Half a League Onward

By Mikelesq

Concept: Halfrek grants a wish that creates a demon even she cannot control, and only Xander can help her stop it. Set approximately four weeks prior to the "Lessons" episode of BtVS.

Rating: PG-13.

Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq@aol.com

Spoilers: General up through Season 7 of BtVS

Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, and lines quoted, are from the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Lines in Part III are from Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark."

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Prologue


"They're building it WHERE?!?"

"Buffy, calm down," Xander said, checking over his shoulder to see if any of the other patrons of the Bronze were staring at Buffy's outburst. "It'll be fine."

"Fine," Buffy repeated tersely. "Fine. Oh, sure, because it turned out just fine the last time. Are they completely insane?"

"That's what Janice's mom said," Dawn chimed in, taking a sip from her soda.

"How did she know?" Buffy asked.

"She's lived here forever," Dawn replied. "She went there when she was my age. Last month, the alumni association started hitting up people for money to cover the costs."

"Great," Buffy muttered. "Just wonderful. I'm the Slayer. The Chosen One. I stand alone against the forces of evil and darkness, and I'm the only one who didn't know that the city was rebuilding the high school."

"Well, they've had a crew out there for six months," Xander said.

"I thought they were tearing it down for good," Buffy said. "Knocking down the walls. Razing the foundation. Salting the earth."

"They didn't want to raise a fuss," Xander said. "A lot of people are still sensitive about it, with the whole graduation thing still fresh in everyone's mind."

"Perfect," Buffy sighed. "I guess it's a good thing I'm not working at the Doublemeat anymore, because it's back to Hellmouthy duty for Buffy, thanks to those stupid contractors you work for."

"Alright, look," Xander said. "I'll admit that it was my company that said the old site was the only feasible place to build the structure. But we're not the only ones who wanted this. The teachers at County High threatened to go on strike if something wasn't done about the overcrowding. Plus, there isn't enough money in the city budget to buy another piece of land big enough for a high school. There weren't a whole lot of options.

"Rebuilding a school that's killed more teenagers than Wes Craven. Great option."

"Everything will be fine," Xander argued. "Our company prides itself on safety and workmanship. We have a twenty-nine year history of providing the citizens of Sunnydale with unparalleled service. No building gets our approval without meeting the high standards that have made our company the most respected contractors in California! If we say it's safe, it's safe. Period."

"They gave you a raise, didn't they?"

"Thirty percent, plus a promotion, but that's not the point."

"Great," Dawn said. "You get a big new car, and I get to risk my life every day to go to school. Not to mention a school where I don't know anybody. Stupid zoning."

"What about Janice?" Xander asked.

"She's going to St. Catherine's Girls' School," Dawn explained. "Her mom said something about how, when she went to school, everyone in her glee club had an 'accident.' She said there's no way her daughter is ever going to Sunnydale High."

Buffy's face fell.

"Um, but, she probably was just exaggerating," Dawn quickly added. "I'm sure it really was an accident. I mean, OK, it's weird when fourteen kids all wind up decapitated. In their bedrooms. Over a two week period. But that doesn't mean...."

"Dawn," Buffy said. "You know that if there was any way I could pay for...."

"I don't want that," Dawn interrupted. "We agreed you'll stop sheltering me. I want to be there if something's gonna happen that...."

"Nothing's going to happen," Xander said. "And I'll be there for the next year while they're finishing up the campus, so if anything happens, we're on it."

"Look, we can talk about this when we get back," Buffy said, throwing her purse over her shoulder. She reached into the front pocket, pulled out a ten dollar bill, and threw the money on the table. "Dawn, make sure the waitress gets that, and I'll pull the car around."

"Gotcha," Dawn said, as Buffy stood up and trotted toward the exit.

"You're getting a late start," Xander said.

"Yeah," Dawn agreed. "We won't get to Dad's until ten. Buffy made some excuse about needing to do some stuff before we left, but I think she was just trying to get out of having dinner there."

"You're dad's not the best cook in the world?"

"He's not doing the cooking. The girlfriend is."

"Ah, so Buffy still isn't cool with your dad and the whole dating thing?"

"She says she is," Dawn replied. "But she doesn't get along with the girlfriend. Well, they get along, but you can tell there's a whole 'you're-boning-my-dad-and-I-hate-you' vibe."

"O.K., first, I'm really not ready to hear you talk about 'boning.' Second, hasn't Buffy had time to get used to it?"

"Well, she might be better about it if she wasn't his secretary."

"What, Buffy's suddenly obsessed with workplace decorum?"

"No, it's just...well, she's been Dad's secretary for the last ten years."

"The same one he went to Europe with? I mean, is that it? Does she blame her for your dad not being around when your mom died?"

"Not exactly," Dawn said. "I mean, it's just...well, Dad kept it a secret for awhile."

"Well, that's natural. He probably didn't know how you and Buffy would handle him dating."

"That's what I figured," Dawn said. "But, with the secretiveness, and the fact that they've known each other so long, and, well...Dad used to work late a lot, so...."

"So Buffy wonders if maybe things got started before the divorce," Xander concluded.

"She's never said anything," Dawn said. "But mom used to hint that...well...yeah, I guess so."

"And you think...?"

Dawn shrugged.

"Well, I don't pretend to be an expert on good parent relationships," Xander said, "but I'm sure it'll be fine."

"Yeah. Look, I've gotta run."

"OK, safe trip."

"Slayer reflexes behind the wheel. We'll get there. Bye."

