author: Lucinda

rating: pg13

main character: Xander, also strong Willow presence

there are no pairings central to this fic, though there may be mentions of Willow/Kennedy and Xander/Anya

based on the 'Slayer of Slayers' challenge on the XanderZone list

disclaimer: I hold no legal rights to any characters or concepts from the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

distribution: XanderZone, INeedAParrot, Paula, anyone else please ask.

Note: going AU during season 7 finale.

"We need you to work this spell, Willow. Otherwise, we're all going to die, and the First will bring about hell on earth." Buffy's eyes were hard and worried as she passed the gleaming scythe to Willow.

His friend accepted it with nervous eyes, her gaze sliding along the gleaming sharp lines of the weapon. "Way to stick the pressure on, Buffy. But that much magic... What if it's too much? That sort of power, the temptation... I don't want to become scary, veiny Willow again."

Xander almost cursed Buffy for laying that sort of tension on Willow. They'd all been so worried about her using magic, so busy telling her how risky things would be, about the dangers of the return of 'scary, veiny Willow', and now Buffy was just basically telling her to do the spell. What if Willow had a reason to be afraid? What if this was dangerous? Well, yeah, there was the part where they had no better plan to defeat an army of super vampires being manipulated by the First, and the second major weapon was Spike, but... All things considered, he'd really rather count on Willow than Spike any day.

"Kennedy can stay with you, keep you anchored." Buffy seemed to be trying to push Willow's concern away, to dismiss it from her mind.

Willow opened her mouth, and then closed it and her eyes. When she opened her eyes again, there was something there, something that just blew away her usual Resolve Face. "Fine, I can do this spell. But Kennedy won't do as an anchor, the magic would definitely... she's more comfortable fighting evil nasties. Xander can anchor me. He's seen the big magic, and he didn't start acting all freaky. If it does get to be too much for me, I need someone who will stay calm."

"You want Xander as your anchor?" Buffy's voice sounded so shocked, so incredulous.

Kennedy just gave Willow a hug, and whispered something in her ear. Her eyes were all teary as she moved to stand beside the others who would be going into the battle, risking life and limb and sanity.

Xander felt a blend of joy and fear and something that he could only call a sense of finality come over him. Willow would rather have him as her anchor than her new girlfriend. That gave him a sort of warm glow, the feeling that he hadn't been forgotten, wasn't considered useless or helpless.

He was left alone with Willow in the office. He could see the resolve in her, almost like a tension. "Wills, my best friend in the whole world, I'm touched by your confidence. How dangerous is this?"

"Well, I'm going to be trying to access incredibly powerful death and violence magic in an artifact from someone that I really don't know and using that to try to alter one of the laws of reality as we know it. If I mess this up, we're all dead. If I get this right, you and I could still be dead from the sheer amount of power. On the other hand, if I don't do this, the First will kick our asses, and we'll all be dead anyhow." Her voice held just a trace of her dry humor, and there was a tiny bit of sparkle in her eyes. It wasn't cheer, but it was... he couldn't describe it.

He sat down with his back against the door, smiling at her. "Oh, is that all? Sounds pretty much the same as high school. What do you need me to do?"

"Trust me. Remember good Willow, the one that helped you to study, and listened to you and Jesse talking about girls, and the Willow that helped restore Angel's soul, and the Willow that loved Oz, and tried to make forever after with Tara. Remember me with control and happiness and not all evil. I need you to be my connection to the physical world." She looked... well, a babble like that said that she was nervous.

"Good Willow. Best friend Willow, and the Willow that we all knew and loved. Got it." He leaned his head back, fairly certain that she half expected this to be the death of them. But he didn't want either of them to die. Maybe if he had enough faith that they could survive this, it would help?

She offered a shaky smile as she slowly and carefully settled herself on the floor, sitting cross legged with the scythe in her lap. Her eyes closed, and she started to murmur words. They could have been a prayer, or a few words to try to calm herself, he really wasn't sure. All he did know was that this was it. If they survived, everything would change. And things would happen tonight, he knew that down to his bones.

