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A Major Cause of Failure

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Story

Summary: Every action one takes has consequences, and some consequences are more serious than others.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Numb3rs > Xander - CenteredGreywizardFR1314,4623394,7293 Aug 123 Aug 12Yes
Disclaimer: They all belong to Joss and ME (BtVS) or Nicolas Falacci and Cheryl Heuton (Numb3rs). Deal with it. I have.

Time Frame: Post-season three's 'Zeppo.'

Spoilers: None intended, but if you don’t know what happened up to this point, why are you reading this story?

Character Bashing: Be warned – *none* of the characters are going to be portrayed in a very positive or flattering manner in this story, although I personally think all of them are staying within their established canon characterizations at this point in the show(s). If you think anyone is being shown to act completely OOC, let me know and, please, be able to provide reasons why you believe it, other than "'Cause I think so!"

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

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: This particular plot bunny has been hanging around and bothering me for a while now, so I decided to write it and hopefully exorcise it.

Author’s Note 4: This is story #3 for the 2012 August Fic-A-Day Challenge.

~~~

"Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life" – Napoleon Hill

"You've got to give loyalty down, if you want loyalty up." – Donald T. Regan

"A person who deserves my loyalty receives it." – Joyce Maynard

~~~

Sunnydale High School Library
Sunnydale, CA

February, 1999


"Xander, what are you doing here? Weren't you listening when I told you that we didn't need you to help out with Slaying anymore?"

Buffy Summers' voice clearly indicated that she was less than pleased with the appearance of the dark-haired youth inside the environs of the school library. And the expression on her lovely teenage features likewise indicated the Slayer’s displeasure with the one and only Alexander Lavelle Harris right now.

Especially when you considered all of the rather uncomplimentary words both sides had exchanged during the incredibly nasty fight which had taken place after the Slayer and her best friend had discovered what Harris had gotten up to with Jack O’Toole and those zombie buddies of his while the others were occupied dealing with the Sisters of Jhe, and what Buffy had termed his 'not doing what I told you to do.'

She'd also seemed to gloss over completely the fact that they would all be dead if he actually had done what she'd told him.

"Yeah, Buffy, I heard you quite clearly each time you issued your little decrees," Xander nodded his understanding of the Slayer's earlier edicts, while noting Willow's, Faith's, Oz's and Giles' presence, along with the lack of any sort of welcoming expressions on any of the others' faces.

"Doesn't mean I agreed with any of them, though, or that I was gonna do what you said," Harris shrugged indifferently at the glares his reply earned him from Buffy and Willow, and the compete lack of interest of any kind on Faith's, Oz's and Giles' faces. No doubt about it, he was now officially out of the Scooby Gang. "'Cause the last time I checked, you weren't my boss *or* my mom.

"Anyway, I just wanted to let you all know that Willy mentioned how there are some FBI types in town right now," the dark-haired youth informed the group, while ignoring the narrow-eyed frown on Buffy's face his reply had generated, "and apparently, they're investigating who stole that anti-tank rocket we used against the Judge last year."

"Okay, then, you told us, so you can leave now," Summers declared irritably. "And like I said before, stay out of the Slaying stuff from now on."

"Whatever," Harris replied, his face devoid of any expression upon hearing the blonde-haired Chosen One's reply. "See you all later."

{ Or not. }

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School
Principal Snyder's office

Later that day


"Mr. Harris, I'm Special Agent Eppes from the FBI," the dark-haired, athletic – if short - looking man sitting behind Snyder's desk said as he looked across at Xander with his own narrow-eyed, disapproving frown. "I asked to speak with you because my team is investigating a weapons smuggling operation, and your name's been mentioned several times, by a number of different people, whenever an interest in acquiring military weapons was discussed."

"Really? By who?" Xander replied nervously. "I mean, that's really strange, 'cause I don't even own a water pistol," he joked feebly.

"But seriously, I have no idea why someone would give you my name in connection with anything having to do with guns, at all," he insisted, squirming a bit in his chair. "I'm not even old enough to *buy* a gun."

"Just because you can't legally own a gun doesn't necessarily mean you don't have one," Special Agent Don Eppes pointed out, giving the teen another frown of disapproval. "Or more than one."

"Sure, but why would I even want a gun, anyway?" Xander protested, clearly uncomfortable with the line of questioning the federal agent was pursuing. "It's not like they'd be very useful against – uh, I mean, I don't have any use for one, is what I mean,"

"So, you're saying that a videotape we have in our possession really isn't showing you and an older gentleman wearing glasses, carrying a crate for an AT-4 rocket launcher into the Sunnydale Mall last year? Something which occurred right before there was an unexplained explosion, which caused significant damage to a large section of the mall?" the government agent asked with a narrow-eyed frown.

