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Mirror Shards: the Beginning

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Mirror Shards

 

 

* * Chapter 1 * *

 

Dawn nervously bit her lip as she waited out in the hallway for her sister to leave the room.  She really wanted to ask Xander a favor, but knew that Buffy would just make fun of her request.

 

“I need a drink.  Want one, Xander?”

 

“Sure.”

 

'Finally,' the girl thought.  She slipped into the room.  “Hey, Xander.”

 

“Dawn Patrol, how are ya doing?” Xander grinned at her and Dawn felt her heart hammer in her chest.

 

“Okay.  Um... Would you ... could ... um... “ she twisted her hands together, unable to look her crush in the face.  “I wondered...”

 

Xander's brow wrinkled, and concern filled his chocolate eyes.  “Hey, hey.  Calm down.  Have a seat. Tell me what's wrong.”  He sat caddy-corner on the couch so he could face her.

 

Dawn took a deep breath.  “Would you take me trick-or-treating for Halloween?”

 

The frown deepened and Dawn felt her chest tighten at the upcoming rejection.  “What happened to the party I heard you'd been invited to?”

 

A ray of hope.  “Cally got herself grounded.  She tried to sneak one of her mom's cigarettes.  So it got cancelled.  And Buffy's been going on and on about how much she's looking forward to staying home and vegging out that night.  So I know she won't take me.  Mom's got a party of her own to go to, and I just know she won't let me go out on my own.”

 

“In that case, I'd be honored to go trick or treating with you.”

 

She glanced up, eyes wide in excitement, “Really?  You mean it?”

 

“Sure.  Well, we'll clear it with your mom first, but it'll be a lot of fun,” Xander grinned lopsidedly.

 

“Whoo hoo!”  She lept forward and wrapped her arms around Xander's middle.  “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.”  She jumped up.  “I gotta go tell mom!”

 

“Let's both talk to her, so if she has any questions, we can answer them.”

 

* * *

 

Xander smiled to himself at the bounce in Dawn's step as the two left the study. 

 

Joyce had been surprised, but grateful that her daughter's friend was willing to give up his evening to escort Dawn.  “Are you sure it's not an inconvenience?  I mean, you're not skipping anything to do this, are you?”

 

“Nah.  I usually went trick or treating with Willow and Jess.  But Wills got roped into a function her parents are attending.”  Jess' fate was left unspoken. “Besides, staying home isn't in the cards for candy night.”  The Harris house never got rung up for candy – his parents never bothered buying any and they were usually well into their bottles by evening.  Xander had no desire to be a verbal or literal punching bag on a night when he had a legitimate excuse to be out.  “And trick or treating isn't nearly as much fun by yourself.”

 

Joyce had smiled at the eagerness in Xander's voice.  “Okay.  I agree.  Just be sure not to stay out too late.”

 

“You got it, Mrs. S.”

 

* * *

 

“Xander, where'd you go?”  Buffy stood in the hallway, two sodas in hand.

 

“Xander said he'd take me trick or treating and mom said it was okay.”  Dawn restrained herself from sticking her tongue out at her sister in triumph.  She was going to spend an entire evening with Xander!  {whoo hoo!}

 

Buffy looked shocked.  “Xander?  Are you sure?  She can be quite a handful.”

 

“Hey!”

 

Xander soothed, “Nah, the two of us will be cool.  Right, Dawnmeister?”

 

Dawn relaxed, a smile splitting her face.  “Right!”

 

“Tell you what.  I'll come by after school tomorrow and we can decide on costumes.  We've got a few days, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem finding what we need. Okay?”

 

“Okay,” Dawn practically floated up the stairs to her room, thinking about the possibilities.

 

Buffy shot her Xander-shaped friend a skeptical look as they returned to the living room.

 

“What?”

 

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

 

Xander sighed.  “Yeah, Buff.  I'm sure.  She's a sweet kid.  Besides, this way you can have your quiet evening in and I get an excuse not to be home.  It's a win-win situation.”  He switched topics and soon the two friends were laughing once again, Buffy forgetting the dark look that had entered his eyes at the mention of home.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 2 * *

 

As promised, Xander was at the Summers' door shortly after school let out.  Joyce opened the door, a bemused look on her face.  “Hello, Xander.  I'm glad you're here.  Dawn has commandeered the kitchen table in her quest for the perfect costume.”

 

Grinning, Xander crossed the threshold. “Well, Halloween's important.  It wouldn't do to be seen in anything other than the best.”

 

She just smiled and gestured for the young man to make himself at home.

 

“Hey, Break of Dawn, how's things going?”

 

The fourteen year old looked up from her sketch book with a grin of her own.  “Hi, Xander.  Okay, I guess.  I was thinking of costumes.  But some of the ones I thought of would cost too much, or they don't have a partner.”

 

He glanced over her drawings, impressed.  “These are terrific.  You'll make a wonderful artist.” Dawn beamed.  He looked them over and noticed a pattern.  “So, you'd like matching costumes?”

 

Dawn looked shy, “If you don't mind. But I couldn't think of any that you would be comfortable with.”

 

He ran his eye down the list of crossed out characters.  Peter Pan and Wendy = tights (he shuddered), Romeo and Juliet = age difference and suicide, Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Moon = expensive costumes and 'relationship.'

 

Dawn was a fourteen year old with a crush on a seventeen year old, but she wasn't stupid.  If she wanted to spend a pleasant evening in her crush's presence, she couldn't do anything that made him uncomfortable.  Having matching costumes of characters in a relationship would make him uncomfortable.

 

“Unfortunately, most of these require buying quite a bit to make them recognizable.  And I'm not what you'd call rich.”  Xander studied Dawn for a minute, a small smile growing.  “You know, you'd make a perfect Alice if we can find the right stuff.”

 

She frowned, “I thought she was blonde?”

 

“Not the American McGee version.”

 

Dawn's eyes lit up, “Oh, I've seen that game.  David's older brother got it for his birthday.  That'd be cool.”  She frowned, “Who would you go as?”

 

“Humn...well, Cheshire Cat's the only one who could be considered Alice's partner.  And I could probably cobble together a basic costume from stuff at home.”  He tapped his chin thoughtfully.  “Course, I'd need a tail and some paint for the stripes.”

 

“Oh, oh!” Dawn scrambled out of her chair.  “Hang on, I'll be right back!”  She dashed out of the kitchen and up the stairs.  Xander could hear her footsteps thunder down the hall, a door slam, some rummaging, an excited “Yes!”, a door close, and more thundering footsteps.  Dawn careened around the corner, out of breath, a grin on her face and a blue dress in one hand.  She held it up against herself.  It went to mid-shin and had puffed short sleeves and a lace collar.  “Dad got this for me for a function he took me to last year.  I hated it, but it'll work for Alice's dress.  Just needs an apron with pockets.  What do you think?”

 

“Perfect.”  He grabbed the pad of paper as she lay it over the back of a chair and retook her seat. “Alright, let's make a list of what we think we'll need. Hopefully, we can find it all at a reasonable price.”

 

Joyce had walked in, overhearing part of the conversation.  “Well, there's a new costume shop that opened on Elm.  Called Ethan's.  They've got most of their items on sale – a good competitor for Party Town.  Work on your list and I'll take the two of you over tomorrow.”

 

“Sounds great.  Thanks, Mrs. S.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 3 * *

Joyce dropped them off in front of the store, “I've got an errand to run, I'll be back in half an hour. Have fun.”

 

Xander and Dawn stepped inside to find “Ethan's” was crowded with enthusiastic teens and hyper kids. They threaded their way through the throng, heading over to the miscellaneous items section.  Xander nodded in acknowledgment to the greeting given by what must be the owner, but pressed on.

 

“Okay, we need an apron with two pockets.”  They searched, discarding the little French Maid aprons without a thought, until they located one that had probably come from a prairie style dress.  “Cool, and, hey, I got Willow to print out those two symbols on transfer paper.  We can iron them on tonight.”

 

“Cool!” Dawn beamed.  “What next?”

 

Xander consulted their list.  “Pack of cards is a necessity, but I've got a set at home you can have. You need some type of blade.”  They headed over to the bin that held all sorts of knives, daggers, swords, even chakrams.

 

Digging through, Dawn gave a squeal. “Oh, wow!  Look.  It's perfect.”

 

“It” was a large butcher knife, the blade an odd pale yellow-green plastic.  “It glows in the dark.” They grinned at each other and recited, “One, two!  One, two!  And through and through!  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!” and dissolved into giggles.

 

Xander's eyes lit up as he scanned the other bins.  “Oh, look at these.  Small enough to fit in one of your pockets, but large enough to easily identify.”  He held them out to her, “Demon dice.”

 

She grinned, looking them over.  They were red, about one and a half inch in size, and little devil heads replaced the pips on a regular dice.  “Perfect.”

 

On another shelf was a gold colored pocket-watch that could be hooked onto her apron.  Dawn nodded in satisfaction.  “That should do it.  I've got everything else at home.  Now for you.”

 

They located a dark gray tail with matching cat ears.  The kit even had whiskers and putty for applying them.  Xander picked up a jar of both gray and black grease paint and on their way to the register he snagged a pair of gold clip-on hoop earrings.  “Done.”

 

The owner of the store creeped them out a bit – asking about their costumes – but they muttered they'd swing by to show off their costumes and walked out with their purchases, meeting up with Mrs. Summers outside.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 4 * *

 

Halloween.

 

Dawn brushed her hair till it lay in a smooth dark curtain down her back.  She put on a blue satin headband – it's color perfectly matching the dress.  Looking in the mirror, she adjusted the apron.  The symbols had been easy to apply and she was glad that the items in the pockets didn't make them bulge unseemly.  Among the collection his family had amassed, Xander had found a miniature deck of cards with a horseshoe and the number thirteen on the backs.  They lay in one pocket, the Demon Dice in the other.  The pocket-watch hung comfortably off her apron – she'd shortened the fob so it wouldn't swing about as she walked.  The dress – which she had hated when her father purchased it – fit perfectly, the added lace to the apron giving it just the right touch to suggest a Victorian style.  White tights and black Mary Jane's completed the look.  With her vorpal blade in hand, she looked almost the spitting image of American McGee's Alice.

 

The doorbell rang downstairs and with a squeal of glee she grabbed the orange pumpkin bucket she was using to carry any candy and headed for the stairs.

 

Buffy had gotten to the door first, and so Dawn got a bird's eye view of Xander's costume.  He wore black combat boots painted with gray stripes.  His black jeans and t-shirt clung like a second skin and were artistically decorated with black and gray stripes.  The striping was echoed on his arms and face, even his hair, perfectly mimicked Cheshire Cat's markings.  He was half turned from her and she could see the tail attached to the seat of his jeans – also striped appropriately.  Spotting her from the corner of his eye, he turned to face her.  The cat ears had been on a headband to sit on the top of the the head – but Xander had altered them so they actually covered the tips of his ears, a gold hoop dangled from one.  She gasped in surprise as he grinned an authentic Cheshire grin.  He'd found a small set of fangs that subtly lengthened each of his upper and lower eye teeth, making his normal smile positively feline, especially with the whiskers just under his nose.  He also apparently decided to splurge a bit, because he wore a set of contacts that gave him the illusion of slitted pupils.  He bowed as she descended the stairs.  “Good evening, Alice,” his voice was a bit lower than normal and he drawled the phrase.

 

It sent delicious shivers down her spine, Buffy's too if her own shocked look was any indication.  “Good evening, Cheshire Cat.”  She'd been practicing a proper British accent, even gaining praise from Giles over it.

 

Xander shot a more familiar lopsided grin.  “You look great, Dawnie.”

 

Her own grin widened.  “You, too. Wow.  Did the make up take long to apply?”

 

Xander shrugged.  “A bit.  But worth it, don't you think?”  She nodded happily.  “Got something for you.  Spotted it yesterday.  It'll make your costume perfect.”

 

“What is it?”

 

He pulled a small package out of his pocket and handed it to her.  Opening it she spotted a small, somewhat battered horseshoe charm on a silver chain.  “Oh, Xander!” He took it from her and helped put it on.  “It's great.  Thank you!”  She got a glimpse of his nails.  “What did you do?  How'd you do that?”

 

“I used a nail file.  Every cat's got to have claws, right?”

 

Buffy shook her head at the two of them.  “Isn't that a bit much?  I mean, it's just a costume.”

 

Xander put a hand over his chest and staggered in mock horror as Dawn giggled.  “Just a costume?  I'm shocked, truly shocked you feel that way.  It's Halloween.  The night where you can extol goods from people in exchange for leaving their property alone – and it's legal!” He straightened up.  “Besides, if you're going to go through the trouble of dressing up, you might as well do a good job at it.  There are a lot of folks who tend to give more candy to those who go all out on their costumes.”

 

“And, of course, the goal is to get as much candy as possible.  Right?”  Buffy said, in fond exasperation.

 

“Absolutely.”  His attention returned to Dawn.  “Ready to go?”

 

“Yup!”

 

“Alrighty then.”

 

“Hang on,” Mrs. Summers came out of the living room carrying a camera.  “I want a couple of pictures before you go.”  She had the two pose in front of the hall mirror. “You both look wonderful.  Now Dawn, I want you to listen to what Xander says.  No running off by yourself, got it?”

 

“Yes, mom,” Dawn nodded in agreement.  Why would she run off?  She'll be spending quality Xander-time.

 

“I want to thank you again, Xander. It was really sweet of you to volunteer.”

 

“Like I said, Mrs. S.  No problems.”

 

“Since there's no school tomorrow, then you can stay out until ten.  I have cookies cooling and you're welcome to stay for a movie afterward if you'd like, Xander.”

 

Both grinned happily at Joyce, nodding.

 

* * *

 

The two had been enjoying the walk – and each other's company.  Dawn loved Xander's smile and laugh, and did everything she could to elicit them from him.  Xander made her evening when he clasped hands with her and swung them back and forth in his happiness.

 

They were in the park – taking a shortcut between neighborhoods – and decided to spend a few minutes playing on the equipment.  They were both on the swing set, seeing who could go the highest, when Dawn suddenly began reciting 'The Jabberwocky.'

 

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; / All mimsy were the borogoves / And the mome raths outgrabe.”

 

Xander jumped from the swing and pointed dramatically at Dawn.  “Beware the Jabberwock, my son! / The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! / Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!

 

Dawn hopped off too, wielding her blade, mimicking searching with one hand shading her eyes.  “He took his vorpal blade in hand: / Long time the manxome foe he sought - / So rested he by the Tumtum tree, / And stood awhile in thought.” She leaned up against a tree, grinning at Xander.

 

And as in uffish thought he stood, / The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, / Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, / And burbled as it came!”  Xander pretended to stalk Dawn, coming closer and closer, his own grin a touch evil.

 

One, two!  One, two! And through and through / The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!”  She swung her blade at Xander, who accommodatingly fell to the ground in fake death throes.  “He left it dead, and with its head / He went galumphing back.”  She skipped away.

 

Xander rose and brushed himself off. “'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? / Come to my arms, my beamish boy! / O frabjous day!  Callooh!  Callay!' / He chortled in his joy.”

 

Dawn skipped back over to him, smiling up into his eyes as they finished the poem together.  “'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; / All mimsy were the borogoves, / And the mome raths outgrabe.

 

A wave of dizziness hit the two; Xander instinctively drew Dawn closer as the world tipped on it's axis. Everything went dark.

 

* * *

* * Chapter 5 * *

 

Cheshire Cat woke, grass tickling his nose.  He blinked a few times, a small park coming into focus, as well as the collapsed figure of a small, dark haired girl.  Before he could get his bearings, he felt a tug on his mind and everything dissolved into black.

