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Always Yours

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Story

Summary: Drinking to forget works . . . Sometimes

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Romance > Mystery PairingcmdruhuraFR15113,240162,24825 Nov 0725 Nov 07Yes
Rating: [Rated R (M for Mature) - for language and adult themes]
Disclaimer: BtVS characters are owned by others. I receive no profits from
this. It is just for fun.
Archiving: Please ask.
Feedback: Constructive Criticism desired.
Beta: None

AN: Thoughts are shown between plus signs. +idea+

AN: Words written on something are shown as follows: //See Jane dance.//

--------------------------------------------

The sudden, loud noise caused Xander to do two things. One, was to wake up. The other was to engage his survival instinct honed over many years of dealing with the Forces of Darkness and move in a direction opposite the perceived source of the sound. Unfortunately for him, that was not the order in which things occurred. As a result he found himself hanging upside down over the edge of the bed he’d been sleeping in with his legs hopelessly entangled in the sheets and blankets and only his head and shoulders barely touching the floor. None of the weapons that he normally had handy were in sight let alone within range of his flailing hands.

Which could be considered a good thing because his movement had apparently awakened some trolls living in his head and they were making their displeasure with being woken known by banging with giant hammers on his poor skull and brain. That and the vertigo he was fighting would mean that he was more likely to injure himself with his gun, knife, or stake than he was any possible enemy.

As time passed and there were no more loud noises or even stealthy ones that he could discern, he settled down enough to methodically disentangle himself. Taking care to move slowly so as not to disturb the trolls in his head again, he got to his knees and peered over the bed and around the room he was in. The first thing his clearing vision informed him of was that this was NOT his room at the hotel he was staying at. It was way too big and had a Cupid motif.

Now Xander Harris had always had trouble with math but even he could add one and one and get two. Big hotel rooms with Cupid-like décor added up to only one thing. Turning his head slowly, again so as not to disturb the trolls and a little fear at what he would see, Xander focused his eyes on his left hand that was currently helping his right hand hold the room steady by clutching the mattress of the bed. Sure enough there was a shiny, golden ring on his left ring finger. As he continued to stare at his hand his benumbed brain informed him of the special aroma wafting from the bed which was level with his head. From his extensive and varied experience with Anya, he knew the aroma indicated that he had been engaging in hot and wild monkey sex. Glancing at the size of the stain on the bottom sheet, he gauged it to be very, very, very hot and very, very, very wild monkey sex.

The only things bothering him now were who was his partner and why the gods were so cruel as to not let him remember what was possibly a very enjoyable evening?

He slowly got up and looked around the room in hope of at least getting the answer to his first question since he already knew the answer to the second in that the gods had once again elected him their butt monkey. He saw his clothing scattered about the room but none that might belong to the woman, god he hoped it was a woman that he had apparently gotten hitched to. He could see into the bathroom and it appeared empty and there was no sound of running water that would indicate the shower being used.

Getting a bit worried, he managed to locate his knife and stake in his jacket on the floor before doing a more thorough search of the premises. It was only after checking the bathroom and closets to definitively determine that he was currently alone in the room that he noticed the papers lying on the coffee table in front of the love seat. The first one was a marriage certificate that informed him that his wife’s name was Knautmy Tru Namen. The odd name caused him to think that maybe someone was trying to get a Green Card by marrying a U.S. citizen, namely him. But if that was true where was she and why leave the marriage certificate that would be needed.

The other paper that had been under the marriage certificate was hand printed in what appeared to be a shaky hand style. It took as few tries to fully make out the message because the letters were formed so badly. It ended up causing almost as many questions as it answered.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t intend for this to happen. I was depressed and thought you might be able to cheer me up. Which you did by the way, but things got out of hand the more I drank. Please don’t look for me. Just get the marriage annulled. You were wonderful last night and I haven’t felt that loved in a long time. Again, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take advantage of you like that and I hope you are not hurt too much by this. I am too much of a coward to face you which is why I have left. Please forget that this ever happened. You deserve better than me. You are a good person and I hope someday you find someone worthy of you. Thank you for caring about me. Knautmy’

Xander’s initial reaction was to think that the woman had sobered up this morning and taken one look at his face and run for the hills. However, as he reread her note, that didn’t mesh with her words. If she had run because of his eye then there would have been no need to make it sound like the whole situation was her fault or to praise his love making skills. The part that made it appear as though she wasn’t deserving of him was also an indication that it wasn’t his appearance that drove her off. Maybe she really did feel that it was her fault.

He had at least figured out what the noise was that awakened him. She had obviously been in such a hurry to leave before he woke on his own and caught her, that she had basically dashed out of the room without realizing that the spring on the door would slam it shut behind her if she didn’t deliberately close it quietly. This meant that she had been gone only a short time, but given that this was Las Vegas even that would be long enough to get lost in the crowds that were on the street all hours of the day. So even if he wanted to go look for her, he couldn’t because he had no idea of what she looked like to even try and pick her out of a crowd. The fact that he was still nude would have made it a bit inconvenient to go looking right away as well.

Deciding he would be able to think better after getting cleaned up, he headed for the bathroom to take a shower. On the sink he found a gold woman’s ring that matched the one he wore. He picked it up and examined it. Inside the band was the word ‘ALWAYS’. This prompted him to remove his and check inside it. His said ‘YOURS’.

“Always yours,” he muttered to himself dejectedly. “Didn’t last that long did it?”

He put both rings down and regarded himself in the mirror. His hair was a mess and there were hickeys all around his chest and collar bones. There were none on his neck but it looked like his chin got one.

+Definitely not a vamp.+

It was while he was using his tongue to brush the filmy gunk he felt on his teeth that he became aware that there was something stuck between several of them. Opening his mouth and looking in the mirror he was surprised to see that it wasn’t the remnants of something he ate last night but threads of some kind. Using his fingers to pull the threads out he quickly amended his thoughts to the conclusion that the threads were indeed reminders of something he ate the previous evening. They were red and silky.

+Well, at least I now know her taste in underwear. . . . . . And apparently mine as well.+

Turning to the side, Xander continued to check himself out in the mirror. He saw several long scratches down his back that he hadn’t seemed to be aware of until he saw them. However, now that he did, he determined that they hurt quite a bit.

+Maybe she’s a were-cat.+

Also, there was a bit of red at the small of his back. It was too red to be a scab and too solid to be blood flowing from a wound. After a few minutes of trying to move his arms in such a way to not aggravate the scratches he managed to peel the object off his back. I turned out to be a larger piece of cloth like the threads from his teeth. There also appeared to be a part of an embroidered image. Maybe a picture or monogram. There wasn’t enough of it to tell for sure. He placed the patch of cloth next to the rings and opened the medicine cabinet.

Inside he was pleased to find, a disposable razor and a packet of shaving cream. After he finished his shave, he got in the shower and put it as hot as he could stand to make sure his wounds from the previous night were thoroughly cleaned. Although he was fairly certain she hadn’t been a demon, it didn’t hurt to take precautions and in general hot water and soap helped disinfect most germs and non-fatal poisons that demons might impart to humans. He’d get one of the Council docs to look at it later to be sure.

