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The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 1

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

Summary: A Sequel to "The Iron Coin of the Jester". Xander has the Iron Coin, and with it, he can stop Fate's plans for his friends. But is change always good? Set during BtVS Season 3. Xander-Centric with a Xander/Cordelia pairing.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > GeneralAlkeniFR1524152,9801213139,97626 Sep 1216 Nov 14Yes

Episode 14: You Can't Stop Everything

Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I do own the Iron Coin, the Jester, The Librarian, The Hydra and related things.

Thanks to Starway Man, my Beta.

Author's Note: On the off chance any of you are interested in my random ramblings about The Iron Coin Chronicles, Buffy the Vampire and Angel the Series – along with writing updates and occasional teaser excerpts, I direct you to my tumblr. alkenifanfiction. Tumblr. Com (the extraneous spaces must be removed, obviously).

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 1

By Alkeni

Chapter 14: You Can't Stop Everything

January 29th, 1999
Library, Sunnydale High

Willow sat waiting in the library for Cordelia, after classes were over for the day. Part of her wondered why she was here, just waiting around doing nothing. Well, not exactly. The hacker and apprentice witch knew why she was waiting here – Cordelia had asked to speak with her after school was over for the day, because the other girl needed her help.

But then that really begged the question, why had she agreed to help Cordelia? This was the girl who had, since first grade, made her life hell. The spoiled princess who had picked on her, bullied her, and constantly belittled her. Year in and year out.

Okay, to be fair, Cordelia hadn't actually done that in over a year. Willow knew the Queen of Mean had refrained from actively picking on her during school hours – they still didn't always get along, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it had been at the start of sophomore year. All right, fine; Cordelia was no longer acting like a complete bitch. She had...mellowed. Changed.

And, of course, the reason why she'd changed was because Cordelia was now dating Xander Harris. Her unrequited former crush. Her best friend...well, no, that spot was actually occupied by Buffy nowadays, but still Xander was her oldest friend. 

In her mind, Willow could trace the changes back to the start of junior year – granted, as she'd gotten more involved in the fight against the vamps and demons around here, Cordelia had become a better person, at least a bit. But really, it was only since she had started to date Xander that the Chase girl had become something other than a rich bitch. One whose glare could reduce unsuspecting freshmen into a twitching, nervous mess.

And of course, that was a big part of the reason why she had agreed to help the head cheerleader. For reasons that Willow still didn't understand (apart from the fact that his girlfriend had a face and body that nearly made him drool at the mere sight of her, especially her breasts), Xander was dating Cordelia. They had been together for over a year, so obviously he cared about her. Indeed, he seemed to care about her a lot. Ergo, helping Cordelia would be the kind of thing that Xander would want her to do. So in Willow's mind, it was as much a favor for her oldest friend as it was for the popular girl who needed her help.

There was a bit of curiosity there as well, to be honest. Cordelia had actually asked her for help. Why? She'd never done that before; well, apart from homework and stuff, pre-Buffy. And she'd seemed...well, like she really needed the help. That made Willow feel a bit concerned – Cordelia had never seemed visibly worried before. If she was, then whatever the problem was, it had to be really bad.

The door to the library opened, and Willow stirred from her thoughts to see Cordelia coming into the room.

“Willow, good.” Cordelia said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I'm glad you're here. I...hang on.” She looked to make sure the door to Giles' office was closed.

“He's agreed to stay in there while we talk, gives us some privacy.” Willow said, curiously. “So...what's the problem?”

Cordelia started to hand Willow a folded piece of paper, then held back a moment. “Before I show you this, you gotta promise me that you won't tell anyone – not Buffy, not Giles, not even Oz. Xander knows most...well, some of it, but still – don't talk to him about this, either. Please. Swear to me by everything you hold sacred that you won't break my confidence?”

Willow looked at Cordelia a moment. The cheerleader was actually serious...this really had her bothered, worried, and...the red-haired witch-in-training nodded. “Okay, as long as it's not something that's gonna result in something, like, apocalyptic, I won't talk to anyone about it. But...Cordelia, what's going on?”

“It'll save time and make more sense if you just read this.” Cordelia handed the paper to her. Frowning, Willow took the paper and unfolded it in her hands. And true enough, it didn't take the female genius long to realize the magnitude of problem – and reading through the rest of the letter just confirmed her initial impressions.

Cordelia's father had been cheating on his taxes for the last twelve years, and now the IRS had finally caught onto it. The amount of money he owed...Willow had trouble wrapping her mind around such a high number, to be honest. And he was going to end up in jail for years, too, if the IRS won the court case.

