Tied up in Red
Chapter Eleven: Failing Grade
Word count: 4013
Xander looked over the gathered pack members. Only Heidi was absent as she was with Buffy to keep her distracted that morning as they had plans, big plans. This was going to be the first of the big ones, the important birthdays. Buffy deserved a decent party.
“So,” He started, “Buffy's birthday.” Looks were exchanged and grins shared.
“We can rent the Bronze.” Larry suggested.
Jenny kind of winced at that idea. “That didn't go so well last year. There was an arm in a box if you recall.”
“Okay, no Bronze.” Kyle grinned. “We can party at Xander's.”
“Heck no.” He shook his head, emphatically. “My home is still recovering from the post-slay party of Hansel and Gretel.”
Giles voice drifted out of the office, just a touch annoyed. “If you lot will stay and help with the clean up you can use the library.”
Willow's face was open, honest, not that the Watcher could see her. “You know we will Giles.”
He poked his head out of his office and gave her a serious look. “Like you helped Xander clean up?”
“Um...” She shrugged with a sheepish smile. “Some of us did...and I started too...I just kinda fell asleep.”
“Table cloths will be mandatory.” Giles smiled a bit to soften his words before eying Xander. “And how does it feel to be a responsible adult?”
Xander made a non-committal noise. “The trust fund makes it easier. Grandpa Harris had a lot of money, like oodles of it. Stocks and investments too, it’s all kind of overwhelming. I'm just glad that the utilities and cable are taken care of through the trust fund and the bank. Still have to keep an eye on it though.”
“Have you considered a job?”
“Possibly a part time deal when I start classes at UC Sunnydale.” Xander shrugged. “I'll need something to do when we're not saving the world.”
“Right,” The look Giles gave him was...uneasy and Xander could tell something was off with the Watcher. He just wasn't sure what.
Until that night.
He and Buffy were supposed to patrol together. It had been a while since they'd done so as Xander normally patrolled with Cordelia. But Willow had rearranged their schedules a bit and Cordy was patrolling with Tor tonight. So he'd arranged to meet Buffy at the library, Giles was putting her through some sort of special Slayer Training with crystals or something. Marshal trailed behind Xander as they slipped into the library through the stacks.
Xander wondered if she'd be there because he vaguely remembered Buffy mentioning training with Angel before meeting with Giles for yet more training. However he couldn't remember Giles mentioning anything about the training when they were discussing Buffy's birthday.
When he emerged from the stacks to see Giles, a syringe in his hands, he paused for the briefest of moments. Then he was flying down the steps and grabbing the older man's wrist stopping him from injecting whatever it was into Buffy's arm. Buffy didn't move and it appeared she was in a trance. Marshal stood on his hind legs, front paws perched on her knee as he looked at her. This is freaky.
Xander nodded at his spirit beast before turning an enraged glare at the Watcher. “What the hell Giles?” His voice came out in a hiss
The shame on Giles' face and in his scent floored him. “You don't understand I-”
Xander gave him a hard shake. “You better tell me now or I will start breaking bones and I really don't want to do that Giles...but I have no patience for shitty Dads. You know this and I will break you for either of my girls.”
Giles seem to almost sag in relief, as if he were glad to be caught. “Let me wake her up and send her out.”
Xander's stomach twisted unpleasantly. “Jesus. Have you done this before?”
He shook his head, eyes wide. “No, no. This is the first time.”
It would definitely be the last if Xander had anything to say about it. “Fine. Marshal, you're going out with Buffy tonight.” Okay.
Giles put the syringe away, out of sight and Xander, along with Marshal, made their entrance louder this time. When Xander gave a well timed stumble through the stacks Buffy jerked out of her trance. She looked around at them, blinked and rubbed at her eyes. “Sorry guys, guess I zoned.”
He grinned. “No worries Buff. Hey, you mind just patrolling with Marshal tonight?”
She eyed him with a little smile. “You guys aren't being very subtle with the secret meetings.”
He and Giles shared a look that would have been comical under better circumstances. “We're not?” Xander hated how his voice broke on the words.
“Not at all. It’s kind of obvious really, especially from the viewpoint of a girl with a rapidly approaching birthday.” She gave them both a big grin and scratched behind Marshal's ears when he hopped in her lap.
Xander tried not to look too relieved and instead gave her his best innocent look. “Why whatever do you mean?”
She laughed and grabbed her things. “Come on Marshal, I'll be ready after a brief visit to my locker.” Marshal hopped back down and followed her out of the library. She waved at them as she left. “Have fun planning my secret party!”
When Buffy and Marshal were clear Xander glared at the Watcher and pointed to the chair Buffy had vacated. “Talk. Now.”
