The Mark of Eyghon, part I
A/N: Disclaimer, author’s notes, etc., are at the beginning of chapter 1; spoilers are through “The Dark Age”.
Xander Harris sighed to himself as he walked down the hall of his school. Things were weird back at school right after Halloween. And when Xander said ‘weird’, he meant weird weird. Ultra-mega-weird. Weird even by Sunnydale standards. It was really obvious to Xander that a lot of people were still running on Halloween memories, even if it seemed like the entire rest of the town was totally oblivious about it. Larry was walking around saying, “Arrh, matey!” all the time, and avoiding Xander. Well, Larry did have a massive bruise on the side of his jaw. It was bigger than an egg, and it looked like it really hurt. People were talking about Todd and Cameron suddenly improving their times in swimming by huge amounts, which completely gave Xander the wiggins. Jerry Welsh, who had gone out on Halloween as a zombie, spent a lot of time shuffling along and muttering under his breath. Xander made an effort to listen to Jerry one day, and the guy was walking down the hall whispering “Brains…” over and over. Much with the creepitude there. Scott Hope had stopped staring at the cheerleaders like they were snackfood, and Xander really didn’t want to find out who Scott was ogling all the time now. Pete had gone out as Mister Hyde, and now he seemed to be really pretty much bi-polar a lot of the time. And those were just the people Xander knew about.
Xander was really worrying about everyone who had gotten a costume at Ethan’s. Even Willow and Buffy. Willow kept checking walls to see if she could walk through them. Buffy had gone shopping with Joyce and bought two long dresses that even Xander knew weren’t in style. Not to mention the high tea that Buffy put on, that would have been really excellent if Buff wasn’t a major liability in a kitchen. And there was the fact that Buffy had gotten a ‘B’ on her last French test, when she was normally just barely passing even with tutoring from Willow. Xander had been over at Willow’s a couple times for the tutoring, and he wondered why Buffy didn’t try to do more written assignments, because now he had memories that let him tell she was better at writing the stuff out than speaking it.
But Xander was sweating things, because his feelings hadn’t faded. He felt more and more that he was trapped in the wrong body. That he ought to look like Xena, from head to toe. When he brushed his teeth in the morning, his reflection didn’t even look right. Oh, it looked like dopey old Xander, all right. That was the problem. Some part of his brain was telling him that he ought to look like a gorgeous, busty woman who could kick the ass of anyone on the planet. Well, anyone except a Slayer.
He had to shake that. He’d never had trouble dropping stuff out of his brain before. No, the problem had always been keeping stuff like school stuff from dropping out of his brain. Now he was scared of what was staying in his head.
The freaky thing about what was in his head was schoolwork. Suddenly, geometry was just making sense. That wasn’t supposed to happen. All the math tutoring he used to get over at Willow’s house was now spent in serious necking time. And English class was going better. A lot better. His spelling was so much better that his teacher had asked him if Willow had written his last paper for him. Ancient history class was going WAY better. The Xena memories in his head were pulling this stuff out of the air. He was looking through the textbook and thinking, “oh yeah, I remember that”, or “no way, those idiots got this all wrong”. He was just trying really hard to remember which was which, because Mr. Alderson was pretty grouchy about writing down stuff that wasn’t in the textbook. Chemistry class was going pretty well, for a change. Especially chem lab. It seemed Xena knew way too much about Greek fire and gunpowder and stuff like that. Modern chemistry just seemed to click, with her knowledge pushing him along. Civics was going great, too. What Xena hadn’t known about ancient laws and stuff wasn’t worth writing down, and it seemed like a lot of modern countries were just big re-hashes of old stuff. For a hot chick who seemed to spend all her time kicking asses and taking names, Xena had been pretty freaking smart.