 

* * *

 

“Well, this is unexpected.” Cheshire Cat found himself laying stretched along a tree limb, eye level to a human boy with dark eyes and hair who perched on a stone wall – the same wall that had encircled the small park he'd been in earlier, but the blankness beyond the wall stated they were no longer within the waking realm.

 

“Not really,” the boy replied, staring solemnly into his eyes – without flinching, no less.  No mean feat.  “Not when you live on a Hellmouth.”

 

“A Hellmouth, you say?” he was intrigued and wary at the same time, a shiver of fear and anticipation rippled down his spine, ruffling his fur.  “Nasty places, those.  Though at times, useful when you wish to hide.”

 

“Precisely.”  A fleeting grin crossed dark features.  The grin looked natural there, but the seriousness of the situation weighed heavily.

 

“So, how did I get here, as well as here?” Cheshire Cat waved a paw around to indicate their present surroundings.  “Last I remember, Alice and I were about to confront the Jabberwock.”

 

“I dressed as you for Halloween.  My guess is somehow, someone turned people into our costumes.  As for this, this is a representation of my mind, or at least a small section of it.  I wanted to talk to you before you went running amuck in my body.”

 

Cheshire Cat grinned, amused.  The boy knew how to play the game.  “Very well.”

 

“Name's Xander Harris.  I've checked, and so far you're in the driver's seat.  I could bump you out, but then no one's in control until the spell or whatever wears off – basically, we'd be in a coma.  Two problems with that.  One, we're outside where any nasty-bad can use me as a free snack.  I'm not sure what would happen to you in that case.  And two, I want someone who can protect Dawn.”  Xander studied Cheshire Cat with such an intensity that the feline had to make a concentrated effort not to squirm in discomfort.  It was a sensation he'd never experienced before – as if the young man was reading his very soul.  Suddenly, the teen grinned, a humorous, yet feral grin.  “I don't think you'll have a problem wanting to protect Dawn, though.”

 

Cheshire Cat perked his ears, curious. “Why is that?”

 

The grin turned into a smirk.  “'Cause she dressed like your Alice.”  With a flick of his wrist, the park dissolved and Cheshire Cat woke once more.

 

* * *

 

He quickly scanned the park for nasties, going over the conversation he'd just had more carefully. 'Wonderland is odd, but even I find that strange.'

 

Cheshire Cat grinned at the chuckle he heard in the back of his mind.  {There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Cheshire Cat, than are ever dreamed of in your philosophy. Looks like you're in the clear for the moment.  Dawn should wake up soon, or Alice.  If you can, see if Dawn's as aware as I am of what's going on.  I don't want her frightened if we can help it.}

 

“Understood.”

 

“What's understood, Cheshire Cat?”

 

“Just talking to the voice in my head, my dear.  Are you alright?”

 

Alice sat up, one hand to her head, “Ouch, I feel as if someone's been using my head for a croquet ball.”  Green eyes, instead of blue, in a slightly narrower face gazed up at him in shock, a hand flying up to cover fuller lips. “Cheshire Cat, is that you?”  She flicked her gaze over him, head to foot, the shock fading quickly into acceptance.  “Oh, it is you! I've never seen you in a human form before...” she trailed off, studying him as he helped her to her feet.  “But this really suits you.”

 

“I appreciate that, but we are not who we once were, my dear Alice.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Apparently, someone is playing pranks.  It is Halloween, and people have been transformed into their costumes.”

 

“Costumes?”  Fear flashed in Alice's eyes, an expression so unusual for her, that Cheshire Cat knew that Xander had been correct, that Dawn was aware, and frightened.

 

Cheshire Cat nodded, looking deeply into her eyes.  “Dawn.  Xander says things will be fine.  I promised him we would help.”

 

The fear disappeared, though Alice looked confused.  “Dawn?”

 

“Your host for the evening.  Can you speak with her?”

 

Alice's eyes went unfocused for a bit before she shook her head.  “No..., though now I can tell she's there.  I can feel her emotions.  She appears to be calming down.”

 

“That's my girl,” a lopsided grin graced his features as he instinctively relayed Xander's statement.

 

Alice shot him a measuring look. “Seems you're a bit more connected to your host, am I right?”

 

He took her arm and they strolled out of the park.  “We have much in common, my dear.  Much in common.”

 

“So, you were being literal when you said you were talking to the voice in your head.”

 

“Absolutely.  I find it fascinating how well he's taking everything.”  Crossing the street, they skipped from shadow to shadow, avoiding a few people dressed in bright spandex.

 

The next street over was pure chaos. Parents tried to chase down their children, or in turn were being chased by those whose costumes had been enchanted.  Small groups of roving monsters menaced others.  Pockets of resistance could be spotted here and there – Zorro slashed at a green skinned monster, Kitty Pryde phased frightened trick-or-treaters away from a wolf man, and a couple of normal teen had armed themselves with branches and stood guard in front of a trio of third graders.

 

“Any ideas what caused all of this?”

 

Cheshire Cat's yellow-coin eyes flickered over the scene.  “Obviously someone with more talent than sense.  Unless very careful, and lucky, people may die.”

 

“What can we do?”

 

“If we speak to Giles, he may know.”

 

“Giles?”

 

“School librarian and mentor of the supernatural to our hosts and their friends.”

 

“Curiouser and curiouser.”  They retreated to a tall tree in someone's yard, away from the main knot of mayhem.  “Where can we find this librarian?”

 

Cheshire Cat chuckled, “At the library.  Apparently, he's taking an easy night.”

 

“Which way?”

 

“Well, we could go this way,” he pointed to their right.  “Or we could go that way,” he pointed to their left.  “But I prefer taking the short cut,” he pulled on a branch and a door opened within the trunk of the tree.  On the other side was the quad that led up to the school.  “My dear,” he bowed, allowing Alice before him.

 

“Thank you, kind sir.”  She crossed over cautiously, throwing cards in hand – they'd make a good deterrent against anything that tried to attack them without being immediately fatal; unlike the vorpal blade.  She had no desire to harm those who couldn't help what was going on.

 

Cheshire Cat was smirking.  At Alice's raised brow, he explained, “Xander's impressed.  Say's it's a good trick and hopes he can learn it before we leave.”

 

She smiled back, “It could certainly make things interesting.”

 

* * *

 

 

Chapter Text

* * Chapter 6 * *

 

Giles sipped his tea, glad for the break in routine. Halloween was traditionally a slow night in the demon community – something about being too commercialized, or something. He planned on spending the evening catching up on his non-Watcher duties, relishing the quiet. He knew that his Slayer was taking a well-deserved night off as well.

 

The library doors swinging open caught his attention. Dawn walked in, but there was something off. Her stride was smoother, nearly predatory. She looked more self-confident than normal. She also gazed about curiously, as if she'd never been in the library before. “Dawn? What are you doing here? I thought Buffy mentioned you were going trick-or-treating with Xander?”

 

She quirked a slight half-grin. “We've run into a bit of a problem and needed your advice.”

 

He blinked at the perfect accent, but set it aside for the moment. “Alright,” he rose from his seat. “Where is Xander? He's all right, isn't he?”

 

“More or less,” came the cryptic rely. She pointed toward the low bookcases behind him.

 

Giles turned and nearly passed out in shock. There was a grin hanging in the air. Slowly, a form appeared around the grin, and soon Xander sat before him, swinging his feet. “Mr. Giles.”

 

“What...? Who...? How...?”

 

“All very good questions. Xander felt this was the best, and quickest way to gain your attention and convince you. Someone has been playing a dangerous game. A good half of the costumed populous have been transformed into their Halloween costumes and are running amuck, or otherwise indulging in their persona's nature.”

 

Giles frantically polished his glasses trying to come to terms with what he'd just seen and the explanation given. Dawn walked over and stood near Xander, leaning against his leg, the two staring at him with identical grins. He shuddered. “Which characters did Xander and Dawn go as, and how are you aware of what's happened?”

 

With a curtsy, Dawn answered first. “My name if Alice Liddell. Apparently I'm from the video game 'American McGee's Alice'.”

 

Giles felt himself pale further. He'd heard of that game – it was a about a dark and twisted version of Wonderland, where Alice had to defeat creatures as dangerous as anything found on the Hellmouth. With no small amount of apprehension, he turned to Xander. “And you?”

 

“Cheshire Cat. At your service.”

 

A moan escaped, 'A mad, cryptic, seer to rival Drusilla at her worst.'

 

He nearly passed out again when Cheshire Cat's grin widened as he responded, “Oh, no, I'm much cuter than she is.”

 

“Cheshire Cat, behave. Dawn doesn't seem to like you picking on Mr. Giles like that.”

 

Grateful for the reprieve, Giles turned to the girl. “S-so, you are able to communicate with Dawn? She knows what's going on?”

 

Alice shrugged. “She's aware, but all I get are feelings – no actual concrete dialogue. Cheshire Cat does, though.”

 

“I take it that – that it was your unique abilities that allows you to do that?”

 

“You could say so,” the felined teen grinned amiably at him, curling up more comfortably on the bookcase. “We're not quite sure how this occurred, but we promised Xander and Dawn we'd try to rectify the situation as quickly as possible while doing as little mischief as possible.”

 

“That – that would be appreciated.” Giles polished his glasses once more, thinking furiously. “S-so, you say only about half of those in costumes were actually affected? Has there been anything that struck you as a common denominator?”

 

“The spectrum was wide and varied. Monster and hero. Child, teen, and adult.”

 

“Where did you get your costumes?”

 

“The clothing came from our own closets. But Alice's apron, toys and blade, as well as my ears, tails, whiskers and stripes came from the new costume shop on Elm.”

 

Giles narrowed his eyes, “What was the name of it?”

 

“Ethan's.”

 

Giles saw red. “Ethan,” he growled deep in his throat. “It would be just like him to muck about like this.”

 

“Familiar with him, are you?”

 

“You could say that. I knew Rayne when I was much younger.” He stormed into his office, grabbing his sword, then returned to the main room. “You stay here. I'll take care of Ethan.”

 

“I wouldn't go alone if I were you.”

 

Giles glared a bit, “And why is that?”

 

Cheshire Cat pointed at the windows, “That.”

 

Glass crashed and a swarm of demonic children entered the library, shrieking and snarling at the three occupants.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 7 * *

 

As two neared, Cheshire Cat sat up, grabbed them by their collars and bashed their heads together, dropping them to the floor. He prowled the top of the bookcase, kicking any creatures who got too close in the face with steel toed boots. He noted several scatter as Giles wielded one of the wood chairs.

 

Alice hopped onto a table throwing her cards, glad that only one was needed to stun and knock out the possessed children. She quickly cleared the area around her.

 

Finally, the last child was dropped. Silence flowed back into the library.

 

“Alice? Are you injured?”

 

“No, Cheshire Cat. I'm fine.”

 

“Good. Mr. Giles?” No response. “Mr. Giles?” The two found Giles half under a table, a large lump on his head, out cold.

 

“Well, that's inconvenient.” Alice checked the library for any other visitors. “We can't leave him here by himself and I have a feeling we don't have long enough to wait for him to wake.”

 

“Correct.” He glanced out one window, noticing the increased number of creatures out on the lawn. “I suppose we could mirror travel. Take him home, then see about tracking down the center of all this madness.”

 

She glanced at him in curiosity. “You can do that?”

 

“You can as well, if you focus on it.” He hoisted the unconscious Watcher in a fireman's hold and headed out of the library and towards the gym. “There's a large full length mirror in the gym. We can open a pathway as long as he has a full length mirror at his place.” He paused, then grinned, “Which Xander says he's seen hanging in the washroom.” They arrived after dodging a couple of children and ducking the attention of some overly enthusiastic 'heroes.'

 

The two stood before the mirror. “Hold my hand, close your eyes. Don't open them no matter what. Either clear your mind or focus on me and Mr. Giles, otherwise I can't guarantee you'll arrive in the same place as we will.” Alice solemnly nodded and grabbed his hand. Cheshire Cat focused on Xander's memories of Mr. Giles' apartment. The mirror clouded over, then cleared to show a very neat and tidy bathroom.

 

They stepped through the mirror.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 8 * *

 

“Spike, the stars have been singing ever so loverly to me. Seems the chaos man let the costumes out to play. What was outside is now inside.”

 

“Really, pet? And what about the Slayer?”

 

Drusilla stoked her doll's hair humming softly to herself. “Miss Edith says the nasty Slayer is watching the picture box and ignoring the world for the night.”

 

“In that case, me and the lads are going for take out.” Spike leaned over to kiss her cheek.

 

The vampiress seer clutched his arm as he went to move away and stared up at him with surprisingly lucid eyes. “My dark kitten and his morning girl are quite mad. I don't fancy your chances if you cross them.”

 

He gently removed her hand. “No problems, pet. They can be as angry as they wish. I still aim to have me some fun tonight.” He turned to a minion. “Oi! Gather up the lads. The Slayer's takin' the day off.”

 

Drusilla stared after him and sighed softly. She looked at her doll, tilted her head as if listening, then nodded solemnly. “I agree, Miss Edith. Snicker snack.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 9 * *

 

Giles was placed comfortably in his bed, an ice pack on his head and a note beside his elbow in case he woke before anyone could return to him.

 

“More mirror travel?” Alice's tone was not very enthusiastic.

 

Cheshire Cat grinned, “No, my dear. Mirror travel is only when you can see or visualize your destination. Plus, there must be an unobstructed mirror at the other end. Ethan either removed or covered his once he started the spell. No, we're going to have to track down the source of the spell in a more mundane manner.” He led her out of the house, making sure to lock the door behind them.

 

A mental nudge caught his attention, {We aren't the only ones traveling within the mirror world, Cheshire Cat. I'm pretty sure I saw something lurking as we stepped through.}

 

'You're correct, Xander. When we were awakened others came along for the ride. Rabbit was there. As well as some Card Soldiers. Though they didn't notice us.'

 

An apprehensive pause. {Jabberwock?}

 

'I hope not, but I'm not counting against it. Hopefully, they'll stay in Wonderland. If we don't do anymore mirror travel, we should be fine.'

 

{Knock on wood.}

 

Cheshire Cat nodded in agreement, then turned his attention to sensing the largest concentration of madness in the town, not including outside the Hellmouth itself. He was pleased to see that Alice was already pointing in the correct direction.

 

* * *

 

The pull was getting stronger. Cheshire Cat and Alice had rescued various people from their attackers – one pirate was beat down with a laugh of glee from Xander.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 10 * *

 

“Well, well, what have we here? The Slayer's sister and her lapdog. Must be my lucky day.” Spike stepped out into the street light, a contingency of fifteen minions backing him.

 

“A lapdog? Feline, if you please, and I'd watch for my claws.”

 

“Ha! No way you'd ever be more than a mild nuisance, whelp. Your drained and lifeless bodies on her doorstep would be just the thing to shatter the Slayer. Making it easy to finish the bint off in her grief.”

 

Spike felt a shiver of fear race down his spine as the boy's eyes flashed a green gold and a deep growl emanated from his throat. The dark look in the nibblet's eyes also took him aback. Neither had ever looked so vicious. An idea hit him and he grinned, “Of course, turning you both would have merits as well. You know the Slayer's strengths and weaknesses. She'd never be able to bring herself to kill the ones she loves.”

 

“We'd create our own Pack and would own this town by week's end,” the boy stated coldly. “If that were to ever happen, it's too bad you won't be around to see it.”

 

Dawn reached into her pocket and tossed a pair of dice onto the concrete.

