Title: The Long Haul
Chapter 5: Swearing Fealty
It's only by chance that Xander's passing through New York and notices that there's a big sign that reads "Open House and Admissions."
He notices the bright, obnoxious red letters on the bright, obnoxious yellow background first, and then he looks around and spots another sign that says "New York University." There's a minute where he almost toys with the idea and all it promises – direction, purpose, the chance to prove he's not a fuck up – and then he thinks, Me? Xander Harris? College material?
The cars in front of him are honking, and sirens are blaring, but it's New York after all. There's probably an accident up ahead.
So he's sitting in traffic, bored and looking for a distraction, and again he glances at the big, bright sign.
It's while he's watching the sign that he sees something out of the corner of his eye. Blonde hair, just down to a set of slim shoulders, and he knows it's all in his head because he's fucked up like that but there's the barest of seconds where he forgets who he is and whispers, "Anya...?"
The blonde head ducks through an entrance of NYU.
Xander grabs the steering wheel, jerks it hard to the side, and does a U-turn in the middle of rush-hour traffic on what's got to be the busiest street in New York City. People actually stop to stare at the psycho in the huge black four-wheeler who's crossing the lanes of opposing traffic. Xander's grateful that they stop staring long enough to get out of the way as he hops a curb and parks on the sidewalk.
One of the bystanders, a kid who looks to be maybe fifteen, is near enough to grab as Xander slips out of the car and shoves a wad of twenties into his hand. The kid looks stupefied, so Xander steers him toward the parked vehicle and barks, "Watch that for me, would ya?"
And then Xander's bolting through the entrance of one of New York's finest educational institutions.
There are people milling around, all sorts of people. Black, Caucasian, Indian – every color of skin imaginable. Ravers, punkers, goths, and preps, all blurred together, though it's pretty obvious they're only mingling with their own crowds. It's the hair that Xander's looking at though, sifting through black and red, brown and blue, purple and pink.
A couple of the girls are eyeing Xander, smiling shyly behind cupped hands. They're pointing at him and whispering, "Look at that guy," the dark hair with the frosted tips, the leather trench, the eye patch. They're "ooh"ing and "aah"ing like he's some kind of sideshow attraction.
The last time this happened to Xander, he was under a spell on Valentine's Day. He thinks he should maybe double-check and see if the effects are acting up, because he feels like a piece of meat under their watchful eyes.
A couple of guys are staring too. Xander feels more comfortable with the looks he gets from them – he's used to being sized up. He's used to having other people think they can take him.
One guy actually waltzes right up to him, all big muscles and superior sneering. Xander tries to move around him, still scanning the crowd for Anya, but the guy won't have it.
"Nice patch," the guy says, smirking. "What are you? Some kinda pirate?"
"Nope," Xander says, and he flips the patch up and reveals his empty socket. The cool air makes him blink, but he still catches the guy's mortified expression.
"Jesus," the guy mutters, "Sorry, man. I mean..."
"It's not a fashion statement," Xander replies, flipping his eye patch back down. "You gonna to get out of my way now?"
The guy jumps to the side, still muttering apologies, but Xander ignores him.
It can't be Anya. Anya's dead.
But Xander has to see with his own eye. Xander has to know for sure.
He spends the next thirty minutes wandering aimlessly, and with every second that passes, he's coming to believe that he really has lost it.
It's just when he's given up hope that he sees her again, sitting on a bench, head bowed as she reads what appears to be a financial journal. Xander weaves through the crowd, each step bringing him closer. He's squinting and wondering, is she real? Please let her be real.
His footsteps slow and finally cease as he halts in front of her, and his body blocks the light from the sun, shadowing her blonde hair. She looks up, an annoyed frown marring her features.
"Can I help you?" she asks pointedly, clearly irritated.
Please, help me, Xander thinks. It's not Anya.
"Sorry," his mouth says softly. "You look like someone I used to know."
She rolls her eyes, fathomless blue eyes that look so much like Anya's. "Like I haven't heard that one before."
"Sorry," Xander repeats, feeling lost. She's got the eyes, the hair, the build. Even the endearing, caustic voice. But her face is just a little longer than Anya's, and the nose is far more petite, and the lips are all wrong.
"Look," she says scathingly, "I don't know you. So, by default, you don't know me. Stop staring, turn around, and toddle off to your friends with your head hanging in shame 'cause you're _so_ not getting into my pants. Any questions?"
"What's your name?"
Xander knows he probably should just leave, but the ache in his chest is so bloody painful, and it's only poetic justice that he give her the chance to twist the knife a little deeper.
