Summary: Buffy comes to some basic conclusions about her life and who she wants to spend it with, but may be too late. Fourteenth and final story in the "Slayer Central" series.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just bringing things to a close.

Rating: PG-13, for violence and intense themes.

Time Frame: About two weeks after the events in "Pulling Back The Curtain," and following the post- "Chosen" events described in "Slayer Central" and the following stories in the series. (spoilers)

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.

ALL IN

Part I

Valerie Wallace waited for the harsh voice to stop coming from the speaker on the phone, then disconnected it from the wall and closed her eyes in frustration and anger. She sat on the couch and buried her face in her hands. That had been the fourth threatening call she had received that day- -the caller ID was useless for identifying the speaker. She had sensed that she was being followed when she left the house, and there were other subtle signs that she had been noticing that she suspected she would not have taken heed of only eight months before.

Valerie Wallace was twenty-six years old and made a living as a well- regarded interior decorator in San Diego, California. She was also a Slayer, and she was beginning to realize that it had been a mistake to refuse the offer of the petite blonde who had shown up at her door four months before with a wild story to explain the odd things that had been happening to her since she had awakened from sleep early one morning in May, screaming in absolute terror.

Buffy Summers had entered her life four months later, and she patiently explained what had happened to Valerie, and why. Valerie was skeptical, and Buffy provided proof in the form of an iron bar--which Valerie bent as if it were tinfoil--and an annoying fly--which Valerie snatched out of mid- air behind her back without knowing what she had done until she felt the vibration in her hand.

Valerie had been intrigued enough to follow Buffy back to an ancient hotel in Los Angeles, where she had met other Slayers and a few other people who were obviously allied with her. A rather handsome Englishman in his early thirties had explained some elements of the whole Slayer situation to her, and she had listened in intense interest, while thinking that book geeks sure as hell didn't look like *that* when she was in school.

In the end, the pull of her old, comfortable life was too strong--she didn't want or need a new career. By the same token, she didn't want to exploit her new abilities to become rich and famous--she perceived without difficulty that such exposure would make her a target. Buffy had been disappointed, and warned her that being a Slayer tended to draw unwanted attention from things that went bump in the night. The senior Slayer encouraged Valerie to obtain certain weapons in case of emergencies, and to train in using them. Buffy also gave Valerie a number to call if she was in trouble. The two had parted amicably, and Valerie had trained for several hours a week with the unfamiliar weapons that moved in her hands as if she had been born with them. * Well, I'm certainly not going to sweat street muggers from now on *

Seven days before, the calls had began. They were more or less identical-- a threatening, unidentifiable voice describing horrible ways in which she would be killed, and mentioning things about her that made it impossible to contact the authorities without repeating things that would have her committed to a psychiatric facility for observation. Someone or something knew she was a Slayer, and had marked her for torment and death. Valerie was not a coward--even before the Spell changed her life she was a strong- willed, intelligent young woman who didn't take crap from anyone--but she sensed that this was something beyond her, Chosen or not. She opened her eyes and shivered--then considered the phone number she had been given. She quickly reconnected the phone and punched in the number.

Valerie heard a number of odd pops and humming noises on the line, and wondered if Buffy's cell phone was somehow magically protected. After a moment, the odd noises faded away, and the phone rang twice on the other end before Valerie heard a click, followed by the blessedly familiar voice: "Buffy Summers."

"Buffy--this is Valerie Wallace." Valerie kept her voice calm--only a slight quiver betrayed her anxiety as she continued, "I think I'm in trouble."

There was a moment of silence from the other end of the line, and Valerie felt a pang of fear before she heard Buffy order: "Tell me."

Valerie quickly told Buffy about the events of the last week, and waited for a response. She heard a low growl from the other end of the line, and then Buffy's voice again: "Damn--Valerie, we need to get you up here and figure out who's after you. Pack a small bag and sneak out of your house through the back yard--you'll find that hopping fences comes a lot easier these days." Valerie smiled involuntarily, then sobered as Buffy continued, "Find a cab, and go to the Breezy Rent-A-Car service downtown. There will be a car there under the name Jenny Calendar--they won't ask for I.D. Drive up to L.A. and go to the Bonaventure Hotel--there'll be a room there for you under the same name--same routine. Check in and wait for me to call."

