacked me in the desert?"

Ruda sat up. "The First Slayer never speaks to you before she attacks you. You don't get your personal message until after."

"I know, which is why I never told anyone about this or about my personal message. But you've got to promise to keep a secret. This is between me and you."

Ruda nodded.

Catherine took a breath and let it out. "I was in the desert and I really had no idea what I wanted. I didn't want to be a Slayer, but I didn't want to be the first in my family to walk away. Follow?"


"So, I hear a growl and there She was, standing right behind me. She was just watching me, head turned to the side like this," Catherine tilted her head to the left, "and She said, 'You think you know what's to come, what you are. You haven't even begun.' Then she attacked me."

Ruda's forehead creased in a frown. "What does that mean?"

Catherine went to the window and looked outside at the odd Taran greenery that seemed to glow in the moonlight. "If you asked me last week, I would've had no idea. It's just one of those things I shoved in the back of my brain and didn't think too much about it. It didn't make sense and, because I wasn't a Slayer, I figured what She said didn't apply anymore. Since we got here though," she turned around to face Ruda giving her temple a single tap, "I keep hearing Her."

"Catherine, do you think She knew you'd…"

"I don't know," the Watcher Honoria shoved her hands in her pants pockets. "All I know is that everyone I look at--everyone in this house--the Founders, the Founding Lights, the -sens and the sinners, all I can see is them stumbling around in the dark. They think they have a plan, they think they know who they are, they may even have a pretty good idea of what they think the future has in store for them. Or, they may be feeling their way along the path with no idea of where they should go from here. In either case, they honestly don't know who they are and what's to come because they can't know."

"I know," Ruda said in a low voice.

Catherine sat on the edge of the bed again, tapped a finger under Ruda's chin, and lifted the Slayer's face up so she could look directly into her eyes. "The point is, when I look at all these people all I can think of is this: their future is our past. They're at the beginning. What they started, well, that story keeps going and the fact we exist proves that. But the details of who they are, who they'll become, they'll never know that until their individual stories end. Maybe that's the way it should be, for their sake and for ours. We don't know if telling them the future changes everything, which would be bad for us. We don't know if telling them will change nothing, which means we'd be torturing them with knowledge they can't do anything about."

"So best to say nothing at all."

"Until we know for sure," Catherine agreed as she stood up. "Get some rest."

As she turned to the door, Ruda again called her to a halt.

"Catherine? What was your personal message after you said no?"

Catherine looked over her shoulder and said as gently as she could, "Not for your ears."

"Fair enough," Ruda yawned, obviously feeling at least a little better for the talk. "'Night."

"No Slaying the pillow," Catherine joked their old joke as she slid out the door.

On entering the other room, she was relieved to see that Ruda's uncharacteristic outburst had quieted everyone into shamed silence. All three occupants gave her long-faced expressions as she clasped her hands behind her back and fixed them all with a glare.

"It's no secret we have a problem," Catherine stated.

Three heads nodded in agreement, but three mouths kept shut.

"That little Ruda-tantrum you just witnessed is because she's doing her duty to the best of her ability by giving as little away as she can, even though in some cases it goes against everything she holds dear as a Slayer," Catherine said tightly. "We can do no less than live up to her example."

"How?" Ms. Tikri asked. "Don't take this the wrong way, but we have no idea what's going to tip the balance or if it's been already tipped."

"Pity we can't check," Charlie said.

"Can't check until we open the portal to send us back," J'Nal reminded him. "And I can't even try to open the portal for a few more days because…"

"There's a good chance of everything going boom or that your head will explode or that we'll mashed into mush," Charlie finished for him. "Why did we think this could work again?"

"I hate unanswered questions. They give me a stomachache because then I think I'm not doing my job," Ms. Tikri said. "Short of locking ourselves in these rooms for the rest of the stay, I don't see how…"

"Good idea!" Catherine smiled. "Separation of us from them is the best way to go."

"Hold on. Wait. Bad idea. Very bad idea," Ms. Tikri protested. "Interviews! Bosses! Bar bills that need to be paid for! I've got a job that I have to…"

"Do so you can make an even bigger mess?" Charlie asked with deceptive sweetness.

"Young love in bloom does my heart good," J'Nal commented with amusement.

While Charlie and Ms. Tikri gave J'Nal offended 'heys' in stereo-- most notably because they didn't actually like each other--Catherine bit her lip in thought.

"Fine. We can't cut off completely. But we should limit exposure to doing only what is absolutely necessary to succeed," Catherine decided. "J'Nal, you'll be working with Willow and Alexander, since they've been assigned to find the Arrow and you've proven that you can stay out of the most trouble. The rest of us stick to our quarters and if we need to mingle with the people in the house, we keep the conversation to the weather, what they're doing, anything that keeps us focused on the here and now."

"But…" Ms. Tikri began a protest.

"You can finish your interviews," Catherine sighed. "You've at least shown awareness that you could cause problems if you let too much information slip. I'm sure you'll be more mindful of it in the future."

Ms. Tikri looked surprised to get a concession as she said, "Thank you."

"But…" Charlie began his protest.

"Ms. Tikri has a job to do and she is a professional," Catherine said through a clenched jaw, a clear sign that Charlie was stepping dangerously close to her last nerve. "As it stands right now, she hasn't conducted all the interviews she wants and, given some muttered comments I've heard while she's organized her notes, she does not have a balanced picture of this household. In the interests of historical accuracy, I'm letting her move ahead."

"Unh, thanks." Ms. Tikri's surprise had turned to shock.

"Are we agreed?" Catherine asked.

Both Charlie and J'Nal knew that "Are we agreed?" pretty much meant, "I'm giving you a direct order and you better follow it and behave," so they nodded.

"Good," Catherine gave a single clap. "To bed, everyone."

Charlie and J'Nal grumbled their good nights and headed to a second adjoining room, leaving a hesitating Ms. Tikri behind. Noticing that the witnesser was working up the courage to talk, Catherine rubbed her temples and snapped, "What is it?"

"Look, really, thank you. And I think you're right. But," she took a breath and spit it out, "you've really got to watch yourself, too."

"I know that, Ms. Tikri," Catherine said wearily.

The blonde's expression was sympathetic as she contradicted, "I know you do, but I don't think you do at the same time."

"Oh, really," Catherine deadpanned, her jaw set.

"Your interactions with Robin Wood," Ms. Tikri pointed out, "pretty much tells everyone in the immediate vicinity that you want to shove him out an airlock without an environsuit and watch him explode into chunky, bloody bits."

"I'll be more polite," Catherine said through a warning clenched jaw.

"I don't think you're wrong, by the way," Ms. Tikri quickly added.

That admission stopped Catherine cold and she looked at the shuffling witnesser. *Taking sides? Since when does a witnesser do that? She got what she wanted, so what's her game?*

"The thing is, the Watchers Educationary, well, we know who their Founding Light is and we know their opinion of miscegenation between Watchers and Slayers," Ms. Tikri thoughtfully looked at Catherine. "Much as your family has contributed and sacrificed for centuries, it's no secret that they believe your bloodline, and a number of others associated with the Council Honoria, are a travesty."

Catherine suppressed her anger at the witnesser for bringing up ancient history and old personal hurts. "You make it sound like the Watchers Honoria have no morality when it comes to how Watchers interact with their Slayers…"

"Not saying your Council doesn't. In fact, in its own way, the Honoria Code of Conduct is as restrictive as the Council Educationary's, with the key difference being that at least the Council Honoria is willing to accept that sometimes the human heart is what it is."

"Why Ms. Tikri, are you suggesting one system is better than the other?"

The witnesser waved her hand dismissively. "Doesn't matter to me. The Council Educationary can paint the Council Honoria as light on morality all they want, but I've never seen a scandal erupt with the Council Honoria like the one I covered with the Council Educationary three standard years ago. Seems to me that admitting to the possibility has put the Council Honoria in a better position to police its own."

"Police," Catherine deadpanned. "We're not like that. I'll have you know that I attended Giddeon's wedding--Giddeon who is still a Watcher Honoria in good standing--when he married Selina who was his Slayer."

"Who probably had her assigned to another Watcher the second he realized he was falling for her and who probably didn't even do that until she was of age," Ms. Tikri said.

"That's procedure," Catherine protested. Her eyes narrowed. "Ms. Tikri, need I remind you that they don't have anything resembling a Code of Conduct like we've got in our own…"

Ms. Tikri's expression turned sly. "Don't worry about that. Especially since there weren't any problems in the case you're clearly worried about, at least according to all the information we have. And we do have a lot of information even from quarters that were, shall we say, less likely to give your Founders their due. But, follow me here, it seems to me that a certain Founding Light, the very person who suggested that the Watcher's line needs to stay separate for the Slayer line at all costs because it might affect the Watcher's judgment? Not exactly following his own good advice, is he?"

Catherine swallowed hard. Oooooh, this was tempting. Very tempting. Much as she wanted to agree, it was wrong to go along with what Tikri was hinting, especially since her entire family going back to this very household wasn't in any position to shoot arrows at atmospheric force fields. "Ms. Tikri, you are not going stick knives into anyone's back. I don't care who it is. Sheathe the claws, do your job, and don't drown someone just because…"

"That's what I thought you'd say," Ms. Tikri's expression shifted from sly to relieved and, dare Catherine even think this, almost friendly. "Thing is, I know how hard it was for you to say that. I know given the long contentious history between the two Councils that it's very difficult for you to see Robin Wood as nothing more than a bug that needs to be squashed. Just, I don't know, back off. Try to be a little more professional about it."

"Is this off the record?" Catherine asked suspiciously.

Ms. Tikri held her empty hands in the air. "See? Nothing crossed. Not my toes or legs either. Off the record."

"I can't help how I feel," Catherine admitted.

"So feel it," Ms. Tikri shrugged. "Hada, I can't tell you how many disgusting human beings I've interviewed in my career and they have no clue how much I wanted to strangle them with my bare hands. The trick is to be good at not showing it. As you pointed out, it could be anything that might destroy our home, that includes dirty looks I'd think."

Catherine just hated the fact that the witnesser had a point. "Aren't you supposed to be a pain in the astrum?"

Ms. Tikri gave her a perfectly toothy smile. "And don't you forget it."

"So what's with the friendly advice? I thought you weren't on anyone's side."

The witnesser gave Catherine an eloquent raised eyebrow. "When it comes to making sure we all get back in one piece to a future we can all recognize? Near as I can tell, there's only one side I can be on."

Chapter 29
Spotlight on Vi

*Selected items from UNS Q&A session with Violet Knowles, known as Hero-Knowles to the Councils Honoria and Educationary and known as Knowles-sen to all Slayers whatever their beliefs, circa September 2003. Camlin Tikri reporting.*

*In the annals of Slayer ethics, Violet Knowles has long been held up as an example of everything a Slayer should aspire to: bravery, loyalty, self-sacrifice, friendship, esprit de crops…the list goes on.*

*Quite often, she is pictured as a tough-as-nails woman with a heart of gold. Muscular, beautiful, smart, and wise beyond her years, these characteristics are what fuel her reputation in our time. Journal entries after her death in 2007, where she single-handedly saved the city of Cleveland by exploding a bomb in the city's sewers to wipe out a band of armed Kracs intent on starting a chain reaction in the Cleveland Hellmouth, are the sources of this belief.*

*Rona Goodkind-Alvarez, famous for her pointed observations about early life in Cleveland and residents of the Taran United Watchers Council building, was partnered with Hero-Knowles in her early years under the tutelage of Faith Lanoire-rah and _Alexander Harris- rah. In later years, Ms. Goodkind-Alvarez_ went on to become one of the leading Slayers in Cleveland before retiring at age 86 to spend more time with her great-grandchildren and to write about her experiences. She had this to say about her dear friend: "The first time I realized that Vi had a spine of steel when we were in that bus escaping Sunnydale. I was wounded and all I wanted to do was just give it up, bleed to death right there on the seats. Vi's standing over me shouting, 'This is nothing! Do you hear me! Nothing!' It was her way of ordering me to keep fighting, to keep living, no matter how much it hurt. I'm hurting and bleeding, maybe even more than I was when I was on that stupid bus, and I can still hear her yelling at me, 'This is nothing!' But it's something, even if Vi might not think so. Still, I know an order when I hear it. There's nothing for it but to keep going, knowing that Vi's somewhere out there grinning her fool head off at me every time I do something stupid." [TouchInfor Reference: Goodkind-Alvarez, R., Journal Entry 5409 circa 2007.]*

*Lanoire-rah had this to say of her student: "We should've been here instead of chasing off after a Slayer gone bonkers in Columbia. That's what I keep telling myself, even though I know it's a load of crap. I had to be the one to go, which meant Buffy had to stay. Xander refused to let me go alone and no matter what I said he was going with, end of story. Thank god he did, given what happened down there. We left Rona and Vi behind because we wanted to protect them from, well, a ghost I guess. We didn't want them to see what happens when a Slayer really loses it. So we took Kennedy instead, which while we were there turned out to be a smart move, but to come back and find-- Buffy was there, but she was tied up in keeping the Kracs' above ground forces from eating people. Rona was getting the human sacrifices held captive in the sewers to safety. The second Rona hits the street with her payload she hears this boom and-- I can't even think about this now. Christ. It's not like it's the first time we lost someone, but this is the first time the loss is personal." [TouchInfor Reference: Lanoire, F., Journal Entry 5844 circa 2007.]*

*Harris-rah offered this in the memory of his charge: "Everyone says there's nothing I could've done. Rona Lisa's especially pushing that point, probably because she wants to blame herself and can't really come around to blaming me. But if I didn't fail Vi, who did? I keep going over that battle and it kills me that I just can't see the alternative, except for someone taking Vi's place in that sewer. This is beyond hard. I saw Vi go from a girl who really wasn't sure about the whole Slayer deal to someone who saw being Slayer as not just a calling, but also a responsibility to save human life, even at the cost of her own. She truly believed she was on a mission from God, not in an annoying smug way, but in the kind of way that gives a good name to people who believe in such things. She once said about being a Slayer: 'When we count up our riches at the end of our lives, it shouldn't be about money, or about fame. It should be about whether we made the world a better place for us being in it.' If that's the case, than Vi is the richest of us all." [TouchInfor Reference: Harris, A., Journal Entry 5705 circa 2007.]*

*For all that others have written about her, Hero-Knowles is not as easy to spot in the crowd as you might think. Finding her was a challenge, made more of a challenge because her sister-in-arms was absent from the house for personal reasons. But upon seeing her, one is struck by the fact that there's very little extraordinary about her. She doesn't stand out. Her disposition is sweet, her voice halting. Every once in a while, you might see a flash of something else, something made of sterner stuff.*

*Once you begin talking to her, one discovers that deceptive physical appearance aside; legend got the deeper truth exactly right.*

*[Moment of silence while UNS brings her expression under control.]*

*And now Violet Knowles, truly one of the best and brightest, in her own words in an exclusive interview with UNS.*

UNS: I have to say, I'm very happy you're taking the time to talk to me.

VK: [smiles] Probably because I'm not a huge icon that's intimidating, right?

UNS: That's not…umm…what I'm trying to say is that it's great to be talking to someone who is a veteran of the First Battle of Sun'dyal and was there at Ground Zero.

VK: You don't know the half of it.

UNS: I'm sure preparing and planning for the First Battle of Sun'dyal was stressful.

VK: There was planning? {giggle} Sorry. Couldn't resist. It's just that it was a pretty confusing time for everyone, you know?

UNS: So I understand from people I've talked to. Actually, tell me more about you.

VK: Well, I'm Violet Knowles, but you knew that. I'm originally from Witchita, which is in Kansas, which is a state in the United States, which is part of North America, in the Western Hemisphere, on planet earth, I mean Tara, in the Milky Way Galaxy.

UNS: Everyone on my team is from the Milky Way, too.

VK: Oh. Ummm, anyway, I have two brothers, my parents are still married, and I was raised Methodist. When I was 15 this man showed up on my doorstep and said that he was a Watcher and that I was 'in line' for maybe becoming a Slayer one day.

UNS: How did you react?

VK: I completely freaked out. I mean, at first I thought he was one of those perverts you hear about, you know? But he was standing in my front yard in full view of the street, like he knew I'd be thinking the worst. So anyway, I was really, really scared. He left, came back the next day--by this time I told my parents what happened--only this time he had a woman with him. They explained the whole thing again to me, this time with my parents sitting there. They showed us a lot of books and pictures and really took the time to tell me and my parents about me being a Potential and what that actually meant. Then they offered to train me.

UNS: What happened?

VK: Well, my parents are really religious. So they told them to come back after Sunday service because they wanted to think and pray on the whole thing. Anyway, Sunday comes, and I'm still thinking about it because I'm really not too sure that it's even real. I mean, how can it be? I'm just Violet, I get straight Bs, I'm not the prettiest girl in my class, or the most athletic. I don't look all that special, you know? I'm just me. Anyway, we go to church and…you ever notice how sometimes when you're looking for an answer God just hands you one?

UNS: I…guess.

VK: So the Gospel reading that day is the parable about The Talents. And the minister in his sermon points out that the more you have, the more responsibility you've got to your community. It's not enough just to have it, but you have to share it. I remember what he said to this day: 'Our riches cannot be measured in money, our riches cannot be measured in fame. Our riches can only be measured in how we make the world a better place.'

UNS: That's…that's…[checks MemePad for Council Honoria's Coat of Arms] Lovely. I've heard something like it before.

VK: [quietly] Yeah. [louder] Anyway after that it was a lock. I was going to train, although my Watcher, Kimberly, told me that I might never get called because Buffy and Faith were very good about staying alive.

UNS: How'd you feel about that?

VK: Relieved! I mean, the way I figured it I should train just in case, but I was really hoping I'd never need it. [laughs] Funny how it all works out in the end.

UNS: Yes, yes it is. So, how'd you get to Sun'dyale?

VK: My Watcher had to go back to London for a big meeting. Next thing I know, Giles shows up on my doorstep with a couple of other Potentials and tells me that I have to get going to Sunnydale _right now_ because there's Bringers on my tail and they'd kill anyone who tried to stop them, including my parents.

UNS: And you went? Just like that?

VK: Look, I would've let myself drown in slaughterhouse dung if I thought it would keep my parents safe. I was scared out of my mind, but I went. On the way to Sunnydale Giles told me that Kim and all the other Watchers were killed. Then there was Sunnydale and then Sunnydale was gone. Now we're here and I'm what I never thought I'd be: a Slayer.

UNS: Do you feel differently now? About being a Slayer.

VK: [squirms] Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If it wasn't for Rona-- she's my bestest friend ever--I'd come down more on the no side. But having a friend like her makes it a lot easier because she's going through the same thing I'm going through and we can talk to each other. I have to admit, meeting Ruda and knowing about Slayers in the future and how they get a choice instead of "Tag! You're it!" has pushed me more to "yes." Oh, and I can't forget, Xander makes it easier because he's always there to listen when it just gets too much to take. I don't know how he knows when you're ready to fall over, but he just does and he's right there even before you realize you need him to lean on and it's like, I don't know, like he can read your mind or something because he manages to tell you what you need to hear so you can take that next step. And much as I sometimes really hate Robin, he makes it easier too because I know he's making sure we're getting the best training possible so we'll be able to stay alive that much longer.

UNS: What about everyone else?

VK: You know? It's funny, but I really don't…well, I know the other new Slayers, of course. But I really don't know Buffy, Faith, or…I guess if I were being completely honest, the only person in the inner circle I really know is Xander, and that's only because he's made the effort to try and get to know me, well, all of us really. I'm still trying to figure out everyone else.

UNS: One thing I'm interested in hearing is maybe some anecdotes about how you see yourself and the other people in the house.

VK: [smiling] Because they're the important people your readers really want to know about?

UNS: Unh, no, I mean, don't think you haven't been forgotten because you haven't. I mean…

VK: Hey! It's okay. It's not about the fame, remember? [peers at MemePad] Although it's kind of nice I'm mentioned somewhere. But it's not the important thing. [leans back thoughtfully] I don't know…let me think…let me think…Oh! I got it! I got one that involves everyone. I think your readers will really like it.

UNS: [settles back with a smile] Let's hear it.

VK: This was June? No. July. I think the middle of July, because it was after the Fourth. We'd been in this house a week at most. I know because Xander was dealing with contractors and painters and we were still living out of boxes. Anyway, a couple of us noticed that Xander and Willow were hanging out in corners talking, I mean, they were doing it all the time. Whenever one of us would get close enough to hear, they'd clam up. So one or two people start thinking that Willow's got something going on the side with Xander and we were wondering how Kennedy was going to take it if she found out. I mean, she's dating Willow, but she likes Xander because he saved her life back in Sunnydale.

UNS: Sounds like the beginning of a soap opera.

VK: Yeah. Very 'One Life to Live.' Anyway, one day Willow and Xander disappear. [snaps fingers] Just like that they're gone. All we've got is a note saying that they're taking off for a few days and that they'll be back. So some of us figure, 'Oh-oh, Kennedy's gonna blow a gasket.'

UNS: Did she?

VK: Well, that should've tipped us off that something was up, because she's totally cool with it. I'd even say smug, like she knew something none of us did. A week goes by, no word. You can see Giles is really worried and Robin's really annoyed. I heard Buffy in Giles's room telling Giles how we had to do something to find them because something bad might've happened. Andrew's so worried that he burned an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies. Even Kennedy started getting nervous because she hadn't heard anything either. So the house was a little tense.

UNS: I can imagine.

VK: Anyway, nine days after they disappear, there's a knock on the door. Kennedy looks out the window, starts laughing, and says that she'll get it. She walks over the door and opens it like 'Taa-Daa!' And who's standing there? Xander and Willow, dressed completely in black, wearing black skullcaps with their hair all tucked up underneath, and their faces all greased black. They come marching in like conquering heroes and place this really long box on the living room floor.

UNS: [starts giggling in anticipation] What did they bring home? A vampire in his casket?

VK: I'm getting to that. Anyway, they won't let anyone near the box until the whole house is there and Xander gets a crowbar. Now, everyone's trying to figure out what happened, so you can bet everyone was in that room in less than five minutes. So there's Xander, with the crowbar, and there's Willow trying not to laugh while she hugs Kennedy. Once we're ready, he pries open the box and reveals all. [pauses dramatically]

UNS: Come on!

VK: And what to our wondering eyes see? A rocket launcher! {guffaw} Buffy starts laughing, and clapping, and jumping up and down like it's all her birthdays rolled into one going, 'I can't you believe you did this! I can't believe it! How did you do it? C'mon spill! I want detail-y details!' Giles is trying to look stern and you can see he's trying not to smile while he's all, 'What foolish stunt have you two pulled?' Faith's looking at this thing and she's like, 'What the hell?' Robin's inspecting the rocket launcher ummming and ahhhhing like he's about to wet his pants he's so impressed. Dawn just runs across the room and throws her arms around Xander's neck going, 'That's sooooo cooooool!' The rest of us don't know what to make of it because this is a rocket launcher.

UNS: [laughs] I bet there's a story behind the story.

VK: Oh, yeah. Once things calmed down, it turned out that they had even more. They'd been hauling rocket launcher, ammunition, plastic explosives, electronic gear to set it off, grenades, I mean, a full military selection of all the things that go 'boom!' in this rented SUV they had.

UNS: [shifts in seat uncomfortably] I, unh…

VK: They'd been driving like bats out of hell all day and night with the cargo to get it home as quickly as possible. What was really funny is how the whole thing started.

UNS: [edge of seat] Go on.

VK: I guess Willow and Xander grew up together and they used to have this game: "How would you…" Mostly it was kid stuff, like, how would you rob a bank, or how would you pull off the perfect crime, or how would you become a superhero, you know, the kind of thing you do when you're bored and you want to be someone else. Well anyway, this one day while we're still living in a Cleveland motel, they start playing, "How would you…" It's the first time they've done it in years. So Willow brings up, 'How would you break into a military installation in a post-9/11 world?' And Xander's like, 'Oh! That's easy!' and tells Willow how he did it the first time.

UNS: Wait! Alexander had done this before?

VK: Yeah. Buffy told us that she was once up against nasty demon called The Judge that couldn't be killed by a sword, so Xander, Willow, and some friends broke into this military base and stole a rocket launcher. She had to kill this Judge in a shopping mall full of people! Can you imagine that? Standing in a mall holding this big thing and setting it off?

UNS: Didn't she get into trouble?

VK: No. Turns out that in the aftermath the news reports somehow turned Buffy into a Chinese terrorist acrobat named Soon-Li who was making a statement about the capitalist nature of America and had fired the rocket launcher in a mall to protest Western imperialism. {laughs} Go figure. Anyway, back to the second rocket launcher. Willow figures Xander's methods for getting into a military base aren't going to work what with all the increased security on military bases and tells him so and they kind of let it drop. About a week later, Xander and Willow are talking again and he says, right out of the blue, 'What would happen if we needed military hardware?' Willow points out that they only needed a rocket launcher the once, and he points out that she's right, a rocket launcher isn't normal Slayer weaponry, but when you really need it, you really, really need it. Willow thinks about it and they kind of start playing "How would you…" again, only this time it's to see if they could do it if they needed to.

UNS: That's when they started planning.

VK: No, it was still a game at that point. Willow'd go do some research stuff and Xander'd be like, 'Well, we'd need to do this, this, and this.' Eventually they kind of figure out that there's no way they could pull off what they did in Sunnydale on just the spur of the moment, so they drop it. For about a day. Then Willow's like, 'Well, why don't we just go get it right now, just in case.' That's when they started planning it for real.

UNS: Why not tell anyone else?

VK: Well, Willow told Kennedy, but only because she didn't want her to worry. Other than that they figured it was best if they didn't tell anyone because if they got caught, they didn't want to get us in trouble. The only magic they were using was minor glamour spells so that anyone who saw them wouldn't actually see them, just notice that something might be there. If someone had to notice them, it was only enough for them to rent cars or hotel rooms using these prepaid credit cards and driver's licenses with fake names that Willow managed to finagle. But anyone who did business with them wouldn't actually be able to remember what they looked like or even the fake names. Anyway, they wind up breaking into the Army's Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois and making out like bandits. The reason why it took them so long is because they had to case the base before pulling it off.

UNS: Was there any fallout from that?

