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A Black Prometheus Reborn

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Legacy Of Kane". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The effects of their Halloween costumes are following the Scoobies even after that dark night is over.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > General > Theme: HalloweenGreywizardFR18212,20733310,0067 Dec 117 Dec 11No

Chapter One

Disclaimer: All of the really good characters belong to Mutant Enemy and Crack-Head Joss Whedon, although he doesn't deserve any of them, considering the way he's destroyed them over the past couple years. Kane belongs to The Karl Eric Wagner Literary Group and Night Shade Books. Xena, Warrior Princess belongs to John Schulian and Robert G. Tapert, I believe. Dwayne Hicks belongs to Dan O'Bannion. Darth Maul belongs to George Lucas. 'Enchanted' is my brain child and Monica belongs to me. I'm just borrowing all of the characters for a while. There is no intent to profit from this. Only the story is mine.

Time Frame: Goes AU after the second season episode 6, "Halloween," and follows immediately after my story, 'Marked By Kane.'

Spoilers: None really, if you've watched anything past the middle of second season.

Character Bashing: None. However, some characters will definitely be acting in a non-canon way, so don't immediately assume I just screwed up, okay? That's why it's marked as AU.

Feedback: Of course! Constructive criticism will be greatly appreciated. Flamers will be added to the lists of those to be painfully exterminated, once I attain my rightful position as King of the World. Yeah, you just wait and see if I'm kidding.

Author’s Note 1: Many thanks to Bill Haden and Theo (Starway_Man) for beta-ing this story.

Author’s Note 2: As usual, “word” indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

Author's Note 3: Okay, First off, for those who think the first chapter seems familiar, it is. I deleted the second chapter of 'Marked By Kane' and am using it as the first chapter of this story, since I feel it's better suited to show the results and ramifications of the effects the Halloween costumes have had on the Scoobies and various other students subsequent to Halloween.

