Blades And Bonds
by M. Scott Eiland

Xander turned and went through the swinging doors. Giles would be in the library, and he would know where Buffy and Miss Calendar would be--


Xander stopped in his tracks. He was alone in the hallway, but he thought that someone had called him, in a voice almost too faint to hear. He frowned, shrugged, and started to move again--only to find that he felt like he was moving through molasses. What the hell?

Xander! Forgive me for intruding, but a matter of grave importance demands your attention.

Xander blinked--or tried to:his eyelids seemed to be moving at glacial speed. He tried to speak, but found that his jaw seemed to be almost frozen shut. He considered his situation, and the fact that the voice echoing in his head sounded very familiar. Abruptly, he remembered where he knew it from, and his mental voice as he thought back was full of shock and disbelief:


There was a pause, then an apologetic reply:Yes, it is Jack, Xander. I deeply regret the intrusion, but it was necessary.

Xander tried to scowl, failed, and settled for an irritated reply: We'll talk about the necessary part of it in a minute--I want to know how it's possible. You were supposed to have left after Aku died--I remember you saying good-bye to everyone and letting go. What happened?

I sincerely thought that I could voluntarily release myself, Xander; unfortunately, there was a hidden element to the spell that I did not perceive until it was too late. Jack sounded embarrassed, and Xander's irritation faded as the hero continued, You had control of your body back, and I had hoped that I could resolve the situation through meditation and ki focus exercises that would allow me to sever the final link and return to where I came from. I was aware of your life, but did not interfere in it; however, a serious crisis has arisen, and it would violate every oath I have taken to defend innocent life to ignore it to spare you the discomfort of knowing I am still here--or to spare me the humiliation of admitting I failed to leave as I intended.

Xander felt a pang of sympathy for Jack. OK, Jack--I get it. We'll sort out the occupancy problem later. What's the big emergency? Shouldn't you have waited until I reached Giles to let me know about this?

There is no time. My mental discipline and ki focus is allowing us to speak at the speed of thought, between heartbeats. Xander felt a momentary sense of revelation--now he knew why he couldn't move. Jack continued, You need to go back to save your friend Willow.

Save her from what? She's alone with Angel...Xander paused in mid-thought, and nearly a year of angry, borderline paranoid thoughts forced their way out of the compartment he had forced them into out of respect for Buffy. Oh my god.

Yes--when I was in control of your body, I could always sense the evil in him, but there was also nobility, and regret, and determination to make amends. Xander could hear sadness in Jack's mental voice, but there was only flat reality in what followed: There's nothing left but a vicious, sadistic monster now.

Then what are we waiting for? We need to find Buffy! Xander was frantic--he struggled futilely to move, but he might as well have been trapped in concrete.

There's no time--and I fear that Buffy may be helpless to save Willow. The monster will be ready for her. Xander felt a chill, and was silent as Jack added: He will not be expecting you to be a threat, though.

Huh? Xander was startled by the comment, and by the undertone of steely resolve in it.

Go back and act normally--but look for an opening and attack. He will find you to be far more formidable than he expected. Jack's voice was grim, but firm, and Xander heard a note of pride in it as the hero concluded: He'll still be better than you--I can only aid you so much. Use your own special talents to throw him off balance, and give Buffy time to do what must be done.

Got it. Let's start the clock again. Xander tensed, then turned on his heel and ran back to the hallway he had just left. He hoped against hope that Jack had been wrong, and that Angel and Willow would be laughing at a shared joke as he burst in--

He came through the doors, and stopped next to Miss Calendar, who was holding a cross and staring at Angel--who was in vamp face and holding Willow by the throat. He forced down an impulse to kill and called out, "Don't do that! "

The now-evil vampire smirked through his demonic features:"Oh, I think I do that. "

Willow spoke, then Jenny, but Xander didn't hear them:his thoughts were in a whirl. He could charge at Angel and hope that he'd drop Willow for the opportunity to kill him in a humiliating fashion, but that was a high risk choice--he might snap Willow's neck and try to kill him afterwards. He'd wait--Giles or Buffy would show up soon, and he could take advantage of the distraction--if Buffy couldn't stop Angel on her own.

The doors opened behind Angel-- Wait, it's Angelus now, isn't it? --and Xander sighed in relief as the Slayer's cold voice echoed in the corridor:"Why don't you give it to me yourself? "

Angelus turned--pulling Willow around as he did--and sneered back, but Xander was ignoring the exchange. He was computing distances in his head, and Jack was quietly telling him just how much he could help as far as speed and distance. He watched Angelus carefully, waiting for the moment when his attention was completely on Buffy and the feebly struggling Willow...



Angelus grinned, and pinched Willow's cheek. "But she's so cute and helpless--it's really a turn-on! " Buffy glared in helpless outrage, and Angelus was reveling in the moment when a foot came from out of his line of sight and knocked him back into the nearest wall. He released Willow reflexively, and he snarled in anger as the hacker scrambled away. He shook his head to clear it as he snarled, "Who dares--? "

"I do, dumbass. "

Angelus stood and stared at the grim figure of Xander Harris--who was glaring at him with an intensity worthy of Buffy herself. The vampire forced down the moment of confusion he had just experienced and smirked at Angel's old nemesis. "That wasn't a bad move, boy. Too bad you didn't have a stake, or a weapon. As it is, I'll just kill you instead of the redhead. "

Xander smirked back at Angelus, raised his right hand, and waggled the fingers in a "come and get it" gesture. Buffy gasped, and shouted, "Xander, get out of there! "

Xander shook his head as Angelus laughed and closed with him, and replied, "Someone's got to put this jerk down--no one lays hands on Willow and lives to tell about it. "Buffy stared, and the two combatants circled as Willow ran in the direction of the library as fast as she could go. Xander felt a grim moment of satisfaction, then called out, "So--what made you change teams, anyway? Bad day--some rancid blood--soul getting a bit itchy around the edges? "

