Date written: Sat 29 Dec 2001

Author: Starway Man

E-mail: theop@kew.hotkey.net.au

Category: Alternate Universe, Action-adventure.

Disclaimer: All BTVS characters are copyright Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, Sandollar and probably a whole lot of other people too. No profit making allowed.

Spoilers: There are references to everything through to the end of BTVS season 5, in this fanfic as a whole.

Warnings: Some overt violence, language and sexual references are present.

Rating: Overall PG-13, but with some R parts.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Psyche’s Buffy Transcripts, without which this story couldn’t have been written.

Summary: This is a response to YGTS? Challenge #112. You can see the full text of the challenge at: http://www.four-am.com/stones, but the main thing you need to know is that Giles gets hit by Toth’s ray in ‘The Replacement’, not Xander.

Title: Band of Buggered

 

Sunnydale, California. October 10, 2000

In the movies, the villains always seem to say something like, "Don’t try to be a hero."

For Rupert Giles, Watcher for the vampire Slayer, this evening it was advice that *really* was worth following.

The middle-aged British man hadn’t exactly had a good day, after all. He’d been attacked by a demon named Toth in his newly-purchased magic shop, the demon had threatened to kill Buffy – the Slayer, the girl Giles practically thought of as his own daughter – and right now Toth was attacking him, the Slayer and her friends in a garbage dump at night.

< Some days, > Giles thought frantically, < it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed... >

Everyone ducked, as magical blasts of energy erupted from Toth’s weapon. Apart from Giles and Buffy, some of the Scooby gang – Xander Harris, Riley Finn, and Willow Rosenberg – were also present, and trying not to end up six feet under.

The bleach-blonde vampire named Spike was there too – but none of the humans were really concerned about him, as long as the chip in his head prevented the soulless demon from harming any living thing.

Suddenly, Xander tripped over and Giles saw that Toth had a clear line of sight at Buffy. Rushing over, the Watcher pushed the blonde girl aside, but in the process caught Toth’s ray full in the chest and flew backwards into a pile of trash.

Riley rushed over to help the older man, and Xander soon followed. "Hey, you okay?" asked the ex-member of the Initiative.

Giles shook his head. "Feeling like I had, uh, rather an odd turn, actually..."

Willow looked around, but the young woman who was both a computer hacker and a witch couldn’t see any sign of their attacker. "Buffy, he’s gone!"

Riley and Xander helped the former librarian, and now magic shop owner, up. Giles groaned a little, as Riley looked around. "He disappeared?"

"Yeah, I guess," Buffy replied.

All the others looked around too, and indeed there was no sign of Toth or Spike. The gang then started to walk off, planning their next move.

Riley looked Giles over again "That had to have hurt..."

The Watcher looked annoyed. "Yes, yes, but I’m fine, no need to be all worried about me..."

As the White Hats left the scene, they failed to notice another Giles, lying apparently unconscious amongst the piles of trash a short distance away.

***

October 11, 2000

The next morning in the garbage dump, the other Giles woke up with a groan. "Bloody toffing hell," the British man muttered, with a distinctive Cockney twang.

He got up, looked around and quickly left the dump. Making his way back to his apartment, this version of Rupert Giles unlocked the front door and went in.

Whatever else the Brit was expecting to find, it wasn’t an exact genetic duplicate of himself reading a book.

"Who the hell are you?" the Giles who had just arrived demanded.

"Who am I? I-I resent your accusation, sir! Who are you!?!" retorted the intellectual one.

The new arrival groaned, then grunted, "You can call me Ripper."

Then Ripper grabbed his counterpart, who seemed to cower in fear, and shoved him against the wall. "And you got about five seconds to tell me who you are, 'fore I turn into you into hamburger..."

"No! Please!" begged the Librarian. "I’m Rupert Giles!"

"Yeah, right," smirked Ripper.

"I am! You’re the imposter! And I say, not a very good one, either...I mean, my God, look at you! Acting just like I did in the Seventies...you’re, you’re a walking advertisement for criminal rehabilitation!!"

Ripper growled, and might have done his double serious bodily harm...if at that moment Spike hadn’t rushed through the door, a smoking blanket over his head.

"Bloody hell!" the vampire exclaimed to himself. "Almost didn’t make it..."

"What do you want?" Ripper and the Librarian both said at the same time, but in very different tones.

Spike looked at them both, with his eyebrows upraised. "Bunch o’ people 'round in the vicinity of my crypt, didn’t feel like hangin’ around..."

Noting Ripper’s scornful look, he then admitted, "Alright, needed to borrow a few things, since that big robe-y wanker destroyed my stuff at the dump last night. Anyway, what’s goin’ on with you two?"

"He’s a demon," both Ripper and the Librarian again said in unison.

Spike smirked happily. "Think I’m gonna enjoy this..."

The vampire then marched over to Ripper, and punched him in the face. As the British human staggered back, Spike screamed in pain as his chip kicked in.

Recovering his poise, the undead creature formerly known as William the Bloody glared at the Librarian. "Very cute. But now, I’m real pissed..."

Hitting the other Giles, the soulless vamp again yelled in agony. Stepping back and staring murderously at both Ripper and the Librarian, Spike screamed, "WHAT THE FRIGGIN’ HELL IS GOIN’ ON 'ERE?!"

***

At that moment, Xander Harris was about to come through Giles’ front door. And even though the day was still very young, he wasn’t in a good mood.

For one thing, the 19-year-old man also known as the Zeppo was still in the doghouse with his girlfriend, Anya – who was the former vengeance demon, known as Anyanka.

This was because the girl was sick and tired of visiting her boyfriend in his parents’ basement, and he was unlikely to afford the new apartment she’d liked and had told him to get.

And to top it all off, Xander was gonna be late for work, and would need to borrow Giles’ new red convertible.

"Hey, Giles! I brought the books! And any chance I can borrow the car? You know, el convertablo?" Xander called out, as he entered the Watcher’s home.