"Uh, I, ah, I'm not saying anything about anything," Xander shook his head in denial of his interrogator's question.

"And, unless I'm under arrest for something, I think I'd like to go now, okay?" he said, standing up and looking at the agent questioningly.

"We’re not done yet," Agent Eppes shook his head.

"Well, uh, correct me if I’m wrong – but don’t I have certain rights?" Xander asked questioningly. "I mean, I’ve seen The X-Files on TV; and you FBI types have to follow procedure, don’t you? Like, me having a lawyer present during meetings like this?"

{ Dear God, maybe I'm wrong – and this kid really is just some idiot goofball who watches too much TV!! } Eppes thought to himself upon hearing that response.

"All right, fine," Don nodded grudgingly, knowing that his bluff had been called; he had no valid grounds to detain Harris, with or without a lawyer present; plus there was no evidence on that tape which would hold up under any sort of close examination. "You can go. But I’d like to point out that cooperating with the FBI in a criminal investigation is gonna generate a lot more good will than you trying to stonewall us, kid.

"If you *do* know anything about that incident, you should tell us everything you know now, and not wait 'til we show up at your front door with a warrant to search your home," Don warned, watching sourly as the boy simply nodded and then practically ran out the office door.

Truthfully, the tape he'd referred to was of exceedingly poor quality, what with the damage the fire and, subsequently, the water from the sprinkler system had done to it, Don admitted to himself as he considered the sole piece of hard evidence his team had found. It was nothing to base a conviction on, anyway; even the best enhancement their techs had been able to provide merely showed glimpses of a dark-haired teenaged male and an older gentleman wearing glasses, who could have been almost anyone.

If it got to the point where the lawyers became involved, *any* semi-competent attorney could easily argue that the boy on the tape could be any one of a dozen students Don had passed in the hall outside, on his way to Principal Snyder's office. And the federal agent knew it, too.

In point of fact, it had been Snyder who had personally identified the dark-haired teenage figure on the tape as Alexander Harris; and since it was clearly obvious that the balding little man bore some sort of personal grudge against the kid, Don abruptly decided he wasn't about to do anything more concerning this aspect of the investigation than he'd done already.

Eppes got up and left Snyder’s office and quickly departed the school as well. Going over everything in his mind as he headed back to the team’s temporary HQ, Don eventually decided it would be best to simply go through the motions and then mothball this whole thing. Maybe if they had anything more than vague rumors and even vaguer whispers about things not being quite as wholesome and cheery in Sunnydale as the Town Council would have the tourist trade believe, then he'd be able to do something more than just chase after ghosts.

But until that actually happened, he was just going to have to wrap this investigation up and get back to solving real crimes, back in LA.

~~~

Mayor Wilkins' office
Sunnydale, CA

Later that evening


"Excuse me, sir, but a group of FBI agents from the Los Angeles office has been interviewing some of the high school students regarding that incident at the Mall last year," the Deputy Mayor Allen Finch said nervously.

"Hmm. It could prove quite inconvenient to have those meddlers hanging around and sticking their noses into every little thing they might find interesting, Allen," Wilkins said absently, as he concentrated on his putting.

"Yes, sir, it most certainly would."

The Mayor had been around for over a hundred years, that was true. But he was neither omniscient nor infallible in his decisions, as the next few moments would prove.

"We still have that rocket launcher the Slayer and her little friends used against the Judge in storage, don't we?" Wilkins asked, as he practiced his golf swing.

"Yes, sir, we do. Our people retrieved it after Mr. Giles disposed of it in the landfill, outside town, and I had it stored at the same facility we use for the surplus school supplies, sir."

"Excellent work, Allen. Have one of our people make sure the FBI discovers its existence tomorrow. It should have several of the Slayer's associates' fingerprints on it, and that should be enough to satisfy them and allow them to arrest some of the bad element at that school; after which, they'll undoubtedly pack up and go home to L.A."

"Of course, sir. I'll put someone on that, right away," Finch said, before he almost sprinted out the door.

~~~

17619 White Oak Drive
Sunnydale, CA

Two days later


"Good afternoon, Mr. Harris. These are warrants which have been issued by a Federal judge, allowing us to search this house, and for your arrest on suspicion of unlicensed possession of federally restricted weapons.