Even the research-y stuff with Will in the library was better. A lot better. Before, he had been struggling with the stupid ‘ye olde englishe’ writing with the weird wiggles on the letters that Giles called ‘serifs’ or something. And that was still tons better than the Latin and Akkadian and Greek and Sumerian and Egyptian and everything else that Giles was teaching Willow how to translate. But his Xena part didn’t have any trouble with the weird serif stuff, which made his Xander part do a heck of a lot better on the reading old weird stuff. He hadn’t admitted it to Willow or Giles, but he could read some of the really old languages too. Well, Xena had known them like the back of her hand. She must have been one smart superchick, because he couldn’t imagine being able to read as many languages as she must have been able to, if she could read most of the ones Xander had seen out on the library tables while Giles did research. The gods only knew how many she knew that Giles just didn’t have books in. Xena just didn’t know the demon languages that Giles had books in.
He remembered other stuff, too. How to ride a horse. Really well. Even if he also remembered enough to know that he’d have real agony in his thighs and mondo saddle sores if he jumped on a horse and rode around all day like Xena could. He figured he could probably ride for half an hour tops without really regretting it the next day, but there was no way he could find a horse to ride on around here, unless he had Cordelia-like moolah to go rent horses and bridles and saddles and all that other jazz. And he remembered a lot of sword-stuff, even if he didn’t have the muscles to wield a sword like Xena and he was spending time every morning doing pushups and squat-thrusts and lunges and pullups and all the other stuff Xena had done to build herself up when she was younger than he was now. And he remembered some of the pressure point techniques, which scared the hell out of him. He didn’t dare try the paralysis technique or the heart-stopper technique, because he wasn’t sure he could undo either of them in time if he got them to work on anybody, and he couldn’t remember enough of most of the other ones to make them work, and the one time he’d gotten the pressure-point-just-above-the-elbow thing to work on Buffy she had punched him so hard with her other arm that he ended up on the other side of the library table. Note to self: don’t stand around and admire your work when you only make one arm numb.
The problem was his computing class. Computers had been the one thing he’d been halfway decent at, and now he couldn’t get anything to work. It was like Xena’s lack of understanding of modern technology was clogging up his brain in class. He’d had a decent B- grade, okay maybe it was really a C+ or so, and now it looked like he was headed for yet another shitty D. And Miss Calendar was hot
. For an old chick. He’d give anything for her to look at him the way she smiled at Willow, who was naturally getting a big ol’ A+ in the class.
Was there something higher than an A+ grade? ‘Cause Will would be getting that instead.
Not to mention that Miss Calendar seemed to think Rupert Giles was her idea of a good time. Gross! Xander had never once in his life looked at a guy and thought ‘woohoo, check out those buns’, or anything like that. But Xena did. Xena thought Mr. Giles had ‘potential’. Xena thought Angel was probably a major stud in bed, even if he would be pretty much room temperature. Eww. On the other hand, Xena thought Willow had serious hottie potential. Xena was a lot more attracted to Willow than she was to Buffy. Or Cordy. Or Harmony or Aura or Debbie or any of the other school babes, not that Xena didn’t think all of said babes were pretty babe-o-riffic. Xena wouldn’t have minded getting some major looks through the girls’ locker room. Xena was definitely playing on both sides of the park.
He just wished Xena would stop messing with his head about how he looked. He hated taking showers anymore. The still-meager hair on his body, the lack of breasts, the icky stuff hanging down between his legs, the large hands and feet… Xena complained about all of it. It was normal! It was his body! And now he felt like he'd been shoved into the body of a Polgara demon or something, and been told “tough shit, Xan-man, deal with it.” If he didn’t get frigging Xena out of his head pretty soon, he was going to go nuts. And around the Hellmouth, people didn’t just go nuts and get put in a rubber room. Oh no, first they turned into demons, or went invisible, or tried to carve cheerleaders into the bride of Frankenstein, or something even freakier. He was not going to hurt people he cared about. People he probably could love, if they didn’t mind he was a lame-o loser from a family of alkies, and he had a frigging imaginary superchick running loose in his brain making him crazy.