“I already know that Daddy's going to lose the upcoming battle in court, no matter what kind of plea-bargain he tries to make or what kind of expensive lawyers he tries to hire. He got caught red-handed, and even worse, the Feds are angry enough to want to make an example out of him – thanks to our accountant turning state's evidence, in return for immunity from prosecution. I know when my father's lying, and he was lying when I confronted him with, with that.” Cordelia gestured to the paper. “And the truth is, I don't care if he goes to jail any longer – it's own his fault...” 

How's that for a daughter's love for her father? Willow thought to herself sourly, as Cordelia continued. “He's the one who decided to cheat on his taxes, and now he's gotta live with the consequences. But that's just it – I didn't!”

Cordelia looked at Willow directly. “I spoke to my mom, and she didn't even bother to deny it. We're going to lose everything, Willow – I'm going to lose everything! The house, my, my clothes, basically everything I own!” Cordelia reached into her purse and took out a handful of letters. “I already got accepted into colleges – good colleges! But without the family money, I won't be able to go to a single one of them!” Cordelia sounded frantic, voice quickly rising in pitch and volume. “I'm going to be left with almost nothing. And this isn't even my fault!” Cordelia forced herself to stop, before she got herself into a frenzy – again – and before she raised her voice even more. 

“Damn it, Willow, I'm supposed to have a future! I mean, assuming we survive the rest of the year here at Hellmouth High and all that, but for God's sake – ending up dirt poor? I mean, what, am I going to have to live like a nametag person? Please, Willow, there's got to be something you can do!”

“What...uh, what do you want me to do, hack the IRS?” Willow said, biting back the sarcasm she could have put in her tone – and the even more sarcastic and entirely unhelpful remark she wanted to make about karmic payback being a bitch...

Cordelia looked at her, taking the offer at face value. “Can you?” Cordelia was hardly computer savvy – she still remembered the 'press deliver' incident that had happened two years ago. While she'd been annoyed at the time, now she just had to respect Willow's cleverness with that trick.

“I dunno. Maybe I could, but given just how many levels of illegal that is?” Willow shook her head. “I don't think I should, and besides, I don't want to risk ending up in trouble myself for doing something like that.” Okay, so boo-hoo that Cordelia was going to lose all her credit cards and her fancy clothes and the rest of her material possessions. It would suck, but Willow couldn't bring herself to care that much about it. But she had to empathize with Cordelia's bigger problem. If her house was taken away, if all her money vanished...she'd have nowhere to live (a dangerous proposition in Sunnydale) and...well, she'd have no way to pay for college. 

And higher education was important!! Willow had seen, on the acceptance letter envelopes that Cordelia had brandished for a moment, the words 'Columbia' and 'Duke'. Both were good colleges. She wouldn't have anything to go there with, or well, pay for food or anything while at college. 

Willow wouldn't wish something like that even on the Cordelia of two years ago, let alone this one that was dating her oldest friend and wasn't anywhere near as nasty as she had been before.

“I, I can't promise anything.” Willow said in the end. “But since you're Xander's girlfriend, and we both know he'd get down on his knees and plead with me to do anything and everything I can to help you, I'll see what I can do to save you from becoming completely bankrupt. If you can give me any information you have on, like...where your dad keeps his money, bank-wise, that would help. Maybe I can transfer the funds out before the IRS freezes the accounts, if they haven't done so already.”

Cordelia nodded, “Alright...” She paused a moment. “I can tell you details regarding my trust fund right now, I have them memorized. And...thanks for doing this.”

January 29th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

“We need to talk.” Cordelia said, as she and Xander arrived at his home after the meeting with Willow was over.

“About what?” Harris stared at her curiously.

The brunette hesitated, looking around the house as they went down the hall to the lounge room. “Your mom?”

Xander shrugged. “It's Friday night, and she's out of town – visiting my grandma in Oakland. Guess that means we've got the entire house to ourselves, 'til Monday.” The young man suddenly smirked. “So, then, can I entice you into spending the evening here? The weekend too, maybe?”

“God! Is that all you can think about?” Cordelia looked at him in annoyance. “Xander, there's more to life than just sex, and seriously hot make-out sessions!”

“Such as?” 

The Chase girl brought out the letter she had shown Willow earlier on in the library, the letter he'd seen a glimpse of a few days before. “Siddown on the couch, dork. You're my boyfriend, so I'm kinda obligated to tell you about the tiny problem my dad's developed with the IRS...” 

February 10th, 1999
Library, Sunnydale High

Xander strolled into the library as students milled around in the hallways and lounges, some already sitting inside their classrooms. Homeroom was officially over and classes would be starting for the day in about five minutes, but Giles had asked for Xander to come see him in the library this morning. Whatever it was he wanted to discuss, it had had Giles sounding somewhere between annoyed and disgusted during the phone call he'd made.