"Now, are you going to come with us quietly, or should we add charges of resisting arrest to everything else?" Agent Eppes smiled into Xander’s shocked face.

It wasn’t long before they found the rocket launcher where it had been planted by Finch’s minion, and Xander was taken away by the Feds – right before both his parents declared that he was forever dead to them from this moment onwards, for ‘disgracing their good name’.

~~~

Sunnydale High School Library
Sunnydale, CA

Later that afternoon


"Have you lost your senses completely, calling me here at the library, Xander?" Giles demanded irately, as he spoke into the telephone. "News of your arrest has already spread throughout the school!... What?... No, Buffy and Willow aren’t here – and no, they don’t want to speak to you either… Oz?... What on earth does he have to do with any of this?... Damn it, boy, don’t call me 'G-man' and listen carefully to what I’m about to say!... I'm afraid there's nothing any of us can do to help you in these unfortunate circumstances, at least not without calling unnecessary attention upon ourselves – so please don’t call me again.

"Me or any of the rest of us, for that matter!"

Far away within the Sunnydale P.D. headquarters, the dial tone echoed in his ear as Xander stared at the telephone receiver in his hand with a mixture of agonized and heart-wrenching disappointment, as well as an enraged confirmation of previously barely acknowledged suspicions.

~~~

Central Juvenile Hall
Los Angeles, CA

A few days later


"All right, I’m here. Now what’s going on?" Don demanded, his curiosity piqued as he stared at the Harris kid and his lawyer.

"If you and your office are willing to agree to a few conditions regarding both his future and the disposition of the charges against him, Agent Eppes, my client is prepared to disclose certain information which we feel confident the FBI will find *extremely* interesting," the young, barely out of law school, public defender said to Don Eppes with an unusually confident smile.

"It concerns both the identities of various people involved in the initial theft of the rocket launcher from the Sunnydale Army armory, and additional information about a great many other ongoing illegal activities which have been going on in Sunnydale, all of which have apparently been taking place with the implicit approval of, and under the direction of, Sunnydale’s current administration..."

Don blinked. { Well, now. Maybe there actually *is* something to all those rumors and whispers I’ve heard? } "I think that probably won't be too hard to arrange; assuming, of course, that what your client has to say is actually worth hearing."

Xander hesitated for less than a moment; once he started down this path, there was no going back. Still, what was the alternative?

To sacrifice himself for the people who were now too busy and/or too disinterested in his welfare to want to help out? No one had come to see him or even called him, while he’d been in police custody in Sunnydale. Not even his own parents – not that that was very surprising.

In fact, the only familiar face he’d seen as he was bundled into that FBI van outside the police building for the trip to Los Angeles, was his ex-girlfriend Cordelia. And the look on her face when she'd seen him being led along by the feds was ambiguous – neither shocked, sad or elated.

{ Uh-uh, time to look out for number one. Giles and the Scooby Gang decided to cut their losses with me? Well, then, I never thought I’d say this – but I can damn well do the same thing with them! }

"Okay, Agent Eppes, consider this a freebie – Buffy Summers is pretty much, literally, out of her mind crazy for this older guy who's very heavily involved in a lot of the really shady things that have been going on in Sunnydale over the past couple of years.