An hour and a half later Xander was at the front desk, checking out of the Honeymoon Suite. It turned out that he had used the Council credit card to pay for the room and he didn’t have enough of a limit remaining on his personal card because of a recent holiday shopping spree to have them switch it. He could afford to reimburse them but accounting would want an explanation why he had used it in the first place. Especially since he was already checked in at another hotel for the rest of the week. His chances of keeping this quiet just flew out the window unless he could get Willow to do some fancy mojo that would disguise the fact that the room he’d let was the Honeymoon Suite. He could then just plead that he got it because he was drunk, which would still be the truth. Of course that would mean letting Willow know what happened and he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that or not. He figured he had about two weeks before the monthly bill was received by accounting to think of something.

--------------------------------------------

Meanwhile, a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead were all leaving town and continuing journeys already in progress. However, only one had moved up her departure time to leave the city as quickly as possible, while praying to any benevolent deity that might take pity on her that she hadn’t just messed up her life or the life of the man she’d married. Of course she knew that even benevolent deities tended to have warped senses of humor and even a positive outcome to her prayer could still result in some kind of karmic payment required. She still thought it was worth a shot. At least she hadn’t given into the temptation to use the ‘W’ word. That would just be asking to get hung out to dry.

--------------------------------------------

Xander slowly walked back to his own hotel, which was at the other end of the Strip from where he spent his Honeymoon. He’d already checked that hotel’s garage to see if his car was there and it wasn’t. This gratified him somewhat in that it meant that he hadn’t endangered anyone by driving while being as blitzed as he had been. While he could have taken a bus or cab back, he decided to walk not really in a hurry to get back to his room. Also the chapel where he had apparently gotten married was on the way and he thought he might stop in to see if they had taken a photo of him and his bride that he might get a copy of.

As it was the chapel did have three photos of them and he purchased a copy of each. The problem was that none of the photos gave him a good look at her face or gave him a good clue as to how tall she was either. The photos were all close ups of him cradling her in his arms and them kissing. This put only the left side of her face towards the camera and even then it was looking upwards from her chin as her head was tilted away from the camera as she kissed him. Beyond her having long, jet black hair he really couldn’t say he would be able to recognize her if she walked by him at that moment. However, from what he could tell, she wasn’t bad looking and could see how he would have been drawn to her.

Having learned that he had paid for the wedding and the rings with the Council credit card convinced Xander that he needed Willow’s help to keep a lid on this embarrassing situation. Therefore, after checking that his car was still in the parking garage of his own hotel he went to his room and sent an e-mail to her asking for her to call him. A couple of minutes later he got an automated reply back that basically said that Willow was on a retreat for the foreseeable future and should only be contacted in person if there was an impending apocalypse and only if their name was not Kennedy.

+Just great. Willow and Kennedy have had another breakup. I wonder what caused it this time. Now what am I going to do?+

Xander considered his options and decided there was one other person he might get to help him but it was going to be costly. He could have gotten Willow’s help for just a shiny nickel. In this case the cost would not be monetary, at least not directly. No he was going to owe this person big time not only for the help, but more so for keeping it quiet. He just knew she would milk this for everything she could. His only solace was the amount of teasing he would avoid from the others if they found out. He’d be lucky if they let him out of the compound without a five person body guard detail for the rest of his life if this incident became known.

Checking his buddy list, he saw that the person needed was already on the Council net so he sent an e-mail requesting an ‘Oops’ protocol web conference. This would tell her that he had a problem to discuss that was personal and not Council related but still required some discretion and secrecy. A couple of minutes later he received an e-mail with the encryption protocol he was to use for making the connection. Making sure the webcam had him in focus, Xander opened the connection. Boy was he glad she had a private office.

“Hi Dawn.”

“Hey Xander. What’s the 411?”

“A situation has cropped up that I had hoped Willow could help me with but it seems like she and Kennedy have had another row and is incommunicado. So I contacted the second best hacker I know for help.”

“I’d be offended that you didn’t think of me first, but Willow is still tops,” said Dawn. “As for what happened between them this time, no one is talking other than to let us know that Willow is on her way back to Salem from Hawaii. So what database do you need to have messed with and why?”

“I kinda got drunk last night and..”

“Xander, what happened to Monique was not your fault,” Dawn interrupted. “You tried to warn her, which considering what she planned to do to you is way more than generous in my book. You cannot keep on blaming yourself for the decisions she made.”

Xander sighed.

+Trust Dawn to zero in on why he had been drinking in the first place before even letting him get to the results of that action.+

[MEMORY FLASH]

Monique had been his latest girlfriend. She had been 100% human and not an ugly, ass-faced evil demon disguised as a human that was bent on eating him alive. Nope, she didn’t even have a trace of demon in her family tree as verified by the preliminary check the Council did on her. However, she did work for an ugly, ass-faced evil demon that was bent on eating him alive and she was being paid to lure him to where said demon was. Needless to say background check procedures were being reviewed to see how that little gem had been overlooked.

Xander hadn’t found out this last bit until she had actually delivered him to the demon and to say he was shocked and hurt would be the understatement of the century. He managed to off the demon but despite his anger at her, managed to refrain from doing her any harm. He told her he wasn’t going to kill her and that if she was smart that she would leave town and change her name because if she stayed she would be in danger from the dead demon’s associates who would presume that her being alive would mean that she had betrayed her boss. He told her demons were stupid and would add one and one to get three.

She told him to screw himself and berated him for killing her meal ticket. She also complained that she was only getting $3000 instead of $5000 because he had only one eye, and even that was only because he was the Slayer’s flunky.

He told her to leave before he changed his mind about killing her and she did. Two weeks later her smashed head was found in a dumpster. Xander had been right about the other demons deciding she had sold her boss out and that they would kill her for it. He found out who was responsible and took them down hard. Considering what they had done to her it wasn’t hard enough in his opinion. He also felt guilty for not being merciful and killing her quickly and painlessly himself. Thus the drinking binge to drown out the conflicting feelings of having cared about her and letting her go only to therefore be responsible for her being killed in a manor so horrible that being slowly burnt alive would have been more merciful. His own mind, and all his friends, told him that it wasn’t his fault that she made her choice but deep down it still felt like it was.

[END MEMORY FLASH]

Trying to get the conversation back on the track he wanted, Xander said, “Dawn, I’m not calling about why I got drunk last night but what happened while I was drunk last night.”

“You got married,” she simply stated.

Xander was agog for several seconds before frantically responding, “How did you know?”

“You’re in Vegas,” she said as though she were just commenting on the weather. “That’s what drunk people do in Vegas. So what type of demon is she?”

“What makes you think she was a demon?” he asks defensively.

Dawn just stares at him through the monitor until he relents and says, “Fine! You’re justified in asking but she was not a demon.”

+I hope.+

“The thing is I put the wedding, the rings, and the Honeymoon Suite on the Council card and I need you to divert it over to my personal card so it doesn’t show up for all of accounting to see and tell everyone about. I also need you to delay it a couple of days before getting to my card so I can pay down the balance enough to be able to cover the expense.”

“You do realize that this is going to cost you?” says Dawn, arching her eyebrow.

“I was thinking one big favor or four small ones,” came Xander’s pleading reply.