The Iron Coin had, in its lovely unhelpful way, shown him next to nothing recently in terms of his friends' lives, or what was going to happen during this meeting. And all of Cordelia's 'it's just a tiny mistake that will hopefully be sorted out soon' protests aside, Xander didn't feel so confident about her father's chances of fixing the 'problem' he had. It was the freaking IRS he was in trouble with, after all. But the Coin had shown him nothing recently about any of the Chase family members, not even the girl he was currently sleeping with. Nothing about Buffy, or Faith, or Willow, or Oz, anyone. It had gotten to the point where he was using it nightly, just to be sure.

Maybe the forces of Fate, and the Librarian, had come up with some way to shield their activities from the Iron Coin's sight? Now that was a troubling thought. If that was the case, though, wouldn't the forces of Chaos and the Jester be aware of that? And done something about it? Unless of course they found it more amusing to watch him flounder about, wondering what to do next...

Putting away such thoughts, Xander noticed that Giles was not alone in the library. There were several boxes on the central table, which Giles was sitting at, glasses off and one hand rubbing at his left temple. The other man in the room, from the voice, was also British, and just....

Xander had to do a double take to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. The new guy took everything that had ever been a complaint about the way Giles dressed or looked, and dialed it up to eleven. The hair so carefully combed into place, the suit pressed just so, the tie – the look wasn't all that bad, maybe, but the new arrival carried himself with such...pompousness. Xander couldn't help but laugh a little, inadvertently interrupting the British man.

“...the Council has updated the Handbook again, so I suspect you'll want to make sure your Slayer has one-” Wesley cut himself off, as he heard Xander laughing and looked around to the source of the voice.

“Good, Xander, you're here.” Giles said, biting back a sigh of relief. He turned to Wesley. “This is Xander Harris, one of the-”

“Civilians that help the Slayers stationed here, yes, yes, I'm aware.” Wesley said, looking Xander over.

“I'm gonna say, new Watcher?” Xander guessed. Who else would have the accent here in Sunnydale? “So, you checked with the Council this time? No memos out on this guy, right?”

“No, uh, his paperwork is all in order. Xander, permit me to formally introduce Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Xander.” Giles gestured back and forth between the two of them. “Wesley is here to take up the post of Faith's Watcher.”

Xander looked to Wesley again, then raised an eyebrow. “Really? I bet she'll be thrilled to hear that.”

Wesley just gave him a look, or tried to anyway. Wow, even Harmony – Harmony! - could give him a more withering look than this guy could. “I'm well aware of Miss Lehane's unruly nature, Mr. Harris. A quality that can easily be credited to the lack of discipline you've imparted to both Slayers, Mr. Giles.”

“Oh yes, of course.” Giles didn't physically roll his eyes – but he didn't need to. His tone had it all in spades.

“Yep. Faith is gonna love you.” Xander confirmed, repeating his earlier sentiment.

Before Wesley could reply, Giles cut in. “Unfortunately, I have some matters to discuss with Mr. Harris in my office.” Xander started to head for the door, but Wesley decided to interject.

“Anything you discuss with a civilian regarding the situation in Sunnydale, you can also discuss in front -” He started to say.

“No, no, this has nothing to do with either of the Slayers, or my role as a Watcher, I assure you.” Giles interrupted hastily. “The lad and I have some private issues to discuss, that's all.”

Wesley looked at both of them, and seemed about to protest further; but then apparently thought better of it, or at least decided not to make a fuss when he couldn't prove that it was any of his business. Wesley just turned and went back to unpacking books from his boxes.

Giles followed Xander into his office and closed the door behind him. Once it was closed, Giles removed his glasses, “Please tell me that you know something, anything about this – about him.” 

“Sorry, Giles, I got nothing.” 

Rupert pinched the bridged of his nose. “Gwendolyn Post was almost more tolerable than that bloody prat. I still hold out hope that there was a memo about him that I've missed!”

“That bad?” Xander asked, sympathizing. Even spending just a couple of minutes with 'Mr. Wyndam-Pryce' (and wasn't that the mother of all land of tea and crumpet last names, if there ever was one?) had almost physically hurt.

“Insufferably so.” Giles confirmed. “I shudder to think how Buffy would have reacted, if I had been that bad when she first came to Sunnydale.”

“I don't know if that would actually have been possible.” Xander said, smiling for a moment. “Watcher 2.0 feels more like a bad remake than a real show.”

“Good Lord, I think I actually understood that sentence.” And what a troubling concept that is. He really was spending too much time around American teenagers. “So, you didn't know anything about his arrival?” He asked again, taking things back to the main point.

“Nope.” Xander shook his head. “Not a thing.” He pointed to the door, as if to Wesley on the far side of it. “I'd have warned you about anything even remotely that bad. Actually, while we're on the subject,” he continued, voice a little more pensive. “The thing is, I haven't been getting anything in the way of information for a while now. Over a week.” Not that I haven't been trying. The Jester hadn't stopped by for any visits either, which was another issue of...debatable concern.

