Disclaimer: Xander and the rest of the Scoobies belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox. I'm making no money of this deranged work of fiction, and to be honest, I don't really want to.

Summary: The most dangerous game there is.

Author's Note: Yes, I'm still working on Roads Less Traveled, but I've got way too many ideas for the next chapter of that one to write it tonight, and though I managed to fight off writing fanfiction for three or more years, now that I've started again, the bizarre plots won't let me go. Enjoy!

Warning: Dark themes like suicide abound. Character death.


by Casix Thistlebane

The memory was slick and clean, like the water that had filled the sink in front of him. He'd been doing the dishes when Andrew startled him, and the knife had slipped to his left wrist. No more than a nick, really, that barely bled, and healed without a scar underneath a band-aid.

But now the suds cleared, and he saw the whole thing again, how he'd idly grabbed the handful of silverware and dunked them beneath the soapy water's surface, scrubbing with the sponge and rinsing them clean before settling them, as a group, into the dish rack on the counter. How he'd spotted the steak knife he'd dropped, and watched the water sluice off the serrated edge. How he'd pictured that edge, how cleanly it could slice through meat on a plate, or meat on a man.

How the knife had moved, almost by itself, to rest lightly on his wrist.

He'd pictured it, the knife point gliding along the blue line that marked his artery, the blood blossoming through the thin layer of skin which peeled so easily around the cool, wet blade. He'd seen in his mind's eye the way the blood would drip into the dishwater, coloring the suds pink and rippling the surface. And the pain, the pain would barely be there, with the knife as sharp as it was, but the pain too would be beautiful, the nerves in his arm firing so swiftly towards his brain.

Then Andrew had appeared behind him, with some irrelevant quote or reference to something he himself had barely thought of in seven years of battling the vampires, and the images vanished, the knife jumped, and he'd spun, cursing, to find a band-aid.

The thoughts were so ridiculous in the aftermath that they'd been smoothed over somehow, leaving him only impressions of soap, knife, and blood. He wasn't suicidal or crazy; he knew that death was only pain and darkness and loss, not a solution to the difficulties of life. There was simply no way that he had thought those things.

Except he had. He knew that now, and he knew that it hadn't been the first time. He could see it so clearly again; when he and Robin had hung the punching bags in the dojo a level below him, he had considered, only for the briefest moments, how the rope would feel roughly digging around his neck. When he had taken a Tylenol PM for his aching knee, the night a few weeks ago after fighting the Katha'a demon by city hall, and had dreamed of the fuzzy quiet, the low nausea, and the peaceful darkness that would come along with only ten or so more of the tiny, white pills. But those had been brief seconds, no more than moments, really, easily shoved away by some new distraction within the slayer dormitories, or a boiler that needed fixing, and they had passed quietly from his mind.

But now, as he sat on the wooden bench that lined the weapon racks behind him, in the tiny armory between the living room and the library, as he considered the comforting weight of the gun in his right hand, and watched as the safety slid silently and willingly into the off position, those images came back three-fold upon him.

He shut his eye, running his left hand along the polished and sealed slats beneath him. The cool metal of the barrel against his heated skin, the tense vibration in his biceps were siren songs. He lifted his hand to the chamber of the revolver, concentrating on the valleys and peaks that moved beneath his fingertips. He traced the barrel along his cheekbone, up past his remaining eye, to his right temple and oh, it was all that he had imagined and more. His mouth dropped softly open as his index finger found the trigger, and his thumb tugged the sweet resistance of the hammer.


One in six and he'd beaten the odds. His heart rate skyrocketed, and he could feel the adrenaline start in his chest and swim though his limbs, making the gun seem just a little lighter in his curled hand. This moment, hanging between life and death, this was truly living. Like an addict, his thumb found the hammer again, and his finger squeezed.



It was a game he'd never played, and yet it was so very familiar to him. His arm shook, and he pressed the barrel tighter against his temple, or perhaps it was his head that moved, to steady his hand. His mind flew back to high school science, the teacher telling them that even as they sat in their chairs, their weight pushing them down, the chair was pushing up to hold them in place.

For each action, there was an equal and opposite reaction.

How many times had he and his friends forgotten that? He pictured the gun in his mind, the bullet resting in the chamber filled with potential energy, waiting to fire and live out it's purpose. When it pushed against his gray matter, what was the reaction there? He knew the tissue wasn't strong enough to push back against the heat of the powder and the rush of the bullet. The reaction must be the separating molecules, giving way beneath the metal so easily it seemed almost impossible. He yearned to find out.


One in three now, was the bullet lying in wait yet? That's what would kill him, he realized. Not the gun itself, the gun was not a weapon. It was the means to move the bullet. But bullets were so small, compared to the human entity; it didn't seem possible that it could be the catalyst of death. But they had, so many times it was undeniable. Even in his own experience, bullets had taken the lives of those he loved.

Guns didn't kill people, bullets killed people.

His thumb eased back the hammer again. Bullets would kill him. This time?


The sound was so loud in his mind that he didn't register the volume within the room. For every action there was an equal and opposite reaction. For every death, there was a reaction, a human reaction. Did people learn to live more as their fellow man died?

