Collecting the Vig
Rating: Violence and language concerns. Not all that bad, actually, if you watch cable or have teenage children, I suppose.
Disclaimer: The Buffy characters all belong to Crack-Head Joss and ME. Deal with it. I have.
Follow-up to my earlier story, ‘Repo Man.’
Time frames: for BtVS, immediately following Season Six, episode Eight, ‘Tabula Rasa,’ as noted in my earlier story, ‘Repo Man,’ but before ‘Smashed’; for Angel, after ‘A New World’ but before ‘Benediction.’ The timeline for Season Three Angel has been compressed and accelerated by about six months. More explanations regarding why will be noted in the story.
Spoilers: Some possible spoilers for Buffy through mid-Season Six; some possible spoilers up through the end of Season Three Angel.
Warning: Various character deaths.
Character Bashing: None. Or at least, I don’t think so. Various Joss-verse characters may not come across in flattering portrayals or as very nice people, but I can live with that.
Feedback: Of course!
A mystical plane adjacent to and coexisting with, but separate from our own.
“The Balance has been shattered, brother!”
The almost musical voice issued from a being whose blue and silver patterned, humanoid body was unquestionably female.
“What do you mean?”
The speaker was of a similar form to the first, but most definitely male.
“See for yourself! The Palantiros shows that the disruptions are already in progress! Someone has managed to upset the equilibrium of the local Aspect and its environs! All of our plans are in grave danger!”
Both gazed into the depths of the enormous crystalline globe that occupied the center of the chamber in which they currently stood, the scenes displayed jumping haphazardly every few seconds with no apparent rhyme or reason.
Within the sphere:
Black craft of vaguely arachnidan appearance swooped down towards a miles-long, metal cylinder, beams of energy issuing from each of the menacing spacecraft blasting and scoring the station’s hull in numerous places while the blue-white bolts of hyper-excited particle energy firing in response to the crafts’ attacks seemed to ricochet harmlessly off without any effect.
Suddenly, the area around each of the black vessels seemed to shimmer in some unfathomable manner and the ships seemed to abruptly shrink in upon themselves somewhat, their very essence seeming to shift and change.
Abruptly, the blue-white bolts that heretofore glanced off the craft without effect tore through them, ripping them and their contents into their component atoms.
Two apparently endless hordes of armored combatants fought relentlessly inside and outside of a city apparently formed of glass and crystal, the defenders’ weapons demanding a high price for every foot of ground they gave up to the hated enemy.
Without warning, a haze seemed to ripple over everyone dressed in one of the combatant’s colors and that group suddenly hesitated in its attacks, allowing the defenders to rally.
“Commander Kinnison, the Boskonian forces seemed to have been weakened by whatever that unknown force was! They seem to have lost their focus!” a voice could heard reporting.
“Order all available Patrol ground and space forces to attack immediately! All surviving Lensmen, follow my lead and focus your attack on any Boskonian commanders and leadership you can identify!” a second voice instantly replied. “Attack!”
“General Connor! Skynet’s managed to locate headquarters! Its forces have begun targeting our location with all of its remaining nuclear warheads!”
Any response that might have been made was lost in the sudden flare of light and heat that blossomed outwards.
Across the various planes of the local multiversal matrix, forces of god and evil, law and chaos, reverberated as the previously finely balanced patterns of conflict were forced to re-attune themselves to as-yet not-established benchmarks
Following the remaining traces of arcane residue that still lingered in the ether, the tall brunet with the golden-yellow eyes and blood-red irises moved easily through the inter-dimensional byways in his search for those beings responsible for the theft of the abilities and skills he had spent so much time and effort acquiring, in order to protect those closest to his heart.
Had it been just him that had been imperiled by those actions, depending upon his mood at the time he became aware of the scheme, he might possibly have just shrugged and let those responsible slip away without any real punishment. After all, possession of good intentions was a long established criterion for forgiveness of another’s wrong. The law called it criminal intent.