"And oh my God, people! That's disgusting! Get your minds out of the gutter, will you?! I'm not talking about the school librarian…" Xander grimaced, after he saw the facial expressions of both Don and his lawyer.

~~~

Sunnydale High School Library
Sunnydale, CA

A few days later


"You, you little...I can't believe you'd betray us like this, Xander," Giles declared furiously as the team of federal agents flowed into the library to support Special Agent Eppes in his mass arrest of the people being charged with responsibility for the attack on the Sunnydale Mall the previous year.

"I thought you could at least be trusted enough to – that you were loyal to us and everything we believed in!" Giles quickly changed his mind about what to say, as one of the federal agents roughly handcuffed him.

"Well, funny thing, Giles – loyalty needs to go both ways, or it just isn't loyalty," Xander informed the Watcher, from his position next to Agent Sinclair as Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Giles and Oz stared with incredulity at the group of agents who were currently handcuffing the so-called Scooby Gang members in a clearly well-practiced and professional manner. He’d timed this to make sure Faith was away when the bust went down – a Slayer was needed on the Hellmouth after all, and while she hadn't supported him in any way, she also hadn't joined the rest of the group when it came to ostracizing him.

"And just for the record, don’t tell me you actually thought I was dumb enough not to figure it all out? You guys didn't want me to just fall on my sword; you all tried to stab me in the back with it as well!" Harris half-snarled at the group. "Newsflash, but when the people at the top think they don't need to be loyal to the people under them, then all you've really got are expendable, weak-minded minions, who can be tossed aside when they're no longer needed.

"And despite your obvious opinion of me, *G-man*, I've never once considered myself cannon fodder," Xander added with a sneer that looked completely wrong on his eighteen-year-old face.

"I should've known we couldn't trust *you*, Xander, you worthless piece of crap!" Buffy snarled at him as a chestnut-haired woman agent locked a set of handcuffs around her wrists. The blonde Chosen One completely ignored Agent Reeves’ recitation of her Miranda rights as she somehow held herself back from using her Slayer strength to snap the cuffs in half, before she snarled, "You never really were part of the team, anyway, the way you were always criticizing me and everything..."

"Buffy, if we were still friends I’d advise you to take a good, hard look at yourself," Xander retorted coldly, despite the Slayer glaring at him with unconcealed fury. "You wanted a team? Maybe that was true a couple of years ago, but ever since you came back from LA after running away last summer, all you’ve wanted are people who'd roll over and do whatever you told them to do, whenever you told them to do it.

"And it looks to me like that's exactly what you ended up with – well-trained drones, who never questioned you, and who did everything you told them to do, when you snapped your fingers and told them to do it," he sneered as he turned and looked directly at Willow, who instinctively flinched away from his contemptuous gaze.

"To which I say, congratulations. Look where it got you all."

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School
The school's main corridor

A few moments later


"Well, I have to say that I'm delighted to see that your tawdry pasts have finally caught up with all of you reprehensible delinquents – and you, too, Mr. Giles," Principal Snyder declared, loudly and gleefully, as he watched the FBI team escort the Scooby Gang down the hallway towards the waiting dark vans parked outside the school lobby.

Snyder caught a glimpse of that trampy-looking black-haired girl, who had been hanging around these troublemakers over the past few months, disappearing down the corridor, but he paid her no mind. As far as the principal knew, she wasn’t even a student at the school, so she wasn’t truly his concern. { Good riddance, is all I can say; one less bad element around here can only help! }

"Agents, let me be the first to publicly thank you for the public service you've performed here, this afternoon," the obnoxious little troll, who was clearly taking an excessive amount of delight in Rupert’s and the arrested students' embarrassment, was practically wetting himself he was so happy.

"And let me tell you, Agent, all this is long overdue as well!" Snyder joyfully went on, moving closer to the group of federal agents and their prisoners. "These felons, even though they may still technically be juveniles, are an exceedingly vicious bunch, I can assure you! Why, they've been involved in practically every instance of vandalism and juvenile delinquency around here –"

"For the record, are you Principal Rodney Aloysius Snyder?" Agent Eppes interrupted the older man's rant as he paused next to the hateful little gnome.

"Why, yes, I am, Agent," Snyder acknowledged as he turned to beam happily at the fed.

"Good," Eppes smiled back down at the man. "Then, Mr. Snyder, I am pleased to inform you that you are under arrest for suspicion of being a participant in various ongoing criminal activities, including fraud, embezzlement, racketeering, drug trafficking, misappropriation of public funds and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice," Don informed Snyder, whose expression had instantly shifted to one of extreme disbelief, horror and fear.

"You have the right to remain silent, and anything you say can be used against you in a court of law," Eppes went on, ignoring the principal's voluble but feeble protests as he cheerfully handcuffed Snyder's wrists behind his back before then leading him after the other arrestees.

"If you cannot afford an attorney…"

~/~/~

A bus terminal
Los Angeles, CA

March, 1999


