School Girl Daze

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Rating: M

Summary: Life isn't always a matter of critical events, yet even in the most normal moments, the Sunnydale gang can never quite seem to find... normality.

Disclaimer: Elements of this story belong to other people, not me.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Xander rubbed his temples as he made his way through the mansion, checking the time. Mikki would be back soon, and he wouldn't mind waking up a bit before she arrived. Patrol the night before had been until around eleven for most of them, but Xander and Buffy... no, Beth, he corrected himself, had stayed out late into the morning working with the GKS patrols.

Sunnydale was quiet now, mostly at any rate, so the extra time on patrol wasn't strictly neccessary, but Xander had wanted to integrate Beth into the teams as quickly as possible. Luckily she was everything he remembered when he thought of Buffy.

He smiled slightly as he began to pull out some food from the cupboards and the fridge, getting some snacks ready for the expected inrush.

When Mikki came in, however, it was less of a rush than a slow thudding progress. Xander raised an eyebrow as the normally padfooted girl stomped into the kitchen and thumped down onto a chair, glaring around at pretty much everything.

"Have a good day?" He asked wryly, setting a bowl of fruit down in front of her.

Mikki turned up her nose, batting the bowl away, and glared fully at him. "No."

"Gee, but you're so upbeat?" He smiled slowly, taking the bowl away. He sighed as she just glared again, and pulled some left over chicken from the fridge, "Ok, what happened?"

Mikki took a drumstick before saying anything, savaging the hapless food, then reached into her pocket and slapped a crumpled paper down on the table. Xander took it with a bemused frown and flattened it out as best he could to read.

"Ummm... School board... Counselor's report?" He frowned, eyes locking onto sets of words before he actually read them, "Lack of proper Language skills? Possible learning disability?? They recommend WHAT!?"

"Dumb class." Mikki replied succinctly, tearing another hunk of meat from the bone.

"Son of a..." Xander muttered, looking over at her, "Mikki, you are NOT getting put in special education classes. You've got more brains than I did, and they kept me in the same class as Willow for God's sake."

Xander strode across the room, grabbing at the phone. He dialed the school's number, noting with irony how entirely domesticated he was becoming.

"This is Xander Harris, I want to speak with Principal Winslow."

Tara Macklay covered her books over as she walked into the house, looking around in surprise when she saw Xander pacing in the living room, obviously fuming as Mikki and Beth looked on.

"Arrogant, stupid, *Snyder-like*...."

Tara, along with Beth, winced at the last one.

"Isn't that going a little too far, Xan?" Beth asked, smiling slightly. "In fairness, Mikki can be a little hard to understand if you don't know her..."

Mikki glared at the elder Slayer, but it was Xander who growled in response.

"If they'd bothered to actually test her instead of just making assumptions they'd damn well know, wouldn't they!?" He snapped.

"Ummm..." Tara spoke up, "Wh... what's happening?"

"The school wants to put Mikki into 'special classes'." Xander growled, "In fact, they're *insisting*!"


"Dumb Class." Mikki filled in helpfully.

"Ho... how can they insist?"

"They're claiming that their insurance doesn't cover a child with Mikki's obvious *needs*."

"O... oh." Tara said, frowning. "But..."

"She's NOT taking special classes." Xander growled, cutting his hand through the air. "I'm calling the school board."

Beth and Tara exchanged glances as Xander stormed out and the Slayer smirked, "Xander's such an overprotective father figure, isn't he?"

Mikki glowered at her, growling as she stomped away from the living room in the other direction, leaving Beth and Tara alone.

Tara blinked, puzzled.

Beth's widened as she watched the girl stomp off, then she smirked, "Gee... I think someone's got a little crush on Xander."

Tara stared at her, eyes widening in shock. "W... what?"

Beth shrugged, "Well, that's what it looks like to me anyway. So, anyway, Tara, what have you got in the bag?"

Tara just kind of moved slowly around Beth as she headed for the stairs, then turned and bolted up the stairs.

"What? You too!?"

Tara locked her door behind her, leaning back against the door as she took a few deep breaths. She'd panicked, and she was cursing herself for it.

<Stupid, stupid, stupid...>

She set her book bag down on the bed and flushed bright red as she slowly opened it and took out her 'prizes'. Wesley didn't know she'd snuck them out of the library from his personal collection, and she doubted that he'd be needing them any time soon, but just in case she knew she had to make copies and sneak them back in quickly.

The idea of being caught with them...

Tara shuddered, it was too horrific to imagine. She couldn't believe she'd taken this kind of risk.

"No, you damn well listen to me, God damn it!," Xander growled, "I *demand* an IQ test, I'm not requesting anything! Mikki is smarter than I am damn it!"

Buffy, for she did still think of herself that way even though she'd decided that 'Beth' would be simpler to use, leaned on the door frame as Xander railed into the phone.

"What's up?"

She glanced back to see Faith walk up, chewing gum with loud smacking sounds. "School wants to stick Mikki in 'special classes'."

"Kit?" Faith frowned, "She's a brighter egg than most of us, how come?"