Xander watched as Dawn headed for the exit. He took a sip from his beer, then looked around the club. No one he knew was there. With Buffy and Dawn away, Giles and Willow in England, and Spike hopefully at the bottom of a deep hole filled with holy water, there really wasn't anyone left in town that he knew.

Then Xander looked toward the stairway leading down from the balcony, and realized that there was one person he had forgotten.

Anya and a young woman descended the stairs. The girl bit her bottom lip, whimpering. Anya had a reassuring hand on the girl's shoulder.

Xander grabbed his beer and walked around to sit at the bar, choosing a seat that would keep him from being seen as Anya walked by. He didn't really want a confrontation. 'Besides,' he thought, 'she doesn't bother me while I'M working.'

Xander waived his empty beer bottle toward the bartender, who nodded in response. Xander absently looked to his left, and saw a man with a thin, dark mustache grasping a glass of red wine. A full ashtray sat in front of him. He wore a tight red and white striped shirt and a...beret?

"Um, interesting look, pal," Xander said. "Very...um...continental."

"Je ne peux pas croire qu'elle a fait ceci à moi," the man muttered into his wine glass, apparently oblivious to Xander's attempt at conversation. "J'étais seulement infidèle une fois dans huit années de mariage, et ceci arrive?"

"Uh, right," Xander replied. "Um, are you a tourist? Because, I gotta tell you, Sunnydale isn't exactly the best place for...."

"Chaque gars commet erreurs," he continued, his voice rising in frustration. "Maintenant je suis grossier, et je garde oublier de se baigner."

"Well, I can tell you don't really want to talk, so I'll just...."

"Je ne peux pas prendre ceci! Je rentre chez moi, et essayer raser cette moustache stupide!"

The man hopped off the barstool and left.

"Well, I guess it takes all kinds," Xander said to himself.

"That guy's been coming in here every night for the past two weeks," the bartender said, setting a full beer in front of Xander. "First couple of nights he's in here with some young chick. Then, outta nowhere, he starts in with the Pepe LePew routine."

"Well, I think he's taking it a bit far," Xander said.
"Was it me, or did that guy have the worst body odor in the world?"

From behind him, Xander heard a female voice say:

"He would have smelled a lot worse by now, if it wasn't for you."

Xander spun around on his barstool.

"Um...Halfrek, right?" Xander asked.

"Pity," Hallie continued. "Just a pity. Do you see what she's been reduced to?"

"She," Xander repeated. "OK, if you're telling me that was a woman, I'll have to agree with you that she's not in good shape. I mean, I had an aunt who had a facial hair problem, but nothing like...."

"He's cursed, you idiot," Hallie snorted. "Anya cursed him. Well, if you want to call it that. Puh-lease. I've seen better frogs on Sesame Street."

"Alright," Xander said. "So, if I'm following you, Anya hasn't been exactly been putting the 'v' in vengeance. You know what? Good! Hooray for my not-killing-people ex!"

"Typical," Halfrek said, shaking her head. "Just typical. After what you did, I'd think you'd want her to move on. But noooo! You're just wrapped up so much in your issues...."

"Wrapped up in the 'not-wanting-people-dead' issues? Yeah, I'm funny that way. Look, I'm sorry that I hurt Anya. I'm even more sorry that it drove her back to...whatever the Hell you want to call it. I'm NOT sorry that it hasn't set in. And you know what? I don't think it will. I know Anya. She...."

"You knew her three years," Hallie interjected. "I've known her from before Roosevelt was president. Teddy, not Franklin. You can't imagine how...."

"And I don't want to. You want to hate me? Fine. Find someone to make a vengeance wish against me. You'll find plenty of takers. Until you do, let's just agree that you don't like me, and I don't like you. So unless there's something you want...."

"Of course there's something I want!" Hallie exclaimed. "Do you think I just walked over here to tell you what a jerk you are?"

"Well, yeah."

"Well...not this time. I...look, I...."

"Spit it out," Xander said. "I've got to get to work early tomorrow, so I don't have all night to wait for you to...."

"Dammit! I'm here because...because...I need your help."


Part I


"Explain to me why I'm doing this again?"

"Because we have a common interest," Hallie said, sitting in the passenger seat as Xander drove to the site of the old high school. "I need to stop a demon. You want to stop all demons. Therefore...."

"See, that's what I don't get," Xander said, briefly glancing away from the road at Halfrek. "You're a demon. You summon other demons for vengeance. It's what you do. You brag about it. If it were socially acceptable, you'd walk around wearing a 'I-heart-demon-carnage' tee shirt. So, before I stick my neck out to help you, explain."

"I...I got a little carried away," Hallie said. "There was this boy, about six years old, he lived with his mother, his stepfather, and stepbrother. The stepbrother's about four years older, and he treated the kid just horribly. Beat him up, broke his toys on purpose, just plain mean. The stepfather took the older boy's side, and the mother just kept her mouth shut."

"So you, Ms. Child Vengeance Two Thousand Two, decided to step in?"

"Last week I moved into the house next door," Hallie explained. "This morning I was standing at the fence while the poor soul just cried his eyes out. Finally, he said, 'I wish my mother could see what a monster my stepbrother is.' And that was after just one visit. Normally it takes me...."

"My God! What did you do?"

"I turned the little bully into a T'Goro demon. He came home from school, four feet five inches of spikes and scales, and ate daddy's liver. Mommy got her hand torn off. Clean off."

"Oh, Jesus!"

"Yeah, everything was going fine. Then, I found out...."

