Chapter 1: Prodigum Filium
"What do you mean you're leaving?"
Buffy stared at Riley with hurt and confusion warring on her face. Why was this happening? What had she done wrong? Why had Riley insisted on the entire team being there for what was essentially the Great Dump? A little privacy was warranted here.
She knew her relationship with Riley hadn't been the best of late and she was partly to blame. Before she had come out as the Slayer, so much of her life had to be hidden from him. It was mostly okay; they made do with the time they had. Then her hand had been forced and she'd had to reveal herself.
Ever since, tension had become a third wheel. She knew Riley no longer trusted her absolutely, which she understood; still, she was bothered that he had kept his own secrets and didn't feel the need to apologize for them. Some crap about national security.
Well, she didn't give a rat's ass about national security. Not when it had made a really scary demon robot which had tried to kill her and her friends.
She also knew Riley resented her power, that he wasn't the stronger of them. She'd had enough of macho posturing in her relationship with Angel; she wasn't going to put up with it now. She hadn't chosen to be the Slayer, the decision had been made for her, as had so many decisions in her life. But she had been chosen and decided a while ago that she was going to be the best Slayer she could be, whether Riley liked it or not.
So much had been swept under the rug and Buffy knew she was as much to blame as him. They had convinced themselves they would deal with it later, but they never had and now later had come calling. Each had thought their love was strong enough to get them through this, but maybe it might not be.
Riley blushed and ducked his head. "There's a lot I haven't told you, Buffy, that I haven't told any of you. I was ... I was scared."
"Why?" asked a curious Xander. He was feeling very anxious over whatever was about to happen. Over the course of the last year, Riley had become his best friend, something he had at first resisted, believing it would be a betrayal of Jesse's memory. As much as he loved Buffy, as loyal as he was to her, Riley held a very special place in his heart.
"It would have been used against me."
Buffy and Willow stared as Giles' brain kicked into high gear.
As usual, the first to put the pieces together was Xander.
"By Maggie," he said darkly.
Riley clenched his teeth, jaws flexing, as he gave a sharp nod.
Buffy glowered. She hated that woman. Even in death, her specter haunted them.
"What did she have on you?" Willow asked softly.
"My brothers and sisters," Riley admitted.
Buffy's eyes widened. "What?" This was certainly news to her.
Riley sighed and took a seat on the sofa. "My real name is Riley Hummel. I took my mother's maiden name when I enlisted. I'm from Ohio, not Iowa." He bit his lip. "Two days ago, my father, stepmother, and stepbrother were killed in a car accident. Drunk driver."
Willow gasped as Buffy suppressed a strangled yelp.
"I'm so sorry," Giles whispered.
"Thanks," Riley said tightly. "My birth mother left when I was five. I don't know why and my father never told me. I never saw her again. Two years later, my father remarried a wonderful woman named Suzanne, whom I consider to be my real mother. A year after that, she gave birth to my brother Kurt and sister Quinn."
"Twins?" Xander asked.
Riley nodded. "They're fifteen. The next year, my parents decided to adopt. They wanted another child but were told that, after the twins, she wouldn't be able to get pregnant. They wanted to give a home to a kid who really needed one. They didn't care if it was a boy or a girl."
He took a deep breath. "They applied with agencies in both China and Korea and were approved by each, so they decided to take a chance. They thought Mike and Tina could be regarded as twins, despite their different nationalities, that they would be as close as Kurt and Quinn. Right after they were approved, Mom found out that, somehow, she was pregnant. By the time we got Mike and Tina, she was almost due with Brittany. She went into labor, but ... "
Xander swallowed heavily, his heart hurting for his friend. He looked quickly at Buffy and Willow, each of whom had tears slipping down their cheeks.
"She didn't make it. Brittany was delivered by C-section." He put his head in his hands. "Dad was so amazing. Six kids and he made it work. He owned a chain of auto shops, but was always there for us. We never wanted for anything, especially love. Even though Mom was gone, even though the triplets never knew her, we made sure they knew she loved them."
"Triplets?" Buffy asked quietly.
"Mike, Tina, and Brittany are only weeks apart." He shook his head. "They decided when they were four that three were better than two. They were always a little jealous of how close Kurt and Quinn are, built-in best friends by birth, so they decided to introduce themselves as the Hummel Triplets."
He burst out laughing. "I think part of them just wanted to see the dim, confused look in people's eyes when they told people they were triplets, especially because they don't look anything alike." He pressed his lips tightly together. "They're really great kids."
"And Maggie threatened them," Buffy said, her words a statement and not a question.
He growled. "She did. She wanted her power over me to be absolute, so I would be loyal only to her."
"What a bitch," Willow hissed.
"So you're going back to Ohio," Xander said sadly.
Riley nodded. "I have to. If I don't step up, the kids will be put into foster care, probably separated from each other." He snorted. "There aren't a lot of foster families in Lima willing to take in one teenager, let alone five, and I'm honestly scared of what Kurt and Quinn would do if they were forcibly separated."
Giles slowly crossed the room and put a strong hand on Riley's shoulder. "Five children is a great deal of responsibility for such a young man to assume. I completely understand and even applaud you for wanting to do this, but what about the practicalities? What about money?"
Riley waved him off. "Money isn't a concern. Mom was the only child of an old French family who had more money than they could ever count. After she died, it all passed to Kurt, including the title, as he's the firstborn and first male heir. He and Quinn are too young to inherit their trusts, so I'll oversee them until they're of age."
Giles nodded. "Well, that's sorted, but still, Riley, this is a huge undertaking for you. I'm concerned. Of course we'll miss you and we understand your decision, but we can't help but worry."
"I can't bring them here, Giles. It's too much. I worry about Dawn every minute she's out of our sight. I'd go crazy with my siblings on the Hellmouth."
Buffy understood. Her fear for her sister was omnipresent.
He sighed. "But I have to get them out of Ohio. It's not safe for them there and they're slowly suffocating."
"Why wouldn't it be safe?" asked a concerned Xander.
"Kurt and Brittany are gay and Tina is bisexual. The comments toward the girls have been ... inappropriate and salacious, but the abuse to which Kurt is subjected is quickly escalating toward physical violence."
"Dear god," Giles muttered, shaking his head.
Willow in particular took this very hard. "You have to get them out of there, Riley."
He nodded. "I know."
Buffy came over and sat down beside him, resting her head upon his shoulder. He immediately wrapped an arm around her. "Where will you go?"
"I was thinking about San Diego. Aside from the earthquakes, California has a lot to offer." He grinned. "Apart from Maggie, I've certainly enjoyed being here."
She gave him a fleeting smile.
"The kids have never been to the beach, never seen the ocean. San Diego is more liberal than a lot of towns and I've found a terrific charter school in which I think the kids would do well. I have a telephone interview scheduled with the Vice Principal in a few weeks. She seems really nice and understanding. The kids are so far ahead in school, I can pull them out now and they won't suffer. They need the time, and I need time with them.
"The new school has a great program in the performance arts. All the kids play instruments and sing, but Kurt is easily the best, and Mike and Brittany are amazing dancers."
"Do you sing?" Buffy asked.
Riley reddened and refused to answer. "Musical education was really important to Mom. Dad was tone deaf, but he could appreciate music and made all of us take lessons to honor her. I'm glad he did."
Buffy knew she couldn't change his mind and really had no interest in doing so. He wasn't leaving because he didn't love her; he was putting his brothers and sisters first, which is exactly what she would do for Dawn. She would miss him horribly, but didn't begrudge his decision. She wasn't that much of a hypocrite.
"What are they like?" she asked quietly.
A huge smile overtook his face as he quickly pulled out his phone and began scrolling through the pictures. Everyone gathered around him.
"This is Quinn. The twins are almost sixteen."
"She's beautiful," said an admiring Buffy.
"She's a cheerleader and kind of the alpha girl of the school. She's extremely smart, slightly manipulative, and can be vicious with her words, but she has a good heart. She loves her family and will fight to the death to protect anything she considers hers. She's been able to keep most of the jocks away from Kurt. They're terrified of her."
Xander's breath hitched. "Cordelia," he whispered.
Willow automatically flinched but Buffy thought the comparison apt.
Riley laughed. "From what you've told me about Cordy, Xan, if anyone is like her, it's Kurt." He flicked his finger, scrolling to the next picture.
"Whoa," Buffy and Willow murmured in appreciation.
Riley looked at the picture fondly. "He's beautiful, isn't he? He hates being called pretty, but he's too, well, pretty to be considered handsome. Kurt is the head cheerleader, a certified mechanic, and is easily the smartest kid I know. He's incredibly devious, but he has a dedication to the truth which can be terrifying in its totality. He says what he thinks, does what he wants, and doesn't care what you think about it or him. It doesn't endear him to many people, but he really couldn't care less."
Xander nodded. "Yep, that's Cordy."
"A male Cordelia," said a thoughtful Willow.
"That's actually kind of awesome," said Buffy, nose scrunched up.
"He's the glue that holds us all together," Riley continued. "He's closest to Quinn, but we're all close to him. Sometimes it's like he's the big brother, not me."
"When's the last time you saw them?" Xander asked.
"Far too long," Riley said gruffly. "I didn't go home too often because I know Maggie was having me watched. I didn't want to draw her attention to them any further than it already was."
"Riley," Xander said lowly, "are you sure your father's accident was an accident?"
Buffy and Willow gasped while Giles gave a short nod, suggesting he had been pondering this as well.
Startled, Riley looked up and stared into Xander's eyes. "Maggie's dead."
"But the Initiative isn't."
Riley scowled. "What's the advantage? They already knew I wasn't going to re-up when the time came."
"Maybe it was a warning to keep your mouth shut and your nose to the ground," suggested a hesitant Xander. "Do we really know who's running the Initiative now? With Maggie and Adam gone, what's the mission? Why remain on the Hellmouth?"
Buffy was going to find their new headquarters and kill all of them slowly.
"No," Riley said, grabbing her hand. "Stay away from them, Buffy. Xan's right. We don't know what they're after anymore, but we do know they're aware of all of you, of what you can do."
Xander gave an owlish blink and turned toward his best friend. "Buff, they might know about Angel and Cordy."
Buffy inhaled a sharp breath. "I'll call."
She looked around. "Where's Anya, anyway? And Tara?"
Xander looked away. "Anya is leaving Sunnydale."
"What?" Riley asked. "Why?"
"It doesn't matter," Xander muttered.
Buffy and Riley exchanged a worried glance, but decided not to press. A glare from Buffy kept Giles and Willow silent.
"We're going with you," Xander announced.
"What?" Buffy asked.
"With Riley. To Ohio. We're going with him." He turned to his friend. "Your father just died. You have five kids to take care of. You need help. The Hellmouth is quiet in the summer. We can spare the time."
"You don't have ... "
"Yes, we do," Buffy interrupted. "I want to meet your family, Riley. I also want to pay my respects to the man who's responsible for one of the best people I've ever known."
Riley flushed, his eyes becoming very bright.
Cordelia stared blankly at the scene before her.
Sure, she had always suspected Angel was just a little bit gay and, hey, Doyle certainly wasn't a surprise, but this was kind of an apocalypse and not the best time for them to be locking lips. If they wanted to be together, she'd happily wave a rainbow flag and be their best hag, but they were on the clock.
A flummoxed Angel stared into Doyle's eyes. "What the hell?"
Doyle winked. "It wasn't good for you?"
"Vision. Let my princess go, Boss."
Angel frowned. "What do you mean? What did you see?"
"Death. Hers. And with her, goes the world. I'm deadly serious about that, by the way. I'm going to die, Angel, and in my stupidity, I was going to kiss her goodbye and declare my undying love. I would've given her my power and she would have died, her mind and soul raped to death by something that's been grooming her for this moment ever since Sunnydale."
Angel was horrified. "I'll protect her."
"You can't. You want her safe? Let her go. I'm begging you, Boss. Do it now before it's too late. Let her live."
Angel looked away. Over the past year, Cordelia, who he had once so easily dismissed as nothing but a vapid bimbo, had become the best friend he'd ever had; the only one he'd ever had. She was so brave; foolish, yes, but courageous. She was intelligent but had common sense, a mixture not often to be found anymore. She was funny; cruel, but hysterically funny. She made sure he never slipped too far into his brooding or maudlin moods.
He needed her. He needed her desperately.
"She will die," Doyle repeated, "and if that happens after I warned you, then it will be your fault. You will have killed her. Can you live with that?"
Angel swallowed heavily.
"Send her home. Send her back to the boy, the one you both love."
Angel took a deep breath and stepped back, eyes wide.
"He'll protect her," Doyle continued. "He'll give her a home." He stepped back and decked his friend, watching the vampire tumble to the ground, rather proud he had accomplished it. "Got to go. Destiny and all. Tell her I loved her, Angel and, just so it's clear, I loved you too."
And then he was gone and Cordelia was screaming and Angel just wanted to die.
Two days later, Riley stood at the airport gate with his friends, saying a goodbye he'd had no idea would hurt this badly. Xander and Buffy were coming with him, but Giles, Willow, and Tara were staying behind to keep an eye on things.
The three had come to the airport to see them off, along with Anya, Joyce, and Dawn.
Joyce was terribly upset that Riley was leaving, that his relationship with Buffy was coming to an end. She had grown very fond of him, had believed he was the normalcy for which Buffy had so longed and craved, but circumstances were driving them apart. She understood, of course, and applauded Riley for his unselfish decision. She knew how hard it was to be a single parent to two children; she couldn't imagine doing it for five. Still, she knew he would do well.
He was a good man, a strong man, and perhaps, with luck, one day he and Buffy might find their way back to each other. She had hugged and kissed him goodbye, demanding he stay in contact and that he was to call her with any questions or concerns. He might be gone from their sight, but not from their hearts.
Most upsetting, however, was Xander. Over the years, he had become the son she'd never had, the one she'd always wanted, and she had the nagging feeling that this would be the last time she'd see him. Somehow she knew he wasn't coming back. She didn't say anything, she knew better than that, knew that Xander himself had yet to make the decision, but she knew it was coming.
Part of her was relieved. The kids were no longer in high school and the stakes were rising. Xander had long ago accepted Buffy's mission as his own and been the first to stand at her side without question. But now it was more dangerous than ever and Xander didn't have Slayer strength or magic to protect him. If he stayed, he would die, and Buffy would go insane.
As much as her daughter needed him to balance and check her, Joyce knew if anything happened to Xander, neither Buffy nor Dawn would survive it. So, as much as it pained her, she was willing to let go of one child to save the others.
She watched as Dawn clung to Riley, saying goodbye to yet another father figure, though as yet unacknowledged, and knew her youngest child's path was going to be almost as difficult as that of her eldest. At least Buffy and Dawn would have each other, if they ever managed to shut up long enough to realize just how alike they were.
A very confused Riley currently had an armful of Anya and was overwhelmed by the strength her slight body possessed. Truthfully he was surprised she had deigned to come along. She was leaving Sunnydale and everything she knew of this mortal life behind. He didn't think she cared enough about him to wait and see him off. Then again, Xander had always insisted they had never really known Anya, just as Buffy and Willow had never known Cordelia.
"Take care of him for me," she whispered into his ear. "He loves you, you know."
Riley blinked. "I love him, too. He's my best friend."
She pulled back and offered a mysterious smile which he couldn't comprehend.
Riley, Buffy, and Xander exchanged hugs with the others as the boarding call was announced. Xander couldn't figure out why Giles was holding on to him so tightly.
"I know I've been remiss in never saying it," Giles whispered into his ear, "but I have always been very, very proud of you, my boy."
Xander pulled back and stared into the older man's eyes. "Giles?"
Giles took Xander's face in his hands. "You are a good man, a strong man, and it has been my great privilege to watch these past years as you've surpassed my every expectation."
Xander wanted to cry. Why was he saying this? Why now?
Giles gave an embarrassed shrug. "I watch. That's what I was trained to do. I never ... I never thought I would have children of my own, Xander, but I have you and Buffy and Willow and Cordelia, and I'm so grateful for all of you. I love you very much."
Xander threw himself at him for another hug and Giles thought the boy's parents were absolutely stupid for never appreciating the gift they had been given.
She cocked her head to the side in disbelief, sure she hadn't just heard his voice. But she had.
They all turned and found a stoic Angel escorting a silent and somber Cordelia toward their retinue. It was obvious something was very wrong.
"Angel?" she asked. "What are you doing here?"
He looked at Cordelia and, in response, so did the others.
"What happened to her?" Xander barked, pulling her into his arms.
"An apocalypse," Angel said, jaw working furiously. "Doyle died."
Buffy reflexively took his hand. "I'm so sorry."
"He had a vision before he went. Something is after Cordelia, something serious, probably to use her against me. Doyle said she would die if she stayed with me."
Buffy could hear the truth behind the words and it terrified her. "What else did he say?"
Angel turned away. "He told me to bring Cordelia home."
"To the boy we both love," Cordelia finished, wrapping her arms around Xander.
A surge of jealousy infused every cell of Riley's body.
Buffy shook her head. "What?"
"It doesn't matter anymore," Xander said slowly, looking to her. "We made our choices years ago."
She stared at him, then at Angel, and then at the two of them. And she knew.
All of the fights. All of the mocking sneers and insults. All of the times Angel suddenly appeared to save Xander. That it was Xander who forced Angel to take him to the Master's lair to save her. That it was Xander who always accompanied her when she had to save Angel.
That horrible day in the mansion when Xander had stood before her and lied to push her to do what they both knew must be done. She had known it was a lie the moment he uttered the words. She was his best friend and he hers. They knew each other in ways no one else did or ever could; not Giles, Willow, or Cordelia.
She hadn't understood the pain in his eyes that day. She had assumed it was for her alone, his pain that she would be forced to put down Angel to save all of them, but now she saw it for what it really was. Their pain at losing the man they loved.
He had put it aside as he always did, as he had so much - Jesse, Cordelia, Faith - to be her first lieutenant, her stalwart soldier.
But he was right. They had all made their choices long ago. She had just never considered until this moment the cost, that they had perhaps made the wrong ones.
She nodded and grasped Willow's hand tightly. Now was not the time for Willow's impetuous mouth to enter the fray.
Angel cleared his throat. "Why are you all here? Did ... did you know we were coming?"
"Riley's father, stepmother, and stepbrother were killed by a drunk driver," Xander said. "He's going home to care for his brothers and sisters. Buffy and I are going with him."
"I'm so sorry," Cordelia murmured to Riley, who nodded his appreciation.
Her sincerity struck the others dumb as her moments of true compassion always had.
"My condolences on your loss," Angel said.
"Thank you," Riley muttered.
Anya hesitantly pushed her way forward and pressed an airline ticket into Cordelia's hand. "I knew Doyle. He called me before ... well, before. You should go with them. You belong with Xander."
Buffy's grip almost drove Willow to her knees, but the witch kept her mouth shut.
Cordelia and Anya stared into each other's eyes for a long moment as they assessed one another. At last they nodded.
Anya turned to Angel. "You're going to need help. Doyle said another was coming, but not yet, so I'm going back to Los Angeles with you. I'm not a Seer, but I'm over a thousand years old and have forgotten more than you'll ever know."
Angel just stared at her.
Cordelia passed her keys to the other woman. "You can have my apartment." She was silent for a long moment. "You'll take care of him for me."
It was a command, not a suggestion.
And Buffy realized in that moment the bond that existed between Angel and Cordelia, how much they loved and cared for one another, that Cordelia was, in essence, Angel's Xander.
Cordelia's breath hitched as she disengaged from Xander's arms and threw herself into Angel's. "I love you. I love you so much and I'm going to miss you every single second of every single day."
Buffy had never before seen Angel cry.
"Call if you need help," she said. "Call me, call Buffy, call Ghostbusters, but call someone. You're not alone, Angel."
"I love you, too," he murmured into her hair. "You and Xander take care of each other."
She smiled. "We've been doing that since we were four, when Xander stole Willow's Barbie so I would have a friend."
Willow gasped softly. Since then? That was why?
Cordelia pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. "This time, tell him goodbye. Tell him how you feel."
Angel pulled away and scowled.
"You owe him that. You owe yourself that much." Cordelia left his arms and shepherded the others several feet away until Xander and Angel were alone, staring at each other.
"Did you ever wonder?" Xander whispered.
"All the time," Angel confessed, stepping forward. "Every second I was with you."
"Do you think anything would have changed?"
"I don't think we'll ever know."
"It doesn't really matter. We both chose her and it was the right decision."
Buffy turned away so they wouldn't see her tears. This was their time.
"I loved you," Xander said. "I really did."
"I know. I loved you, too. It just wasn't in the cards for us."
"Thank you for bringing Cordelia home."
"Her home is wherever you are, Xander. It always has been. I was just ... keeping her safe for you, as you've done for me with Buffy."
Xander nodded and turned to leave, squeaking when Angel yanked his arm and drew him close.
"This time, we do it right."
And then they were kissing and neither wanted ever to let the other go.
Angel felt something pass through him and into Xander. They both felt it, but neither knew what it was.
When it was over, they drew back and looked at each other.
"That was worth waiting for," Xander whispered, looking shyly at the ground.
Angel tilted Xander's chin up with a finger. "If you need me, call me."
Xander's brow furrowed. "Are we going to sing a Diana Ross song?"
Angel frowned. "Who?"
Joyce's wild laughter echoed all around them.
The flight was roughly six hours and Xander was concerned that Cordelia had yet to speak. Silence was not something he had ever before associated with her. When not dominating the conversation, she had a tendency to babble her feelings about any topic to hide her anxiety. She wasn't nearly as prone to babble as him, but she still babbled.
It was funny that he never before thought of them having that in common.
They were more alike than not, but over the years they had become so accustomed to others pointing out their differences, they had tended to focus only on those differences.
But it felt right, her sitting next to him, like he had finally come home. It struck him suddenly just how much he had missed her this past year. He, Willow, and Jesse had all grown up together, but Cordelia had always been right there with them, in their vicinity if not their circle.
He also noticed the ease they now shared, their companionable silence, which was peculiar. They hadn't ended on very good terms and, while they had wished each other well, they hadn't planned on seeing each other again. He wondered what they might have been had Willow not been in the picture, if they would have gotten together sooner. If they'd still be together now.
"How did you know?" he asked quietly. "About me and Angel?"
"I always knew," she said, for once without the know-it-all tone such responses normally engendered. "It was obvious if you knew to look for it."
He chewed on that for a moment. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
She shrugged a shoulder and looked out the window. "You two chose her over each other. You made that decision before I was in the picture, so why would I pour salt in an old wound? I always wanted you to be happy, Xander, and selfishly, I wanted you for myself."
"I don't regret anything," he rushed to say. "I've never regretted us."