 

The vampires were still laughing as the Demon Dice ripped them to shreds. The demonic creatures she'd unleashed returned to their containers as the last flake of dust drifted to the ground. Spike, having taken off the moment the dice began to glow, cursed steadily to himself as he ducked down an alley. “What the bloody Hell!?” He peeked around the corner to see Dawn calmly pick the dice up and replace them in her pocket, a grin on her face. She began humming to herself, swaying slightly as she scanned the street, reminding him of his princess. “Okay. Mad. I get it now, Dru. Mad. Bloody Hell.”

 

“She also said she didn't fancy your chances if you crossed us. I would have listened, Spike.”

 

Spike whirled about. His last sight: a wildly grinning Xander swinging a glowing blade. A sharp pain in his neck accompanied a near whispered 'snicker snack.' Dust.

 

* * *

 

Drusilla stared up at the stars, her doll clutched tightly to her chest. “My poor Spikey. Snicker snack. We warned him, Miss Edith. But he didn't listen. My dark kitten took care of him for good.” She sighed, then danced through a beam of moonlight singing softly to herself. Slowing, she looked back out the window. “Well, Miss Edith, should we find someplace else to live? Things aren't going to be the same without our Spike.” She sighed again.

 

* * *

 

Cheshire Cat stared down at the pile of ash that used to be one fourth of the Scourge of Europe – face blank – as Xander processed what had just occurred. To the feline's surprise, Xander merely sighed, {We should get going. I'd hate to know how many people are going to be permanently affected by this spell.}

 

'Alright.' He called to Alice and they continued down the street. Cheshire Cat returned the vorpal blade with a grin of thanks. “Wonderful weapon, that.”

 

She nodded back, grinning. “I've been quite pleased with it, myself.”

 

'Xander, can we talk?'

 

A sigh. {About?}

 

'That surge that occurred when Spike threatened to kill the Slayer. What exactly was that? It was pure instinct. It gave me a boost, with the mental flavor of an Alpha, but felt like it wanted to support us rather than take over.'

 

Another sigh. {Hyena. I was possessed by a Hyena spirit last year. She was never completely banished. At the time, Hyena wanted a strong mate and Buffy's the Slayer – the strongest around – we tried to claim her.} A shrug. {Now... Well, she's a packmate and both the Hyena and myself are extremely protective of our friends. We don't take kindly to threats to them. This is the closest she's come to coming completely out since the original possession.}

 

'How well does she interact with your others?'

 

Silence, a bit of panic. {How...? How'd you know?}

 

'Xander, there is a reason we are able to communicate as well as we do. I've a fractured psyche as well. It's what enables me to mirror walk as well as my other abilities. Alice is only slightly mad – which is why she can sense Dawn's emotions. The other transformed probably have no idea they are merely costume personas.'

 

More silence.

 

'Part of why I'm asking is that there is a good chance that I, or part of me, may remain behind.'

 

A fourth sigh. {Hyena originally fought constantly with me – the dominant personality – two Alphas, you know. But we came to an arrangement. I let her out when we're patrolling. It's one of the reasons I haven't been killed, or even hospitalized after some vicious fights. She also makes sure that some of my less ... accommodating ... fragments don't cause problems at inopportune moments and she protects the cub.}

 

'If I stay – I'll do what I can to help as well.'

 

{ ... Thank you.}

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 11 * *

 

It took another half an hour before the two made it to Ethan's Costume Shop, pausing periodically to take care of problems as they encountered them. The air practically vibrated with chaos energy – their hair and fur gently moving in the waves emanating from the store. Peering through the window they could see a dim glow that lit the back end of the store, the silhouette of a kneeling figure clearly spotted. Cheshire Cat nudged Alice and pointed toward the right. A blanket over one of the full length mirrors had shifted and a portion was visible. “Think you could do a bit of mirror travel?”

 

She glanced about the room, memorizing it for a lock. “Yes. And I spotted a mirrored window a few shops back.”

 

“Good. I'll meet you inside then. But be careful, Alice. We're not the only ones who were brought across from Wonderland. I noticed during the last trip. Try not to get spotted.”

 

She kissed his cheek, grinning, “For luck,” and dashed off.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 12 * *

 

Ethan knelt by the statue of Janus, chuckling to himself. His scrying dish gave him such wonderful views of the Chaos he had created. He'd been careful to sell an equal amount of hero costumes to balance out the villains he sold – it wasn't his fault that those who bought accessories used them for villain costumes, was it? A soft humming from the front of the store caught his attention. He rose stiffly to his feet – he wasn't as young as he used to be. Grabbing a baseball bat, he cautiously made his way toward the front of the store. The tune seemed familiar; he couldn't place it, but felt it meant something.

 

He froze in shock; a large grin floated in the air above the checkout counter. Ethan had seen many strange sights in his years of being a Chaos Mage – but he'd never seen anything like this. The form of a teen appeared, perched on the edge of the counter.

 

“Now I enjoy a bit of madness as much as the next bloke,” the boy purred. “But really, Mr. Rayne, don't you think you've gone a bit too far?”

 

Shocked a moment, Ethan blinked at the teen. “How..?” he shook his head. “Chaos, my dear boy. You can never have enough of it.”

 

“You really need to stop the spell, Mr. Rayne.”

 

The voice in upper British tones coming from behind him had him whirling. The sight of a young girl dressed in a blue Victorian-style frock stepping out of the mirror, the blanket in a heap on the floor – shocked him speechless a moment. Once in the shop, she stood off to the right of the mirror, her hands behind her back as she rocked gently back and forth on her heels. She stared up with brilliant green eyes that bored holes into his soul and found him wanting.

 

“I wasn't planning on stopping the spell until dawn arrived. I'm having entirely too much fun.”

 

“What happens when Dawn arrives?” the boy asked, flashing an impressive set of fangs in a knowing grin.

 

Ethan shrugged, it wasn't as if these two transformed children could stop his spell. “Only at that time can the bust be broken, the spell won't stop until then.”

 

The mirror began to cloud over behind the girl and something lurched within the depths heading toward them. The girl tilted her head to keep both Ethan and the mirror in her sight.

 

The teen hopped off the counter with feline grace. “So, you're positive that the bust can only be broken when Dawn arrives?”

 

“Yes,” his gaze shifted to the mirror of their own accord. A snarl echoed from the mirror as the figure moved closer to the surface. Ethan's gaze shifted to the mirror. Burning red eyes glared hatefully out of them, sibilant mad-tinged whispers flowed from a gaping maw that sported teeth that were a hand length long. “Um... what's that?”

 

“Jabberwock. You see when you activated the spell, you didn't take into consideration any side effects. We are connected to another world via mirrors. That world is now aware of this world.” He pointed to the mirror. “They're coming through and would rival anything you already have here.”

 

Ethan stared blankly at the mirror. 'Jabberwock? Where have I heard the word before?' He nearly missed the dark haired teen slipping around him and toward his small altar for Janus. “What are you doing?” Ethan shouted over his shoulder, panicked, unable to take his eyes off the mirror in which the creature was slowly gaining startling clarity. A clawed hand pushed it's way through the mirror. 'The jaws that bite, the claws that catch. Oh, shite! It's real?' He took a step backward, “There's no way to stop the spell until dawn. We – we need to get out of here!”

 

“Better hurry, Cheshire Cat. It's almost through.”

 

Cheshire Cat raised the bust over his head. “May I introduce you to Miss Alice Liddell, otherwise known as Dawn Summers.”

 

Ethan, pushed past the bounds of sanity, swung his bat at Alice, too frightened to think, giving an inarticulate shout of denial. Alice's hands moved from behind her back in an impossibly fast move, the hidden vorpal blade glowing eerily as Cheshire Cat threw the bust to the ground, shattering it into a million pieces.

 

A wave of energy washed over them. Screams – Howls of Pain – Darkness.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 13 * *

 

Xander slowly rolled over onto his side and levered himself into a sitting position. He ached in places he didn't know he had. Ignoring his own discomfort, he searched the room for Dawn. She lay unconscious near the mirror, the bloodstained blade clasped in her hand. He crawled over to her, relieved to see no injuries. Paranoid, he shifted her away from the mirror and the mess on the floor. As his hand came into contact with the plastic blade it began to glow, once again gaining a wicked sharp edge. “Oh, man,” he whispered. Putting both blade and reaction aside, he set about making Dawn comfortable, using leftover costumes as a pillow and blanket to ward off the chill.

 

Turning, he stared at Ethan Rayne a long moment, expression inscrutable before a dark grin with no hint of humor crossed his face. Tossing the store, he located a first aid kit. The vorpal blade had taken the Mage's hand off at the wrist. Luckily, the sheer speed and sharpness of the blade had cauterized the wound – otherwise the man may very well have bled to death before Xander had awoken. Of course, had he managed to harm or cause harm to Dawn, Xander would have gleefully left him for dead. Instead, he cleaned and bandaged the stump, covering Ethan with a Dracula cape to ward off shock, getting a few pained moans for his trouble. He also pocketed the contents of the register – shredding any and all checks and credit card receipts. Payback.

 

Below the mirror, in a pool of metallic red blood, lay the clawed hand of the Jabberwock.

 

“Can't leave that here. No telling what Ethan could do with it. Definitely don't want to take it with me. What to do, what to do?” A wide grin crossed his face and he nodded to himself. With thumb and forefinger, he gingerly picked the grisly claw up. After staring into the mirror for a moment, he tossed the claw – the image rippling as the hand passed through. Xander mopped the blood up with paper towels found in the back, getting rid of the soiled sheets the same way.

 

Studying Ethan another moment, Xander turned his back on him and gathered Dawn up, pocketing the blade. “C'mon, sleepy head. It's been a long evening. Time to get you home before your sister kills me.”

 

Dawn yawned, snuggling up against his chest. “Weird dream.”

 

“Oh, yeah? What about?” he stepped out of the shop and headed down the street.

 

“I dreamed I was really Alice and you were really Cheshire Cat.”

 

Xander nodded, the ghost of a grin on his lips. “Sounds like an interesting dream. Did you have fun?”

 

She murmured assent. “'Scool. We saved people and got rid of monsters. Just like Buffy does.” She looked up at him, one hand caressing his cheek. “You were scary, but in a good way.”

 

“Scary, but in a good way?”

 

“Yeah. Like, I knew, no matter what happened, you'd do everything and anything to protect me.”

 

“Yup. Anything for my Dawnster.”

 

She smiled, resting her head against his shoulder. “We heading home?”

 

“Yup. It's getting late. There's a movie and a tray of cookies waiting with our name on it.”

 

She giggled. “Nightmare Before Christmas?”

 

“Sounds like a plan.”

 

She frowned, glancing about. “We kinda went off the beaten path a bit.”

 

“We showed Ethan our costumes like he'd asked.”

 

“We did?” she frowned again, confusion in her eyes.

 

“Yup. He was shocked speechless,” a grin grew on Xander's face.

 

“Oh. Why don't I remember?”

 

“You weren't all there. Kinda out of it. Too much candy, I guess. So I cut the visit short.” He looked down at her. “Think you're okay to walk?”

 

She pouted a bit, but nodded. “Yeah. I can walk.”

 

He swung her to the ground, holding her steady until she had her balance. He laced his fingers with hers, getting a brilliant smile.

 

Xander grinned in response.

 

* * *

 

Chapter Text

 

* * Chapter 14 * *

 

It was nearly two in the morning when Xander arrived home.  He'd spent a lovely time at the Summers' home, watching movies and eating cookies, but he needed some time to think. He quietly eased through the front door, hoping both parental units were out cold for the night.  This night had been ... surreal ... to say the least and he was still trying to assimulate everything that had happened.  The last thing he needed was to listen to their drunken fighting and oh, so loving advice and criticism.

 

“Boy!  Get yer lazy ass in here!” the slurred voice produced an irritated annoyance rather than the normal dread.

 

“Yes, sir?”  He managed to keep the contempt from his voice – he was tired and didn't want to have to dodge a beating tonight.  Entering the kitchen, he felt his hackles rise.  Both his parents sat at the table, glaring blearily up at him – smug satisfaction clear in his father's eyes, indifference in his mother's.  Two men, nearly the same height, dark hair, dark eyes, and in identical looking dark gray business suits stood on either side of his parents like bookends.  He mentally labeled them 'Frick' and 'Frack'.  They stood in deceptively easy postures, but were perfectly balanced, ready for anything – Buffy used the same stance when she wanted to be underestimated.  Bulges under their arms told him they were packing.

 

He stepped back, only to bump into a warm solid mass.  Craning his neck upward, he spotted a third man who stared down at him with a neutral expression, and neatly blocked the exit.  He had to be about six nine, built like a line-backer, and had ginger brown hair, so Xander labeled him 'Ludo.'  The man nudged him further into the kitchen, ushering him politely, but firmly, to a chair.  Xander could feel his heart race, but kept his face carefully blank.  'Oh, this can not be of the good.'

 

“What the hell you dressed like that for, you freak?”  Anthony sneered, staring at the ears and the stripes in the boy's hair.

 

“It's Halloween.”  Though not said, the 'you moron' was clearly implied.  Tony didn't notice, but the suits did.  'Frick' smirked disdainfully at the two lushes.  “As much as I enjoy impromptu tea parties, I'd really like to call it a night.”

 

Ignoring his son, Tony turned to 'Ludo,' who Xander assumed must be the one in charge.  “Well?”

 

As 'Ludo' assessed the boy, running an appraising eye over his form, Xander narrowed his own gaze, not at all enjoying feeling like a hunk of meat.  “Why don't you take a picture?  It'll last longer!” he angrily retorted.

 

'Ludo' smiled.  “He'll do.  Consider your debt paid.”  He motioned to 'Frack' who came forward to pull the teen from his chair.

 

With what amounted to a manic grin, Xander shoved his chair back and down.  It hit the floor with a bone jarring thud and he somersaulted backwards away from the table and the two closest goons.  Crouched low, he dashed out of the kitchen and through the living room, heading for the door.  Shouting followed, the three men recovering from the shock of his unexpected move.  Obviously, Tony had not said anything that would have warned them of any skills he might have.

 

Quickly working the chain and bolt, he flung the door open just as 'Frick' reached him.  The man tried to grab his arm, but Xander jerked away.  Off balance, he was in no position to avoid 'Frick' as the man tackled him.  They tumbled out the door and off the stoop.  Xander saw stars as his head cracked painfully against the concrete sidewalk.  Disoriented and dizzy, he couldn't stop the man from flipping him over and snapping handcuffs around his wrists.

 

“Damn, kid.  Got some moves on you. But Mr. Frocetti'll soon teach ya some respect.”  He yanked the teen to his knees.

 

Xander shook his head to clear it, only to make the dizziness worse.  Concussion.  “Doubt it.”

 

“We'll see.”  The man turned, readying himself to lift the kid to his feet, when a dark blur collided with him, sending the thug to the ground.

 

A wide grin crossed Xander's face even as his vision darkened as he heard,  “No one 'urts my kitten.” The man gave a gurgled scream – slit throat by the sound of it. 

 

Xander started to sway on his knees, balance shot, only to be caught around the shoulders by a strong arm before he fell.  “Hey, Dru,” he whispered.

 

“Don't worry, kitten.  Mummy's here. I'll protect you, I will.”  Cool lips pressed his forehead in a kiss as he lost consciousness.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 15 * *

 

Raul Frocetti, unknowingly nicknamed 'Ludo,' clenched his hands in fury.  Though not a resident of Sunnydale, he knew about the things that went bump in the night.  Too far away to do anything but watch, he growled as the female vampire slashed his bodyguard's throat and took off with his payment.  The kid was a good as dead, and more importantly, no longer capable of making him money.