Then the young man saw both Ripper and the Librarian and went, "Huh?"

Spike just groaned. "Oh, that’s all we need – adding Droopy Boy into the mix!"

Xander ignored him. "Oh man, oh man! I know this! It’s, it’s like that thing with vamp Willow a while back, all over again! One’s an evil vampire double!"

The bleached-hair vampire looked at him scornfully. "Great deduction, Sherlock. Y’know Harris, I swear, killing you one o’ these days is actually gonna be doin’ a favor to the human gene pool!"

Xander finally took notice of Spike. "Oh, yeah? Well, lemme ask you something, Fangless – wanna go sunbathing, without your comfie blanket?"

Spike snarled at him, putting on his game face, before the Librarian yelled out, "I say, that is quite ENOUGH!!"

Everyone looked at him in surprise, and the man looked almost ashamed of getting their attention before saying, "Now, now, I-I-I believe, er, something very odd is going on."

Ripper snorted. "Man’s a genius..."

The Librarian ignored him. "What’s intriguing to me is that there are any number of demons with the ability to mimic a human form, but, uh...given Spike’s reaction, this-this is obviously something different than that."

Xander looked confused, until Ripper informed him what had happened previously with Spike. "So what now?" asked the human teenager.

The Librarian looked insufferably proud of himself. "Obviously, I-I have to research this at once. There are some volumes at the Magic Box, and I should check them out first..." Then Giles looked at Xander. "And it’ll go faster if I had an assistant..."

Xander shrugged. "I’m already late for work, sorry..."

The Librarian looked disappointed, but then turned to Spike. "Right. Spike old man, you stay here and keep an eye on..." he gestured to Ripper, "...him. And you," the British Watcher looked at his mirror image, "I-I trust you’ll be on your best behavior?"

Ripper just smirked. "Not promisin’ anything in particular, mate."

As Xander and the Librarian left, Spike reverted back to his human mask and tried to establish his authority over the other man. "Right then, first off – let’s get a few things straight. I’m in charge around 'ere..."

Ripper just casually punched him in the stomach, causing the vampire to wheeze and bend over. The Englishman then helped himself to Spike’s cigarettes – lighting up a smoke, the British rebel then went to pour himself a shot of whiskey.

Spike quickly recovered, with a smirk of his own. "Think I might get to like this version of you, Rupert..." the vampire muttered with a greedy chuckle.

***

Xander and the Librarian finally arrived at the young man’s construction site, and the teenager realized that he was very late. "Damn it..." He looked at Giles. "Wait here for me..."

The Zeppo went to visit his foreman. "Boss, I’m sorry I’m late, there was a family emergency..."

The other man turned around. "Harris? Huh, been looking for you. Come to my trailer – I’m talking to all the guys today. The job’s winding down..."

Xander sighed, he’d been afraid of that. It was one of the reasons he’d held off on taking that new apartment. "Look, boss, I figure I know what this is about, so lemme save you some time. You don’t have to fire me – I’ll resign now."

Ignoring the foreman’s look of astonishment, Xander raced back to the Librarian. "Let’s get to the researching, G-man."

The Englishman was so stunned, he forgot how much he hated hearing that name. "But I say, I thought you had to work?"

The young American shrugged. "I do. Helping ya figure this mess out."

The Librarian just smiled at Xander in gratitude, and the car sped off to the magic shop.

In the meantime, across town, Willow, Riley, Buffy, Buffy’s mother Joyce Summers and her ‘sister’ Dawn were arriving at Giles’ apartment.

Joyce looked at her watch and said to Buffy, "Buffy, sweetheart, we have to hurry – Dawn’s going to be late for school..."

"I know, Mom," the Slayer replied quickly. "I just have to get the latest 411 on last night’s demon, and then we can motorvate."

"What was it called again?" Dawn suddenly asked. "Doth or Toth or something?"

"It’s Toth," Buffy answered sharply. "And hey, you’re not allowed to be interested in this sorta thing – don’t you have non-demony things to think about?"

"You mean, like, what you and your boyfriend get up to alone in your bedroom?"

"DAWN!!" Buffy yelled. Willow and Riley just looked embarrassed.

Joyce muttered, "Ah, yes. My ‘two teenage girls in the house’ headache from before? It’s back. Apparently, it’s not limited my own home sweet home; ‘mobile’ is obviously its middle name."

"Sorry, Mom," both of the Summers daughters chimed together.

Willow rang the bell, and started at seeing Spike answer it. "Spike?" she asked in astonishment.

"Yeah, yeah," the British vamp beckoned impatiently from behind the door. "Look at you lot, just standin’ there like a bunch o’ drips! Will ya get in already?" Then he spied Joyce and sheepishly added, "Please."

Buffy and Dawn’s mother smiled as she went in and Spike smiled back, ignoring the other humans and their astonishment.

The soulless demon couldn’t help it – at this point in time, Joyce Summers was the only one of the group of White Hats that he actually liked, and could stand to be around.

Ripper looked around, and stared at the new arrivals. He had changed clothes so that he was now wearing an old white T-shirt, black pants and boots. The glasses were nowhere in sight, and he was smoking another cigarette.

"Giles?" asked Buffy in incredulity.

"Yeah, guess that’s me, luv," the Englishman grinned at her.

"What’s going on? Why are you dressed like that? And you’re smoking?!"

Ripper looked at Dawn, and quickly scratched out the butt. "Oh – uh, yeah, right, don’t want the squirt exposed to all o’ that now, do we?"

Everyone was getting confused at his speech and mannerisms, except Spike – who had an evil grin, that no one noticed. < Now this should be interesting... > thought the vampire.

Buffy just shook her head and asked, "What’s happening with Doth – I, I mean Toth?" she finished with a glare at Dawn, who just stuck her tongue out back at her ‘sister’.

Ripper shrugged. "Don’t have a clue, meself."