Author's Note 4: The second chapter is Fic #7 in my Christmas Challenge Fic-A-Thon.

~~~

Chapter 1


Harris residence
Late afternoon on the fourth day following the 'Halloween Event'


"Xander, we're all worried about you."

The speaker, Buffy Summers, was sitting in the immaculately clean living room of the house that now belonged to the youth who had brought her back to life the previous May. The Slayer was dressed in a demure black dress, like the two other young women seated in the room with her, Willow Rosenberg and Cordelia Chase, and clearly had been designated as the speaker for the three of them.

An observer familiar with the interpersonal history of the other two women in the room would have been astonished to see that both of the girls were not only *not* exchanging vicious glances and barbed comments with each other, but were actually acting civilly and considerately towards each other, their faces unmistakably full of concern and worry that was being directed towards the taciturn and uncharacteristically quiet young man who occupied the fourth seat in the room.

That same observer would also have been astounded to see the changes that the young man had undergone. Whereas only a few days previously, the youth known as Xander Harris had possessed dark chocolate brown eyes, dark brown, almost black hair and a lean and moderately muscular physique, the young man who now answered to that name had undergone significant changes to his appearance.

The formerly chocolate brown eyes had turned a piercing, almost luminous blue in color, his skin was a deep golden-bronze and his hair now gleamed with a reddish-auburn hue, while his formerly lean frame had somehow acquired some three inches in height and approximately fifty pounds of hard, clearly defined muscle mass, transforming the youth into a clearly formidable and daunting individual. And like the young women, he, too, was dressed in black, wearing a well-cut suit, pale blue shirt and a subdued, but quietly festive multi-colored Jerry Garcia tie.

But the most significant difference from the formerly joking, self-proclaimed class clown was the now ever-present look of awareness and evaluation in his glacial eyes, an expression that could instantly send a shiver of fear down the spines of those the young man took a dislike to. An expression that could effortlessly convey an aura of menace and the impending likelihood of serious injury to the recipient of that gaze.

The ice-blue eyes that turned towards the seemingly fragile and delicate blonde held none of that menace, though, but were instead filled with what might be identified as curiosity and modest amusement, as though he found the girl's statement entertaining for some as-yet-unidentified reason.

"Why is that, Buff?" he asked quietly, the corners of his mouth turning upwards the slightest bit as he looked at the beautiful blonde.

"You're too calm about everything that's happened, Xand," she immediately replied, leaning slightly forward towards him, her eyes visibly conveying the anxiety and concern she and the other two girls were feeling toward him.

"You just finished burying your parents this morning and you're acting like it's not bothering you the slightest bit," she added.

"You haven't cried or spazzed out even once in the past three days, Xander, and we're worried that you're repressing about everything that's happened," Cordelia joined in to elaborate their concerns, the faintest hint of an Irish accent coloring her words. "We're not trying to Doctor Phil you or anything, but we are worried about you. That's not healthy and we're all afraid that you're gonna lose it some time when we're not here to help.

"You dweeb," she added that last with the smallest hint of a smile, making everyone present grin as her characteristic 'Queen C' persona manifested for the briefest instant.

The youth's eyes shifted to the last young woman present as Cordelia finished speaking, his newly-recolored eyes holding both satisfaction and the slightest hint of gratified surprise as he looked at her.

Willow shifted uncomfortably under that gaze for a moment before visibly straightening and opening her mouth.

"It wasn't my story to tell, Xand," she answered the clearly unspoken question the other two women realized had been asked. "But I was really worried about you, too.

"I saw how Detective Stein was watching you when he showed up to talk to you at the funeral home the other day," she noted with a frown of displeasure at the detective's tactless and insensitive behavior. "I'm pretty sure he'd like to tie you into what happened, if he could come up with any half-way plausible way to do it."

"Especially considering the way your parents died."

Seeing the puzzled looks on both Buffy and Cordelia's faces at the two childhood friends' enigmatic conversation, Xander took pity on them and began to explain.

"Stein wants to find some way to blame me for my parents' deaths," he informed his friends in a matter-of-fact manner, "because he knows all about the way they treated me while I was growing up. Not that it ever stopped him from being drinking buddies with dear old dad."

Seeing the growing suspicion and horror that his words had engendered in the two formerly unaware girls, he went on.

"Despite what the reverend was saying earlier this morning, guys, Tony Harris was a total and unmitigated bastard, without any redeeming qualities, whatsoever," Xander said. "He was a completely self-centered prick, who didn't have the slightest interest in his family or other people, except insofar as how it might possibly benefit him. The fact that he could be completely charming if and when circumstances required it was yet another endearing aspect of his personality.

"When you combine those qualities with a truly incredible capacity for alcohol and an equally wide vicious streak, you end with the male donor of half of my original genetic material," he noted with a completely blank expression on his face. Moving on before either one of the clearly horrified girls could say anything, the male Scooby continued his explanation.

"About the nicest thing I can tell you about my mother was that she never beat me," he said, still wearing that same blank expression. "Of course, for her to have beaten me, she'd have to have noticed me, first, and for that to have happened, she'd have had to sober up enough to realize, first, that I was around and second, who I actually was.

"I figured out when I was about seven that pretty much the only reason they kept me around was because that was the only way they could keep the money coming in from Grandpop Lavelle," he went on. "Good old Grandpop was your original self-made man; worked his way up from an impoverished, immigrant Irishman who arrived in America with everything he owned in the bag he carried with him to the head of a major inter-state transportation company, which he eventually sold for a very, very large chunk of change, once he realized that the tramp of a daughter he had treated like a princess since the day she was born wasn't interested in the slightest in doing anything other than drinking, popping her prescription pills and screwing any guy she found the slightest bit interesting. Once she met good old dad, she probably realized that she had found her soul mate: someone just as shallow, self-centered, small-minded and useless as she was.

"The only reason the two of them ever got married was because once she got pregnant with me, Grandpop insisted on it," Xander expanded on his never-before mentioned family history. "His righteous Irish-Catholic upbringing wouldn't stand for anything else, and most especially wouldn't even consider an abortion, which I was continually reminded was my parents' first choice as I was growing up.