And none of that was being helped by Willow suddenly wanting to sit with him and watch “Xena, Warrior Princess” on DVD with writers’ commentary, which she’d gone out and bought right after Halloween. Or Willow wanting to play ‘Xena and Gabrielle’ one night over at Will’s house. Just the thought was freaking him out. Okay, the idea of Willow dressed as Gabrielle was a major turn-on for every part of him. But what if Willow realized that he was still part-Xena? What if she figured out that a part of him wanted to dress up in Xena’s clothes again? What if dressing up in Xena’s clothes turned him into Xena again, or made him even less Xander-y than he already was, or did something even worse? And what if him dressing up like Xena screwed up their relationship, or did something freaky to Willow too? He’d spent nearly a year being seriously afraid of things that went bump in the night, and now he was afraid of stuff that went bump inside his head.
And he was worried about Buffy too. She was Slaying just fine, even if Spike was still running free, and some insane vamp named Drusilla had turned up. According to Giles, Angel had sired Drusilla, and Drusilla had sired Spike, which kind of made Angel Spike’s grandfather. In a really sick and creepy way. No, the problem with Buff was weird. She hadn’t wanted to date Xander or anything, but now that Xander was seeing Will, Buff was acting all freaky about it. If Buffy hadn’t been in freak mode, there was no way she would have fallen for that loser Ford’s routine. The Xander and Xena parts of his head had been in total agreement on that guy. Creepy Loserville, downtown exit. With an express lane. But Buffy was still acting like everything Xander said or did was because Xander still wanted to get into her panties, so no matter what he said about Ford, Buffy just treated him like a big, jealous loser.
Plus, Cordy was massively pissed at him, and was telling everybody in school that he nearly sliced her head off during the Halloween thing. Fortunately, the people who actually paid any attention to Cordy were the people who already hated Xander. Well, some of the people who already hated Xander. Since the only people who really paid attention to Cordy’s drivel were the Cordettes and whatever school bigshot Cordy was dating that moment, that wasn’t a big problem. The rest of the school seemed to think Xander’s big mistake was not following through and giving Cordelia a radical head-ectomy. A couple of the football guys even told him that they thought hacking up Cordy while dressed as Xena was a pretty ballsy move. A couple of Cordy’s ex-boyfriends told him they wished they’d gotten a chance to whack her in the neck with a big ol’ sword. So his popularity was on the rise - just a tiny bit - on account of the Halloween thing.
If only the deal with Xena in his head would clear up. And Spike would accidentally fall on a picket fence and dust himself. And Santa Claus would bring him a red Corvette and a sack full of gold. He figured all three were just about as likely.
Rupert Giles sighed to himself as he walked through the halls toward the high school library. It was shaping up to be yet another long day, after another exhausting, tiring night. When he had started training as a Watcher, no one had bothered to point out that being up for most of the night looking after your Slayer meant that you needed a great deal of sleep when normal people would be up and doing things. It was obvious. And it was obvious that a Watcher needed to spend a great deal of time working on his strength and conditioning and his martial arts, if he were going to teach martial arts to a Slayer, and then survive having a Slayer practice said martial arts on him. Just as it was obvious that a Watcher needed to spend a great deal of time researching demons and the Watcher records, particularly if said Watcher had to live atop the most active Hellmouth on the planet.
What wasn’t obvious was being a Watcher for Buffy Anne Summers. Normally, Potentials were found using the magics that the Watcher’s Council and their predecessors had studied for millennia, and then the Potentials were brought to somewhere they could be trained for years, and then they were taught everything a Slayer needed to know. If the Potential was never called, and she survived to adulthood despite being touched with magics connected to the Slayer lineage, then she would usually be considered as a possible addition to one of a number of areas within the Watcher’s Council: administration, research, training, searching for Potentials, working with newly discovered Potentials, even bodyguarding. Some of the former Potentials even went to work in one of the Council’s external funding areas: banking, archaeological digs, museum work, or archaeological valuations. The Watcher’s Council always needed fresh blood. Not that he wanted to use such a metaphor when talking about vampire Slayers.
