|Career Advancement 2: Downsizing
Author: Two Ladies of Quality PM
Alliances change, relationships shift. Can the Scoobies cope with the way things have changed?Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Adventure - Buffy S. & Xander H. - Chapters: 9 - Words: 67,901 - Reviews: 26 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 02-10-07 - Published: 10-16-04 - Status: Complete - id: 2097978
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Quentin Travers replaced the phone receiver quietly, then stared at the desktop for several moments.
The Council guardsmen, who were sorting various supplies in the other part of Travers' hotel room, looked at each other.
"What did HQ have to say, sir?" one of them finally asked.
Travers tapped his fingers on the desk. "There will be no reinforcements. We're on our own."
"No reinforcements? Sir, don't they know what we're looking at here?"
"They know, Allenby. But they're not convinced that it merits a Watcher strike team to deal with. There's a definite sense of 'It's your hobbyhorse, Travers, you ride it' going on."
Another of the guards put down the crossbow he was assembling. "The leadership of the Order of Aurelius is not a hobbyhorse, sir."
Travers smiled slightly. "Thank you, Gregson. Though others are not convinced that my concern is much more than a personal obsession."
Allenby opened the case that held the flasks of holy water and scanned the contents. "So what does this mean for our operation?"
Travers looked over his men. "It's the same as it was, if you're still willing. The Slayer is out of town. We attack."
The men looked between themselves, eventually nodding. Allenby looked at Travers. "What's our target, sir? Sunrise Grove or Crawford Street? I don't think we have sufficient manpower for both."
Travers nodded. "Fleur du Mal is a tempting target. Her plan, though, is to confront William the Bloody. If we remove William the Bloody, we remove her reason to remain here. Old, powerful vampires should not be in the vicinity of the Hellmouth. Our target is Sunrise Grove."
"Very good, sir."
Jenkins unpacked bundles of crossbow bolts and began distributing them. "Who's the primary target, sir? William the Bloody or Rupert Giles?"
Travers fetched the glass with the rest of his whiskey. "Rupert Giles."
The men nodded silently and did not look surprised. Gregson checked the crossbow strings for wear. "Angelus may object to an attack on his spawn."
The other paused in their work to look at their leader.
Travers checked his inside jacket pocket for his two hide-out vials of holy water. "He may well interfere. If he does, we kill him."
He was raising his fist to knock again when the approaching scent warned him. He tried to look pleasant instead of outraged.
Xander opened the door and froze. "Oh, hell, no." He slammed the door closed. Angel managed to just rattle the door with his next knock. "You make me fix that door again, Deadboy, and you'll be wearing bits of it!"
"I want to talk to you, Xander."
"I don't want to talk to you!"
"I've got no problem yelling at you through the door. I'm sure your neighbors won't mind."
There were rustling, thumping noises inside, and Angel heard Xander mutter, "Why the hell don't I have a crossbow!"
"Talk to me, and I'll go away."
"If I ignore you, you'll go away, too!"
"I wouldn't put money on that. I can out-stubborn Cordy."
There was a pause, then the door opened partway. "You can?" Xander said, looking through the gap.
Angel sighed. "Well, no. But I'm able to glare back at her for nearly an hour, now."
"That sounds more likely." The door started to close, then stopped. Xander stared at him. "These visions she gets. They hurt her, don't they."
Angel looked away and managed not to growl. "Yes." Damn the Powers, he understood why they didn't want the visions dying with Doyle, but why would they force Cordy to keep them? Why did they have to hurt so much? And damn the Oracles for getting themselves killed, he probably could have worked out some sort of deal . . .
Xander wasn't standing in the doorway anymore, but the door wasn't closed. Angel looked in and saw Xander pulling on a jacket.
"What are you doing?"
Xander went over to a worktable, pulled something out of a drawer, and put it in his jacket pocket. "You are not and never will be welcome in any home I have control over," he said, coming to the door. He studied Angel. "But you care about Cordy. That buys you a hearing. But not here."
He came out of his apartment, crowding Angel back to the far side of the hallway. He locked his front door and headed down the hall.
"Now what?" Angel protested.
Xander looked over his shoulder. "If you want to talk, talk on patrol."
Halfway across the municipal softball field, Xander finally showed interest in conversation. "So what was so important that you had to track me down?"
Angel had been thinking of what he should bring up first. "When did Spike get the chip out?"
Xander looked surprised. "Some time early last spring, I think. Giles helped him figure it out."
Angel nodded. "If anyone could, he could. How wide a swathe have they cut through town?"
"They lay pretty low, actually. Buffy says more vamps cut and run when they see her instead of challenging her."
"He's teaching them strategy. That's not good. They're going to take over simply through attrition."
"Yeah, they're good."
Angel studied Xander for a moment. "You hate me, right?"
"Yes, I do."
Xander stopped to turn and stare. "Why? Are you really asking me that?"
"You didn't use to. You didn't like me, but you didn't hate me."
"Then you killed somebody I liked, tortured Giles, broke Buffy's heart--and then you got away with it. And if you tell me that it wasn't you, that it was your evil twin who did all those bad things, I will stake you, and I won't tell anybody what happened to you."
Angel would have been more impressed and less worried if he'd told anyone where he was going tonight.
"It doesn't excuse me," he finally said, "but it does make a difference, the soul. It's like being drunk. People do things they'd never do when they're sober."
"Good analogy," Xander said tightly. "Being drunk just gives people an excuse to do what they only think of doing when they're sober. They're always the person capable of doing the rotten things. You are always the person who could think of leaving a dead woman in the bed of the man who loved her."
Angel could only nod. "Yes, I am."
Xander stepped closer, a hand in his jacket pocket. "You want to know a secret? When Buffy went in to stop you and Acathla, Willow was back at the hospital trying to pin your soul back on the donkey. They sent me to tell Buffy to hold you off long enough for the spell to work." He smiled. "I told her to kick your ass. I didn't tell her about the spell."