Unfortunately for the ones behind this imbroglio, however, stealing the skills and abilities he had worked so hard to gain had endangered the people he loved, and that was the one unforgivable crime in Xander Harris’ personal compendium of laws and statutes.
And one that carried the ultimate penalty.
He slowly solidified his presence and paused for a moment to study the area his quest had led him to.
Off to one side of the enormous chamber in which he found himself stood a silver and blue-skinned couple, who were evidently fervently arguing about something he figured was probably rather trivial. After, what can possibly be more important to most people than their continued existence?
Using his newly regained arcane sensitivity, he inspected the chamber’s contents, nodding his head in satisfied confirmation as he noted the traces of his own powers, memories and skills still existent in several of the crystalline globes stored on shelves nearby.
“Hey there, kids,” he said rather quietly as he addressed the two still oblivious beings standing a few yards away from him.
Taking admittedly childish pleasure in seeing the pair jump in fright at his unexpected announcement, he smiled with what could best be described as more than a little bit of feral pleasure and continued his greeting.
“Like Rowdy Roddy said, ’I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.’”
Reveling in the superhuman speed that regaining the Hyena Primal Spirit gave him, he moved forward at eye blurring speed and slammed his fist into the piebald-skinned male’s jaw an instant before he backhanded the female, knocking both of them back several yards, to slam down onto the floor in inelegant heaps.
“Who dares?” the male roared as he attempted to scramble back to his feet, only to realize that, apparently just like his sister, he now had absolutely no control over his body. As he tried to attack the intruder mystically, he blanched as he felt all of the mystical abilities he would normally call upon draining out of his body. The panicked look on his sister’s face confirmed for him that she was experiencing the same thing.
The look on his foes’ faces when they realized their helplessness made the wolfish smile on the brunet’s face all the more vicious as he effortlessly lifted both ‘higher beings’ up with a simple gesture, to leave them hanging motionless in the air before him as he slowly strolled around them.
“The ‘Powers That Be’,” he sneered as both figures watched him walk around them, unable to move anything except their eyes.
“So, you guys are the assholes who have been fucking around with Buffy’s life for the past six and a half years,” he commented casually, the ferocity in his eyes belying the apparent equanimity of his voice as he spoke. “And by extension, mine, and my friends’ lives, too.
“Got anything to say for yourselves, kids?”
“We are far beyond any moral considerations you might possess, mortal,” the male announced pompously, once he realized he could speak again.
“Release us now, and we w-“ His diatribe ceased in mid-rant and his eyes bulged with outrage at his sudden silencing.
“God I hate it when somebody uses the royal ‘We’… Actually, the words I was looking for were along the lines of ‘We’re really, really sorry for everything we did and humbly beg your and your friends’ forgiveness,’ dickwad,” Xander informed the now-muted pair of former higher beings.
“Since you clearly failed the 'let’s check your smarts’ part of this quiz, I don’t see much point in asking you why you did what you did, especially since I most likely wouldn’t believe anything you said, anyway. I also won’t waste time asking if you know *why* I’m so pissed off at both of you assholes. Since you clearly don’t seem to have any real understanding of why people do what they do, expecting you to understand why I feel the way I do is obviously beyond your comprehension,” he said.
“Suffice it to say, both of you have really hacked me off and you’re gonna get payback, with interest, for everything you’ve put me and my friends through the past several years,” he said in a calm, matter-of-fact voice that was all the more disturbing for its lack of emotion. "The only real question at the moment is exactly *how* you’re going to pay.
“So, I’m gonna just let you hang here and think about what you both have to look forward to for the time being, while I take care of some personal business. If either of you have any personal deities, you might want to start praying to them. Of course, anybody short of The Creator putting a claim on your sorry asses probably won’t be of any help,” he added with another feral smile, as he began fading from view.
“See you in a little while.”
Los Angeles, CA
It seemed like pretty much every wall in the room was splattered with blood, he noticed as he phased into existence. That was probably due to the somewhat piecemeal condition of the physical remains scattered throughout the room, he decided after a quick glance around.