 

He turned, “Bring them out.”  His eyes were black and cold.

 

Tony and Jessica Harris were herded out into the living room and forced to sit on the couch.  Frocetti paced in front of them, a fierce look in his eyes.  “It appears that you are unable to pay off your debt as you believed, Mr. Harris.  What shall we do?”

 

Unaware of the danger, blinded by drink and anger, Tony rose from his seat, getting into the man's face.  “Uh uh.  No way.  I paid my debt.  It ain't my fault you ain't got enough sense to hang on to the little bastard.  I ain't got nuthin' else, and you ain't gettin' nuthin' else.”

 

Frocetti shoved the fool back onto the couch and nodded once.

 

Two suppressed gunshots sounded.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 16 * *

 

Drucilla snapped the handcuffs off and gently carried her kitten down the street.  “What should we do, Miss Edith?  The nasty Slayer won't believe we didn't hurt him.  We'd never hurt him.  The Little Tree is not home.  Maybe the Watcher man?”  She looked down at Xander frowning at his pallor and slightly labored breathing.  “Oh, a clinic.  And then tell the Watcher man.”  She held him closer and picked up her pace – unable to take a shorter route due to the blood scent.

 

* * *

 

Giles clumsily felt for the phone, the ringing echoing in his head, aggravating his headache.  “It bloody well better be an emergency,” he growled.  The response had him up and out of bed in an instant.  “Have you called the police? ... No, don't touch anything.  Any sign of him? ... Alright.  Come over. I'll try a tracking spell.”  He threw on some clothes and dug through his trunks looking for the items he needed for the spell, his mind raced.  “What have you gotten yourself into this time, lad?” He heard knocking on the door.  Preoccupied, he made what could have been a fatal mistake.  “Come in, Buffy!”

 

The door opened, but it wasn't Buffy. “Not very smart, Watcher man.”

 

Blood froze and Giles grasped a stake tightly, fingers turning white.  “Drusilla.”

 

She only stood there,  not making a move to enter, staring at him solemnly.  “You're late.  Late.  For a very important date.  Bad men tried to take my kitten.  Tied him up and knocked him out.  The stars say his parents arranged it.  I took him away and to the hospital.  The bad men were angry and took it out on his parents.  I'm glad, though I would have loved to wear their entrails as a necklace.  Tell my kitten I'll see him later. Goodbye.”  She turned and disappeared into the night with only a whisper of cloth.

 

Giles stared in shock at the doorway – a vampire willingly helping an injured human?  It was unheard of!  He shook himself and grabbed jacket, wallet and keys.  When Buffy arrived moments later he hurried her into the car racing for the hospital after a brief explanation.

 

“Drusilla took Xander to the hospital?”  Buffy was incredulous.  “Drusilla, the mad vampire, helped Xander?”

 

“Incredible, I know.  But, she is mad.  Who knows why she does things?  We should be grateful she decided to help.”  They arrived at the hospital and Giles flagged down a nurse – a new one, by the looks of it, she wore no cross and didn't seem nervous at all working the night shift in Sunnydale. “Excuse me, Miss.  A young man was brought in within the past hour or so.  Dark eyes, dark hair, seventeen years old?”

 

Buffy added, “He might have still been in his Halloween costume.  A black and gray striped cat?”

 

The nurse nodded, brow furrowed.  “An odd woman brought him in.  She kept singing to him and saying the stars wished him well before walking off.  The young man has a large gash at the back of his head.  He's still unconscious.  Do you know who he is?  We'll need to contact family.”

 

“His name's Xander Harris.  I went by to check on him when he didn't call to say he'd made it home safe and no one answered the phone.  The door was open and I found his folks on the living room couch.  They'd been shot.  They're both dead.” Buffy was pale at the recitation.  She was used to the evil of demons, but the proof of human evil always threw her for a loop.

 

The nurse paled as well.  “You'll understand that I cannot let you see him until the police have cleared you, right?”  She looked relieved at their nods.  “If you'll have a seat in the waiting room?”

 

* * *

 

Hours later, Joyce and Dawn had joined the others in waiting for word on Xander's condition.  They'd managed to contact Willow and she was on her way as well, nervously babbling at a hundred miles an hour.

 

It was nearing noon and Xander had awoken an hour ago, but no one had been allowed to see him. The doctor's wanted to make sure there were no adverse effects to the concussion and from being unconscious for so long.  Once given the okay, the police had wanted their turn.  Giles had requested, near demanded to be be present, since Xander was a minor – but they had refused.

 

* * *

 

The Lt. closed his notebook with a sigh and a, hopefully, reassuring smile at the young man.  The teen claimed he'd come home and was immediately knocked out.  He hadn't seen anyone or anything to help identify the burglar.  He figured his folks might have been shot if they'd been drunk and had argued with the thief.

 

“Thank you, Xander.  Leave a  contact number when you leave the hospital in case we have any other questions.  And, I'm sorry for your loss.”

 

The teen nodded shortly, a sad smile upon his face, “Thank you, sir.”

 

The Lt. walked into the waiting room. “Any of you here for Xander Harris?”  Five people stood.  “It seems he interrupted a burglary in process.  He's awake and the doc should be by shortly to let visitors in.  Does he have anyone he can stay with – at least until we can contact any next of kin?”

 

“He can stay with me.  I have an extra room and it'll be a quiet place to heal until his concussion is gone.”  Giles gave his information to the police officer.

 

A doctor strode over a half an hour later.  “The concussion you knew, but other than some bruises and minor scrapes, he's fine.  His concussion means that loud noises, bright lights, or sudden movements are going to be excruciating. He's refused morphine and is only taking Extra Strength Tylenol at the moment, despite our suggestions.”

 

“Xander hates drugs or anything that makes him feel loopy,” Willow interjected.

 

The doctor nodded and jotted something down on his clipboard.  “Well, he's also asking to be discharged, something I'm loathe to do.  However, I was told you've been given temporary custodianship of the young man, Mr. Giles.  I'll give you a list of things to do and look out for.  Give him a few minutes to change and I'll have one of the orderlies wheel him out.”

 

“Thank you, doctor.”

 

“Keep an eye out for him.  Losing both parents in such a horrific manner could cause serious psychological scarring.  Don't be surprised at depression or sudden mood swings – heightened paranoia isn't irregular either.  Here's the number to a good grief counselor.  Good day.”

 

* * *

 

Giles and Xander were silent for most of the drive, the girls following to Joyce's van.

 

“Thanks for coming, Giles.  It means a lot.”

 

“I wouldn't have had a clue where to start looking if not for Drusilla.”

 

“Dru?”

 

“Yes.  Buffy had called, she had found your parents dead and you missing.  She was frantic – but there was nothing to say where you'd gone.  I planned on doing a tracking spell when Drusilla came by and told me she'd taken you to the hospital.  She also said something about your parents arranging something.”  He remembered exactly what the vampire had said, but had no idea how much of it was true, hoping Xander would clear things up for him.

 

Xander curled in upon himself, staring blankly out the passenger window.  “I lied to the cops.  Three guys in suits were in the house with my folks.  The big guy, he said ... he said,” a shuddering breath, “Said I'd do and that the debt was paid.  I took off like a bat outta hell, but one of them tackled me just outside.  Hit my head pretty hard.  Slapped cuffs on me.  Was about to haul me back in when Dru took care of him.  I blacked out after that. I'm guessing the boss man saw Dru take off with me, recognized her as a vamp, figured I was dead or turned, and shot my folks in retaliation.”  The recitation was monotone, flat and expressionless.

 

“Xander?” Giles glanced worriedly at the boy.

 

“I'm not upset that they're dead. I'm upset I didn't get to shoot them myself.”  A dark grin flittered across his features, “Is that wrong?”

 

Giles, having caught a glimpse of Xander's hospital file, shook his head.  No one Xander's age should have a file that thick unless terminally ill.  “I'll be honest and say I'm surprised you didn't snap and go after them long ago.”

 

Another grin stretched his lips, “Who says I didn't?”  He shrugged, “Besides, couldn't enjoy my emancipation if I was in juvie, could I?”  He sighed, one hand rubbing his temple.  “Anyway, I'm hoping that if they did kill my parents and later discover I didn't become vamp food, they'll decide I'm not worth the effort of trying to go after.”  They pulled into the drive.  “But I'm sticking with my original story when it comes to the girls.  I don't want them to know the truth.  Buffy or Willow will start checking this guy out and that'll cause all sorts of trouble.”  He sighed again, “And I so don't need the pity and sympathy, let alone over-protectiveness I'd get if I told them my parents tried to sell me to the mob to pay their debts.”

 

“Do you know who they were dealing with?”

 

“The guy who cuffed me mentioned a Mr. Frocetti.”  Xander turned to Giles and the man was struck with how tired the boy looked.  The wounded look in dark eyes aged him as did the white pinched face – a far cry from the laughing fun-loving boy he'd come to know.  “You sure about letting me stay?  I don't want to be any trouble.”

 

“It's no trouble and considering the circumstances, I definitely want you where friends can keep an eye on you.  I've never fully trusted the American Welfare Services.  Too many people slip through the cracks.”

 

“Specialty of mine.”

 

Giles blinked in confusion, then slowly nodded.  If the boy's parents weren't already dead, he'd have been more than happy to let them meet Ripper.

 

“Promise you won't tell the others?”

 

“You have my word that unless it becomes an issue to deal with – I won't mention it.”

 

“Fair enough.  Thanks, G-man.”

 

Giles felt the tension flow out of his shoulders and neck at the familiar nickname.  Perhaps things would be fine after all.  “Let's get you inside.  You need your rest.”

 

* * *

 

Xander was exhausted by the time the girls had left for the evening.  He loved them all, but they nearly killed him with all their fussing.  Willow especially hovered and babbled about keeping warm, to tell Giles if he needed anything, not to get out of bed – reminding Giles to check on him every hour, check for loss of memory or developing poor motor control, etc., etc. After nearly an hour, Giles managed to send everyone home, promising to return with some soup if he could stomach it.

 

Xander dozed off.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 17 * *

 

A breeze blew in through the window swaying the curtains and ruffling sweat damp hair.  A cool embrace and soft lullaby soothed him from his nightmares and he clung to the figure that rocked him like a child.

 

“I'll protect you, my kitten, I will. See what good care I take?”  Two men, 'Ludo' and 'Frack,' lay dead against the wall facing the foot of the bed, throats torn out, eyes wide, mouths open in screams of horror and denial.

 

To the right, a hyena laughed softly to herself and lay curled before the partially opened door of the closet.  The hyena glared at a nearby corner, keeping a dark shadow at bay.  A small child's arm reached from the closet and stroked the beast's pelt whispering, “Kingugwa, good Kingugwa.”

 

To the left, a large gray and black striped cat perched on the dresser, grinning at the scene.  The male cat turned to him, “We really need to talk.”

 

Xander woke with a start.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 18 * *

 

Xander slowly made his way downstairs, unwilling to be alone with the voices in his head anymore.  He silently eased onto the couch and watched Giles who sat at his kitchen table engrossed in a large dusty book, muttering to himself and making notes.  He must have dozed off, because when he came around again he was covered in a soft afghan and Giles sat in an armchair across from him, looking at him with a concerned expression.

 

“Hey.  Was I out long?” he blinked sleep out of his eyes, cautiously stretching, head aching a bit.

 

“Couple of hours.  At least from when I first noticed you.  Why didn't you say anything, Xander?”

 

“I didn't want to disturb whatever you were researching so diligently.”

 

“Something to drink?”

 

“Got any hot chocolate?”

 

Giles nodded and went into the kitchen. Xander resituated himself, draping the afghan over his shoulders. He was cold.  He wrapped his hands about the mug handed to him, drawing the warmth to himself.  Sipping appreciatively, he nodded his gratitude.  They were silent for a long while.  Giles removed his glasses and began polishing them – a sure sign he was trying to work himself up to saying something.  “Okay, G-man.  Spill.”

 

“Pardon?” the Watcher looked startled.

 

Xander quirked a half-grin.  “Whatever it is that's got you so wound up,” he nodded at the glasses. “What's the what?”

 

Chagrined, the older man replaced his glasses.  “I fear that Ethan's spell may have had an adverse effect upon you.”

 

Xander pulled his feet up onto the couch and curled up in the corner of the couch.  “How so?”

 

“I hope you will forgive me, but I performed a minor spell while you were asleep that allowed me to read your aura.  It is... well, shattered, for lack of a better term.”

 

“And what does that tell you?”  He sipped his drink.

 

“That whatever exactly the spell did, the effects didn't stop when the spell did.  Looking at your aura is like looking at a – a kaleidescope.  It shifts in color and intensities around the edges, though the core is white with strands of blue shot through.  I'm not exactly sure what to make of it.”

 

Xander sighed, “Did you ever do this spell before on any of us?”

 

“On Buffy, when I first met her, to – to ensure she was the Slayer.  The Slayer essence is quite unmistakable.”

 

“But you didn't use it on Willow or myself before?  Not even when I was possessed by the Hyena spirit?”

 

The silence and stricken look on Giles' face was answer enough.  “Oh, dear God.”

 

“Calm down, G-Man.”

 

“B-but, you're saying you're still possessed by the Hyena spirit – and I never knew, I just assumed you were fine once you returned to normal.”

 

“It's not all bad.  I've gotten some definite benefits from the situation, and so has Kingugwa.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Kingugwa.  Spotted Hyena.  It's what she calls herself.”

 

“Oh,” Giles looked lost.

 

“Let me ask you another question.  If you ignore the possessions, what would an aura like mine say to you?”

 

The answer was quick and decisive, “That you were utterly insane.  Schizophrenic or possessed of multiple personalities but to a degree that you'd be exceedingly erratic, or quite possibly non-functional.”

 

“Like I said, I've gotten some definite benefits.”  He sipped his chocolate, eyes on Giles, waiting for the penny to drop.

 

Giles stared at him, horror dawning in his eyes, as well as rage.  “You? ... How? ... When?”

 

“All very good questions, G-Man,” Xander unconsciously mimicked Cheshire Cat.  “Let's say I'll never shed a tear for my parents' demise.

 

“When growing up, Willow and Jesse kept me from losing it completely – they were my safety net, even if they weren't exactly sure just how much I relied on them both. Being able to focus on them and keeping them safe kept me from flying off the handle.  Probably saved my folks' life, too.  When Jesse died I was able to keep going only because I had a new focus – destroy those that took him away.  Vampires.  But it was hard not to let it show how much the loss of his support meant.

 

“Then I got possessed by Kingugwa.” He took a steadying breath.  “That weekend was rough – but I managed to convince her not to fight me.  She helps keep some of the less accommodating parts from getting uppity and helps out during patrols.”  He shot a jaundice look at the older man's gape, “What? It never occurred to wonder how a completely untrained kid could go up against vamps and if not win then at least survive?  C'mon G-Man – you call yourself a Watcher?”

 

Giles had the good grace to blush.  “I do apologize about that.  I should have made sure that both you and Willow were schooled in at least the basics of self-defense before allowing you to go out and patrol.  We can rectify that starting Monday – you can both participate in Buffy's training.”

 

“Sounds good.”  Finishing his chocolate, Xander headed back to bed leaving Giles to think and worry.

 

* * *

 

The next morning, after getting permission from the police, Giles accompanied Xander back to his house to pack his belongings.

