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The Leading Man

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Summary: YAHF. Xander just wanted to show Buffy there were better options than a cursed undead guy. Somehow, becoming Balthier was not how he pictured accomplishing that mission.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Japanese Fantasy > Final FantasysouldrivenFR15920,10189729,31615 Jan 1220 Mar 13No

Chapter Six: With Friends Like There Part 2

Author’s notes: Holy moly! This is a LONG chapter (for me). It’s practically double my usual length thus far. And oh hey look, canon plot is starting to get rippled. Thank you to all reviewers, recommenders, and trackers, you’re the best.

Beta: A big thank you to Orchamus for beta’ing this chapter.

Warnings: uh, Cordelia being Cordelia? Continued besmirching of Willow’s character?

Chapter 6: With Friends Like These Part 2

Xander wanted to scream in frustration. After building his hopes up the day before that he could use Balthier’s magick, it was so damn disappointing to find no evidence of magicite or Mist. Out of all the crystals and various other types of rock, there was only one Xander found somewhat strange to his new sense of magic. One of the pieces of quartz Giles had provided, an almost clear rose pink one, did not feel ‘blank’ like the other quartz, and yet contained no Mist.

“No luck?” Giles asked as he returned from his office. From the way he was watching Xander, the teen knew Giles knew the answer already and was merely acquiring confirmation.

“All duds, except for this one. I mean, it doesn’t contain any Mist but there is something unusual about it,” Xander confirmed.

“Really? You were able to identify it from the rest? That’s some progress, I suppose,” Giles remarked as he arrived at the table and picked up the pink quartz. “I charged this one yesterday with a bit of magic. I was rather hoping it would feel like Mist to you.”

“Hmm, so that I could use your form of magic to cast my type?” Xander questioned uneasily. “That does not seem like a wise idea, Giles. It would be like crossing the streams.”

“Crossing the streams?” Giles parroted back, blinking owlishly, clearly missing the pop culture reference.

“Yeah, as in ‘all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.’ The Ghostbusters?” Xander tried as Giles failure with anything cultural beyond ‘tea’ and ‘footie’ struck again.

“Honestly Xander, I do not think the results would be that catastrophic,” Giles said, taking his glasses off to glare more effectively with exasperation.

“That’s what I said about Parent Teacher Night and look what happened then!” Xander argued heatedly. “Just forget it Giles. Even if I could use the same type of magic you do to power my spells I wouldn’t want to. The idea of invoking gods to power my spells unsettles me.” (1)

Giles was still clearly unhappy with Xander’s refusal to even try, but he did back down. With a tired sigh, Giles nodded and put on his glasses once more. “Very well. You have yet to take a look at semi-precious and precious gems. Perhaps one of those would contain the Mist you need to spellcast since you are refusing to even try alternatives.”

“We could go after school unless you’re busy?” Xander hesitantly suggested, not desiring for Giles to remain irritated with him.

That was when Giles began acting interestingly, blushing as he pushed up his glasses and looked away. “Ah, I am afraid I have evening plans I need to prepare for after school, Xander. Perhaps the girls, if you three have made amends, could go. Or- or Cordelia could accompany you if you prefer her company now.”

Tease Giles about his obvious date or find out what Giles thinks he knows about Buffy, Willow, and I? Uhg, I suppose Buffy can do all the teasing… “It’d be great if Buffy or Willow wanted to spend time with me but one can only do some much groveling to deaf ears before accepting defeat. I’m fairly certain after last night Willow wants nothing to do with me and Buffy’s taking her side,” Xander said as he half-sat, half-leaned against the library’s table.

Giles, poor man, just looked confused. “What do you mean, ‘groveling to deaf ears’? Given how the girls were talking about you the past few days I was under the impression you’ve been slighting them in favor of Miss Chase.”

“Not at all. I… told Willow I wasn’t interested in dating her Saturday, in rather bad form, I admit,” Xander started to explain and before he realized it, had told Giles everything. With nothing else to say, Xander quietly waited for some response from Giles be it a reprimand or some form of consolation.

“You did the right thing in telling Willow you were uninterested in dating her. While you might still be on good terms with Willow had you remained silent, her romantic interest in you would eventually have become an issue regardless. At least now with it dealt with you two can move on, even if it’s no longer as friends,” Giles said finally. “As for Buffy, well, the best I can do is to inform her that she is risking her friendship with you by the way she is acting.”