It was hard to remember that fight. Angelus' evil delight, followed by the joy of seeing Buffy, followed by a hundred years of . . . Things were blurry, but he knew one thing. "Thank God you didn't tell her."
"She'd have held back, and I would have killed her." He shook his head at the thought of regaining his soul to find Buffy's blood on his hands--or his fangs.
Xander looked offended. "That's not why I did it. I did it so she'd kill you."
"I'm sure you did." He looked Xander in the eyes. "You have every right to hate me. So what makes Spike so different?" He waited for the boy to stop blinking. "He kidnapped you and Willow, played mindgames on all of you, tried to kill Buffy more than once. What makes him so different?"
Xander sneered. "You ran out on Buffy, broke her heart and left her."
Angel couldn't help sneering just a little himself. "You would rather I had stayed?"
Xander waved a hand. "Your big determination to stay out of her life hasn't kept you from skulking around. Spike's got no reason to stay. He's free of the chip, he could go anywhere, do anything. And he stays and helps. Without him we'd never have beaten Glory. Explain that one, Deadboy."
"He's playing you. That's what he does."
"Yeah, that explains why he got between Glory's minions and Dawn and got tortured for his trouble."
"So he likes the girl. You may have noticed he does stupid things for the people he cares about."
"Plus there's the whole lack of the blood and carnage that was promised for the day the chip came out."
Angel reached out and twitched Xander's collar where it was covering the bandage on his neck. "There's some blood and carnage. So tell me, are you consciously using yourself as a sacrifice to keep Spike away from the others? Or are you just taking advantage of his interest?"
Xander took a couple of deep breaths. "That's none of your business. Now if you don't mind, I've got a town to help look after."
"Xander, you have to listen to me--"
"Why! Why do I have to listen to you! I've never liked you, you've never liked me, so what the fuck do you care?"
"Because I know what Spike is like, and I know what he does, and that's what I do, try to save people from the vampires." He looked at Xander's neck again. "You going to tell me you don't need saved?"
Xander reached up to touch the bandage on his neck. He looked thoughtful for several moments, then met Angel's eyes. "Whether I do or not, you're not going to be the one to do it."
"You're going to put your soul and your life at risk just because you don't like me?"
"Yeah, pretty much." He started to leave, then turned. "If you're so worried about what Spike's up to, why are you bothering me? Take him out, and the problem's solved."
It was a question Angel had been dancing around himself. Remove Spike, remove the problem. No more thorn in his side, no more threat to Sunnydale and Buffy's people. Fleur du Mal would probably fold her tents and head back to the courts of the vampiric elders. It wasn't as if he had any doubts about his ability to beat Spike.
The Spike who ran around shooting his mouth off, with half-assed plans and jumping in without thinking, that Spike he had no doubts about. Hot pokers and Mozart notwithstanding. This Spike, though, was showing signs of discretion and forethought. Maybe it was the effect of the time with the chip, maybe it was the influence of Rupert Giles. Either way, taking on a Spike in the fullness of his power was not something Angel was going to do without some careful planning.
"If I have to," he finally said, "I will do it. It needs to be done."
"Then you go do that," Xander said. "And stop worrying about me."
He did walk away then, and Angel noticed uneasily that he was headed in the rough direction of Sunrise Grove. This time Angel decided to follow.
The SUV full of frat boys made the mistake of honking and laughing when they blew past the convertible on the two-lane road out in the desert. Giles put the pedal down, and Drusilla laughed in delight in Spike's arms as the BMW quickly caught up with the SUV. The frat boys pulled off onto the shoulder. When Giles stopped the car in front of them, the frat boys tumbled out of their vehicle, shouting and cursing. Soon they were screaming, and there was more than enough to go around for the three vampires.
Spike proceeded to search the bodies and the SVU for valuables. Drusilla painted bloody smiles on the dead frat boys, and Giles found himself gazing contentedly at his Sire. She had come back for him. All right, she'd come back for Spike, too, but she'd looked at him and said she was pleased with him.
She looked up from her play and saw him watching, and she gracefully rose.
"They taste all cinnamony when they're young and silly," she said, running a bloody fingertip along Giles' lips.
"Yes, they do."
"Oi, Dru!" Spike called from the SUV. "Listen to what one of these wankers had tucked in the back of his CD case!" The sound of Marlene Dietrich came from the vehicle's speakers.
Drusilla laughed and pirouetted, then leaned against Giles' chest. "Dance with me, sweet."
Startled, Giles looked at Spike, who was still digging through potential loot, singing along to the CD and taking swigs from a bottle he found in the vehicle. Drusilla started humming, and Giles took her hand in his and pulled her close for a waltz.
"Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
I can't help it"
Drusilla leaned her head against his chest as he sang.
"Sire?" he said softly.
"Yes, my owl?"
"Why didn't you simply kill me?"
She smiled up at him. "You sing. The darkness in you sing. Such a lovely song."
Over at the SUV, Spike broke into song along with Marlene "Love's always been my game/Play it as I may/I was born that way/I can't help it."
Giles smiled. "He has a very nice voice when he isn't shrieking along with someone who has a safety pin through his eyebrow."
Drusilla chuckled and leaned her head against him again.
The little Before voice inside him still wept occasionally at the chaos and carnage. He still woke from dreams of Buffy's cries of fear and despair and the taste of her blood on his tongue. Those dreams filled him with horror and glee. He loved the feeling of power, though, the strength, the joy of wreaking terror on the weak.
He hadn't expected the love. Drusilla could walk out on him and Spike at any moment, but while she was here he reveled in her approval and the knowledge that she had chosen him. To be curled up at her side, with Spike a solid--if restless--third, was to be part of a strong unit of safety and belonging. The legendary pairing of Spike and Drusilla had already fractured in the crucible of the Hellmouth, and Giles wondered if somehow his presence helped them be together again. He chuckled as he pictured himself as a rather outre pet for the two vampires so much his senior.