“I see. Hrmm. I honestly don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.” Giles sighed. “On the one hand, knowing what's coming next seems useful, but then again...the things you've had forewarning about have been fairly problematic, to say the least. So if you don't know anything – is that a good sign about the upcoming future?” He shook his head. “I take it you don't know the answer to that question, either?”

“To be honest, no, I don't. I've been asking myself that for the last few days, but I don't have a clue.” He paused, trying to figure out the best way to put it, in a way that whatever it was that was stopping him spilling the beans – this 'Hydra', it seemed maybe, that Xander had never met yet. Finally, he said, “Giles, I've always known that the...warnings I get, they're limited to...certain kinds of information. Things that don't fall into that category, I figure just aren't going to get told to me. And that's leaving aside everything else.” Like if the Jester is deliberately stopping me from seeing some things at times. I can't tell.

Xander sighed, “So no, no clues on this Wyndam-Pryce guy.” He looked to the door again, then back to Giles. “What's the deal with him, anyway? Is he in charge around here now, or what?”

“No, thank God.” Giles really did shudder at that thought. “I remain Buffy's Watcher, and my position on that front is quite secure. Quentin Travers is still far too weak, politically speaking, to threaten me with removal for the time being. He's just managed to get one of his people installed as Faith's Watcher, not that he can't do enough damage from that position as it is. On the positive side of things, because I'm senior Watcher on the Hellmouth, if it involves both Buffy and Faith, I have primacy. Which, given the nature of things here, should be often. Pryce is Travers' protegee, and almost certainly here to spy for him. He's also a man who, at first glance, goes completely by the Watcher Handbook; which may work to our advantage, in certain situations. But maybe not others.”

“So no real verdict?”

“Just that he's a completely insufferable ponce.” Giles answered with a sigh. Then he added, “You should get to class...and in the meantime, I shall endeavor to deal with Mr. Wyndam-Pryce...without maiming him.”

February 10th, 1999
Library, Sunnydale High

Buffy walked into the library, wondering what it was that Giles had asked Willow to tell her to come see him about. Of course, she got a pretty good idea when she heard a smug, British-accented voice speaking – and when she saw the guy wearing that ridiculous suit, it was basically a given why he'd wanted to see her.

“...two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.” The new arrival said, as if it was some glorious achievement.

Giles, who had been standing, leaning back a bit against the table, uncrossed his arms and rolled his eyes just a touch. “Well, no danger of finding those here.”

“What, vampires?” The man looked up from the box of books.

“Controlled circumstances.” Giles stood up, seeing Buffy walk in. “Hello, Buffy.” 

Hearing that, the blonde Slayer saw the other man look over at her, the look on his face as smug as his voice. He walked around to stand at the front of the table, and examined her closely. “Well. Hello.” 

Buffy didn't need long to get the measure of him. Instead, she just looked to Giles. “New Watcher?”

“Faith's new Watcher, yes.” Giles confirmed. “Buffy, meet Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, meet Buffy.” 

Buffy immediately thought to herself, That Wesley Wyndam-Pryce? Giles, I told you you'd jinxed it!

“A pleasure.” Wesley said, holding out his hand. 

You expect me to shake that? Buffy just ignored him and looked back to Giles. “Is he evil?”

“Evil?” Wesley's smug tone was replaced with confusion. It didn't make him sound any less pompous, though.

“The last one was evil.” Buffy explained for the man's benefit. What, did the Watchers not tell him anything about what had happened here in the Hellmouth? Wouldn't be surprised. He'd be wetting himself, if he's as useless as he seems.

“Oh, yes.” he said thoughtfully – or at least a nice play at it. “Gwendolyn Post. We all heard about that rather nasty business. No, Mr. Giles has checked my credentials rather thoroughly and phoned the Council, but I'm glad to see you're on the ball as well.” He looked to the door. “Where is Faith, by the way?”

Buffy looked back to Giles and repeated herself. “Is he evil?” She hadn't gotten an answer from her Watcher, after all.

“Not as such, no.” Giles replied, sounding just a hint disappointed by that fact. He looked to Wesley. “I asked Amy to tell Faith I needed to speak with her, so she should be here soon.” He looked back to Buffy. “In the meantime, what were the results of last night's patrol? Anything noteworthy?”

Buffy shook her head. “Just vampires.” Then she remembered what she'd wanted to talk to Giles about anyway, before Willow had passed on his message. “No, wait, one of them had these two swords. He didn't seem to be with the other bloodsuckers.”

“Two swords?” Wesley interjected. He went over to the box of books and took a volume out, leafing through it quickly. “One long, one short?”

