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The Twisted Road Home

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Twisted Road". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Xander’s tired. Faith’s wounded. Willow has PTSD and Wesley’s a mess. It’s their job to rebuild the council. House may be Cordy and Giles’ only hope. What could possibly go wrong? (SEQUEL to Xander's New House)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > House, M.D. > Multiple Pairings
Television > Criminal Minds
Television > Quincy, M.E.
(Recent Donor)DeepBlueJoyFR1547195,4491537153,1729 May 118 Mar 14No

Nightmares, Daymares...

Disclaimer: I do not own House, Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Criminal Minds, Quincy or any other universe that may come along for the ride!
________

Thank you all for reading and recommending the first story, I do appreciate it. Yes, this is a sequel. If you haven't read Xander's New House, this probably won't make much sense.

WARNING: There are some dark chapters in this story (the Criminal Minds arc) This is a story about people and readjustment after war, so there is also that... That said, I promise: there will be joy and there will be laughter.

O.C. warning: there are a few significant original characters in this story. Sometimes the crossover universes are full of richness, but at times, I like to try to build characters too. I'd love to hear what you think of them. :-)

Thanks,

Blue

_______



It was all nightmares. The space that was Rupert Giles’ mind was all tangled up and twisting with writhing misery. The thoughts, fears and yes, the memories of a lifetime of hurt, war, loss and the random cruelties that befall all creatures who have lived over half a lifetime. Inside the box called memory, was the pain of childhood, the confusion of young adulthood, the almost belligerently determined certainty of his early days as a watcher – a certainty betrayed the moment that Buffy Summers had first bounced into the library of Sunnydale High, and all shred of which was completely gone after she had dived, swan-like from that tower.

The truth was that most of Giles’ nightmares that weren’t about Jenny’s death, Angel’s torture or some apocalyptic battle against the end of the world were about that moment of unutterable grace and horror, replayed in perfect inevitable clarity. Giles would have been screaming, except he was completely paralyzed.

Since Buffy had returned from death, however, Giles’ horror didn’t end with her dying. Not anymore. No, that would have been too easy. Easy, of course, being rather relative when you had horror upon horror locked within your mind, from which you couldn’t hope to escape. Her broken body. Her horrified friends. Dawn. Spike, whose palpable devastation had mirrored Giles’ own shattered internal landscape.

Those images should have been misery sufficient. However, Giles’ nightmare always continued now. He always felt her fear as if it were he within her padded silken prison. The cushion beneath him, calling him back to death’s comfort, the softness contrasting with the fact he could not move more than a few inches in any direction or see anything at all, though his mind knew the cloth to be flawless sparkling white, just as he had selected it for her.

He could feel the worms retreat, the flesh re-form, the first rasping breath as eyes opened to darkness so complete it he could feel its weight on his chest. Then he felt Buffy pound, felt himself pound against the wood until it gave. He couldn’t breathe. He was suffocating. His mind was telling him to be still and let the soil that was falling damply into the casket do its job and smother him. Then he was running through hell, through darkness familiar, because he had been dragged back from heaven. Then, inexplicably, the nightmare vanished like the vapor it was. He was in an alien but unexpectedly pleasant landscape. Two suns rose above the horizon, one fast, one slow.


______



Wesley ate breakfast on the balcony of his suite overlooking the beautiful pool and gardens below. He felt a little like a movie star, which was a very strange feeling. He’d grown up in an affluent family and attended the best schools; however, once he had been appointed as a very junior watcher, he’d had to watch every penny. His father hadn’t lifted a finger to help him in any way and Wesley was never going to ask. His pay at Wolfram and Hart had been substantial, but he’d never trusted the permanence of that arrangement, and he’d kept his simple apartment, putting most of his money into very safe investments.

He could, of course, have had accommodations at Wolfram and Hart like Angel, which would have been as lavish as he wished them to be, but he’d found the corporate suites to be so bland and soulless that the luxury appointments had not been sufficient enticement. After what had happened to Angel with Eve’s parasite, he’d been even more certain he had made the right choice.

Still, he couldn’t quite believe the suites the council had arranged for him after his last council accommodations in Sunnydale. The best thing that could have been said about that place was that it had been relatively clean. This, by contrast, was bigger than his apartment in LA. The accommodations somehow managed to be both utterly luxurious and quite understated.

He’d expected decent rooms at some clean-but-plain kind of extended stay establishment, especially in light of the very generous salary and benefits and the generous moving allowance – and the fact that all his moving arrangements had been completely ‘handled’. All he had to do was choose a house. It was gradually dawning on Wesley that he was now the equivalent of CEO of an international organization, and that his accommodations reflected this.

He wondered if the board usually traveled in this much style. Somehow, he doubted it. In fact, he knew that Xander had stayed in that very Spartan place near the hospital the last time he’d visited the area. He doubted their best rooms could compare with the worst rooms in this place. Now, of course, Xander was staying with House. At their insistence, Faith was staying with Marie’s family. Faith had tried to say no, but Marie’s mother had made it clear that she viewed Faith as family and she had refused to take no for an answer.

Wesley decided that was probably a good thing. Marie’s family desperately needed someone to dote on and Faith had been deeply scarred by the battle, probably more deeply than even she realized. She needed someone to dote on her, though she probably would never admit it to herself. Wesley hoped that it would take Faith some time to find a place, though on a board member’s salary, she certainly wouldn’t have trouble affording one.

Wesley was almost as worried about Faith’s state of mind as he was about Willow’s and he didn’t think either of them should be alone, but unfortunately, he wasn’t Giles, and he strongly doubted either of them would welcome advice from him. Willow was a large part of why he’d taken this job at all and he wasn’t sure just what that meant, why he cared about her wellbeing, when he barely cared about his own.

Willow, who was staying across the hall from him, but whom he’d only seen once in the forty-eight hours they’d been here – when Buffy, Dawn and Spike had arrived from London, and everyone had gone to visit Giles at the hospital last night. He suspected he would only see her today when it came time to go to the hospital tonight. He didn’t even know if she was in her room. With the power she’d developed, she could be in Scotland, or even on another plane, probably with just a thought.

Fortunately, tomorrow, they would have meetings and he would be able to assess everyone’s state of mind – and to start to plan just what they were going to do to get the council’s headquarters up and running. This meeting would involve Buffy and several other people he hadn’t met, most of whom were coming in from England or Cleveland. This would be his formal introduction as the new council head.

He realized he had no idea even what his formal title was going to be. If Giles kept his title – as he suspected would be the case – did that mean he would be Acting Director? It didn’t matter. For the foreseeable future, he was in charge of council operations. Unlike the previous council, this board was not made up of a bunch of old men. Most of them were people who had fought in the trenches in Sunnydale – and now LA as well.

Wesley was very grateful indeed, that his father was not among their number. Several retired watchers had been asked to return to the new council, though only a couple were actually on the board. Few, if any had been friends of Quentin Travers. Most in fact, had either resigned or been fired by him. His father, who had had the good fortune to retire only a month before the explosion that had taken out the council’s London offices, had been one of Travers’ closest friends. Wesley was quite surprised that his father and the few remaining Travers allies hadn’t attempted to circumvent Giles.

However, with thousands of slayers at his command, and the authority of having saved the planet from the gravest threat it had ever faced, even some of them had been won over. Few of the remainder had been willing to obstruct him. The couple who had been inclined to try, had found themselves facing Buffy, something from Xander’s description, Wesley dearly wished he had been present to see. Wesley’s mother had told of a few grumbles, but as far as Wesley knew, that was as far as it went. His father was apparently quite pleased to learn that Wesley had been appointed head of the council, though, perhaps unsurprisingly, he had yet to convey that particular sentiment to Wesley directly.

Harry and Joe had suggested he take a look at houses in their neighborhood. Cameron and Chase had both raved about the neighborhood, so he had decided to see what the fuss was all about. That would have to wait until later in the week, however. First they needed to make some decisions about just how large the council’s offices would be here, and what they would handle. They would need to decide whether to purchase a building and whether this building would include slayer-training facilities or whether it would simply be an administrative office that handled things like research and functioned much as the original council’s office had done. Since nothing he’d seen of the current council reminded him of the hidebound old boy’s club that his father had been a part of, he had absolutely no idea what to expect, or just what would be expected of him.

Buffy had informed him that he’d be responsible for continuing to develop their governmental and military liaisons, something that frankly scared him. The council had not been big on cooperation with anyone else; although they had contractual agreements to operate worldwide that went back into early history. Now he had to research and understand them, and get up to speed with just what Giles and the others had been putting in place, while doing the day-to-day work of taking care of the slayers, preventing apocalypses and anticipating the various other troubles they faced. Running an organization that catered to thousands of slayers, that employed hundreds of people on six continents was hardly the same as running Angel Investigations and that had often been quite a challenge. He had never actually run much of anything at Wolfram and Hart.

Even as CEO, Angel had actually run very little. Now he looked back on it, Wesley was beginning to realize just how little control any of them had had over any of it. Wolfram and Hart had been like an aircraft carrier that already had a preset destination. Angel had been at best, a temporary Captain – his job more ceremonial than practical. All the resources they’d had at their disposal had brought them little because they’d spent so much time trying to prevent Wolfram and Hart from simply doing what it had been designed to do. It had all been as useful as fingernails for digging out of a coffin of steel.

Now Wesley thought about it, he wondered just what it was that had led them to follow Angel off the cliff and sign those contracts. In retrospect, Angel’s motivation to save Connor was really the only one that had made any sense at all. They had fought a costly battle against Jasmine, and lost so much that year. Then a deadly enemy had offered them the appearance of succor. Perhaps it had been that weariness, that brokenness, which had led them into such an obvious trap.


______



Willow still couldn’t believe she was here. Here, in New Jersey. Here, so near to Princeton. Here, still a part of the council. She was still experiencing aftershocks. Some might even call it PTSD. Aftershocks of the battle, the spell, and of course, of that night, that fight. Pulling on her darkest magics and drawing them to the surface where they had almost overwhelmed her. Deceiving Vail. Seducing Vail.

That whole train of thought made her nauseous. The sickening thoughts never left her for long. The smell. The sensation. The feel of touching Vail’s cool papyrus dry skin. The spray of blood and bone on her face when Wesley shot him. The unmentionable things that had splattered them both still made her skin crawl even after they’d been removed. She had no regrets, however. She would do it again without hesitation, even knowing what she knew now. How much it had taken. How little she had left inside. Might ever have again.

She’d known it had to be done after her time inside his head, though she hadn’t known exactly how. She’d seen darkness that made her own darkness look pale gray by comparison. The only things that had stopped Vail from destroying the world were his fellow Black Thorns and the surprising fact that Willow was only beginning to absorb, that on his own, he simply hadn’t been as powerful as she was beginning to understand herself to be.

What Vail had learned in those centuries of existence – long life partly due to his species of demon, and partly due to his use of very dark magics – was how to combine his power with other wizards to control and manipulate reality until, Willow realized; he had altered the course of historic events in many destructive and tragic ways. What he had never had was the raw power she herself now understood she possessed. Power that could well be greater than any that had existed in one human being in the course of history.

For the first time, Willow truly understood just why Giles and Tara had been so concerned about the way she had used her magics, just how close to the edge she had walked. In Vail, she had seen and felt just how tempting power was, just how far down that temptation could take you, and simultaneously, just how devastating it could be, especially, but not exclusively for those on the receiving end. Vail had once been a demon of a peaceful race, one who might have even passed as human before he had begun to delve into the darkest recesses of magical power. He had slowly lost his conscience, his soul and finally all vestige of heart.

This had taken less than thirty years of dark magic. In those thirty years, he had gone from looking human to all but the most discerning eye, to being a completely malign creature who could only be described as grotesque, even to the molecular level. The magics had warped him until his own family scarcely recognized him. Vail had soon lost patience in their warnings and pleadings. He had killed them, stealing their life forces for himself, absorbing and twisting their magics, and losing every vestige of feeling.

Once he had reached that point, he had been drawn into the service of the partners, eventually clawing himself a place at the table as a member of the Black Thorn. In time, he would become the most powerful member of the Thorn, the one they all depended on. The one they all feared. Still, he had worked on behalf of the Partners because of all the power they commanded, though it was clear to Willow, he had wanted not just to be their favorite soldier, but to be their master – to be the master of all.

That was why she had known exactly how to tempt him. She had known the one thing he wanted more than all. The one thing that would be so seductive; he would become reckless and let his guard down. She had offered him two things a creature like him could not resist. Two things more seductive than anything else. Total power and the promise of fleshly pleasure unbound.

With their combined power, he could have had – they could have had – the earth and even dimensions at their feet – they might even have rivaled the Partners in destructive power. They certainly would have been beyond the partner’s control. As far as Vail had seen – and therefore shown her – and from everything Willow knew; he had been right. There was only one creature with more power than theirs. The Key. Other than secrecy, it was the main reason no evil force had ever sought The Key before Glory.

Glory, Willow realized, had been completely insane. Delusional and stupid. When The Key power was harnessed, it had the capacity to open or shut down every dimensional gate, to alter the direction of the universe. It was an instrument of creation. Only someone as reckless as Glory could consider using it to go home, to destroy everything to get there.

The truth was, Glory could never have succeeded in getting home, though she would very likely have destroyed many, if not most realities, unless The Key had somehow regained sentience within Dawn and she had managed to stop it at the last moment. The monks, had they lived long enough to complete their work, had likely intended for Dawn to learn to recognize and use her power, or for Buffy to understand its true purpose, but unfortunately, they had been murdered by Glory before they had finished their work.

Willow now understood that it had been their ignorance – together with Dawn’s youth, that had allowed Glory to use The Key the way she had. Had the old council been more helpful, that might never have happened. Now, fortunately, Dawn had applied her will to closing the rift in reality, and she was beginning to tap into her power and comprehend just what she was. It was unlikely anyone could ever use her power that way again.

Willow was truly grateful that Dawn, rather than she, was The Key. Willow suspected whoever had placed the essence of The Key into human form, had either chosen someone who wouldn’t be corrupted by having that much power, or that somehow, despite having that much power – including so much knowledge – served to make her incorruptible. Perhaps it was simply inherent in her ‘Keyness’.

Dawn was far from perfect, but even from the little Willow had seen of her since that night, she could tell Dawn was essentially unchanged by the whole universe level magical power thing. She had gained an understanding of what she could do, and she was beginning to figure out a bit more about just what that meant for civilization, but though she had a little bit more confidence, and a little more seriousness about her role in the world, it wasn’t going to her head.

Willow herself could never have been trusted with that much power. In the service of the Partners, Vail had destroyed so much. She herself could have destroyed everything had she allowed herself to go further along the path she had been traveling. Even now, a part of her wanted to go back and alter the history Vail had warped, to ‘make it right’, but she realized that what was done was done. Changing things back would have been as much of an abuse of power as the things Vail had changed. Even if it hadn’t been an abuse of power, she couldn’t know how it ‘should have’ turned out, even if she’d had the power, or Vail’s authority over dozens or at times, hundreds of powerful wizards and witches. It would, however, have been a gross misuse of power, no matter how good her intent. That was part of the power of the truth magics inside her.

Now, Willow was, she realized, wiser than she had ever been, her understanding of her power, and the need for it to have limits was clearer than ever before. Nuclear power was powerful too, but inherent in its very power were some of its most serious limitations. Unfortunately, the two people who she most wanted to tell weren’t here to talk to, not now, maybe not ever. Now she knew what she knew, she also knew she could never attempt to use her power to bring either of them back, no matter how much she wanted to. No matter that in accessing her magics to open up the slayer line, and by participating in the key magic, her own power had been even more fully actualized. Raw power had its place. Raw power, however, was not total power and that was a very good thing.

Unlike Vail, Willow now understood that no matter how much it hurt, how many they lost, hers was not the power over life and death. She could prevent death. She could prevent injury. She could even help save the world. She could not, however, create life, recreate life, or do more than help the human body do what it was designed to do just a bit more rapidly. Just as magics helped slayers heal faster, she could make herself heal faster or make others heal faster – but she couldn’t actually heal anyone with her own magics. She couldn’t truly heal, because true healing required that same spark of creation and that was not hers to wield – not unless she wanted to dance with the darkness the way she had with Buffy.

Still, as wise as she was, Willow was disconsolate. Rarely had she felt so utterly separate from everyone else. Rarely had she seen in herself and felt in herself so much darkness. Human darkness, not magical darkness. Unlike her grief fueled rage with Warren and the pure insanity that led her to suck the power from Rack, killing Vail had been a cold blooded, deliberate act. Something that made her feel like a murderer in a way that was very different from what she had felt with Warren. For one thing, she didn’t regret it. For another, she knew without a doubt that faced with the same choice, she would do it again. Somehow, that made her different.

Maybe soldiers felt this way. Maybe Buffy felt this way. Maybe this was what she had felt when she killed Angel. Except, of course, Buffy had loved Angel. No wonder Buffy had changed so much after that. She was now not just a killer but an assassin. Someone who had and would kill in cold blood. That was a different kind of power. A power she really regretted knowing herself capable of wielding. She supposed it made her a soldier, that it was right. Why then did it feel so wrong, so bad, so ugly?

Willow had been virtually a pacifist before any of this – before meeting Buffy, before learning the truth about the world. Even as she had helped Buffy so many times, her spells had been primarily non-destructive – reensouling spells, locator spells, even the huge empowerment spell. She had helped the fight, often to great effect, but she hadn’t really fought the fight, not intimately or personally. Other than the odd vampire, the closest she had come to hurting anyone had been the fight against Glory, and even that hadn’t felt quite so premeditated because first she’d been angry at Glory for hurting Tara, then she’d been fighting for her life. Willow had also known she really couldn’t kill Glory, no matter how hard she had gone after her.

Killing vampires hadn’t really felt like killing either, something that she now realized had been complete denial. Now she was grieving Angel and now she saw how happy Spike was making Buffy, she realized that she couldn’t afford to minimize any of it, but she’d done just that for years. Now she was a cold-blooded killer and she felt guilty that she didn’t feel guilty. That was part of what was making her sick inside. That and the pictures inside her head. Now she was a real soldier, just like the rest of her friends and she was just going to have to deal with it.


______



Why? Faith asked herself this question every day. Why was she here? Why had she lived when Marie died? Why had she lived when she was now completely useless? Why, when Marie had a future, family who loved her, a good, clean heart, reasons to live, was worthy to live? Why?

Faith wondered again how she’d allowed herself to be talked into coming to a place like New Jersey. She really didn’t need to wonder too much because it really all came down to a conversation she’d had with that bitch, Cordelia Chase. Speaking through that snarky bastard of a doctor. The truth is she liked them both well enough. They were her kind of crazy and their combined abundance of attitude had actually made her smile for the first time in those last days at the Hyperion, when she had felt like putting a gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger every moment. Even more than she did now. That was why she’d allowed them to talk her into it. She was just mad at them right now, because she’d just finished another session with her shrink – sessions that had begun even before they had left the Hyperion, thanks to Buffy, Dawn and Xander. It had been House, at the urging of Cameron and Cordelia; however, who had recommended Dr. Joe.

Faith had known as soon as she’d seen Robin again in LA, that she couldn’t face him every day, couldn’t go back to Cleveland, back to the constant tug of war of trying to work out their ‘issues’. She was useless anyway, but the look in his eyes… the haunted look… the frightened little boy who didn’t want to lose his mother… and couldn’t deal with the reality of her injury.

At least, that’s what Faith saw. At first, she’d thought he was disgusted, but he wasn’t. He didn’t care, wouldn’t have cared if she were in a wheelchair. He really did love her. That almost made it harder. No, what ate at her was the way he looked at her when he thought she wasn’t looking. Faith could almost feel him counting the days… counting the ways she could die. How he could lose her. He’d never ask her to give up slaying. He knew it was impossible anyway, but even if it had been, he simply wasn’t that kind of guy.

That’s what she had come to love about him. Even with the PhD, and the watcher level training he’d gotten from Bernard Crowley, he never treated her as an inferior. He had more education and culture coming out his ass than she could ever hope to absorb if she went to school for it. Despite his ‘hip’ appearance, he was a lot like Giles, completely in love with learning and discovering the world – not just the supernatural and the ancient world, but everything… In one year, she’d learned more about politics and law, and comparative religion – even black history – both American and Afro Caribbean than she had ever expected to know.

Nikki’s family had been from Barbados, and Bernard had made a point to take Robin back there every holiday he could while he was growing up, so Robin could know his extended family. Faith had developed interests in all sorts of things she’d never even heard about before Robin. She’d discovered horseback riding and found she had a passion for horses, and she’d learned to love public radio, though she’d never admit either thing to anyone but Robin, she never missed that show Marketplace either…. She knew who was on the Supreme Court and even which ones she agreed with, and who she thought was a total dweeb. Faith was well on her way to becoming knowledgeable about the state of the world, and she didn’t even find it remarkable any more.

Robin, of course, was an imperfect human being like everyone else. He was stubborn and he had a complete blind spot where Spike was concerned – something that was understandable, given the circumstances. Of course, Faith and Spike had had their issues, and she didn’t have Buffy’s attachment to him, but her feelings for vampires were a lot more nuanced than Robin’s because of her friendship with Angel and everything he’d done to help her aim for something more than being a super powered thug.

Even so, if she were honest, the only reason she and Robin had had any real problems was her own massive insecurity. Maybe they could have worked through it in time, but that was before. As brazen as she was, and aggressive as she could be, especially with men, she was really an innocent compared to him. She’d slept with too many men to count; he’d been with, shockingly to Faith, only five women. He remained friends with all but one of them. Faith had been stunned to discover that he knew more about sex than she did, despite her history – and he’d taught her a lot more than just technique. He’d taught her what it felt like to be treasured by a lover, something that she’d never dreamed actually existed, and which it had taken her a while to believe in or to trust – there was probably still a part of her that didn’t believe, couldn’t believe.

The truth was, Robin knew more about almost everything than she did – and that had terrified her. Even though Robin had never lorded it over her, Faith felt inadequate. When she’d met Bernard and some of Robin’s very erudite Yale and Stanford friends for the first time, she could feel them judging her – at least she was sure they were judging her. She’d made stupid grammatical errors, and even though she’d tried not to cuss, she’d still cussed more than all of them put together, and by the end of the evening, when they’d returned to their hotel, she’d been so mortified, she’d locked herself in the bathroom, and cried until the hot water threatened to turn her into a prune. Robin had held her once she finally emerged, trying to reassure her. She simply didn’t measure up; she didn’t get why he didn’t feel that way too.

Now, he wanted to comfort her and she wanted to be comforted… but she just couldn’t do that to him. She was broken and she had never been enough in the first place. That was why when Cordelia had suggested that she come to New Jersey and help set up the council’s new branch, she’d agreed. Cordelia hadn’t been the first to suggest it, of course, but Faith had been too sullen and angry to listen to any of the scoobies. She wouldn’t let herself talk about any of what she was going through with Robin either. Somehow, however, Cordelia had cut through the bullshit just enough to give her the clarity to realize that giving up wasn’t anything more than cowardice, and that perhaps, even if her arm never worked 100%, maybe, just maybe, she had something to offer.

There was rehab here. There was no hellmouth here. It was a good fit, as Buffy had pointed out. Wesley needed her help. Willow needed her help. Xander would be here. There were young slayers who needed assistance in the extended area, and even as gimpy as she was, she could still fight in a pinch. She’d saved at least a couple lives after her injury and surgery, even though her bandages had been soaked with blood by the end of the fight.

No, the real reason she was upset about being in New Jersey today was Joe. Dr. Joe was really quite annoying. He wasn’t like any psychologist or psychiatrist Faith had ever encountered. He saw right through her. Right through the BS and right through the fear. Even the standard mental health questions seemed different coming from him. When he asked a question, she could tell he really wanted to hear her answer. Even in her short stay in the penitentiary, she’d encountered more than a few mental health professionals. Most of them were too jaded and burned-out to listen. None of them had any knowledge of the supernatural.

None of them looked like some kind of Nubian warrior, either. Damn, but she’d hit that! Of course, Joe looked at her with the kindly gaze of a father or older brother, and talked to her like an equal. The only time he ever looked at a woman with anything but a sisterly gaze was when Harry was in the room, damn, but those two had some serious chemistry. Faith had discovered that she had a ‘thing’ for well-built ‘brothers’.

It was a testament to how much she’d changed in just one year; it never even occurred to Faith to hit on Joe, despite the fact she couldn’t fail to notice that he was ‘fine’. Joe for his part wanted nothing from her but that she get well. He managed to annoy her very effectively at each session, but very quickly, it became clear that it was an effective strategy, because she found herself telling him things she’d never admitted to another human being.



Xander was walking along the edge of the rim of the crater that had once been Sunnydale. It was sunset. There was something about the sunset that threatened the sinister. The hole seemed to darken prematurely, as if the evil within sucked the last vestiges of sunlight, hungrily consuming any warmth. The sun seemed to be going down fast and Xander felt his heartbeat quicken. His breath was coming faster too. It was getting dark now. He could hear them… no, he could hear… He could hear the cries… his father’s anguish… Not Greg, but Anthony Harris.

Suddenly, he could see the man who raised him… Anthony Harris was trying and failing to claw himself from the swirling mass that was at the core of the crater… in the depth… instead of blue water, the setting sun had turned the water to blood. As wide as the crater was, and as deep as the center of it appeared, Xander could see everything. One blood red hand flung up in desperation. Moans of agony. Xander felt oddly dispassionate.

The face that appeared was horribly twisted. It was tortured. The man he’d feared so long was being sucked into a bloody grave and there was nothing Xander could do. Would he help if he could? Xander grimaced. Why was he here anyway? He couldn’t remember. Surely, there was a reason he was back? It had been so long. His father couldn’t have survived this long, could he? The vampires… they were all gone… right?

Then as he watched, helpless and conflicted, the face changed. Then he was right beside his father and yet, still standing on solid ground. Then his father was looking up at him, and Xander extended his hand. He’d saved plenty of strangers, and as disgusting as Anthony was, he was still – well not blood, but still family. He couldn’t reach. Then the voice cried out to him.

“Bloody hell, boy can’t you do better than that?” But though the words almost mirrored his father’s, the voice was… Giles’.

“Giles!”

“What took you so long?” asked Giles’ voice, straining to reach Xander’s hand.