VK: Not. A. Thing. I'm pretty sure something happened on the base and I'm pretty sure that someone is still looking for all the missing gear, but that's all a guess. I figure if we don't use it, they can't trace it to us. I mean, c'mon, do Xander and Willow look like terrorists who'd steal any property of the U.S. Government that might explode?

UNS: [softly] What do you plan to do with it?

VK: Emergency stash only, you know, in case we've got an unkillable demon or something like that running around. It's nice to know we'll have something on hand that'll at least slow it down if not blow it completely to bits.

UNS: Aren't you afraid someone, say, you…or…or innocent civilians might get killed?

VK: Which is why we're going to read up on using them. Can you see it now? Someone goes down there and pulls the wrong pin and it's lights out for everyone. But, yeah, the innocent people thing is a problem. I know Rona and I talked about, you know, maybe adding shotguns or something to repertoire, but then we realized that you take a chance of hitting bystanders if you use them. A vampire can go from zero to 120 in no time flat, so there's no guarantee you'd be able to hit it, let alone shoot it in the kneecaps so you can stake at your leisure. We're still talking about though to see if we can't find a way around it.

UNS: That's…that's a pretty good story.

VK: Yeah. [thinks a bit] You know, it's kinda funny, but I think… it's stupid.

UNS: No it's not.

VK: You don't know what I'm going to say.

UNS: I want to hear it anyway.

VK: Promise you'll erase it if what I say if it sounds stupid?

UNS: [crosses fingers behind MemePad] Of course!

VK: Okay. When I think the stunt, I dunno. Xander was just this sweet guy with the moral support, kinda like a big brother, you know? After that, he became the cool big brother. And Willow, who's like this really scary powerful witch, she became a little less scary and a little more, I dunno, human I guess. And you could see that Giles who is always this mysterious, proper guy, if you really squinted, maybe wasn't as proper English as we thought. And I think it's the only time I ever saw Buffy laugh, I mean, really laugh like she was fit to bust a gut and hug Willow and Xander like they were her best friends ever. You could see Robin just strategizing how all these new toys might be used, which was pretty cool to see. And for the first time ever Faith was shocked speechless, like she couldn't believe what just happened. She was just like the rest of us with all the questions and curiosity and she didn't care who saw her like that either.

UNS: So what are you saying?

VK: I guess what I'm trying to say is…well…for a moment, just a moment, I saw something in all of them. Something I'd never seen before. But it's like when you see it you can't help but notice that it's there all the time. Maybe it's who they were. Maybe it's who they're going to be. I dunno. It's like for this one night they weren't these people who were dictating our lives, or who'd changed our lives and the whole world forever, or who were taking care of us until we were ready to fight out there on our own. They were…they were all…

UNS: Yes?

VK: They were all people just like me.

Chapter 30
Crossing the Crossroads

They'd been chasing their tails looking for that damn arrow for three days.

Three very long days.

Even Ruda was beginning to show the wear of trying to keep a low profile after what may have been an inadvertent slip-up giving away a future secret of humungous proportions, or a "slip" that may have been one of the Reece's Pieces leading them all right into Big Badness.

Given the possibility that all of this might be a con to lure them all into a trap, and that one Xander Harris was one of the lead mice walking into it, a certain one-eyed someone found himself trying his best not to suggest that Willow turn the Sunlamp of Interrogation on the lot of them. He didn't even want to think about the possibility that any of these people might actually be from the future, because then he'd be chanting, "Go, Willow, go!" for sure.

Didn't help that the only person still given free reign to talk to people was the Annoying Blonde One with the Funky Wardrobe and Freaky Plastic Pad. Frankly, if Xander had to deal one more second with Riki- Tiki-Tikri, he was going to find the biggest demonic snake in the greater metropolitan Cleveland area and feed her to it. He knew she was just doing her job, but the never-ending questions coupled with the enigmatic smile she gave him with every answer was driving him up the wall.

And why the hell did she give a rat's ass about him anyway? Like he gave a flying shit if people in the future found out he wasn't exactly the best candidate for -sen hood, -rah hood, the neighborhood, or any other kind of hood.

About the only good thing he could see is that the whole situation drove Robin nuts. That's not to say their little reporter wasn't bugging him too, but the fact that everyone else from Future Space wasn't enamored of the son of a Slayer and even went so far as to pretend they had no clue who Robin Wood was or what role he played in the battle against the First was enough to cause their self-appointed leader to pull his hair out.

Too bad he didn't have any hair because that would've been fun to watch. Because a frustrated, distracted Robin was a Robin not taking potshots at Xander.

Xander humped his way into the Future Home of the Watcher's Library and Resource Center and flopped in a chair. "You know, it might be a whole lot fucking easier if Catherine would let us look at her book," Xander announced.

"Amen," Willow muttered.

"We can't do that," J'Nal corrected from his station at Willow's left elbow. "The purity of the timeline must be maintained."

"Oh, like your presence in Cleveland 2003 hasn't already screwed things up," Xander said with frustration. "Seems to me that you guys haven't done anything right."


"Yeah, yeah, beyond your control, got it," Xander waved an irritated hand. "But this is getting us nowhere. You've given us all the clues to find your special arrow and we're finding nothing. Nada. How do you even know that we got all the information we needed to find this thing? Because, I gotta tell ya, your track record on knowing the little details that count really stinks. Hell, you can't even pronounce Sunnydale right."

Willow's and J'Nal's heads whipped around and they fixed Xander with the kind of look that warned he'd stepped over the line.

He really didn't care.

"Jesus, you'd think we're gonna take all this top secret info and build the ultimate weapon or something," he ranted. "It's five fucking years in the future. I really doubt all that much is going to change in the Slaying life in that short time. It's not like I'm saying 'all your base belong to us' and to cough up technology we wouldn't even know how to use. I just want a goddamn roadmap to get you sent back to wherever the hell you came from."

J'Nal swallowed hard and dropped his eyes. "Of course, Harris-rah. As you wish."

Xander snarled in frustration, although he wasn't sure if it was over the Harris-rah bit or because no one had started insisting that someone from the Cleveland crew take a crack at the journal that held all the clues.

A slow grin spread across Willow's face. "Thank you," the redhead sincerely said. "I've been telling my witchy friend here the same thing for the past two days. If I knew all I needed was for you to yell at him, I would've dragged you in here sooner."

"It hasn't been decided yet," J'Nal quickly said. "I do need to consult with…"

"Catherine. Yeah, yeah," Xander said. "But maybe you better point out that she's already screwed and she can't possibly make it any worse by showing us that journal."


"This is it. The big one," Charlie remarked from Catherine's right.

"What are you going to do?" Ruda asked from Catherine's left.

"We're getting nowhere," J'Nal said trying to hide his fear. "What if we're not meant to find it yet?"

Ms. Tikri huddled miserably in the corner, watching the debate through woebegone eyes.

"I don't know what to do," Catherine admitted.

The five of them sunk into depressed silence. They were frozen between a crash landing and space vacuum. The universe was holding its breath. The moment was balanced on the head of a pin.

It couldn't last.

Ms. Tikri, of all people, was the one who knocked it all out of whack.

"I-I-I'm not going to pretend I know a thing about time travel," she uncharacteristically stuttered, her voice alto-low. "But, while we're here, is time standing still back there?"

All eyes turned to J'Nal. "I don't know," he admitted.

"What's the most likely possibility?" the witnesser asked.

"And what does that have to do with anything?" Charlie asked.

"Everything," Catherine answered for him as she looked up at J'Nal. "Please answer Ms. Tikri's question."

J'Nal let out a quiet huff of breath. "The best guess, the most likely answer, is that time is going forward normally. For every Taran day here, one standard day--maybe more or maybe less because the days don't match up precisely--passes."

"So we may be stuck here for more than seven days?" Charlie was calm as he asked the question, but Catherine knew he was keeping his nervousness under tight control. Hada, she was doing it, so it was a good bet that everyone was.

"More like eight Taran days because I want to be certain that the portal doesn't open too soon at the other end and cause problems. Eight-and-a-half to be really safe," J'Nal admitted.

"Every day here is another day when…" Ruda began. She looked at Catherine. "It happens so fast. What if the Great Darkness descends on another planet while we're here?"

"May have already happened," Tikri pointed out, "that is, if the attacks happen as quickly as reports make it seem."

"So, what you're saying is that because time is passing at the same rate in our own time, speed is of the essence," Catherine slowly said.

"Or when we go back, we show up five minutes after we left," J'Nal said, "Or we may show up…"

"Years after we left," Charlie finished for him.

"I still can't believe someone thought this was a good idea before some of these basic questions got answered," Ms. Tikri mumbled.

"Desperate times," Charlie reminded her without heat.

"Desperate times where the human race is running out of time," J'Nal agreed.

"So, if we do nothing and keep going the way we are, we may find out we don't have a home to go back to because we were too cautious and wasted time," Ms. Tikri said in an effort to make sure the concept was clear in her mind. "Or, if we throw caution to the wind, we still may not have a home to go back to because we destroyed the timeline and the future isn't our future."

"In a nutshell," Charlie rubbed his temples.

"Yes, that does about sum it up," J'Nal nodded.

All eyes turned to Catherine and she could feel her stomach clench. The future was slipping through her hands like fine grains of sand. No matter what she did, no matter how she turned, no matter what decision she made, she and her team kept getting backed into a corner. All they could do was watch helplessly as the situation kept spinning ever more out of control.

It was almost as if the universe was forcing them right down this path--a path that would ultimately mean the destruction of everyone and everything that she loved.

Do nothing and hope for the best.

Do something and hope for the best.

She was the only one who could stand at this crossroads and make this decision.

"The Founders have mercy on my soul," she prayed.

"One of them has spoken," Charlie said quietly, "and last I checked he wasn't showing you any mercy at all."

Chapter 31
Domino Effects

Faith slipped into the backyard with a pack of her beloved Camels in hand to escape the tense atmosphere. Xander, Willow, Giles, Buffy, and Robin were actually working together--a frightening sight in and of itself--to convince Catherine to let them look at her Watcher's diary from 2008, but the woman steadfastly refused to give it up.

While no one was yelling or waving arms, Faith suspected that everyone was a short step away from breaking things.

She rounded the corner and stood under the kitchen window. One flick her lighter and she was drawing the smoke into her lungs with a relieved sigh.

Then again, maybe the tension wasn't so much the atmosphere in the house as it was lack of nicotine she decided as she snuggled up to the tingling sensation of an oncoming head rush. Oh, yeah. Totally addicted. Can't even handle cutting back. A patch was definitely in her future.

The backdoor slammed open and Faith peeked around the corner. Xander looked like he was on a real warpath while a more subdued Catherine followed in his wake. The one and only time she'd ever seen Xander this angry was back in the Dale after he found out Angel had returned from the dead and Buffy had lied about it.

*Irresistible force? Meet brick wall,* Faith thought as she sucked in more fumes. *This should be a fucking trip. Ain't no way Catherine's gonna cave, even if we're in the right about wanting to see that damn journal. Shit. Last I checked they came to us for help. We tried it their way. Now we should get a crack.*

"Fine. Privacy. Now will you explain to me why you won't show us the diary?" Xander spat as he paced around the Watcher Honoria. "And why the hell can you only tell me before we break it to the others? I'm not the Watcher around here. That's Giles's thankless job."

That's when Faith noticed that Catherine was clutching the leather- bound book in her arms. The expression on her face telegraphed uncertainty and something that looked a hell of a lot like fear.

*Well, well, well. Looks like she's gonna spill after all,* Faith nodded to herself in satisfaction. *I wish I had me a bowl of popcorn.*

"This journal..." Catherine cleared her throat and began again, "This journal has been in my family for generations. Since Tara, in fact. The Council Honoria has a facsimile as does the Slayer Archive Project and other organizations, but the original belongs to my family because our male Founder wrote it. Do you understand?"

"Look, I don't care who owns it. What I care about, check that, what we care about is the contents," Xander snapped. "We are not idiots. Did it ever occur to you that because the damn thing comes from only five years in our future that maybe, crazy thought I know, just maybe we'll be able to crack why your explanation isn't giving us enough information to find that damn arrow?"

Catherine cowered under the verbal assault and swallowed hard. "I know. Believe me I know. But see, the thing is...there might be...oh futch...I'm trying to put this nicely. There might be some information in here that you might not want to know."

Xander backed up a step while Faith watched through amused eyes. The quiet confession had stopped Xander's self-righteous rant cold.

"See, the thing is..." Catherine let out a hard breath and closed her eyes. "You wrote it. The journal's yours."

Nothing registered on Xander's face.

Catherine hunched and waited.

Faith held her breath while her mind raced a circling track of *holy fuck.* Then the rest of Catherine's statement sunk in. Founder. She was ready to bet the thirty bucks she just collected from Willow that Founder equaled ancestor and just how whacked is that. She suspected something like this was up, but to actually hear it? Whole different thing.

Somewhere in Faith's mental holy fuck parade, Xander's whispered voice wound through her hearing.

"Who the hell are you?"

How hilarious is that? Xander sounded like a terrified child as if the concept of being a father was the single worst thing he could think of happening to him. *Maybe not so hilarious,* Faith mentally amended. *More like heartbreaking 'cause he's got the Joyce instincts down pat.*

"What is your last name?" Xander's voice got stronger, a slight edge of anger creeping in.

Catherine squirmed under the glare, but came clean. "My last name's a little bit of a problem."

"How do you mean?" And damn, even though he heard her the first time, Faith could see Xander was going to make her spell it out in thirty-foot high letters.

Like it was going to change anything.

"Do you want to know my last name?" she asked in a way that sounded vaguely like a threat.

"No. But you are going to tell me." Xander looked like he was preparing for a blow. "Because if I'm going in there with a plan, I need all the information. Spelled out. Using very small words."

Catherine nodded. She'd come this far. She stepped up so that her nose was almost touching Xander's chin. *Bully for Xander,* Faith thought. *He's not letting her intimidate him.*

Catherine cast a furtive glance around, prompting Faith to zip out of sight. When the Slayer thought it was safe, she poked her head around the corner, cigarette burning forgotten in her hand, and watched Catherine in mid-whisper. The Watcher Honoria watched as Xander backed up a few steps until he landed against the building's brickwork, shock playing across his features while the information sunk in.

At some point, rational thought made a return appearance and he sputtered. "You?"


"And..." he waved vaguely at himself.

"Which we've already established earlier in this conversation."

"And Faith?"

Catherine's yell of "Shhhh, not so loud," was enough to cover Faith's own yelp of surprise.

Xander blinked. "Hunh," was pretty much all he had to say.

*"Hunh" my ass,* Faith thought furiously. *This fucking news just rates as a "hunh" like I'm just some answer to a fucking trivia question? This is my goddamn life being messed with here.*

"Evolutionarily speaking, this is a good thing," Catherine said dryly.

"Reputationally speaking, you might want to take the Harris part of your name, drag it out into the backyard, and shoot it. Although the Lanoire part sounds pretty," Xander said with stunned absent- mindedness. "Shoulda really dumped the Harris part. Breaks up the prettiness of Catherine Anastasia followed by the mess of a hyphenated name that involves Harris."

Faith felt some heat on her fingers, looked down, stifled a swear, and dropped the burning butt on the ground. Xander's cracking lame-o jokes because he can't fucking deal. *Right there with ya. Not dealing either,* Faith silently agreed.

Strange that he thought his name was the reputation-killer. She was the one who was the murderer and spent time in the clink.

"So?" Catherine prompted, worry etched on her features.

"We say nothing. About you. Me. And god knows I don't want a peep about Faith." Xander looked around the yard like he was trapped. "Just say the journal's mine and leave it at that."

"Which means that they're going to know I'm your direct descendant," Catherine pointed out.


"Charlie told Giles that the journal," here Catherine gave it a gentle, reverent tap, "was from the Watcher who was one of my family's Founders."


"And if I let you read it, they're going to want to read it with you, which means they'll recognize your handwriting," Catherine added.

"Double crap."

"Which is why I had to tell you about me because you were going to find out anyway. From Giles. Which would've been probably worse," Catherine continued.

"Triple crap."

"And finally, what's a crap?"

"We keep Faith's name out of this," Xander insisted.

"Yes..." Catherine began uncertainly. Faith could see her swallow "Harris-rah" ending.

He nodded to himself. "Probably got your wires crossed anyway. More likely our grandkids do the naked mambo that results in you because there's not a chance in hell..."

"Why do you say that?" Catherine's stance turned defensive.

Faith tensed and wondered just what Xander would say.

"I don't register with her," Xander said shortly, "and I'm not interested in going there."

"Is this because of Ahnyah?"

*What? How the hell does she know about...wait...Xander was probably writing love letters to his dead ex in a journal somewhere.* Then she realized what Xander said and for some bizarre reason felt a sting, partly because it was true, and partly because she knew the reason behind the statement.

"No. It's just..."

Faith held her breath.

"...she's okay and all, but she's got her own life to lead and I'm not really an in-the-picture guy. I'm the original commitmentphobe. I tend to cheat on my girlfriends. Or pledge my undying love seconds before I go running screaming into the night." Xander told the lie peppered with what Faith suspected was a little truth and a smooth shrug. "Faith's got a good thing going with Robin and he'll be there for the long haul. Me? Not so much. Wham-bam-thank-you-Xan. That's me."

Faith closed her eyes and kicked at the grass. Jesus, she didn't think she had honor to defend and here was Xander doing just that like she was some goddamn princess in a high tower. He was knifing himself to make him look less just so she could look better.


"But that's not true!" Catherine protested.

"Oh, but it very much is," Xander stubbornly replied.

Catherine hugged the journal to her chest, her expression screaming that she not only didn't believe it, she didn't want to believe it. "People change," she finally said. "Besides, I know what I..."

"Not this rambler. I'm telling you that you got it wrong." Xander insisted. He closed his eyes with a sigh. "Look. I gotta get back inside and think about how I'm gonna break the news to the others while keeping Faith out of it. Make sure you tell your people to keep their mouths shut and to go along." He looked up, his face registering something like heartbreak. "You okay?"

"Sure," Catherine shortly replied.

With a nod, Xander disappeared into the house.

Catherine looked like someone had just killed her dog. Christ. Faith just couldn't fucking stand it. "Pssst," she hissed.

Catherine looked around and saw Faith peeking at her from around the corner. The Watcher Honoria's 'oh shit' expression was priceless as she wildly looked between the backdoor and the Slayer.

"C'mere," Faith gestured.

Catherine slunk over to Faith's position and waited.

"Now I'm not going to give you the whole story because that's kinda Xander's story to tell. Plus, I'm not one hundred percent on the deal he had going with Anya," Faith began, "but he ain't exactly being entirely honest about being an asswipe..."


It took Xander almost an hour to calm down after his little tete-a- tete with Catherine. Most of it was spent pacing in his room telling himself that he really did not want to start breaking things because that was sure to bring a crowd of people wondering what the hell was wrong.

The worst thing was not the bouts of fury at the general fucked- upness that is the universe. No. The worst thing was how he felt in between said bouts.

*Remember how you felt lying there bleeding on the ground because you'd been stabbed in the gut thanks to your own stupidity and Buffy practically steps over your body to go check on Spike who was unfortunately still not dusty? Remember how you felt?*

Yeah. This felt just like that. Times a hundred.

So he pinged helplessly between furious denial and depressed resignation as he tried to ignore the broken glass feeling in his gut. Eventually he forced himself to sit on the bed and tried to remember all the reasons why he shouldn't trust Catherine. The problem was that if he opened the journal and saw his own handwriting, every single justification for calling Catherine a dirty, rotten, stinkin' liar was going to be systematically blown up.

*Calm down. Think.*

Keeping Faith far and away from this nightmare was easy: don't tell anyone. Deny all knowledge of whom Catherine claims he had an attack of hormones with. Say it's no one anyone knows, not even him, because the name doesn't ring a bell. Better yet, don't bring up the involvement of any woman at all. Simple.

Unless said journal gave something away in one of its waaaay-too-many pages.

Crap. Crap. And just because it's worth repeating, crap.

*Hooooold on. When I said we keep Faith out of it, Catherine didn't blink an eye so maybe, just maybe, there's nothing in there that pegs me and...*

Nope. He can't even finish the thought. Because Faith and Him? Wrong. Wrong on so many levels. As in wrong on the same levels as Buffy-and- Spike wrong complete with a history of sexual assault and an attempt on his life.

Okay, sure, she's changed. She's making an effort to do right. She's even making with the friendly, or trying to. The words 'boy toy' has not once escaped her lips in reference to himself, just Xander, Xan, or Cyclops. But still...

For anything to happen between them in the way Catherine's claiming? It would require intervention from every celluloid angel from 'It's a Wonderful Life,' to 'Highway to Heaven,' 'Touched by an Angel,' 'Michael.' and a kick-ass Denzel Washington from 'The Preacher's Wife' to overcome this baggage. Since heaven is too busy laughing at Xander Harris, butt-monkey to the universe, he's pretty sure that's not going to happen.

He took a deep breath. Nothing for it. He'll tell Catherine to cough up the journal and give him a chance to read the damn thing in private so he can rip out any offending pages that might cause Faith- shaped problems.

And if Catherine didn't like the destruction of a major league historical document? Too. Fucking. Bad. Because if he wrote it, he's damn well got the right to set fire to the life-wrecking piece of leather-bound shit if he wants to.


Faith escorted a miserable Catherine to her room.

She couldn't bear to look at the woman behind her as they made their silent passage through the house. The journal was jammed into her right pocket and her hand kept reflexively touching its cold, unforgiving surface.

This was too much too absorb.

This truth Faith told her about why there could never, ever be a Harris-Lanoire line that goes right back to the original Harris and Lanoire flew right into the face of everything she knew.

She's not sure who she's more angry at: Alexander for taking the blame entirely on himself, hiding Faith's crime against his person like it didn't even matter; or Faith for taking that blame entirely on herself, destroying every assumption she ever had about these two people in the process.

She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Faith and Alexander were wrong no matter what they said. She had journals, diaries, and information from contemporary sources that spelled out everything about their relationship. Hada, Catherine Anastasia was a family name that went back to the firstborn of these very two people.

Much as she didn't know about the past, she did know this much: she was right. Her family kept a history so exacting and meticulous that her father could tell you whom his second cousin three times removed was and spell out exactly how that person was related.

This was about family and one thing the Harris-Lanoires and all the related Bloodlines had in common was this: family meant everything. Friends you decided were family meant everything. You treated family-- blood and adopted--with respect and care because those people were the precious jewels in your crown.

In short, as ignorant as she had been about some facts, this one fact was fact and she had archives full of proof. Spoken words from the sources' mouths before things happened the way they happened didn't change the oceans of ink and blood spilled in the centuries since. Yet for all that, she didn't have access to one drop of that ink and had only the blood in her veins if she wanted to show them the error of their ways.

Worse, she wasn't even sure she wanted to.

*How did I get to this point? How?* Catherine wondered miserably as she silently mounted the stairs. *And how come this story of Faith seducing and then trying to kill Alexander was never recorded anywhere?*

Or rather, how come it was never stated outright?

You'd think someone less-than-friendly to the relationship might've brought it up somewhere. Robin, who expressed time and time again his strong reservations to Alexander's and Faith's involvement because he believed in the separate-but-equal missions of the Watchers and the Slayers, should've been bringing this incident up as point to support his theories.

Assuming that Robin was as miserable a bastardo as she wanted to believe. Maybe he had his good and bad just like everyone else.

Knowing what she now knew, she wondered if she'd see this horrible secret lurking in the subtext if she started nosing around the archives on the family estate. How much did she miss in the charming hesitation, the longing 'what ifs,' the stumbling steps forward and the occasional steps back? How much did everyone in the family miss for centuries about the first four years of Alexander's and Faith's working partnership because this one event--an event that very obviously deeply affected the two of them--was completely unknown?

If this were a fictional story, she'd think it bittersweet, making assumptions about the big romance that was sure to come before the end, rooting for that satisfactory conclusion where love conquers all, content in the knowledge that the road to forgiveness is paved with a single kiss.

But this was real life, and all she could think was that the two of them needed to stay very, very far away from one another. She was fairly certain that if she were a friend to either or both, she'd be urging Alexander to get counseling for the trauma and telling Faith that she should stick with, Founders help her, Robin.

What does this say about her? She still wants to offer that advice even though she knows that this particular dance ends on a happy refrain.

Maybe. She just doesn't know any more. She may have murdered her entire family by deciding to act instead of wait.

"We're here," Faith said softly in her left ear.

Catherine stopped and looked up at the door. Maybe it was her door. Maybe not. She really didn't care.

Faith shuffled uncomfortably behind her as Catherine closed her eyes. She didn't want to turn around and she didn't want to move forward. What she wanted to do was cry and she didn't have the luxury to do even that much.

A tentative touch on her elbow with the whispered sadness of a haunted ghost: "I don't know how to make this right."

Catherine's eyes popped open and she glared at the door. "What do you want from me?"

"Tell me how I can make this right?"

Faith sounded so uncertain as she asked the question, revealing a vulnerability that Catherine didn't think even existed in her, at least based on what she knew about history, legend, and what she'd seen with her own two eyes.

The Watcher Honoria slowly turned her head and found herself looking down into sad, brown eyes. "I don't know," Catherine admitted. "All of what you said is news to me so I just don't know."

Faith stepped back, not really looking at anything, right foot nervously hooking and crossing around her left ankle. "You know that shit they say about the truth setting you free? I'm thinking someone lied to me about that."

"What do you want from me?" Catherine repeated.

Faith's eyes narrowed as she looked at the door over Catherine's left shoulder. "I hate people telling me what to do. It's my fucking life, right? I'll do what the fuck I want, how I want, when I want. See. Want. Take. Have. Me in a fucking nutshell. I got the Slayer juice, so fuck you if you don't like it."

Catherine's jaw clenched and she felt the beginning of a serious dislike for this woman. "That attitude gets you locked up," she said lowly.

A right eyebrow quirked in response. "It did," the Slayer stated.

Catherine gave her head a hard shake. In this time period, only a very select few even knew what a Slayer was so how...

"Living like that? At some point you get yourself a dire choice: crash and burn, maybe take a few hundred innocent people with you when you do; or do something before the big explosion," Faith said. "So I turned myself over to the law, let them lock me up, and took a long, hard, fucking look."

Something in Catherine's gut eased off and the empty feeling was replaced by curiosity. "What did you find?"