"Language skills I think."

"Ah." Faith nodded, glancing in to where Xander was still snapping into the phone.

"Yes I AM aware of how bad my grades where when I was in your school! What do you mean her being smarter than me isn't saying much!? You'd BETTER be kidding Mr Winslow, or I'm going to have your hide nailed over my front door by the end of the week..."

Faith winced, hearing the sincere threat in Xander's tone as he slammed the phone down on the hooks and glared around the room, taking a long deep breath.

"What is it with this town and tin plated dictators in the school system!?" He snarled in the girl's direction, "I thought the High school had the patent on that."

"They really want to stick Mikki in special classes?" Faith asked, leaning back on the opposite side of the door from Beth. "That blows. Isn't Dawn being pushed ahead this year?"

"Yeah." Xander sighed, "And Jacks is going to push for the same. I'm not letting Mikki get put into classes that'll just bore her to death. It's bad enough she's losing her two best friends. If I let them stick her in classes like that, Mik will go native on us in a heartbeat."

Buffy raised an eyebrow, "Pardon?"

"Kit's a cat, B," Faith grinned, "She'll skip class to run in the woods."

Buffy nodded, "I wish I'd thought of that in high school."

"I consider it twice a day or so," Faith smirked. "Maybe I'll join her."

Xander glared openly at Faith, pointing a finger at her.

"Not. Helping."

"Jeez, X, take it easy. You'll get it fixed," Faith shrugged, "Mik's smart, how tough can that be to prove?"

Buffy shrugged, "I dunno."

They looked over at Xander, who looked back.

"What? How should I know??"


Chapter 2

Dawn slumped into the house, causing Joyce to sigh quietly when she saw the little girl. She just didn't know what to do with Dawn anymore, it was beyond anything she'd ever gone through with Buffy, and considering that Buffy was expelled for arson that was saying something.

Even during the worst of what Joyce now knew was caused by the Slayer... thing... even through all that, Buffy was never like this.

Dawn was withdrawn, more and more so, often sullen and outright hostile. Half the time Joyce couldn't do anything right it seemed, and the other half she needed *Xander* to help keep her in line. That was galling, more than Joyce wanted to think about, that she needed the pressure of... *him* to help maintain peace and order in her own household, but Dawn was just so...


It wasn't just her looks either, though they were certainly dark. She'd taken to wearing darker and darker clothing as a rule, her hair was dyed a few shades darker than it should be naturally, and the tips of her bangs were now an almost shocking cobalt blue. Joyce could only assume that it was some move on Dawn's part to fully establish herself with some kind of identity, but it just wasn't... *Dawn*. It wasn't her little girl, damn it.


Joyce started, eyes locking with Dawn's as the young girl stared back.


"What is it?" Dawn asked, grumbling, "You're staring."

Joyce shook herself, "nothing... I... have I told you how proud I am of you lately?"

Dawn looked stunned for a moment, jaw moving but nothing coming out.

"Well I am," Joyce went on, "I am so proud of how well you've done in school."

Dawn's jaw closed with a click, and she shrugged, "Yeah well, school's easy. Done it before."

Right. Joyce shivered a little. That.

She shook her head, "That doesn't matter. I'm still proud of you."

Dawn shrugged again, "Yeah. Thanks mom."

She looked around, then shrugged, "I've got to go study."

Joyce watched as Dawn headed to the stairs, as her youngest put her foot on the first step, Joyce turned back to her. "You're going to practice magic, aren't you?"

Dawn paused, glancing back, but didn't answer as she continued up the stairs. Joyce watched her go, shivering before she grabbed her coat and headed for the door.

Tara shivered with a guilty pleasure as she turned the page of the ancient manual, eyes absorbing every detail on the parchment with a hunger she had never really known before. Her mother had shown her magic when she was very young, but it was only small things, tricks more than anything. Protections, defenses...

Tara was grateful for that, though.

She knew now that her mother had been protecting her, keeping her from falling into the magic. Maybe too much, but Tara appreciated the intent.

Now, though, she had this.

This stolen moment of study...

This forbidden study...

Her mother would be horrified, her father would be completely apoplectic... even Xander, she suspected, would blow a gasket...

Tara shivered again, finger tracing a chakra pattern on her skin as she memorized it from the book. The thought of this was so incredible, but she didn't know if she had the nerve... the strength... to go through with it.

"Merlin," Xander said as he walked through his room, drawing out a few sets of clothes.

"Yes, Commander," the ancient intelligence spoke through the computer system they'd embedded in the walls.

"Are you up on what they're trying to do to Mikki?"

"I've been monitoring the situation, Yes. I also took the liberty of penetrating the school's systems to get more intelligence."


"And there is no actual cause for this step. No tests were taken..."

"They better not have been," Xander growled, "If they'd tested Mikki for that without contacting us I'd *own* that school by next week."

"Indeed, however that presents with both advantages and disadvantages." Merlin replied, "The fact that they have no tests to back up their claim does give you a lever to push, however..."


"However, technically, they don't actually require any testing."