Giles collapsed onto the chair and ran a weary hand through his hair. “When the Slayer turns eighteen...if she turns eighteen she is put through a test called the Tento di Cruciamentum. She is given a series of injections that consist of a mixture of muscle relaxants and adrenaline suppressants. Then she is locked into a cleared area with a rather ferocious vampire. If she survives, on wit and resourcefulness alone, she passes.”
Xander did his best to keep his dinner from making a sudden reappearance and stared at the man he thought he'd known for a long moment, glare intensifying by the second. “So, Watchers kill their slayers for fun when they get bored.”
If anything Giles looked horrified by that accusation. “No!”
Xander motioned to the now hidden supplies. “That shot would weaken her. That shot could have gotten her killed.” He growled. “Don't do it again.”
“I didn't have a choice Xander.” Giles sighed and leaned back wearily in his chair. He looked years older. “The Head of the Council is here to test her.”
Xander moved toward him and tipped Giles' face to meet his gaze. Giles' eyes were full of self hatred, regret, and it made Xander feel a little better. He smirked at the man. “How about we test them instead?”
And just like that, the weariness was pushed aside, and Ripper was there in his eyes, eager for payback against those who had put him in this position. “What do you have in mind?”
Xander left Giles in the library while he used the office to call Spike, glad he'd been able to switch the cell payment method from Chase's account to his own as Cordelia's relationship with her parents was getting rockier by the day. He had no idea where Spike was, or what time it was, wherever he was...but he was glad that Spike answered after only a couple of rings.
Xander tried to keep his voice from sounding too accusatory. “So...you ever hear of something called the Cruciamentum?”
Xander frowned and let a little more of his irritation color his voice. “You couldn't have maybe warned us about it?”
There was a pause, followed by a sigh. “As tight as your group is, I thought the Watcher had told you about it.”
“Not so much, and assumptions are made of badness.”
“Hell pet, I'm sorry.”
“No, it’s not your fault. Giles should have told us...just needed to rant or something.”
“So...what are you going to do? I imagine there are more Watchers in town now.”
“Oh yeah, the head honcho himself is here.”
“Travers? So what are your plans?”
“I'm totally gonna mess with them.”
“Tease. Tell Spike all about your devious plans.”
So he did, and Spike laughed.
Marshal was waiting for him on the porch when he got home, Diana on his head. I don't know what happened, but Buffy showed up crying.
“Aw crap. Thanks Marshal.” Marshal nodded and Xander opened the door so they could go in.
His nose twitched as he crossed over his threshold, Buffy's scent was indeed fresh. He peered into the kitchen, the living room. No sign of Buffy or Cordelia. He followed the scent of Buffy...and tears up the stairs.
They were in his room on the bed, curled together, Buffy's head on Cordy's shoulder.
He hadn't seen her so broken in a while; something bad had to have happened. “Oh God.” He murmured. “What happened? Does someone need killing? Do I need to maim someone?”
Buffy wiped at her eyes and shook her head, her makeup ruined. “My dad canceled on me. He won't be taking me to the ice show.”
His heart ached for her and the broken promise. “I'm sorry Buff.” He kicked off his shoes and joined them on the bed. “I know it’s this big tradition for you.”
She resettled between him and Cordy. “No, it’s okay. Now I can just focus on the surprise party you guys are going to throw for me.”
He smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. Cordelia and Buffy both stared at him, their eyes narrowing. Cordy raised a brow and he knew there was no escape...if he ran they'd chase him. “What's up?”
He grimaced. “You won't like it...”
Buffy gently gripped his arm. “Xander?”
He sighed and tucked a strand of blond hair behind a delicate ear. “Just remember that I already scolded Giles and threatened to break several of his bones. Just for you.”
Her gaze sharpened. “Tell me.”
So he did.
They pulled up to the old boarding house where the Watchers were holed up with the crazy vampire they'd intended to set on Buffy. It was three stories tall, abandoned, and falling apart. He wondered exactly how the Watchers expected to entrap two super strong beings in a building that looked like a strong wind could take it out. Sheesh. Adults were stupid.
Oz turned off his van and looked back at Xander, a seriousness in his eyes that wasn't usually there. “Ready when you are.”
Xander nodded and both he and Willow slipped out of the van, leaving Tor to stand guard, and Oz in driver's seat of the van for a quick getaway. Getting into the old, abandoned building was easy, it wasn't locked and there were no wards at all. Again, stupid. The two shared a disgusted look and moved on.
The first Watcher was standing guard in the room where there was a box, a coffin really, which they assumed contained the crazy vampire, who according to Giles had been a serial killer when human. Ugh. Where did the stodgy old men find these kinds of monsters? Who goes looking for vampires who used to be serial killers? What kind of monsters did that make the Watchers? Xander wasn't sure he wanted an answer to that.
The Watcher never saw them, so focused was he on the coffin, that Willow had him tranqed before he even knew he was no longer alone with the vamp. It was worse than they'd thought. Travers had brought idiots as back up.