 

There were several large garbage bags sitting on the curb.  Xander stood motionless staring at them for a long moment.  Grabbing one, he opened it.  Muttering foul curses, the teen checked the other bags.  Giles thought he heard Xander say, “Fine, give me yet another reason to dance on your graves.”

 

“Xander?”

 

“Well, we won't need the suitcases you brought.  Seems my loving parents packed for me.”  The false, sickeningly sweet and cheerful tone made Giles' teeth itch, as did the wide, mad grin on the boy's face.  “At least trash pick-up's not till Monday.”  Expression left his face so quickly, Giles felt a shiver of uneasiness race up his spine.  He thought he was used to the teen's mercurial moods, but new knowledge made him reevaluate some of his prior notions.  He helped Xander load the bags into his car and followed him into the house.

 

Xander went up to his old room which had been stripped of pretty much everything.  At the window, he pried up the top section of the window ledge.  A small hollow was revealed and he gave a sigh of relief as he extracted an envelope and a small bundle wrapped in a black bandanna.  He also pulled a small green duffel from under a pile of trash in the corner of his closet.  His last stop was the kitchen pantry where he picked up one of those fire-proof safety boxes generally used for storing important documents.  “Okay.  I'm done.  Rest of this stuff can be sold off or burned for all I care.”  He walked out, tossing the items into the car, and collapsing into the front passenger seat.

 

Giles drove them both to his home, leaving Xander to his thoughts.

 

* * *

 

There had been no funeral.  Xander arranged for the bodies of his parents to be cremated – no way were they going to be allowed to torment him after death in freakish parodies of themselves – despite the fact that it would probably be an improvement.

 

He asked Giles to accompany him and the two watched as the bodies were reduced to ash and bits of bone.  The crematorium was quite used to this and even had a viewing area for the bereaved.  Xander watched, face blank, eyes shuttered.  It wasn't until he was presented with a jar filled with their ashes that the tension seemed to flow from his body leaving him wrung out.  He didn't cry – but he felt relief just the same.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 19 * *

 

The stone bench encircled lovingly by the branches of the Weeping Willow Tree was familiar and comforting. He brushed his hand reverently across the names engraved on the surface – those he loved and those he lost forever remembered in granite.  Along the bottom-side edging were smaller, crudely chiseled names and phrases – people and things he hated and wished to forget but chose not to – powerful reminders to hopefully learn from.

 

He pulled out a small chisel and hammer, choosing a section beneath the left hand corner of the table. He carved the particulars of the weekend – mainly the deaths, the boss man, and Dru – pouring his rage, hate, and confusion into the blows.  Done, he scooted out from beneath the table, eyes resting on two particular names: 'Willow' which was edged in detailed leaves and vines, 'Jesse' surrounded in geometric shapes.  It fascinated him that no matter how many times he carved into the table, there was always room for more.

 

Cheshire Cat appeared on a lower branch, grin first.  He glanced about approvingly.  “Nice place.”

 

Kingugwa slunk in between the dangling branches, laughing softly to herself.  “It's his thinking place. His and the cub's.”

 

“Hiding place,” came a quiet voice from beneath the table.  A small, skinny, seven year old boy peered up at them from below, shoving a hank of dark hair out of his eyes.

 

“Sometimes, Alex,” Xander agreed. “But usually for thinking.  Which I'm guessing is the reason we're all here.”

 

“Yes,” purred Cheshire Cat as he got comfortable on the tree branch.  “Kingugwa took me on a tour. Told me some very interesting things.”

 

“Such as?”

 

“My presence has created some changes in your mental landscape and, according to Kingugwa, many of your lesser fragments have been reabsorbed.”

 

“Sounds good.  So, just as I have part of an African plain, now I've got part of Wonderland?”

 

“Yes,” the response sounded ... off, somehow.

 

Xander studied the feline intently, once again making Cheshire Cat want to squirm.  “What aren't you telling me?”

 

“Your problem cubs joined up into one form,” Kingugwa stated  simply.  “Big, ugly, and mean.”

 

Xander blinked and paled.  “Let me guess.  Jabberwock.”

 

“Unfortunately.”

 

“Ah, man,” the younger boy complained and crawled up into Xander's lap to be comforted.

 

“It's okay, Alex.  Everything will be alright.  We'll make sure you've got some bolt-holes in case you're cornered.”  He rubbed circles on the boy's back.

 

“I'd be more than happy to teach you a few tricks, as well,” Cheshire Cat stated, going slightly transparent with a grin.

 

Alex grinned back, relaxing some.

 

Xander smiled, but redirected the conversation.  “Can it be defeated?”

 

“Not currently.  We're not strong enough.  On the positive side, it cannot take over unless you willingly give over control.”

 

“Can it be reasoned with?  Can I make a deal with it similar to how I did with Kingugwa?”

 

“The Jabberwock in my world was treacherous.  It would smile in your face while stabbing you in the back.  I wouldn't try to give it any concessions – it'll use them to take over if it can.”  Cheshire Cat paused, green gold eyes blinking in thought, “We can probably figure a way to borrow it's energy in an emergency – but it would most likely exact a heavy toll.”

 

“We'll keep that in mind.”  Xander sighed, “We're as integrated as we'll ever be as long as the Jabberwock exists.”  Alex tugged on his sleeve.  “Yes, Alex?”

 

“No more splits, though.  We're more stable than ever before,” the child beamed, happy at that.

 

Xander mirrored the grin, “I can live with that.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 20 * *

 

The alarm went off and Xander stretched languidly.  Muscles sore from Friday protested the movement, but he ignored them.  He dressed simply foregoing his usual bright and garish look.  Dark blue jeans, black steel tipped boots, gray tee shirt and a black overshirt.

 

Lacing his boots he noticed his window cracked open and a single yellow rose lying on the sill.  He twirled it absently between his fingers as he made his way downstairs, lost in thought.  He tucked it gently in his shirt pocket and stared in awe at the kitchen table.  Giles had made breakfast: toast, eggs, and a sweet tea that Xander quickly developed a taste for.  It'd been years since he'd eaten before school and Xander savored every bite.

 

Giles puttered about getting his papers and books in order.  He looked over at his charge with concern.  “Are you sure you're ready to return to school?  It's only been two days since your ordeal.  I could easily write an excuse if you'd like.”

 

Xander gave a genuine warm smile – the first since his near-abduction.  “I'm sure, but thanks anyway. The longer I put this off, the harder it'll be to force myself to go.”

 

“Understood.  Care to ride in with me?  I've a meeting with Snyder this morning.”

 

Xander shook his head, “Got my skateboard.  Gonna clear my head before class.”

 

“Then I shall see you at school.” He handed the teen a key, “Lock up when you leave.  Please check in with me if you need anything.”

 

Xander cheerfully waved him off.

 

* * *

 

The school day was interesting.  Okay, so it sucked, but school always sucked and oddly enough, even with the different reactions (or non-reactions) to the news of his parents' deaths, it didn't suck as much as it usually did.

 

He was actually able to focus in class. He overheard one teacher snidely remark that he must still be in shock; it had taken some self-control not to beat the asshole up. But, the truth was, he was no longer constantly having to ignore or tune out the other voices in his head that clambered for his attention.  He never had this problem on patrol, probably because staying focused and alive was one of the few things all his voices agreed on.  Now, he only had four voices (five if you count the snarling the Jabberwock did as talking) and he found it much easier to listen to his teachers.

 

The students who usually picked on and belittled him left him be after the first confrontation – a comment on his clothes: “When's the funeral?”  He'd responded simply with: “Yesterday.  Both parents,” and the word had spread. Picking on someone for their looks or brains on a normal day was one thing, dealing with grief was something else.  Even Cordelia had cut her usual biting responses, giving only a nod and sympathetic smile before turning away.  It was strange, nearly everyone in town knew someone who had been taken by the darkness – but more pedestrian deaths were few and far between.  A double murder within a person's own home was unheard of.  Xander found himself an instant celebrity or at the very least a curiosity.

 

He escaped to the Library during Geometry.  “Can I hide here a while?”

 

“What's wrong, Xander?”  Giles dropped a pile of books upon the large table.

 

Xander collapsed into a nearby chair with a sigh.  “Mr. Bennigan is being an ass.  I forgot the weekend homework assignment and he decided to make me the object lesson of the day on how laziness now will breed poverty later.  I left before I did something that would get me expelled.  Some of the other kids looked pretty outraged, too.  We might be joined in a mass exodus.”

 

“If it's any consolation, he wasn't here for this morning's meeting.  He missed first period due to accompanying his wife to her chemo therapy.”

 

“Okay, then I guess I can forgive him.  But I'm not going back today.”

 

“Very well.  Do you wish to rest or would you be interested in helping me by reshelving books?”

 

Xander flashed a grin.  “Interested? No.  But I will anyway.”  He pushed himself out of the chair. “It'll keep me from thinking too much about what happened and what might have happened.”

 

He could tell Giles wanted to discuss something, but they were interrupted.  Sure enough, about half the class turned up in the library.  Giles tried to find tasks for them all.

 

“What happened?”

 

“Bennigan got mad that you left,” one of the girls reported.  “Started fuming about disrespect.  Matt told him your folks had been killed and there had been a meeting about it.  Mr. B backed down a bit, looked mollified but not very apologetic.  We were too upset to continue the lesson, so we left.” She turned to Giles.  “Hope you don't mind, Mr. Giles.  We figured we'd get in less trouble here than if we went to the quad.”

 

“It's quite alright, Miss Stevens.” They all worked in companionable silence.

 

* * *

 

Giles had filled out what felt like a mountain of paperwork in order to gain permanent custody of Xander, but had not expected it to go through very speedily as he was British and unmarried.  To his shock, he was approved before the week was out.  “What of your Uncle Rory?” he asked as he signed the space that made it official.  The two sat in his office during the lunch break.

 

He slid the page over to Xander for his own signature.  “He's not a blood relative.  More of a friend of my dad's.  Permanent moocher.  Personally, I'd rather live with Angel. The guy's a scuzz.”  He handed the page back with a flourish, pleased beyond words that someone he respected wanted to claim him.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah.  I heard he got arrested Tuesday for breaking into the house wanting a place to sleep.  Seems he got real belligerent and the police are checking his alibi for Halloween.”  Xander shrugged.  “As far as I know, I don't have any other family.  And if I do, I'm not sure I'd want anything to do with them.”

 

Giles could certainly sympathetic with that.

 

* * *

 

After the house and furnishings had been sold off and the life insurance policies had been paid, Xander found himself quite well off.  More than enough to take care of himself should anything happen.  Enough to pay for a couple years of college, should he choose to go.  He took Giles' suggestion; invested some money and put the rest into savings.  Xander offered to pay rent – he'd been doing that for the past few years anyway, so it was nothing new – but Giles refused.  He claimed chores and keeping his grades up were more than reasonable “payments.”

 

* * *

 

School – home to do chores and homework – training, patrols and research parties at the library became the routine – broken only occasionally by the Big Bad of the month and near apocalypses.  Xander slowly relaxed into his new life.

 

* * *

 

Rupert Giles had grown accustomed to Xander's presence over the months.  The boy was quieter, neater, and a lot more mature than he'd been led to expect from his prior contact through school and the Scooby Gang.  Rupert knew now it had been a defensive mechanism – smoke screen to keep people from prying – and he cursed himself for not recognizing it sooner.

 

The two would frequently talk late into the evenings on various topics: demonology, philosophy, plans for the future.  Very occasionally Xander would share a memory that made him the person he was now.  The boy was painfully honest with him, and it humbled the Watcher how much Xander trusted him.  Rupert confessed some of his own mischief-making when he had been younger – including his connection to Ethan Rayne and demon summoning.

 

Xander scratched at his head, embarrassed.  “Dawn cut his hand off during Halloween.”

 

“What?  How?”

 

“He went after her with a baseball bat as we were about to stop the spell and she defended herself with the vorpal blade.”  Xander shrugged, “He got off lucky.  The Jabberwock was nearly through the mirror.  Just imagine what it would have done to him.”

 

* * *

 

Chapter Text

 

* * Chapter 21 * *

 

The last bell rang and Xander made a detour through the library.  “Yo, G-Man!  I'm heading home.  Want me to make dinner?”

 

“No, thank you, Xander.  I'll be late.  Meetings and such.”

 

“Okay.  Well, I've got a study date and then I was going to the Bronze with some friends from Geometry class since Buff got herself grounded and Wills is studying for a big Chem test.  How about breakfast before training?”

 

“An excellent idea, Xander.  Thank you.”

 

“Okay.  Laters.”

 

* * *

 

Giles had not returned home until very late, or early, depending on your point of view, and had gone straight to bed, tired enough that he knew he wouldn't hear Xander come home.  Things were finally calming down.

 

The following morning, Giles stood in the kitchen, rage and terror raced through him in equal parts as he read the contents of a beautifully calligraphied letter that had been propped ever so neatly next to a plate which contained the bloody remains of a partially eaten heart.

 

 

Dear Watcher-man;

 

Miss Edith told me that the bad men were going to steal away my our kitten.  I shall go after him and do what I can to return him to his newly made family.  He is happy with you, which makes me happy as well.

 

The stars say he shall be terribly hurt before I can get to him.  He'll be scared and in pain, but will meet others who will help protect him until I can bring him home.  Please do not be too angry, but Miss Edith told me several days ago that our kitten would be snatched.  I wanted to prevent it, but she said that he would be in even greater danger if he remained at the Hellmouth this next month or so.  You have a demon arriving who needs a blood sacrifice of certain particulars.  Knowing our kitten as we do, you can guess that he fits the specifications and would most likely be the one the demon met first.  So between being kidnapped, scared, and injured or staying at home and dying, I chose injured.  I hope you can understand and forgive me.

 

I tracked down one of the bad man's men and he told me where they were taking our kitten.  I shall not tell you, as you would try to follow us and then there would be no one here to keep beings from doing all kinds of nasty things while on the Hellmouth.  The man was very ill tempered and spouted vile things about what would happen to our kitten.  He acted so heartless, so I ripped it out.  It did not taste very good at all.

 

Be well, Rupert.  Try not to worry too much.  Xander will be home again, soon.

  

Drusilla

* * *

 

* * Chapter 22 * *

 

Raul Frocetti didn't consider himself an evil man.  Expedient?  Yes. Ruthless?  Absolutely.  Brutal?  When the situation called for it. But evil?  When the Harris' had offered their son as payment on the sizable debt they owed him, he had been disgusted.  None of his numerous businesses exploited children in the manner they had suggested.  But as he watched the way the boy reacted to both his parents and the situation he was in, Frocetti couldn't help but be intrigued.  Here was someone he could train, mold into a leader, and he agreed to take the boy.  When the boy, Xander, had pulled that stunt in the kitchen, Frocetti had been pleased.  It took cunning, wits, creativity, and some major guts to pull what he did against armed men.  He'd nearly gotten away, too.  The tackle Gianni had taken him down with had been a bit much, but Frocetti was confident that after a bit of time the kid would come around to his way of thinking.

That's when everything went to hell:

 

Gianni brutally killed and the kid taken by what was clearly a Master Vampiress.  Not knowing how many more were with her, he couldn't go after the kid and cursed himself for not coming prepared.  They only had weapons against humans.  He should have known better, coming to Sunnydale.  The sheer waste of both potential and talent infuriated him.  Tony Harris' attitude didn't help matters any.  He had Mario put them down like the dogs they were – no amount of money enough to put up with their whining, would never bring back Gianna – a man who had faithfully worked for him for years, a man he trusted and called a friend – would never bring back the potential of Xander's future – the boy was either eaten, or worse, turned.  After checking that the coast was clear, the two men had gathered their fallen comrade, got in the car, and drove out of town.