"What!?" Xander blew.

"There are no laws or rules applicable to this situation. While there are laws that state that Mikki has a right to an education, there are none that require this particular school to provide it. So long as the option of special courses are available, they're covered."

"We'll see about that." Xander grumbled, looking between a couple sets of clothes.

He wondered which to choose. A full uniform of GKS would provide a powerful impression, and he had a right to wear it... weapons and all. Certainly intimidating, but Xander couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't quite what he wanted. The other option was the twenty thousand dollar tailored suit, and that was the one he was going with.

Xander pulled it down, nodding to himself.

The uniform was a display of power, true... but also one of service. He wasn't going there to be their god damned servant. The suit was a display of a different sort of power, the sort that frightened bureaucrats more than a holstered gun would.

"Who do we have on retainer for legal consultation in the area, Merlin?"

"There are none who quite match up with this particular situation, I am afraid." Merlin replied.

"I don't care, who's the GKS lawyer for LA?" Xander asked.

"Sebastian Stark."

"Good man?" Xander asked, though he knew that they wouldn't have hired anyone but the best.

"That is perhaps a debatable point. He is, however, one of the finest attorneys in LA, and is reasonably honest." Merlin replied dryly.

"Well for a lawyer, I suppose that's not bad." Xander chuckled. "Alright. Call him, brief him, and get him up here pronto."

"Very well."

Xander shook his head and sighed, "In the meantime I have to pressure the god damned school board into supplying those tests."


Joyce didn't really know what she was doing there, she hated the entire place. The mansion was ostentatious, the people inside dangerous, and her daughters were too closely tied to both for her liking. Yet she couldn't stop from coming here when she didn't know what to do.

She sighed and rang the bell, only being mildly surprised when the door opened instantly.

"Hey mom..."

The older version of Buffy winced, then fell back as she clamped off the greeting from going any further. Joyce just nodded and stepped inside. She didn't know how to feel, being called mom by a young woman who looked so much like Buffy... who purportedly *was* Buffy, but she knew that she didn't entirely dislike it... she just... didn't feel right about it either.

"Hello... Beth." Joyce said woodenly, looking around. "Is he here?"

Buffy 'Beth' Summers nodded, not having to ask who 'he' was. "Yeah, he's in a tear right now, but he's here."

"In a tear?" Joyce asked, curious.

"On a total warpath, Mom." Beth said, this time not noticing her slip.

"Is... is it demon related?"

Beth snorted, "I wish. We could handle that."

"What's going on?"

"I guess the principal at the school has decided that Mikki needs 'special' education, and is trying to get her barred from the school."

"What!?" Joyce looked over sharply.

"Something about insurance not covering them if Mikki..." Beth shrugged, "well I don't know what they expect her to do..."

"Did they find out about her...?" Joyce asked, blinking rapidly. The school knows about werecats?

"Her what? Oh, you mean the cat thing," Beth shook her head, "No. They think she's stupid cause she doesn't talk much."

"Mikki?" Joyce asked, stunned.

"Yup." Beth nodded.

"Mikki." Joyce said flatly.

"That's what I said."

"Mikki helps Dawn with her math homework." Joyce said simply, "I've watched that little girl read Shakespeare for *fun*. Are they insane?"

"Possible." Beth shrugged, "Anyway, Xander's in a total rage."

"What's he going to do?" Joyce asked, worried that he might do something violent in his madness.

"I'm going to go pick a bone with the school."

Joyce barely suppressed a gasp, turning to see Xander step down off the stairs. She had to suppress another one when she saw him. He looked five years older, and like a million dollars and change. The suit was tailored, better than anything Hank had ever owned, that was obvious and Xander wore it like a second skin.

His face, though, that was set with a grim look that made the whole picture seem sinister. She'd only rarely seen Hank look like that, and when she had... well, she knew that someone's life was about to go down the flusher.

She swallowed, "What happened?"

"That idiot they have in charge of the school decided that Mikki is mentally handicapped," Xander told her flatly. "First mistake. Then he decided that she didn't deserve an education with her peers. Second mistake. His third mistake was assuming that he knew me just because I went to school there too."

Joyce shivered. There was a cold assurance of reprisal there, but not one of violence as she'd initially assumed. Xander was getting ready for a fight, yes... getting ready to destroy his enemy, even... but not with violence. He was going to use the power and influence he'd been building the way Hank always had, on a field in which words ruled. She'd misjudged him again, Joyce realized. First by thinking he was a child, when he wasn't... and now by thinking that he was nothing but a glorified thug.

This was a man who had learned... was learning maybe... to wield power in a multitude of forms. And he did so in defense of his family, with a vengeance apparently. Maybe... maybe it wasn't so bad that he considered Buffy and Dawn to be family.

She licked her lips slowly, watching him, trying to come to a decision.

"Can I help?" She asked quickly, without thinking.

He looked at her sharply, then relaxed as he nodded, "Thank you, Joyce. I appreciate it."

"Not for you." She said sharply, "I know Mikki, she deserves to go to school with her friends."