The Slayer looked more puzzled than ever. "What? But you’re Giles – you have to have a clue! You-you have to know what’s going on!!"

"Why?"

"Why?!" Buffy couldn’t believe her ears. "Giles, what is wrong with you today?"

"I could give ya a clue," Spike said with a laugh.

Buffy just ignored him, telling herself to be patient. "Giles, look, just talk to me."

"Why?"

The Slayer couldn’t believe her Watcher was acting like this. "What the – is that all you can say today?"

Dawn was looking bored. "Guys? I have school? And God, I must be really out of it, if I’m actually saying that..."

Buffy looked at her mother, who stared back. "I’ll take Dawn to school, and Giles can give you a lift to the gallery?"

"Fine," Joyce sighed, and the Slayer and her brunette ‘sister’ left.

Ripper looked at Spike. "Go make my guests some cocoa or something, I’m sure there’s chocolate somewhere in the kitchen," he said dismissively to the vampire.

Spike said scornfully, "Why the hell should I do that? What, do I look like room service to you?"

The Englishman grabbed Spike, and shoved him against the wall. Ripper then purred, "Get over the attitude, sport. Or you’re gonna get acquainted with something very short, very wooden and very pointy right quick..."

Spike looked into the human’s eyes, and knew that the other Englishman wasn’t bluffing. Cursing under his breath and glaring at Ripper all the while, he went into the kitchen for a few minutes, while his de facto overseer started looking through some books on a shelf.

Joyce, Willow and Riley, thinking that he was the normal Giles they knew and loved, just gaped as the Brit casually looked at some volumes – and then dumped the books onto the floor, completely uncaring if they got damaged.

< What’s up with him? > all of his guests thought to themselves.

Spike stormed across from the kitchen area, and banged the tray containing the cocoa down on the coffee table. "Here. And I hope you choke on it 'n die," he snarled at Ripper, before grabbing his blanket and slamming the front door on his way out.

Ripper came over, and offered the hot confection to the others. "Dig in, all..."

Somewhat nervously, the other three sipped the cocoa. All four of them soon started to gulp it down greedily though, and quickly finished their drinks off.

Then things started to get weird.

Willow and Joyce started to giggle. "Uh, I just remembered, I have a class," the red-haired witch said in between the high-pitched laughter.

Riley started to smile goofily. "And I-I’ve got a basketball game," he stammered.

Willow and he stared at each other. "Wanna walk me to campus?" the redhead asked.

"Sure," replied the ex-commando, and they quickly laughed again and left.

Joyce kept on smiling and giggling. "You know, I had this horrible headache before, listening to Buffy and Dawn argue – but I feel *so* much better now..."

Ripper suggested huskily, "Wanna get outta here, luv?"

Joyce started to act seductive. "What did you have in mind? My place? Very Burt Reynolds..."

The...uninhibited version of Giles growled as he started to chase her, "Wait till I get my hands on you..."

The oldest Summers woman just laughed, all the way out to the street.

***

At this moment, Xander and the Librarian were at the magic shop, looking through books. Or rather, Giles was flipping through various ancient tomes and Xander was on the phone, talking to the apartment manager he had met the previous day.

"Yeah, so I guess, uh, I won’t be taking the apartment after all. Sorry for putting you to any trouble..."

"Oh, no, that’s fine, Mr. Harris," the manager said in a chirpy manner. "Actually, I’m glad you rang – 'cause I’ve just given the apartment to someone else. Is there anything more I can do for you?"

Xander grimaced. "No, thanks. G’bye." He hung up. "Gak. She didn’t even ask about my references..." the young man muttered to himself.

Then Xander squared his shoulders, and decided to phone Anya, his girlfriend.

Listening to her machine, he then said, "Anya, honey, you there? Look, I know you’re still mad, but...I figure you’re probably sitting there, pretending you’re not home, but listening anyway."

At Anya’s apartment, the young woman was standing there in a bathrobe, one arm in a sling, listening to Xander on the answering machine. "Am not..."

Xander then said, "Look, I’m really sorry. I uh, didn’t get the apartment, and I’m currently unemployed again, but I miss you. I’m with Giles right now at the magic shop, we got some major Hellmouth freakiness going on. Again. So please call me. I’ll be waiting for you."

The Zeppo then hung up. "How’s the research goin’, Big G?"

The Librarian sighed, in a very pedantic manner. "Really, old chap, don’t call me that..."

Xander couldn’t believe the guy was being so...British. "Sorry..."

The Librarian ignored his apology. "There’s nothing in these books. Obviously, this isn’t just a transmogrification spell gone wrong..."

The boy just looked totally confused. "A whatchamacallit? And hey, would this Toth guy be involved?"

The Librarian looked at him. "Toth...uh, wait a moment. All of this might be..." He looked lost in thought, then snapped his gaze back at Xander. "Let’s go back to my apartment, post-haste. There are some books there we need to find, they might hold the answer..."

***

Buffy and another blonde girl were walking along, chatting in a UC Sunnydale dorm building corridor. "No way!" the Slayer said to her companion.

"I’m not kidding," Tara Maclay, resident witch and Slayerette said to Buffy. "Willow said that we should have some sort of Scooby initiation rite, or wear some sort of special ring that identifies us as members of the gang. She wants me to feel like totally comfortable around everyone."

"Tara, sometimes I just don’t get Willow’s..." Buffy said, as the two blonde girls reached the redhead’s dorm and opened the door.

But whatever else the Slayer had wanted to say, her words were lost as Tara and Buffy took in the scene before them.

Riley was naked and on the bed; his hands were tied to the corners, and his eyes were blindfolded. He was very...excited.

Willow was also naked, and sitting on top of him. She giggled happily, lost to the world.

< They didn’t even bother to lock the door... > Tara’s eyes went wide, and she just turned and ran, beginning to cry.

Buffy could only stare, as the two of them did it right there in front of her. Her best friend and her boyfriend. Eventually she closed the door behind herself silently, and ran away as well.