“Yea...with, like, jewels and things on the handles.” Buffy added to Giles.

“Sounds familiar...” Giles said, reaching for his glasses. He stopped taking them off when Wesley handed him an open volume.

“It should.” Wesley said, as he gave Giles the book.

“Yes, of course...El Eliminati. Fifteenth century-” Giles said, reading from the passage Wesley had found.

“Fifteenth century dueling cult, yes, and they also-” Wesley started, interrupting Giles enthusiastically. He shut up when Giles gave him a look. “Ah. Sorry.” Wesley said, not sounding apologetic.

“In their day, they were deadly and widespread.” Giles said. “But they appear to have greatly dwindled in number, in large part because they spent too much time dueling each other.” Giles turned the page. “They took to following a demon named Balthazar, who led them to the New World – specifically, the Hellmouth here. By all reports, Balthazar was killed about a hundred years ago and the cult dispersed.” He handed Wesley the book back, who took it. “They're practically extinct. Which would explain why we haven't seen them around here before.”

“But they're back 'cause...?” Buffy started. This history lesson was all well and good, but if these guys were going to be a problem, she needed know about the now.

“I haven't the foggiest.” Giles admitted. “It's surprising there are any of them to be back at all, after a hundred years without their leader.” He looked to Wesley. “I don't suppose you have any theories?”

“Actually, I do.” Wesley said, his smug tone making an unwelcome reappearance. Putting the book back in the box, he said, “Balthazar, before his death, was said to possess an amulet that gave him great strength. After his death, it ended up in the hands of a wealthy landowner -” He cut himself off, seeing the look on Buffy's face. “Of course, I don't want to bore you with all the details...”

“Too late for that.” Buffy drawled. Giles had earned the right to be a little long-winded. This guy, on the other hand? Not at all.

“...named Gleaves.” Wesley continued, trying – and failing – to give Buffy a 'look'. “The amulet was buried with him in his family's tomb, if memory serves. I believe it may be that that is what the survivors of the cult are looking for. It would be of great sentimental value to them.”

“Just sentimental value? These are vampires we're talking about.” Giles noted. “Sentiment doesn't play much of a role in anything they do.”

“Yes, I'm well aware of that fact, Mr. Giles.” Wesley reproached him. “But the amulet would confer no power at all to anyone but Balthazar, and he, as you mentioned, is quite dead.” He gestured to the book, which was back in the box. “Therefore, sentiment is the only logical explanation as to why they'd be seeking it.”

“If that's why they're here, of course.” Giles pointed out. “Nonetheless,” He added, looking back to Buffy. “It's not an unreasonable theory, and it's the only lead we have at the moment. Barring any other evidence, you should go to the tomb of this Gleaves gentleman later this evening, and recover the amulet.”

“Alright.” Buffy said, nodding. As she nodded, she heard the doors to the library open, and someone walk in.

“Yo, G, Amy said you needed me for something?” Faith said, twirling a stake in one hand for no apparent reason.

Wesley looked at the new arrival. “This is perhaps Faith?”

Faith looked at him, going back a half-step and raising her eyebrow in distaste. “Who are you supposed to be, my new Watcher?”

“Faith, meet Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Wesley, Faith.” Giles said, reaching up to rub his right temple for a moment. “And yes; the Council, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to assign him as your new Watcher.”

“There's no need to be snide, Mr. Giles.” Wesley countered, defensively. “I'm well aware that you don't like me, but we are all on the same side here.”

Faith scoffed. “I'd rather not have you on my side. You're supposed to be my Watcher?” She shook her head. “Screw that.” She turned and walked out.

“Faith!” Wesley tried to call after her in an attempt at a stern tone. He failed. Faith just walked out of the library, ignoring her nominal Watcher.

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes at Wesley, Giles looked to Buffy. “Would you-?” he started.

“I'll see if I can get her back.” Buffy agreed, reluctantly. She looked over to Wesley, “Don't say anything terribly interesting while I'm gone.” She left the room. Wesley started to walk over to his books and took off his glasses, preparing to clean them, while at the same time, Giles began to do the exact same thing. The older Watcher stopped himself as he saw that Wesley was performing the same motion and got his glasses back on, before Wesley turned.

“She'll get used to me, I'm sure.” Wesley said with confidence, looking at the door.

“I rather doubt it.” Giles replied coolly. “If you want to make any progress in getting that girl to listen to you, I suspect you're going to have to change your behavior.”

“What do you mean?” 

Giles just smirked and looked away. “Forget everything that's in the Handbook, for a start.”

February 10th, 1999
1420 Truman Drive, Sunnydale

With Faith still out on patrol with Buffy – she'd said something about vampires and swords, but hadn't gone into detail – Amy was in her room, eyes closed as she focused her mind and her magic on the unlit candle in front of her. In terms of flashiness, lighting a candle wouldn't be a major accomplishment. But in terms of what it could mean long-term, it was useful. If she could light the candle using her magic, then she could possibly build on that to eventually conjure fireballs as offensive weapons.