Chapter 3

Dawn winced as she neatly cut her palm, letting a few drops of blood drop down onto the supplies she'd assembled. It flared, surprising her, flashing a bright green that almost blinded her as she desperately blinked to clear her eyes.

<That wasn't supposed to happen,> She thought rather desperately, her vision slowly clearing as she looked around and found herself...


<Uh oh.>

Wherever it was, it wasn't her room, and something had *seriously*screwed up the spell she'd been working on.

"Damn it!" Dawn stamped her feet into the dirt of the place she now stood, looking around in frustration. "This is SO not fair! It was just a simple divining spell!"

She looked around, frowning as she realized she was outside. The sky was green, though, as were the trees, and the fields, and unless she was mistaken there was a green glow off in the distance too.

"Great. I do a simple little discovery spell and where do I wind up? The wonderful land of freaking OZ!" She muttered, kicking at the dirt. "Too bad the road is dirt and not gold bricks, that would at least have made it worth the effort."

She sighed, really more put out than frightened, and looked around in sincere and total frustration.

"Ok... What did Jacks tell me that might fit this situation..." She mumbled under her breath.

It took only a few moments to answer that question.

"Nothing! Freaking *nothing*. Nobody said anything about the land of Oz!" She shrieked, kicking the ground again.

Something rumbled in the distance, and she spun around, quickly forcing herself to calm down and take deep breaths.

"Ok... ok ok ok..." She said, still mumbling. "Green sky, green grass, green glow in the distance..."

Dawn frowned, looking around, "Why is this so freaking familiar??"

Buffy sighed and tossed herself onto her bed, cradling her arms behind her neck as she studied the ceiling. She would never have believed it was possible, but her life just kept getting stranger and stranger.

As if being a Slayer wasn't bad enough, Sunnydale, the hellmouth, her sister... her *clone*... Ok, Buffy had to admit, that was what was really freaking her out. She had an older clone wandering around Sunnydale, and what's worse, the clone was a better fighter than she was!

<When did I start judging my worth by who I could beat up?> Buffy sighed, shaking her head. Life was just so damned bizarre.

She had to admit, herself... the older herself, Beth she supposed, was one hell of a Slayer. And her sword kicked all kinds of ass. She so wanted one of those, but Xander had just shrugged and said something about it not being time cloned and so it wasn't in place when he went to look for it.


So now she was the middle sister, well she would be if Mom ever got around to accepting the older her. That was a little freak worthy too, she hated to admit. Beth was HER, just kinda older and a little different... Mom shouldn't be having this much trouble with her... Buffy cringed, thinking of how she'd blown up over the Slayer stuff, and just thanked god that Beth had been there as a distraction.

If she and Xander hadn't faced Joyce down, Buffy cringed to think of how things would have gone.

<I hear LA's nice this time of year,> She thought wryly.

Her train of thought was quite effectively derailed by a sudden rush of air and a flash of green light that imprinted itself on her retinas. Buffy jumped up, twisting off the bed as she grabbed her favorite stake, and lunged for the door.

"Who's there!?" She demanded, looking first down the hallway, then back up. "Mom? Dawn?"

She stalked out of her room, stake held up high, and frowned as she spotted a green glow under the door to her sister's room.

"Dawn! You butt pain!" She growled, forcing the door open, "Mom's going to kill you if you got spell components all over the walls again!"

Oz sucked big time.

And Dawn didn't mean the werewolf either.

Green, green, green. It was all green. Even the dirt was a brown shade of green, which was really sickly now that she thought about it.

Also, she was starting to get a little worried. She didn't know how she'd got there, and certainly didn't know how to get back...

Ok, she was a lot worried.

The whole place seemed more than a little familiar, though... like she'd been there before, but... not.

She sighed, shaking her head, "I really screwed up this time. Xander's gonna yell at me, Mom's gonna yell at me... Jacks might not yell at me, but I wouldn't count on it..."

Dawn moped, "It's not my fault! I did the spell right... I think?"

"Ok... let's back track. Fresh components? Check. Purified the athame... check. Ok... yeah, I think I got all the amounts right. Ok... Blood then... well duh, it was my..." Dawn trailed off, frowning as she looked around. "My blood."

"I think maybe..." Dawn pondered, frowning, "Maybe I didn't..."

She jumped as she felt a hand grab her shoulder, and a voice snap out.


Dawn shrieked as Buffy tapped her shoulder, jumping into the air and knocking everything from the table, startling the hell out of Buffy herself as she jumped back and got ready for a fight.

"Buffy!" Dawn shouted.

"What!?" Buffy yelped.

Dawn's eyes darted around, "I'm back?"

"Back? You never left!"

"I didn't?" Dawn asked, confused.

"I don't think so," Buffy blinked, relaxing marginally. "Are you ok? I saw a weird light, and you were kinda frozen there."

Dawn took a few breaths, then nodded, "Yeah. I think I'm fine. I've got to look up that spell, though, and try to figure out what happened."

Buffy crinkled up her nose at the smell from the components and shrugged, "What was it supposed to do?"