 

A few days later, Frocetti had checked with some of his sources in Sunnydale.  The boy had survived the night, cremated his parents, moved in with a trusted adult and returned to school.  Pleased, Frocetti had the man, Rupert Giles, checked out, then subtly greased some wheels (as well as some palms) to see to it that the librarian got custody.  'Let the boy be,' he thought to himself.  'If all goes well, I'll hire him when he's older and try to explain myself if it becomes necessary.'  But he directed a few of his people to keep an eye on him and send reports every now and then.

 

He learned of the small group defending against the Hellmouth, and his admiration for the boy grew.

 

Frocetti found out about the kidnapping over six hours after the fact, at about the same time Drusilla was showing her captive how heartless he was.  To say he was displeased was an understatement.  The boy was under his protection.  Who dared touch what was his?  He would find out and make them pay.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 23 * *

 

Victor Carmichael had a “friendly” rivalry going on between himself and Raul Frocetti.  And what interested Frocetti was obviously of interest to Carmichael, as well.  So when he caught wind that Raul had some of his men keeping a discrete eye on a teen in Sunnydale, well, he just had to know what all the fuss was.  He decided the best way to find out was to ask the boy himself.  He had a few trusted members go “invite” the teen to his home in Las Vegas.

 

* * *

 

It was two long days before Carmichael got to meet Alexander Harris. The boy sported a black eye and split lip and he limped as he was roughly escorted in by two of his men.  Carmichael raised a brow in question.  “Richie never made it to the meet point in Sunnydale. We left him as per your order,” one reported.

 

“And Don?”

 

The other viciously poked the boy in the side, gaining a wince.  “We had him doped in the trunk, but he woke a lot quicker than expected. Kicked out one of the tail lights from the inside and waved down attention while we were still in California.  Cop killed Don.  We killed the cop.  Then took turns making sure junior here stayed out for the rest of the trip.”

 

“I trust you took pains to lead any pursuit in other directions.”

 

“Yes, sir, Mr. Carmichael, sir.  That's what took us so long.  We drove north a bit, laying a false trail.  Traded vehicles a few times, too. No way anyone will be able to follow this kid to here.”

 

“Excellent, gentlemen.  If you would be so kind as to escort out guest to his room.  I'm sure he could use some time to clean up and rest before dinner.”  He smirked a bit at the cold glance the teen shot him, the quick thinking the boy displayed gave him an inkling as to what interested his rival in him.  This was going to be fun.

 

* * *

 

It was the fourth escape attempt that got the best results.  This time, the spies that hid near Carmichaels' estate got a solid view of the person Carmichael had been “entertaining” over the past week. Other members of rival groups – those jealous of the man's power and position – reported the incident in blasé manners, but one recognized the boy, having been given a picture of him through some of his sources, and immediately called his superiors who decided to get involved.

 

* * *

 

Reports of gunfire had the police racing for the scene – an ambulance on standby.

 

* * *

 

CSI Warrick Brown stepped out of his car, green eyes flickering across the expensively kept lawn as he made his way to the mansion.  “Hey, Grissom.  Just got the call.  What do we got?”

 

“Kidnapping, torture, and a minor mob war by the looks of it.”  Gil Grissom waved Brown in.  “We have seven dead.  Looks like these three men close to the door attacked the house.  There was a gun fight.  These three facing the door took out the intruders as they themselves were killed.  Everyone was using a nine mil, so figuring out who shot who is going to be up to Ballistics.”  He moved further into the house, skirting areas to prevent loss of evidence.  “Now, the house is registered to a Victor Carmichael, part of the Las Vegas Italian Mob. That's him over there, lying half in, half out of that back room. He fired twice into the room before someone snapped his neck.”

 

Brown blinked.  “How?  You mentioned a kidnapped victim.  They do it?”

 

Grissom shook his head looking perplexed, “When the officers arrived they found the young man, a teen by the looks of him, sixteen or seventeen years old, unconscious on the floor, graze to the head, bullet wound to the shoulder, opposite wrist still handcuffed to the headstand. He would never have been able to reach the door.”

 

Warren examined the bed; there were several bloodstains, some fresher than others, on the sheets.  He pointed to the opposite post where another set of bloody handcuff dangled.  “Looks like they had him in both and he got out of one.  Was probably working on the other when Carmichael came in and shot him.”  He took pictures and put both sets of handcuffs into evidence bags – he'd bag the sheets later and see if the blood was just the victim's or not.  “The vic able to tell you anything?”

 

“No. He hasn't regained consciousness yet.  I've got Nick processing the victim at the hospital.  Sarah's looking through Missing Person's to see if anyone's looking for him,” the older man sighed heavily. “Catherine should be here soon to help with the scene.  Let's get started, shall we?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

* * *

 

Nick Stokes sat outside the hospital room of their John Doe, shaken; trying to come to terms over what he'd seen.  Sara Sidle sat beside him, handing him a cup of coffee.  “I went down the street for the good stuff.  Better than rotting your stomach on the battery acid they claim as coffee here.”

 

A slight smile appeared briefly, “Thanks.”

 

“What did you find?”

 

“Oh, man.  Doc's sent him down to x-ray after stopping the bleeding.  He's got five fractured ribs, and internal bleeding from what looks like a succession of severe beatings.  Tox screen shows high traces of tranquilizers in his system.  Shouldn't have been able to stay awake, let alone slip out of cuffs.  Kid's stronger than he looks.  He's in a coma right now, but whether it's from the drugs, shock, pain, blood loss, or skull fracture, the docs won't know until he comes out of out.”  Nick blew out a breath.  “The kid also rubbed his wrists bloody to the bone getting out of the cuffs.  I found both tape residue and rope fibers in the wounds.  Obviously not the first time he'd tried to escape.”

 

“Tenacious.”

 

“Yeah.” He sipped the coffee then turned to Sara.  “You find anything?”

 

She sighed, shaking her head.  “His fingerprints didn't turn up in the system.  He's never been arrested, but he's also never been registered in any school safety programs.”

 

“We might want to check hospital files.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Well, I found some pretty odd scars.”  He drew imaginary lines across his left side.  “Four of 'em, parallel to each other, a good seven to eight inches in length.”

 

“Knife wounds?”

 

“No. They were curved like an animal's.  Claw marks.  Doc said they'd been stitched so there should be mention of them in his file.”

 

“I'll add it to the description we're building.  I've got a program running, it'll check the rest of Nevada, then connect with other state data banks in case he's not a local, which is really starting to look the case.”

 

“Of course, if he's visiting, he might not even be listed as missing, yet.”

 

Sara nodded ruefully.  “Hope he wakes soon.”

 

* * *

 

“Hey, guys!” Catherine Willow called over Grissom and Brown.  “I may not know where he's from, but I know where he was going.”  She waved a piece of paper in emphasis.

 

“What do you mean, Catherine?” Gil adjusted his glasses to look at the page.

 

“Michael Garner.  Recognize the name?”

 

“Wasn't he implicated in a white slave ring last year?  Got off on a technicality?”

 

“Yup. Says here Garner was going to make a pick up tomorrow for a guy in Cairo.”

 

“Good work, Catherine.  I'll let Brass know about this.  Maybe we can put Garner away for good this time.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 24 * *

 

“HOLY...!” Xander lay flat on the ground beneath the Willow's canopy staring blankly upwards - shuddering.  When Carmichael had burst in brandishing his weapon and frothing at the mouth Xander had deliberately pulled on the energy within for protection.  The first shot caught him in the shoulder rather than the chest.  The pain enraged him and he unconsciously tapped into the Jabberwock. Carmichael had fallen with a broken neck, his finger pulling on the trigger in reflex as he died, the bullet clipping Xander's skull.

 

Head and shoulder throbbing horribly, Xander decided against moving.

 

Alex scrambled out from under the table to his side and gingerly laid the older boy's head in his lap, cushioning his head.  “Xander?   You okay?”

 

“No,” he replied truthfully, wincing at his own voice.

 

Kingugwa and Cheshire Cat padded over, sitting on either side of his knees.

 

“Never been shot before.  Think I'll stick to demon claws,” the joke fell flat.  He locked gazes with the younger boy, “You okay, Alex?”

 

“Headache and a sore shoulder.  You took the brunt.”  The boy glared, “Stupid.  You're not supposed to take it all any more, remember?”

 

“Forgot. 'Sides, can't stand to see others hurt.”

 

Alex gave a rueful grin, nodding in understanding.  “Silly.  It's still you and this way, you can concentrate on waking up.  Right now, we're in a coma.  No one's in the driver's seat.”

 

“Cub is right.  Share everything and we're all stronger for it.  You don't horde the good things,” Kingugwa nudged his leg.  “Don't horde the bad either.”

 

“Go ahead, Xander.  Then we can figure out how much damage that head shot caused,” Cheshire Cat added his opinion.

 

Once Xander agreed, he felt the all encompassing pain level out to a much more manageable level and to his pleasure, none of the others looked any worse off.  Blinking in surprise, he realized that even the Jabberwock voluntarily took some of the pain.  “Weird.”  He sat up, Alex steadying him until he regained his balance.

 

The table was covered in cobwebs, only a few names legible through the silk.  When he tried to brush the webs away, small spiders instantly replaced the webbing and threatened to bite him.  “They're not hurting anything, are they?”  Xander stared nervously at the numerous tiny arachnids, noticing they were in the branches of the tree as well.

 

“No. Just obscuring things.  Once you're awake it looks like you'll get flashes of things.”  Cheshire Cat carefully examined the table. “Your trigger is Drusilla.”

 

“Oh, great.  I don't know where I am.  It could be years before I come across Dru.  And that's if she hasn't been dusted over my disappearance.”

 

“Deal as it happens,” Kingugwa stated sagely.

 

Xander nodded.  “Okay.  Time to wake up.”  He stared to push his way through the branches.

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 25 * *

 

Three days had passed before he'd received the call from the hospital that the boy was awake.  The doctors warned him that there was the possibility the kid wouldn't remember much due to the concussion and coma.  “Hey, I'm Detective Jim Brass with LVPD.  I was hoping you'd be able to answer some questions for me.”

 

Dark brown eyes stared at him warily.  “LVPD?”

 

“Las Vegas Police Department.”

 

Surprise flashed across the boy's expressive face as he muttered, “Las Vegas?  What the hell am I doing in Las Vegas?”

 

“That's what I was hoping you could tell me.  We found you on the estate of a Victor Carmichael.  Know him?”

 

A hand drifted to the injured shoulder, but no recognition showed in his eyes or face.  “No,” he replied slowly.  “Though I feel I should.”

 

“How about your name?”

 

The boy sighed, shrugging, slowly shaking his head.  “I ... I can't remember.”

 

“Nothing?”

 

Dark eyes stared at the ceiling as if the answers were written on the tiles.  “Just ... nothing much ... only ...” he sighed, “Two names come to mind.  I don't think Jesse is my name, though I'm pretty sure I'm not a Willow,” a brief smirk skirted his lips.  “Otherwise...” he shrugged again.

 

Jim could read the panic in the boy's eyes held under tight reign.  “Okay.  Relax. It'll probably come to you when you're not trying so hard,” he stated kindly.  “How are you feeling?”

 

“Fuzzy and like I've been hit by a bus.  Repeatedly.”  The teen stared at him. “So, level with me.  What's the damage?  How long have I been out? No one here will tell me anything.”

 

“You were in a coma for three days.  Bullet wound to the shoulder, a total of five broken ribs, lots of bumps and bruises.  Graze to the head gave you a concussion – probably why you don't remember anything.”

 

“Well, I remember I hate hospitals.”  He shifted uncomfortably on the bed, “Any ideas when I can leave?”

 

“Hold your horses, son.  You just woke up.  The docs are gonna want to check you over, make sure everything's healing right.”  Brass had been on the force for many years and could tell when someone was lying to him.  The kid really didn't remember who he was.  Damn.  “You should get more rest.  I'll come by tomorrow.  Maybe we can jar loose a few memories. How's that sound?”

 

“Great.  I'll be here.  See you then.”

 

* * *

 

“We're at a dead end.  Kid's amnesiac.  Only remembered two names – Jesse and Willow.  Friends I'd guess.  Doesn't know anything else and was quietly freaking out about it.  Hates hospitals – not that I can blame him.  I hate 'em too.  He's got a sense of humor and can tell when he's being placated.”  Gil raised a brow, Jim continued.  “The doctors weren't telling him anything, so he asked me.”

 

“Docs say when he'd get his memory back?”

 

“Could be in a few days, months.  Hell, never is a possibility.  They don't know much about the brain, or so they say.  So, what next?”

 

“We look at the evidence.  Maybe there's a clue we missed.”

 

* * *

 

He introduced himself as Jesse McNally with a wry grin and a shrug.  “It'll do until I figure things out.  It's not right, but it feels a lot better than 'John Doe'.”

 

“Think it's a friend?”  Jim Brass sat in the bedside chair, suppressing a grin at the way the kid tore into his meal.  The detective had snuck in a couple of burgers, fries and a soda and was proclaimed a minor god by the kid.

 

Soda chased down a mouthful of fries.  “Pretty good friend.  Probably best friend. Willow, too.  Though...” a flash of pain crossed the boy's face. “I think he's dead.”

 

“Mind if I check? It might give us a clue as to who you are.”

 

“If you think it'll help,” Jesse finished his first burger with a happy grin. “So, anything you can tell me about the case?  I'm so bored, but the soap operas are going to rot my brain.”

 

Jim grinned a bit, shrugging.  “Well, from what we can figure, you were at Carmichael's for about six days before the rescue.  According to some paperwork we discovered he was handing you over to an intermediary who was sending you to Cairo.”

 

Jesse paused with a fry halfway to his mouth, a small tic at the corner of his left eye. “Wouldn't be to pay off gambling debts by any chance?”

 

“Not that we're aware of.  Why?”

 

The teen blinked and shook his head.  “Nothing, I guess.  So what next?”

 

“Docs say they can release you by the end of the week.  If you'd like, I've got a friend who runs a shelter.  You can stay with them until you figure things out.”

 

Sighing, he nodded, “Good as it's going to get.  'Preciate all the help, Detective Brass.”

 

“No problem, kid.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 26 * *

 

David Mores stood in the doorway of the 12th Street Shelter watching the newcomer.  Mores owed Jim Brass a favor or three and had been all too happy to help when Brass called about 'Jesse'.  “We found him a week ago.  He's been awake for about four days.  Hospital's kicking him out, and until we can figure out who he is and where he belongs, he's got no where else to go.”

 

“We can give him a leg up 'til he's steady enough to stand on his own.”

 

The boy had only one set of clothes the hospital could scrounge for him: shirt too baggy, pants too short, and flip flops.  When offered better fitting clothing, the kid had chosen a pair of loose pants, a t-shirt and over shirt, and a pair of slightly broken-in sneakers, unobtrusive, but good for running or fighting.

 

After lunch, the kids were given the run of the activity room and the yard which sported a half-court, a jungle gym for some of the younger kids, and the tool-shed where Goren Lang, the shelter's handyman, had his workshop.  Lang had a policy – if you were hanging around his equipment he'd put you to work.  It generally meant there was a no-man's zone around the shed.  Yet, the shed was the first place Jesse headed.  Now, Lang had Jesse sanding down the rough edges of a table he planned to sell – the income going to help with the Shelter's expenses.  The older man glanced up at Mores and nodded, indicating he had everything well in hand.  Returning the nod, Mores headed indoors to investigate a suspicious crash.

