Title: Unbowed (Frayed: The Slayer's Remix)
Author: M. Scott Eiland
Summary: Someone is watching Xander.
Rating: PG-13, for themes.
Spoilers: Time frame is early fourth season BtVS, a few days after "The Harsh Light of Day," and some time
before "Fear, Itself." (spoilers up to that point).
Author and title of original story: "Frayed", by Kathryn AndersenAuthor's Note: Thanks to Kathryn Andersen for providing a lovely story for me to remix.
UNBOWEDHe finishes taking the food orders and walks out the front door without any more chit-chat. Giles and Willow immediately turn back to translating the ancient Latin text, a task for which I will be about as much help as Willow would be in showing me how to throw a right cross. I clear my throat and catch Giles' eye, and incline my head at the door. He smiles slightly and nods--it's scary how easily we communicate sometimes.
Xander is about to pull away from the curb when I do a nifty little hop and land in the passenger seat next to him. He gives me a dirty look and comments, "I knew that driving a convertible would come back to bite me on the butt. You know, I can get food on my own, Buffy. I don't need a Slayer escort."
I don't say anything, but the image of Xander being thrown against a brick wall like a rag doll only forty-eight hours before goes through my mind, and I don't bother to hide my emotional reaction to it--now that I have had the time to process it. After I grabbed the Gem and Spike took off like a scared rabbit, I had gone over to Xander, resigned to the fact that this would be the time that he had gotten himself killed--and that I had let it happen. Naturally, he was already stirring, and the bleeding looked to be minor. He opened his eyes and looked at me with open relief for a moment before commenting, "Guess they don't make mystic artifacts of invulnerability the way they used to, huh?"
Damn him. Half of me wanted to hug him, and half of me wanted to kick his ass for being so cataclysmically stupid as to charge Spike without so much as a toothpick--not that even a flame-thrower would have helped much at that moment. I had settled for a sigh, and ran to the nearest phone to get him some medical attention.
Xander knows damned well what I'm thinking, and squirms a little as he sees me glance at the vivid bruises still visible on his arms and neck. I make him wait a few more seconds before saying softly, "Humor me."
We drive to the supermarket, load up, and drive back--all without any signs of incursions by the undead. Spike's little scheme apparently drew a good portion of the town's vampires to his side--vamp newbies just love flocking to new masters, even though a lot of them end up dust when the lord of the manor gets randomly pissed off. When Spike got out of town, the minions went into hiding--including Harmony, apparently. Damned annoying--I really wanted to stake that bitch. The quiet period was giving us the time to deal with this demon that Giles had received the warning about--a Pilsdoboi, or something like that. Giles and Willow were going to have to make with the mojo to get rid of it, and I was going to have to keep it off of them while they did it--and Xander was going to help this time whether I wanted him to or not. I could live with that--the last time I tried to send him off in the middle of a crisis led to a lot of things that were not of the good.
We get back and walk back to the apartment. It was still taking some getting used to, using Giles' flat as our center of operations, but we really didn't have any other good options. Willow and I were sharing a dorm room now, but we weren't sure that it could be vamp-proofed, and the constant presence of a British man of leisure might have raised a few eyebrows--though from a few comments Xander made, I wonder if the real problem would have been tearing Giles away his fan club among our female dorm mates. Excuse me while I take a moment to gag.
Willow and Giles paused to eat with us, and it felt like the very early days of our group, when it was just the four of us researching to all hours of the night with the shadow of the Master hanging over our heads. Before Cordelia decided that saving the world and being groped by Xander in the broom closet was marginally more important than her social status. Before Oz--who is off delivering the Gem of Amara to Angel while we take care of this little problem. Before Mom finally got a clue. Before I had any idea that Angel was anything but a hottie with really weird social habits. Before. . .before Jenny. We were all so new to this--even Giles--and we learned together what it meant to work and fight and bleed together, as much as I tried to push them all away. . .Xander most of all.
After we eat, Giles and Willow go back to translating, and Xander and I are stuck without anything useful to do again. With the alternative being me going back to the dorm room alone to brood about stinky Parker and Xander going back to his parent's basement--we decide to stay with Will and Giles and to play Gin. We're playing for neck rubs--a neck rub per thousand point game. As sore as we get after fights, it's better than gold as a currency.