Spike wandered over, shoving cash and credit cards into his coat pockets and taking swigs from a bottle of vodka. "What are spoiled youth coming to, these days? Only one bottle of booze in the car, and not a bit of drugs. Disappointing." He held the bottle out to Giles in invitation.
"No, thank you," Giles said, not wanting to remove his arms from around Drusilla. "I'm quite content with what I have."
Spike laughed as he leaned down to kiss Drusilla's hair. "Did you know he was such a sweet talker, princess?"
"Oh, yes," she purred. "The pretty bird just needed to crack his shell." She tapped Giles' nose. "But the pretty bird must learn how to share."
"If you insist," Giles sighed. He twirled Drusilla into Spike's arms and received the vodka bottle in return.
Spike dipped Drusilla until she could drop her arm back over her head to brush the desert ground. "Do you remember Berlin, princess? Marlene on the Victrola and the planes overhead?"
"And the stars weeping blood and violets." She looked up at the night sky and laughed. Then the laughter faded, and she began to whimper.
Spike pulled her up quickly. "Dru? What is it?"
Giles dropped the vodka bottle and hurried over to brush Drusilla's hair back. "What is it, darling?"
"It hurts." Drusilla pressed her hand to her breast. "Hurts."
"Is it a vision?" Giles asked Spike, who nodded.
"What do you see, pretty?" Spike asked, stroking Drusilla's cheek. "What hurts?"
"The eyes, the watching eyes . . . Daddy!" She hid her face in Spike's chest.
"Angel," Spike growled.
Giles felt his fangs appear. "He's going to hurt her."
Drusilla whimpered again. "The eyes . . . owl's eyes . . ."
Spike frowned. "Owl's eyes? You're the only one she calls owl, mate."
Giles shook his head. "Owl's eyes, watching eyes--" He snarled. "The Watchers. I was a Watcher, my eyes."
"Angel and the Watchers?" Spike bent his head to Drusilla's. "Is that it, precious? Angel and the Watchers are going to do something?" She only tried to snuggle in closer, and one hand reached out towards Giles, who took it and let her pull him close.
"But would he cooperate with them?"
"He's hurt her before," Spike said grimly. "And I'm sure they all agree that you and I and Dru and the others are a threat Sunnyhell could do without. He'd make deals with the devil, Angel would, for his fucking cause. A better question is, would the Watchers cooperate with him?"
"To further their own quest? Yes. Though they'll be aiming for him when they're done."
"Excuse me while I feel sorry for him. Dru love, do you know when they're going to move? Is it soon?" She nodded. "We'd best get back, then."
Drusilla's head snapped up. "No, mouse, no. Mustn't go back."
"What?" Spike stroked her hair away from her face. "Princess, why mustn't we go back?"
Her shoulders hunched and her arms came up to cross over her chest. "Oh, it hurts . . . Daddy, please . . ."
Giles stepped closer to put his arms around her. "We can deal with darling Daddy, beloved. He won't hurt you."
Her hair flew as she shook her head. "No . . ."
"Oh, sweetheart." Spike joined Giles in wrapping his arms around Drusilla so tight she could no longer rock back and forth. "We've got you, love, your boys have got you. We won't let anyone hurt you, that's why you have us, right? To keep you tight and safe." He looked up at Giles in worried frustration as Drusilla started to cry. His own eyes twisted to yellow. "That bastard's the only one who could ever make her cry."
"Not Daddy . . ." Drusilla whispered from between them.
"We should go find him," Giles said, having trouble enunciating because of the rage.
"Yes, we should."
After twelve attempts, Wesley decided Angel was either in the tunnels out of reach or he had turned off his phone. Aside from Willy's bar, the primary place of demonic business and information was the magic shop Giles had formerly owned.
"You just want to go poking around someplace with weird shit," Gunn said when Wesley suggested going to the Magic Box.
"There is that," Wesley agreed. "But we could overhear something interesting."
In the end, they did go to the shop. Surprisingly, it was mostly humans in the establishment. There were two actual demons, but they were occupying corners and studying merchandise and not attracting attention to themselves. The proprietor, a young woman, was busy at the counter with three young men and a half-wrapped package.
"It is very clearly stated right here," the woman said, tapping a sign taped to the cash register. "The Magic Box has a no return policy. Especially on damaged merchandise."
"But it didn't work!" the shortest of the trio protested. "It wouldn't obey our commands!"
"Of course it didn't work!" She reached into the package and pulled out a dried severed human hand by its little finger. "Which one of you brushed off the loose skin?"
The trio looked between each other guiltily. "It was--shedding," the oldest one said.
"It's a four-thousand-year-old mummy's hand, of course it was shedding. If you're going to conjure with body parts, you have to put up with some bits of skin laying about."
The blond waved his hand in the air. "We deserve a refund."
The woman put her hands on her hips and glared. "I've seen the movies, nitwit. I used to live with a man who could quote them backwards and forwards. Don't try the fake Jedi stuff on me."
Wesley headed for the books, followed by a snickering Gunn.
"I suppose we should be just as grateful that they couldn't get it to work," Wesley said as he scanned titles.
"Why would you go to all the trouble of getting an old hand to do something you could do yourself?"
"Well, most practitioners I've heard of use mummy hands to open books that will kill whomever touches them or to handle particularly toxic spell ingredients." Wesley paused to consider the trio of young men, who were gathered in front of a glass case. "I am curious as to what they were up to, now that I think of it."
Gunn nudged his arm. "We've got enough to worry about, don't you think? Save the three weird men for after we get the vampire civil war straightened out."
"Oh, I don't think we can call it a civil war. It's still just an inter-clan squabble--"
"I thought I heard an English accent."
Wesley and Gunn turned to see the store proprietor standing near them and glaring at them. Wesley blinked at her. "Excuse me?"
She started to speak, then frowned at Wesley. "I've seen you somewhere."
Wesley studied her back. "And I've seen you. Something to do with a library."
Gunn snorted. "Like that narrows anything down."
Wesley snapped his fingers. "The Mayor's Ascension. You're the woman who had seen an Ascension. Anya."