Valerie felt a moment of relief and sighed involuntarily before saying, "Got it. Buffy, thank you for helping me--I don't think I realized just how bad things could get--"

Valerie heard a chuckle, then a reply: "Neither did I, when I got the news about being a Slayer. We're here to help, Valerie. Get your butt up here, and we'll deal with this."

The connection broke, and Valerie smiled before going to gather some necessities.

A few miles away, a robed figure glanced at the softly glowing cell phone in its hand, and it chuckled softly before whispering in the unmistakable voice of Buffy Summers: "I love it when they thank me for leading them to the slaughter." Red eyes glowed inside the drawn hood, and it continued chuckling as it put the phone away and prepared to leave.

* * * * *

"Looks like Helen hasn't had any problems finding volunteers to go east with her." Angel looked up from the list in front of him and smirked at Buffy before adding, "Maybe they think they'll be getting a less stern taskmaster there."

Buffy glared at him for a moment before smiling and commenting, "If they are, they're in for a big surprise--Kennedy's going to be in charge of the training program there, and she makes me look like a big wuss when it comes to workout discipline." Angel chuckled, and Buffy added, "Most of the ones going now are the ones with ties to the region; eventually, we'll probably put a third branch in Houston or St. Louis to cover the central part of the country--along with the dedicated sub-branch we're putting together for Cleveland. Five Slayers ought to be enough to hold the fort there except for apocalypses, and we've drilled it into everyone that we have cell phones and email accounts for a reason--we're not going to have any more surprises like Kendra or Mrs. Post."

"Good to hear it," Angel winced at the memories of the near-disasters those two screw-ups by the Watcher's Council had caused, and looked back at the list before commenting, "I don't see Willow's name--is she going to be following Kennedy?"

Buffy blinked, and her voice was a little sad as she replied, "She's going for the time being, but she's not being given a permanent position right now. Helen's glad to have her any way she can get her, but Willow's not sure she wants to move back there permanently. Giles offered her the position as his assistant, but she's not thrilled at the idea of traveling as much as he's going to have to for his position as the head of the Council. She just isn't sure about what she wants to do."

Angel frowned. "I'd hate to see her lose another relationship--she's had a rough time of it."

Buffy shrugged. "At least this would be a 'normal' breakup--people break up over relocation issues every day. It'll work out OK for her, and for Kennedy, if it happens." She smiled and added, "It's not like she wouldn't be able to find someone else."

Angel noted a tough of sadness in Buffy's last sentence, but their recent discussions about their past were too fresh in Angel's mind for him to feel comfortable bringing the topic up again. He smiled and said simply, "Willow's definitely worth taking chances for--I'm sure you're right: she'll be OK."

Buffy nodded, then blinked as she noted a gap in the organization chart in front of her: "Forgot about this--Helen still hasn't picked anyone as Head of Security for the branch. There are a couple of Slayers on her list who have some prior experience that would be good for the job, but I can see why she might want someone with more experience. Maybe I should screen some candidates from the ones who haven't signed up with her yet and ask--"

"Buffy." Angel interrupted, looking very uncomfortable. "Helen's already found someone she wants for the position, but that person hasn't accepted yet."

Buffy raised an eyebrow at Angel's comment. "You know, you've always gone cryptic on me at the moments when it was *really* going to tick me off--and this definitely falls into that category. Who does she want for the job, and why do you know about it?"

Angel looked immensely uncomfortable, and Buffy was about to press him further when Angel sighed and said simply: "Xander. Helen came to me and asked me my opinion of Xander and how he would do in the position."

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "She came to *you* for that information? Why?"

"She told me that most of the people who knew Xander well liked him too much to objectively evaluate him, and that Faith had mentioned that I didn't like him very much--she wanted a different point of view." Angel replied quietly, still looking uncomfortable.

Buffy smirked. "She certainly cuts to the heart of things, doesn't she? What did you tell her?"

"I told her that Xander is hot-headed, stubborn, prone to holding grudges, and someone who takes intolerable risks with his own safety." Buffy frowned at Angel's comment, but the vampire wasn't finished: "I also told her that he was loyal to a fault, smarter than he or most people give him credit for, and one of the most courageous human beings I have ever encountered--and I described the incidents that convinced me of that last fact. I told her that he would be an excellent candidate for the job."