Maybe. But the point was that Sunnydale was a war zone, and she had to make her talents more useful in a fight. Freezing the vampires in place or 'conjuring' up water was all well and good, but as her experience with that demon from the Sisterhood of Jhe showed, that didn't count for all that much. In certain circumstances, with the right preparation and the right components, she could help with chants and rituals and all that, but that wasn't always practical or possible.

Amy vowed that she would never be helpless again, to protect herself and protect her friends, or her family. And that meant she needed to get better at magic that could be used without such preparation, that would be useful in a fight.

Controlling fire enough to light a candle on command was the start of that process.

But just as she was starting, bringing the candle into her mind's eye, her cell phone – a recent gift from her dad – started to ring, completely ruining her focus. Amy looked to the phone, sitting on the nearby bedside table and got up from her position cross-legged on the floor and grabbed the phone as it rang again. The number wasn't one she knew.


“Hello Miss Madison.” A voice that Amy had been dreading hearing, that had haunted the nightmares of her mother's death – of her murdering her own mother – night after night. A familiar voice. “Time for that favor I mentioned to be repaid.”

“You!” Amy nearly screamed – her father wasn't home at the moment, so she didn't have to worry about him overhearing anything. “How dare you-” Amy's voice was cut off as she felt her throat tighten and constrict, her vocal cords shut off, pressure clamping on her windpipe.

As Amy gagged, the voice spoke. “Now, I can appreciate that you're upset. I can even appreciate that you'd really prefer not hearing from me. But that's the way such things go, isn't it? A bargain is a bargain, young lady, and you owe me a favor. Besides, wouldn't you like to know more? There's a reason you went to Rack in the first place. I can help you. All you need to do is carry out what you agreed to do.” Amy felt the pressure on her throat vanish.

“I didn't agree to kill my mother with that spell, damn you!”

“Miss Madison, do you really think anything else would have stopped Catherine, once and for all? Was she ever going to stop trying to kill you? Your friends? That Faith girl? Is that what you wanted?” The voice was smooth, cool and almost comforting in tone, a strange mix of helpful paternalism and a not-ineffective used-car-salesman.

“Nonononono, I didn't - no! You don't get to talk your way out it that easily. You didn't tell me -” Amy managed to counter.

“Of course I didn't. Now, perhaps we can move on to talking about that favor you owe me?”

“I'm not doing anything for you!”

“Oh, now, of course you are. Or should I tell your friends the truth about that spell that killed your mother? Is that what you want?”

“N-no.” Amy managed to get out, fear rising up in her again. How would they react? How would Faith react? She had lied to them, and...would they actually believe she didn't know...

“It's just a small favor I need. There's a book, currently in the possession of your friend Rupert Giles. I need you to...take possession of it, and deliver it to a particular location.”

“I'm not stealing from-!”

“Ah, ah, ah.” The unknown man interrupted, as Amy's voice seized up again. “You aren't in any position to negotiate, I'm afraid. Besides, it's such a small thing. I'm not asking you to kill anyone, am I? Just get the book, and we'll be even. And I'll even help you learn a trick or two, to improve your magic. Everyone gets to be a winner, apart from Mr. Giles I suppose. Again; that doesn't sound too bad, does it?”

February 11th, 1999
Library, Sunnydale High

Wesley analyzed Balthazar's amulet underneath a jeweler's glass, holding it up to his eye and keeping the trinket close. He moved a little to get the light better, then pulled the amulet and the glass away, offering both to Giles, who took them. “It certainly does seem authentic. There may need to be further tests for us to be completely sure, though.” 

Giles examined the amulet for a moment, before making a sound of agreement. Despite his obnoxious attitude and his obvious uselessness in the field or as a Watcher in general, technically Wesley was incredibly bright. Authenticating occult artifacts was something Giles had little doubt his compatriot could do expertly – same as if there was some obscure translations required.

“Yeah, I think we got bigger problems than if that's the real amulet or not. Your nearly-extinct cult was out in force last night.” Buffy said, not bothering to hide the bitterness in her voice. 

“It's not my nearly-extinct cult!” Wesley protested, looking to Giles for support. “You read the text, Mr. Giles, same as I did. All the available accounts described El Eliminati as a dispersed and relatively weak group of the undead...”

Giles cleared his throat nervously, looking to an annoyed Buffy and a bored Faith. “Well, uh, he's correct about that. All the available information did suggest that the cult was extinct, o-or nearly so.” Then he looked to Wesley. “However, having said that, this is the Hellmouth; and if there's one rule here, it's that things usually don't behave as they're supposed to. If there's anywhere for a dead cult to have more forces than it should, it's here.”