 

Lang watched the boy, appreciating the way Jesse attended to the work.  “You're doing very well.  Done this before?”

 

Jesse paused in mid-stroke.  “Not sure.  Feels familiar, though.  And it's nice to have something to focus on other than the lack of memories,” he resumed sanding the rough edges.

 

“Anytime you care to help, just come on by.  I could always use an apprentice.”

 

“You want me for your apprentice?” dark eyes locked on his incredulously.  “Why? You don't even know me.  Hell, I don't know me.”

 

“Maybe not.  But I know a good worker when I see one.  The wood calls to you, no?  I saw you examining the tools, they fit well in your hands, yes?  I teach you, if you want to learn, for as long as you want to learn.  Good carpenters are worth their weight in gold.  Finish sanding.  You think about it.  Let me know, yes?”

 

A lopsided grin emerged on the formally serious mien.  “Yes, sir.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 27 * *

 

Michael Garner was furious.  He'd paid Victor Carmichael a pretty penny for the Californian boy, trusting in his previous dealings that the mobster would uphold his end of the bargain.  Now: no boy, no money, and his buyer breathing down his neck.  They'd seen a photo of the boy and apparently no other would do.  Either Garner delivered the boy, or returned the money.  If not, then Michael was in for a world of hurt. If Carmichael wasn't already dead, he'd gladly cut the bastard's head off and spit down his throat.

 

“Yo, Micky. Micky!”  Nineteen year old Thomas Garner bounced into the room. “You are so going to love me.”  He sprawled across an armchair grinning up at his older brother.

 

Michael smiled indulgently, he'd practically raised the boy himself after their old man went to jail for offing mom.  “I already love ya, Tommy. What's your news?”

 

“Battleship Mores' got a new resident this week.  And you'll never guess who it is,” he sing-songed, waving a photo of Xander at his brother.

 

“Tommy, you're a saint.  This'll really save our skins.  Call the boys – we've got a package to pick up.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 28 * *

 

Brass had invited Jesse out to dinner to check up on the boy.  He admitted it, he actually liked the kid, the two got along – he wished he could have this kind of relationship with his own daughter.  “How are things?”

 

“Pretty good, I guess.  Mr. Lang is teaching me carpentry.  Says I've got a real feel for it.”

 

“Think maybe you used to do woodwork?”

 

“Maybe.  Sure was weird, though.  I zoned out for a bit and found I'd whittled a stake.”  He reached behind him and pulled it out, showing the detective.

 

Brass marveled at it.  It was smooth, with slight indents for a perfect grip.  It was balanced and came to a near razor sharp point.  “Any reason you're carrying it around?”

 

Jesse grinned, “I wanted to show you and it just felt right to bring it with.”

 

Brass handed it back with a shake.  “Well, be careful with it.  Last thing I need is to have to investigate a vampire staking.”

 

He turned to accept his plate from the waitress and so missed the surprised took of recognition that flashed in the teen's eyes.

 

* * *

 

Brass walked Jesse up to the Shelter, only to be distracted by a disturbance in a nearby alley.  “Stay here.  I'll be right back.”

 

Brass had his hand on his weapon and had called for back up, hoping it wasn't just a couple of animals.  A guy in jeans and a leather jacket had a young woman in a bear hug, his face buried in her neck as she made soft choking noises, eyes wide in fear, the life slowly draining from her eyes.  “LVPD!!  Let the girl go!”  Brass aimed his weapon at the perp.

 

The man raised his head and hissed at him.  Its face was deformed, with a ridged brow, eyes a sickly yellow, and fangs stained with blood.

 

“What the hell are you?” Jim had never seen anything like this before.  Though shocked, his gun was kept steady.

 

“Your death!” the creature discarded the woman's body and lunged at him.

 

Brass fired twice with no discernible effect before the creature slammed him up against the brick wall.  “Not so big now, are ya, pig?”  A large meaty fist drove the air from Jim's lungs – he couldn't even curse his fate as the creature flashed fangs and leaned in.

 

The being's eyes widened in shock and pain before disappearing into a cloud of dust and Brass met the steady gaze of Jesse who stood across with him, stake in hand.

 

Brass coughed, regaining his breath and said the first thing that came to mind.  “I thought I told you to stay behind?”

 

Jesse shrugged, eyes glinting merrily.  “I decided to be rebellious.  It felt nice.”

 

Brass smirked, “Thanks, kid,” then glanced down at the pile of dust at his feet. “What the hell was that thing?”

 

“Um, vampire?”

 

“Vampire?!

 

“Wood stake to heart makes it go ::poof::.  Yeah.  Vampire.”  Jesse knelt next to the girl, sighed, and gently closed the girl's eyes.  “Damn.”  A whispered prayer and he rose to his feet.  “We should get inside.”

 

“We need to wait for back up.  I've got to report ... something.”

 

“We'll come up with something plausible after we get inside.  Where there's one, there's usually more.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

Jesse shrugged, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

 

“Oh, I don't know. I was going to say too much late night television.”

 

“See?” the teen offered a small grin that disappeared as four men blocked the alley.

 

Brass automatically placed himself between Jesse and the men.  “This is an active crime scene.  I'd advise you to leave, gentlemen.”

 

One snickered, “Sure, Officer.  We'll be more than happy to go.  The kid's coming with us, though.”

 

Jesse sighed loudly, muttering not-so-under his breath, “Crap, man.  I feel like I'm in a demented version of 'Musical Chairs'.  Or maybe 'Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?'.”

 

“None of your lip, kid.  You've caused enough trouble for me already.  Just come along quietly and we won't kill your cop friend.”

 

Jim could see the kid out of the corner of his eye – he didn't look scared at all – just defiant.  Of course, after vampires, a few thugs with guns weren't that threatening.  “What makes you think I'd go anywhere quietly?  I'm quite the talker, I've been told.  In fact, the last guy to take me had to resort to drugs to shut me up.”  Jesse shifted his stance slightly, it made him look harmless, but Jim recognized it for one that would let him move in any direction he wanted at a moment's notice.

 

“Hell, once you've been passed on, your new owner can muzzle you for all I care.”

 

“I'm no dog.”

 

“No.  You're a kitten.”  A silky, seductive voice echoed softly through the alley. “A grinning, laughing one.  Aren't you, kitten?”  A woman in a full length dark blue velvet gown drifted towards the group.  She was pale as a star with the night in her eyes.  Fragile and dream-like. Nearing, she gently caressed the teen's cheek with a soft smile upon her lips.  “The stars told me you were terribly hurt, kitten. Mummy came as soon as she could.”

 

“Hey, bitch!  Get away from the merchandise.”  Guns were cocked.

 

The dark haired beauty turned slowly to stare at the four men, her eyes large and all encompassing.  “Naughty, naughty.  Little boys shouldn't play with guns.”  Her voice had an odd, hypnotic quality to it that sent shivers through the listeners' spines.  “Little boys should be asleep in their beds.”

 

The four thugs swayed, then, as one, dropped their weapons and collapsed to the ground.  One even snored.  Incredulous, and not sure that the woman wasn't the greater danger, Brass kicked the weapons away, frisked them thoroughly, and cuffed them together.  Checking their ID's, the detective whistled lowly.  “Well, well, well.  Look who we got here.  Michael and Tommy Garner.  Been looking for you two.  Thanks for dropping by.”

 

The woman focused completely on the young man, “Kitten.  It's not safe to go home yet.  Watcher Man is terribly upset about it, but is helping to take care of the problem there while I helped you here.  Miss Edith and the stars agree: you should stay another month and then come home during the summer lull.”

 

“Thank you, Dru.” The teen kissed the woman gently on the forehead.  “Are you going or staying?”

 

“Staying, if I can visit my kitten?”

 

“I would be honored.”

 

She kissed his cheek, giggled, and skipped out of the alley, quietly humming to herself.

 

Less than a minute later, back up arrived.

 

* * *

 

While Brass and the other officers took care of the business of arresting the Garners and their thugs, as well as transporting the body of the poor unfortunate woman, the teen sat quietly on the curb.  He was glad for the respite – memories bombarded him, returning in a rush and all jumbled together.  Sorting them would take days.  But at least he knew the important stuff.

 

The officers hustled the suspects away, leaving the two alone.  Brass ambled over and helped the boy to his feet.  “I offered to take your statement.  I figured this way we can try to avoid any mention of vampires and mysteriously disappearing hypnotic ladies.”

 

“That was Drusilla.  She came all the way from Sunnydale, California to find me.”

 

“You know her?”

 

“Know myself, too. Hi.  Name's Xander Harris,” he stuck out his hand with a wry grin. “The shock of nearly being kidnapped again jogged my memory.”

 

Jim Brass shook his hand with a matching grin.  “Well, if I'd known that would trigger it, I'd have arranged something sooner.”

 

“Actually, seeing Dru did the trick.  Things are a bit jumbled, but I know the basics.” The two headed back toward the Shelter.  “I need to call G-man. Let him know what's the what.”

 

“G-man?”

 

“School librarian. He took me in after my parents were killed last Halloween.”

 

“I'm sorry to hear that.”

 

Xander shrugged, “I'll be honest, considering they were trying to sell me to cover their debts at the time, I have a hard time caring much.”

 

“Sell you?!” Brass was shocked and indignant.

 

“Yeah, I know. Beginning to be quite the theme with me, isn't it?”  Xander chuckled, “It's funny.  Dru helped me get away that time, too.  I owe her.  Big time.”

 

* * *

 

After reintroducing himself to David and Goren, Xander called Giles from the Shelter's office.

 

“Sunnydale High School Library.  Rupert Giles speaking,” the man sounded harried and weary.

 

“Hey, G-man.  It's good to hear your voice.”

 

“Xander!  Oh, thank Heaven.  I've been worried sick.  Where are you?  Are you alright?”

 

“I'm in Las Vegas. Apparently Frocetti's interest in me was enough to spark a rival's interest.  Two goons snagged me on my way from school.  Things came to a head a week ago and I ended up in the hospital with a couple of cracked ribs and amnesia.”  He deliberately didn't mention the beatings, the gunshot wounds, or almost being sold – again.  Giles could do nothing about any of that and there was no point in putting the man into a further panic.  “Drusilla showed up about a half hour ago and that triggered my memories.  So I called you.”

 

“Are you safe?  I can be there tomorrow to bring you home, or wire you a plane ticket.”

 

Xander smiled at the genuine concern in the older man's voice, a knot in his chest disappearing as he finally relaxed.  “Love to, G-Man, but Dru mentioned something about staying here for a month because of some Big Bad at home?”

 

Giles sighed, disappointment heavy in his voice.  “Yes, Drusilla warned us of an especially nasty demon trying to perform some sort of blood ceremony to bring an Elder God to this plane.  Unfortunately, you have all the particular earmarks it needs for the perfect sacrifice.  Drusilla foresaw your death if you stayed.  Buffy spotted it once, but lost it down in the sewers.  We haven't been able to locate it's lair, but we have thus far thwarted two of it's attempts at gaining another sacrifice.  It has to perform the sacrifice during the upcoming new moon, which is in another three and a half weeks.  So, at least we have a bit of time to discover any of the creature's weak points.  Do you have a place to stay?”

 

“Yeah.  I'm staying at the 12th Street Shelter.  The shelter's handyman took me on as an apprentice.”

 

“What about your education?  Snyder was on the warpath after your disappearance, though quieted significantly after Joyce got her hands on him.”

 

Xander chuckled at the mental image that produced.  “I can pick up some of the core course credits during summer school.  Was going to have to anyway for Math.  You can send me work and I'm sure I can use a library computer or something to contact you and Willow if I have any difficulty.”

 

“Let me speak to the shelter's coordinator, Xander.  I want to make sure that there's no problems in having you stay there for a while.  We can make other arrangements if necessary.”

 

* * *

 

In the end, the fact that there was a “serial killer” running around Sunnydale and that Xander fit the victim profiles guaranteed that Brass, Mores and Lang had no hesitations in hanging on to Xander until the situation was taken care of.

 

“You have a very interesting life,” Lang commented.

 

Xander quipped, “A blessing and a curse, but I'm never bored.”

 

“Come.  I have a new project for you.  I'll teach you invisible hinges.”

 

* * *

 

* * Chapter 29 * *

 

The Jabberwock was changing – becoming closer to the other three after the amnesia. The spiders had cut it off from everything during that week and it was slowly coming to understand that survival demanded cooperation. Instead of a bitter enemy, it was becoming a tentative ally.  The Willow's branches moved aside for partial access, but not enough to allow it to come in completely, it understood that trust had to be earned.

 

* * *

 

 

Chapter Text

* * Chapter 30 * *

 

Raul Frocetti used all his assets to their fullest capabilities, but he wasn't infallible.  Three men dead on the Carmichael raid, and the boy was still in Las Vegas.  He growled low in his throat – pathetic.  It had taken nearly a week to relocate the boy working at the youth shelter.  Surveillance on Rupert Giles in Sunnydale told him all he needed to know – though the idea of a demon after his boy made him spitting mad.  “He's a trouble magnet.  I want that boy watched, but keep it low key.  I don't want him spooked into running.  No telling what would happen then.”

 

* * *

* * Chapter 31 * *

 

Laura von Patton glared coldly at her husband's assistant.  “And why have I not received any deliveries of late?  I was told I would be able to take possession a week ago.  I don't like waiting, Mr. Wegner.”

 

“Unfortunately, Mr. Garner and his associates were arrested and unable to send the package.  There's nothing we can do.”

 

Chips of slate cut into him.  “Payment was accepted, Mr. Wenger.  I want my package. Collect it for me.”

 

“As you wish, Mrs. Von Patton.”

 

* * *

 

The Shelter held self-defense classes three times a week and Xander soaked the lessons up like a sponge.  He built on to what he'd learned through Slaying as well as awakened some skills that Cheshire Cat and Kingugwa had access to.  Soon, he'd have to find another teacher.  Within two weeks he was one of the class's assistants.

 

Aware of a vampiric presence, he patrolled a few blocks around the Shelter, trying to keep his new home safe.  Occasionally, Drusilla joined him, delighting in hunting with 'her kitten'.  Xander wasn't sure he trusted her, but he know he couldn't afford to upset her.  She was a good ally as long as she didn't revert to her more bloodthirsty ways. “Don't go out this week, kitten.  Somethings stirs.  Miss Edith isn't happy.”

 

David and Goren both noticed the near constant state of paranoia and awareness the teen exhibited.  The other kids attributed it to living so close to L.A. But they knew differently.  “What's going on, Xander?”

 

“I'm not sure. Just got a feeling, is all.  Hairs on the back of my neck are standing on end.  Something's going to happen.”  Instincts screamed that malign eyes watched him and the Shelter's guardians.

 

* * *

 

Smoke filled the building, thick and choking.  Shouts of panic, screams, and sobbing all vied for position over the crackling of the flames, groans of supports giving way, and sirens echoed up the street.

 

When everything was said and done, the Shelter was a wreck and Xander was gone.

 

The fire chief commented on the likelihood of the teen being the cause of the fire, but was quickly shouted down by two kids who saw Xander get snatched by a couple guys in black.  “And they weren't after just any kid, 'cause they shoved by two of us to get to him.”  They showed the adults where it had taken place.  “He put up a struggle, too. Nearly took one guy's head off with an elbow strike.  They covered his mouth and nose with some thing and he collapsed.  Me and Kevin tried to help, but the dudes pulled a gun.  They got into a late model Honda Civic – black or dark green.  Couldn't see the license plates, though.”

 

An All Points Bulletin was called.