She flashed him a brief smile. "Me neither. When we were good, nothing was better."
He sighed and looked down. "I shouldn't have let her come between us. It was my fault."
"It was mine too. I knew you had feelings for each other, but I ignored them when I should have called you out. I could've fought for you. I should have. I let my pride stand in the way." She angrily shook her head and looked back out the window. "I was stupid."
"I should've controlled myself," he said bitterly.
"It wasn't the kiss, Xander. I could've forgiven that. It's that you lied. You lied about what you felt for her. We've all told lies, but I never thought you would lie to me."
He flushed and looked away. "When have you ever lied?"
"When I told you that we were a mistake, that I never really loved you."
"Why did you say it?" he asked after a long moment, his voice deep and hollow.
"Because I knew it would hurt and I wanted to hurt you. It was the only power I had left."
Silence fell again, both of them lost to their thoughts.
"How do you think Anya will do with Angel?" she asked.
"Well. The others never liked her. She reminded them too much of you. She was too blunt, too tactless. Too honest. She said things we didn't want to hear, but we needed to hear them. I listened and so will Angel. The others didn't, but I learned my lesson. Anya's voice never rang with the authority yours did, so it was easier for them to ignore her and dismiss her as an inferior version of you."
"Did you love her?"
He was silent for a moment. "Not the way she deserved, but, yeah, I loved her."
She nodded. "I'm glad."
"Are you two okay?"
They looked up to see Buffy looking kindly down upon them. She and Riley were seated six rows up from them and hadn't seen each other since the departure.
"Getting there," Cordelia said. "How are you?"
She sighed and leaned against the seat before them, which was vacant. "Sad. I don't know how to help him. I want to be there for him, but it's hard because I know this is the beginning of the end. At least there will be a goodbye this time."
Cordelia sighed. "Angel has never learned to say goodbye."
"I'm so sorry about Doyle," Buffy said. "I only met him once, but I liked him. He seemed nice. Funny."
"He was a good guy," Cordelia acknowledged, "and he went out like the hero he always wanted to be." She stared ahead at nothing. "He never saw himself as the hero he already was." She turned and smirked at Xander. "Seems to be contagious."
"I'm not a hero," Xander said.
"You're my hero."
He turned startled eyes up at Buffy.
She smiled. "You are. You have been from that first day when you asked if you could have me. I should have said yes." She sat on his armrest. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Because I couldn't admit it to myself. There were a lot of things I could never admit. And it didn't really matter anyway. By the time I met him, he was already yours and that was fine. You were more important."
"I am not more important than you."
"Yes, you are."
She began to shake her head.
"You are," he insisted. "I'm only ever going to be support staff, Buff, and that's okay. It really is. I don't need to be a witch or a Watcher or a werewolf or anything else. I chose you because it was the right decision, and not once in any moment of pain or glory have I regretted that."
He smiled. "You have a great big destiny, Buff, and you need a big, grand love to go with it. You deserve it and you've earned it, but that could never be us. We'd just end up worrying and fussing over each other and it would drive us apart. We're better off as friends."
He smiled and nodded. "Best friends. Always."
She slid down onto his lap, leaning her head into his neck. "And what do you want?"
"Happiness. Kids. A dog."
Her eyes widened. "Wow, kids? Really?"
He laughed. "Yeah. I'd like to be a dad. I think I know what not to do."
A look of confusion crossed her face, which only deepened when she sensed the anger pouring off Cordelia. She was struck with realization and barely suppressed her rage at what she suddenly knew to be true and at herself for what she had either not noticed or ignored. She would talk about it later with him, if he'd allow it. When she returned to Sunnydale, she'd be paying a visit to his parents. They'd be lucky if all she did was talk.
"I should get back to Riley," she said softly, rising to her feet. She turned to Cordelia. "I'm glad you're here. I've missed you."
Cordelia gave her a look that was both appreciative and confused, one that summed up their entire relationship. "Me too."
She just wasn't sure who she had missed more: Xander, Buffy, or herself.
The jetway seemed to lengthen in his eyes, the exit clearly visible but suddenly so very distant. Each step echoed in his head like the beating of his heart and he knew that once he stepped into the airport proper, it would hit him.
His father was dead. He was an orphan. His brothers and sisters would need him.
He was so grateful for Buffy's strong hand in his, for Xander's solid presence at his side, and even for Cordelia. She too was in mourning. Her entire life had changed in an instant. She understood without having to use words and that moved him.
As soon as he crossed the threshold, he saw them. He wondered how they would react. He hadn't told them he was bringing anyone with him.
Kurt was the first to notice him. Kurt was always the first to notice everything. He immediately stood and ushered his siblings to do the same. He quickly adjusted Mike's collar, brushed back Tina's hair, and wiped Brittany's face with a handkerchief. Presentation had always been so important to him.
Riley gave his brother a hard look. Kurt was pale, but otherwise appeared fine. The distance in his eyes was the only clue as to his depth of suffering. He would be the rock, Riley knew. It was Kurt more than him who would see the others through their father's passing. He had always been the strong one, fighting for everyone but himself. He would get them through this, even if the cost was to himself. That was what Riley feared most.
Quinn clung to Kurt's arm, biting her lip nervously. She and Riley had never been particularly close, though they loved each other deeply. He was just enough older that he had always been more a parental figure to her than a brother. She was terrified of him finding out she'd had a baby only months ago and given it up for adoption. She still couldn't believe Daddy had agreed not to tell him.
Mike wondered as to the assortment of people Riley had brought with him, who they were and what they wanted. Kurt had warned them that Riley most likely would want to move them and Mike was already dreading and resenting being separated from his best friend Matt Rutherford.
He knew that, conversely, Tina couldn't get wait to get out. She hated Lima and always had. It was too small, too provincial, and frankly too white. She was tired of never seeing a face that resembled her own. She was tired of explaining that, while she and Mike were adopted, they weren't biological siblings just because they were both Asian.
Mike's experience was not hers. He had never known his family was different until it was pointed out to him by classmates. He had always known he had been adopted, but he loved his family. They were his life. He didn't care that he didn't look like them. He'd never wondered about his birth parents. He had been chosen and loved and that was all that had ever mattered.
He couldn't remember his mother anymore, if he'd ever even had concrete memories of her. He would look at pictures of her holding him and Tina and Brittany and couldn't recall her face or voice, but he was nevertheless always suffused with warmth at the sight of her. She had loved them so much, had wanted them so much, and he could feel that, even now.
He supposed his maternal figure was actually ... Kurt. Kurt had been mothering them for as long as Mike could remember, even though he, Tina, and Brittany were only a year younger. Their dad had always been a huge presence in their lives, but it was Kurt who had done the day-to-day stuff. Quinn had always been there, of course, but it wasn't the same. They loved her; they revered Kurt.
Kurt had made their lunches and done their laundry and read them stories and kissed their skinned knees. Kurt had held them after they had nightmares. He had studied with them and cried with them and fought bullies for them.
And that's why Mike could accept leaving, because this town was bad for Kurt, had been suffocating him for years, and he wanted his brother to be happy. Kurt deserved happiness and it was obvious to everyone he'd never find it in Lima.
Until this moment Brittany had never realized just how much Riley and Kurt looked alike. They had the same flawless complexions, though Kurt's was porcelain and Riley's sun-kissed. They parted their hair on the same side. They had the same eyes.
She burst into tears and ran into Riley's arms, feeling her stomach drop as he swooped her up and swung her around as he had when she was a little girl. She still felt like a little girl most of the time. She was the youngest, the baby, even though Mike and Tina were just weeks older. She was the one they had all doted upon, even Quinn.
She missed her father so much it was like a physical ache, a phantom limb. She'd wake up in the morning and would swear she heard him debating with Fox News. She would swear she'd catch sight of him from the corner of her eye and then went chasing after him until she remembered. She had taken to sleeping in his old shirts, feeling as though the sleeves were his arms around her, the scents of Old Spice and motor oil lulling her to sleep at night.
Riley set her back on the ground and was then swarmed by the others, save Kurt, who stood apart and kept a watchful eye on the proceedings. Riley gleaned that Kurt was now unsure as to his place in the family. For almost ten years, he had been the eldest sibling in the house. The others took their cues from him. Kurt must have been wondering what role he was now supposed to play.
"Hi, Nightingale," he softly said.
He had been calling Kurt that since the boy was barely two. Kurt began singing before speaking and even then his voice had been remarkable. Nightingales had the greatest range of any songbird and were said to be the most creative. In myth, nightingales were harbingers of versatile, complex melodies which were often melancholic, but the birds themselves were considered to be good omens.
The moment his father had placed Kurt in Riley's arms, Riley understood what love was.
And then Kurt was in his arms again and Riley knew it was the first time his brother had cried since their father's death.
"Guys, this is my girlfriend Buffy Summers, our best friend Xander Harris, and his best friend Cordelia Chase," Riley said, making the introductions.
Cordelia smiled at being described as Xander's best friend and Kurt was utterly entranced.
"You're beautiful," he said quietly.
"So are you," she said.
He turned his head, blushing.
"It's nice to meet all of you," Buffy said kindly. "Your brother has told me nothing about you."
All five of his siblings turned and stared at Riley, who flushed.
"Let me guess," Mike said, "it was classified?"
Buffy grinned. "Something like that."
"But you know the big secret, whatever that is," Quinn surmised.
A startled Buffy said nothing and turned wide eyes on Riley. They hadn't talked about what the kids did or didn't know and she didn't want to offer any details which might contradict his past statements. This was his rodeo.
Riley took a deep breath. "Buffy, Xander, and Cordelia are familiar with my assignment. They're actually kind of like my superior officers."
Mike and Tina blinked. Xander and Buffy stared.
"And how are you managing with that?" Quinn asked her brother. "A woman in charge, I mean."
Cordelia nodded her approval. "I like you. You score direct hits."
Riley's flush deepened. "I'm ... evolving."
Kurt rolled his eyes. "Okay, Obama."
Xander and Cordelia burst out laughing.
"Riley's not a misogynist," said a frowning Brittany.
"No, he's not," Buffy agreed. "He just ... wasn't prepared for what the assignment would truly entail and a lot of that was my fault. I had to keep things from him." She shrugged. "Classified."
Cordelia cleared her throat. "It's nice to meet all of you, though I'm very sorry for the circumstances."
"Riley's mentioned Xander and Buffy in his emails," Tina said, "but not you."
"For the past year, I've been stationed in Los Angeles," Cordelia said smoothly.
"What's it like there?" Kurt asked.
"Not nearly as glamorous as it appears. Believe me, you're not missing much."
Brittany cocked her head. "You're all lying, but I guess that's okay. You seem like real friends."
No one knew what to say to that, so they decided it was best to get a move on. It was a two hour trip back to Lima.
There was a small scene at the baggage claim when Kurt eyed their luggage and questioned how they were to fit all of it, and them, in his Navigator.
"We can just rent a car," Riley said, leading them over to the Avis station.
They promptly discovered, however, that none of them were old enough to do so. Riley, at twenty-four, was a year shy of the minimum age. He could serve his country for seven years, but not rent a car with his American Express.
"I'll call Santana," Brittany chirped, whipping out her cell phone. "She has a big truck because she's butch."
Kurt and Quinn snorted.
"Who's Santana?" Buffy asked.
"My girlfriend," Brittany said. "At least this week she is."
Buffy decided it best not to press that point. Luckily Santana was also in Dayton, doing some shopping at some of the better stores unavailable in Lima. She would arrive in under an hour, giving the others enough time to place a very large and costly Starbucks order. Their barista was named Kyle and he flirted relentlessly with Kurt, who was very confused and flustered by the attention. He was utterly mortified when he later noticed a phone number written on his cup.
"He was totally cute and so into you!" Cordelia said.
"He was too old for Kurt," said a gruff Riley.
Quinn rolled her eyes. "Kyle was adorable and sexy. You should call him."
"I'm not going to be picked up in a Starbucks," Kurt declared.
"Good for you," Riley said. "You're better than that."
"Kurt's the only virgin here, isn't he?" Brittany asked.
They stared at her, then at Kurt, and then at the table.
Riley, while thankful Kurt was waiting, was not ready to hear that his siblings - he had changed their diapers - were sexually active. He desperately wanted to demand the names and addresses of any and all partners, whether or not they had been safe, and were their father's guns still loaded. Still, he knew he should say something so he looked at each one of them in turn.
"All of you?"
Quinn and Mike looked like deer caught in headlights. Tina found the ceiling utterly fascinating. Only Brittany had the temerity to meet Riley's eyes, and she wasn't the first to look away. In all honesty, Riley wasn't that surprised. Brittany had been with Santana, off and on, since elementary school. He was actually glad it had been Santana, for at least Riley knew they loved each other. They just couldn't seem to make it last for any considerable length of time.
As for the rest, as far as he knew none of them had significant others.
"If it's any consolation," Xander said, "they've probably done better than we have."
Buffy and Cordelia nodded.
"Really?" asked an interested Quinn.
Buffy and Cordelia were too embarrassed to elaborate, but Xander had no such problem. "Sure. I've had two partners. The first I slept with only once. She was going through a lot of stuff and, when I went to her place to offer my help, she tried to kill me."
Mike laughed. He stopped when Xander didn't.
"Oh, my god," Kurt whispered.
Xander nodded. "I was saved by Buffy's ex, who, coincidentally, I had a thing for."
"Yikes," Tina murmured. She turned to Buffy. "So are you gay?"
"Nope," Xander responded for her. "I like girls and boys. Well, only three girls and one boy." He looked at Buffy. "I guess Angel counts as a boy."
Buffy and Cordelia tilted their heads and at last nodded.
"Uh, why wouldn't he count as a boy?" Mike asked. "Oh! He is transgender?"
"No," Xander replied. "He's just old. He's in his early three ... uh, thirties."
"And how old were you?" Kurt gasped.
Buffy and Xander flushed.
"About as old as you are now," Riley said.
"Hey, I was seventeen!" Buffy said.
"Me too!" Xander exclaimed.
The rest looked at Cordelia, who shrugged. "Only one and only once." She paused. "I didn't really think about it until just now, but he looked a lot like Xander." She scowled. "Minus the decency."
Xander and Buffy turned toward her and frowned.
"What aren't you saying?" they demanded.
She rolled her eyes and gestured. They leaned in and she whispered furiously.
"What!" they roared.
"I'm going to find him," Buffy seethed, "and make him suffer."
"It's not worth your time," Cordelia said.
"You're worth my time."
Cordelia offered a bashful smile.
"I'm calling Anya," Xander said. "She'll take care of it."
Buffy smiled poisonously.
"Angel already did," Cordelia said.
Buffy pouted. "Spoil our fun."
"How long have you guys been friends?" Tina asked. "I mean, you finish each other's sentences and everything."
"Almost five years running," Buffy said brightly.
"I wouldn't necessarily say we're friends," Cordelia said cautiously.
She smiled. "Well, at least not as long as you, Xander, and Willow."
Buffy nodded. "That's fair." She looked at the others. "Xander and I have been best friends since high school, along with another girl, Willow Rosenberg. Cordy was always a part of us, though. Even when she left for LA, she was still with us."
"Thanks," Cordelia whispered.
Buffy shrugged. "It's true."
"Willow and I had another best friend growing up," Xander said quietly. "His name was Jesse. He died not long after Buffy moved to Sunnydale at the beginning of sophomore year."
"I'm sorry," Kurt said. "What happened?"
"Gang attack," Buffy, Xander, and Cordelia immediately said.
"Rough school," Tina noted.
Buffy scoffed. "You don't know the half of it."
"And Cordelia was always with us," Xander added. "Jesse had been in love with her since we were seven. At the time, she and I were ... "
"Archnemeses," Cordelia interjected.
"That works," he nodded, "but after Jesse died, we put that stuff behind us and fell in love."
Buffy sighed. "But first Xander fell in love with me and Angel, I fell in love with Angel, Angel was in love with both of us, and Willow had been in love with Xander since forever."
"I was busy being awesome," Cordelia interrupted, examining her perfect cuticles.
The younger set looked at each other.
"And we thought Glee was dramatic," Mike said.
"Cordelia was really my first love," Xander, "and it was the only good decision I've ever made."
She nodded. "That's true."
Buffy and Riley laughed.
"So where are Angel and Willow now?" Kurt asked.
"Angel lives in Los Angeles," Cordelia said. "He runs a private investigation firm of which I was a partner. We had a third partner, but he was killed a few days ago on a case."
They fell silent at her admission, respectful of her grief.
"Willow's back in Sunnydale keeping an eye on my little sister, Dawn," Buffy said. "She's a lesbian now. Willow, I mean. Her girlfriend is named Tara and she's wonderful."
"Too bad Willow couldn't have come to that realization before stealing my boyfriend," Cordelia snapped. She looked up and forced a smile. "Still a little bitter."
"She broke you guys up?" Quinn asked.
Xander and Cordelia exchanged a look.
"I think it's more accurate to say we let her break us up," he said, "and even that's stretching the truth. I was just as responsible."
"And you took all of the blame," Cordelia barked. "She took none."
Buffy frowned. "That's true."
"Really?" asked a surprised Riley.
"We ... weren't kind to Xander during that time," she admitted. "I had unconsciously sided with Cordy and, well, I was always closer to Xan, so I was more disappointed in him. But Willow was just as guilty. She had a boyfriend at the time, but even he blamed Xander more than Willow."
Xander rubbed his jaw. "It still hurts when it rains."
"Oz shouldn't have decked you," Buffy said, "no matter how angry he was."
"Especially because Willow used a ... trick," Cordelia hissed.
Buffy's head swiveled toward her. "Wait, what?"
"Are you serious?" Riley demanded.
The kids had no idea what was going on but knew the conversation had much more depth than what was being said.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Buffy asked Xander.
He shrugged. "Because blaming ... that ... would have been the easy way out. No matter what was going on that night, I made my choice and it was the wrong one. I'll always regret it."
Cordelia gave a wistful sigh. "I'll always regret not ripping her kidneys out and feeding them to a stray cat."
Everyone stared at her until Brittany's phone began chirping.
"Sanny's here! I call shotgun!"
Chapter 2: Ortum Rex
Halfway to Lima Riley realized he hadn't planned the logistics very well.
The house was already completely occupied - Kurt had long ago taken his room - and there just wasn't any space for Buffy, Cordelia, and Xander. Despite his protests, they elected to stay at the house regardless, more than happy to share with the kids or sleep on the couches or floor.
He supposed he somewhat understood. They were in an unfamiliar small town where they knew no one and had no transportation of their own. He knew he would be incredibly busy with lawyers and real estate agents and planning the services so he wouldn't be able to entertain them, but there was probably more to do at the house than at the lackluster Lima Holiday Inn Express.
It was eventually decided, via furious texting, that Riley and Buffy would take the master bedroom, Xander would share with Kurt and Cordelia with Quinn. Quinn was fine with the arrangement, but Kurt was more hesitant.
"What's the matter, Nightingale?" Riley asked.
Kurt said nothing and continued to drive.
"Finn refused to share his room," Mike said, "so Dad made Finn share with me. Finn got all pissed off because he had never shared a room before and didn't think he should have to start. He kept insisting that Kurt should give up his room and share with me so he could have his own."
"That's ridiculous," Riley said. "Kurt and Quinn shared a room until they were eight. When I left, Kurt took my room, but only because Dad made him. The twins waged a rebellion that lasted more than a year."
Mike laughed. "Yeah, and don't think Quinn didn't tell Finn where he could shove it. We've all had to share, but Finn was an only child and Carole had spoiled him. He didn't want to have to make any concessions and Dad was afraid to discipline him because of how Carole might take it. Once she was told what was going on, she told Finn his only other option was to pitch a tent in the backyard. He seriously considered it."
The only reason Riley didn't give voice to his thoughts was because he was raised not to speak ill of the dead. He had never met Finn but had hurt all about him from Tina and Brittany's admittedly biased emails, though the bedroom situation had never been mentioned. Quinn had dated Finn during their freshman year, but Riley didn't know when or why they had broken up; she had kept mum on the matter during their relatively few exchanges.
"He didn't want to share with you because you're gay?" he gently asked his brother.
Kurt pursed his lips.
"Well, he sounds like he was a dick, but that is so not Xander, okay bud? He's the best guy I know and the least judgmental, at least about stuff like that."
Buffy frowned. That certainly hadn't been her experience with Xander. Then again, he had been nothing but supportive and encouraging as far as her relationship with Riley was concerned. His anger and disappointment regarding Angel, however ... well, nothing he had said had been actually wrong and he admittedly had been jealous.
Like she had been at his relationships with Cordelia and Anya. Oh.
She felt her cheeks heat up.
Kurt gave a tight nod, his relief made clear only by the slight softening of his shoulders.
Mike sighed. "Ri," he began cautiously, "give Kurt a break on the Finn front, okay? Their relationship is ... was ... kind of strange."
That set off Riley's Big Brother Alarm.
"Strange how?" Buffy demanded.
Ever since Willow had come out, Buffy had conducted an inventory of herself, determined to figure out why she had reacted to the news as poorly as she had. Eventually she had come to the realization that she wasn't homophobic, just surprised, but she was upset and rather hurt that Willow had expected her to be prejudiced.
Willow had never said why that was, what it was about Buffy that suggested she wouldn't welcome Tara with open arms. The truth of the matter was that she liked Tara a lot. Her wariness had stemmed from the fact that Tara was an outsider and Buffy was afraid of her learning Super Secret Slayer Stuff and getting killed for it.
There was also some slight jealousy on Buffy's part that Tara might take her place as Willow's best friend. Once Tara was Willow's acknowledged girlfriend, however, Buffy was just happy that Willow was happy.
So, yeah, she was a little ticked off on Kurt's behalf.
Kurt reminded her a lot of Dawn. They even kind of looked alike: shiny chestnut hair, pale complexions, and huge blue eyes. Kurt's eyes were even more startling in color and almost feline, but he was much more quiet and thoughtful than Dawn, which Buffy certainly appreciated.
Mike knew Kurt didn't want to talk about it but, at the same time, felt Riley should know. He knew his big brother well enough that if Riley didn't get answers immediately, he would seek them out by questioning their friends, who admittedly had various opinions.
"Back in freshman year when Finn and Quinn were dating, Kurt crushed on Finn pretty hard," Mike said quietly. "Quinn knew and didn't care because she shares everything with him and knew he wouldn't cross certain lines, but Finn had a lot of ... gay panic."
Cordelia, who had been sitting in the back lost in her own thoughts, frowned.
Kurt's fingers gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles turned white.
"Finn totally freaked out," Mike continued, "and made a big deal about how straight he was and that Kurt was some kind of stalker or something. He didn't seem to get that Kurt was always around because it was his house."