“Still, I can hardly be blamed for-” Wesley protested further.

“For heaven's sake, man, quit while you're barely managing to tread water! Giles advised. He looked back to Buffy. “Well, obviously, this changes things; and frankly, I'm inclined to suspect that reports of Balthazar's death may be greatly exaggerated – or possibly that his amulet figures in some sort of plan to resurrect or revive him.”

“That's preposterous!” Wesley protested for the third time in as many minutes. “Mr. Giles, you can't possibly believe that.”

“I'll make sure Angel gets the amulet.” Buffy said, ignoring the protest. The bell rang, and she frowned. “And great, now it's time for that Chem test.” She headed for the door – and Faith left as well, despite an indignant 'Faith!', from Wesley.

February 11th, 1999
Chem Lab, Sunnydale High

Xander resisted the urge to tell Buffy to shut up as Mrs. Taggart started passing out the exam booklets, his pencil tapping against the table. Okay, so drinking half a dozen energy drinks before taking the test was a bad idea. Better put that onto the list of things to not do again.

Buffy kept gushing about last night's fight with the sword-vamps, “It was intense. It was like I just... let go and became this force. I just didn't care anymore.” 

Willow seemed at least a little more interested in the story – at the moment – but then, she wasn't busy worrying about her grade for this subject. At least she didn't have to panic about it, anyway. “Yeah, I know what that's like.” The redhead agreed with her best friend.

Buffy shook her head. “I don't think you can! It's kind of a Slayer thing. I don't even think I'm explaining it well.” 

No, you're really not. Xander sighed to himself, he knew he couldn't blame Buffy too much. Clearly she'd had fun last night, which was something she rarely did on a patrol, except perhaps when she was exceptionally good with her puns. He didn't begrudge her bonding with Faith over Slaying, or even enjoying the Slaying. He just wanted to focus on getting past this damned test.

Cordelia, sitting next to him, seemed even more annoyed by Buffy's story, and actually cut in hissing: “Actually, no, you're not. So stop trying!” 

Buffy looked at the cheerleader with a less than happy expression on her face, and then shifted her look to Xander when he looked to be in total agreement with his girlfriend. Then Mrs. Taggart came by and handed the four of them their test booklets. Then the teacher went to the front of the class and did her usual pre-test announcement.

Cordelia shifted in her seat, not paying much attention – not that she or anyone else needed to, they'd all heard it before. Xander tuned the teacher out as well, thinking about his girlfriend. 

He knew that Cordelia had been on edge ever since they'd found that IRS letter. It also hadn't taken a genius to realize that his girlfriend was at least partially lying when she'd told him it was a mistake that her father's lawyers were going to sort out soon. He'd gently tried to get Cordelia to open up about it, but her reaction had kept him from trying too hard. If Cordelia didn't want to talk about it, he could respect that; for now. Although, if it kept bothering her like this, Xander knew he might have to push harder.

Xander watched Buffy mime buttoning her mouth shut, and realized she'd been gushing again and told to be quiet by the teacher. Mrs. Taggart announced they had an hour, then left the room.

Buffy immediately started in again, “Okay, so the best part...”

Now, though, even Willow didn't want to keep listening, adding a little reproach to her tone. “Buffy. Test? You know, chemistry. Remember? The thing you didn't come over to study for?”

“Right. Got it.” Buffy replied, turning back to her test. It only took her a minute of not filling any circles in – a minute in which Xander found himself picking – at random – answers for the first three questions, since nothing was occurring to him at all. Though this one here, he was 90% sure he knew the answer to. Maybe? Okay, 75%? Better than nothing. He marked 'C' for question four, and was about to move onto number five when Buffy turned around and interrupted again.

“Sorry. Okay, so we're down there, in the sewers, and Faith got three of them on her at once...” She said, continuing the story as if she hadn't been interrupted several times already.

This time, though, Xander lost it and snapped at her. He appreciated that she was enthused about Slaying, he really did; but good Godfrey Cambridge, couldn't she possibly have better timing? 

“God damn it, Buffy! We got a test to do, okay? I'm highly caffeinated, and I'm trying to concentrate. Some of us actually care about school, you know?!” Okay, definitely don't drink that much caffeine before a test, ever again! 

“What he said.” Cordelia murmured, as more students looked their way. “So get with the program, will you? Or do you want us to fail this damn test?”   

Looking hurt, Buffy finally shut up and stayed quiet and Xander only vaguely paid attention as Faith showed up at the window, he really was trying to concentrate. He couldn't ignore Buffy just up and leaving the class, though. He gaped for a moment, then shook his head violently as the two Slayers walked away from the classroom.

