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

Feedback: Always. teland793@sbcglobal.net


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

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

"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

"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

"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

"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.

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."


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.