He's quiet as he plays--I know that he's concerned about me, but I also know that Anya showing up out of the blue shook him up quite a bit. He has pointedly refused to talk about her, and I've respected that--no use getting on his case about his lousy judgment with women, particularly when I'm in no position to throw stones. It occurred to me while I was taking Xander to the hospital that Parker looked a lot like him--I really wish I'd had that insight before I'd slept with Parker: it might have made me think about why I was acting the way I was.
"Gin." Xander lays down his hand, and that's game. I move behind him and dig my fingers into his shoulders, smiling softly as he groans in pleasure.
"Xander--please listen to what I'm saying very carefully," I begin, watching Giles and Willow as they finish the ritual circle and start building the fire. "This thing is really tough--to the point where the books say I won't be able to harm it, though it would really be nice if it had said why I won't be able to. Distract it, yell at it, moon it, use your best judgment--but don't get in its way. I'm begging you."
Xander scowled, and I intentionally let the sad, pleading look enter my eyes instead of the "Slayer getting pissed off" look that I've favored for getting his attention in the past. Getting mad at him doesn't work--I have to guilt him into not getting himself killed. I blink and add quietly, "Please?"
Xander sighs, nods and heads to the opposite side of the fire from me. We're in a small clearing in the woods, with only two entrances big enough to let the creature in. Giles studied the setup before we started, and he concluded that--given the location of the cemetery where the creature would come into this reality, and the path it would have to travel to come here as it sensed Giles and Willow conducting the ritual that would banish it--there was a ninety-five percent chance that it would choose to take the path that led to me, instead of the one leading to Xander.
Our luck sucks. After waiting for Giles and Willow to begin, and listening for five minutes as they chant over the fire, I get a big honking reminder of just how much it sucks.
Xander yells, "Here it comes!", and I whirl to see a large, vaguely humanlike outline coming directly at Xander. It's pale white, and the fire reveals its lumpy, doughy texture as it reaches Xander. Well, at least he didn't go looking for trouble It's not in Xander to intentionally step out of the way of something threatening his friends, and I don't blame him for standing his ground against the monster as I charge, trying to cover the three hundred feet in less than ten seconds.
Xander pays the price for his nerve--the creature stops and grabs Xander with both of its big puffy hands. I feel a moment of fear--is it going to just rip him in half or squish his head? I feel a moment of relief as it tosses him aside without removing any important body parts, though he slams into a tree pretty hard. That's going to hurt in the morning
Xander recovers quickly, and I can see him trying to move to get its attention as it moves towards Willow and Giles. Thanks for the extra time, Xander--but it's my turn to take the abuse "Hey, putty-face!" I call out as I step in its path, still thirty feet away from Willow and Giles as they continue chanting. It pauses and seems to look at me--though the empty black holes where eyes should be tell me nothing--and I smirk at it and quip, "Why don't I fill in some of those holes?"
No response except moving to grab me, and I step aside, annoyed. Crappy audience for anything witty--I'd better get to smacking this thing around and let Will and Giles finish it off I throw my best kick at its toothless, gaping mouth--only to see the claylike stuff that it was made out of flow out of the way, causing me to miss and fall on my ass. I get up quickly, just in time for it to smack me hard and knock me back--nothing soft about that shot. I turn it into a roll and come up into a crouch. I glare at it and yell, "That's not fair!"
It keeps coming, not giving me as much as a shrug. Xander is staying back, God bless him, but he's yelling and throwing rocks at it when I'm far enough away to not risk hitting me. Good idea, but it's ignoring him. I take a moment to give him a smile to let him know I appreciate the effort, even though we both know it's not making any difference. I keep punching and kicking--slowing the creature's advance as it flows to avoid my attacks and smacks me in retaliation--and Xander edges up behind us, staying out of reach but still trying to distract it. Will and Giles are chanting faster and louder now.
