Summary: A hefty number of Sunnydale residents are mysteriously committing suicide in public. A WiP. One Scooby understands what's happening, but refuses to remember or accept the past. No ships, straight Scooby friendship with a little Spike thrown in.

Spoilers: Early S7. Takes place immediately after "Him" but before "Conversations with Dead People."

Rating: PG-13 for violence, mild language, and some implied situations. Any similarities to a certain scandal currently rocking a certain religion in the Greater Boston Area is purely coincidental, even if it did originally provide the spark for this idea.

Beware, some AU here: The only thing AU is that the Magic Box got rebuilt. I started working on this before S7 started, so I made one big assumption that didn't turn out right. I'm keeping it because I hate using the Summers living room as a research space and because some important action needs to take place there. Otherwise, everything should match up to early S7 cannon.

Ships: NONE! Bwahahahahahaha! Seriously. I meant it when I said no ships. Faith doesn't even show up for a little UST with Xander, which seems to creep into every fic I write when she appears. I may have to review my personal anti-ship sentiments.

Something embarrassing to admit: This is a WiP. Usually, I don't do this, but I keep chipping away at it and I need motivation to finish what is admittedly a pretty long story. Never fear. It's all plotted out. Just need to actually finish it. Plot bunny turned into a monster.

My promise to you: This is an admittedly Xander-centric fic, although Buffy, Willow and Spike get lots of screen time. Anya is supporting cast and Dawn gets a cameo. Xander is human. No hyena instincts. No soldier memories. No hidden demon DNA. HUMAN Xander all the way. Guarenteed. Accept no substitutes. This from a woman who actually wrote a Xander has demon DNA fic.

Required legal disclaimer: I own nothing. Really, I don't. All characters, settings, and the basic reality of the Buffyverse is owned by ME. Don't sue me. You'll only get some pocket lint for your troubles.

Archive allowed: Please let me know if you want it for your Web site or to share on your mailing list. However, credit me and keep my name on it, otherwise I will be very, very annoyed.

Feedback: Yes! Yes! Yes! Private or public. Good or bad. While I won't remove bad reviews and will take constructive criticism to heart, I reserve the right to ignore you if your review boils down to two words: "It sucks." without telling me WHY it sucks. Trolls, on the other hand, will be summarily shot.

*whew* On to the story.


By Lizbeth Marcs

Bored, bored, bored, Buffy thought. Patrol had been a total bust. No vampires, no demons, no tingling Slayer-sense, no nothing. All she got for her trouble this evening was a quiet stroll through some of Sunnydale's finest cemeteries. It was enough to make her hang up her stake and declare victory.

Horrified by the jinxy thought, Buffy shoved her hands in her coat pockets and began thinking Hellmouthy thoughts by listing all the potential bad things that could interrupt her evening. Crazed robot attacks were always a favorite scenario. How about an alien invasion of the X-Files variety to liven things up? She hoped by letting her imagination expect trouble, trouble would stay away. 

Whenever one of us thinks things are going well, trouble of the big bad kind always jumps up and bites us in the ass, she thought ruefully. Here's hoping that expecting big, bad things will keep the big bads away.

Of course, she'd probably already jinxed herself by feeling bored, so she might as well enjoy the quiet while it lasted. She turned left outside of Restful Haven and drifted down a side street that eventually wound its way to her front door. At one point she took her stake out and lazily flipped it in the way some bored folks might flip a quarter.

She was about ready to begin whistling when her sensitive hearing picked up a sound. She stopped her stake mid-flip, cocked her head, and listened intently, straining her ears as she did so. She was assaulted by resounding silence. Buffy snorted to herself. You're jumping at shadows girl. Stop it. Call it a night and just go home.

Buffy was about to begin moving again when a sound once again caught the edge of her hearing. She frowned. Whatever the source, the sound was subtle. Subtlety usually meant she was being followed. Her frowned deepened. That wasn't right. Subtle 'I'm following you sounds' were a very different animal than this particular noise. It was frustrating.