Faith looked at Catherine then, studying the woman's expression like she couldn't quite believe that the question was serious rather than sarcastic. She took a breath and admitted, "It all comes down to me. I could blame my fuck-ups on a lot of things, but really, it's me. That's what I got to live with every fucking day of my life and that's the big hurdle to this huge future you think is there for me. I know the truth of me and you're putting one big-ass tall order on my head. Don't know if I can do it, and I honestly don't think I can."

Catherine leaned back against the door, looking at this woman, really looking at her, desperately wishing she could borrow Alexander's eyes--well, eye--to see this through something other than 20-20 hindsight. "So that's it? You're going to give up?" she asked.

"No." Faith's voice sounded unsure, distant, like she couldn't quite believe she was having this conversation.

"Then what?"

"Like I said, always hated to be told what to do. Fucking hated it. 'Cept I think I need advice. How do I make this right?"

"Maybe you shouldn't."

Faith looked at Catherine like she may have sprouted an extra head, turned green, and began giving her directions to Subbins on Alpha Tau, home of the world's largest lyranic patty. "You've got to be kidding me. Right?" the Slayer asked with more than a little disbelief.

"The truth is always better, no matter how much people don't want to hear it," Catherine said, even as her heart and mind roundly sent up a chorus of disagreement. "Trust me, I'm not happy about this, but I'll live. See?" She gave a mock bow. "Still standing."

Faith cringed. "Shit. I didn't even think...fuck, fuck, fuck...what I meant was," she took a breath, "is there anything in your history books in the bad ol' future that mentions how I managed to make it right with Xander? Because where I'm standing right now? It's just not possible."

Catherine stood stunned. "Let me see if I get this straight: you haven't even addressed this with Alexander yet? How many standard years ago did you say this happened again?"

"Now you see the problem." Faith closed her eyes and shook her head; looking so lost and defeated that Catherine wondered if issue weighed even more heavily on the perpetrator than on the victim.

On an instinct she couldn't name, Catherine stepped forward, and gathered the girl into a tight hug, and, despite the telltale stiffening of Faith's body at the unexpected contact, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. She loosened her hold, but didn't let go.

Faith shifted back and looked up into Catherine's face. Her expression a mess of confusions, but she didn't quite break free, as if she were loath to lose this simple human contact. She only asked one thing: "Why?"

Catherine found herself toying with a strand of the young woman's hair feeling strangely better--not great, not good, but better and gave Faith the only answer she could. "Because you need it and because I can."

Chapter 32
Roadmaps in Black and White

When Xander entered their guests' assigned quarters, it was very obvious he'd walked in on the middle of a very intense conversation. All five members of the Future Set were in a football huddle, and five pairs of eyes were fixed to the door.

Jesus. This was so close to high school when he'd walk by pre-closet gropage Cordelia and her Cordettes that he was getting flashbacks. All he needed was someone to give him that famous Snyder sneer and the déjà vu would be complete.

He cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind his back, mostly because he knew shoving his hands in his pockets the way he wanted to would only give away the fact he was nervous. "It's no secret that we have a problem," he stated.

Catherine watched him with haunted dark eyes while the other four occupants turned to look at her.

"First, no mention of Faith. Not to anyone. I even hear a whisper, peep, or slip, there will be hell to pay and I'm telling you right now, I won't be the one paying it." Xander placed as much emphasis on the threat as he could, hoping against hope that these trained killers wouldn't see that it was decidedly empty.

"But what about…" Charlie began.

"I said said nothing and I meant it," Xander cut him off. "According to Catherine, I've got no choice but to admit that me and her are related. It goes no further than me, understood?"

"Agreed," Catherine quickly answered. She gave Charlie an unreadable look. "As far as we're concerned, you're the only one who knows the whole story about me. How and who you choose to share it with is not up to us."

A round of reluctant nods accompanied Catherine's agreement and he could feel his spine slightly relax. "First thing's first. Before I go marching down there to pass out the cigars, I need to take a look at that journal."

"But…" Catherine began.

"Not negotiable," Xander cut her off.

"The timeline," J'Nal squeaked.

"The timeline is fucked," Xander growled. "Accept it. Mourn. Move on."

The five of them quailed under the weight of the dropped octave in Xander's voice.

"You know it's a sign of yet another apocalypse when I have to be the logic guy around here, but Catherine voted me into the your little clubhouse the second she came clean about her relatives," Xander continued, clenching his hands behind his back. "She told me because she knows that if this little venture of yours is going anywhere, someone has to read the damn journal. Savvy?"

"Sa-vie?" Ruda tasted the word uncertainly.

"Do. You. Understand." Xander bit on each word.

"Wow. He's definitely got the family temper," Charlie remarked in a clear attempt to diffuse the situation.

Xander closed his eyes and took a brutal breath through his nose, forcing his jaw to relax. "Sorry. I don't mean …"

"If it helps, I don't blame you," Charlie said sympathetically. When everyone in his group looked at him, he added, "Oh like none of you have never been spirit-read by a Gypslin and heard infor you didn't want to know."

"My family knows better," Catherine said firmly as she rolled her eyes.

"If these Gypsum guys are anything like Gypsies, preach it sister," Xander agreed. "'Cept, I've got something a little more complicated than a crystal ball on my hands. Since none of you have asked me to cross your palm with silver, my theories that you guys are running a big con? Beginning to look like a whole lot of wishful thinking."

"You thought we were lying?" Ruda sounded crushed.

"Can you blame him?" Catherine said gently. "We'd think the same thing."

"So then why go along…" Ms. Tikri began.

"Because there was, I mean is, the chance you're telling the truth," Xander answered.

"Or, barring that, you'd at least get some mystical objects out of it," Catherine nodded. Xander was surprised to notice she actually seemed, well, not pleased, but definitely on the approval train.

"That, too," he admitted. "Which leads to this: I need to see the journal first before we go down there so I can try to avoid problems we don't need." He held out a waiting hand and tried to control the slight tremor in his fingers as he felt every muscle in his chest tighten.

Catherine stood, the journal clenched tightly in her right hand. She didn't look at him as she stepped forward and held it out. They stood like that a few moments and Xander wondered if the two of them looked like bookends to the others. He took a deep breath, and grasped the book. That was Catherine's signal to let go and she stepped back, her face turned away. Xander could almost imagine she was fighting to keep her expression neutral.

Hell, it's what he'd do in her place.

*Maybe we're not so different,* Xander thought as he looked down at the journal, feeling the cool leather through his calloused fingertips. He wanted to apologize, although he wasn't sure what he'd be apologizing for. Was it because he'd been the one to finally force the issue with his temper tantrum? Or was it because Catherine got stuck with Harris genes? Either way, he was pretty sure Catherine wouldn't take an apology at all well.

Time seemed to slow down as his left hand opened the cover.

He really wasn't surprised that the journal opened somewhere in the middle. He quickly scanned the facing page and fought a hard swallow. He spotted the word 'Moscow' and shut the book with an indrawn breath.

"Been obsessively reading this entry, hunh?" he asked. He was surprised that his voice sounded normal, almost bored.

"You might say that," Catherine admitted.

J'Nal's face was scrunched, like he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. "Do it again," he said.

Xander blinked rapidly as he refocused on the witch. "Do what?"

"Open the journal." J'Nal's wondering eyes were fixed not on Xander's face, but on the book in his hands.

The small hairs on the back of Xander's neck prickled a warning that something seriously weird was going down. "Why?"

"I think…" J'Nal shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what was about to say. "I'm not right. I can't be."

Xander studied the witch for a few moments and, keeping his eyes fixed on the dark-skinned man, he grasped the edge of the cover and lifted.

J'Nal's eyes widened as he cocked his head to the right. "What entry did it open to?" he asked with a dawning sense of wonder.

Xander looked down. "Hunh. Looks like the same page."

"Flip through the pages." The witch sounded like he was fighting excitement.

Xander looked blindly down and did as he was told. He was able to move through four pages before he hit a dead end. "That's weird," he muttered. It was almost as if the pages after the entry had been glued together, forming a single block that refused to budge. Not only would the pages not separate, but also the single mass remained locked to the back cover. Xander then tried flipping through the front part of the journal. No dice. The front pages were as tightly locked as the back pages. The effect was like having two leather- bound blocks of cheap wood encasing four flimsy pieces of paper.

"Son of a…" Xander began.

"Unbelievable," J'Nal breathed.

"What? What's going on?" Catherine asked.

"The journal's been magically locked," J'Nal said. "He can't see anything but the pages he needs to see."

Catherine's eyes widened. "What? How? When?"

"You don't know?" Ruda asked.

"How would I know?" Catherine's mind was reeling. "J'Nal, can you get a sense…"

"No," J'Nal quickly answered. "I can't place the aural signature at all. It's definitely not Prima magics, of that I'm absolutely certain. But as to what kind of magics it is? I honestly couldn't tell you."

"We're saved!" Charlie cheered. When everyone looked at the doctor in disbelief, he added, "Probably not, but it was a nice fantasy while it lasted."

Xander closed the journal, tapping it thoughtfully in his left palm. "I wonder…just because I can't, doesn't mean someone else can't."

"You're not actually saying it's keyed only to you, do you?" Ms. Tikri asked with her eyes narrowed in thought.

"Hello! My best friend the witch makes with the funky wunky on a pretty regular basis," Xander reminded them. "She may be good at bibbidi-bobbiding now, but I remember more than a few spells that went really wrong because she or someone else didn't think through all the angles. Believe me, I still have the psychological scars to prove it. And that's with a witch I know. I don't even want to think about a witch that I don't know. Plus, your guy with the in with Hecatate has no clue about what's going on, so this revelation isn't exactly putting me in a comfort zone."

"Bib'ity bobi'ting? J'Nal asked.

"He has a point," Charlie said.

"Right," Catherine nodded as she held her hand out. "Journal please. Let's see if someone can read over our shoulders."

Xander handed it back, grateful to get the disturbing weight off his hands.

"Leave the room," Catherine ordered.

"Why?" Xander asked.

"I want to see if this is locked down just because you touched it and the best way to figure that out is if you're not here," the Watcher Honoria pointed out.

*Can't argue with that,* Xander thought as he nodded and left. He was only in the hall for only a few seconds, grinning uncomfortably at Andrea and Susan as they stood guard outside the guests' room, when he heard Catherine's intense voice call out.

"Come in!"

Xander opened the door and he was able to see the fanned pages literally snap together. He was pretty sure he only imagined the cartoon-sounding crack that accompanied this.

"I'll be," Charlie said with a grin.

"Looks like the threat of your presence in the same room is enough to trigger the spell," J'Nal announced.

"I'm not so much worried about me getting a peek at something I shouldn't. I'm more worried about someone who's not me being able to read it," Xander said with a frown.

"Again, you seem to think this spell is keyed to just you. Why?" Ms. Tikri insisted.

"Okay, think about this. Originally, you guys only had to deal with me and Faith, right?"

Five heads nodded.

"So, maybe the spell is keyed to me and Faith because, hey, we're the only ones who would've had a chance of seeing this entry," Xander said.

"Oh, hada," Charlie slumped, "which means that anyone else might…"

"…be able to read it," Catherine finished for him.

"You're all assuming an awful lot," Ms. Tikri pointed out. "No one knows when this spell was cast."

"She's right," Catherine agreed. "We know it works with your presence, but we don't know anything else."

"We're going to have to test it," Xander warned.

"Why? We can refuse to show them," Ruda said as she crossed her arms in a posture that showed no one was going to get past her if she didn't want them to. "Eyes only. That's what I say."

"Giles will insist. Robin definitely will. Willow probably will ask, but if you shove back hard enough she might not push the issue," Xander said. "Everyone else will probably just go along with whoever wins the argument. Honestly, I can't blame anyone for wanting to take a look, if only because of the cat-murdering curiosity factor. This is pretty heavy stuff. In Robin's or Giles's shoes I'd probably do the same thing."

"We still don't know who placed the spell on this book," J'Nal said.

Xander felt the prickle on the back of his neck again. "Is that good or bad?"

"In one way, it's good. Means that it won't be a simple matter of breaking the spell since we don't know who cast it or what form of magic was used. In one way, it's bad because, as you pointed out, we're not able to predict how the spell will act and react to different people or a change in environment," J'Nal explained.

"Damned if we do, damned if we don't," Xander muttered. He took a deep breath. "Well, if we're going to do this, let's do it right. Let me see the entry and read it over before we go down there."

Catherine handed the journal back to him and Xander was surprised that he felt a lot less dread about reading its contents. If the spell held up for people not him a lot of potential problems would simply cease to exist. At the very least that deserved a small 'yay' from team Harris.

He sat on the edge of the bed and tried desperately to ignore the expectant gazes of the room's occupants burning a hole through his forehead. He took a deep breath, opened the journal, and began to read.


*From the Journal of Alexander Harris, September 20, 2008, Moscow, Russian Federation:*

…could be worse, at least we're in the capital. However, that's all in how you look at it. Moscow is full of the noveau riche with bling- bling cars and bling-bling jewelry. More than few people around here have suspicious lumps under their suit jackets and you can smell the ink drying on our rubles. I'm not sure if that inky-fresh smell is because the government had just printed it or because the counterfeiters are going for broke.

Faith's a wreck. Every time she turns a corner, her Slayer sense goes off the charts. Shouldn't be all that much of a surprise. All these people going for the go-go lifestyle? You know that there's something in the crowd that's not exactly human just waiting to thin the herd. Much as Faith wants to give the old Slaying game a try in a whole new country, she's really trying hard to keep a low profile because this retrieval mission gives both of us a bad feeling. Although that could be the food we had in the hard currency restaurant last night.

I vote we hit McDonald's in Red Square before again braving the uniqueness that is the Russian dining experience.

We're stuck in low-profile mode, so all the Slayer senses going haywire have to be ignored. Short of us tripping over a fangface, we're keeping the stakes packed and hidden. It's bad enough that we look like tourists because we don't dress flashy enough, but flashing a stake in this crowd? We'll be gunned down faster than you can say 'Bonnie and Clyde.'

Our summer school-inspired dip into Russian speaking and Cyrillic reading is less than no help. My Russian's pretty good, except I have no idea what I'm saying half the time--you truly haven't lived until you ask someone if you can order the toilet for dinner in the Russian equivalent of a tourist information booth with a flawless accent. Faith can puzzle out what people are saying, but sounds like she's coughing up a fur ball whenever she tries something more complicated than Da! or Nyet!

As for Cyrillic? I knew that was going to be a disaster before we got our passports. Best not go into it here.

Somewhere in this example of capitalism gone really wrong is a Slayer. Devon is usually pretty good at narrowing it down to one person, getting a name, and sometimes an exact street address. Slow as the process is, you can't beat them on accuracy.

Until now.

This time we've got two candidates and Devon isn't sure which one is which. Wills says Lady Haversham believes that someone has cast a misdirection spell on the actual Slayer to throw anyone looking for her off the scent. It's unclear whether the real Slayer is being masked because some local witch is trying to hide the girl from evil eyes or to hide the girl from us. This could be an attempt to protect her from threats--and I can see how we'd be seen as a threat--or hide her so she can do damage.

Surprise, surprise, Faith figures some mastermind is using the Slayer as an enforcer. Back in Cleveland I thought she was being paranoid or projecting. Looking around now that I'm here? Faith is probably right.

It doesn't help that there's a good chance our two candidates might have mafiya connections. The father of our first candidate is a low- level bureaucrat for the

Hate to interrupt myself like that in the middle of a sentence, but information about the Slayer candidates have to wait. A team of five people approached us, claiming they were from more than 800 years in the future. As follows:

A woman who claims to be a Watcher is in charge. Roughly 5'11", long dark hair, keeps it tied back, brown eyes. Claims she is from Providence, but from a new version. Her Slayer looks Indian as in from India, long dark hair, 4'10", eyes almost black, older than she looks, is not clear on her age because of "calendar issues," name sounds like Roo-dah. The two have been paired for two years.

Also on the team: a man who is a prime witch, whatever that is, with something that sounds like a British accent, African decent, white hair, hazel eyes; and a doctor, Caucasian, red hair, blue eyes, with the friendly name of Charlie. They've been on the team for 19 months. They brought a reporter with a name like Tiki along with them and her hair is so blonde you'd think it was white in the right light.

They tell us about a Great Darkness that is taking over their planets. The facts as I remember them:

It comes from nowhere and disappears to nowhere. It leaves no traces or signatures, magical, energy, or otherwise. Most of the population simply dies. Those who survive the initial attack are enslaved as mindless minions. The way it was explained, it's like watching a steamroller slowly sneaking up on you while you've got no chance to escape.

The only thing that can save them is the Grail. This Grail is only located in the city where they find Faith and I.

As it so happens, we have the screaming yellow {begin underline}Arrow {end underline} that points the way to the Grail. The {begin underline}Arrow{end underline} is of Cleveland origin.

The way it pointed lead us thus:

We had to start near a stadium that was Brown. We traveled West until we hit the Lakeside. Oddly enough, this landed us in Canada, but we kept going until we felt Superior. That done, we turned East on the first Street until we came to an Erie Cemetery. We found the entrance to the underground caverns by the grace of Angel Vaslik's wing. As the caverns were damp, Summer was the only thing that could only warm us, so we followed the path that would take us there. The maze took us right to it.

Be warned:

The ground rises to protect the entrance. Teamwork that splits the team is the only thing that can keep the entrance free.

The Grail has a reptile Guardian. It can be lured away, using teamwork that shatters the team, but ultimately must be killed by one of the splinters lodging in the roof of its mouth.

Popular theory is that this stupid snake hates walnuts, but I think someone's having fun at my expense.

The Grail is alone, practically standing in a spotlight that tells visitors that it belongs only to them. The writings on the edge indicate that it is a focus for powerful protective magic, but it's not in a language any contemporary can translate. The message in the base is one that everyone can translate, regardless of origin.

The Grail is useless to us. It's not for us and we can't use it. So we gave it to the time travelers and they left.

It seems the circuits were connected and completed, just not how I expected. No one can figure out if there were repercussions from their visit or if the visit was the repercussion.

Faith and I figured we needed to contact Devon and try to shake loose more information about our mysterious Slayer…


Xander flipped through the few pages he was allowed to see. This was him, a future him, complete with bad handwriting, although the handwriting on most of the pages detailing Catherine and company's visit to Moscow were better than his current scrawl. Obviously his writing skills had improved along the way since there were no flagrant misspellings or tortured grammar.

In fact, as sparse as the language was, the details were picture perfect. Xander frowned. It was almost as if future him had expected someone else to go over this entry with a fine-tooth comb. *Well, it makes sense, right? Because if Catherine told the other Xander how they wound up in Moscow, he'd probably know he needed to spell things out good enough for this entry to be found and not so good to set off alarms anywhere.*

Still, this entry bothered him. He sounded more Vorlon than a Vorlon, if that was at all possible. There was something so very, very off about it. He just wished…*No wishing!*

"Can you make any sense of it?" Charlie pushed.

"Wait, let me read," Xander mumbled. "There's something…I don't know…" He bowed his head and silently read and reread the entry. Was it him, or was the arrow thrown in there like an afterthought? No wonder Charlie almost forgot about it when he was talking to Giles.

*This doesn't even sound like me,* Xander thought. *This is, without a doubt, the most boring entry I've ever read in a Watcher's journal and that's saying something.*

"He described you guys to a T," Xander muttered. He looked at Catherine. "How many of the Slayer teams in your time match this description?"

Catherine shrugged uncomfortably. "No one. I mean, there are teams where you could find a correlation between the physical description and a real person, but you couldn't find all of them on the same team. The 'two years' clinched it for us."

"I thought I was in there," Ms. Tikri protested.

"I thought you didn't want to get involved," Charlie mildly commented.

Xander looked down and scanned the text. "Yup. In here, too." He grinned. "Fits you perfectly."

"Tell me," Ms. Tikri ordered.

"Can't. Future me tells me not to since he's afraid that might bias your story to the positive," Xander said innocently. He put a hand to his mouth with fake horror. "Ooops. I wasn't supposed to say that."

"He does?" Charlie asked. "I don't remember anyth-OOOOOOOOOFFFFFFF!"

Ruda smiled sweetly. "My elbow slipped."

"Can you make sense of the rest of it?" Catherine pushed.

"Let me think about it because I'm over my whelmed limit," Xander said, feeling his gut clench. "Right now, we've got an even bigger problem."

"We do?" Charlie asked, voice climbing the scale. "We may have destroyed everything for nothing and we have bigger problems?"

Xander gave the doctor a worried look. "Okay, point taken. I've got a bigger problem. Not so much you."

"And what problem is that?" Ruda asked.

"Now we gotta break the news about who wrote this thing to the others," Xander said, "and I've got an unreasonable fear that Giles and Robin are going to whip out the red pens, start criticizing my writing style, and then give me a big old 'F.'"

Chapter 33
Spotlight on Robin Wood

*Selected items from UNS Q&A session with Robin Wood-rah, circa September 2003. Camlin Tikri reporting.*

*Robin Wood's cool exterior does not betray the fierce intellect of his mind. He is a man who firmly believes in the mission of protecting humanity against all threats, of saving lives whenever and wherever possible, of holding back the forces of darkness that would destroy all he holds dear.*

*There is no doubt about his dedication and his overwhelming desire to provide Slayers with the right training, the right education, and the right tools that would allow them to perform at the top of their game and live lives that are as long as possible.*

*Even at this early date, one can see why the Council Educationary view him as their Founding Light and why his philosophies still carry much weight in many circles. His ideas are clearly thought out, well articulated, and carry the force that only a true believer can achieve.*

*Unlike his colleague, Alexander Harris, he does not bear the sen title. The Faithists have repeatedly rejected his philosophies through the centuries and have remained tightly allied with the Council Honoria, which itself sees Harris-rah as its Founding Light. The Buffistas, who are more closely allied with the Council Educationary, only grant the sen title to Slayers who die in the line of duty. The Unitans, who have no particular preference for either Council, generally follow the lead of one or both sister sects.*

*This lack of the title does not make Wood-rah any less impressive.

He is a man who is accomplished and confident, at ease with the role he plays as one of the first in a new generation of Watchers in the post-Sun'dayl world.*

*It will come as no shock that, unlike Buffy Summers and Faith Lanoire, tension exists between Wood-rah and Harris-rah. They both hold very strong views on the respective roles of Slayers and Watchers and have very different ideas of how to best support Slayers in fighting the good fight. They seem to agree on very little in fact, and both stubbornly hold fast to their beliefs. One is left wondering how these two men managed to work together at all while they both lived.*

*Yes, even at this early date the seeds of the differing philosophies that split the Taran United Watcher's Council apart after Wise Rupert Giles-rah's death from natural causes 2039, followed shortly by Wood-rah's death defending the Council's Cleveland headquarters from attack in 2043, and Harris-rah's death in Tibet while obtaining a cure for the Mystical Rayne Plague of 2046, can clearly be seen. The triple blow landed on the United Council within the span of seven years forced tensions between the differing factions to bubble to the surface. Lead Slayer Rona Goodkind-Alvarez was able to hold the bickering groups together, even after she retired, until her death in 2083.*

*Once the last of the Sun'dayl generation was gone, the competing tensions in the United Council finally exploded, leading to the Great Schism of 2092 and the beginnings of the Councils Honoria and Educationary that we know today.*

*This labyrinthine history has not yet come to pass, but the path has already been set and the actors are already standing on their marks as we paint a portrait of a man taking his first steps on the road to greatness in this exclusive interview with UNS.*

UNS: I'm thrilled we finally got a chance to talk Robin.

RW: I'm surprised that you wanted to interview me.

UNS: Not at all, not at all. Please, don't feel like that. I want to talk to as many people as possible because this is the chance to set the record straight on so many things.

RW: [amused] A reporter interested in only the truth? You definitely aren't from earth.

UNS: {laughter}

RW: So what do you want to know?

UNS: It appears to me that you're the man in charge around here.

RW: Does that take you by surprise?

UNS: Why no, not at all. Records of your exemplary work here in Cleveland paint a very detailed picture of you as a leader and a thinker with some very clear philosophies about the respective roles Slayers and Watchers play in the mission to protect and serve.

RW: Funny you should mention that. It's something I've been thinking a lot about.

UNS: Yes. I have noticed the, shall we say, ad hoc atmosphere among your colleagues. It's a wonder anything gets done around here.

RW: It's not that bad. People are still recovering from Sunnydale, trying to get their lives in order, figuring out what they want to do, things like that. What we do is a calling and not everyone is comfortable with the discipline and dedication required to serve that calling. But we are starting down the right path now that Giles has decided to formalize a new Council membership.

UNS: [surprised] Really? I was completely unawareI was under the impression from Alexander that Giles was the only Watcher and that there wasn't a new Council in place.

RW: I'm not surprised that he didn't know. Nothing against Xander mind, but he has been very, very busy trying to untangle the knot your visit caused, so I doubt he's heard anything at all. [leans forward and lowers voice] Truth to tell, Giles only spoke to me yesterday about becoming a Watcher.

UNS: How do you feel about that?

RW: [leans back and looks thoughtful] I'm honored. The Watcher's Council has a proud history and its loss was very much a blow. I understand that there are some scattered survivors even in England, but Giles is working hard to weed out the undesirable element.

UNS: 'Undesirable element?'

RW: [winces] It's no secret that some of the Watchers had a proprietary view of Slayers. To them, these women were just mystical weapons, not flesh and blood. Watchers who thought otherwise tended to not get far in the old organization.

UNS: I can't imagine anyone holding that view.

RW: That's because the paradigm changed in Sunnydale. When there was just One, you basically had a case of One against the many, a many that was responsible for training, educating, and providing research support for this extraordinary girl thrust into a singular role. Now we have a case of Many

UNS: But only one Watcher. Sorry. I meant two Watchers.

RW: What I'm trying to say is that in numbers there is power. Now that there's more than the One or Two, Slayers can now get a seat at the table and have a true voice. I highly doubt that Slayers will ever be viewed as merely weapons again.

UNS: So you're saying some of the survivors of the original Council might be unable to adapt to this new paradigm.

RW: Exactly.

UNS: You made reference to the fact that you're thinking about the respective roles that Watchers and Slayers play in protecting humanity from the darkness, no doubt brought on Giles's offer. Care to share your thoughts on that?

