The Game by SLynn

Disclaimer: I own nothing. Joss Whedon and ME make the money, I don't. I'm just passing my time really.

Rating: R

Setting: Set in season five. Dawn, in existence, but only referenced. Joyce, alive. Riley, AWOL. Anya and Xander, together. Willow and Tara, together. Spike is still the reluctant Scooby. Giles owns the Magic Shop. Pre-Glory days.

Notes: This isn't a revision, but there is one coming. I just got sick of looking at the messed up formating. This is the first fanfic I ever wrote and I'm strangely proud of it, errors and all. But, it does need improving.

Chapter 1: The Set-Up

Xander fumbled for his keys as he walked towards his car. It was already later then he'd like it to be and if he didn't get at least five hours sleep tonight he knew he'd regret it. To top it off Anya had practically begged him to at least stop by and say goodnight before he headed home.

"Only a couple more weeks," he mumbled to himself.

It was hard working two jobs, but soon he'd have enough money to get his own place and get away from his parents. That would be a relief, no more listening to their late night screaming matches.

Just as he got the door open he heard a scream. A loud, frightened, feminine scream coming from the alley.

Without hesitation he ran toward it. Instinct. It probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but he did it anyway. That's just how he was.

He rounded the corner and saw a girl, well a woman really, being attached.

"Hey," he yelled, "what's going on?"

Both looked up. The woman looked her relief and the man actually looked more frightened then the woman had previously.

Xander slowed down to an easier stride as he approached. The guy, no more then eighteen, immediately retreated dropping the woman's purse.

"Huh," Xander whispered amused, "old-fashion street crime. Don't see a lot of that."

"Thank you so much," the woman gushed out, picking up the contents of her purse.

"No problem," Xander said, helping her with her things, "just doing my part. Like neighborhood watch, or something."

As he finished he finally got a good look at her. She was stunning. Dark hair and features with pale blue eyes.

"You really shouldn't be out alone this late at night."

"Yeah," she smiled, "I would have thought this being such a small town crime wasn't that big of problem."

"Crime is the least of Sunnydale's problems," Xander laughed nervously, looking around him.

"Really?" she smiled.

Something wasn't right. Looking at her, part of him felt like he knew her, but he couldn't place from where. And she was just way too calm for someone who was nearly robbed.

They stood quiet for a minute. Finally Xander broke the silence.

"So, can I walk you somewhere?"

"No," she smiled, making Xander that much more nervous, "I think I can manage from here Xander."

He walked backwards a few steps, turned and slowly began to walk back toward his car. About ten feet away, it struck him.

"Wait," he said, turning back around, "I never told you my…"

That's as far as he got before everything went black and he hit the pavement.

"That was too easy."

XXXXxxxxXXXXxxxxXXXXxxxxXXXX

The Magic Shop had just opened and Giles was still busy rearranging a display. It was pointless really. He knew as soon as he was in the backroom or out to lunch Anya would just re-rearrange it again. Still part of him persisted at setting it back to the way he had originally designed.

It looked to be a quiet day, rather typical for the shop. Still, he had, in the three months time he'd owned the place, manage to turn a profit. Begrudgingly he admitted that in part it was do to the budding re-decorator. Anya had a way with money, especially other peoples. Although still not entirely certain that an ex-demon should be part of the inner circle, or Scooby Gang as the kids called it, he saw no harm in her. Plus, she made Xander happy and that alone was enough for Giles to like her. Well, try to like her. The same could not be said for Xander's other friends.

Buffy, as of late, had shown considerable improvement in this area. She was taking pains to try to get to know more about Anya for Xander's sake. Willow on the other hand, was not. She remained firm in her dislike, as she might any woman Xander might form an attachment to. Despite her growing involvement with Tara, Willow still appeared to be a jealous would-be lover.

Giles made his way to the back of the shop where Tara and Willow were already waiting around the table. There was no crisis at the moment, but they checked in with each other nearly every day now. Mostly, so as not to lose touch with one another again. The girls were drinking tea and laughing, but quieted noticeably as the older man approached. He just sort of half-smiled, and went into the back, asking them to watch the counter should anyone come in.

"Hey guys," Buffy called, the bell on the front door sounding immediately after, "I brought bagels."

She made her way to the table and sat down with her friends. It wasn't long after she began that Giles made his way back to them and the door announced a new arrival.