"He died of cancer when I was nine, but Tony and Jessica didn't inherit a single cent," he informed his all three of his entranced listeners with a grin of obvious satisfaction; from the way Willow, too, was hanging onto his every word, it appeared even she hadn't know this much detail of her childhood friend's life. "Grandpop had put all of his assets into a trust fund that provided them with a weekly allowance sufficient to let them follow their preferred lifestyles, and gave me enough weekly spending money to let me eat and get by, 'cause God knows they'd never bother to feed me.

"Once they didn't have to worry about Grandpop seeing the bruises, Tony started taking out his frustrations with life on me in a more than verbal way," the dark-auburn-haired youth stated dispassionately, drawing both tears of sorrow and growls of anger from his audience.

"I'd been to Sunnydale General's ER fifty-seven times even before I started helping you out with the Slaying, Buff," he casually mentioned to a shocked and appalled Slayer. "That's how come I knew most of the nurses by name."

"Oh merciful God," the blonde half-whispered as she stared at her friend in a combination of horror, dismay and sadness, an expression that seemed to have carried over from her brief time as Maria. The thought briefly passed through her mind of the many times she had lamented what she had considered the unfairness and inequalities of life that she had had to endure and she reflexively whispered a brief prayer of thanks for her life, even as it was now.

"Now, given that background, the fact that I am the sole heir to what is an admittedly very large financial legacy, and the sudden, simultaneous demise of both my parents under what might be considered unusual circumstances, is it any wonder Stein would love to pin their deaths on me?" he asked, in an obviously rhetorical manner.

"And I guess now you can understand why it is that I'm not all that broken up about the fact that I'm never going to see them again," he finished up his family history.

It was only a matter of seconds before the sole surviving member of the Harris family found himself buried under a trio of teary-eyed women, all of them offering him their apologies and condolences for what he had undergone as a child and their fervent vows to be available to him now, should he need help or support in any manner.

***

As he pulled his (now deceased) father's Infiniti Q45 into the driveway after delivering all three girls back to their homes, Xander reflected on just how much his life had changed for the better in the last few days.

As a result of his parents' demise, the legal paperwork was already underway to declare him an emancipated minor, a move that would allow him to more easily manage his own affairs now that he was in a position to do so. And the monies that would soon be available to him from his familial inheritance, along with the proceeds from the life insurance policies that he'd discovered each of his parents had taken out on their unsuspecting respective spouse, would provide him with more than sufficient funding to establish the financial empire he'd realized that he'd soon need if he was going to be able to protect his girls the way he had decided would be necessary.

It had also somehow come as absolutely no surprise to find out that his parents had taken out a extremely large term policy on him the previous year, shortly after he had first found out about the night life here in town and had first made some strong 'suggestions' to both of them about taking precautions when going out on the town at night. After all, the fact that nothing had happened previously during their years of late night partying gave no guarantee for the future. The realization that his parents were looking to gain a small fortune upon his death made their increased absence in his life much easier to deal with. Somehow, he didn't think that they had intended to use the money to build a lasting monument to their only child.

In a way, his finding out about the insurance policy eased the memories he had of what Kane had orchestrated during his relatively short period of possession.

Kane would have been the first to admit that he was as far from the concept of a crusader or champion as you could get, but even the red-haired warrior had possessed certain principles and beliefs that he adhered to, and to which he reacted quite forcefully when confronted with such blatant violations of those convictions.

Primary among those rules was the unyielding conviction that children should be guarded and protected from harm, an ideal no doubt based, at least in part, on Kane's personal reaction to his creator's overly harsh response to his creations' rejection of his rules and precepts of behavior, and the creator's brutal punishment of Kane himself.

Whatever the reason for its origin, Kane's fervent belief that children should be protected to the maximum possible extent was what had ignited the mythic warrior's legendary rage towards his host's parents once he had reviewed the adolescent's memories upon taking possession of his body.

Taking a few brief moments to detour to the Harris residence, the redheaded icon of violence had used only the least bit of his vast magical knowledge to curse Jessica Harris to an endless thirst for the alcohol she had so relentlessly consumed during her son's early life, and which had rendered her even less capable of acting as a mother than she could normally have been. That had been the basis for the coroner's diagnosis of extreme alcohol poisoning as the cause of her death.

As for Tony, Kane had smiled mercilessly as he had returned, with interest, every blow the man had inflicted on his son during the course of his elementary and middle school life, not even deigning to explain to the brutally beaten, slowly dying man the reason for his punishment. He merely smiled as the self-centered, normally drunken, worthless child abuser died in exquisite pain and misery at the ersatz hands of his victim.

Given the couple's widely known history of verbally abusive behavior towards each other, the discovery of Tony's broken body lying in the kitchen close to the comatose body of his wife with a blood-splattered baseball bat covered with Jessica Harris' bloody handprints on the floor near her feet had provided even the usually inept Sunnydale police force with more than sufficient evidence to rule the two deaths a murder and an accidental death by alcohol poisoning subsequent to the murder.

He admitted he still had mixed feelings about his possessor's handling of his familial situation, but he also admitted to himself that he really hadn't felt the overwhelming horror and grief that might be normally expected in such circumstances. His parents had been emotionally, and in the case of his father, physically, abusive towards him for far too many years for him to really regret their absence in his life.

At the same time, he was feeling a bit uncertain and not completely sure about just exactly how he was going to navigate the new arrived allegorical waters of his life.

Although the bequest the fiery-haired and -dispositioned warrior had arranged to provide him before departing once and for all would most certainly go a long ways towards assuring he accomplished everything he intended, he decided with a small smile.

The next few days were undoubtedly going to prove very interesting.