A quick review of the half-dozen mangled bodies using his arcane sensitivity showed him exactly which of the corpses still possessed the faintest traces of the Powers’ magic. The brown-haired teenager, whose body bore signs that he had been ripped to pieces by a Kaliff demon, had evidently been the one imbued with the Hyena Spirit’s enhancements and the martial skills stolen from him, he surmised after a brief examination of the area.
“Sorry, kid,” he murmured to the corpse as he carefully lifted it from the floor and cradled it in his arms. “I had no idea they’d given the power to you. I’d have waited ‘til you were safe before taking it back, if I’d had any idea.”
He looked down at boy’s bruised and battered face and shook his head sorrowfully. “And now I get to explain to your parents what happened to you. It’s the least I can do,” he said quietly.
He murmured the words of an identification spell that would inform him of the boy’s true identity and lineage, and his eyes opened in disbelief as the youth’s parentage was revealed to him.
“Shit! I don’t friggin’ believe it! This has *got* to be a mistake!” he swore reflexively before casting another spell to cross-check the information he’d been given.
“Damn!” he swore again, as the veracity of what he had learned was confirmed beyond doubt, and he hung his head in sorrow of a life lost far too soon. “Those rotten friggin’ scheming sons of bitches!
“I swear to you, kid,” he promised a moment later as he looked down at the teenager’s bloodstained face . “Those bastards are gonna *hurt* like you wouldn’t believe for dragging a kid into their schemes, just so they could manipulate your father.”
As he gradually faded out of sight, the youth’s body tenderly cradled in his arms, an observer might have seen the sheen of tears glistening in his eyes.
The dark-haired, forty-something man looked up with the beginnings of interest from his dingy bunk as the sounds of screams, small arms fire and muffled explosions began to fill the air of the prison. He had eventually grown used to the monotony of his existence over the course of the past five and a half years, and this was definitely something out of the ordinary. Usually, it was the prisoners screaming and begging for mercy (not that it was ever given, mind you), and now it was sounding like the guards who were doing the screaming and begging, which brought a small smile to his face.
After all, being routinely beaten every pretty much every day by things that could be referred to as human only by a blind man with no sense of smell grew to be the least bit annoying after a while, one might say. But it was a price he had been willing to pay, and that he was still willing to endure, for keeping his mouth shut and not answering any of his captors’ questions, if it kept his daughter safe from the monsters that roamed the night.
Although he had to admit, that sudden, overwhelming headache of a few hours ago and the subsequent disorientation he had experienced looked to be a new addition to the standard throbbing aches and pains he had come to expect after a session with his captors. The mindnumbing pain was mostly gone, now, but he seemed to be having problems with his memories. It felt as though there gaps in his knowledge; blank spots regarding areas that he couldn’t recall, but which he knew he had known just a few short hours before.
“Hey, buddy, you okay?”
The question took him by surprise, since it came so quickly after the screams had ceased.
Looking up, he saw a young man with dark brown, almost black, hair and chocolate-brown eyes staring at him with a look of concern.
“Uh, yeah,” he nodded a bit uncertainly. “I guess so.”
“Can you walk out of here?” the youth asked him as he did something to the cell door to make it swing open.
“Yeah,” he confirmed with a nod of his head. “I’m pretty sure I can’t run, not after the beatings, but I can definitely walk. Hell, if it’ll get me out of here, I’ll crawl!”
“Okay, that’s good. I’m gonna take you to see your daughters. They’ve missed you a lot.”
“Oh god! Did they send you after me?” he asked, a worried look on his face. “Don’t tell me they sent you! I ended up here trying to make sure they never got mixed up in this stuff.”
“No, they don’t know anything about your being here. In fact, they don’t know that I’m here, or anything at all about you, at all. I only learned about your presence a little while ago. I’ll explain more later; we need to move now.”
Los Angeles, CA
“I don’t see what could be so vitally important that we have to interrupt our normal store hours and close the Magic Box, thereby decreasing the shop’s income and our salaries, just to come and visit Angel and his group here in Los Angeles, all on Xander’s say-so.”