RW: The simple fact is this: the Slayer or Slayers, if you will, stand on the frontlines. They are one of the most important, if not the most important piece on the chessboard. Think of them as the Queen, the Knight, and the Rook all rolled into one. They are responsible for protecting the King, in this case all of humanity. They are also responsible for leading the Pawns, which are the assorted people like witches or normal men and woman who choose to take up the sword to fight the good fight, into battle. The Watchers, of course, are the Bishops. They train and educate the Slayer who is still learning her own power, offering advice when called upon to give it, and in very rare instances, running interference against those things that might distract the Slayer from her sacred mission.

UNS: [checks MemePad for Council Educationary mission statement] What you're saying about Slayers That's an awful lot to ask of one person.

RW: No, that's simply reality. My mother

UNS: Nikki Wood.

RW: [surprised] You know about her?

UNS: [smiles knowingly] Like I said, I was desperately hoping to interview you, so I made sure to read up everything I could about you. [holds up MemePad] It has limited memory and limited files on the major players of this time period, but since we were planning to be in Moscow 2008 your complete Bio was recorded in here because I wanted to ask Alexander some questions about the differences in your philosophies for Watcher-Slayer interactions.

RW: [rolls eyes and shakes head in amusement] Now that I'd like to hear.

UNS: But I get to ask you directly instead. A much better arrangement, don't you think?

RW: {laughter} Oh, yeah.

UNS: Back to your mother. You were saying

RW: Yes. My mother taught me the importance of 'the mission.'

UNS: The mission?

RW: The mission. The mission to save lives, to fight evil, to be willing to lay down your life to fight the good fight. The mission comes before everything else: before personal comfort, before family, before your own wants and desires. You have to be willing to put that aside and remain focused on doing what is right. It's a hard, difficult path, but it's one that must be followed to its bitter end. Because if the Slayer can't do it, who can? Who else is strong enough to bear such a heavy burden? There isn't anyone. Not really. That's why the Slayer or Slayers are so important. That's why they are the central figures in fighting anything that would threaten humanity.

UNS: [leans forward, frowns at MemePad, and re-reads RW's statement] No offense but, isn't this the same groupthink you accuse the original Council of holding?

RW: Fair enough question, but the answer is that it's not the same thing at all. The old Council viewed the Slayer as a tool, nothing more. In their view, she was a slave to her calling and her destiny. What I'm saying is completely different. What I'm saying is that the Slayer is the leader. She is the one who must make the final decision and act on that decision. It's the difference between being a hammer and being the carpenter who wields the hammer.

UNS: How does this jibe with the role you see for Watchers?

RW: To be blunt, my thoughts are still evolving on this so bear with me. Once I thought this sense of 'the mission' was an inbred thing with Slayers, something they instinctively knew when they came into their power. However, after Sunnydale, I see that is not necessarily the case. As you can see, many of the Slayers in our house are still just young girls who really don't understand what being a Slayer means, let alone how to responsibly use their abilities and wield their power. They need to be trained and taught, not just how to properly use a weapon, but what their gifts actually mean and how they fit into the grand scheme of things.

UNS: And it's the Watcher's job to do that.

RW: Precisely. The way I see it, the Watcher's authority lies in a completely different sphere from the Slayer's authority. When a Slayer is still young and newly into her power, the Watcher's authority is paramount as a teacher. Once a Slayer fully understands the role she plays and the ethical implications of that, then the Slayer should be paramount and the Watcher should step back and let her lead as she is meant to.

UNS: [looks down, plays with stylus] Sounds cold. There's no room there for any personal relationship between the Slayer and her Watcher.

RW: 'Personal relationship?'

UNS: [continues playing with stylus] For example, developing a mutual, supportive relationship such as the one that exists between a student and her teacher, or even a caring relationship such as the one that exists between friends and colleagues. Or, to look at an extreme example, an intimate relationship like the one you have with Faith. None of these fit in with the philosophy you've laid out about the respective roles Slayers and Watchers play. You're talking in terms of authority, who has it, and when they have it. There doesn't seem to be room for the give-and-take.

RW: [tenses] Faith is not a student and she's fully cognizant of her abilities and the role she plays as a Slayer. So I really don't see

UNS: [leans back and looks confused] Please forgive me. I seem to be having some problems with my translation implant. [taps metal disc distractedly] It's just, I must admit, sometimes I have a difficult time following what everyone here is saying. There are some words that just don't translate very well into Colonial Common.

RW: [relaxes] That's all right. Take your time and find the right words.

UNS: [makes a thoughtful face] Let's backtrack. The path you lay out for Slayers is a very lonely one.

RW: The Slayer ultimately stands alone. She has to. As I said, she's the one who must make the final decision and must execute that decision. I saw it in the example of my mother and I've seen it in how Buffy conducted herself in Sunnydale, despite the fact that almost all of us tried to trip her up at some point or another with our personal concerns.

UNS: [crooked smile] I suspect there are some people in this very house who would vehemently disagree with you.

RW: [grins] You can make book on that. I'm 100 percent certain that, despite their years fighting by Buffy's side, both Xander and Willow would have serious issues with it. However, I honestly don't think they've faced reality on that point.

UNS: So you say they're wrong to think the way they do.

RW: [puffs out cheeks and looks thoughtful] Misguided is a better word. We've never discussed the issue formally understand, but I like to believe that I have a pretty good feel for Xander's views. Given how close Xander and Willow are, it's a fairly good bet that Willow agrees with him, although I've never heard her say so one way or the other.

UNS: And where does Alexander stand?

RW: To be honest, I don't always understand where Xander is coming from and how he thinks is an utter mystery to me most days, but I can tell you that he has a very strong protective instinct, very strong. I think that instinct blinds him to the fact that the Slayers are the ones who do the protecting and that they need to learn to stand on their own as quickly as possible.

UNS: But wouldn't that make him the ideal Watcher, at least for nurturing and training young Slayers who are still uncertain?

RW: If he were willing to limit himself to that, but I definitely get the impression that he believes a Slayer cannot truly succeed without a support network behind her. He is very enamored of the team Ruda has at her disposal and the specialized role each member plays in that team.

UNS: [chuckles] That's the Council Honoria for you. [good naturedly throws hands in the air] What can you do?

RW: [grins] I assume this other Council that Giles mentioned to me, the Council Educator? Disagrees.

UNS: [leans forward and lowers her voice] Educationary. Oh, hada, yes. I do believe they'll be thrilled to know that someone in this house actually agrees with their own stance on the role Slayers and Watchers play. [taps nose] Don't tell anyone I said anything, eh?

RW: Ahhhh, yes. This Temporal Prime Directive Andrew keeps telling everyone to remember. Don't worry, secret's safe with me.

UNS: [leans back] Thank you. Now, I have to play devil's advocate here: Buffy Summers did, in fact, have a support network in her early years as a Slayer from what I understand from my other interviews. It would seem to me that such a network helped keep her alive, which is a point in Alexander's favor, no?

RW: Ahhhh, but my mother lived to older than Buffy is now, and she didn't have such a support network.

UNS: Good point.

RW: And I do still have to point out that while fighting the First Evil in Sunnydale, Buffy did come to her own conclusions about the place the Slayer holds as the leader and decision-maker.

UNS: But the Great Awakening spell would argue against Buffy completely buying into 'the Slayer stands alone.'

RW: [shrugs] Honestly, you'd have to ask her about that. I can tell you that when she explained the whys and wherefores behind--the Great Awakening spell? A good term for it--empowering all Potentials, she spoke about changing the status quo, of giving Slayers, all Slayers, more than just the power to fight, but the power to decide their own future. To do that, as I said, you need numbers. It's very hard for a single Slayer, or even just two Slayers, to do.

UNS: Which brings us back to the role you see for Watchers as teachers, advice-givers, and consciences.

RW: [raises eyebrow] I'm pretty sure I didn't say consciences.

UNS: [scrolls back notes] You said, and I quote, "The Watchers, of course, are the Bishops. They train and educate the Slayer who is still learning her own power, offering advice when called upon to give it, and in very rare instances, running interference against those things that might distract the Slayer from her sacred mission."

RW: [thinks about it] I suppose you're right. Conscience is a better word. That'll teach me to cross swords with someone who writes for a living.

UNS: [smiles] And don't you forget it.

RW: {laughter}

UNS: Which leads me back to my earlier question: You see Watchers and Slayers having two distinct and equally important roles, but that those roles are separate. Aren't you afraid, for example that a personal, intimate relationship such as the one you have with Faith might interfere with that role?

RW: [silence for a few moments] I think I see where you're going, but maybe a little more clarification so I'm absolutely sure about the question.

UNS: Hmmmm. [taps stylus on chin thoughtfully] Let's remove from the equation the younger Slayers who are still being educated since they are young and underage. I think we can both agree that an intimate relationship in that case would be most certainly unwanted.

RW: [nods] I heartily agree. It's absolutely an abuse of authority. Certainly in my high school principal days I'd come down very hard on any teacher involved with a student.

UNS: So, let's go straight to a Slayer who is of age and operating in the field. In this scenario, you see the Watcher as offering advice and playing the role of conscience.

RW: Precisely.

UNS: [begins playing with stylus] If the Watcher in that role became intimately involved with his or her Slayer, aren't you concerned that the Watcher's judgment might be impaired? It would seem to me that any advisor worth his or her salt would have to present all the alternatives, including alternatives that might call upon the Slayer to give up her life to do what's right. In an intimate relationship, a Watcher might lose his or her objectivity, which might ultimately lead to endangering not just the Slayer, but the mission as well.

RW: [nods slowly] I think I see where you're heading. That such a relationship might compromise the Watcher or distract him or her from the mission.

UNS: Precisely.

RW: [leans back with a frown] To be honest, I hadn't thought of that. [quietly] That's a good point.

UNS: [quickly] Please, please, don't take it that seriously. I'm merely playing devil's advocate. It is my job, after all.

RW: [quietly] Doesn't make the point any less valid.

UNS: [taps stylus on the chin] Look, it's very obvious you're still working out your role in the post-Sun'dayl world, so please don't beat yourself up about this. After all, until yesterday you were just a Pawn.

RW: [narrows eyes at UNS]

UNS: [brightly] But you've moved beyond that because now you're more than just a Pawn. You're a Bishop!

RW: {laughter} Remind me to rethink my chess analogy.

UNS: What I'm saying still pretty much holds: you've just accepted the role of Watcher and all the responsibility that goes with it. [quickly adds] I'm assuming you've accepted.

RW: Of course.

UNS: So I suppose it's a matter of you thinking things through, figuring out what role you play and how you play it, and learning how to conduct yourself accordingly.

RW: [smiles] That would be fair to say.

UNS: Excellent!

RW: And let me just thank you for a most wonderful interview.

UNS: I believe that's my line.

RW: I'm being serious. You've given me food for thought. It's a lot to think about.

UNS: [smiles and softly adds] I thought I might.

RW: [sees UNS working MemePad with stylus] By the way, how does that thing work?

UNS: Oh, it allows me to do some minor editing on the fly. [erases interview after RW's line: "That would be fair to say."]

Chapter 34
Get Nervous

Faith fidgeted in her seat while the some of the inner circle drifted into the kitchen. She told herself that she did not want to sneak out for a smoke, heavy stress or no. Smoking got her into this shit in the first place. If that wasn't enough to get her to kick the habit, nothing will.

The surgeon general had a point. Who the fuck knew?

She hated this feeling of not being in control. Even prison didn't beat down that part of her personality. Considering that in prison her days were tuned to the clock, the orders of the screws, the clang of steel doors, the threat of solitary, and the sometimes weird-ass thoughts that would get stuck in other inmates' heads about taking her on or making her their bitch, other people might think this an odd thing.

Except that Faith would be the first to admit that even in prison she had a semblance of control. She could've escaped and walked away any time. True, she didn't have really anywhere to go before Wes showed up in the visitor's room to break the news about Angelus, but the point is she was in prison because she let herself be locked up.

So, in a twisted way, Faith was in control of her punishment. Deep down she knew that, even if other people didn't see it that way.

But this whole situation with Catherine? She couldn't quite get her hands around it. This was so much bigger than her, than all of them. From the moment she opened her mouth to Catherine about the truth right to this very moment in the kitchen, she could feel the world tilting off its axis and she couldn't figure out how to recapture her sense of equilibrium.

The only thing she could do was zip her big fat mouth, and she had full intention of doing just that. Sure, things were rocky between her and Robin right now, but Catherine's revelation would be one big stake to the heart if it got out. And then there was the Robin-and- Xander angle. Christ, things were bad enough between the two of them and this little revelation would only torque the tension.

She could see it now: Every time Xander opened his mouth to argue anything, Robin'd put it down to jealousy. Shit. Wouldn't be the first time she'd seen it happen in this crew. In a few of her cemetery patrols with Buffy back before things went sour, she remembered the other Slayer ranting about some thing or another Xander said and fluffing it off to the fact that Xander was so very obviously jealous of Angel.

Even though Faith back then really didn't give a shit about lessons in Scooby Dynamics 101, she thought some of the crap B said Xander said was kinda right. Hell, B did hide Angel's return after all the shit he pulled as Angelus, so B, in her humble opinion, didn't have a whole lot of fucking room to talk about letting emotions do the thinking, especially since she got caught in the crossfire of the immediate fallout.

*Can you be a little more unfair? Robin ain't no high school girl and he wouldn't think that everything boiled down to jealousy.* She hoped. Given the increased snarling between Xander and Robin since Catherine and friends blew into town, she really wasn't sure.

Oddly enough, she wasn't actually worried about Xander spilling the beans. If she read the situation right, Xander seemed bound and determined to not only keep his yap shut, but to do everything in his power to make sure her-and-him never happened. No. Faith was a hell of a lot more worried about the future people upsetting the applecart with the wrong word at the wrong time. Hell, they spilled the beans about choose-your-own destiny for Slayers by accident. Catherine's ancestry was small shit in comparison to that.

"There you are. Was wondering where you got to."

Faith startled at the sound of Robin's voice.

"You're jumpy," he remarked with a grin.

"Surprised me is all," Faith recovered. "Hey, plant your sweet ass next to mine. Got a seat all saved for ya."

"Can't," Robin said, "I figure I should stand next to Giles when our friends present their proof. My job as the household's designated cynic."

"So? Be a cynic on this side of the kitchen with me."

Robin looked at her a moment before asking, "What's wrong?"

"Wrong? Nothing's wrong. Just that we haven't had me-and-you time in a while and I thought"

Robin stifled a smile as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "Me-and- you time? In a kitchen full of people? Kinky."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know, I know. Just trying to ease the tension in your shoulders," Robin replied. "No one gets my sense of humor."

Faith shook her head. "Sorry. It's just overwhelming. We're getting some hard-ass proof and, I dunno, it makes me feel uncomfortable."

"Can't see why," Robin shrugged, "they seem to actually like you."

Faith could hear the slight edge of disappointment and hurt in Robin's voice in the unstated sentiment: you they like, in Xander they trust, me they hate.

"It's probably some bullshit thing we don't know nothin' about. Let it slide, babe," Faith said. "Hell, if I let people hating my guts get to me, I'd've tried to drown myself in the Charles a million years ago."

"Somehow I don't see you giving up that easily."

"Okay, you caught me. The Charles is so polluted that you can walk on it even during the summer. Throwing myself into that river probably would've been like throwing myself on a waterbed. Lots of waves, but no dice on death."

Faith was relieved to see that got a laugh out of Robin and she felt herself relax. It was all good. They were good. This was just a rough patch they were going through. He really did care about her and she really did like him. It was going to be okay, no matter what Catherine's sour face didn't say about him.

"I thought our environmentalist age had cleaned it up," Robin chuckled.

"Still wouldn't eat fish out of it," Faith countered. "C'mon, been keeping this seat warm for you. If you don't take it, I'll have to auction it off to the highest bidder."

Robin gave her a tired smile. "I really can't, so I say take the suckers for all they're worth. Make it up to you later?"

Faith opened her mouth to protest just as Robin turned and headed for Giles's side. She shut it and swallowed hard. The kitchen wasn't that big that he couldn't say whatever he wanted to say while sitting next to her. Why the hell did he always have to prove that he was the big man in charge? No one was volunteering to take over his gig, so why didn't he just calm down about it and start acting like a man?

*Will you fucking stop it?* Faith chided herself. *You're sounding needier than a broke junkie jonesing for a fix. What the fuck is wrong with you? Since when are you a clinging vine?*

Since two hours ago when she had the bomb dropped on her in the backyard, that's when.

She could hear Dawn and Andrew chattering as they joined the crowd in the kitchen and fought the urge to roll her eyes. Dawn was okay, even if she'd been keeping distant from the Slayer side of the equation in favor of school and boys, but Andrew's delusions were just about the last thing she needed to hear.

The tenor in the room changed and Faith looked up just in time to see Xander walk in followed by the groupies from the future.

*Christ, he looks fucking miserable.* She didn't feel one stitch of sympathy that Xander was probably taking this whole business just as hard as she was, maybe even harder.

If he knew that she knew, he gave no sign as he launched into what he was going to say without a preamble.

"The journal," he fidgeted as he placed the book on the kitchen table, "it was written by me."

This simple statement was greeted with silence as Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and waited.

Giles broke the silence. "Oh, dear."

Since Giles was standing off to Xander's left, the brunet had to turn his whole head to see Giles's reaction.

"Well, that certainly doesI must say itthis is quite a complication," Giles stumbled.

"Ladies and gentlemen, meet Giles, the zen master of understatement," Xander said. "And for the record, I'm hurt. I'd think this little revelation rates as a definite 'Oh good lord.'"

"Yes. Quite. I'm trying to be discreet."

*Wha?* Faith thought as she switched her full attention to Giles. *Shit! That's right! He knows! We are so screwed!*

"So what's the big hullabaloo?" Dawn asked. "I mean, it makes sense, right? Of course it's Xander's journal since he was the one in Moscow when this all originally happened, so this should be more of a 'duh, we're all idiots' moment than 'wow, this is huge' moment."

"I know who has the Scooby brain cell today," Andrew sing-songed happily.

Xander and Giles exchanged a look that, to Faith's mind, said: "Should you tell them or should I?" Catherine and the others shuffled uncomfortably behind Xander.

Xander looked away and Faith held her breath.

"It's not that simple," Xander admitted with a hard swallow. "See, the thing isthing thing is" He looked at Giles helplessly. The encouraging nod he got seemed to give him some strength as he turned to face the room. "Okay, I gotta come clean about this since two too many people know"

Faith could feel the butterflies in her stomach. Xander didn't know that she knew. Thank Christ. And judging by the fact that Giles was pretty focused on the guy talking, he probably didn't know either. Halleluiah. Something was breaking in her favor.

"Catherine's, ummm, she's a relative. Of mine. She's a, umm, well, let's just say somewhere along the way that"

"at some point in the future you have sex?"

"Dawn!" the room exploded.

"Unless he donated sperm and didn't actually get jiggy with it."

"DAWN!" the chorus of voices repeated with a louder sense of outrage.

"What? Just pointing out the obvious," Dawn grinned as Giles began polishing his glasses with the fury an electric sander, Xander blushed into a shade of purple, Willow began choking, and the collective jaws of Catherine's crew hung open.

"Dawn? Where did you learn to be so crude?" Buffy sputtered.

"Meet Xander, king of the right quip at the wrong time, and Faith, queen of crude," Dawn giggled.

"I didn't do it!" Faith protested against the unreasonable panic of hearing her name and Xander's paired in the same sentence.

Buffy crossed her arms and gave Dawn a glare. "Stop blaming other people for your evil thoughts," she huffed.

"So, you're saying that Catherine is your direct descendant?" Robin interrupted.

Faith noticed Robin looked relieved, as if this fact explained everything he needed to know about the real deal. Shit. She could see the wheels turning in his head. Catherine didn't like him because as a descendant she had access to Xander's journals. And since Xander and he didn't get along, Xander obviously didn't like him and that was just as obviously recorded, kick-starting a cycle of Robin underappreciation for everything he'd done in Sunnydale and Cleveland. Which means even without little ol' her in the picture, Robin's insult now had an injury to go with it.

*Vicious? Meet circle. Oh joy,* Faith thought as Robin rubbed his chin and watched Xander squirm under the question.

Xander scrubbed a hand through his hair and Faith could see him biting back the first crack that came to mind, which, if she were willing to lay bets, probably would've been on the order of how nice it was that Robin knew how to state the obvious. Instead, Xander gave a mild, "Yes."

"Well now that you mention it, there is a resembly resemblance what with the height, and the mouth, and those shoulders. You don't work out do you Catherine? Because you got big shoulders for a woman, so maybe it's a genetic thing?" Willow began, "Plus, it explains why I think you're kinda hot, at least a little, because you know, what with the fluking and formal wear and all. Ummm, so, good thing Catherine didn't actually bring formal wear because then that would beWHEW!a total mess. My mother would have a field day with this one. And, you know, the way you're looking at me Xander? I'm thinking it's time for me to shut up now. Kennedy? Why are you just standing there? Aren't you supposed to stop me when my mouth starts moving like this?"

"Because I love it when your mouth moves like this," Kennedy answered.

"Oh, right," Willow nodded. "Never mind."

"I think my brain hurts," Xander said.

"I think my brain snapped," Catherine said.

"I think my brain is broken," J'Nal said.

"I hope this thing is working," Ms. Tikri tapped at her MemePad.

"I think it's cute," Charlie said.

"You would," Ruda said.

"People, focus," Robin clapped. "Obviously you read the journal. What did you have to say?"

Xander twitched uncomfortably and again Faith held her breath. *Oh shit! If there's something in there about the two of us making with the nasty*

"Actually, not a lot" Xander began.

"Now there's a surprise." To Robin's credit, he looked downright embarrassed that he let that thought get out of his mouth. To his even bigger credit, he tried to recover, "What I meant wasI mean"

"I know what you meant," Xander cut him off with a dirty look. "But you didn't let me finish. There's a spell on the book. The only things I can see are the pages that detail the original visit to Moscow. Everything else is blocked."

Faith let out a whoosh of breath. She looked around, hoping no one heard her. She was in luck. Everyone was so into Xander's trauma that no one was paying attention to her.

"How so?" Willow was laser focused on the journal.

"Basically? I can open the book, but only four pages are free. All the others are crazy-glued shut, so you can't break 'em apart," Xander explained. "We ran a quickie test upstairs and found out that just my presence in the room is enough to trigger the spell. We don't know if it'll react the same way to anyone else."

"That could pose a problem if it doesn't," Giles admitted.

"What Alexander is trying to say is we need to run another test," Catherine smoothly cut in. "He proposes that he and Faith leave the room"

"Why me?" Faith interrupted with a little more heat than she intended.

"Because you were in Moscow the first time around, so it's a good bet that how it reacts to me is how it'll react to you," Xander answered.

*Damn, not even a trace that he knows.* Faith was impressed, although a little corner of her mind wondered if this was a ruse for Xander to get her alone and break the news about her being a mommy. Prick.

"Yes. It is worth trying," Giles agreed. "Obviously, you'll need a guinea pig to open the journal when"

"I want you to do it," Xander interrupted.

"Are you quite sure? I'm certain that anyone"

"Giles, look, I trust you. If it doesn't work we need to know ASAP. And if you should catch something you shouldn't? I know you won't tell anyone, right?" Xander asked hopefully.

Giles looked like he was about to protest, but the expression on Xander's face rendered him speechless and he nodded.

"All right then. I'll be just outside," Xander said as he turned. He gave Faith an unreadable look and asked, "Coming?"

Faith hauled out of her chair and hoped she was walking normally as she left the room. When they entered the hallway, she noticed Xander was making a big show of inspecting a chip in the paint on a doorframe. She leaned against the wall and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally she couldn't stand it any more. "Staring at it ain't going to fix it."

Xander flopped around and leaned against the opposite wall with arms crossed. "Trying to decide whether or not to bother. With all the weapons that get carried around the house, I'm not sure if painting over every nick and scrape is a good waste of my time."


Xander made a "hunh" face and looked down at the floor, shuffling his feet uncomfortably. While the quiet stretched out, Faith found her eyes wandering. At some point she caught herself tunelessly whistling under her breath.

"So what do you think?" Xander asked.

"About what?" Faith shot back.

He held up his hands at the hostility in her voice. "Moscow. Remember Moscow? At some point we gotta start thinking passports."

"And you think I know shit about"

"Just askin'." Xander rolled his right eye while the left remained disturbingly fixed straight ahead. This automatic reaction was enough to pick up the tear production with the fake eye and he swiped the wetness away with an irritated move.

"Yeah, well, not thrilled. Isn't it getting cold there right about now? Subzero temperatures, Cyclops. I'm telling you, you're gonna love it," Faith said with an edge of nasty in her voice.

"Don't remind me. Cleveland's cold enough." Attempt at small talk now officially failed, Xander again went back to examining the chip in the paint, left hand still wiping under the fake eye.

*Wheeeee! What we have here is a cozy couple moment! Look out world! The romance that'll knock yer socks right off. Sid and Nancy got nothin' on us,* Faith thought.

Giles stuck his head out of the kitchen, ruining a classic moment of uncomfortable silence. "It appears you have no worries," he announced. "The journal won't open for any of us either."

"Thank god!" Xander exclaimed.

Faith knew what Xander's relieved grin meant: he had no intentions of ever telling anyone the whole truth. While Xander practically bounced into the kitchen, Faith kept her return more low-key as she slunk back into her seat.

Xander, in the meantime, had snatched the journal back up, opening it to the offending pages while he scanned the entry with a frown.

"I thought you already read it," Robin said.

"Well, yeah, there's something really bothering me," Xander said absently while he tapped a finger on the page.

"This is soooo cool," Andrew enthused. "It's like that movie 'Frequency' when this guy gets a ham radio transmission from his father in the past and tries to change history."

"I really don't see" Giles began.

"Well, it's not obvious," Andrew rolled his eyes. "Because, you know, it's actually a journal, not a ham radio, and because it's actually Xander writing it, instead of Xander's dad. Or Xander's son. And because he isn't trying to change history, but maybe history's already been changed because the time travelers landed in the wrong year. Oh, and there are time travelers involved where in the movie there wasn't."

Xander kept muttering under his breath as he reread the entry while everyone else gave Andrew the hairy eyeball.

"So, what you're saying," Kennedy said very slowly, "is that there's actually no correlation at all."

"Exactly," Andrew happily nodded.

"Pay no attention to Andrew," Xander commented absently, "the little man behind his curtain has run away to attend a Star Trek con and won't be back until next year."

"Xaaaan-der, the con's next week, remember?" Andrew asked. "We've got tickets!"