"Is that why Quinn dumped him?" Riley asked. "Because go Quinn."
Mike shook his head. "It was, um, actually the other way around, but you'll have to talk to Quinn about that, and it wasn't Kurt's fault. In fact, after they broke up, Finn just kept hanging around, only then he was coming over to see Kurt."
"I don't like where this is going," Cordelia said.
"None of us did," Mike said, scowling. "Suddenly Finn decided that Kurt was his new best friend. That basically meant Finn wanted Kurt to tell him what to wear and help him with his homework, which Kurt did, despite the fact that they were on different tracks at school."
He looked over his shoulder at her. "Kurt and Quinn are super smart. Practically geniuses. They're in every honors class they can take and are even in Advanced Placement classes. They get their scores in a few weeks, but if they at least got threes on this latest round of AP exams, they'll already have more than twenty college credits each."
He cleared his throat. "Anyway, Kurt felt some stupid need to make up for having a damn crush and Finn was more than content to have Kurt as some kind of guidance counselor and analyst."
"That's not exactly true," Kurt whispered.
Mike glared. "Bro, he totally used you! He started dating Rachel even before he dumped Quinn and came to you with all his relationship problems, even though he knew how close you and Quinn are! He tried to drive a wedge between you. He wanted you to choose him over your own damn twin!"
"That never would have happened," Kurt insisted. "Both Finn and Quinn knew that."
"He still tried," said a mulish Mike. "So Finn started dating Rachel and she's kind of crazy. She's been obsessed with Kurt for years because her goal in life is to have a gay BFF. I even heard her tell Mercedes that if she's not married by the time she's thirty, she wants Kurt to be her sperm donor.
Kurt made a strangled clucking noise as his entire body shuddered.
"Rachel hates Quinn and, yeah, Quinn did used to kind of bully her, but Rachel's no one's victim. She wanted Finn who wanted Quinn, but I don't know if Rachel actually loved Finn or just the idea of him. He seemed more like a trophy to her than anything else."
"So he dated her to make Quinn jealous," Buffy assumed.
"I think that was part of it," Mike agreed, "but most of it was to make Kurt jealous. Finn called Kurt all the time and showed up at the house constantly, asking Kurt to plan dates for him and Rachel, asking what kinds of gifts he should buy her, what movies they should go to. All kinds of lame stuff."
"That's just cruel," Cordelia snapped.
"It was, to both Kurt and Quinn, but Finn didn't care. Kurt thinks Finn just didn't realize what he was doing, but Finn was not nearly as dumb as he pretended. No one could be that dumb and still be conscious. He could manipulate just as easily as Kurt, Quinn, or Santana."
Kurt's silence only confirmed Mike's hypothesis, which he took as permission to continue.
"So Finn was supposedly dating Rachel but spending more time with Kurt than with her. Rachel got upset about it and confronted Kurt, blaming him. And Finn just let her! He didn't even try to take responsibility for his actions. Dad threw Rachel out of the house and told her never to come back and then Finn asked Kurt to the movies."
"Are you fucking kidding me, Mikey?" Riley exclaimed. "Why the hell didn't any of you tell me about this?"
Mike reddened and didn't answer.
"Because I asked them not to," Kurt said. "It wasn't your fight, Riley, and I'm more than capable of taking care of myself."
Riley rolled his eyes. "This isn't about defending you, Kurt, but about Finn's motives and the way he went about trying to get what he wanted. He dated a girl he knew you and Quinn didn't like, attempted to undermine your relationship with your sister after he dumped her, and then tried to pass the buck to you so his new girlfriend would blame someone else for the problems in their relationship! Why the hell did Dad marry this boy's mother?"
"Carole was a wonderful woman," Kurt barked. "You didn't know her. You couldn't even be bothered to come to the wedding. You don't get to talk about her, so back off."
Riley's eyes became very wide and he blinked owlishly. He slowly released a breath he didn't realize he was holding. He hadn't anticipated that Kurt had issues with him and was guessing this was just the tip of the iceberg.
"We all loved Carole," Mike said calmly, trying to soothe them both. "She really was a nice lady and she loved us too. She never tried to replace Mom; she was just our friend. She didn't know about most of the stuff Finn pulled and we didn't tell her because we didn't want to put her in the middle. We just wanted Dad to be happy. Carole made him happy and that was more important."
"I can understand that," Riley said quietly. "I'm glad Dad found that. He deserved it."
Mike snorted. "Found that?"
"Mike!" Kurt snapped.
Cordelia watched with interest as Mike immediately cringed and fell silent.
Riley sighed. "Kurt."
Kurt grunted. "Fine. Dad didn't find Carole. She didn't find him. I introduced them. I'm sure you can guess why."
He let that statement hang in the air for several long moments.
"So what?" Mike demanded. "You couldn't have predicted they'd actually like each other. Finn was the one who kept arranging for the little accidental run-ins. Finn was the one who started inviting Dad to all of his football games. Finn was the one who went digging into all of Dad's hobbies and then showing up at the shop or at the firing range or at the fishing spot on the lake and everywhere else.
"Finn was the one who started dragging Carole along. Finn was the one who just stopped showing up, leaving Dad and Carole alone with each other. Finn even suggested they get married!"
Buffy stared. "That's a sick thing," she finally said.
Kurt made a choking noise but didn't say anything.
"Even Finn wasn't that good," Mike said hesitantly. "He planned it, yeah, but didn't quite get the outcome he was hoping for."
"He wanted a father," Kurt said. "His own died before he was even born. There's nothing wrong with a boy wanting a father."
"He wanted our father!" Mike yelled. "He wanted our father to choose him over you and Quinn! He didn't give a shit about me or Tina, and he was only ever nice to Brittany because he was fucking terrified of Santana." He shook his head in amazement. "No wonder you had her over at the house all the time."
He turned to Riley. "Living in that house with Finn was hell," he said baldly. "When he wasn't accidentally walking in on Kurt in the bathroom or while Quinn was getting dressed, he was eating all the food and breaking all the shit.
"Dad, who didn't know about most of this stuff, didn't do anything because he was afraid of alienating Carole. Carole, who was even more in the dark, didn't do anything because she was afraid of alienating the rest of us even more than Finn already had. He ignored me, Tina, and Brittany. He and Quinn almost came to blows on three separate occasions. That just left Kurt."
"I did everything I could," Kurt said evenly.
"I wasn't blaming you!" Mike rushed to say, putting a hand on his brother's shoulder and very hurt when Kurt shrugged him off. "It wasn't your job, Kurt," he said softly. "You shouldn't have been put in that position. I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault."
"Yeah, it was," Mike insisted, "because we do that to you all the time. We just expect you to swoop in and solve all of our problems because you always have, but that's not fair to you. We've been taking you for granted for years."
Kurt swallowed heavily and said nothing.
Riley was devastated. He'd had no idea all of this had been going on and was very upset the kids felt they couldn't have come to him. He was also incredibly disappointed in his father. The man he remembered would never have stood for some teenage bully exerting his will over the entire house.
He could tell Kurt was angry with him, possibly even feeling as though he had been abandoned. Riley didn't blame him. He had always been slightly jealous of the bond Kurt had shared with their dad but, for the first time, he realized just how much his father had depended on Kurt: to deal with the house, the shop, and the kids.
Mike was right; it was a totally unfair burden.
Riley himself hadn't helped matters by enlisting on his eighteenth birthday. He had done it to make his father proud, yes, but also because he wanted to get the hell out of Lima. Shamefully he knew that he too was culpable for pushing Kurt, the next eldest, into assuming responsibilities that shouldn't have been his.
And Maggie. That despicable bitch had zeroed in on him while at Basic, drawing him further into her web with each passing year, giving him more responsibility and drugs and exclaiming her pride in him, being the mother he had never really had.
Now just the thought of her made him physically ill.
He knew, however, that if he asked Kurt directly, his brother would simply deny his anger. It was a pattern that had emerged years ago. For whatever reason, Kurt had always been reticent to express his anger; he kept it to himself or turned it inward. Quinn usually spoke on Kurt's behalf when it got to be too much, which caused Riley to question where she had been emotionally and mentally while all of this was happening.
Brittany and Tina had never been afraid to use their mouths. Brittany usually got what she wanted just by virtue of being the baby. He knew there existed some tension between the girls because of that. Mike had always been quiet; even as a baby he had hardly cried, usually set off only by the girls. Riley also knew Mike hadn't been subjected to the same expectations as Kurt, which was unfair to both boys.
"We do that to Xander," Buffy softly said to Mike, though her eyes remained on Kurt.
Cordelia shifted restlessly in her seat but remained silent, curious as to where Buffy was going with this.
"You do?" Mike asked.
"We don't mean to," she said, blushing, "it's just that, somehow along the way, he became the voice of reason, our eye in the hurricane. We've always depended on him to keep us in check, to keep us in line. When he did that, when he acted like how we expected and all but demanded, when he was being exactly what we needed, we punished him for it. It was completely unfair."
Riley said nothing but was honestly surprised she was admitting to it. He had been Xander's best friend for a while now, though their relationship was markedly different than that which existed amongst Xander, Buffy, and Willow.
He had witnessed firsthand how the girls would gang up on Xander, usually abetted by an unthinking Giles, leaving the guy frustrated and wondering where he fit into their dynamic. They denied or remained silent on his accomplishments and had tried to push him out more than once in order to protect him. He was alternately their best friend, big brother, little brother, lover, therapist, and surrogate child.
Yet he had remained, ever faithful and true, living his life according to a code of honor he had crafted for himself, one which no one understood and could probably never meet. Xander had harsher expectations for himself than the others and was his own worst critic. He humbled Riley deeply.
"Cordelia was always the one to rein us in," Buffy continued. "Most of the time we ignored her because, well, frankly, me and Willow didn't like her at the time. But we listened. Xander is our unwavering support system, but Cordelia was our reality check. We tried to curb our behavior, but we never apologized for it to Xander. After Cordy left, it fell to Anya, who we liked even less."
She turned to a startled Cordelia. "It wasn't long after you were gone that I started realizing just how badly we needed you and ... and selfishly, I missed you. Xander has never been afraid to stand up to me, but he only pulls punches in dire straits. You said what you thought regardless and didn't care if the truth hurt. I respected that. I ... I miss that."
She sighed. "We were so unfair to you, Cordy, but we were complete bitches to Anya. She tried so hard to fight for Xander because no one else was doing it. We resented her interference. We treated her like some kind of interloper. She had no history with us outside of her relationship with Xander, so it was easier to ignore her."
She paused. "Also, Anya never terrified us like you could."
She swallowed and then blew out a long breath."Then my sister Dawn, who has always had a crush on Xander, jumped on the bandwagon, but it backfired. She was so jealous of Anya that most of her rants segued into condemnations of Anya's existence, so we tuned her out, too."
Kurt gently cleared his throat. "I never would have suspected that, given how close the three of you appear."
Cordelia and Buffy shared a long look.
"Our dynamic is very strange," Cordelia said. "We love each other deeply. We've seen each other at our best and our worst. It's true that I wasn't close to Buffy and Willow in high school, but we all depended on each other to get through it. We trusted each other when it counted.
"We've told you how dangerous our school was. In our junior year at Homecoming, Buffy and I were separated from the others and attacked. We fought together and saved each other's lives." She paused. "The truth of the matter is that, for a very long time, Buffy and I didn't like each other, but we always respected one another."
Buffy gave her a soft smile. "That's true."
"And respect is more important," Cordelia said. "The fluffy bunny feelings will come later, but if respect isn't the foundation of your relationship, it will never work. I've known Willow my entire life, but I don't respect her. I can work with her but I will never like her. Xander and I had fought bitterly since we were children, but we always respected one another, which is why, when we got our heads out of our asses, we fell in love."
"But you broke up," Mike said.
"Yeah, and that hurt. It hurt for a long time. It still does. What hurt the most, though, was the loss of our friendship, not the romance. Xander was very disrespectful to me, something I honestly never believed would happen, and I had to pull away from him completely to deal with it. I mourned that loss for two years. I was the most popular girl in school, I ruled my class and every other, but Xander was the only true friend I'd ever had until Angel."
Buffy blinked owlishly and stared. How had she not realized this before? In hindsight it was obvious.
"And now?" Kurt whispered.
"Now? Now Buffy and I are friends but because of feeling, not proximity. Xander and I are friends again too, and it's better this time because we're more aware of each other and our boundaries. The respect is back. If I had the opportunity to save Willow's life, I absolutely would, but I will never be her friend. I just can't trust her, and I know that's hard for Buffy and Xander to understand because of how much they love her."
"No," Buffy said, "I understand and I'm sure Xander does too. We support you, Cordy. Your friendships with us aren't contingent upon your relationship with Willow. We made that mistake before. We won't again."
Cordelia smiled. "That means a lot."
"I thought Xander was your best friend," Mike said to Riley.
"He is. He's my best friend, Buffy's best friend, Cordy's best friend, Willow's best friend, Anya's best friend, and probably even Giles's best friend."
Buffy frowned in thought but at last nodded.
"His relationship with each of us is completely separate from his relationships with the others and their relationships with each other." His face turned thoughtful. "He loves us all. He's made room in his heart for all of us."
"It's amazing that heart continues to function after the many times it's been broken," said a bitter Cordelia.
Buffy's gut clenched at that very real truth. "If it was ever a choice," she whispered, her face pained, "if it ever came down to saving Xander or someone else, I would choose him every single time."
Cordelia nodded. It was hard to admit, even in the privacy of her own mind, but she would save Xander before Angel.
Mike and Kurt looked at Riley, who likewise nodded. "So would I. Buffy knows that and she understands. She would never hold it against me."
"Never," she agreed.
Mike frowned, but supposed he understood. He'd probably save Matt before a girlfriend. If he had a girlfriend.
Kurt suspected all this talk of saving lives was more literal than figurative and, not for the first time, wondered what the hell his brother had been doing in California. It wasn't as though some small coastal town was a war zone, so what had been going on? What had these people seen and experienced?
"Whom would Xander save?" he asked.
Cordelia laughed. "Everyone. He'd save everyone. He always has."
Xander was having a much more awkward trip. He was thoroughly accustomed to being the lone male in a gaggle of girls, but this situation was just ... odd.
He wasn't that far removed from high school that he couldn't spot the dynamics currently at play here. It was fairly obvious that Quinn and Santana were rivals and, if what he suspected were true, at more than just cheerleading. It was almost like Cordy and Harmony all over again, except Quinn and Santana were too smart ever to be compared to the world's current dumbest vampire.
They were witty and sharp and ... if they both weren't female, they could have been him and Cordelia back in sophomore year. Weird.
He wasn't sure what to make of Quinn. She was beautiful and smart with a sly sense of humor, but he sensed major weirdness from her, like she was holding back a part of herself with which only he was unfamiliar. When she wasn't interrogating him about Buffy, trying to suss out whether or not she was good enough for Riley, she was subtly flirting with him. He thought, however, that she was doing it more to get a rise out her sisters and Santana than from any real interest.
Santana, conversely, couldn't have been more obvious. He was frankly appalled that she was making such an obvious play since he was one, too old for her, and, two, her girlfriend was sitting right beside him. Poor Brittany looked so confused and hurt it was all he could do to stop himself from cuddling her into oblivion. He wondered if this is what it must have felt like for Cordy watching him and Willow during the height of the Fluke.
He felt like such an asshole.
Then there was Tina and Brittany. The vibe there was slightly off. He could tell how close they were and how much they loved each other, but there was an uneasiness lying between them. If he could see it and he barely knew them, it must have been apparent to their family and friends.
The craziest part was that he liked them, all of them. Still, it was a mystery to him how they were friends, if they even were.
Just when he was about to shut Santana down, Tina did it for him.
"Look, bitch," she hissed, "I'm getting sick and tired of watching you treat my sister this way. I'm so very sorry you can't accept the fact that you're a big lesbo, but this bullshit is going to stop. For years I've watched as you've used and abused Brittany, breaking up with her when it gets a little too real only to then come crawling back when you realize you will never do better than her."
Quinn turned around from the front passenger seat and stared at Tina in quiet wonder, silently urging her on.
"Up until now I've stayed out of it because I love Brittany, I respect her and know she can make her own decisions, but you're fast approaching the point where I'm going to kick your ass until hell won't take it back."
Santana scoffed. "If you think I'm scared of you ... "
"I don't need you to be scared of me," Tina snapped back. "I know I can take you in a fight. The only reason I haven't yet is because I refuse to allow some shallow piece of ass to come between me and my sister."
She snorted. "The most pathetic thing of all is that I believe you really love Brittany. You're just too scared to admit it. Instead you hurt her over and over and over again. Our father isn't even in the ground yet and you're throwing yourself at our eldest brother's best friend like a cat in heat. You have no respect and it's disgusting."
She smirked. "I've been watching you this past year, honey, and it's pretty clear that the only thing you give a shit about other than my sister is my brother. So, let me ask you, what do you think Kurt would do to you if he were in this car right now?"
Santana swallowed heavily and said nothing.
"Tina, please," Brittany whispered.
"You're better than this Brit," Tina said roughly, "and you certainly deserve more than whatever crumbs this heifer decides to throw your way." She sighed. "Things are going to change, baby. Daddy's gone and Riley's not going to keep us here."
"Kurt and Mike both think so. Riley always hated Lima and got out as soon as he could. For whatever reason, Dad loved this hellhole, but I hate it here and it's slowly killing Kurt."
Brittany bit her lip. She knew Tina was right. She knew Mike didn't like Lima any more than Tina or Kurt did. And Kurt ... she wanted to him to be happy. She needed him to be happy. Because if Kurt could find happiness, maybe she could do.
But she loved Santana. She was pretty sure she did. And she thought Sanny loved her too ... most of the time. She knew Quinn and Tina didn't like Sanny. Mike was pretty indifferent. Kurt loved Santana but didn't like how Sanny treated her. Granted, Santana had been a lot better since she had become friends with Kurt. He made her calmer and more thoughtful.
He didn't make her nicer because he wasn't all that nice, at least to almost everyone else, but he did make the nice parts of her come out to play a lot more often.
"But if I move, I can't be with Sanny," Brittany whimpered.
Quinn raised a brow as she noticed Santana's hands began trembling around the steering wheel.
"You mean the female Finn?" asked a snide Tina.
Santana's mouth fell open in shock and she almost drove the car off the road.
No! She wasn't ... no!
She couldn't ... she wouldn't treat Brittany like Finn had Kurt! Would she?
She loved Brittany, she did. She knew she had problems admitting what that made her. And, yeah, she was scared of how her family would react, of how the people at school would react. She had seen what they had done to Kurt and knew there was no way in hell she could've survived it. She just wasn't that strong. No one was fucking stronger than Kurt.
She couldn't lose both of them! She had to do something.
But she could do nothing because Xander suddenly starting convulsing.
Buffy and Cordelia abruptly stopped chatting with the others and slowly turned to regard one another.
"You feel it," Buffy said.
Cordelia offered a brusque nod.
"What?" Mike asked.
"Xander's in trouble," Buffy said.
"It must be ... any day," Cordelia sniped to hide her anxiety, biting her lip.
Riley was worried for his friend and annoyed he was unable to feel Xander's distress.
His phone suddenly rang and he fumbled in his jacket pocket to retrieve it. He felt rather than saw Buffy and Cordelia lean toward him.
He turned on the speakerphone. "Go."
"It's me," was Quinn's cool voice. "Something's wrong."
He absently wondered why he could see everything but himself.
Years ago he had seen so much, but no one had wanted to hear it. After a while he had just stopped talking, but kept seeing.
He had seen there was something not right about Darla that night she had been dancing with Jesse at the Bronze.
He had seen there had always been more to Cordelia than anyone, including the girl herself, knew.
He had seen that Angel's presence in their group would be just like the vampire himself: both a blessing and a curse.
He had seen that after Jenny had revealed herself, nothing would be the same.
He had seen Kendra die before Drusilla killed her.
He had seen Faith go off the rails before anyone else.
He had seen that Anya didn't need to be redeemed, merely given a chance.
He had seen that Buffy and Riley were finite.
He had seen that Willow and Tara were not. He had seen Tara before anyone else, which was why it had been so easy to accept her relationship with Willow. He had always seen Willow.
He had seen that Dawn was more than she appeared.
But he had never seen himself.
He had been the skater bro, the Slayer's minion, the Zeppo, the comic relief, the Donut Boy, and the Buttmonkey of the Universe. He had seen the roles, but never the player. He saw only the useless child of unloving parents; the betrayer of Cordelia Chase; and the one meant to clean up after those in the spotlight, knowing he was never to stand in it himself.
He had been mostly fine with all of that. He'd forced himself to be.
Now there was something else, something examining him from within, taking inventory or making some critical assessment. He expected he would be found lacking.
But this, whatever it was, saw so much more. As it explored him, he became conscious of past events, of their geneses and consequences he had never imagined.
Jesse had been meant to die, to call himself and Willow to Buffy's side.
His death had purpose. You were not at fault. You were forced to understand something the others were not ready to accept. You made the right decision.
It was an accident.
Stop lying to yourself.
Cordelia had been meant to join them to set her on her path with Angel. But there was darkness around that plan. He didn't know what it was, only that it existed. That it was unholy.
This was always to be your chance, but would have been perverted by a foul being which cared for nothing but its own ends. You have saved her and set right the course. Her destiny is once again her own.
Kendra had been meant to be Called ... and he was meant to have been the one to call her.
You twinned the line.
Angel was meant to be sent to Hell ... by Buffy.
She would not have triumphed on her own. She needed the push and she needed it from you. She needed to know she could do it, that she must. The vampire has his own calling and it is not meant to be intermingled with that of the Slayer.
Kendra had been meant to die so that Faith could be Called ... and go rogue.
She had to become the darkness in order to choose the light.
Giles had been meant to force Anyanka to become Anya.
Her destiny was thwarted over a thousand years ago by one with more power. You reminded her what it is to be human and she will become the most human of you all.
Wasn't he human?
Yes, of course, but you are more. Others have seen this and have tried to destroy it.
Precisely, though not in the manner you believe it to be.
His words to Buffy on the plane were true. He was support staff and happy to be included. He didn't need to be anything more. He was fine the way he was.
Which is exactly why you deserve this, why you were Chosen for it.
You have altered destiny once more by refusing to let Riley go.
Any friend would have done the same.
Not return to his family, but leave the fight entirely. He was meant to go and continue with the Initiative, who has no place here, but now will stay to be with you. The perversion had sought to subvert Cordelia's will to enact its own, but the Seer prevented this and returned her to you, where she was always meant to be.
That meant ...