"It was a divination spell, to learn about oneself," Dawn explained, frowning.

"You wanted to learn about... you?" Buffy asked, her tone a little flat.


"And you thought you needed a spell for that?" Buffy's tone had now clearly shifted into the 'boy are you stupid' tone.

"It's a spellcaster thing," Dawn snapped. "It's about learning more about your inner self, so you can better manipulate the magic."

"Uh huh." Buffy nodded, eyes rolling. "And what did you learn about yourself?"

Dawn shrugged, "Umm... It ain't easy being green?"

Buffy stared for a moment, then shook her head. "Right. I'm going to study, try not to blow up the house, ok?"

Joyce joined Xander as he strode up the steps of the local elementary school, pushing through the doors and taking an immediate right toward the principals office. As they walked, she focused on him as much as she could without staring, noting the intensity he was bringing to this situation. He was determined to make someone pay for the attempt to hurt Mikki. It was... understandable, impressive even.

"Doris." He said, startling Joyce into looking up.

The secretary, and older lady was sitting behind her desk as they stepped into the office. She smiled at Xander quickly, then seemed to catch herself and glanced toward the principals office.

"Mr Harris," She said, suddenly professional. "I'll announce you..."

"Don't bother." Xander said, walking right past.

"Excuse me, you can't just..." She said, but Joyce noticed that her tone was oddly flat and she made no attempt to move from her desk.

Xander just shoved the door open and stepped in to the inner office.

Janice Winslow glared up at him, her two guests looked startled, but Xander didn't seem to give a damn.

"Xander Harris...!" Winslow growled, rising to her feet.

"*MR* Harris to you." Xander growled right back, matching her glare for glare. "Where the hell do you get off trying to tell Mikki that she's handicapped!?"

"Michelle is a very special young lady and she..."

"You have no idea." Xander cut her off with a motion. "You're NOT shunting her aside to some classes that'll bore her to tears. She's..."

"She's a menace!"

Xander blinked, staring at the speaker. "Excuse me?"

"That little monster doesn't belong in the same class as my girls!" The woman scowled at him. "She *growled* at my Cindy, and broke the nose of Amy..."

Xander frowned, "Amy... Amy..."

He looked up sharply, "You mean the same Amy who stole her class books and tried to play 'keep' away with them?"

"That hardly gives her the right to..."

"No," Xander agreed, "It doesn't, but Mikki was punished for that too. Quite frankly, though, I think Amy got off lightly. She's lucky Mikki finished it there, before Jacks and Dawn got involved. Things might have gotten out of hand otherwise."

"I'll have you know that my family has been here since..."

"What has that got to do with anything?" Xander asked, honestly confused. "This is about a couple girls fighting, not who's family has what."

"Please," Winslow sighed, "Both of you, calm down."

"I'm plenty calm." Xander told her, "But you're NOT going to put Mikki out over some stupid fistfight."

"That girl obviously isn't smart enough to be in the same class with my..."

Joyce spun on the woman, "You better watch what you say. I know a few things about the law when it comes to schooling my daughters, and you don't have the right to deny Mikki an education."

"Now, now," the other guest, an older man, "We're not denying her anything. We just feel that it would be best for Michelle if she were among children more... like her."

"Define what 'like her' means," Xander growled.

"She obviously has a severe language handicap," The man said, "and while I freely admit that some of her scores are quite good, she's obviously in need of special tutelage."

"Then I'll get her a tutor." Xander growled.

"That won't be sufficient, Michelle has special needs and..." Winslow started to say.

"If you say the words special one more time in that condescending voice," Xander growled at her, "I'll pull the Good Knight Security contract that protects this school from *gangs on PCP* and throw a good amount of my personal fortune into making sure you never teach again... on this planet, or off it."

Winslow jerked back as if slapped, then looked well and confused as he finished, but before she could say anything the other woman sneered and spoke up.

"Oh please, like you have any real influence around here..."

"Don't test me, Ma'am." Xander growled in response. "Now, you're going to drop this crap or things are going to get ugly."

Winslow sighed, "We'll arrange for proper testing then, and see from there. Is that sufficient?"

"I want an outside agent to handle the tests." Xander warned her, "I'll check on his neutrality."

"Of course," She held up a hand to stop the other man from complaining. "However we'll be forced to present you with the bill."

"Fine. Pick the best man you can find." Xander ordered, "I don't care if you have to fly him in. I'll pay for that too. If you don't pick someone to my standards, I'll make you wish you had. Understood?"

"Understood." Winslow replied, taking a deep breath. She forced a smile, "Thank you for coming, Xander... it's always a pleasure."

Xander snorted, then turned and walked out. Joyce glared at the occupants of the room for a moment, then just shook her head and followed him.

Chapter 4

"That... that..." Joyce was incensed, her hands wrapping themselves into knots as she sat beside Xander, driving with him back to where her car was parked at his place, "infuriating..."

"Woman?" Xander asked dryly, earning a glare of his own from the blonde.

"Not funny."