"Wait a minute," Xander said. "You're telling me that...ugh, you're unbelievable."

"As I was saying," Hallie continued. "Later, I find out that T'Goro demons have this...thing. They're drawn to kids. For food. They can sense youthful energy. Last I saw, it was running into the ruins of that high school Anya said she got stuck at. You know, the one on the Hellmouth? I guess the residual adolescent aura, along with the mystic energy, probably drew it in. I deliver vengeance for children. I don't let them get hurt. I figure I have to stop this thing before it finds any victims. You're the only other person I know who has any idea how to get around the place, so I figured you'd be the one to help."

"Why don't you just reverse the wish? Like you did when you got trapped in the house with us?"

"I can't. No more than one reversal per year. Those are the rules. Of course, if I wait until Buffy's next birthday...."

"Halfrek! If we don't catch that thing...!"

"Why do you think I came to you? For the conversation?"

Xander let out a disgusted sigh.

"Fine," Xander said. "You want to stop your killing machine from hurting someone, outside of your own warped sense of morality? Whatever. So why me? Anya went to school there, and she's got demony strength. Why not ask her?"

"I...I...don't want her to know things went...wrong."

"Afraid she'll tell your supervisor?"

"No, it's just...we've always been...competitive."

"Right," Xander said. "I guess it's a 'murderer's pride' sort of thing."

"It's just, w-w-well," Hallie stammered. "She's always been D'Hoffryn's pet. She's one of the oldest demons. She certainly was one of the most brutal, until you came along. I've only been at this about a hundred years, and, well, we sort of became rivals. It kind of came to a head back at the turn of the century."

"What, did you both show up to a party wearing the same bustle?"

"Well, if you must know, we made a bet."

"What kind of a bet?"

"There was this old guy," Hallie said. "Back in jolly old England. I was from there, originally, so I kind of claimed it as my turf. We all had our little realms. Except for Anya, of course. Little Miss Vengeance couldn't be tied down to one continent."

"So, what? A battle to the death erupted over a buttered scone?"

"This old guy, he was a war hero," Hallie explained. "Knighted. Decorated. Respected and loved by everyone. And he was dying, so the papers were just gushing with what a great chap he was. Well, as it turns out, he was a louse. His whole family hated him. He cheated on his wife. Beat his kids. The family would be broke after he died, because they'd lose his military pension, and the old bastard had spent all his money on booze and whores."

"And that's where you came in?"

"That's where WE came in," Hallie corrected. "I heard about the whole thing, and went to a party I'd heard his son was going to. Sweet boy, he'd brought his mother along. Well, I show up, and guess who's in the corner chatting them up?"

"Anya?"

"Right," Hallie confirmed. "By the time I get there, she's got the wife spilling her guts."

"What!?"

"Figuratively. Anyway, I walk over. Both her and the son are just talking a blue streak. Finally, an aunt says, 'It must be horrible for you, with everyone saying what a smashing fellow he is. Too bad he can't lose some of that respectability.' Well, the mother and the son both say, in unison, 'I wish!' Both of them!"

"So, with the wronged wife AND the abused child making the wish, both you and Anya figured you were entitled to the vengeance?"

"Exactly. We got into a huge argument. Finally, D'Hoffryn intervened, and said we should turn it into a game. We would BOTH deliver vengeance, and he would declare the winner, based on the best curse. I was eager to show up Anya, so I agreed. She got all cocky, and said I could go first."

"So what happened?"

"I turned him into a J'Korta demon," Hallie said, a smirk of self-satisfaction crossing her face. "They're all slime and boils. No one could even look at him. The doctors didn't know what to make of it, so they decided it was some form of syphilis. He was completely disgraced!"

"Sounds...good. I guess."

"That's what I thought," Hallie grunted. "That is, until your ex decided to cheat!"

"How did she cheat?"

"Well, D'Hoffryn said it wasn't cheating, just...creative."

"Well?"

"She folded time!" Hallie spat. "She went back to a battle in the Crimean War, when the guy got awarded his first military decoration. She made a silly little alteration to some memo the guy was supposed to deliver to a field officer, and a brigade ended up attacking the wrong guns. They got slaughtered. He had to resign in disgrace. It altered the whole timeline. My curse never even happened!"

"Poor baby."

"I still don't see what was so special about Anya's curse," Hallie muttered. "The only reason D'Hoffryn declared her the winner was because the battle inspired some stupid poem. 'Their's not to make reply/Their's not to reason why/Their's but to do and die.' Bah! It's not even good grammar! It's practically a nursery rhyme!"

"Hey, where have I heard...? Wait a minute. Are you...are you saying that Anya caused the Charge of the Light Brigade!?"

"You know the poem?"

"I saw the movie," Xander admitted.

"Oh, yes," Hallie sighed. "The movie. Two movies, actually. And pages in every junior high English lit book in the world. Unbelievable."

"Over two hundred people died for nothing!"

"Rub it in, why don't you? Anyway, after that, I moped for a couple of months, but then I figured I could learn a few things from Anya. She took me under her wing, and within a decade, we were practically sisters."

"But the sibling rivalry continues?"

"A little," Hallie admitted. "That's why I need you."

"I don't believe I'm doing this," Xander said, pulling up to the curb in front of the high school.

"It looks...different," Hallie observed as she exited the car.

"It's under construction," Xander said, climbing out and slamming the door. "Guess what? The school? Not going to be abandoned come September. If we don't get this thing, about eight hundred people...excuse me, eight hundred CHILDREN, are going to be demon munchies. And you know what? It will be all your fault. Think about that the next time you work your mojo."

Hallie scowled. "I didn't ask you along for a lecture."

"No you asked me along for help. The lecture...well, that's just my way of saying YOU SUCK! Now sit tight, I've got to get something out of the construction office."

"What?"

"It's your lucky day," Xander growled. "You're looking at the new contracting supervisor for the science building. I know where all the blueprints are, and I've got a key to the cabinet. Maybe if your luck holds out, you can go to sleep tonight knowing that you only ALMOST killed dozens of kids before their first kiss!"

Xander stormed off toward a trailer across the lawn.

Hallie watched as Xander disappeared into the night. She tapped her foot in disgust. What could Anya have seen in such an arrogant, self-righteous boor? So what if...perhaps...the self-righteous boor might have been, well, a little...right.

"He has spirit, for a human."

Halfrek gasped. She recognized the voice that came from over her shoulder. She turned, and exclaimed:

"D'Hoffryn! Oh, my! You startled me!"

"I do that," D'Hoffryn replied. "It's what I'm good at."

"Oh, of course you are. Silly me! I just meant that...."

"Halfrek," D'Hoffryn interrupted. "I do not have time for games. Are you certain the human will assist you?"

"Oh, yes! He bought every word, the idiot. I've been doing this for a century. Like I'd really summon a demon that kills children."

"You'll wish you had," D'Hoffryn warned. "You summoned a demon that is drawn to mystical convergences. If this demon uncovers the...."

"It won't. I swear. I had no idea that...."

"You may want to reconsider undoing your wish, Halfrek."

"You'd...you'd...waive the punishment?"

"Oh, no! Don't be ridiculous. You've already reversed one wish this year, Halfrek. Silly girl, getting stuck in your own entrapment spell. No, I'm afraid the rules are the rules. Your last reversal resulted in a six month restriction on teleportation. A slap on the wrist. This time, I'm afraid I'd have to make an example of you."

Halfrek swallowed.

"Only one is dead," Hallie said, trying to keep the panic from her voice. "And I wouldn't even be bringing him back. Just changing the monster back to a boy. Surely that...that wouldn't...."

"Oh, I wouldn't kill you," D'Hoffryn said, waiving a dismissive hand. "No, no, no. Torture, perhaps. Loss of a limb might be in order. I might even take your amulet, and let you age until you rot. But nothing as drastic as killing."

Halfrek shuddered in spite of herself.

"However," D'Hoffryn continued, "whatever I might do would certainly be preferable to what would befall you if...it...is disturbed. This demon you summoned will seek it out. Uncover it. Darker force are coming, Halfrek. All of humanity will suffer. And when humanity is done suffering, there will still be more suffering for those who offend what is coming. Halfrek, I cannot protect you. There is no protection."

"If you could just tell me...."

"I have no intention of speaking of...it. I will be quite happy if it comes and never knows of me."

"You're...scared?"

"As you should be, Halfrek. Stop this demon. Either with the help of this human, or with your own powers, stop it."

At that, D'Hoffryn disappeared into mist.

Hallie's hand went to her mouth as she forced herself to stop trembling, knowing that Xander would return soon.


Part II


"Take these," Xander said, handing Halfrek a flashlight and a small radio as they walked into the building, then reaching down to pick up the axe he had taken from the equipment shed. "The radio has a range of two miles, so we can stay in contact if we need to split up."

"With a monster here?" Hallie exclaimed. "Why would we split up?"

"I know. Dumb move. But somehow, it always seems to happen."

Xander turned on the flashlight, and passed the beam over the walls. Half of the hallway was charred and rotting. Farther down, new drywall reflected in the light. Xander gestured for Halfrek to follow.

"Stick close," Xander said.

"Excuse me," Halfrek replied. "I'm the one with super strength and near immortality, Mister Man. Maybe you should stick close to me."

"And maybe I should stick close to my apartment if your demon powers are enough to take this thing?"

"Whatever," Hallie snorted.

"Let's see," Xander said, pulling a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and unfolding it. "According to this, they're still working on the area that used to be the library. The floor's all torn up, so we should probably head for the basement."

"Why?"

"If the demon's drawn to the Hellmouth, that's the closest it can get with everything the way it is now."

Xander looked up, got his bearings, and pointed toward a doorway. The black embers that used to be the door were scattered on the ground. Xander used his flashlight to check out the stairway, which looked structurally sound. He descended the stairs, with Hallie close behind.

"Alright," Xander said, shining his light around the basement. "That way used to be the boiler. The other end was used for storage. According to the map, they both loop around to the book depository. That would be as close as you could get to the Hellmouth. We'll go this way."

"You're the expert," Hallie said. The two of them proceeded into the darkness of the basement.

"Watch out for crispy snake innards," Xander said. "They're everywhere."

"This place is filthy," Hallie complained. "And the smell is terrible."

"Yeah, well, gettin' blowed up will do that. It is creepy, though. This place makes my skin tingle. I can't wait to get out of here."

"Don't you dare even think of leaving me here!"

"I said I'd do this, and I'll do it!"

"Well, you're not wearing a tuxedo, and we're nowhere near an altar, so maybe you'll come through."

"Don't start," Xander warned.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to make you feel guilty about the horrible, unforgivable thing you did."

"You know, I've just about had it," Xander said, coming to a halt and shining his flashlight at Hallie. "I'm here to clean up your mess, so the last thing I need is for you to get on my case. If I wanted that, I'd visit my parents."

"Really?" Hallie said.

"Oh, yeah," Xander muttered. "That's all I hear from them, what with the bar bill and the hall rental and how it all went to waste. God, they're the last ones who...look, just drop it."

"The last ones who what?" Hallie asked.

"Look, if you must know, if it wasn't for my parents, none of it would have happened. God, everything was going great. Yeah, a demon guy came along who had an evil plan, but that's to be expected. But for one day my folks could have put a cork in the endless yelling and fighting and...."

Xander's voice trailed off.

"I guess it wasn't just the stress of the wedding day, was it?" Hallie asked. "I mean, they always disagreed? When you were growing up?"

"Disagreed isn't the word. He-Man and Skeletor disagreed. My folks really went at it."

"It must have been hard, living in that house when you were young? I mean, do you think that made it difficult for you to have relationships?"

"Maybe. I mean, I know it sounds like a cop out, but...yeah, I guess."

"That's a shame," Hallie sighed. "Isn't it too bad that they can't see the destructive effects of their behavior?"

"I doubt they're going to change after all these years."

"Yes, but still," Hallie continued. "Don't you sometimes want to...oh, I don't know, maybe see something happen that...?"

"Wait a minute," Xander said, glaring at Hallie. "What are you doing?"

"Doing? Why, nothing! I was just thinking that...."

"You're trying to get me to make a wish, aren't you?!"

"No! Don't be silly. Of course not. Unless, of course, there was something...."

"Oh, for the love of Pete! I came down here to help you!"

"I know! I figured that...well, since you were doing me a favor...."

"Hallie, getting me to make a wish that turns my parents into ants or cheese or whatever, that isn't doing me a favor!"

"Don't get angry at me. I don't do anything unless someone wishes for it."

"That's not the point," Xander argued. "You go too far."

"You know what I think? I think you feel guilty about what you did to Anya, and you're just not comfortable with the idea that there are consequences to stupidity."

"That has nothing to do with turning ten year olds into demons because they're not perfect!"

"Oh, there's a wonderful way of putting it," Hallie said, rolling her eyes. "The excuse of the millennium. 'Oh, I'm not bad! Sure, I cause pain and suffering and I have a grand old time doing it, but I'm not bad! I mean, I'm not peeerrrfect, but I'm not baaaad!' What a load. You screwed up, Xander. You really hurt Anya, and you should pay for it. And if it wasn't for that stupid rule that says vengeance demons can't grant each other's wishes, I'd have done it myself. Now, some people screwed up with you, and I'm perfectly willing to grant your wish. It's justice, pure and simple. You may not have the stomach for real justice, but the fact is the world's a better place for it."

Xander clenched his teeth, the simmering anger inside him ready to reach the boiling point. Finally, he said:

"Fine, you want to grant me a wish? Correct an injustice? Here you go: Larry."

"Larry?"

"Yeah, a guy I went to school with. Back in grade school he'd beat me up for my lunch money. Thing is, I brown bagged it. By the time we got to high school, Larry had shifted his focus, and concentrated on women. Leering, grabbing, the whole nine. He was a real piece of work. A vengeance demon's dream."

"So, what?" Hallie asked. "You want me to turn him into something? Or make him...?"

"You can't. He's dead. You see, as it turned out, Larry was just like the rest of us. He was scared and confused and trying to figure out who he was. Sure, he made mistakes, and along the way he hurt some people. But when the time came, he was one of the people who made a stand against the monster that attacked the school, and he gave his life to give the rest of us a chance."

Halfrek absorbed this.

"So, now, I have a wish," Xander said. "He was my friend, and I feel wronged. It was wrong that Larry had to die, so I wish that Larry was alive. There. Bring him back."

Hallie bit her bottom lip, searching for a response.

"C'mon, I'm waiting," Xander said. "I said the magic words. Where is he?"

"I...I can't. It doesn't work that way. It's...it's not...."

"It's not vengeance, right? Funny, you keep saying that you make the world better, but at the end of the day, you can't make things BETTER unless it involves pain and death and destruction! Sorry, but I'm not interested!"

Hallie stood silently, as Xander drew a deep breath.

"God," Xander muttered. "I hate this place."

"Look, Xander...."

"Shut up! You know what? I think this is the perfect time for the stupid decision to split up. You head down that hallway, I'll go this way. The hallways meet up at the other side. We'll cover more ground. Radio if you see anything."

Xander turned and started to walk away.

"Are you crazy?" Hallie gasped. "There's a monster down here."

"More than one," Xander shot back. "Look, just get veiny if you see anything."

Xander continued walking down the hallway.


Part III


"Unbelievable," Halfrek muttered as she proceeded through the dark hallway. "I should have known better than to...."

Halfrek stopped as she heard a voice down a passage to the right. A voice that was not Xander's.

"Erect and sublime," the soft voice almost sang, "for one moment of time."

The voice sounded oddly familiar, and Halfrek's curiosity made her forget the dangers of the demon she sought. She turned the corner, and saw him: ragged, unkempt and pacing to and fro, hands on each side of his head. She gasped, then called out:

"William?"

Spike turned, and his eyes widened in panic upon seeing Halfrek. He howled, falling to the ground and scrambling backwards until he ran into a wall.

"William," Halfrek repeated as she approached him. "What...what are you...?"

Spike giggled, softly at first, then louder, until his laugh echoed through the basement. Then, he was suddenly silent. He glared at Hallie, his eyes filled with recognition and realization and horror, and said:

"For the Snark WAS a Boojum, you see."

Hallie saw the man on the floor, and saw that it was a man. He was a vampire; the cold aura around him was unmistakable. But...underneath...IT was there. Hallie had seen a lot in her century as a demon. She'd even heard rumors about an Irish vampire who'd...changed. But this simply wasn't possible. She would have seen it before. He certainly didn't have it at Anyanka's wedding. But, now....

"Oh, my...William?" Hallie said, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. "What...how did...?"

"Last line," Spike muttered. "The very last. It's an agony. An agony in eight fits. Last line of the agony. That brings you back. Back to the beginning. Right back. I should have know you'd turn up."

"William, I...."

"Back to the beginning," Spike said again. "Well, you were the beginning, weren't you, Cecily?"

"William, I'm not Cecily anymore. I mean, so much has happened to us. After all, I couldn't very well go around calling myself 'Cecily,' could I? Not very intimidating. And speaking of intimidating names, I hear that you've adopted a nom de guerre of your own. Who would have thought that...?"

Halfrek stopped as she she felt Spike's gaze upon her.

"I'm sorry," Hallie said. "I was babbling. Sometimes I just talk and talk and half the time I don't know what I'm saying. I don't know why I do that."

"Join the club," Spike said wryly.

"Anyway," Halfrek said, "a lot of things have changed."

Spike momentary lucidity disappeared as he erupted into laughter. Cecily stared in confusion.

"Changed," Spike gasped, trying to stifle his laughter. "Yes, changed and changed back again. Of course, that last part was my doing. No complaining. Got what I wanted. No accident or curse for me. No fangs, no gypsies, no scalpels. No, sir. I went after it. Went to the ends of the earth. I sought it with thimbles, I sought it with care; I pursued it with forks and hope. Hope, oh yes. Hope most of all."

"Wil...Spike, what are you doing down here?"

"You, of all people? Of course, you've forgotten. Words are like biscuits to Cecily. Consume them, digest them, but never keep them precious. Not like silly William with his pens and inks and parchment, all with his pretty words and rhymes and bleeding heart staining the furniture and GET OFF MY CHAIR WITH YOUR BLOOD! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT COST?!?"

"Stop it!"

"Now I'm beneath," Spike whispered, his face contorting as tears escaped his eyes. "Beneath you. Beneath her. Beneath everyone."

Hallie absorbed the image of Spike huddled against the wall, his pale, thin limbs wrapped around his sleek frame. He was so different. She remembered the stammering poet, shyly sitting in the corner of the parlor, always uncomfortable in the society of the idle rich. It had been quite a shock to see him a hundred years later, confident and animal and dangerous among the fools gathered at the Slayer's home. Now he seemed even more changed. The sensitive poet and the savage vampire were both before her, but they had bled into each other and made something...different.

"William," Halfrek said. "I don't know what's going on, but you really shouldn't be here. Things are coming. It would probably be a good idea if you...."

"Oh, yes, coming," Spike grumbled. "Coming straight away. And you'd best be unpacking the things that you need, to rig yourselves out for the fight. Best get unpacking."

"William, I...."

"I said get unpacking! Off with you, now!"

Halfrek stood, unsure of how to respond. She'd had a hundred years of clarity, a century of always knowing her role, always being sure of her purpose. Now, for the first time in a very long time, Halfrek had no idea what to do. He was a vampire, and could easily help her, if properly manipulated. He was a tortured soul, who might very well deserve vengeance upon whomever or whatever had done this to him. He was a vicious killer, and might deserve vengeance delivered upon him. A number of possibilities lay before her, but Halfrek could not focus on any of them.

"Look," Spike whimpered. "Just go. Please. It's too much. Just go."

Halfrek took a step backward, had a last look at the man she once knew, then turned and walked away.


Part IV


"Women," Xander muttered. "Demon women. Just once I'd like to meet a woman who can't bend steel or grant wishes or rotate her head behind her back. I hate this town."

Xander stopped, rested the axe against the wall, and pulled out the map in his now free hand. He tilted the paper into the beam of light, and then looked up at the forked passageway before him.

"Stupid blueprints," Xander said. "This isn't on here. These must be old. I've told them a million times to make sure they get the most up-to-date prints from the assayer's office before they...."

Xander dropped the map and the flashlight as the sound of movement down the left fork of the passageway echoed through the darkness. He almost tripped as he lunged to grab the axe. He quickly snatched up the map, shoved it back into his pocket, picked up the flashlight, and tightened his grip on the axe in his other hand as he walked toward the noise.

Xander found himself at the entrance to an open area with crates piled atop each other. A shadow moved in the distance. Xander raised his axe, then remembered that Hallie had described the demon as under five feet tall.

The shadow was the size of a grown man.

Xander sighed, contemplated the foolishness of shining his flashlight into the shadow to be sure that he wasn't hacking into the WRONG lurking creature hiding on the Hellmouth, and then slowly pointed the beam toward the end of the room.

The shadow lifted an arm up to its eyes as the light hit its face. Xander squinted, then called out:

"Ben?"

"Xander, right?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "What are you...hey! What are you doing here?! If you're...."

"Relax," Ben said, holding his open palms defensively in the air. "Glory's dormant. She hasn't been out in, like, forever."

"Yeah, well she better not come out," Xander warned. "Buffy told us all about it. After a good, solid, near-death ass kicking, she made it perfectly clear that if you or Glory ever show their face in Sunnydale...."

"Which is why I'm hiding down here," Ben explained. "I'm just passing through town. I don't want a confrontation, and this seemed like a good place to hide out. I'll be gone once a friend of mine sends me some cash Western Union, then I'm gone for good."

"Ben, if you're lying...."

"Look, you think I wanted to come back here? I was all set up in a hospital in Frisco. Doing the rounds, getting in my shifts. I didn't want to leave."

"So why did you?"

"A guy came into the ER with two punctures on his neck," Ben explained. "He was DOA. After my shift was over, I went down to the morgue and staked him. My good deed for the day. But Frisco isn't like Sunnydale. The body's missing, and I'm the last person to go into the morgue, so they start checking me out. That's when they discovered that I'd faked all my records. When they found out who I really was, and talked to my old bosses about my days absent and unusual behavior, they sent me packing. So much for my second chance."

"And now?"

"I'm headed down to Mexico," Ben replied. "There's a couple of villages where they don't ask a lot of questions, as long as you know what you're doing, and you're willing to take a couple of chickens as a doctor's fee. Heh, I guess I'm not going to my med school reunion in a Mercedes after all."

"Yeah, well, this isn't the best place to hide," Xander said. "They're doing construction here, so you'll get spotted. If I were you, I'd get out of town. Now."

"The money will ready to pick up in the morning," Ben said. "After that, I'm gone for good."

"You'd better be," Xander warned. "If Buffy found out...."

"I'm gone," Ben repeated.

"Whatever," Xander said, starting to leave.

"Hey, Xander?"

"What?" Xander replied, turning to face Ben.

"Look, Buffy cut me a huge break," Ben said. "Since I can't see her without her killing me, I'll never get to return the favor, so I figure this'll be the closest chance I'll get."

"To do what?"

"To help," Ben said. "Look, I lived my whole life stuck between two worlds. Trying to fit into the human world, forced to live in the demon world, and I figured something out."

"What?"

"It can't be done. Once I get down to Mexico, I'm finished. No more of the demon stuff. Someone breaks a bone, I'll set it. Someone has the sniffles, I'll tell them to drink orange juice. Anything weird or creepy, I'm looking the other way. You have to make a choice. I'm making it. You should, too."

"It's not that simple."

"Yes, it is! You think I like what I've become? You think I like the choices I had to make? Well, it's inevitable if you try to work in a world where you don't belong. You try to move between the demon world and the human world, you'll get hurt, and you'll hurt everyone around you."

Xander started to respond, but he was interrupted by a voice coming from his pocket.

"Xander!" Hallie's voice cried out. "It's here!"

Xander dropped the flashlight and fished in his pocket until he found the radio.

"I'm coming," Xander shouted into the radio. "Where are you?"

"I...I'm not sure, but it's...."

Hallie's voice was interrupted by a blast of static.

"Look," Xander said, turning to Ben. "I gotta go. There's a thing...with a...look, I just gotta go."

"Good luck, man," Ben said.

Xander turned to run, but then, stopped, and said:

"Hey, Ben. Thanks. I mean, you shouldn't have tried to kill Dawn, or suck the world into Hell to save your own skin, but, hey, almost everyone I've known has been evil at one point or another, and...well, thanks. I know what you're saying, and some days I'd agree with you, but the fact is, this is my life. I can't stop. I'm needed."

"If you say so," Ben said.

"Yeah, well, gotta run," Xander said. "Take care."

Xander turned and dashed into the passageways.

"Oh, I will," Ben said, as his body melted, then settled into a new shape.

"I'll take care of everything," Jesse voice said, from the body that now resembled Xander's lost friend. "All in due time."


Part V


Xander ran around a corner, and saw Hallie wrestling on the floor underneath...something. Hallie's description had been accurate: it was about four feet tall, and green scales covered its short body. Razor talons protruded from its long, bony fingers. Hallie had its wrists in a tight grip, holding the talons back from the deep purple veins that now covered her face.

Xander lifted his axe and brought it down on the demon's back. While the blade only penetrated about a quarter inch into the thick scales, the demon howled in pain. Hallie managed to work her knees up to the creature's chest, and used her legs to hurl the demon across the room.

"Looks like I arrived just in time," Xander said, raising his axe.

"Watch out," Hallie gasped. "It's strong. I mean, really strong."

"Yeah, I figured," Xander said, moving toward the creature.

Suddenly, the creature leapt into the air, and kicked Xander in the chest with both feet. Xander fell backwards against the wall. Hallie swung a fist, connecting with the creature's jaw. The demon shook off the blow, and slashed at her with one of its claws. Hallie jumped back, but before she could react, the demon lifted a wooden crate and threw it at her. The impact knocked her into a pile of crates, which came crashing down on her.

Xander forced himself to rise in spite of the pain that shot through his body. The axe was nowhere to be seen, and the demon was about to pounce on Halfrek. Xander launched himself at the creature, wrestling it to the ground. It took but a moment for the demon to roll Xander on his back. Xander clasped the demon's arms, trying to keep its talons and teeth from striking distance, but the creature's strength was far beyond Xander's.

Hallie struggled to get out from under the fallen debris. Given time, she could easily free herself, but Xander didn't have much time. She watched as Xander struggled in vain against the demon's strength, but it was clear that he had only moments.

Hallie was no stranger to death. She'd delivered her share, and seen more. Of course, Anya would be upset, at first. Despite her failed attempts at vengeance and claimed indifference, she obviously still felt some...affection...for the foolish young idiot.

And then, quite to Halfrek's surprise, she thought of another young idiot, and felt a sudden...affection.

Xander could feel the muscles in his arms tremble under the unbearable strain of the creature's strength. The serpentine eyes of the demon narrowed, as it made a sudden lunge downward, ready to bury it's teeth into Xander's face. Xander closed his eyes as he prepared for the pain, and exclaimed:

"Aaaaggghhhh!!! Agh! Ow! Ouch! Owey! Hey, that stings!"

Xander opened his eyes, and saw that the creature in his grasp now bore a striking resemblance to a ten year-old boy.

"Let go of me, you jerk!" the child exclaimed, writhing in defiance.

"OK, OK, settle down," Xander said, rising to his feet and lifting the boy with him. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Everything's OK. The danger is over, and you're as safe as...OW!"

Xander held his shin where the boy had kicked him.

"I'm telling my dad!" the boy yelled as he ran out of the room.

"Yeah, you do that," Xander said, pounding his foot to try to diminish the pain. He turned, and saw Halfrek pulling herself from the debris.

"You changed him back," Xander observed.

"Yeah," Hallie said, unsure of what else to say. She'd never saved anyone from violence. She'd caused quite a bit of violence, but never prevented it. It was her understanding from the movies that there would be hugging and thanking and Xander might actually try to kiss her or some other nonsense. She quickly prepared a mental speech spurring Xander's advances. Still, she wondered what it would be like. Vengeance demons seldom get gratitude, and Hallie was curious about the experience. Besides, he did have rather large arms.

"You said you couldn't," Xander accused.

Hallie recoiled.

"You said you couldn't reverse the wish," Xander continued, his voice rising. "Remember? The whole reason I put my neck on the line was because you couldn't fix this yourself. You've been playing me all along."

"Don't be ridiculous," Hallie spat. "Of course I haven't!"

Of course, she had...up to a point.

"Well, it didn't reverse itself," Xander argued. "So why didn't you just fix it before I found myself under a demon?"

"I...I...look, it's complicated."

"I almost killed a kid! I thought it wasn't a kid anymore, but if it was fixable, that's not really true, is it?"

"Look, I saved you!"

"You saved yourself! You knew that once the demon was done with me, it would go after you, and that you couldn't free yourself from the wreckage in time to stand a chance!"

"That's not true!"

"Oh, really? They why didn't you reverse the wish before?"

"Because...because...fine. You know what? Fine! You're right! I saved my own skin! I'm a demon, and the evil demon saved her own skin! Happy!?"

Xander shook his head in disgust and took a few steps down the corridor. He then stopped, turned, and said:

"You know, Hallie? One of these days, one of your vengeance schemes is gonna go up in flames, and I really hope I'm there to see it when it happens."

Xander turned and proceeded into the darkness.


Epilogue


Hallie walked toward the curb in front of the high school. Xander's car was gone. Of course, Halfrek could teleport at will, but still, the least he could have done was waited.

"You failed, Halfrek."

Hallie did not need to turn around to know that the voice behind her was D'Hoffryn's.

"I know," she replied. She lacked the energy for a more eloquent response.

"Should we discuss punishment now, or would you prefer to sleep on it?"

"Oh, let's get it over with," Hallie sighed, turning to face him.

"It's a pity," D'Hoffryn said. "Your intentions were certainly in the right place."

"Look, just take an arm already! I've had it! I've ruined my dress, my feet hurt, I've been insulted by obnoxious mortals and done nothing about it! Whatever it takes to make this day end, just do it!"

D'Hoffryn smiled. "Not many speak to me in that tone and live to tell of it."

"I'm...I'm sorry. I just...."

"I've been trying to think of a way to put a positive spin on this little fiasco," D'Hoffryn said. "I think I may have found a solution. As a punishment, I will give you a task. Succeed, and all is forgiven."

Hallie's eyes widened. Her breathing quickened in excitement at the thought of a possible reprieve. She stammered:

"Y-y-y-yes. I'll do it. Anything. What do you want me to do?"

"Anyanka," D'Hoffryn replied.

"Anya? What about her?"

"I'm not altogether pleased with her progress," D'Hoffryn explained. "In her day she was my finest vengeance demon. Now, she's making Frenchmen. I didn't return her powers so that she could improve Sunnydale's cultural diversity. I want her back, as she was."

"But how do I...?"

"Talk to her. Reason with her. Bring her back into the fold. I want the blood to flow in her wake as it did before. If I see an improvement in Anyanka's performance, you and I can start over with a blank slate."

Hallie's eyes drifted toward the school. Her lip trembled slightly.

"Halfrek?"

"Oh, yes," Halfrek quickly replied. "Of course. Not a problem. Heck, I'll be glad to have the old Anyanka back myself. We'll all be...I mean, of course I'll do it! Consider it done. Anya will be back to embowling and disfiguring by Thanksgiving."

"Halfrek," D'Hoffryn said gravely, taking a step toward her. "Do not fail me. I need Anyanka as she was. I certainly do not need her as she has been, especially now. Consider your fate tied to hers. If she disappoints me, YOU disappoint me. Are we quite clear?"

"Yes, clear as day."

"Good," D'Hoffryn said. "I think you'll find that my solution is best for all concerned."

"Yes," Hallie said, as D'Hoffryn faded into mist.

When D'Hoffryn had disappeared completely, Hallie's eyes returned to the school, and she whispered:

"Our's not to reason why."


THE END


A/N: Big 'thank yous' to Estepheia and Abbylee for their input, and to SpikesKitten for the French transations in the prologue.