Test, Xander. Focus on the damn test. His leg kept shaking against his chair. Yep. Definitely too much caffeine.

February 12th, 1999
Chase Residence, Sunnydale

Over the last week, Xander and Cordelia hadn't spent that much time at her house. Part of that was because her father was spending more time at the place. Cordelia had passed it off as just him handling business stuff, and that might well have been true; but in any case, now they were here at her house for the night, both of Cordelia's parents were away. Something he couldn't help noticing.

Xander looked to the empty bowl of popcorn sitting in front of them as they watched the movie, one of his hands gently stroking Cordelia's hair. He leaned over and gave her a quick kiss, then picked up the bowl with his other hand. “I'm thinking more popcorn. Want some?”

Cordelia reached over to the remote and paused the movie, smirking a little. “I honestly don't know how you can be hungry enough for more! Anyway, no, I'm good. But go make yourself some more, if you want. I'll help you work off the excess pounds later.” She returned the kiss, and Xander got up, making his way down the stairs to the kitchen.

It was true that he wanted some more popcorn, but really, Xander just wanted an opportunity to use the Iron Coin again. Grabbing a bag from the cupboard, he popped it into the microwave and took the coin out of his pocket.

“Buffy Summers.” He flipped it up, and got the expected nothing. “Willow Rosenberg.” And again, nothing. “Cordelia Chase.” Zilch. “Rupert Giles.” Nada. The microwave beeped and Xander poured the popcorn into the bowl. “Jessica Harris.” He'd taken to flipping the coin for his mother, ever since his father's death. Nothing for her – he'd never gotten anything on her with the Iron Coin, oddly enough. “Daniel Osbourne.” Yet again, nothing.

Picking up the popcorn bowl, he started towards the stairs, flipping the coin one last time. “Faith Lehane.”

The vision instantly blasted into his mind, causing Xander to stagger and almost drop the popcorn.

Buffy and Faith in an alley. A glimpse of a street name, a building with a sign on it. Crates and a dumpster. Vampires, with swords. Lots of them. The two Slayers fighting desperately, outnumbered.

Buffy grabbing a vampire, tossing it to Faith, who stakes it. They run down the alley, Buffy grabs another...wait, is that a vampire? No game face...oh crap, there's a visible pulse on his neck, he's definitely not a vampire! Faith doesn't hesitate, the stake goes flying into his chest as the truth dawns on Buffy....

Blood spreading all over the white suit shirt, as the body falls to the ground.

The image played over and over in his head; the body falling, Faith pulling the stake away, the look on her face after the man failed to explode into dust. The dead man's last horrified look of fear, pure deep, shitting your pants fear as he realized he was about to die. That look was burned into Xander's mind, during that timeless moment.

Xander staggered, the force of what he was seeing making him feel like his head was going to split apart. He knew two things. One, Faith was going to accidentally kill a human being, thinking him a vampire. And two, he had to stop it. How – he didn't know. He didn't even know the 'when' – there had been no indication about what time all that would occur...

Head still swimming, he finally fell to the floor, landing on his ass as the bowl dropped onto the floorboard, spilling popcorn all over the place. Xander managed to hold onto the coin, though, getting it into his pocket moments before Cordelia came down the stairs.

“Xander! Are you-” She started. She must have heard the bowl drop.

“I'll be fine.” Xander started to get to his feet, Cordelia helped him. “I need your car, honey. Keys, right now.” There was no time to waste.

“Xander, what are you talking about? It's 7:30!”

“Cordelia's, please, there's no time!” He grabbed her hand. She wouldn't budge. Xander looked her in the eye, letting her see the sincerity in his words, “We need to get going – now!”

“What are you-” Cordelia spluttered. “Go where – I mean, did someone call?” She hadn't heard a phone ring.

“Cordelia, I don't have time to explain. If you're not going to let me drive, then you drive! This is a matter of life and death!”

February 12th, 1999
Alley, Sunnydale

Cordelia, having broken at least three traffic laws in the rush to get to where Xander had insisted they needed to go, was not in a good mood. Xander had more or less brushed off her questions...but she knew her boyfriend. This wasn't some prank, he wasn't shitting her, but what the hell was going on?

Xander was opening the door and running out of the car, even before it had come to a full stop. Cordelia moved as quickly as she could, watching Xander run down the alley –

Faith and Buff were alone in the alley, when an arm reached out and grabbed Buffy by the shoulder. Instantly, she grabbed the man and threw him against a dumpster. Faith jumped right in, driving her stake into the vampire wearing a suit and – no dust.

Just a body collapsing onto the ground, and the horrified expressions of two teenage girls.

Xander just stood there, knowing he'd failed. Even with the Iron Coin, he'd been too late to stop it. The male teen felt numb as everything he'd foreseen happened, all over again, in the full Technicolor of real life.
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