Xander finally gave Andrew his full attention with a worried frown. "Tell me how I let you talk me into this again?"

"Nana Visitor."

"Nana Visitor is going?" Willow squeaked. "You should've told me! They're not sold out, are they? I hope they haven't sold out. She's such a cool actress and Kira was the best character and 'Deep Space Nine' is the only 'Star Trek' I really like."

"I already got my ticket," Dawn stuck her tongue out at Willow. "You'll just have to buy at the door."

"Can anyone figure out what they're saying?" J'Nal plaintively asked.

"No," Robin volunteered. "Does that make you feel any better?"

Faith saw Catherine bite her tongue and keep her face neutral.

"I'm going to need a ride," Willow wheedled.

"No roooooooom in the caaaaaaaar!" Dawn sing-songed. "You snooze, you lose."

"Fine. Directions then." Willow huffed.

Xander's eyes snapped to Willow. Then he looked down at the journal. He started tapping the page as his face fought a smile.

"What is it?" Giles asked sharply.

"It's a book," Xander announced.

"What?" Catherine asked.

"Your mystical Arrow," Xander looked like he was about to dance a jig around the room. "It's not a magical weapon, or a super special compass, it's a book! In this journal, Arrow is capitalized and underlined like it's a book!"

"Better not be a cookbook, because, ewwwww!" Dawn shuddered.

The Future Crew exchanged glances. "Obviously a very rare book," J'Nal said. "Who knows what secrets it holds."

"It holds street maps," Xander grinned. Faith could see he was enjoying the bubble bursting just a little too much.

"Street maps," Catherine slowly said.

"Special street maps?" J'Nal sounded hopeful.

"Copies of which you can find anywhere," Charlie chuckled. "What do you want to wager?"

"Want me to hold back on the answer until everyone places their bet?" Xander asked.

"Xander," Giles warned.

"Sorry, sorry. I can'toh this is too funny"

"Xander," Robin growled.

Xander plopped against the kitchen wall as a fit of giggles took over. "Bookstore. Down the street. Look for the screaming yellow cover. I used the Southern California edition for my construction job all the time. Anyone got thirty bucks?"

"Shockingly enough, I do," Faith volunteered with a relieved and happy grin at the goofily giggling Willow who gave Faith the 'back atchya' sign.

"Well, at least it sounds expensive," J'Nal said.

"That's not even the price of a pair of shoes," Buffy huffed. She quickly amended, "Unless you shop at Payless, and no one wants that, because the day this Slayer shops at Payless? You know the situation is desperate."

Chapter 35
Spotlight on Dawn

*Selected items from UNS Q&A session with Dawn Summers, sister to Buffy Summers-rah, occupant of Taran United Watcher's Council building, pre-founding, circa September 2003. Camlin Tikri reporting.*

*Less is known about Dawn Summers than even Andrew Wells. However, the silence around her existence has a very different tenor. The shield around this young woman seems to be carefully protective, rather than harshly ostracizing.*

*That's not to say that Buffy's sister is an utter mystery. Historical records left from the early-to-mid-21st century reveal that she grew up to be Dr. Summers-Horvath, a prolific author of hundreds of medical research papers, was considered one of the best trauma surgeons in the world, and was based out of the Cleveland Clinic, one of the premiere medical facilities in what was then called the United States. Her revolutionary (at the time) ideas about treating trauma patients lead to a legacy of countless lives saved and a revolution in how catastrophic injuries were treated.*

*Her stature in the field of medicine has been forgotten by our modern times. Medical achievement, like all scientific advancement, eventually must give way to new discoveries, a constantly evolving understanding of the human body, and new treatments that make patient care less onerous. However, there is no denying that while she lived Dr. Summers-Horvath saved more lives with her ideas than most single Slayers can hope to save in a lifetime. That does not change, even if the sands of time have covered her lightly imprinted footsteps.*

*Dr. Summers-Horvath herself acknowledged that such a fate was only right and proper for her. In the only surviving contemporary interview of any of the Sun'dayl Survivors in Cleveland, the physician said, "The human body is a puzzle behind a locked door. As doctors, it is our mission to unlock that door as we try to discover how all the pieces fit and work together. Any doctor should view himself or herself as a key designed to unlock that door, take hold of the puzzle, and try to put it all together. The good news is we don't have to do it alone. Everything I've ever done has built on what other people have discovered before me. After I'm gone, other people will build on what I have done, leaving me in history's dust. That's the way it should be." [TouchInfor Reference: New York Times, 'Changing the Tragedy of Trauma: One Doctor Bucks the System and Wins,' January 28, 2025, p1]*

*Beyond her relationship to Summers-rah, the records of the United Taran Watcher's Council are mysteriously silent about her. Yet, re- read the journals left behind by her friends and family in the Cleveland household, and you might find traces of her elusive presence in the very vague references to a mysterious person known only as "the Doc." The Doc--whoever it may be--taught various Watchers and Slayers first aid and undertook late night missions of mercy when injuries were too difficult for limited medical training or Slayer healing to overcome.*

*The strongest evidence--maybe even the only evidence--we have that Dr. Summers-Horvath did not entirely turn her back on her sister's life lie in the legacy she left Seneca Academy for Young Women--the euphemistic name the United Council used for its public face during the 21st Century--after her death in 2057. She willed her entire considerable estate to the United Council for the sole purpose of building a state-of-the-art, fully staffed medical facility. She insisted that the new medical complex be named The Alexander Lavelle Harris Memorial Medical Center because, as she wrote, "He was the driving force behind making sure all students at the school were trained in first aid and he was the only one willing to risk his neck going to Tibet during the Mystical Rayne Plague so I think he deserves it, especially since he died to get that cure. If some of you don't like it and want a different name? Then you don't need my money all that much. Hope you enjoy actually paying for health insurance and co-pays for doctors' services." [TouchInfor References: Last Will and Testament of Dawn Summers-Horvath, dated October 27, 2043, certified copy, United Taran Watchers Council, Record Number 41007] *

*It should be noted here that her gift incubated the beginnings of what is now the Key Medical Order, the corps of physicians that work directly with both Councils and their allied Slayers.*

*These tantalizing tidbits tell us nothing for certain about this mysterious woman, although one can almost imagine the contrary personality that made her a great physician in those brief glimpses we can find or imagine we find. One can't help but think that she'd like it that way if she knew, as we shall see an exclusive UNS interview.*

DS: Knew you'd come around to me sooner or later.

UNS: {chuckle} Everyone else has expressed shock and surprise that I want to talk to them.

DS: Lyyyyyyy-ing. Well, maybe Faith was surprised because she was the first person you grabbed. But everyone else? *pfffffft* [leans forward and adds] Although I think you've laid the trauma down on everyone during the interviews. You don't pull punches do you?

UNS: [sits up] I haven't

DS: They're all soooooo gonna need therapy. Buffy's been hiding under the bed since you talked to her. I had to bribe her with cheese to get her to the last house meeting where Xander broke the bad news that your Arrow isn't an actual Arrow.

UNS: [squirms] Unh, I didn't

DS: Actually, they all need therapy anyway. I mean, how long have they known each other? Like for-eeeeever. And they still can't figure out how to talk to each other. It's soooo stupid. I'm practically ready to start walking around with a staple gun and {makes a *ker-chunk* sound} start pounding metal clues into everyone's forehead.

UNS Are you saying the lines of communication aren't very clear between

DS: What I'm saying is: promise the Scoobs a big, ugly nasty; promise them there'll be quippage; promise them pain; promise them that they'll be bleeding before the end; and don't forget the rip- your-heart-out emotional moment with sobbing and wailing and they are all over that. Get them in a room to have a real conversation? They'll find a way to trip over a random big, ugly nasty so they'll have another shot at pain, bleeding, and sobbing just to avoid talking.

UNS: UnhhhhYou sound frustrated

DS: {sighs} Sorry. I had to bribe Buffy with a cheese omelet this morning to get her out of bed. She thinks she's fooling me with her peachy-with-a-side-of-keen act, but she's not. I just don't know what to do. She's so hard to figure out sometimes. [pause] Should I be worried about her Cracker Barrel addiction?

UNS: Well, she is a Slayer and Slayers are wired a little differently then

DS: OOOOooooo! I hate that! That is such utter crap! That's almost as bad as 'the Slayer stands alone.' Whenever I hear that I just want to

UNS: [cowers] Scream?

DS: Smack Buffy into next week.

UNS: Ah.

DS: Besides, screaming doesn't work. Talk softly and carry a big clue-by-four, that's my new motto.

UNS: Klew-buy-for?

DS: It's like a two-by-four, only you whack people with it when they're being stupid.

UNS: I still don't

DS: The thing is, everyone's a still an emotional wreck after Sunnydale but--shhhhhhhhh--don't talk about it and--shhhhhhhhhh-- don't admit you're still hurting because then someone might mistake you for someone who's weak and a coward.

UNS: That'sthat'sbutaren't heroes supposed to soldier on?

DS: Stupid heroes.

UNS: Well maybe

DS: Look. Take a really good look. Everyone's dealing by not dealing. Robin's hiding behind the "must save the Slayers" schtick. Xander's hiding behind the "must help the Slayers" schtick. Willow's hiding behind her computer. Giles is hiding behind the fact he doesn't have a book to read that isn't from this month's Harlequin line. Buffy's hiding under the bed. Faith's hiding underneath Robin. The baby Slayers are hiding behind the wall of whine. And no one, not one person, is willing to say, 'Hey! You know what? I'm hurting over here and I'm sick and tired of being brave. Will someone let me fall apart for one lousy second?'

UNS: [amused] You're willing to say it, at least.

DS: [deflates] I'm the biggest hypocrite of all. I'm hurting, too, but do I say anything? Nooooo. I go to school and pretend I'm normal girl. Paint a big red N on my chest and the picture's complete.

UNS: What do people say at school when they visit you here?

DS: [harshly] They don't. {sigh} I mean, how do I explain this? How? I've come up with a few choice excuses, but, c'mon, they all sound worse than the truth, and the truth would get me locked up in a rubber room with 24-hour bell service provided by the Men in the White Coats.

UNS: You don't know that.

DS: Okay, hmmmm. I know, 'This is a convent and all my housemates are nuns-in-training. Except for Faith. She's the hooker they're trying to reform.' See? That one sucks. Oh! How about this? 'We're a home for runaways and our mission is to get these troubled girls back on the right path. Except for Faith. We keep her around to show what happens if you don't walk the straight and narrow.' Still doesn't work. 'Everyone here is a member of an apocalyptic doomsday cult because we know sooner or later we'll forget to lucky and when that happens, you're all toast. Except for Faith. She thinks dying happens to other people.' That last one has the problem of being a little too close to the truth. Maybe if I throw in a bit about how we have a Stargate in our basement made out of kitchen parts that will allow us to escape when the big bang happens? Nah. Then I'd sound too much like Andrew.

UNS: I'm sensing a trend. You're not exactly fond of Faith, are you?

DS: I have Faith-shaped problems. I admit it.

UNS: Why?

DS: Faith did her share of bad back in Sunnydale. When I first met her, at least when my memories tell me I first met her, I thought she was cool and everything. Then she starts believing her bad girl persona and goes really bad. She takes off, gets herself reformed, blows back into town, and she's all, 'Hey! Sorry about that!' But I don't think she really feels it, y'know. Just toss a 'Hey!' and all things are cool? Not buying.

UNS: But isn't she

DS: One of the good guys. Yeah. I'm being unfair a little because, y'know, she's doing patrols and offering to help out in little ways. But, I don't knowmaybe it would be nice if Faith acted less cool beans with her Baby Docs and tight jeans and her trophy boyfriend and acted more like a real person.

UNS: Well

DS: And if you so much as hint Slayers are wired differently, I will hurt you.

UNS: [amused] You seem pretty insistent on that point.

DS: [silence, thoughtful frown] Thing is I've been around Slayerness my whole life. Well, not my whole life? Yes, I do mean my whole life if we're going to stick with the true facts. For the longest time I just wantedI guess I wanted to be special too. It's like being the sister to a prodigy, y'know? When your sib can pull an Amadeus and write operas at the age of 6, and even though you get straight As and are pretty smart for yourself, you just don't measure up because you'll never be as good as your sister, who gets all the petting and extra attention she wants and needs because no matter how special you are, you're not as special as her.

UNS: Sounds like jealousy.

DS: A little. I guess. The thing is, according to my memories and everyone else's, I was on board with the Buffy-pandering and the Buffy-worship. Then the past two years[shrug] I know it sounds mean, especially since Buffy was going through a two-year bad patch kicked off by mom dying and then dying in the fight against Glorificus

UNS: Wait, wait. Buffy died?

DS: Twice, but she's feeling much better now.

UNS: [checks MemePad for bio on BS for date of death, sees 7172036--Gavrok Infestation, St. Augustine, Florida] I don'tI don't

DS: [waves hand] Willow got Xander, Anya, and Tara to help her raise Buffy from the dead.

UNS: [checks MemePad for bios on WR and AH] I, unh, don't see anything here

DS: Duh! Not surprised since they weren't supposed to do it in the first place. Giles was furious when he found out.

UNS: But I'd think that he'd be

DS: Like I said, we're feeling better about it now, but I really doubt we'll be doing it again because [shudders] the consequences weren't pretty. Sounds ungrateful, I know, especially since Buffy died saving me from Glorificus who wanted to use me as the Key to open a portal back to her hell dimension.

UNS: Why?

DS: [startles] Hunh?

UNS: Why did thisGlor-if-fikis? Think you were the key to

DS: [airily waves hand] Helloooooooo! Crazy hell goddess. Who knows why she thought what she did? We were stuck with dealing with the fact she believed it. [grins] Do I look like a green, glowing blob of energy that's older than time?

UNS: {laughter} No.

DS: See? [taps finger to temple, giggles] Total nut case. [sobers] But after that, after Buffy came back from the dead, I felt like I was locked on the other side of the looking glass. Buffy was shutting me out because she thought I was too young, too stupid, and too innocent to understand everything she was going through. But I really think it boiled down to: 'I am the Slayer, and you are not, so you can't understand.' She never tried to explain anything.

UNS: How did that make you feel?

DS: Well, that made me feel like I was the one who had a problem because I really did want to understand her. That meant getting more involved with her world. Wanting to fight. To kick ass. You know, the Slayer bit. But

UNS: But?

DS: [mouth twitches] Thing is, Sunnydale didn't just leave a big, gapping hole in the ground. It left a big, gapping hole in everyone's hearts. Even mine. Maybe especially mine. I dunno. When we first hit Cleveland and I was feeling even more alone than ever because I was surrounded by Slayers. All of them powerful, all of them naturally beautiful and athletic--I mean, have you ever heard of an ugly Slayer--all of them with that special hue around them. And me? I'm just Dawn, Buffy's sister. Oh, and I can translate any dead language you want. I'm a regular Rosetta Stone.

UNS: But that's a useful talent, especially if you want to get into research or become

DS: Will you let me finish? God! I'm trying to explain something here.

UNS: Sorry.

DS: The thing is, before we motored into Cleveland, I had a plan. "Dawn Summers, Junior Watcher." That was me to a T.

UNS: Sounds like a good plan.

DS: The problem with any plan you think up during an apocalypse is that it kinda tends to fall apart once the apocalypse has been avoided, you know? Life eventually has to go back to normal, well, as normal as it can be when your sister's a Slayer and everyone you know fights demons. I still had to go to school and still had to plan for college.

UNS: [nods in understanding] So the normal life is more alluring?

DS: How can I explain this? The first week at my new school I was all: 'This sucks. I don't want to be here. I want to be home where all the important stuff is going on. Not taking World History or English Lit.' Then one day Lisa and Tammi, they're two Slayers who live here, they grab me and ask me how school went, and what did I learn, and what did I think of the teachers, and if there were any cute boys.

UNS: Why?

DS: I'm getting to that. At first I was mad because I thought they were making fun of me. I mean, who wants to go to school when they don't have to? But they kept asking questions, and asking for details, and they seemed really interested. When they asked me to get information about the GED, that's when it hit me: they wanted to be me.

UNS: They're not happy being Slayers?

DS: That I don't know, butwell, I think what they wanted is to have a choice. Being a Slayer may be cool, but that fact that I could be anything I wanted to be? They seemed to think that was cooler. After I realized that I started really paying attention to what was going on and know what I found out?

UNS: What?

DS: That the baby Slayers don't understand me at all. They really don't. To them I'm completely normal and because of that my future is anything I want it to be. If I want to be a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief--well, maybe not an Indian chief--but if I wanted to do it, I could just go do it. Nothing is written in stone for me. My future is wide open. I can make my own destiny and there isn't any prophecy, any mission, anything at all that can stand in my way. So if I had that, why did I want to be here when I could be out there?

UNS: [sits up] So that's why you aren't upset about us not knowing about you!

DS: [grins] Means that whatever I'll do, I'll do it because I want to do it. My life, my future is my own. [grin disappears] But I feel bad for everyone else, though. They don't have that luxury at all, do they?

UNS: [shrugs] We honestly don't know because

DS: Oh the timeline being all messed up, yeah. ButI dunnolook at it from their point of view, hunh? You've got people from the future reacting to people in this house like they're heroes, villains, or nothing at all. That kind of reaction registers even with people who need to ride the short bus to school. Whether you like it or not, that will affect what they do from here on out. Now, maybe Faith and Buffy are cool with that, being Slayers and all. Destiny kinda comes with the territory. Maybe Robin's okay with it because he's the son of a Slayer. Maybe even Giles is okay with it because he's a Watcher and Willow's cool with it because she's a witch. The person I really feel bad for is Xander.

UNS: Why?

DS: [looks down] Before you guys showed, he was like me in a way. He could choose what he wanted to do and go where he wanted. I don't think you guys realize it--I don't think even he realizes it--but you, all of you, stole that from him. [tears start to spill] You placed a load of destiny on his shoulders and took away the one thing that made him different from everyone else.

UNS: [softly] The ability to choose his own futureoh, hada.

DS: Maybe I'm being overly dramatic, because I really doubt that Xander would ever walk away from us. Not really. But it's like [angrily wipes away tears] you've locked him into place. Made him just as much a creature of history and destiny as Buffy ever was and that's just wrong. He doesn't deserve that happening to him. He's too extraordinary for that.

UNS: I don't know what to

DS: [straightens in chair, glares at UNS] But you're not going to do that to me. Do you understand? I'm going to choose my future. Nothing is written for me and for that I will get down on my knees every day and thank God. Let other people translate ancient texts; there are plenty of people who can. Let other people be the Slayers because now there are plenty of them around, too. Let other people be the ones to Watch; I don't want to do it because that means destiny might someday grab me and not let me go.

UNS: What are you going to do?

DS: Me? Someone has to help the other normal humans out there and there are lots of possibilities. Lots of them. But the point is I will choose. Not you. Not destiny. Not history. Me. And that is what makes me extraordinary, whether anyone in the future remembers me or not. [stands]

UNS: Wait, I have more questions

DS: [grins] I'm sure you do, but I don't have any answers. I do want to thank you, though.

UNS: What? Why?

DS: Until you guys showed up, some part of me wondered if the world would end when I died. Now I know it won't. Thank you for that. I can now make my own future with a clear conscience.

UNS: Why would you believe that? That the world might end when you died?

DS: The key to that mystery? That key belongs only to me.

Chapter 36
Verdandi, Skuld, and Urd (In Order of Appearance)

Faith spun her kick right into the punching bag, snapping its chain and sending it flying across the basement. She swiped her sweaty brown hair out of her eyes and let loose with a string of curses that would make her mother blush. Okay, not so much her mother. Buffy's mother definitely.

"Don't tell me. You and Robin fought again?"

Speak of the blonde devil.

"No," Faith said shortly, not bothering to turn around while she glared at the bag for failing to live up to its end of the bargain.

There was a moment of silence while Faith imagined Buffy looking from her to the punching bag and back again. Her judgment on the issue of Faith's veracity was rendered with a, "Riiiiiiiiiight."

"Fuck. How the hell am I gonna fix this?" Faith muttered.

"Xander'll do it."

Faith jerked her head around and nailed Buffy with a glare.

She got a half-smile in return. "He won't be dancing with joy about it, but he'll fix it. But you get to help by holding the bag and listening to him rant about us wrecking the training room. Cho-Ahn broke it the last time and her ears were burning for weeks after Alexander the Great was through with her. Not that she understood a thing he said."

"I didn't get into a fight with Robin," Faith snarled as she stalked over to her water bottle.

"Unh-hunh." Buffy shot the bag a meaningful glance. "That's what you said the last time you broke something."

"I didn't break"

"I was thinking specifically of that Midget."

"Med-Guardé" Faith automatically corrected. She added in a grumble, "Like Robin didn't keep reminding me of the name afterwards every time I screwed it up."

"Talking under your breath about Robin. Definitely a fight."

"What the hell business is it of yours how my sex life is going?" Faith fumed. "Jesus, will you just get laid already so I can get you off my back?"

Buffy flinched.

Faith grit her teeth and regretted her words. She didn't particularly like Spike and she wasn't entirely sure of Buffy's deal with him, but she couldn't deny that whatever it was, it was real. The really pissy thing is that Faith was now stuck wondering whether Buffy-n-Spike were more real than her-n-Robin.

"Sorry. I just wanted to talk." Buffy said it so meekly in such a little girl voice that Faith could feel a bubble of guilt in the pit of her stomach in response.

"I snapped at you, remember? And no, I really didn't get into it with Robin. Just feeling a little hemmed in is all," Faith said, pulling hard from the water bottle as she rolled the tension out of her shoulders.

Buffy looked around the training room, tragedy still etched in the fine lines around her eyes. "I think I understand," she said quietly. "I thought I was the only one."

"Those future people really know how to pile drive the shit out of you, you know?" Faith sympathized as she leaned against the basement wall.

Buffy's head twitched in her direction, a clear indication that Faith had seriously misread the other Slayer's meaning. "Yeah, that too," Buffy agreed slowly.

*Slayers we may be, but we might as well be two different fucking species.* On one level, she got Buffy better than anyone in the house. Hating someone with burning jealousy in your heart sometimes makes someone more familiar to you than your own face. Yet just as often Buffy remained an utter mystery to her, because she was pretty sure that if she had it half as good as ol' B, she'd be sitting in the poppy field with Dorothy laughing her ass off at the greatness of life. B seemed to always be moaning about all the bad bits and looking for trouble when maybe there was no trouble there.

"Yeah, well," Faith began, skin itching to get her the hell out of this suddenly-too-small basement, "the shit's been rising since we got here and no one knows how to cart it away."

"At least Robin's got a plan," Buffy said mildly. There was nothing in her tone to indicate if she thought this was a good or bad turn of events.

"Yeah. Always with the plans for tomorrow," Faith muttered, ignoring Buffy's questioning look.

The blonde woman opened her mouth, but seemed to think better of what she was going to say. Faith felt the guilt bubble's return as something in Buffy's eyes slipped behind mental shields and her lips curved into a tight smile.

"Speaking of tomorrow, Will and Xan have been in the library for hours armed with more coffee than a Starbuck's." Buffy's voice was too penny-bright compared to her just moments-before tone. "Will on caffeine equals Mickey Mouse on fast forward. Not a good combination."

Faith held up her hands. "Don't look at me. I plan to give the library a wiiiiiide berth. I've got no interest in reading that fucking thing."

Buffy's expression turned sly, but Faith couldn't escape the suspicion that the other woman was putting up a front, acting the way other people thought she should act. "C'mon. Aren't you a little bit curious about who you'll be five years from now?"


"That was a fast answer." Cheerful Buffy was now in full force as she bustled around the basement to set up for her own training session. Faith vowed to get the hell out ASAP because meaningless quipping was sure to follow.

"Don't even have to think about it. I don't much like Slayer dreams, and I like the idea of a roadmap to the future even less," Faith said as she gathered her things. "Less everyone knows the better, I figure."

That stopped Buffy cold, leaving her standing and staring at a basement wall. "But if you knew the future" she began softly. She looked back at Faith. The faint lines around her eyes were back and the Buffy that was a few minutes ago returned in all her uncertain glory.

Faith desperately wanted to run away from this. She didn't need to see this. She didn't want to see this. Buffy was B, the sure one, the one who always figured she had a lock on the right, the good Slayer. What was looking at her was not the Buffy she didn't really understand.

This Buffy looked a little too much like someone she could recognize in a mirror.

Buffy stepped a half a step forward, her head tilted to the side, no expression on her face. "If you knew then, Faith. If you knew then what you know now, wouldn't you change it? Wouldn't you do anything you could to make it come out different? Wouldn't you re-write the ending?"

Faith backed slowly away until she felt the bottom step bite into the back of her ankles. "Ain't no such thing as a happily ever after B. Let the fairytale princess shit go already."

A puzzled frown line appeared between Buffy's eyes. "But what if there was? What if that journal could tell us how to save lives, how to avoid death? Think about that. What if you could sidestep all of it? Wouldn't you do it?"

Faith involuntarily stepped up the stairs, hairs on her arms standing at attention because the way Buffy was talking, the lost expression on her face, the ghosts of all those people that were dancing in the basement, was seriously freaking her shit out. "S-s-s-s-s-s-s-spell. On journal. Can't do it, remember?" Faith stumbled over the words.

Buffy shook her head like she was waking up and blinked rapidly. "You're right." She put on the California smile. "Of course you're right. Just thinking out loud is all." She twitched her nose and really did seem to forget about the freakiness of the conversation. "Besides, I have a feeling Ruda will tear us to pieces if we try."

As Buffy turned to finish setting up while humming under her breath, Faith turned tail and fled up the stairs and through the first floor, not caring if anyone noticed. *Jesus Christ! She's flipped! She's gone bonkers! What the fuck are we gonna do?*

When she finally landed in the kitchen, Faith stopped and forced herself to calm down. Buffy was doing the what if. No big. Shit. Wouldn't be normal if she wasn't. Hell, probably everyone in the house but her and Xander wanted to get a peak, but only because they didn't know anything at all. What little information her and Xander got was enough to kill that desire in both of them.

Besides, weren't the two of them doing just what Buffy suggested? Using what little they knew to avoid the future and re-write the ending? She can't blame Buffy for thinking it when she knew two people were actually doing it.