They didn't. They never would.


Fifty-fifty, the bullet was ready. Fifty-fifty, his life would end. This was a game, and the way his blood sang each time he won, he knew why people played it. What was it called? His mind searched for the answer, but received visions of cold metal swimming through warm muscle instead.

"Russian roulette."

Yes. He had played this game before, they all had, every time they'd averted an apocalypse, saved a life, survived a fight. Every time the odds that it would be their end increased, and yet they kept fighting anyway. Russian roulette.

Giles had said it, talking quietly, so as not to startle him. It seemed he had an audience now, but that didn't matter. What was sport without spectators?

"Xander, look at me."

Who would have the reaction, when he finally lost this game? Would it be Dawn (he could hear her sobbing, muffled, she was held to someone's shoulder, he thought, maybe Buffy's)?

"Oh, Goddess,"

Willow's, of course. Willow would comfort Dawn, and be comforted back by her. Giles would hurt, and move on. There were more important things than Xander, bigger things to worry about than one more dead carpenter in the world.

"Xander, dammit, open your eyes!"

Buffy. His right eye snapped open, his vision blurred slightly by the pressure of the barrel. There was Buffy, kneeling in front of him, and yes, there was Dawn, too, pressed against Willow's chest, who in turn hid her face in the younger girl's hair. Faith held them both, staring into him. And Robin and Giles and even Andrew, standing frozen in the doorway.

"Give me the gun, Xander."

Buffy would hurt. She'd already lost so much in this battle, in the last eight years she'd been fighting. Her father and mother, Angel, Reilly, Spike, and herself. She'd bounced back from those, but it had been slow, achingly so. Would she bounce back from this?

"There's something happening, Xander." Buffy's voice was low, soothing. "Something is trying to attack us. It's already hit everyone else. It tells us that we can't keep going, tells us to do things we know we can't do." Buffy slid slowly forward, her hand held out pleadingly. "Fight it, Xander. We can beat it. Willow stopped it from making her do more magic. Dawn didn't run away. Wood and Giles didn't kill. You can stop it, Xander. Please."

That made sense. He knew, on some level, that this wasn't him. He'd never considered suicide, though, he realized, he wasn't, really, now. Just the sensation, the beautiful sensation each time his thumb slid up, along the smooth curve of the hammer and pressed it back.


This was it then. No way he could win the game now. But this was the prize, the sharp retort of the shot pushing down on his eardrums, the spring of the recoil that brought glittering fire to the muscles of his arm. This was life, and it was death, and he had never felt better in his life.

No. He stared into Buffy. This wasn't just his death, this was the death of them all, the breaking of the Scooby Gang. Buffy wouldn't survive another blow like this, not when it was done by his own hand, even if it was the best thing he'd ever done. Though, really, it wasn't.

"Just, give me the gun, Xander." Buffy's cheeks were red and glistening in the low, florescent light of the armory.

Ever since he was small, Xander had fought a battle within himself. He could be sitting in class, or driving his car, or lying in bed at night, and it would occur to him, though he was comfortable, to shift, just bending his knee or moving his arm. He would picture each muscle moving in perfect accord to make it happen, and no matter how much he decided he wouldn't, he always, inevitably, did.

Now he pictured lowering his arm, forcing the idea through an unwilling mind. He imagined how his arm would twist in his shoulder, bringing the gun out, and away from his face. He saw his biceps stretch out, and his fingers uncurling as he dropped the weapon (not a weapon, the bullet's the weapon) into Buffy's waiting hand.

His thumb moved, faster this time, cocking the hammer for the last time.

"Xander." Buffy wouldn't move. Not even she was fast enough, with her slayer speed, to grab his arm before he could fire. The choice had to be his. He concentrated harder this time, and his arm DID move, stretching out away from his face, the only bullet still lying, waiting in its cold chamber.

It can't be wasted!

His arm shot out, of it's own accord, even as Buffy swung her waiting hand, hard, into his elbow.

This time, as he pulled the trigger, the awaited blast came, and the recoil combined with Buffy's force, numbed his whole arm.

She slammed him to the ground, the gun, now harmless, skittering across the tiled floor toward Andrew, who slumped against the doorframe.

There was the blood, and Xander felt cheated, even as whatever force it was fled his brain, that it was not his own. It spread like a flower over Andrew's white t-shirt, over the heart that Xander knew no longer existed. Just like the life that was now gone, in a single instant of tearing flesh and heat.

The adrenaline fled as quickly as it had come, and Xander slumped beneath Buffy as she locked her hands around his wrists and her knees around his legs. He laughed, painfully, ironically, as he scanned the shocked eyes of his audience. It figured that he, the one without the destiny, the power, or the accident of birth, would be the one who couldn't shake off the evil. His eyes caught Faith's as she leaned over him, pain evident in her eyes.

"What do you know?" His voice was coarse, shredded with the force of the gun shot. "We've got a connection now, don't we?"

He watched as her fist shot toward his face, and his head slammed back into the floor, with equal force. Blackness swam up, over his mind, and he welcomed it in.

The End