“I’m thinking more like three big ones with each being equivalent to six small ones.”

“WHAT! That’s outrageous!”

“Well, I presume that in addition to keeping accounting from finding out that you used the Council card for personal business you also want me to keep my mouth shut about you being married until you can tell everyone yourself and this is way too juicy to sit on without some incentive.”

“Actually, Dawn, I would appreciate you not telling anyone about my getting married ever,” he said sheepishly.

“Exactly how do you propose to keep this a secret forever?”

“Considering she left before I woke up and left a note asking for an annulment, I was hoping it wouldn’t be that difficult.”

“She left you?!?!” Dawn said shocked. “What woman in her right mind would leave you after marrying you?”

“Actually Dawn, considering my work, it is only the women who aren’t in their right minds that I would expect to stay with me,” he said trying to add a smile to his face.

“I’m sorry Xan,” said Dawn. “That just sucks.”

“She was nice enough to not blame me for the situation,” he told her. “She said she was feeling down and had picked me to help cheer her up and hadn’t intended to let things go as far as they did. Her note was very apologetic in nature.”

“Well that pretty much rules out her being a demon,” said Dawn. “They almost never apologize for messing up your life.”

“True,” he replied. “Although, there was that one demon that apologized for destroying my framed copy of Amazing Fantasy 15 when he crashed through the wall of my apartment.”

“I remember. He had a thing for Spiderman,” said Dawn. “He was really broken up about it as I recall. Especially after Buffy finished breaking him. It was bad enough that he attacked while we were watching Princess Bride, but Buffy had just had her hair and nails done earlier that day. Setting her hair on fire and causing her to break six nails is so not the way to get on her good side.”

“Yeah,” said Xander. “I almost felt sorry for the guy. Buffy pounded on him for at least ten minutes longer than was necessary before chopping his head off. Speaking of the Buffster, what’s she up to now.”

Dawn’s face got very solemn.

“She’s still making the rounds.”

“Oh,” was all he said.

There was silence for several minutes before he continued, “It’s good that she wants to personally convey her condolences to the families of those Slayers and Watchers that have died. Every good leader should do that, but even the President of the United States usually just sends a card. Her going to visit them personally puts too much of an emotional strain on her.”

Xander knew all about such strain since he also had already visited the families that lived in his area of responsibility.

“I know,” sighed Dawn. “She won’t let anyone go with her either even though it would give her someone to lean on when it gets too tough. She says it’s her penance for doing to the Slayers what the PTB did to her when she was called. She’s been working her way West before heading overseas.”

“How’s Faith coping with Robin’s death?”

“She’s taking it one day at a time after her initial blow up. Buffy delayed heading out until she was sure Faith was going to hold it together. As therapy the two of them took out a half dozen nests and according to Buffy, she spent most of the time just covering Faith’s back allowing Faith to work out her anger and frustrations. Faith left town a couple of days ago to head to California to do the Vision Quest thing like most of the other Slayers have so she can find her direction in life. At least that is what she said. I think she left partly because she doesn’t trust herself not to go to the dope head’s house and beat the crap out of him for driving stoned. Not that she’s the only one that feels that way about the bastard. We lost twenty Slayers and Watchers in that crash. Faith was in traction for a week to ensure her leg bones healed straight. Not to mention the seventy-one people who died because of the time lost in forming and sending backup teams to stop the Le’urc demon clan from doing a power enhancement ritual. And this guy walks away from the crash with only a couple of bruises.”

Xander could only nod his head in sympathy. He himself still felt the urge to mess up the guy’s anatomy something fierce. The feeling was as strong today as it was when he had heard the news. He knew that feelings were running hot in Cleveland because Buffy had issued an edict that said that not only were any members of the Council forbidden from taking any personal action against the guy, but they were to also ensure that he was protected from any supernatural threats to his person. In other words, not only could they not beat the crap out of him, they also had to save him if he were about to be bit by a vamp. While some of the Council might think Buffy’s edict was just a way to remind the rank and file that using their skills and knowledge against any human was not part of what a Slayer or Watcher should be. Xander and the rest of the Scoobies knew she had done it more to keep herself from crossing that line.

“OK, let’s get back to your problem,” said Dawn. “Scan your receipts, marriage license, the note, and any other documents you have relating to this woman so I can get to work.”

“Dawn, she asked that I not try and find her.”

“You’re not, I am,” she replied. “Xander, even in an annulment her signature may be required, so we need to know where to send the paper work. The legal department will handle things and you know that they can keep a secret so you have no worries there. They won’t even tell you if you want to set it up that way. Besides you know someone has to check her out. The marriage thing can be kept quiet only if she has no skeletons in her closet either real or virtual. We can’t afford another Monique.”

Dawn hated adding that last part but Xander needed to understand that she was looking out not only for him but everyone else as well.

Xander glumly nodded and scanned in the documents so he could send them to Dawn. He waited while she verified that they had arrived and that she could read them.

“Xander,” said Dawn after looking at the received documents. “I think we have a problem.”

Puzzled, Xander asked, “Weren’t the documents clear enough?”

“Oh, they’re very clear,” replied Dawn. “That’s part of the problem. Either this woman’s parents had a very weird sense of humor or she did.”

“How’s that?”

“It’s her name,” said Dawn.

Seeing his puzzled look over the webcam feed, Dawn opened an instant message window and typed in two lines which she sent to Xander.

Xander viewed what Dawn had sent and saw what she meant.

‘Knautmy Tru Namen’ read the first line.

‘Not my true name’ read the second.

“I think she was using an alias,” said Dawn after sending the IM. “Which might make getting an annulment easier but is going to leave a lot of questions unanswered that we can’t afford in our line of work.”

Xander was worried now and not about some ribbing from his co-workers and friends. The woman had concealed her real identity and there weren’t too many good reasons to do that. He needed time to think.

“Dawn,” he said. “Take care of the credit card stuff like I asked. Lock the rest of the stuff up so that only you or I can access it.”

Seeing her about to object, he continued, “Make it a time lock so that if we both don’t renew it the info will go to the gang. Make it a week. I’ll arrange a visit so we can brainstorm what needs to be done.”

“Alright,” said Dawn. “I understand but this does need to be investigated.”

“I know,” said Xander dejectedly. “Bye for now.”

“Bye, said Dawn and they both closed down the weblink.

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Twenty-four hours later, Xander was back in his hotel room reading reports on the testing he’d had done on the rings, note, marriage certificate, and cloth patch. True, he didn’t have connections with the Las Vegas Crime Lab, but with three Slayers attending UNLV, and as Head Watcher for California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada he was familiar with students and professors who had the skills and access to materials needed to do some preliminary forensic tests. He did this by calling in some favors from those who had been saved from some of Vegas’ more belligerent night life.

The problem was that not much could be determined from what he had. He had hoped to get some usable traces of the woman’s DNA from the cloth patch but it turned out the only DNA traces were his and they had probably come from his saliva since the patch was saturated with it. There were no usable finger prints on the rings except his because he hadn’t been careful with how he had handled them. The same was true for the note as well. As for marriage certificate, some unknown finger prints were found but until he was able to somehow match them to a name they could all end up belonging to the people at the chapel who might have handled it instead of his mystery woman.