Buffy smiled involuntarily, though Angel could see from her eyes that she wasn't completely happy about the situation. "Can't argue with any of that- -OK, thanks for the info." She turned the page of the organization chart, and glanced at an item. "How long before Gunn can line up that vendor for the physical security at the site?"

* * * * *

Helen scowled at the screen. * I need to delegate more of this stuff * She finished the email and sent it along, then shut down her computer. She stretched, then sighed. * I could really use a decent rub-down--maybe I should talk to Angel about converting some space in the Hyperion into a spa * Helen smiled at the thought, and was wondering where they could hire a masseuse who wouldn't be taken aback by having a large number of super- strong women as clients when she heard a familiar knock at the door. She blinked, and called out, "Come in, Buffy."

After a moment, the door opened, and the senior Slayer walked into Helen's suite--which had been partially converted into an office. Buffy walked over to an overstuffed chair and sat down, commenting, "I've mentioned that you knowing who it is without seeing them is really creepy, right?"

Helen chuckled. "I can't do it for everyone--you have a very distinctive knock." Buffy blinked, and Helen smirked before adding, "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Angel and I were going over your plans for the East Coast site--and they're good. You'll have a first-rate team there, even if Willow doesn't end up staying permanently." Buffy replied.

Helen smiled, but noted that Buffy looked rather concerned, given that she had just praised the plans. She locked eyes with Buffy and prodded, "But-- ?"

Buffy sighed, "I was that obvious, huh?" Helen nodded without hostility, and Buffy shook her head and said simply, "Angel told me you talked to him about Xander, and why."

Helen flinched inwardly, though she had been ready for this confrontation. * I hate being right sometimes * "I went to someone who I thought would be helpful in determining the qualifications of a candidate for an important position I'm trying to fill. You don't have a problem with me talking to Angel, do you?"

"Of course not." Buffy was a bit nettled about being put on the defensive, but she quickly regained her composure and added, "I'm impressed that you had the judgment to go to someone who you knew didn't like Xander very much with the purpose of finding his positive qualities. I'd like to know why you're considering Xander for the job when you've got two Slayers on your list with more formal experience that would qualify them for the position-- and a few more who aren't on your list yet."

Helen raised an eyebrow. "If formal experience was all that counted, you never would have made it out of Sunnydale. Xander's smart, a proven leader, and damned loyal to the people he cares about. Sure, he can't go toe-to-toe with a big demon or a Slayer, but the job doesn't require that. Angel's got Gunn running the security department in his firm--why shouldn't Xander be able to do the same for me?"

Buffy hesitated for a moment, and her voice was a bit cold when she spoke: "Are you sure that's all you were thinking when you offered Xander that job, Helen?"

Buffy saw Helen flush, and the taller woman stood and walked next to Buffy before replying in an equally cold voice: "I'm not going to reply to an accusation that you don't have the nerve to make explicitly, Buffy. I've offered Xander the job, and he hasn't given me an answer yet. If you want to speak to him about what he's taking into account when he makes that decision, that's your business, not mine." She turned her back on Buffy and walked back to her desk, muttering, "Now, if you'll excuse me--I've got a new business to set up."

Buffy glared at Helen's back for a moment, then got up and stormed out of the room. The door slammed, and Helen looked back at the door and sighed before turning her attention to the paperwork in front of her.

* * * * *

"You know, I'm starting to think that you had Willow put some spell on that eye patch, Xander." Robert looked rueful as he toweled the sweat from his forehead and looked over at his older friend. "You can't possibly be seeing some of those punches I'm throwing, but you're blocking them."

Xander shrugged, though he was inwardly pleased by the compliment. "Your style is getting more familiar to me--I'm picking up patterns in your attacks." Robert nodded, and Xander added, "I'm also cheating in my stance- -I'm paying a price for it, but it's worth it. That will be important when I'm fighting with people and things I haven't fought before."

Robert nodded, and smiled as he commented, "Of course, if you took Helen up on that job offer, you could avoid that nasty little problem--you'd be the one telling other people where to go and kick ass, rather than going out and doing it yourself. Might not be the worst career choice in the world."

Xander shrugged. "Maybe--I still don't understand why she didn't offer you the position."

