Summary: Xander witnesses the aftermath of a twist of fate.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG-13, for violence and themes. Note: Character death.

Time Frame: "Seeing Red." (spoilers up to last five minutes, then AU thereafter).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@hotmail.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Author's Notes: Initial dialogue by Warren is directly from the transcript of "Seeing Red."

TWO STEPS TO THE RIGHT

"You think you can just do that to me? You think I'd let you get away with that?" Warren laughed, and the ragged sound of it announced madness to Xander as he tried to move between Buffy and the gun. "Think again."

Warren pulled the trigger repeatedly, and Xander felt himself being shoved to the ground hard. He had no time to fall properly, and the impact stunned him for a few seconds. He heard another shot, and heard the sound of a window breaking at about the same time that he felt a vibration of an object striking the ground near him. He threw off his disorientation and was getting to his feet when he heard something that he would remember with perfect clarity for the rest of his life: a loud, piercing scream coming from the window of the master bedroom upstairs--which had a large, ugly bullet hole in it. He saw that Warren had stopped in his tracks in reaction to the scream, and he shivered when the evil inventor turned back to him with the revolver leveled.

"Looks like I did some serious damage, Harris--one up there, and one down here." He pointed with the gun, and Xander turned slightly and saw Buffy lying on the ground, with a spreading dark red blotch far, far too near to her heart. Without thought, he went to the ground and cradled Buffy in his arms, pressing his hand against the wound--but Warren took two steps forward and leveled the gun at Xander's head as he gloated, "I think I'll just make it unanimous--you always were a pain in the ass. The demons at Willy's place will probably throw me a party when you all turn up dead--"

At that moment, the bedroom window exploded outward, and the debris showered down onto the back yard, sending Warren stumbling back and causing Xander to duck and cover. Xander recovered quickly, but Warren was wary and took two more steps back, covering Xander with the gun and looking up at the jagged hole where the window had been. The amount of dust falling obscured the view somewhat, but both men could see a single female figure standing there, shaking slightly. Xander was torn between tending to Buffy and calling out to whoever it was; clearly, something terrible had happened in that room. After a few seconds where no one moved and the dust continued to settle, the woman extended her right arm and pointed at Warren, whispering in a low, harsh voice that somehow echoed in the ears of both Xander and Warren:

"You monster."

Xander recognized the voice, and knew what had to have triggered the reaction. He felt as if his heart had been ripped from his chest. If he had been alone, he would have charged the gun and taken his chances on the slim hope that he would survive and be able to slowly choke the life out of Warren. But another of his friends was dying in his arms, and it was his duty to survive if it was at all possible. . .not to mention that he still had to worry about the well-being of his still-living, mad with grief friend who was looking down at Warren and shaking like a leaf.

Warren smiled and called out, "Aw. . .did I kill one of you man hating bitches? It's dangerous hanging around the Slayer, don't you know? Anyway, I've got people to kill and things to do--I don't have time for someone who can't be bothered to fight. So I'm going to shoot this loser Harris, and I'm going to wander off and buy a round for the boys at Willy's." He smirked contemptuously and asked the silent watcher: "Anything you want to say before I give your buddy a .45 caliber lobotomy?"

The woman nodded once, leveled her finger directly at Warren, and called out in a loud and terrible voice:

"DEFLAGRATIONIS PERVASTARE!!!"

There was no streak or burst of light, and Warren did not react except to flinch momentarily in expectation of some sort of missile coming at him. When nothing appeared, he laughed and started to pull the trigger--only to feel a sudden, searing pain start to come from every part of his body. He dropped the gun and shrieked, and Xander could literally feel the heat that was starting to come from Warren's body. Knowing that it was a risk that he could not avoid, he moved Buffy off about ten feet, then watched as Warren fell to the ground, still shrieking. The woman had vanished from the window, and Xander knew that he would see her soon.