The Slayer began to weep, as she left the dorm building. Willow was a two-timer, and Riley was a cheater...the Chosen One couldn’t believe this was happening to her.

"DAMN IT!!!" Buffy snarled, about to lose herself in a Slayer rage.

< Willow. The little boyfriend-stealer! Wait a minute, why am I even surprised? Didn’t she do something like this back in high school, with Xander and Cordelia? And Riley. Damn him, the unfaithful bastard! It’s just like Parker Abrams all over again! >

Well, not exactly – Parker had had his worthless ass kicked around until he’d apologized profusely, and she had brained him under the influence of that beer.

But Buffy’s heart had still got broken.

And apparently it had done so again.

Calming down, Buffy expected to find her mother doing laundry and Dawn still at school when she arrived home, looking for some maternal comfort. But her mom was in her bedroom, and she wasn’t alone either.

It was at that moment Buffy really wished she didn’t have enhanced Slayer hearing, so that she wouldn’t have had to hear Joyce’s voice crying out in a moment of lust behind the closed door.

And if what her mother was doing was thought-provoking, the Slayer had a *real* problem upon learning the identity of Joyce’s partner.

< Mom’s doing that with GILES? EWWWW!!! >

"What the hell is going on today?" Buffy said, tears streaming down her cheeks as she ran from the house where her mother and her Watcher were doing the wild thing.

The Chosen One tried to get her mind around this latest development, whilst walking down the street completely on autopilot. < Well, I guess it’s not THAT unimaginable – like, it’s happened before, and I know that Mom has a love life, even a sex life... >

But still, for the first time since she had turned into cave-Slayer, Buffy wanted to go into a bar and get drunk. Forget the nightmare, that this day had turned into.

< Should I try Willy’s place? No way! What am I, nuts? Well, what about Spike? He always has some alcohol around, in that crypt of his. Maybe that’d help... >

Then the Slayer realized, that maybe it would end up with them doing what she and Spike had barely avoided doing, while under Willow’s ‘my-will-be-done’ spell last year. Just to give Riley a taste of his own medicine...

< I mean, would that be so bad? I’d get some payback, and it’s not like Spike has a soul to lose... >

"Oh my God," Buffy snorted. She couldn’t believe she was now considering sleeping with the vampire, that had once been her mortal enemy! < I need to get drunk... >

***

Night had fallen, and Xander and the Librarian were still at it – trying to research what had happened, after coming back and getting in a panic over Ripper’s disappearance.

Buffy burst in, and looked ready to murder her Watcher. Her voice slurred by alcohol, the blonde Slayer said, "Giles. You’re here? Good. Now I wanna know – are you planning on becoming my stepfather?"

The Librarian took no notice of her. Xander put down his book in shock and said, "Buff, are you drunk?"

She looked at Xander happily. "Xander! You’re my, my one and only Xander-shaped friend! The only real friend I’ve got!"

The Zeppo shook his head in frustration. He grabbed Buffy, took her to the kitchen and soon forced some coffee down her throat. Fortunately, with the hyperactive Slayer metabolism, she quickly sobered up.

"Where’s Dawn?" Xander asked her sharply.

Buffy groaned. "This morning she said she was going to her friend Janice’s, straight after school. Sleepover or something..." The Slayer shook her head. "Ugh, I feel awful."

Xander wasn’t very sympathetic. "You went drinking at a time like this?"

Suddenly, the Librarian looked up from the book he was reading. "Oh, dear Lord."

Buffy ignored him. "Tell Giles I’m not speaking to him right now."

Xander was confused. "Why, what’s he done? I mean, hey, G-man’s been researching with me all day..."

Buffy was confused. "Then who’s been having sex with my mom?"

The Librarian interrupted the stimulating conversation, as Xander looked shocked. "Children, do pay attention! I said, ‘oh, dear Lord’."

Buffy forgot her antagonism for a moment. "You always say that."

The Watcher came forward. "Well, young lady, you should listen to your betters, as it’s always important..." He held up the book. "I think I’ve just solved the mystery, of-of how there are two of me running around Sunnydale." Again, the look of insufferable pride was on the man’s face.

The Slayer looked even more confused. "What?"

The Librarian said quickly, "Both of you, listen. The, the rod device that Toth had, it’s called a ferula-gemina. It splits one person in half, distilling personality traits into two separate bodies. As near as one can tell, Toth was attempting to split Buffy into two different entities."

"Two Buffys?" asked Xander.

"Yes. One with all the qualities inherent in Buffy Summers, and the other one with everything that belongs to the Slayer alone...the, uh, the-the strength, the, uh, speed, the heritage. And when it hit me by mistake, it separated me into my intellectual side – and, well, into ‘Ripper’."

The Zeppo was confused. "Still not getting the original plan here. I mean, why bother with the whole cloning deal? The Slayer half would be like Slayer concentrate, pretty much unkillable – right?"

The Librarian sighed. "Quite, lad, but the two halves can’t exist without each other. Kill the weaker Buffy half, and the Slayer half also dies."

Buffy was finally starting to figure out what was going on. "So, that wasn’t you having sex with my mother this morning? I mean, it was you, but not you-you?"

The Librarian looked vaguely ill, in his own prissy way. "I-I-I think we better go find my other half. Before he kills both of us. And it seems, it seems I rather need to give myself a good talking to..."

***

Buffy, Xander and the Librarian quickly arrived at 1630 Revello Drive, and found Joyce and Ripper cuddling on the couch.

The problem was, all Ripper had on was a pair of pants, and Joyce was wearing nothing but Ripper’s T-shirt.

Naturally, Buffy freaked. "MOTHER!!!!"

"Oh, loosen up, dear," Joyce Summers said to her firstborn. She smiled at her daughter wickedly before saying, "You must have wondered what it’d be like, to try Ripper out?"

Buffy Summers almost went catatonic.