Robert smirked. "Gee, maybe because I'm three years younger than you and *haven't* spent the last seven years fighting demons?" Xander blinked, and Robert added, "Helen isn't a believer in nepotism, Xander. I've been her informal bodyguard for the past few years because I can do the job better than most pros, and because she trusts me. As much as it bruises my pride, I've learned to live with the fact that if she needs one from now on, it's going to be another Slayer, not me. If she offered you that job, it's because she thinks you can do it better than anyone else she can get-- period."

"Sounds like you've got two new fans, Xander." Buffy spoke quietly, and the two men turned to see her standing in the doorway of the workout room. Buffy nodded to Robert, and said simply to Xander, "I need to talk to you for a few minutes."

"That's my cue to leave," Robert commented as he walked over to retrieve his things. He glanced at his watch, and his expression turned into one of mild panic as he muttered, "Damn--I'm already running late--I need to--"

"Forget you had a date tonight, Robert?" Xander joked, wondering what had the younger man so shaken up.

Robert blinked, and looked nervously between Xander and Buffy before mumbling, "No comment," and leaving the room.

"Poor bastard--one of the Slayers must have finally pinned him down. Does our medical plan cover that?" Xander commented, shaking his head in amusement. Buffy snickered, though her expression remained serious, and Xander sensed that gentle mockery of Robert's love life would have to wait for another time. "What can I do for you, Buffy?"

Buffy gazed at Xander for a moment, and Xander was unable to interpret her expression as she asked quietly, "Why didn't you tell me that Helen had offered you the security position?"

Xander was taken aback by his friend's bluntness, and he took a moment before replying, "I haven't decided whether to accept it or not, and I didn't see any reason to bother you. Didn't you give Helen a free hand in recruiting the people she wanted?"

"Of course I did--that's not the issue, Xander." Buffy sounded defensive, but she wasn't backing down. "You've been offered a position that would move you all the way across the country and away from most of the people you've known all your life--including me and Dawn. I'm just wondering why you didn't feel the need to mention that to us."

"Dawn's going to college next year, Buffy--she could end up anywhere. Willow could end up on the East Coast, in Cleveland, or even in England if Giles lures her over there." Xander frowned, and looked back at Buffy with a mildly annoyed expression on his face. "Buffy--let's cut to the chase here: do you think I'm qualified for the job that Helen's offered me? If not, tell me now, and I'll go to her room and turn her down before the echo's gone."

Buffy blinked, and Xander could see a moment of deep-down hurt before she shook her head and said softly, "She'd have a hard time finding anyone better, Xander. I just. . .you've been a part of my life from the moment I moved to Sunnydale, and I can't imagine doing without you any more. I'm always going to want to have you near me--and the past has proven that I need you there."

Xander sighed, and reached out and squeezed Buffy's hand before saying simply, "Buffy, I know that, and I appreciate the fact that I've been an important part of your life. Things are different now, though, and you'll have plenty of good people in your corner regardless of what I decide to do. Helen needs an experienced person in that position, and she's offered it to me because she thinks I'm the best person for the job. I haven't decided yet, but I might have to choose to go to the place that I'm most needed, not just one where I know I'll always be wanted no matter what." Buffy's eyes moistened, and Xander squeezed her hand again and concluded, "I hope that doesn't make you mad at me."

Buffy squeezed Xander's hand softly in response and released it. "Of course it doesn't--I just wanted to know what you're thinking." She turned away and added, "I'll see you later."

Xander watched her go, and stared at the empty doorway for a moment before sighing again and turning to retrieve his possessions.

* * * * *

Buffy opened her eyes, and found she was walking along a dark path in what looked like a park or a cemetery. * Here we go again * She took a moment to consciously relax--the tension of the day was combining with the tension that always accompanied a Slayer's dream, and she knew that the combination was not good for extracting the most useful information possible from the experience. The stress seemed to recede somewhat, and she sighed and continued to walk.

A figure darted by her at a good rate of speed--Buffy tried to get a good look at who it was, but was unable to see a face before the being vanished into the darkness ahead of Buffy. The Slayer scowled and picked up her pace, running as quickly as she could while being careful of her footing-- dream or not, falling tended to hurt--and listening carefully for sounds that might give a clue to the location of the mysterious figure.

After what felt like a few minutes, Buffy saw the figure standing alone, just off the path--it seemed to be a woman of medium height. She walked up to the silent woman and called out quietly, "Are you all right?"