He’d also had tests run on his blood to see if he had been under the influence of anything other than alcohol. There hadn’t been. His appointment with a local witch to have his aura checked for mystical influences also came up negative.

Of course his biggest prize was a copy of the hotel security tape that showed them checking in and his ‘wife’ walking out. It only cost him $300 to the security guard to be allowed to find the scenes he was interested in and get them copied. The frustrating thing was that there was never a clear shot of her face even when she was looking in the direction of the cameras. He was hoping Dawn could do something with it when he got to Cleveland. Since he was not able to hijack the security tapes for the entire city like that short government geek did in ‘Enemy of the State’ seemed to be able to do, Xander had no idea to even begin to figure out how to track her movements after she left the hotel. And at $300 a pop there was no way he could afford to get all the copies he would probably need anyway.

Since the sheets had already been washed and the room cleaned and re-occupied, his best possible source of evidence to her true identity was long gone. He, himself, had washed off the only other potential concentration of her DNA when he had taken that shower.

At the time he hadn’t been thinking about needing to find her. He had already decided to abide by her wish to forget about what happened, not that he remembered much of it anyway. But with the revelation that she had used a fake name, it was no longer just him that might be affected. Dawn had been right when she said that unknowns were not something that they could afford in their line of work. They tended to get people killed. He was not going to let his mistake cause harm to his family if he could help it.

--------------------------------------------

The Scooby meeting in Cleveland the following day had to be delayed until the evening because Buffy wasn’t going to be available until then. Both she and Willow were attending via secure net connections. A hand delivered message given to the coven at Salem to pass on to Willow had alerted her to the meeting, while a simple e-mail to Buffy had gotten her participation. They had tried to get in touch with Faith but she was apparently still on her vision quest and unreachable. The only ones actually in Cleveland were Giles, Dawn, and Xander.

Dawn started the meeting once Buffy and Willow were both on-line.

“Xander and I have called this meeting to inform you of a possible security concern,” she started. “Please refrain from making any comments until the situation has been fully explained. A couple of days ago, a woman using an alias got close to Xander during a time when he was trying to cope with the betrayal and death of his former girlfriend, Monique.”

Dawn gave Xander a sympathetic look before continuing even though they had already discussed what she was going to say, she knew it would still hurt him.

“Xander does not remember much of the encounter because he was drunk at the time.”

Aside from some gasps from those not already in the know, nobody interrupted.

“According to a note left by the woman, she was drunk as well and had not intended for their encounter to end up as it did. While this in and of itself would require at least a cursory investigation to ensure no threat to security would arise, the fact that she used an alias and left before Xander regained consciousness makes the situation a bit more pressing. Xander did manage to get some pictures and video of the mystery woman, but they have proved less than helpful in establishing who she is. The reason is that her face is not very distinct on any of the pictures or video coverage despite this not being true for others in the same frame.”

“A glamour?” asked Willow tentatively.

“That’s my guess,” said Dawn. “While a glamour still can fool most cameras, the new digital ones tend to show a more fuzzy image rather than the distinct clear ones that one would expect from them. So we have a mystery woman who knows at least something about magic getting close to a top Council member while he is in a vulnerable condition. The only evidence that she poses no threat to Xander or the Council is a hand written note from the woman saying the whole encounter was a mistake and a request that Xander forget all about it. We might also take into account the fact that while she knew enough magic to do a glamour, she didn’t try to erase Xander’s memory or to deliberately remove evidence that would indicate she existed at all. She also did not try to kill him, which is another point in her favor for not being a threat.”

“You said she was using an alias,” said Giles. “How did you determine that?”

“We have the name she used on a document,” said Dawn.

“What document?” asked Buffy via her link.

“A marriage certificate,” said Dawn simply.

The following silence stretched long enough for Xander to wonder if time had stood still or not. Of course he wasn’t lucky enough for that to have happened.

“Oh dear lord,” sighed Giles as he started to polish his glasses.

“Am I allowed to stake the in-laws this time?” inquired Buffy.

“Alexander LaVelle Harris, what in the world were you thinking?”

Xander decided to answer Willow first, “I believe that the fact that I was so drunk that I don’t remember the woman, the wedding, or the honeymoon pretty much proves that I was not thinking much of anything. I feel it is safe to say that I was thought free.”

“Quite,” said Giles a bit sadly. “Xander I know that you are still recovering from a serious emotional situation but I had thought you would have had the presence of mind to have asked for help with dealing with it rather than just resort to the bottle. We’re your friends and you should have turned to us.”

“I know Giles,” replied Xander sheepishly. “It’s just that you guys were dealing with the crash aftermath and Willow was off negotiating with the Kilauea Weapons Smiths for some special swords needed against some of the more armored demons. I thought I could deal. I was wrong.”

“As for staking the in-laws,” continued Xander getting around to Buffy’s query. “Despite my track record, the note she left me makes me hope that she was just another lost soul seeking some comfort that went beyond where she wanted, or intended, it to. Therefore there should be no demonic in-laws requiring staking. Besides, since she used a false name, the marriage has been annulled so technically there are no in-laws anyway.”

“I’ve e-mailed you copies of the files with the note, pictures, and video for you to look over when you have time,” said Dawn to get back to the briefing proper. “So far none of our efforts have been able to give us a clue as to whom or even where she is. I had hoped that her wedding ring that she left behind would be enough to do a locator spell with, but apparently she didn’t wear it long enough to get a good trace from. It kept coming up Xander since he possessed it longer than she did.”

Xander piped up, “It did seem to point to you that one time, Dawn.”

“Yeah, but I have an alibi for the time frame in question,” she responded glaring at Xander for bringing that up. “I was helping Giles with a Sumerian translation at the time. Besides we decided that it only did that because I was the one to most recently handle it and that made my aura the next most likely to be picked up because of my closeness. There were other slight traces pointing in several directions but those are probably from those who handled it since its manufacture.”

“So, you have no idea who this mystery woman is?” asked Buffy.

“None,” responded Xander. “The best we can come up with based on the wedding ring and her use of a glamour is that she is between 5’ and 5’4” tall and between 90 and 130 pounds, and that she has at least some rudimentary knowledge of magic.”

“How did you come up with that description?” asked Willow.

“The small size of the ring indicates that the glamour used was not of the Shallow Hal type so it should conform to her normal size and weight fairly closely. Based on what we could determine from the video we know about how tall the glamour image is so that gives an approximation of her height and those are normal weights for that height range.”

“Well, even if we were to start looking within the Council that description fits a few hundred Slayers, Witches, and Watchers. I can’t even imagine how many women there are currently in the U.S. who fit into those parameters,” said Buffy. “You’ll never be able to find her unless you have something else to make a positive ID.”

“The only other clue we have is a small swatch of silk from her panties,” said Dawn. “Given time we might be able to discover who made the panties and maybe even where they were sold, but that may require calling in some favors from the government unless we want to do some major hacking. That’s basically what needs to be decided. Do we perceive this breach to be of high enough import to assign more resources and time to track this woman down?”

“Yes, well,” began Giles. “In light of the Monique incident, I believe it behooves us to identify this woman and ascertain her threat potential to Xander and the Council.”