 

* * *

 

Alex lay his head on the table forlornly. “So who has us now?”

 

Cheshire Cat responded, “Well, Brass said Carmichael had sold us to Garner.  And Garner mentioned a new master.  Guess they came to collect.”

 

Xander paced angrily along the inside perimeter of the Willow Tree, unconsciously echoing the Jabberwock's snarls, who matched him step for step outside the shelter.  “Enough's enough already.  What?  Do we have 'Please Torment Me' on our forehead?”  He glanced upwards at the sky. “Stop screwing around with us.”

 

The other three exchanged concerned glances.  “Don't you know that in every good story there must be conflict or the readers lose interest?”

 

Xander blinked at Cheshire Cat in confusion at the non-sequitor.  “What?” he'd stopped pacing and turned to face the feline.

 

The cat grinned, a glint in gold coin eyes.  “How about some mirror travel?”

 

Again thrown off, but derailed from his ranting, Xander sighed heavily and slumped at the table next to Alex.  Cheshire Cat and Kingugwa perched on the other side.  The Jabberwock, calmer, stood nearby, the Willow branches pulling aside to allow access to the side of the table.

 

The young man ran a hand over his face and just breathed a moment.  Steadier, Xander studied the feline, nodding in appreciation at being brought back on track.  Succumbing to anger wouldn't help them a bit.  He gave some serious thought to the offer.  “Are we capable of that?” He asked at last, the last of his rage vanishing.

 

“I don't see why not.  Since we're not constantly battling Jabberwock we've got more energy to devote to other things.”

 

“Tired of being chased by stupid humans,” Kingugwa groused.  She yawned, showing off impressive canines.  “Can't we hunt them in return?”

 

“But not hurt them,” Alex chimed in.  “Can we scare them?  Then let the cops get them?  They did kidnap us.  But if we kill them, they won't learn anything.”

 

Xander closed his eyes and shuddered as the phrase echoed within their memories: Dad had constantly threatened them with death, but then how would they learn anything?  It always proceeded some of their more severe beatings.

 

A slow, dark grin grew on his face as he thought of the possibilities.  Opening his eyes he faced four matching grins.  “Here's what we do.”

 

* * *

* * Chapter 32 * *

They were on a private jet to Miami.  Laura von Patton was admiring her latest acquisition, looking forward to installing her new purchase in the special rooms she had prepared specifically for the occasion. “You're young, strong and healthy.  I'm sure you'll last longer than the last one.”  She ran a suggestive finger down his cheek as she gauged his response.  Most of her toys either responded with fear or anger: two emotions she was equipped to deal with considering how she acquired them – a quick injection with a sedative and she'd wait until they were at home to play.  But when her latest toy grinned at her.  Grinned!  She felt a faint stir of uneasiness, that quickly washed away in a flood of warmth as he leaned into the caress.

 

“I'm sure I will.”

 

The slow, honeyed tones warmed her cheeks and the look in his dark chocolate eyes, as if he knew a secret she didn't, sent heat straight to her core.  At last.  “So, you like to play?”

 

He leaned back, giving her a slow once over that had her nearly squirming in her seat.  “Oh, I know all sorts of interesting games we can play.”

 

“Promise?” she smiled in glee, none of her other toys had ever intrigued her so.

 

Xander flashed a wickedly sexy grin.  “Promise.”

 

* * *

 

Von Patton acted a lot like Dru, Xander mused.  Girlishly gleeful at receiving a new toy, but quick to fly into a rage if things weren't going her way.  A storm raged around their destination and the pilots were directed to land at an alternate airstrip.  She spent twenty minutes screaming at the pilot and copilot – not that they could do anything about the weather.  While she was gone he turned an emotionless stare upon the man that had accompanied them thus far.  He could tell it made the older man uncomfortable.  The man fidgeted in his seat after only a few minutes.  Good.  He allowed a touch of the predator to reach his eyes and the man began to sweat, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and mopping his brow.  Even better.  A weak link.

 

* * *

 

As he was “escorted” within, it took all his will power to not turn on the two and slaughter them where they stood.  The room was done up in a parody of a honeymoon suite and looked immaculate, but thanks to Kingugwa, he could smell sex, fear, hopelessness, and death permeate from every corner of the place.  Several teens, mostly boys, but some girls as well, had spent the ends of their lives within these walls and had died ugly.

 

Nearly a dozen full length mirrors lined the walls of the room, and he smothered a grin.

 

Though Laura was all for breaking in her new toy, Xander managed to beg off for the night. “It's been an extremely active evening.  I'm sure you'd be much happier with your results if we began after we've both rested.”

 

The suggestion, with just the tiniest hint of a leer, had the older woman instantly agreeing and wishing him pleasant dreams.  He ignored the man, Wenger.  No sense in antagonizing the man.  Yet.  He leaned against one of the mirrors as the woman closed the heavy wooden door firmly, with a lustful smile upon her face.  The sound of three bolts being thrown echoed with finality and he allowed a shudder to run through him.  Tragic eyes gazed at him from his reflection.  “No – my life isn't complicated.  No siree.”

 

He took a deep, calming breath and instantly regretted it.  The scent of death was even stronger closer to the wall.  Eyes wide, he paced the room slightly, casting out his senses.  Behind the mirrors, there were bodies within the walls.

 

* * *

* * *

 

Drusilla absently licked blood from her fingers.  She'd found the two men who'd attacked Xander at the Shelter and though she wished to make them pay with their deaths, Miss Edith told her to make them talk to the nice policeman who had been hanging about lately.

 

She sighed, there was no way to get to Miami in time to help Kitten scare the plastic woman.  She sighed sadly, then brightened, “Kitten is ever so clever, though.  I'm sure he'll come up with some fun party games to play.”

 

* * *

* * *

 

Laura spun in a circle, giddy with happiness.  “Oh, he's going to work out wonderfully, Wenger.  I can just tell.  And did you see his scars? He's no stranger to pain.  I'll bet we can break out the props even earlier with this one then any of the others.”  She crossed over to her vanity to begin her nightly rituals.

 

Wenger stood by the door, a frown creasing his brow.  “I'm not so sure about this one, Mrs. von Patton.  He's different from what you're used to.”

 

“I know.  He's perfect.  The ones Garner usually send were either timid mice who did nothing but cry, or angry, uncooperative fighters who I had to drug to near insensibility.  It's so irritating to have to do all the initiating in a relationship.  But this one – I can tell – is going to be a real tiger.”

 

“I still feel we should have sedated him for the evening.  Like the others.”

 

She stared coldly at his reflection.  “When he's willing?  I told him the rules and he agreed.  I'll not ruin that by drugging him.”  She shrugged, “At least not right away, anyhow.”  She turned her gaze from him, “You may go now.”

 

Wenger felt a chill go down his spine as he nodded in acquiescence.  He had a bad feeling about all this.  He took his leave and headed for his own room.

 

* * *

* * Chapter 33 * *

 

Shadows danced on the walls.  Something slinked down the halls, stalking him.  Spooked, Wenger turned.  Nothing.  But an itch between his shoulder blades told him he was being watched.  Passing the numerous mirrors was worse – flashes of color and movement where there shouldn't be paced him.  By the time he made it to his room, he was covered in a cold sweat.  Shaking hands secured the locks behind him.  He stared at his pale reflection for a moment, then tossed a blanket over the mirror.  As he did so, he would have sworn he heard a mocking chuckle.  He quickly readied for bed and practically dove beneath the covers.

 

* * *

 

Brushing out mousy brown hair, Laura inspected the strands for gray.  Slate blue eyes gazed upon herself in critical analysis.  Not a classic beauty by any means, she still retained her moderately youthful looks through numerous skin care products and high-charging plastic surgeons.  She was pleased with her appearance, unaware that her perverse predilections had stamped themselves upon her very soul, keeping her from ever being beautiful.

 

The large three story house was empty save for the three of them.  Mr. von Patton was in Maryland on “business” with his secretary.  She smirked to herself, her husband had his mistresses and she had her toys – as long as neither was brought to the public eye, each were satisfied with the arrangements.

 

Movement in the mirror caught her attention.  “Wenger?  I thought I'd dismissed you for the night?”  Irritated, she turned, only to find herself alone. Confused, she turned back to the mirror.  She stifled a shriek as, for a split second, her image was replaced by a nightmarish monstrosity that glared balefully at her with red eyes and a maw of razor sharp teeth.  Her own image – pale, eyes wide, mouth open in shock – stared back at her.  With careful, precise movements, she put the brush down and eased herself away from the vanity, never taking her eyes from the image.  “Sleep.  That's what I need.  Too much excitement, that's all.”  A strained, high pitched laugh escaped her as she quickly dressed for bed and retired for the evening.

 

* * *

 

Xander grinned.

 

* * *

* * Chapter 34 * *

 

“Oh, my God,” Miami-Dade CSI Agent Calleigh Duquesne murmured as she took in the room.  Nearly a dozen mirrors were neatly stacked upon a bed with black and red silk sheets.  Where the mirrors had hung, holes had been kicked all along the walls, and visible through most of the holes were bone and bits of cloth.

 

Agent Timothy “Speed” Speedle nodded in agreement.  “Kid said he thought the walls sounded hollow and was hoping to kick his way out.  Surprised he kept going.  Shit, one body is bad enough, but this?”

 

“Kept his head, though,” Eric Delko commented as he opened his kit and pulled on a pair of gloves.  “Even after all this, he managed to figure a way to send out a distress signal.”

 

Lieutenant Horatio Caine closed his cell phone with a 'thank you.'  “Well, it seems our kidnapped victim is doing well.  Yelena mentioned that, on the teen's request, she contacted Detective Jim Brass from Las Vegas. Apparently, he'd been taken from the locale while recovering from a prior kidnapping.”

 

Speed looked over from where he was examining the ceiling – one of the tiles was out of place, probably where the kid had located a power source to send his distress signal.  “Prior Kidnapping?”

 

“Taken from Sunnydale, California, beaten, and almost sold before being rescued. From what Detective Brass says, it appears Mrs. von Patton had bought him and wasn't willing to let the matter go when the broker had been arrested before delivery.”

 

All the CSI agents looked stunned.  “Poor kid.”

 

Delko shuddered at the collection of items found neatly arranged in the closet.  “I've got evidence of blood on practically everything in here.”  He glanced at the walls and shuddered, expression one of mixed sadness and disgust.  “These were some real sick people, H.”

 

“And it looks like they gave themselves enough rope to hang them with.”

 

* * *

 

Detective Yelena Salas studied the teen.  He looked tired.  “You've quite an ordeal, haven't you?”

 

“Definitely not one of my 'Top Ten Fun Things To Do In Miami',” Xander acknowledged.

 

“We spoke with Detective Brass,” Lt. Caine leaned forward, his soft voice carrying a note of interest and concern.  “He mentioned you were under protective custody which is why you hadn't returned home?”

 

Xander shrugged and sighed simultaneously, “'Parently, there's a psycho back home who wants to sacrifice people to his god and I fit the profile somehow. His only chance is the upcoming new moon, so whether they catch him or not, it should be safe to return after that.”

 

The two adults exchanged glances, “You seem awfully calm about all of this, “Salas stated.

 

“No point in getting all panicked about it.  If I freak, I won't be able to do anything should something happen.”

 

“Like when you found those bodies?” Caine offered.

 

The kid shuddered, eyes filled with sorrow and rage.  “She mentioned I wasn't her first, but ... I guess I was just praying that any others had been let go when she was tired of them.  Stupid, huh?”

 

Salas shook her head, curly black locks brushing her shoulders at the movement. “Normal reaction in such a case.”

 

“So what happens next?  Am I going to have to testify?”

 

“No, we'll enter your statement, but since you're a minor, and there's plenty of evidence of other wrong doings, you won't have to testify.”

 

“They've been extremely nervous while in interrogation, jumping at shadows.  Looks like they'll come clean on their own.”

 

A dark grin flitted across the teen's face.  “Good.”  He glanced between the two. “Any chance I can go back to Las Vegas anytime soon?”

 

“We can have you on a plane as early as tomorrow.  We've got some processing to do of evidence and may need to ask you a few more questions, though.  In the meantime, we've got a hotel room for you to stay in and one of my agents said he'd be happy to give you a tour of the Miami nightlife while you're here.”

 

Xander grinned, “Sounds like fun.”

 

* * *

* * Chapter 35 * *

 

Xander spotted Detective Brass as soon as he stepped off the plane two days later. “Hey, Detective,” he gave a shy grin.  “Thanks for picking me up.”

 

“Hey, kid,” Jim smirked at the teen.  “Not a problem.  Souvenirs?” he nodded at the backpack slung over the young man's shoulder.

 

“Yeah.  Gotta have something for my girls at home.  Plus, some outfits the guys in CSI bought for me.”

 

Jim raised a brow at that.

 

“They were nice enough to show me around the last two evenings.  Wouldn't let me pay for anything.”  He shrugged, “Miami's nice, but I'm actually looking forward to going back to Sunnydale.  Scary, huh?”

 

Brass had to agree. The two had several conversations over coffee and hot chocolate the past few weeks about what went down in Sunnydale – wanting to return to that hellhole was a scary thought.  “Well, I got a call from Giles yesterday – it was the new moon and apparently they caught and dealt with the demon before he could complete the ceremony.”  He shook his head, sometimes it was hard to believe that he'd been so blind to the supernatural.  “The kid being used as a sacrifice – Parker, I think was his name – flipped out completely and moved out of town before dawn."  He studied Xander a moment, then smirked, “I had to tell him where you were and why. Giles mentioned a long talk about leaving out pertinent information.”

 

Xander sighed, head back against the headrest.  “I just didn't want to worry him any more.  He needed to focus on what was happening there.  I didn't want him distracted with something he couldn't do anything about.”

 

“Admirable, but let me tell you as someone who knows, those who care for you are going to worry anyway, but it's ten times worse to find out things after the fact.  All the 'what if's' come into play.  Trust me, it's better to get it all out into the open.”

 

* * *

* * Chapter 36 * *

 

Xander faced the other four within the comforting embrace of the Willow Tree and he prayed this would not be the last time they'd be here.

 

“What do you guys think?  Brass has a point and if what we are can help in any way, we should let them know.”

 

“I don't want to lose Willow,” Alex sniffled, tracing a finger over her name on the table.

 

Xander wrapped an arm around the boy.  “She's been our best friend since we were five.  Do you really think she'll abandon us?”

 

Alex looked up at Xander, sadness clear in his eyes.  “We've lied to her.”

 

Xander nodded, “Yes, we have.  But Willow is smart and she loves us.  I'm sure she'll understand why we lied and will forgive us.”  He rubbed Alex's back and glanced at the other three.  “So, what do you guys think?”

 

“Tell Pack.  We can help them and not have to hide anything,” Kingugwa placed paws upon the table and cleaned the tears from the cub's face.

 

Jabberwock said nothing, but it's body language agreed with the hyena.

 

“Full disclosure to Giles first,” Cheshire Cat stated.  “He knows most of it and may have suggestions on how to break the news to the girls.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

* * *

 

Giles, Buffy, Willow, Dawn, and Joyce threw a Welcome Home party for Xander – complete with home baked cookies and cake, and a mini movie marathon. Xander described his adventures – edited only slightly for the benefit of Dawn and Joyce.

 

It was late when the girls left, all promising to drop by the next day.  Xander helped Giles collect the dishes and take them into the kitchen.  The teen started washing, glad when his mentor stayed to dry.

 

“Giles?  Can we talk?”

 

...

 

* * *

end

 

Maven Alysse 2/3/2007