She rolls her eyes. "If I tell you, will you go away?"
"Katrina," she replies, then makes a shooing motion with her free hand. "Leave."
"Sorry," Xander says again, and he lets out a deep, shuddering breath. He turns and leaves her to wonder what it is he's apologizing for.
It's as he's making his way back to his truck that he feels the hairs on the back of his neck beginning to raise. He pauses, glances around, and it only takes him a moment to spot an older woman in a business suit staring at him, a tiny smile on her lips.
Anyone staring at him might have tipped him off, but his Xandy-sense is tingling and he knows she's a demon. His mind runs though and discounts the possibilities – Vengeance Demon, perhaps? Or maybe that's just the memories of Anya talking. Definitely not a zombie or vampire, as he's never found a Daywalker in either species. Maybe a Threstria or a Siren?
She walks over to him, her hips swaying ever so slightly. "Alexander Caducus?"
"The Dean would like to speak with you, if that's all right?"
The Dean. His mind ponders this and wonders if he has another Mayor-o'-Sunnyhell situation on his hands. He nods his assent and falls into step beside the woman as she leads him through the campus and to the Administrative Building.
As they approach one of the offices, he asks softly. "Who are you?"
She tosses him a predatory grin. "The Dean."
The door swings open to reveal a tidy, if slightly opulent office. She situates herself behind the desk, gesturing for him to take a seat. He does so, shoving one of his hands into his pocket. His fingers curl around a stake, and he sees she recognizes the gesture for what it is. Instantly, her hands are on her desk, silently showing him that she is without a weapon.
Of course, he doesn't believe it for an instant, but he lets his shoulders relax a little to let her know he'll listen.
The Dean quirks a brow, smile stretching pleasantly across thin lips. "Caducus," she says, tilting her head to the side marginally. "A very unique name. Quite morbid, actually."
"I've heard some rumors about a man named Caducus, you know. Superstitious nonsense, really," her tone of voice is quite convincing. "After all, who believes in demon hunters and magic books?"
"Lunatics," Xander deadpans, playing along.
"Oh, yes," the Dean says. She leans forward over her desk and lowers her voice conspiratorially "Demons, the occult – it's a hobby of mine. This alleged demon hunter is apparently missing one eye – quite a disadvantage, if you think about it, but you know how rumors go. Exaggerating the details to make the story more... interesting."
"Quite a coincidence," Xander says, feigning surprise as he touches his eye patch with his free hand.
"Indeed," the Dean practically purrs. "There's more to Caducus then that, of course. Apparently he has quite a reputation in the demon world. Hunters don't usually last long – they're largely targeted, you know – but this man has been around for almost two _years_. I think he's actually only a few months shy of breaking the record."
"Fascinating," Xander says, shrugging. Of course, this is all news to him but he knows better than to let it show.
"Yes, well," the Dean smiles, "As I mentioned, it is a hobby of mine. If such a man existed, I would love to meet him."
"Really?" Xander asks, and his fingers twitch around the stake. "What would you say to him?"
Her smile widens. "I'd ask him if he might be interested in a business proposition. And if such a thing as demons were, in fact, real, I'd tell him that there were a few I'd be interested in having him kill."
Xander's thoughts turn to Anya – Katrina – for a moment. She'd always been so helpless; a once-demon trapped inside a frail, human body. He'd been too weak to protect her.
"Caducus is probably a nomad," Xander said softly. "I'd doubt that even if you did meet him, he'd have any place around here to stay."
The Dean glances down at her hands, examining her nails, and replies, "As the Dean of this university, I might be inclined to offer him a scholarship. He could take a few classes and live in one of the dorms if he wanted."
Xander remembers that Anya – Katrina – had been reading a book about finances.
"If you did get him to agree," he says slowly, "what do you suppose you'd offer him in exchange?"
"Well," her gaze slides smoothly from her nails and to his face, "I doubt such a man would be interested in money. Knowledge, perhaps? Power, certainly. And if I were to find Caducus, I'd have to insist he swear fealty to me."
"How many demons are you sworn to?" he counters.
A tiny smile quirks the corner of her mouth. "Only one."
Xander's mind kicks into overdrive. He knows, from what he's learned, that all demons swear fealty to a higher demon. Said demon is sworn to an even higher demon, and this pattern continues until the final demon lord swears themselves directly to Lucifer, prince of _all_ demons.
Pending on the demon's honesty, the question is a nice little way to find out where exactly one is on the food chain.
"Who are you?" he asks softly.
"The Dean," she says, and she sees his understanding. She extends her perfectly manicured hand and he accepts. "But you may call me Beelzebub."