"And you're the scrawny, uptight Watcher."
"Former Watcher, thank you very much."
Anya stepped closer. "Whatever you are, I'm tired of you English types coming in and bothering my customers. Go harass Buffy and leave honest, hardworking shopkeepers alone."
"We're not harassing your customers, lady," Gunn said. "We just got here. And I'm no English type."
"Oh, right, you just got here. So who's been creeping around this town upsetting everyone who's going about their own demonic business?"
"That would be the real Watchers, most like. They've got a real mad-on about your local vamps."
Worry replaced some of the annoyance on Anya's face. "Buffy told them about Giles, didn't she."
Wesley sighed. "I think they figured out most of it on their own. Surely you didn't think they wouldn't notice."
"There are ways." She gave them one last dark look. "Just leave my customers alone." She went back to her counter.
Gunn shook his head. "One high-strung lady."
"She always struck me as so. I wonder if it's because she used to be a demon."
Wesley managed to sound blase. "This is the Hellmouth, Charles. One gets used to these sorts of things." He laughed when Gunn smacked him in the arm.
The bell over the door chimed as two more people came in. Wesley and Gunn turned their faces back to the books.
Anya gave a welcoming, "please spend your money here" smile as the new arrivals came up to the counter. "How can I help you buy something today?"
One of the men glanced at his list. "We need some hellebore and some asfoetada, miss." The man had an English accent.
Anya hesitated, but not for long. "Powdered or whole?"
"My god," Wesley whispered.
"What?" Gunn asked.
"It may be nothing--"
Anya put two jars on the counter and reached for a measuring scoop. "Will there be anything else with this?"
The man looked over the list again. "I think we could use more sulphur."
Wesley grabbed Gunn's arm and pulled him towards the front door. Gunn waited till they were out of the store, but once they were on the sidewalk, he yanked his arm free. "I'm really looking forward to the explanation for that one, Wes."
"Those ingredients those men were getting, I recognized them."
Gunn looked at him pointedly.
"They're part of a Watcher spell particularly geared towards vampires. I think they've come close to recreating Greek Fire. But it only has a limited shelf life, so if they're gathering the components they must be planning to make their move very soon. Possibly tonight." Wesley looked up and down the street.
"Uh, Wes . . ."
"We need to figure out who they're moving on--"
Gunn pulled Wesley into the shadows. "You're thinking the Watchers are making their move, either on the nest up on Crawford Street or on this Giles and the others."
"And you're thinking of interfering."
Wesley hesitated. "I don't trust the Watchers."
Gunn put his hands on Wesley's shoulders. "So what? They're going after vampires. Nasty ones, by what I've heard. Both sets."
"Or did you want to stake your old buddy yourself?"
Wesley closed his eyes, and he didn't fight Gunn's hug. "I know we can't leave Giles like that. So much kinder to the man he was to kill the thing he is. But . . ."
"I know, man," Gunn said softly.
"How did you do it, Charles? Your own sister?"
"Because I loved her. I couldn't let that thing behind her eyes make a mockery of her."
Wesley let his arms come up and wrap around Gunn. "I'm really very bad at this job, aren't I."
"Nah, Wes. You just think too much." He pulled back and grinned. "Such men are dangerous."
Wesley laughed. "So did you pick up your knowledge of Shakespeare from a DVD or from reading?"
"Cordy, actually. She was going off on one of her tirades and started talking about her Freshman English teacher making them read Julius Caesar. I think she was talking about you."
The Magic Box's door opening interruped Wesley's rejoinder. The two Watchers came out and paused on the sidewalk; Wesley and Gunn pulled farther into the shadows.
"We have the holy water at the hotel," one of them said, "and Jenkins always has an ash wand with him, so we have something to stir with. That's everything, right?"
The second one patted his pocket. "With the dust from that vampire we staked earlier, yes. Would it be gauche, do you think, to try and collect the dust from a vampire who used to be a Watcher?"
The first one glared at him. "Well, I'm appalled, so I'm going to say, yes, it would be gauche. Come along, Mr. Travers is waiting."
Wesley closed his eyes again. Rupert Giles was gone, he knew that. They couldn't possibly just leave him alone to go along his path of death and damnation. But to hear his destruction discussed so casually--as casually as Wesley himself had ever gleefully anticipated going forth against the forces of evil . . .
Gunn's hand fell on his shoulder again. "It's always different when you know 'em, man. Doesn't matter what, it's different when it's one of your own."
Wesley nodded. "And knowing them doesn't change the fact that they're creatures committing evil every night and that it's our job to stop them." He started towards the car again, then paused. "Should we warn Angel?"
Gunn frowned. "Tell him that his demonic kids have an assault team headed in on them? My gut says No." He shook his head. "But I don't want to be the one to give him the news later, either."
"Nor I. I'm not sure what he would do if we told him."
"You think he'd try to interfere?"
"I think . . ." Wesley pulled out his phone. "I think I don't want to make that decision for him. Better his crisis of indecision than him being furious with us for withholding the information. I just hope I can get hold of him."
Gunn nodded. "And that he's nowhere near Sunrise Grove."
Angel was still pretending that Xander didn't know he was being followed when Angel's cellphone rang again.
Twenty feet ahead, Xander paused in brushing vampire dust off his shirt to glare in Angel's direction. "Are you going to answer it this time?"
"How can you hear that?" Angel protested. "I turned it down." The smirk he got was just another in a long line of annoying smirks.
"I have younger ears than you do. Just answer it."
Angel hesitated, then pulled out the tiny phone. "It's just Wes. He can leave a message." He really hated that smirk he was getting.
"Just Wes? Your main research guy keeps calling you during prime patrol hours, and you want him to just leave a message?"
Just a little smacking around. Just enough to teach him a little respect. Angel glared at the ringing phone in his hand and at all the tiny identical buttons. Hell, it had been bad enough learning how many times to turn the crank so you'd get the operator at Central Exchange--
Xander came up and snatched the phone out of Angel's hand. He glanced at the buttons, pushed one, then held it up to his ear. "Deadboy's Sanctuary for the Technically Clueless, this is Xander."