He could feel the power, gathering in the air. It was thick, and there was a sort of metallic flavor to it, like blood, or fear. He swallowed, trying to figure out if that was the power of the First, or if it was the power in that weapon. No wonder Willow was so nervous... And she was starting to glow now. Sort of golden, like sunlight, with little sparkles of red and white dancing over the blade, and over her hands where they touched it. She was still chanting, words that he didn't know, didn't understand. But she sounded as if she was pleading with someone, begging who ever or what ever for this to happen, for help. The light thickened, and then there was this sort of pulse, and they weren't in the office anymore.

There were what looked almost like pillars of light, wrapped in ice to hold them into a shape. He couldn't see any sort of ceiling or sky, just an expanse of white over and under them. Willow was there, a scythe of red light clutched in her hands.

The voice didn't really come from anywhere, it was just in his mind, and he was certain it was in Willow's as well. It was like... like the tide, deep and rolling and entirely not human. WHY DO YOU SEEK TO CHANGE THE ORDER?

He tried to lick his lips, unsure if he was even really here, if he really had lips. "Well, there's sort of the impending end of the world that we'd like to stop. This was the only plan that we had."

YOU SEEK TO TAMPER WITH THINGS. THERE IS ALWAYS A PURPOSE TO THE ORDER. CHANGE CAN NOT COME WITHOUT A PRICE. WILL YOU PAY THIS PRICE?

"Will it save the earth?" Willow's trembling voice didn't seem to belong in this place of light. Nothing human or fragile or mortal did.

THE EARTH THAT YOU KNOW WILL REMAIN. THERE WILL BE MANY SLAYERS TO BATTLE THE DARKNESS. WILL YOU GIVE WHAT IS REQUIRED?

How could they refuse something like that? How could they deny the future of the world just because it would cost them something? Xander frowned, knowing that he'd already been willing to do whatever was needed to save the world again. If it meant being Willow's anchor, fine, if it meant being burned by the magic to keep her stable, fine. Even dying was acceptable, as long as the world could continue. Not that it would be fun by any stretch, but he would be willing. "Of course."

Willow's hand sought his, and their fingers entwined, seeking comfort. They were the only solidness in this place, the only thing that hinted at the world. Her voice barely trembled, although her grip on his hand left his fingers feeling almost numb. "Yes."

ACCEPTED.

That was when the pain hit. It felt like fire was pouring into him, flooding his body, burning from the inside out. He couldn't scream, couldn't even breathe as he felt his body giving way. But there was no smoke, no crackling blistering flesh, or the horrible stench of burning flesh. Instead, it was as if each bit of his body, maybe down to the cells was collapsing, vanishing only to be replaced by fire and light and power. Somehow, he was aware of Willow, could see her although he wasn't certain if he actually still had eyes. It looked as if a bright white gold light came from the inside of her, and for a moment, she was luminous, as if she was lit from inside like one of those porcelain ornaments. Xander knew in that moment that the same power or something close enough to be indistinguishable by someone like himself was filling both of them. Too much power for mortal flesh.

Willow just... For a moment, the light was too bright to look at. Instead, he ended up with what he could only describe as afterimages of his best and dearest friend apparently disintegrating. The pain ebbed for him at that moment, and he found himself standing there, alone in the place of crystal and light. He looked at himself, seeing hands that were unmarred by flames or energy, his own familiar hands with their calluses and network of scars. But something seemed a bit different. It took him a few moments to figure to what it was.

Nothing hurt. Not the fading bruises that he'd picked up from trying to help train the potentials and helping battle demons. Not the dull ache of his ribs from landing wrong last week, not the throb from the socket where his eye had been.

Naturally, his comment was typically less that suave. "Err? What just happened?"

YOU HAVE ACCEPTED THE PRICE. EVERYONE WHO COULD BECOME A SLAYER HAS BECOME ONE. NOT ALL WILL BE CAPABLE OF HANDLING THIS POWER. YOU HAVE BECOME THE GUARDIAN OF THE PATH. WILLOW WILL BE THEIR NURTURER, TO GIVE THEM STRENGTH AND GUIDANCE. YOU WILL BE THERE SO THAT THE UNWORTHY WILL NOT REMAIN A DANGER. THOSE WHO CAN NOT ACCEPT THE POWER OR WILL MISUSE IT CAN NOT BE LEFT UNCHECKED. YOU WILL HAVE THE POWER TO REMOVE THAT WHICH MAKES THEM SLAYERS. TO STOP THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN. YOU WILL BE THE WORLD'S DEFENSE AGAINST THE SLAYERS.