The woman ignored Buffy, then flinched as she whispered, "Stop laughing at me! Why are you following me? What do you want?" Silence followed, and the woman snarled angrily, "Buffy knows I'm here--she'll stop you!"

Buffy felt a pang of fear--she recognized the speaker as Valerie Wallace. * I haven't spoken to her since she went back to San Diego--what's she saying? * She walked next to Valerie and spoke again: "Valerie--where are you? What's following you?"

Valerie didn't react, and she was still speaking to her unseen tormentor: "Damn you--if I find you I'm going to kill you--or I'm going to bring back a whole bunch of Slayers to do it with me!"

Another moment of silence followed, and Valerie began shaking her head in what seemed to be disbelief and horror: "No, no! I won't let you--I'll die first!" She ran off into the darkness again, and Buffy was hard- pressed to keep her in sight. They left the path, and Buffy noted that they seemed to be running across grass. After a few seconds, Buffy saw a flash of blue light outline Valerie, and a horrifying scream echoed throughout the area.

Buffy ran faster--heedless of the occasional rocks that seemed to be popping up in her path--and ran to Valerie's side. She looked down, and only her non-corporeal state allowed her to avoid vomiting at what she saw. Valerie had been shredded by whatever had just hit her--her flesh was burned and torn, and her clothing was scorched and in pieces. Her face was unrecognizable, though Buffy could see that the pain of whatever had done this to her had twisted her expression into a gruesome rictus before death took her.

Buffy felt tears come to her eyes, and she snarled with all of the anger within her: "You coward! I'll find you--and you'll wish you'd never been born when I do!"

Buffy heard a low, sinister laugh, and she looked for its source. After a moment, she saw a figure in robes, and a voice that said simply:

"Your time will come soon, Slayer--and those you protect will fall after you do."

Buffy screamed in rage and charged the figure--which vanished as Buffy's eyes snapped open and revealed the ceiling of her room. She cursed, grabbed her robe, and headed out.

* * * * *

Buffy reached Helen's door, and hesitated before knocking. * She's pissed off enough at me right now--if she didn't share this dream, waking her up at five in the morning isn't going to make her like me any more * She had half-decided to go take a shower and wait a few hours before bothering her before she heard the familiar voice: "Come in, Buffy."

Buffy stared for a moment, then opened the door. Helen was sitting at her desk in her own robe, looking exhausted and as upset as Buffy was. Buffy looked at her and noted quietly, "OK--that time I didn't knock."

"After the dream I just shared with you, it didn't take a rocket scientist to guess who'd be coming to my door at this hour--the floorboards of this place creak something fierce. Let's compare notes, shall we?" Helen sounded as tired as she looked, but there was no trace of hostility there.

Buffy nodded, and she found a seat before describing to Helen what she had seen and heard. Helen listened carefully, and commented, "It was another 'observer' dream for me. I saw what you saw, mostly, but I caught a few glimpses of things you didn't mention: a large pond to your left, and what looked like the L.A. downtown skyline beyond it."

Buffy blinked, then burst out: "MacArthur Park! It has to be." Helen smiled at Buffy's quick analysis, and Buffy smiled back before saying, "I need to call Valerie--it sounds like someone might have lured her here, and if it hasn't happened yet, I need to warn her not to come until we can send a group of Slayers to escort her here." She thought for a moment, and the number that Valerie had given her came to mind. She punched the number into her cell phone and waited, only to hear the line ring without picking up. "Damn--she's got an answering machine and it's not picking up. This isn't good."

"We'll find her, Buffy." Helen replied in a reassuring tone, and the older Slayer relaxed slightly as Helen added, "We know it's close, and that it'll go down at night--the sun will be up in less than an hour, so I'm guessing we have the day to plan, at least. I'm going to grab a few more hours of sleep, and we can set up a meeting to plan our approach."

Buffy nodded. "Good plan. I need a few hours to calm down--seeing what happened to her really--"

"Yeah, me too." Helen's voice sounded shaky, but her eyes were determined as she looked back at Buffy.

Buffy smiled thankfully and said simply, "Thanks." She got up, but a pang of conscience kept her from leaving. She turned to Helen and hesitated for a moment before saying, "Helen, I was way out of line yesterday. Xander will be great for that job--and if you've got other reasons besides that for wanting him with you. . .that just shows you know a great guy when you see him. I won't stand in the way of what Xander wants."