What is it? Buffy asked herself as she tried to catalog what she was hearing. It sounds like ... like ... wind? No, that's not right. There's something vocal about it. Breathing? She closed her eyes and concentrated. Not breathing. Whispering.

Her eyes snapped open and she slowly began to scan the surrounding area, but she wasn't able to see anything amiss. There was no sign of movement, no implication that anyone or anything was in the immediate vicinity. Here's a question boys and girls:  If there's no one close enough for me to hear if they're talking in a normal voice, how come I can hear a whisper?

Buffy sighed. So much for her quiet night. She would have to investigate. It was probably nothing, but her inner Giles nagged her to check just to be sure. After a few minutes of standing stock still and sensing, rather than hearing, the whisper, she began creeping toward what she thought was the source: a copse of trees surrounded by a thick clump of bushes set a few yards back from the road.

When Buffy's Slayer-sense started tingling, she forced herself to stop just short of the riot of greenery. Some part of her mind screamed in frustration. Just kill it! No hesitation! No mercy! Buffy shook her head. Charging through brush wouldn't get her anywhere. If it were something sinister, loudly crashing the party would just give her position away and warn whatever big bad she was about to face that someone was out to get it.

If something more innocent were happening on the other side of the bushes, say, two high school students making with the lust on a moonlit-filled romantic evening, she would die of embarrassment. Not to mention if she confronted two high school students in a compromising position, word would get around the high school that the new peer councilor was a perv. That would mean her nifty part-time gig at the high school would go bye-bye, along with the stipend that helped pay her bills. It also meant she'd have to crawl back to the Doublemeat Palace and beg to get her job flipping burgers back.

Right. Can't let that happen, Buffy winced at the painful memories of the past year. Last thing I need is Dawn whining about a return to the fast-food diet. Ugh. No thanks, I'll pass. Life's getting better Summers. Don't blow it before you have a chance to enjoy.

The part of her mind that always perked up at the prospect of inflicting violence on Sunnydale's resident evil grumbled itself into submission. Pleased that she won her inner argument that caution was the best approach, Buffy searched the bushes for an opening that would let her peek into the clearing without giving her presence away.

Is it my imagination, or is that whispering getting louder? At that thought, she intensified her search.

A new sound interrupted the whisper. Something between a whimper and a moan. That definitely did not sound good. "Aw, hell," Buffy muttered.

All thoughts of caution and the need to be discreet were thrown to the wind as Buffy dove ahead. She barely felt the branches slash at her face during her charge. She crashed into the clearing, ready to do battle but was up brought short, mostly because she wasn't sure whether she should believe her eyes.

A human male was pinned to the ground and whimpering, tears streaming from his eyes. It was a sight that was sure to inspire a display of what Xander half-jokingly called Buffy's patented Slayer-fu technique, but the something sitting on top of man's chest gave her pause. It seemed every time she tried to look at it her eyes slid off it, almost like she didn't want to see what she was seeing and admit that something like it even existed.

The demon was crouched on the man's chest, leaning over, and whispering softly into the man's neck. One of its hands was softly stroking the victim's face in some twisted parody of offering comfort even as it inflicted hurt. The man wasn't even struggling, remaining passive underneath the horror above him.

Truth to tell, the demon didn't look all that impressive. It was an indistinguishable grey and was human-sized. It didn't even seem to have any built in weapons, like claws. Buffy had tangled with uglier and more impressive-looking demons in her time. The worst that you could say about it was that it was utterly forgettable. If it weren't for the fact that the man was whimpering and crying, a casual observer would think she'd stumbled upon two lovers.

Maybe he's willing? Buffy asked herself. Not the first time demons and humans have decided to get it on Hellmouth-style. The tightening in her chest and screaming Slayer-sense seemed to think otherwise. "Hey, ugly," she shouted. "Ever thought of getting a room?"

The startled demon looked up, spied the small blonde woman, and turned to look her full in the face.

And for the first time since Willow's ill-timed and ill-fated mass forgetfulness spell that temporarily wiped out a Scooby Gang full of memories, Buffy screamed.