“I agree with Giles,” said Willow. “But I’m not sure we should make it a priority. After all, she didn’t stick around to continue the relationship. Since Xander tested clean for drugs and magical influence, it is unlikely that she could have gotten any Council secrets out of him when he was so drunk he doesn’t remember anything. For true peace of mind it would be good to know who she is, but we have other more obvious threats to investigate that should be focused on instead of this. Sorry Xander.”

“No need to apologize Wils. You’re right to point out that there are other concerns that need to be addressed before this one and I agree,” said Xander a bit wistfully.

“Xander, as a card carrying member of the Abandoned After a One Night Stand Club, I think I can safely say I understand some of your motivation for wanting to know about her,” said Buffy. “Council security issues aside, it is only natural for you to wonder about some things in a situation like this. The fact that she left you a note should answer some of those questions if you believe she was telling the truth. Do you believe? What does your gut tell you?”

Surprised that Buffy would open up her old wounds caused by Angel and Parker Abrams, Xander pondered her questions before answering, “I believe what she said in the note to be true.”

“Then I vote to put the search for her on the Watch for Further Development List,” said Buffy. “Since she opted to stay out of Xander’s personal life and he believes her note to be truthful, I do not see a high threat potential at this time.”

Dawn had also been surprised by Buffy’s bringing up painful personal memories, but realized that she had done so to help Xander deal with issues he would have as the abandoned, in addition to those he had as a senior Council member.

“I agree with Buffy and Willow,” said Dawn. “Until further evidence of a threat presents itself, we should not allocate resources from their current assignments. If the situation changes or we can do some further analysis with some prospect of furthering our knowledge then we can revisit the decision.”

“All those in favor of assigning the further investigation of Xander’s mystery woman to the Watch for Further Development List while keeping the embarrassing and highly backmailable details solely within this Executive Council please signify by saying ‘AYE’,” said Dawn with a sly grin.

“Aye,” responded everyone grinning back, even Xander.

“Any opposed?”

Silence was the only answer.

“Resolution passed.”

--------------------------------------------

Xander spent the remainder of the week in Cleveland visiting with Giles and Dawn. Willow returned to her self-imposed retreat with the coven in Salem. Buffy continued with her mission to personally visit with the families of those killed in the car crash.

Faith returned from her Vision Quest the day before Xander returned to his duties on the West Coast. She didn’t talk about what occurred during her Quest but she seemed a bit better at dealing with Robin’s loss. She was briefed on what had happened to Xander and agreed with the decision made for handling it at this time.

--------------------------------------------

It was a month later that Faith announced that she wanted to take a year off from slaying and travel the world. There had been several places that Robin had discussed with her about visiting that she had always been too busy to make time for. She said his death made her realize that later wasn’t a guarantee even without the dangers of slaying. She wanted to fulfill at least one of his plans for her as a way to honor his memory. Everyone agreed that it was an honorable memorial for her to do that. They promised to make sure nothing happened to the world while she was on her trip and assured her that they would not disrupt her journey by calling for her help.

--------------------------------------------

A week after Faith left on her round the world trip, the reason for Willow’s and Kennedy’s breakup became known. Apparently Kennedy had gotten into a pissing contest with some of the Slayers assigned to the Hawaiian Islands concerning the pleasures available with ‘driving stick’ versus not. The Slayers claimed Kennedy wasn’t qualified to debate the issue since she had never tried both and had dared her to experience the other side.

Willow had been so busy with the negotiations that they hadn’t had much time for any intimacy and Kennedy was really worked up. With her pride on the line and her hormone levels high, she accepted the dare and made it with one of the life guards at the hotel they were staying at. Although protection was used, the combination of a very energetic encounter and Slayer muscle contractions tore the protection to shreds. Although the affair didn’t change her mind about there being more pleasure to be gained from not ‘driving stick’ it did leave her with the problem that can occur when one does. Kennedy had gotten pregnant.

The thing was she wasn’t aware of that fact and went out on a mission to clear a nest of vamps with two other Slayers. She took a hit in the abdomen by one of the vamps that she normally would have just shrugged off but it caused her to miscarry and the pain caused her to black out. The other two Slayers finished clearing the nest and got her to the hospital where her condition was discovered. That was how Willow found out what Kennedy had done.

The rest of the Scoobies found out when the hospital bill showed up in accounting. The only thing that kept them doing a beat-down on her for cheating on Willow was the fact that she had lost the baby and appeared to be deeply affected by the loss. She was also hurting from Willow’s leaving her.

When contacted by Dawn, Willow issued a message that said she would not talk to Kennedy for the foreseeable future. When she felt ready, they could then see if their relationship could be salvaged. Until then she would remain with the Salem Coven.

The Slayers that had encouraged her to ‘drive stick’ were put on garbage detail for a month for their part in messing with someone’s relationship.

--------------------------------------------

Buffy didn’t return to Cleveland after completing her mission to visit with the families of those who died in the car crash. Instead she let everyone know that she was going to personally check on some of the girls who had decided to not actively fight against the Darkness to make sure they were doing fine. She said she especially wanted to check up on those that had declined to even receive basic self-defense training. Even though the Council had operatives who kept an eye out for the girls, it was mostly to verify that they weren’t abusing their powers or attracting the attention of demonkind because of them. The thing was that the Council still didn’t have enough personnel to assign each of those girls their own Watcher, so it was a hit and miss operation that was done by nearby teams when things were slow. They had been called because of her decision and she felt she should personally check up on their welfare at least once rather than rely on reports filed by others all the time.

Giles had learned by now not to argue when Buffy had her mind made up. Since there were no large threats on the horizon that required her specifically he grudgingly gave his consent to her self appointed mission. Besides, just like Faith, she would still be keeping in touch via the Council net and could be contacted if absolutely necessary.

--------------------------------------------

Seven months after the incident in Vegas, Xander was in Cannes. Council intelligence had reported discovering a demon bar there run by a former associate of Angel’s by the name of Lorne. Their investigation showed it to be a similar setup to what he had in L.A. Complete with advanced anti-violence protection that would teleport any explosive devices brought within thirty yards of the property out to the floor of the Mediterranean. This included bullets, although the gun they were in would stay with the person carrying it.

Xander was there for a reading. A special type of reading.

As arranged, Xander met Lorne at his bar where it was just the two of them. Xander sang a country song that he was fairly familiar with. Lorne’s normally cheery demeanor slumped a bit as he interpreted what he saw and he began to pace.

Seeing this Xander asked worriedly, “What’s the matter?”

While keeping a wary eye on the shadows on the far side of the club to Xander’s left, Lorne replied nervously, “Well you see Bucko, there’s a lot of indistinct possibilities in your future. Many different paths can be taken that will lead to different outcomes. It makes it a bit difficult to decide what you need to know. I can say that you will hear from your mystery woman again in the not too distant future.”

Xander brightened up at that, as Lorne moved just a bit more to Xander’s right.

“However,” continued Lorne. “That does not mean you’ll learn anything more about her or that you’ll actually meet. If you continue to seek her out, it will be safer for you to use your heart instead of your eyes..er..eye. One more thing, she is no threat to you or the Council.”

Xander was happy to hear the last part since it confirmed his gut feeling. Thanking Lorne for his help, Xander left the bar. Lorne himself went to the bar and poured himself a rather large drink.

However, before he could raise the glass to his lips, the point of a sword was suddenly placed just under his chin and a voice hissed, “Why did you tell him that!”

Swallowing the rather large lump in his throat and trying not to hit his chin on the sword point, Lorne said, “You’re aware of the no violence spell on this place.”

“Considering you kept Xander between us as you talked with him, I figure you’re a little concerned about whether it will work on me or not,” replied the voice. “Especially when you take into account my history of disregarding rules. Now answer the question!”

“The fact that you are going to contact him in the near future is a given,” he said. “You made up your mind about that a long time ago. My telling him gave nothing away about who you are or in what manner you are going to make contact. It did ease his mind somewhat about whether you ever think about him or not, as well as you not being a threat to the Council.”

“And the seeking with his heart instead of his eyes. What does that mean?”

“As I told him, there are many paths he can take,” said Lorne. “Considering the method you intend to use to contact him again, he is more than likely to take a few dangerous ones if not pointed in a different direction. Plus, that path does not guarantee he will find you, only that it will be safer for him which I know is important to you.”

The sword point was lowered and as she turned away she said, “Fine!”

Lorne quickly downed his drink. He had known from the reading that telling Xander anything would be risky for him. Even saying what he had could have lead to his head being removed from his shoulders and having had that happen once before was once too many times as far as he was concerned. But it did ensure that Xander would take one of the safer paths into the future. So he poured himself another stiff drink and watched her as she left.

There was another spell on the bar, unknown to all but him, that let him see through any false faces, so he could see her true form instead of the normal looking glamour she had around her. He was amazed that someone so large could move so gracefully and silently. He was glad he lived on the premises because given her irritation with him, it would be unhealthy to go sight seeing for the foreseeable future.

--------------------------------------------

Six weeks later, at the Cleveland Headquarters the phone rings at the reception desk.

“Good morning,” says the tall, athletic brunette. “The Kendra School for Gifted Young Women. How may I direct your call?”

“This is Dr. Jules Varner,” came the reply, putting the receptionist on high alert because calls from doctors were rarely good news, so she immediately input his name into the special search engine Willow and Andrew developed. “I’m trying to get a hold of a Mr. Alexander L. Harris. Is he there?”

Since Xander was on the contact list that most Slayers in the U.S. carried, the receptionist wasn’t overly concerned but started a trace and double checked the displayed caller ID. The thing was since Xander worked the West Coast, it was strange that anyone local would use him as their point of contact.

“Mr. Harris is out at the moment. May I take a message?”

The man on the phone hesitated a bit before saying, “Could you have him contact me at 216-555-1234. Tell him it is in regards to a relative of his that I am treating.”

“Could I have the relative’s name please?” asked the receptionist, a bit more concerned now that there was a possibility of some Slayer or Watcher being injured and for some reason were saying Xander was a relative. The trace and caller ID confirmed that the call was coming from a Dr. Jules Varner’s office in a suburb of Cleveland.

“Her name is Joy Colleen Harris,” came his reply. “But I don’t believe he has ever met her. Also let him know that while the situation is not serious it is vital that I speak to him as soon as possible.”

“I’ll see to it that he receives your message,” she replied. “Thank you and goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” he said and hung up.

The preliminary background check that came up on her computer screen on the doctor showed that he hadn’t been in contact with anything supernatural as far as the Council knew. He was apparently an OB/GYN. The question was, how did a relative Xander apparently didn’t know he had, get the school’s number to try and contact him with. SOP required at least one upper echelon manager be informed of suspicious messages before passing them along to the indicated recipient. The only high level person in town at the moment was Dawn Summers and based on the time, she’d probably only had one cup of coffee so far this morning. She would probably be better able to deal with this situation after two more cups, but the message did warrant immediate action. Therefore, the receptionist forwarded the digital recording of the conversation to Dawn’s e-mail and marked it urgent.

--------------------------------------------

Dawn heard the chime that indicated that she had received an urgent e-mail and grimaced. She preferred to have at least two cups of coffee before dealing with urgent matters and she was only half way through her first. Sighing she opened the e-mail and then listened to the audio from reception.

After listening to the phone conversation, she started a general search for Joy Colleen Harris as well as a more in-depth check of Dr. Varner. When the results from the normal databases had no record of Joy, Dawn began working her way into Dr. Varner’s computer system. There she did find Joy’s records and what they told her shocked her so much she spent the next five minutes just staring at the display on her monitor.

Finally snapping out of her stunned state, Dawn called Dr. Varner. She told him that Xander was out of town but that he would be returning later that day and would contact him at that time.

While she dialed Xander’s number, she started making airline reservations for him so what she told the doctor wouldn’t be a lie. Now she just needed to decide what to tell him without telling him the real reason. There was no way she was going to miss the look on his face when he heard the news. Her face lit up as she realized what other information the doctor’s records showed.

--------------------------------------------

Xander was starting to get annoyed. He had already hit the snooze button three times and the ringing still hadn’t stopped. It was only as he got ready to fling the alarm clock across the room that he realized that it was his phone and not the alarm. Seeing that it was only a little past five in the morning from the clock in his hand, he grumbled several rather colorful curses against the PTB for allowing his beauty rest to be disturbed.

Answering his phone he said, “This better be good.”

“Well I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee either,” came the feminine reply.

“Dawnmeister,” he said, just barely perking up at the sound of her voice. “What have the PTB done this time to ruin both our morning routines?”

“We have a clue concerning your mystery lady and I need you here in Cleveland today,” she said. “I’ve already gotten your reservations set up. You need to be at the airport in an hour to pick up your tickets at the Global Airways counter.”

This really awakened him and he figured he had just enough time to shower and pack to make it to the airport in time.

“What’s the clue?”

“Not over the phone,” was her reply. “I’ll tell you after you get here.”

Puzzled, but trusting Dawn, he said, “OK. See you later.”

He barely heard her say ‘Bye’ as he hung up and began getting ready for his trip.

--------------------------------------------

It was quarter to four that afternoon by the time his plane had landed and Dawn had picked him up after he retrieved his luggage. All she told him was that they were on their way to the person who had the clue.

When he asked what the clue was, he noticed that she had to try very hard not to split her face with a grin as she said, “You’ll see.”

Once Dawn had ensured Xander had made his final connection to Cleveland, she had arranged a meeting time with Dr. Varner at his office. So that was where she was taking him. She, herself, had stopped by the hospital earlier and checked out the condition of Joy Colleen Harris. She then called the school and arranged for a Slayer Team to guard her.

Dawn’s demeanor made Xander very nervous. Her over the top chipperness made him think that she was either hyped up on too much sugar or he was in for some kind of shock and/or embarrassment that she found amusing. It could also mean that she was possessed and whatever possessed her was overcompensating to make things appear normal. He was almost hoping she was possessed since that would be easier to handle in the long run.

When they arrived at their destination, Dawn led him to an office where she told the receptionist, “This is Alexander Harris and I’m his associate Dawn Summers. We have an appointment to see Dr. Varner.”

“Please have a seat and I’ll inform him you’ve arrived,” came the reply.