~~~

Sunnydale High School
The library


"Hey, Buffy, how're you doing? Is everything okay this morning?" Willow asked curiously as she found her friend already inside the school library, even before classes began, when she showed up the third morning after Xander's parents' funerals.

"Yeah, Will, everything's fine," the Slayer replied, not noticing the restrained look of surprise on the hacker's face at discovering her classmate standing back among the stacks with several clearly weighty texts cradled in her left arm.

"What've you got there?" the redhead asked, her curiosity triggered at the seemingly incongruous sight before her.

"'Euclid's Elements,' 'Convergence of Stochastic Processes,' and 'A Course in Universal Algebra,'" the petite blonde read off the titles of the textbooks she was currently holding.

"What're you doing with them? They're all third and fourth year advanced texts," Willow noted, looking at her friend with mixed doubt and amazement.

"Well, I finished reading through this year's text last night before I went to bed and it seemed so simple, I wanted to find something a little more challenging," Buffy explained absently as her eyes continued to scan the shelves before her.

"Uh, you finished our math text last night, and you thought it was simple?" the redhead repeated in disbelief.

"Yeah," the blonde affirmed, a preoccupied expression on her face as she pulled yet another book from its position on the shelf.

"The Geometry and Topology of Three-Manifolds?" Willow noted the title incredulously, before looking up at her friend.

"Is this some kind of joke or something, Buffy?" she demanded, her forehead wrinkling in puzzlement.