Anya, panicked, practically ran to them. Looking at each of them and not finding what it was she was looking for, she scanned the room.

"He's not here with you?"

"Who?" Tara asked, surprisingly the only one able to ask anything.

"Xander!" she practically yelled, "I thought he'd be here with all of you if he wasn't with me."

"Anya, your not making a whole lot of sense. Can you back this up a bit and fill us in?" Buffy asked, standing on reflex.

Taking a deep breath and sitting down, Anya began.

"Xander didn't come over last night. I called his boss and he said he'd left at midnight, but he didn't come over. I thought, maybe he forgot, or maybe he was tired, or maybe, I don't know. So, I checked his place and he wasn't there either. Something horrible has happened. I know it."

"Well, maybe he stayed over at a friend's house and went straight to work from there?" Willow suggested.

"Did he stay at your place?" Anya shot back.

"No."

"Yours?" she asked of Giles.

"No."

"Well?" she asked Buffy.

Buffy just shook her head.

"Well, that's all of his friends," Anya said, exasperated and turning back to Willow.

Giles stood up, thinking it best to take control of things before it got any uglier.

"We should just stay calm. We don't know what, if anything has happened, and until we do…"

He was cut short by the door ringing in a customer.

"I'll be right back."

Heading to the front of the shop Giles greeted the customer.

They could not see who it was Giles was talking too, but they soon heard footsteps approaching.

"No, there's nothing you can help me with," said the woman, "I'm looking for Buffy Summers. Oh, I found her."

Buffy didn't know what to say. The woman standing in front of her was about five foot six, black hair and had incredibly pale blue eyes. She was a complete stranger, yet she was some how familiar. Her smile was unnerving.

"Your looking for me, why?"

"I have a proposition for you."

"Who are you?" Willow asked, standing up and looking worriedly at the woman, who ignored her completely.

Something wasn't right, Buffy could sense it. She obviously wasn't a vampire, and probably wasn't a demon. She wasn't sure what she was, but she didn't like it.

"What do you want?" Buffy asked.

"I've just come to play a game," the woman said, wearing the odd little smile she'd worn since entering the Magic Shop.

"Sit down, please. All of you," she commanded. Slowly they did.

As she circled them, she talked.

"I really should introduce myself, that was rather rude of me. I'm Constance and I'm what you'd call Zothos, although I'm not entirely sure that's how you'd pronounce it. I've heard a lot about you Buffy Summers. You're really rather famous amongst us. Never been a slayer like you before. Well, almost never. Anyway, back to my being here. You really should be humbled, it's not often I mingle with your set."

Here she stopped and looked around at them, as if taken back.

"I confess I'm surprised," she said, "you have collected quite an assortment of colleagues. Two witches and a former demon, besides your watcher. I'm impressed. It's a great strategy, you know; keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

That was all Buffy could stand. "Just why are you here again? Because if it's just to take pot-shots at me and my friends, then I can just kill you now and get on with my morning."

Constance smiled, but not like before. She didn't look amused, she just looked evil.

"Funny you should mention your friends. They're not all here, are they?"

'Oh God,' Buffy thought, a knot forming in her stomach.

"You see, I met one of them last nice. Really nice guy, very helpful."

Buffy could feel her face flush with anger.

"Although, I was surprised at how easy it was to take down one of the slayer's friends. I thought he'd put up much more of a fight."

Willow was the first one to react. Out of nowhere she'd cast a fireball at the woman, more out of rage then anything.

Constance didn't even break a sweat. She simply waved her hand and the fireball disappeared.

"Really witch…"

It was as far as she'd gotten. Buffy had grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up off the ground.

"What did you do to him?" she said, backing Constance, or whatever she was, into the bookcase.

"Buffy," Constance laughed, "do you think this is the answer? Slayers always resort to violence. I guess the witch makes a good companion for you."

Buffy set her down, but didn't release her grip.

"I'm only going to ask one more time."

"What fun would that be?" Constance sighed, "If I just tell you where he is…."

"He's not dead?" Anya whispered.

"Of course not, I have no reason to kill him. He's just incentive."

"For what?" Buffy said, her face a dead calm.

"The game. You see…" she paused for a moment and literally slipped through the slayer's grasp, "much better. Where was I? Oh, you see I love a good challenge. When you've lived as long as I have, you'll find that everything becomes mundane. So, when I began hearing stories about you Buffy, well I was interested."