Warren began to glow from within, his internal organs lit with a flickering flame that seemed to be coming from his very core. He should have been unconscious, but somehow he remained aware and in terrible pain as bright red flame began to erupt from various spots in his skin. Xander wanted to move--Buffy would need help *now* if she was going to live--but the horrific sight before his eyes transfixed him, and he did not move again until Warren's body was completely engulfed in flames that burned him into fine white ash. Impossibly, Warren's screams continued to echo throughout the backyard until the last of the ashes had tumbled to the lawn, and the echoes lingered for several seconds after that.

Xander shuddered, then stood up, carefully put Buffy's body on the bench, and turned--only to see Tara, holding Willow's body. Tears were running silently down her cheeks, and Xander had to take a very deep breath--there were still people here who needed him. He met his friend's eyes and whispered, "Tara--I have to call 911."

The young witch nodded, and Xander ran into the kitchen and quickly punched in the number. Forty-five seconds later, he had communicated the essential information and hung up. He ran back out, and saw that Willow's body was lying on the lawn and that Tara was carefully pouring liquid from a blue flask into Buffy's mouth. Xander stopped and called out in a gentle voice: "Tara, the ambulance is on its way--maybe you shouldn't be giving her stuff that the paramedics won't recognize."

Xander watched Tara turn and saw that her eyes were red with tears, but her voice was disturbingly calm as she replied, "It's an old herbal remedy--it will help her replenish her blood supply and keep shock from setting in. She's near death, Xander--she needs time to let the doctors and her Slayer healing do their jobs."

Xander nodded and looked out onto the street, wondering how long the ambulance would take. He looked down at the body of his best friend, and for the first time he didn't bother to hold his emotions back. He knelt next to her and cradled her in his arms, whispering, "Will, I'm sorry. I should have stopped him--I should have rushed him."

"Don't, Xander." Xander turned back angrily by reflex, and had to force down the emotions when he saw Tara watching him, her hand firmly pressed on Buffy's wound as the Slayer stirred restlessly in unconsciousness. "Look at where he was standing--he couldn't have shot Willow on purpose from there if his life depended on it. He just started spraying bullets around and didn't give a damn where they went. If I had been standing two feet to the right, it would have been me who took a bullet through the heart, and Willow would have--" Tara stopped in mid-sentence and went deathly pale. Xander could barely hear her as she whispered, "Willow probably would have done something a lot less evil than I just did."

Xander did the last thing he would have expected to be able to do at that moment--he laughed. Tara flinched, and Xander smiled apologetically and retorted, "Are we talking about the same Willow who went straight for the black magic books after Glory attacked you, then went toe to toe with her using spells that Giles refused to repeat the *names* of, much less describe what they did?" Tara shivered--Willow had never told her that story. Xander nodded, and added, "Willow's tune might have been different, but the song would have been the same, and between you, me, and the smoldering pile of ashes on the lawn--you let him off easier than any one of us would have." He released Willow's body and lowered it gently to the ground, and reached out to Tara as he whispered, "Buffy and I just lost our best friend tonight. You and Giles and Dawn are the only people on Earth who are going to be able to help us deal with this, and you're going to need help, too--I can't imagine what you must be going through at this moment, but by God I'm going to try. So let's stop the blaming and the second-guessing, and let's go save Buffy and start to pick up the pieces, OK?"

Tara nodded once, then broke down into sobs, burying her face in Xander's shoulder as she wept. Xander held her in silence, and felt a tingle of relief. They would get Buffy to the hospital, and she would live. He believed this with every fiber of his being--because he had to believe it when he called Dawn in ten minutes with the news about Buffy, and he'd need to believe it even more after he picked her up and had to tell her about Willow.

The ambulance pulled up at the curb, and he released Tara and stood up, walking forward to greet the paramedics. The last of the ashes blew away, leaving the gun lying on the grass in the center of the devastation. The official police report would read: "Assailant fired handgun repeatedly, wounding both victims and sparking a gas pocket which ignited, destroying the master bedroom window. Suspect dropped weapon and fled, and remains at large."

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.