Xander shook his head. “No, it’s okay Giles. Buff’s just looking out for Willow. Plus an old friend of hers recently moved here and I think she’s fighting with Angel about something. It’s not normal for her to brush him off unless she’s upset about something. I think with everything else going on I’m just low on her list of priorities. Just let her know I’d like to talk.”

Giles was smiling proudly at him, like he just said or did something really impressive. “That’s remarkably mature of you Xander, I will do as you request. Though I must know in case my suspicions are correct… are you ‘over’ Buffy?”

Xander bit and his lip and took a moment to seriously think over the question. He had been thinking since the dance that would never be mentioned that any chance of him and Buffy was over. For a while Xander thought he was just telling himself that to get over being used by Buffy but, was he really? “I think so… I still occasionally think of Buffy that way but the dreams have kind of lost their shine, you know what I mean?” Xander shrugged, not waiting for Giles to respond. “Mostly now, I just want to protect her, even if she doesn’t need my protection. I mean her life expectancy is way too short for ‘one unto every Generation’.” (2)

“What?” Giles asked, acting like Xander had just shocked him.

“Hey! Is it really that surprising I see Buffy as just a friend now?” Xander demanded, kind of insulted. “Uhg, never mind. I’ll go by myself or with Cordelia to some jewelers with real jewels after school today. Enjoy your date Giles.”

“Wait, Xander-“ Giles called after him, but Xander was still a little too hurt to listen to whatever apology the Watcher had.

~*~

“You want to go jewelry shopping? For yourself?” Cordelia asked skeptically.

Xander felt his one eye twitch but stopped himself from snapping at Cordelia. She did not know why he wanted to go shopping and she was not the one he was really angry with. “Yes, I’m looking for a crystal that holds a unique kind of energy. Giles and I already checked out regular crystals without success, so I need to investigate the pricier kind,” Xander quickly explained, before thoughtfully tugging on his one ear lobe. “And I kind of miss have earrings.”

Cordelia appeared to be accepting Xander’s explanation until he got to the last part. “Earrings? As in more than one? When did you ever have your ears pierced?”

I didn’t. Balthier did. Three on each ear, actually,” Xander admitted as he decided not to mention the rings and bracelets. Guys on Earth could get away with some ear piercings and rings if they looked masculine enough. Balthier’s taste in rings and bracelets was more common for customers of Claire’s. (3)

“Huh,” Cordelia said in a tone that implied ‘you learn something new every day’. “Well I could use some new accessories, and I’m sure the girls would enjoy a trip as long as we’re done by nightfall. We lose enough cheerleaders annually to demons that I don’t need to unnecessarily risk my girls. Just be grateful we don’t have practice today,” Cordelia regally decided as they started walking towards the Cordettes. “As for you getting pierced… you can’t without a parent’s permission. At least, you can’t at places you can trust.”

And my parents will agree to let me pierce my ears oh, say… never! I doubt Giles or Mrs. S would play responsible adult for me even if I begged. Great. Well… “But I can still buy earrings, right?”

Cordelia was eyeing him suspiciously but said, “I don’t see why not.”

“Then I’ll just pierce my ear myself. That’s what Balthier did,” Xander explained with a shrug. Cordelia’s face briefly scrunched up in disgust at the idea of self-piercing but she didn’t argue.

“What’s going on?’ Aura asked, with one eyebrow elegantly raised as she rested her opposite hand on her hip. Combined with her fashionable, as to be expected of Cordelia’s girls, outfit Xander unexpectedly found himself staring. Abstractly he always knew Cordelia and her flock were some of the most attractive girls on campus, but previous animosity always kept him from really appreciating it. And now I’m friends with the Queen Bee and the prettiest women in school. Huh. “Why are you staring? Is there something wrong with my hair?” Aura asked worriedly, as she moved her one hand to carefully inspect her head.

Quickly Xander grabbed Aura’s hand and raised her knuckles to his lips for a chaste kiss. “Nonsense, you’re a dream Aura.”

Blushing and giggling slightly, Aura removed her hand from his. “A good one I hope,” she huffed teasingly.

“Only the best,” he answered back with a small smile and wink causing the other girls to laugh.

“And you thought he was gay, Harm?” Aphrodesia asked even as she chuckled and Harmony started to pout.

“Oh, enough already, Xander here is thinking of getting an ear pierced and was kind enough to extend a shopping trip invite to all of us,” Cordelia announced while smiling amusedly, but there was something a little forced about it. When Xander silently gave her a questioning look, she brushed him off. “Opinions?”