Spluttering wildly, the Slayer then expressed her horror at the idea, before chewing her mother out. "Have you gone completely insane? What if Dawn came through that door? What if-?"

Then she looked at Ripper. "And you! How dare you take advantage of my mom like this!?"

Xander just watched the spectacle, with a big grin on his face. < I may have lost a job and an apartment today, but oh, this surely does make up a lot for that... >

And then of course, Toth arrived.

He smashed down the front door and strode in, then the demon spied Buffy. "I will not miss again, Slayer," he hissed.

But Buffy just looked completely pissed off. "Oh, great. Rod Boy!"

Toth fired at Buffy with the ferula-gemina but he missed, tearing out a great big hole in the floor. Xander quickly jumped on Toth from behind, making him drop the weapon; but the demon quickly threw the Slayerette off, and then looked around for Buffy.

Unfortunately for him, it was too late; the Slayer had grabbed her own weapon from the closet, and used the sword to attack the demon.

A little rage therapy, as it were.

Buffy quickly stabbed Toth, who screamed once before he died. Just before the demon’s death Spike rushed in through the open doorway, and saw what was going on.

"Sorry I missed all the action," the soulless vampire said, with a grin on his face.

Xander then started picking on him, about why he’d left Ripper alone that morning. "Come on, Captain Peroxide, what you got to say for yourself?" he finished up.

Spike replied angrily, "I’m no bloody butler, serving bloody chocolate cocoa, to bloody Happy Meals with legs!"

The Librarian looked confused. "What?"

The others quickly filled him and Xander in on what had happened that morning. "What, uh, what chocolate did you use?" the intellectual version of Giles suddenly asked the bleached-hair vamp, in obvious fear.

Spike shrugged. "The good stuff you had hidden in the back o’ the freezer, mate."

The Librarian almost exploded. "You utterly silly man! That, that was my last sample of the Band Candy from a few years back, that I was keeping for research purposes!"

The light began to dawn on several faces. "The stuff that made everyone act, like, completely irresponsible? So that’s why Willow and Riley..." breathed Buffy.

"Not to mention Buffy’s mom and Ripper here..." added Xander.

Then everyone turned to glare at Spike.

"What?" the vamp grunted, completely unrepentant. "Don’t look at me like it’s MY fault Rupert didn’t label his stash! Anyway, I wasn’t even around 'ere in SunnyHell back then! What is this, let’s play ‘kick the Spike’?" Fed up with the glares, the blonde Brit then just left in a huff.

A short while later, the effects of the candy finally wore off. Willow and Riley had been summoned, and neither of them could bear to look at each other or anyone else.

Joyce and Ripper had changed clothes – and while Mrs. Summers looked ashamed, Ripper just looked...satisfied.

No one had to guess why.

The magical preparations were finally completed, and Ripper and the Librarian were now wearing identical clothing. Willow said, "I think we’re ready. We should do it now."

Xander tried to lift everyone’s spirits. "Hey, summon the goddess. Chant the chant. Let’s do it..."

Willow lined the Librarian and Ripper up at the right place on the floor with the chalk markings, and lit the candles for the ritual. "Right, here we go. Brace yourselves." The two versions of Giles closed their eyes, and prepared themselves. "Let the spell be ended."

Xander scoffed, "You gotta be kidding me. ‘Let the spell be ended’, that’s not gonna work!" Then he saw there was only one Giles now. "Oh! Sorry."

Rupert Giles blinked once, and looked down at the T-shirt and other clothes he was wearing. Then he stared at everyone’s expression.

With an expression of horror dawning on his face, the British Watcher quickly ran out of the house, and away into the night.

***

Sunnydale, California. October 25, 2000

Xander Harris entered his basement apartment, coming home after a long day. He flopped down onto the bed, and vaguely thought about fixing himself some dinner.

Over the last two weeks, a lot had happened. Xander had made up with Anya, who had gotten a job at the Magic Box with Giles less than 30 minutes ago – and the ex-demon was now very happy with her life.

And if she was happy, well then, he was happy too.

Things were still very awkward between Xander’s friends however, especially between Buffy and Riley; after all that had happened, the Slayer had found it almost impossible to forgive her boyfriend for what he’d done.

Even though he’d been...under the influence, so to speak.

Xander sighed. He hated to admit it, but – he had the terrible feeling that those two weren’t likely to last as a couple, for very much longer.

The boy also briefly thought about the mystical orb Buffy had found recently, called the Dagon sphere. He and the Scooby gang had researched it that day; but basically, all they’d learned was that it was very old, and it had been created to repel ‘That Which Cannot Be Named’.

The Zeppo sighed again. He was aching from cramps and his lower back was still hurting, especially after fending off a couple of crazy guys on the way home. < Wonder if there’s any connection with the sphere on that? >

Suddenly, there was a knock on the basement door. When Xander answered it, he saw a middle-aged white guy standing there, dressed all in tweed. < Who’s this, Watcher Council wannabe? >

"Hi," the man at the door said. "Can I come in? And I promise, I’m not a vampire."

Xander stared at him. "What, do I look like I’ve got ‘vampire bait’ tattooed on my forehead or something?"

The man smiled and entered without invitation, as Xander closed the door. "Okay, guess you’re not a Deadboy..."

"Right. Now, you’re Xander Harris, and my name’s Whisperer. Anyway, lately it is."

The young man frowned. "What’s that supposed to mean? And who are you, anyway?"

"I’m...someone who needs your help."

"Why?"

Whisperer sighed. "Could we sit down? There’s a lot I have to tell you, so we may as well get our comforts where we can."

Xander shrugged, and obliged his guest. The man sighed again, then said, "Okay. If we’re gonna be honest, I need to tell you something straight up – I’m a balance demon."

The Slayerette instantly freaked at hearing the word ‘demon’, and quickly got up, backing away from the guy.

"Relax! I’m not here to hurt you," Whisperer said in annoyance.