"Xander?" came the tiny startled voice. "Why on earth are you answering Angel's phone?" The voice became a lot more of the Scary!Wes that had appeared in recent months. "Why do you have Angel's phone?"
Angel grabbed the thing back. "What is it, Wes?"
"Why--never mind. Gunn and I were at the Magic Box just now, two of the Watchers came in to get ingredients for the Hellebore Tincture. Angel, they're moving tonight. I think they're going to Sunrise Grove."
Angel stared at the night, trying not to think. "Is that what you've been calling me about?"
"Actually, no. Charles and I had a visit this afternoon with Quentin Travers. He seems to have made an anti-Aurelian crusade part of his life's work, and he's very delighted to have so many of the clan within reach. Your name came up on his wish list."
"Sounds like he's got other fish to fry tonight. I just have to stay away from Sunrise Grove."
Angel saw Xander quickly turn to stare at him.
Wesley took a deep breath. "What do you want us to do about this?"
Angel opened his mouth twice before he was able to speak. "We do nothing."
"Angel, are you sure?"
"They're doing their jobs, Wesley. We've got no reason to get in their way."
"Travers mentioned your name, Angel. He would be pleased to get you in his sights."
"Then I just stay out of them. I don't plan to be anywhere near Sunrise Grove while Quentin Travers is hunting." Really, it was easier that way.
Xander came over quickly. "What's happening at Sunrise Grove?"
Angel turned away. "Not now, Xander."
Xander snatched the phone out of Angel's hand. "What's happening at Sunrise Grove, Wes?"
"Xander?" Wesley said.
"Wesley, what's going on?" Xander pointed a finger at Angel. "Back off." Angel hesitated out of pure shock.
Wesley focused on the moment. "Quentin Travers is taking an assault team into Sunrise Grove. They're making their move."
"Yes, right now, tonight."
Xander threw the phone back at Angel, who snatched it out of the air and managed not to crush the thing.
"Where are you going?" Angel demanded as Xander headed off.
"Angel, what's going on?" came Wesley's thin voice from the phone.
"I'm not sure," Angel said. "You and Gunn stay put, stay out of this." He didn't wait to hear Wesley's reply as he pushed buttons at random till the phone went quiet. "Xander!"
Xander kept walking--directly, Angel saw, towards Sunrise Grove. Angel didn't bother yelling again. The stubborn Scoobie was never going to listen to him anyway. He ran after and grabbed Xander's arm--then barely jumped back in time as Xander spun, a stake in his hand and aimed at Angel's chest.
"Let me guess," Xander said with a nasty grin, "you didn't take me seriously when I told you to stop getting grabby because I knew where there was a stake within arm's reach."
"I made this one years ago, especially for you. Splintery pine. I soak it in holy water on a regular basis. It'd probably hurt like hell even if it didn't dust you."
Angel decided to stay out of reach for now. He'd accepted that Xander didn't like him--to be honest, Angel couldn't blame him--but to know the boy had created a stake just for him . . .
There were more important things to worry about now, though. "Xander, what are you doing? Why do you care what's happening at Sunrise Grove?"
"You already said you weren't going to concern yourself over what happened tonight. Do what you told Wes to do, just stay out of this."
Angel knew this look on Xander's face, the kind of devil-take-the-hindmost determination that had brought a scared teenager to face down a monster and demand that the monster prove its worth. "The Watchers can take care of themselves, they've gone after lots of nests of vampires. They'll be all right. And--" Angel swallowed hard and fought down his demonic urges "--and it's for the best."
"It's for the best that Travers and his cronies run an assault on Giles and Spike and all the others?"
"It needs to be done. Did you think the Watchers are just going to let Giles be?"
Xander licked his lips. "No. I know they won't. But I also know that I just can't sit by and let it happen."
"It's not really Giles, anymore," Angel said gently. "Nobody blames you for not wanting to see someone you cared about--dealt with."
"Angel, this has nothing to do with Giles!"
The boy was more than angry, he was scared. This was exactly like the night Buffy went up against the Master, when Xander was hellbent on doing something to intervene. But if it wasn't for Giles-- He looked at the bandage on Xander's neck again. "You're worried about Spike."
Xander started walking away again. "You said this didn't concern you, Deadboy. So just drop it."
Angel got in front of Xander, but he was careful not to grab him. "What does Spike have on you that you have to go help him?"
"It's not like that. Get out of my way."
"You've hunted vampires for years, Xander. Why do you want to help them now?"
Xander stopped and glared, then took a deep breath. "I owe him."
"Who, Spike? Xander, no one owes him anything but death. They're out killing every night. They need to be stopped."
"I'm not talking about humanity owing him anything. I, Alexander LaVelle Harris, owe him, William the Bloody, a debt. He backed me up at the convent last spring. He tried to save me from some of the things I did. I owe him a life, and I intend to pay him back."
Angel could only blink for a moment. "You really are the White Knight."
Xander started to speak, then just waved a hand and started away.
"You may believe you owe him," Angel called after him, "but do you really plan to get between him and the Watchers?"
"I don't know," Xander yelled back. "Maybe all I can do is warn him, but at least I'm going to do that much!"
He should stop the idiot boy. Grab him, drag him somewhere safe, and lock him down until morning made everything academic, one way or another. If nothing else, it would give Angel something to focus on other than the demon inside him screaming to go to his children's aid. Or he could just leave Xander to his fate: walking into the line of fire between the monsters and the monster hunters, just so Angel could avoid the temptaton to help the wrong side. Yeah, that would go over well, him telling everyone, "I let Xander walk into trouble so I could find a hole to hide in while the side I'm supposed to be on attacked the side that the worst part of me still longs to be on."
If nothing else, he could protect the idiot, brave kid. Sancho Panza to Don Quixote. One of the two of them was crazy, anyway.