"Why don't you ask the teacher? She seemed to know that I'd gone bad before I announced it by grabbing your little redhead. "Angelus snickered, throwing a probing right cross that Xander side-stepped with difficulty. Buffy gasped again, and Angelus added, "You look a lot like a girl I had my way with about a century ago, Jenny Calendar--or, should I say, Kalderash? "

Well, that's a new twist Xander feinted and threw a quick jab into Angelus' gut, moving back with lightning speed as the vampire retaliated with a kick that grazed Xander's ribs. He put two-and-two together from what he had heard about Angel's curse, and commented, "So--she's from the people that put the curse on you? Makes me like her more already--though I might want to have a word with her about the warranty. So, the curse is gone--what happened? "

"Ask your friend the Slayer--a little bit of life-threatening danger, and she couldn't wait to give it up to her noble Angel; apparently, it`s not good for a soul--go figure. "Buffy whimpered slightly, and Angelus cackled and called out, "No, babe--it was more like `Oh Angel, please, please! ' Only less creative. You really do need to work on that. "

Xander felt a twinge of revulsion, but it was quickly consumed by the rage that swelled up in him. His expression went blank, and he dropped his guard somewhat. When Angelus moved in, he threw an uppercut from waist-level that caught Angelus in mid-stride, sending him flying back into a wall again. The vampire was up quickly, and his voice was amused as he said, "Ah, I know what's going on. Not as gone as you wanted them to think, samurai? I wondered why the boy came back--he's too stupid to know anything was wrong. "Xander smiled coldly, not responding directly to the taunt. Angelus nodded, and added, "Still, it doesn't matter. Even with your help, he isn't as good as I am--and the ending is inevitable. "

Xander locked eyes with Angelus. "Yes, it is. One of us will die here this night. You are an evil who cannot be allowed to run free in this place--no matter the cost. "

"Your funeral. "The vampire replied, as the two continued to circle. Angelus looked at the steely resolve on the boy's face, and decided to shake him up some more. "The Judge is ready--a few days to recover his strength, and he'll burn down millions. You'll be lucky not to be around to see it. "

Angelus saw Xander hesitate, then step forward and throw a simple right cross. He telegraphed it badly, and Angelus stepped in and grabbed Xander in a bear hug. He squeezed, and Xander groaned as ribs threatened to snap. The vampire laughed and said, "Now, I think you'd make a nice little meal--where to start? "

"NOOO! ! ! "

Angelus turned straight into a punch that was twenty times more powerful than anything Xander had hit him with. He felt his jaw dislocate, and was dealing with that as he released Xander and staggered back. He found himself faced with an opponent moving almost too fast to see. Blows rained over his body and his already-sore head, and a sudden jolt to the groin dropped him to his knees, helpless. He managed to focus his gaze long enough to see Buffy bringing her fist around one more time, and the blow sent him into darkness, not expecting to wake up.


Xander shook off the disorientation, and stood up. He saw Miss Calendar staring at something in open shock, and turned to see Buffy standing over Angelus' battered form--his jaw was visibly mangled, and he took a moment in dark satisfaction in that before calling out, "Hey Buffy--you OK? "

Buffy turned, and Xander felt a jolt a split-second later as the diminutive Slayer threw herself at him, whispering, "God, Xander--I'm so sorry. I just couldn't--"

"But you did, Buffy--that was a serious ass-kicking you laid on him. I just gave you time to deal, and an opening to take him out. "Buffy looked confused, and Xander added, "Buffy--I knew it wasn't Angel: you just needed time to figure that out for yourself, and something to fight for. Maybe we can fix it now. "

Buffy stared at him. "How did you know it wasn't really Angel? "

Xander sighed inwardly. Jack--do you want to take it from here?

Xander sensed amusement from somewhere within him, then his mouth moved without his willing it:"Miss Summers--it is good to see you again, even in circumstances as unfortunate as these. "

Buffy blinked, then whispered, "Jack? Is that you? "

Before Jack could answer, Giles and Willow burst in from the hallway. They took in the sights:Angelus in a crumpled, beaten heap--Jenny standing nearby in obvious shock--and Buffy and Xander in a tight embrace. Giles raised an eyebrow and said simply:

"This story should be memorable. "


"I came as soon as I knew--I would have told you if I'd known, Buffy--I swear. "

The group had adjourned to the library--where Angelus was bound to a sturdy chair with heavy chains and thick manacles on his wrists and ankles--and--after Oz and Cordelia had arrived and been quickly briefed on the current situation--Jenny had just finished telling them about her connection to the Kalderash, and her knowledge of what had happened to Angel.

Buffy's expression was cold, and she turned away from Jenny. Giles looked conflicted, but he met Jenny's eyes and said flatly, "I appreciate the demands of divided loyalties, Jenny--but this deception has cost us all dearly. We've lost Angel as a fighter for our side, he's probably killed since he turned, and we still have the Judge to deal with--"

"So maybe we should stop taking shots at each other and come up with a plan to stop the Judge that doesn't involve Angel--and showing a friend the door isn't the best way to do that. "Giles blinked and stared at Xander, who had spoken. Xander noted the startled expressions on the faces of his friends, and added, "We can yell at each other after big, blue and ugly is history. "

Buffy glared at Xander a little, then frowned and turned to Angelus. The vampire smirked at her and said, "Too bad he can't be stopped--this town is going to be ashes in two days. Once he gets his strength up--"

"Yes, you mentioned that--not very bright of you. "Xander walked over, shaking his head. "We know what he can do, and that he will be stronger over time--makes planning easier. "

Angelus shrugged, masking his annoyance. "I've seen her at work--I'd just as soon avoid the painful torture part of the proceedings. "He grinned and asked, "So--which one of you is going to stake me? "