"I’ve heard that one before!" the boy’s voice was almost full of fear.

"Then why did I put on these stupid itchy clothes, just to initially put your mind at ease? Not *my* idea of fun, I can tell you. Your subconscious has real funny notions about authority figures, ya know that?"

Indignation often has this very odd way, of being able to instantaneously replace fear. Xander pointed at Whisperer and demanded, "Hey! Don’t mock my subconscious, demon guy!!"

Whisperer came closer to the boy. "I told you before, Harris, I need your help. That’s why I went to the trouble of learning everything about you. Like, what happened with that clown on your 6th birthday? Or that fire when you turned seven, the one that you thought for years your friend the witch lit for you."

The demon paused, before continuing, "I know you’ve gone through a lot. Like getting possessed by a hyena, when you were 16 years old. Plus, turning into Soldier Guy that Halloween during '97. And let’s not forget the night the Hellmouth almost opened in the high school library, when you saved the world and lost your virginity to the brunette psycho Chosen One?"

Xander was convinced by now this guy was the real deal – because some of that stuff was material that was completely Scooby confidential. "Okay, okay. I’m still kinda confused here, though – what can I do to help you? And for that matter, why would I even *want* to help you?"

The demon looked at him. "It’ll be easier if I just show you. This is what’s gonna happen in about seven months..." Whisperer suddenly reached out, and grabbed Xander’s head.

The boy had no time to scream, before his mind was assaulted by the visions.

*FLASH*

//Himself shambling along, muttering nonsense, piling up bricks amidst a bunch of crazy people. A pissed-looking attractive blonde then demanding to know what he was doing there, before Willow grabbed them both and blue lightning began to flicker around them.//

*FLASH*

//Buffy fighting the blonde woman, and eventually losing when the other female kicked the Slayer’s head off.//

*FLASH*

//A weird-looking old guy with black eyes muttering, "Shallow cuts, shallow cuts...let the blood run – free..." as he slashed at Dawn with a knife, and the young girl screamed in pain.//

*FLASH*

//Dawn dissolving into a tower of green light, as demons appeared everywhere and the deafening sound of human screams filled the entire world.//

***

Xander came to and suddenly snapped his head away, looking at Whisperer in horror. "What the frickin’ hell was that?" the boy demanded from the balance demon.

Whisperer stared at him. "The Apocalypse, kid. The big one. And we’re talking ultimate Big Bad, finally getting lucky."

The young man wasn’t satisfied. "Okay, back up. Way, way up. One thing at a time – now what the hell happened to Dawn?"

Whisperer sat down, and started to talk. "There are a few things you need to know. Number one, about two months ago..."

The balance demon talked for a long time, telling Xander the truth about Dawn Summers. That she hadn’t been human until very recently, and that some Czech monks had manufactured his memories of her as Buffy’s sister.

Xander learned that Dawn was really that big green blob thing he’d seen in the vision – the living energy known as the Key, which had previously been guarded by the brethren of the Order of Dagon.

Only now they’d made it human, and sent it to Buffy for protection.

"Order of Dagon? You mean like, the Dagon sphere?" Xander interrupted at that point.

"Yeah. This guy Tarnis in the 12th century helped come up with 'em, to better protect the Key against..."

Whisperer then came onto the subject of ‘That Which Cannot Be Named’; otherwise called the Beast, or Glorificus the hellgod.

The attractive blonde woman in the visions. Who she was, and where she came from...

Then the balance demon explained about the Apocalypse, about how Glory planned to use the Key to unlock the barriers between the different dimensions and go home – destroying the world, in the process.

As an aside, he also told Xander about how Glory brain-sucked people to maintain her own sanity, leaving them crazies like the ones he had seen on the way home tonight – and the Zeppo shuddered, as he remembered that part of his visions.

"She’s gonna do it to me too, right?" Xander had to ask.

"Yeah, but the redhead restores your mind."

"Well, thank-"

"Not sure you’re getting the big picture," Whisperer stared hard at the boy. "Because of the whole Willow/Riley incident and what’s happened with the other witch, the redhead won’t be able to take on Glory’s minions like she was supposed to. She’s not gonna be powerful enough. The Slayer’ll have to face 'em, and that’s kinda why she ain’t gonna make it on time to save little sis."

"But-"

"Look, kid, bottom line’s this. The world’s balance of good and evil is gonna be severely disrupted, if that future Glorificus intends to create comes to pass. That’s where we come in."

Xander was now beyond stunned. "Why don’t you just stop her, if you know what’s gonna happen? Kill the human body of this guy she’s hiding in, or something..."

"Balance demon, remember? We’re not allowed to interfere like that. Big no-no. And so, that’s where *you* come in."

"Uh, yeah – but I mean...what exactly do you want from me?"

The demon sighed, and sat down again. "The Powers-That-Be want you to change that future."

"Okay, totally on board, but – how exactly?"

Whisperer stared at the boy for a full ten seconds, before answering. "It’s pretty simple, actually. There’s a way to elevate you – make you a balance demon, but without the whole non-interference thing. That’s, uh, the only way Glory can be stopped from killing the Slayer, and destroying this entire world."

The Zeppo looked at the demon in astonishment. "Are you out of your freaking mind?"

Xander started to pace around. "Listen up, pal. We gotta come up with another plan, because I’m telling ya – that one? It ain’t happening!"

"There’s a price, of course," Whisperer continued, ignoring Xander’s rant. "You’ll lose your soul. You’ll still remember everything – but, there won’t be any human conscience or feeling left. You know what I’m getting at – 'cause I’m sure your girlfriend Anya’s told you often enough, what it’s like to be a demon."

Xander spun around. "Anya-?"

"Yeah. You do realize, that she’ll die along with the rest of the human race if that future happens. She’s just another mortal now, remember?"

"Look...hold it. Just for the sake of argument, what if I said no?"