Anya’s semi-strident diatribe regarding the unscheduled shop closure appeared to be aimed at distracting her own attention from any thoughts concerning her former fiancé as much as it was directed at her consideration of lost potential profits, and her companions paid her little more than token attention as they made their way into the lobby of the former hotel.
“After all,” she noted, as she continued her monologue, “None of those dusty old books we’ve consulted have given any indications of upcoming disasters of any kind, let alone apocalypses.”
Responding to an insistent summons from their fellow teammate, Buffy, Giles, Dawn, Willow, Tara, Spike and Anya had all made their way to the City of Angels and, more specifically, Angel’s base of operations, for what Xander had described as “a meeting you’ll definitely want to be at, if you’re the least bit interested in helping avert several potential future apocalypses.”
More than that he had refused to say, other than adding that he had, only a few hours before, come into possession of information that promised to shake the foundations of all of their worlds.
Dawn had spent part of their trip wondering aloud what Xander could have discovered that justified his cryptic description, with the others fretting about what could have been worrying their friend for the four days preceding his sudden disappearance from Sunnydale the previous day. (Well, all of them except Spike that is; he had announced, loudly and repeatedly, that 'the Whelp' couldn't possibly have come across anything with the degree of importance that justified their hurried pilgrimage to his grand-sire’s home base.)
Giles, while driving the van that Spike had managed to produce for them to all ride to L.A. in, had discussed various possible scenarios with the young woman while, the Key noticed with interested curiosity, somehow managing to continue avoiding any discussion at all with Anya beyond the bare minimum required for propriety. Although they did keep glancing at each other when they thought no one was looking.
Buffy (or Joan as she had preferred to be called when she lost her memory the other day) hadn’t said much at all, her brow furrowed with concentration while maintaining her self-imposed vow of silence that had apparently developed the day after they had all temporarily lost their memories, thanks to Willow’s machinations.
Both Tara and Spike had maintained their own silences, too, leaving the conversational vacuum to be filled by anyone more interested in speaking than they were, which by that point encompassed pretty much everyone else in the group.
Willow, for her part, was grateful that Xander had specifically requested her presence at the upcoming meeting, since she was quite sure that, despite her fervent apologies, none of the others had forgiven her yet for her transgressions with the memory spell the previous week. The complete lack of any conversation with her or questions directed to her by any of her companions had convinced her of that. The few questions she had ventured to ask had been answered with the minimum number of words possible, and she wisely kept her mouth shut once those had been answered.
“Well, Anya,” Giles stated quietly as they all entered the hotel’s lobby, “In just a few moments, we’ll have the opportunity to find out exactly what it is that prompted Xander’s actions.”
The Sunnydale gang was unsurprised to find the L.A. contingent waiting semi-patiently for them inside the hotel’s foyer. Angel, Fred, Gunn, Lorne, Cordelia and Groo were all situated in a small arc among the half-dozen couches and overstuffed chairs scattered across the polished marble floor, and all were looking as ill-tempered, anxious and impatient as the newcomers.
Searching eyes quickly revealed that the one person prominently *not* present among those gathered here was Alexander Harris.
A hushed babble of conversation quickly broke out as the two groups began greeting each other with a greater or lesser degree of warmth and introducing new members of each group to their former comrades and new associates.
It couldn’t have been more than two minutes after the Scoobies had arrived when Buffy saw Angel stiffen and an almost palpable hostility begin to radiate from him.
“What are you doing here?” he pretty much growled, and Buffy and everyone else present turned to the front door, to find a rather rough-looking, leather-jacketed Wesley Wyndham-Price, looking very much NOT the Watcher-type person they had known and not really admired all that much three years previously, standing in the hotel's doorway.
“*I* asked him to come, Angel,” another voice answered before Wesley had the chance, and everyone's head swung back the opposite way to see someone who looked like Xander Harris stepping through a blue rimmed portal that had suddenly appeared near the base of the semi-circular stairway leading up to the second floor.