The Red Witch was used. You were used. Cordelia was used.
Anger like he had never before felt.
Do not fight it. Accept it as part of who you are. Learn from it. Use it. Use it to protect others. What you have never understood is that there is a distinct difference between being righteous and self-righteous. You have been so afraid of being the latter you have never allowed yourself to be the former.
Because the Seer's victory, though restoring many lines of molested destiny, has consequences, Alexander, and you will be the one to pay them.
If it saved Cordelia, that's all that mattered.
You are noble. Perhaps stupidly so sometimes, but pure of Heart.
Yeah, he was the White Knight.
Angelus never knew how right he was by deeming you such, though he sensed the power within you and was frightened by it. That night in the hospital should have made this clear. What vampire of his stature backs down from a lowly mortal who stands weaponless before him?
Spike sees it. Drusilla saw it. Darla saw it. The Master saw it. You never have.
Maybe he didn't want to.
That has always been the problem.
Wait ... Darla?
Was meant to turn you, not your friend. Something intervened. Drusilla wanted you turned a year later, but Angelus refused. It is incredibly rare for a vampire to be more powerful than the one who spawned it; the strength lessens the more the blood is diluted. He only ever managed to destroy Darla because of the soul. He knew were you to be turned, you would surpass your maker.
What the hell was going on?
There are many forces in this universe, Alexander, and they all conspire against and collude with one another in the name of a common goal at any given moment. You and your friends have been made victims of their whims for far too long, yet you have always rallied. However, something is coming, something horrible, and this is my chance to ensure your survival, which in turn will ensure the survival of your friends.
Why him? Why did this ... whatever it was ... care so much about him?
You gave me your breath, Alexander. You gave me life. I felt your Heart. It synchronized with my own, which I had long believed dead.
Realization slowly dawned and it was terrifying.
You know who I am, what I am, but have you ever known what you are? You are the Father of the Second Line. You are the Heart of the Slayer.
No! You are the Heart of the Slayer.
She showed him how she had been made. He felt her confusion and horror. He felt rage and disgust at the men who had done this to her, the men who had eventually become the Council, glutted on power that was never theirs.
They seek to control my daughters in the foolish belief that it makes them conquerors of destiny, but they are small men with small minds and their time is drawing to a close. I see much, Alexander, and I saw Buffy before the Call. I saw the Red Witch and what she will do. I did not see you until you were literally on top of me. When I opened my eyes, I saw truth.
I cannot grant you powers, I cannot even guarantee your safety or life, but I can guide you. I can give you an honest chance to become that which I know you can be if you'll allow yourself.
What did that even mean?
Do you know why you're so special, Alexander? It is because no one saw you coming. Not me. Not the Council. Not the Powers. Not the First. We had all become so inured to the status quo, to this ceaseless war, that we forgot there are powers which exist outside of us. It has been a long while since one of their agents has had a place on the board. You have fought long and hard for yours. Do not surrender what you have earned.
You are a Twist: of fate; of destiny; of the machinations of others.
A wild card.
Yes! All of your accomplishments, which you frequently do not consider or easily dismiss, are the actions of yourself alone. There is no grand plan for you, which is what makes you so valuable ... and dangerous.
He wanted to laugh. Him? Dangerous?
You have altered what was thought immutable. It is because of you that two Slayers now walk this earth. It is because of you that the Hellmouth was not blown apart by the scheme of simpletons with delusions of adequacy. It is because of you that humanity is not suffering the reigns of the Judge or Acathla. It is because of you, because of your love for Buffy and your friends, your love for me and humanity as a whole, that Adam was thwarted.
You not only defy prophecy, you ridicule it. You refuse to bow before forces which seek to control but have not the right. You respect tradition but are not defined by it. You feel everything but are not ruled by it.
So what was after him?
The Seer was meant to pass his power to Cordelia per the edict of the befouled. At the last possible moment, the Seer received a vision of what would have become of her so he instead gave his power to the vampire, who in turn held it for you.
The vampire was unaware of its ramifications. Perhaps if he had acted on his feelings for you all those years ago so many lines of destiny might have not have been corrupted, but it does no good to dwell on such matters.
You will become the new Seer. The power is already inside you, trying to take hold. You have been instinctively fighting it.
So he should stop fighting?
Absolutely not! It is imperative you do not surrender your will to this power. It will corrupt you if you let it. Never before has a mortal been made the Seer. Human physiology is simply incongruent to be the vessel for such metaphysical energy.
Then ... if it had been Cordelia ...
This was to be her future ...
He screamed. He didn't think he'd ever stop.
The interior of the Navigator exploded with an agonizing scream that was endless and painful.
"Xander!" Buffy cried.
Riley began babbling questions and exclamations at his sister, struggling in vain to hear her responses over Buffy and Xander's screams, his heart anguished by the sounds.
Kurt gave a fleeting glance in the rearview mirror and saw Cordelia sitting rigid. Not a single emotion was betrayed by her eyes or countenance. He sensed this was an aberration. She didn't strike him as the type to suffer in silence; rather, she made others pay for her suffering.
Xander's pain had struck a chord deeply within her. She was afraid, yes, terrified even, but most of all she was offended. It was as though she simply couldn't or refused to believe he could ever come to harm.
He turned and looked at his brother and Buffy.
Who were these people?
He had no idea. That scared him.
The more he was shown, the more deeply the power embedded itself in his mind. It wanted to take him, claim him, control and use him.
Don't let it. What you are seeing is true; the method of delivery is a farce. Believe the visions themselves but not whence they come.
He couldn't trust the Powers That Be? Then what use were they!
They maintain balance, nothing more. These Powers are not benevolent nor are they immoral. They are amoral. They have no honor, no love for those they oversee. Do not ascribe a human morality to creatures who are not human.
In the future that was to be, Cordelia had naively trusted them and they had betrayed her. She had believed in her purpose, in her Calling, but she had also believed in them. They had no such allegiance to her.
The Powers do not understand brotherhood or loyalty. Such concepts are alien to them. You are merely their pawns, nothing more.
He raged at the injustice of it, aching with disappointment and fury.
The Greater Good is a human construct, not a universal one. You are soldiers, inexorable warriors and, when you fall, you are replaced.
"He's having some kind of seizure!" Quinn bellowed. "He's convulsing and foaming at the mouth! Riley, what do we do?"
Her brother immediately fell into rote, telling her to elevate Xander's head, to put something into his mouth so that he didn't bite off his tongue and choke on it. His commands were quickly followed.
"He keeps trying to talk," Quinn said. "He keeps calling for Cordelia and Buffy, for you, Riley, and names I don't recognize."
"What names?" Buffy demanded.
"Jesse. Jenny. Kendra. Faith."
Each name flayed her alive.
Cordelia frowned. "What color are his eyes?" she whispered.
Buffy turned toward her. "What?"
"His eyes," Cordelia said, voice rough but gaining strength. "What color are they?"
Buffy stared at her in confusion, realizing the other girl knew something she herself did not. At the very least, Cordelia suspected something. Something weird. Something Hellmouthy.
She repeated the question to Quinn, shouting to be heard over Brittany's sobbing, Tina's screaming, and Santana's cursing.
"Tina! Open his eyes and tell me ... oh, god."
"What?" screamed a desperate Buffy.
"They're white. Solid white! No pupils. No irises. Pure white!"
Buffy swung her head toward Cordelia, who turned chalk white and closed her eyes.
"Wait ... they're changing."
Cordelia's eyes flew open.
He couldn't last.
You can. You are forever, remember? They can never hope to grasp the source of your power.
He wasn't powerful! He never had been!
Because your refuse to take it! The power is within you; it always has been. Too long have you been afraid to seize it, to make it yours, scared of how it might change you. You control your fate, Alexander, not these Powers. Do not give them the satisfaction! They may have intended this gift for you, to pervert it and use you for their own ends, but you don't have to accept it. Take the power and wield it as you please.
This was too much. It was all too much. He had to return this gift. It obviously wasn't meant for him. He ruined everything he touched. He hesitated to action and wallowed in regret.
You have never hesitated to protect your family. Don't start now. They are depending on you. So much is depending on you, Alexander. That's why they're doing this. They need to remove you in order for their plans to reach fruition. This power is meant to help, yes, but only briefly. Its ultimate purpose is to remove you from the board.
So he was nothing but a chess piece. That's all this had ever been. A cosmic game of chess with people as the players.
You stayed on the Hellmouth to protect your Queen. The Watcher is the Bishop, adviser to the sovereign. The Red Witch is the Rook, castling the Queen. So many of your side has been sacrificed or left the game.
Jesse. Jenny. Kendra. Oz.
Even more was lost when your side fractured and formed a faction of its own. That is precisely what they wanted, to tear you asunder.
Cordelia. Angel. Wesley. Riley.
It isn't over. They want more.
Joyce. Anya. Dawn. Tara. Perhaps even Spike.
They have tried to turn you against each other. They will continue.
His lie to Buffy. Spike's machination on behalf of Adam.
They could not tolerate a group that might become as powerful as yours might be. They want no challenges or threats to their dominion.
You have seen it. Her power is not her own, but she cares not. The energies of the Hellmouth are changing her and she welcomes it. For all things there must come a reckoning, Alexander.
If there was one thing he knew, one purpose to his life, it was to protect Willow.
Not yet. She must fall if she is to rise. You will have a part to play, but you must wait. You cannot rush events to suit your aims. You cannot protect everyone all the time. You must allow them free will ... unless you wish to become everything you fight against.
So what could he do? What was the plan? How could he protect them?
You will need help, but this time you must pull from your inner reserves rather than seeking a book or spell. I will assist as much as I am able, but my power is lessening. It has taken so long for me to build up enough strength to reach you, to tell you as much as I am able in the time I have left.
Was she going somewhere? Why? Why was she leaving him?
The Watcher knows how you can summon me, Father. When the time comes you will know and my daughters will help you.
What! He was supposed to rely on Faith for anything?
That is her purpose, Father. Faith is faith. As she rediscovers her own, you must find your own in her, in what she represents. There is a reason you were the first to see her. You have never given up on her, despite what you tell yourself, so don't do so now. Don't allow another to be sacrificed.
You must use every weapon in your arsenal to counteract this invasion, even that which you fear the most. Remember, Father, you are in control now. Sublimation is no longer enough. You must enforce your will and exert it over those who would seek to harm you and your family.
You must. You can no longer play the pawn, the lovable fool, the knight errant. You must seize control of the game and rearrange the players. You must spawn a new game, one hidden from all sides and known only to your new lieutenants. Once this transfer of power is complete, you will have reached the Queening Square and can become any piece you wish.
Oh, so he was to be the White King, then. Was that it? The one who hid behind everyone else and waited to die?
You must become the White Queen, the most powerful piece on the board. If you do not, if you insist on perpetuating the delusion you are unimportant, more will fall, knocked off the board mercilessly and for no true purpose. Finally only you will stand and when you fall, the world will go tumbling after. The Powers care only for balance while the other side seeks only to win. The time for passivity and hoping for the best is over. You must bring the fight to them.
From beneath you it devours.
Those words filled every cell in his body with undiluted terror.
He couldn't stand by and watch. He couldn't lose more of his family. He would never be able to live with himself. His choice was made and, with it, he began his descent into the darkest recesses of his mind, to the caverns where he had locked away his most painful truths and memories.
There dwelled Jesse and what might have been. There lived Angel, still in Hell, screaming for Xander to save him while simultaneously castigating him for sending him there. There lived his father and what the man had done to him. There lived his mother and her utter indifference. There lived the parts of him of which he was most ashamed, what he most feared.
He slowly traversed the long darkened hallway, ignoring the screams and wails and recriminations, the secret whispers that told him to take this power and bend it and everything else to his will. He stormed past his jealousies and resentments, those parts of him which insisted this was his time, that he was owed this, that it was his turn.
This wasn't about him, not really. This was about protecting what was his, the people he loved more than he had ever or could ever love himself. He might not have believed in himself, not yet, but he believed in the Primitive. He trusted her. She was as much a part of his belief system as Buffy and Willow.
How long had she been with him? Since the Enjoining Spell?
I first laid eyes on you in that twilight, the space between life and death, when you pulled my daughter back to the mortal realm. The harder I looked at you, the further my vision extended. I see so far, Father, but the more I look the more the future changes. When I saw what was to come, what had been planned, I vowed to stop it, but I had to bide my time and wait for an opportunity.
That kiss changed everything. You released so much bitterness and pain that you stopped fighting me, for long ago you sensed my presence but sought to repress it. I knew that I must intervene before the Powers took hold of you completely.
He nodded to himself as he reached the lowest level and unlocked the first door, stunned by what emerged.
"I've been waiting."
"Why do you look like Riley?" he demanded.
"You gave me this form when you subconsciously accepted that I was not evil, that I had a purpose. That I can help."
His eyes narrowed. "I trust him that much," he said, surprised by his own admission.
"You love him that much."
"I ... I ... "
"You love him. How you choose to construe those feelings is your decision."
"Why do you want to help me?"
"I'm no longer an alien presence, Father. I've been inside you for three years. I've borne witness to your triumphs and defeats. I have come to know those you love and now I love them too. I have no wish to see them lost."
"So why didn't you come to me before?"
"I wasn't welcome." He rattled the door. "You didn't want me."
He looked away, ashamed. "You scare me."
"You have nothing to fear from me. I'm not what scares you."
Xander held out a hesitant hand which the Soldier grasped with no reluctance, merging himself into his host fully. He felt whole in a way he never had, the war inside him lessening.
Buoyed but still wary, Xander continued his trek down into the deepest pit where he had vowed never to return, the existence of which he had continued to deny up until this very moment.
Yet it had to be done if he was to keep them safe. And keeping them safe was really all that mattered.
"His eyes are green!" Quinn barked. "They're glowing!"
Buffy and Cordelia turned to each other and stared.
He unleashed the Hyena.
Chapter 3: Etiamnum Ignara
Santana was somehow able to block out the wall of sound in which she found herself enveloped. Brittany was crying, Tina shouting, and Quinn calmly relaying everything that was happening to her brother over the telephone.
She was absently struck by just how alike Kurt and Quinn were, at least in this instance. Oh, she had noted several eerie similarities over the years, but this one was, for whatever reason, the most glaring. In the midst of a crisis, both Kurt and Quinn had the enviable ability to detach from the melee surrounding them and focus on the crucial points, doing what must be done when no one else was able.
Finn had been similar in that circumstance. Most of the time, that boy hadn't the sense given a goose, but put him in the middle of a calamity and he turned into Scarlett O'Hara. She actually missed him. How … odd. She hadn't liked him. She hadn't liked him when she had slept with him. She hated how he had treated Brittany, even how he had treated Quinn, and most especially how he had treated Kurt … but she missed him.
He shouldn't have died.
She really wasn't in the mood for someone else to die so, even if she didn't know him, she hoped Xander Harris would be okay.
Quinn, meanwhile, had reached the same conclusion as her twin: something was very abnormal about Riley and his friends. On the one hand, she didn't find it difficult to believe they were colleagues; they functioned like a team. On the other, the idea of Buffy being his superior officer was laughable. She was at least three years younger, shorter than Quinn herself, and appeared in serious need of a sandwich.
So what was going on? Putting aside the weirdness with Xander, it was obvious they were all involved in something bizarre and certainly dangerous. How had Cordelia known to ask what color Xander's eyes were? Why would she have any reason to assume they had changed? And when Quinn had told them his eyes had changed from white to green, there had been no reaction, though their silence over the phone had screamed.
"Tina," she said softly, "call ahead to St. Rita's and let them know we're coming."
The girl nodded hastily and pulled out her phone.
"Tell them to page my mom," Santana added. "She's one of the best neurologists in the state and I've never seen or heard of a seizure like the one he just had."
Quinn turned toward her. "What are you thinking?"
"The same as you, I'd guess. Something weird is going on and I doubt we're going to get any real answers."
Quinn pursed her lips. Oh, she would be getting answers.
Kurt pulled up the emergency room doors just as Xander was being loaded on a gurney. He let Riley, Buffy, and Cordelia scramble from the truck and then veered into the nearest available parking space, Santana pulling up right beside him. He turned off the ignition and stared down at the steering wheel.
"What's happening?" Mike whispered.
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out."
Mike bit his lip. "You saw them, right? How freaked out they were? Even Riley."
Kurt nodded. "I saw."
"Something is really wrong here."
"Don't be scared, Mikey. Everything will be fine."
And that's what Mike needed to hear most, because as long as Kurt said things would be fine, then they would be. Kurt had always made everything okay for them.
Kurt patted his brother's leg and forced a small smile. "Let's go inside. Riley will need us whether he knows it or not."
Cordelia didn't understand what had happened or why, but she was annoyed. She had just lost one of her best friends and wasn't about to lose another. Why did Xander always have to be so weird?
And when had she become Buffy's crutch? The girl was clinging to her as though Cordelia's strength was the only thing keeping her upright. That was just bizarre. Still, she supposed if anything could bring them together, it was Xander or Angel being in trouble. As often as trouble befell those two blockheads, she and Buffy should have become besties years ago.
They probably would've been if Giles had let them start drinking when they were fifteen.
As they walked through the automatic doors, it was all Cordelia could do to keep Buffy standing. She was about to deliver a beautifully caustic remark about the unreliability of Slayers, but she and Buffy were kind of friends now and …
She had never heard it, not really, but she had imagined it over the years. Never had she believed it would be so frightening. It was loud and it was high and it was cold, a whinny that carried across the entire floor of the complex. The idea of Xander as Voldemort was terrifying.
"It wasn't like this before," Buffy whispered. "Even when it was in control, it was still Xander."
"No, it wasn't."
Buffy turned toward her sharply. "What do you know?"
"In this case? Probably more than you."
"He told you?"
"He told me everything. He always has."
"Did you really think we stopped talking just because I moved?"
Buffy stared. "But you said in the car … "
"I said I had to get away from him in order to forgive him, but I could never cut him out of my life completely any more than you could." She paused. "Are you okay?"
"I will be. I'll make myself okay. He needs me."
"He needs you to take care of yourself, Buffy, because this is the one time he can't do it for you."
Buffy swallowed reflexively.
Her knees swung inwards and she pitched forward, inadvertently dragging Cordelia with her. "Oh, god." It took everything within her not to vomit. "Why didn't he tell me?"
Cordelia said nothing.
"Because he was ashamed," Buffy whispered in answer to her own question, "because he was scared." She looked into Cordelia's eyes. "Of me?" she whispered.
"No," Cordelia said gently, "for you. You have to know he will never forgive himself for that. Not ever."
"It wasn't him," Buffy choked out in a pained voice. "I've always known that. I've never blamed him."
"You didn't resent him? You weren't scared of him?" Her tone was perfunctory, uncurious, as though she already knew the answers.
"Not ever, because I know he would never hurt me like that. It would never even cross his mind because that's not the kind of man he is." She soured. "That stupid love spell … I made a fool out of myself and he didn't take advantage of me. He's just not capable of that."
Her eyes became haunted. "But after the spell wore off, I saw the change when he looked at me, as if he knew, as though he understood, and I realized he had been scared of me that night. He probably felt he deserved it, but that's not true. I could've stopped him if it had been necessary. I'd never want to hurt him, but I could have stopped him."
"He couldn't have stopped you."
Buffy made a strangled sound in her throat. "Thank god he didn't need to."
Cordelia pulled them both to their feet. "He's going to need you now."
"He'll need you too."
Cordelia frowned. "I just don't understand what happened. Why it happened. Xander muzzled that beast and locked it away within his mind. He's kept it under control for five years now, so why is it back? What does it want?"
Buffy was bemused. "Why are you asking questions when you already know the answer? I mean, you know, right? You knew his eyes had changed color before Quinn told us and weren't surprised when they were white. What the hell was that about, anyway?"
"Nothing good. I need to call Angel."
Buffy found herself parked next to Riley, who was staring straight ahead at nothing, eyes dull and lifeless, though hers were now wide open.
She supposed she and Xander were just destined to fall for the same guys.
She should have seen it before. The signs were all there.
Xander had always been awkward with other guys and had been with Riley as well, at least in the beginning. These past few months, however, as their relationship had grown closer and she had stopped paying attention, the awkwardness had dissipated, leaving in its wake a comfortable familiarity that was more than what existed between two good friends.
Had she any idea that Xander and Angel once had feelings for each other, she guessed she would have noticed it earlier.
She had been growing apart from Riley for months now. It wasn't that she didn't love him because she absolutely did, but they no longer felt for each other what lovers were supposed to feel. They'd stopped having sex a while ago. It was embarrassing to admit they had little in common but that. She supposed it was easier just to continue the status quo than make any abrupt changes. Xander and Anya had probably been going through something similar.
Xander would have said nothing, she knew, done nothing. He would never put his feelings above what he deemed her needs. It was as frustrating as it was flattering. Xander was the best friend she had ever had, would ever have, but he didn't need to live his life for her. She didn't want that for him. He deserved so much more, deserved better, and the only one who never saw that was Xander himself.
She placed a hand on Riley's knee. "Hey, he's going to be okay."
"I know," he warbled.
She repressed a sigh and lapsed back into her thoughts.
She wondered about so many things now, but what preyed most heavily on her mind was Jesse and would might have been had he not died. She was now fairly certain that he and Xander had been more than just friends. She would never ask, it wasn't her business until he chose to make it such, but her soul ached for his loss. Her friendship with him had been so new then and she hadn't known how to comfort him, assuming Willow would be there.
But Willow had her own grief to deal with, though she never had. Willow always ignored her problems and hoped they would go away; until they did, she removed herself from the situation and feigned happiness, faking it until she could make it.
It made her sick to realize Xander had been alone for that. Except …
She turned toward Cordelia, who was near the vending machine and whispering furiously into the phone.
Had Xander ever truly been alone?
Cordelia had always been there, though for him and not the others. Oh, her conscience, which was surprisingly highly developed and rigid, never would have allowed her merely to walk away, but she had joined for Xander. She had stayed for Xander. Even after they had broken up, she had remained for Xander.
If Xander was Buffy's lieutenant, it stood to reason Cordelia performed the same function for him. She had been his second during graduation. They had never publicized it, most likely to keep Willow from complaining, but Buffy had seen it. He had used Cordelia to reach out to all of the various cliques and she had been his willing emissary. She might have been the school bitch, but she was also a master statesman. She'd had spies everywhere and spies watching those spies. Nothing had ever happened at that school without Cordelia knowing it.
Buffy might have been the golden parachute, but Xander and Cordelia had been the buttresses of Sunnydale High. They more than anyone had been the most offended by the Hellmouth and what it represented, and it was them to whom their classmates most responded.