"Sorry." Xander smiled slightly, "but it's better than some of the words I had in mind."

"What are you going to do?"

"Do?" Xander shrugged, hands coming off the wheel, causing Joyce to panic for a moment as she grabbed for the dash, only to feel the car swerve itself through traffic.

That was so very hard to get used to, and while she was holding onto the dash she missed what Xander was saying.


"I said I'll deal with it, one way or another," Xander repeated himself, taking a hold of the wheel again in time to turn into his drive. "I've got a lawyer coming up from LA, I'll get his advice to see what I can do legally..."

"And if you can't stop them?"

"Then I'll find out what I can do *illegally*."

Joyce nodded, understanding him suddenly. He really was working anything he could to protect his family. It didn't matter what he had to do, all that mattered to him was getting it done. It was strange, strange to her that he'd think like this. He was so young, didn't seem to have much care for the family he'd been born with by any account she could find.

The family he'd forged around him, however...

The car came to a stop and Joyce looked out on the mansion that her daughters often came to visit, and she shook her head.

"What?" Xander asked, his door half open as he glanced at her, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Joyce said abruptly, climbing out. "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

"Thank you, Joyce," He told her over the roof of the sports car. "I appreciate that."

Joyce just nodded, heading for her car, her mind whirling with thoughts that surprised her.

Cordelia Chase shivered as she laid out the clothing she had bought especially for school this year.

It was not up to her old standards, and that pained her, but she'd had enough of the frumpy, softer side of sears look she'd retreated into the year before. Her control was improving, she could muffle the feelings around her now, and she hoped... she prayed that it would be enough.

She'd decided on a new tack, a new strategy.

She'd been learning a lot about strategy lately. Tactics as well, but those were different things. She needed to implement a long term method to improve her position. Kagi believed strongly in tactics as the best way to accomplish goals, but he also imparted a strong desire for strategy. Tactics were for battle, he told her in her dreams, strategy was for the war.

He was a master of tactics, of strategy though... not so much.

He was also hopeless when it came to what mattered to her. Fashion, popularity, position. These things meant nothing to him, and everything to her. So strategy was hers to map out this time, and she'd decided that class was the way to go.

No hiding, but no alluring cheerleader either this time.

She would be untouchable. Above them all, a figure to be admired but one beyond the reach of even the most confident jock. Better the ice queen than to suffer the indignity of what they believed they could get her to do with, or to, them.

She set herself, knowing it wouldn't be that easy, but if she could scare even some of them then the rest would be easier to deal with.

Beside the clothing she laid the sword, her sword... her companion, and felt his emotions as her thoughts whirred by.

He was worried, no... concerned. Kagi didn't worry about much, not in her experience. But he was concerned for her, and she smiled as she touched the hilt gently... caressed it.

<I'll be fine,> She thought, putting some emotion behind the sentiment.

The blade didn't think much of her goal, but she could feel that it had little to add to her methods and that brought a smile to her face. It wasn't often that it didn't have *something* to say about how to get things done.

She sometimes thought that if Kagi could talk, she would be constantly arguing with it... him.

The swords wry response brought an unaccustomed onset of giggles from her throat.

"Magic isn't a science, Willow," Jenny Calender sighed deeply, repeating herself once again. "You can't just measure out the components and count on getting the same results everytime."

Willow looked up, her face blackened with soot, and she checked to see that her eyebrows were still intact. "I don't understand... I did it like you told me..."

Jenny, doing her best not to giggle at her young student, somehow managed to maintain a serious face. "I tried to tell you... It's intent. The components aren't the important part."

"But I spent all morning preparing them!" Willow wailed, "Just like the books said..."

Jenny hid her mouth with her hand, trying desperately to disguise the smile. "The facilitate a casting. They aren't the source of the power, nor it's guide. You are."

Willow looked downcast, "I don't think I'm guiding so well."

"Not so bad," Jenny allowed, "I've seen worse... though you DO need to learn to stop trying to shove a spell through with brute force. If you'd put much more energy into that last one, you'd have blown out the windows."

Willow looked up again, so dismayed that Jenny had to laugh this time.

"Oh relax. I'll just send the bill to your friends, I suspect they can afford it." the gypsy said with a grin. "Still, we need to work on your control and intent..."

Jenny frowned with thought, then nodded to herself. "You have a laptop, right?"

Willow nodded, almost eagerly as she wiped the soot from her face, "Uh yeah..."

"Alright, get it. You did bring it?"

"I bring it everywhere..." Willow scrambled to grab her pack and pulled the computer out.

Jenny nodded appreciatively. "That's a nice one. Ok, turn it on... here, do you have a network cable?"

"No... there's an adapter in there, but the cable is home..."

"Ok, I've got one. We'll link you up to my home system, and connect to a web board. I want to introduce you to some friends of mine."

Connecting the system took a few minutes, but shortly Willow was happily following Jenny's directions to a corner of the web she'd never bothered with before. The board was one she'd have disdained if she'd ever seen it before, populated by people with names like 'Druidmarm' and 'Webwitch', and the subjects posted were the sort she would have giggled with her online friends over not so long ago.