"It's not often a slayer lasts as long as you have, facing the things you've faced. And I'm just talking about the ones not living on a hellmouth. No, you're special. You are a challenge. So here's the deal. You have until the sun rises tomorrow to find where I'm keeping your friend and to get him safely back to, um, let's say here. Of course, it won't be as easy as that, not entirely. You have to of course fight the bad guy, in this case me, and win. To make it a bit more even, I've left you some clues."

"How do I know Xander is alive or that you even have him?"

"You don't, not really anyway. You're just going to have to trust me. But," she said, reaching into her pocket and tossing a set of keys on the table, "I did drive someone's car here. Check it out if you like; I'm sure you're familiar with it."

"What if I say no?"

Constance almost looked mad, but her voice remained cool and detached.

"No, you don't want to do that. If you don't play now, I have no reason to keep him."

She paused, collecting her thoughts perhaps, but Buffy got the feeling it was more for dramatic effect.

"I'll break his neck and leave him on your doorstep," looking up, then as an afterthought, "maybe even wrap him up with a nice ribbon. Then, I'll take your sister and we'll start over, but instead of having until the sunrises, I'll give you to sunset. Dawn is her name, isn't it? She's very pretty; I see the similarity between the two of you. It's striking really."

"When do we start?"

"Not so fast. Don't you even want to know what we're playing for? You are an impatient girl. It's a wonder you've only died once."

"I don't care what this is for."

"You should," again, Constance paused, "isn't there anything you want?"

"All I want is Xander back."

"That's it? No imagination, but I agree to it."

"And if you win?"

"If I win, I want your soul."

The room was silent.

"And there is one other condition."

"What?" Buffy asked through clenched teeth.

"Only you can look for him. It wouldn't really be fair to have all five of you running around checking every abandoned factory in town. After all, there is only one of me. Your friends can help you, but they can't look for you. If they do, I'll kill him. Maybe them as well, I don't know though, we'll see what kind of mood I'm in."

"Okay."

"It's a deal then. Shake on it," she demanded, extending her hand.

Buffy took it. As she did she was overcome with a mental image of Xander, lying on a floor. He was cold and in pain. Terrible, constant pain. The image, brief as it was, took her breath away. She dropped Constance's hand and glared at the woman.

"What?" Constance asked, smiling that smile again, "I said I hadn't killed him, I never said I hadn't hurt him. We had a nice, long chat last night. I admire his stamina."

As she turned to leave, she said, "You have until sunrise."

She opened the door and paused.

"Slayer," she said, waiting till she had all of their attention, "you might want to hurry. I've had such fun playing with your friend; I may not be able to stop myself."

And with a smile, she was gone.

They all sat around the table for a full minute before anyone spoke. It was like a nightmare.

"She's going to kill him."

"Anya," Willow said, "shut up."

"She's going to kill him."

"Shut up!"

"Calm down," Giles said, standing and trying to separate the two, "we can't assume anything. We need to think of what to do next."

"What to do next?" Anya said incredulously, "Do you even know what an immortal is?"

Giles just nodded and sat back down.

"Well I don't," Buffy said, becoming animated, "and I don't care either. I'm going to find her, kill her, and bring Xander back here. Alive."

"You're going to kill an immortal?"

"Yes. I'm a slayer, that's what I do." Buffy said with her usual mix of satire and serious.

"I'm afraid it's not that easy." Giles replied, taking off his glasses and rubbing his temples.

"Of course it's not," Willow piped in, "but that's the gist of if. Buffy can do it."

"No, not this time."

"Why not?"

"Because she's an immortal," Anya answered, "they don't die. They don't bleed. They don't feel. The only thing they remotely enjoy is human suffering. She is only here to watch us suffer. And she's going to do it by killing Xander. You should have never agreed to play her game."

"So she should just let Xander die?" Tara asked, hardly able to believe Anya, Xander's girlfriend, had just said that.

"I don't like it either," Anya said, trying to defend herself, "I didn't make the rules…"

"You did play by them though," Willow finished.

"Enough. This is getting us nowhere," Giles said, putting a temporary end to the feud.

Another minute of silence.

"Buffy," Giles began, "it's true you can't kill her. You're going to have to find another way to beat her."

"How?" she said, a bit despondent.

"Well, first we find out where she is keeping Xander and why she's here."

"Then what?"

"We stop her."