The second Watcher, the only other Watcher, was easier to take care of because he was asleep on a cot in an adjoining room. Two lackeys? That was it? Travers was overconfident. Xander shook his head and gave a couple of high pitched yips and Tor appeared, carting off one unconscious man, then another.
As Xander and Willow approached the coffin in the main room there was a rustling from within, and a melodious and eerie voice taunted them. “I can hear you.” Then the voice took on a gruffer cast. “Change of plans?” A chuckle. “I smell a girl. You brought her early.”
Xander brought out his picks and took care of the locks on the coffin, opening them one by one. He then opened it and they stared at the vampire, secured in place by a metal strap on his forehead...and a straightjacket. The vampire grinned, game face on. Xander had a feeling this vampire rarely went without his fangs in place there was so little humanity in his eyes.
The vampire grinned at them, all teeth and hungry predator. “Hello there and who might you be?” He eyed them, sniffed the air. “This girl is definitely not the Slayer.”
Willow wrinkled her nose cutely, the vampire seemed fascinated by her. “Xander?”
He glanced at Willow, putting away his picks. “If you'd do the honors?”
Willow stepped forward, hands out to touch the vamp. The vampire licked his lips and smiled at her appreciatively. “I haven't had a-” And then Willow touched him, her hands glowing, the light shifting from a light pink to a lilac. The vampire screamed as the light stretched over him...then he disintegrated.
“All done,” She said cheerily. “Can we leave now? It’s really creepy in here and I need to wash the vampire ick off my hands. Also the bricked up windows are kinda depressing and terror inducing.”
He too eyed the bricked up windows in distaste before he nodded, so that's how they had been planning to keep Buffy and the vamp trapped together. Sickos. “Let’s go.”
The darts Willow had used on the younger Watchers were filled with a mild sedative so they were already starting to come too when Xander and Tor unceremoniously dumped them on the ground beside a fresh grave.
In the distance they could hear a man cursing and threatening Giles with deportation approaching and a moment later Giles, Jenny, and an older man came into view. Jenny held a crossbow on the stranger, a round balding man who had to be Quentin Travers.
“This is foolish Rupert.”
Giles eyes were hard and fierce, almost nothing but Ripper in his gaze. Xander wanted to trill in approval but kept silent. “And I told you, you have no hold over me Quentin. I quit. I have a different superior now.” Then Giles hit him, knocking the older man to the ground, leaving him stunned. “I suggest we move. The barrier will be up soon.”
Xander nodded. The cemetery they were in was surrounded by a stone wall, perfect for the barrier that Willow and Tor were going to put up in a moment. Let’s see how the young Watchers and the Council Head liked being tested and locked in with the monsters. Hehehe.
They exited the graveyard quickly, and the barrier went up as soon as Xander, Willow, and Tor were standing on the wall itself so they had a better view of the Watchers. The younger ones were awake now and helping Travers to his feet...just as fledges started crawling out of their graves. The looks on their faces as they realized what was going on were priceless.
It was even better when the two took off, leaving the older man to fend for himself. He seemed stunned that they had left him behind and moved in a different direction trying to avoid the reaching questing dead hands. However the young vampires decided the younger prey would be tastier and gave chase. Travers stumbled a bit, a look of relief on his face, until he ended up face to face with an older vampire...one that grabbed him...and bit him. The shocked expression on the man's face was a soothing balm to Xander's rage. Only then did he give Willow the signal.
Willow pulled back her arrow and let it fly, the glowing projectile met its mark and the vampire dusted, leaving Travers to stumble to his knees, hand to his neck to staunch the bleeding.
The younger Watchers were running back now, being chased by fledges who had circled around them, toying with them. Buffy and the rest of the pack brought them down with ease, their dust scattered. Kyle, Heidi and Rhonda dragged the terrified men to Travers and pushed them to the ground. They stood around them in a half circle, at attention and waiting for orders, eyes aglow. Well Buffy's eyes were more filled with glee, but he was pretty sure she'd make her eyes glow if she could.
Willow and Tor took down the barrier and they joined the others. Travers was glaring at all of them, berating them, scolding them. Tor snorted and shot a bit of lightning toward the man, making him jump and stare at Tor in shock. The other Watchers whimpered and cowered beside him.
Buffy spared Xander a glance and he gave a minute nod to her, letting her run the show. So she stood over them all, arms folded, glowering at them. “So, you were going to lock me up with a monster, without any slayer powers, and let it eat me.” She glanced at Tor. “Tor, what would your parents say about that?”
“They wouldn't like it.” He smiled “Want me to call them?”
Travers frowned a bit, mostly in confusion. “Telling civilians about this would get you nowhere.”