Helen nodded curtly, and Buffy turned to leave. Before she reached the door, she heard Helen say, "This is none of your business, but you might want to know that I told Xander three weeks ago that I was interested in pursuing a relationship with him. He said no--he said it in a very nice way that did a great job of keeping my ego intact, but the answer was still 'no.' I made the job offer knowing that was his answer to the whole hearts and flowers thing."

Buffy was startled, and asked, "Did he say why?"

"I got the impression he was interested in someone else--he didn't admit or deny it when I asked him about it." Helen replied, and her voice was softer as she added, "Perhaps someone else should ask him--and soon."

Buffy nodded absently and left, and Helen shook her head in annoyance and concern before retreating to bed.

* * * * *

A full war council had been assembled in the main conference room at Wolfram & Hart, and Angel frowned after Buffy and Helen had finished their accounts of the dream. "I've never heard of anything like that blue light that you've described--but anything that could do what you described to a Slayer is a nasty weapon." He turned to Fred and added, "This sounds like something right up your alley."

Fred looked at the notes she had taken, then back up at Angel as she nodded and replied, "We're on it." She looked at Wesley and added, "I could use your help on the mystic angles--it might be something old instead of something new."

"Agreed." Wesley stood up, and followed Fred out of the room.

"I've made some calls," Buffy said, watching the faces of the remaining occupants of the room. "Valerie hasn't been seen by any of her friends since yesterday morning. She hasn't used her bank or credit cards since then, and she managed to give the two private detectives I had watching her the slip. She could easily be in L.A. by now--I think we need to assume that she'll be in MacArthur Park either tonight or in the next few nights, and that something will try to kill her when she gets there." She turned to Willow and asked, "Can you cast the Slayer detection spell again so we can try to trace her?"

"Yes--but it won't pinpoint her, Buffy--it'll just show how many Slayers are in this immediate area. We'll know she's here, but not exactly when. She doesn't have a cell phone, so we can't just call her. Her answering machine isn't working, so we can't even leave her a message at home to let her know she's been tricked." Willow scowled in frustration, and took a moment to calm herself before adding, "We may need to just stake out the park and hope for the best."

Buffy nodded, and turned to the other listeners: "OK, then--I want to set up a force for that purpose. Twenty Slayers, operating in teams of two. That should be plenty for keeping an eye on things until she shows up, and for killing anything nasty that shows up. Willow--I want you working with Fred and Wesley: if some nasty spell is involved, they'll need you to come up with a countermeasure. Angel--I need you and Gunn to push your connections to the limit: see if anyone has been bragging about a big plan to kill off Slayers, or if there's been some big mystical disturbance that would account for what Helen and I saw." She looked around and asked, "Anyone else have any input?"

"Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a trap? From what you said, Valerie freaked out at whatever she heard after she said we'd come to save her--maybe it told her that he'd used her for bait and that he'd kill any Slayers who showed up" Faith's voice was grim.

Buffy nodded. "That was my take, too--that's why I'm sending twenty slayers instead of five. Better chance to spot the guy and take him out before he can shoot. If he's got a plan or a gadget that will let him be a danger to twenty Slayers at once, then we'd better know as quickly as possible." Faith nodded, and Buffy asked, "Anyone else?"

Xander started to open his mouth, but closed it and remained silent. Helen caught the movement, and wavered for a moment before turning to Buffy and saying, "Buffy--I'd like to suggest another member for the squad in the park." Buffy nodded, and Helen locked eyes with her and said simply, "Xander."

Buffy felt a chill. "Helen--whatever that thing was using turned a Slayer into hamburger before she had a chance to fight back at all. I don't want to expose Xander to that--I wouldn't want to expose *Slayers* to that if I wasn't out of options. Is this another of your intuitive flashes?"

Helen nodded, and Xander commented softly, "Her record's been awfully good with those, Buffy--I don't think we should ignore this one." Buffy's expression twisted in worry, and Xander smiled reassuringly at her before he added, "Buffy--this guy's gunning for Slayers. He probably won't even notice I'm there." Buffy looked somewhat mollified, and Xander concluded, "I can coordinate communication between the Slayer squads, and be an extra eye in the park. Safer than houses."

Buffy hesitated, then nodded. Xander smiled, and looked at the others before saying softly, "Let's go save a friend."

. . .to be continued.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.