"Casting across the web, a guide to enhancing ones spell with a planet wide mandella?" Willow blinked, looking up.

"Let's start with something a little more basic," Jenny said, pointing her to another thread.

Basics of casting across electronic ether.

Willow looked up, eyes a little wide, and questioning.

"This will test your control," Jenny told her, smiling, "Because if you blast as much power through this as you did through my living room, you'll fry every circuit in that lovely little laptop of yours."

Willow's eyes widened again as her face paled.

"And if you do THAT, I'll make sure that you don't get a new one for some time... until you've saved up enough to pay for it, and for whatever damage you do to MY system as well," Jenny told her quite firmly.

"But... but..." Willow looked down at the computer, "It's *mine*.... and I..."

"And you'd better be careful then, hadn't you?" Jenny smirked.

Willow gulped, nodding fervently as she began to read the text file and tried to commit the firmly to memory. This was one test she did NOT want to screw up.

Sebastian Stark grimaced as he read the sign that simply stated 'Welcome to Sunnydale'.

He had little use for small towns, and less for clients that made him GO to small towns. Still, the Good Knight Security account was a rather large one, and he'd been offered a rather nice rate to handle this case.

It was also something of a refreshing change form the usual assortment of rich scumbags, he supposed, not that he'd ever admit that beyond his own mind. Some man keeping his daughter in school, well at least it was a worthwhile case.

It would be an easy one too, there was no way a small town schoolboard would be able to standup to a neat little barrage of legalese and some maneuvering would shut them down quickly. No problem.

He'd be back in LA in time for dinner with his own daughter.

With enough added to his bank account to put a nice chunk of her future tuition to bed in the process.

The man known to his own limited circle simply as 'Shark' smiled the smile that helped earn him that name as he guided his Mercedes into the small town.

It was always nice to have a soft pitch to hit out of the park once in a while.

Chapter 5

The door bell ringing brought Faith to the front foyer, tossing the door open with little care as she crunched on a piece of celery.


The man on the other side stared at her for a long moment, then shook his head. "This might be harder than I thought."

"Excuse me?" Faith blinked.

"Sebastian Stark to see Mr Harris."

"Who?" Faith frowned.

"Mr Harris, this is his home, right?"

"Natch," Faith replied, "I meant who're you?"

The man sighed, "Sebastian Stark, I think I said already. You must be... Michelle?"

Faith looked confused, "Who?"

Stark held his temples, covering his eyes. "Oh this IS going to be harder than I thought."

"Who's at the door, Faith!?"

"I dunno!" Faith yelled over her shoulder, "Some guy named Starch!"

Stark winced, but before he correct the girl another figure appeared, looking confused.

"I don't know anyone named Starch."

"That's what I told him."

"The name is Stark. Sebastian Stark." Sebastian ground out.

"Oh, the Lawyer," the man said, nodding, "He's expected."

"Oh." Faith nodded, stepping out of the way. "Fine."

Stark stood there for a moment, but quickly decided that that was as much of an invitation as he was going to get. He stepped in and sighed again, "Is Mr Harris around?"

"That's me," The man... young man Stark noted, said as he stepped forward and offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Stark."

Stark shook his hand and then shook his head as he glanced sideways at Faith, "And is this Michelle?"

"Who? Faith?" Xander shook his head, "Nah. Mikki's over there."

Stark followed his gaze to another room where a quiet girl was reading through a rather thick leatherbound book, and quickly sighed in relief. "Oh thank god."

"Excuse me?" Xander asked, confused.

"Nothing." Stark said quickly, shaking his head again. "I was told that you have a problem with the local school board and their treatment of..."

Sebastian frowned, "Your daughter?"

Xander chuckled, "not quite. My... ward I suppose is the closest thing you'd understand. Her family was killed, I'm afraid."

Stark grimaced, but nodded, "Very well. That might present some issues, but I'll work that out later. Now, let's arrange a meeting with the school's principal."

"I just got back from that, actually."

Stark turned on him, his eyes growing cold and grey, his tone the same. "You what?"

"I just got back from talking to Principal Winslow," Xander told him. "I wanted to arrange proper testing to prove Mikki's case..."

"You DID *what*!?" Stark snapped, loud enough to startle Mikki from across the room, and draw attention from Faith and several other faces that appeared from other rooms.

"I just..."

Stark cut him off, jabbing him in the chest with a finger, "You never... Ever.... EVER!! Talk to the other side about a case without your attorney!"

As Stark raged a couple young boys frowned and glanced over at Faith, hissing quiet questions.

"Who's this guy and why's he yelling at Xander?"

Faith shrugged, watching the tirade, "Dunno why the dud is yelling, but he's Xander' lawyer."

"Isn't he supposed to... you know, work for Xander? I thought that kinda meant he couldn't yell at his boss, right?"

Stark heard enough of that to redirect his glare briefly, "I am paid to advise Mr Harris and that includes telling him he's being an IDIOT if that's what it takes!"