Her mind was suddenly inundated with various scenarios. What if Cordelia had been the Slayer? What if Xander had been the witch? Could Willow and Buffy herself have lived with the roles to which the others had been consigned, the Normals?
What if Angel had met Xander first? What if Jesse had lived? What if Kendra had survived? What if Oz had stuck around?
She knew she was being avoidant. She didn't want to consider what was happening in the farthest reaches of the emergency room. She was afraid of what would look back at her when she finally got to see him.
She was afraid to say goodbye.
She knew this was it. He wouldn't be coming back to Sunnydale with her and neither would Cordelia. They would be together, as they were always supposed to have been, in whatever form that might take, and Riley would be with them.
She didn't want to do this without Xander at her side. She didn't think she could.
Yet she knew she had to let him go or else she would end up getting him killed. If that ever happened, it wouldn't be long before she followed and she was honestly scared of what might happen to those around her. Because she would go insane.
Quinn and Kurt sat together, staring, reading each other's thoughts and carrying on entire conversations within their own minds.
They had been doing it for as long as they could remember. They knew they were close, even closer than most twins, and most people thought it was weird. They probably would have thought it a lot weirder if Kurt were straight. As it was, the incest jokes had stopped only about two years ago.
People didn't understand. They couldn't, unless they themselves were a twin. It had nothing to do with who was identical or fraternal, with gender, with intelligence, or anything else. It was about a heartbeat that had synchronized with your own before you were born. They had known each other longer than they had anyone else. They had no memories, no feelings, that didn't include one another.
It isolated them more than at just the school. The rest of the family, even their father, had, over the course of the years, resented the bond they shared. Kurt and Quinn had never meant to exclude anyone, especially not their loved ones; it was just their nature. They loved their family beyond reason but had always placed each other first. It had never been a conscious decision, but neither had they tried too hard to fight it.
Quinn knew Kurt was feeling anxious, even lost, about what they were to do now. He had been the unacknowledged head of the family for years. Their father had been the final arbiter, of course, but Kurt had always been the one to intercede on their behalf. As Kurt glanced over at Riley, Quinn knew her twin resented their elder brother as much as he loved him.
It would cause problems soon. The others wouldn't easily recognize Riley's authority because they didn't really remember him having any. They would continue to look to Kurt, Riley would get frustrated, and Kurt himself would be trapped in the middle. She didn't envy his position but neither did she know what to do about it. She knew she too would defer to Kurt before Riley and, if pressed, she would support Kurt unconditionally.
Still, she was grateful to Riley for coming, for dropping everything, his entire life, to care for them. She also thought it was about time that he did so. Kurt had been burdened unfairly for far too long. He was owed his own life.
Of course, it was also somewhat too late. Kurt had raised them and it was only another two years before she and he were off to college, leaving Riley alone for a year with the others. She wasn't sure how the triplets would deal with Riley on their own and part of her was relieved she wouldn't be there to see it.
She looked around the waiting room. She had delivered Beth in Dayton, but the room still looked the same: functional, institutional, and sterile. There were seconds, sometimes minutes, she didn't ache for her child. Most of the time, however, her mind screamed with recriminations and doubts. Had she done the right thing? She thought she had.
Puck hadn't. He still refused to speak with her and, frankly, that was a blessing. She wanted nothing to do with him. She'd been appalled he'd tried to manufacture a relationship out of a drunken one night stand. She'd been furious she'd been held to a higher standard by the school – in fact, their whole community – because of her gender. She'd been disgusted that Puck had really felt no remorse for what they had done to Finn and let her bear the burden of their shame alone.
No, Puck was in no way ready to be a father. She hadn't been ready to be a mother, either, and at least she had recognized that. Kurt had supported her, as he always did, but for the first time, she hadn't been able to determine what he truly thought about the situation. Blood was important to him. It wasn't everything; his love and fierce devotion to Tina and Mike made that clear, but it mattered.
He had made it clear that, if she wanted to keep Beth, he would have been there every step of the way. She had it believed it then and believed it now. Often it had been her only solace. Still, he hadn't said much after she had made her decision, he'd held her hand while she had signed the papers with the other, but she didn't know what he had been thinking.
Her father had wanted her to keep the baby. So had Brittany. Mike and Tina had been quiet but supportive.
It had been fifty-three days, eleven hours, thirty-one minutes and … twelve seconds since she had said goodbye to Beth forever. Or at least until Beth came looking for her. She wondered if that would ever happen, as well as what she might say when it did.
"I had a baby."
Kurt linked their pinkies together and said nothing.
Riley stared at her, stupefied. "What?"
"Two months ago, I had a baby. A girl. I gave her up for adoption."
Mike and Tina waited for the explosion.
Quinn finally looked up. She was, for whatever reason, positive that Buffy was holding Riley in place. Physically. Was that even possible?
"What did Dad say?" Riley demanded.
"He supported my decision." Eventually.
An arched brow. "And was it really your decision?"
"Yes. It was the right one."
"For you or the baby?"
Kurt released a slow, controlled breath.
"For both of us."
Riley chewed on that for a long moment, his jaws flexing. "Are you okay?" he whispered.
She was almost undone by his kindness. "No."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Don't hate me?"
"I could never hate you, baby girl," he said, sighing. "I just wish you felt you could have told me before."
"I was scared," she admitted, looking down.
"Of me?" His voice was so pained it almost broke her heart.
"Of disappointing you."
He shook his head. "Things happen in this life, Quinnie. You do the best you can with the cards you're dealt. Did you give her up for her sake or yours?"
"Hers. I wasn't ready to be a mother. I wouldn't have been a good one."
"I think you're wrong about that second part, but I respect your decision."
She turned surprised eyes on him. "You do?"
"I understand I haven't been around much, but I know you, Quinn, and I know you don't do things half-assed. You deliberate your decisions. You think about the consequences. You wouldn't have done this unless you thought it was best for your child."
Her laugh was brittle. "If I thought about consequences, this wouldn't have happened. The one time – hell, the only time – I was careless and …"
"She was treated like a leper by the entire town," Kurt interrupted, face blossoming with rage. "People she didn't even know walked up to her and called her a whore to her face."
"The school ostracized her. Finn dumped her …"
"He did what!" Riley bellowed.
"He wasn't the father, Riley," Quinn whispered.
His blink was owlish and confused.
"I was drunk, vulnerable, and thoughtless."
His brow furrowed as he fidgeted. "Were you … was it your choice? Were you … oh, god …"
"I wasn't raped. It was my choice. A bad one. And one I'll have to live with for the rest of my life."
He was silent for several seconds. "The father?"
"Was Finn's best friend. He wanted to keep the baby, but not for the right reasons. It wouldn't have been fair."
"Then you did the right thing."
They all turned and looked at Cordelia, who walked toward Quinn and crouched before her, Santana trailing after her.
"You did the right thing," Cordelia repeated. "You put your child's needs first. That's the only thing that can be asked of you as a parent. You can second-guess yourself until the cows come home, but it doesn't change anything. You did what you thought was best."
Tears streaked down Quinn's face. "You can't know that."
Cordelia's eyes turned distant. "I was only a little older than you when I became pregnant."
Buffy sat up straight in her chair, eyes wide, though she remained silent.
"I didn't know what I was going to do," Cordelia quietly continued. "My parents would have disowned me. At the time, that was the most terrifying thing I could imagine." She paused. "Not that they were much use as parents. When the money went, so did they and I was on my own. But, at the time, the thought of their disappointment was more than I could bear."
"What did you do?" Quinn whispered.
Cordelia said nothing at first. "I didn't tell Xander. I should have. I knew that he loved me. I knew that he would marry me. Not because he would've felt he'd had to, but because we had talked about it. It was an eventuality, not a possibility."
Tears formed in Buffy's eyes as she sensed where this was going.
"I didn't tell him because I was scared. Not of him, but because of the pressure it would have put on him, of the pressure he would have put on himself. Xander is the strongest person I've ever known, but he's almost incapable of being strong for himself. He always put the needs of everyone else before his own. It's actually the thing I like least about him."
Kurt flinched as he felt several pairs of eyes upon him.
"His parents … there aren't words for their cruelty, for the things they did to him." She ground her teeth. "His father …"
Buffy's respiration quickened as a horrified Quinn stared at Cordelia in understanding.
"Xander could've handled it, I think, but the price would've been high. His greatest fear has always been turning into his father. It would never happen, but it preys on him and colors every decision he makes in his private life." Her tongue ran over her upper lip. "I decided I wanted my baby. I wanted it because it was made from love. And I was going to tell him."
Her eyes closed. "Then came that horrible night. Xander and Willow were kidnapped by an idiot who wanted to use Willow for something stupid. Xander was the insurance. They were locked away together. Things got out of hand quickly. Oz, Willow's boyfriend at the time, and I went to find them and we did. When we got there …"
"That's why you broke up with him," Tina said quietly.
"No," Cordelia said. "I broke up with him later because he had been lying to me about his feelings for Willow. People talk about them as if they're an institution, as though they're some unfathomable creatures known only to each other, but that's bull. I know Xander better than anyone and, when I walked into that room, I knew what was going on was not entirely his decision."
"She drugged him?" Mike gasped.
"Yes," she replied, deciding it was the simplest explanation. "They were being held in an abandoned factory that should've been torn down years ago. When I walked in on them like … that … I backed away in the other direction and fell through some rotten flooring. I was impaled on a rebar."
Quinn placed her hands over her stomach and began crying. Tears dripped down Kurt's cheeks.
"When I woke up, I was in the hospital and my baby was gone. I was a minor so my parents were told. They never spoke to me after that. A few months later, we were audited and lost all our money. That was all we ever shared as a family. My father went to prison and my mother went off in search of another rich husband. I haven't heard from either of them in over a year and don't expect I'll ever see them again."
Quinn reached down and took her hand. "I'm so sorry."
"Thanks," Cordelia said stiffly, "but I'm not telling you this for sympathy. I'm telling you because I understand. I know what it is to watch a white stick turn blue and your entire life changes in a second. I know what it's like to feel the life of another run through your veins and what it means when it stops. I lost my baby, you gave yours up. The circumstances are different, but the feelings are similar."
She gripped the younger girl's hand. "You have to take the time to mourn the loss. You're not going to get over this anytime soon. You might never get over it, but you have to remember that your child is alive, is wanted, and is being cared for. You have to let that be enough."
Quinn gave a miserable nod.
"You never told Xander?" Kurt asked.
"It would have killed him. I mean that literally. His guilt at my being hurt was suffocating. Telling him about the baby would have destroyed him. That's one of the major reasons I left Sunnydale. My parents were gone. My money was gone and, with it, my so-called friends. My baby was gone.
"I couldn't look at Xander and see his pain because I had to deal with my own if I was going to survive. For that, I needed to leave. I had to wait another year until I graduated, but I did and never looked back."
"How did you get through it?" Quinn asked.
"I had help. Angel was there for me. He knew about the baby. I never told him, but … he just knew. He didn't ask questions. He let me talk when I wanted and respected my silence when I didn't. Giles, the only teacher we had worth a damn, visited me every day in the hospital. We didn't talk. He'd just read to me and hold my hand."
She paused and looked over her shoulder at Buffy. "And your mother. She knew and she helped."
Buffy stared back, lips pressed tightly together as tears streamed down her cheeks.
"I didn't tell them, Joyce or Giles. Angel did. He thought I needed parents." Her lips quirked up in a smile. "He picked good ones. Me, Xander, Willow – we all had shitty home lives of varying degrees, but Giles and Joyce have always been there for us."
She looked back at Quinn. "You're going to be okay. I can tell how strong you are." She looked around. "You have a good support system, so lean on them when you need. There's no shame in that. You don't have to be strong all the time. No one can be."
She rose to her feet, patted Quinn on the shoulder, and turned to Buffy and Riley. "I need to talk to you."
She walked away, Buffy and Riley following.
Kurt drew Quinn in his arms as the others gathered around them.
Cordelia whispered furiously to Riley and Buffy as they stood in a corner and, though Buffy listened, she heard nothing.
Everything she had known had changed.
Angel and Xander had loved each other, but had chosen her.
Xander and Cordelia had been deeply in love, a love that had created a child, and no one had ever realized it until it was far too late.
She thought back to those months after the now offensively-named Fluke and was mortified by her own behavior. She had been so disappointed in Xander, so filled with disbelief that the one person on whom she could always count had betrayed the woman he had loved.
Never had she stopped to examine Willow's culpability more thoroughly. Not once had she ever considered magic had been at work.
Why? She arguably trusted Xander more than anyone, including Willow, even Giles. Why hadn't she asked him what had happened? Why it had? Why did it never occur to her?
The obvious answer was devastating.
She may have silently sided with Cordelia, but she had never been her friend. A true friend would have gone to the hospital to see her. A true friend would have forced their way inside regardless of Cordelia's feelings on the matter. A true friend wouldn't have encouraged Willow and Oz to get back together while freezing out Xander and ignoring Cordelia and her pain altogether.
Perhaps she and Cordelia had never really been friends, certainly they had never described each other as such, but Cordelia had been Team. Cordelia had saved her life. Cordelia had saved all of their lives at one time or another. That mattered.
She had been so sure, so positive she knew her friends and their lives when in fact she knew almost nothing. In hindsight, it was apparent they had all been self-involved back then, as are all teenagers, but she had been selfish. She had been so consumed with railing against the unfairness of her life that she hadn't stopped to look around at the lives her friends were leading.
Xander had been the first to stand at her side. Willow had followed immediately, but the initial decision was his, even after the loss of Jesse. He was only mortal, so frighteningly mortal, but his demon kill rate was the second-largest after hers … and she was the Slayer.
He had resurrected her. It was because of him that her mother hadn't lost her child. She had been too busy blaming him for snatching away her out that she had never thanked him for what he had done. Her behavior that horrid night in the Bronze still appalled her.
Willow's contributions had been immeasurable. They would be dead if not for her. Her intelligence was incalculable and Buffy knew they had all come to take it for granted. They all had taken so much for granted where Willow was concerned. As they had matured, Willow had blossomed the most, settling in her skin and arguably becoming the most self-aware of them all.
The problem, Buffy now realized, was that made it easier for Willow to hide those aspects of herself she knew other would find distasteful.
She had known Willow was in love with Xander. She had known Willow's feelings ran far deeper than the girl had ever admitted or even acknowledged to herself. She knew that Willow often resorted to magic when frightened or anxious or unsure.
That was why it was so easy to believe what should have been glaringly obvious then.
Willow had used magic on Xander that night. She had let him take the fall for their tryst while she schemed to reunite with Oz. And she had stood in the corner and watched as Xander was ostracized and Cordelia forgotten.
She thought back to all of the cruel things Cordelia had ever said about Willow but now also remembered the equally hurtful things Willow had said about Cordelia. Buffy had always believed Willow's words were retaliatory, but she couldn't trust that now. She realized she had no idea what had initially caused their antipathy before it dawned on her.
Xander had stolen Willow's Barbie to give to Cordelia, so Cordelia would have a friend.
So innocuous, so stupid, but so telling.
Willow had known that, even when they were children, Xander had cared for Cordelia, perhaps even loved her in some fashion. Willow was also a very jealous person. She had always been jealous of the bond Buffy and Xander shared, had been very territorial when Xander first expressed feelings for Buffy, had been jealous of Kendra and then Faith. Yet she had no problems keeping her relationship with Tara a secret from her two best friends.
Did Willow truly think that Buffy and Xander didn't wish her to be happy?
She nodded blankly when Cordelia repeated something, demanding if she was paying attention.
Cordelia had lost a child. Xander's child.
Faith hadn't been his first. God, Buffy had been so envious of the other girl for that, for believing she had taken Xander's innocence. She had been so angry at Xander for offering it. She had been so deluded she blinded herself to the truth of what those emotions meant.
When Faith had first arrived in Sunnydale, Willow had liked her, much like Buffy herself had liked Cordelia upon their initial meeting. When did Willow first stop liking Faith?
When she found out Faith had slept with Xander. Willow was still with Oz then and Cordelia had been out of the picture for months. It shouldn't have mattered. But it did.
So what had caused the anger between Willow and Cordelia?
Xander had taken it so Cordelia would have a friend. Willow forgave Xander, but not Cordelia.
Had Cordelia done anything wrong?
Then why did Willow not like Cordelia?
Because Xander did.
Buffy couldn't help but wonder where they would all be if she had accepted Xander's invitation to that dance all those years ago. She had a feeling she knew the answer.
Cordelia had been left alone in the hospital like a discarded rag while Willow reveled in Oz's forgiving embrace.
But she hadn't been alone. Angel had been there. Giles had been there. Her own mother had been there.
Angel was logical. He would have sensed the physiological changes in Cordelia's body due to the pregnancy. He wouldn't have told Xander for the same reasons Cordelia never had: it would have devastated him. Xander was already lost to him; he wouldn't have been able to cause him more pain.
Her mother also made sense. Joyce had always been close to the others, particularly Xander, but after that summer Buffy had disappeared, the bond had grown stronger. She had told Buffy that a large part of her acceptance of her daughter as the Slayer was because Xander and Cordelia had argued her case in absentia. Given their home lives, at least what Buffy now knew of them, it wasn't difficult to imagine that trust ran both ways.
Joyce loved Xander like a son, she had from the first moment Buffy had dragged him home, and had always respected Cordelia's commitment to brutal honesty. She would have kept the secret because Cordelia had been hurt enough, because Xander would have been hurt even more, but most of all because it wasn't her business to tell anyone anything.
Giles was another story. Buffy was suddenly furious with her Watcher for keeping his silence. He had not only witnessed but participated in Xander's exclusion from the group despite knowing the man he considered his son had unknowingly lost a child. Had it truly never occurred to him that Willow wasn't the wronged party?
Yes, he had gone to Cordelia's side, but how could he not have gone to Xander's? How could he have allowed Xander to be treated as he was?
And she had been blind to all of this, too wrapped up in the Mayor and Faith's betrayal and especially Angel.
Goddamn it, these people were supposed to be her friends! What kind of friend was she that she could look right into their eyes and not see how much pain they were in?
She stared up into Cordelia's eyes with new ones of her own and it was so obvious. So painfully obvious.
"What?" Cordelia asked.
Chapter 4: Quae Nuda
Kurt and the others appear in this chapter, but it is heavily Xander-centric. I know some may be disappointed, but it is absolutely necessary to define the parameters of this story.
Don't worry! Kurt and the rest will slowly become the main characters, once the world-building is a little more set.
Five hours later, the doctors had no answers and grudgingly admitted they probably never would. Even among themselves they couldn’t agree what had happened, only that something had. Basically, they were now just keeping Xander comfortable. Regardless, he had stopped seizing and was permitted visitors. In fact, he was demanding to see Cordelia, Buffy, and Riley.
All of this had been related to Cordelia, who was posing as Xander’s fiancée, by Santana’s mother Lydia, who had taken Riley aside, welcoming him and home and expressing her sorrow for Burt, Carole, and Finn’s deaths. She was taken aback when he expressed his desire to leave Lima with his siblings as soon as possible. She couldn’t imagine how her daughter would react to that news.
As she continued explaining Xander’s present condition to Cordelia, Riley insisted that his brothers and sisters go home, despite their vociferous protestations. He wasn’t about to leave, as he knew Xander despised hospitals and would try to escape as soon as possible. Finally he had made a silent appeal to Kurt, who met his brother’s eyes with wary acceptance and shepherded the others toward the elevator.
As they waited for the lift to arrive, Kurt sidled up to Riley, giving him one of those unblinking, unnerving stares.
“Don’t think for a moment we don’t believe something else isn’t going on here,” he said lowly. “When I get home, I plan on doing some research about this Sunnydale of yours. Be prepared for a thorough interrogation.”
Kurt turned on his heel and stomped away, leaving a panicked Riley staring after him in fear.
“What’s wrong?” Buffy quietly asked.
He turned. “Kurt knows something is really off about all of this. He’s going to look into it. We both know if he digs deep enough, he’ll find something. He never lets anything go.”
She pursed her lips and debated telling him that her Slayer senses were all tingly where Kurt and Quinn were concerned. It wasn’t just them, either. Brittany, Mike, and Tina all made her a little jumpy. They weren’t vampires or demons, but there was something about them, which in turn made her wonder if there was something about Riley she either hadn’t seen or didn’t want to know. Instead, she sighed.
“I’m sorry all of this happened, especially at such an awful time. You have enough to deal with already.”
Riley frowned, somewhat offended by her statement, despite knowing she meant it in the best possible way. Sure, everything was crazy right now, but he always had time for Xander.
He forced a shrug. “It couldn’t be helped. Maybe they need the distraction. Tomorrow will be hard enough.”
She nodded. Funeral arrangements.
He turned anxious. “How’s Xan? Do you have any idea why this is happening to him?”
Buffy blinked with surprise and looked up at him. “Only vague ideas, nothing concrete. That’s more a Willow and Giles thing.”
His eyes darted around. “Where’s Cordelia?”
She shrugged. “Off terrifying medical personnel, I guess.”
He grinned. “She does seem like a force of nature.”
“That’s a good description,” she said, nodding. “Accurate, too. She’s never needed a target for her wrath, but I’ve always preferred when she aims it at someone outside the circle.”
He forced a smile and looked away. “I guess I was stupid to think I could keep my family from this.”
She sighed again, linking their arms. “It’s inevitable,” she said quietly. “We’ve all learned that the hard way. They’re strong kids, Riley. I hate that you and they are going through this, but you will get through it.”
He looked down. “I know it’s stupid, but I always thought of him as immortal.”
“It’s not stupid; it’s natural. We all think that about our parents, Riley. I can’t even imagine something happening to my mother. I don’t think I’d survive it. I don’t know how you’re even walking around, let alone functioning as well as you are.”
“Is that what I’m doing?” He shook his head. “Okay, I guess. What’s happening to Xan?”
She took a deep breath. “When we were sophomores, Xander was possessed for the first time.”
His brows gathered. “First time.”
“Two possessions,” she said briskly. “The first was by an ancient primeval spirit, an alpha female hyena.”
“What?” he exclaimed, flabbergasted. “Xander was possessed by an animal? That’s a thing?”
“So what happened?”
“Badness. He formed his own pack from other students and was their acknowledged leader. They ran amok causing random terror that included snacking on a live pig.”
His eyes bulged.
She swallowed heavily. “The Hyena either recognized me as a Slayer or it fed off Xander’s knowledge. We were never really sure. It, uh, it decided that I was its mate.”
“Why? I mean, from what I know about pack mentality and my own training, alphas choose mates equal to them in ability. No offense to Xan, I know how awesome he is, but I would think a Slayer would be out of his league in terms of sheer power.”
She looked away. “The possession gave him superior strength and agility, as well as accelerated healing. He also got a tremendous boost in offensive and defensive capabilities. In every way that mattered, at that time he was my equal.”
He tilted his head, eyes narrowing. “What aren’t you telling me?”
She covered her eyes with a hand. “It wasn’t just the noun he wanted from me, Riley, but the verb.”
It took him a minute before his eyes then widened in horror. “Did he …”
“It was close,” she said after a long pause before looking away.
“Are you okay?” he whispered.
“I really am,” she insisted. “It’s everyone else who expects me to be traumatized or whatever.”
“But they don’t know him like you do.”
She tilted her head and squinted up at him.
He grinned. “Come on, Buffy, we all see it. I did from the moment I was included. You and Xander, despite the power differential, are more alike than any two people I’ve ever known. Oh, I know Willow is his oldest friend and it’s like he and Cordelia were separated at their personalities, but you and Xan?” He shrugged. “It’s kind of like a destiny thing.”
“That’s one description for it,” Cordelia drawled as she stalked toward them.
“Any news?” Buffy asked.
“He’s conscious but sedated.” She frowned. “I think the Hellmouth ignorance thing, for whatever reason, is at play here and working to our advantage, but they’re still trying to figure out why he’s not unconscious and his eyes are glowing. They didn’t appreciate it when I suggested he was radioactive.”
Buffy stared at her with grave eyes. “Please tell me.”
Cordelia held her gaze for a moment before clearing her throat and looking down. “I had to confer with Angel, who, of course, is hysterical and wants to get on the next plane. I finally asked Anya to slap him. I would’ve paid money to see it.”
“Me too,” Buffy and Riley chorused.
“Anya was actually helpful,” Cordelia continued. “She really knows her stuff.”
Buffy blushed lightly and averted her eyes. She still felt guilty for discounting Anya as often as she had.
Cordelia sighed. “You know Doyle was Angel’s Seer.”
Buffy nodded. Riley understood that much and also nodded.
“Before he died, Doyle told Angel that he had planned to kiss me goodbye, but before he could, he was given a vision of what would happen to me if he did. He wasn’t too specific, so Angel doesn’t know any details, but Doyle did say that, if he kissed me, his powers would pass to me.”
She set her jaw. “Apparently, whatever is after me wanted me to become Vision Girl, which means it was most likely not of the good. So Doyle kissed Angel instead.”
Buffy stared. “Huh?”
Riley had already connected the pieces. “And then Angel kissed Xander. Angel must have been holding the power within him and unwittingly passed it to Xander.” He nodded to himself. “That’s why his eyes turned white, right? He had a vision.”
“Probably, yeah,” Cordelia said with a sigh as her entire body seemed to pull in on itself. “So Xander saves me once again and has to pay the price for it.”
Buffy shook herself and stomped over to the other girl, grabbing Cordelia by her shoulders. “That’s bullshit, so knock it off. Things happen for whatever reason and we just have to deal with them as they come. We both know if Xander had any idea of what would happen, he would have made that decision himself.
“So would Angel. So would I. So would you. That’s what we do for our family.”
Tears sprung into Cordelia’s eyes and she nodded. “Thanks,” she whispered.
Buffy nodded in kind and pulled back. “What else?”
Cordelia exhaled. “Anya actually knew a lot about this, which I guess is good, but I could tell she was terrified, which is definitely not good. This power, these visions, come directly from the Powers That Be. They aren’t meant for a mortal. Doyle was half-demon, so even though they debilitated him, he could handle it.”
“And Xander can’t,” Buffy said tersely. “Is this thing going to kill him? Because I’m not down with that. Angel told me about those asshole Oracles. Do I need to take a meeting with them? I have a lot to say.”
“You could sell tickets to that show,” Cordelia snarked before softening “Buffy, Anya reminded me of something I think all of us had tried to put out of our minds.”
Buffy looked at her with confusion.
“Xander’s not strictly mortal, is he?”
“The Hyena,” Buffy whispered, eyes wide.
“And the Soldier.”
Buffy stumbled back and was caught in Riley’s arms.
“Soldier?” he asked.
“Remember I told you about Ethan Rayne and that messed up Halloween?” Buffy whispered.
“Yeah,” Riley said, nodding, “there was a spell that turned you all into the original owners of your costumes, right? Or something like that.” He paused. “Buffy, what costume did Xander have?”
“He was dressed as a soldier and turned into one. He and Cordelia kept us safe until the spell was broken and I became the Slayer again.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Cordelia said.
“Yes, you did,” Buffy insisted. “Willow was turned into that hooker ghost and became invisible. You were the only one who had any idea of what was going on. You made it possible for Xander to keep things together.”
Cordelia shrugged. “At any rate, because of the prior possession, the Soldier Guy stuck around. I don’t know if that was a choice or if he just couldn’t leave, but Xander locked him away like he did the Hyena.”
“He never told me,” Buffy said.
“He was embarrassed and ashamed. He was mortified this kept happening to him and believed there was something wrong with him that it did. That’s part of why he forced himself into liking being Normal Guy, because despite knowing he wasn’t, it made him feel safe.”
“But it’s not normal,” Riley said. “Xander was possessed twice and, apparently, those spirits have stayed with him. Maybe they couldn’t leave, but what if they elected to stay? What if they just like him?”
Cordelia pursed her lips. “That actually makes sense.”
Buffy nodded. “Soldier Guy especially. If he’s in any way aware of what Xander’s life entails, he knows it’s a good fight.” She paused. “I’m not trying to downgrade Xander at all, but I have to wonder if Soldier Guy helped him with his plans for the Judge and graduation. Not to mention Combo Buffy and Adam; that was Xander’s idea, after all.”
“That’s reasonable,” Cordelia agreed. “Xander’s always been good at strategy, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t relax the chains on the Soldier. Xander’s always been willing to take help if it can save lives.”
Buffy knew Cordelia wasn’t attacking her, but she couldn’t help but wince. Too often she had declined assistance in favor of proving herself. The Master’s minions kidnapping Willow immediately sprang to mind. When Xander had looked into her eyes and swore he would kill her if Willow were harmed, she knew he meant it. It chilled her in a way nothing had before or since.
Riley looked at Cordelia. “What do you know about this Soldier?”
Buffy frowned. “Cordy, whatever it is, just tell us. I don’t care if Xander was keeping secrets. We’ve all done it at one point or another, so whatever, but holding back now helps no one, least of all him. We need to be prepared before we walk in there.”
Cordelia nodded. “Xander was never too clear how the link worked. He had buried Solider Guy deep within his mind, although not as deeply as Laughing Girl. They were able to communicate in some rudimentary fashion, mostly through impressions.”
She gathered a breath. “He never got a name or anything, but he does know the Soldier was a Marine who fought in Vietnam. He was injured and returned to the States. He later died in Los Angeles. We don’t know how Ethan got the clothes. It was never really relevant.”
“Marine,” Riley faintly repeated. “Do you know anything else?”
She shrugged. “Solider Guy was in the Third Force Reconnaisance Company, highly skilled in tactics and strategy, an expert in long-range and hand-to-hand combat, and trained in several martial arts.”
He stared at her. That was one of the most elite squads in the world.
“But Xander doesn’t have that training,” Buffy insisted.
“Not consciously,” Cordelia agreed, “but next to you, the Slayer, Xander has the highest number of confirmed kills. Despite his young age, his kill quotient is far greater than that of Giles, who has significant training.”
Buffy bit her lips. “True.”
“And Xander’s probably been the least hurt of all of you,” Cordelia continued. “You and he are the most active fighters, the ones most directly involved, and his worst injury has been a broken arm. Willow and Faith were in comas, Giles was beaten almost beyond recognition, and, sorry to bring up bad memories, but you died, Buffy. Xander had a broken arm.”
Buffy blinked. That really did kind of put things in perspective.
“You died?” asked an overwrought Riley.
Cordelia frowned at him and looked at Buffy in astonishment. “You never told him.”
“I really don’t like thinking about it,” Buffy said darkly, before clearing her throat and turning to Riley. “After I came to Sunnydale, the first Big Bad I encountered was the Master. He was a very old vampire who made Darla, who in turn made Angel. There was a prophecy saying he’d kill me, so what did I do? Ran off and got killed. Xander found me, gave me CPR, and brought me back.”
“Holy shit,” he whispered.
She nodded. “When I died, Kendra was Called. When she died, Faith was Called.” She tilted her head. “When I think about it in those terms, I think that might be why Xander always felt responsible, at least in part, for the things Faith did. He always tried to help her, long after the rest of us had written her off.”
“That makes sense,” said an annoyed Cordelia.
“So Xander not only resurrected a Slayer,” Riley said slowly, “but created an entirely new line of Slayers? Wow.”
Cordelia and Buffy looked at each other.
“It’s possible,” Buffy said. “I never really thought about it. If I died again, I don’t know if another Slayer would take my place, or if the whole thing now goes through Faith.” She turned to Cordelia. “You know, you’re the only one she never really went after.”
Cordelia raised a brow. “She attacked me in Los Angeles.”
“I heard,” Buffy admitted, “but, no offense, a punch to the face doesn’t really compare to what she did to the rest of us. Do you think she’s scared of you?”
“I don’t know or care,” Cordelia said blandly. “What’s important is that she’s in jail.”
“True, but I think this might be more important than we ever considered. She only tried to hurt Xander after he wouldn’t have sex with her again. His rejection bothered her. She wasn’t emotionally attached to me or Willow, she kind of was with Giles, and she was advocating Angel’s death until they faced off in L.A.”
“Where are you going with this?” Cordelia demanded.
“She wasn’t the first. Angelus never bothered with you or Xander, either.”
Cordelia blinked. “Huh.”
“That makes more sense,” Riley said.
“How?” Buffy and Cordelia barked.
“If we’re right, Xander has been possessed by two extremely powerful predators. Those entities are still within him. It’s entirely possible Angelus recognized that and left him alone.” He paused. “No offense to either one of you, but I’m guessing he thought going after Cordelia would ensure Xander would in turn go after him.
“You’re the Slayer, Buffy, not Cordelia, so you have a supernatural assist when it comes to defending yourself. If Angelus had come for Cordelia at that time, when she and Xander will still together, do you really think Xander would have let that slide? I don’t.”
Buffy nodded slowly as a light blush stained Cordelia’s cheeks.
“You all have been a group far longer than I’ve been a member,” he continued, “so my perspective is a little different. Sometimes the way you treat Xander …”
Buffy looked away while a very interested Cordelia stepped closer.
“Say it,” she commanded.
“They treat Xander like a child,” he finished, looking into her eyes. “Willow becomes nearly unhinged when even only the possibility of Xander being hurt presents himself. Giles considered him his son. Buffy … he’s her other half. It’s very weird, their relationship. They’re like siblings, lovers, best friends, and fellow soldiers all rolled into one.”
Cordelia nodded, urging him on.
“Willow and Xander can speak without words, we’ve all seen that, but Buffy and Xander can do that too, I think to an even greater extent. I’ve only ever seen this in combat partners who’ve worked together for years. They don’t need words or looks.”
Cordelia’s eyes slid toward Buffy, whose own were rapidly filling with tears.
“But to me, because I was on the periphery for a lot longer, I see Xander in a completely different way. I see the predator. I see the alpha. Xander has made the choice to be Buffy’s beta, but he should never be underestimated for that. If something happened to her, it would be Xander, not Willow or Giles, who continued the fight. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, not only because it would honor Buffy, but because he’s the only one strong enough to lead.”
“Do you really believe that?” Cordelia asked in a strange voice.
“Yeah. I would follow Xander before I would ever follow Willow or Giles.” He paused. “Actually, I don’t think I would follow either of them. Willow is too dependent on magic and Giles is too cautious. Part of why Buffy and Xander are as effective as a team is because they smooth each other’s rough edges.”
Cordelia looked at Buffy. “After Angel died and you left Sunnydale, it was Xander who kept your legacy alive. He planned all the patrols, he took point, and the demons never knew you weren’t in residence.”
Buffy’s breath hitched and she looked down at the floor. “I didn’t know you guys kept fighting. That … that scares me. The idea of losing any of you …”
Cordelia blinked in surprise that her loss might be of any real significance to Buffy, despite mending the fences they had.
“But I think part of me also knew that I could leave because you were in capable hands.”
Cordelia smirked, still so unused to Buffy coming across for Xander the way she had been these past hours, though it impressed her greatly.
“If I can see the alpha,” Riley continued, “then so could Faith and Angelus. Engaging Xander and Buffy together is an entirely different animal than taking them on separately. When fighting as a team, Xander’s sole concern in the heat of battle is Buffy, even to the exclusion of Willow. He knows how much Buffy loves Willow and will protect her. Xander will listen to Giles, but he won’t follow him, not if he thinks Giles’ caution would put Buffy in danger.”
Cordelia was fascinated. That there was someone else who could so clearly see these people, in the way she did, was riveting.
“When he’s not under Buffy’s command, he’s far more ruthless, and I think Faith and Angelus knew that. Part of Buffy’s purview as the Slayer is a concern for the world at large, but Xander is not so burdened and far more motivated by his personal relationships. When his friends are in danger, the world could burn, for all he would care. If Angelus or Faith had targeted you directly, Xander would have loosed himself from the leash in which he allows Buffy to hold him. Buffy was Chosen; Xander chose. That’s a big difference.”
“How do you know all of this?” Buffy asked, disarmed by his insight and feeling vulnerable because of it.
He smiled and shrugged. “Because it’s the same dynamic with my siblings. If we’re assigning roles, Quinn is the nominal leader. She’s you. Tina is Willow, Mike is me, Brittany is Tara, and Kurt is Xander.” He cocked his head. “And Santana would be Cordelia. She’s technically on the outside, but her history with and her importance to Kurt would guarantee his wrath should any harm come to her. And Kurt on the warpath is definitely something to fear.”
That was certainly the impression Kurt had given both Buffy and Cordelia.
Cordelia looked at Buffy. “Angelus did come for you, you know. When you were sick and in the hospital, he paid a visit. Xander somehow knew that he would and was waiting for him.”
Buffy’s eyes filled with horror. “What?” she whispered.
“He spanked the vampire and sent him on his way. Not with Slayer strength, or magic, or the help of moldy old books, but pure nerve. And Angelus retreated.”
Buffy was silent for a long time. “Why didn’t Xander tell me?” she finally asked.
“Because he knew you would blame both him and yourself for it being necessary.”
Buffy sighed and put a hand over her eyes. “I probably would have, at least at first until I could really think about it. Then I’d be nothing but grateful. I was so sick, so weak, Angelus could have killed me with no problem.”
She shook her head in frustration. “This is why Xander pisses me off so much. He thinks I don’t see him, but I do. And then he pulls shit like this, saving my life behind my back, and refuses to take the credit. He didn’t even tell me about it. How can I convince him how much I love and value him when he won’t let me?”
Cordelia reared back in surprise. That was an incredibly astute and legitimate point, and Xander had often been the same with her.
“Because he’s a dick,” she said. “He’s selfless to the point of martyrdom and then holds grudges over things that just don’t matter. But it’s also your fault, Buffy, because when you learn about things like this, you don’t call him on it and you need to.”
Buffy nodded. That was true.
“Can we go see Xander now?” asked a plaintive Riley.
“Sure,” Cordelia said, shrugging. “Are you going to tell him you’re in love with him?”
Riley stared at her.
“Please. I see it. Buffy sees it. Anya saw it.”
“I’m not in love with Xander,” Riley said evenly.
“Yes, you are,” Buffy said, smiling sadly. “You just haven’t realized it yet.”
Cordelia stormed down the hallway toward Xander’s room. Buffy hurried to stay astride.
“Thanks for telling him,” she said softly. “I couldn’t have.”
Buffy looked over her shoulder at Riley, who was trailing behind them and mumbling to himself, lost in his thoughts.
Cordelia sniffed. “Why not?”
Buffy shrugged. “He wouldn’t have believed me.”
Cordelia nodded. That was probably true. “How are you doing with this? Really?”
“Not too badly. Riley and I haven’t been together physically or emotionally for a while, and I’m guessing the same is true for Xander and Anya. I think we were all going through the motions just so we could have some kind of stability.”
“You could have had him, you know.”
Buffy raised a brow. “I know. You could have, as well.” She sighed. “I should have chosen Xander, and you should have fought harder for him.”
Cordelia’s lips tightened, though she didn’t disagree. Finally, she nodded.
“Like I said in the coffee shop, the first guy … well, the first and only guy in L.A. … he looked like Xander,” she admitted, still averse to acknowledging she and Xander had been each other's first lover. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but Angel sure as hell did.”
Buffy took Cordelia’s hand in hers. “Join the club, sister. The first after Angel, his name was Parker. He looked like Xander. I didn’t see it, but Willow and Giles did. He even acted like Xander, at first.”
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. “What did he do to you?”
“Slept with me and dumped me the next day. I was just a notch on a belt. You?”
“Knocked me up with demon spawn.”
Buffy halted in her tracks. “What!”
“It was a spell. It ended when Angel killed the demon responsible.”
“Christ, Cordy, I’m so sorry.”
“Me too, and for you.”
They continued walking.
“You’re still in love with him,” Buffy said quietly.
“Always,” Cordelia said, with some measure of pride in her voice. “Circumstances and Hellmouth stuff aside, the two of us did okay for first loves.”
Buffy thought about it for a moment and at last nodded. “I’ll always love Angel. We shouldn’t have been together and it never would’ve lasted, but I don’t regret it.” She paused. “I have a lot of apologies to make where you’re concerned.”
“No, you don’t. You never owed me anything, Buffy, and I don’t want you suffering guilt for some misperceived slights.”
“I’m not talking about Xander,” Buffy said. “I owed you better than what I gave you. I should have come to see you in the hospital after the factory. I should have thanked you for all you did at graduation. I should have thanked you for everything you did for three years. That’s on me. We might not have been best friends, Cordy, but you were there. You fought. You helped. You saved all of our lives more than once. You deserved better.”
“Thanks,” Cordelia whispered.
“What are you going to do now?” Buffy asked. “I know Xander, Cordy. I know him better than anyone, and I know he’s still in love with you.”
“He’s also in love with Riley.”
Cordelia looked askance at her. “I don’t know. I can’t go back to Los Angeles, and I sure as hell can’t return to Sunnydale. I can’t deal with Willow. I’ve barely managed talking to her on the phone. I don’t want her dead or anything, I don’t even want her punished, but I can’t look at her.”
Buffy nodded. “Xander is going to stay with Riley. I knew before we got here. You should stay with them.”
Cordelia chuckled. “As what? Some kind of concubine? No thanks. I’ve been the damsel in distress, the weekly victim, and the Gal Friday. I’m not playing second fiddle to anyone ever again.”
“I respect that, but you also can’t pretend that everything that’s happened just didn’t. You need to be with people who understand what you’ve been through, and no one’s better than Xander when it comes to emotional stuff. As for Riley, well, he’s been looking at you, too.”
“What the hell are you babbling about, Buffy? Are you suggesting a threesome?”
“Hey, I don’t know where it might lead, and neither do you, but you and Xander belong together, no matter what form that takes. You need to tell Xander you still love him and then let him make a choice. Enough choices have already been taken from him.”
Cordelia ignored that line of reasoning. “What do you think about the kids?”
Buffy hesitated. “There’s a lot more there than what we know. Probably more than even they know. They’re not … they’re not normal. My Slayer senses are all tingly.”
“My Queen vibes are telling me the same. I don’t need to be a Seer to know that.”
They stopped at the door to Xander’s room, Riley coming to a halt just behind them.
“Suggestions?” Cordelia asked.
“We let him set the pace,” Riley replied. “We can’t really plan for this. We have to see the situation for ourselves.”
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” Buffy muttered, “once more.”
They stared at her.
“Hey, I listen to Giles! Sometimes.”
After they returned home, Kurt insisted on making dinner, despite his siblings’ protests they weren’t hungry. Rituals were important to him, so sitting down together for dinner was a priority. Even if they didn’t eat, they had much to discuss. Santana was included at Kurt’s demand.
“So what are we thinking?” asked a blithe Mike. “There’s a hell of a lot more going on there then what they were willing to admit.”
Quinn held up a hand. “Let’s just take a moment to appreciate Riley actually thought we would believe Buffy is in any way his commanding officer.”
Santana snorted. “She’s, what? Eighteen, nineteen? No way.” Her eyes darted around the table. “Do any of you actually know what Riley does for the military?”
“Not a clue,” Tina admitted. “He’s always been tight-lipped about it, saying it’s classified.”
“It probably is,” Brittany said, “which makes me wonder if even he knows what he’s doing.”
Kurt slowly nodded. “I think that makes sense. Riley might have orders, but that doesn’t mean he knows the reason behind them.”
“What about Xander?” Santana demanded. “He’s not military. Neither is Cordelia.”
The others agreed as Quinn and Kurt looked at each other.
“He had traces of magic,” Quinn said quietly.
“His own, or magic done to him?” Brittany asked.
“Done to him, I think,” Quinn said. “It was pretty obvious from Cordelia’s story that Willow is a witch. She used magic on Xander the night they were kidnapped. That’s why Cordelia and Xander broke up and she lost the baby.”
“And you could tell Buffy had no idea,” Santana added.
“I could smell her rage,” Brittany whispered. “She was furious.”
“If she really was in charge,” Mike said, wrinkling his nose, “none of that should have been a surprise.”
Quinn looked at Kurt. “What do you think?”
He sighed. “That it’s not just them, but the town. I’ve had Sunnydale on Google Alerts ever since Riley was stationed there. The news reports have been inane. None of what they’ve purported could possibly be true.”
“Like what,” Tina asked, “and why haven’t you told us?”
“Because there’s nothing to tell,” he said smoothly. “I won’t cause a panic just because of some weird reports. I have no evidence to back up my thoughts other than my feelings.”
“Which are what, exactly?” Mike asked.
“That the entire situation is weird. Numerous, and I mean numerous reports of gangs on PCP attacking helpless citizens. Sunnydale is roughly the size of Lima, yet they have a murder per capita on par with Detroit and Chicago.”
They stared at him.
“One of the main causes of death is attributed to mishaps with barbecue forks. Death by accidental forking is ridiculous.”
“Vampires,” Santana seethed. “Shit!”
“So let’s put it together,” Kurt suggested. “Sunnydale has vampires. A lot of them. Riley has been assigned to an unnamed covert military agency in a Santa Barbara suburb that should have no reason for such intervention. He and his friends most likely know what’s really going on, at least obliquely, but are feeding us lies and cover stories. Finally, they all defer to a young girl, one girl in all the world …”
“She’s the Slayer,” Brittany groaned, “and our brother has gotten caught up in her fight.”
“What the hell do we do now?” Mike asked with a sigh.
“We have to come clean,” Kurt said. “We can’t very well expect Riley to be honest with us if we’re not honest with him. We need to tell him we’re witches and that Mom was, too. It was the nascent Hellmouth in Cleveland that drew her to Lima, and I doubt it is coincidence that the primary Hellmouth attracted our brother.”
“You think Riley is a witch?” asked a dubious Santana.
“I never got that sense,” Quinn said, “but that doesn’t mean he isn’t something else.”
Cordelia, Buffy, and Riley stared at Xander, who stared back at them with pulsating jade eyes.
“Well, hello, Laughing Girl,” Cordelia drawled. “I can honestly say I hoped never to meet you again.”
“Why are you here?” Buffy demanded of the creature. “Get out of Xander and leave him alone.”
“It is not that simple, Former Mate.”
“I was never your mate.”
“You were perhaps unacknowledged,” the Hyena demurred, “but that makes it no less true.”
Buffy blinked. “Is that why Xander slept with Faith? Because she’s a Slayer? Because you drove him to it?”
Cordelia arched a brow in interest.
“Cub had intercourse with the Raven Slayer because she initiated it. There was no conspiracy. She would never have been my choice. At the time, she was lost and had willingly surrendered her honor. She was the aggressor, not Cub.”
“I guess that counts for something,” Buffy muttered. “Why are you here?”
“Cub is the epicenter of a plot by the forces governing this universe,” the Hyena patiently explained. “He has receded from consciousness so that he can ready himself to fight.”
“What are you talking about?” Cordelia demanded. “The Powers? The stupid Oracles? What would they want with Xander?”
“They want him neutralized. He is what is known as a Twist, a wild card, one of the very few not accountable to Fate. He is a catalyst. He is change.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “This has something to do with him reviving me that night in the cave.”
“Indeed, for his was not a foreseen action. You were to have perished, Slayer. The prophecy dictated it. Had anyone other than Cub acted, you would not have survived. That is why he was accompanied by the vampire, the first being put into his path at the interference of the Powers.
“He used the vampire for protection, which was an inspired choice, but had something befallen Cub, you still would have died. The vampire had no breath to give you.”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “So the Powers wanted me dead?”
“No Slayer has survived as long as you,” the Hyena replied, “and for good reason. The last thing either side wants is a competent warrior who not only performs her duty, but does it well enough to attract acolytes. There is a reason that, for so long, the Slayer was alone.”
“So Buffy is just a disposable fighter,” said a bitter Riley. “Just another pawn to be knocked off the board.”
“So was her fate, but no longer.”
“I’m no one’s acolyte,” Cordelia said. “I follow no one but myself.”
“Yes,” the Hyena agreed, “you are unique. However, you cannot deny that you took up the Slayer’s banner willingly. You might not fight specifically for her, but you still fight, and that, at least in part, is due to her.”
Cordelia thought about it for a moment and at last gave a grudging nod.
“So why did Xander saving Buffy put all this into motion?” Riley asked. “I’m assuming it did.”
“You are correct,” Hyena said. “In the end, the universe requires balance for every action. Cub saved a Slayer, but it was his love for Buffy that changed the course of history. In his mind, he was saving his best friend. That she was also the Slayer was incidental.”
Buffy set her jaw as her eyes filled with tears. She was ashamed because, for so long, something had been niggling in the back of her mind that Xander had saved her for the opposite reason, that he realized a Slayer was needed, and she was the only Slayer he knew. She had feared he had been trying to protect the Hellmouth, and that saving her was the easiest way to do it. It made no sense and she knew it wasn’t true, but there was something always trying to lead her to that conclusion.
“What happened to Xander in that cave?” Cordelia barked.
Buffy stared at her and then at the Hyena. Something had happened to Xander? What? And why had Cordelia sensed it when she hadn’t?
“You must remember that Buffy is a dichotomy. She is Buffy Summers but also the Slayer, essentially two being in one body. Cub saved them both.”
They frowned in confusion.
“The same Slayer essence that made the Key flesh, that spawned a Second Line and two subsequent Slayers, the same essence that is within Buffy herself, is also part of Cub.”
“Are you saying Xander’s a Slayer?” asked an incredulous Riley after a moment.
“No. Slayers are always female. This was the design of the ritual the Shadowmen used when they transformed Sineya into the Primitive, the First Slayer. However, power is not confined to gender. Cub might not be a Slayer, but there is nothing that prohibits him from hosting a part of Sineya within himself.”
“Another possession,” Cordelia said flatly.
“Not at all. You must realize that the forces of the universe are committed to removing Cub from the playing field. He does not answer to Fate, but instead to her opposing force, who has managed to provide Cub various tools to increase his chance of survival in the course of his mission.”
There was a lot to unpack in that statement.
“So the Powers and whatever else is out there are after both me and Xander?” Buffy asked.
“That should be fairly obvious, Slayer. Who, after you, is the most attacked?”
Buffy swallowed heavily and nodded.
“And what else is out there?” Riley asked.
“The First,” Cordelia whispered.
Riley looked at her in confusion as Buffy stared at her in horror.
“I’m no Seer,” Cordelia denied.
“But you are. You don’t need a magical or supernatural assist to see the truth to which most others willingly blind themselves. You not only see truth, Seer, but live it. You demand nothing less from those around you. You see truth in others and make them confront it.”
Buffy nodded. It made sense to her.
“It is a powerful gift,” Hyena continued. “It is often taken for granted by others, if not outright disrespected or dismissed, but it is always, always necessary. Truth will not be denied.”
They were pretty words, Cordelia supposed, but still left her feeling rather hollow. After all, what was she supposed to do with them? She wasn’t the Seer.
“But Xander is the Seer now,” she said.
“What!” Buffy and Riley cried. Even though it had been postulated, they hadn't been, and still weren't, ready to accept it. Xander had endured enough already.
“That’s why this happened,” she said. “It why I called Angel.” She looked back at the Hyena. “I’m right, aren’t I? Doyle kissed Angel before he died and passed the power to him. He, in turn, passed it to Xander when they kissed at the airport.”
She exhaled. “Doyle told Angel the Powers intended him to pass the visions to me but, at the last minute, he received a vision showing him the future with me as the Seer. It wasn’t good.”
“It was not,” Hyena agreed. “You would have been ruthless and relentless but, in the end, the visions would have killed you, which was the plan all along.”
“So they want me, Xander, and Cordy gone,” Buffy said dully.
“Why me?” Cordelia asked. “In the grand scheme of things, I’m nothing special, not compared to what Buffy and Willow and Angel can do. Sure, I’m awesome, but in the hierarchy of Team Slayer, I’m replaceable.”
“No, you’re not,” Buffy said with heat. “You never were. Anya couldn’t replace you in Sunnydale and she won’t be able to with Angel in Los Angeles. The Hyena was right. Truth is always needed, and no one delivers it with the unflinching honesty that you do.”
Cordelia flushed and looked at the floor.
“The Slayer speaks truth,” Hyena said. “The lives you have touched, the people you have changed for the better, would not be the same without your presence. At the end of the day, you are the most human of them all. You are why they fight. They cannot do this without you. Cub has always known this. It is time you know it as well.”
Riley frowned. “You said Xander is the personification of Fate’s opposite. What is that?”
“Seer?” Hyena prompted.
“Freedom,” Cordelia whispered.
“Precisely. Fate is a force terrifying in her totality. Her fingerprints are found on every life and action in this universe. She is ancient and primal, but she is not omnipotent. Born of Chaos, the primordial essence which gave rise to all life, Fate stands on one of the fulcrum, enacting her will on the universe, as is her design. At the hour of her greatest malevolence, one force rises to meet her, to temper her insatiable desire to throttle the universe into control.
“That force is Freedom. The Romans called her Libertas, but she is far older. The Greeks called her Eleutheria, an aspect of the divine goddess Artemis, who was herself an aspect of the Moon. Freedom is not, by nature, a fighter. She must be roused. She must be acknowledged. She fights for those who fight for themselves.”
“And Xander is her aspect?” Riley asked.
“All of you are. You are champions of a champion. Why fight if not to be free?”
They all felt as though they had been slapped sharply across the face.
“That is what none of you have ever understood. You are all integral. You were all Chosen. You all have your own missions in addition to your collective endeavor. The Seer was given the gift of disarming insight. The Slayer was made the ultimate warrior. The Watcher was given wisdom. The White and Crimson witches were given magic. The vampire was given a conscience.”
“And me?” Riley quietly asked. “Why am I here?”
Hyena smiled. “You are here to safeguard and protect the Coven.”
“What coven? Willow and Tara?”
“Your brothers and sisters.”
Buffy sagged. She knew it.
“What?” Riley whispered. “They’re not witches.”
“You are wrong.”
“And Xander?” Cordelia cut in, looking nervously at Riley.
“Cub is perhaps the most unique of all of you, for he is the only one Freedom claims outright as her own. That is why she has given him his own gifts. What you deem possessions are in fact tools to help him survive. Me, the Soldier, Sineya; Cub has been given aspects of three apex predators.
“Though he denies us out of fear, we have proved useful on occasion. Graduation was planned by Cub, who used the Soldier’s knowledge of warfare to proceed. By reviving the Slayer and taking part of Sineya into himself, he spawned the Second Line, which ensured the Slayer would never again fight alone, for there will now always be two of them walking the earth.”
“And you?” Buffy asked. “How have you helped?”
“Not as much as I could have, had Cub allowed it. You all thought him weak because of the multiple possessions. Instead consider the mental and spiritual strength required to suppress three enormously powerful entities and still function as a living, sentient being. Today is the first time I have been unleashed, but I have been on every hunt, every patrol, suffusing Cub with the modicum of strength he allows me to give him.”
Hyena grinned. “Tell me, Slayer, why do you think more demons are interested in your lieutenant than in you? They sense the predator. They respond to his power. They perceive him as the greater threat. After all, if they manage to remove him from your side, would it really be so difficult for them to do away with you? Slayers rise and fall, but a Twist is a singularity that comes along once an aeon.”
It glared. “If nothing else, remember this, Slayer: Cub serves as your beta at his leisure.”
“How do we protect him?” Cordelia asked.
The Hyena grinned again, this time in approval. “Stand at his side, Seer. Tell him you love him, even if only as a friend. His actions against you have haunted him these last years. Even though you have forgiven him, he will never forgive himself, nor will he believe you have forgiven him. Allow him the chance to perform penance, so that one day he might again feel worthy of your company.”
She burst into tears as Buffy raced to hold her.
“That is another thing you can do,” Hyena said. “Be friends with each other. This is something for which Cub has longed his entire life. Seer, you know Cub has always held you in the highest regard, even when you both were at your most acrimonious. The Crimson Witch and the fallen friend did not make that easy for him.”
Buffy growled, once again furious with Willow.
“I’m not ready to tell him about the baby,” Cordelia whispered.
“That is your prerogative,” Hyena said. “If that is your choice, I will respect it. However, you cannot keep it from him forever. The secret will devour you both.”
It turned to Buffy. “No matter what anyone says or believes, you are Cub’s best friend, in addition to his acknowledged pack leader. You must put aside your insistence that this is only your fight. You must shrug off this compulsion to treat him as lesser so that you might protect him. You are equals, alphas, and will find great strength in that, should you allow yourselves. Finally, you must remember that he is allowed to make his own choices, even if you disagree with them.”
Buffy pinked. It would be difficult, she knew, but it was finally time to grow up, at least where Xander was concerned. She trusted him more than she did any other, and he was owed the chance to trust her in the same way.
“And me?” Riley asked softly.
“Just continue to love him, Riley. That is all he requires of you. Whether or not you are ready to acknowledge it, you are in love with him, and he with you. Your former mates know this, which is why the Goddess departed to Los Angeles and the Slayer will say goodbye when you have laid your patriarch to rest.”
“I … I …”
“Do not trouble yourself with labels, Riley. They do no justice to the feelings between you. All you need to do is let go and feel them. Do you not want to be with him?”
“I … I do.”
“Then do so. He will welcome you. Do you know, Riley, that when he freed the Soldier prior to unleashing me, he was surprised to find the Soldier had your face? That is the level of trust Cub has in you. He gave one of his aspects, a part of himself, your face.”
Tears slipped from his eyes.
“And you are the face of Sineya, Slayer. As far as Cub in concerned, you are the ultimate Slayer, the inexorable warrior. Yours is the face from which Evil flees.”
Buffy bit her lips and flushed.
“You, Seer, are now the face of his conscience. Yours is the voice he hears when weighing a decision. Yours is the approval he seeks when he takes action.”
“Great,” Cordelia griped. “I used to be his girlfriend, and now I’m Jiminy Cricket.”
Buffy softly began singing When You Wish Upon A Star.
“Stop now, or I’ll strangle you until your eyes are the size of dinner plates and they burst like ripe cherries.”
Buffy shut up and backed away a few steps.
“There are other allies of which you do not know,” Hyena said with some reluctance. “You will not wish to work with them, but you must if you are to succeed. Should you deny them, you will drive a permanent wedge between yourselves and Cub. He has already lost too many of his people. Should he lose more, he will become unhinged.”
“Who are you talking about?” Cordelia asked, eyes narrowed. “Jesse?”
“The fallen friend is one, yes, but there are others.”
“You’re avoiding,” Riley charged. “What else don’t we know?”
“Many things, Riley. Are you sure you can handle them? Are you sure you can act in Cub’s best interests, even if those interests conflict with your own morality?”
“You mean Faith.”
Buffy and Cordelia scowled.
“Have none of you truly grasped this situation?” asked an incredulous Hyena. “Look past her actions, her betrayals of you, and look deeper. Who is she to Cub?”
“His former partner in bedroom gymnastics?” Buffy hissed.
“I guess he might still consider her one of his girls,” Riley said, frowning at Buffy. “That doesn’t really go away.”
Hyena sighed in disappointment. “Seer?”
“In a very real, and kind of gross, way, Faith is his daughter. Xander created the Line from which she descends.” Horrified realization struck. “And Kendra, his first.”
“Yes. He lost the First Daughter to murder and, if you were not aware, he saw her perish. The pain he experienced was extraordinary, and it has never been resolved. His daughter was murdered by the daughter of the vampire with whom he was once in love. Did none of you ever notice that, twice a year, on the days of her birth and death, Cub withdraws from all of you and suffers in silence?”
Buffy raised a shaky hand and covered her mouth to stifle her sob. Never before had she thought of Kendra in those terms, only ever seeing her as a fellow Slayer. She would have been much more to Xander, who created her and watched her die at the hand of Drusilla, who was created by Angel. The year before, he had lost Jesse, his best friend, to Darla, who had created Angel. It was horrifying.
“The Second Daughter is denied him, for various reasons, but she too feels the loss. She can’t help it. Now that her madness has receded, she has nothing to do but think and dwell upon her actions, yet she is not allowed to atone for them. Part of the fault of this lies with Cub, who created and then figuratively abandoned her to two Watchers who could not stop fighting each other to fulfill their duties. Having relations with her only worsened things.
“There is one thing I wish you to remember about her, Slayer. She is in jail. No power can keep her there other than herself. She is willingly paying for her crimes, which is only just, but ask yourself this: is she truly of any use to anyone in her current situation?”
Buffy looked away. It was a sound argument, but cold comfort.
“There must be others,” Riley insisted. “You wouldn’t have given us that warning if there weren’t. Who else did Xander lose?”
Chapter 5: Occulta Mea
“You want to run that by me again?” demanded a flabbergasted Buffy. “Xander doesn’t have a sister!”
“Not now,” Hyena agreed. “She is dead.”
“Xander is an only child,” said a dubious Cordelia.
“Cub is the only child of his parents’ union, but that does not preclude him from having siblings.”
“Siblings?” Riley repeated. “As in plural?”
“Well done,” Hyena acknowledged, dipping her head. “That was an unintended slip.”
Cordelia highly doubted that, but was more concerned by her growing belief that this was true. She was hurt Xander had kept this from her, but was more astonished that he had managed to do it. She could read him like a book and knew more of his secrets than anyone. What else hadn’t he told her?
“How many siblings does he have?” Buffy asked, completely incredulous.
“His sister died years ago. The brother still lives.”
Cordelia began pacing. “I believe you. I shouldn’t, because this is something Xander would have told me, unless …”
Hyena nodded. “They were unknown to him initially. He learned of his sister first, yet he had not much time with her before she perished. His found his brother last year, much to his surprise. Neither Cub nor his sister knew of the existence of another sibling.”
“How is that even possible?” Riley asked.
“All three are the result of Anthony Harris and some of the different women he has raped.”
Buffy paled and continued walking backward until she crashed into the wall. A shaky Cordelia had to sit down. Riley stared.
“Should you even be telling us this?” he asked.
Hyena grinned. “I am pleased you asked. Know that Cub is aware I am relaying these facts to you. Knowing him as you do, it should not be surprising that he prefers I handle this task in his place.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Cordelia argued. “If he loves these people, if they are or were a part of his life, he would have no reason not to speak of them himself.” She paused. “Unless we know them, too. Are we to blame for his sister’s death?”
“You are not.”
Riley narrowed his eyes. “Were you speaking to Cordelia only, or are we all included?”
“She means me,” Buffy whispered, closing her eyes. “Cordy isn’t responsible for anyone’s death, and if Xander’s sister was killed years ago, it would be before Riley arrived on the Hellmouth.” She turned to the Hyena. “So you mean me, right?”
Cordelia tilted her head. “Is it Xander who blames Buffy, or is it you?”
The resulting silence spoke for itself.
“That doesn’t mean Xander didn’t blame me once,” Buffy whispered, “only that he no longer does.”
“That is correct,” Hyena said sharply, “but I shall never forgive you. I will do what Cub cannot. He cannot remain angry with you for any length of time. For some inexplicable reason, you are one of the few against whom he cannot maintain a grudge. I will do it for him.”
“This animosity wasn’t present an hour ago,” Riley noted.
“I can suppress it,” Hyena gruffly acknowledged, “when I choose to do so. You know only the bare facts about what Cub’s home life entailed. The Seer suggested it was poor, but you have no idea what that man did to him. It was perverse. It was obscene.”
“What are you saying?” Riley hissed.
“I need no words. You hold an advanced degree in human psychology. You know of what I speak.”
Riley inhaled sharply and turned on his heel to face the wall, his tears spilling from his eyes.
“You cannot imagine the joy Cub felt when his sister came to him and revealed himself. He unburdened his soul to her and she ensured the man would never harm him again. She was making plans to remove him from the house when she was taken from him. He was to live with her, with family who loved and wanted him. He was denied because of the capricious choices of the Slayer.”
“Oh, my god.”
The others turned toward Cordelia.
“You’ve put it together, then, Seer?”
Cordelia was green, her skin tight around her eyes, beneath which dark shadows had suddenly appeared. She raised a hand and covered her mouth, nodding.
“Jenny,” she whispered. “His sister was Jenny Calendar.”
Buffy moaned and slid down the wall, her head coming to rest on her knees.
“You see it now, don’t you, Slayer? The same hair. The same eyes. The same cheekbones. Cub’s sister was Janna of the Clan Kalderash. She might not have died at your hand, but you bear responsibility. Had you not foolishly insisted on saving your doomed lover, Janna would be alive. You put your heart before your duty, and it cost people their lives.”
“I didn’t know,” Buffy sobbed.
“You knew the vampire’s life was not worth those of the many he had killed. How many students from your own school, children known to your confederates for their entire lives, did he murder? And why did he do so? Not merely to feed. It was to hurt you. It was to hurt your team. It was to divide you, and it worked.
“What you have never understood is that you fell in love with a magical construct, not a being. Angelus is the demon hosted by a shell of a former human. The soul is an aberration which afflicts him. Angel is the curse, not Angelus.”
Cordelia blinked. She’d never thought it that way, but it was reasonable. And terrifying. She had to find a way to ensure the soul was permanent. She was not going to live in a world where Angelus was allowed to roam free.
“I will not deny the vampire has proved himself useful, but the bottom line is that he is a demon. The moment he was freed, the Slayer should have eliminated him. He was a threat not only to her, but to everyone. His goal was not to lead, not to rule, but the destruction of humanity itself. His desire was for demons once again to reign supreme and eradicate anything that was Other. It was only a second spell which stopped him.”
Hyena cackled. “Silly Slayer, believing your love for the soul would somehow lessen the demon’s thirst for evil. You waited too long. Your inaction led to the deaths of those you were meant to save. The demon stalked the Crimson Witch and your own mother; still, you did nothing. And do not offer tired excuses about your relationship.
“Cub loved him, as well, but he knew the demon should be put down. You dismissed his rage as jealousy. You believed he wanted you for himself. The knowledge you now possess paints an entirely different picture, yes? Cub loved Angel, but he knew Angelus had to die. It killed him, but he stayed the course because he knew it was the right thing to do.”
Buffy choked on a sob and forcibly cleared his throat. “I should have seen it. The way Xander looked at me when Jenny died … was terrifying. He was so angry, so furious.” She paused. “It was wrath. Pure, undiluted wrath. He said such hurtful things, things Giles didn’t have the heart or courage to say to my face. And I didn’t listen because I thought Angel was more important.”
Riley and Cordelia remained silent. There was nothing they could say to ease her pain, and it wasn’t their place. Cordelia had been right beside Xander when he was calling for Angel’s death, long before Jenny was killed. He had been right and she had supported him. She had never regretted it and didn’t now.
This past year with Angel, as much as she had grown to love him and consider him family, she had never been blind to the fact that, at the end of the day, he was a demon controlled by a spell.
“Did Angel know?” she asked.
“No,” Hyena admitted. “He still does not know.”
“Xander just let this go?” asked a perturbed Riley, who simply couldn’t posit it.
“Of course not, but Cub, like the Slayer, has come to understand the differences between the soul and demon. The soul was restored just before Angel was sent to Hell, where he spent three hundred years in torturous agony for his deeds. Cub played a part in sending him there, and while he regrets the soul paid for the crimes of the demon, he feels Janna has been avenged.”
“I have to tell Giles,” Buffy whispered.
“That is your prerogative.”
She escaped the room before anyone could think better of it.
Giles toddled around his apartment adjusting his bric-a-brac in lieu of doing anything constructive. He was at loose ends, something he loathed, and had been in a rather foul mood ever he had seen Buffy and Xander off at the airport.
He was deeply saddened for Riley’s loss, as well as the loss of the man himself. He had initially resisted Riley becoming part of the group, but quickly adapted. It was rather nice to have another adult with whom to converse. He was confidant Riley would do well by his family, but would miss his presence.
He was also annoyed Buffy had yet to check in.
He shouldn’t have been surprised. Being responsible with regard to human frailties wasn’t exactly part of Buffy’s wheelhouse, though the fact she honestly tried did a lot to ameliorate her neglect. Ever since the children had gone off to college, he had felt rather useless. And old.
Once in a while he would have dinner with Joyce, but those invitations had fallen by the wayside since Dawn’s appearance. That was understandable. The poor woman had believed she had done her job and seen her child off to university, only to be expected to do it all over again.
And Glory loomed ever-present.
He felt unsettled by all of it. They still didn’t know exactly what Dawn was destined to do; they had no real idea how to fight a god; Joyce was experiencing peculiar headaches.
Mostly, he was struck by just how much he missed Buffy and Xander, and even Anya. Everything had changed so rapidly, and he had never responded well to change. Seeing Cordelia again had brought back a wealth of memories; some good and others truly horrible. He hoped the girl was all right, but how could she be when she had witnessed the death of yet another compatriot?
He had tried to get answers from Angel at the airport, but the vampire was as frustratingly secretive as he had ever been. Of course, Giles didn’t have the best relationship with Angel and truly had no desire to improve upon it. He still mourned Jenny and probably always would.
He sighed and poured a bourbon, startled when his phone began ringing.
“Rupert Giles,” he said tersely.
He rolled his eyes. Truly the girl had no phone etiquette at all!
“Ah, Buffy. I trust your flight went well. How are things?”
“Horrible,” she said bluntly, “and I’ve got a lot to tell you, so buckle up.”
Well, that sounded ominous. He frowned as he heard a multitude of noises in the background.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“The hospital. Xander had a series of seizures. They’re keeping him for observation.”
He scrambled not to drop the phone. “He had what! He has no history of seizures. What’s the diagnosis?”
“Badness, but I’ll get to that later.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“I know about the baby, Giles.”
He paused as he felt all of the blood rush from his head and pool like lead in his feet. “Excuse me?” he whispered.
“Xander and Cordelia’s baby. I get why you didn’t tell Willow, but how could you not have told me?”
“Because Cordelia didn’t want him to know.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Of course it does, you silly girl,” he said sharply. “Don’t forget to whom you’re speaking, Buffy. I know you. Not as well as Xander, to be sure, but I know how you are where he’s concerned. If I had told you, I’m sure you would have given it your best shot to keep it to yourself, but you are simply unable to hide things from him. He would have gotten it from you eventually.”
She held her tongue and he knew she agreed with him. Over the years, he had borne witness to Buffy and Xander’s uncanny ability to read each other. They couldn’t hide anything from each other for longer than one of those infernal pop songs they adored.
“How did this subject come up?”
She sighed. “Long story short, Riley’s sister Quinn had a baby last year and gave it up for adoption. She has numerous regrets about everything that happened, and Cordelia opened a vein to help her cope.”
“That was … inordinately kind of her,” he whispered.
“Yeah,” Buffy said, choking on a strange combination of a laugh and sob. “There’s a lot more to her than I think anyone knew, even Xander.”
“That doesn’t surprise in the least.”
“You remember at the airport, when Angel said something was after Cordy? Well, she’s not the only target.”
“Xander, too?” he gasped.
“And me, but I think I’m only a tool to get to him. This is bad, Giles. Really, really bad.”
And it was. He stood there, staring into space, as her words were dumped into his head. He didn’t have the wherewithal to ask a single question as Buffy laid out the facts as she knew them. All the while, he was annoyed beyond reason when she would pause after every nugget of information to ask if he had heard her, if he understood.
Of course he bloody well understood! His son was in terrible danger and he was across the country, unable to do anything but stick his thumb up his own ass!
Finally she stopped talking, either relieved of her burden or unsure as to whether he was even paying attention.
“The Hyena is in control of the body?”
“Stop being so clinical,” she spat. “It’s Xander, not a body.”
He winced. “I apologize. I am …”
“Terrified,” she supplied. “Join the club. Cordy and Riley are handling this much better than me, but they’re both in love with him, so maybe they’re just better equipped to deal.”
“What did you just say?”
“They’re in love with Xander. Cordelia never stopped loving him, and Riley, well, I’d say it’s been almost six months. Once we were out of Sunnydale, it was easy to spot. I’m pretty sure Anya’s known for a while.”
Well, that certainly explained some things. He was very troubled that he’d had no idea about Riley. Surely there was something, some hint he should have seen.
He cleared his throat. There was time to ponder over that later. “To be clear, both the Hyena and the Soldier are now free from the limits Xander imposed upon them?”
“Only because he relaxed their leashes, but yeah,” she said. “Soldier Guy has yet to put in an appearance, but the Hyena is beyond creepy. It’s not like it was last time, Giles. It spoke through Xander then, but this is all her, and she’s very verbose. You’d probably enjoy talking to her.”
“What else? I can tell there’s more.”
“You’ve got that right. The First Slayer is in there, too. Apparently when Xander resurrected me, part of her went into him. Because of that, he was able to create a new line of Slayers. According to the Hyena, and I don’t think she has any reason to lie, Sineya considers him her father, because he spawned a line of Slayers no one thought possible.”
His mind raced to try and connect these disjointed pieces of information, but came up empty. “What is the point of all of this? What is the end goal? What is after Xander?”
“Per the Hyena, Fate itself wants him. She called him a Twist, a person who is able to negate Fate on a whim, which Xander did by resurrecting me. I was supposed to stay dead, Giles, and I can’t help but think Xander is paying the price for saving me.”
“Ridiculous. Even were it true, he would make the same decision again, Buffy, something we both know.”
“At what cost? He lost Jesse and Kendra. Faith is sitting in jail. Angel, well, there’s a lot to unpack there. Same with Cordelia.”
“All of that aside …”
“And his sister.”
“He lost his sister, Giles, because I killed her.”
“What the …”
“Jenny. Jenny was his sister.”
At last the phone slipped from his hand as he tumbled to the floor. He found himself sitting before his living room wall and promptly decided it needed a fresh coat of paint.
He wanted to deny it. He wanted to deny it desperately, but the moment the words had left Buffy’s mouth, he knew they were true.
He suddenly remembered how preoccupied Jenny had been with Xander, to the exclusion of the girls, and particularly about his grades and college prospects. She had browbeaten him about the attention he paid Buffy and Willow while all but ignoring Xander, who thought Giles hung the moon.
He had never before considered the physical resemblance. Now, he had no idea how he’d missed it. It was so obvious. So painfully obvious.
That disastrous love spell. Xander had agonized most of all over Jenny’s reaction to him, far beyond what Buffy, Willow, and even Drusilla had said and done while in thrall. The poor boy had been devastated, but so ashamed that his foolishness had affected Jenny Calendar, who was, as far as anyone knew, a mere teacher, one who didn’t even have Xander as a student.
Now Giles was ashamed for how horrible he had been to Xander afterwards, how badly he had vilified him. Yes, it was a stupid and irresponsible thing to do, but Xander had been a heartbroken teenage boy who acted before thinking. Perhaps if Giles had done something about the situation with Cordelia, rather than just ignoring it, things might never have gotten that far.
And then Jenny’s so-called betrayal. Giles had sided with Buffy, which, looking back, had been an error. Jenny should have warned them that Angel could revert to Angelus, but no one, including her, truly understood how the curse worked or that sex with Buffy was the key. Xander had taken up Jenny’s cause, but they had dismissed him, as they were wont to do, believing he was simply jealous that Buffy and Angel had slept together.
He had been defending his sister, trying to exonerate her helpless ignorance. Perhaps if they had listened sooner, gotten over their anger and worked with Jenny, she might still be alive.
Finally, there was her death. After Giles had found her and called the police, Xander had shown up at the apartment. It was Xander who had spoken with them. It was Xander who had accompanied the body. It was Xander who had arranged the service. Giles had been so grateful but, again, had said nothing. Meanwhile, Xander had been left alone to deal with his sister’s remains.
“What have I done?” he whispered.
“Not just you,” Buffy said quietly, startling him, for he had forgotten he was on the phone. “We all failed Jenny, Giles. Me especially.”
He exhaled. “Does Angel know?”
He knew he shouldn’t care, that the demon had done enough damage, but now that he knew Xander and Angel had once had feelings for each other, things had changed.
“The Hyena said no.”
He pursed his lips. “I wonder just how aware that creature is. Of Xander’s thoughts and feelings, certainly, but Angel? Buffy, when the First appeared to him, it wore Jenny’s face. Not that her death wasn’t tragic and unwarranted, but why her? Surely there were others that would have meant more to him. Angelus murdered his family. Why did it appear as Jenny?”
Buffy was silent for a long moment. “I got the feeling from Cordelia’s story that Angel knew she was pregnant before she lost the baby. Maybe he heard its heartbeat or could smell its presence, or something. And if he could do that …”
He sighed. “Then surely he would know Xander and Jenny were siblings.” He frowned. “Exactly how are they related? Which parent do they share?”
Her silence confirmed his worst fear.
“Tony,” she said shortly. “According to the Hyena, Xander has another sibling, a brother, the product of Tony and another woman he raped.”
“Fuck!” Giles barked. “And his wife?”
“I don’t know,” she hissed, “but it would beg the question as to why she married him. Why would you marry your rapist? I don’t know, Giles, but I do know he’s been raping his son.”
“What?” he asked faintly. “What did you just say?”
“I won’t say again. On the plane, Xander suggested his father abused him. I could smell the rage pouring off Cordy, but she didn’t elaborate. The Hyena basically said Xander was being raped; it just didn’t use that word. I don’t know when it started or if it’s still going on, but when I get back there, I’m paying that man a visit.”
“I’ll be joining you.”
“I figured as much.”
He ground his teeth. “What else? Just get it over with, Buffy, because as soon as I get off the phone, I’m going to get sodding drunk and sob for the next three days.”
“God, that sounds good right now,” she whispered before clearing her throat. “Bottom line? Fate is after Xander because he was created to defy it. The first time he did that was by reviving me, which led to the Second Line. Per the Hyena, Xander is the champion to Fate’s opposite, which is Freedom. Fate knows this and wants to fuck with Xander. Jesse and Kendra’s deaths are a direct result of him aligning himself with me.”
“I sincerely hope you aren’t blaming yourself, child.”
“Wouldn’t you, if you were me?”
His silence spoke for itself.
“There’s also this unknown brother. I’m assuming the Hyena knows who he is. When I get more information, I’ll let you know. Supposedly Xander has other allies who are known to us, but we don’t know who they are. When Riley asked, the Hyena doubted we would be willing to work with them.”
“I will work with whomever I must in order to ensure Xander’s life.”
“Ditto. Riley’s brothers and sisters are witches, and Riley’s role is to guide them. How he’s going to do that when he’s not magical is beyond me.”
“That doesn’t mean he isn’t supernatural himself, Buffy.”
She paused. “I guess that’s true. I don’t know how to help with that, if I even could. I don’t want those kids around Willow. I know what happened with the baby isn’t really her fault, Giles, but she used magic on Xander that night. If she hadn’t, who knows what might have happened?”
“I beg your pardon!”
“So you didn’t know,” she said, releasing a breath. “I wasn’t sure. Cordelia knew, but didn’t say whether she told anyone. Angel might know. Xander did. He blames himself.”
Giles closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. “Of course he does. We can presume Anya knows as well, at least about Willow using a spell, which probably explains a great deal of her antipathy.”
“I never thought of that, but it makes sense. Christ, Giles, we were so unfair to Anya. I can only hope she finds some happiness in L.A.”
“Quite. So, to recap, this is what we know: Xander is destined to battle a primordial force of the universe, which is also after you and Cordelia, and he has been given tools to do such, which include the Hyena, the Soldier, and the First Slayer. Now he is to be the Seer.
“He and Cordelia were deeply in love and probably would still be together, with their child, had Spike and Willow not interfered. Jenny was Xander’s sister, who was killed by the being with whom he was once in love. There is a brother who is still unknown. All three children were most likely conceived by rape.
“Riley and Cordelia are in love with Xander and he most likely with them. Riley’s siblings are witches, and probably extremely powerful, given they have crossed our path.
“Please tell me that’s everything, Buffy. I don’t know how much more I can stand.”
She offered a grim chuckle. “I’m sure there will be more but, for now, yeah, that’s everything.”
“And now to get drunk. Please tell Xander and Cordelia how much I love them and that I will do anything they require to help them. And remember that goes for you as well, Buffy.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
He choked on a sob, nodded in silence, and gently placed down the receiver. He forewent the drink he had poured and instead grabbed the bottle.
“How’s Giles?” Cordelia immediately asked as soon as Buffy slipped back into the room.
“Shredded. Anything more?”
The other girl sighed. “We know who the brother is, at least somewhat, but Laughing Girl isn’t too keen on sharing the details.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and settled her gaze on the Hyena. “Does Xander know his brother?”
“He does,” it answered.
“Are they in contact?”
“So what will happen if this mysterious brother tries to get a hold of Xander while he … isn’t himself? Isn’t it better we were let in on the big secret so we can help?”
“Your argument is not unreasonable,” the Hyena reluctantly admitted.
Buffy just stared in reply.
“I am surprised Cordelia has not guessed already, but perhaps she is too close to the situation.”
“Which means she knows him, but we don’t, otherwise you wouldn’t have named her specifically,” Buffy interrupted. “So he’s from L.A.”
Riley gave her a look of appreciation.
Cordelia narrowed her eyes. “I think I would know if I had met Xander’s brother.” She clucked her tongue. “Unless he didn’t want me to know. So he knows who I am, at least to Xander.”
“And he has been trying to protect you, or at least limiting your exposure to his superiors.”
She shook her head and chuckled darkly. “Lindsey. Lindsey McDonald.”
Cordelia huffed and turned toward Buffy. “He’s a junior associate with Wolfram and Hart, the pesky evil law firm that’s always giving Angel trouble.” She rolled her eyes. “Supposedly, Lindsey has a thing about not harming women and children, but I think he probably would if the situation demanded. I guess it’s true he hasn’t done anything directly to me; it’s always been Lilah to bare her claws.”
Buffy blinked. “But isn’t Lindsey McDonald the guy who hired Faith to kill Angel?”
Buffy frowned. “Well, it makes sense that he would have no love for Angel, especially if he knows Angelus killed Jenny.” She turned toward the Hyena. “Does he?”
“He does. He is also aware of the feelings his brother and the vampire once shared.”
“Huh,” Cordelia said thoughtfully, “and here I thought Lindsey just had a hard-on for Angel. It’s never really made sense to me. I mean, Lindsey supposedly has the resources of Hell Incorporated, but everything he’s done hasn’t amounted to much. He’s been more of a nuisance than anything. So he’s purposefully failing at accidentally failing. That’s some serious Xander-logic, right there. They must be brothers.”
Buffy snickered, though her eyes were pained. “Should we tell him what’s going on?”
Hyena cleared her throat. “That might be a good idea. There are things which he knows that you do not.”
“Good things?” Riley asked. “Helpful things? Horrible things?”
“Perhaps all three.”
“This is the worst carnival ride ever,” Cordelia complained. “I want to get off.”
Lindsey was about to be made aware of events, however, courtesy of Anya.
He was stunned to spy her through his peephole. He opened the door, glanced furtively around, and quickly hauled her inside.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed. “You know how dangerous it is. I’m probably being watched!”
She rolled her eyes. “Patience, plebeian. I’ve already planned for that.”
He raised a brow in silent demand.
“You should know I’ve left Sunnydale,” she said loftily, “and relocated to Los Angeles.”
Lindsey closed his eyes in defeat. “Please, please tell me Alex isn’t with you.”
He knew after finding each other that the separation would be hard, particularly for Alex. The truth of the matter was that Lindsey was more than ready to tell the Senior Partners to go fuck themselves and then escape with his brother to somewhere tropical that didn’t have extradition to the United States.
He knew it wouldn’t do much to keep him safe, but it would force the firm to go outside legal parameters. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
He hated that Alex was still in Sunnydale. It was bad enough that the shithole was the Hellmouth and that everything with a drop of demon blood either wanted to kill or lay his brother, but Alex still hadn’t moved out of that fucking house!
Lindsey had begged, pleaded, whined, cajoled, bargained, and threatened, all to no avail. He had ridiculous amounts of money at his disposal, but Alex refused all of it, bleating about how it was tainted. Goddamn pesky morals. Of course the money was tainted; it was money. Nothing ever good came from it, but it made the bad facts of life much more palliative.
“Of course Xander isn’t here,” Anya said. “Do you see him?”
“Well, where is he?” asked a frantic Lindsey. “Is he hurt? Does he need help?”
“Yes, actually, and quite a lot, but there’s nothing we can do. Yet.”
He frowned and narrowed his eyes. “What the hell is going on, Anya?”
“I’m sure you’re aware of recent events concerning Angel Investigations.”
He gave a tight nod. “Doyle.”
“Before he died, he had a vision. Something is after Cordelia, and he urged Angel to return her to Sunnydale and Xander.”
He held his tongue, though his curiosity was screaming for him to demand answers.
“Things haven’t been good between us for a while, Lindsey,” she quietly admitted. “We still love each other, but we’re not in love with each other. I’m not sure we ever really were, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I might not have a boyfriend, but I have a best friend and know there are some men in the world who deserve your trust.”
His face softened. He felt badly for her. His recent phone conversations with Alex suggested that his and Anya’s relationship had hit a rough patch, though his brother never got into specifics. Alex rarely did.
“Did Doyle know who or what it was?” he asked. “And why single out Cordelia?”
“He didn’t, and it’s just one of those destiny things, I guess. The vision told him that if he kissed Cordelia goodbye like he was planning, he’d give her his visions and the world would burn. So he kissed Angel instead.”
Lindsey stared, agog.
She sighed. “Right. Backstory. It turns out Riley – you know about him, right?”
He nodded. “Buffy’s boyfriend.”
“Not for much longer. Same situation. It’s completely obvious to anyone with a functioning neuron that Xander and Riley have fallen in love with each other, which explains why I was the only one to notice it. Apparently even Xander and Riley haven’t admitted to it, to each other or even themselves, if they’ve even recognized it.”
“Are you serious?” he thundered.
She soured. “Of course I am. I don’t make up stories where I come out looking bad.” She waved a hand. “Whatever. I suspect I should be more upset about this, but I really can’t be bothered, which I guess says something. That said, I would not be averse to witnessing their fornication, once they get around to it.”
“Oh. Are you homophobic? How annoying.”
Lindsey shook his head. “Of course not. All I want is for Alex to be happy. If that’s with another man, I take no issue with it.”
She gave him a hard side-eye before eventually nodding.
He knew she was still wary and suspicious of him, which she had every right to be, considering his employers. It also went both ways; he was well aware of her reputation.
“I got off track,” Anya said with chagrin. “I believe this is what Xander has referred to as burying the lead. At any rate, Riley Finn is really Riley Hummel, of Ohio and not Iowa. His father and stepmother were recently killed, so he’s left Sunnydale to care for his younger siblings.”
Lindsey couldn’t help but respect that. It was certainly more than he had done for his own brother.
“We ran into Angel and Cordelia at the airport,” she continued. “Xander and Angel had a Moment, and they kissed. Guess who the new Seer is?”
Lindsey closed his eyes in horror and began shaking his head. Why was it always his brother to whom these things happened?
“There’s more,” Anya said.
Because of course there was. It was Alex, after all.
“Xander, Buffy, and Cordelia went to Ohio with Riley. Cordelia has yet to confirm it, but I believe only Buffy will be returning to Sunnydale.”
“Alex is going to stay in Ohio? Why? Why would anyone?”
“Riley plans to move his family to San Diego, so they won’t be in Ohio for long. Probably just until he sells his father’s house and settles the estate.”
Lindsey would have offered to assist, but he wasn’t licensed in Ohio and the probate laws were probably differed.
“The Hyena and Soldier are back,” she said bluntly. “The Hyena is in control of Xander’s body. Xander’s been sublimated and is conversing with the spirit of the First Slayer, who no one knew was also inhabiting him.”
He flinched and had to sit down. “What do we do?”
“There’s nothing we can do, Lindsey. It’s out of our hands. Xander is finally going to have to deal with this once and for all. The fact that he was made the Seer suggests there have always been plans for him, but he either escaped them or managed to avoid them. Not any longer.”
“Can we help him?”
“Not yet,” she said, her tone less strident. “Cordelia has been texting me as often as she’s updated. The Hyena has revealed to her, Buffy, and Riley your father’s abuse of him.”
“That thing had no right to do that!” he exploded.
“Perhaps not,” she said demurely, “but Cordelia already knew some of it. I’m fairly certain Riley suspected at least physical abuse. I believe Buffy had an inkling, but willingly blinded herself because she couldn’t fathom it.”
Lindsey gave her a speculative look and raised a brow. “You’ve never been one to sing the Slayer’s praises.”
“And I’m still not,” she bit out. “I’m no fan of Buffy, but I’ve witnessed hundreds of Slayers rise and fall over a millennium. She’s different. She’s … good. Part of the reason for that is because she has Xander. I really do believe that if she had known what your father was doing, she would have killed him. It’s a nice idea, but it would have destroyed her.”
He wanted to argue the point. He wanted to disparage the Slayer. He wanted to do many things. He said nothing, however, because he couldn’t expect Buffy to do what he could never bring himself to do.
“Cordelia says Buffy has been a big help to her, and she never lies, so I have no reason to doubt her. I’m surprised, but happy. It’s taken her a long time to come across for Xander.”
He held his tongue. Alex’s love for Buffy was made clear from the moment of their first meeting. He didn’t know much about their relationship, so he had no reason to support or defend it, settling for keeping quiet about Buffy.
“I’m sure that, by now, the Hyena has made them aware of both Jenny and you. It’s past time. You’ll probably be hearing from one of them soon; most likely Cordelia, as she actually knows you.”
“Do you think she’ll tell Angel?” he asked softly.
“No. As obvious as it was that she cares a great deal for him, her loyalty has always been to Xander. I doubt that’s changed. I’m sure she’ll be conflicted and perturbed about it, and will therefore take it out on you, but she won’t tell Angel.”
He gave an absent nod. “So, Alex has been possessed by three spirits, all of whom are still within him. Some grand cosmic force has plans for my brother and there’s fuck all I can do to help him. His deepest secrets have been revealed by a third party and Alex is, for all intents and purposes, unconscious. Oh, and he’s fallen in love with his best friend’s boyfriend.”
He shook his head in incredulity. “Is that everything?”
“Of course not, but there are things I can’t tell you because they’re not my secrets to tell.”
“I do have a question for you, however.”
He straightened his shoulders. “Of course.”
“Why are Drusilla and Darla in your bedroom, staring at me?”