Now Xander was lying on the cold ground, and fear gripped him. Their fingers touched then his father swirled away again… The whirling pool of blood was beginning to rotate like the inside of a hurricane… and the wind was cutting through Xander’s light summer cotton. He reached further. The face that looked up at him was no longer Anthony’s. The eyes were piercing… electric orbs. Was this a demon? Xander hesitated for a second, and suddenly, he seemed to recede from the vast pool. The face that was slowly diminishing was Giles!

“Giles! Oh god, no!”

Giles was sinking. Only his hand was above the surface still, a blood red hand stretching toward him, far out of reach. Xander was screaming. Then House was shaking him awake.

“Xander!” said House softly. “Xander!”

“Greg?”

“You had a nightmare,” said House.

“Yeah,” said Xander.

“You OK?”

“Yeah… No, not really.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Not really,” said Xander.

House had no idea what to do for adult children with nightmares.

“You want to watch TV or try to go back to sleep?”

“TV. Definitely TV,” said Xander. “No way am I going to fall asleep anytime soon… and I really don’t want to… when dreams get all hellmouthy like that, I’m glad I’m not a slayer.”

“Why? Oh you mean… slayer dreams,” said House. “You think this dream might mean something?”

“Really hope not. Probably just means I’m worried about Giles and I have daddy issues.”

“Musta been some dream,” said House, deciding not to think too hard about the ‘daddy issues’ portion of the sentence.

Xander grimaced. Briefly, he told House the bare bones version of his dream. Xander was expecting a snappy, snarky remark, but House just looked at him, his expression pensive.

“I’m not surprised you’re worried about Giles, Xander. He’s been unconscious more than a week, and we’re no closer to a solution. It must be disheartening. If I had your life, I’d have nightmares every night, even without Giles’ situation.”

House didn’t tell Xander he’d been having nightmares of his own almost every night since the battle in LA. He just didn’t wake up screaming, at least not yet.

“Well, Greg, if I had nightmares ‘bout everything I’d ever seen, I’d never sleep,” said Xander, shrugging. “I’m happy to leave them to Buffy and company – even though that usually means we’ve got an apocalypse to stop.”

“That’s quite a trade off for not having nightmares!”

“Well, it’s not like there wouldn’t be apocalypses if they didn’t have the dreams. We just wouldn’t have a heads up. Buffy isn’t the most sensitive to the dreams… we had plenty of bad stuff go down without her getting a warning… some of the new slayers… They’re ‘wicked accurate’, to quote Faith.”

“So Buffy’s not better at everything?”

“Well, she’s definitely the strongest physically, though that might be partly due to how long she’s been active. Since we have more slayers, we’re figuring out that slayers do have different strengths. One of Buffy’s biggest strengths is her ability to draw the right people to the situation and to find innovative solutions… Faith is extremely sensitive to people… If something is off or different about someone, she’s the first one to pick it up…”

“You don’t think that’s just street smarts?”

“No, it’s more than that. We’ve got other slayers from rough backgrounds and they’re nowhere as perceptive. Who knows where the talents come from, Greg? I’m just glad it’s all of us against the bastards these days.”

“You’re not wrong,” said House. “What if you’d only had two slayers in LA?”

“We’d have killed the Black Thorn, and died in the alley.”

“You didn’t even miss a beat.”

“We shouldn’t have won that battle, Greg. We had just enough. The slayers. The Key. The F-16s…”

“Not to mention all your weapons.”

“If I hadn’t thought of that, someone else would have.”

“Stop doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Minimizing what you do,” said House.

“I’m not. I’m cool with my contribution, Greg. I used to have issues… but I really don’t any more. I’ve done my share and if I had any doubts, Dawn and Buffy and Wil? They never let me forget it.”

“Good,” said House. “Didn’t really get the impression there was a lot of thanks going around.”

“We’re getting better,” said Xander, shrugging.

House’s alarm started to go off.

“Shit, I kept you up,” said Xander.

“No problem, Xander. Get a lot less sleep than this sometimes,” said House.
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