“He’s been just as involved as everyone else here, getting his life screwed up by what’s been going on the past few years,” the brunet announced as the threshold behind him disappeared as quietly as it had appeared, “so he gets to listen to what I have to say along with the rest of you.
“And before we do anything else, you and I need to talk. Privately. Now,” he informed the ensouled demon while ignoring the clamor of everyone else there directing questions at him.
“All right,” the souled vampire snarled, once he and the mysteriously-arrived newcomer were alone in his office, “what is it you wanted to say that you couldn’t say in front of everyone out there?”
“Want to tell me why we never heard a single word about you having a son? Or anything about any of the other problems involved with him being born to you and Darla?” Xander asked, startling the vampire with his unexpected knowledge.
“How does that matter to you, Harris?” Angel half-snarled, his worry and concern over Connor’s absence elevating the normal level of ill humor and semi-hostility that existed between the two of them to a much greater intensity. “It’s not like you’d care about any kids I might possibly have had.”
“If it was just you, you’d probably be right, I wouldn’t care,” Xander nodded his agreement with Angel’s statement. “But if an innocent child was involved, I wouldn’t want them to end up as collateral damage because they happened to be related to you.”
Reluctantly acknowledging the truth of the Scooby’s words, Angel stared for a moment before beginning his explanation.
“I didn’t think it was anyone else’s concern,” he stated. “I didn’t want Buffy being hurt if she heard about it, and I didn’t think that, after everything that happened back in Sunnydale, that any of you would even consider helping me out, since it didn’t involve an apocalypse. And, besides, none of us here even knew anything about the entire situation before a couple weeks ago.”
“What was your son’s name?” Xander asked quietly.
“Connor,” Angel replied automatically, then gave a start as he caught Xander’s unconscious phrasing of his question.
“What do you mean, what *was* my son’s name?!” he roared as he leaped forward and tried to grab hold of the other man. “Do you know something about my son?! Where’s Connor? What happened to him?!”
Much to his astonishment, the dark-haired youth made no attempt to avoid his attack, but merely stood there looking at him as he rushed forward. What further compounded his surprise was the fact that Xander Harris remained unmoved when he actually did reach him and grabbed hold of him. There was no knock-back, no reflexive stepping backward to absorb any of the energy associated with the impact of two colliding bodies. It was as though Angel had tried to tackle a marble statue; Xander simply stood there, and the vampire nearly bounced off him.
"I’m sorry, Angel,” Xander told his one-time rival for the Slayer’s affections. Angel was already shaking his head in denial, anticipating and dreading the news he was about to hear. “There’s no easy way to say this…
“NOOOOO!!” the ensouled vampire screamed in outrage and protest as he began raining a series of blows upon Xander with enough power to shatter stone. “You’re lying!”
“No, Angel,” the other man shook his head as he ignored the flurry of enraged strikes his companion was throwing at him. “I’m not. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you. I doubt it’ll be very much comfort to hear, but he died trying to save innocent people.”
A clamor could be heard at the office door, but Xander used the barest wisp of his power to ensure that no one from outside could enter, allowing the heartbroken man attacking him a semblance of privacy in his moment of grief.
“Who – Who killed my son?” Angel demanded hoarsely several moments later, once he had managed to regain a semblance of self-restraint. He hadn’t looked directly at Xander since he had ceased the futile attack he had launched after momentarily losing control of his emotions.
“A Kaliff demon was the one who actually killed him,” Xander informed the now quietly seething vampire. “I’ll be glad to point him out to you later, when we go looking for him.
“But if you mean, who is responsible for Connor being put in that situation, that’s an entirely different answer,” the newly empowered agent against the Darkness told him.
“That would be the same powers that have been screwing all of us around for pretty much all of our lives. I think the people you know call them the Powers That Be,” he went on.
“Me? I think I’m gonna call them toast.”
The smile Angel saw spread across the one-time so-called Zeppo’s face as he spoke reminded the vampire of that of a wolf standing atop a hillside as he looked down and considered a flock of sheep.