Xander felt himself blinking, his head ringing from the voice that wasn't a voice. He was supposed to be some sort of guardian type thing? Capable of taking down a rogue Slayer? "Umm, normal human here. How am I supposed to stop a Slayer that's gone bad?"

:We aren't anymore.: That sounded like Willow, except that it wasn't a voice that his ears could hear. It was Willow, right into his mind. :It looks like I'm some sort of spirit, maybe a guardian angel type of thing, and you're... well, I guess you're the Slayer law enforcement?:

"Wills, what happened? I mean, I still don't get it." He felt a bit odd, speaking to the empty air.

Sparkles of golden light swirled out of the air, coalescing into the shape of Willow. Yeah, a Willow made out of dancing specks of light, but that was better than no Willow. :It seems their price wasn't our deaths, but sort of... well, I guess we have something part way between a job and an afterlife? We still get to try to keep the world safe, only... now we don't focus on demons, or preventing a particular apocalypse. We get to try to keep a horde of Slayers from becoming problems for the world. I'm sort of ghosty, and you... The power burned away your body, and built you a new one. You're still Xander, but not just mortal Xander the ordinary guy. Now, you're... Xander, the new and rebuilt version.:

"So, I've been turned into some sort of superman? Do I look like a Greek God now?" He couldn't help trying to joke about it.

:You still look like Xander. But I think you should hang on to the eye patch when they send you back.: She looked at him, one hand reaching out, and there was a whisper along his arm, not quite a touch, but he felt something.

He shook his head, feeling his lips twist into what might have been a smile. "What, I get drafted and I don't even get a new eye with the new body?"

:Umm... sort of. But, do you remember the one guy from those old X-Men comics? With the metal arm and the glowy eye?: Willow smiled at him, looking far more relaxed than he could remember since... since before Glory. :You have one normal Xandery brown eye, and one pool of glowing gold light. People might look at you funny.:

Xander felt surprise and a little bit of pleasure go through him at her words. "I look like Cable? Only, no white hair, right? I don't think it would be me."

She giggled, and it was the best thing that he'd heard in a long time. :No, your hair is still brown. And I think... it's time to go back. At least, for you to go back. I have no idea what will happen to me.:

And then he was standing in the office again. There was the circle of salt, and the candles, which had just... melted into puddles of pale wax. The scythe was there, still faintly glowing red. But there was no Willow. Moving closer, he knelt down, looking at the place where she had been. He could see his reflection in the blade, somewhat distorted but still Xander. Well, Xander with a glowing light instead of an empty socket.

Looking up, he made a discovery. Not only did he have the depth perception again, but if he looked sort of down, where the battle was going, he could sort of see them. It was as if the floor and rock and dirt weren't there, only a little bit blurry, like bad television reception. Each Slayer had a faint golden glow around them.

"Now that is just freaky." He picked the eye patch up from the desk, placing it on his head again. Somehow, he wasn't quite surprised that he could still see perfectly, as if the patch wasn't there, or not enough to stop the new eye from seeing. Which made a sort of sense, after all. If he could see through floor and stone and earth to check on the Slayers, what was a little bit of leather?

There was a rumbling noise, and Xander knew that it was time to get out of the school, to get out of Sunnydale. Now. He couldn't say quite how he knew, but it was there. Pushing open the door, he paused, grabbing the scythe before he darted down the hall. There were demons, large things that he didn't recognize, couldn't name. But the blade of the scythe passed through them, leaving them fallen to the floor in pieces, dead. He grabbed Dawn, towing her with him to the outside, towards the bus that they had gone to school in. Wasn't that just a bit overdone? Go to school in a bus?

The others were running out as well, and the rumbling had gotten louder, stronger. The ground seemed to be shaking, like a tiny earthquake. He began pushing them towards the bus, noting each face, each new Slayer. Somehow, he knew all their names now, even the ones that he could never remember before. But there were some missing, and everybody was sporting injuries, bruises, slashes, limping or holding arms protectively over their ribs.