It senses that it's running out of time, and it lunges forward and grabs me, tossing me off about forty feet. I twist in mid-air and land facing away from the thing. I turn quickly and see that it is charging Will and Giles, and that Xander is trying in vain to catch up with it, heedless of the risk to himself. At this point, I can't blame him. It closes the gap--fifteen feet---ten feet--five feet from the fire, and Xander isn't going to catch it in time, even to delay it for a few seconds while it kills him--
Will and Giles shout: "ACCOMPLI! ACCOMPLI! ACCOMPLI!"
The demon stops in its tracks, and Xander sensibly backs off quickly. It shrieks loudly as pink smoke surrounds its body and begins to spiral. Xander and I move over to the edge of the circle as the smoke spiral gets tighter and tighter until it goes poof and disappears, taking Dough Boy with it.
Xander and I sigh in relief, and Giles slumps to the ground, spent. Willow looks beat too, but she grins and comments, "Well, that was a fait worse than death."
Giles looks up from where he is sitting, groans, and scowls at Willow. Xander and I look at each other and shrug; apparently, Willow just punned. Willow sees the reaction and opens her mouth to explain, but stops as I shake my head. Fire bad, tree pretty. I'm ready to call it a night, and Xander's expression and the way he's favoring one leg tells me he is too. I walk over to help him and call out, "Let's get out of here."
We're back at Giles' apartment, and I quickly perform my most important duties as team leader by ordering large amounts of pizza and giving Xander a quick once-over. Nothing broken, no concussion--I swear he's got a harder head than Giles--but he's added to his large collection of bruises. I order him to take a soak in the tub while we're waiting for the pizza, and he doesn't argue.
When he gets out, the pizza is here, and Giles is debriefing us. I fill Xander in on the exciting--not--stuff he's missed, while Willow slides next to him on the other couch. She's wiped--I see her eyes flicker closed for a moment, then open again as she looks over to where Giles and I are sitting and listens to Giles talk about the possible lingering effects of the ritual.
Xander shifts on his couch and winces in pain--his back is one big bruise between Spike and the Dough Boy. "Giles, have you ever thought of investing in a more comfortable couch?"
I give him a supportive look, but Giles is less sympathetic: "That's what cushions are for." He doesn't mention the fact that all six of the cushions in the room are sitting on the couch he is sitting on. Well, it is his place, and he's getting a bit creaky himself
I grin at Xander and toss him a nice, soft cushion, which bounces off of his forehead. He smirks at me and says, "Thanks."
I wink at him and turn back to Giles--I want to get this post-Slayage talking over with: "So, do you think we'll be having any more of those liquid-clay demons turning up?"
Giles talks, I ask an occasional question, and Willow and Xander sit and listen. Giles is still the best planner of this little group, and the best researcher--which is pretty impressive, with Willow being the Goddess of the Net and starting to learn information-gathering spells. I'm still the muscle, though Will's spells are coming in handy more and more often for that--Giles admitted that we would have been sunk if we hadn't had her extra mojo to pull that ritual off. And Xander. . .Xander is the reminder of who we're doing this for: the guy who is just trying to live his life in spite of all the weirdness, and who won't give up the fight no matter how tough it gets. He won't leave us--though he might be better off if he got away from all of the beatings and the amorous demons and the temperamental Slayers who have caused him to come close to shuffling off this mortal coil far more often than I like to think about. Anya will probably come back--I know the look by now, I saw it on Cordelia's face enough--and he'll cheerfully accept that little risk to his future existence without much complaint, and I'll still worry about him, knowing that it's futile to warn him off.
I hear rhythmic breathing coming from the other couch, and see that Willow is asleep, leaning on Xander with a contented expression on her face suggesting that she's found the biggest, fluffiest pillow in the world. I notice a brief look of exasperation cross Xander's face--and it doesn't take a mind reader to see he's thinking I'm just a glorified pillow As I watch, his expression changes to a more satisfied one, and he slips his arm around Willow and smiles before closing his own eyes.
I blink and tear up momentarily before turning back to Giles and wrapping up the debriefing. He notes that the others have fallen asleep, and says goodnight with a smile before heading upstairs.
I quietly pick up a cushion and move over to Xander's other side. He will wake up in five hours and find me sleeping peacefully, in the only place in this existence where I will always feel safe--with them at my side and ready to face whatever comes.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired.