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Times like these

by Te

Times like these
by Te
July 11, 2003

Disclaimers: Not mine. I'm okay with that.

Spoilers: Dirty Girls.

Summary: You gotta choose sides.

Ratings note: R.

Author's Note: For the slashficathon, specifically for piedmargaret. 1342 words.

Acknowledgments: To Ben, for being nice even when I got insane about this pairing, and to the Spike for audiencing.

*

They're so weak.

Women, with their grab-able hair and thin little bones. Sleeping like there was nothing in the big, bad world that could hurt them any more than they already were. At least, not in a hospital.

He watches the girl sprawl messily over Xander's bed, red hair spreading like the stain she leaves every month. And Caleb is careful -- he knows about this one. Power to end the world -- as if something like that could ever be her right.

Sure as he was here, now, she had failed. And now the girl was just waiting her turn to die, wiped from the face of this earth like so much filth.

And the boy...

The boy watched him silently, mouth slack as a village idiot's, head moving as he tried to keep Caleb in view with only one eye. His hand was this close to shaking the girl's shoulder, but he was hesitating.

That was fine.

Caleb shook his head 'no,' and walked up behind her. Ran a gentle hand over her hair while the boy cringed and watched. He could smell anger there, yes, but it was fear more than anything else.

He'd bet it was for the girl's sake. Human men were just as weak as their women, when it came right down to it. Weakened by their women, like maybe God had taken more than a rib to make the things.

"I won't hurt her if you behave."

The boy narrowed his eye at that, but nodded. "What do you want?"

Caleb smiled his best and caught the boy by the chin. "Just to talk. Man to man."

"You're. You're not a man."

He had to chuckle at that, but was careful to keep his voice low. He listened to the girl breathe, slow and even like a parody of innocence. "No? I was, once."

The boy snorted under his breath. "Yeah, I bet you were a real prize."

And that was more unexpected than it should have been. The First had all kinds of information on these 'Scoobies.' Strengths, weaknesses, tendencies. The boy was the one who saw everything there was to see, or thereabouts. But he was also the one most likely to put bravery ahead of intelligence, and his mouth ahead of both. "You got a smart mouth, don't you?"

The boy twisted that mouth into something sour, but didn't say anything.

"That's all right. You're not too far from the truth, Xander. I was a sinner, steeped in this world's filth right up to this here Roman collar. I had little to commend me."

Another spark in that wide, wide eye. "Color me surprised."

Caleb smiled, squeezed the boy's jaw just hard enough to feel it creak beneath the skin. The boy moaned real pretty, but kept it quiet enough not to make the girl more than stir. "I know what you're thinking."

"And what's that." Barely a question, and the slur took most of the sting out of his tone. He reckoned that upset the boy more than the pain.

"You're thinking I'm still not much good. That I'm not worth the spit it takes to call me by my name. Is that right?"

"It's not wrong."

"Xander, Xander. There's so much in this world you don't understand. So much power, and even beauty to be found once a man finds his given duty. His mission in life, if you understand me."

And Xander actually looked away from him, then, and Caleb had to clench his fist to keep from taking that other eye, that dirty turning-away eye. "I have a mission."

"No, son, you had a mission. Now all you got's a hospital bed and a witch too tired to do more than drool on your sheets. All you got is your weakness."

Xander turned back to face him, expression dark and set. "So why are you here, big man?"

Caleb ran his knuckles over the boy's cheek. Stubbled as a man's, but the truth of the boy was just as clear as day in that one brown eye. Lovely. Xander flinched, but didn't try to jerk away. That was good. For him. "Why, just to make you an offer."

"Oh, gee, let me think... no."

Caleb just smiled, and gave a meaningful look to the sleeping little witch.

"Look at me. At me."

He waited until he was sure he had made his point and then acquiesced. "You ready to listen, son?"

The boy looked like he was swallowing a whole mess of uncharitable words, but finally he nodded.

"Good. That's good. You see, Xander, there's a whole big world out there, just waiting to be stamped with the First's mark like a bull on branding day."

"You've got a real way with words, Caleb."

Caleb just ran his knuckles over the boy's face again, pressing a little harder than was necessary. He waited for the wince, then leaned over to press the boy's chest back against the pillows. "You really need to learn how to control that mouth of yours, Xander."

Xander stared at the hand on his chest and twisted his face up ugly again before looking at him. "Maybe I'm not the man for the job."

Caleb shook his head and pressed down on a rib, feeling for the creak that meant it was just about to give. The boy would have a nice set of bruises when he was done with him. "Oh, I think you are. All that time fighting what you called evil, all those scars you wear like medals for bravery... you've got a lot to offer the right side, Xander."

Xander breathed fast and hard, through his mouth to make as little noise as possible. "Your side," he gasped.

"I knew you could be taught."

"You'd be surprised by... just how slow I really am."

And Caleb couldn't help but laugh aloud at that, making the girl stir and moan in her sleep, making the boy break out in fear sweat and carefully look everywhere but at the girl herself.

"It's not too late for you to --"

Caleb raised his hand. "You might want to think about what you're going to say before you flap that mouth anymore, son."

Xander closed his mouth tight. Nodded with an edge of resentment.

"That's right. Here's how I see it, son. You get up out that bed -- slowly and carefully as you can so not to wake the witch, and you walk out that door by my side. If you say 'no,' or you try to wake that girl up...

"There's a lot of ways to hurt a woman, son. And I know every last one of them."

"I'll just bet you do," Xander said, but the stink of fear was high in the air, like leaves burning in the fall. Caleb could feel a shudder running through him, smell his clean acid sweat and feel the smoothness of the skin beneath the hospital johnny.

He bet there wasn't even much hair there, yet. He remembered being that young, long, long ago.

He waited, and watched, and touched, and soon enough the boy was moving just as slow and careful as you please, staggering when his feet hit the floor and swaying a little. Caleb caught him, clucking his teeth a little at the thought of just how many drugs were probably running through the boy's system. He'd fix that.

The witch moved without opening her eyes. "Xander...?"

The boy froze, looked at him with such a wide eye that Caleb almost regretted taking the other one. "Just. Just going to the bathroom, Wills. You get. Get some rest."

"mmkay..."

Caleb nodded and led the boy to the door. "You're going to do just fine."

"Where are we going."

Caleb squeezed the boy's shoulder and smiled. "We're going to show you a whole new way, son."

And the boy shook and staggered, but made his way at Caleb's side, nothing in his eye but resignation.

It was good to have apprentices again.

End.


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