Buffy turned to Jenny, a pleading look in her eyes. Jenny read the meaning in them, and her eyes teared up as she shook her head. "Buffy--that curse has been long lost to my people:Darla, Drusilla and Spike slaughtered the village where the elder who cast the curse lived, and burned it to the ground. There's no one left who can bring him back. "Buffy paled, and Jenny looked down and whispered, "I'm so sorry. "

Buffy's jaw set, and she muttered, "You didn't know--thanks for letting me know what I have to do. "She reached for a stake and began to walk forward--only to be stopped by Xander. She locked eyes with him and snarled, "What? Do you want to do it yourself? "

Xander blinked, and Buffy shivered at the infinite sadness in his eyes as he said quietly, "Buffy--I think we should wait. "

"What? "Buffy's tone was of utter disbelief. She shook her head and said, "You've always thought he was evil--thought he would turn on us. Well, congratulations! You were right! Now let me do my job. "

Xander sighed, and Buffy watched him in confusion as he looked over at Angelus with an ambivalent expression on his face. He looked back at Buffy and replied, "You're right--this is my worst nightmare, and if things were a little different, I might be playing the `I told you so' game--no matter how guilty it made me feel later. "Buffy's expression softened, and Xander continued, "But as it happens, I've recently had the benefit of the insight of a legendary demon hunter who spent years learning to read the inner essences of people to do his job--and he tells me that Angel was a good guy until today. He's not Angel's friend--and he's not in love with him. I have to take that viewpoint seriously--and it means we lost a friend today, as annoying as he is at times. I'd like to try to get him back. "

Buffy stared at him in shock, and the silence stretched on until Giles walked over to the two of them and commented gently, "Xander--Jenny's people invented that curse, and she'd like to have Angel back, too. If she says that the curse is lost, then perhaps--"

"--it was meant to be? Crap. "Xander's tone was blunt as he looked over at the Watcher. Giles looked back at him, and Xander added, "Since when do we give up here? Buffy would be dead for seven months now if we had decided that `what was meant to be' meant `what we're going to let happen. '--and the rest of us would be even worse off. "He took a step back and looked at the others in the room before continuing, "We've got Dead Boy on ice--and we're going to have to take out the Judge if we're going to last more than a couple of more days anyway. Let's just lock him away somewhere, and we'll work on finding a way to get his soul back and maybe stick it on a little tighter this time. "Xander looked apologetically at Jenny and concluded, "No offense. "

Jenny shrugged, and Giles frowned, visibly considering the proposal. Angelus smirked and called out, "You'll never hold me! I've been captured dozens of times over the years, and I've killed every single fool who managed the feat. You can kill me--but if you leave me alive I will escape and kill all of you in the most slow and painful ways I can devise. "

Angelus smirked again, then shivered as he saw a cold, cold expression cross Xander's face. The vampire saw a look of ancient wisdom in the boy's dark eyes as Xander replied, "Aku--in the course of a thousand years ruling the Earth--devised precisely six hundred and thirty two ways of rendering a vampire helpless without causing him lasting harm--he found they helped in his recruiting efforts. Five hundred and sixty-three of those methods cause the subject intense pain during the confinement--while I wish Angel no harm, the fact that he suffered great pain while soulless will cause him to feel less guilt if and when he returns, I would deem. Alas, my skills as a researcher were sadly limited, and I was unable to learn of most of these methods. " Angelus relaxed, and Xander nodded sadly and concluded, "Yes, I was only able to learn fifty-two methods of rendering a vampire immobile and helpless while causing intense pain without lasting damage. Miss Summers, I must apologize for my incompetence. "

Angelus' eyes widened, and Buffy smiled genuinely for the first time since Angelus had taunted her in Angel's room. She looked at Xander and replied sadly, "It will have to do, Jack. "

Cordelia shivered, and Xander noted it out of the corner of his eye. He relaxed a bit and suggested, "Well, we know we have some time--maybe we should try to research some more to see if there's some way to kill the Judge--"

"There's no way to do it--you're just marking time until you die horribly--! "Angelus' gloat was abruptly terminated by a right cross delivered by an angry Slayer. He slumped into unconsciousness, and Giles took the opportunity to retrieve more chains from the book cage and reinforce the restraints the vampire was confined by.

Buffy smiled grimly at her Watcher, then turned to the others and commented, "Xander's plan sounds good--we've got time:let's use it. " She walked over to Willow--who had already retrieved several ancient volumes--and nodded curtly at Jenny, who took the hint and went over to the computer and began consulting her online occult sources. Oz walked over to Willow, and before long had taken two of the volumes and began searching through them as if he had always spent his afternoons this way.

Xander smiled. Even without Dead Boy, we've still got a good team He walked back into the stacks and pulled out a few books that he had remembered seeing about demons killed by armies, and was pondering which one to read first when he sensed someone was watching him. He turned and saw Cordelia watching him with a vaguely uneasy expression on her face. He raised an eyebrow and commented, "You've been around us long enough to know the routine by now, Cordy--grab a book and start looking for a miracle. "

Cordelia opened her mouth, then closed it again, and visibly squirmed before swallowing hard and saying simply, "I need to talk. "

"Uh, OK. "Xander suddenly felt uncomfortable himself--this wasn't exactly a familiar situation for him. On the other hand, talking was bound to be part of whatever it was that he and Cordelia had right now. "What did you need to talk about? "

"I don't need to talk to you, Xander. "Cordelia whispered, glancing behind her nervously and stepping next to him. She swallowed again and elaborated, "I need to talk to him. "

"Him? "Xander was taken aback, and genuinely confused as he added, "Him who? "

Xander felt a sense of deep amusement inside him, and he heard Jack say quietly I believe she means me, Xander

"Oh. OH! "Xander burst out, causing Cordelia to glare at him and glance behind her again. Xander smiled apologetically and thought for a moment before suggesting, "I suppose you could just talk to me, and he'll hear and tell me what to say..."

"Isn't there any way it could be, you know, private? "asked Cordelia, looking embarrassed. Xander scowled at her, and she straightened and whispered emphatically, "I don't want you to hear what I'm's personal. "

"Cordelia--it's my body:I've kind of got to be here, you know. " Xander replied testily, wondering what in the world she could have to say to the ancient samurai. "I'm sorry, but I can't see how--

"Xander--if you wish to accommodate her, it can be done Xander flinched as Jack spoke without warning, and listened as he continued If you voluntarily choose to submerge your consciousness, I can assume the primary position temporarily and speak to Miss Chase without your hearing the conversation. It would be entirely up to you whether to do this, of course

Xander sighed inwardly. It wasn't a matter of whether to trust Jack--Jack could have taken over his life months ago had he been so inclined. It was just--Xander mentally gathered himself and replied Jack--there are some things about me that I don't want her to know

I know replied Jack. If she asks about anything you would prefer to keep private, I will refuse to answer Xander had a sense that the samurai was smiling, and laughed when he added I believe that doing this will give you extra `good boyfriend points' should you need them, Xander

Xander shook his head and looked back at Cordelia, explaining the situation to her. She nodded--still visibly uncomfortable--and Xander smiled and said, "OK--Jack's taking over the controls now. See you in a few. "

Cordelia watched as Xander's eyes seemed to cloud over, then focused again. He straightened slightly, then looked at Cordelia with a polite expression as he said in a different yet familiar voice:"Yes, Miss Chase--what did you want to ask me? "

Cordelia took a step back from Jack, and hesitated again before asking, "You know about Xander and me, right? "

Jack smiled. "It would have been hard for me to miss it, Miss Chase. I've learned more about the insides of modern closets in two months than I did in five years in Aku's world. "

Cordelia glared at Jack. "Very funny. "Jack's eyes seemed to twinkle slightly, and Cordelia relaxed slightly as she looked at him and continued, "Jack--this thing Xander and I have--it didn't start until after you came to Sunnydale. I have to know--are you the reason he. . . he can't keep his hands off of me? "

Jack raised an eyebrow. "Miss Chase--I have access to Xander's memories of you, and I don't have the sense that you ever doubted your attractiveness to boys before. In fact, weren't you seriously considering pursuing Angel before you found out he was a vampire? "

"Yeah--really dodged a bullet with that one--"Cordelia began, and paused as she saw Jack smirking at her. "Not the point, Mr. Older and Wiser. The point is that –Xander- never really seemed to notice me before...and I wasn't exactly chasing after him, either. I want to know if this is real, or something that we wouldn't be doing if you weren't around. "

Jack frowned. "If you're asking whether I've been whispering in his ear to convince him to pursue you, the answer is no, Miss Chase--Xander needs to be free to live his own life, and I would never interfere in the process of a young man discovering...the more pleasant things to be found in the opposite sex. "Cordelia relaxed in visible relief, only to tense again as Jack continued, "I fear I may have –indirectly- contributed to your finding each other, however. "

"How? " Cordelia demanded.

"Xander saved your life by carrying you out of that fire caused by that foolish boy trying to create a mate for his undead friend. " Jack's simple reply caused Cordelia to shiver, and she stared at him as Jack continued, "It wasn't long afterward when I appeared, and you saw Xander in a new light due to the events of that night:you found out that Xander's courage and indomitable nature had allowed me to fully manifest and defeat Aku. After that, the events in the Summers' basement gave you the opportunity to react to that new impression of him in a way that you might not have before. "

Cordelia scowled, then nodded. "OK--I get that, and this is why I wanted this private. If you tell him--"

"My word is my bond, Miss Chase--Xander will not hear any of this conversation from me. "Jack replied, smiling inwardly. Cordelia nodded again, and Jack continued, "As for Xander...I have not intruded into his private thoughts on this matter, but I have a theory as to why his view of you might have changed. You have been gradually becoming a contributing member of Miss Summers' group of allies--I am aware of at least one occasion when your actions saved the lives of Willow and Miss Calendar. Your presence here is an indication that your relationship with Xander and his friends has changed for the better. "Jack hesitated, then continued, "Also...I fear that I may have communicated inadvertently to Xander –my- insights into your character. "

"Huh? "Cordelia stared at Jack, not comprehending. "What do you mean by that? "

Jack stepped forward and took Cordelia's hand, squeezing it gently as he replied, "Miss Chase--through long practice and experience, I learned how to get a reliable sense of the basic cores of the people I have had to deal with. In Aku's world--where the decent blended with the foul with little overt evidence as to what side a person might be on--it was an invaluable skill, and I suffered dearly for the lack of it until I succeeded in mastering the talent. "Cordelia's eyes widened, and Jack sighed and added, "Miss Chase--you have spent years cultivating the persona of a cold, unpleasant woman with little concern for any matters of importance beyond the next sale at the department store. It is just that--a persona. Behind that mask lies a personality of remarkable force, and a soul who cares far more about the people around her than she cares to admit. You have the potential to be a force for great good--or great evil. Which path you follow will depend on the choices you make, and the actions you are willing to take. I believe Xander has sensed my impressions of you, and that this--along with what he consciously knows of you--has caused him to be drawn to you...along with your more obvious appeal to any young man with functioning eyes, of course. "

Cordelia flushed at the compliments, and was silent for a moment before looking down and whispering, "You've given me a lot to think about. Thank you for letting me talk to you. "

Jack nodded, and was about to let Xander return when Cordelia whispered, "Jack? "

The samurai looked back at the young woman and replied, "Yes, Miss Chase? "

Cordelia walked up to him and said simply, "I never thanked you for saving my life on Halloween. "She leaned forward and kissed him chastely on the cheek, then stepped back and looked at him quietly.