Now if Robin would just cooperate with the plannot that he knew there was a plan. Faith blew a strand of drying hair out of her face in frustration. *Nope. Robin's not making it easy at all.*

Last night wasstrange. Despite his earlier teasing, Robin just wasn't interested in having sex, no matter how hard she made it for him to say no. That was a first. Hell, he didn't even crawl into bed until after he thought she was asleep. She lay there in the dark, eyes fixed on the wall, and couldn't help but notice that he didn't once try to touch her, like she'd suddenly become off-limits.

She managed to get some sleep, but the strangeness of having a body in bed with her without the intimate contact kept jerking her awake. She was almost grateful when the alarm clock went off so she could finally get up and get her workout.

Robin didn't even try to delay her with what he called his "quickie good morning services." Yet another first.

*I'm overreacting because everyone is taking a tour of the 'Twilight Zone' conducted by ol' Rod himself, Robin included,* Faith thought as she drew a deep breath and left the kitchen. *I'm looking for trouble where there ain't none because I'm jumpy about this whole Catherine deal. He just probably had a lot on his mind and felt like he couldn't give me the special R sauce.*

Of course that was it.

She managed to convince herself that this was another hiccup in this weird thing called relationships by the time she reached the top of the stairs. She passed by the closed door to the library and halted, brought up short by the easy brother-and-sister vibes coming from behind the barricade. Hearing Willow's voice weaving through Xander's lower register as they talked sounded safe in a strange way, like nothing in the universe could change them so much that they'd never be able to talk just like this. She touched the wood and wondered what it was like to be that unguarded with another person.

*Is it as easy as it looks, or does it take work and they just make it look easy?* She knew back in SunnyD there was some trouble between the two of them, but she wasn't entirely sure what that was about. Probably some stupid, greasy kid stuff they got over within a month. Somehow she couldn't picture the two of them going longer than that without being best buds.

Xander must've said something funny, because she could hear Willow giggle.

Somehow, don't ask her how, but her hand was hovering over the doorknob. She suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to be part of that cone of warmth, not caring that her very presence might burst the fragile moment.

"I wouldn't," said a voice in her ear.

Faith turned and saw Kennedy, towel around her neck, clothes still steaming sweaty from her morning run.

"It's Xander-and-Willow time and you don't want to get in the middle of that," Kennedy said cheerfully. "Otherwise, you'll wind up scratching your head trying to figure out if they actually speak English."

"Aren't you jealous?" Faith was legitimately curious.

Kennedy gave her the what-are-you-nuts look. "Xander? Please. My girl is into girls right now. Now if his name was Alexandra, I'd be worried."

"I remember when she drove stick."

Kennedy shrugged. "She might again. Hell, I know bi when I see it, even if Willow is busy convincing herself that she's a women-only kinda gal."

Faith raised an eyebrow. "You're okay with that."

"Me 'n Willow are what you'd call casual," Kennedy gave Faith a half-grin. "We both pretty much know it's not forever, but we're gonna have fun while it lasts."

Faith gave the door a speculative glance, the beginning of a plan forming in her head. "What if Willow is the one in his future? Possible, right?"

Kennedy's chuckle killed the idea. "I think they're a little beyond that. Whatever they got ain't about sex. I think it's more about the childhood memories. I mean, where you gonna get that kind of connection, right? It's like Stephen King says, the best friends you're ever have are the ones you had when you were twelve, even if you stopped talking to them years ago."

"I wouldn't know," Faith said.

"Truth to tell, me neither," Kennedy admitted. When Faith gave her a look, the other Slayer shrugged. "But it's nice to see anyway. Still, anyone who dates one of 'em is gonna have to deal with the other like they would any other sib. That's just the way it is."

"Helps that you like the big galoot."

"Galoot?" Kennedy raised an eyebrow.

"Something my first Watcher used to say," Faith said uncomfortably. *Where did that come from? I haven't thought about her since I took my GED.*

"You always miss your first," Kennedy said quietly.

The soft admission startled Faith. She never even thought thatof course Kennedy had a Watcher. She had the training before she hit Sunnydale. She knew that. It wasn't a big guess to figure out what happened: Kennedy's Watcher got killed either by the explosion in London that wiped out most of the Council or by Bringers gunning for her scalp.

The revelation put Kennedy's walking bad attitude back in the Dale in a whole new light.

Kennedy gave Faith a tight smile. "I guess that's why I'm worried about the journal."

"Oh?" *Someone else who doesn't want to know the future. Guess there's more of us than I thought.*

Kennedy looked down. "I like Xander. I do. But that journal? That's just proof that Giles is going to ask him to become one of them and maybe ask Willow, too."

"This is bad?" Faith asked.

"Depends on how you look at it," Kennedy said, placing a hand on the door. "Knowing the two of them? What it means is that someday one of them, maybe both, will be some Slayer's first."

Faith honestly didn't know what to say to that, mostly because she could see Kennedy was dead on.

Kennedy let her hand drop. "Dibs on the shower," she said. Then she turned and headed down the hall to the second set of back stairs up to the bedrooms, leaving Faith to watch her retreating back.

Xander's laughter on the other side of the door broke her out of her spell. She clenched her jaw tight and backed away.

Something was drawing in her in, something as delicate and as binding as spider's silk. Every second she stood in that hall listening to Willow and Xander talk, every moment she took a chance at meeting yet another inmate of the house, another strand fell into place. She could feel it.

Jesus. Buffy. Kennedy. Willow. Xander. All of them taking her by surprise. All of them not acting according to her script. All of them trapping her in an 834-year-old spider's carefully spun web.

She wasn't going to stand for it.

*Robin.* Her mind flashed on the one person she figured could pull her out of this mess of connections forming around her.

She thundered down the hall and up the stairs, fleeing for the second time in less than 15 minutes away from a moment she couldn't understand. She burst into her room, fully intent on getting Robin to talk to her, to talk him into getting her away from this. There was no way

Robin looked up from whatever he was writing on the desk, his expression the picture of pure misery.

Faith knew the moment his eyes met hers that Robin wasn't going to follow her script.

She felt the spider drop another strand into place.

"I've been thinking" Robin began.

"Don't," Faith ordered. "Don't think."

"I can't help it," Robin helplessly shrugged.

Faith could feel the rictus grin on her face. "You're dumping me, aren't you? You are dumping me. I don't fucking think so."

"Hold up. Not dumping, justwellI've been thinkingabout usand how we fitand"

Faith threw her hands up in the air. "Jesus! You sound like some bad television show. Say what you fucking mean. Don't give me that 'I've been thinking' crap. And if 'it's not you, it's me' comes anywhere near this conversation, I will rip your head off and beat you to death with it."

Robin rubbed his forehead, a clear indication that she wasn't following his script either and that this conversation was falling apart faster than he planned. "Faith, pleasejust sit down. We really do need to talk about our futures."

Her heart thumped in her chest as she dropped on the edge of the bed. She could have read the situation completely wrong. He was talking future, not past tense. She was the one who jumped the gun.

But that look

Robin remained in his chair and said, "Giles asked me to be a Watcher the other day."

Faith smiled, suddenly relieved. "Hey! That's great news!" She licked her lips and leaned over, smile turning into an appreciative leer. "And I know just how we can celebrate."

"Faith, please. Let me finish," Robin begged.

"What. Like you're going to say no."

"I thought about it."

Now that was a surprise. "You're kidding, right?"

"Well, thought about it after the fact," Robin amended.

"I don't see you turning this down, babe." Faith relaxed. Robin just needed a little show of support from the cheering section. No wonder. Catherine's obvious dislike and the revelation of Xander's journal probably grabbed him by the shorthairs last night. "C'mon, you know you want to do it. I mean, please, you're not going to let"

"I am going to do it," Robin said firmly. He suddenly slipped back into uncertainty. "But I realized that it might mean making a sacrifice on my part andwell, truth to tell, I really don't want to make it."

*Someday he'll be some Slayer's first.* Damn Kennedy for putting that thought in her head. She felt the overwhelming urge to hug him and keep the danger away.

Faith hugged herself instead. "I'm not even going to pretend that I don't know what you're talking about."

Robin let out a relieved smile. "Glad you see it that way."

"We've got a dangerous gig. We roll the dice on a pretty regular basis and sooner or later someone's coming up snake eyes," Faith assured him, hating that she was resorting to platitudes to drive away the spider. "We both know how fucking dangerous the world is out there and it doesn't help that we're lacking anything resembling resources to deal with all of it."

Robin nodded, pleased that Faith was getting his point.

"Hey, you and me? We can deal together, right?" Faith continued. "This don't change nothin'. You'll see, we just have to"

Faith's voice died when she saw Robin's smile disappear.

"Oh boy," he said quietly.

Faith froze. "Why do I think you're not seeing what I'm saying?"

"Faith, look at the big picture"

"Big picture," she repeated.

"I'm saying this wrong." Robin got out of his chair and landed on his knees at Faith's feet, looking intently up into her eyes. "I care for you. I care very deeply for you. But I just can't do it. Us. I can't do Us and meet the responsibilities that Giles asked me to shoulder. I can't do both. We can't do both."

"Why the hell not?" Faith sounded strangled as she felt spider silk wrapping around her throat.

"I don't wantFaith? Look around you. Take a good look."

"Sorry. I'm too busy looking at you, so why don't you paint me a picture?"

Robin leaned back on his haunches, face troubled. "My mother's Watcherhe loved my mother beyond all reason, do you understand?"

"So you said," Faith frowned, "but I really don't see"

"And as much as he loved her, he never said anything to her while she was alive"

"but told you after she died. I remember," Faith quietly finished.

"Do you know why?"

She didn't like where this was going. She didn't like it one bit.

Another strand of spider silk wrapped around her chest, forcing the air out of her lungs.

"Because he knewhe knew that if theyif" Robin looked away. "You can't be a Watcher and be involved with your Slayer. He knew that."

"I'm not 'your' Slayer," Faith said between clenched teeth. "I'm not anybody's Slayer. Got it?"

"But now the Watchers are going to be responsible for multiple Slayers until we get a full compliment," Robin looked back at her, eyes full of hurt. "That might mean blurred lines on who's responsible for whom, especially when things get rocky. Just telling Giles or anyone else to always watch out for you isn't going work because it's not going to be that simple."

Faith felt her mouth go dry. "So that's it? Are you seriously saying that because you think you might have a shot at being the boss of me that this is it? You're fucking out of your tree. No one is the boss of me, so just get that thought"

"Do you think this is easy?" Robin quietly asked. "I'm not like Buffy, or Xander, or Willow, or any of the others. I can't just so easily shrug off death and go on with my life. And I can't keep living under the cloud that someone I care about will most likely die too violently and too young. Maybe other people around here have calluses on their souls that lets them live with that constant threat, but I don't."

Faith sat there dumbfounded. She just couldn't believe what Robin was saying. Did he even have fucking eyes? Shrug off death? What the hell was he talking about?

She had oceans of proof ringing a litany in her head, all of it recent examples. Kennedy with her sadness about Willow and Xander maybe being some Slayer's first. Rona in the kitchen devastated that her brother was getting shipped to a war zone. Buffy in the basement playing her tortured game of could you and would you. Xander arguing that they needed to keep track of the Slayers that didn't want to join the Cleveland Slayer Commune on the off chance they might run into trouble. Willow on the phone to Devon the second they found out that Potentials in the future could choose to accept being a Slayer.

All that proof dancing in her head, and Faith's tongue was so twisted in disbelief that she could barely get out, "You've got to be fucking kidding me!"

"Think about this," Robin said gently. "Take Xander, for example. I heard that right after he was told Anya got killed in battle, he started making jokes about going to the mall."

*834 years in the future, they know who Anya was and what she meant to him,* the spider reminded her.

"Jesus Christ, Robin. He was in fucking shock. He lost his home, the woman he loved, and every fucking thing else," Faith argued. "Both he and Buffy are practically walking wounded. Touch the Anya- and Spike-shaped nerves you can fucking see them crumble. You can't convince me that once it sunk in he didn't feel like he died with her."

"Maybe you're right," Robin allowed. "And if you are, do you really want to go through the same thing? No matter how much we care about each otherFaith, do you honestly believe that what we feel for each other isn't going to affect how we work? Is what we have bigger than the world?"

*834 years in the future, they think you and Xander have the storybook romance to end all romances, the kind that shapes the world,* the spider promised.

"You can't honestly believe that this is an either-or proposition," Faith pressed her point. "People fall for each other and the strangest shit can happen. It is possible! People can work through this crap if they want to. People can"

"I can't," Robin's body language backed away, his face falling apart under the strain. "Have you even heard what I said? People with lives like ours die violently and at a young age, for god's sake. I can't take the thought that you might be killed because of a plan I instigated. The guilt"

*834 years in the future, they don't know you tried to kill Xander more than four years ago,* the spider snickered.

"Don't talk to me about guilt," Faith spat. "I know guilt. And if you'd feel guilty about me dyin' in the line of duty, than you better get ready for a whole lot of guilt because that shit should applied to every single Slayer in this house."

"But you're special. To me, you'll always be" Robin reached out.

A strand of spider's silk jerked Faith's face away and she got to her feet.

*834 years in the future, they don't know about anything about you and him at all,* the spider laughed.

"So who here is the heartless one? Who here is the one already admitting that they might be forced to throw away lives for the greater good?" Faith asked.

She could feel the web catch her and hold her fast while 834 years of history bore down on arachnid legs.

*This is not going to happen,* she fiercely thought. *You are not going to win.*

"Do you honestly believe," she hissed, "that breaking up is the way to solve your problem? You don't know shit. Do this, and your problems are just beginning."

Robin looked up at her. "Faithwhat?"

"What if someone comes along and proves you wrong? What are you going to do then?" She could feel her hands clenching into fists. "It'll smack you upside your shiny skull that you put me and you through this for nothing."

Robin got to his feet and backed up a step. "I'm not wrong."

"Really?" Faith's eyes narrowed. "Get a peak in Xander's journal didjya? See some proof there that spelled out you were right?"

"Xander's not letting anyone but Willow and Giles near the journal, you know that," Robin said in confusion.

"I'm being what you'd call sarcastic," Faith snarled. She waved a hand at him in a desperate attempt to destroy the web tying them fast on opposite sides of the divide. "Do you expect me to fucking believe that you can just turn off what you feel just like that?" She illustrated the question with a snap of her fingers. "You honestly want me to buy that the second you crawl out of my bed that it's just fucking over? You can go on your merry way pretending that you-and-me never happened?"

834 years of history reached out a spider's leg and smacked her with a resounding slap.

"We will because we have to."

"What the fuck is this we?" Faith raged. "Last I checked this was just fucking you."

Robin held up his hands and backed for the door. "We can't talk like this. We can talk later when emotions aren't running as high."


The enraged question was enough to get Robin out the door, leaving Faith to stare at the opening.

834 years of history hissed a knowing giggle in her ear.

"Shut up!" she shouted at the spider as she strode after Robin with 834 years of history hot on her heels.

"So you think you're the only one who knows what's right?" she shouted at his back as she followed him through the maze of the house. "Where the fuck is my say in all of this?"

"Faith, you're making a"

"Scene? You bet your sweet ass I am," Faith growled as she followed into the kitchen.

He stopped and turned around. "Do you love me?"

The question killed Faith's voice cold.

"Do. You. Love. Me?" he repeated the question.

"Do you?" Faith asked back, her anger drained.

Robin shuffled. "I think you're very special and I think you and I wellwe could've made it work if"

Jesus Fucking Christ. It wasn't like he didn't fucking know when he first slid into her cunt back in Sunnydale. Wasn't like the fact that she was a Slayer was a huge fucking state secret.

Faith started laughing. It had a dark, wobbly, nasty edge to it, but she couldn't help it as 834 years of history attached itself to her back and whispered evil things in her ear.

*He's willing to throw it all way: the could've beens, the should've beens, the maybes, and what ifs on the basis of the fact that he cares too damn much about the likes of you,* the spider informed her. *He doesn't think you're worth the chance he'd have to take on you.*

Faith could feel her eyes crunch and her teeth sharpen into fangs as she proceeded to tell Robin very loudly what exactly she thought of him, his idea, and the whole notion of him throwing it all away over a future he knew nothing about.

This got him shouting back about how she didn't understand, he was doing it to save both of them grief, and why doesn't she think about long-term consequences for once.

Things spun out of control and got a little blurry after that as words flew across the kitchen in a heated rush. Faith wasn't entirely sure what she said or even how the hell it popped out of her mouth, but Robin's jaw dropped in comical disbelief as he sputtered, "Let me get this straight, you've screwed around with Xander?"

The sound of someone thumping into a wall brought the raging argument to a screeching halt.

While Robin looked in surprise over her shoulder, Faith turned around to find the source of the noise.

And right there, looking over his right shoulder with a bag of herbal tea in his hand, 834 years of history gulped, turned around, and didn't look in the least bit happy that he'd been noticed.

Faith shivered as she felt the spider sink its fangs into the back of her neck.

Chapter 37
Blood in the Water

What Xander heard as he approached the kitchen was the sounds of an argument. Did he say argument? He meant knock-down-drag-out, as in the kind of screaming match where people are eventually going to let loose with words that they'll never, ever be able to take back.

As someone who'd let his temper get the better of him on more than one occasion and had let loose with a few choice words of his own in the heat of the moment, he knew that the result wasn't going to be pretty. As someone who'd spent much of his childhood trapped in the middle of warring adults in the throes of such a death-match, he also knew better than to even try walking into the kitchen.

He hung in the hall, hesitating between walking away and telling Willow to live with the no-name aspirin from the medicine cabinet and taking his chances on sneaking into the kitchen and retrieving Willow's headache tea. He peeked in to get a feel for the situation and retreated.

Faith and Robin were so into their drama that there was a very good chance they wouldn't even notice him. Great. Just great. Faith chose now to dynamite her relationship with Robin. Not that there was ever going to be a good time for it to happen, but things were so touch-and-go that, to be honest, he was kinda hoping Faith might use her relationship with Robin to build bridges between the ex-principal and himself since she seemed all-fired to keep the peace for her honey.

That, and he was hoping to cover her in crazy glue and give her a good hard shove in Robin's general direction. If that didn't get her stuck on Robin, the crazy glue bit was sure to piss her off enough to kill any hope of anything ever happening between them. As plans go it wasn't sparkling and failed to impress even him, but it was the best he had at the moment.

*Be honest, Operation Crazy Glue ranks right up there with Oz's plan to pummel the Mayor with hummice at graduation.*

Xander grit his teeth in grim amusement. Now he's just delaying even making a decision at all.

He looked down the hall as if he could see Willow moaning her way through a stress-and-eye-strain headache. He could also imagine Willow's negatory reaction to proffered pills. Lately, his bud had gotten a little eccentric about the joys of Western medicine and insisted that her nutso herbal concoctions were a much healthier way in dealing with minor aches and pains.

As for him? He was in the "painkillers yay!" set, so he had a pretty hard time going along with Wills on this one. Still, he really wasn't in the mood to deal with the grumpy Willow that would result if he decided to push his dependence on pills that come in a bottle.

He took a deep breath. Right. Willow-need won out over Xander-need to keep the hell away. Just overlay the yelling with those "wah-wah-wah- wahs" that all adults in a 'Peanuts' cartoon used, keep himself as small as possible, and he wouldn't even register.

Let it never be said that his parents didn't teach him some important survival skills.

Xander ghosted into the kitchen, fighting to keep his muscles and limbs as loose as possible. The second he tensed up, Robin and Faith would sense it with the unerring instinct of adults who know there's an unwanted witness and might, just might, turn on him since he offered a fresh target for their anger. Keep the head down. Don't look at them. Hope they don't start throwing things. Make sure there's nothing in the way that could trip him up because that would be Bad.

Battling adults can sense fear and they'll tear into you like a pack of wild hyenas.

*Shit. Shouldn't've thought about the hyenas. Definitely the wrong animal to think about. It'll get you all tense and then it's lights out for Xander.*

He stopped at the cabinet, keeping the "wah-wah-wah-wah" overlay soundtrack firmly in his ears and eased open the cabinet door. This was the dangerous part. Moving objects around was 50-50 since it gave distracted people a better shot at seeing you. He didn't bother to wait and see if anyone noticed. His hand snaked in and closed around a bag.

Success! Right on the first try! Amazing considering he was all one- eyed and not great with the close-up depth perception. One bag of Willow's icky headache tea complete with iffy peppermint flavor ready for serving was clutched in his sweaty little palm. He'll just steal Giles's hotpot to make hot water and he can just pretend he was never here.

He eased the door closed and, keeping as small as possible, slid his way to exit stage right.

He was almost there. Aaaaaaalmost there

"you've screwed around with Xander?"

The shouted question broke his concentration and he ran smack against the wall.

The argument now in progress took a break for a few important announcements from the sponsors.

*Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit.*

The flight instinct was still firmly intact, but Xander managed to resist long enough to turn around and face two pairs of glaring eyes.

He could feel the unspoken words slashing at him in the muffled silence.

"About that" Xander began even as his brain screamed at him to just run. "There's a serious misunderstanding because Faith decided to play mind games with Tikri. It's not true. Nope. No way. No one told me about sex-for-alls, not that I'd get involved with that because that kind of kink is a little too kink for me. And believe me I know kink. Wait. Didn't mean to say that. What I mean is, we're not screwing. Around. Not screwing around, I mean. Because Faith and me aren'tI mean, she scares mewait, I don't mean that. What I mean is, not big onwhat I'm trying to say isI don't know what I'm trying to say"

*Well look at that, it speaks. Jessica, think your goddamn son has an off switch? Because if he doesn't shut the fuck up, I'm going to teach him to like the quiet.*

"What Xander's trying to say is that we're not screwing around now," Faith interrupted the desperate babble with a vicious whip in her voice.

Xander began sliding along the wall to the door, his brain reading more into Faith's statement than was really there because he got a view of the future, thanks to Catherine, that frankly scared the hell out of him. Faith has got to know that she's playing with fire by pretending her one-night stand with him meant anything to her at all.

"Not that we ever did. Nope," and could he please shut up now? "Think about this. Me and Faith? Never happen. Never will happen so you've got no worries. From me, I mean. We've got no connection. Never did, never will. At all."

Faith's angry gaze swung to him full bore and he could swear he saw something he couldn't quite name behind the eyes. "See? Now that's Xander for you. A real gentleman," Xander cringed at the sarcasm in her voice. "No kissing-and-telling for Alexander the Great. At least not now. Too bad it wasn't like that back in the day, hunh?"

*Don't let yourself get pulled in. Don't let yourself get pulled in. Don't let yourself get pulled in*

"I thought we agreed that we don't air dirty laundry in public," Robin said with a spring-coiled voice. "And here you not only shoving it in my face in public, but dragging a bystander into the middle of it."

"Dirty laundry?" Faith looked up at him, her eyes narrowing. "About that, Mr.-I'm-Not-Exactly-A-Virgin. You had to figure with my wild ways in the bad ol' days that Xander at least presented a tempting target. Don't let the good boy act fool you. He jumped at me like any straight guy would." Here her eyes swung back to him with their nameless anger. "He's no different than anyone else."

What he should be doing is escaping. Yet he's frozen in this car wreck of a fight and staring at the mess with wide-eyed wonder. Funny how those ol' instincts just took over at the worst possible time as Robin continued to glare out his fury between himself and Faith.

"Look, Robin," his voice sounded like a creak while his mind screamed *Deny Everything,* "you've got it wrong. Whatever it is you're thinking you've really got this wrong. Nothing's ever, and I mean ever, happened between me and Faith. At all. I know Faith, but I don't know know Faith. Biblically, I mean. Just take a deep breath and count to ten and think about this."

So much for staying out of it.

"Really? Think you've got any right to say anything about what's going on between Faith and I?" Robin now fixed on him, a sure sign that Xander had just offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb in this little bloodletting.

"Now, now, dear," Faith's angry glare had not wavered from Xander, "Xander's memory is a little bit faulty. Then again, he was my first virgin. Wait. Make that my only virgin. What can I say? It's a special time in a young girl's life, right? Especially when it really is just skin."

Xander fought to keep his eyes open but couldn't quite stifle the urge to shrink. Faith was not helping him at all here. She's too angry at Robin over god knows what and he's just another weapon in this battle. He figured between Robin and Faith there wouldn't be a whole lot left of him when this was over. The fact that Robin didn't like him was given and with the skin comment, Xander just realized what he'd said to make Faith want a pound of flesh.

*You know, considering that she tried to, oh, kill you and has never, ever once so much as given you anything resembling an apology, why the hell should she be hurt?* an inner angry voice popped up. He quickly smothered it and forced his face into an idiot Jeb blank look. The absolute last thing he needed was to give either Faith or Robin an excuse to use their fists.

"You must love that, right?" Robin spat. "The two of you sharing the secret of this little special event? Well, now I know why you're always defending him."

*She does?* Now he's idiot Jeb because he's surprised.

His demeanor must've registered with Faith because something in her eyes seemed to soften into a puzzled expression as she looked at him. "I'm not always defending him," she said without heat. "Just when he's right."

"Which seems to be all the time these days," Robin rounded on Faith.

Yay! The argument was now shifting back to the main combatants. Collateral damage to himself? Well, everything, but he'll be able to repress. Maybe. Just keep the expression neutral and convince his feet to start sliding for the door he's home free.

This was a big ol' sign that Catherine totally got the bit about him- and-Faith completely wrong because after seeing this there is no way in hell

Something resembling understanding clicked in Faith's expression and Xander once again froze a step away from the door. "This isn't about Xander. This is about you and me," she said absently keeping her eyes on the innocent victim.

"What is about you and me?" Robin asked. "Are you ever going to be honest about anything when we talk?"

"Xander, I'm a fucking idiot," Faith gently said without paying attention.

The apology hinted at in the statement paired with the odd expression as she said it somehow hurt him the most.

Shake it off. She did it to get back at Robin. Surprise, surprise, he was just a convenient way to do it. Put up the shields. Deal later. After all, he was just begging for it, wasn't he?

He managed a nod.

As he slipped away from the room under Faith's watchful gaze and Robin's angry glare, he hoped Willow wouldn't notice the taste of blood in her tea.

Chapter 38
The Rimmer Directive on Time Travel

Willow looked up from rubbing her temples when Xander forced himself to walk back into the empty library. She watched him cross the room before asking, "What happened?"

"Got your tea?"

"What else?"

Xander wondered when the hell Willow got her long-disused Xander- shaped radar fixed. He doesn't remember her being this sensitive to his moods since senior year, and even then it was a pretty selective thing.