Buffy and Tor shared a smirk and she turned that smirk to Travers. “Tor here is the son of Nimue and Merlin.” When his eyes widened a bit she continued, motioning to Willow. “And my friend, Willow, is a miko.” Her smirk turned to a deadly glare. “We're doing a good job here. We don't need old men who don't know how to fight trying to kill me for fun...” She knelt so she was eye level with him. “Next time, I let the vamps eat you.”
“I can have Rupert deported.” He threatened with a simpering smile.
Xander snorted. “Not gonna happen, he's married now, has citizenship and everything.”
Buffy stood and looked at him, pointedly ignoring Travers. “You dusted the crazy vamp?”
“Willow purified him. There was screaming. Heidi was disappointed when she found out. She wanted to tranq him, have a funeral pyre and roast marshmallows. But we did that for Hansel and Gretel.”
Travers stared at him. “You're the Aura Reader.”
Xander nodded; his eyes aglow as he gazed back. “Yeah...and your aura...is icky. I suggest a good cleansing...maybe an exorcism...or a lobotomy.” He sneered. “This war is hard enough without the murder attempts disguised as friendly fire.”
“If I take you to the ice show will you forgive me?” Giles asked. They were in the library once more, gathered as they usually were. Only now there were no more secrets.
Buffy pondered that a bit as she spoke. “There will be cotton candy, popcorn, cookies, pictures and souvenirs.”
“If Xander says it’s okay you will be forgiven.”
Giles nodded in acceptance of her terms before looking at him. “Xander?”
Xander made a face and swallowed the cookie he'd been eating. “Swear you'll never do it again. Not to Buffy, not to Faith, not to any of us. Give me your word.”
Giles nodded and sat down in a chair. He whispered. “You have it. My Prince.” He barred his throat to Xander, for the first time ever, “My Alpha.”
Xander didn't let his surprise show as he stepped forward and placed his teeth on Giles' throat, biting down just a bit. He backed off, satisfied. “Word accepted. You're forgiven.”
They all turned at the sound of the doors opening, Travers stared at them with a sort of revulsion. “How quaint.” He didn't move any closer, probably because five sets of glowing green eyes were a bit unnerving. Especially with the growling. Xander held up a hand to quiet them.
“Shouldn't you be leaving?”
Travers cleared his throat. “You failed the test, both of you.” He focused on Buffy. “You will be sent a new Watcher, be glad that we're not insisting you be brought back to England for retraining.”
Xander moved a bit closer, Travers took a step back. “If you tried to take her the Council would never find you alive or dead. And if the new guy gets us hurt or any of us killed we'll send him back in a pretty pine box.”
Amy grinned from her seat at the table. “I can turn him into a rat.”
Xander smiled. “That would save on shipping.”
Travers said not a word more as he backed out of the library.
“Have you ever heard of anything like that?” Tor asked Botan as he handed her a cup of tea, non-caffeinated.
She nodded with a yawn. “I had heard rumors that the Council had such a test...but that was centuries ago. I hadn't realized it was still in practice.” She took a cautious sip of the hot tea. “I imagine Rupert is in the dog house with everyone.”
Tor nodded. “Yep, but he's making amends...What is it?”
“What's what?” She countered.
Tor tilted his head. “Your face says there's something else.”
Botan grimaced. “Genkai once tested Yusuke. None of us knew...and we all got caught up in it.” There was the barest hint of a smile to her lips. “Kuwabara lasted longer than Hiei.”
“Huh.” Tor sipped at his own tea. “Was it a life or death test?”
“Did Yusuke forgive her?”
“Yes, right away even.”
Tor thought for a moment. “She was testing him to protect him.”
“Totally different from what Travers did.”
“It will be a while before Xander will completely forgive Giles.”
“It serves Rupert right.” She muttered, taking another sip. “Idiot man. Xander should make him take all of you to the ice show.”
They were on the sofa, Xander's head in Cordelia's lap, her fingers carding through his hair. “Wanna talk about it?”
“Gonna let it fester then?”
He frowned. “Festering would be bad I guess.”
He sighed and caught one of her hands with his. “I'm not the goofy kid I show the world.”
“I don't really trust easily.”
“No you don't.”
“Giles is like our Dad. The best one most of us have ever had.”
“No arguments here.”
“So why would he even think about going along with something like that?”
Her hand squeezed his. “Maybe you should ask him?” She frowned. “And while you're at it you can yell at him for getting married in secret. I was looking forward to being a bridesmaid.”
He smiled up at her. “Not the Maid of Honor?”
“Obviously that would be Buffy's job. You could have been Best Man.”
“There will be other weddings.”
“You think so?”
“Sure, just not for a while, what with us all still in school and everything.” Then he gave her a wicked smirk, his free hand slipping under her shirt to ghost across her ribs. “Conversation over now?”
“That depends, you done moping about Giles?”