“With his new taste in clothes? He could pull it off. Add a bit of a ‘bad boy’ to his ‘sophisticated charmer’ look,” Gwen said after moment as all the girls studied Xander like Willow typically studied a science project.

“No diamonds or fake diamonds though. He’ll need something with color. I would say a garnet but a topaz would work with his eyes better. It’s not like he’ll be changing it out to match his outfits. Will he?” Aura said next, turning to question Cordelia.

He is right here,” Xander pointed out as he started to grow uncomfortable with all the staring.

“I imagine he’ll want a few different ones eventually, but starting out with a topaz stud sounds good,” Cordelia agreed with a nod before deigning to acknowledge Xander’s existence. Judging by their barely concealed amusement the girls were ignoring him on purpose. “What’s your birthday?”

“November 28th,” Xander answered automatically even as he mentally asked Why?

“Definitely a topaz then,” Cordelia declared before turning back to the girls. “Right, so jewelers, maybe some clothes shopping at the mall. Mall food if we run late, restaurant if we’re quick, and then Bronze?”

“I’m free,” Aphrodesia agreed.

“As long as Xander agrees to carry our bags, I’m in,” Gwen added with an easy smile.

Eventually all the other Cordettes chimed in agreements to the after school plans. It was only as the girls started to talk about shoes and new tops Xander remembered why shopping with Cordelia was a bad idea. Worse yet, he now had all the Cordettes attending.

~*~

The school day passed like Monday and Tuesday, with Buffy and Willow ignoring him. Though it did appear Willow was trying to keep a secret from Buffy if her fidgeting was anything to go by. If Xander was still friends with Willow he might have been able to help distract the slayer. (4) Buffy looking angry and upset with Willow looking guilty after lunch indicated the red head caved. At least Buffy isn’t angry at just me anymore Xander thought with some guilty relief.

Buffy and Willow aside, the only other unusual thing that happened at school was the rumor mill spreading the idea Xander was dating Aura. Xander and the girls found it amusing, though Cordelia seemed annoyed that Sunnydale High’s gossip network was working without her say so. By the end of the day Xander suspected more than one gossiper would prefer to crawl over broken glass then anger Cordelia ever again.

“I hope you know there are times you truly and deeply scare the shit out of me,” Xander told Cordelia as he and a few of her sheep carpooled with her.

“You say the sweetest things,” Cordelia answered with a saccharine smile, before ripping out of the car park like a NASCAR driver out of the pit.

Who the hell was stupid enough to give Cordy a driver’s license?

~*~

“You know, after the mind-numbing terror got boring I realized your driving reminds me of Fran’s,” Xander commented as he studied the expensive collection of diamond necklaces with Cordelia as the sheep were tasked with finding at least three suitable earrings for him. Cordelia might trust his taste in clothes but she was still hesitant about his taste in jewelry.

“Fran?” Cordelia asked, finally tearing her eyes away from a necklace that would cost Xander two months of wages from his old job to afford.

“Mmm, a viera and trusted companion of Balthier’s. They met shortly after Balthier became a sky pirate and became inseparable. I don’t think Balthier could walk away from her any more than she could walk away from him. It scared him, sometimes, what she would do after he was gone. Viera live so much longer than humes,” Xander admitted as he studied a complex black chained necklace scattered with rubies. If Fran had cared for such things she would have looked exquisite in it.

“Oh, were Balthier and Fran lovers? Cause Balthier was kind of flirty to be taken,” Cordelia asked, sounding unexpectedly sympathetic.

“No, there was nothing romantic between them, though few could see that. Still, I suppose ‘soul mates’ is the best description for Balthier and Fran’s relationship. Compared to them, my friendship with Willow feels hollow,” Xander said, wishing silently he could move past Willow as easily as she seemed to be moving past him.

“God, why didn’t you just date Rosenberg?” Cordelia demanded after making a noise of disgust.

“What? Cordelia!” He felt betrayed. Did not she get he was just not interested in Willow?

“Don’t ‘Cordelia!’ me! At least if you two dated and then broke up it would explain all this moping from you and bitchiness from her. God, you two were just friends, get over it,” Cordelia complained, exasperated.

“She was my sister,” Xander tried to explain. “How am I supposed to get over my sister wishing she never met me and wanting nothing to do with me?”

Cordelia rolled her eyes but she did back off a little if the gentling of her tone was anything to go by, “Duh, like anyone with siblings will tell you, wait until guilt has them crawling back to you with apologies. And if she doesn’t, then her loss; having you for a brother has to be the next best thing to having you as a boyfriend.”