"Just walked into the teeth of Faith and Robin fighting. No big."

Willow shook her head. "Again?"

Well that was another surprise. "Sheesh. You mean this happens all the time?"

Willow chuckled. "Amazing. You can rattle off in detail-y scariness about everyone in the house, but you can't see that Faith-and- Robin's 'Casablanca' romance is about to go blow-uppy."

"But they'll always have Sunnydale, so that kinda fits," Xander quipped. Amazing how a vaguely reasonable conversation made him feel better. "I don't really want to know."

"Because you once went momentarily insane, too?" Willow asked. She winced. "Sorry. That sounded like I'm being all accusatory, and nasty, and mean, especially when I have a lack of room to be talking on the Xander kissage and nearly killing front, so maybe I should sheathe claws and do the not talking thing right now."

He nodded numbly and brought the water-filled hotpot over to an outlet and plugged it in. As he began spooning tea into the cup, he silently willed Willow to just drop the subject.

"Still, kinda funny you don't see it, 'specially because me and Buffy have been talking about it for weeks. Faith goes into beat-down on a demons afterwards and Buffy's kinda worried that she'll get distracted when she should be paying more attention," Willow continued with the air of someone with juicy gossip.

"I thought I mentioned something about how I'm soooooo not going there."

"Maybe I'm kinda hoping you'll work the hoodoo that you do so well," Willow said.

"Wills, I don't do magic."

"Yeah, but listening is a kind of magic, especially when people need to talk," Willow rejoined with the compliment as she watched him pour the water over her herbs.

"Not like I do anything else around here." He carefully carried the tea to her waiting hands. "I'm not even managing on the research front with this stupid journal and just how sucky is that? I'm the guy who wrote it and I can't figure it out."

"Would help if he gave us directions to the arrow, sorry, map book," Willow giggled. "Hey, if I tell you now, think you'll remember to do it in 2008?"

"Unless you told me before and I forgot to do it in 2008, so I'm not sure that helps Wills."

"The Temporal Prime Directive must be followed to the letter. As Rimmer said, 'It has happened; it will be happening; it has will be happening for sure. Your bucket's been kicked baby.'" Willow agreed.

"Wait! Whoa! There's no bucket-kicking here!" Xander waved his hands. He stopped and thought about the lovely war zone he'd just escaped. "Then again, bucket-kicking? Mucho preferable to the alternative."

Concern-face was back with a vengeance. "Wow, the fact that someday you'll be a father is really bothering you, isn't it?" Willow asked. "Is it because of Anya?"


"Xander, it's okay that someday you'll fall in love again."

"Assuming love is involved at all, which I kinda doubt."

"But" Willow began.

"Look, just accept that I might know something I can't tell," Xander said glumly. "Better, let's just accept that it's something I don't want to believe, and given our new best pals' track record in the historical accuracy sweepstakes, I think the odds are very seriously on my side for them being wrong and me being right."

Willow studied him. He must've been wearing his version of resolve- face because she let it go with a sigh. Xander relaxed as she took a sip of her tea. He ducked when he saw her almost throw it across the room. "What the hell happened?" she demanded.

"Wills, look, I told you that I'm not going to tell you anyth"

"I'm not talking about that." Willow was in full scowl face. "When you got the tea! Your pain is all over it."

Xander froze. "Isn't reading people against their will against the rules or something?"

Willow blinked back the suspicious water in her eyes. "I didn't mean to. I mean, it's not like I can read auras without crystal help, butbutI'm kinda connected to nature and natural things, not all of them on the good side, true, but herbs count and I can't just shut it off. Are you okay?"

"If you're connected to nature, why can't you just reach out and find the Slayers?" Xander asked.

"I'm not so good with the connecting with people especially when I don't know who I'm looking for. And stop being avoid-y. Who hurt you? Was it Robin? I'll"

"Look, I told you. I walked in during a fight. You're probably picking something up from that."


"Let. It. Go."

Willow regarded him as he fought to keep his body from fidgeting. "Okay. Fine. I'll leave it. For now. But don't think we're not going to talk, mister. That tea's got a mix of old and new pain in it and it's definitely yours and no one else's."

"Sorry," Xander muttered.

That earned him one Willow-sized hug. "Don't be. You're not at fault, no matter what you think. You should've just gone with the aspirin. I would have understood if you told me that you didn't want to get in the middle of a fight, okay?"

Xander buried his nose in her hair and gave her a bone-crushing hug back. "Okay," he agreed.

"Now that we've got that settled, I'll go raid the medicine cabinet," Willow's muffled voice said. "Stay here and just relax. Don't let it get to you. We'll figure it out."

Willow pulled away, blessed him with a peck on the cheek, and left.

Xander dropped heavily into the chair in front of the laptop and snatched the journal in a desperate attempt to pretend the last fifteen minutes never happened. *Hey me, thank you for being not very clear. Think you could've at least hinted that you were looking for the grail when you went to Moscow? Because it kinda came from out of*

"Nowhere," Xander said aloud.

He flipped back to where the book was locked and reread the beginning in its not-sounding-like-Xander weirdness.

"'Could be worse, at least we're in the capital'" Xander's voice trailed off with a frown. "Blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah. This is all about Moscow, for heaven's sake. Just as we get into the Slayer or Slayersand hey, look, no mention of this grail at all."

Didn't mean anything. Finding the grail might've been a secondary objective. The only reason why he's focused on it is because he's got a group of antsy time travelers who really, really want it.

He flipped the page and quickly reread the description of Catherine's crew. No matter how hard he tried to find a discrepancy, it matched up perfectly, as in frame it on the wall and call it a family portrait. He frowned, flipping the page back and forth. They came out of nowhere, too.

Here he is blabbing on and on about Moscow for two pages, including excruciating detail that caused his eyes to glaze over, full of opinions and guesses and running commentary. He stops in the middle of a sentence before even naming the two candidates when Catherine's group is introduced.

He flipped the page a few times when it hit him. *Hey, wait a minute. Moscow gets all this ink, but time travelers get one page? And not even a full page at that? No thoughts about meeting people from the future? Now is it just me, or is that just wrong?*

Unless, and this is a possibility, Xander version 2008 just assumed that his dedicated readers would know what he was talking about and didn't bother to hit the details. He sped out of the library and ran smack dab into J'Nal with three Slayers in tow. "Hey, question," he grabbed the witch's arm.

J'Nal looked down for a horrified second at the offending touch before looking up. "Yes?" the question sounded strained.

"In all your research-y time over the hop-skip-and-a-jump to Moscow 2008, was there anything at all from anyone that said that you landed wrong on the first try?"

"You know the answer to that is no," J'Nal looked puzzled. "We can't re-insert ourselves a second time in the timeline. We explained that."

"Okay," Xander wasn't entirely sure about the tickling in the back of his brain. "What about other time travelers showing up in Cleveland 2003?"

"As I recall, no." Since J'Nal answered right away, that was a definite no.

"Here's another one," Xander began, ignoring J'Nal's cringe. "Aside from Catherine's ol' family journal, was there anyone who ever said anything about you guys popping up in Moscow?"

"No one else was there except you and Faith," J'Nal pointed out.

*Don't look directly at this thought. You might scare it away.* "Did Faith keep a journal? What am I asking? The answer's probably"


"Hunh." Xander let J'Nal go to scratch his head. "Okay, what did she say about it?"

J'Nal shrugged. "Her entry, singular, about Moscow was rather light. She merely made reference that for details people should read your words since she was tied up with the new Slayer."

"Oh. Did that happen often? Faith deferring to me in her journal?"

J'Nal's forehead crunched. "I don't understand."

"Forget it," Xander said absently. "Wait! Something else. You figure Faith or I would've filed a report about meeting you guys in Moscow, right? Which meant that someone else would've mentioned it? I mean, c'mon, Giles isn't going to let that go without some comment in his journal."

"Your journal is the only source of information, which is why the whole business was puzzling until"

"Until your Great Darkness started eating planets and your people got desperate. Gotchya," Xander nodded. "See, something here I don't buy. I'm going to not say something to at least Wills or Giles?"

"Unless we gave you strict warnings not to tell anyone for fear of polluting the timeline," J'Nal pointed out.

Xander winced. "Right. You're probably right."

"Are you finished interrogating me?" J'Nal didn't quite jitter, so it's a wonder the witch didn't start running down the hall the second Xander let him go.

"Yeah. Thanks," he responded absently as he returned to the library. He stopped at the table, staring at down at the book with an unseeing eye. *Wait, wait. That makes no sense either. Swear a guy not to tell anyone to the point that no one supposedly knows about the Ghosts of Christmases Future, but record the whole thing in a journal that's meant to be read?*

"Either I forgot what secret means or" Xander began. Another snatch at the journal and he's flipping pages again, this time to the "directions" to find the grail.

*As it so happens, we have the screaming yellow {begin underline}Arrow {end underline} that points the way to the Grail. The {begin underline}Arrow{end underline} is of Cleveland origin.*

*The way it pointed lead us thus:*

*We had to start near a stadium that was Brown. We traveled West until we hit the Lakeside. Oddly enough, this landed us in Canada, but we kept going until we felt Superior. That done, we turned East on the first Street until we came to an Erie Cemetery. We found the entrance to the underground caverns by the grace of Angel Vaslik's wing. As the caverns were damp, Summer was the only thing that could only warm us, so we followed the path that would take us there. The maze took us right to it.*

He flipped through the pages. Almost nothing on the grail. Catherine and pals show, say they're looking for it, explain it's an important focus for major-league protective magic, its sole purpose is to roll back the Great Darkness that brings the terror of the thrallsand utterly useless to the people of the present day because no one knows how to use it.

And he and Faith turn it over. End of story.

*This is wrong. This is an opera of wrong.*

The grail, he noticed, didn't even get half-a-page.

There was nothing in this entry indicating what he thought about this pretty unbelievable story. Hell, he had more questions about it when he was half-asleep earlier this week, so

Now he's really bothered, especially since the grail mystery was still a mystery even though he had all the information in front of him in black-and-white and in English.

He flipped back to the directions.

He tapped his finger under "Arrow." This is the first and only time said Arrow was mentioned. Why didn't someone, say, oh, him, mention dragging the thing to Moscow? Unless there was some mention of it in the pages he didn't see, but still

And considering that he was willing to bet his remaining eye that the Arrow in question was a book of street maps

He ran his finger down to "Erie Cemetery." Hunh, he just realized that he misspelled eerie and cemetery is

"Capitalized?" he asked aloud.

Tickling turned into full-on screaming. *Hold on. Erie is not misspelled, it's*

"No way. Nofuckingway," Xander yelled as he dove for the computer.

Chapter 39
Dah Bah Dee Dah Bah Di

"Xander?" God knows where Willow came from because she's watching him call up the city's official Web page and mumble as he ran his finger underneath the lines, stopping just long enough to make note of another capitalized word, and then navigate around the interactive city map.

"Did you find the Arrow?" Willow hopefully asked. "You figured it out?"

Xander's path ended right where he suspected it would: Erie Street Cemetery.

*Okay, overreaction here. Maybe this isn't so much how to get to the grail because everyone says that it's in Moscow.* Everyone, that is, if you call Xander 2008 and Future Space People "everyone." *So maybe this is where our map is?*

Why didn't he think so?

"Wills," Xander said quietly. "I need you break the spell lock on that journal."

"What? Why?"

Xander threw the book a fearful look. "Honestly? I'm not sure."


"Do it."

She continued to hesitate, no doubt thinking of Temporal Prime Directives, Xander-style.

"It's important," he added.

Whether it was the tone of his voice or the look on his face, Xander wasn't sure, but Willow immediately got down to work. While Willow did her hoodoo, which involved mucho research in her computerized spell database, he was busy running around the house fetching spell ingredients as she asked for them.

God knows how many times he dashed out of the library to grab supplies for yet another attempt or how many spells she cast. All he knew was that he felt like he'd run a marathon before two hours was up.

At the end of two hours, Willow slumped in a chair, her headache now doubled in intensity because of the magical effort, and the book still firmly locked. "One more try and this is it," she growled.

"Fair enough," Xander nodded.

"Right," Willow huffed. She began with the Latin chant, threw a handful of leafy green things at the book, waved stick incense that smelled like patchouli over the business, and dropped a crystal on the leather cover.

Nothing happened.

"Well, we tried," Xander shrugged.

Which was apparently the cue for the book to begin vibrating and spewing smoke.

"What the…" Willow began.

"It that book catches on fire we are sooooo very dead," Xander said as he slowly backed away.

"Correction, I'm dead," Willow yelped as she stepped forward to try and stop the book from exploding.

The book apparently decided that it wasn't going down without a fight because it flew off the table, smacked Willow in the chest, and skidded across the floor, pages waving merrily at them as it tried to make its escape.

Good thing a wall was in the way to impede its progress, because Xander figured that losing the book would've been second only to burning the book if Catherine wanted to make a case for justified Willow-cide.

Willow was hacking and coughing as thick white smoke swirled around her, muttering vague threats against the very obviously evil witch that cast the spell on the book.

"I guess you're okay then," Xander remarked as he reached into the obscuring, Willow-shaped fog.

"I think I've been bruised."

He hauled her out and began, "Yeah, well…" and stopped, clamping his jaw shut as his eyes grew as large as an anime cartoon.

Willow looked up at him. "What?"

Both of Xander's hands flew up to his mouth and he began making hacking sounds. "Are you sure you're okay?" he sputtered.

Willow scrunched her face and rubbed the center of her chest. "I've been assaulted by a book, but nothing's broken."

Hands turned to fists as teeth bit down on knuckles. "B-b-b-b-but y-y-y-y-y-y-y-you're, ummmm, heh, not f-f-f-f-f-feel…I mean, oooooo-k-k-k-k-kay?"

Willow's eyes narrowed, "Yes, I'm just fine," she said in a throaty growl.

Which pushed Xander right over the edge. "BWWWWWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…"

"What?" Willow asked.

Xander dropped to the floor, clutching his stomach as he howled, tears streaming down his face, lungs struggling to draw in enough air to keep his higher brain functions working.


"Y-y-you've b-b-b-been th-th-th-thinking y-y-y-you…HAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" Xander knew he was annoying Willow to no end, but he couldn't help it. "Heeehehehehehe, ummmmmm, wantanewlook?" Xander was off again on into uncontrollable laughter land.

Willow's forehead wrinkled in confusion as she looked down and saw that her hands were…"BLUE!" She ran behind the empty Xander-built bookshelves to the tiny bathroom to check herself in the mirror.

As Xander forced himself under control using an effort that would make He-Man, Master of the Universe proud, he could hear Willow hyperventilating in squeaky bursts.

"I'm blue! I'm blue! I'm blue! I'm blue!"

"You're navy blue," Xander managed to wheeze out of his abused lungs as he got to his feet.

"Not funny mister!" Willow stormed back into the library. "When I said I was thinking of a new look, I was talking about a haircut!" she raged at him. She held her blue hands in front of her blue face. "Not change color!"

"Are you all blue?" Xander was staring very hard at the ground to avoid looking at her. If he looked at her…

Willow pawed at her clothes, peaking down her sweater, looking down her sleeves, squeaky hyperventilation now hitting a register that would make a Wolfy Oz howl in protest. "I've been smurfed!"

"Smurfs aren't that blue." He bit his lips so hard that he knew he was going to leave a bruise.

"I can't believe this! How am I going to explain this?"

"It could be worse."


"Your hair could be blue, too. At least it's still red." Xander took a chance, saw her eyes narrowing, blue-blue face scrunching in frustration under her red widow's peak over his lack of empathy, and immediately looked away because he knew he'd just make her even angrier by again collapsing into hysterics. Even though he knew he was about to say something really evil, he simply couldn't resist. "Are you sure all your hair is still red?"


"Would you like me to get Kennedy so she can check?"


"That would be a no, then."

She marched over to him, stabbing a blue finger into his chest with such force that Xander had to step back with each jab. "This," poke, "is," poke, "all," poke, "your," poke, "fault!" poke-poke-poke-poke-poke…

"Now that I think about it, you look more like an oompa-loompa."

"AAAARGGHHHH!" Willow threw herself in a chair and dropped her head in her hands.

Xander fought to keep his face straight. "At least you feel okay, that's the important…"

There was a distinctive sniff of the 'I'm going to cry' variety.

"Oh, wow. Hey. I'm sorry," Xander uncomfortably shuffled. "You'll be able to fix it, right?"

Willow made a weepy sound.

Guilt now finally kicking in, Xander crossed over to Willow in three steps, kneeled down, and engulfed her in a hug.

"What am I going to do?" The question was rendered in a mix of sniff, sob, more than a few tears, and a certain amount of snot.

*Willow. Crying. Must-Comfort-Willow. Programming. Engaged.* "We'll figure it out," Xander soothed, feeling like the ultimate ass as he patted her back.

"When?" Willow sobbed into his ear.

Xander winced as Willow gave a loud sniff that seemed to echo through his head. "Ummmm, soon? I hope?"

This resulted in a wail as Willow hugged him tight.

"Say, we'll get Giles right on this, hunh?" Xander said as he delicately disengaged from the bone-crushing hold. "Plus, I'll get Buffy and she'll figure something out make-up wise to cover up…"

"Not funny," Willow cried.

Xander shoved his hands in his pockets as his posture folded in on itself. "Not trying to be. Look, let me go get Giles, okay?"

He was rewarded with the sight of Willow wiping at her eyes and working herself up into a wounded-but-brave face.

"Stay right here. I'll be right back." As Xander turned, he caught sight of the book, freed pages sticking straight up in an effort to remind him why Willow got whammied in the first place. Xander glared at it. *Great. Willow's not going to be the one who has to deal with the classic you-are-an-idiot looks from Giles. I will. Right. Like that's ever going to change because we all know that I'm the dumb…*

His mind froze in its tracks as he realized something: the book was opened at a spot that was significantly closer to the back cover. Xander's eyes widened. Willow did it! The newly freed pages fluttered tantalizingly as they stuck up out of the open book. "Wills…" he began.

"What?" the witch sniffed as she looked sadly down at her bright blue hands.

"Look. The journal."

Willow's gaze followed the line of his pointed finger to the floor. Her eyes grew large as saucers when she saw the temptation dancing in front of her eyes, her new skin color momentarily forgotten.

The pair remained frozen a few moments before they both dove for the book. Since Xander had a head start and was taller, his hand reached it first. He snatched it from under Willow's frustrated nose, stuck his tongue out for good measure, and turned away giggling like a loon.

"Let me see! Let me see!" Willow petulantly ordered as she hopped up and down behind his twisting back. "I got blued for this, so I think…"

"Nunh-unh. I wrote it. It's my book."


Xander wildly grinned as he looked over his right shoulder. The Willow-sized puppy dog eyes in that blue face was too much and he burst out laughing again. Between stomach-killing guffaws, he managed to get out, "Since you're so cute, I'll let you look."

Puppy Willow immediately turned into Kid-in-a-Candy-Shop Willow as she excitedly clapped her hands. "Goody!"

He put the book down on the table and tried to free a few more pages from the spell lock, but no dice. He wasn't as irritated as he should've been since there were a handful of new pages to look it. His grin widened fit to split his face. Messy handwriting in full force? Check. Careless grammar? Check. Writing style that actually sounded like him? Check, check, oh thank god, check.

This was more like it.

Willow whistled from her position leaning against his right shoulder. "Wow. We put one up on him didn't we?"

"Oh, yeah." There it was. A list that gave him the future updates.

*Michael's coming in next week so Rona Lisa is all sorts of excited especially since he's a real candidate for becoming a Watcher. Robin has no objections because of his military training, as for me I just like the guy since he gets the difference between cracking the whip and working with people. It's trial run right now, see how he deals but it's looking good.*

*Giles is still on the ol honeymoon. Sly dog. OK, not too sure about the half-your-age thing but Zoe's a sweet woman with a spine of steel (big surprise since she's pretty much taken all of us in stride.) Should be interesting dealing with Rupert Giles, Family Man.*

*Buffy checked in from San Fran. The new Slayer there isn't exactly being accepting of destiny and duty. Normally Buffy'd just walk away except there's that damn prophecy Robin unearthed so she's got to stick around to make sure she doesn't get all kinds of killed.*

*Hunh. Who'd of thunk. Robin and Buffy are now a professional double act. Color me surprised. Given Buffy's romantic history, I'm just glad the two of them are keeping it professional. Not sure how we'd deal with Robin turning into bloody chunks, or evil, or going insane, or picking up a spare soul he doesn't need, or becoming gay…sooo not going there.*

*Willow's still in Devon with the Coven working on her Super Sekrit longterm project, which she's calling "Project Choices." She's pretty convinced it won't pay off for years. Willow. Patience. Hunh. Who knew? Anyway, not sure how much in a hurry she is to get back especially since I smell definite romance in the air with her.*

*Room's getting tight around the Mother House. Robin's spec'ing some property outside the city limits to set up a boarding school--which would include real classes like Math and classes in How To Kick Demon Ass 101--since he feels some of the girls would benefit from a well-rounded Slayer curriculum. At least I convinced him to let the girls who want to go to public school to at least have a choice in where they want to get their real world education.*

*Kennedy's dad is financing the boarding school and expansion of our living quarters with an endowment. Hey! Check us out! We're going nonprofit! Right. Like we weren't nonprofit before. Only now we won't have to pay the government when we buy that shiny new axe.*

*Andrew's still doing whatever he's doing in L.A. Thank god. Last I heard he'd opened a gourmet restaurant which is naturally a front ala Willie's. He insists that he's working for the Superteams (his words, definitely not mine) and that he provides a valuable service by sourcing out his info. Yeah. Right. I'm sure Angel is just psyched that he's got a budget line just for Andrew's "help."*

*Speaking of Angel. He and…nah…won't get into it. Never know who might be reading right? And some information might prove tragic if it fell into the wrong hands before someone was ready to hear it.*

*You follow what I'm writing Junior?*

"Son of a bitch," Xander said quietly.

"Junior?" Willow asked.

"I think he knows some Xander between me and him was going to read this entry."

"Probably your few-months-earlier 2008 self, right? Look at the date. It's February 2009."

"Look at this," he pointed at the series of squiggles at the bottom of the page.



Willow digested that a moment. "You're joking."

Xander frowned and concentrated. His Klingon was very, very rusty, which meant he was half-a-step away from giving up his membership card into the Trekkie Geek Club. He knew if he dragged Andrew in on the translation, he'd get something within five seconds, but there was no way in hell he was going to go there.

He tapped his fingers under the writing as he puzzled out the meaning.

"Xander?" Willow prompted.

"That bastard. That miserable, mean-spirited, son of a bitch," Xander bit as the squiggles reformed in his mind to make actual words.

"What does it say?"

"See this bit in English?" Xander asked. "He says that everything on this list is true except one thing. But he's willing to cop to one gimme: Michael makes it home a-okay and he really is up for Watcher."

"Well, that's good, right?" Willow asked. When Xander gave her a hooded look, she added, "About Rona's brother. Not about…um…would you really do that to yourself?"

"Also says he ain't giving any real information about me because, and I quote, 'that would be cheating.'" Xander's eye continued to scan the Klingon text as if he couldn't believe what he was reading. "And he keeps calling me Junior!"

"What's he supposed to call you?"

"How about not Junior?"

"I think you're over…"

"Oh, shit."

Willow cringed. "Now what?"

"He also says this: 'Funny how it all comes down to the backyard, right? But then, you already knew that when you booted up the city's homepage and checked the directions to you-know-what. Hey Smeghead, you've heard about Pandora's Box, right? Then again, maybe not because you're just not really up on mythology.' I don't believe this! I'm insulting my own intelligence!"

"Unh, Xander? Do you know about Pandora's…"

"Don't start."

Willow held her hands up as a gesture of peace. "Just checking."

"Check this out: 'You really didn't need to do this, but you did it anyway. So don't bother trying to free more pages, unless Wills wants tentacles to go with her blue skin.'"

"Remind me to kill you in 2008," Willow squeaked.

"'And tell Willow she'd have to kill both you and herself for our prank, especially since she cooked up the spell,'" Xander read from the book right on cue. "Am I allowed to hate this guy?"

"I'm pretty sure that means you need therapy if you do that," Willow said.

"Well, here's some good news. He was oh-so-kind enough to give us a counter-spell."

"On second thought, I love him. I want to have his babies. When you hit 2008, get ready for some Willow loving, complete with edible underwear, chocolate body paints, and a rip-away maid's uniform."

Xander gave Willow a disbelieving horrified look.

"Little thick?" Willow asked.

"I'm thinking Kennedy is really bad for you," he replied as he desperately tried to get the image Willow planted in his brain to go away. "Whatever happened to the Willow who thought playing doctor involved pretending to diagnose me with real diseases?"

"She had sex."

"Oh. Right," Xander numbly replied.

"Hey! I'm not the only one who's changed," Willow huffed. "Seems to me that someone learned to plan for all eventualities. I can't believe that you and me in 2008 came up with this scheme just in case something went wrong and our future friends took a wrong turn."

Willow's remark prompted Xander to look wide-eyed back at the entry as the one thought he was afraid of thinking locked firmly into place. *No. I gotta be wrong. I have to be wrong. You bastard. How could you do this? How could you do this to me?*

"Xander?" Willow asked, worry showing in her voice. "Xander, what is it?"

Chapter 40
Resolving Photographs

Amazing. Simply amazing. She managed to blow it with Robin to the point that he's shacking up with an unhappy Giles. She managed to alienate Xander even more, which considering her little attack of the violence on him back in the day, was quite the trick. And she managed to do it in one fell swoop because she couldn't resist getting in that one last jab at Robin.

Overachiever. That's her all the way.

One thing Faith knew: if you really wanted to bring a man to his knees, kick him in the nuts. She managed to kick Robin in his nuts hard enough to shatter whatever feeling he had for her into vampire dust. Bonus, she ripped out Xander's heart at the same time, but not over ancient history. No sir. Because that would require Xander to give a shit about her beyond the fact that she was human and breathing and occasionally fought by his side and would feel obligated to save her ass if she got in over her head.

*That look on his face when…well, pretty much says it all doesn't it? * She knows that slack-jawed-don't-say-anything-to-make-it-worse-how-much-worse-is-this-going-to-get-keep-the-face-blank-and-don't-give-anything-away-god-please-don't-hit-me expression. She knows it because, hell, before her Watcher removed her from her disgusting home life she'd seen that same look on her face in the mirror too many times after mommy dearest crawled into a bottle and started getting all "honest" on her ass.