As they took their seats, Xander noticed the three other people in the waiting room. Actually, they were all women. All very pregnant women. The hair on the back of his neck started to stand up straight, but before he could ask Dawn what was going on they were called into the doctor’s office.

After introductions were out of the way, Xander asked, “Would someone please explain what is going on?”

“It would be best if you started at the beginning, doctor,” prompted Dawn.

“Very well,” said the doctor, although curious as to Xander’s attitude. “Yesterday a young woman came into the local hospital and informed the staff that her water had broke.”

At this statement, Xander’s brain put all the clues together and basically put him into a state of almost complete paralysis. He could still hear and see but just couldn’t seem to move or speak. He noticed Dawn’s grin spread so wide that he almost expected the top of her head to flip back from the split.

Meanwhile the doctor continued speaking, “She identified herself as Knautmy Harris, a tourist. As the on-call physician, I was assigned her case. Her labor was a bit tense but six hours after her arrival, she delivered a healthy eight pound baby girl that she named Joy Colleen Harris. Everything proceeded normally until this morning when Mrs. Harris disappeared from the hospital. The child was still in the nursery but she was nowhere to be found. There was a note telling the hospital to contact you. We got your name and number from her admissions form and attempted contact this morning. Do you know why your wife disappeared like she did?”

The question broke Xander out of his stupor, but it was Dawn that answered, “Xander and Knautmy have been estranged for a while now. We weren’t even aware that she was expecting.”

“I see,” said the doctor having some of the mystery cleared up. “Well, it would appear that she wanted you to have the child, Mr. Harris. However, before we can turn her over to you we will have to run some tests to prove you are the child’s biological father. If not, you could still obtain custody but you would have to make a case with Child Welfare to do it.”

Finally getting the chance to speak, Xander asked, “What do I need to do?”

“My nurse will draw some blood and the preliminary tests should be done by tomorrow. If they come out positive then the more conclusive tests should be done a day or so after that. Once paternity is firmly established you would then be able to take the child home.”

“Thank you doctor,” said Xander. “Who do I need to see about arranging payment of bills?”

“There’s no need for that, Mr. Harris,” said Dr. Varner. “Mrs. Harrris prepaid for everything. In fact you will probably get a refund from the hospital. Well, I have other patients to tend to. My nurse will be in shortly to draw blood.”

They said their goodbyes and waited for the nurse while the doctor left.

“You’ve seen her,” said Xander, more a statement than a question.

“Yes,” replied a smiling Dawn. “She’s beautiful. I’ve got a team at the hospital to make sure nothing happens to her. While I didn’t tell them she’s yours, with the last name of Harris, I’m fairly certain that they have figured it out. They’ve probably already started a pool as to the mother’s identity.”

“Considering that even I don’t know, they’re going to have a hard time figuring out if anyone won.”

“True,” said Dawn. “But that won’t stop them from guessing anyway. By the way, we now know Knautmy’s blood type from the hospital records. We will also be able to put Joy’s DNA profile into our computers in case we ever need to check for a match with someone we suspect as being her mother.”

Xander nodded and said, “It’s something.”

After the nurse drew his blood, Xander and Dawn went over to the hospital where Joy was. He ended up spending the entire night just staring at her through the glass. The awe and pride apparent to anyone who cared to look at him. Dawn went back to the office to spread the news.

--------------------------------------------

The lab tests proved that Xander was the biological father and the hospital released the child to his care. Of course Xander had already known the child was his in his heart. The labs were only a formality as far as he was concerned.

Of course the fact that a Council witch had done an aural comparison the previous evening showing his link to the child just firmed up what his heart told him. The brief halo effect around both their heads showed the connection. However, what no one witnessed was the same effect occurring elsewhere in the city.

--------------------------------------------

Since she was only over at Salem, Willow was the first of the Scoobies to arrive in Cleveland after receiving the news about Joy. Giles made arrangements to fly in from England where he had been gaining custody of more of the old Council’s assets. Buffy said she had appointments set up for the next three weeks but would try to rearrange them to get back sooner. Faith also needed to redo her itinerary to make time to head back to Cleveland.

Faith arrived first, a week after the birth. Buffy came four days later.

--------------------------------------------

Xander decided to take Joy to Rome for the added protection the city itself could provide.

Everyone at the Cleveland facility was saddened by his decision, but understood the need to ensure Joy’s safety. Even utilizing some influence with the U.S. government to smooth out the passport application process, he wasn’t ready to leave for five weeks after making his decision because he had to bring his replacement up to speed.

During that time, Willow, Faith, Buffy, and Dawn were either OOHING and AAHING over Joy, or shopping like there was no tomorrow for toys and clothes for her. They also decided that they would travel with him to provide security for Joy enroute.

One unusual thing did happen before they left. In fact it happened as he and Dawn were filling out the paperwork for Joy’s passport. Like many forms, one filled in the last name, then first name and middle initial. When Dawn did that on the first form she took a sharp intake of breath and her eyes got misty. When Xander asked her what was wrong she could only show him what she had written: Harris, Joy C. Xander just enfolded her in a hug.

When she finally found her voice, Dawn said, “It’s almost like she was named after Mom.”

“She was,” came Xander’s reply.

Seeing the confusion on Dawn’s face, he continued smiling wistfully, “Whatever influenced Knautmy to name her Joy Colleen Harris, probably had some help from on high to make her even more special for us. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

“Me too!” said Dawn smiling broadly and hugging Xander tightly. “Me too!”

The other Scoobies were just as emotional when the significance of Joy’s first and middle names was pointed out to them. Faith said that Xander had a big responsibility to make sure Joy was a worthy namesake for Mrs. S. Giles commented that Joy could have no finer example to strive for than Joyce Summers. Willow responded that it was a good karma for Joy’s future. Buffy just spent over four hours standing next to Joy’s crib staring at her sleeping and smiling with moist eyes.

--------------------------------------------

The trip to Rome was uneventful.

Willow, Buffy, and Dawn stayed a week before returning to their duties. Faith stayed an extra week since she was still officially on vacation.

Finally it was just Xander, Joy, and a fully screened, by his ‘girls’ as well as the Council, and capable nanny named Amelia, that were left at the Rome house that was now their well guarded and warded home.

Xander liaised with the Holy See on behalf of the Council. He also did some wood working on the side which he sold through a Council owned store. But mostly he just waited for Joy’s mother to appear. He knew it was only a matter of time before her motherly instincts overrode her innate stubborn pride.

Had it not been for Lorne’s advice, he might never have guessed her identity. While he might have eventually discovered it, he never would have made the intuitive leap that allowed ‘The One Who Sees’ to really see.

---------------------------------------

Flashback:

It had been a quiet evening and his thoughts had been drawn to Joy’s mother once again. As he often did when that happened he would get out the photos, marriage certificate, and the rings. As he picked up the rings to read the inscriptions for maybe the thousandth time, he read his first then hers which produced “YOURS” “ALWAYS”, instead of “ALWAYS” “YOURS” as he normally read it. A sudden flash of memory caused him to focus on an incident sophomore year of high school.

“Could it be?” he queried out loud.

He confirmed his hunch via the Council data base.

End Flashback:

----------------------------------------------------

Now that he knew who Joy’s mother was, he understood her reaction to their night together as well as her reasons for disguising herself. Although he was hurt by her actions, he understood her probable fear of his reaction as well as her fear of her own. After all, their history wasn’t all that smooth.

He couldn’t imagine what she initially felt when discovering their encounter resulted in her being pregnant. He was pleased that she decided to leave Joy with him rather than lie about her being fathered by someone else, which he just knew she had contemplated if even only for a second. He was familiar enough with how her mind worked that he did not condemn her for that thought, especially since she hadn’t acted on it. He would have preferred that she came forward at that time so he could have helped her but knew that she was too embarrassed and afraid because of the time lapse.

There was also the extra danger both she and Joy would face during her pregnancy if it became public knowledge, that he knew factored into her keeping quiet. That danger hadn’t gone away even now. Just having it known that he was Joy’s father put a bull’s eye on her as it was. Having it known that both Joy’s parents fought the Darkness would really put Joy in the spotlight.

While he was resigned to handle her relationship to Joy, and in turn himself, in whatever manner she chose, he was going to make sure she knew his opinion on the matter, in no uncertain terms.

--------------------------------------------

It was a day before the anniversary of his Las Vegas encounter with Knautmy, that there was a knock on the door of Xander’s Rome home. Xander answered the door himself to find Giles standing there.

“Hey Giles,” greets Xander cheerfully. “What brings you to my humble abode?”

However, his cheerfulness quickly disappears when he notices Giles’ face, and the faces of the three females standing behind him.

“May we come in?” asks Giles quietly.

Xander steps aside and the four enter. A dark dread settling in the pit of his stomach as he led them to the living room.

Once everyone is seated, Giles begins speaking, “Eight months ago a prophecy was found by a member of the Council. Instead of turning it over to the Research Department per procedures this member kept the prophecy to herself. Considering the rather straight-forwardness of the prophecy there was little doubt in her mind as to the meaning. The prophecy was finally mailed to me two days ago along with several letters.”

The moment Giles had said the word ‘prophecy’, Xander’s dread increased ten times but he didn’t say anything as Giles finished speaking and handed Xander a piece of paper.

//During a time of mutual pain,
The Hand and the Heart will find comfort with one another.
From this will arise their Legacy, fulfilling the Heart’s most treasured desire.
The Legacy will face great danger from the Forces of Darkness,
So to ensure the safety of the Legacy and the Heart,
The Hand shall open The Door to In-Between using the Fluid of Life.
The ten greatest Evils will be drawn there and the Hand shall bar the Door behind them.
This will remove the worst dangers to the Legacy,
And the influence of these Evils from the World,
As the Hand keeps them from passing back out the Door,
Even long past the End of Time.//

Xander was trembling as he looked up from the paper and asked, “Wh. . .wh. . .where’s Buffy?”

He was given an envelope with his name on it by way of answer.

No one spoke as he stared at the familiar handwriting on the envelope for several minutes.

Finally, he opened the envelope and removed the letter within.

//Xander,

Please don’t hate me.

I knew you were in Vegas but didn’t think I would run into you. However, I used a glamour to keep from being recognized if I did since I didn’t want to burden you during your time of mourning with my troubles. Yves parents were not very receptive to my condolences for her death and were quite verbal in their condemnation of me for the life I had forced upon their daughter. I was pretty well blitzed by the time I ran into you later that evening. I was still able to recognize you and my fuzzy brain said you would be able to cheer me up so I approached you but left the glamour in place. At the time I thought it would be funny. I blame fuzzy thinking for that and the fact that I couldn’t remember the cancellation spell. However, it was you who suggested we stop in at the chapel. I just went along because the thought of being Mrs. Xander Harris made me feel warm and safe.

When I woke up the next day, I realized what a cruel thing I had done by not revealing who I really was. I panicked, thinking you would hate me and the thought of you no longer being my friend made my heart ache worse than any pain I’ve ever experienced. My regret was not in marrying you but in the lie of who it was you married.

Later, when I found out I was pregnant, I came up with a valid reason to keep me out of doing any actual demon fighting that would endanger our child. It was four months after I left on my trip that I came upon the prophecy in Latvia. It was actually written within the border of a frieze in a small church that Katya’s family attended. I had gone there with them while I was checking up on how she and they were doing since she opted not to actively fight. I was using a glamour of my non-pregnant self so no word would get back to anyone about my condition.

The frieze caught my eye and when I looked at it closer, I saw some words I recognized from some of Giles’ old books we read back in Sunnydale. I copied down what I saw and later determined it was a form of pre- Sumerian that, surprising to me, I was able to translate. If I hadn’t been able to do that I would have just sent it on to Research, but my initial translation made it clear to me that it was about me . . . and you and our child. I spent the next three weeks verifying my translation and even then I didn’t want to believe it.

The thing was, poking around in the Council archives that Willow managed to get on computer produced a few more references to the Legacy of the Hand and Heart that spelled out what dangers the Legacy would face if certain evils were not contained. That was when I decided I needed to fulfill the rest of the prophecy, but didn’t figure out how until I remembered a Star Trek episode about a guy named Lazarus you once insisted Willow and I watch with you.

I put my plan into action once I was sure you and Joy were safe.

Take good care of our daughter. There are still bad things out there that will want to hurt her.

I love you both,

Buffy//

Xander had paled as he read the last as the implications of what happened to Lazarus in the show came to the forefront of his mind.

“We’ve got to get her out of there!” he shouted as he stood suddenly to his feet.

“We can’t,” said Willow in a subdued voice yet loud enough to be heard by all present. “The portal she opened is no longer on Earth.”

At his puzzled look, she continued, “Buffy knew that we would try to do whatever it took to open the door and pull her out of the In-Between. So she modified the spell she used to open the door in the first place so that it would be flung into space once the door was closed again. The combination of the Earth’s rotation about its axis and its movement around the Sun, the solar system’s movement around the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and the movement of the Galaxy through inter-galactic space means the door opens into outer space now. Since we don’t exactly where she was on Earth, or exactly when she did the spell, even if we had a spaceship to go looking for the door, there would be a lot of space we would need to search, assuming we could even detect the door’s whereabouts. That door is the only way in or out of the In-Between she created with the spell. Should any of the Evils get past her and out the door they will find themselves in inter-stellar space with no means of returning to Earth as they will not know which direction to go in, assuming they survive the vacuum and radiation.”

Xander hung his head as tears trickled down his checks to mirror the tears on everyone else’s.

“They won’t get out,” he said softly and sadly. “Like Lazarus, she’ll be fighting and defending that door for all eternity. The prophecy says so.”

Faith, Willow, and Dawn moved forward and hugged him at the same time. Giles came forward shortly after and joined in as well.

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Later that evening, Xander was sitting next to Joy’s crib watching his and Buffy’s daughter staring at the mobile of unicorns, flying horses, and butterflies that Buffy had gotten for her..

“Once upon a time there was the most stubborn, opinionated, exasperating, and hard to get along with girl in all the world. She was also the most caring, kind, compassionate, beautiful, and loving girl as well. She was you mother . . . . “

FIN

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The End

You have reached the end of "Always Yours". This story is complete.

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