“I- thank you, Cordy,” Xander finally managed before hugging her.

“Oh, are we interrupting something?” Harmony asked breaking up the hug as Xander and Cordelia turned to see the Cordettes had returned.

“Just my charity for the day. Let’s see what you girls found,” Cordelia said airily before getting straight to business. Xander liked that. (5)

Stacy, the natural blonde to Harmony’s artificial, handed Xander three sets of earrings but he hardly paid attention to two of them. Instead he stared at the topaz set in surprise; it was faint but…he could sense Mist. After failing to sense any Mist that morning, Xander had not expected to have any success in his search. Now he could not wait to tell Giles the good news and give a few spells Balthier knew a try.

“I, uh, really like the topaz. Is there any more?” Xander asked as he remembered where he was and the ladies with him. Xander blinked as the girls smiled like sharks; cold, merciless, and about to devour him alive.

~*~

By the time Xander left the jewelers he had two rings, a leather wristband, a necklace, and the topaz earrings. One ring was stainless steel with a small blue topaz while the other ring was the depiction of a bird in flight with a diamond-shaped brown topaz on its back. The leather wristband was of brown leather with a few bamboo beads stringed along it. The necklace was a simple slice of wood incased in stainless steel shaped to look like a dog-tag.

Apparently wood and bone could also contain Mist, which made sense given the general belief in Ivalice that Mist helped to create all life. However, Balthier never heard of anyone ever drawing Mist from bone, and only Viera could use the Mist contained in the ancient woods expertly. Thankfully, now that Xander found some weak ‘magicite’, his natural reserves seemed to be jump-started into replenishing themselves. Still, Xander would hold onto his Mist imbued jewelry in case he ever needed a boost in magick power for spell-casting or to jump-start his reserves again.

Overall, Xander felt accomplished and rather proud of himself. Now he just needed to survive the rest of the shopping trip as Cordy and the Cordettes’s pack-mule.

“I’m doomed,” Xander whined.

“Oh stop being so melodramatic,” Cordelia ordered as they headed for the first clothing store. It was going to be a long day.

~*~

“Giles? You in?” Xander called out the next morning when he arrived at the apparently empty library.

“Ah, just a moment Xander,” Giles called out before leaving his office looking harried.

“Okay, what happened?” Xander asked, his Hellmouth-sense tingling.

“W-well, it turns out Buffy’s friend Ford didn’t transfer here but, uh, is actually terminally ill with brain cancer. A-at best he has a few painful months left. He apparently came to Sunnydale with the intention of trading Buffy’s life to be turned. Ford gathered quite a few vampire cultists by promising to help them get turned as well but was in fact using them to, uh, sweeten the pot. Jen- That is Miss Calendar and I arrived back from a-a monster truck rally in time to help confront Ford and stop a vampire from stealing a book of mine. I’m now in the process of boxing up my more… dangerous and esoteric tomes to be moved back to my flat,” Giles explained as he took off his glasses to clean them. “To make matters worse Buffy learned last night that Angel sired Drusilla and Spike and I discovered Willow had ‘borrowed’ some of my books on magic without speaking to me and Miss Calendar about training.”

Xander whistled. “Man, I miss all the fun. I can help you sort and move books instead of training. I gotta admit, aside from the ‘hiding in plain sight’ and easy access factor, keeping your Watcher books here wasn’t the brightest idea to begin with. I mean how many times have we been attacked here? Better to move the whole operation somewhere privately owned so at least we don’t have to worry about vampire attacks. Maybe put those books to use and find a way to ward out demons as well.”

“Hm, while your suggestion has merit Xander, I can hardly explain away frequently having minors over to my flat,” Giles explained as he returned his glasses. “Also, thank you for offering your assistance. Buffy, unfortunately, needs time to deal with the emotional upheaval Ford has caused and I can hardly trust Willow given my recent discovery. However, I’d rather have you research something for me while I pack. If you’re available after school perhaps you can help me load up my car.”

“Sure, I like to think I’m better at research now thanks to Balthier and I’m free after school. Cordy and her flock have cheerleader practice,” Xander said with an easy shrug as he took a seat at the library table. “What do you want me to find out?”

“The life expectancy of slayers for as far back as recorded,” Giles answered as he set down several books for Xander to study.

“What? But you said last year during the whole Buffy is going to die prophecy thing that it was one year,” Xander argued surprised and confused.

“Yes but you pointed out before you left yesterday morning that there is something amiss in that average if it is one girl in every generation,” Giles explained, giving Xander a pointed look.

“Oh,” he offered meekly. “Sorry.”

Patting Xander’s shoulder Giles headed back to his office. “It’s quite alright Xander, there was no harm done.”

Smiling to himself, Xander opened the nearest book and pulled out a pencil and notebook from his bag. Telling Giles about his success with locating ‘magecite’ and practicing magick could wait. Figuring out this mystery was far more important.

~*~

“Hey, Giles I- Xander?” Buffy said from the library’s doorway, startling him.

Xander blushed at being so easily startled, as well as losing track of time. There were only fifteen minutes before classes started; he usually left the library by now. “Uh, hi Buffy,” he managed, unsure of what else to say that wouldn’t be instigative. Long time, no see just sounds too bitter. Xander thought as Buffy got over her surprise and approaching the table.

“So, have you heard about yesterday and all the fun that wasn’t?” she eventually asked after a drawn out moment of awkward silence.

“Ford’s dying and would rather be souless undead than dead, book-stealing vampires, Angel’s the father of our current vampiric threat, and Willow’s been stealing dangerous books. Man, these last few days I forgot how crazy things could get around here,” Xander admitted with a casual shrug and tone. Buffy still flinched like he stabbed her.

“Xander, listen, I-“

“Just wanted to look out for Willow ‘cause she’s fragile like that and then life got complicated?” Xander interrupted.

“Yeah, I didn’t mean to shun you like I did. Well, except on Monday because Willow still needed space,” Buffy hurriedly and guiltily explained.

“Well, according to Willow she never wants me near her again unless it’s the monster of the week and all hands are needed on deck,” Xander softly informed Buffy, closing the book he was reading and putting away his notes.

“So she told me,” Buffy agreed, biting her lip and looking briefly indecisive. “I think something’s wrong with her. Something not normal.”

Xander focused on Buffy instantly, alarmed. “What do you mean?”

“Well, ever since Halloween she’s been moody, like bipolar combined with short-tempered. I’ve never seen her act like this until recently. And stealing books from Giles? I know she knows how to hack and believes in ‘free knowledge’ but that still seems out of character for her,” Buffy explained, looking relieved at finally telling someone. “I thought it was just because of… well, you know, at first. But now? No way.”

“What do you think is wrong Buffy?” Giles asked as he finally left his office to join the conversation, looking worried as well.

“Well…” Buffy started but grew hesitant once more. “Willow went as a ghost for Halloween, maybe that affected her somehow? Or maybe she did some magic she shouldn’t have?”

Giles sighed as he looked saddened by Buffy’s suggestion. “Possibly both. I should have looked into side effects more thoroughly given Xander’s own unique consequences. Hopefully some meditation and aura cleansing is all that needed should the cause of Willow’s actions be as we suspect. Though we cannot expect the results to be swift, and if Willow continues to practice magic behind our backs unguided there might not be any positive results at all.”

“Willow’s a teacher’s pet, Giles. If you and Miss C calmly tell Willow you’re very disappointed in her and expected better of her, she’ll agree to do anything you say to get back in your good graces. Don’t let up on the act until you’re sure she won’t do something like that again,” Xander reasoned. “As a reward ask her for help with the magic stuff. Maybe get her to research that ward I suggested. It can’t hurt to place it on our homes and the library if it works.”

Giles nodded, “I agree. Buffy, if you could bring Willow around during your lunch hour I would appreciate it. By then I will have hopefully managed to explain the situation to Miss Calendar to assist.”

“Sure thing Giles,” Buffy promised before looking uncomfortably at Xander. “You’re a good friend, Xan.” They could all hear the silent ‘better than me’.

Xander shrugged. “Willow was my friend before all of this. I’d like her to be one again once this is handled.” Xander said before smiling wryly. “Besides, what are friends for?” (6)

~*~*~*~

1 – huge understatement concerning Balthier. Since the background villains of the game were essentially the a more controlling version of the PTB (and their heretic)
2 – How does one measure a generation in time? No really, I’ve been trying to figure out how many years a generation is equivalent to.
3 – Or a rave party as a friend told me (she also said this was why she couldn’t take Balthier seriously).
4 – Considering how Willow was a babbling, stammering wreck first thing after she snooped for Angel, she must have originally enlisted Xander’s help in keeping the secret.
5 – Referencing an Ashe/Balthier scene vaguely. Balthier kind of had moments with everyone in party.
6 – Wanted to end on that line, wrote 9 pages to do it. Cordy and the girls are way too much fun/easy to write.
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