Jack looked back at her, and remembered how much Xander's thoughtless disregard of her thanks had stung Cordelia not long before Halloween. He bowed deeply at the waist, then straightened and said simply, "It was my duty and my privilege, Miss Chase. Farewell. "

Cordelia watched as his eyes clouded over again, then reached out to steady Xander as he shook his head and opened his eyes. Xander smiled in thanks, then looked at Cordelia as he asked, "Did you find out what you wanted to know? "

Cordelia nodded, and leaned up to kiss him on the lips. Xander was surprised, but was not inclined to protest at Cordelia's sudden change of mood. He returned the kiss with enthusiasm, and it was only after a few seconds that he realized that they were not alone in the stacks. He turned and saw Willow looking at him with a deeply conflicted expression. Cordelia looked away, visibly embarrassed, and Xander took a step towards Willow and whispered, "Will--"

"Don't. " Willow's voice was tense and blunt, and Xander stopped in his tracks. Willow turned to Cordelia and added coldly, "Miss Calendar would like you to help her with her research--you'll get less dust on your clothes that way. "

Cordelia's eyes narrowed, but she saw the look in Willow's eyes and decided that a dignified retreat would be the best approach. She smiled sympathetically at Xander's plight, then left the stacks.

Xander watched her go with no small amount of trepidation, and started thinking frantically of what to tell his best friend. He looked at her with his best "wounded puppy" expression and whispered, "Will--I can explain. "

"Xander--I heard the whole thing:everything that Jack and Cordelia said to each other. I know what happened. "Xander squirmed at the appalled expression on Willow's face, and was preparing to plead with Willow not to freak out when the redhead sighed and said, "Look--having a thousand year old samurai in your head is bound to warp anyone's way of looking at things. I really, really wish that it didn't involve you smooching with the Queen Bitch of Sunnydale High, but you didn't ask for it--it's not your fault. "She hesitated, and added, "I don't mean to blame you,'re from a different culture--maybe evil skanky women are considered really great catches there. We'll figure out a way to release you to your well-deserved eternal reward and everything will be OK again. "

"Ah, Willow--"Xander was preparing to tell her that he was pretty sure that he liked Cordelia regardless of what Jack had to say about it, when he heard the mental equivalent of someone clearing his throat. He focused his attention inward and replied Yes, Jack?

The samurai's mental voice was unmistakably amused as Jack said simply My friend--when you are drowning, and someone throws you a rope--take it. There is time enough to worry later about who has thrown you that rope and why

Xander pondered Jack's words, and decided they constituted the best advice in the history of the world. He smiled apologetically at Willow and amended the comment he had been about to make:"Ah, Willow--I'm sorry this is upsetting you. We'll find a way to send Jack home soon. "

Willow walked over to Xander, and he saw a flicker of something in her eyes that made him shudder as the redhead replied, "Sooner would be good," and walked out of the stacks.

Xander stared after her, and a thought occurred to him:Jack. . . when you try to read Willow--

You do not want to know, my friend Jack's voice was carefully neutral. Xander began to protest, and Jack reiterated in a firmer tone:Please trust me, Xander--some things are just better left unexplored

Xander shivered, then picked up one of the books and began reading again.


"Nothing. "Buffy closed the heavy red book and looked up at the others with an expression of sheer frustration. "We've got hundreds of books that mention the Judge and how he was stopped, but none of them say how he could be killed permanently. We're running out of time. "

"An army cut him to pieces last time--maybe a bunch of us could run at him with swords and hack him up? "Willow suggested, not looking very enthusiastic about her own suggestion.

Giles shook his head. "It took thousands of warriors last time, many of whom died simply providing targets for his power while the others cut him up. Between his power and the vampires he'd have around him, we wouldn't stand a chance. "He frowned and commented, "A large explosion might blow him into pieces, which might or might not still be alive, but we lack the time, the expertise, and the resources for such a recourse, and the collateral damage would probably be grim. "

Xander seemed to blank out for a moment, then recovered and said, "Jack says that the original source material might be the best place to look for an obvious clue--do you have it, Giles? "

Giles nodded, looking at the young man with a thoughtful expression as he picked up an ancient tome bound in black demon skin. He opened it to a particular page and put it in front of Xander as he commented, "It's written in Latin--I'm not sure how--"

"I know Latin, Mr. Giles. "The voice was unmistakably Jack's as Xander's finger moved across the page in front of him. "Aku preferred it for some of his more elaborate boasting, and knowing it was a useful way to pick up carelessly dropped information. "Giles nodded--fascinated in spite of himself--and watched as Xander's finger paused, and Jack began to translate:"The Judge may not be laid low by the devices of mortals:no weapon forged by man may slay him--" Xander's eyes widened, and the others heard Jack whisper softly, "Xander--"

Xander nodded, and his voice replied, "I see it--I know what you're thinking. Can we do it? "He froze and seemed to be listening to a voice that no one else could hear.

"Do what? What is he telling you, Xander? "Buffy demanded, moving over to Xander and staring at him with open concern in her eyes.

Xander blinked, then looked up at Buffy, then over at Willow and Cordelia--who were both watching him with concerned expressions of their own--before smiling hesitantly and saying simply:

"The good news is we can kill that bastard. The bad news..."