"Uh, what do you mean, Will?" Buffy asked as she turned to look at the other girl. "Is what a joke?"

"This stuff," the Scooby's senior resident researcher replied, indicating the texts Buffy was holding. "All these math books…Are you using them for some kind of joke on Giles or something?"

"Uh-uh. I was gonna take them home to read tonight, before I go on patrol," Buffy shook her head in negation as she elaborated.

"Oh-kay. Who are you, really?"

"Are you feeling okay, Will? 'Cause you're starting to act kinda strange."

"*Me* act strange?" The redhead's somewhat piercing response to Buffy's comment didn't shatter any windows.

Not quite, anyway.

"*You're* the one acting strange, Buffy!" Willow declared quite emphatically, bringing an expression of surprise and indignation to the blonde's face. "Pretending like you really read our math text last night, and then saying you're getting these books out to study like you're really interested in learning more math! *That's* what's strange!"

"What do you mean, 'pretending like I really read our math text'?" Buffy demanded indignantly, her eyes narrowing with annoyance at the redhead's condescending attitude. "Why would you think that I didn't read it?

"Or are you implying that I wouldn't understand it, even if I could read it?" she added, a bit heatedly.

"Well, it's not like you've ever really spent a lot of time on your studies before this, Buff," the hacker replied a bit snidely. "Any extra time you've had available has usually been spent drooling over Angel."

"Is there something wrong, Buffy? Willow?" Giles asked as he entered the library, a dark leather valise in his hand.

"No, everything's fine, Giles," Buffy shook her head, not wanting to discuss the source of her and Willow's disagreement at the moment. Especially with her Watcher. She also decided against mentioning that she'd just finished testing out of her French 101 class; Willow might take it badly, at the moment.

After all, Giles had a tendency to wig out if the tiniest little thing went differently than he thought it should, and she most certainly didn't want him thinking that there was anything strange about her enjoying her schoolwork.

So, okay, she might not have been the most diligent student in the world the past couple years, but she really did have the distractions inherent in being the Slayer to contend with, in addition to all the normal demands on her time that came with being a teenage girl. But, since that night she'd shared her mind with Maria, though, she'd found a quiet enjoyment and satisfaction in exploring some of the previously less interesting aspects of her schoolwork. The few memories of the eighteenth century polymath that she could still recall had showed her the surprising enjoyment that pure intellectual stimulation could provide to a inquiring mind, and she found the diversion that contemplating the theorems and concepts she read about in her math book to be an excellent way of relaxing after a difficult, or even a boring, night of Slaying.

"No, nothing's wrong," Willow immediately agreed with her friend. This was, after all, just a minor disagreement between friends, and had absolutely nothing to do with the Slaying. There was absolutely no need to bring in stuffy British Watchers to stick their stuffy British noses in where it didn't concern them. Overbearing, prim and prissy librarians could just butt out; she and Buffy could work out any disagreement they might have by themselves.

"Well then, I believe you should both be heading for your classes, shouldn't you?" the Englishman noted as he glanced at his watch. "First period is about to begin."

"Okay, Giles. See you later," Willow nodded as she immediately picked up her books and began heading out of the library.

"Sure, Giles. See you after school. Sword training today, right?" Buffy asked hopefully, as she, too, picked up her books and headed out.

"That is correct, Buffy," the Watcher agreed.