"Hey, I just set up testing for Mikki..."

"And who told you that was a good idea!?" Stark snarled, jabbing Xander again. "You do NOT give the other side anything they can use against you..."

"Hey!" Xander growled right back, "Mikki isn't handicapped!"

"What has THAT got to do with anything!?" Stark snarled in return.

Xander blinked, then looked confused. "Um... One of us is a little confused here."

Stark sighed, "Mr Harris, I don't care if she is or isn't. That's not part of my job. My job is to keep her in school with her peers, right?"


"I could very easily have done that without any tests," Stark growled, jabbing Xander in the chest again, "But now you'd better damn well hope those tests come back clear, otherwise we've just lost a lot of our options."

"Mikki isn't handicapped!" Xander snapped, batting the hand away.

"Yes well now she'd better damn well not be, or you've made this job a hundred times harder than it had to be!" Stark snarled in return.

Xander paled, and Stark saw that at least he was getting something pounded into the young man's head. <This one might at least be able to learn.>

He sighed, calming down. "Alright the damage is done, no I need you to tell me every detail... *everything* you can think of, including your home situation here, everything that happened to cause this situation... and everything else."

Faith snorted, "Boytoy's gonna pop the snot's head if he tells him all that."

Stark spared her an annoyed glance, but didn't bother to comment. "I'll also need to see any legal papers concerning Michelle's status here in this house."

"What? Why?"

"Because someone has chosen to attack the girl, and they may not stop with what they've begun here," Stark replied.

Xander frowned instantly, and at first Stark thought he was about to start into the standard 'your being paranoid' speech, but then a shift happened on his face and Stark could almost see wheels turning.

"You're right." He nodded finally, "I'll have my people start looking through the legal papers with fine tooth combs."

"I want to see them myself."

"I'll have the prepared." Xander nodded. "What do we do about this in the meantime?"

"What deal did you make with the school?" Stark asked, still annoyed.

"I told them to bring in the best tester they could find, and I'd pay for it..." Xander said, frowning, then he looked up, "I also said that if they picked someone who wasn't up to the standards I demanded, I'd make them regret it."

"Alright. Good," Stark said, taking a breath, "I can work that into a veto if they try and slip a ringer past us. I'm going to need to contact my research team, though..."

"No, we have our own," Xander promised. "The moment they give us a name, I'll have everything there is to know about him."

"Oh?" Stark raised an eyebrow.

"Everything." Xander promised, "right down to what he's feeling at the moment, if that's what it takes."

"I'm still going to bring my team in," Stark said, "No offense, but I like to use my own people. I don't know yours."

"None taken," Xander said, smirking. "But I'll bet you we get the information first."

Stark snorted, letting a cold smile form. "We'll see."

Willow closed her eyes, a shiver of shock running through her as she felt it.

She felt it!

The power that coursed through the computer was.... it was... subtle, but like an ocean tide it held power that you could only feel as you were immersed deeper and deeper into it. On the surface it was as nothing, an idle current that brushed barely up on her senses.

Under the surface, though...

Oh my it was... breathtaking.

She let out a slow, breathy sigh.

"It's incredible."

"You feel it? The power?"

"The current, yes." Willow nodded, "It's... it's like a rainbow, only all mixed up... and moving with such force."

Jenny nodded, "That's the magic of all the users of the web, interconnected... feeding off each other, echoing and rebounding as it's left mostly untapped. Each year it grows stronger, not only as more people become connected, but as the residual energy continues to build on itself. No one can possibly channel more than a tiny fraction of the power there, and no one has ever even put so much as a noticeable dent in it."

Willow swallowed as she nodded slowly, "I can feel it... the deeper you go, the more powerful it gets..."

"Don't go too deep," Jenny said sharply, "You'll be swept away in it. Stay in the shallows where the pools are calmer."

Willow nodded again, drawing back to safer waters.

"Good," Jenny complimented her, feeling the withdrawal. "You've done well, Willow. I'm impressed."

Willow opened her eyes and smiled at her teacher, "thank you, Miss Calender."

"Tomorrow we'll work on tapping the power to cast protective charms." Jenny told her, patting the girl on the shoulder.

Willow nodded, drawing back from the power she felt connected to through her laptop, then quickly logging off the network.

"You learn fast, Willow... very fast," Jenny said as Willow was closing the laptop, her voice growing more firm and serious, "But don't go any deeper or faster than this. It's important that you keep yourself from being overwhelmed, you can't drown to death physically in the magic of the net... but it can kill your soul if you aren't careful..."

Willow nodded, swallowing. "I'll be... careful."

"Please do. Magic has a way of... burning a person out, leaving their body to act on it's own, while their souls die slow deaths." Jenny said seriously. "It can reduce you to base instincts, while giving you the power to kill everyone you love."

Willow paled remarkably, considering her already white skin, and nodded. "I'll... be very careful."

"Good." Jenny said simply, as if it ended the matter, "Because I think that with patience, you could be one of the most talented practitioners I've every known. With patience."

Willow nodded again.

Patience. She would remember that. Patience.



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