Christ. Maybe this fucking "connection" Xander claimed they had before she tried to shut him up permanently wasn't about skin. Maybe it was because he got that part of her life in a way no one else got without her saying a word. She wondered what her tells were.

Now she gets it. A little fucking late now, the ultimate day late and a dollar short. And the only reason why she finally got it was because of Xander's little tell in that masked expression. How the fuck did anyone miss that? How many fucking years did they just not see it? And which is worse? Being the new girl in town living in a crappy motel room and no one seeming to care? Or your life-long friends not even caring that you've got some serious shit to deal with whenever you step behind closed doors with the people who are supposed to love you?

*Be honest here, both pretty much suck, they just suck in a different way,* Faith thought angrily as she gave the cigarette a hard pull. *Goddamn fucking spider. Goddamn fucking web. All these goddamn connections…*

But the ultimate in this whole little clusterfuck? She again fell back on old habits because she fucking panicked, because she fucking lost control. How not to surprise herself.

Loser. That's her to the capital L.

Can't quit smoking. Can't have a reasonable conversation. Doesn't bode well for her no-more-going-evil resolve. *Think they got a 12 stepper for that one? 'Cause I think I need me a sponsor,* Faith thought as she scrunched the cigarette under her boot heel on the front steps. She thought briefly of calling Angel, but Angel was all about helping when shit was raining from the sky; not so much with tempests in kitchen-sized teapots.

*I should be a hell of a lot more upset about this looking like this is it with Robin,* Faith thought as she went back into the house. As she walked through the living room to the stairs, she didn't even register the crowd of Slayers along with their guests from the future fixated on the television screen while two of the girls went at it with joysticks. *Maybe I'm not more upset because I'm not surprised. Me and duty were an either/or proposition, never an and. Deep down I knew that. I'm such a fucking 'tard for not seeing it, that's what I am.*

Talking to Robin right now is a lost cause. She'll at least try to… well apologize about the last bit about dragging sex into what was a legitimate fight after he cooled down. But other than that, she had to admit that no matter what, their relationship was deader than a vampire with a stake to the heart.

What she had to do was find Xander. Given how she owes him a delayed apology for much bigger shit, and since she used him to stab Robin in the gut, she has to try to tackle this right away because she doubts Xander's going to let her anywhere near him for anything resembling a one-on-one once he's had time to think about it.

She wasn't afraid of the spider any more, mostly because it was all out of her hands.

Besides, if that little party in the kitchen didn't kill it dead, nothing would.


Xander stared empty-eyed at the pages, more than a little overwhelmed. It wasn't the contents that were scaring the crap out of him. Oh, no. Big Brother from the future had made sure to keep all the good bits out of sight.

It was what the book represented. And he wasn't talking about Watching around the world with Faith, either. He hated it. If anything was going to push him to leave, this was it. No one was going to dictate his future, and that included one future Alexander Lavelle Harris.


A small noise startled him and he looked up to see Faith fidgeting uncomfortably.

"I, unh, back there. I was being an asshole and…" she began.

"I'm not talking to you."

"Look, I came to say…You have no idea what prompted that fight. If you knew the real deal…"

"And I'm calling bullshit on that. You said what you said just so you could put a real hurt on Robin and it put me in a bad spot," Xander growled. "I don't fucking care who you're screwing these days, but you keep me out of your fights with the latest fuck toy, got it?"

"Hey, gimme some credit here. I didn't drop the bombshell that would really piss him off, did I?"

Xander froze. "What do you know?"

"Thought you weren't talking to me."

Xander glared.

Faith sighed and shrugged. "I was sneaking a smoke when you confronted Catherine, then stuck around after you left to salvage your rep. Satisfied?"

"Not really."

"Okay, you've got a right to be royally pissed."

"'Pissed' is just the beginning when it comes to you and this whole wonderful situation."

"Again, not saying you don't have the right, but will you let me fini-"

"I want out."

That stopped her and she refocused on him. "What?"

"I don't want this. Screw it. Just because some book says…"

"What are you talking about?"

He held up the journal and slapped it down on the table. "I lied."

"Excuse me?"

"The whole entry for Moscow? Made up. Not true."

"Hold up. The whole description of Catherine's gang was on the money."

"The rest of it is not," Xander scrubbed his face. "Which means…"

"Which means?"

Both Faith and Xander jumped at the unexpected interruption. They turned to see Catherine backed by everyone, including Ms. Tikri, crowded in the doorway.

"Where's your Slayer guard?" Faith asked.

"Ummm, got involved with some vid contest," Charlie said, cowing under the combined glares of Xander and Faith. "Doom. Not exactly an uplifting name."

Catherine swept into the empty library, eyes blazing. "You found something," she tersely said.

Xander looked down and frowned. "Is English your first language?"

"No. We understand the spoken language because of our translation implants," here Catherine tapped her left ear, "but I can read a number of ancient languages, including English."

"But it's not your first language," Xander pressed. "Which means you might miss out on things like subtext or differences in how one page is written versus another page, right? What am I talking about? You didn't even realize that the Arrow was a book."

Catherine raised her eyebrows. "I suppose, but this archive has been in my family for generations, so it's highly unlikely that something like differences in writing style would escape notice. Besides, aspects of your personality are…"

"You don't know me," Xander harshly interrupted.

"For the record, we know quite a lot about you," J'Nal sniffed. "Much of both your lives are extensively covered in the historical record, not just from your own journals, but from the journals of third parties and other contemporary sources."

"But everyone is only telling you what they want you to know. They're not about to make themselves look bad," Xander contradicted.

"You haven't read the rest of your journals," Catherine protested. "You're always willing to admit when…"

"Catherine…" Charlie warned quietly.

"But what he's saying is wrong," Catherine said.

"You didn't even know I was blind on the left. Hell, you didn't even know I liked comic books until I told you," Xander pointed out. "Yet if you ask anyone in this building, they could've told you that much without even thinking."

"Hey, I didn't know about the comics," Faith protested.

"You've never asked, so why would you?" Xander crossed his arms.

"So that's your beef," Faith responded through narrowed eyes.

"How can it just be a lie?" Ms. Tikri asked. "This entry is part of a journal. It was even in the right…"

"It was planted at just the right time to push you right here where you were supposed to be all along," Xander bitterly said. "Everything about you guys in Moscow is a big fat work of fiction. And not even a good one. Assface is lying through his Watcher teeth."

"That's impossible," J'Nal protested.

"Heard ya the first time," Faith said. "Still waiting for the explanation."

"Okay, first off, you said that we found the Arrow That Points the Way--and I can't remind you enough that you guys with all your future knowledge couldn't even figure out that it was a book of _street maps that you can find anywhere_--right here in Cleveland. Am I right?" Xander asked

"Yes," Catherine replied.

"So, let me see, we here in Cleveland find ourselves a mystical Arrow--and once again, I just gotta say 'street maps' just because I feel like it's worth beating that concept over your heads--in Cleveland, an Arrow who's main mission in its existence is to Point the Way to the grail. A grail that exists, and get this, only in Moscow. So, mystical Arrow that's not exactly mystical that tells you how to get to the grail, which is located on the other side of the planet." Xander paused to let all that sink in before adding, "Do you remember any information from anywhere that indicated that we went looking for this Arrow, found it, and figured out what it was used for?"

The Watcher Honoria thought about it, eyes narrowing. "I don't precisely remember, especially since the details of our visit to Moscow are very sketchy. But as you just pointed out, repeatedly I might add, that the Arrow isn't actually anything special."

"See? That's exactly my point," Xander slapped a hand down on the closed journal for emphasis. "Plus, if by some weird chance that our screaming yellow book of street maps had an X that marked the spot for this grail, which is supposed to be a powerful focus for major league magic, you'd think going to get it would've been priority A-number-fucking-one with a bullet and you'd have major coverage from somebody?"

"You forget that your people are rather busy wrestling with the logistics of building your Council and Gathering the Slayers," J'Nal reasonably pointed out.

"Plus, Giles stressed to me that traveling to Moscow isn't as easy as wishing yourself there," Charlie added. "It could be that you and Faith couldn't get to Moscow before 2008."

"How about why we wanted the grail in the first place? How did we find out about it? How did it come to our attention?" Xander demanded.

Catherine winced. "I didn't review the records from this time period because we weren't supposed to be here. I don't know off the top of my head and without access to the ancient records. I can't give you an answer."

Xander crossed his arms. "Okay, fine. Let's move logically from there. Me and Faith in 2008 meet up with you guys in Moscow. Following?"

"Yes," Catherine said tightly.

"We're supposedly looking for a Slayer and the grail, using an Arrow map book that we found in Cleveland."

"Yes," Catherine nodded.

"You show up, working together we find the grail, and then we give it to you without even a thought."

Faith let out a low whistle. "That's not gonna happen."

"As you pointed out, we can't know everything no matter how detailed the historical record," Charlie reasoned. "Who's to say that there wasn't a discussion or an argument? For all you and we know, we could've just taken it."

"You might," Faith commented as she studied Charlie. "Bets are your boss would kick your ass if you did. I'm thinking Catherine here wouldn't be so hot on armed robbery, which is what it would probably take to get a very important mystical weapon out of our hands. Plus, I think Ruda would kill you if either Xander or me got so much as scratched."

"See? See? You're all getting my point," Xander interrupted. "There's nothing in the journal to indicate that anything happened at all. No discussion. No argument. No stealing. Xander Senior here says we gave it to you and you left. That's it."

Faith was deep in thought. "Okay, possible explanation there. Our friends tell us what the grail is used for, we realize that it's useless to us, and we turn it over since they need it."

"And we take them at their word," Xander flatly stated.

"We're basically taking them at their word that they're from the future, so why the hell not?" Faith countered.

"I have more proof," Xander said.

"I was afraid you'd say that." Catherine seemed half-convinced.

"There are no Arrow street maps for Moscow. They're exclusively North America," Xander said.

"Yet. Could change," Catherine argued.

"Let me finish. All those words that are directions to get to the grail? Lakeside? Superior? East? Summer? Street names. Cleveland street names. The Canada bit was the bastard's way of being cute. He meant Ontario. Erie isn't a description of a cemetery, but the name of a cemetery. Here. In the city."

Faith let out a low whistle.

"But…" J'Nal began.

"It gets better. When I figured it out, I grabbed Willow and talked her into putting the whammy on the journal so we could break the blocking spell."

"You didn't…" Catherine began.

"Manage it? No. Every spell Willow tried, nothing happened. Except for her last attempt. End result? A spell that turned Willow's skin blue and freed up a couple of pages which contained, get this, Assface's idea of a joke written in Klingon."

"Klingon?" J'Nal asked. "I don't recall any ancient language…"

"That odd writing," Catherine's eyes were wide. "There's been a lot of controversy about the translations and there are a lot of competing…you can read this language?"

"Oh, yeah. And I don't appreciate reading the equivalent of nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah with a Moe-like poke in my one good eye followed by instructions on how to cast a counter-spell to change Willow back from her new and fetching Smurf look."

"Is she okay?" Charlie asked. "I can take care of magical injuries if you need…"

"It's okay. She's got the counter-spell covered," Xander grimaced. "Although she's not a happy Willow, she's a Willow that'll recover with a minimum of trauma."

"So the spell did what it was supposed to do," J'Nal said. "Prevent you from seeing…"

"Which means that your great -rah knew exactly what spells Willow would try to open that book," Xander said. "Only way he'd know that is if I knew it and had already tried it."

"Still doesn't prove anything," Catherine said. "Willow could've tried the same series of spells five years from now."

"A Willow who wasn't even in Moscow at the time," Xander pointed out.

"Shit," Faith said.

"I'm not done," Xander snarled. "See, thing is, I was being my usual stupid self and just treating this," he slapped the cover of the book, "like it's just another Watcher's journal, as in one written by stranger."

"Technically, he is a stranger," Charlie pointed out.

"But it's still me and it's written by me," Xander growled back. "So I had to figure out what I would do if I were future Xander keeping nosy kids out of my stuff."

"You had to get inside your own head," Faith said.

"To figure it out," Xander said glumly.

"Sounds like you're not to happy with what you found. Self-examination can be a real kick in the teeth," Faith said with sympathy. She winced. "Sorry. Prison therapy sessions. Promise to keep the psychobabble bullshit to a minimum."

"And what did you figure out?" Ruda asked with wide eyes.

"See, here's something that doesn't make sense. The entry where he talks about going to Moscow? He's talking about he and Faith trolling around the city. He doesn't even get to naming either one of the Slayer candidates. No Arrow. No grail. Nothing. It's all about the Slayer. No, that's not right. It's all about Moscow," Xander hopped to his feet, grabbed the journal off the table, and angrily began pacing around the group waving the book in the air like a preacher at a tent revival. "Then in the middle of a sentence he switches tactics and mentions, just in passing mind you, that you guys show up in Moscow. After that he then mentions the Arrow and this grail. First time. The only time. He doesn't even get into why it needs to be found. Even better, he conveniently gives us the street directions, Cleveland street directions, to find the grail."

"We never appeared in Moscow 2008," Catherine quietly said. "We were meant to show up here all along."

"That's good, right?" J'Nal asked. "Means we kept the timeline pure."

Xander glared at Faith.

"Hey! What's your problem?" she shot back.

"I don't like being told what to fucking do with my life," he snarled. He whipped around to face Catherine. "You can take your lovely bloodline and kiss it goodbye. I'm not cooperating."

And with that, he stalked out of the room with the journal tucked under his arm.

Chapter 41
A Fighter By His Trade

Giles's fingers hovered over the journal. His tea was long forgotten as its temperature devolved into ice cold. The tick of the wind-up travel alarm clock didn't even register.

*Inconceivable.* His mind had been stuck on that one word for the past five minutes.

His hand drew back, but his eyes didn't leave the worn leather surface. Much as it shamed him to admit it, he simply lacked the courage to open it. Taking Xander at his word, while perhaps the coward's way, seemed infinitely safer.

The Watcher looked up and studied Xander's profile. The young man was standing with his back to the room, head leaning against the window, eyes closed. If Giles didn't know any better, he'd think that Xander was so exhausted that he'd fallen asleep on his feet.

That Xander was exhausted was a given. There were bags under his eyes and his face was pale and drawn.

In short, he looked positively miserable.

*It's like watching a Jenga tower. Every time he turns around another block is pulled out from under his feet. How long before he topples, I wonder?*

If someone had told him that the world's most irritating 15-year-old boy would someday be capable of creating such an intricate and delicately balanced ouroboros, he would've never believed that individual. Because at the time, to be brutally honest, he was fairly certain that said 15-year-old boy didn't have the brains of a mayfly.

How did that irritating child turn into this man? How did that happen? How did he miss it?

Worse, what if it was there all along?

"Inconceivable," Giles muttered.

"You keep saying that. Please. Find another word," Xander said in a dead voice without opening his eyes. "Unbelievable. Incredible. Fascinating. Oh boy. Flamingoed up. Something, anything else. Just not inconceivable."

"How are you holding up?"

Xander snapped his head around, eyes opened just wide enough to show that he was suffering from a headache, possibly brought on by stress, exhaustion, and the desperate need to just stop for one moment so he could finally fall apart.

Giles knew without asking that if he were waiting for Xander to crumble or to even admit he was ready to crumble, he'd be in for a very long wait indeed.

"Been better." Xander seemed willing to admit that much as he turned around to face the room, crossing his arms as he did so. He looked down and added, "I'm sorry about Willow. It was…"

"…exactly what I would have done in your place."

Xander looked at Giles, no expression on his face.

"All things considered, you've shown remarkable restraint."

Xander shot the pile of Robin's things a nasty look. "Yet another first for the record books."

If Giles didn't know any better, he'd think Xander was more upset about Robin becoming his roommate than even himself. Actually, he looked more upset than even Robin did, and considering that Robin had just cut off his relationship with Faith…

"Don't let this business with Robin distract you. I'm certain it'll blow over," Giles said.

"Says the guy who didn't get ringside tickets." His gaze remained fixed on Robin's pile.

"I…oh, dear. Don't tell me."

"Finito. Kaputski. Over-and-out," Xander said absently. "Christ, what the fuck can I do about this? How do I fix this?"

"I hardly think that's your responsibility."

Xander looked back at him, blinking owlishly. "I…suppose."

"I know you're rather exhausted, but you're quite sure?"

Xander ran a desultory hand through his hair. "Dead sure. This sounds like something I would do. I'm just enough of an idiot to leave crap like this to blind luck."

"Or intelligent enough to leave it up to fate."

"I hate that," Xander snapped.

Giles looked down at the journal again, unable to escape the notion that Xander was hiding something, although he would be damned if he knew what it was. Catherine's group seemed bound and determined to prevent any further information leaks, and it was easy enough to check the journal to see if Xander left something out on purpose.

Then again, Xander always did have trouble with the concept of fate and destiny. Giles could only imagine the affect Catherine was having on that particular worldview. One thing he did know, if Xander's current stance was anything to go by, was that Xander was going to go down swinging at whatever was waiting for him.

"Be that as it may, now that we know where to look, it behooves us to…"

Giles's door swung open and Robin walked into the room with the last of his clothes. "Giles, once again, thank you. My only other choices were Andrew or Xander and I really don't think that would be a good idea right now."

"Gee, you think?" Xander snarled.

Robin froze when he heard the voice.

"Don't worry, not telling tales out of school," Xander bit out. "Believe it or not, I'm actually here for business reasons, not soap opera reasons."

The principal carefully put the box down and in a guarded tone said, "I didn't say you were."

"It appears that we've been the subject of a con," Giles interrupted.

"I knew it!" Robin crowed.

"Perpetrated by Xander," Giles added.

Robin's eyes narrowed into a glare as he fixed on the irritated younger man. "You son of…"

"That is, Xander in 2008," Giles broke in.


"What we have boys and girls is a very big circle." Xander smiled into his own anger. "The Crew from the Future were supposed to be here all along."

Robin's expression turned thoughtful as his mind focused on business. "But the journal…"

"As Xander explained to me, the entry was a plant," Giles said. "He theorizes that since he now knows and will know in the future that J'Nal landed wrong on the first try…"

"He wrote the entry so they'd have a target they'd be sure to miss so they'd end up where they should be in the first place," Robin finished thoughtfully.

"Glad you understand it, because I'm still confused." Xander's voice had eased into I'm-still-furious-but-this-is-more-important.

"But you just explained it to Giles," Robin pointed out.

"Not the concept. The tenses. How do you do a future past tense anyway?" Xander said. "And if you try, will some English Nazi try to correct you? Because I gotta tell ya, high school English teachers aren't going to buy it for one second. I should know. I've tried."

"Always with the smart mouth," Robin muttered.

"Beats breaking things," Xander said airily. "Walls. Windows. Dishes. Hearts."

"That's quite enough," Giles snapped.

Xander shut his mouth and hunched his shoulders, but Giles could see he was still fuming.

"What we need to do is conduct a diligent search of Erie Street Cemetery," Giles continued.

"I'll get the girls on it tonight," Robin nodded.


Giles and Robin looked at Xander in surprise.

When Xander saw he had their attention, he added, "Daylight would be better for scouting. Send the team out tomorrow morning."

"You do realize that it's going to look odd that you have a group of girls scouring the cemetery during broad daylight?" Robin asked.

"Like it doesn't look odd they're cruising the local cemeteries at night?" Xander pointed out. "Look, there is clue about where these caverns are. 'By the Angel Vaslik's wing.' My bet is that it's probably a statue, or a crypt, or a headstone. So we're going to, what? Send them out into a cemetery at night to read headstones in the dark? Sure, Slayers have got better eyesight, but it just would be a hell of a lot easier to do it during the day. Bonus, less chance of getting tangled up in a vamp rumble."

"Took the words out of my mouth there," Giles agreed.

"Fine. Use common sense to beat down what was an otherwise fine plan," Robin shook his head. "We still need a cover story."

"Class trip?" Xander asked.

"To a cemetery," Robin deadpanned.

"Not a terrible idea," Giles slowly said. "Perhaps, only if asked mind you, the girls could say they were doing a history or genealogy project for their studies. I'll have to bow to your superior knowledge on this, Robin. Would such a project be possible in, say, a progressive private academy like our own?"

Robin thought about it and slowly nodded. "Yyyyyeeeeeessss. It is possible. But, I'd think you'd know just as well since you did work at the old Sunnydale High School."

"Oh gag me," Xander mumbled.

Giles fought against showing any amusement as he dryly said, "Yes, well. I tried not to actually interact with students."

"Because it would've been too hard to explain about all the nekkid witches in the books," Xander volunteered. "Those illustrations were definitely a corrupting influence on young minds."

When Robin and Giles gave Xander a pointed look, he added, "So it was just me then?"

"It certainly explains why some pages were more dog-eared than others," Giles gave Xander a half-a-smile.

"Count on you to use priceless books for cheap thrills," Robin shook his head.

"Was 15 when I saw my first naughty woodcut," Xander said in a fake-dreamy voice. "Betchya that's why I've got a thing for…"

Giles delicately coughed.

"Sorry." Xander ducked his head. Giles had a sneaking suspicion that some part of Xander was trying to recapture the easy banter of Scooby planning sessions past, forgetting that Robin could easily take his jokes the wrong way. "Ummm, look, there's a better reason for checking out the site during the day than just looking for something that says 'Vaslik' on it."

"Frankly, I'd think that's reason enough," Robin said with an arched eyebrow.

Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and said, "There's something trap-y around this grail."

Giles felt his blood run cold and saw Robin freeze in a similar manner. One word echoed in his mind: *Caleb.*

Xander's face twitched into an aborted smile. "The good news is we've already got the heads up."

"From you," Robin said quietly.

Xander slowly nodded. "More good news, it sounds like traps, plural, of the 'Indiana Jones' variety than…"

Giles watched as Xander suppressed a barely imperceptible shudder.

"Yes, this business about the ground rises to protect the entrance. Any idea what it means?" Giles asked.

"From beneath you it devours," Robin muttered under his breath.

Xander's body went very still and Giles glanced back at Robin, who seemed lost in thought.

"If it was that, I'm pretty fucking sure I wouldn't be dropping cutsey wootsey hints about the fun and games," Xander said in a flat voice.

Robin looked up startled. "I-I-I didn't say you would it's just…"

"Don't go there," Xander interrupted in a monotone. "Don't ever go there. If you even suggest that I'd play games with people's lives like this…"

"Xander, I'm certain Robin didn't…" Giles began.

Xander kept his eyes on Robin, but his voice sounded less tight with anger. "Maybe it's something under the ground. Vampires. Zombies. Hell, maybe the ground itself does an impression of a classic California earthquake. I'm thinking that it's something that can be overcome without anyone getting killed."

"Agreed," Robin nodded.

"Teamwork that splits the team?" Giles asked. Inconceivable had become interesting. In a lot of ways, the journal had become a window into how Xander's mind worked.

Robin snapped his fingers. "Something that's easily distracted."

"So definitely a thing, then. Probably means we're going to have to have one group keeping whatever it is busy above ground while the other group goes below." Xander rubbed a hand through his hair. "Just for the record? Not in love with the idea of fighting a below-ground action."

Robin and Giles exchanged looks.

"Xander? You most certainly don't have to go," Giles said gently.

"Yes I do," Xander said quietly. "At the very least, I have to go."

"Why?" Robin asked.

Xander deflated. "So I can see what happens with my own two…I mean my one eye and then write about it using the kind of words that make me reach for a dictionary." Xander shot Giles a dirty look. "And no, I'm not going down there because of 'destiny' and 'just because some book says so,' for the record."

Giles held up his hands, amazed that Xander continued to insist on his schizophrenic approach to the whole business.

"You mentioned fighting below ground?" Robin said.

Xander wrinkled his nose. "Grail's got a reptile guardian, as in a snake. Probably the only thing Ass…I mean, me was at all resembling clear about. It's a snake. That hates walnuts. My guess? A big snake. Lovely. Thought I was done with big snakes after graduation, but nooooooooo…"

"Xander," Giles sighed.

"Sorry. He's not real clear about how to kill it. 'Teamwork that shatters the team.' What the hell does that mean? 'Must be killed by a splinter?' What the hell is that?"

"You recited that from memory?" Robin asked.

"Been staring at the damn thing most of the day," Xander muttered. "Still bugged about the walnuts, though. I mean, what are we supposed to do? Raid the grocery store and pelt this thing with salty roasted goodness? As weak spots go, that one's a beaut."

"Be easy to kill if that's the case," Robin pointed out.

"Right. Send Andrew to Stop & Shop and have him load up," Xander rubbed his forehead. "Don't ask me why, but I don't think it's gonna be that easy. Remind me to punch myself in the nose come September 2008."

"Done and done," Robin promised.

"Yes, be that as it may, a daylight scouting is definitely in order," Giles interrupted.

Robin nodded. "I've got a few girls in mind. Good attention to detail. Diligent. I'll get right on it."

"Who are you sending?" Xander asked.

Robin headed for the door. "I've got a few candidates."

The moment Robin left, Giles watched Xander's eyes narrow in thought.

"What is it?" Giles asked.

"Be nice if he gave you the list of candidates he had in mind," Xander grumbled.

Giles leaned back and studied Xander a moment. "Oh?" he prompted.

"He should've talked it over with you as well as Buffy and Faith since he doesn't train personally with all the Slayers. While him and Faith in the same room is gonna be tension central, keep 'em focused on business and I'm pretty sure they'll listen to you."

"I quite agree. About Robin running his candidates by us."

Xander looked Giles. "So tell him that."

Giles crossed his arms thinking back on the journal entry and what it said to the listener who paid attention. "I rather think you should."

Xander threw up his hands. "Fine. I'll drag Robin back here and hunt down Buffy and Faith so he'll vet the list with you guys."

"And you should also be involved with the vetting," Giles added.

Xander stopped, studying Giles out of the corner of his right eye, face looking confused. "Yeah. Okay," he said uncertainly.

"Be as rude as you like about it."

Xander looked grim as he followed Robin's path. "Now that's something you don't want."

*From inconceivable to interesting to fascinating,* Giles mused. Yes, the journal certainly painted a very clear picture indeed about the author, certainly more than the author would ever be comfortable letting on. *No one should have to stand alone. It all comes down to teamwork for you, doesn't it?*

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