AN: For a variety of reasons I'm sure none of you are very
interested in, I've been a bit busy. But here's an update. Happy
Thanksgiving (hope everyone else stuffed themselves too)! I'll
try for another update this weekend. The next few weeks aren't
pretty for me so there'll probably be another update gap after that.
Let me know what you thought of this chapter. I'd appreciate it.
Especially after, well... Never mind. You'll find out in a few
************* Trick or Treat: Chapter Twenty-Six ************
Jack cursed and ducked an increasingly wild swing. The kid was
getting angrier, if that was possible, and starting to loose his
control. Never mind that after the first surprise punches that he
could have at least neutralized Xander, if not beaten him outright.
The younger man was amazingly good for someone who, for all his
ability, had clearly never had formal training in boxing, but Jack
HAD been brushing up on his boxing recently and also had the added
advantage of an accurate depth perception. Xander compensated well
for his lost eye, but it still made a difference. Though something
told Jack that the stake they had found on their erstwhile guest
Halloween had been for more than show.
Something told him that if he suddenly spouted fangs, the leader of
Sg-1 would find himself in a pile of ash next to Sergeant Mailer.
Another swing clipped his chin and Jack cursed again before spotting
an opportunity. "Teal'c!" he barked as he dove forward, distracting
the angry young man.
The Jaffa didn't fail to respond to the unspoken command in his name
and stepped swiftly forward into the hole that Jack had created before
wrapping bulging arms around Xander's lanky frame, pinning the kid's
arms to his sides. Xander roared in frustration as the larger man
lifted him off the ground to unbalance him, too-long hair falling
forward to obscure his furious features.
Jack took a moment to steady himself, professional gaze automatically
raking the rest of his team, despite their lack of involvement in the
scuffle. Daniel looked hopelessly baffled by the unprovoked show of
violence, all wide eyed and injured, his world-view once again set
askew by the actions of one he clearly thought to understand. Carter
looked grimmer, but she gave him a brief nod when he caught her eye.
He rubbed his aching jaw. God, that sure as hell was going to bruise,
AND look like hell in a few days. Ferretti was going to have a blast
with it. Damn him. And damn Xander too, now that he thought about
"You doing okay there, Teal'c buddy?"
The Jaffa was a little paler than normal with the prolonged contact,
but no less or more stoic as he held the tightly wound young man
tighter, muscles standing out in sharp relief with the effort it took
to keep Xander reined in. "Indeed," he answered stoically.
Jack rocked back on his heels and considered the situation briefly.
"All righty then. Well. Okay. Xander, care to explain WHAT IN THE
HELL HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU?"
The younger man looked limp as he dangled, but Jack wasn't fooled.
Any half-trained idiot could see the corded muscles on Xander's neck,
the stiff line of stiffly held shoulders. Like a freaking powder
keg. Dark hair still covered his face until he slowly raised his
Jack, Colonel of the U.S. Air Force, swallowed, twice.
He had faced down proclaimed gods and goddesses, almost immortals,
his own friends. Jack had seen good men and women die, had helped
to save the world, and had done it all with a quip on his lips. His
wit fled him though in the face of the utter and completely consuming
rage lighting the fires within Alexander Lavelle Harris's eyes. In
the bitter flames of contempt and disdain.
And suddenly Xander seemed so much older than his twenty-five
His voice, when he answered, was soft, conversational. That
unsettled Jack even more, even though he should have expected it.
"Who is Kinsey?"
Xander hadn't shown the briefest flicker of recognition at the rat
bastard's name not even twenty-four full hours ago.
So how had Kinsey suddenly become such an important point of
Xander's house a crime scene.
Xander's girls admitted to a hospital.
The memory of Barrett's warnings and Xander's fierce, unwavering
loyalty to all he called dear rose like bile in the back of Jack's
throat. Because the younger man had already been screwed over by
the government once.
Now Kinsey had to interfere.
Now the government was fucked.
"WHO IS KINSEY?!"
Xander tried to rein in his anger even as he pushed against Teal'c
hold on him, tried to keep the haze of red from overtaking his
senses. He wasn't a supernaturally gifted warrior. He'd known
THAT for a decade now. But he knew how to take care of his own.
That's why Buffy and Faith entrusted their youngest to him. Why
they let the girls be trained by someone who could never match their
ability. It was the same reason why Andrew, for all his vast and
amazing incompetence, would one day become a Watcher.
Because, normal, average as they were, both Xander and Andrew would
die for any one of the girls. Both of them were utterly devoted to
the almost children they helped to raise.
To the girls who lay bandaged and bruised a flight below him. To
Ashley, who may be dying even as Xander wasted his time, HER time,
on these puppets. On these goddamn liars.
"WHO IS HE? DAMNIT, ANSWER ME!"
His breathed hitched in his throat as his anger drained away and he
looked swiftly to the door to the ICU where Dorothy stood, fatigued
and grim. Stood and crushed every hope he had dared to harbor,
beyond the anger and the rage. "Xander, honey... I'm so sorry."
Blood roared in his ears as the world dropped out beneath him.
Dorothy was speaking distantly in the background, a droning source
of comfort that meant nothing to him in the face of Ashley's loss.
He was vaguely aware of Teal'c restraint turning to a supporting
embrace that was the only thing holding him up off the floor.
The memory of Ashley's bright eyes and so young voice danced like
cruel taunts in his mind, overlaid with his last image of her, being
wheeled into the ICU on a stretcher, tubes and wires and machines
trying desperately to keep her alive. Trying desperately to bridge
the reality of a Slayer's lot- life or death. For them there was
rarely allowed to be an in-between.