"We will begin working with two blades, today," he informed her, bringing a wide smile to the tiny blonde's face as the Slayer aspect of her personality perked up at the perception of possible violence in the near future.

~~~

It had taken him more time than he had initially thought would be necessary, but he had finally managed to evaluate and mentally catalogue nearly all of the information that Kane had left as an inheritance of sorts for him before breaking Janus' bust and removing himself from existence once and for all.

For reasons fully understood only by the mythical icon, the one-time god-slayer had taken a fancy to the young demon hunter whose body he had involuntarily co-opted and decided to provide him with the potential to not only continue his battle against the forces of darkness, but to escalate it to an entirely new level of conflict. The catch, however, was that Xander would have to prove himself worthy of the information by successfully cracking the metaphysical locks the now departed warrior-mage-assassin-schemer had placed upon succeeding blocks of knowledge.

Before his departure, Kane had left the then-currently stunned adolescent a brief mental memorandum informing him of the cerebral prize package available for his use, once he had successfully retrieved it from within the mental labyrinth he had placed it. Using the merest fraction of the magic he commanded, Kane had managed to encode a small, virtually miniscule, portion of the virtually limitless arcane and technical knowledge he acquired over the course of his multi-millennia-long existence and had left it situated in a normally little-used area of Xander's mind.

Hidden away, the wisdom and esoteric learning lay waiting for the adolescent to seek it out and work his way through the various intricate locks and puzzles the legendary Immortal had devised to keep them confined and unavailable until the youth had proven his worth by deciphering the various conundrums and challenges he had established to secure it. While he might have looked favorably on his involuntary mind-companion, Kane still obviously believed in giving nothing away for free. If Xander truly wanted the knowledge offered him, he'd have to work to retrieve it.

Which was exactly what he had spent the past three days doing: working out the various combinations to the seemingly innumerable psychic locks and custodians safeguarding Kane's legacy.

Some of the locks had required considerable mental effort, like the one embodied by the image of his computer teacher, Miss Calendar, requiring him to provide a simple, but comprehensive and comprehensible explanation of a computer's inner workings, with every right answer rewarded by the dark-haired beauty removing an article of clothing.

Kane apparently also had a wicked sense of humor, since once she'd gotten down to the lacey black slip she wore beneath her skirt and blouse, she'd started to produce a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hairpins from her long black tresses, together with a rather wicked smile. The roast beef sandwich she'd tossed him at the end of the exercise was a very poor second to the reward he'd been hoping for, although the vast panorama of knowledge that he'd acquired after finishing the sandwich had staggered him for a few moments.

Xander was also convinced that another example of the legend's somewhat brutal sense of humor was an exercise in tact and diplomacy utilizing Snyder's image, something that required him to persuade the pseudo-troll that he should permit him to pass by without either giving him 'permanent detention' or expelling him from the school premises entirely. While Xander wasn't entirely certain that his ultimate solution would be considered completely diplomatic (grabbing the annoying little bastard by the collar, slamming him up against the wall and informing him that if he continued to hassle him, he wouldn't possess a larynx), he decided that if the 'lock' had found that an acceptable resolution, he wasn't going to complain. And again, the skills he'd taken away upon consuming the apple that the now-groveling little gnome had given him were staggering in their width and depth.

The most recent test, evidently one intended to check his physical resilience, had involved meeting an eerily accurate doppelganger of his father, who had then tried to recreate events that had occurred shortly after his eleventh birthday, when The Bastard had beaten him unconscious, evidently for the mistake of being stupid enough to still be around when Tony came home drunk and in a bad mood. He probably cheated a bit on that one, too, when he kicked Tony in the balls after ducking the first punch, then repeatedly kicked him in the head until he was unconscious, but the chocolate fudge ice cream cone that had appeared once the asshole was down and out indicated that his solution was wholly acceptable to the test's originator.

Now, after various efforts that had strained him to his personal limits, and at times beyond even those of which he had believed himself capable, he had, at long last, arrived at the final piece of his reward. His labors had already gained him a plethora of knowledge and skills ranging from what seemed to be graduate-level expertise in math, physics and chemistry to previously only-dreamed-of skills with weapons and hand-to-hand combat.

This last piece still ahead of him, however, was the Big One.

The Comstock Lode.

The Holy Grail.

The information Kane had left for him assured him that this last compilation of information waiting for him would provide him with an affinity for and an ability to wield magic on a scale that he had never even dared imagine before encountering Kane.

Overcoming this last obstacle would provide him with the means to keep his girls safe from virtually anyone or anything that might ever menace them. That made it something that he simply *had* to acquire. There really wasn't any choice about it. He needed that knowledge to ensure the safety of everyone he loved; therefore, he would acquire it or die trying.

It was that simple.

Shrugging off the metaphysical fatigue enveloping him, he moved forward towards his final goal.

~~~

"Are you sure you're feeling okay, Cordelia?" Sunnydale High's undisputed social queen heard Harmony ask her, in what the blonde apparently believed sounded like a concerned and caring tone. The complete absence of any real positive emotion in the hanger-on's voice, however, made the question come across as more of an accusation from an adversary than an inquiry from a friend.

"I'm feeling just fine, Harmony," the brunette replied as she turned to look at the subordinate cheerleader. "Why are you asking me that?"

"Well, you just let that geek, Jonathan, pass us by and you didn't say a single word to him about that G.I. Joe style he's started wearing the past few days," the blonde replied. "And he actually smiled at us and nodded like he thought he was high enough on the social ladder that he could talk to us without us saying something to him first!" she went on indignantly.

"Will the sun stop rising if he doesn't tremble as we pass by?" Cordelia asked in response, a small smile on her face as she considered just how unimportant something like the supposed affront to her dignity actually was when considered in the greater scheme of things.

"Huh?!" Harmony's obvious lack of appreciation of the insignificance of her earlier question made the tall brunette shake her head with minor irritation, both with the stereotypical California bottle blonde and her own ongoing association with the other cheerleader and the other self-involved members of the self-proclaimed lords and ladies of the social order.

{ Why am I even bothering with a ditz like her? } she asked herself. { There're so many much nicer and much more pleasant people I could be hanging around with. }

Ever since *that night*, she'd been having these strange moods affecting her more and more frequently; things like thinking that being at the top of the social order really wasn't all that important; thinking that consideration of others should be more than an afterthought, if and when it was considered at all; thinking that maybe she could help make things around here better for everyone, rather than just trying to improve her own life, at the expense of others; and, most significantly, wondering why she hadn't been more active in helping Buffy and the other members of the so-called Scooby Gang fight against the darkness.