Whisperer shrugged and got up. "Then I’ll have to find someone else to elevate – but a lot of people are gonna die, whoever I choose. Not a lot of guys like you around, who fit the criteria."

Xander looked at his guest strangely. "Which are."

Whisperer looked uncomfortable. "You’re not gonna like it."

"I’ll deal. So, what do you need in a savior these days?"

"First off, a human who knows about the demon world and can give me his informed consent to do this; and there are a lot fewer of them than you’d think. Secondly, the Powers need someone who’s..."

"Yeah?"

"In a word? Expendable."

Xander laughed – and it was not a sound of joy and happiness.

Whisperer continued, "Anyway, if you do say no, I’ll just blank your memory of this conversation, and get on with the alternate plan."

Xander started to speak, but the demon cut him off. "Look, Harris, you can accept the deal or not, but I need an answer right now. And I know that you’re capable of making the hard decisions once you’ve got all the information – remember when you forced Angelus to take you down into the Master’s lair? Or when you lied to the Slayer, in order to save the world from Acathla?"

Whisperer stared at Xander, and the demon’s eyes showed no human emotion in them at all. "This is no different. Except now, this time – you have to sacrifice yourself. So, you in or out?"

***

There was a terribly long silence.

What does it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

But in the end, Alexander Lavelle Harris made the only decision he could.

For Dawn, for Buffy, for the world – but most of all, for his beloved Anya.

Xander stared at the balance demon with a doomed look on his face, and then said softly, "I’m in."

Whisperer nodded in a businesslike way. "Then let’s get on with it..."

Xander took a long look around his home in the basement, suddenly feeling oddly certain that this would be the last time he would ever do so.

He then grabbed Toth’s ferula-gemina device from underneath the bed – a souvenir from a few weeks previously that he’d kept, for some strange reason. "Uh, is this gonna be painful?"

Whisperer nodded. "Very. And as soon as it’s done, we’re out of here – sorry, but we don’t have time to say goodbye to your friends."

And before Xander could protest or even change his mind, the balance demon grabbed the human’s head once more.

There was a great blaze of light – and when it was gone, Xander and Whisperer had vanished. The only thing left in the room, was an ugly scorch mark on the floor.

***

Sunnydale, California. May 23, 2001

Time is a very odd thing. It moves very differently, in all the various dimensions that exist out there.

Even though it had only been seven months for everyone on Earth since Xander Harris had inexplicably vanished, over 500 years had elapsed in the place where the two balance demons had gone.

The Slayer and the rest of the Scooby gang had of course desperately searched for their friend after they’d realized he was missing, but after months without any sign of him and one different crisis after another, Xander was no longer a priority in anyone’s head.

Tara Maclay, for example, hadn’t thought of him once – after she had seen Willow and Riley together that day, she’d packed her things and left for Los Angeles the next morning, transferring to UCLA.

And since the blonde girl had believed she was part-demon because of the bogus story her family had spoon-fed her all her life, the witch eventually found her way to a certain Karaoke bar in search of help to deal with her problem.

Oddly enough, when Tara’s family eventually tracked her down and tried to force her to come home, some of the demons there took offense at the three humans’ attitude and...dealt with the situation, one could say.

But that is another story.

Riley Finn had also disappeared after he and Buffy split up, leaving Sunnydale with his old comrade Graham Miller and some other military personnel at the first opportunity.

Rupert Giles however had felt so guilty about what the Ripper part of him had done, that he’d started constantly hanging around Joyce Summers, trying to make it all up to her. Thus, he’d been there when the blonde woman had had her cerebral hemorrhage, and the British man had managed to save her life.

And so, Buffy had finally stopped giving her Watcher the Look, every time the subject of him and Joyce came up.

Spike had been tortured by Glory after falling in love with Buffy, but hadn’t given up the secret of the Key’s real identity – which he had learned, after he and Dawn had gotten overly curious one night.

And after learning what he’d done for them, the Slayer started to look at her old nemesis in a...different light than before, so to speak.

Unfortunately, Glory learned anyway that Dawn was the Key in the psycho ward, after emerging from her human prison and hearing the insane people going on about the green light in front of them.

Dawn had run for it – quite fast – and escaped only by Ben the intern’s reappearance, in a very close call.

The Beast had then finally grabbed Dawn when the gang had tried to run away, and gotten stuck in the middle of the desert. Also, the White Hats finally got a clue as to what Glory had planned, after tapping a number of sources – including the demon known as Doc, whom Giles and Spike visited.

Thus, the time of the showdown had finally come; at Glory’s old apartment, the Scoobies got vital info from a crusty-looking ‘hobbit-with-leprosy’ minion – who’d blabbed where Glory’s plan was to take place, after Giles had gone all ‘Ripper’ on it.

The good guys had arrived at the tower being built by Glory’s minions and brain-suck victims, and the battle between Buffy and Glory was going full swing...when Xander Harris appeared out of nowhere.

But this was not the same person that had departed Sunnydale, seven months previously.

Because there was no humanity to be found, anywhere in the balance demon’s eyes.

Buffy and Glory had faced off and the hellgod said, "You lost your hammer, sweetcheeks. What are you gonna hit me with now?"

And just before the hellgod would have moved in and killed the Slayer, a voice behind Glory said simply, "Me."

Glorificus whirled around, just in time to see Xander’s ferula-gemina hit her in the face – and with his enhanced demonic strength behind the blow, the Beast was hurled across the room and straight through a wall.

The Slayer quickly looked at the newest player on the scene. Black boots and leather pants, a white cotton shirt, black leather duster – and then she saw his face.

Buffy couldn’t believe her eyes. She screamed out in joy and happiness, "XANDER!! How-?"

But then the Slayer stopped, as soon as she saw his expression. The blonde just *knew* that something was majorly wrong here.

Because both her Slayersense was screaming a warning at her, and Xander’s expression was like stone. < It’s as if he doesn’t even know who I am... >

Or worse, that he knew who Buffy was – but he didn’t *care*.