Part of Xander's mind kept telling him, "You kill the vampires, remember? The Watchers are the good guys, right?" The part of his mind that was listening even agreed--mostly. It was that old generalities vs. specifics problem again: Vampires on the whole were bad, but sometimes you'd rather let certain individuals live. And while the idea of the Watchers was a good one, there were a lot of specific Watchers who simply gave you the wiggins. Xander might not be on Spike's side, but he sure as hell wasn't on Quentin Travers' side, either.
Really, when it came to choosing up sides, he wasn't looking to play Red Rover with Spike's team. That wasn't why he was running through the trees on the border of Sunrise Grove. But there was at the very least one Harris in the world who understood the concept of honor, and Xander knew in his gut that he owed a debt to Spike. It wasn't just the convent, either. That night in the cemetery, Spike treated Xander as more than just another container for a hot meal. It probably wasn't the kind of thing you'd find on an inspirational poster, but Spike thought there was a reason for Xander to stay in the world, and that had been enough to pull him back from the brink. He wasn't going to be like Deadboy and lurk around in the shadows and hope the Watchers would resolve his moral conflict for him.
The roads in Sunrise Grove were quiet. The construction worker in Xander twitched at the abandoned, half-built houses. Tire tracks led the way in through to the finished, lit building in the center of the development. Xander hesitated, looking over the situation with his faded soldier memories.
"They have guards," Angel said softly at his shoulder.
"Jesus! Dammit, Deadboy--" He glared at the vampire. "I thought you were going to stay out of this."
"Like I'm going to tell Buffy I just let you walk straight in to 'Yojimbo.'"
Angel smiled slightly. "It's a movie. You'd like it."
Agreeable Angel was way too disconcerting for Xander to deal with just then. "So where are these guards?"
"I'll show you."
They strolled right up to the front door. Xander wasn't sure if he was working off the chutzpah of having an old vampire at his back--and when did that stop being wiggins-worthy?--or if he was simply off in that magical land of What The Hell? He remembered this feeling: there was a Thing that needed done, and there were steps that had to be taken, no matter how bizarre.
Which meant he stared the startled, full-fanged vampire at the door in the eye and said, "I need to see Spike."
"Me. Spike. See. Talk to."
The vampire stared at Xander, then blinked at Angel, who was just standing a few feet behind and looking glowery. "I don't know--he was here before--"
And meet the Mayor of the land of What The Hell. Xander grabbed the vampire's shirt and yanked him close. "I don't give a fuck what you know! Get out of my way!" He shoved the vampire out of the way.
Behind him, as he headed into the building, he heard the vampire sputter. "He can't do that!"
"He's a White Knight on a mission," Angel said. "Best to just stay out of his way."
"Spike!" Xander yelled as he ran through the hallway. The place looked a lot like the old high school, painted cinder block walls, linoleum floors, crashbar doors. Even the faint foul smell in the back of his throat didn't detract from the similarities. He yanked open the double doors at the end of the hallway and looked around the big gym-floored room beyond. "Spike!"
He turned to see Drusilla in the double doors, holding them open with a light finger on each. She smiled, but it was terribly sad. "Where's Spike? I need to warn him."
"You, with vampire dust in your clothes, came to him, with blood on his fangs." She stepped in and let the doors close behind her. "Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche." She floated up to him and rested a cold finger against his lips. "White knight, look after my black knight. He wears his heart on his sleeve, where it gets bashed about so terribly." Her finger drifted down to the bandage on his neck. Her smile twisted. "Is your poem in your blood, I wonder?"
Xander stepped back very carefully. "Drusilla, that night with the poem and with you smacking around Angel on my behalf--which I'm very grateful for, by the way--that was just the spell, wasn't it?"
Some of her hair fell over her eyes when she tilted her head and laughed.
"Oh, what the fuck now!" yelled Spike as he stomped into the gym. "This is not a home for wayward Scoobies! Harris, what the fuck are you doing here!"
Xander pulled his eyes away from Drusilla. "The Watchers are coming. They're coming after you guys."
"And they're bringing the big guns," said Angel, appearing out of nowhere again.
"Angel," Spike snarled, the vampire face in full view. Giles appeared from a side hallway, snarling without words. Angel didn't move away from the door.
"There's no time for this," Xander snapped. "Wes called Angel and said the Watchers were putting together an assault for tonight."
Spike forced himself to turn to Xander, though his yellow eyes kept sliding back towards Angel. "And I'm supposed to believe that a Scoobie came down here to warn the vampires about the Watchers."
Drusilla hummed and put a finger between Xander's eyes. "He's not warning vampires. He's warning you."
The frightening yellow eyes faded to puzzled blue. "Me?"
Xander jerked away from Drusilla. "Never mind that, you've got the Watchers to worry about!"
Giles stepped closer. "How does Wes know what they're doing?"
Angel, still watching the room very closely, cleared his throat. "He saw a couple at the Magic Box, getting the ingredients for the Hellbore Tincture."
"Dear God!" Giles gasped.
"What's that?" Spike asked.
"It's a very sure way of killing vampires," said Quentin Travers, standing in a doorway with his men around him, pointing crossbows.
There were suddenly a lot more vampires in the room. Xander saw several appear out of the shadows of other hallways. Spike and Giles moved to put Drusilla behind them, and Spike shoved Xander to the side.
Travers focused on Xander. "I am very disappointed, Mr. Harris. Do the others know where your true loyalties lie?"
Xander straightened from where he'd stumbled against the wall. "Yeah, they know. And none of them would be surprised to find out that my loyalties aren't with you."
Travers looked honestly upset. "But why? The lines are clear, humans vs. monsters. You have gone to great lengths to protect humanity, why would you warn these?"
Xander looked at Spike, who he saw was looking back in turn. The faint, knowing smile Xander had seen during that night at the convent had returned. What did these Watchers know of how things happened in the real world?
He looked back at Travers. "Out of curiosity," he said, "how many apocalypses have you averted?"
Travers drew himself up. "The Council has too often been the only thing standing between the world and utter destruction."
Xander shrugged. "Maybe. You had a lot of Slayer help there. But what I meant, Mr. Travers, was how many have you, yourself, helped stopped? How many times has it been your blood and sweat and terror on the line?" He began counting on his fingers. "Glory, the Master--" He glared over his shoulder at Angel. "You."
Angel fidgeted and looked away.
Xander looked at Spike. "Does Adam count as an apocalypse?"
Spike shook his head. "More just buggering annoying when all was said and done."
"The Judge," Giles offered helpfully.
Xander blinked. Times really had changed if Giles was joining in on the 'annoy the authority figures' fun and games. Then again, he was going by the name Ripper, these days, and Xander had heard all kinds of stories about the Band Candy incident. "Yeah, the Judge." He added a glare at Spike. "And we all know whose fault that was, don't we."
Drusilla leaned against Spike and stuck her tongue out at Xander. "He was my present from my Spike, he was. Nasty spitty kitten." She swiped a clawed hand in his direction. Xander blinked and wondered if he'd sound hysterical if he laughed. Sharing Tales of the Hellmouth with Drusilla was not something he'd ever expected to do.
"Does all this blather have a point?" Travers asked coldly.
Xander shook his head and sighed. "Yes, I warned them, Mr. Travers. It just kind of seems fair, after some of them have helped me save the world and all."
"They're monsters, Harris."
He looked at Spike, who smirked. "Yeah, they are. But they've still been on my side more often than you folks have."
Travers jerked back in offense, and he looked at his men, who brought their weapons in tighter.
Angel leaned closer. "You have to get out of here, Xander, this is going to get very bad."
"Yeah." Xander looked around for the best exit. "You leaving with me, or have you decided whose side you're coming down on?"
Angel's indecision was interrupted by Giles' clearing his throat. "I find it interesting, Quentin, that you held off on this little expedition until after Buffy was out of town. Might one assume she knows nothing of this?"
Travers' lip curled. "We thought to spare Miss Summers' feelings by dealing with this matter when she didn't have to be involved."
Giles sighed and nodded. "For what it's worth, that is considerate of you. You'll let Xander leave, of course."
"Of course," Travers said easily.
Xander frowned. Maybe it was that British noblesse oblige thing, but Travers seemed a little too comfortable with the idea of him leaving the scene of the smackdown. Still, it was stupid not to take advantage of the situation. "You coming?" he asked Angel.
Angel took a moment before answering, studying both the vampires' side and the Watchers. He obviously found as much to dislike about the situation as Xander did. "Yeah, let's go."
"The agreement," Travers said easily, "was for Mr. Harris to leave. Not Angelus."
Xander jumped a little at the not-so-faint growl he heard behind him. "One of these days," Angel said in a particular scary voice Xander would have been much more than happy never to hear again, "I just may take great pleasure in showing you the difference between Angel and Angelus. Because you have no idea."
"You really don't," Xander added.
"There is no relevant difference," Travers said. "You are a vampire. A proper Watcher makes no exceptions."
Giles snorted. "That was a lie even before Angel was turned. Which, if you've read the same Watchers' journals I have, Quentin, you surely know."
Travers was looking just a bit fanatical. "I did say 'proper' Watcher."
"As much as I've regretted the situation over the years," Giles said, "I can't imagine that Buffy agreed that you should--how did you put it--'deal with' Angel the same way you plan to deal with me."
"She's a Slayer, she'll understand."
"Yeah, right," Xander said.
Travers frowned at him. "Mr. Harris, you have no business here. Go."
He wanted no part of this. He saw one of the Watcher-fighters behind Travers open a ceramic jar and stir the contents with the tip of a crossbow bolt. The metal edge of the bolt tip came out covered with a dull-orange powder that glowed and smoked. On the far side of Giles, the vampires--the other vampires were all in full fangs and yellow eyes as they snarled and waited for the signal.
It just wanted the wrong twitch on somebody's part to start the carnage, just like that night at the convent. They expected him to turn and walk away and ignore the sounds of killing he knew were going to break out behind him. He could put names to faces on both sides, too many of those faces on what was supposed to be the wrong side.
"I can't," he whispered.
"You must," Giles said with the faint smile Xander had seen too many times in the old library and the Magic Box. "This is no fight for the honorable and forthright."
Spike flicked Xander a smile between unholy snarls of battle glee. "And thank you for the warning, mate. I appreciate the effort." He glanced at Angel. "Get him out of here, you."
"Angelus is not leaving," Travers snapped.
"What the hell makes you think you get to decide?" Xander demanded. The leveled crossbows made a worthy argument, but he'd had crossbows pointed at him before. "And if I decide to grab Deadboy and drag him out of here anyway? Who do you plan to shoot at then?"
"Xander," Angel said, "don't. Just get out of here."
"I don't even like him, and you're making me take his side!"
Travers frowned. "So you do admit you're taking the side of the vampires."
Xander closed his eyes and debated screaming. Light fingertips on his face made him open his eyes.
"Don't cry, kitten," Drusilla crooned. "The mean old man will go away soon."
Xander blinked at her and wondered when he'd become so interesting to her.
"Get away from him, witch!" Travers shouted.
She glared at Angel. "And Daddy makes everybody cry in the end."
"Hey!" Angel protested. "That is not true!"
Spike reached out to her. "Dru, come here, behind me."
Drusilla kissed Xander's forehead and turned, then paused to glare at Travers. "You are a mean old man," she said, pointing a graceful finger at him. "You will come to no good end."
Travers pulled back. "Keep your curses to yourself, you unnatural creature!"
The man next to him, in a victory of loyalty over sense, raised his crossbow and fired.
"Oh . . ." Drusilla raised a hand up to the crossbow bolt protruding from her breast. She stretched out her other hand towards Angel. "Daddy . . ."
Angel's and Spike's hands touched within an expanding cloud of dust.
"Oh, my god," Xander whispered.
Giles lost all his words and pretensions of humanity in a flash of fang and growls. The other vampires howled in anger.