It wasn't as though she hadn't suspected for a long time now that there was something wrong with this town. Most other people seemed to suspect that, too, but it seemed like no one wanted to be the one to point it out, in case there really was something out there waiting and watching, ready to grab the first one to speak up.

And what was this whole thing she had been doing the past few days with Xander Harris? It wasn't as though they had ever been the best of friends or anything. So why was she so concerned about him and how he was feeling about the deaths of those two ne'er-do-wells who passed themselves off as his parents? And what was this whole 'caring and concerned' shtick she'd been feeling lately, especially about him? She didn't need people; people needed her, or at least her approval. That was how things were, or at least, how it had been, up until Hell-o-ween night, as she had taken to calling it in her mind. Her abrupt changes certainly hadn't endeared her to her parents; her sudden lack of shallow had clearly made them uncomfortable.

She'd been possessed by that TV show character that night, and she'd been acting strange ever since. That was the problem! She'd been possessed and that was why she was acting so out of character. She'd have to talk to Buffy and the others about seeing how she could get rid of these thoughts and feelings she'd been having, so she could get back to being her old self.

It was the fact that she just wasn't really all that sure that she really wanted to be her old self that kept her from going ahead and doing that, each time the thought occurred to her.

~~~

"So, boy, you think you're bad enough to get by me?"

The low-voiced, almost growling challenge made Xander groan silently to himself as he looked up to the gallery that waited at the top of the pyramid he was currently climbing.

{ Oh, fuck. Of course, *he'd* be there. It couldn't be Jenny Calendar doing a striptease for me now, could it? Hell no! } he reluctantly acknowledged to himself as he spied the dark-haired figure maliciously grinning down at him from his position a dozen steps above.

Although, given everyone and everything else he'd already encountered in his quest, why should he be surprised to find the personification of every dark impulse he'd ever had or considered waiting here for him?

"You've got a choice here, chump," he snarled back up at the smirking doppelganger gazing down at him. "You can either move aside and let me by, or you can get hurt. Bad."

"Oooh, the little boy thinks he's a bad ass now, does he?" the simulation of the Primal Spirit that had possessed him the previous year sneered as he continued his approach up the seemingly innumerable steps leading up to the pyramid's summit.

"He's picked up some of the goodies the *real* bad man left behind for him and now he thinks he's in the big leagues," his final adversary laughed at him derisively.

"Didn't you get your ass kicked enough by Tony to realize that you're never gonna amount to anything, boy?" the faux Primal demanded. "When are you finally gonna admit that you're worthless, and that nothing you do is ever gonna be good enough?"

"About ten minutes after I'm dead, asshole," the now blue-eyed, auburn-haired youth replied as he paused for a moment to evaluate their respective positions.

According to standard military analysis, his adversary was not only a whole friggin' lot stronger and faster than he was, he also occupied the ostensibly superior position by his current possession of the high ground, the self-labeled Slayerette realized.

But that superiority in position was also based on the assumption that both opponents based their actions and reactions on the same fundamental way of thinking, he also recognized, and there was the fallacy in that reasoning.

The Primal Spirit that this particular foe was based on was a distillation of emotion and sentiment, a concentrated focus of feeling and sensation. It most certainly was not a being which allowed logic and rational thought to dictate its actions, so if he could manipulate it into attacking him at a time of his choosing, his chances of victory were substantially increased when compared to allowing it to decide what was its own best opportunity for attack.

Well then, if its focus was emotion, the easiest way to manipulate it was probably to piss it off. And if there was one thing that pretty much everyone who'd ever met him would admit was one of his strengths, it was pissing people off.

{ Less with the thinking, more with the acting, } he scolded himself as he pulled himself up to his full height.

"So, you just gonna stand there and talk like a badass, or are you actually gonna do something, dickweed?" he smirked at the dark-haired figure looming above him. "From what I can recall, that's pretty much all you did, back when you were in charge – talk."

"I did a lot more than talk," the pseudo-Primal snarled back at him. "I was the Alpha! The others did whatever I told them to do!"

"And isn't that an impressive boast," Xander sneered, letting a wide smile cross his face as he spoke as he let his hands rest on his hips in a stance that pretty much screamed insolence and contempt at his adversary. "A bunch of pussy-whipped candy asses, whose only real claim to fame was eating a helpless pig and attacking an overweight, out-of-shape high school principal, all did what you told them to do.

"Boy, color me impressed."

The derisive grin on his face was definitely one of his ten best, he thought to himself, as he watched the face of the tall brunet looking at him slowly begin turning beet-red, a moment before he screamed and leaped forward towards him, his hands outstretched to grab and pummel him.

Darting forward with the deceptive, new-found speed he'd discovered that he now possessed the day following Kane's unexpected appearance, he ripped the folding Buck knife he'd taken to carrying over the past few months from his back pocket and thumbed the blade open with the ease of long practice. Ducking beneath his adversary's widespread arms even as he grabbed hold of one to pull him close, Xander whipped the knife forward as rapidly as he could and buried the blade its full length into the faux-Xander's belly. He ripped the blade up the length of his now seriously injured foe's torso, eviscerating him/it even as he snapped his head forward to slam his forehead against the brunet's nose, his focus on inflicting as much damage to his momentarily shocked and hopefully traumatized enemy as possible.

A second later, he was flying through the air to slam a dozen feet away against the stone forming the gallery's floor, the result of his opponent's wildly flailing arm.

He rolled to his feet as quickly as he could to again face the now copiously bleeding brunet, as he refused to acknowledge the pains shooting through his back and the rest of his thoroughly abused body as a result of his unscheduled transit off the pyramid's roof.

"Gonna… rip… your… heart out," the now clearly mortally wounded faux-Primal threatened him as he staggered forward towards him, blood running from the corner of his mouth to mix with the blood already staining his chest and abdomen. "Eat it... while… you watch…"

"I don't think so," Xander shook his head in disagreement, painfully standing his ground as the rapidly hemorrhaging figure dropped to his knees, then collapsed full-length onto the gallery floor and lay still as blood slowly oozed from beneath him and stained the stonework on which he lay.

As he watched, the unmoving form began to flicker, its color and outline shimmering as it brightened to an almost unbearable level before beginning to shrink and collapse in on itself.

A moment later, all that remained was a small, brightly colored, easily recognizable package, at which Xander stared in disbelief.

"You have got to be kidding me," he murmured to himself as he looked at the package of Twinkies that lay on the floor before him.

"What's the matter, boy?"

Xander looked up, his arms lifting into an instinctive offensive stance, before freezing in stunned surprise as he beheld the towering, muscular redheaded figure staring at him.

"What were you expecting, ambrosia?" Kane grinned at him. "Going by your memories, I thought you'd appreciate getting these instead of some unfamiliar cheese dip you'd never seen before," he noted as he stepped forward to pick the cream-filled sponge cakes and toss them to the astounded youth, who reflexively reached out and snatched them from the air.

"Go ahead," the mythic warrior encouraged his one-time avatar. "Dig in. That's the only way you're going to get that last bit of knowledge I promised you. Don't mind me. I'm just the final remnant of that personality overlay that happened the other day, left here to congratulate you, if and when you actually made it this far."

Ignoring the deeply ingrained suspicions that anyone living around a Hellmouth fighting demons quickly developed, Xander followed his semi-mentor's suggestion and opened the package of cakes, stuffing one of them in his mouth in the same manner he typically used when consuming snack food.

After all, if the redheaded warrior had wanted him dead, he could have orchestrated his death in any number of ways long before he reached this point in his quest, he had realized almost immediately.

"Thanks, I appreciate the – gifts," the Scooby Gang founder thanked his erstwhile benefactor after swallowing the first cake. "They're definitely something that'll come in handy around here."

"You're welcome, kid," the apparition smiled at him. "I didn't run across people like you very often, back when I was still alive," the image informed him. "Most people were out to grab as much as they could get for themselves, and didn't care all that much what happened to anyone else. When the occasional paladin did show up, people didn't know how to take them, for the most part. Made for some very interesting reactions, at times."

"Okay," Xander nodded, unsure of exactly what kind of response he was expected to provide.

"I'm not really expecting anything back in return for what I gave you, kid," the redhead grinned again, as though reading the younger man's mind. "That fool that summoned me here the other night worshipped Janus, who sounds like an aspect of the Seven Nameless, the gods of Chaos in my time, and something he forgot is that Chaos doesn't play favorites. I gave you everything I did as much to throw sand in the gears that are meshing around here right now as for any other reason.

"Do your best to screw up all the plans that have been laid around here, and I'll be pleased. Or don't, and go do whatever you want to do. Either way, Chaos increases," the icon of violence smiled and Xander felt a small shiver run down his back at the expression the redhead wore.

"Goodbye, kid. If you ever see me again, you'll know you really stepped into it," Kane said as he began to fade away.

"Oh, and one more thing," the legendary being added before vanishing. "I stumbled across more than a few Hellmouths in my travels, and none of them felt like this one you have here does.

"Take that for what it's worth."

And with that, Kane was gone.

Never again to be seen.

Hopefully.

"What the hell did he mean, none of them felt like the one we have here?" Xander asked himself as he shoved the remaining Twinkie into his mouth and swallowed after barely chewing it.

Before he could give the statement any further thought, his brain seemed to explode as vast panoramas of wonder began to unfold in his mind and never before dreamed-of realms of arcane knowledge expanded before him.

The world around him seemed to fade away into insignificance compared to the marvels revealed to him and he let himself be swept away by the magnificence shown to him.

~~~

The ringing of his phone interrupted the librarian from his intense perusal of one of the more ancient texts he had brought with him from his apartment.

"Rupert," the deep, somewhat gravelly voice issuing from the receiver carried with it the tone of one long accustomed to command, along with at least a pack of unfiltered a day. "Can you talk freely?"

"Ah, Fifth. So nice of you to call." The grin the librarian wore as he responded to the speaker would have astonished any members of the self-named Scooby Gang, had they been present to see it. "I'm currently alone, but with the way the American school system haphazardly functions here, I could be interrupted at any moment. Have there been any sudden, new developments that might affect the project? I'm assuming that you wouldn't be calling at this time unless something has come up."