Rupert found it interesting that Quentin Travers, who was such a traditionalist about so many things, had put his foot down about the ‘old tradition’ for uncalled Potentials, which was turning them into wives and concubines for members of the Watchers’ Council. That had finally gone out of fashion during World War I, thank the Gods, but there was always some decrepit member of the Council who wanted to bring it back. At least Travers had morals, along with the backbone to stand up to powerful Council members who thought that way. Rupert had no idea how he could protect someone like Buffy, if she were an uncalled Potential two hundred years ago. He just knew that he would have tried his hardest. Still, half a millennium ago, girls like Buffy would have been considered extremely fortunate to be betrothed to some ruthless but rich old man who sat on the Watchers’ Council. Considering how women were treated five hundred years ago, an ordinary girl would have thought herself phenomenally lucky to be chosen as a mistress to a wealthy member of the Council, as disgusting as that sounded to the ears of today. It was fortunate that the world continued to progress.
But Buffy had not been located as a Potential. She had fallen through the cracks, somehow. She had not been spotted back when she was merely a quite strong, quite athletic, quite energetic child. Instead, she had gone through what Americans did when coping with a child who needed less sleep than normal, and had more energy than both parents combined. Hank and Joyce Summers had found ‘extracurricular activities’ for Buffy. Gymnastics. Ice skating. Summer camps. And then, horror of horrors, cheerleading. He shuddered at the thought.
Then the previous Slayer had died, as all Slayers did. In a horrible, brutal, nauseating manner that was the eventual fate of every Slayer, no matter what her Watcher might wish. And then one Buffy Anne Summers had gone overnight from a talented cheerleader who could do a one-foot leap into the air followed by a back handspring, into a being who could do a ten-foot leap into the air followed by a back handspring over a sedan. Rupert had heard good things about Merrick, but the man had really had no chance when his Slayer had no prior training whatsoever in self-defense or melee combat – in fact, when his Slayer didn’t even believe in vampires or the Slayer – and a Master Vampire decided that the home pitch of the Slayer would make an excellent location for a Class B vampire infestation. Many of the oldest vampires could sense a Slayer, just as Slayers were supposed to be able to sense vampires, and it wasn’t unheard of for a Master Vampire to try to kill an untrained Slayer before the girl could become a threat. It was just unheard of for a completely untrained new Slayer with a dead Watcher to survive such a confrontation.
It quite baffled him that Buffy seemed unable to sense out vampires the way the Slayers of the records could. Perhaps the ability was intermittent, or even a rare trait that was focused on by the Slayer’s Watcher whenever it appeared. But Buffy didn’t seem to have the skill to do it. Or perhaps her long-term exposure to evil environments like Hemery High (which was within several miles of a major Wolfram and Hart office) and the Hellmouth had destroyed her ability in the same way that many of his friends had lost much of their hearing from all those rock concerts in their youth. On the other hand, she did seem to have the Slayer need to slay. And she had the Slayer ability to learn martial arts as if they were children’s games, which frankly was quite disconcerting. And she had the Slayer ability to get by on a few hours of sleep a night.
Which brought Rupert back to the fundamental problem. He couldn’t pull Buffy out of school. He couldn’t move her, in any case, when she needed to be on the Hellmouth. He couldn’t tell Joyce Summers about Slayers and Watchers and vampires – that was simply not allowed. As a ‘mere librarian’ he wasn’t supposed to know that Buffy had been placed in a mental institution shortly after she had burned down Hemery High School’s gymnasium in order to stop a vampire apocalypse, but as a Watcher he was well aware of the consequences of trying to convince a modern civilized family of the horrible truth about vampires and Slayers. There was simply no way that would end well.
So he had to ‘play librarian’ in an American high school. After earning two doctorates and being in line to one day become the head curator of the British Museum, he was undercover as a barely-skilled librarian for a high school. A California high school, at that. This was akin to taking Field Marshall Montgomery and putting him undercover as a games teacher in a London private school. And so he would have to find some ways of getting the necessary sleep somewhere. He had to protect his Slayer. That was his duty. And that little troglodyte Snyder seemed to think that Buffy needed to be expelled on the first trumped-up grounds that could be suitably manufactured.
Rupert walked into the library, and found three policemen. Two officers in uniform, and one man in mufti. Plainclothes, as the Yanks liked to say. The one not in uniform asked, “Rupert Giles?”
He cautiously said, “Yes?” He was hoping this had nothing to do with Buffy’s activities over the last several nights.
The man introduced himself. “Detective Winslow. Yer gonna have ta come with me.”