He had lost girls before, in the heat of battle in a fight to save
the world, in dark alleyways where a single fledgling got a lucky
shot. He had seen his girls bleed and gasp for breath in his arms.
Had seen them pass peacefully, and painfully. Had seen more death
than the most hardened of veterans. There were tears running down
his face, though, tears leaking from his good eye, his wrecked eye,
silent sobs wracking his frame.
He usually didn't cry, not when he still had to lead. He grieved,
none of the girls who left their House ever left without knowing, even
without proof, how much their pain was his own. Lindsay was on the
way to understanding this one day, and Xander grieved for her choice
of that. It wasn't easy, to mourn alone.
But Ashley had been so different. So different and yet, such a
perfect embodiment of the spirit of the Slayer. Other girls had
fulfilled aspects of it. Other girls had been proud of their skills,
their duty, their fate. Nobody else had ever loved it like Ashley
had. No one else had ever accepted every part of who they were.
Buffy, of them all, had come the closest, out of self-preservation.
Buffy had always called Ashley their hope.
Even as he cried, Xander felt his heart harden and a sense of purpose
form. It had happened before, not often, but often enough. Often
enough for him to know that he came back changed every time he shut
down. Every time he had to learn how to open up that part of himself
again. It got harder every time. There was always less and less to
go back to.
Faith had told him about it once, after a particularly bad apocalypse
two years back. After they had both lost a girl. About how she
missed herself as a killer sometimes because it hurt less. Remorse
was a bitch but caring, caring was what would get you killed.
He had never asked her what had brought her back to the caring.
Had never been sure she would tell him. Wondered if she would tell
him now, if he asked.
Solid footsteps came closer and still next to his curled form and
through his tears Xander could see Colonel Jack O'Neill kneel at his
side. Felt Teal's slip away and be replaced by two firm hands
gripping his shoulders. The words when they came made no sense at
first, "He's dead. That's all he is, Xander. He's dead."
The direction of a new purpose.
Kinsey was going to be dead. It wasn't enough, could never be
enough. No one's death would ever make Ashley's loss less. But
revenge had a purpose too. For the living anyway.
Buffy found him in an empty hallway, perched in the seat of a window
of the hospital that overlooked the gardens and framed downtown
Cleveland. "Xander..." she whispered into the darkness of the dimly
He didn't turn away from the glass but watched with mute fascination
as the mouth of her reflection tightened, then relaxed. Her tears
gleamed unshed in her eyes. They joined the stars of the night sky
in the glass until the constellations and the oldest Slayer's pain
were mixed. "Xander."
He reached out and pressed his palm flat against the coldness of the
windowpane. He clenched into a fist that barely refrained from
punching through the glass. One slim hand caught and held his,
with a strength he couldn't match, not yet anyway. He was learning
though, with every death.
"Dawn is still with the girls?"
Buffy swallowed. "Dawn and Giles." A heartbeat of silence. "You
should be there. They need you."
And it wasn't Dawn and Giles's place to be there in a room full of
heartbroken Slayers. It was his. How had Buffy faced this crushing
duty, this mountain of responsibility when they had been so damned
His lips quirked in a mirthless smile as he remembered. Not
gracefully or tactfully if memory served right.
He leaned into the shallow embrace she offered as one slim arm
wrapped around his broader shoulders. Xander rested his shaggy
head on her right shoulder, his dark hair a sharp contrast to the
blonde-white the moonlight cast hers in. God he wished Willow was
awake. He needed her too. "I can't yet," he finally replied,
simply. "I'm not strong enough yet."
Strong enough to be the leader his girls needed and not just their
He felt the sigh that echoed deeply in her chest. "I never asked
this of you." Buffy sounded angry despite the gentleness with which
she held him and Xander knew he would be having this same
conversation with Lindsay one day, if he didn't fuck up and get her
"It was my choice. It was ALWAYS my choice."
Bruce's jeering mocked him in his mind. 'You chose Destiny. You
Fucking Balance Demon.
She sighed again, deeper this time, and he blinked back more tears.
"I'm sorry," Xander whispered helplessly.
Buffy kissed his brow and brushed his hair away. "Don't be."
"I can't very well help it you know."
She snorted with wry amusement that came from eleven long years of
personal experience in soul wracking guilt. "I know."
Another heartbeat and then, "I'm glad you're here."
Buffy hugged him tighter. "I am too."
"Dawn called you to come?"
"Dawn called..." she faltered for a moment before soldiering on,
"before... when Willow was fetching you, we came, still dripping
with green demon guts from Africa even. The person next to me on
the international flight was NOT amused."
Xander rasped with surprised laughter before another painful thought
occurred to him. "SG-1?"
He could guess more than tell when Buffy wrinkled her nose
disdainfully. "The military people?"
The military people who were partly responsible for Ashley's
He swallowed. "Buffy..."
"I didn't do a thing to them," she replied primly. "I just kicked
the old guy off of you and locked them all in a supply closet after
The laughter that bubbled up that time had an edge of hysteria to it.
"Giles helped," she whined as they fell easily back into the witty
banter that had saved their sanity for so many years. More tears
would come later. "Dorothy watched."
"I bet she did."
"She even unlocked the supply closet for us. She didn't like them
No, the head night nurse wouldn't have.
"I'll take care of it." All of it. It was part of his responsibility
after all. Part of his choice.
"Better?" Buffy asked tentatively after a minute of silence.
"No," Xander answered truthfully as he straightened and stood. "But
well enough." The 'for now' was understood, by Buffy better than
almost anyone. "Come on, things to do, people to kill." He
held her hand though as they walked down the hallway together,
the world's oldest Slayer and one of her oldest friends.