Spike was gone into the demon as well, but he was holding on to language, even as he grabbed Angel's coat. "Get him out of here," he snarled.
"You're not stopping this, Angel! Get Harris out of here!"
They stared at each other, then Angel whirled and grabbed Xander's arm. Xander hesitated just long enough to see Giles and Spike and the others charge towards the Watchers before he had to run or risk being dragged away. The thwap of crossbows going off mixed with snarling.
The demonic howls followed them as they ran from the recreation center. Higher pitched human screams could be heard in the lulls.
Angel let go of him, and Xander stumbled to a halt against a pile of abandoned roofing shingles in front of one of the abandoned houses. He turned and stared back towards the recreation center. "Shouldn't we do something?"
With a snarl, Angel ripped a sapling out of the ground and threw it through the remains of a window of the house across the street. Xander couldn't keep back a yelp of surprise, which he managed to strangle when he saw the face that turned towards him. Call him Deadboy, laugh at his hair, snicker with Spike back in the Basement of Doom over tales of "the poof"--but never forget that the name Angelus still made demons shudder and that the instincts and urges of the Scourge of Europe were only reined in, not removed.
"How dare they!" Angel shouted. "They had no right!"
"Uh . . . I thought you tried to kill her yourself not too long ago."
Angel took two long strides across the dirt and weeds of the proto-lawn and kicked down the corner post that held up the garage roof.
"She was mine! I created her! The only hands with the right to destroy her are mine!" He turned to glare back towards the recreation center, twisted lips pulled back from the fangs and yellow eyes almost glowing in the dark. "Stupid mortals who think they have the right . . ." The rest was thankfully lost to snarls.
Xander tried his best to remain frozen and not catch Angel's eye. He felt the weight of his stake in his coat pocket, and there was a cross in the pocket of his jeans. Maybe Buffy would have a prayer of getting through to the not-so-homicidal guy behind the demon, but Xander figured he was currently well inside the "stupid mortals" category and it was best if he just tried to think of ways of getting out of there.
He had just taken a cautious step away from the pile of building supplies when Angel abruptly slumped and fell to his knees in the dirt. "I should have stopped them," he whispered.
"Which them?" Xander finally asked.
"All of them. Spike, Dru, Giles--I could have stopped them, I shouldn't have just let them be. And I should have known the Watchers would try something suicidal. I should have . . ."
"OK, that's just crazy talk. Like you could have made Travers do anything other than fling a piece of wood into you somewhere. As for Spike and them--"
"Xander . . ." Angel's fingers were digging into the hard dirt. "Go away."
Part of him, maybe that white Knight part everyone kept talking about, said that Angel shouldn't be left alone. The creak of the sagging garage roof, though, reminded him that he had no business hanging around a rampaging vampire. He took a step back, watching the kneeling figure, then turned and ran for home.
Xander woke up from yet another nightmare of screaming men and dissolving faces. He thought briefly about the beers in the refrigerator, but all they would do for him is make him unable to wake up when Drusilla's face morphed into Jesse's and the scared voice said "Xander" instead of "Daddy."
He didn't bother turning on any lights as he got out of bed and wandered into the living room. A clock said it was after 3 in the morning. At least there weren't any new lights blinking on his answering machine. He'd cycled through four messages from Wesley when he made it home and caught another one just after he finished clearing the machine. He'd told Wes and Gunn what had happened and refused their offer to go with them as they went out to try and find Angel.
If he didn't hear back from them in the morning, he'd have to call them. Because he knew who was going to be the poor doofus who got to tell Buffy all about it when she got home.
He headed back into the bedroom and over to the sliding glass balcony door. He slid it and the screen open and stepped out, trusting the hour and his sleep pants to keep the neighbors from getting over-excited.
"You're supposed to be asleep."
Only Xander's throat seizing up kept him from shrieking like a little girl. The bare skin of his shoulders stung from where he slammed back against the weathered door of the balcony storage room.
The pile of black leather and misery at the other end of the balcony barely stirred. Spike dropped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.
After a good three minutes, Xander's muscles obeyed him again. He debated diving back inside behind the vampire-proof barrier, but instead he slowly lowered himself to the rough green outdoor carpeting and pulled his knees up.
Spike's face was cut and bloody; the coat had slices and holes and dried patches that flaked off to leave dark red bits on Xander's balcony. He didn't seem to take up a whole lot of room there against the wall.
"Giles?" Xander finally asked.
"Made it." Spike slowly blinked but he didn't look at Xander. "He took a nasty burn to the side when he went for the one who shot--but he'll make it."
"And the Watchers?"
"The head git was the only one who made it out. His blokes shoved him out the back door and took long enough dying to keep us from following."
Xander couldn't identify who he felt relieved for. He knew what his gut wanted to say, though it had to be all kinds of wrong. "I'm sorry about Drusilla."
A hiccupping sob almost escaped Spike's control, and he closed his eyes again.
"What made you come here?"
"Wanted someplace quiet."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, quiet's good."
Several surreptitious eye wipes later, Spike looked at Xander. "She wanted us to take her away tonight. She saw something out in the desert. Me and Ripper, though, we insisted on coming back. We brought her back to be killed." He slammed his arm through several balcony railing uprights. "And she called out for him!" He buried his face in his arms.
The evil undead were not supposed to grieve. And Scoobies were not suppoed to be moved to comfort them. Xander stayed put, his chin on his knees, watching the man grieving for his lover and thinking about Kendra dead in the library.
"This balcony faces east," he said after a long while.
Blue eyes raised just above the level of the leather clad arms to stare at him, then turned to study the eastern skyline. "So it does."
"I--don't know what you're thinking, but--if you haven't decided by the time the sun comes up and you're still here--this closet behind me is pretty sunproof. Just ask the mushrooms."
He got blinked at for his answer. He eventually just nodded and got to his feet. After confirming that the storage closet was unlocked, he went back inside and closed the doors behind him. He closed the curtains and went back to bed, ignoring the quiet, painful howl outside.