The balance demon spoke three words. "Keep Glorificus busy." Then he turned around, and started to run up the stairs, heading towards Dawn.

Buffy went for her troll hammer, undecided whether or not to follow after Xander; but spying the hellgod already mobile, the Slayer decided to take care of the more immediate threat and resumed her attack on Glory.

***

Upstairs on the sacrificial platform, Dawn was looking down at the fight. Suddenly though, she looked up and gasped.

The demon known as Doc was standing at the other end of the platform, inside the tower.

The human embodiment of the Key looked hopeful for a moment. "You. You can help me. Untie me. Please. Help me, she’s coming..."

Doc calmly walked forward. In his mind was Glory’s plan, how the key to activating the Key was to spill her blood upon a certain place, at a certain time. "Well, it seems she’s running a bit late, is the thing. And, uh, if her Splendidness can’t be here in time to bleed you..."

Dawn looked scared and anxious, as she realized then that Doc wasn’t on her side.

The demon suddenly whispered and winked, "Hey! Kid. Wanna see a trick?"

The brunette teenager looked fearfully at him, as Doc produced a large, shiny knife. And then he held it up in front of his face, with a small but evil smile.

***

A few moments later, Spike was running at full speed up the tower to save Dawn, after Willow had shoved Glory’s army aside like the parting of the Red Sea. And as he got to the top, he collided with Xander.

"Bloody hell! Where did you-?"

Then the vampire abruptly stopped, as he suddenly realized the situation that he was in.

Spike could literally *smell* the absence of a soul in the creature before him, just as well as his eye could discern the signs of centuries of age; and he knew then, that this wasn’t the Xander Harris he’d belittled and ignored so often before.

"You ain’t exactly Droopy Boy no more, are you? Doesn’t smell like it, anyway. Well, mate, welcome back – to our little band of buggered here..."

Inside Xander’s head, ancient human memories were coming alive again. Things he hadn’t thought about in nearly five centuries, anticipation he hadn’t felt in over a dozen missions to other dimensions, to even the score between good and evil.

"Spike. Come with me."

The lack of emotion in the other demon’s voice, was enough to give the soulless vampire severe chills.

As soon as they got to the platform, Dawn saw them and let out a small gasp before screaming their names. Doc turned around and said in an annoyed tone, "I have a prior appointment, you two’ll have to come back..."

Xander looked at Spike. "Get the Key. I’ll take care of this one."

Doc came forward. "Sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t let that happen."

Spike said quickly, "Don’t think you’ve got a whole lotta choice in the matter, Doc."

Xander just stared at Glory’s minion. "The Powers have long-term plans for this dimension – did you really think you’d be allowed to succeed in your plan? Now get away from the girl."

The hellgod worshipper looked puzzled. "I don’t smell a soul anywhere, on either of the both of you – so why do you two even care what happens?"

Spike glowered. "I made a promise to a lady."

Xander added in a monotone, "And I made a sacrifice to safeguard one."

"Then I’ll be sure to send both of them your regrets."

Doc’s long tongue then appeared from his mouth, shooting out at both men. Spike ducked, but Xander just reached up with one hand and quickly grabbed it. Then the balance demon squeezed.

Hard.

Doc moaned in terrible agony, dropping the knife, and Xander – looking completely emotionless – yanked at the tongue, as Spike darted towards Dawn.

Doc stumbled forward, and when he reached Xander...the balance demon violently shoved his fist straight through the evil thing’s body, his inhuman strength causing a spray of blue blood and bone tissue to erupt out of Doc’s back.

Xander then threw the other demon off the tower, after calmly withdrawing his bloody arm. And Doc’s death scream was a long, horrible wail, as he died with the knowledge that he’d failed.

Spike meanwhile had untied Dawn, who gratefully hugged him with all her strength. The young brunette then let go, and rushed to hug Xander too, overcome with emotion.

But Dawn almost instantly released him, and stepped back in horror – she realized then, that this really wasn’t the young man she’d loved. "Xander-?"

The balance demon looked at her coldly. "There is no Xander here. There hasn’t been for 500 years." He looked around, and caught Spike’s eye. "Time for me to go. My task here is done."

And without any further fanfare, the creature that had been Xander Harris took a running leap and jumped off the platform, the leather duster flying behind him like a cape.

Dawn screamed and ran to the edge of the platform, and Spike followed; but by the time both of them got there, there was no sign of Xander anywhere.

***

The threat of the Apocalypse at last was over.

Buffy arrived on the scene, after having beaten Glory into submission. "DAWN!!" the Slayer called out anxiously.

She then grabbed her little sister and hugged her, as Giles and Joyce arrived as well and Dawn’s mother hugged her next.

Spike asked worriedly, "What’s 'appened with the hell-bitch?"

Giles removed his glasses, and didn’t look at anyone. "We, uh, have nothing to worry about anymore, in that direction..."

Buffy looked at him sharply; she’d left the hellgod, reverted back to her alter ego Ben, badly wounded but still alive. The Slayer then guessed that her Watcher had done what she had been unable to do – terminate Glory, with extreme prejudice.

Buffy leaned against Spike in relief, who took her in his arms. "It’s over. Thank God."

The vampire just grinned his patented sleazy grin. "Aren’t I gonna get my reward for savin’ the big day, luv?"

The Slayer smiled. "I’ll think about it, Spike."

And as the vampire continued to grin lustfully, the day started to dawn.

Spike cursed, "OH, BLOODY HELL!!" and started to run for cover, not wanting to catch on fire from the sunlight.

Buffy then grinned at the others. "My hero..." she said, and followed him.

"Mom, Giles!" Dawn started to say. "Xander was here!"

Giles and Joyce stared at the brunette girl. "What?" they chorused.

The Key quickly told them what had happened, as the sun continued to rise.

The humans then joyfully witnessed the beginning of a wonderful new day – one which they had been unsure, that they would ever see again.

THE END