"Where are the others?" The question suddenly seemed to be the most important thing in the world.

Faith reached out, half dragging him onto the bus as Robin started the engine. The bus roared into motion, and they began speeding away from the school. There was a rumble, and the building started to collapse from the inside.

"Everybody who's alive is out. What... where's red?" Faith looked at him, her eyes too tired for sympathy.

Looking over the bus, he noticed another absence. Anya was not with them. "Anya?"

Andrew looked up, tears streaming down his face as his body shook with hiccuping sobs. "She... There was this demon. It should have been me... God, it should have been me instead..."

"oh." The sound was very quiet, barely a word at all. Somehow, he knew that hadn't been part of their plan, whoever they were. Anya's death had just been a horrible Sunnydale tragedy. And while they hadn't been planning to get married at the moment, her death left him feeling... sort of numb and sort of pained, like something had been ripped out of him. And he knew exactly how that felt.

Kennedy looked at him, bruises mottling her skin, and one eye swollen nearly shut. "Where's Willow? Some oversized axe isn't worth Willow dying."

He didn't want to tell them. Didn't want to try to put into words what had happened, how he and Willow had bartered their lives and futures to give these girls and so many others the power of a Slayer. "It was... the spell was powerful. She just... there was this bright light, and she just sort of..." He shook his head, not having any idea how to try to put words to the fact that Willow wasn't there like she had been. "Willow is in us now."

The bus came to a halt, and there was a terrible roaring noise, almost like some great beast. But it wasn't something else rising up, it was a collapse. Sunnydale was collapsing, falling inwards, crumbling. In moments, the town was gone, leaving a vast crater that almost joined the ocean. Sunlight gleamed on the water, and a cloud of dust hung in the air.

"Well, that looks pretty damn final." Faith's words were low.

"Now what?"

"Well, there is supposed to be another Hellmouth in Cleveland." Giles spoke, his calm voice putting a slight dampener on the nearly joyful mood of the survivors.

He smiled just a little, knowing that these girls, no, these women would be just fine. They would be Slayers, they would battle the darkness in Cleveland... "Hey, you are talking about Cleveland. Isn't a Hellmouth sort of redundant?"

A couple groans came in response to his comment. But they definitely seemed more relaxed. He could hear a whispered argument starting between Kennedy and Faith, something about a school, or training camp for the new Slayers.

"You know, there will be more. More Slayers than the ones here. And someone has to find them, to help them learn. Sort of like the Council was supposed to do before they got all power hungry. A new Council, without the whole nasty tests and uprooting of lives."

"Way to pick the easy jobs, Xander." Dawn's voice held no sting, only weariness.

"Yeah, but... we did this to them. We can't just leave God only knows how many women and girls out there, suddenly in danger from things they didn't even know were real, not having any clue why they're feeling restless after dark and breaking the dishes when they pick them up. We owe them that much." There was an intensity in his voice. He knew that this was what had been demanded of him, this was his new purpose.

:One thousand, four hundred and thirty two.: It was just a whisper of thought, but it was unmistakably Willow. And just as clearly, nobody else had heard it.

Again, the little whisper came into his mind. :I know how many they are. I can help you find them, the new Slayers. But I don't know how much I'd be able to help teach. I tried to say something to Kennedy, but I don't think she heard me. Maybe she's too busy grieving, or too tired.:

"Me, I'm going to go try to start finding some of these new Slayers. Trying to help them figure out what to do with their lives now." He tried to smile, to look like the Xander they all would recognize. "Anyone got a cell phone that I can use as a talk to these people reference?"

"I do." The voice came from Faith. "Hey, I'm not saying that I'm the best role model, but I do have a phone."

"That will help." Xander nodded, feeling none of the awkward uncertainty towards her that he once had. Was it because she'd changed, or because of his?

"I do agree that finding any other new Slayers is important, but..." Giles looked as if he was trying to find a way to explain their newly limited resources.

Xander shrugged, looking back at the crater. "I can do this. I can go looking for them. Not like there's anything left to keep me here."

What he didn't want to bring up was that it wasn't an option for him. He couldn't just stay with them, he had to go find them. To guide them, and maybe stop them.

end part 1.