The Judge pointed a clawed hand, and crackling energy arced out from it, transfixing the unfortunate man in front of him and reducing him to ashes in an instant. Drusilla cackled in glee, and the Judge only paused for a moment to gather himself before sending out a web of energy, stopping the dozens of shoppers in his path in their tracks. They had started to glow when a crossbow bolt hissed and struck the Judge in the upper left part of his chest, distracting him and disrupting the energy web. He snarled and ripped the bolt out, shouting, "Who dares--? "

A small figure stepped up onto a display case two hundred feet away and locked a vicious glare at the huge demon. The Judge quickly recognized her as the Slayer who had escaped earlier, and he laughed and called out, "Do you think you can harm me with that puny thing? Step forward, Slayer--and I will give you a swift death. As a warrior, I will grant you that much. "

"Thanks--but I've got a better idea. I think you need to die--a bit more permanently this time, and I know how to do it. "Buffy shouted--noting that the demon was taken aback by her bravado. She smirked and added, "Got any last words, Big Blue? "

The Judge looked at his foe in barely constrained rage, and failed to notice that Drusilla had started to mutter and moan to herself behind him. He shook his head in disbelief and replied contemptuously, "You have no real weapon--and if you touch me with your bare hands you will die instantly. What makes you think you can kill me? "

Buffy shook her head, and there was only the vaguest quiver in her voice as she replied, "Oh, I'm not going to kill you. We brought in a specialist from overseas to deal with you. "

The Judge blinked, and was surprised when one of the access doors behind him was kicked off its hinges, knocking the vampire guarding it to the ground. The demon looked and saw a relatively puny human standing there, wearing a light robe and carrying a slightly curved sword that seemed to catch the light in an odd way. The vampires--save Drusilla--charged the man without hesitation, but the blade moved in a blindingly fast pattern, and the vampires fell away into dust. Drusilla whispered, "Two who walk as one and wield the Gift of the Three. We will not stand against this. "She fled, wailing.

The Judge looked after her in disgust and muttered, "I should have burned her down when I first arrived. "He straightened and said, "No matter--I will do it later. "He looked contemptuously at the young man and his weapon and sneered, "The Slayer is sending children with toys to try to kill for her? Fool. I am invulnerable to the weapons of man--unlike those pathetic vampires you dispatched. "He looked appraisingly at the katana and commented, "It is a pretty weapon, though--perhaps I will keep it as a trophy. "The man remained impassive, and the Judge shrugged and leveled a clawed hand at his opponent, sending the crackling energy at yet another foe with the expectation that it would quickly reduce him to nothingness.

The man raised his blade, and the Judge stared as the weapon blocked the energy and seemed to absorb it. The man began to advance--his dark eyes locked on the demon in front of him. The Judge felt a tingle of discomfort for the first time, and he redoubled his efforts, leveling both hands at his opponent and sending even more of the lethal energies at him. The man staggered under the assault, but continued inexorably forward as the demon stared and howled in rage. The shoppers had fled--leaving only a small group standing around Buffy as spectators to the awesome display.

The Judge's eyes widened as the man took another step forward--in a moment he would be in range to attack. –It doesn't matter--it's still just a sword:he maybe able to block my attacks but he still can't kill me with it--He gathered his energies, and unleashed them all in one overwhelming burst as he shouted, "I CANNOT BE KILLED BY THE DEVICES OF MAN! "

The burst of energy flared, and for a moment the Judge could not see. When his vision cleared, he realized in horror that his foe--though his robes smoked around the edges--was still standing. Exhausted from his exertions, he did not move as the man stepped forward and replied, "How fortunate that the weapon I bear was forged by...other parties. "The demon's eyes widened in belated comprehension, and the man seemed to think for a moment before adding, "I will have to send a thank-you note to Odin, Ra, and Rama. "The blade moved in a blur that made the air itself shriek, and the Judge's still-extended hands fell to the ground, causing the demon to shriek loudly and drop to its knees. The man nodded and commented, "I don't think those will go back on this time. "He raised the blade again, and this time it was the Judge's head that detached and rolled to the ground. The Judge's torso glowed crimson, and it and the detached parts vanished as the Judge's dark soul went howling back to Hell.

Xander looked at the space where the demon had been, then swayed for a moment before falling to his knees and closing his eyes. He heard the sound of footsteps, and felt a jolt as someone grabbed him and held on for dear life. He carefully lowered the sword--though he know it could not harm an innocent person--and whispered, "I'm OK, Will. "

He heard a snort of annoyance, then a familiar voice:"Open your eyes, dumbass. "

Xander obeyed, and saw Cordelia next to him, glaring but still holding him tightly in front of witnesses. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Willow's expression was surprisingly tolerant...until she saw him watching and gave him a dirty look as she turned her back on him and spoke to Oz. Xander turned to Cordelia and wordlessly leaned in to kiss her, ignoring the sword still in his hand.

"Xander--you need to let that sword go. Now. "

Buffy's voice intruded into Xander's consciousness, and he was annoyed for a moment before remembering what he and Jack had just done and the risks it entailed. His mind drifted for a moment, remembering Jack's interjection in the library and his own quick realization of what the samurai was hinting at. Jack had slowed mental time for them again, and they had quickly begun a discussion. Can you get the sword back? Will we need the help of the others?

Xander felt Jack hesitate, and waited patiently for the samurai to reply Aku's ritual created an inherent link between myself and the sword--he was forced to as part of the requirements to make it function properly--and that link persists, since I was unable to banish myself after we beat Aku. With concentration and force of will, I can summon it back to us. It should prove quite effective against the Judge

Xander felt Jack hesitate again, and decided to nudge him. I hear a `but' in your voice, Jack

Jack sighed and responded The original ritual created a bond between us, Xander--one which would have allowed me to dismiss your consciousness had I chosen to after our victory. Though I chose to forgo that, the connection persists--and if I summon the sword back to us, the power involved will cause our ability to keep our two selves separate to get weaker. If we wait too long, we may truly become one--in a way that will not be reversible until we die

Xander had hesitated for a long moment after hearing that, and his mental voice was shaky as he replied: Since the alternative is being burned to ashes by Dru and Spike's new pet demon, I'm coming down on the side of taking a chance--I like my privacy, but I like being alive more, and if it comes down to that, you're pretty good company Xander felt a burst of warmth from the samurai at the compliment, and he added, Jack--if you don't want to do this, I understand. You've been a hero all your life--you might not want to share consciousness for God knows how long with a teenager with lousy grades and questionable taste in women