"All right, then, Harris. Here's everything you'll need for your new identity," Eppes said as he handed the teen a large manila envelope, which the youth immediately stuffed into his backpack. "Your new driver’s license is inside, new birth certificate, social security card, all the usual childhood immunization papers, grade school records for a school in Oregon that had a fire which destroyed most of their files several years ago, a G.E.D. in lieu of your high school graduation diploma, a closed out bank account book, some pay stubs for the part-time job you supposedly worked at for a couple years, and some other miscellaneous paperwork that should make it look like this identity has been around for a while, as well as five thousand dollars in cash."

"Okay. And I'd say 'thanks for everything,' Agent Eppes, but to be honest – I'm not really feeling all that thankful right now."

"You should be, kid. You got off real easy, considering everything you and your friends were responsible for," Eppes commented, feeling more than just a little annoyed at Xander's response.

"Even putting aside the immunity from prosecution, you’re damn lucky the Witness Protection and Relocation Program was willing to accept you after you narc’ed on the rest of your little cabal. Just about anyone else in your position, they’d have told 'em to go to hell..."

Deep down, Don knew that there were a *lot* of things that were really hinky about this case. But, apparently the higher-ups at headquarters in Washington, or someplace else with an equal amount of clout, must have greased the rails regarding this whole operation, because he'd never seen anything move as smoothly and without any foul-ups as this case had.

Rupert Giles had been deported back to England after his green card had been shredded – and after discovering the man's juvenile criminal record, Eppes had tipped off some contacts at New Scotland Yard to be there when the Englishman de-planed. Hopefully, the arrogant, disdainful son of a bitch would soon have a lot of explaining to do before the British courts.

Rodney Snyder had confessed to everything – including what he’d done for the vanished Allen Finch and the now-imprisoned former Mayor of Sunnydale, Richard Wilkins – and so, that little bastard was looking at a fairly light sentence, thanks to his lawyer’s plea-bargaining skills. But despite turning state’s evidence, the asshole would still have to face roughly five years in jail; and if Eppes was any judge of the prison system, Snyder was going to get a shank shoved into his chest in less than twelve months – and if that did happen, then good riddance to him.

Buffy Summers had been placed into a mental clinic, again, after she had been shot attempting to escape from federal custody. Her mother had pleaded desperately against it, but the girl’s phenomenal strength made it obvious that the teenaged blonde had been abusing anabolic steroids – and given her prior history of being committed for psychiatric problems, not to mention the need to consider the safety of the other juvenile hall inmates, the Children’s Court judge had decided to send Joyce’s daughter back to Pleasant View for an indefinite period.

Willow Rosenberg had been committed to stand trial for various cyber-crimes after it had been discovered, following an examination of her home computer's hard drive, that she was the infamous hacker previously known only as ‘RedTree’ – a virtual legend in various cyber-circles, who could reputedly get into any computer system, anywhere and at any time. The Attorney General would undoubtedly throw the book at her, both as payback for her sins and to send a message to all the other hackers out there about even considering doing this sort of thing.

Daniel Osborne – well, all Eppes knew was that kid wasn’t his problem anymore, as he had quickly been remanded into U.S. Army custody, for some reason which hadn’t been explained very well, and he’d basically disappeared.

There was also the issue of Cordelia Chase; apart from both her parents getting arrested by the IRS for tax fraud, there was indeed no real evidence connecting the now-penniless cheerleader to any wrong-doing, except for Summers' and Rosenberg's claims that Miss Chase had been involved in everything that had happened at the Sunnydale Mall that night. But, after less than five minutes of hearing the blonde and the redhead ‘talking’ about the brunette in question, that claim had been ignored and quickly forgotten, and the unlucky adolescent released. As it turned out, her lone appearance at the Sunnydale Police Department when Xander Harris had been shipped off to L.A. had been enough for him to decide to not volunteer any possibly damning information regarding her participation in the one-time Scooby Gang's activities.

Something else which was bugging Don about this case was the fact that the Marshal who’d delivered the Witsec identity package, Winston McBride, a guy who Don knew to be almost fearless, was as jittery as he’d ever seen him after learning about where his new charge had grown up, looking like he was expecting something to jump out of every shadow and try to eat him.

After a moment's further consideration, Don shrugged his shoulders and let all of the uncertainties and worries he'd had about this case slide into the back of his mind, as he mentally filed the entire case in the 'Closed' section of his head.

"…if you ever do find out what was really going on in Sunnydale, Agent Eppes, you'll realize just how freaky everything to do with this case really was," Don heard Harris saying to him, as he refocused his attention in the youth. "You still haven’t found Buffy’s boyfriend Angel, right?"

"No, but we’ll get him eventually. That BOLO was sent out to every law enforcement office across the country, and he'll surface again one day. Anyway, good luck with whatever you're planning on doing with your life from this point onwards, Harris," Don said with a slight grimace, not bothering to extend his hand for a handshake. "I think you're probably gonna need it."

"The only kind of luck I ever have is bad," Harris replied, stone-faced, as he shouldered his backpack. "And the day I start depending on luck to save my ass, is the day I know I'm gonna die.

"Goodbye, Agent Eppes."

And with that, ‘Alexander Jeffrey Sinclair’ walked off to get on his bus to Fayetteville, NC and to begin a brand new life.

FIN

The End

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