"Belinda had a vision last night," his caller replied. "Not a great deal in the way of details, but she said there was an overwhelming feeling of danger and menace. Not just for you personally, but with regard to us all."

"I see," Giles said, a thoughtful and grave expression on his face as he considered the information he had just received. "Well, it's not as though we were unaware of that fact prior to our undertaking this endeavor."

"That is correct, Rupe," Fifth agreed. "But for her to receive a warning like that at this point in time in the mission makes me wonder what had to have occurred recently to trigger such a premonition," he pointed out cautiously.

"Well, as I indicated in my report the other day," Giles said, "our old friend Ethan followed up the hints regarding my presence that you so diligently managed to place before him, as we'd hoped he would, and took the opportunity to inflict that so-called 'joke' of his on a number of the town's residents, including Buffy and several of her friends. As a result of the spell, she was transformed into an eighteenth century Italian noblewoman, one Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Signora Agnesi was, apparently, from the information that Buffy provided me, an intellectual dabbling in mathematics and held the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Bologna, but who evidently had no other significance or import that I have been able to determine. I would strongly suggest that you have the research section follow up a little further on that aspect of the situation, by the way," he suggested, "if for no other reason than to allow us to eliminate her from any future consideration.

"Unfortunately, however, there doesn't appear to have been any lingering effects from the spell on her that I have been able to detect," he then went on. "The only real concern I might have had regarding that situation was that one of Buffy's friends, that buffoon who revived her last year after she had been partially drained and then left to drown by the Master, was transformed into Kane.

"Yes," he confirmed the unspoken question that the surprised gasp on the other end of the call hadn't yet asked, "*that* Kane.

"And," the Watcher went on with a slight smile before Fifth could say anything in response to that statement, "in a truly ironic twist of fate, it seems that Kane was so incensed with Ethan's summoning him back from oblivion that he sought that poor unfortunate out and personally demonstrated exactly why it was that he had gained the reputation he had, before going on to break the focus of the spell and end all of the possessions and transformations."

"Bloody hell," was the only presently comment forthcoming from the distant caller.

"Indeed," Giles agreed calmly. "I've seen no indications that any of the other children involved with Buffy retained any of their costume's abilities, and she herself has shown no unusual abilities. At least none that I have been able to recognize."

"Damn," the Englishman heard the other curse mildly. "I was *certain* that she was the correct one. If she doesn't show any signs within the next few days, we'll have to assume she's really not the right one, and start taking steps to look for her successor."

"I think you're being a bit hasty, Fifth," Giles stated firmly. "There are as yet no definite indications that the Commencement is actually approaching. Moving too quickly can be just as hazardous as waiting too long."

"And I think you're getting a bit too concerned with this young chippy you're Watching," came the other's rejoinder.

"I think you're forgetting that I am perfectly capable of doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done," Giles replied in a cold voice. "Need I remind you who it was that handled things when Father took exception to our proposed strategy?"

"You're right, Rupe," Fifth immediately acquiesced. "I misspoke. My apologies."

"You said that Belinda had a vision," Giles said, reverting the subject of their discussion back to the original topic. "Did she say anything specific, anything that I might look for or beware of?"

"Unfortunately, no," Fifth sighed regretfully. "As is customarily the case, her dream consisted primarily of short descriptive phrases and the feelings linked with them, which, as I indicated to you, involved extreme danger and menace to those associated with the project. One phrase she uttered repeatedly, however, was 'blazing cerulean fire immolating the transgressors for their crimes.'

"I checked out all of the records relating to the Commencement and anyone or anything that might be remotely connected to it in the expectation that I might find a description or some type of correlation to Belinda's expression, but came up empty," Fifth concluded with a tired sigh.

"Well then, I expect we'll all just have to remain alert for anyone or anything that might be capable of producing or utilizing a blue flame," Giles offered as a possible course of action.

"In the meantime, I will continue my watch over Buffy," he continued. "We still have some time left available to us for the portents to manifest, if she truly is the one Arum described in his vision. If it should turn out that she is not, then I will do what is necessary and we will move on and evaluate her successor."

"All right, then," the caller agreed. "Just be careful, Rupe. You're out there by yourself without any reliable backup. If the Board should ever suspect what we're actually doing, it'll go badly for all of us. You'll just be the first to go down."

"Yes, but the rewards, should we succeed, more than outweigh the perils, Fifth," Giles smiled with anticipation as he envisioned the power they sought.

"We shall be as gods. Isn't that cause enough to risk everything we have now?"

"Quite," Fifth replied. "Just still, be careful."

"Indeed, I shall be. As always."

"I'll speak with you further, once I've finished researching this Agnesi woman and seeing if we have anything that could be considered remotely reliable on Kane," Giles' caller promised before hanging up.

Replacing the handset back on its receiver, the Englishman returned to his examination of the ancient text lying on his desk.
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