Jack was silent for a long moment before replying. I am torn, Xander. I have no memories of the afterlife, but I have a sense that there I was at peace, having finished my duties in life. It was a good place to be Xander felt sadness for his friend, and was surprised when Jack continued, But as I spend time here, I find that I am growing increasingly dissatisfied with the idea of leaving this place behind--though it is guarded by a worthy band of heroes, it could stand as many more as will answer the call to eradicate the vermin that infest it. I would not choose to deprive you of your privacy and to endanger your identity for the purpose of indulging that impulse of mine, Xander--but if I am given no choice but to stay...I will make the best of it. You are correct, my young friend--this matter is too important for us to refuse to step forward. If it is your wish, I will summon the sword without hesitation or regret, and we will live with the consequences

Agreed Xander still could not move, and in any event he knew that the samurai had no body, but he had the feeling of having clasped forearms in a warrior's salute with Jack. He had sensed that Buffy was trying to get his attention, and snapped out of the fugue state. His quiet words of explanation to her and the others had provoked a storm of protest, followed by reluctant acceptance, and a look of deep respect from Giles when the others had gone off to prepare for the attack.

Jack had summoned the sword that night as a test, and Xander immediately felt the pull from inside him as the great blade appeared, as if there was a vortex inside him that was drawing his consciousness in slowly. Jack dismissed the katana quickly, but Xander felt a sense of unease that mirrored his own coming from the samurai as they discussed their plan of attack.

Buffy had tried to dissuade Jack and Xander from facing the Judge themselves, but Jack quickly dashed her hopes:Jack could only keep the katana in their world if Xander wielded it. Buffy's expression had tightened, and Jack smiled reassuringly and added, "I blocked many spells and weapons with that blade over the years, Miss Summers. It will serve again this time. "

Xander had been relieved that Jack was correct, and it was with the utmost reluctance that he released the blade--which promptly shimmered out of existence. Buffy sighed in relief, and the expression on her face told Xander that she was inclined to hug him even harder than Cordelia was doing--but she hesitated, then smiled at Xander and turned away, walking over to Giles.

Xander felt a pang of regret, and it took a moment before he realized that the emotion he was experiencing was not his own. He blinked, and focused his attention inward: Jack?

Xander felt what almost felt like someone physically recoiling, followed by a wave of shame. Xander thought for a moment and put two and two together. He smiled ruefully and directed his thoughts inward again:Jack--it's OK. Just another thing we have in common, I guess. She's kind of hard not to notice--or love

Jack was silent, and Xander sighed and gave Cordelia a long, first-rate kiss before standing up and looking over at the others and saying, "OK, the Judge is history, the cops will be here soon, and we've got one last job to do. "Cordelia looked at him, puzzled, but the others looked grim as Xander turned to her and elaborated:

"We've got a vampire to put on ice. "


Angelus stirred, coming gradually to consciousness. That bitch really hit me hard that time He felt other familiar sensations, and realized that he had been drugged as well. Takes more than that to keep me down He tried to move--expecting to feel the constriction of ropes or to hear the rattling of chains--and was startled to realize that he could not move his body or his limbs. He could tell that he was lying on his back--he tried to raise his head, and managed to move it ever so slightly as he opened his eyes. His eyes revealed a room with a concrete floor, and that he was in a foot-deep depression in the center of it. He also could see that his entire body, except for his head, was entombed in the concrete. Angelus snarled and bellowed, "What the hell is this? "

"Something pretty cool, if I do say so myself. "Angelus turned his head slightly and saw Xander standing there. Buffy stood off to the side, looking ambivalent. The dark-haired boy smiled and commented, "Good--you're up. I thought we'd have to wait for your lazy ass all night. "

"Harris--I don't know what you think you're playing at, but you can't keep me here like this. Dru and the boys will be here as soon as the Judge kills you all. "Angelus managed to project the calm, menacing air that he saved for those he wanted to intimidate without overt violence--which he was in no position to offer at that moment. That drew a laugh from Buffy, and Angelus snarled, "What's so funny, you pathetic little slut? "

"The Judge is deader than Vanilla Ice's career, Angelus. Xander and Jack took a big old god-forged katana and turned him into demon hash. " Angelus' jaw dropped, and Buffy snickered and added, "Oh, and I wouldn't bother to wait for your precious Dru. She ran off shrieking when she saw the katana, and the factory was empty by the time we got there. They left you a note, though. "Angelus scowled, and listened as Buffy read, "That's what you get for playing with your food, wanker. Cheers, Spike. "

Angelus snarled low in his throat, and Xander winked at Buffy before stepping forward and changing the subject. "I suppose you're wondering why you're in this predicament? "Angelus glared, and Xander continued, "We need something to keep you helpless and not-dust while we work on rediscovering the curse and getting Angel back. That concrete is magically hardened, and we've sewn bags of holy water into your clothing. If you struggle hard enough to possibly damage the concrete, the bags will break, and unlife will become rather unpleasant for you. "

Angelus glared, then commented silkily, "You haven't covered my head--if you do, you won't be able to feed me, and starving vampires messes them up badly. Your precious Angel will be a vegetable even if you manage to find that spell--and if you don't cover me up, I can call for help. Some fool will find me and get me out. "

"Gee, we hadn't thought of that, had we Buffy? "Xander looked back at Buffy, then reached behind his back and pulled out a funnel with a long tube with a rigid top section and a flexible end attached to it. "Oh wait--we did. "

Angelus stared at the funnel, realization dawning. Xander nodded and leaned forward, slamming Angelus' head against the hardened concrete with force, stunning the vampire. Xander quickly rammed the funnel tube down Angelus' throat, then called out, "Go ahead, Buffy. "

The Slayer stepped over to a large wheelbarrow, and wheeled it to the edge of the impression. She lifted it up, and liquid concrete began to pour into the hole. Xander noted the horrified expression in Angelus' eyes and suggested, "You might want to close your eyes--I bet having concrete harden on them would hurt like hell. "

The dark eyes flickered with hatred, but Angelus complied, and his eyes closed just before the concrete oozed over them. Xander held the funnel in place vertically until the impression was filled, then called out "Adamant! "The concrete hardened instantly with a crackling sound, leaving only the funnel sticking out of the ground as evidence that anything was odd about the room. Xander walked over and picked up an empty box, then placed it over the funnel before sighing and whispering, "Well, that's done. "

Buffy nodded absently and walked over to him, replying, "Yeah--it is. Giles is going to take care of the feedings--I think he's worried about being involved in this too much screwing me up. It's a bit late to worry about that now, isn't it? "Xander remained silent, and Buffy sighed and added, "Thanks for being here with me for this, Xander. "

"I'm sure he'd accept your thanks gratefully if he were here, Miss Summers--but he isn't at the moment. "Xander's voice had changed to the serene, wise tone that Buffy had come to know so well over the past two days, and Xander's dark eyes looked apologetic as Jack bowed slightly and added, "Please forgive our deception. "

"I don't understand, Jack--why would you and Xander lie to me about which of you would be aware for this? "Buffy wasn't angry--but she was very confused.

"We discussed the matter--and Xander wanted me to handle this role, so you would know that it was being done with no malice towards Angelus or Angel other than my sense of duty to keep evil creatures from doing harm. "Buffy's eyes widened, and Jack nodded and added, "He regrets deeply the pain you have suffered over this, and had no wish to add to it in any way. "

The Slayer blinked, and tears appeared as she looked over at the overturned box, then back at Jack. "Thank you both. "Jack bowed again, and Buffy asked, "But why did you make Angelus think it was Xander instead of you--and how did you imitate Xander well enough to fool me? "

"I've become quite familiar with Xander's mode of speech over the months, Miss Summers. "Buffy nodded, and was taken aback as Jack continued in a perfect "surfer boy" voice:"And I'm a way excellent actor, you know? "Buffy giggled, and Jack smiled softly at the reaction as he added, "I believed that it was important that should you find yourself opposed to Angelus again, he would associate the fear he is experiencing right now with you and your friends--not me. I expect that a solution will be found to the situation Xander and I find ourselves in--and if it is I may not be here to assist you if Angelus becomes a threat again. "

Buffy nodded. "Good plan. I'll tell Xander so when he comes back. "

Jack smiled and replied, "I believe that is, as they say, my cue. "He bowed again and was about to bid Buffy good-bye when he saw an odd look in her eyes. He hesitated and asked softly, "Miss Summ--Buffy? Is there something else I can assist you with? "

Buffy swallowed, then turned away from Jack before whispering, "I was hoping I could get some advice from someone older and wiser who isn't already hopelessly tangled up in the mess that is my life. "Jack nodded, and Buffy turned back to him and watched him silently for a moment before continuing, "I have a friend who has been a part of my life for almost a year now. We're very different from each other, and there have been a few times we were so mad at each other we couldn't see straight. But when it's come down to my needing him, he's always been there for me--even at times when no sane person would have been. I'm not sure he really knows just how much he means to me, or how much I've come to depend on him. "

Jack felt a moment of warmth for his young friends, and considered Buffy's words before replying:"You seem to be able to express it very well, Buffy--and I'm sure he'd love to hear it from you. Why not simply tell him? "Buffy flinched, and Jack hesitated before suggesting gently:"Or, if you like, you can grant me permission to share this memory with him, and he will know your feelings without having to confront him about them. Would you prefer this? "

Buffy looked away again and muttered, "It's not that simple, Jack. "

Jack considered her words again, and noted the uneasiness of her tone and her posture. He had seen that look before--most notably on the faces of certain of his own children. He sighed inwardly--not certain if he should be disappointed or relieved--and hesitated before asking softly, "Buffy--have your feelings for him changed? "

Buffy looked back at Jack, and the confusion was visible on her face as she replied, "I just don't know, Jack--so much has happened, and the thought of having warm touchy feelings about –anyone- right now is freaking me out. But I had Xander in a certain safe place in my head--and I'm not sure he belongs there any more. I don't know what to do--or what to tell him. Plus, there's--"

"Miss Chase. "Buffy nodded tersely in response to Jack's quiet comment, and Jack considered his conflicting obligations to Xander, Buffy, and Cordelia before adding, "If you need time to look within yourself, it may help you to know that Xander intends to seriously pursue his relationship with Miss Chase. Neither of them is sure where it will lead, but there is more to her than you might suspect, Buffy. I sense that neither of them will simply abandon their connection to the other as trivial. Perhaps you should take advantage of that. "

Buffy nodded. "You're right, Jack. I need time to get my head together--and Xander deserves a chance to be happy. "She walked over to him and gave him a firm--though completely platonic--hug before saying simply, "Thank you, Jack. "She released him, then left the room without looking back.

Jack sighed, then concentrated--releasing Xander's consciousness from its storage place and releasing control to him. Xander stretched and leaned against a wall before looking at the hardened concrete and smiling grimly. Good work, Jack. Xander sensed a calm acceptance of the thanks from his friend, and hesitated for a moment before adding I caught a little of your conversation with Buffy--I think the sword might have torn out some of the soundproofing in my head

What did you hear, Xander? Jack's mental voice was still calm, but Xander could sense an undertone of tension that he had never sensed in the samurai before.

I heard enough. Xander's voice sounded resigned, and he shook his head before continuing. She's confused right now, Jack--and the main thing that's changed about me recently is that I've got a new roommate. I'm with Cordy--and I'm not going to change that just to mess Buffy up more than she is now.

Xander heard a mental sigh, before another comment from Jack:She cares very deeply for you, Xander--and respects you with equal vigor

Xander nodded. I know... He gave the hardened concrete one last look and muttered, "Let's get out of here. "Jack was silent, and Xander took that as assent as he left the room, leaving it empty except for its helpless long-term occupant.


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